Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Oslo Enduro

It was Saturday morning, and we were driving up the hill to the top of Oslo, Tryvann, in thick fog. I was thinking about the viral essay 'Wear Sunscreen'. In particular, I was thinking of one line.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

I think I don't follow this rule well enough. Instead I save up many many days of scaring, and I get it all over with in one go. That is what Oslo Enduro was.

Enduro is a form of mountain bike racing that has grown immensely in popularity in recent years. During the course of one race, you bike a number of timed, predominantly downhill segments. You bike the uphill as well, but it isn't timed, you just have to be ready for the start time of your next segment.

Ingvild excited to bike in Saturday's fog

Saturday was the practice day. All of the trails were marked and we set out to bike them, trying to commit to memory difficult sections so we could bike them as fast as possible on Sunday. A giant wound his hand around my stomach and clenched, hard, from the moment the bikes were loaded onto the car.

To be honest, I was scared of loosing. With only 14 girls in the field, and a number of them far more proficient bikers than me, I was, for the first time in my life, poised to be last. And it terrified me.


We biked through the first segment, and the course was difficulty, but not passed my technical grasp. Of course, while I brake and bump down the rocky, technical sections, better bikers flow by like water. If only I could let go of my brakes and roll fast!

Ragnhild keeping her balance over a slippery section

The second segment was the most challenging, and I spent most of our run-through determining where I would jump off and run with my bike.

We only got through three of the five segments before it was time for the seeding run. If you don't ride the seeding run, you start at the tail end of the competition. I almost didn't ride it, because, well, I kind of wanted to start at the end. But I thought it might just calm my nerves to have ridden some of the competition before Sunday.

The girls are ready for seeding!
Standing at the top of the steep, grassy hill that started the seeding segment, I wasn't so sure. Ingvild was due to start 30 seconds behind me, and I knew she would make up that lead in the course of the segment. But as soon as the volunteer holding the stopwatch said, "Go!", the adrenaline kicked in and I sped off down the course like I had a friend hot on my heels. Which I did.

On the first technical, rocky stretch of trail, I realized that I hadn't properly tightened my helmet before charging off down the course. As a result, it was falling into my eyes. I decided that loosing 10 seconds was better than crashing because I couldn't see, so I stopped and quickly tightened by helmet.

As predicted, Ingvild caught me in the middle. I roared on after her, screeching a little too quickly around the last corner and almost crashing. But I had made it through my first mountain bike competition. Well, seeding, anyway.

We preceded back up the hill to ride the two last segment, and the fatigue started to settle in. I may have wasted a little too much adrenaline on the seeding, and I felt sluggish and tired. We biked the fourth segment, a fast and flowy singletrack through the trees, before I opted out of running through the fifth and final segment in order to save my legs for the ordeal that would be tomorrow.

Foreshadowing: this was a big, big mistake. 

On Sunday we arrived early to pick up our bibs in the poring rain. Great conditions for a mountain bike competition!

Casper, all suited up for competition
The fastest men started a full hour and a half before me, so as the rain let up I decided to go out and get some photos of them going at it.

Niclas Andersen, 7th place finisher, rounds the corner of the first north shore.
I considered photoshopping my head onto some of the them. Because, of course, this is exactly how I executed this jump:

Espen Johnsen, the overall winner.
And the mud on the flats didn't slow me down one bit:
Joar Solem, who start hard but had a flat tire later in the race resulting in a 21st place.
When it was finally my turn to start, I was every bit as nervous as the day before. Possibly even more nervous, since everyone kept saying, "It's so wet and slippery out today. Just don't crash!"

Don't die. Don't die. Don't die.

And the volunteer signaled for me to start. Luckily, I had remembered to tighten my helmet this time. The trails were full of clingy mud, and I finished the first segment around 20 seconds slower than the seeding the previous day. I felt slower, too,  the adrenaline of the previous day replaced with a cautious, lets-get-through-time-alive sentiment.

I biked up to the start of the second segment with only three minutes to spare, and didn't have time to get nervous before I had to start again. The second segment went better. I jumped off my bike and ran the most difficult sections and biked a quickly as my brake fingers would let me down everything else. All of a sudden it was over, and I had a wealth of time before the next segment started. The race had canceled the third segment, giving us 20 minutes extra break.

I got back to the start in time to choke down a couple hundred calories of nuts and watch Audun repair Ingvild's bike before her next start. (Audun would be racing too, but he's out of the game on a twisted ankle. Long story.)

Happy camper during the break in the competition
I started the fourth segment resolved to bike fast. This was, after all, the fast, flowy, fun trail.


Go, go, go!

It started well, but as I crested over the top of a steep section, I saw Ingvild lying in the grass next to the trail, with someone I didn't know standing next to her. She had started nearly ten minutes before me - shouldn't she be racing?

"Come on Molly, keep going!" she cheered.

I realized she must have crashed hard, and was so put out that I went over my handlebars myself. I came down on my hip, but luckily not too hard. And all the parts of my bike seemed to be in order, so I got up and continued, shaken by the fall. I biked shitty for the rest of the segment, thrown out of concentration by Ingvild's apparent injury and my crash.

I made it up the hill to start my final segment - the one I hadn't previewed the day before - with only two minutes to spare. The timer started, and I cranked up to speed down the hill. Just get through this. You've almost done it. You've almost finished. I chanted. Don't worry about Ingvild, someone else was helping her.

 I headed into the woods, getting back into the flow, when all of a sudden a dirt half-pipe was in the way. A photographer was on the other side. "Just let go of your brakes, and you'll have enough speed to get up the other side!" he encouraged.

