Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Race report: Birkebeinerløpet

The terrible weather forecast for the week leading up to and the day of this year’s Birkbeinerløpet was a blessing in disguise. Although I originally hoped to beat my time from last year, I had to adjust my goals when I saw how much it was going to rain. Birkebeinerløpet is a trail half marathon, with damp sections at the best of times. After five days of steady rain it was sure to be an absolute mess.

Free from my time goals, I was only nervous about starting in the elite women’s wave. Visions of being dropped by the elite field during the first kilometer danced through my head in the days leading up to the race. But I knew my time last year had qualified me for this wave, so I told myself I belonged there.

My strategy was very simple. The first half of the Birkebeiner course is rolling hills and technical terrain; the second half is downhill on fast, mostly gravel trails. Knowing that there were no hills to speak of in the second half, I resolved to race boldly and start much harder on the first section that I had in 2016. The downhills would take care of the themselves.

Wet OSI team selfie at the start of Birkebinerløpet.
I warmed up in the drizzling rain with my friend Hanne Marte. We jogged the first couple kilometers of the course, and found them to be every bit as bad as I feared. I discovered that the wet grass on the edge of the trail was often less slippery than the soap-like mud on parts of the trail.

A gun sounded at Birkbeiner stadium, signifying the depart of the men’s elite field. Hanne Marte and I lined up and wished each other luck, but I let her drift towards the front of the pack while I stayed in the back half. The women’s elite field was surprisingly small, only forty or so women. The gun sounded for our start, and we were off, winding around the stadium before hitting the first steep climb into the woods.

I had clung on to the tail end of the field during the fast start, but starting passing women already on the first hill. The first few kilometers were relatively tranquil. The men’s elite field was far ahead of us, and the women’s elite field soon became so spred out that there was only a dozen or so women in my immediate vicinity.

Every time I hit a hill, I pushed myself to surge up it, gradually leapfrogging my way past several of my competitors. I blew threw the first aid station without breaking stride, wiping away the rainwater that was dripping from my hair into my eyes.

Then the chase packs started to show up. The first non-elite waves in the Birkebeiner are faster than most of the elite women, so soon our quiet forest was filled with men, huffing and puffing and weaving around us. I tried not to pay them much attention, and I continued picking the best possible line through the terrain, letting them take the more dangerous lines to pass me.

Mud, glorious mud.

It was slippery out there. On several sections we were forced to choose between slanted, wet rock or knee deep mud. More afraid of falling and hurting myself than I was of getting covered in mud, my exposed calves soon blended with the black 3/4 tights I was wearing. The rain stopped, but the mud continued.

I suddenly noticed that my bib was falling off. The paper had gotten so wet it tore at the safety pin attachments. I hastily unfastened the offending safety pin and shoved it through some fabricate and the paper of me bib, hoping this would hold. It didn’t; the two top safety pins came undone once again a little later in the race.

Mud spa?
There was a timing mat at 8K, and I realized I had no idea whether I was ahead or behind of my previous time. I also kind of didn’t care. This was a completely different race than last year, and all I could do was race by feel. I felt pretty decent, all things considered.

I had chugged some sports drink at the aid station, and it first made me have to burp, and then I got a side stitch. My mind abruptly wandered to the demon side stitch of Oslo Ecotrail 2016. No, I told myself, I REFUSE to let it get that bad. I am going to keep running, and this side stitch will go away. This time my body listened to me, and the side stitch faded.

We were over the worst of the hills now, and I was looking forward to the downhill. Suddenly, I tripped and went down on both knees. Three women passed me, asking if I was alright, as I picked myself up and charged on.

“I hit my knees pretty hard,” I admitted, “But they’re numb, so I’ll think about that at the finish line."

I latched on the trio of women, relishing the opportunity to race with them. I was last in the pack at first, but eventually climbed behind the leader. I struggled to keep her pace, even as we headed into the downhill section, but knew that clinging on with all my might was my best chance of a strong finish.

