Hugh Pritchard, Biathlete

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Hugh Pritchard

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3 July 2000

To Lofer yesterday to watch the kayaking (white water race world cup). Did not see the friends I expected to, but saw one I did not, who I last saw on the British Universities team tour of Norway in 1987!

I bought a pair of polarised sunglasses for driving, as there is often sunshine after heavy rain here. They intensify the contrast of the light from the trees so that the light greens become amazingly bright.

This afternoon a static shooting test, which was a disaster. Fritz moved my handstop on Friday to experiment with my habit of missing the first prone target low. I had not recorded the position, and now cannot find it again...

Arrived early at the range to do some stretching and dry firing. Blistering hot sun. By the time we started shooting it had started to pour with rain, which stopped shortly. I was walking back to my car afterwards, wondering why everyone was running; I looked up and saw that a terrific cloudburst was not half a mile from us. As I started to run, hailstones half an inch across started rattling on the ground - I was waiting to be knocked down and pulped...

The hail turned to rain, then to sun, so cycled to Winklmoos to recce Wednesday's time trial. Passed little piles of icy snow that had just fallen (it had been 30°C 2 hours before).On to Reit im Winkl, where again lightning and thunder ripped between the mountain tops and it started to pour again. After another 20 minutes, sunshine and rainbows. Why travel when you can get the entire range of climatic conditions in a single afternoon in Bavaria?


5 July

Test Week. Classic roller-ski up to the Steinbergalm (20'); road bike from the biathlon centre to the Winklmoosalm (40'); Roller-ski 18km around the biathlon centre on the world's slowest skis (no wonder the Germans are tough); run up the Rauschberg. Each physical test followed by a shooting test - again something the Germans do far more than we do. I am generally about 7th of 10 in the physical tests, which I am happy with, given my poor state of training (a very quiet 1999/2000, and first 3 months of 2000/01).

More spectacular storms, but the weather has been kind enough to leave us in peace in the mornings - cool and dry enough.

I find the short intense efforts far less debilitating than the long roller-ski sessions we were doing last week. Still, after time trials four days on the trot a long weekend will be very welcome.

6 July

Roller-ski time trial: on DMS roller-skis, which are horrendously slow; they also do not grip well, and slip on any damp patches - such as the gloomy steep hills on the gloomy Eastern part of the Ruhpolding track. The pair I had was very reluctant to run straight until a brutal bashing against a rock disciplined them.

I have a theory that the peculiarly muscular ski style of many of the German biathletes is due to their training with DMS rollers: because of the lack of grip, there is a need to overemphasise the arms on the uphills, which must lead to a different balance of power input from that acquired by training on (for example) slow Marwes, which grip very well.

I was far from fastest - Ricco Groß overtook me, just back from a snow training camp in Finland, as did Andi Birnbacher, skiing strongly; Andi Stitzl appeared (judging by how long after Ricco he passed me) to be going faster than Ricco, and Michl Greis perhaps faster yet.

More static shooting tests: this time a relay-type test - 4 magazines of 8 rounds, firing Prone/Stand/Prone/Stand as fast as possible. I have lost the shooting form I had last week when I thought I had made a real breakthrough; today I had real trouble hitting the standing targets, despite a very good dry-firing session last night.

7 July

Awoke this morning to a terrific storm: thunder, lighting, torrential rain and wind. As I drove to the biathlon centre it looked set for the day, and I thought we had no chance of doing our run up the Rauschberg - if nothing else, the cable car would not be working, so Fritz would not be able to get up to take the times.

However, I got to the biathlon centre and within a few minutes the sun was shining, so we started on time.

The path up the Rauschberg is almost unrelentingly steep, which requires somewhat different characteristics from a normal run: chiefly a determination to continue despite the discomfort. I had hoped that Joe would finally restore pride for the Brits, with his track-running background; but no, Andi Stitzl, who is probably 2 stone lighter, won by a distance. At the back end the placings shifted around a few times, and I was delighted to finish 7th of 10 in my first proper run since March.

Now 3 days off scheduled; I will do some kind of training on Sunday as 3 seems a bit much. Moreover Joe is doing some horrendous 24-hour bike relay race Saturday and Sunday, so I have to do something in sympathy.

9 July

Dull weather all weekend so nothing to do but get RSI at the computer. Went for a gentle roller-ski today at the biathlon centre with Peter Moysey and Alan Eason and Trish Ball, two Brit skiers who are staying with Peter for a couple of weeks to do some training. Trying each other's skis for comparison. My Marwes are very well-behaved on the downhills, and concentrate one's attention on balance and foot/ankle conformation; but they are much faster than the V2s which Peter and Alan have, which have beautiful balance.

