Opening Races Complete

Nature is unable to share the love it seems, as even last night at -24°C it still managed to snow around 15cm and for anyone who watched the Opening World Cup in Norway on the weekend, it is easy to see what I am getting at here. Why am I complaining you may ask? Because in less than 1 week I will be meeting up in Davos (SUI) with team mates Phil Bellingham and Paul Kovacs and it would be almost heart breaking to go from such amazing conditions here to running or skiing on a mixture of dirt, grass and snow whilst donating a good portion of ski base to the mix. As can be seen from the recent Davos Snow-Cam below, there’s a real reason to be concerned.

To add to the Alaskan experience, this week has been brutally cold with temperatures as cold as -26°C and not really getting above -18°C. We are lucky here because it has been even colder in Fairbanks with temps as low as -40°C and not warming up to anywhere close to -20°C which is the FIS temperature limit for racing. As a result the races in Fairbanks this weekend were cancelled, however they were more or less simply moved to the trails here in Anchorage. They were not official races but all the same competitors were there so it was essentially the same experience for me just without the travel!

Friday was the 2.2km skate prologue which only the APU Team took part in. This is an area that I have really tried to work on in the last year, after experiencing the pain and horrible pacing of last year’s Tour de Ski Prologue. It is too long to sprint and too short to take easy resulting in quite a painful 7 minutes. It’s all about power combined with the ability to relax to increase efficiency whilst maintaining high speed – pretty well all the things that I have really needed to work on. Over the last week or so Jeff and I have been working on a few things to help this in my skating technique and it looks to have paid off. I managed to pull through with the win which is a real confidence booster for these type of events. The temperature was only just warm enough to race (~-19°C) and I can promise that before this (although about to change for the worse), my hands had never been so cold. I had thick race gloves on but every finger felt like it was not only numb but also frozen solid like ice blocks. Getting the blood flowing once again was incredibly painful.

For Saturday’s short 5km classic, the race was delayed until it warmed up above -20°C which wasn’t until 2pm. This course is probably the least suited course for me at this point and is definitely going to be in the next aims to improve upon. It was very flat with only 3 very short climbs meaning lots of double pole and a whole lot of speed and fast striding turnover required. I certainly don’t have the turn of speed of some of the bigger guys with the double pole and as a result I suffered somewhat. It was by no means a disaster being 43sec back off APU’s Mark Iverson and in 9th place. I learnt from yesterday’s race and decided to wear two pairs of gloves –an insulated pair and a windstopper pair however the effect was negligible. My hands were worse than the previous day presumably from the longer time spent racing and I was on the verge of tears getting them warmed up again. After speaking with Jeff’s friend Paul who is a doctor, it is not a result of poor circulation, but rather all the blood is being drawn to the working muscles and therefore very minimal flows through the fingers allowing them to freeze. They are slightly damaged with what Paul called ‘Frost-Nip’ and are still painful now as though they have been burnt but luckily it isn’t permanent like frost-bite. I wasn’t the only one suffering with many others complaining of the same issues at different levels and in different areas. Here is a picture of my friend Lauren Fritz (APU) which gives a good illustration of just how cold it was out there!

Sunday was thankfully slightly warmer with temperatures around -15°C but it really did feel a lot warmer – it’s amazing just what a few extra degrees colder can do. For Sunday it was a 10km Freestyle – 2 laps of a 5km course which included a very major climb and was much closer to my kind of course. The climb is actually so long that it goes against FIS regulations and has to be modified for FIS races. Given just how hilly World Cup races can be, this gives an idea of just of demanding this course is which makes it perfect for training and getting your body to max out very easily at the top. I’ve got to admit my confidence was lacking slightly from the previous days result and I just had to keep reminding myself that no FIS race would ever be run on such a flat course and I never have to ski 5km races anyway. Whether this was affecting my energy levels or not is hard to say, however during warm up I was definitely feeling fatigued with little spark. By the start I managed to get my head into gear and hammered out of the start and caught UAF’s Tyler Kornfield by a third of the way up the major climb. At this point I still felt good so from then on I knew my energy levels must not be too bad. Here is a short clip of me shortly just after passing Tyler going up the major climb on the first lap, just trying to keep things relaxed.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ku67DJx1Uug]

The second lap I struggled slightly to get the rhythm going again at the start of the major climb however soon managed to get it all together again to finish quite strong in 2nd place, 32sec behind APU’s Mark Iverson. This is a very satisfying result and from the weekend as a whole I feel that my form is really coming together well and look forward to heading to Europe to see what I can do in this year’s World Cup events. What is probably the most important thing from this weekend is that my most feared event – the prologue of the Tour de Ski is now something I very much look forward to.

I also just bought myself a new camera so for all of those that have been upset in the past by the lack of photos taken of some of the most incredible places I visit, I will now make an effort to impress!

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