Instalment 5: Wombat on the Wane
For the love of god! Is that woolly-haired hippie still persisting with that pitiful excuse for a blog?
Yes, I am. But it's ok - because, having exhausted my finite supply of WWII jokes, this will be my last instalment of Wombat on the Welfare.
The Australian racing season comes to a halt in much the same manner as a packed school bus hitting an runaway freight train - i.e. suddenly, violently and with many casualties. Eight days, two national titles and the Hoppet. How relaxing. By this stage of the season I have generally abandoned all thoughts of training and am firmly hunkered down in survival mode. This year was no different. I think my last interval session occurred in June sometime - I'm not really sure (rarely am I accused of overzealousness when it comes to documenting my training).
The first of the 10km nationals was a skate race. The field was one of the hottest to be assembled at an Aussie nationals for many a year. Two Americans, two Czechs, a Slovenian, a Frenchman and a Venezualan (no, really) participated on the day, with Zach Violett from the USA taking the win in the men's race and Evelyn Dong (no, really) taking the win in the women's event. In the classic event the following day, the tables were turned in the men's race, with Viktor Novotny from the Czech Republic opening a can of post-soviet whup-ass on the field. After the debacle that was the Skoda 1000 MB, it's comforting to see the Czech's exporting something decent for a change.
The week preceding the Hoppet yielded beautiful weather, giving me the perfect chance to bury myself properly before the final race of the year. Luckily, I was able to achieve that objective by Sunday afternoon following an ill-advised 'LSD' with Simbo around the second Hoppet loop. Determined not to heed the cries for help emanating from my shattered body, I continued to push out the km's till Wednesday, at which point I collapsed in a dishevelled looking heap. I briefly dragged myself off the couch on Thursday evening for the Hoppet Night Sprints where I was beaten into third, and yet still managed to triple my income from the preceding 4 month period.
Somewhat predictably, after of week of solid freezes, the mercury on night before the Hoppet failed to enter negative territory. So much for my dreams of being finished in time to catch News Radio's 10am bulletin. After a somewhat leisurely start, the race stayed together until half-way up the Paralyser, at which point Viktor got a little bit restless. Unfortunately for me, my body already operating at 126% of its VO2 max at the time of Viktor's attack. The result was entirely predictable, and for me, entirely painful. Viktor skied off, Simbo followed and I was left in their wake, collecting the small pieces of my lungs scattered across the track. Thankfully, my plight improved by the start of the second lap, and I actually began to feel quite good. Regrettably, I had by this stage given Geoffroy Pais (in 4th place) a lead of approximately 3 light-years, which unsurprisingly, proved insurmountable. I finished alone in 5th; tired, thirsty and with a inexplicable craving for the Saturday Age. A large number of people later told me that Simbo ended up winning 'by miles', which, as you might expect, boosted my morale no end.
On the Thursday following the Hoppet, after an absence of many years, I decided that it was time to return for another crack at the (in)famous Pub-to-Pub. No kids, I'm not talking about no Mt Hotham-style let's-have-a-race-between-two-pubs-and-maybe-a-glass-of-cider-at-the-finish kind of thing. I'm talking about a let's-inhale-five-beers-while-dressed-like-a-woman-then-risk-your-life-skiing-back-to-Smiggins-through-a-crowd-of-drunk-and-violent-punters kind of thing. And while I don't wish to endorse the irresponsible consumption of alcohol, this race is definitely the most fun I've had while irresponsibly consuming alcohol. For those of you not familiar with the event, it involves a couple hundred people in outrageous (and often deeply politically incorrect) costumes racing from Smiggins Holes up to Perisher front valley, whereupon they pass through four closely spaced 'drink-stations', each serving only one variety of yeasty 'sports drink'. At this point, all competitors still standing (and not in custody) are required to fight their way back through oncoming traffic to the Smiggins Pub, where the last warm, frothy mandatory beverage awaits. Tradition then requires that the top five finishers go back and do it all again. And that is where my day rapidly went down hill. I can confidently state that participants in the Burton Open half-pipe competition were treated to a show the likes of which they had never seen before. I can also confidently state that ten beers, skating skis and a poorly fitting nurse's uniform do not a half-pipe hero maketh.
