Welcome to my blog! This is a site where you can keep up to date on my life as a full-time athlete in the sport of cross country skiing. You can expect regular updates throughout the year as I report on training, racing, life in general and maybe even some school. Sponsors, family, friends and fans: Enjoy!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The price you pay for jumping a stone wall to feed a donkey

No, the title is not a metaphor for anything. On my last day in Québec, Justine (one of my gracious hosts in Vieux Québec), Ian Murray (who was staying with Justine as well), and I went on an adventure to meet the one and only donkey in the entire Ville de Québec. Concealed beneath a small shelter in a stone courtyard behind a church, said donkey lives a meagre and secret existence as Justine's father, David, who is a lawyer, wages legal warfare with the town to allow the rearing of Aldo, the affable and shaggy donkey. Living off the charity of generous carrot-offering tourists, Aldo has gained a somewhat cult following within the community and is, among other things, launching a calendar for this year's holiday season.

Through a raging snowstorm, Justine, Ian and I approached the windswept courtyard that houses the timid donkey, and were confronted with a stone wall. Upon scaling and leaping over the wall our troupe was beset by the territorial chastisement of a lady who turned out to be the bishop's wife, whose property Aldo is housed on. With justified suspicion of donkey abuse, the bishop's wife was adamant. Adamant until she recognized Justine, whose aunt happens to be the proud owner of Aldo. With that, our unannounced visit to the donkey switched from chastisement to encouragement. This, however, was not the last we would see of the bishop's wife.

Aldo and his companion goat. 

After disheveled fur was patted and proffered carrots were gobbled up, it was time to climb back over the wall. My ungraceful struggle over was accompanied by a disheartening ripping sound. In one fateful motion, the jeans I was wearing were torn asunder. It quickly dawned on me that this was a pressing matter indeed as these were the only pants I had brought on my trip East other than spandex and warm-up pants. And our ride to the airport for our flight back west was scheduled to leave in the next 15 minutes...

Luckily, Simons was only a hop, skip and a jump away. Pressed for time, I quickly tried on several pairs of jeans, was able to select one (no small feat for my short legs, narrow waist and big butt), and we were off. Hustling back up the snowy streets of Vieux Québec we passed by a lady hauling a christmas tree through the snowdrifts. The stooped over bishop's wife was quick to conscript our labour to take a detour through the nearby German market to collect and haul back to the church the remaining few christmas trees that were being donated to refugee families for the holidays.

With hands frostbitten and abraded from the rough bark of les sapins, we couldn't help but laugh at the events of the last 20 minutes as we loaded our things into the car to begin our journey home.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Through stone passageways to battle

The mood between the men milling around is quiet but anxious. Your number is called and the man ushers you forward through the stone tunnel. On the threshold of the wall you step on a platform and a squad of officials prop you up and brush the crud off of your boots before you step on the brilliant white surface. The crowd chants and cheers and you gain a sense of the sheer magnitude of human presence on this side of the wall. You shift in your armour and feel the weight of your weapons as you swing them through the air. You have done this hundreds of times before, but today is different. There is energy in the air.

But in place of chain mail and morning stars there are carbonlites and spandex. The course is a tunnel of waving flags and appendages and strained vocal chords.

The Québec City sprint World Cup was one of the best experiences of my life to date.

photo credit: Motion360
On the start line getting ready to break the wand.

One thing that made the week in Québec amazing, is the lodging provided to Ian Murray and I by my girlfriend's cousins. They live right in Vieux Québec about a 5 minute walk from the race's start line. Pictured here is Ian Murray fiddling a ditty with Louisa on guitar. Louisa is but one of the cousins and lives across the backyard from where we were staying with another cousin. The house that we stayed in is one of the oldest houses in Québec City, built in 1793. Never has there been such a joyous and convenient lodging at a race. The weekly 20-person family dinners/jam sessions are something out of a movie.

The morning commute through the streets of old town Québec.

The start line beneath ancient stonework and crenellations.

Taking it all in on a training day.

Team Sprint 

Warming up for the skate sprint.

Navigating the sloppy and soft conditions of the 2-lap 750 meter man-made snow course. On my first lap I was a little startled by the 30,000 hollering spectators on course. I was able to snap out of it a bit on my second lap and skied strong in to the line.

photo cred: Motion360. 
Rounding the corner into the finishing straight. On the day I was pretty stoked on my qualifier. I have never had that much fun cross country skiing! Next time I will know what to expect with the blaring racket of thousands of people.

