Saturday, April 12, 2014

In for the long run

This isn't a training blog - and I don't intend for it to become one - but lately most of my free time has gone to what I would call Adventures in Training for an Ultramarathon. And yes, that means I've decided to sign up for Ultrabirken, a 60 km long trail race in Lillehammer, Norway on June 14.

Since I decided I wanted to run Ultrabirken, I've been busily trying to run (relatively) big milage (for me).  I've been running 60-70 km a week for the last 6 weeks, and I definitely feel good progression in my durability and speed. This week I've had an extra special running partner: Ralph, the family dog, who is staying with us while my parents are in Belize (long story).

Ralph digs the view on Årvollåsen, Friday
Ralph is almost 11 years old, but he has braved snow, rain and mud with me for many kilometers this week. Well, actually, he loves snow, so that didn't take so much braving.
Ralph throughly enjoying the snow
Today, however, I was going out for my longest run this year, and so I left the poor old dog behind. The day started out grey, but not to cold, and at around 8 o'clock I took off up the Akerselva river to access Oslo forest.

Optimistic, early in the run selfie.
I headed off around Maridalsvatnet, the lake that supplies most of Oslo with water. A dirt road, not open to motorised vehicles, snakes around the east side of the lake through serene forest.

Through the forest
After reaching the end of the lake, I headed up the trail towards Fagervann, a smaller lake on top of one of the larger rolling hills that fill the Oslo forest. I indulged in my first raspberry walnut brownie, a result of my experimentations with what to eat while out for long runs. I'm not a fan of 'fake' foods like gels, so I been trying baked goods like brownies in scones with success so far.

Happy brownie selfie
I power-hiked and jogged the climb up to Fagervann to save my legs. Towards the top of the climb, I hit snow. This wasn't unexpected, because there was lots of snow when I ran the same trail last weekend. 

Hitting the snow pack
What I didn't expect, however, was to posthole. You see, last weekend the snow on the trail had been compacted to a nice, runable consistency by other hikers. Today, I was alone on the trail, and clearly nobody had been there all week as the warm weather made the snow increasingly rotten. 

I was postholing up to my knees if I wasn't careful, and working hard to maintain a fast walking pace (on Strava afterward I saw that all the kilometers in this section took like 10 minutes). There's so sort of a hilarious irony to moving so slowly on a run.

Sick, twisted fun
And then, of course, it started to snow. Big, slushy flakes. When I had finally traversed across the top of the hill to Kamphaug, and headed down off the snow pack, I realised that all the melting snow was feeding directly onto the downhill trail, creating a lovely, cold river for me to run in.

Wet feet.
As I descended further, the snow turned to rain, and the whole experience was becoming increasingly cold and wet. Luckily I hit the dirt road and it was smooth sailing, no more technical trail or uphill to speak of.  I could start putting in some faster kilometer times.

No longer awesome. Wet. Wet. Wet.
I was able to charge through the last 10 kilometers in less than an hour, and hoped on the metro home, feeling strong. I'm close to where I want to be, running fitness wise: able to go forever and ever. The Ultrabirken can come and get me, I'm ready!

Stats: 26.7 km, moving time 3:06 (all of that snow!), vertical meters 695

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Friday, April 11, 2014

Tops around Tromsø

It's been a couple weeks since our trip to Northern Norway, but I still have some pictures to share. After turning back from two tops in Lyngen, we headed to Tromsø to stay with some friends, and take down some peaks around Tromsø.

Unfortunately, the avalanche danger was bad all week, and we basically had to pick the flattest mountains around. Luckily, the weather was on our side for a while, and the snow conditions were pretty good.
Telemark, the fjord and the mountains

Summit pick on Buren

Drop over the fjord

Skiing flat slopes meant we had to look for other challenges:
Audun skiied on one ski down most of Stormheimfjellet
Lyngen wasn't the only place avalanche danger keep us from going to the top - we turned on the ridge up to Gråtind. Although the ridge was mellow, the snow pack was unstable and it dropped steeply on both sides.

Audun on the summit ridge of Gråtind
It was beautiful sunny day, and the snow was not too shabby:

Towards the end of the week, the Parental Units flew up to Tromsø. My sister is a student in Tromsø, and on the weekend when she didn't have class it became a full-blown ski family reunion. The weather had turned on us, and when we headed up Fagerfjellet it was snowing with near zero visibility.