And that inglorious episode, I'm afraid to say, concluded what was for the most part, a very enjoyable Australian ski season for me. Before you accuse me of not 'giving back' to the Australian xc ski scene, however, allow me to share with you a few small gems of accumulated wisdom from the past four months:
Tips for the serious unemployed skier:
I have often discussed training with Finn. This year, I finally caved in and agreed to try it. While I'm not prepared to go on the record, I think the whole crazy concept may actually have some merit.
If you aim to succeed, you could potentially waste many hours of your life chasing an impossible target. Aim for mediocrity on the other hand, and you at least stand a better than even chance of success.
Many supermarket shoppers tend to lose their appetites when confronted with the words 'Pet Food Only - not intended for human consumption'. This is both overly cautious and potentially costly. Sure, you can blow your money on fancy steaks, or you can pop a vitamin tablet then chow down on a tasty can of dog food for a fraction of the cost. If you answer '$1.48 per kg' to the question 'what price do you put on your children's nutrition?', then get yourself a can opener and start living!
When people first warned me that Mt. Beauty North was a rough place, I laughed. After all, I went to Myrtleford High School. I no longer laugh. Instead, I rock back and forth in the foetal position and think of England.
It's futile and pointless. Don't do it.
Mixing blue-extra and yellow stick wax can yield an impressively flexible race wax. Mixing blue-extra and yellow stick wax in your friend's kitchen can destroy a friendship
My car cost $2k, a Range Rover costs $100k. My car has a roof, four wheels and goes. So does a Range Rover. My car can be unlocked with a defrosted sausage and run on Sunnyvale Dry White. I'll take the Suby, thanks.
Mentoring Younger Athletes:
Younger athletes can be impressionable and insecure. These tendencies allow them to be exploited for personal gain. Through my role as a 'mentor' of younger athletes, I have managed to outsource many tedious tasks (carrying my skis, shining my ski boots, packing my pipe) that previously consumed many hours every week.
It is an undisputed fact that cross-country ski fashion reached its pinnacle in 1991 with the release of the hand-painted Rojo headband. Everything since then has been both derivative and inferior. It is also an undisputed fact that my own Rojo headband failed to attract even luke-warm interest from members of the opposite sex this season.
I hope you enjoyed 'Wombat on the Welfare'. Stay tuned for 'Wombat at the Worlds', commencing Dec '08. And just so you know, I actually quite like Mt. Beauty...
Instalment 4: Choice Bro' Wombat
Are dogs really dogmatic? Is an Alfa-Romeo a sports car, or an Italian with an A-type personality? Does Gold-Fox powder contain real fox? Why did the term 'brunch' catch on while 'luckfast' was consigned to a lifetime of anonymity? Who would win in a fight between a platypus and squirrel? Is a bout between two Greek competitors referred to as Greco-Greco wrestling?
All are important questions that I have not had the time to ponder recently. Why? Because I've spent the majority of the last week jammed into a plane/car/minivan/train with a ski bag inserted into at least one orifice. Yes folks, it's been a crazy week in Wombat-land.
When we said goodbye to Wombat and friends (and Leon Spiller) at the end of Instalment Three, we had just arrived at NZ's Snow Farm after two days of travelling and were much in need of a Lemsip and a good night's sleep (everyone except Simbo, that is. Ben does not require sleep, his body regenerates during level 3 intervals). One day after our arrival, however, things started to go downhill. Paul Murray was the first to get sick. While this was a blow to Paul from an athletic stand-point, it did give him an unprecedented opportunity to indulge in his other great passion; passive entertainment. I am informed that NZ Telecom technicians are still trying to locate the cause of a massive spike in broadband traffic in the Greater-Wanaka region. While the rest of the team's health was holding out, it would be incorrect to report that we were feeling fresh (this situation may have been exacerbated by a decomposing pile of Spiller's thermals in our sleeping quarters). Out on the trails, skiing conditions were good, weather conditions less so. Indeed, so flat was the light, visibility was reduced to just a few metres on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, as my visibility is limited to a few metres on even the sunniest of days, I became - for all intents and purposes - legally blind.
