Coach Perspective: Chelsea

by Chelsea Little

[We were fortunate that Chelsea joined us for part of the Lillehammer portion of the trip – her 3rd JNT Norway trip!]

This morning I had oatmeal for breakfast, and it made me think of Norway trips past and present.

On my first trip with the Ford Sayre team, Dan Nelson would make a huge pot of oatmeal every morning. It was good oatmeal (he often added apples, I think), but by the end of the trip I was sick of oatmeal.

On my most recent (I won’t say last!) trip with the Ford Sayre team, Tim and Margaret Caldwell making a huge pot of oatmeal every morning. Maybe it was because I was only there for half the length of the trip, but I never got sick of the oatmeal.

This trip was probably the best thing I will do all year, although sorry Caldwells, the oatmeal isn’t why. As Zurich has been from winter to summer and back again about five times since my mid-March trip to Lillehammer, those days seem far away. But before it gets further, I thought I should write something about it.

 

I flew to Oslo on a Tuesday and took the train up to Lillehammer. After getting picked up at the station, I quickly said hi to a few of the athletes and hopped on my skis, skating up to the Olympic stadium (which was already partly set up for the finish of the Birkebeiner) and then back down again. I had to navigate a crowd of spectators walking along the ski trail up to the ski jump, which was hosting a World Cup that very day. Welcome to Norway!

Even though it was warm, the skiing was fantastic and I felt that same joy I do every time I clip into skis after a while of being off snow. I glided along, but also paused to admire the incredible Scandinavian late-afternoon sunlight coming through the birch trees. I was giddy with the feeling of freedom, of having newly landed on a break from my daily work life. But the landscape also bestows an incredible sense of calm. Experiencing these two feelings at once is quite special.

After a shower I headed over to dinner where I got to reunite with the whole crew, who I had last seen when I was on waxing duty at the opening Eastern Cups of the season in in Craftsbury and at some practices over the Christmas break.

As I was about to experience all week, the joy that I felt zipping up the hill was nothing compared to the wonder of the Ford Sayre athletes experiencing Norway for the first time.

Apparently I only make this face when skiing. (Photo: Margaret Caldwell)

I hesitate to say that I’m jaded, because that would imply that I didn’t enjoy Norway. I absolutely love traveling and skiing around Lillehammer is one of my very favorite things. I posted a photo on Instagram after a long ski and one friend messaged me, “you’re smiling so much you look like a different person.” It’s literally transformative compared to my normal existence.

But the reality is that I have lived in Europe for almost five years now, and my perspective is different. It was at least my seventh trip to Lillehammer, the first having been when I was seven years old. I take for granted how things work: I’m excited to experience them, but I know to some extent what I’m going to get. I guess you could say I’m “experienced”, or just, “almost 30.”

Seeing the high school athletes glimpse everything for the first time was, by far, the coolest thing I’ve done all year, and it will be hard to top for the rest of 2017. It made me appreciate every activity that we did in an extra way. And it was a special bonus to have Jørgen Grav around to obligingly answer our silly questions and point out things that we might not have even noticed.

The week was filled with long skis and varyingly effective kickwax. I loved every second of it. I spent time skiing with a lot of different people, from the high school athletes to Scottie Eliassen (who, despite the fact that she’s one of my dearest friends and role models, I basically never get to actually ski with – we’ve gone hiking or running together more often in the past five years than skiing!) and the Caldwells, Jørgen, Chris and Mary Osgood, and my partner, the “other” Chris.

Skiing up to Pellestova with Margaret. (Photo: maybe Mary?)

The day before the Birkebeiner, we tried rather unsuccessfully to do a short ski by walking up the road behind the ski jump and hopping on the trails there. The walk ended up being much loner than we expected… maybe two kilometers? Tim Caldwell and Chris Osgood were uninterested in walking back down the road, and I agreed, so we ditched the group and skied over to the stadium and then down the hill to town. By then, the trail hadn’t been recently groomed, but had been through several melt-to-slush, freeze-to-rock cycles. We gingerly made our way down the trail and I’m not going to lie, it was a bit terrifying.

