After a slow start to training from being out of action for most of the 2007 Australian season due to a bad back injury I arrived in Vail, Colorado early November to no snow. But the lack of snow didn't halter any attempts at getting back on track with many sessions spent running and spinning on the bike. Just the altitude (8,000+ ft) was enough of a kick to get in some decent training without the snow. But after praying for snow and spending a weekend away at a hut trip up at the American Continental Divide for altitude training our wishes came true with the white stuff starting to fall and not stopping for almost the rest of my time in America.
Being the first serious on snow training since my back injury it was a slow start not knowing what I could and couldn't do. But from my PT and core strength sessions that I did back in Australia in September & October at the VIS I was stronger then previous seasons and all I needed to work on was my aerobic fitness to get back to competition level.
As the weeks passed and the training sessions grew longer I had the opportunity to compete in a few local races with varying results, whilst these races weren't true indicators of my position in Disabled World Cup they were of my fitness and I could tell that I was on par.
With a specialized training program set up by Coach Dan Weiland I had only a few weeks left till I departed for Europe and my 2007-2008 European campaign. Post Christmas my weeks were spent conditioning and maintaining fitness by training in the mornings and helping coach the local high school kids train in the afternoons.
By mid January I was on my way to Europe with my first stop in a small town called Isny im Allgäu in Germany for the first of the World Cup races. Isny had very limited snow and after the first World Cup race the venue was washed out due to rain and the races were moved to Oberstdorf in south-central Germany. With the better conditions, the races were back on track with a few added races due to lost time. My results varied but were solid with two 14th places in the 5km skate and 20km classic and a 12th in the 10km classic. The conditions were hard and difficult with heavy rain and gusting side winds at times. A French blind skier was airlifted to hospital after breaking his ankle on the 5km skate course crashing out on deep ruts. Apart from my first result in Isny, my European campaign was off to a solid start with any niggling problems with my back long gone.
The Germany World Cup series was followed up with the hundreds of athletes, coaches and technicians making the trip in a matter of one day to Vuokatti in Finland for the second World Cup series. Finland gave us the best and worst it had on offer with freezing cold clear skies with 5 hours of dusk and dawn to overcast rainy days. Whilst the conditions weren't the best for the last race the weather leading up to then couldn't have been more perfect.. apart from the fact that the sun never crested the horizon!
My first two races I received some good results with an outstanding 8th place in the skate sprint and a 14th in the 20km skate. The skate sprint was certainly the highlight so far with my first World Top 10 result. The top 16 went through to the finals and I cleared the quarter finals but got knocked out in the semi finals in what turned out to be a very tough race but the experience gained was paramount.
The final race was a 10km classic and in true style it was the hardest race of the season. The tough conditions of snow nearing rain and the technicians working overtime to make the skis as fast a possible was long gone after I misjudged my start time by 1 hour. I rushed to start and started late, only by about 10 seconds. The wet snow had everyone icing up but as I raced on zeros (a different type of race ski) and was ok compared to some. The poor conditions meant that there were people all over the place, guides with out there blind athletes, crashes on the downhills, people skiing backwards on course and to top it off I broke my pole on the last lap, so with a 12th overall not a bad result considering the circumstances.
With a difficult yet memorable race to finish off my 2007-2008 European campaign it was time to pack everything up again and move on, this time back home. To reflect back on this Northern season, it surely has to be one of the most memorable with my best series of race results and greatest variety of condition and venues. By far it wasn't the easiest season but after 6 years and 13 back to back winters I've learnt that with solid training and a good mind set even after an injury anything can be achieved.
James Millar in action in Finland
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