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January 5, 2016

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Östersund and Falun 2015

February 28, 2015

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It was almost exactly 6months to the day that I was released from hospital after the ridiculous ski accident that resulted in a pneumothroax. At that particular point, I was still considering whether I should continue in the sport, let alone even try and build back up for that coming European Season. I had made some amazing gains training with Dala Sports Academy, and the improvements were all measurable and very noticeable. The 12 unbearably uncomfortable days restricted to lying on my back in the hospital bed showed their negative effects in an overwhelmingly harsh way. I went from being the strongest, fittest and skiing technically better than ever before to not being able to walk for 1.5km without needing a sit-break. In the gym things were even worse, I went from 71.5kg to just below 66kg and this was certainly noticeable! I think I was probably stronger as a 12 year old.

Gradually, mostly due to my coach Mattias, Teresa, my family and friends my spirits began to lift and I saw that it was just realistically another good challenge to see just how fast I could bounce back. The incredible global support from everyone who contributed towards my fundraiser to pull me out of the unfortunate health insurance debacle not only made the new challenge financially possible, but also gave me a huge surge of motivation. I wanted to give these people a story to follow – change a stupidly unfortunate sob story into something fun, inspirational and high spirited.

I changed my goals accordingly. Originally I had hoped for a top 50% of the field in the Falun 2015 World Championships but with this already being quite a steep task, I adjusted it to just achieving better results than ever before. This was also considered to be a little unrealistic by a few, however especially as the race season grew closer, I began to certainly believe that it wasn’t at all unachievable.

View at Gronklitt

View at Gronklitt

For the pre-World Champs Australian Team Camp in Grönklitt, I knew I was coming into some great form. My body felt sharp, and in intensity sessions my heart rates were high but perceived effort was low and I was able to ski with some very solid speed and power. Mattias’ training plan had worked because at the end of that week (2 weekends ago) for the Östersund World Cup, I achieved a result that I believed was right up there with a career best performance. All pre-World Championship World Cups are the most competitive of World Cups with every athlete coming into their best shape and most teams filling their quotas. I positioned 74th, right on 78% of the field – my best ever performance was in Canmore World Cup 2012 where I placed 47th and 73% of the field but was a far less competitive event with many of the top Europeans not taking part.

More support from Atomic this World Champs has been hugely helpful!

More support from Atomic this World Champs has been hugely helpful!

Things were therefore looking like they were all coming together. My chest felt completely pain free and breathing was feeling so much more relaxed and complete at higher intensities. I not only thought I would achieve my adjusted goal, but I was also keen to so just how close I could go to making that original first goal of top 50%. Unfortunately I managed to find some more bad luck, so much so that I found myself inside hospital walls far sooner that I ever thought possible. The Gastro-bug got me agin and to explain to what extend here is a little quote from Phil… ‘I thought there was a roaring lion in the bathroom’. After a couple of bags of IV fluids, I was sent home to try and recover as quickly as possible.

A blurry photo to go with how I was feeling in the 15km skate

A blurry photo to go with how I was feeling in the 15km skate Photo Cred: JC Legras

The Skiathlon was out, as was the Team Sprint, both events I had been so excited for as they are probably my favourite events. The only lucky thing about this scenario was that I was able to restore my health and energy to the level where I could start my strongest event – the 15km freestyle. My pulse was high, energy was low and my legs just had nothing more to give. It was probably one of the more painful races I’ve ever done, simply because I had to force my body so much. The result, obviously not what I was hoping for. To be fair though, it wasn’t too disastrous and by placing 72nd (83% of field), I actually achieved the same result as what I did in the 15km freestyle last World Champs.

Falun 2015 15km skate Photo cred: JC legras

Falun 2015 15km skate Photo cred: JC legras

Life is full of ups and downs and all I can hope for is that this rollercoaster starts going back up for the 50km on Sunday.