We dropped the other two women, and I struggled to close the gaps that appeared between me and the leading woman as we dashed madly down mudslicked slopes. I lost my companion with around 4K to go, by being too timid in a particularly muddy section. I wasn’t interested in crashing again.

Coming through the home stretch.
Before the final kilometer, the course throws a final, steep hill. Rune, a team mate from OSI, was standing on the hill, cheering with all his might. I sprinted up the hill, lactic acid surging in my legs as I told myself only one more K!

I hadn’t dared to look at my watch for most of the race, afraid of being discouraged by what was sure to be a slower time than last year. During the last couple kilometers I had started to glance at the elapsed time, doing some quick mental arithmetic. It was encouraging, and I ran hard for the last kilometer, hoping to squeak under 1:40 once again.

Imagine my surprise when I stopped my watch at a time of 1:39:00, 24 seconds faster than laster year! The race leaders were slowed down nearly 3 minutes compared to 2016 by the muddy conditions, which means 1:39 this year would be worth 1:36 or 1:37 in a drier year. And far from being at the tall end of the elite women’s field, I finished 23rd out of 44! My knees were blooded but soul was soaring with the satisfaction of a race well run.

Mother-daughter post race pictures. Note the equally muddy calves.
Mom and Dad also raced the half marathon distance, running respectable times despite the adverse conditions. My friend Hanne Marte blew it out of the park in 1:33.

Greta races in the kid's race
After the race, I watched some friends of the family running the kid's race. It was pretty entertaining to see 10-years coming through the final stretch of the 1.5K race, fists balled up and faces clenched in apparent agony. I hope I can race with that much pure intensity and focus; I feel like I was pretty close to that at Birkebeinerløpet this year.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Race report(s): Altering expectations and unexpected outcomes

I’ve run two short, but otherwise very different, races in the last two weeks, and I've been reflecting on how different the outcomes were.

Since I don't have any running pictures from either of the races, here's an unrelated running picture from Norddal, Sunnmøre, a couple of weekends ago.

The first was Fornebuløpet, a road 10K, held on May 31. I wanted to use Fornebuløpet as a gauge of how my fitness was coming along, hoping (as always) to PR. Unfortunately, I got a cold the day before the race, and woke up on race morning with a very sore throat. I felt awful at work all day, and considered dropping the race, but decided to do it anyway, partially because a large delegation of runners from my new team OSI would be there and I wanted to join them.

I started in the 40-42 minute wave, which is a little fast for me, and found myself running the first kilometer in 3:46. For comparison, my average kilometer time during my personal best 10K was 4:18. So, yeah, probably not a smart move, although in my defense the first kilometer of Fornebuløpet was slightly downhill. For the rest of the race I gradually slowed down, running my first ever positive split in a 10K. (For you non-runners reading this, positive splits, or running slower in the second half of a race than the first, is general considered a bad thing.)

I finished in 43:36, only 38 seconds off my PR. Considering my cold, and the stupid hard start, this actually wasn't so bad. Still, I’m not please with the race, and the main reason was that I gave up. As I saw my pace slow, I mentally checked out and couldn’t summon the effort to make myself go faster.

Around kilometer 8, I ran passed my friends from OSI, who cheered for me. With that boost I was able to finish a little harder, proving that it wasn’t my legs that were cooked, but just my head that had given up. Given that I wasn’t so far off my PR, I wonder what I could have done if I could have mustered a little more effort for the last 5K?

The second race was Rett til Værs, a 4.1K uphill race on technical, slippery terrain. I had really low expectations going into this one, given that I had raced a 200K bike race 2 days before (more of which later). I only hoped not to run too much slower than last year. I managed to convince my speedy friend Urd from OSI to join me.

“This is the easy part,” I enthused as we warmed up on the steep dirt road that makes up the first 1.5K of the course, “Afterwards it’s much steeper and rooty and rocky. And it all ends with 100m sprint across a bog!"

