Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Border to Border Cross Country Ski Challenge Ends and New Challenges Begin

Standing at the finish line
Hello everyone,

I am now back in Zurich after almost 1 month of travelling around Scandinavia.  The trip started out in St Petersburg, Russia on the 28th February and ended yesterday in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The main purpose of the trip was the Border to Border Cross Country Ski Challenge, skiing across Finnish Lapland (classic style) from the border with Russia to the border with Sweden.  Those who follow my blog regularly will know that I suffered a major setback to my trip preparations when I partly tore my calf muscle whilst running on the track about 5 weeks before the trip was due to start.  That meant I was not able to get in the kind of shape that I wanted to be in, and went to Finland rather unprepared.  The only training I was able to do in the month before the trip was swimming.

The total distance of the Border to Border route is around 440km.  Knowing that I would not be able to do the full distance, I decided my aim would be to cover at least half the total distance.  Each day a bus was waiting at intermediate points along the route, allowing people like myself to do part days.

My daily distances were as follows:

Day 1 - 41km
Day 2 - 30km
Day 3 - 26km
Day 4 - 23km
Day 5 - 50km
Day 6 - 22.5km
Day 7 - 41km

In the end I managed a total distance of 233.5km, so I was happy to have achieved my aim.  Even more so, considering my complete lack of experience with classic cross country skiing.  I could seriously count on one hand the number of times that I have been cross country skiing classic style in my life.

The best way to improve your technique in anything is to practise, practise and practise some more.  The Border to Border trip was a perfect chance therefore to improve my xc skiing technique.  Just before leaving for the trip I took a classic xc ski lesson in Studen.  So I knew what I was supposed to do in theory.

On day 1 it was very tough for me.  There were quite a few downhills and some even ended in a sharp turn.  Lacking the balance that comes with practise I fell over many times that first day.  I also found that I was slowest in the group, which meant being followed by a snowmobile all day long.  There is always one snowmobile in front of the skiers and one following at the back, for safety reasons.

As the days went on, I felt my technique improving and I was able to glide longer after each kick.  It was clear to see the improvement when I looked at my Garmin stats.  On day 1 my average speed was a mere 6.5km/h.  As the week went on it went up to around 8.5km/h, and I was no longer the slowest in the group by any means.  I wonder how long it would have continued improving for, as 10km/h is a very reasonable speed for long distances on waxless skis on varied, undulating terrain.

The longest distance I covered in one day was 50km.  That day seemed very long to me, and I was very glad to arrive at the finish line.  Considering all but one of the days were meant to be over 50km, it clearly demonstrated that I was not in the right form to be attempting the whole route for this year at least.  More than half the group were Finnish, and had prepared for the trip by skiing hundreds or thousands of kilometres.  Those from countries such as Germany and the UK were a little less prepared, but nonetheless I did not find anyone like myself that had barely skied before.

What impressed me most was the average age of the skiers on the trip.  Many of them were in their 60s, 70s and even 80s.  One of them even had a pacemaker fitted, although for obvious reasons he did not attempt the full route.  They were a great example to demonstrate that ageing does not have to mean becoming sedentary and resigning oneself to a rocking chair.

Now with the xc ski challenge out of the way, I am returning to my original aim of running a sub 3 hour marathon.  At the same time though I will be training myself to swim long distances, and I may quite possibly try a long distance swim event this summer.  I will keep you all posted.

In the meantime have a very happy Easter everyone.