Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Vasaloppet XC ski training weekend

Sylvain's back from Sweden, and this is what he says:

On January 14th five workmates, Swedes Dan, Jan-Olof and Christian, Kiwi Jerym and myself flew to Stockholm for a long training weekend in preparation for the Vasaloppet Open Event race on February 27th. Two Swedish girls from the office were originally to join us, but alas they pulled out when they realised they would have to train for the event.

Getting to our host Dan's country house in Mora was a 3-hour drive North-West of Vasteras airport, and another half-hour to get to the skiing area in Grönklitt. The weather was beautiful and sunny, temperature hovering around minus 5 to minus 10, but unfortunately there wasn't any snow in the plain, only when we climbed a few hundred meters to the ski resort did we catch our first glimpse of the white stuff. The places we visited were beautiful though, our house just by a remote half-frozen lake, and the elk and reindeer meat we tried were delicious. The area around Mora is quite remote and provincial, with seemingly many people unemployed. The Swedish social system seems to be working well though, our next-door neighbours, unemployed, had just bought a second Volvo estate, exactly similar to their first one, just because they liked it so much.

Most of the Friday was spent in the local sports shop carefully choosing equipment, skis, shoes, poles, and clothing - making sure that everything matched colour-wise - and then having the skis waxed. In the afternoon we donned our brand new kit and stepped onto those strange, long and thin cross-country skis, which was a first for three of us. Dan and J-O taught us a few basics and we were off for a couple hours of practice, providing many falls before we eventually picked up the skill to stay on our feet (well most of the time), and ended up doing just under 20km (more for Dan and J-O). There are several ways of moving forward depending on the incline and snow condition, most of the time the arms and upper body are used to propulse with the poles, but there is also a fair bit of gliding motion (which uses the upper legs, and hardly at all those cyclist's calves, to my disappointment), and on very steep climbs the most efficient movement is almost like running uphill.

We repeated the exercise the following two days, it was a bit easier on the Saturday, as we had realised that the shop had made a mess of waxing our skis, which had no wax at all at the end of the first day. This means the central section of the ski, instead of gripping on the snow when you have your weight on one leg, was actually gliding backwards on climbs, turning the whole thing into a slipping nightmare. So we had the skis re-waxed at another place.

The Sunday was the hardest day, partly because by then the temperature had risen and the snow quality wasn't such as good as previous days, and partly because we'd been out to sample the provincial Swedish nightlife the evening before, and woke up a bit bleary-eyed. Dan and J-O, the Vasaloppet veterans, were always way ahead though, and none of us three beginners could even contemplate coming close to their time for the 90km race. It might be a tough fight between Christian, Jerym and myself though, and the gym is going to be very busy for the next few weeks. A reasonable goal to set to ourselves would be under 9 hours, and an optimistic one 8 hours. This might have to be adjusted given the condition of the snow on the day.

Some of us are already planning a second training in early February, before race day on the 27th. Many thanks to everyone who has pledged or donated money to MĂ©decins du Monde and helped raising more than £500 so far, as you can see on www.justgiving.com/Vasaloppet2005. There is still time to give though!


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