The low expectations and focus on enjoyment at Rett til Værs led to a great performance. I started conservatively on the first section of dirt road, and was able to pick off a ton of runners during steep and technical second half of the course. I set a course PR by 1 min, and finished 5th female. More importantly, I had a blast on the punishing course, and got muddy during the process.
Urd and I enjoying the view from Mellomkollen after the race.
This story has several possible morals, and I’ll leave it up to the reader to pick one:

a) Racing when you are sick is a futile exercise.
b) A positive mental attitude will allow you to overcome anything.
c) Running in the mud is more fun that running on the road.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Friday, June 9, 2017

Long weekend at Pyttbua hut

The month of May in Norway is full of days off, little gifts to those of us who like to enjoy the last of the winter’s snow during the long days of late spring. Two weeks ago was a four-day weekend because of Ascension Day, so Audun, Dad, Mom and I decided to ski in to Pyttbua hut and tag some peaks to round off the ski season. The ski in to Pyttbua is long and flat, so we opted for our skinny mountain skis rather than our heavy ski mountaineering gear.

Since we had plans earlier in the day, we didn't get to the trailhead until 4pm. We assumed that, this late in the season, the road up to the summer parking area would be open and it would only be 8 kilometers to the hut. But the road was closed far below the summer parking. As we got our gear ready, we still hadn't fully realized how far it was to the hut. Unknowing and blissful, we set off up the dirt road.

I put on my skis when I saw the long first stretch of snow covering the road, hoping this would be the end of the bare ground. It wasn’t, and neither was the next one. Or the next. Or the one after that. There was snow, but only in stretches of a few hundred meters at a time. It continued like that until we finally reached the summer parking area. I looked at my watch. We had already gone 8 kilometers! The ski in was shaping up to be at least twice as far as we thought, but hopefully we would be able to ski more as the trail climbed.

On the (literal) bright side, there was plenty of daylight, sunset being at 11pm these days. It was suppertime thought, and realizing we still had hours to go, I stopped and ate a bunch of snacks. This turned out to be a good call, since the skiing only grew more frustrating. On a trail now rather than the dirt road, we spent the next 4 hours bushwhacking through scrubby trees. We tried to cobble together continuous snow routes on the maze of slushy spring snow that patterned the ground. In some places, the trail was completely exposed and we walked, carrying our skis. I sometimes tried to walk through short stretches of snow. I was rewarded by post-holing up to my thigh, sometimes plunging my foot into an icy bog.

As the day drew on to evening and the ordeal continued, we couldn’t be bother to take off our skis anymore. Sometimes the trail would cross a bog, and if I didn’t see any rocks, I would just march right across, skis and all. We finally reached Pyttbua hut at 10:30pm, exhausted and swearing that we would never do that again. {Strava}

After a leisurely morning, Audun, Dad and I headed out to ski up Høgtunga, a 1900-meter peak behind the hut. It was sunny, but there were low-hanging clouds crowning the mountaintops. The clouds above us evolved in mesmerizing patterns as they rushed passed in a brisk wind.

There was much more snow now that we were a little higher up and out of the trees. It was the thick, slushy variety, saturated with water. Clearly there hadn’t been a frost in the nights proceeding. The visibility shifted constantly: sometimes clouds would encircle us in the thick fog, but only a few minutes later the clouds would clear and we could see the valley below. It was a little nerve-wracking to loose visibility so abruptly, especially when climbing steeper sections.

The top of Høgtunga was almost above the clouds, permitting us little window-like views as we sat in the shelter of summit cairn, snacking.

The descent, which would have been easy on our larger ski mountaineering equipment, proved challenging on our skinny mountain skis. It was back to my roots as a telemark skier. No plastic boots or fancy bindings, you have to drive the ski with muscle power alone. I like to hope I still haven’t forgotten it.

The sun came out as we descended back to the hut, and the temperatures became absolutely summery. I spent the rest of the afternoon sunbathing in front of the hut, reading my book and enjoying having no where to go.{Strava}

The next morning, the cloud cover had retracted to high above the mountain tops and it was time for a bigger adventure. Audun, Dad and I had our sights set on the Horseshoe Traverse, a natural line that passes over three mountaintops: Pyttegga, Høgstolen and Karitind.