The Momster in the snow
But low and behold, (the Norwegian weather service) was right - and it cleared off!
Audun and I headed up the wind packed ridge on Fagerfjellet. Is that the sun? Photo by Zoe.
Dad enjoys the view appearing below our feet.
Zoe shows us how it's done.
Our plane left in the late afternoon on the last day, so I squeezed in a final top: Lille Blåmann (which translates to 'Little Blue Man'), a real Tromsø classic. As we put our skins on in the parking lot, a taxi van filled with Italians suddenly appeared. One of the Italians jumped out, pulled out a map, and asked "Where are we?". It turned out they had arrived that day, and had the map for an area a little further east. 

When we told them where they were, they asked where we were going, and decided to follow us up Lille Blåmann. They started maybe 15 minutes behind us, but eventually caught us on their twig-like skis and Dynafit bindings (and yes, I'm just snarky because my skis are so heavy!). Even though they were going faster than us, they ended up right behind us, because they didn't have the correct map and were relying on us to find the way.

This is the point at which I get rather annoyed. I kind of expect groups to be self-sufficient in the mountains, and they were also letting us do all the work breaking trail! Once we could see the top, they broke ahead and thankfully started to break trail. Let's just hope they got a map for their next ski tour.

Me skiing down Lille Blåmann. Picture by Zoe

On the way down, we passed hoards up people headed up. Clearly a popular peak, so it was nice to have gotten an early start.

A few hours later, on the plane back to Oslo, I waved farewell to Lille Blåmann. It had been a productive week, with 8 days straight of ski touring. Someday I'll go back and bag some of the bigger peaks - when the conditions are more stable!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Live from Lyngen: Days 1 and 2

When our plane landed on Saturday is was grey, snowing and the avalanche risk was high. Not exactly the perfect start to a 9 day vacation with ski mountaineering as the main goal. But we trusted in the weather forecast, which called for sunny skis the next day, and planned a trip up Daltinden, a classic peak on the southern half of the Lyngen peninsula.

The next day dawned sunny as promised, but the tunnel and stretch of the access road to the peak turned out to be closed, due to avalanche danger. So we turned around and drove off towards our second choice, Storgalten, on the southern tip of the peninsula.

Storgalten is peak I would usually consider fairly mellow. According to our guide book, a short part of the ascent occurred on a slope of around 30 degrees, while the rest was less steep. In avalanche terrain, 30 degrees is kind of the magic number. If the snow conditions are prone to avalanche, it usually takes a slope of 30 degrees or steeper to trigger a slide. So a simple way to avoid dangerous conditions is not to ski steeper than 30 degrees. On the other hand, anything a lot flatter than 30 degrees can be a little boring to us. The challenge was thus to pick a peak which steep enough to be fun skiing, but not steep enough to be truly dangerous.

The snow conditions on Storgalten were extremely variable. On the ascent we crossed everything from crusty, icy snow to wind pack to powder. That alone is unsettling, because it means you can't predict what type of snow you have in front of you. We carried our skis up a rocky ridge, before putting them on again when the rocks turned into powder.

The view was amazing - fjord, mountains and blue sky stretched out beneath us.

We were following a group of 7 foreigners (Swiss we think) with a guide. About 200 vertical meters from the top, they abruptly stopped, took there skins off, and turned. We continued to skin up to the point where they had turned, discussing what must have gone on.

"Maybe they thought the snow was unsafe?" I asked nervously.

"Maybe they were just tired," Audun countered. "We'll see when we get up there."

At the point were they turned, there was signs of digging a snow pit (to check for avalanche danger). We dug a couple of our own, one each. Deep in the snow, there was a thick, icy layer which clearly would be a problem if it slide, but seemed like it would be hard to trigger. The snow on top was mostly light and fluffy, but compacted in some areas in a way that could produce a slide.

In addition to the avalanche danger, we also debated where the Swiss had disappeared to. They had skied down the slope at a reasonable speed 15 minutes before, but were yet to appear in the valley bottom. Unsure of the snow conditions, and worried that something had befallen the other group, we made the decision to turn around and ski down.

The Swiss were fine, and the skiing down the upper part of the mountain was good fun.

On the drive back to the lodge, we saw a huge avalanche go off across the fjord in Brevikeidet. Almost simultaneously, a reporter on the radio announced the death of a snowmobile driver on a mountain in Lyngen earlier in that day. Those two signs alone made me glad I turned.

Lyngen by night, from Magic Mountain Lodge in Lyngseidet

The next day, we decided to try for Storvasstind, a long, flat ridge traverse capped off by a short, steep climb to the main top. Again, the weather was on our side, even if the snow conditions (i.e. avalanche danger) was not.

