The Railway Bus

I’m writing this blog from the train as we make the trip from Östersund down to Mora. I’ve done a lot of train travel over the years and I can say that this is up there with the most awesome trains I’ve ever been on. But more on that later…

The last few days in Östersund have been lovely with lots of sunshine, slightly warmer temperatures and good snow. Yesterday Casey, Anna and I went for a ski with Fi Hughes from Great Britain and it was one of those days where the tracks are so fast and the company is so good you feel like you could go all day. We didn’t go all day of course, as we had to pack up our apartment at Camp Sodergren and get ready to travel. There’s been lots of Olympic watching happening, which has been fabulous, and Casey and I even passed on our crochet knowledge to Fi, who is going to make some smashing headbands. Fi has a blog about her racing and training, you can check it out here: http://www.fionahughesdotcom.wordpress.com

Even the bakery is getting into the Olympic spirit!

Even the bakery is getting into the Olympic spirit!

I’m somewhat surprised that we managed to fit all of our gear into our bags this morning, as everyone has accumulated more clothes / boots / skis / you-name-it since we came over here, but we did it.

Only a little bit of gear...

Only a little bit of gear…

Casey's bag doesn't have wheels. Not pictured here, but neither does her ski bag... lucky she's strong!

Casey’s bag doesn’t have wheels. Not pictured here, but neither does her ski bag… lucky she’s strong!

When our train pulled up at the station, I was confused, thinking that some of the carriages must be missing, but our lovely conductor, Lyn, informed us that this is a special train. The Swedish name for this type of train translates to “railway bus”; it’s just the single carriage, it was made in Italy in the 1980’s and has been running here in Sweden ever since I think. Thankfully there have been some minor adjustments since the 80’s like better heating and wifi.

Our railway bus

Our railway bus

Our driver and some old looking controls

Our driver and some old looking controls

I felt like a little kid again getting to go up the front of the train, meet the driver and see how it all works. We had to stop the train for a minute to wait for some reindeer (oh my gosh!) to get off the tracks, not that we can see any tracks at all! I can’t believe the trains can run in this much snow, if we ever had snow like this in Australia I think all transport would just shut down completely.

Rudolph and his family on the side of our tracks, yes, that snowy road is actually train tracks!

Rudolph and his family on the side of our tracks, yes, that snowy road is actually train tracks!

Wouldn't travel be more fun if every train station looked like this?

Wouldn’t travel be more fun if every train station looked like this?

We will be arriving in Mora in an hour or so ready for the excitement of the Vasaloppet week. Lyn told us the story of how the Vasa came about, and it goes something like this…

A long time ago there was a king in Denmark who was very mean. The Swedish people were all very worried that he was going to come and take over their country, so the king of Sweden set out to find an army to defend them. He arrived in Mora hoping to find men to fight for him, but they didn’t want to help. “We’re starving and have very little shelter here, but you won’t help us. Why should we help you?” they said. Knowing a lost cause when he saw one, the King strapped on his skis and started off towards Norway to find men to fight. After he had left, however, the people of Mora changed their minds, deciding that they did want to fight for their king after all. They selected the fastest skiers in the town and sent them after the king. The men skied 90 kilometers before they caught up to the king, but catch him they did, and thus the Vasaloppet was born.

Now, every year, people come from all over the world to race in the 90km Vasaloppet race, but finishing gets you some warm blueberry soup instead of a war, thank goodness!
I can’t wait!

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Life in Sweden

I’ve been thinking for a while that it’s about time I write a blog, then I realised I’ve been thinking this for about 2 weeks now without actually doing it… I feel like someone trying to start living a healthy lifestyle who buys a pair of runners and goes to bed every night saying “I’ll go running tomorrow” but never actually does. So this morning (this evening) I’m going to lace up the sneakers and go for a run (write a blog)!

