Sunday, February 25, 2018

A week in paradise: Tenerife

Arriving on the island of Tenerife, officially a part of Spain but located off the coast of north Africa, is like leaving the real world and entering a fake beach paradise world. At the end of January, nineteen member of the OSI running team had left foggy, cold Oslo for a week of sun, running and good times.

Urd, Hanne Marthe and Fredrik enjoy a morning run on the promenade.

Life at the training camp was very simple: run, eat, relax, repeat. Eating was easy; there was even a breakfast buffet at the hotel where we could spend an hour every morning shovelling down pancakes with dulche de leche, omelettes, fruit, pastries and bacon. I expected the whole relaxing part to be difficult, but running two-a-days is conducive to wanting to lie still. A lot. Especially when one of the runs is a track workout.

A row of OSI runners, lying still. Photo: Fredrik

We put in three track workouts in our 8 days there. If you had asked me before the trip if I thought I would run all three, I would have said "No way!" I would never have made it through all the tough workouts without my team mates. Being tired was no excuse; everyone was running the same amount and was just as tired as you. It helped that we were a group of 5 five girls who were fairly evenly matched and could run the workouts together. We would often plan out who would set the pace for each interval, psyching each other up as we prepared for the workout.

There was, of course, an ongoing competing to have to shortest shorts and the fastest sunglasses at the track workouts.

The OSI Girl Power Train, Roque del Conde in the background. Photo: Fredrik
We didn't spend to whole week running on the track. Me being me, I quickly discovered there are mountains (big ones!) on Tenerife, and begin hatching plans to get on top of something. The first (mis)adventure came early in the week, when the OSI group climbed Roque del Conde, the iconic peak that towers above the track at Las Americas.

Beelining it for the summit.
Some miscommunication (I thought only some of the group wanted be going up the mountain, turned out everyone wanted to go) lead me to run the first, paved section out of Las Americas twice, and I was hot and bothered by the time we finally headed up towards the mountain in earnest.

Stephan, Brit Ingunn, Hanne Marthe and Fredrik on the cactus-infested trail.
Still, I was happy to be headed up a mountain, albeit a cactus-infested one. The road ended, and our route to the summit followed steep, dusty trails that lifted us above the coast. The trail faded to faint traces in the dirt, but eventually we wound around the mountain and hooked up with the main trail to the summit from Arona (where most people hike from). Some in our group became impatient and tried to head straight up the mountain, but off-trail equalled cactus and I think they may have regretted their decision.

Fredrik gazes at the ocean. Photo: Pål
Stupidly, I was carrying only 1 liter of water, and I realized I was drinking it far too quickly as we reached the top of Roque del Conde. From the summit, the long downhill to the sparkling sea stretched below our feet, and behind us Pico del Teide and the high inland mountains loomed.

Me, Hanne Marthe and Urd on the summit of Roque del Conde.

We found an absolutely magnificent trail down from the summit. It was steep and technical to begin with, and gradually became more and more runnable. The group grew spread out on the descent, and I felt rather responsible for making sure everyone found the way home (since the whole expedition was my idea). After spending 20 minutes helping someone remove a thorn from their shoe, I was ready to move, fast. Luckily we were almost at the road, from whence the route finding grew easy, and I decided to book it for the last 5 K.

Fredrik and me on the steep part of the descent. Photo: Pål

I stomped into the hotel lobby some time later, covered in dust and parched, ordered an overpriced orange soda and drank it in one. It had been a fabulous day. {Strava here}

A couple of days later, after a particularly nasty track workout of 2000 m repeats, a group of us decided to take an easier day. We decided to go for a trail run in the morning and spend the rest of the day relaxing. Once again pouring over maps on the internet, I suggested to try to pick up a trail that climb up above some cliffs along the sea and connected the towns of Las Americas and Los Cristianos.

Pål and Hanne Marthe ascended the sea cliffs.