For some more pictures that really capture the essence of Québec City this past weekend, check out Reese Hanneman's blog.

Thanks to all my sponsors and supporters who made this all possible!


Monday, December 3, 2012

Securing a World Cup berth

photo cred: James Cunningham

I wrote a previous blog draft to this, but after an emotional past few days all but the most ardent of my readership would be bored to tears due to the incoherent, mundane ramblings of a shocked, overexcited mind.

To avoid the mundane and incoherent, I will keep this short.

I just qualified for my first World Cup race. It is this Saturday, December 8th in downtown Québec City.

Thank you to all of my friends, family, supporters and sponsors. This result has been a long time in the coming after recent years of injuries and illness and a FIS point requirement holding me back from racing a World Cup back in 2008.

This was my number one goal for the year, and it has been accomplished. Time to set new goals. The season has only just begun!

Thank you,

I am in blue on the far left. This heat is an all-Canadian affair, with 5 provinces and territories represented. The day was dominated by the Swiss National Sprint team, claiming the top 4 spots in the A-final. (photo cred: David Greer)

There was some minor excitement when I found myself in the lead with 150 m to go. Alas, bridging the gap earlier in my quarter-final left me a little gassed in the finishing stretch. Photo cred: James Cunningham

Photo finish (via @rapidcampf) - I am in 4th.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Canmore: I never take any pictures cause I know I'll just be right back.

Funny how that works. Canmore, AB, despite being one of the most beautiful towns in Canada, surrounded by majestic Rocky Mountain peaks, is one of the few places that I have visited that I rarely feel compelled to snap any photos.

Truth is, Canmore is a 3rd home for me (behind Yellowknife and Whistler) and is a place that I return to so often (about 3 times per year) and spend so much time in (1-2 months per year), that pictures are hardly necessary to remind me of the natural beauty of the mountain town.

My arrival in Canmore this time around was to a season I did not expect. Sure, I expected to be skiing on snow on the fabled Frozen Thunder, but little did I know that the entire town would be under it's own kind of "Frozen Thunder" spell. My suitcase's wardrobe consisted of 80% summer clothing, reflecting partly my trip down south to the "warm" USA, and partly my expectation of some afternoons in Canmore spent mountain biking or roller skiing beneath an autumn sun after a morning ritual of slipping and sliding around a hamster death wheel of dirty slush. Rolling into town, the blizzard and biting windchill that greeted me had me mentally tallying the number of wind briefs that I had stashed away in the Fit. I felt a sinking feeling as the number "2" came to mind.

Any stinging of frost nipped appendages over the course of the week was soon assuaged by how mind-bogglingly good the skiing was. I put down a solid 18-hour training week and skied over 300 km over the course of my 10 days in Canmore. Hard wax and solid tracks were the order of the day, every day.

While one of my focuses of the camp, the Frozen Thunder Classic sprint race, didn't go as well as I had hoped due to some borrowed race skis that I could not kick, the quality of other sessions and the jump start on winter in October was very productive and just downright fun.

A huge thank you to former Yellowknifers, Linda and Blair Dunbar, who hosted me while in Canmore.

I am now 4 weeks out of the ever important season opening races (again, in Canmore) and am back in Whistler to make final preparations. It is warm and wet and will likely be at least another week of dryland training (as much as you can call Whistler "dry" at this time of year) before any signs of skiing higher up in the Callaghan Valley.

This is seriously the only picture I took while in Canmore. Graham Nishikawa skiing on Frozen Thunder. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Visiting an extraordinary athlete in the high country

Last year I had big plans of training at high altitude a few times during the year, both in Whistler and down at my friend Marshall's place in Colorado. Both plans were quelled with a mononucleosis diagnosis last August (you have to wait until August for the snow to melt on the mountains around Whistler). This year I wanted to put my previous plans into action. All of the top cross country skiers spend bouts at altitude throughout the year. With that, I bought a $60 unlimited gondola-use hiking pass for Whistler, and contacted my buddy Marshall Ulrich, who I met as a youth ambassador on impossible2Possible's inaugural youth expedition to Baffin Island in 2009 when he was an inspirational ambassador and guide on the trip. Being more than accommodating to my ambitions for an altitude camp this fall, Marshall invited me to make his home, nestled high in the mountains above Idaho Springs, Co, my training base for a few weeks this October. 