Not a whole lot has been happening here in Sweden in the last little while; we’ve settled into a nice routine of training, cooking, cleaning (sometimes) and resting, so I haven’t felt the need to report on anything new and different. When in another country however, even day to day chores can be done a little differently. Here’s a short photo journal about one chore that I feel is 100% better in my Swedish life…

Introducing: The Shopping Toboggan

Don't feel like walking to the supermarket? Take the toboggan!

Don’t feel like walking to the supermarket? Take the toboggan!

Think this looks silly?

Think this looks silly?

Not so silly when you get to drag the shopping back up the hill instead of carrying it!

Not so silly when you get to drag the shopping back up the hill instead of carrying it!

Just in case you'd forgotten where we are...

Just in case you’d forgotten where we are…

Home sweet home... and the eggs didn't even break!

Home sweet home… and the eggs didn’t even break!

And a little proof that this is not a one time thing...

And a little proof that this is not a one time thing…

Onto the racing side of things, a few weeks ago Ellie and I competed in the Jämtkraft Ski Marathon here in Östersund. This was the longest classic race either of us had done all season at 18.5km for me and 42km for Ellie. My aim for the race was to try to ski with the pack, however I chose a very bad starting position behind a guy who, once the gun went, took a few seconds to start his watch and then walked off the start line. I don’t know if I would have been able to stick with the top group but on the day I didn’t get the chance, as they already had a big gap after just 100m of the race. I was chasing one girl in the 18.5km race until the halfway mark when I realised I was not making up any ground at all and mentally, I wasn’t having fun. At this point I turned off my tunnel vision and realised there were a lot of skiers around me who were racing the 42km (they started 30mins earlier) and started trying to catch as many of them as possible. This turned out to be a great decision as I had heaps of fun passing people and when I got to the finish I discovered I was only just behind the girl I’d been chasing earlier in the race. It was another good race for practicing having a positive mental attitude and seeing the difference it can make!

Not from race day, but look how beautiful it is here! Photo by Casey

Not from race day, but look how beautiful it is here! Photo by Casey

On the 7th of Feb, Casey and I looked up what channel the Olympics would be broadcasted on in Sweden and got ready to settle in and watch the opening ceremony, only to discover that we didn’t have the right channel as it’s not free to air. Horrified, we began a frantic internet search for online streaming and eventually found the Swedish official Olympic broadcaster, who ask for about $50 for the month to watch. We were reluctant to pay, but with no other option we decided to suck it up and it was a wonderful decision! We can now see every event on it’s own separate channel and watch everything up to 4 hours delayed which makes fitting our training around the races much easier. While all the commentary is in Swedish and we don’t understand 99.9% of what’s being said, I’ve heard we’re not really missing much compared to those in Aus (sorry channel ten). The events have all been fantastic and the level of competition across all the sports is inspiring, but yesterdays cross country women’s 4x5km relay was by far the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen… Charlotte Kalla’s anchor leg to bring Sweden from 25 seconds back to a sprint to the line gold medal was incredible! It just makes me want to go out and skate until I can figure out how to ski like she does. I have definitely found myself a new idol.

Here’s a video of the amazing finish:

That’s all for now, only one week left here and lots of excitement so I’m hoping to fit in 2 blogs before I get home!

Very happy here!

Very happy here! Photo by Casey

Saturday Morning Netball

In my primary school years, on a normal Saturday morning, I, along with hundreds of other kids, would head down the Macleod Leisure Centre for my weekly netball match. The age groups ranged from the kids who were so small they needed the lower ring, all the way up to open by the afternoon. When we rocked up to the Offerdals classic race (a few weeks ago now) Jackson commented that it was just like Saturday morning netball in Australia, the most accurate race description I can give.

A beautiful day for a race (when you can't see that it was about -17 degrees)

A beautiful day for a race (when you can’t see that it was about -17 degrees)

The age groups ranged from under 8, who did an 800 metre course, all the way through to under sixteen with separate races for every year of birth. On top of that there was under 18’s, under 20, and open races reaching 6km for women and 9km for men. We went into the races knowing that, particularly for the girls, there were not many other people entered in our age groups, so when we went into the warm up area to see a very large table full of trophies, Anna and I were a little overly excited to say the least!

