Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Saunas, Skate Skis, and Scotch

Tampere is squeezed between two amazing lakes!

Jackson has a new found love for selfies, mostly because the Tampere tourist website suggested them
Tampere, Finland

Debating which bus to get on

After spending the week relaxing, skiing and trying to figure out the Tampereen bus system, we hopped on a shuttle Saturday morning to head to JamiJarvi, the site of the Jami42 ski marathon. Upon arrival we were thrilled to see the American flag flying high above the stadium next to the Finnish and Estonian flags. The Americans had arrived! 

The most popular question to ask us at the race: why are you here?

Tyler bought a cool Jami42 hat. Well, he thinks it's cool at least.
There is a strong trend in classic marathon skiing (and classic skiing in general) for athletes to double-pole the entire course if possible. This allows skiers to race classic races on skate skis without kick wax and this makes the skis much faster. It is definitely weird to think about classic racing on skate skis, but if the conditions are right, double-poling a race can be much faster. We looked at the course profile, and after our kick wax debacle the week before we thought seriously about using skate skis and double-poling. After doing a little reconnaissance and seeing one other person with skate skis we decided it was a great idea and put our skate skis down on the starting line. We were a little nervous about our ski choice so to take our minds off of it we dutifully performed our tried and true race warm-up routine of walking around for a while with our poles and getting cold. With five minutes to go we approached the start line to put on our skis. As we clipped in our bindings a Norwegian man started doing one leg pushups, tricep presses, and other intimidating exercises on ground next to us. We aren't sure whether this was an attempt to warm-up or to intimidate us. Either way, when he asked to get in front of Jackson in the start line Jackson quickly obliged while Tyler looked forward hoping not to be noticed. 

The race went off without a hitch and it was very fun to ski through Finnish forests - a cool change of scenery from the valleys in the Alps. Tyler, although fighting illness, finished 19th and Jackson was 20 seconds behind in 20th. We were again able to work together in the race and dropped the pack we were skiing with in the final 2km. Double-poling the race was certainly hard but the right choice given the conditions! Everyone seemed very excited about the two Americans racing and we were interviewed at the Finnish line for the local news - see a small article here: http://www.jami147.fi/ajankohtaista/lisaa-tunnelmia-lauantailta/ and another one here: http://www.kankaanpaanseutu.fi/Urheilu/1195019156053/artikkeli/koutaniemi+ja+heiskanen+jami+42+-voittajat.html (Be warned! - Google really struggles to translate Finnish!)

Our post race meals continue to impress and we happily ate homemade soups, bread, coffee and delicious crepes after the race. As it turns out our intimidating Norwegian competitor, Morthen, was quite friendly and we enjoyed a two hour conversation with him, his wife, and two young kids while we ate lunch. He has raced many world loppets and other ski races all over Europe. When he and his wife had their second child a few years ago he brought his skis to the hospital so that he could be sure to make it to the Finlandia Hiihto race later in the day. If you can't tell, we idolize him - and are very impressed (and sort of surprised) with how supportive his wife is!

Delicious lunch!
At the end of the day we were waiting outside of the arena for our shuttle when Morthen and his family came outside to head back home. He was sorry that there was not room for him to give us a ride and he offered us each a headband and hat from his sponsor company. We then enjoyed a Finnish post race tradition of his outside their car as they packed up. A glass of whiskey consumed from a sippy cup has never tasted better! 

On Sunday, Jackson went to watch World Cup skiing at the Lahti Ski Festival and Tyler enjoyed some restful down time. I arrived early enough to watch all of the pre-race preparation, which is a little more intense than it is in college skiing. Each skier warms up with one, or in the case of some of the Norwegian stars, several wax techs as they try to choose the fastest pair of skis for the day. The Lahti world cup was a pursuit race, meaning that halfway through the race, the skiers switched from classic to skate skis, so ski choice was even more rigorous than usual. Although a lot of fans came, there was more room to spectate than there was at the Holmenkollen Ski Festival and I had a chance to practice some action photography. I indulged myself, taking over 2000 pictures over the course of the day. The success of the American women over the last few years, and especially this year, has made being an American fan at these events really exciting. Despite the Finnish commentary, American skier Jessie Diggins’s name could be heard over the loud speaker many times, and she received the loudest cheers of any non-Finnish athletes. The races themselves were exciting but, unfortunately for the host country, ended in Norwegian podium sweeps for both the men and women’s races.