The climb up to Pyttegga was straightforward, following a mellow ridge line that afforded views of the rest of the traverse to come. There was a rocky stretch that forced us to take our skis off once, but it was nothing like the ordeal of coming in to the hut.

Audun and I had anticipated navigational difficulties from the top of Pyttegga. We had done this traverse once before, on foot, and there had been fog on top of the mountain which forced us to take a very steep line down from the top. With good visibility and snow, this link up grew more easy. We avoid clambering down the steep, south-facing ridge and instead descended on skis in a south-facing bowl before traversing out to the saddle between Pyttegga and Høgstolen.

The climb to Høgstolen followed a steep ridge that was narrow and rocky on once side and corniced on the other. Having noted the size of the cornice from the previous summit, we opted to strap our skis to our packs and clamber up the rocks. As our poles clacked against the rocks, Audun and I cracked jokes about dry-tooling (ice climbing on rock).

The wind was strong on top of Høgstolen, and we dug a bench on the lee side of the cairn to have lunch. After lunch, we picked our way down the ridge between Høgstolen and Karitind. There were more bands of rocks and cornices to be wary of, but we managed to get away with only taking our skis off once.

The final ascent to Karitind was steep, but we were rewarded with more spectacular views. I love spending days high on mountaintops. The descent to Pyttbua was challenging on skinny skis, but we got the hang of it, and were soon all linking turns down the slushy slops.

At the bottom of the descent, we could look back at the circular ridge above us, knowing we had covered all of that ground in one day. {Strava}

Although I was tired, I felt guilty about sitting inside while the sun still shone. The problem with summer in Norway is that if you want to use all the available light you would never get to sleep!

The next day we steeled ourselves for the ski out. Having thought through our route a little more, we opted for a high route with more continuous skiing and considerably less bushwacking than the ski in. {Strava}

I think this trip marks the end of my ski season this year. Soon the snow will melt and it will be time for adventures on foot in the high country!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Saturday, June 3, 2017


Holmenkollstafetten is the largest relay race in Norway, and takes place mid-May every year. I’ve previously run the entire 18K course on my own, but haven’t had a team to compete for in subsequent years. I was gearing up for a long run in the forest, alone again, on the weekend of Holmenkollstafetten until, out of the blue, Oslo’s student track club (OSI) asked if I would run for their women’s team. I said yes, even though I thought me running a relay race for an actual track team was an intimidating prospect.

I joined OSI’s practice a couple times before the race. I was reassured to realize I was not way slower than everyone, and that these weren’t stone-faced elite athletes, but friendly people who like to run as much as I do. For the relay, I was given leg 11 of 15, a 1500m leg that passes through iconic Frogner park. I scoped out the leg a couple of days before the race in the pouring rain, and was glad I did. There were some tight turns that at the end that were nice to know about, and the leg ended in an uphill sprint.

Holmenkollstafetten goes on all day, with several thousand teams competing. When some friends asked if I could run various legs of teams that were missing an athlete, of course I said yes. After all, how tiring could running only 1500 meters be? (She thought naively) So it was decided that I would run leg 11 for Handelsbanken (a bank) and leg 4, around 2K, for Silicon Labs second team. But giving everything I had on my OSI leg would be the first priority.
Team OSI before Holmenkollstafetten! I'm on the far right. 

I showed up at Frogner park with plenty of time to spare, and warmed up until about 15 minutes before our team was expected to come through. I was really terrified of not being ready for my exchange, so I just hovered around, nervously, watching runners from other categories coming through. I hadn’t seen any women in our category (women’s senior track) exchange, so when I saw Eldbjørg coming in the distance, I thought we must be in first place.

I’d better not lose it! I thought. The exchange went smoothly, and I took off. The leg started with a slight uphill, before a gentle downhill where I could really let my legs rip. I felt like I was running so fast, that is until several elite men passed me like I was standing still. I didn’t see any other women though, and I kind of wish I had someone to try and keep up with.
This is actually from the second time I ran the leg through Frogner park, but here I am in action. 