Enough gold to sink a ship

Enough gold to sink a ship

The race course was on rolling trails through the forest with very well skied in classic tracks, making it feel more like an adventure than hard work. Most courses we race are set to match regulations, with a certain number of steep climbs, flats and technical sections, so this peaceful little wonderland race was something I hadn’t seen in years. Also, going into the race with nothing to prove, no time to beat or points to make made the day so much more relaxing and fun! In the end, being so relaxed probably helped me ski well too. It’s hard to say how the race went compared to other races of the season considering how different it was, but I felt good, skied smoothly and finished with big smile on my face! I was surprised also to have a few realisations about the mental aspect of racing; every time I went past someone, even if they weren’t in my age group, I got a massive confidence boost and found a little extra energy, however when one person passed me, I felt like I must be skiing terribly. I later found out that it was one of the boys who’d just started that passed me, and since being overtaken is something that happens a to me a lot here in Europe, perhaps I’ve found something to work on.

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Not your usual race course, but so much fun!

Arms up, about to fall...

Arms up, about to fall…

Didn't fall! *self-high-five*

Didn’t fall! *self-high-five*

Unfortunately the trophies ended up being only for the age groups up to under 16 (one for every participant), however there were prizes for the rest of us too. Anna, Casey and Xanthea rounded out the podium in the under 20’s and got a boot bag, a towel and a wall lamp to show for it, so you can imagine my excitement when my was name called out and a ski jacket was on the prize table! My expectations of how it would feel to stand on top of the podium were not quite met as Ellie (2nd) had already gone home and the other two people in my age group were Mum’s of the younger kids racing and I guess they were in a hurry to get out of there. However, as I stood awkwardly on the podium by myself while nobody took pictures, I couldn’t help but smile.

Training here has been going well, we’ve done a few sessions with the local ski gymnasium and are getting ready for a race this weekend, the Östersund marathon. I’ll be doing 21km classic and Ellie the full 42km. Race report coming soon!

Classic team sprint with the ski gym

Classic team sprint with the ski gym

Thanks to Linky for the race photos, and Vintersportgymnasiet Östersund for the last one!

Crochet and Green Stick Wax

Östersund is no longer the town of slippery ice, winter is well and truly here and I’m loving how gorgeous everything looks! I’ve commented more than once (pretty much every day) how glad I am that the scenery has transformed from grey/ brown to glittering white and that the new trails that have opened up thanks to the snow are heaps of fun! But before I share some of the lovely pictures of sunny, snowy skiing, dear readers, you get to see what I got up to first…

A few days after we got back from our trip to Piteå I started to feel like I was coming down with a cold, so it was inside to the couch where tea and orange juice became my new best friends. Usually a rest day or two is quite nice, however since all the trails had only just opened up and Ash Kildea was up visiting from Mora, Sweden where she is training, this felt like a particularly frustrating time to be stuck indoors. Luckily, Team Manager Linky is an excellent crochet teacher, so I crocheted until my lumbricals and interossei ached and I had parasthesia over my ulnar nerve distribution… in other words, my hands were very sore!

Some creations were successful!

Some creations were successful!

Other creations not so much... My housemates were concerned for my sanity by this stage!

Other creations not so much… My housemates were concerned for my sanity by this stage!

After what felt like forever (but was really only a few days) I was back out on the ski trails dressed in almost everything in my wardrobe, as the temperatures have been hovering between about -13 and -17 degrees. Training has been going well and it’s been great to have the whole team here this past week as group training is always loads of fun. My favourite part of skiing in the cold weather is how easy it is to wax for classic skiing; a bit of blue or green stick wax is easy to put on and always works perfectly! On the weekend we raced in a local race and I had such a good time that the day deserves its own blog post. It will have to wait until I have some pictures to go with it!

