Hugh Pritchard, Biathlete

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Hugh Pritchard

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2 October 2000

Glacier training in Tignes. My first experience of a glacier camp, so I am open-minded. Staying in a UCPA (kind of youth hostel) at an altitude of 2,100m, so I was expecting the altitude to affect me more than it has done - I slept fine last night.

This morning there was thin cloud over the town, and it looked like the top might be clear. We caught the underground funicular up and emerged blinking into a blizzard. We walked down to the pistes, skied down the downhill tracks to the cross-country loops - and found them 4" deep in new snow. I asked a pistador whether they would be preparing les pistes de ski de fond; he said tomorrow, when we will also have a drag lift to take us back to the station (at 3,000m it is fairly tiresome to have to ski up a downhill track. Especially in a whiteout).

Drove down to below the dam this afternoon and did a classic roller-ski up with Joe Brooks and Marc Walker - the rain paused for just long enough for us to do that, so not a bad session.

3 October

Well, no draglift working today either, so the grind back up to the station. But no cloud either, despite the forecast: beautiful sunshine, a near-perfectly groomed track about 25' round... my perfect Summer holiday. Did an hour and fifty and felt great; will go to full-scale tomorrow.

Took a drive to Bourg St Maurice this afternoon, where I used to do a lot of canoeing on the excellent slalom course; then a gentle recovery jog and some general and core strength work.

The food at the hostel is sensational; unfortunately not geared to endurance athletes, so I am not coming close to my 600g/day carbohydrate ideal. But I am happy.

4 October


Skiing on the glacier at TignesAnother beautiful day on the glacier, cruising around at heart rate not much over 130 (ie very slow), thinking about the balance, timing and angles. My knee was getting quite sore, as I don't have access to a frig to freeze my cold bags, so I remembered to put a snowball on it for the train ride down.

A session on classic roller-skis this afternoon from Val d'Isère up towards the Col de l'Iseran; the village is at 1,850m, and we must have climbed over 2,000', judging by the sensational view of the valley; we were well above the snowline, which felt odd on roller-skis, so I was again able to get a snowball for my knee.

Stopped at a great cake-shop in the village on the way back, feeling we deserved it.

5 October

Rest day - we are here 12 days, so it is either 1 rest day with blocks of 5 and 6 days of training, or 2 with 3, 3 and 4. I am going for the latter, as it is nearer to what Fritz suggested.

Drove down to Bourg St Maurice for a bit of lower altitude recovery, had a coffee and wandered around; went to look at the slalom (canoeing) course where I used to train so many years ago, expecting to find it deserted. In fact the water was running at a good level (this stretch is dam-controlled) and there was a group of slalomists on the water, one of them very good indeed. The course there is so much better than anything we have in Britain...

8 October

Amazing to see the crush of humanity in the queue for the funicular: the sliding doors open and the mass surges forward , compressing from the rear, and the sides - you could do an interesting study of the Young modulus and Poisson ratio of Alpine skiers. There is usually a scream, and always debris left behind - poles, boots, etc.

Perfect conditions on the glacier today. I did 2hr 15', then went up the cable-car to the top, for a downhill run. A bit steep and soft for XC planks, but nevertheless fun.

11 October

Atrocious conditions yesterday, with wind, cloud and falling snow. Did an hour and three quarters, but frustrating as there was a lot of new and wind-blown snow on the tracks.

Double-poling intervals on roller-skis yesterday afternoon: 6 minutes up a gentle incline (in Val d'Isère), each time trying to beat your marker from the previous interval. I found that my tips need sharpening, as I was slipping badly, but I still managed to generate a decent intensity, although I was quite a way short of the fastest man (this is also affected by roller-ski speed: we all use different models). A satisfying session, and one which I have not done this year, as Fritz does not put much formal maximal work in his programme.

An interesting session discussing technique last night, with the help of my digital video camera with its excellent slo-mo and freeze-frame. I had a couple of potentially significant new ideas to try today - one for the beginning of my V2 skate cycle, and one for the end. Unfortunately scuppered by the weather. It was snowing heavily when we rose, and I elected to take my classic skis up, based on yesterday's experience.

The conditions were worse than yesterday: not so much deep snow on the tracks, but visibility so bad that I could not see where the tracks went; when I found myself in deep snow, I had to cast about until I found the track again, and got very frustrated. I decided to cut my losses and head back down.

15 October

The camp degenerated a bit towards the end, with bad weather making the skiing very unsatisfactory. On Friday the glacier was closed, with the possibility of a later opening; most of us waited. The glacier did not open, and I had just decided to go for a run instead, when it was suggested that we pack up and leave immediately, rather than wait until after supper. We did that, so I lost the day's training; I got to my bed in England at 3.30 Saturday morning, and was not up to much on Saturday either.