World University Winter Games Part 2

February 3, 2015

Since my last post, both disastrous and reasonable results have unfolded. For the 10km Classic, the 5km loop that was used was not exceptionally hilly so I made the risky decision to go out on the skate skis and Double pole. From tests that we did the day before, there was lots of time to be made up on the fast long downhills and slight inclines going with the faster skate skis. The risk is that going without any grip wax means that there is no way of relaxing if you find that you have gone too hot too early. Not that I even went that fast at the start, it was too hot for what I was capable of and found myself in a hopeless situation. I flooded my system with lactic acid and struggled with my breathing again with being unable to control the rhythm and feeling oxygen deprived. I regathered myself somewhat and was able to finish however the time lost was far too substantial to even go close to a satisfying result. With the winner also opting to Double Pole, it was the right idea, I just hadn’t quite realised that the Double Strength I had over the European Summer has not completely returned.

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That torturous 10km was pretty tolling on the body and left me feeling like a broken man, both mentally and physically. You can probably gather just how important those few days of rest before Sunday’s 30km skate were to me. I can’t even say that by Saturday I felt quite 100%. Through the course of the week I have been doing a lot of time with our Physio Claire Coltman, working on releasing and expanding my ribs. It had become evident that I was primarily stomach breathing and hardly expanding my upper right side – mostly due to a natural response to restrict movement in the area that was damaged. With the scar tissue and nerve damage, it’s quite a painful process to increase movement in that area but basically allows me to re-learn to fully expand my chest. The results have been great so far with active lung volume increasing noticeably. The difficulty is that by gaining more movement and using this whilst exercising leaves the area feeling quite strained. For some reason, Saturday was the worst day for this feeling just described, not giving me a lot of confidence for the following day’s competition.

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Quite amazingly, the feeling on Sunday morning was much better and the starting pace of the 30km was very relaxed, giving me the opportunity to move up the field a little and really gain a good rhythm early on. As the pace lifted with the front guys starting to work, I once again lost the breathing rhythm and had to back things off slightly to have any chance of getting through the race. I slipped back a little, but regained a controlled pace quite quickly and was able to make the most of good energy levels. I skied in the 3rd chase pack for quite a period then worked hard for a solid 10km to catch back onto the 2nd pack.

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Unfortunately by that stage, as soon as I gained contact the pace surged for the last part of the race. By that point I had already been sending myself close to red-line for quite some time and was feeling it! The pack pretty much broke up with the increased pace and I slipped back a few places but was happy to be able to maintain a strong finish speed to place 24th, just less than 6.5% behind the winner’s time. A result that I can be proud of thankfully and was all made possible through the help of Claire, the awesome wax techs; Randy and Rado, Mantra wax http://www.mantrawax.com/ and the amazing ongoing support from my University; UNSW

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Directly afterwards we started our journey back to Sweden and was very happy to see just how much snow had fallen since we left for Slovakia. So today it was back to training with DSA and I’m not joking when I say that this was definitely right in the top 5 best sessions that I have ever had. Perfect tracks, good company and great energy! Perfect way to prepare for the World Championships here in just a couple of weeks time!

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World University Winter Games Opening

January 27, 2015

The expectations for this year’s Universiade were honestly very low. I came here to Strbske Pleso many years ago and it was more or less quite a run down facility from an era during the 70’s that would have looked like a promising affluent ski resort. It was all a bit sad really – I find it hard to see once great and promising places just being left to rot.

View of the stadium from our hotel

View of the stadium from our hotel

Amazingly now however, lots has changed! With huge developments and refurbishments it has actually turned out to be an awesome venue for these championships. Unfortunately, the big jump has still not been touched and appears to only be used as a satellite tower – a little sad for those who worked towards creating such an amazing structure. Who knows, there may be plans to give it the maintenance it deserves.

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The opening ceremony was an absolute blast and being given the flag bearers role was an honour and something I had always wanted to do in my sporting career.

