By Teemu Virtanen
Vasaloppet is now behind us, and what a race it turned out to be. Britta Johansson Norgren’s incredible performance throughout the race, and Team Koteng’s triple victory made the day something to remember. Speaking of triple victories, that seems to be a theme for this season in the men’s race as there have been three other events where we have witnessed a similar feat; Individual Prologue with Team BN Bank, Kaiser Maximilian Lauf again with Team BN Bank and La Diagonela with Team Ragde Eiendom. Let’s see if this trend continues in the remaining races of the season.
It’s soon time to bid adieu to Vasaloppet and start gazing upon the next event, Engadin Skimarathon, the first skating race in Visma Ski Classics’ history. Before we let the skating excitement take over, I am going to take a look back at the 180 km “double-Vasan” that I did on Thursday and provide you with some data and my key takeaways so that you can prepare yourself for your future long distance challenges whether they are Vasaloppet, Nordenskiöldsloppet or any other long distance event you may have in your sights.
When doing extra long distances, a couple of things are extremely important to keep in mind. First of all, you must find the right pace. You can’t start too fast but not too slow either if you want to achieve good results. I started skiing about 20 km per hour, which was quite fast considering the headwind and much harder course from Mora to Sälen than the usual Vasaloppet one (more climbs). The speed felt good but I was a bit concerned that it may be a bit too fast.
I knew that the long climbing sections before Evertsberg and Mångsbodarna would take more time and slow my pace down a bit. Between Mångsbodarna and Sälen, I had to face extremely gusty winds and I ended up wasting a lot of power and energy. When you are preparing for a long distance race, study the course map and know when and where the most challenging parts come. In addition, check the weather forecast; the direction of the wind and hourly predictions as the weather may change during your long journey.
After Sälen, I was able to keep up my fast pace, but I have to tell you that the climb from the Vasaloppet start area felt like a mountain in the Alps since I already had 90 km of fast skiing behind me. After that, I felt great and kept pushing hard until a short snowfall after Oxberg killed my speed for a while. At that time, I felt frustrated as I had been doing so well and it seemed that my dream of breaking the record was shattering before my very eyes.
Luckily, the snowfall was only temporary, and after Hökberg I was able to ski more than 20 km per hour again. The last seven kilometers took less than 19 minutes – thanks to three-time Vasaloppet winner Daniel Tynell who kept encouraging me by saying that this is what I love – the pleasure of pain! And while he kept saying that , I realized that he was right – that’s the reason why we do long distance skiing and push the envelope!
Then, your energy intake must be consistent and personally designed for you. It’s very hard to advice anyone about nutrition and energy consumption during a race as everyone has his or her own method and preferences. I didn’t eat any solid food during my almost ten hours of skiing. First, I had sport drinks and gels, then on my way back to Mora more salt and electrolytes were added to my drinks. On my return journey, I also took some bites of protein bars to get more energy and protein into my body. That wasn’t really solid food, but something chewable in addition to liquid and gels. You can also have various protein recovery drinks when your race or workout exceeds three or four hours.
I could have had some bananas, sandwiches and some easily digestible food, but I felt that there was no need for it. However, those are very good for long distance events lasting several hours. Towards the end, I also started to drink Red Bull as energy drinks include sugar and caffeine and at least for me, they work really well in long endurance challenges like this one. You should test how your body reacts to energy drinks before using them, but in the last miles they are certainly going to give you a boost. As you can see there is no need for solid food or any extensive carbo-loading before an event - I ate normally and made sure that I had carbs in my diet, but I didn’t carbo-load my “engine” before the event. You just have to make sure that you have sufficient energy during the race both in liquid and chewable form.
Most importantly, you need to be mentally prepared for your challenge and split it into smaller parts and make those parts your objectives within the greater goal. That’s exactly what I did. You can base your objectives on kilometers or certain points on the course in question. I used them both when dividing my journey into parts. On the Vasaloppet course, it is easy to spot the kilometer signs and hence control your speed and have your mini-goals set according to proceeded kilometers. But there are also many great points of interest during the journey; all the feeding stations, the first long climb before Evertsberg, the second climb before Mångsbodarna, halfway point in Sälen, managing the famous Vasaloppet start climb, the Oxberg climb, the last flat part after Hökberg and so on.
Of course, there are many other things to consider and to take into account when preparing and doing extraordinary challenges like mine on last Thursday. For example, clothing is very important. I didn’t have to change anything during my journey as it was quite warm, but in many other long events, you need to think about this matter quite a lot and dress accordingly. In some race really long races, like Red Bull Nordenskiöldsloppet, you can pack additional clothes and have them transported to feeding stations and change if necessary.
One last thing I want to point out is that we humans are capable of doing greater achievements than we can imagine. You are stronger than you think. You may think that you can’t manage a really long distance, but most likely you can if you have some decent training hours behind you and are well prepared. Based on my extensive experience on doing ultra-distances and 24-hour ski events, I can say that when you reach the point that you feel like dying, you are only halfway there.
Finally, I carried a Polar Vantage watch on my wrist, and I promised to give you some interesting data about my performance. Hopefully, this will give you an idea how a performance like this drains your body and help you when you plan your next great endurance sport experience.
- Distance 180 km
- Time: 9:42:46
- Maximum heart rate 183 and average heart rate 128 (I think this was actually higher as Vantage measures from the wrist and may not be that accurate – I noticed some discrepancies on the way while checking my watch)
- 1 hour and 42 minutes was spent on the heart rate zone 5 (the highest level, above anaerobic threshold)
- 1 hour and 30 minutes on the next level (above aerobic threshold), 2 hours and 8 minutes on the third level, 3 hours and 33 minutes on the second level and 34 minutes on the lowest level (downhill sections). However, these may not be exactly accurate as my heart rate might have been higher in many occasions during the course
- 6265 calories were burnt – although in a race-like workout such as this, the average calorie burn is 800-1000 per hour, which would make the total number somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 calories
- Average speed about 18,5 km per hour including all the stops and road crossing where I had to take off my skis – actual moving speed was 19 or more throughout the journey and often more than 20 km per hour, on some flats my fastest speed was 26-27 km per hour on the way back from Sälen
- Maximum speed 52 km per hour on a downhill (most likely after Evertsberg on my way towards Oxberg)
- Total climb 1950 meters