Conclusions: a glacier camp has a lot of value as a time when you can work on technique without the pressure of approaching races (when we get to the Winter training camp at Tauplitz, there will be about 2 weeks before the first selection race). However it requires thought and planning, as other aspects of training (high-intensity work, strength, shooting) can suffer. It also requires self-discipline, as it can be demoralising when the skiing is bad or impossible.

Personally, I was delighted at how well I coped with the altitude (or accommodation was at 2,100m), and have picked up some potentially useful ideas on technique which I was not able to try in the last few days because of the conditions. I have also acquired some good video of myself and others, including Raphael Poirée and Ole Einar Bjúrndalen, which is useful for analysis.

I went through my mail today and found a positive reply to one of my begging letters: Brett's - a local gravel extraction company, with a cheque. This is very nice, as it is my first success in raising cash. However, only a small amount, so the quest continues.

20 October

Back in Ruhpolding. Due to a little local difficulty I have moved into the doss-house at the biathlon centre. This is a pile of prefab containers covered with a tasteful wood cladding; it has light and heat, and telephone sockets which are unfortunately not live. The loos are 50 yards away and the showers 200 yards; it gets very dark at night as there are no lights outside. Internet access will be problematic, as will catering, laundry and all those other things one takes for granted. However, it should be good for my training, given a transit time from accommodation to the roller-ski track of about 5 seconds.

I have a charming little room, with a window overlooking the range, and as I type am looking out at the juniors training with their air-rifles on the floodlit targets as the dusk falls.

The biathlon centre is quiet in the mornings now as all the serious athletes are away on glacier camps. The track is covered with leaves in places, and the fences have been dismantled as the cows are now indoors for the Winter. The sun does not get onto the firing point.

I have discovered that I can play CDs on my computer, which is very civilised. I get the best stereo effect if I put my nose on the space-bar. Verdi's contrapuntal effects are stunning if I do this, but I have to be careful not to cry into the keyboard.


24 October

Fritz and his gang are back from the glacier, so I am training with them again. This is beastly hard - they had the weekend off, which I did not, and we are doing hard sessions this week: roller-blading with poles at something near race pace in the mornings (with shooting), and a long session of foot imitation drills, again with shooting, in the afternoons. This emphasis on shooting fits my need perfectly, as I have got a bit rusty in the four weeks I had away from the group. However it could get expensive as I discovered too late that Go-Fly will not carry ammunition (and they charge £20 to carry a rifle, in addition to excess baggage).

Beautiful autumnal weather: bright clear days, distinctly cool in the mornings, with mist at night. In fact, so cool that I have been wearing my race-suit leggings, which I very rarely do when there is no snow about. This afternoon was warmer - back to shorts; and it started to rain just after our session ended. So I am now sitting in my room, typing and looking out of the window at the juniors training in the dark and rain, smirking.

The scenery is really staggering at this time of year: an amazing variety of colours in the forests that cover the valleys and lower parts of the mountains. When I went to Tignes I was reminded how much less scenic the French end of the Alps is: so much more arid, with very sparse tree cover and thin, scruffy grass. I drove to Austria - to the Grossglockner - on Saturday, and was struck by how the Tirol is prettier than the Bavarian side of the mountains. Not sure why this should be, but in the Tirol the villages tend to be more among the mountains (and higher), whereas in Bavaria they are beside the mountains - rather like the difference between Peru and Chile.

On Sunday I drove to Ramsau to ski on the Dachstein glacier. This was very different from Tignes: several hundred skiers from almost every nation I could think of weaving along two loops, one of 8 and one of 5km. The tracks follow a similar plan to Tignes: hairpins to get maximum track length into a small area of reasonably flat glacier. The snow was very icy, not nearly as nice as Tignes (the tracks are at 2,600m, a fraction lower than Tignes). The view from the edge of the flat part of the glacier is sensational: the valley bottom must be at least 6,000' below, and you can see straight down to it, and for miles in the northern quadrant. I met Peter Moysey there, who has managed to inveigle his way into the Tirolean biathlon squad, and we drove back to his local shooting venue: a 4-lane range in a quarry just outside Kufstein.

26 October

Got caught on the hop by Fritz's absence today - would have done more yesterday had I known he was about to disappear (I am more inclined to work hard when he is watching).

A surreal evening in the ski club. I cooked so much pasta that I could not eat it all - which is very rare indeed. Two of the juniors, after several weizbiers, announced that they were off to catch mice - armed with brooms and a rubber glove. Naturally I had to watch, and they wandered around rattling bins and cupboards, but failed to find any victims, so they settled to sprinting on the rowing ergometer to see who could get it going the fastest. I had eaten so much that I could barely reach the 'oar', so was unable to compete despite their beers.

