Hugh Pritchard, Biathlete

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Hugh Pritchard
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3 August 2000

Recovery week. Drove over to visit Peter Moysey in Austria, and did a long mountain-bike ride with him in beautiful sunshine. The scenery there is so spectacular, a little more mountainous and open than where I live, and there are so many trails and paths. By evening the rain was pouring down again and looking bad for the next day, so we decided against going to the glacier at Ramsau, and arranged to meet some of the racers from his club for a classic roller-ski session at 7am instead. I don't think much of getting up at that time during my week off!

Peter said that my diagonal technique looks atrocious from behind: grossly excessive hip rotation. This was a shock, as it took me ages to acquire this and I was quite proud of it. I could really do with some video, but have just heard that the insurance claim on my video camera is likely to be limited to £350, which is way short of what it cost, so I guess I will not be getting another.

I always thought my Marwe classics were fairly slow, but these 3 were all on V2s, which were slower. That was OK as I need an easy ride at that time of day, but perhaps I need to think about getting some slower ones - the DMS/Nordic ones are quite a good price.

Then a trip to the new climbing wall at Kufstein, which is a fantastic site, much better than the walls I used to use in London. Until we got rained off, that is.

5 August

Did a heavy weights session at the gymn yesterday. Tried to get as near to maximum as I safely could on my own - the disadvantage of free weights. Thought I would do my stretching etc back at home, and of course did not. Training consistency is very largely about discipline, and it is very easy to let things slip.

A frustrating evening: spent a couple of hours fiddling with my training log (an Excel spreadsheet), tarting it up, automating it a bit more, and putting in more graphical output (inspired by rather than based on the version that I got from Cory Smith: www.xcskiracer.com), thought I was saving occasionally as I normally do, when Excel crashed - which it never does on this computer. I thought I would lose a few minutes work but when I recovered my saved version I found that although the time was only 10 minutes old, the file had none of the work I had done in the last two hours. O, the miserable malice of inanimate machines!

Today was much better: took advantage of a break in the rain to go for a long run in the woods, until I had absolutely no idea where I was. Then I just tried to go in a roughly straight line in what I took to be the direction of home, until I came to a road and a signpost that I was only 4km from home. Felt great, and when I got back did the full routine of a few strength exercises, stretching, core strength, and physio exercises for my knee. I even did a respectable amount of dry shooting today.

6 August I have just finished reading 'Don't Look Back', by a former US Olympic biathlon team member, about a return to ski-racing 14 years later. A great Summer read, as it goes into detail about the joys of racing and getting onto snow. The way the weather is here I reckon we will have snow within a month.
7 August

Back to group training, with a 2 hour roller-ski combination session (ie with shooting), in the rain. Feeling very lacklustre - slow, weak, lethargic. Shooting moderately, but I seem to have lost a little speed compared with the others - not surprising, as I have only recently started trying to shoot fast, so a week's rest is a relatively long time for me.

In one of many moments of inattention I fell while going uphill on the last lap, landing again with my left hand on my pole handle: excruciating, and infuriating.

Fritz was saying that my lack of flair today was very visible, and that part of being a professional is in forcing out the performance even when it does not want to appear. That is something I have yet to learn, and is presumably largely mental. I have just ordered a couple more books on mental training: once I run out I guess I will have to stop reading about it and start doing it, and perhaps then the results will start to come.

A run on the lanes and paths near home this afternoon. I have now done two runs of well over an hour each in three days, and my knee is no worse than normal, subject to the regime of icing and anti-inflammatories, so that is good news.

8 August

The same session again this morning, but trying to skate V2 up all the hills which was very tiring. Ricco Groß joined us, and it was interesting to see him skiing round together with Stitzl and Greis: they came into the range while I was reloading magazines, and Stitzl shot a very fast clear, Greis 1 missed, and last out was Groß: a former world champion, and shooting more slowly than the group I train with! Stitzl and Greis also beat him in the time trial we did a few weeks ago, but who knows how much he pushed that.

The significance of this is that I can realistically judge from my performance relative to Stitzl and Greis how I am doing by World Cup standards.

Roller-ski sprints this afternoon: tiring very quickly, and falling apart disappointingly early.

I have to guard against overtraining: this will require conscientious effort on my part, as the programme is designed for the other athletes who have come through the German club system, and are accustomed to much higher training volumes than I am, particularly following my temporary retirement last year. I therefore need to work out which sessions I can best reduce, while still getting the training benefits that I need.

10 August

More of the same morning training; a strength circuit in the Kraftraum yesterday and roller-skiing for strength this afternoon (alternate loops of double-poling and skating without poles).

Summer is supposed to be here again, and following floods earlier in the week it was sweltering today: will have to get up early tomorrow for my long bike ride, to avoid the heat.

16 August

Summer is really here: 3 consecutive days without rain! Hot sun so that the sweat pours off me while training (I drink 3 bottles of water (~2½ litre) during a morning session). Have been swimming in the lakes after training.

This afternoon a strength roller-ski. Was feeling really strong, and tried at the end to double-pole up the hill East of the range which I was barely able to do 3 months ago: no problem. Not a breakthrough, but a nice performance marker.

I have felt really good in the strength training this week. I wonder whether this is to do with having done pyramids to maximum and back down last Friday. It was a 2-hour session, and very low-density; I was worried about my knees and back because of the leg-press machine in the gymn I was using. But it seems to have done some good.

Through the post came a cutting from the Independent on Sunday of the article on the roller-ski race at the Lea Valley: a delightful piece, gently mocking the ludicrously small and obscure pursuit of roller-skiing. A bit of a puff for me, which may or may not be useful.

