And they're off... (Skiing)

After a bit of time away from racing following the marathon, my ski-mountaineering season has kicked off in earnest the past two weekends. The first races always feel very tough, it’s a real shock to the system racing at altitude in a sport you’ve done hardly any specific training for and are pretty much just relying on running fitness to carry you through. But, for me at least, the improvement curve (and the enjoyment curve) is quite steep over the first few races. 

First up was the French championships in Areches last Sunday – nothing like picking an gentle reintroduction to racing! This was an exercise in tolerating suffering – hanging on as best I could on the climbs and trying not to lose too much time, or crash, on the descents. I finished miles back on the winners, even further than usual, but actually looking at previous years it was relatively good for a first race of the season (37% behind compared to 54% in last year’s disastrous Euro Champs team race, which was my first race last season).

This weekend the races were a little more friendly, with most of the very best racers away on World Cup duty. I also began to feel I was racing again, instead of just suffering, especially on the climbs (descents are still pretty bad at the moment, I need stronger thighs!). Saturday was a fun team race with Jon Morgan, on a much reduced course owing to high avalanche danger (but therefore some amazing powder on the descents!) We acquitted ourselves well and would even have won the veterans category had our combined age been 3 years older.

Sunday was a beautiful individual race above lac leman, where Jon, Ben Bardsley and I had a really exciting race between ourselves. Ski-mountaineering races are always exciting, but it’s even better when racing your mates whose strengths and weaknesses you know inside out! I felt I was climbing well, but on every descent expected Jon or Ben to come hooning past as they are better descenders than me. Luckily I was getting just enough on the climbs and transitions to stay ahead, but we all finished within four minutes of each other. Excitingly we all seem to be getting better each season – fewer screw-ups, faster solving of the few that remain, better average ascent rates (although it’s hard to tell as this is very dependant on the course). With the addition of the always strong Carron Scrimgeour, Ivor Ligertwood and Jon Bracey, and relative newbies Chris Barnes and Kirk Wadsworth, this all bodes well for a good men’s team for the World Champs, which start in just under a month in the Ecrins. 

After years of relatively unscientific training I’ve started using a Suunto Ambit (GPS watch/altimeter) which is a pretty awesome piece of kit for analysing performance. I can see how long I took on each section of a race and compare to Jon, or even more humblingly, Kilian Jornet (current world champion). This gives you a great idea of where the most improvement is to be made (despite being relatively much weaker downhill than uphill, in Areches I still lost more time to Kilian on climbs, because more than 80% of the race time (for both of us) was spent going uphill). If you’re interested you can follow my racing (and training) here, Jon’s here, and Kilian’s here.

Quality procrastination!