With the first race on the Thursday (10/15km mass-start classic), Tuesday and Wednesday were spent cruising around the trails and decimating the lunch buffet. Much time was also spent mocking the NZ Olympic medal tally, which at this point had failed to progress past zero. So clueless are the kiwis when it comes to the Olympics, that a number of their 'specialist' commentators were actually under the deluded impression that the Games include non-swimming related sports. Jokers...
Thursday dawned cold and clear. Hard stick wax was the order of the day, which, as a renowned waxing imbecile, suited me down to the ground. What didn't suit me down to the ground was the speed at which the lead pack skied away from me on the opening lap of the race. The field was impressive combination of Japanese, Canadian and NZ skiers; a step-change above the Australian scene. Luckily for Simbo, he appears to relish step-changes and he subsequently skied a spanking race to finish in fourth place, only a handful of seconds behind the winner. The rest of us trailed in a handful of a handful of seconds further back.
Friday was a bad day. Not only were additional members of the Australian contingent beginning to come down sick, but the Kiwis started winning Olympic medals. Somewhat worryingly, the bulk of their medals were collected in the sport of rowing. If they continue to improve at this activity, it would be criminally negligent of the ADF not to install mines along the entire length of our southern coastline.
In an effort to boost morale, a maverick group of renegades (i.e. Esther, Raymes, Darlo, Pais and myself) stole the hire car when Finn wasn't looking and headed to Wanaka looking for adventure. The good thing about the Snow Farm is that you don't have to look far for adventure. In fact, 100m down the unsealed private goat track that connects the Snow Farm to the highway and you're in for more adventure than a Palestinian buck's party minibus in Tel Aviv. Add to the mix a dubious tin-can masquerading as a hire car (rented from a family of gypsies in a Christchurch trailer park) with the road-holding capability of a greased walrus and a blind invalid at the wheel (i.e. me) and you've got all the ingredients of spectacular quintuple-fatality road accident. Miraculously, we managed to pilot our useless sled down to the highway without the loss of even one life, and before we knew it, Darlo and Pais were working their own special form of 'charm' (the courts have a different word for it) on the female shop assistants of Wanaka.
Some people have described Wanaka to me as Jindabyne on steroids. This is a bit of a stretch. While both towns have a central lake and are surrounded by mountains, most of the people I met in Wanaka appeared to have some degree of literacy and at least one opposable thumb. Regrettably, our pleasant stay in Wanaka was a short one. No sooner had we loaded up the car with possum-fur socks, $27 worth of 'cookie-time' cookies and a classy, yet understated 'sheep rooter' stubby holder, and we were back on the road to the Snow Farm. With traction in short supply as the road got steeper, the decision to fit chains was made. The operation was ruthless in its efficiency: Esther sat in the back-seat and complained that she was getting cold. I tangled one chain and then dropped it in the mud. Darlo did the same to the other chain. Pais ate a baguette while adjusting his beret in the wing-mirror. Raymes then sorted the whole sorry mess out before smearing mud all over the car's interior. As a team-building initiative, the whole exercise was about as successful as putting five people in the back of a plane, cutting the engines and throwing a single parachute into the middle.
A freestyle sprint race was held on Saturday. While a number of Australians decided not to compete due to varying degrees of ill-health, we were well represented by Esther B, who snared an impressive 2nd place in the women's event - sandwiched between a pair of Swiss sprint specialists. Pais went some way to redeeming his poor performance in the previous day's chain fitting, placing 2nd behind the Japanese no.1.
Sunday was the day of the 5/10km skate. This event was the main focus for many of the Aussie team, due to its potential for good FIS points. Thankfully, the FIS penalty lived up to expectations (on the men's side of things) which, combined with good races by a number of the team, resulted in Andrew Wynd, Mark Raymond and Chris Darlington all achieving the 2009 World Champs qualification standard for the first time this season. Simbo had another blinder, finishing a close second (see Finn's reports for a more comprehensive round-up).
To celebrate the achievements of the newly qualified skiers (on Finn's birthday, no less), we jammed them all in the back of the van with a 12-pack of beer, put the child-lock on and drove them 7hrs back to a Christchurch truck-stop. Although we had to leave at 5am the following morning to catch a flight, no alarm clocks were needed - the spectacle of a dripping wet Spiller running naked down the corridor at 4:30am was enough to ensure that none of us slept again for a week.