Got back and the g/f asked to go out roller-skiing on the cycle path along the road. So we went out for half an hour's skating, and I tried to roll over a conker, which sent me flat on my face, landing on the right hip and left hand that were already injured from 10 days ago: infuriating. Fortunately going very slowly, so no broken skin, but every bump contributes to acquiring injuries and wearing out the body . Bruises also inhibit technique, especially on the shooting range.

So much for a relaxing weekend

17 July

Classic week last week: starting at 2 hours and adding 15 min each day. Rain every day. So depressing that I had to fly back to England to get away. It is strange how the Bavarians say 'British weather ha ha' when it rains, when in fact it probably rains 2 or 3 times as much in Bavaria as it does in London.

Had an insight into the cause of my knee problem. During the long classic roller-ski sessions, I found that my knee was beginning to get sore. On thinking about it, I finally twigged: I turn my hips strongly from side to side with each stride (which is good technique: gives a longer, stronger kick and better glide). However, when I turn my hips, my knee turns inwards with it: the existing mechanical abnormality (which I am trying to correct) is that when I bend my knee under load, it turns inward: QED.

So, I have to learn to keep the knees pointing straight forward while turning the hips. This is quite difficult: it is a subtle point, and therefore requires intense concentration and constant monitoring. And when I concentrate intently on one aspect of my skiing others tend to suffer (eg I ride an edged ski or stick my bum out). More work.

A couple of days in England. A visit to the Olympic Medical Centre to see a doctor about my collection of injuries. He seemed convinced by my explanation of the knee injury but was reluctant to cure it without an NMR scan...

He suggested that my knuckle problem was almost certainly due to something rubbing over it. I denied this but experimentation today showed that the strap of my right classic pole does indeed shift to run over my right knuckle. So a simple cure for that one.

As for my right wrist: this is a classic from bending the wrist back, and will be rectified by putting my fist down on the shooting mat rather than my palm.

And back to Bavaria, with the climbing gear that I am trading for a road bike and all sorts of other gear that I forgot when packing originally.

Today a leg speed session of (running) sprints and drills, and a classic roller-ski session at threshold, emphasising strength, this afternoon.

Spotted Ole-Einar Bjørndalen on the roller-ski track this morning. What roller-skis was he using? Marwe big wheels: my favourite, and also what Ricco Gross is using. I have exchanged my wheels for the slowest Marwe does, so perhaps mine will now be slow enough for Fritz.

18 July

Skate roller-ski combination session at threshold: a great feeling of exhilaration after doing a faster session like this.

When I fiirst arrived at Ruhpolding I was very cautious on the big descent of the roller-ski track, and would snowplough as long as I was able to sustain it. Now I ski it in a tuck from the top, 8 times in a single training session. I wonder whether this improved confidence will translate to snow.

Mixed roller-ski session for strength this afternoon: alternating laps of double-poling and free-skating. Some of the Germans are very strong at double-poling. I am getting quite tired now: 4 demanding sessions in 2 days.

20 July

Roller-ski sprint session: interesting, as the desperately slow wheels that we use do not grip well, so tight corners are hair-raising. Fun - it is always fun to go fast. And possibly helpful for my roller-ski races at the weekend.

Had a talk with Fritz, with various points of interest arising:

  • Difference between langlauf and biathlon training: biathletes tend to train at higher intensity (in order to learn to shoot under stress), and therefore cannot sustain such high volumes as the langlaufers, who concentrate on physiological optimisation (this would suggest that biathletes should 'burn out' sooner, which does not appear to be the case)
  • Tendency of biathletes to concentrate too much on getting the right skis and waxes, and leave the shooting to take care of itself
  • In our test week, in the 'hill-climbs' on classic roller-skis, road bikes and foot, in the middle of the results were Brooks, Pritchard and Stöckl, in that order; in the skate roller-ski race, the order was reversed. Stöckl is clearly stronger than me, and I somewhat stronger than Joe; but Fritz says the difference in performance (relative to the results in the other disciplines) is largely due to technique. This confounds me, as I think endlessly about how to ski faster, and cannot think of anything significant that I can do differently in the movements; my balance could be improved, but is still better than average - and I can stay on the balance beams more relaxed than Stöckl or Brooks. Joe's skate technique also looks very good to me. A mystery.
24 July

Weekend in London for the International Masters Roller-Ski Race, at the Lea Valley cycle circuit. Fly to London, train down to my parents to pick up their car and some gear, back up to London to visit my osteopath, and on to the Lea Valley.