Marshall and his wife are some of a small handful of folks who live above 3000 meters of elevation here in North America. The altitude allows for easy acclimation for Marshall's mountaineering trips and offers great training for Marshall's ultrarunning. For me, the high altitude was a stress on the body simply sitting on the couch, not to mention how it reduced some training sessions to feeble, gasping carcass drags. Luckily, I had the option of training down at 2300 meters, which over the course of my two weeks at Marshall's came to feel "low" despite being a vertical kilometre higher than Canmore, AB, a place where I normally struggle with the thin air. During the final 4 days of my stay, I finally noticed a change in my hemoglobin's oxygen saturation levels. At rest, it finally jumped up from 90 to 94%. Training session sensations never truly improved.

My gracious host for the week, the indomitable Marshall Ulrich (his wife, Heather, is also gracious and indomitable). Marshall's feats of endurance are truly mind boggling. Just look him up on Wikipedia

Scouting up in the high country for biking and running routes. The Ulrich's place has easy access to running terrain above 3500 meters, as well as some of Colorado's fabled 14,000'ers (alas, a nagging knee problem inhibited me from summiting one)

Many of my days were spent toiling up the 15 km, 800 m vertical Fall River Road that leads up to the Ulrich's. Some pitches are 16%!

I swear I didn't photoshop this. A looming storm front moves in over Lake Quivara, up by St. Mary's Glacier.

Very characteristic fall Colorado colours. Browns and dark greens. This is just up above Marshall's place. The lake is fed by the meager snow patch that is St. Mary's Glacier (out of frame). 

Am I happy that I completed this stint of altitude down in Colorado? Part of me says yes: it was a great opportunity to visit some beautiful states on my 3,000 km drive down there, and to get to know Marshall and his family. But at the same time, I experienced solitude and loneliness on the 5-day drive down to Colorado, camping and roughing it every night. And even though the training down there was very good and challenging due to the somewhat extreme altitude, I am not yet noticing any huge changes in how training feels. I guess that comes after this next period of hard, intense work. The increased hemoglobin mass and other improved parameters will shorten recovery time after hard sessions and will help me maximize the higher intensity training of the coming weeks. Any gains will take a bit of time to materialize and present themselves. Racing season is a little over a month away. The gains should be showing by then. Keep the nose to the grindstone...


Friday, October 5, 2012

Driving to Colorado: A 5-day test of mental fortitude

At the moment I am sitting in a quaint café at 2200 meters elevation in Idaho Springs, Colorado, watching as the lingering remnants of last night's snowfall melt away, reminiscing on the punishing feat of endurance that brought me to this faraway land. Over the course of the 3,000 km driving journey from Whistler to Idaho Springs, I have come to appreciate the incredible natural beauty that the varying USA landscapes have to offer (and I haven't even seen the half of it!). At the same time, this quest of discovery has been fraught with anxiety, as I attempted to cope with the constant mental alertness of driving all day long, and of being resourceful enough to screech into my day's destination and trying to nail down a suitable place to pitch my tent in the waning light of the autumn days (sometimes it was even downright dark).

One night, after I found out that my desired campsite in Yellowstone was closed for the year, I camped on a forest service road on the edge of the park right next to where two wildlife officers and their dog had just driven away with an occupied live-grizzly bear trap in tow. I slept about 3 hours that night as every perceptible sound and shadow materialized into an imaginary bear circling my tent.

From where I camped in the hills beyond the mouth of this valley I could make out this white hillside, that upon closer inspection were hot spring terraces. The sound of elk calls and the first rays of sunlight striking the Mammoth hot springs marked the beginning of my prehistoric foray into the supervolcano that is Yellowstone National Park.

This sight could almost be in the Northwest Territories, besides the fact that this male is a plains bison, dwarfed by the 2,000+ lb. wood bison subspecies of the NWT, whose heft equals or exceeds that of my Honda Fit. 

The primordial geothermal activity of the park instilled a true sense of wonder.

Rising steam venting from geysers and hot springs are everywhere within the caldera.

The heat generated from all of this geothermal activities greatly aids the large herbivores in the park during their winter forage in the harsh high altitude climate.

After spending a night in Park City, UT, I got to roller ski at the 2002 Olympic Venue of Soldier Hollow. It was inspiring remembering the last generation of stars who duked it out on these very trails back in the day when I was just starting to really get into skiing. The likes of Beckie Scott, Thomas Alsgaard, Per Elofsson, Johann Muehlegg (convicted doper), etc... It was also very nice to catch up with some friends on the National xc and biathlon teams who were on-site, after the solitude and loneliness of the first few days of road trip.