I looked straight down the near vertical side wall of the half-pipe. I looked up the near vertical side wall of the other side of the half-pipe. Then I thought, No way, mister, got off my bike, and ran. And yes, I'm ashamed that I didn't even try to cross the half-pipe. Oh well.

It was after this point that I got completely lost. I took a wrong turn down a steep ski hill and ended up on one of the other segments. I did the most constructive thing I could think of, and burst into tears. I just wanted to finish! Why couldn't I have ridden this segment yesterday, so I knew were it went?

Then I did the second most constructive thing I could think of, which was call my boyfriend Audun. As if he could help.

"I got lost and now I'm never going to finish!" I wailed.

"Have you thought of backtracking to the last place you knew you were on the trail?" he said. I hiccuped, hung up, and start running back up the steep hill from whence I came. Finish finish finish. Finally, another competitor blazed by and I found my wrong turned. I bumped down the last section of trail, barely aware of what I was doing. Finish finish finish.

The last segment took my 12 minutes. It took the second slowest girl 4 minutes. Moral of story: always preview the segments!

At least I finished.

And guess what? With my epic fail on the last segment, I did come in last place, and I feel kind of freed by it. After all, it's all uphill from the bottom. And guess what else? I'm already saving up my days of fear for the next enduro. Because I love a good challenge, and Oslo Enduro was a great challenge, with good company.

Ingvild pulled a muscle in her leg, and is recovering quickly, no harm done.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Are you ready?

This weekend was my last hard training weekend before the Ultrabirken 60km race June 14. My goal was to run a total of 50 km, and I was ready for long hours in the forest alone. But all of a sudden, I had company. My friend Vibeke is training for Swissman on June 21 - and I'm actually going to Switzerland to crew for her! (we often argue about what will be most painful - running 60 km or a mountainous Ironman at altitude. I vote for the latter.) She decided to join for my runs me at the last minute.

Saturday was May 17, which is Norway's national day. This year we're celebrating 200 years of independence. I don't like crowds, and I'm not particularly nationalistic (not being Norwegian), so I thought disappearing into the woods was a good way to celebrate.

We started our run from Sognsvann, and took a path-less-walked in to Ullevålseter, a café in Nordmarka forest. Despite the sunny weather, there were only a few people out front. Everyone else was downtown, sporting their bunad or other finery, downing ice cream and hot dogs like there's no tomorrow.

We took a technical trail over Dølerudhøgda til Bjørnholt, climbing high enough to almost get a view. The height variations in Nordmarka don't generally allow for many spectacular vistas. There is a vibrant character to the forest at this time of year, however. In the sunlight, the shrubs growing on the forest floor seem to be stretching their necks to reach the sun, while the regal spruce trees quietly says"a little at a time, youngsters" with its shimmering needles. 
We saw no one, except a few birds who were terrified of our passing.
Leg selfie on a dying patch of snow
On the steep, technical descent towards Bjørnholt, I charged off, jumping off of rocks and ricocheting around turns. I heard Vibeke yell, "I'm going to take this slowly, I don't want to get injured." I slowed to wait for her, and two minutes later she slipped on a rock and fell down hard. 
Everything was all right, except for her thumb. She said it hurt bad, and she thought she might have heard a cracking sound when she jammed her hand into the rock. We found a clump of snow that she put on her hand, and we limped out towards Bjørnholt, where there is a dirt road. I kept thinking, "I broke my friend."
After deliberation at Bjørnholt, we decided to keep running rather than calling a cab. I was skeptical at first, because it had seemed like Vibeke hurt so much. Then I thought, even if she broke her thumb it probably won't get any worse from running. So we kept going.
Vibeke ran the whole way back with her wrist held up like that :)
We ended the day back at Sognsvann with a well deserved swim (the water was a surprisingly agreeable temperature) and ice cream among the downtown crowds.
Day 1 stats: 23.3 km, 588 moa, elapsed time 3:17

Sunday dawned just as sunny, and I wasn't sore, so I was glad we were going out again. This time we started from my apartment in Oslo, and ran up to Maridalsvann, the lake that provides water for most of Oslo. My legs felt a little heavy at first, but loosened up quickly. Vibeke's thumb was just fine (!).
We ran part way around it and then headed up one of my favourite gruelling climbs: up to Fagervann. I've done this climb a couple times in my training; at least once there was snow almost half the way. It clocks in at 300 vertical meters in about 2 km, and most of the trail is at a pretty runnable grade.

On Sunday, we ran everything that was runnable. Hard. I remembering looking at my heart rate, thinking "this probably isn't sustainable", and then keeping pushing. There's nothing like a good, sustained push up a big hill. Luckily, I didn't kill my legs and we made it up to Fagervann in record time.

Vibeke at Fagervann

Instead of covered in grey ice and surrounded by snow, the lake was now a sparkling blue and practically inviting us to swim. "I have to come back here to camp!" I commented. We decided we would save the swim for Sognsvann again and pushed on. There were many miles to go.

In easy (read: no potholing because there was no snow) running conditions, the technical trails past Fagervann passed quickly. Before I knew it, we were grinding the dirt road up to Ullevålseter. The café was markedly different from the previous. Everyone seemed to have realised their mistakes in not enjoying the forest on Saturday, and they had all hiked to Ullevålseter to make up for it.

Outside Ullevålseter with the crowds

After Ullevålseter, we jogged to 6 km out to Sognsvann chanting "Swim. Swim. Swim." It felt, if possible, even better than the previous day. The last couple of kms to the metro felt like a lap of victory.

Stats day 2: 26.7km, 684moa, elapsed time 3:35 (including a stop to swim)

I don't know quite what it takes to be ready to run 60 km, but I'm starting to feel ready. And I think feeling ready might be the most important thing.

- The Wild Bazilchuk