The Lea Valley cycle circuit is a one mile loop fitted into a small area, probably an old landfill site. It has some tight turns and steep undulations, and is a wide track with a good surface. The grounds are well landscaped and planted with trees so that the course feels much bigger than it is - unlike the similar circuit at Hayes, where you can see almost the entire course from any point.

There were visiting teams from Holland, Sweden and Russia: not as many as Adam Pinney, the organiser, had hoped for, but enough for it to be legitimately called an international event.

The first race was a mass-start 10km. When I put my racing roller-skis on I realised that the last time I used them was September: they felt very wobbly.

We double-poled the first 50 yards, and I got clear of the gang into second. Slow for the first very tight bend, then down a sharp descent; hard up the steep ascent the other side, and I turned my ankle over, getting dropped by a Dutchman and a Swede. I tried to catch them but they pulled away, so I dropped back to ski with another Dutchman. The next lap I did not slow down for the tight bend, and came off the track: I thought I was certain to fall, but somehow managed to stay upright through 20 yards on the rough, and got back onto the track to catch up with my competitor.

Made a burst on the penultimate lap, and finished 3rd: beaten by a 40-year old Dutchman and a 17-year old Swede! (Although this is nominally a Masters race, all comers are welcome; last year we had the Russian national under-14 champion!)

A meal at a pub in Mayfair, to give our guests a taste of traditional British cuisine; unfortunately the meal was the worst I have paid for for a very long time. More research needed for next year.

30km race on Sunday: same format, same results. I skied most of the race with the same Dutchman as on Saturday, put in my burst on the 15th of 18 laps, took the bend too fast and came off again, surviving but having lost the lead I had just gained, so had to sprint hard again the next lap to beat him.

Analysis: reasons why I was thrashed by an old man and a boy with long hair.

  1. I was not sufficiently accustomed to my race roller-skis, and was therefore insecure and wobbly on them
  2. I failed to prepare myself properly either physically or mentally for the 30km (largely because I was talking to a journalist for quite a while before the start)
  3. I was not sufficiently committed to staying with them from the start
  4. My leg strength/technique were very inferior to the Dutchmen's (they have a speed-skating background, and that technique is very effective on fast roller-skis, especially on flats with a headwind such as we experienced)
  5. I had already had 5 days of hard training that week

What I will do about it:

  1. Probably nothing, as roller-ski racing is not important to me. Perhaps one or two brief sessions on race roller-skis before a big race (eg if I do the World Champs in Rotterdam)
  2. Normal serious race prep
  3. As for 2
  4. Very little, as this is again largely a roller-ski race-specific issue. I want to work on leg strength anyway for my normal skiing, and this will have some benefit for roller-skiing.
  5. Nothing: roller-ski races are not important enough to interrupt training for.
Rest day today, so catching up with everything and recuperating. Will do a long dry-shooting session and some stretching, which tend to get neglected when I am doing a lot of formal training.
26 July

'Natural intervals' yesterday and this morning. Felt great yesterday, very tired this morning, so had a regenerating snooze after lunch. Shooting goes up and down; it takes great self-discipline to shoot fast and bear the risk of missing. But one has to shoot fast and accept that risk to learn to shoot fast and hit.

While in England I bought a Sou'Wester hat; this morning it was pouring with rain so I wore it while zeroing, to general amusement. The notion that Britain is the wettest place in the World persists, but the hat was made in Germany, so one-all.

Roller-ski sprints this afternoon: a really exhilarating session - I love going fast. Fortunately the track was dry while we were sprinting; while we were warming down the skies opened and everyone ran for cover.

Parts of the Swiss, French and Italian teams are here, so it is getting a bit crowded on the range in the mornings.

27 July

Red-letter day: firstly it has not rained yet today (at least, not since I got up at 6); secondly I had a great training race.

This morning a mass-start biathlon race, on matched roller-skis. Skiing well enough, and managed to clear my first shoot in a good time; was amazed to clear my second shoot as well. In the third I had a palpitation half-way through and lost some time and missed the last two targets; I cleared the last shoot quickly, and finished second of 8.

Now a week off: I am forbidden to train formally or touch my rifle. What will I do? Tennis, kayaking, fun...

31 July The first really sunny day for over 3 weeks. Played tennis for 2 hours with the neighbour (on a clay court, which I have not used before: great, as it makes for really long rallies). Then swam in one of the smaller local lakes - still warm enough to swim at 7.30 in the evening.