And with that, we were gone, and so am I - till next time. Happy skiing.
Instalment 3: The Wandering Wombat
'Mocky', I'm often asked, 'Why do cross-country skiers retire? Do the years of punishing training finally take their toll on the body? Does the emotional strain of pushing yourself to the limit eventually drain the batteries? Does the extreme poverty and associated hunger get too much to bear?'. All feasible, and all wrong.
The truth is more complicated, but no less tragic. The catalyst is not physical in origin, but cognitive. In short, full-time skiers have too much thinking time. Far too much. This situation can be sustainable for a few years. Thinking time can be employed in a number of ways - most of which are frightening unproductive, and a few; down-right damaging. Sudoku puzzles, cryptic crosswords and The Age's Superquiz are some of the more harmless applications of 'thinking time'. Calculating endless FIS-point permutations and speculating about the sexual orientation of the Smurfs are on the more harmful end of the spectrum. I personally, have recently taken to producing 'top-5' lists. I started with the obvious ones: top 5 recreational activities (drinking Bonox while listening to ABC news radio, giving caffeine tablets to small children while their parents aren't looking, stroking my cat, smoking my pipe, stroking my cat while smoking my pipe), top 5 French military victories (later amended to defeats) and top 5 pet hates (slow walkers, Armenia, George Pell, International Roast Caterer's Blend and real estate agents - in that order). Unfortunately, I soon started to run out of things to rank. The nadir was reached when I attempted to rank the national ski team in order of physical attractiveness. Even with myself in the first three places, I was still unable to populate a top-5 list. It was at this lowest ebb that it finally became clear to me why skiers are forced to retire. Much like a super-massive neutron star collapsing under the weight of its own gravitational field, the brains of veteran skiers eventually become highly unstable. In the same way that heavy metals accumulate in the body through years of exposure, the brains of cross-country skiers can form a dangerous vacuum from excessive exposure to 'thinking time' (a condition known as Hazardous Internal Vacuum - or HIV). Once HIV positive, athletes become extremely vulnerable to situations that, years earlier, would have presented little risk. My own brush with disaster occurred following four days spent holed up in a dingy French hotel room in early February with only 3 regional TV channels for mental stimulation. Miraculously, I stumbled across a simple game involving a stick and a peanut that narrowly prevented my brain from collapsing into a black-hole. I live in fear that next time I might not have a peanut. Spread the word people, 'thinking time' kills.
Phew...where was I? Oh, yes...things have been starting to improve on the ski racing side of things over the last two weeks. I competed in my umpteenth Hotham Pub-to-Pub on August 2nd. This race is a perennial favourite of mine and had yielded many memorable moments over the years. Like the year I went head-first into a waist high snow-drift on the way past the power-station, or the year we covered more ground on foot than on skis, or the year I skied the last 8km with one pole, or the time, aged 10, when I discovered that it's not a good idea to enter a hair-pin bend in front of Gerry VDP. Actually, now that I think about it, I'm not sure if this race has been character-building or emotionally damaging. This year's race briefing did not inspire optimism. Whenever the words '20cm of fresh snow' are followed by 'broken groomer' you know that things are going to get a little interesting. Thankfully, conditions were much better than feared and less than half-an-hour later we had made it to Dinner Plain. I managed to exploit my local knowledge to sneak in ahead of 2nd-placed Neil VDP and 3rd-placed Simon Flower.
The following week was a quiet one, in recognition of an impending hellish two weeks of racing in Perisher and NZ. The highlight was a classic ski at Mt. Buffalo - my first for many, many years - and should global warming trends continue, possibly my last.
The weekend of August 9/10 heralded the second national selection double header of the season. This round consisted of the Australian Sprint Champs (skate) on Saturday and a 15km skate on Sunday. Mr G. Pais of France was kind enough to turn up again and give us a skiing lesson. Frankly, while we all like to see quality international skiers come out to Australia, we generally like them to arrive in abhorrent form. Clearly Geoffrey failed to understand that his job was to lend our races some credibility while making us look good at the same time. If we thought that the sprint was bad, the 15km skate took the embarrassment to a whole new level. Not only did Pais dish out another helping of Franco-pain, but a certain long-since-retired Anthony Evans compounded the misery by coming in second. Finn Marsland really must be wondering what he has been doing for the last eight years of his life. All we could do to placate Finn was to say that we were very sorry and promise that we'd quit if it ever happened again. Even a greasy hamburger in Corryong on the trip home failed to ease the pain.