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The Freestyle Sprint on Sunday was the first event of the champs. For the first time this season I felt like I was able to maintain the power and technique needed to put down a competitive time in the time – trial despite feeling completely flooded with lactic acid. Fortunately luck was on my side and I scraped into the finals by taking 30th fastest time with around 92 pts. This was my first ever Championship where I have qualified for heats and seeing the result gave me huge satisfaction. I then raced aggressively in my heat trying my chances up in the top 3 for most of the race but cooked out quite bad towards the end. To pick up an extra few positions to place 25th overall was a rewarding result irrespective. I have been struggling with sprinting due to the lack of training in that area due to the disrupted preparation I have had this year. To know that I am right back on track and to produce a sprint result which could well be considered a new Sprint PB for me gives me a lot of confidence heading into the next lot of races here. Huge Congrats to teammates Phil and Jess Yeaton for both achieving 8th!! Australia’s best ever Uni Games results. The skis were also honestly some of the best I have ever had so huge thanks to Randy, Mantra Wax and Radoslav!!

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Tomorrow I will race the 10km classic but Sunday’s 30km skate is what I have been most excited about for a long time!

Falun Scandinavian Cup

January 12, 2015

The DSA E-cup that was held just after my last post showed a positive result and despite a tiring lead into that 20km Skiathlon, I felt surprisingly energetic and able to maintain power. More importantly was that my classic leg was actually quite reasonable with only a small amount of discomfort under my ribs. The conditions were tough, with rain over night causing the man-made snow to set rock hard but it was a great feeling of accomplishment knowing that I was able to get through it with a 5th place result at the end!

Similar to other races this season however, I didn’t exactly pull up too well afterwards. It seems like I am able to push myself to the same level as last year (even harder maybe), however I am feeling the toll of the effort far greater. I continued with the training block as planned after this, but was forced to take it a little easier two days after when I developed quite a rough cough and amazingly low energy levels. I’m still not convinced that I was sick, but certainly quite run down. With only a few days before the Scandi Cup to be held here in Falun, I was losing confidence I was going to bounce back in time to even compete! On one of the easier days it was nice to get out for an easy ‘långfärdsskridskor’ (Ice skate) on a pretty beautiful day! Becoming a little more mentally refreshed is always a good place to start when trying to re-boost energy levels.

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Luckily on Thursday, my energy levels improved and managed to belt out a few good pre-race efforts. As I started Friday’s 15km Skate I knew I wasn’t quite 100% still. I had no top gear and started appallingly losing a lot of time in the first 2.5km’s. The skier behind me who was having a good one caught me and I held with him for about 2km before blowing up majorly. For a good 5mins I felt like I was crawling, feeling completely flooded and losing even more time. The urge to pull out was pretty tempting to be honest, but luckily my body finally decided it wasn’t a worn out old tractor from the late 80’s and allowed me to ski quite a fast second half of the race. With so much time lost in the first half though, the result was average, placing 106th in a strong and large field, 3min 23s back (just under 10% the winner with 93 points). Realistically this is not a bad result by any means. With the top guys here also at the top of the World Cup, this is a good percentage, however I just know my body felt absolutely terrible and is capable of so much more.

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Sunday’s 30km skiathlon was rather similar, but maybe even further impacted by the lack of a good warm up due to the delays and difficulties in testing skis. Right from the start I felt uncomfortable, having to work for the grip and struggling to stay relaxed as a result. It was even more disastrous than the start of Friday’s race. Gradually my body began to feel better and better. By the time the skate leg came around I felt like I was almost firing on all cylinders and skied a solid final 15km making up more than 15 places. The end result; very similar to Friday’s race, placing 88th and just less than 10% behind once again.

The negatives; many. The positives however are also there which is important to always consider also. I know I have the aerobic capacity and strength back to where I need it to be to perform well. Thinking back to a few months ago – this was my greatest concern. Additionally, I made it through two classic legs of each Skiathlons with manageable chest discomfort. For this next period I just need to focus on the identified weaknesses and luckily they are mostly relatively easy fixes!

Next up, thanks to the recent storms, we finally have some quality training to get done on some big loops around Falun before we head to World University Games on the 22nd!