My whole chest started to hurt and my stomach went numb as I crossed the road out of Frogner Park to complete the final few turns before the sprint to the finish. I was glad I knew where the final turn would be as I sprinted through the maze of streets. The hill to the finish seemed to at least have tripled in size since I last saw it, but I was happy to spot Santoucha, who I would exchange with, waiting on top. I thrust the baton into her hand, gasping for air, my little part in this event now over.
This is how I feel about racing 1500 meters. 
The results later showed that OSI had been in second in our category, not first (I missed the first woman somehow). I held on to our second place, although I unfortunately lost 5 seconds to the chasing third place team. We got caught at the very end of the relay, but managed to keep third place. The exciting part of all of this is that by coming in third place, OSI is now qualified to compete in the women’s elite category next year.

And then there were the two other legs. All I can say is I ran them, but that running got slower and progressively more painful with every leg. The later legs were also more chaotic, since more teams were out on the course. I learned my lesson though: 1500 meters a full speed shouldn’t be taken for granted!

The upshot of all of this is that I now have a team to train with – OSI. There are lots of fast ladies for me to try and keep up with, and I’ve been enjoying meeting new running buddies at every practice. As someone who mostly runs alone, I think I have a lot to gain by being challenged by others. Besides, I have to run faster at Holmenkollstafetten next year!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Friday, May 12, 2017

Gearing up

I’m now only two months out from this season’s first big race, Jotunheimen Rundt. It would be an understatement to say I am intimidated by this 440 km road bike race, labelled Norway’s toughest cycling sportive. I’ve never done a road bike race before, let alone one that will take me nearly 20 hours. Heck, I’ve never done any race that took me anything near 20 hours!

Luckily, there’s a little help from my friends to be found. It turns out I know 8 like-minded individuals, and we’re planning to ride together during the race. Hopefully that will make the hours pass more quickly, and the low points higher.

When I signed up for the race, I originally envisioned myself doing all sorts of fancy intervals to get into killer bike shape. But my training has slowly broken down into the ultramarathon mentality of ride as many miles as you can. I ride my commute to work as often as possible, and I’m also trying to get in some really long rides, using the time to practice eating on the bike and getting my legs (and butt!) used to a long day in the saddle.

Here’s a quick recap of my long rides so far.

Long ride 1: Nesoddtangen - Drøbak - Ski
My skinny tire season started on a beautiful weekend in late March, the week after the Birkbeiner. Marius and I set out to take the boat across the fjord to Nesoddtangen, and then ride around the Nesodd peninsula back to Oslo.
Selfie with Marius
The weather was absolutely gorgeous and we were both overdressed, expecting colder temps this early in the season.
Marius braves the ice on his skinny tires
After stopping at a bakery in Drøbak for refreshments, we decided to follow the bike route signs towards the town of Ski on our way home. The bike route took us for a wild ride, on a dirt road and then some trails via a stretch of ice, which Marius decided to ride. I tried, rather unsuccessfully, to follow suit. The moral of the story: bike paths aren’t always made with road bikes in mind.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t my legs that protested after 4 hours in the saddle but my neck and shoulder. My head seemed to get heavier and it was more difficult to keep my eyes focused on the road.

Nothing a little ice cream wouldn’t remedy.

Long ride 2: Around Ålvundfjord with Tingvoll Bicycle club

The next weekend, Audun and I visited his parents on the west coast of Norway. Audun’s father Odd Arild is an avid road cyclist, so nothing would do but we get in a ride on his home turf.

It was a drizzling, dreary day to be out riding. Even layers of Gore-tex and wool couldn’t keep the grimy water that lay in film on the road from seeping inwards, chilling me to my bones. The coastal scenery was beautiful though. I especially love the pine trees that grow defiantly, branches spread in one direction as if frozen in the wind.

We ended our ride cold and thoroughly covered in grime, happy to have made it nearly 90 km in those conditions. Let’s hope for good weather on Jotunheimen Rundt!