Amazingly, our punishment was just beginning. After the skate race on Sunday, the Victorian-based ski team members packed into a number of vehicles of varying roadworthyness and trucked on through to Melbourne. After a meagre few hours sleep, we were lined up at Tullamarine at 7am Monday morning trying to convince the Virgin Blue gate staff that our ski bags did indeed contain one pair of skis each. A few hours later we landed in Christchurch, NZ along with our NSW team-mates. But we weren't done yet. After Finn and Raymes had journeyed to a dubious suburban caravan park to pick up our two supremely underpowered hire vehicles, we headed south on the highway - destination Wanaka (or more precisely, the nearby Snow Farm). With our vehicles lacking power and us lacking sleep, we stopped for the night in Twizel after the worst pub meal of our collective lives. By lunch time on Tuesday we had reached the Snow Farm and while I can't speak for the rest of the team, I felt about as keen to race as I was to contract dysentery. Unfortunately for Paul, he did contract something on the journey - although thankfully not dysentery.
And that's where instalment three concludes. To summarise: Team Oz has just arrived at the Snow Farm for a series of three Continental Cup races and everyone is feeling about as fresh as Billy Idol. On the bright side - their bar appears to be well stocked. Enjoy the Olympics and remember, swimming is not a sport, it's a survival technique.
Instalment 2: The Wombat Asleepens
The High Plains Tour is always a good early season hit-out and, being a mass-start, is a prime opportunity to get some tight pack-racing under the belt. A strong field showed up and soon enough a pack of four had formed on the front containing Paul Murray, Mark Van der Ploeg, Mark Raymond and myself. There's a very good reason why most guys don't enjoy mass-start races involving Mark Raymond. He's not a sophisticated tactician - in fact, he appears to employ the same tactic to all situations. It goes something like this; race starts, Spiller moves to the front and sets a comfortable pace, pack settles in behind then...WHAM! Raymond attacks off the front. Pack eventually neutralises the attack. WHAM! Raymond attacks off the front. Pack eventually neutralises the attack. WHAM! Raymond attacks off the front. Pack eventually neutralises the attack. WHAM! Raymond attacks off the front. Pack eventually neutralises the attack... Frankly, I reckon if he keeps up this pattern of behaviour we should seriously consider banning him from all races until he reforms his ways. Thankfully, I think I might have worked out a way to deal with Mark 'Shock and Awe' Raymond. Just as our little posse of four wound it up on the run in to the finish, I saw my opening. BAM! I deftly stepped onto his basket and removed his pole in one swift manoeuvre. His race was over, but not before he learnt a valuable lesson - nobody makes Mock lactic and gets away with it. I went on to lose the race but strangely, I felt like a winner...
The interclub relays were held in the Nordic Bowl on the following day. Somewhat incredibly, this was to be my first ever participation in this esteemed event. I'd been holding out for appearance money since the early 90's, but the organisers had remained steadfast in their recalcitrance. Clearly, they underestimated my crowd-pulling power. Luckily for them, I offered to waive my usual fee and compete in the 2008 event. When the word got around that the Team Lake Mountain band had reformed for the relay (Andrew Wynd, Mark Raymond and myself), chaos reined. Birkebeiner teams were rearranged in a desperate attempt to combat the wrath of Team LM (who according to Finn, technically no longer exist). Little did our fellow competitors realise that our team was riven by a fierce internal power-struggle that resulted in both Wyndy and myself insisting on skiing the single classic leg. In the end, neither of us backed down, leaving poor Raymes with an almighty gap to make up on the anchor leg. Although he moved up two places, he was unable to reign in a runaway Mark Van der Ploeg and we finished second. Naturally, we blamed Raymes for the crushing defeat.
With the weekend of racing over and the ski season now into full-swing, I was feeling destroyed. Overcome with the kind of crippling fatigue that I would normally associate with a botched general anaesthetic, I was both puzzled and concerned. This wasn't how the script was supposed to go - the way I'd imagined it, I would stop work, train like a maniac then win a world cup...in that order. Instead, I was training like an arthritic labrador and sleeping like a narcoleptic on Stilnox.