Wonderful morning ski with the sun at it's highest point.

Wonderful morning ski with the sun at it’s highest point.

Getting artistic

Getting artistic

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10 metres from our front door

We never really get sun on the trails, but it’s still beautiful!

This morning Ellie and I said goodbye to the team who have headed off to Obertilliach for a week of training before the World Junior and U23 Champs in Val di Fiemme. While it’s sad to see them go, we’re excited for our training block here in Sweden and a few marathon races we have coming up. Ellie will be here with me for the next two weeks, then she flies home and Casey comes back here. A week later Anna and Tutty will be back too and the four of us will head to Mora for the Vasaloppet week.

In case you missed these, here are a few of my favourite pictures taken by Nick Grimmer on team photo day.

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Scandi Cup

Firstly, to all those that I promised more regular updates about what’s happening over here in Sweden, I’m sorry I’ve been so slack! Time to get back on track with this whole writing business…

Last Thursday morning we loaded up the van at what felt like a ridiculously early hour (really it was 8am, only still dark) and leaving Nick and Casey behind to hold down the fort, we headed north to Skelleftea and Pitea where the Scandinavian Cup races were on. Originally the whole weekend was to be held in Skelleftea, however due to lack of snow, Sunday and Monday’s distance races were moved to Pitea, a town about 1 hour further north.

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Saturday was the skate sprint race and having skied the course on our way through on Thursday, I had a plan of how to ski it and ski it well. In the end I think I did race quite well, just not fast enough! One of the exciting things this weekend was that Charlotte Kalla, Swedish National Team member, Olympic gold medalist, World Championship gold medalist and winner of the Tour de Ski was also there racing (or should I say, winning). As we were running for warm up due to lack of snow, I made sure I ran past the big hill in the course while she was racing to see how it’s really done. I’ll be honest here, while she did go up it very fast, it wasn’t as fast as I was expecting and I almost had hope that maybe I wouldn’t get beaten by too much. I was mistaken. Once I got out on the race track and discovered just how slushy and thick the snow was, my hopes of skiing up the big hill as well as Kalla were shattered. I did manage to stay on my feet however and ski technically well throughout the race.

I don't have any pictures from the race, but check out these "only in Sweden" fur lined flats!

I don’t have any pictures from the race, but check out these “only in Sweden” fur lined flats!

The same cannot be said for the distance races. Sunday was the 10km classic individual start in Pitea, and was 3 laps of a 3.3km course. Usually in individual start races I start somewhere near the front and the fastest skiers go at the back so that they can work on catching everyone else in the race. This day however the snow was very soft and slushy so in order to give the best girls the best tracks, they went first and I was off near the back. This meant that there were people coming around the course on their 2nd and 3rd laps while I was just starting my race, so as they went flying past me I tried my hardest to stay with them. This worked for small sections of the course and then I wouldn’t be able to keep up anymore and I’d wait for the next person to come past. While it obviously sucked to be overtaken so much, it was also pretty cool to watch how the top girls ski and try to copy them. With about 500m to go, the girl who started a few places behind me came past and I was determined to stick with her until the end, but as I skied stride for stride right next to her, she seemed to get further ahead every step! I then managed to fall over in the slush on a fast-ish corner, but luckily I got up quickly and wasn’t too put out as I was almost finished anyway. Unfortunately the FIS points on this day didn’t quite match up to how I felt I’d raced, but it was the same for everyone on the team so I couldn’t be too disappointed. All in all, it was a satisfying race.

No photos from this race either, but here's an interesting one from training...