Audun and I looked even dirtier in real life.
Long ride 3: Holmenkollen + Enebakk Rundt 

Audun, Vibeke, David, Marius and I finally got together for a group ride at the end of April. We had great weather, and we got to practice drafting formations, which can save a lot of energy during a long race. Unfortunately my legs felt a little off all day, and I also felt like I couldn’t eat enough while on the bike. Looking back I realize that this ended up being my highest mileage week so far (254 km). Additionally, I later discovered that the ball bearings in my both of my wheels were pretty worn out after a winter of riding, causing unnecessary friction.

Long ride 4: Tour de Moss with Silje and Sigurd

After Easter, Audun was nursing his broken shoulder (that’s another story), and I went to visit my friends Silje and Sigurd 45 minutes outside of Oslo. We put in a big loop around their home turf, passing through farmlands and over beautiful side roads through sun speckled forest.

Unfortunately, the last hour or so dovetailed the highway, and we were riding into a headwind. I eventually insisted upon stopping for ice cream before riding the last stretch, which turned out to be a good idea as it ended our ride on a high note!

Long ride 5: Around Nordmarka solo

May 1 is an official holiday in Norway, and it fell on Monday this year. I raced Sentrumsløpet on Saturday, and put in a long run on Sunday (I’m trying not to loose all of my running fitness), so it only seemed fitting to put in a 150 km bike ride on Monday, completing a tough weekend.
The view of Tyrifjorden from the road
Unfortunately, no of my friends wanted to go with me this time around. I actually kind of enjoyed riding solo, since I could set my tempo depending on my mood and didn’t have to worry about keeping up with anyone. I was also super efficient, stopping only twice during the entire ride. I had an audiobook on one ear just to keep mind my off the time passing - 7 hours is a long time to spend alone with yourself!

Riding by my se-elf!
Phew, just writing about all my rides makes me feel more ready for Jotunheimen Rundt! Maybe I can do this after all!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Race report: My first 5K

Many people go from couch to 5K; I found a more roundabout way to get to the 5K. My first race was Oslo Marathon in 2010, and I spent years shying away from shorter distances, telling myself than long distances were my thing, until I decided to try my hand at a 10K in 2014. Since then, I’ve realized the advantage developing speed over shorter distances gives me in long trail races, and whittled down my 10K PR considerably. I’ve even come to enjoy the pure, hard effort of training and racing 10Ks. I began to wonder what it would be like to run a 5K. After a particularly exhilarating track workout I decided to go for it, and signed up for Sentrumsløpet 5K two days before the race.

My goals going into the race were (a) race hard and see what I could do and (b) break 21 minutes, with the subgoal of getting as close to 20 minutes as a possibly could.

Warming up for the Sentrumsløpet 5K. Photo by Audun

I ran to the start of the race to get a good, long warm-up. It was a sunny, but chilly, day. Unfortunately I spent a little too long milling around before the start, and probably wasn’t quite warm enough by the time I went to line up for the start.

I moved forward through the crowd, trying to look for runners who looked about as fast as me. I ended up only a dozen or so rows of people from the front of the field. Most of the people around me were wearing lycra, racing flats and GPS watches, with the notable exception of ten women in matching green t-shirts, sporting backpacks and hiking boots. I bounced up and down on my toes, debating whether I should politely let them know that this was a race, and probably if they were going to walk they should start further back in the field. But they all looked so excited, and it seemed unnecessary to bother them.

I regretted my decision as soon as the gun went off. As a sea of a thousand runners moving inexorably forward, I jostled to get into position to get around the women in green. The start was total chaos as I propelled myself across the start line, accelerating as I dodged slow-moving, mispositioned race-walkers.

5K runners on the hill up to the royal palace. Photo by Audun.
The beginning of the course is uphill to the royal palace, and I sprinted along, worried I had lost time weaving around people at the beginning. My lungs stung with effort by the time I reached the top of the hill, but to my delight I was rid of the race-walkers. Now I could concentrate on finding my legs, which somehow already felt fatigued. Never did 4 kilometers remaining seem so far. Kilometer 1: 4:11

I settled into a steady rhythm as the course flattened and made a few turns before heading downhill. I wanted to relax and regain my breath down the hill, but I had just passed another runner and I didn’t want to let up. I couldn’t afford to take it easy, so I push the downhill, using it to gain even more speed. Kilometer 2: 3:52

Midrace pain face. Photo by Audun.