The flat looking thing on the right is the ridge of Storvasstind, the pointy-looking thing in the centre of the picture is Piggtind.
To get onto the mountain, we had to ski several flat kilometers of snow mobile trail through the forest. Not much fun on big skis with skins! We meet a friendly local with his dog, who zoomed by us on skinny backcountry skis.

The ridge was, as promised, long and flat and offered spectacular views of the neighbouring peaks.

Audun on wind-blown snow
Although the sun was warm, it was cold out. It had been -15 C at the car, and was probably never warm than -5 C all day.

Enjoying the day - looks warmer than it is.
Piggtind sticks out above the ridge

We finally reached the area where the ridge starts to get steeper and pointer around 2 pm. With sunset at 5.15 pm and complete darkness by 6.30, I wasn't interested in spending too much longer ascending. Still, the summit did look really cool.

First glimpse of the summit (right end of the ridge)
There were no tracks after the snow mobile trail at the beginning of the day. We were alone in the mountains. As the ridge steepened, we started assessing the snow again. We thought is seemed pretty safe, but as Audun so politely put it, "If this face slides, we are f***ed."

We spent a while try to decide where to take our skis of and put crampons on to climb around and up to the main top. It looked kind of scary, as the ridge between the first and main top was corniced and we have to side-step around on a steep slope. I was nervous, and when Audun said, "I'm starting to have a bad feeling about this," I had to agree. We didn't have time for mistakes, and we weren't confident enough to not make mistakes. So we turned, and enjoying cruising back down the long, long ridge.

Audun descending from our high point of the day, just below the first summit.
Me cruising in slightly wind-packed powder - no too shabby!

We had to pole out through the long snowmobile track in the forest, but were rewarded by spectacular light.

Late-in-the-day light in Lyngen

So two days, two peaks not conquered. Would we be have been fine if we pressed on to the tops? Probably. But you can make stupid decisions and get away with it. I'd rather air on the cautious side and turn too early then become another avalanche statistic.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

P.S. For those of you not intimately familiar with Norwegian geography, the Lyngen peninsula is here:

And the peaks I've talked about in this post are here:

Friday, March 14, 2014

Spring has sprung

The Great Grey Period of 2014 is finally over, and sunlight has returned to Oslo. With it, the snow is melting and spring is here.

Sunset in the forest last night

To quote Emily Dickinson:

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here

A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.

I've been enjoying the newfound sunlight in Oslo, from the bright, cheerful sun on my office window to blissful sunrises and sunsets. I'm running a lot now, and I have to grab for training time at the edges of the day. Every kilometer I run feels like another penny put into a savings bank - a small step towards a large goal.
The sun peaks through the trees on near Lofthus this morning

I've run 126 km so far in March. All at a slow, plodding pace, just the way I like it. I try to run my favorite trails. Some of them are still covered in ice and snow, and I have to walk. Still, somehow my pennies have added up, and I feel like a runner again. 

Flattering snowy trail selfy
But as I run dryer and dryer trails, the mountain biker in me asks to come out and play. Yesterday I got Casper (my mountain bike) out for the first time since Madeira, and had a nice ride exploring the mess of trails near Sognsvann with Audun.

Audun has been suffering from some knee trouble since last summer, which kept him from biking. Now, after physiotherapy and hours at the gym doing boring exercises to stabilize his knees, he can ride pain free. Letting him back out on to the trails is kind of like letting a hyperactive dog out after spending all day indoors. Every rock and root looks like a plaything to him. I wish I could ride like that - effortlessly and playfully.

Audun in action
Tomorrow we're leaving spring in Oslo to fly north to Tromsø. We'll be ski touring northern Norway for the next week. And since it's been snowing there, there could possibly be more pow in my future!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Friday, March 7, 2014

Go Ultra?

The winter in Norway this year has been very odd. There's be absolutely no snow in mid-Norway (the Trondheim region). Although we had a couple of good weeks down south in Oslo, about a month ago it started raining and didn't stop. And that's when everyone realised it had been grey/cloudy/raining/snowing forever. Seriously, the newspaper last week reported that there has been 17 hours of sun in Oslo in 2014.

In an act of desperation, I have resorted to running. And remember how much I love it. Even though most of my runs look like this:

This is a viewpoint where you should be able to see most of Oslo. Yup.
So now I need a race to train for. I would be running the Forest Marathon again, but I'm going to Switzerland that weekend to crew Swissman for my friend Vibeke. (That's going to be a whole other story, but it should be fun. Yes, I'm running the last 8 km to the finish with her to make sure she doesn't collapse and die and stuff.)