No photos from this race either, but here’s an interesting one from training…

I have a bit of a history with 10km skate races, in that I don’t think I have ever had a good one! Much to my displeasure I managed to continue this tradition on Monday. It’s funny how something can be motivational one day, and the next it just destroys you… when people came soaring past me in the skate race, as hard as I tried I just couldn’t stay with them which made it pretty hard to keep motivated. I managed to fall flat on my face and off the side of the trail (on a flat straight section of the course no less) in my second lap and after that it was just a mental battle to keep going to the end. Needless to say, not my best race of the season by a long shot. Team Ivanhoe coach Keith Jephcott said to me when I first started skiing that we each have 4000 falls in our skiing career, so while my timing was not ideal, I guess there’s a silver lining that at least I got a few more of mine out of the way!

Not so happy after falling on my face

Not so happy after falling on my face

The weekend of racing was my last chance to qualify for the U23 World Championships to be held in Italy at the end of the month, and unfortunately I didn’t manage to get the FIS points I needed. While it’s a bummer that I won’t get to travel with my teammates down to the Alps, I’m very excited to have the next 7 weeks as an on snow training block here in Sweden, something I haven’t had a chance to do for quite some time now. I’ll be staying here in Ostersund for the first month with Ellie Phillips and then will be joined after the World Junior/U23 Championships by Casey Wright and Alasdair Tutt for some more training before we head home.

In other news, it’s finally started snowing and getting cold here in Ostersund and it’s amazing how much nicer it looks when it’s not wet and icy. Bring on the next year of training and racing!

Finally some snow in the trees!

Finally some snow in the trees!

Snowy Ostersund

Snowy Ostersund

P.S. Some of the girls I’ve been coaching with Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar are training in Italy at the moment. You can check out what they’re up to on their blog Team Capelli Castani: The Italian Edition.

Ice, Ice, Baby.

It has now been a week since we arrived in Ostersund, Sweden, and our time has been filled mainly with training, eating and sleeping. I feel that I am in danger of writing a very boring post if I attempt to describe our daily activities, so instead I have picked three things from the last week to cover. Ice, Ice, Baby.

Ice-Rink Roads
On Christmas Eve we had a little bit of rain and some warm temperatures come through which turned our snowy roads into a very slippery ice rink. The roads have been so slick that it’s been a challenge to walk 10 metres to the cabin next door without falling over, so I’m sure those of you that ski can appreciate how difficult walking around in ski boots has been! We’re not the only ones struggling with the slippery slopes however, as a few of us were witness to a local bus sliding backwards and then sideways down one of the roads we were running on. Not to worry though, no one was injured!

One does not simply walk up these roads.

One does not simply walk up these roads.

Ice Baths
As a result of running on the ice and some hard gym and ski training, we’ve all had very sore leg muscles the past few days. The solution? Buy a big bucket! This big 200L bucket is now sitting on our balcony, full of very chilly water so that when we return from training, we can have the joy of jumping into it. Check out these pictures and decide for yourselves whether you think ‘joy’ is the appropriate word to use…

Jackson

Jackson

Nick

Nick

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Casey

Casey

Maybe Linky had the right idea after all?

Maybe Linky had the right idea after all?

Baby Jesus’ Birthday
Most Europeans celebrate Christmas on the evening of the 24th, but we decided to stick to true Aussie style and waited until the 25th. Dinner was a three course meal prepared mainly by Linky (dessert by Anna) and was a delicious combination of soup, Swedish meatballs and ice-cream cake. (The traditional roast turkey was not possible due to our lack of ovens.) Dinner was followed by Kris Kringle, though not organised in the usual way. Instead of drawing names and buying a present for our selected person, we each bought a present to go into the middle of the circle and drew numbers. Number one picks first, then number two can take number one’s present or one from the middle, and it goes on from there. The highlight of the game was when Anna opened a present to find a small golden trophy inside with ‘Nick’s favourite athlete’ written on it, and coincidentally, her own name written on the bottom. The look of glee on Anna’s face was second only to the one on Jackson’s who couldn’t believe Anna had actually picked the present he designed for her. Some other presents included a toboggan, handmade headbands and Swedish chocolates.

After some research, I can now name all the people in my Kris Kringle poster!

After some research, I can now name all the people in my Kris Kringle poster!