It was then that the leaders of the 5K race started to hit the tail end of the 10K that had started earlier in the day. I felt like superwoman as I bounded passed a few of them. As I ran past the city hall, I saw Audun cheering for me, but I was in too much pain to even try to smile. My singular focus was to keep up the effort for the remaining kilometers. Kilometer 3: 4:06

As the course wound around the wharf, the congestion of 10K runners grew and I was forced to the edge of the course, making wide turns, to pass them. I scanned the street ahead of me for other 5K runners, but I was on my own.  I began to cough a little, my throat constricting in the asthma-like way that I sometimes experience during hard efforts. Kilometer 4: 4:15 /km

The final uphill on Kirkegata seemed to take forever, and I lagged mentally, unwilling rather than unable to push myself harder. I nearly had to shout at a group of 10K walkers who filled up the street. It was lucky they noticed me, since I don’t actually think I had the breath to shout. I turned the corner for the final stretch to the finish, and mustered my energy to give it my all for the last hundred meters to the finish. I crossed the finish line, so glad it was finally over. Kilometer 5: 4:10 /km
Angry sprint to the finish. Photo by Audun.

I finished in 20:49, a decent if not surprising time given my current fitness. Racing the 5K was incredibly intense, and I found it pretty stressful that I had to push so hard the whole time to keep the pace. I also wish the race organizers could have found a way to avoid the sending the 5K runners out on the tail end of the 10K race. I spent so much time dodging other people that I never really found my flow. Still, it was an interesting step out of my comfort zone.

Strava / Race results

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Sunnmøre Easter, part 1

Spending Easter in a tent didn’t seem so appealing when we rolled into the remote parking area at midnight. Audun, Zoe, Ingeborg and I hustled to pitch tents on the wet snow near the car, jacket hoods drawn against the drizzling rain.

Breakfast at our campsite
A much more appealing scene met our eyes when we awoke the next day. Rays of sun illuminated the sharp mountains that peaked out of the valley ahead of us, beckoning. We blearily packed up our camp and the tower of gear necessary for winter camping, clicked into our skis, and set off up the trail. There wasn’t much snow at this altitude; the dirt road we skinned up was barely covered.

Mishap struck a little way up the trail, when my sled suddenly lurched backwards and I discovered that one of the bolts holding the sled onto the hip belt had worked loosed. We spent 10 minutes scouring the trail we had just skinned across before I finally moved forward and discovered the bolt had been hidden under my sled. Securing the bolt with duct tape, we continued.
Dragging a heavy sled into the mountains.

It was a beautiful, but I struggled with the sled. In addition to the camping gear, I was dragging 7 kg (15 lbs) of goat kid for grilling later in the week. Every time I stepped forward, the sled slid before halting, creating a choppy rhythm. Dragging the sled was fine as long as the trail was relatively flat, but we were gaining altitude.

The wet snow from the evening before had transformed into a hard crust in the morning chill, and my skins didn’t always give me the traction I needed. I sometimes nearly slide backwards, and needed to throw all my weight into moving the sledge up the hill. Eventually I begrudgingly (“I don’t need help you know!”) allowed Audun to help me by pushing the sled on the steepest passages.

I was glad to see the lavvo (large, teepee-like tent) appear in the distance, and even more glad to arrive at the collection of tents where we would make our camp for the next few days. It had taken us 3 hours to slog the 8 kilometers to camp. Sixteen people would make up the Easter base camp, and most of them had headed out for a day trip already.
The base camp appears in the distance.
Not wanting to waste the day, we had a quick lunch and headed up one of the likely-looking slopes above our camp with a few stragglers from camp, Kaspar and Daniel. We skinned up a small knob that overlooked the edge of the Brekktind glacier. The surrounding peaks were sharp, likely needing ice axe and crampons if not ropes to ascend, so we turned. The descent from the knob was choppy. New snow in the past couple of days had melted in the warm weather and then frozen overnight, creating difficult, crusty conditions.
Nice snow at the beginning of the descent at least. This didn’t look near so elegant a few hundred meters later.