I have to decide whether to drive to Ramsau for a couple of days on the glacier at the weekend with Peter Moysey & co. This would be fun, but the benefit to my skiing would be only marginal, and I really have to concentrate on shooting well now, so am reluctant to compromise my training at Ruhpolding. On the other hand, training on a different range would have some value - there is no other as easy as Ruhpolding (because the range is reached via a slight descent, and there is rarely wind).

27th October

In Fritz's absence I did a combination session on my own this morning, including some maximal work. Shooting well, and back up to speed, which is nice. Now I have to hold the focus on that for the next few weeks, when it will be tempting to slow down.

At lunch-time I made a decision to go to Ramsau for the weekend, to ski on the Dachstein glacier. This means taking a day off on Monday, which was the tricky bit of the decision. I move to Tauplitz Monday week for the Brit team's training & selection camp, so I will take the full weekend off so that I can blast straight into that. I need to check the snow situation up there before being committed to going - to go there without snow would put me in a much worse situation from a training point of view than staying another week in Ruhpolding. On the other hand, I need to get back in touch with the team, and in particular impress the selectors with how cool I look (even though the last I heard was that selection was to be competitive: these things change without warning).

This afternoon a long dry-firing session on the range, trying to identify and cure any little hassles in my drills, and to practise getting straight into the right position, without having to adjust, as this saves a couple of seconds on each shoot. Then a run to warm up before doing some sprints and speed drills.

By the time I had finished that it was dark, and my colleagues had already locked up the clubhouse and hit the town, so I have to go and find a restaurant to feed me tonight.

30 October

Slept on my alarm clock, so had a frantic drive to Ramsau Saturday morning to get to my RV on time. Just made it, and had a morning's skating on the glacier in perfect conditions - but hard work: it is a very long time since I last waxed my training skis, so I got left behind by everyone.

Went for a classic roller-ski on the Ramsau roller-ski track in the afternoon: a sensational track, with a height difference of 100m between top and bottom, and a choice of several distinct loops; there is even a 3-way contraflow in one place. There are some exciting descents and hairpins, so it is definitely a track for those who have some confidence on their rollers. The maximum speed is probably not as high as at Ruhpolding, but there is a great deal more manoeuvring at speed.

Shot on the range: an interesting experience. The targets don't seem to fall as easily as those at Ruhpolding. Indeed, on inspection it turned out that the prone apertures were not centred in the targets - not an uncommon problem with old targets. The only ways into the range are steeply uphill, so it is almost impossible to shoot without a high pulse; indeed the hill is such that a 2' run is enough to get the pulse up. Again, very different from Ruhpolding.

A talk by Walter Mayer (head coach of the Austrian cross-country team that won medals in Nagano and Ramsau, and the biathlon team that won two medals in the World Champs in Oslo this year) on Saturday night. Billed to start at 8pm, the evening kicked off (in a packed hall) with a comedy turn by Olympic medallists Markus Gandler and Aois Stadlober (including a very good inspirational Powerpoint presentation of Austria's recent cross-country and biathlon successes); Mayer turned up a little after 9 and talked until 10.45, by which time I was in the bar. It is amazing how much people smoke in this part of the world; at my age I should no longer be amazed at the presumption that I do not mind having a trail of smoke drifting straight over me, but I still am.

On Sunday I took a pair of Atomics and one of Peltonens (there are various trade stands with gear to test at the bottom of the cable car) to test on the glacier. I was suffering from some very stiff muscles, probably from Friday night's unaccustomed speed training, and was not going well. However I was able to discern that both skis had a reasonable feel to them, while the Peltonens were shockingly slow. The chap who gave them to me had said that they were prepared for today's conditions, and I would have liked to hear his comments. Unfortunately he had disappeared by the time I got down, so I just left the skis on his table and retained a bad impression of them.

One interesting point was that both reps gave me shorter skis than I am used to: Atomic 184cm and Peltonen 188; I usually use 195cm (I am 177cm and 73kg), simply because when I first started buying skis everyone used 195. But the Fischer catalogue still seems to say that 195 is right for me.

In the afternoon a brief shoot and blast around the roller-ski track on skates with Alan Eason and Peter Moysey, then the drive home, struggling to stay awake long enough to get home for an early night.

So, a rest day on a beautifully sunny, warm day; at 23°C in Ruhpolding (at 670m), there is little prospect of imminent snowfall. The peaks around Ruhpolding are at the same altitude as Tauplitz (1,600m), and there is no sign of snow on them. 1 week to go.