We were out at sunrise, and the trail was all I hoped for and more. It climbed steeply up to the cliff edge and rolled along, providing breath-taking views as the morning rays of sun slowly illuminated the landscape around us.

Christiane and Urd run along the cliff edge.
{Strava here}

Group photo from the morning run. From the left Pål, Stephan, Urd, Christiane, Fredrik, Hanne Marthe and me.

After the now familiar leisurely breakfast, we grabbed a taxi out of Las Americas to check out La Caleta beach a little ways down the coast. We hiked over a hill and down to the beach, and began to spot assorted colorful tents. The beach turned out to be a kind of free area of all sorts of hippies and vagrants. There was a also a strong nudist faction, but luckily nudity didn't seem to be obligatory.

The ambiance at this beach was completely different from the more groomed tourist beaches where overweight Europeans lay on tanning beds with umbrellas. We spent the day on the beach snacking and jumping in the waves and getting all of our clothes and possessions filled with sand.

La Caleta beach and hippie camp.
On our last day, we headed into the mountains again. Originally, everyone (including me) had been eyeing the 3718 m Pico del Teide. However, upon discovering you needed permits to go all the way to the summit, I started searching around of alternatives. Guajara, Tenerife's 4th highest mountain at 2715 m, seemed like a good consolation prize.

Six of us shared a taxi to the charming alpine village of Vilaflor and began the steep ascent. Pål turned early, feeling the effects of what we would call the 'Tenerife flu' that nearly everyone suffered in the weeks after the trip. Hanne Marthe had also caught Tenerife flu and turned before the summit.

The moon landscape on the way up Guajara. Photo: Fredrik
Despite the ever-present sun, it was much chillier at the higher altitude. The wind picked up as we ascended into from pine forests into the barren volcanic landscape. I was glad to have brought a wool top, hat and mittens in addition to my Goretex jacket.

Fredrik on the way up Guajara.
The summit was just across the valley from Pico del Teide. A long ridgeline stretched out from Guajara, and I was tempted to extend the run and explore the mountains further. But excess of 130 km in 7 days was getting to my legs, and I did the wise thing and ran the same way down. {Strava here}

On the summit of Guajara, above Pico del Teide. Photo: Fredrik
We toasted an excellent week with beers and food at the only café in Vilaflor before headed back to tourist central. Filled with sun and camaraderie, it was time to back our bags and head home to snowy Norway. Our real lives were waiting.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Big plans for 2018

Oslo is having the best (or depending upon how you look at it, worst) winter since I've moved here. Yesterday it snowed nearly 50 cm, and there was chaos and delays in all transport, public and otherwise. It's a big start to what I hope will be a big year.

Snow running is usually slower than this...
I have some audacious goals for 2018 (amongst them to finish my PhD!). In terms of running, the biggest one is to train patiently, and not get injured. Progress doesn't happen overnight, it happens over consistent years. That said, I'm cautiously trying to up my game by including two hard workouts a week as opposed to one from years previous.

Here's what else I have planned:

Although skiing is great, the snow makes it hard to get in any decent running. Next week I'm headed to Tenerife for a training camp with OSI track team. I'm looking forward living the run, eat, repeat life for a week. We don't get a lot of sun in Norway this time of year, some I'm sure the vitamin D will be good too.

I hope I get to run in shorts some this year! Here on Bispen during my honeymoon.
In March, Audun and I will be travelling to Arizona to visit my parents, who are based in Tucson for the year. Expect some epic mountain bike rides, slot canyons and desert trail runs!

In late April I plan to run the 10K at Sentrumsløpet in Oslo. I hope I can finally throw off the jinx from the last year - I got sick before both of the 10K I raced (exhibit A, exhibit B)! I'm definitely faster than when I ran my PR of 42:58 a year and a half ago. Although I'm a little scared to say it out loud, I think I could be in shape to run a sub-40 min 10K in April if I play my cards right. I'm at least read to try really, really hard!

