Friday, January 02, 2009
Once and while comes one of those few times in racing and in training where you have a great day physically align one with external forces that produce a high like no other. They are tattooed forever in your memory bank often providing the motivation to train and perform just so you can reach that high again.
During our visit to Seefeld, Austria and the Olympic nordic skiing region over the holidays with Sandi and Colin, we planned 7 full days of nordic skiing and training. Armed with our quiver of both skate and classic gear along with a Chariot equipped with skis, we were ready to explore the nearly 300km of trails in the valleys and mountains of northern Tirol.
Many top pro's utilize nordic skiing for training, and for good reason. It pushes your conditioning and power to the max. Throw a 30 lbs in a trailer in tow, and you know you have done some work. Our first few days there were spent exploring the trails in and around Leutasch often skiing between 2 1/2 to four hours, two of those days were pulling Colin. The sauna and a ritual of big breakfasts and lots of coffee were my ways of battling fatigue. On the fifth day we drove over the Seefeld proper to ski the black runs and the World Cup course, where the soon to be held Nordic Combination World Cup will be held. (BTW. an American Bill Demong is at the top of the rankings, and a bonus for us is that EuroSport carries all of the nordic action from biathalon to Tour de Ski so we will be able to catch it on TV).
Heading out on the the World Cup loop on my own, I was feeling a little sluggish but was able to eventually open it up. Zipping along about 10k in, I passed two skiers on the flats who were moving at a good clip. Having to stop to check my orientation, they came back by, and I would fall in behind them for the long steep climb.
Like in cycling, we skied together in rhythm, pacing up the climb. First taking up the rear, I assessed the other two nameless and obviously very strong compatriots. The lead skier had a strong, clean technique while the second was also efficient but close to his limits whenever the trail turned upwards. Eventually the stronger of the two lifted his pace to the point where the second skier and myself slowly drifted backwards.
Content to sit in, I waited to see if we would bring him back, but it slowly came apparent that would not happen. and that is when I went. Leaping past the second skier on a steep section, I quickly dropped him and began chipping away at the deficit before me. Stronger on the false flats and descents, I brought the first skier back. As we hit the last steep sections of the climb, full of sweat, and a pounding heartrate in my ears, I was in the lead skiers shadow, and wasn't planning going anywhere.
Checking to see if I was his friend in a heavy Oestereicher dialect, I answered nein and it was game on. The pace went up with the final steep grades of the climb, and I was doing all I could to hang on. Fully between somewhere of agony and a trance, I was just following the tempo of his skis. Just at the top my grip was broken and a few meters between us opened up as we coasted down a little and on to the flats on top of the plataue. I was quick to thank him for an awesome ski up and he invited me to continue on with the two, and I graciously accepted. We flew around on the trails on top, taking turns pulling and setting pace, all the while I had an ear-to-ear smile and enjoyed the company.
With wife and child waiting below, I bid them Servus and thanked them again as I peeled off for the descent back down. High on a great ski, I had to return focus on some of the most technical descents I have done on two skinny skis in my life. Deaf with the loud rush of wind in my ears, I got a glimpse of someone from behind. Giving way, two skiers blasted by, it was Anette Henkle, World Cup German biathlete, and her male training partner. I quickly latched on for one hell of a ride on the descent. It was great to follow them and to see their lines down. Believe me, television does little to convey the speed and precision of top nordic skiers on a descent. It was nothing short of beautiful and scary.
Good news was, I was able to stick with them on the descent even on the short punchy climbs. The descent finally dumped us out on the lower loops where i just cruised back to the car. It would have been an awesome day had I just skied with my two new Austrian friends to the top, skiing with Henkle on the descent, was just icing on the cake.
This was one of those memorable days that will keep the fire burning for some time to come. For that matter, so was our whole trip which was then capped off with two more days of pulling Colin, logging many more km's and hours of training. Exhausted and sore, it is time to pull the single speed out, and ride towards that next high.