American Jessie Diggins, Number 7.
This is really a photo of what Tyler looked like 7 years ago and what he will look like 20 years from now.
Finn Hagen Krogh (8) and Martin Sundby (Leader), Norway
Noah Hoffman, USA
In Finland, there are about 5.5 million people and about 2 million saunas. We’ve been lucky to enjoy several of them, including one in the house of our current hosts, Anssi and Emmi, who live in Helsinki. The steam, or löyly (which is Finnish word to describe sauna steam and is distinct from the word höyry, which describes steam in all other contexts) can create an intense experience, but saunas are integral to experiencing Finnish culture and probably good preparation for races, at least mentally. We travel to Lahti, Finland in a couple of days, which is where our next marathon, the Finlandia-Hiihto, is held.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Relaxing, Horrible Waxing, and Back to Back 50 km Races

We spent three excellent and relaxing days in Villars, Switzerland, skiing and watching Sherlock Holmes movies. The skiing seemed dubious at first. The ski trail began as a paved road and reluctantly transformed into a trail, but once we climbed to higher elevation, the skiing was beautiful, with consistent cover, long climbs, and winding downhills. Fresh snow preceded our last day of skiing in Villars and then the sun came out, revealing expansive views of massive, snow covered mountains. We found freshly groomed tracks and the day was stunning.
The start of the Villars ski trail: a little pavement, but still beautiful
Jackson in Villars
Fresh snow and sunny skies in Villars

Last Wednesday, we received word that La Transjurassienne was cancelled. Heavy rain and warm temperatures washed both the course and our French skiing experiences away. We quickly adjusted our plans and, disappointed that our 68 km race was cancelled, signed up for both the 50 km classic and the 50 km skate Koasalauf marathons in St. Johann int. Tirol, Austria on Saturday and Sunday.

The Koasalauf logo, maybe the coolest logo for anything ever.
The Finish of the Koasalauf
Clouds gave way to sunny skies before the skate race
Our preparation for the Saturday classic marathon was unfortunate. Unable to wax our skis at our B&B, which was patrolled by an exuberant but particular Austrian woman who spoke very little English, we tried to create a makeshift wax station at the race venue at 9pm Friday night. We managed to put a layer of LF7 on our skis before a race official approached and told us to leave. We had to scrape our skis in the parking lot and didn’t manage to put any high fluorinated wax on. Slow slow slow.
Parking lot waxing 
Despite this, we went into the marathon excited to race again. Fresh, warm snow fell right as the race started. It would have been beautiful, but because of the kick wax we used, ice chunks began accumulating on the bottom of our skis almost immediately. Both of us had to stop to get the ice off and Jackson, who had to take his skis off, rashly resorted to biting the ice off of his skis before a nice woman came to his aid with a scraper. The snow stopped, both of us recovered, and we double poled the rest of the 47 km, finishing in 21st (Tyler) and 26th (Jackson). Exhausted, and wishing to avoid more waxing debacles, we gave our skate skis to the Toko Wax techs and went out for pizza.
After a tough race, most people go into their next one with a chip on their shoulder. We chose back braces instead. But, with our skis freshly waxed, we found some energy and set off for our second marathon in two days. This one went well. Both of us stayed with the lead pack of 14 skiers for 35 km, at which point Jackson fell about 30 seconds back. However, a stiff headwind on the last 15 km meant that it was strategic for the lead pack to ski slowly and Jackson caught back up with about 8 kilometers from the finish. Tyler got to lead the race for a couple of kilometers and the group stayed together until the finish, when everyone put in a furious sprint towards the line. Tyler ended up in 8th, only eight seconds out of 1st, and Jackson finished behind him in 10th.

The Koasalauf was timed by Lynx Timing, which is also our suit sponsor
The photo from the Lynx camera of the skate finish
We are now in Tampere, Finland. Unfortunately, the next World Loppet, the Tartu Marathon in Estonia, was also cancelled. However, we’ve signed up for a Finnish Marathon called the Jami42, which we race this Saturday. Unlike a lot of Europe, Finland has some real winter and we’ve already done some great skiing as we prepare to race.
Skiing in Tampere, Finland

Stay tuned for a race recap and more Finnish adventures (for example, our attempts to understand the language!)