What to do? For a long time I've been talking about taking up ultras. From 2007 - 2011 I worked in the full-service mountain huts in Trollheimen. The main huts form a three-day hike called the 'Triangle', which is around 63 km with a little over 2000 meters of climbing. Not surprisingly, some of us hut bums made a sport of running the entire thing on our day off. I completed it in one day three separate times, finally shaving my time down to 9 hours 53 minutes (and beating my dear father by an hour, although he swears he'll have his revenge some day!)

Blåhøe wearing a hat of clouds on one of my first trips round the Triangle
All this to say, I have sort of run an ultra before. Just alone and unsupported and not timed and stuff. And basically, I thought it was a lot of fun. So I know, mentally, that I can run far. I also know that I was much fitter three years ago, because I had around 5 hours a day off to train in the mountains during the summer.

I've found a race; it's called the UltraBirken Mountain Run, 60-odd kilometers, and it's on June 14. This week, I tried to do 'high volume' running (at least for me). I've run 60 km this far in March, at slow (MAF) speeds, and to be honest, I feel great.

The only tiny, insignificant detail is that my master's thesis is due on June 9. So maybe I shouldn't be embarking on an epic running quest right now. On the other hand, I have to do something to stay sane, and maybe organised training for this event will help me get through my thesis.

So should I go Ultra?

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Veggie Project: Sweet potato spice latte cupcakes

So, I was trying to decide what recipe to post this week. I have a few. Things with tofu. Things with vegetables. Things with beans. And then I thought, Nah. Let them eat cake. Because no matter how many high fibre, vitamin-rich, green, healthy concoctions I feed you, occasionally dessert is in order. So this week there will be cake.

These cupcakes are based on BEB's Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes, which in turn are inspired by a seasonal Starbucks drink, the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Because, let's face it, Starbucks is actually 50% cake. Pumpkin is hard to come by in Norway, and in some ways I like sweet potatoes better. And although my philosophy on dessert is usually, the more chocolate the better, I think moist, spicy, smooth cupcakes with a pile of whip cream frosting are almost as good. And there's veggies in them!

Serving tip: Invite friends over when you bake these, so you don't eat them all yourself.

Small typo here: the tablespoon of espresso powder should be mixed in with the potato purée/sugar mixture.


- The Wild Bazilchuk

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Race Report: Holmenkollmarsjen

The essence of cross-country skiing is waxing. You may imagine a skier gliding quietly through snow covered trees. What a simple, serene pastime! Well, I promise you, this will never happen unless you have first applied The Right Wax.

On Friday night, I found myself in the waxing shed at Vibeke's work (that's how we roll in Norway, people!). I had signed up for the 55km Holmenkollmarsjen ski race the following day. I signed up last week, when I had skied silky, crisp, blue-extra conditions all week. I imagined myself serenely gliding 55km. Easy!

Then the weather turned. It got warmer, and the waxing conditions became absolutely devilish. It was going to be around 0 C, right at the melting point of snow. But would it be a little above or a little below? This would make the difference between icy, hard snow and wet slushy snow. And not matter how many weather forecasts you read, the reality was that the race contains over 1000 meters of climbing, and so the conditions would likely shift during the race.

And that is why, on Friday night, I was in a waxing shed, surrounded by tall, skinny men with power tools. They were frantically brushing their skis with brushes attached to drills drills, pouring small amounts of ominous-looking white powders onto their skis, and irons in layer after layer of wax. I was overwhelmed. I had LF8 glider - at least there was fluoro in that!

In the end I followed Vibeke's advice, which she gained from her friend David. I wax with a base layer of blue extra, followed by three coats of borrowed Skigo LF orange, which has a larger temperature range than the Swix waxes I had. I had given my skis the best wax job I could, and now all I could do was cross my fingers.

The next morning, I got up before the sun, filled a backpack with all manner of food and warm clothing, and left to catch a bus to the start. At the start in Sørkedal, thousands of people milled around, standing in port-a-potty lines, rewaxing skis and warming up. I met Vibeke, and asked if she had tested our wax job. "Yes, it's really slippery," she said, "But don't rewax, it will get better after the first climb." I tested my wax, and it was really slippery. But I didn't trust my own judgement enough to rewax. So I stripped off my down jacket, and lined up for my group's 9:05 start.

My view before the start
I was somehow earlier than most of my group to the starting line, and thus ended up towards the front of the pack when the start gun went off. This was a mistake; I was getting passed left and right for the first few kilometers. "I'm in the wrong group somehow," I thought. "Everyone here is way faster than me."