But when we finally hit the giant field below the ski jump, there was perfect crust and cruised all around, making huge sweeping turns and actually whooping with joy. That was the highlight of my day. I’m not as good on my skis as Tim or Chris Osgood, but I do have 30 more years of practice before I hit retirement age so I’d better keep skiing as much as possible.

That afternoon, we klistered up 23 pairs of skis, first with base klister and then something warmer. Jørgen and I initially tried to do everything with our thumbs, but by only the second pair of skis it was clear to me that I wouldn’t make it without a massive blister. It was also clear that Tim Caldwell can perfectly smooth a layer of klister in one pass when it takes me five minutes, and I felt very inadequate. We sacrificed the one iron we had into a klister iron and after that everything went much more smoothly.

The maestro. Bow before him.

Then, it was all about getting ready for the race. I was able to get seeded into the fourth wave, Jørgen was in wave one, and my partner Chris was in wave five, so we had to get up and get going a bit earlier than the rest of the crew. As the whole group rehashed plans and details over and over and re-packed our race bags, my excitement grew, although also my dread. There’s something about heading to a start line several hours away not knowing if your skis will work that produces a certain amount of anxiety.

After an early bedtime, it was up at the crack of 4:30 to catch the 5:00 bus from Rena to Lillehammer. The hotel/apartment complex was full of skiers quietly scampering around with headlamps, full of calm anticipation. I’m terrible at sleeping on buses, so I just watched the landscape go by. For a brief period of time we drove through a snow squall, and I thought of the klister on my skis and gulped. But when we arrived at the start, the sky was clear again and a beautiful day was dawning.

That in and of itself was a bit of a victory for me. The last time I tried to do the Birkebeiner was in 2014, and the race was canceled, after having been initially just delayed morning-of. I, along with most of the rest of the field, had made it to the start line only to sit on our buses and then eventually drive back to Lillehammer. This year, I would actually get to race!

Based on the recommendation of the Swix representative who was talking over the PA system, Chris and I slapped a hardwax cover over our klister, and then walked around a bit before I headed over to the start line. I had thought I was just in wave four, but it was actually a separate wave a few minutes later: all the women who didn’t make the “elite” wave, but were still expected to do well in their age groups. I don’t know how many of us there were, but it was really fun to all be on the start line together getting ready. It has been ages since I have done a race with just women. The atmosphere was decidedly different.

Across the plateau. (Photo: Sportograf)

When the gun went off, we headed out of the start and had the trails all to ourselves for several kilometers before the fastest men from the wave behind us began to catch up. The pace felt high – I later realized that this was because I wasn’t feeling my best, not that we were actually going very fast – and the tracks were already a bit sloppy because at these lower elevations it may not have frozen overnight.

Despite those two things, I was just so happy to be with the other women. Women are much easier for me to follow in terms of technique and cadence, and as we discussed with the team, women are also much better at skiing an even pace for kilometers on end. The going was easy and the camaraderie fun.

But the first several kilometers are not spectacularly beautiful. It wasn’t until we had climbed a bit and all of a sudden the snow was dry and the tracks were hard that I really began smiling. I wasn’t feeling great, but the Birkebeiner is a perfect race in that there’s a lot of climbing but at a very manageable grade. Gradual/moderate striding has always been my biggest strength and strongest technique, and I could just stride along as the vistas opened up and the sun lit everything up. You get in a rhythm and you go.

Regardless of fatigue, regardless of anything, I thought: this is the best of all days. Here I am, out in the hinterland surrounded by thousands of people, skiing along in the sun on perfect wax. As always, some dedicated fans or friends of racers had somehow made their way out to seemingly inaccessible parts of the course and were shouting or just calmly spectating while drinking who knows what and roasting sausages. Aside from the American Birkie, you rarely if ever see this in North America. The atmosphere is truly magical.

That’s not to say there weren’t sections of the race which were hard. It’s surprising how spread out things get, even with so many thousands of skiers, and some parts were rather windy; I also simply got tired. At some point Sjusjøen felt like it would never come.

