Sunday, June 25, 2017

Race report: Fjorden Rundt

Fjorden Rundt is a 200 km bike race around Trondheim’s fjord, and falling just over a month before Jotunheimen Rundt, was the perfect test race for our team. Since the location of our riders is split evenly in Trondheim and Oslo, 7 hours apart, we don’t get the opportunity to ride together that often, so Audun, Marius and I made the journey to Trondheim to meet the rest of the team.

This was actually my first road race ever. It was very low key, with no timing mats and even no start line. There was just a guy with a clipboard who called everyone’s name and then shouted GO!, and we were off.

Hanging on to the tail end of a large group of riders at the beginning of Fjorden Rundt.
Our group of 6 riders latched on to a peloton of 40 riders, hanging on to the tail. It was exhilarating to ride in a big group like that. Sometimes it was no work at all to keep up, but when the top of the peloton crested a hill top group stretched like an accordion, and those of us on the tail had to pedal like mad to prevent falling off the back.

The jerky pace was a bit stressful, so when some in our group fell off the back, we decided to start our own grupetto, which was better practice for Jotunheimen Rundt in any event. Soon I began to struggle with our pace. I felt fine on the flats and descents, but watched my heart rate shoot through the roof on every little hill. Was this a sustainable pace for 200K? Would I even be able to keep up with our team during Jotunheimen Rundt?

Most of Fjorden Rundt is punchy, rolling hills, but there is one longer climb after 30 or so kilometers. On the climb, I watched Noëmi and Fredrik bolt up the hill like they were on a two hour ride. I felt miserably inadequate. Was I doomed to be the weakest link on the team? Were the hours and hours spent riding this year all for nothing?

I finally made the wise decision to stop looking at my heart rate monitor, and just enjoy the beautiful, sunny day. This would be a test: either I would blow up due to the too hard early pace, or I would learn that I could keep this harder pace for 200K. I keep my own, easy pace on the hills, and Marius and Audun would help ride me up to the group after hill tops.

As the race continued, our team began to ride more like a well-oiled machine, practicing our double paceline formation until it felt natural. The advantage of the double paceline is that you can chat with your partner as you go along, and with good company the kilometers passed quickly. On our way we passed several stragglers who had lost their groups for whatever reason, and let them draft off of us for a while.

Sigmund rides towards the bad weather.
With only 20K to go, it began to rain heavily and we called a stop for rain jackets. I was just glad we had had sun for most of the day! It was really wet, with dirty water spraying up from the road, soaking every inch of me not covered by rain jacket.

On the final climb to the finish, we saw another team a couple minutes ahead. “Let’s go, we can catch them!” someone shouted. I put my head down and rode hard, but, in my mounting fatigue, fish-tailed into Fredrik’s back wheel. I yelled unintelligibly as I flew off my bike into the ditch on the side of the road. It took me a moment to take stock, but I realized that I was fine, with the exception of blooded knees. Shaking a little, I got back on my bike and we road calmly to the top of the hill and the finish.

From the left, Sigmund, Marius, me, Audun, Noëmi and Fredrik at the finish line of Jotunheimen Rundt.
I later noticed I had bent my front wheel, and I’ve added crashing to my list of Jotunheimen Rundt fears. Since I crashed, at least partially, because I was tired, won’t the chance of crash increase exponentially as fatigue mounts? I guess I will just pound caffeine and try to stay lazer-focused.

Strava here, results here

- The Wild Bazilchuk

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