Merry (belated) Christmas and a Happy New Year!

You are almost there.

“There’s only 1 kilometre to go in the race… you are almost there.”
“One more day of studying until the last exam… you can do it, you are almost there.”
You’ve made it on to the last flight of a really long and hectic travel day… you are almost there. That story will come, but first, race reports from the last 2 races of Uni Games.

A friend of mine used to say to me that “practice makes perfect” and I remember once retorting “nobody’s perfect, so why practice?”, to which I got a slap across the face. I still don’t think I believe that anybody can ever be perfect, but I was reminded this week how a bit of practice sure goes a long way, after getting a second go at the skiathlon course on Tuesday, this time for the 5km skate. I had been reluctant that morning to do my warm up on the course as it is quite hilly and I didn’t want to go too hard, but Ewan convinced me to ski it and think about exactly where and when I would use each technique as well as pick spots on every hill to push hard. I have to say a massive thanks to Ewan for this because during the race I was able to ski every hill exactly as I’d planned and the result was my best race of the season so far with my best ever European and skate FIS points. I was really happy to have a race result that was on par with how I felt I skied, although I definitely have a few things I need to work on, particularly in terms of race tactics and planning, but hey, practice makes perfect right?

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Relay day

Thursday was relay day, and our final race of the games. Casey was our lead skier, with a 5 km classic leg, I went second and Ellie third, each doing a 5km skate. I think it’s fair to say that we were all a little tired after the long racing block, but we were not to be put off. Casey had a strong ski and tagged to me in 14th place, just behind the Canadian team. I skied out of the change zone a few seconds behind Canada’s second skier, determined to catch her and ski behind her, however while I thought I was keeping the same distance behind her up the hill, I got to the top and found she had pulled away from me a lot. My first 2.5km went well as I was still trying to catch the Canadian team but when I came through the stadium to go out for my second lap I realised I’d lost a lot of time on her. I skied the second lap well but I’d definitely lost a bit of motivation, as the team in 15th was a long way behind me. Ellie skied a good leg as well and we held our 14th place, ahead of 3 teams. All in all, a successful race.

Finished with all our racing, we then got our cheering voices on and headed out to yell at the boys in their relay. It was a very exciting race, with Phil Bellingham starting well and skiing with the pack for a lot of his 10km classic leg. One of our Finnish friends was anchoring his team and managed to bring them home to a very close 3rd place, much to our delight (and his), behind some very impressive Khazakhstani and Russian skiers. Australia ended up in 15th place, with Callum Watson, Nick Montgomery and Paul Kovacs making up the rest of the team. I was later informed that I could be heard screeching on the internet live stream even when the camera in use was no where near where I was standing… oh well, at least that means the racers would have heard too!

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Casey and I cheering the boys up the hill

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AUS XC’s next caption competition?

Yesterday we had a bit of a crazy travel day, starting with a massive traffic jam in Milan that had us worried we were going to miss our flights. We didn’t miss the first one as it was delayed, but the delay caused us to miss the second flight. Luckily we’re all fit, because after some chaotic queuing that had people removing the fences forming the line, we had to drop our bags and sprint through the airport without boarding passes, hoping to get onto the plane about to leave. I know people have travel nightmares much worse than this one, but I was sure glad to see the Norwegian air slogan on the back of the seat when I got on the plane.

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We’re now in Ostersund, Sweden, where we’ll be based for the next month with coach and team manager Nick and Linky Grimmer, as well as athletes Anna Trnka and Alasdair Tutt. The trails here are fun and the snow is pretty good, so I’m looking forward to having  time to get some good training under my belt.

In other news, I’m pleased to report that I passed my first year of MBBS and am excited to be starting second year in March next year! Unfortunately, I did just spill a full cup tea all over Casey and myself, so maybe surgery is not going to be my cup of… coffee? Anyway, terrible jokes and clumsiness usually means time for bed, so for now, goodnight!

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