Me (right) heading through the woods just a few kilometers from the finish. (Photo: Sportograf)

But it did, and all of a sudden there was an order of magnitude more shouting from a huge crowd of spectators. Sjusjøen is the most accessible waypoint along the trail, and it seemed like everyone from miles around must have made their way there to watch. Dennis and Liz were there too, and I was really excited to see them! It was insane. I took a coca cola feed and immediately felt energized. I never ever drink soda, but that really hit the spot.

From Sjusjøen there’s a great, long, fast downhill towards the Olympic stadium. My skis were fast and the biggest challenge was navigating the other people in the trail, especially on a few tight corners. Then the last few kilometers are flat and ever-so-gradually climbing towards the stadium. Even if I was tired, I was still picking people off. I didn’t bonk, which I considered an accomplishment, and a competitiveness which had lain somewhat dormant through the middle of the race kicked back in.

By the finish, I wasn’t thrilled with my performance exactly, but given how heavy my legs had felt the whole way, I was happy with what I had done. Not a single fast-twitch muscle had been firing, but I had tried hard, stayed focused, and knocked an hour off the time I skied back in 2006 as a freshman in college. And I made ‘the mark’, something which I had been certain wouldn’t happen.

Scottie later emailed me my athlete evaluation from the 2006 trip, and it was funny to look back on my assessment of that first Birkebeiner. It was only the second marathon I had ever done, the first one being a skate race in Rangely, Maine.

I snapped this picture of very happy Erik at the finish.

“I think that completing the Birkebeiner was the coolest thing I did,” I wrote of the trip. “The feeling I had after I skied across the finish line was unbeatable. That feeling, and the knowledge that I did something really amazing, is going to stay in my memory for a long time… I also learned that there are a lot of different goals you can set and ways you can succeed.  In the Birkebeiner, I achieved my goal of finishing. That means a lot to me.”

The high school athletes on this trip were probably feeling the same way. (Or better? Every single one of the Ford Sayre high schoolers skied the Birkebeiner faster this year than Natalie Ruppertsberger and I did in 2006.)

Long before Scottie sent me those remarks, I had immediately known that my delight about the race and the conditions was definitely not the coolest part of the day. As I wandered around the finishing area realizing that we had made absolutely zero plan for meeting up afterwards, I eventually ran into Erik Lindahl and then Tim Cunningham. They were both simply amazed at how much fun they’d had. They were still marveling at the wonder of everything and that brought me my biggest smile of the day.

Chelsea and Natalie in the 2006 Birkebeiner.

It wasn’t just the high school athletes; the coaches also seemed to have had a really great experience. After so many years of running this trip, Scottie finally got to do her first Birkebeiner, and she did great! That was actually really, really cool for me to see, and it made me really happy to see how much she enjoyed it. The Caldwells and Osgoods were beaming and joyful, Jørgen said he bonked really hard but was pretty good natured about it, and Chris – who usually complains about classic skiing and hates klister with the wrath of a thousand fiery suns – admitted that it was an extremely cool event.

The whole day also reminded me how great it is to have a team. Since moving to Switzerland two and a half years ago, I’ve gone to ski races with another person approximately, what, four times? I have no team or even any training partners, and I’m almost always alone. It’s much harder to put things in context. You get stuck with your own interpretation of the day, and even if it was a good day, that’s just not as fun or as interesting. If it was a bad day, you don’t have a teammate who did great to celebrate. So in that sense, too, thanks a lot to Ford Sayre for having me along on this trip.

The next morning, Chris and I had to leave early and catch the 7 a.m. train to get our flights back to Zurich (me) and Canada (him). It was tough to leave the crew, knowing that they would go for one last long, beautiful, special ski and I would be sitting on an airplane going in the opposite direction.

I owe a huge thank you to the whole Ford Sayre team for having Chris and I along. It was a fantastic trip and so much fun to hang out with everyone for the week.

Coach Perspective: Chris O

Norway Trip Reflections – Chris Osgood – Guest coach

[We were so lucky to have Chris & Mary Heller Osgood, Putney Ski Club, as coaches on the Norway trip!!]