My fool-proof plan for world domination had been hatched back in January while training in Davos. It was there that I met a Norwegian skier (whose name I still can't pronounce) who turned out to be a training partner of the legendary Nordic hard-man and Olympic medallist, Tor Arne Hetland. 'So what is the key to skiing like Tor Arne' I implored, 'Drugs? Special underpants? Dumb luck?'. Unfortunately, I was some way off the mark. 'It is all in the training my friend. This year, he trained 5% more than last year, last year he trained 5% more than the year before, and so on'. And there I was thinking that he ate babies for a post-training protein boost. At first I was distraught. Clearly it had taken Hetland years to get to his current level. But I didn't have years - to be precise, I had 10 months. And then I had a revelation. It was stunning in its simplicity - so stunning, in fact, that I struggled to believe that no one had experienced my revelation before. Here was my plan: Hetland had put together 10 year's worth of 5% training volume increases to get where he was. I, however, would increase my training volume by 50% over 1 year and thus ski as fast as him. As Edmund Blackadder would say, this was a plan so cunning that you could pin a tail on it and call it a weasel.
Unfortunately, as I would discover by mid-July, my weasel of a plan was not cunning at all. In fact, so decidedly not-cunning was this weasel, I suspect it had been raised from a young age on a diet particularly high in lead. With my chances of kicking Hetland's arse growing increasingly more remote with each wretched and exhausted day, I decided to make some major changes. Training was evidently the problem. The more I trained, the slower I got. It was simple then. Training was out, coffee scrolls and newspapers were in. Two weeks later and I haven't looked back. Assuming that performance in The Age's superquiz is correlated to ski speed, I'm feeling pretty confident about the upcoming continental cup.
The last weekend in July heralded the first of season's national selection races. On the program were a classic sprint (Saturday) and 15/30km classic (Sunday). I love it when they schedule two classic races in a row, in the same way that I love Young Liberals and shaving with a belt sander. Although the sprint was the poorer for Paul Murray's absence (I think he was in NZ training with the Armenians - but maybe I heard wrong), it was still a cracker-jack day of tight racing. Geoffrey Pais set the pace throughout the time-trial and heats and lined up in the A-Final against Neil VDP, Nick Grimmer (who successfully douple-poled his way to the final without wax) and myself. In the decider, Neil skied a great final to narrowly defeat Mr Pais. A weary looking Grimmer and outclassed looking Mock crossed the line in 3rd and 4th respectively. Esther Bottomley took out the women's final ahead of Chloe McConville.
The following day was a very different affair. Fresh, sticky snow made waxing tricky...no, impossible. Of the top seven finishers in the men's race, only one used grip wax (winner Ben Sim), and from the look of his skis - I bet he wishes he didn't. The popular choice was 'hairys' or multi/chemical bases - which led to some pretty comical scenes when a number of the racers got things slightly (or greatly) wrong. A number of DNF's inevitably resulted, in most cases as a result of a couple of feet of packed snow hitching a free ride on people's kick-zones. I'm told that Chloe McConville was seen walking around on a pair of Peltonen stilts shortly before she pulled out of the women's 15km. While Ben Sim was made to work hard for his win by Chris Darlington, Aimee Watson had an easier time of it, skiing away to a clear victory.
And that, esteemed readers (that's you, mum), is where I sign off for this instalment. Keep safe and remember kids, cross country skiing is not a career option. Stop now.
Instalment 1: The Wombat Awakens
Some people have described it as a social experiment, others as an example of decision making gone horribly awry. My grandmother reckons it could be syphilis. It's all academic really - the fact is I am finally living out my dream of being an unemployed skier in Mt Beauty.
The first month was challenging. The problem was mathematical in essence; 14 minus 3 does not equal zero. In fact, it equals 11, which is precisely how many hours I found myself trying to fill in each day either side of training. I had some early set-backs. Day-time TV was looking promising until I developed a serious case of brain atrophy. Doctors warned me that within a month, 50% of my cranial mass was likely to evaporate. It was not a risk I could afford to take. Instead, I decided that this was an unprecedented opportunity to finally read the literary classics. Unfortunately, I was thwarted by the Porepunkah library and its somewhat unconventional definition of 'classic'. While I respect their classification system, I really do believe that a book should contain words before it can truly be adjudged 'classic'. With hope running out, the national team AIS testing camp came to my rescue in mid-June.
