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!

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...