This year, thirty five years after we first skied in the Birkebeiner, we had the privilege to return with the Ford Sayre Group.  We knew when we signed up for a trip with Dennis and Scottie and Tim and Margaret as team leaders that we would have a wonderful trip.  That is complete and total understatement.  The detail of planning, the diversity of activities, the care, attention, and respect modeled within the group, and the quality of the overall experience were simply extraordinary.  When Jørgen, Chelsea, and Chris joined the group in Lillehammer, the dimensions of the experience increased even more.

When our bus deposited us in the start field in Rena on the morning of this year’s Birkebeiner, my memories from standing here before came trickling back. The sky was overcast that day as well, the instructions on the loudspeaker spoken in Norwegian still didn’t make much sense, and the tracks narrowed just as quickly from many to just eight when you entered the forest.

Chris and Tim going through Sjusjøen

We first skied in the Norwegian Birkebeiner in 1982.  Our son Brayton, was not quite a year old and with lots of help from friends and family we completed our first Birkebiener experience.  We still have delightful memories from that trip and that day: the predawn ride in a school bus to Rena, navigating the start procedures, the endless skiers in the tracks and the warmth of the crowd as we headed toward Lillehammer.

But what impressed me just as much about the trip was getting to know this extraordinary group of young skiers.  They are respectful, curious, excited, funny, dedicated, and helpful.  They are purposeful young athletes and fine skiers.  A favorite part of the day was often the reflections that each skier gave at the end of the team meeting in the evening.  There was always a variety in their reflections.  I appreciated the humor, the honesty, and the attention to different aspects of the day they noticed.  I always learned something.  On the Thursday before the Birkie, one skier simply said “Tired. Bed!”.  That was followed verbatim by the next 5 skiers.  I couldn’t help but smile.

My thanks to everyone on the trip.  It was a wonderful experience and we know how lucky we are to have been part of it.  We won’t wait another 35 years to go back, that’s for sure.

With deep appreciation,

Chris Osgood

Coach Perspective: Mary

by Mary Heller Osgood

[We were so lucky to have Chris & Mary Heller Osgood, Putney Ski Club, as coaches on the Norway trip!!  Mary shares her perspective here; Chris’s reflections will be the next post]

Mary in Sjusjøen

Skiing in the Birkie on a spectacular day with perfect wax was the culmination of a wonderful week of skiing and anticipation with the Ford Sayre skiers and coaches. Before arriving in Lillehammer, I didn’t know any of the skiers and I didn’t have a clear idea of what was in store for them (or me). By the second day, I had most of their names down (though I still made plenty of mistakes!) and I was just beginning to know them as individuals. The rest of the week was rewarding on so many levels as we skied and ate and talked and laughed and got physically tired together.

When we made our way to the starting line of the Birkie, I was impressed with the confidence of all the Ford Sayre skiers. Sara and Keelan were poised and cheerful as they were interviewed just minutes before the gun went off, and that composure was maintained by all our skiers whom I saw during the first few Ks (after that, they were far enough ahead that I rarely caught any glimpses of those snowflake covered ski suits…). It was really nice to see how universally happy all the skiers and coaches were after the race – I heard no excuses or complaints from anyone – only positive, happy comments.

The final tour up to Snørvillen really pulled the entire trip together for me. Everyone was relaxed and just happy to be out on the freshly groomed trails with beautiful views. Even though I heard several comments about legs (including my own) being tired, those were followed by, “I’m not quite ready to leave Norway!” I felt the same way. Thanks.

Mary, Chris, Tim, Margaret on Snørvillen

Back Home: The Other End of the Craftsbury Relays

by Sara

Hello to all of you JNT Blog readers, for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Dasche. Those crazy Spencers are my well trained humans and today I will be taking over Sara’s job of writing commentary on the Vermont Republic National Nordic Championships. It seems kind of wrong to have Sara write about herself, she talks about herself enough already. Now, as we continue onto the real story, let’s all agree that the following commentary is pure “fact.”