Unbelievably fast and flowy single track in Vernal, Utah. The guys at the bike shop laughed at my 26" wheel mountain bike. I guess in this part of the world 29ers rule supreme, and in fact, that's all they had at the shop. When I asked if they had any 26" bikes at all, the ex-world champ bike shop owner laughed and says, "yeah, we have a few. But they're kids bikes!"

My second night camping in Utah, I was in Dinosaur National Monument. I enjoyed a balmy evening and an incredible sunset amidst prancing, tularaemia-infected rabbits at the campsite on the banks of the Green River. As I slipped into my sleeping bag, the peaceful and calm evening was broken as a light breeze picked up. Before long, this breeze had manifested into 100 km/h gusts of wind that would scream through the river canyon before they blasted your tent and threatened to carry you off across the desert. I can sleep in a tent when it is windy outside, but gusty is another matter. The intermittent gusts would be separated by periods of complete calm, usually lasting about a minute, before the cool mountain air from Colorado would plunge into the river valley and build up into another howling, canyon-scouring gale that you would hear coming from miles away. My tent and I survived the night, but my beauty sleep did not.

The next day I got to revisit a childhood passion of mine: palaeontology. In a school project in grade 6, I was required to write down my life ambitions. When I grew up I wanted to be a professional skier and upon retirement from that I wanted to be a palaeontologist. It is neat that I am now pursuing skiing as a profession, while at the same time maintaining my childhood fascination of dinosaurs and having a bucket list objective of spending time working at a dino dig in some far-flung location sometime in the near future. At Dinosaur National Monument they have a cool glassed in quarry where you can observe a fossil "logjam" caused by dino carcasses being washed downstream as rains return after a period of drought. The logjam consists of only large dinosaurs that would be swept away and piled along certain sections of riverbed, while the smaller dinosaur remains would be crushed and destroyed by the turbulent waters.

Running "Sound of Silence" trail in Dinosaur. All you would hear amongst the huge slick rock formations was the eerie echo of your footsteps.

Rock formation along "Sound of Silence". 

A mouthwatering field of "ribeye from the sky" in Utah. (Sandhill crane.)

Today I am waiting to meet up with my buddy Marshall "Endurance King" Ulrich, who will be putting me up in his home for the coming weeks of my high altitude dry land training camp. I know Marshall from the impossible2Possible Baffin Island expedition that I was on in 2009. Marshall's exploits include running 3,063 miles across the USA in 52 days at the age of 57, as well as being the first to run a non-stop 584-mile Badwater Quad (twice back and forth from the below sea-level elevation of Death Valley to the top of Mount Whitney at 14,505 ft, the highest point in the contiguous USA). I shouldn't complain too much about my 3,000 km drive across the states...

After my night in a motel in Idaho Springs. Supposed to be rather wintery while I am here. Meanwhile, Whistler continues to enjoy it's best fall in over 30 years (according to long-time local-extraordinaire, Boyd McTavish) with constant bluebird and daily highs of over 20 degrees.

The next few days will include regaining my bearings after the mentally taxing driving. I will enjoy some moderate training as I explore the environs and acclimatize to the unprecedented high altitude. The scenery is much different in Colorado compared to the other states I have experienced on this trip. The scale is much more grand. The colours are dark green and brown and the mountains are bigger. And it is much colder.

Stay tuned for another camp update...


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Huckleberry Festival

This year's Huckleberry Festival at Callaghan Country Lodge was a bountiful and unseasonably hot event. The weather was much improved from last year's trudge through a torrential downpour (the sad day that my 6 year old cell phone died) and the huckleberries were in no short supply, a stark contrast to last year's nonexistence. 
Antoine is all smiles with the return of the huckleberries as we hike up to one of our favourite places in the world. 

The hardy crew from last year's soggy Huckleberry Festival. This year there were an additional 30-40 people!

The 4.5 km hike took us a full 3 hours as we foraged and grazed on berries at every opportunity.

The Callaghan Country Lodge (there wasn't actually snow up there. The only shot I have of the lodge is from winter...)

Once at the lodge, chefs Kristy and Evan transformed our berry harvest into pancakes...

...and pies.

Hilarious quote from random dude: "I just thought we were hiking up to some lake, then next thing I know I am sitting in a sweat lodge up in a tree fort!"
Enjoying the final hours of daylight after a glorious fall day in the Callaghan Valley.