Not only that, but I had absolutely no kick. My skis slide around like skate skis, and all I could do was use my arms to pole - everywhere. Let me tell you, arm strength is not my strong point. You might be able to guess this based on the fact that I spend most of my time biking and/or running. So basically, the first few kilometers were awful. I was miserable, moving slowly, and couldn't imagine how I could ski another 50 km hanging on to the tracks with my arms alone. I started chatting to a skiers next to me, and we both agreed the kick was terrible.

"But there's a wax station in a few km," he mentioned amiably. My heart jumped. I had forgotten there would be wax stations! I resolved to pole to the wax station, and if I didn't get good kick there, I would quit.

At the wax station, it became clear that I wasn't the only one with kick issues. Everyone had their skis off, and the two poor technicians from Swix were yelling "VR62! VR70!" and throwing tubes of wax around. After a couple of minutes of chaos, I managed to get my paws on the aforementioned VR70 and apply it to my skis.

"Thank you so much!" I guessed, "I had no kick before!"

"Yes, everyone's been having trouble," the wax technician said, "Even some of the skiers in group 1 (the elites) stopped for our help."

I present: the wax that saved my race
I left the wax station with a little flame of hope. As I headed uphill for the biggest climb of the day, the flame grew. I could do this; I had kick and could use the legs muscles all the hours running and biking have grown.

A wave of people worked their way up the big climb. Some in tight Lycra suits, some in regular ski suits like me. I wonder if I would go faster if I were wearing neon coloured Lycra? I mused. I passed someone wearing turquoise Lycra with a large fish design on one leg. Maybe not. A girl my age passed me wearing red Lycra with yellow diamonds. Ok, maybe I would.

On the way up the hill,  the day turned from cloudy to perfect sun. The hill starts to top out at a dam, the landscape opening out of the narrow fur forest to a rolling plateau of lakes. A layer of mist lay curled up on top of the lake near the dam, and behind the dam tall, dark trees glittered in the sunlight. I didn't dare stop my flow of movement to take a picture, but mentally snapped photos and smiled.

Every 5 kilometers, there was a sign giving the distance to the finish. In between each sign, I would imagine how it would feel to reach the next sign. Imaging when I get to 35 km to the finish, I thought, Then I've really started to cover some distance!

Sometimes I would try to match someone's tempo, but this proved to be difficult. I was bad at the fast, slightly downhill sections that needed to be double poled, but faster on the uphills and good at the steeper downhills that just required tucking. It appears that many cross-country skiers are afraid of downhills, and therefore instead of tucking, they wave their arms around and snow plow and take up the whole trail. Protip: don't do that.

Every 5-10 km there was an aid station, were I would take one cookie, a piece of banana, and some juice or sports drink. I was really scared of bonking, because I started to feel hungry after only about 10 km. This proved to be just enough to keep me going.

The longest 10 km of the race were between 30 km left and 20 km left. Psychologically, you're only around half way, and physically, you're just starting to fatigue. I would think This is such a stupid race. You're not in shape for it, and you aren't even enjoying yourself. But somewhere in the far back of my head was another voice that said You know you always get a little tired, and then it passes. Ignore the tired, keep skiing, and you'll feel better soon. Luckily, the second voice was right, and I received a shock of exercise-induced endorphins that had me grinning as I panted up hills again.

Unluckily, as the race course begin to descend, the snow warmed up, and I lost all kick again. Right before this happened, I passed through the last wax station. I thought about doing a touch up, and then I thought, Nah, I'm find! Five minutes later, I passed about 50 people rewaxing next to the trail. Then I though, Oh shit. 

I considered my options. A: Turn around and ski back to the wax station, rewax there. B: Ask another competitor to borrow wax. C: Double pole it out. Being that there was "only" 10 km left, and I knew a fair amount of it was downhill, I went for C. Poling was mostly fine, except for the hills that were too steep to pole but not steep enough to herringbone. I felt like I was moving painfully slow, but people around me were moving at the same speed.

I think I'm yelling "I have no kick!" as this picture is being taken
The race descended out of the sun and into a fog that grew thicker and thicker. After the 5 km left sign, the fog was so thick you had to squint to see the trail 10 meters in front of you. The trail went up and down and I kept praying for it to just go downhill for once! On the last hill, climbing up to the 1 km left arch, I saw Vibeke with a camera. I was herringboning, so so slowly, and she could actually run faster than I was going uphill. It was kind of funny.

Then I slide down the last hill, and poled the last few hundred meters to the finish and it was all over. And all pain was forgotten, and the whole thing had just been great fun. Finishing time 5:08.

At the finish at Holmenkollen. Important to show off your skis to keep your sponsors happy.

Todo before next time:
1. Purchase Lycra suit.
2. Build more muscles to double pole with.

- The Wild Bazilchuk