Life in camp was refreshingly simple. When you camp on snow, everything takes more time. You can’t just pitch the tent, you have to dig a space for it. Even going to the bathroom requires more unzipping and unbuckling. We had the lavvo as our living room, and when the rest of the skiers came back from their tour, we all squeezed in to eat and trade stories until the sun set and the sleeping bags beckoned.
Guro and Sigmund, cooking in the lavvo.
The next morning was, if possible, even more beautiful than the previous, and everyone had a singular goal on their mind: Slogen. William Cecile Slingsby, the renowned English mountain climber who spent significant time in Norway making first ascents of various peaks, famously considered Slogen Norway’s most beautiful mountain.

Slogen beckons.

The entire group from base camp set off for Slogen, except Zoe who was feeling sick and Daniel, who stayed behind to grill the goat kid. The first section of the climb was fairly mellow, and I raced ahead with Sigmund, Kristin and Kaspar, who held a steady, fast pace up the hill.

After traversing a mellow slope, the route up Slogen climbed a steeper bowl before reaching a shoulder from which a long, exposed ridge lead towards the summit. The ridge was broad enough to zig-zag upwards, but on every right hand skin turn you had a long glance straight down into the valley hundreds of meters below. Several in our group grew tense and unsure about continuing. I prefer to combat the discomfort of exposure by moving past it as quickly as I can, so I surged ahead. 
Zig-zags up the ridge on Slogen. Not picture: shear drop into the valley on the left side.
By the time I reached the saddle with less 100 vertical meters to the top, our large group of skiers was spread out across the mountain. I had lost track of Audun, who had stopped to fix someone’s broken binding. He and I had discussed skiing off the steep top face earlier in the day, but I wasn’t sure that I had the mettle to do it alone. None of the others in my group saw the fun in skiing off the top, so I decided against it, and boot the last section to the top. 
Breath-taking view from the top of Slogen.
Kaspar, Ingeborg, Guro and I reached the summit together and celebrated with a few photos before headed down. As we booted down, I realized that the perspective from the saddle had tricked me into thinking the line was much steeper than it was. I should have just gone for it! I berated myself.
Ingeborg and I celebrating on the summit of Slogen. Photo by Ingeborg
I passed Audun heading up with the rest of our group as we headed down. We had started to ski down the main face by the time they reached the top. Audun, Sigmund and Kenny found an insane line down the main face, dropping a couple of small cliffs on the way and whooping in enthusiasm as they slide down to where we stood. I was envious; should’ve waited for them at the saddle!

Ingeborg, Kenny and I climbed up an unskied slope on the way back to camp for a bonus descent. We slid back into camp, grinning ear to ear, before deciding to go for another lap on a north-facing slope before dinner.
Kenny, Ingeborg and I on unskied powder during our extra lap on Slogen. 
Six of us broke trail up towards Norde Smørskredtind. We near made it to the top, and probably wouldn’t have turned if it weren’t for the promise of grilled goat below. The weather was so beautiful, the sun perfect and the day long.

A sextet of skiers breaking trail up towards Nordre Smørskredtind
As a consolation prize for not reaching a second summit for the day, we got first tracks down an unmarked face in perfect powder – unheard of at Easter time in Norway! I skied like the wind on the way down, darting around small slough avalanches that came with me and trying to ignore the growing fatigue in my legs.

Kristin dives in.

Skiing down from Nordre Smørskredtind, with Slogen in the background.

That evening we feast on grilled goat, and reveled in what a fabulous day it had been.

Daniel grilling the goat while Sigmund looks on

Kristin with a meat-and-cheese appetizer.

 - The Wild Bazilchuk

(Audun should be credited for the majority of the photos in the this post.)