All-out speed is not my strength, but I'm willing to try! From Holmenkollstafetten last year.
Then I'll be running the world's largest relay race Holmenkollstafetten for OSI track team in early May. After a good result last year we've progressed to the women's elite division, so this could get interesting.

Switching gears completely, I'll be going back to Oslo Ecotrail for my first ultra of the year at the end of May. Although I would love revenge on the 45K (now 50K) course, I've decided this is the year of go big or go home. I'll be race the 80K distance on my home trails. My goal is to finish strong, because really this will just be a training race for the big things to come during the summer.

I spent the last 25K of Ecotrail 2016 dealing with a demon cramp. Hopefully I can do better this time!
This is the point where I admit I've been really bold, and signed up for Salomon Xreid. Xreid is a racing that moves location within Norway every year, and this year it's going to be set in the mountains Jotunheimen. At around 100k with 6000 meters of vertical gain, it's a beast of a course. Somehow, completing Jotunheimen Rundt last year has instilled me with a calm confidence that I can do it if I set my mind to it (and put in appropriate training, obviously). We'll see if my faith in myself is well placed!

Biking touring in Croatia and Italy in 2015.
In late June I'm planning to turn in my PhD thesis, and then take the summer off to celebrate. I'm planning to go for a long bike tour, with a large amount of trail running mixed in. I'll start from Oslo and point my wheels towards to Alps. Hopefully I'll come out of my Summer of Adventure fit and ready to go for the last big race...

Who wouldn't want to go back to this?
Unfortunately I wasn't drawn in the lottery for Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix last week. Luckily I have an alternative that is just as good, and that is going back to Ultra Tour Monte Rosa for the new 100 km ultra. Basically I will run most of what I completed as a 3-day stage race in one day. (And that does sound stupid when I say it out loud.) This will be my goal race of the season, and I hope to turn whatever lessons I learn during Xreid and a long summer of training into a solid race.

What are your plans for 2018?

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Friday, January 12, 2018

Tales from a (very very) long ski

Five brave adventurers boarded on the train to Gjøvik on Saturday morning with skis and backpacks full of snacks. We weren't the only skiers on board the train, which offers unparalleled access to the far reaches of the forest north of Oslo. Stop by stop, all the other skiers got off until only we - me, Audun, Vibeke, David and Henrik - remained. We had taken the train so far north it was hard to imagine one could ski all the way back to Oslo again.

The sun lit the tops of the trees as we set out from Raufoss. The early hours were full of optimism and joy. What a day, wasn't in magnificent? Skiing seemed so easy, we would practically fly home to Oslo, I was sure. My hands went numb to begin with but quickly warmed in time with the crunching snow under my swinging poles.

The ski back to Oslo is in excess of 130 km, and we planned to complete it over two days. We wanted to spend the night at a cushy hotel in Lygna, but unfortunately the Norwegian national biathlon championships were being held that weekend, so there were no rooms available. We settled on a tiny DNT cabin 15 km south of Lygna, which would offer somewhat more rustic accommodations.

Our ski took us through the middle of no-where. We only saw a handful of other skiers all day, which would never happen closer to populous Oslo. After following broad tracks for the first hour or so out of Raufoss, the trails grew narrower and narrower until they were just a single track plowed by a snow scooter. The scooter tracks were prone to driving bumpier, more challenging routes than a groomer would, and this felt like real adventure skiing somehow.

It was a chilly day and the rays of slanted sun were too weak to provide any real warmth. I struggled to eat enough. Every time I wanted to eat I had to stop, take off my backpack, and usually take off my gloves. All of the blood would withdraw from my hands as I started skiing again, and it would take 20-odd minutes to warm them up completely. I definitely need to find a way to make have easier access to snacks on a long ski!

