Saturday, March 10, 2012

Martin's 2012 Vasaloppet

Martin has been feeling a little off his peak this year, although even so, he has been having results that most of us can only dream of.  Did he get his mojo back in time for last week's Vasaloppet?  Find out here!

It took a year, but now the good feeling is back. 53 weeks ago, I caught a bug that ruined the end of last season and kept good shape away for almost a year. Even though I have put in all the hours throughout the summer, fall, and winter, I have not felt springy since two weeks before Vasaloppet last year. As soon as I have tried to push hard, lactic acid has prevented me from having fun. But last Sunday I had fun again between Sälen and Mora. And, most importantly, I look forward to having a lot of fun for at least another year.

The start is always a critical moment. With 52 tracks at the start line, one would think there would be enough room for a safe and controlled start. Not so. There is simply too much adrenalin pumping in the bodies of the 15,000 stoked skiers at the mass start.

Therefore, to minimize the risk of disaster, it is important to find a good spot and be surrounded by experienced marathon skiers. But no matter if the organizer provides a position for you or you must pick your own, it is always a matter of gambling. And no matter how early you are at the start to pick a good position, there is always someone who was there before you.

After the start, I quickly learned that I had picked the wrong spot.

The young Norwegian in front of me hammered and hammered but could not keep up with the guys next to him. Skiers passed in the tracks on both sides and I was stuck. Another Marcialonga start? I kept calm and finally found room to change track and advanced in the galloping herd of skiers.

Next critical moment, the first climb. If you break a pole here, the day is over. Problem is, nowhere else in the world are so many poles broken. This danger calls for a special pole-safe technique. In the beginning of the climb, I skied tight with short kick and glide and did not try to ski efficiently until the field stretched out and I felt the danger was over.

The next 20 flat kilometers were pure pleasure with good skis and good clip in the double poling (and I could not resist leading the big pack for a couple of kilometers).

Next critical moment, the climb to Risberg at 35K. If you are not positioned before this climb, you run the risk of not skiing with the pack anymore after the climb. With good skis, I could easily stay in the front of the pack before the climb and, when I felt that I would manage to stay within the pack all the way to the top, I purposefully slowly fell back in the pack to save energy.

The next 10 flat kilometers were pure pleasure with good skis and I maintained good clip in the double poling (and I could not resist leading the pack for a kilometer or two).

Next critical moment, the climb to Oxberg at 62K. Same game as up to Risberg, only a few thousand double-pole strikes later and a steeper climb. I felt both physically and mentally fresh and, with a good position in the pack, I was ready to go all out when Jerry Ahrlin picked up the speed in the beginning of the climb. At the top of the climb, I still felt fresh, but the compact pack had stretched to a long line of skiers and there was a gap in front of the skier in front of me. Stay calm and let the Norwegian skier close the gap or try to close the gap myself? In hindsight, it is easy to say that I should have tried myself. But there was for sure a reason why I stayed behind the skier and I am sure I was not as fresh as I remember it. In any case, I lost the front pack before Oxberg this year and I was not alone. Only some 20 skiers managed to reconnect to the fleeing pack.

For a few kilometers, I was hoping the front pack would slow down and I pushed as hard as I could. But when the gap kept growing, and a group of about ten skiers were coming closer from behind, I decided to save energy in the chasing pack.

The next 25 kilometers were physically pure pleasure with good skis and maintaining good clip in the double poling, but mentally the race was over.

Four kilometers before the finish, I pushed hard for a few hundred meters in an attempt to reduce the size of the pack. But in the fast conditions, the push was probably hardest for myself and two kilometers before the finish, I was no longer in front of the pack.

With one kilometer to go, we skied more or less all out and it was clear that I was not the only one who felt fresh. It also became clear that I was not the fastest skier in the pack. Without feeling any fatigue, I crossed the finish line after 90K in the back of the pack as the 28th skier overall, five seconds and ten positions behind the front of the pack.

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