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Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion
  September 12

For the past couple of weeks, the Norwegian Men's National Team has been training in Park City. The came here for three weeks of high altitude training and also to get familiar with the Soldier Hollow trails and surrounding area. The more you know about an area: its food, its weather, its accommodations, etc. the better prepared you will be when you go there to race. So the Norwegians have been inspecting Utah, trying to leave very few surprises for this winter's world cup race and the 2002 Olympics.

Since they are not very familiar with this area, some of the local skiers here have been invited to join them on occasion to show them a good run or rollerski route. Since I have been out of town, or more recently sick, I had not had the chance to train with them until today. But finally I had my chance to jump into a rollerski interval session with the best skiers in the world. All the famous names were there, with the notable exception of one Bjorn Daehlie, who is not technically on the Norwegian National Team due to his semi-retired status (which means that he'll only win 5 World Cup races a year instead of 10).

We started the workout with half an hour of warm up skiing. I jumped in behind the train of Norwegians and tried to study every movement as much as I could. I am still recovering from a week-long sickness, so I didn't plan on actually doing the intervals, so this would be my best chance to follow and observe. After 30 minutes, we all pulled over, did a little stretching, and listened to two coaches explain the workout in Norwegian. Then, kind of lackadaisically, the skiers made their way back onto the road and took off one by one. It was so nonchalant, that I just assumed that they were simply doing a little bit of speed before jumping into the intervals. So I decided that I would try to hang with quite possibly the best sprinter in the world, THomas Alsgaard. At first I was not impressed, after twenty seconds, I was still right behind him. "That's not a very fast sprint," I was thinking. But then another twenty seconds went by, then twenty more. Soon I realized that we weren't sprinting, we were in the middle of a four minute interval. I hadn't planned on doing intervals, but I also was not going to just stop and let Alsgaard ski away. I hung tough. For three minutes I stayed on his heels, building my confidence and probably annoying him. He pulled away some in the final seconds, but I was happy with my performance. He was definitely faster than me, but the gap was not as big as we, in this country, are led to believe it should be. I desperately wanted to do more, but since I was still feeling the remaining effects of my cold, I did not want to overdue it. I decided to just ski easy and watch as the skiers went by me. What really surprised me was that Alsgaard also called it quits after one interval. Apparently I was too much for him! The thought that kept coming back to me as I watched the best skiers in the world was that, yes, they are better than we are. But the difference was not nearly as big as I had been led to believe it was. Granted, I was making this judgment after one workout, where I did exactly one interval, but still my confidence was boosted greatly by what I saw.

September 15

The Norwegians are leaving tomorrow, so today was our last chance to kick their butts. They were doing a 7.5K running time trial on the trails at Soldier Hollow and invited us to jump in with them. So Justin Wadsworth, Scott Loomis, Erik Stange, and myself all gave it a shot. Before the start the Norwegian coaches explained (at least as it was translated to me) that it was NOT a race. We were all to push the uphills, and back off slightly (to level III or so) on the flats and downhills, making it more of a natural interval session. My first thought was "Great! Now if I go all out the whole way, I might be able to keep up!"

For the first K or so of the workout, everything seemed to be going as planned. We were all still in a large group, though I admit I was near the back. But soon, I realized these guys were just too competitive with each other to adhere to what their coaches said. They were definitely hammering the uphills, but there was no letting up on the flats or downs either. This was a full-on race. I was running as fast as I could on the brutal Soldier Hollow trails. I was ahead of two or three of the Norwegians (there were about 15 of them total) and trying to stay within striking distance of those ahead of me. Meanwhile, Justin Wadsworth was right up near the leaders and Scott Loomis was in the main pack. I finished near the back, but I have never been a fast runner. It made me feel good to see that the people who usually beat me in running workouts, Scott and Justin, were competitive with the best skiers in the world.

So I only got to do two workouts with the Norgies, but it was enough to tell me this: Yes they are very good, but that level of performance is attainable with the right training and support. It just means that we have a lot of work to do.

September 23

I had planned to go for a two hour rollerski workout this morning, but when I climbed out of bed, I found that I just couldn't do it. No, I wasn't overly tired and I wasn't having a motivational crisis. I just couldn't do it because there was a foot of snow outside our house! The forecast last night said "maybe a few inches in the mountains," but this was a full-on winter storm. It continued snowing throughout the morning with no signs of letting up. I began thinking that if we had a foot of snow outside our house, then there must be at least a couple feet up on the ridge behind our house. So I recruited a couple of friends, gathered up some rock skis, and drove up Guardsman Pass to get in the first ski of the year - in September! When I was in college I came out west to train one fall and had been amazed that my teammate Colter and I were able to ski on October 12th on a pass outside Jackson, WY. That was the earliest I had ever been on snow (in the northern hemisphere). But this was a full two weeks before that. I was mildly disappointed when we reached the ridge and found that there was probably LESS snow up there, but I was not going to let minimal snow stop me, especially since I had my rock skis on. We set off on a jeep trail that traversed the ridge. For the most part the skiing was good, except that every few strides, I would get snagged on a rock and throw off my balance. I would say a little prayer for my quickly deteriorating skis and move on. We skied for two and a half hours, getting in an amazing backcountry tour for September. I was so psyched. Maybe touring around on backcountry skis wasn't the best training I could have done, but it was a lot more fun than running in the snow and it got me to start thinking ahead to winter.

September 24

Today was much nicer than yesterday, with bright blue skies, sunshine, crisp air, and white snow covering the fall foliage. It warmed up quickly this morning but there was still too much snow to do much "real" training, so I decided to go skiing again. The golf course in Park City wa still covered and the manicured grass underneath meant that even if I did go through to ground, it would not damage my skis.

I skied in a 25 minute loop, careful to avoid tees and greens that I might damage, which I circled around three or four times. By now it was probably 60 degrees and the sun was eating away the snow in a hurry. My tracks were now nothing but slush and grass. I tried to ski in another loop, but by the second time around, it was already complete mush. But I pressed on and managed to ski for three hours. A three hour OD on snow in September! Unheard of. After this weekend, I was content to go back to rollerskiing for another month or so because I had my first taste of winter and I knew the real thing couldn't be far behind.

© 2003 Cory Smith. All Rights Reserved.