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.)