Östersund and Falun 2015

IMG_0457

It was almost exactly 6months to the day that I was released from hospital after the ridiculous ski accident that resulted in a pneumothroax. At that particular point, I was still considering whether I should continue in the sport, let alone even try and build back up for that coming European Season. I had made some amazing gains training with Dala Sports Academy, and the improvements were all measurable and very noticeable. The 12 unbearably uncomfortable days restricted to lying on my back in the hospital bed showed their negative effects in an overwhelmingly harsh way. I went from being the strongest, fittest and skiing technically better than ever before to not being able to walk for 1.5km without needing a sit-break. In the gym things were even worse, I went from 71.5kg to just below 66kg and this was certainly noticeable! I think I was probably stronger as a 12 year old.

Gradually, mostly due to my coach Mattias, Teresa, my family and friends my spirits began to lift and I saw that it was just realistically another good challenge to see just how fast I could bounce back. The incredible global support from everyone who contributed towards my fundraiser to pull me out of the unfortunate health insurance debacle not only made the new challenge financially possible, but also gave me a huge surge of motivation. I wanted to give these people a story to follow – change a stupidly unfortunate sob story into something fun, inspirational and high spirited.

I changed my goals accordingly. Originally I had hoped for a top 50% of the field in the Falun 2015 World Championships but with this already being quite a steep task, I adjusted it to just achieving better results than ever before. This was also considered to be a little unrealistic by a few, however especially as the race season grew closer, I began to certainly believe that it wasn’t at all unachievable.

View at Gronklitt

View at Gronklitt

For the pre-World Champs Australian Team Camp in Grönklitt, I knew I was coming into some great form. My body felt sharp, and in intensity sessions my heart rates were high but perceived effort was low and I was able to ski with some very solid speed and power. Mattias’ training plan had worked because at the end of that week (2 weekends ago) for the Östersund World Cup, I achieved a result that I believed was right up there with a career best performance. All pre-World Championship World Cups are the most competitive of World Cups with every athlete coming into their best shape and most teams filling their quotas. I positioned 74th, right on 78% of the field – my best ever performance was in Canmore World Cup 2012 where I placed 47th and 73% of the field but was a far less competitive event with many of the top Europeans not taking part.

More support from Atomic this World Champs has been hugely helpful!

More support from Atomic this World Champs has been hugely helpful!

Things were therefore looking like they were all coming together. My chest felt completely pain free and breathing was feeling so much more relaxed and complete at higher intensities. I not only thought I would achieve my adjusted goal, but I was also keen to so just how close I could go to making that original first goal of top 50%. Unfortunately I managed to find some more bad luck, so much so that I found myself inside hospital walls far sooner that I ever thought possible. The Gastro-bug got me agin and to explain to what extend here is a little quote from Phil… ‘I thought there was a roaring lion in the bathroom’. After a couple of bags of IV fluids, I was sent home to try and recover as quickly as possible.

A blurry photo to go with how I was feeling in the 15km skate

A blurry photo to go with how I was feeling in the 15km skate Photo Cred: JC Legras

The Skiathlon was out, as was the Team Sprint, both events I had been so excited for as they are probably my favourite events. The only lucky thing about this scenario was that I was able to restore my health and energy to the level where I could start my strongest event – the 15km freestyle. My pulse was high, energy was low and my legs just had nothing more to give. It was probably one of the more painful races I’ve ever done, simply because I had to force my body so much. The result, obviously not what I was hoping for. To be fair though, it wasn’t too disastrous and by placing 72nd (83% of field), I actually achieved the same result as what I did in the 15km freestyle last World Champs.

Falun 2015 15km skate Photo cred: JC legras

Falun 2015 15km skate Photo cred: JC legras

Life is full of ups and downs and all I can hope for is that this rollercoaster starts going back up for the 50km on Sunday.

World University Winter Games Part 2

Since my last post, both disastrous and reasonable results have unfolded. For the 10km Classic, the 5km loop that was used was not exceptionally hilly so I made the risky decision to go out on the skate skis and Double pole. From tests that we did the day before, there was lots of time to be made up on the fast long downhills and slight inclines going with the faster skate skis. The risk is that going without any grip wax means that there is no way of relaxing if you find that you have gone too hot too early. Not that I even went that fast at the start, it was too hot for what I was capable of and found myself in a hopeless situation. I flooded my system with lactic acid and struggled with my breathing again with being unable to control the rhythm and feeling oxygen deprived. I regathered myself somewhat and was able to finish however the time lost was far too substantial to even go close to a satisfying result. With the winner also opting to Double Pole, it was the right idea, I just hadn’t quite realised that the Double Strength I had over the European Summer has not completely returned.

10846075_10153169507564369_545578086166038859_n

That torturous 10km was pretty tolling on the body and left me feeling like a broken man, both mentally and physically. You can probably gather just how important those few days of rest before Sunday’s 30km skate were to me. I can’t even say that by Saturday I felt quite 100%. Through the course of the week I have been doing a lot of time with our Physio Claire Coltman, working on releasing and expanding my ribs. It had become evident that I was primarily stomach breathing and hardly expanding my upper right side – mostly due to a natural response to restrict movement in the area that was damaged. With the scar tissue and nerve damage, it’s quite a painful process to increase movement in that area but basically allows me to re-learn to fully expand my chest. The results have been great so far with active lung volume increasing noticeably. The difficulty is that by gaining more movement and using this whilst exercising leaves the area feeling quite strained. For some reason, Saturday was the worst day for this feeling just described, not giving me a lot of confidence for the following day’s competition.

10961976_10204638388414440_1644597018_n

Quite amazingly, the feeling on Sunday morning was much better and the starting pace of the 30km was very relaxed, giving me the opportunity to move up the field a little and really gain a good rhythm early on. As the pace lifted with the front guys starting to work, I once again lost the breathing rhythm and had to back things off slightly to have any chance of getting through the race. I slipped back a little, but regained a controlled pace quite quickly and was able to make the most of good energy levels. I skied in the 3rd chase pack for quite a period then worked hard for a solid 10km to catch back onto the 2nd pack.

10945519_10204638387814425_1769777831_n

Unfortunately by that stage, as soon as I gained contact the pace surged for the last part of the race. By that point I had already been sending myself close to red-line for quite some time and was feeling it! The pack pretty much broke up with the increased pace and I slipped back a few places but was happy to be able to maintain a strong finish speed to place 24th, just less than 6.5% behind the winner’s time. A result that I can be proud of thankfully and was all made possible through the help of Claire, the awesome wax techs; Randy and Rado, Mantra wax http://www.mantrawax.com/ and the amazing ongoing support from my University; UNSW

2015-02-01 12.00.22

Directly afterwards we started our journey back to Sweden and was very happy to see just how much snow had fallen since we left for Slovakia. So today it was back to training with DSA and I’m not joking when I say that this was definitely right in the top 5 best sessions that I have ever had. Perfect tracks, good company and great energy! Perfect way to prepare for the World Championships here in just a couple of weeks time!

2015-02-03 09.59.47