It had been years since my last AIS camp. Six, in fact. Indeed, the last time that I jumped on that dreaded treadmill, the Monkeys were high in the charts and hand-painted Rojo head-bands were still de rigueur (in case anyone cares, I intend to bring this long-forgotten piece of apparel back into the spotlight this season - stay tuned, and please kids, wear eye protection). Truth be told, I managed to get myself a bit swept up in the testing camp fever sweeping through Mt. Beauty in the lead-up to the camp. Normally level-headed athletes were putting their reputations on the line in an effort to boost their treadmill fitness and lay down the kind of testing result that would say to other athletes "Me strong like ox, you weak like kitten". I think I did more intervals in the two weeks leading up to the camp than I had in the three months prior. The sessions had their desired effect - three days out from the camp I was so tired that I was caught and overtaken by a glacier during a level 4 ski-striding interval. Thankfully, three days of rest put some petrol back in the tank and before I knew it I was standing on the treadmill with an escalating sense of dread. Pleasingly, I managed to post a material improvement from my effort six years prior and, contrary to my fears at one point, the pain did eventually end. The rest of the tests were relatively harmless, and only mildly embarrassing (yes, I am the worst practitioner of sit-ups on the national team). For a more detailed (but no less shoddy) report on the testing camp, see my report in the XC Files. Even better, ask someone else.
After a short training block in and around Mt. Beauty, the annual 'on-snow' camp was upon us. Unfortunately, 'on-snow' was a misnomer - 'on-mud' being more appropriate (or 'on-couch', in my case). Being an enterprising chap*, I assembled my mountain bike, pulled on some bib-shorts and naturally, it started to snow. And snow. By Tuesday morning we were ankle deep in fresh snow and life was looking up. The camp had a refreshingly low key feel to it - in other words - no one felt like flogging themselves too hard. In fact, the most organised (and intense) sessions were our nightly dinners - gloriously catered by the good people at Howman's Gap. The highlight of the week was probably a tie between Mark Raymond's scintillating presentation of his recent expedition to Mt. Shivling in the Himalayas and the new flesh coloured compression shorts that Finn presented me with. Strangely, few other team members viewed my new shorts as a 'highlight' and I was subsequently informed that the mere sight of me undertaking hamstring stretches in them had provoked severe psychological disturbances in no less than four female athletes.
The last Friday of the camp was spent passing on my knowledge of the sport to members of the Victorian Junior Development Squad. Unfortunately for them, my cross-country skiing knowledge is limited to the operation of NNN bindings and urination out of a one-piece race suits. With resources like me at their disposal, the future of the state's top juniors is undoubtedly bright.
The Saturday immediately following the on-snow camp typically hosts the Birkebeiner Classic race. Due to a number of reasons that I don't clearly comprehend, this year's event was cancelled...and held. A last minute name change saw a sizeable number of athletes lining up for the inaugural 'Not-the-Birkebeiner Classic' at 10am on Saturday 5th July. Still dealing with the after-effects of a stubborn cold, I took things easy by the side of the track while the might of the Van der Ploeg family battled it out with Leon Spiller, Nick Grimmer and Mark Raymond for line honours. After a tough battle, Neil VDP eventually prevailed ahead of Grimmer and Spiller. In an ominous warning to his rivals, Neil then climbed onto the timing hut roof, beat his chest and emitted a gorilla-like roar in the direction of his vanquished opponents.
And that concludes instalment one of 'Wombat on the Welfare'. Keep an eye out in shops for limited edition Wombat merchandise. Products include authentic wombat fur headbands and limited edition Wombat t-shirts with a range of humorous slogans, including 'I beat Nick Grimmer and all I got was this lousy t-shirt' and the classic 'Caution - 300 FIS-point skier ahead'
* This is a lie
[Note - here you can find the earlier Mock reports from 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, Sapporo 2006, and Sapporo 2007, and 2008]