19 August

A bit of a training problem yesterday: I thought I was skiing fairly hard, but was unable to keep up with my partner for the session; I recorded a blood lactate at half-way of 1.9mM/l, which is very low, and indicates either going very slowly, or no fuel in the tank. Fritz pulled me out of the session, saying that my reactions on the shooting range also looked slow and tired.

A point which may not be relevant here but is nevertheless important generally is that one needs to be committed to the training one is doing. Fritz emphasises that concentration needs to be 100% on the skiing or shooting; I would take this a step further and say that you need to concentrate on what exactly you are trying to do and achieve in any particular part of a session. This week because of the language difficulty I was not sure exactly how I should be executing these morning sessions, and was therefore not committed to the speed and hard work that they were supposed to be. When the pace went much above my normal (LSD) training pace, I was beset by doubts and therefore did not make the effort required to sustain it, and therefore missed the point of the sessions.

Went to a 50th birthday party last night, and was astonished at how much more musical these Bavarians are than their opposite numbers in Britain. These were pretty normal small-town Bavarians, football fans rather than opera-goers, and they spent almost the entire evening singing: tunes much superior to British popular tunes, and sung both in tune and to time. In Britain it seems to be regarded as unmanly to sing decently, and this is reflected by the standard of output at rugby club get-togethers and so on. I once heard on Radio 3 that (presumably highbrow) Germans refer to Britain (or England, as they call it) as 'das Land ohne Musik': the land without music. I always presumed that this referred to the lack of British composers of international repute, but perhaps it pervades society and is true of our collective musicality in general.

Today very hot: cycled to a lake a long way away, dipped and rode back by a different route.

A book on 'Mental Management' arrived in the post, so I took it to the lake this afternoon and read it. I have much work to do in the mental training department, but am convinced that it is what will enable me to differentiate my performances from those of my competitors.

19 August Made some changes to the stock of my rifle today: very exciting, as it is bound to improve my shooting hugely. I made the stock about 20mm longer at the butt, and moved the handstop and rearsight back the same amount to compensate. For prone shooting only the right arm is changed (right hand further forward), which should make a better angle for the butt to locate into; for standing both hands are further from the butt, which seems to make it easier to stand tall, and means that the right hand naturally pulls back a little more firmly.
26 August

Well, my shooting has gone terrible. The question is whether I should reverse the changes to the rifle I made a week ago, or give them more time to work. Fritz has prescribed a week off shooting, with 2 hours of easy classic roller-skiing each morning. I will do plenty of dry-shooting as well, as it always helps to go back to basics.

Did a sprints session with roller-blades (and poles) yesterday afternoon. This is something that Fritz is keen on, but it takes some getting used to. But I think there is definitely value in doing sprints about 3 times each month at this stage - it is something that I have never done much of in the past.

Doing the sprints yesterday I felt pretty good, although I find it hard to exert maximal force through the roller-blades; Fritz said afterwards that my coordination is atrocious. This seems odd, but if there is indeed opportunity for improvement then it is good news. I discussed this with Joe (we did the session together), and he said that my limb speed looks slow, but I generate overall speed well; he is somewhat the opposite: although his limb speed is generally slow (perhaps because of his size), he always looks cool, balanced and coordinated. However he does not generate much speed. A mystery.

The biathlon centre is very crowded in the mornings: the German 'C-kader' men and women, every biathlete in the whole of Italy (they brought 5 minibuses), the German junior men, and Fritz's two groups fill all 27 lanes to bursting, so when 2 of the Slovene team turned up they had to do some negotiating to get space. In the afternoons the number of juniors on the track is staggering.

Yesterday a helicopter turned up to evacuate a junior ski-jumper who had dislocated a shoulder - playing football. One of the women broke an elbow roller-blading - bad luck, as the women's coach generally has them wear knee and elbow pads and helmets; we wear no protection and to think of the consequences of a fall at high speeds (roller-blades are faster than roller-skis, and much less stable) is terrifying.

Peter Moysey came round a couple of days ago, trying to persuade me to do the roller-ski world champs in Holland next week. It will doubtless be a great event, being the first one. But roller-ski racing is not something I am very excited about, and it would mean 5 days away from my training programme. On the other hand, if I am not shooting next week...

26 August

Cycled a long route to the biathlon centre, taking an hour, to do a session on the torture machine: an extraordinary double-poling contraption on which you sit and wrench yourself up and down a track. Then on to the lakes for a cool-down swim in the afternoon sun: luxury.

Another thing that Peter Moysey said was that one of the people taking his stretch class that I did a couple of weeks ago had subsequently asked him, 'does your friend always have to be the best at everything?'. This surprised me, as I would have thought that I was being pretty uncompetitive in the class; and anyway I am not very bendy and was between two people who had limbs of rubber. Moreover, I regard my lack of ruthless competitiveness as an area where I have a lot of scope for improvement.

But, of course most people do not do competitive sports, and perhaps the competitive motive is completely alien to some of them. Peter told of a neighbour who had come bouncing up and announced that he had set a world record in some military pentathlon event. Having been a top athlete, Peter appreciates what the significance of that is and so was delighted to hear the detailed story; his companion later complained of the offensive boastfulness of this athlete.

I think that perhaps there really is an important cultural difference there: I love to hear about people doing well, and I always try to do things well myself - not just in my chosen sport, but even in mundane everyday tasks: I always have half an eye on whether I can do something better, be it driving a car or cutting a loaf of bread. But some people are not interested in the striving for optimisation that is the whole point of competitive sport. I find the satisfaction in mediocrity that such an attitude results in utterly repugnant; and no doubt the many people who think that way regard my striving as pointless and egotistical.