Monday, February 8, 2016

Vacation on Vacation

            After returning from Austria we began last week by spending a luxurious four days with Jackson’s family friends, the Messerlis. Highlights included a real tour of the city with Elisabeth (as opposed to last time we were there, when we just looked windows full of expensive watches) meeting and hanging out with Antonia, an Italian exchange student that lived with the Messerlis two years ago, and a raclette dinner with Beat and Elisabeth. We tried to do some of our own cooking, too, but, with limited provisions, it didn’t turn out that well.
Great company, and some of the best food we eaten the entire trip

Followed by some of the worst...(this is French Toast, of course!)

There was still some skiing in Switzerland!
      Switzerland, like a lot of Europe, is almost devoid of snow, but we found some great skiing at Davos and some icy conditions elsewhere. From Zurich, we drove to Prague, where we toured the Prague castle with the Stoceks.

Before our flight to Norway Fabian's parents brought us the the Prague Castle!

Tyler struggled to say goodbye to the car

We then flew from Prague to Norway for a mini ‘vacation’ in the midst of our travels. We have had a long break from racing and it has been great to do a lot of exploring. In normal Norway fashion it was snowing and below freezing when we landed Oslo! The next three and a half days were spent in Alvdal about three hours north of Oslo by train. Tyler’s family hosted a foreign exchange student from Norway three years ago and it was fantastic for Tyler (and Jackson) to finally get to see where Erling is from. The Norwegian mountains did not disappoint and winter was in full force. We skied on extra blue wax in -5 C weather for three days fueled solely on brunost, jam, bread and coffee. We couldn’t really have asked for more. The skiing in Norway more than lives up to its reputation even if Erling described the snow this winter as ‘not great’.

Within 20 minutes of Erling's house there was 100's of kilometers of skiing!

We did spend a short amount of time not skiing and it was fun to get to know Erling’s parents. One afternoon Erling brought us up to his families mountain cabins and we were able to go skijoring with the family dog!

One of the new cabins Erling's family is building

From Alvdal we went back to Oslo, where people ride the metro with their ski boots on, roads are sheets of ice, and ski trails are never ending. Really. 1,600 kilometers are accessible from a metro stop near where we were staying, and, despite warm, foggy, and rainy weather, we took advantage and put in a lot of skiing over the weekend.

One of many falls

            Last weekend, Oslo also hosted the Holmenkollen Skifestival, a weekend of cross country, ski jumping, and nordic combined world cup competitions that are highlighted by the Holmenkollen 50 and 30 kilometer cross country races. The city treats the weekend like a giant party. Hundreds of people camp trailside all along the 8.3 kilometer race course, grilling and drinking until it’s time for the race, when they don sweaters and knee high socks and chant Heia until their lungs give out. We saw all of the top skiers in the world and got some funny looks from American skiers who seemed surprised to hear us cheering for them during warmups. Despite the gloomy weather, over 10,000 fans lined the race course, creating the most exciting and electric skiing atmosphere we’ve been a part of.
            On Friday, at the end of a snowy ski on the Oslo trail system, we found our way onto, and subsequently skied, the race course used for the 50 and 30 km races. It is hard. The hills were steep and massive and the experience really put into perspective the strength and skill of the world cup athletes, who we normally just get to watch on video. Skiing the course also gave us the opportunity to ski into and around the Holmenkollen stadium, which has hosted some of the most famous races ever. It was oddly intimidating to enter such a historic ski venue but skiing over it’s bridges and past the bleachers ended up being one of our favorite skiing experiences so far.

About to enter the Holmenkollen stadium.

A volunteer noticed our patriotism, was rooting for Jessie Diggins, and gave us tickets to go on the other side of the fence, where the spectating was significantly better,

American skier Liz Stephen

The chase group

UVM alum and Craftsbury Green Team skier Caitlin Patterson

Beautiful weather for the women's race

50k winner Martin Johnsrud Sundby leading the front four.

Therese won this 30km race by 3:46, crazy.

Norwegian superstar Petter Northug battles Russian Alexander Legkov near the end of the race.

Apparently a whole group of Swedes came just to watch American skier Jessie Diggins.

   Now we are back in summery Switzerland, where we are getting ready to
race the 68km Transjurassiene this coming Sunday. You can see the preview of the