I was glad when we hit a long uphill that stoked my internal furnace. We weren't moving fast, though, far from the 10 km/h we had thrown around while talking on the train ride. I began to feel the mental restlessness that comes during a long outing. I couldn't help glancing at my watch, registering how far we still had to go, and wondering if we would really get there. I had to settle in the to the rhythm of acceptance, to find the zen of knowing that as long as we continued to move forward we would get there. At some point.

The trail hit a long flat stretch, crossing several open areas that must be bogs in the summer. The sky was orange on one side and purple on the other, a mark of impending dusk. I found my stride and I skied along, faster and faster. I felt like I was flying, and all of a sudden I turned around and my companions were no where to be seen. They had stopped for a snack and I hadn't even noticed!

The sun set at 3:30 pm, and we took out our headlamps not long afterwards. We were closing in on the dreaded red section on the map, the section that had not been previously tracked. The ski trail was an open strip through the forest. We rotated leads, making slow first tracks through the deep powder. The world was narrowed down to what was illuminated by the beam of my headlamp.

Deep tracks revealed that a moose had meandered back and forth along the ski trail. I hoped I didn't run into him around a corner! Feather marks in the snow showed where a bird had taken off. Other than the animal tracks, the world was pristine and white.

I was breaking trail when I saw a signpost in the distance. As it drew closer, I realized a ski trail ran past it and gave a whoop of joy. The going was about to get a lot faster!

The final kilometers to Lygnasæter passed quickly, and soon we were crossing the first road all day and entering a warm restaurant. Lygnasæter served enormous portions of dinner, and we spent an hour contentedly filling our bellies and stretching. But the day wasn't over yet.

Buoyed by supper, we headed back out into the cold for the final 15K to Sagvollen. The night sky was spangled with stars, and the snow glittered in our headlamp beams and squeaked under the pressure of our poles. I was very tired, but my body seemed to have adapted to constant motion and continued to ski without input from my brain. 

We reached the unserviced DNT cabin of Kjørestua around 9 pm, after skiing just shy of 69 km, by far my longest day on skis ever. The cabin was freezing, and we quickly set about stoking the fire before heading to bed. Tomorrow would be just as long.

We meant to start early the next morning. I got up first, and began to melt snow for breakfast and drinking water. Unfortunately, I melted way too much snow and we waited for almost a hour for the water to boil. I felt angry with myself for delaying our departure, although it was still just before sunrise when we locked up the cabin and headed out on the ski trails.

As we began to ski, my hands froze solid. This was by now a familiar feeling, and I knew my internal furnace would warm them up if I continued to move. We were treated to a beautiful sunrise.

Our first goal for the day was Grua, a train station where we would be joined by another friend. Many of the kilometers to Grua were on challenging, rolling scooter track and I felt mounting fatigue compounded from the day before. I thought about how far we had to go, and how much longer we would be skiing for. I thought about how easy it would be to get on the train, to go home and lie on the couch. By the time we got to the train station I was mentally finished. I knew I could ski the last 50 km to Oslo, but I simply didn't want to. I was content to go home and spend the afternoon watching Tour de Ski.

I spent some time being disappointed and angry at myself - Don't I always write about overcoming challenges? How could I possibly write that I quit? But when I woke up on Monday morning full of energy, I realized it was the right decision. Despite bailing at Grua, the weekend's adventure had been my longest ski ever, and had challenged me mentally and physically. And maybe someday I'll go back to do the whole thing!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Monday, January 8, 2018

A very white Christmas

In temperamental Norway, white Christmas is never a given. As we packed for Christmas celebrations in Audun's hometown of Tingvoll, I tucked running shoes alongside ski gear, not knowing what this holiday season would bring.

We decided to break up the severn hour drive north with a stop for cross-country skiing at Sjusjøen (of Birkebeiner fame) above Lillehammer. Although there was some light rain during our ski, wonderful, fast ski tracks and slanted December light made up for it.

The winter storm Birk was battering the west coast of Norway, but luckily the only mountain pass we had to drive across, Dovre, was far enough inland to be spared. The result of the storm was snow, snow and more snow in Tingvoll, and on Christmas Eve we joyously headed out to the local ski trails.