Some still hadn't had their fill of huckleberries...

Kajsa even found a King Bolete mushroom! Boletes are an edible variety, pointed out to us by fellow hiker and photographer extraordinaire, Joern, whom we found deep in the woods, stalking us with his camera lens.

Until next time...

Friday, August 24, 2012

To endure you must push and glide

My annual pilgrimage (with the exception of last year) to the Haig Glacier near Canmore, AB, is one of the only times in the year that I am totally unplugged from my computer and cell phone. It is a short span of days that is uncomfortable for some; to be away from the comfort of home and their bed and the services and entertainment of society. For me, it's a respite from the bustle of modern living. It is a time when the main activities of an athlete are emphasized to the max. Namely: sleeping, eating, training and socializing. To be high above the tree-line in the heart of the rocky mountains adds a sense of remote wonder that brings into focus these key, monastic elements of the athlete lifestyle.

The training days are hard, and start early so as to take advantage of a firm ski track after the overnight freeze. A big training day at the Haig consists of 45 minutes of hiking uphill to the ski track on the glacier. Then there can be up to 3.5 hours of skiing; some classic, some skating. This is followed by a 20 minute hike back to base camp. The afternoon may hold an additional hour of strength exercises or mountain running. All told you are looking at up to approximately 5 hours on the big days. To make matters more challenging, it could be pouring rain all day, or sleeting, or snowing. With a limited wardrobe due to helicopter flight weight restrictions, every shred of ski clothing will soon be drenched on these inclement weather days. To be at the mercy of quickly changing weather conditions adds to the sense of respect for the desolate, yet beautiful, landscape. The one saving grace for these long, cold days is that you are constantly in motion; pushing and gliding and mentally repeating technical cues; your body pulsing with heat from the exertion to fend off the cold. To be worn down by the weather cultivates a sense of appreciation for the training – to endure you must push and glide.

When the weather is nice, the training experience can be pure bliss. The hot reflection off the glacial snow paired with the stillness of the summer mountain air makes for a truly enjoyable experience. Clothing remains dry and skin takes on a healthy glow.

The return to base camp marks the end of the day’s primary training, and the start of gluttony. To throw down big training days and to log 20-25 hours in the week takes a considerable calorie count, especially at the high altitude. Food is in no short supply, as the glacier hosts prepare seemingly endless meals. You soon gain a perpetual sense of bloated contentedness.

The resultant mid-day food coma generally puts athletes under for 1-2 hours of nap time (3+ hours for the completely shattered). Reemerging from the dark sleeping quarters of the upturned half-culvert quasi-geodesic huts, delirium sets in as ones eyes adjust to the bright, bleak moonscape. Snacks and sloth are the chief activities of the afternoon, sometimes rudely interrupted by a run/hike or a strength workout.  After the voracious feeding frenzy that is dinner, final chores are completed, and board game hullabaloo commences (this year’s ever-popular Settlers of Catan had emotions running high, to the detriment of some).

This Haig update is new to some, but I have in fact been back in Whistler for exactly one month after my stint out in Canmore. As much as Canmore is skiing central and has some of the best training in Canada, Whistler in August is simply the cat’s meow. Sun and heat and a plethora of beaches to satisfy the aquatic desires of those young and old, those clothed and those not clothed (there is in fact a nude beach in Whistler). And high up in the alpine the snow has finally receded enough to allow for high altitude hikes and runs.

On the training front, things have been going well. Personal bests are being shattered and milestones achieved. But the days are getting shorter. Yesterday Whistler mountain had it’s first snow storm. Winter is coming. (I feel okay saying that since I come from the modern day Winterfell of Yellowknife, for all you snickering Game of Throne fans.)

In this shot I am the only one holding out still wearing a shirt under the hot sun.
photo cred: Chris Manhard

A not so nice day of rain and fog.
photo cred: Chris Manhard

Lots of snow left in the alpine meant an easy boot ski home for lunch after a morning of skiing. 

4 weeks ago I skied the CVTC's skate time trial course in hard intervals of 3:00, 3:00, 3:00, 2:40, 1:30, 1:30 for a total of 14:40. Two days ago I skied the TT in 14:56, under the 15 minute mark that I thought would be pretty tough to break. Things are on track. 

En route to a good time trial yesterday, I employed a few mental strategies recently learned from reading Tim Noakes' "Lore of Running". An incredible read for all athletes, not just runners. Some good insight from some great minds about what limits race performance.