A New Post for a New Year

January 1, 2015

Similar to Phil, if you have read his latest post, http://www.pbellinghamxc.wordpress.com I too had the intention of keeping the blogs regularly however have found myself becoming a little slack again! I have also had a slightly frustrating 3 weeks since my last post, all of which is nothing too motivating to write about. After seeing that my form was in fact much higher than I expected it to be in Lillehammer, Davos on a whole was a complete disaster! With my skating feeling stronger all the time I was very excited to see what I could produce for the 15km skate. My body felt good the morning of the race, however the extremely icy corners managed to catch me out during the warm up. I had my first crash since my chest injury and as luck would have it, a lot of the impact went through the area where I am still experiencing a lot of sensitivity and nerve pain. To be honest, it felt as bad as it did when I got out of hospital. I tried to do another effort but it just wasn’t sensible to push through that kind of pain. I had it checked out and luckily no further damage had been done. So from 2 good opportunities to perform whilst in good shape I unfortunately can’t really say I achieved anything positive. I returned straight to Falun to start a new training period to ensure my form doesn’t drop off.

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View over the Falun World Champs venue

I traveled straight back to Falun and already I have felt glad to be hitting out the hard training again! With such a disrupted preparation for this season, I can tell that my body has already begun to lose a lot of strength. This is largely gauged by just how sore and tired I have been getting from the increased load. So it’s safe to say that this is a much needed few weeks before I race again here in Falun for the Scandinavian Cup on the 9th, 10th and 11th of January. Gradually I have begun to feel strong again in the intensity session and tomorrow I will do a 20km Skiathlon test race with DSA. Should be exciting to see what I can pull out! With heavy rain predicted I’m going to test out the new white base skis – let’s hope they are rockets! Thanks Atomic for the recent support!

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Overall for me, the Christmas / New Year period with Teresa and her lovely family has been a refreshing and enjoyable time for me. Experiencing a Swedish Christmas and watching my first Leksand Ice Hockey match in a sold out arena packed full of amazingly passionate supports are both times I will never forget!

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Davos World Cup

December 15, 2014

The transformation that has taken place here in Davos over the last week has been quite amazing! We traveled straight from Lillehammer last Monday to find the Swiss Alps missing what they are so renown for. With only a 1.2km loop so far, and the weather not really being cold enough most of the time to make snow, the organisers had a lot of work to do! Despite all this, they managed to pull it all off.

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Unlike many teams, we don’t have a support team travelling with us for this part of the trip. With no car, this can make things difficult, especially when you decide to do a week’s worth of shopping at one go. No, not our smartest move, but the solution of taking that massive trolley to the other side of the city with us on the bus was just pure genious! So innovative in fact that people were amused and shocked at our creativity….

With solid tracks I was excited to see what sort of result I could produce on Saturday’s 15km classic. After last weekend I have the confidence that I have reasonable shape so went out reasonably hard catching up to and skiing with a lapping Italian athlete. By the top of the climb, I felt the same tightness and ‘stitch’ type pain forming under my ribs as I felt in Lillehammer’s classic race. After the long down It had subsided but quickly returned after another 3-4mins of work. Just like last time, I struggled to control my breathing as the tightness and pain increased. I tried to push through it but as the muscles began to cramp I found myself completely oxygen deprived.

Photo Cred: Marcel Hilger

Photo Cred: Marcel Hilger

It’s strange that it only occurs during maximal intensity in classic. It has to do with possibly a more tense movement, and higher core activation all creating a lot of strain on an area which is obviously not completely recovered. I will try and commence physio treatment this week to help the recovery process, it’s just lucky I can continue with skate racing with no concerns.

View from the top of the Sprint Course

View from the top of the Sprint Course

Sunday’s Sprint was another reasonable result given my poor sprint preparations this season. I placed 88th but the main purpose at this point is to better prepare myself for World Championships. The Team Sprint has always been a bit of a special event for me and Phil, and I intend to not only obtain a start in the event, but also ski to a level that will not let down a solid performance from my team mate.

The great news is that due to a lack of snow, next weekend’s French World Cup that I never intended on competing in has been moved to here in Davos! The events have also been changed to a 15km skate (PERFECT!) and another skate sprint. So Davos 2.0 gives me another shot to try and see how my shape is coming along.