Originally Sara was going to head up to the Spring Fling in Craftsbury for some fun relay racing, however, the Gods of March were strongly against this notion. As she drove down the road they forced the car into a 360 on the ice. Since the relays were a botch, I decided to host the VRNNC, paw selecting the racers from the two local teams present. The competitors were Stan the Man, representing team DAD (Disabled and Dying) and Sara of the Native Vermonters. The racers marched out of the house in style…the less the better.

Today’s start was Lemans style with both contestants running to a random pile of skis and poles; don’t worry FIS, they were both complying the 126% rule. It was a rough start for both as they ran to their skis and poles attempting to put on the equipment while avoiding the competitive scrum. Soon the race was underway and Stan the Man made his way up the first hill of the sprint course, leaving Sara to pick ice chunks from her eyes after an inglorious fall into a snowbank. The Man was doing perfect technique up the first climb, getting the most out of his extra green with a bit of spittle kick wax. Soon he realized he really was an old man as his heart rate monitor (drool measuring device) began going into overdrive, and the young and spry Sara was able to close the formidable distance. Reaching the Morderbachen the two racers went up and over the hill wheezing. Soon hitting the epic slopes where Stanley promptly fell off the trail and Sara said Adios!

This continued for another 5 laps, beating back and forth as some highly illegal moves were made, but quickly overlooked as a doggy treat was thrown my way. Clearly the race would be decided by which racer gave me the most treats and pats while enduring the horrific pain of racing their number one nemesis. As they came back around the stadium for the finish, another competitor of team MOM (Mature and Obviously Magnificent) arrived. Stepping out of the car in a highly dignified and powerful way she ended the race abruptly, calling all hands on deck or face risk of disqualification. The racers quickly forfeited the race to the dominant MOMs and I herded them inside, doing my day’s chores.

This has been a wonderful winter full of great races and maturing skiers. Hope to see you next year at the annual VRNNC’s!! And now a quick public service message to the Gods of March: Get moving!!! It’s high time I’ve moved from my perch on Sara’s bed to the front porch so I can chase deer around right off the bat rather than having to order my humans to open the door for me! Come on! I should be dreaming of biting the mail man’s ankles.

Bribery works very well.

Day 12: Snørvillen Ski

by Erik              [this is the final athlete post of the Norway trip… stay tuned for some coach posts!]

Sunday morning was the toughest of all the other mornings to get out of bed. I opened my eyes to sunlight pouring through the window of the small bunk room. John and I slowly rolled out of bed. John literally rolled out of his bed, which did not end well since he was on the top bunk. The rest of the morning was a blur. My body was still in shock from the amount of skiing I had done on Saturday. I quickly threw on some ski clothes, as well as the last pair of clean socks that were left in my duffle. We packed up the vans with the skis of our desired technique and headed out.

The day was beautiful. The sky was bright blue and the snow sparkled as if to invite everyone in Norway to come out and ski on such an amazing morning. That was not far off from what actually happened. We hit the trails, and saw so many people out there just enjoying the day. The famous Zachary Caldwell and his family were out there as well, looking very pro. His son Gunnar was striding alongside us as we skated, and he had absolutely no trouble keeping up. The ski continued, and I could feel that my body was exhausted. I managed to double pole the rest of our 25 km recovery ski since my knee was feeling sore. I started to understand how Adam must have felt in the Birkie as I struggled up the last mountain thing that we had to get over in order to get back to the vans. Yes, Adam double poled 54 km on Saturday, and he survived.

top of Snørvillen

After climbing for a few kilometers, we reached the top and were treated with a wonderful view of the mountains and endless snowy hills. We took some quality team pictures, and then headed back to the vans. It was such an amazing last ski in Norway, and I don’t think the weather could have been any better. I was still tired though, so when we got back I passed out on the couch for an hour or so before attempting to neatly pack all my clothes in preparation for Monday’s departure. So anyways, it was a fun way to end our ski adventures in Norway. Maybe we will fit some more spring skiing back home, but if not, that was the best final ski of any winter that I can remember!