Unfortunately the groomer had decided to take the day off. A heavy layer of sticky new snow combined with skinny cross-country skis did not make for fast skiing. Still, I was ecstatic to be moving through a magical, snowy world, no matter how slowly.

They groomed on Christmas day, and the skiing was much faster.

After a quiet Christmas celebration, we headed to Oppdal with Audun's parents. It had snowed a ton in Oppdal as well and we decided to break out the telemark skis and buy lift tickets. Somehow we managed to overlook the strong winds in the weather forecast!

Above tree line, the visibility was low to none, and windblown icy snow crystals felt like daggers on to any unprotected skin. It was a day for staying below treeline, and we found a sweet powder stash out of the strong winds.

After lunch, the wind had picked up even more, and they closed all of the lifts. So much for lift serve! We drove into Bårdsgården, the DNT hut where we were planning to spend the next couple days, and in my restlessness I put in a short run. Lesson: downhill skiing legs make terrible running legs.

The wind had abated the next day, and there was sun on the forecast. It was a frigid -18°C as Audun, my mother-in-law Marianne and I got ready to skin up towards Okla. Skinning uphill is hard work, and we warmed up quickly. Still, we were happy when we ascended into the rays of the late December sun, which warmed the soul if not the body.

Unsurprisingly, the summit ridge was windswept and nearly devoid of snow. We turned before the summit (which is rather flat and uninspiring anyway). The conditions on the way down were variable, with hidden pockets of pow dabbed among larger section of tough windblown crust. Needless to say, there were a lot of hilarious falls!

The snow in the trees had been protected from the wind. It was so much fun Audun and I decided to climb up the other side of the valley for a second lap. We were out of the sun this time, as it was now setting, but the skiing was magnificent.

The cold, clear day turned into a cold, starry night, and we bundled up to go out stargazing. We walked down the road until we could no longer see the lights of the nearby farm. We were alone with the bright moon floodlighting the landscape, and endless twinkling stars appearing as our vision adjusted to the night.

The next day we decided to check out the nearby cross-country ski tracks. I had developed a sore throat, a fact I choose to ignore so I could go outside and play! The tracks took us up towards beautiful Innerdalen, and provided panoramic mountain views that differ greatly from the heavily forested ski trails around Oslo.

We were out relatively early, and had the freshly groomed tracks to ourselves until we turned near the end of Tovatn lake. We stopped for a brief snack before a long downhill to the valley, and I started to notice the penetrating cold. My hands grew numb as we sped downhill, and I stopped to put on mittens in a futile attempt to warm them up.

The final kilometers along Ångårdsvatnet lake were absolutely frigid, and the snow creak under our skis as we rushed to get back to the warmth of the hut. It's fun being out in the cold, but it's also fun to warm up afterwards!

With more sun on the forecast, we decided to see if we could bag a new peak before heading to Skarvatnet for our traditional New Year's celebration with friends. It was another cold, clear day on Roksdalskammen, with the spectacular slanting sun casting blue shadows in the valley below.

The snow above tree line was just as windblown as the previous days, but we decided to go to the summit anyway. This was a new one for me and I like collecting peaks.

We managed to find some decent snow on the way down, although the best was in the trees as before. Unfortunately the tree skiing involved a lot of bush whacking, of the 'use your helmet to deflect branches' variety.

We skied into our friend Andreas' cabin at Skarvatnet for the final days of 2017, and revelled in more beautiful cross-country. I don't think I've ever seen so much sun between Christmas and New Year's in Norway!

A crowd of 20 gathered at Andreas'  cabin on New Year's eve. We celebrated with due pomp and circumstance, eating Norwegian 'pinnekjøtt' (steamed salted sheep's ribs), setting off fireworks at midnight, and of course, swimming in the frigid lake on New Year's day.

Happy 2018! Here's to another year of adventure!

- The Wild Bazilchuk