Hugh Pritchard, Biathlete

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Hugh Pritchard
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5 September 2000

The ventilator fan on my laptop broke down, so I have only been turning the computer on for long enough to update my training log; today for some reason it is working, so I will take the opportunity to catch up.

Did a test race last Thursday: again, mass start. Shot 1111=4 penalties, which is not good enough for great results, but is still better than I would have done in the past. My shoots took 2'29", which is probably a minute faster than last Winter. Skied well, and came in 4th of 11 (except that I forgot to do the last 500m - results adjusted to compensate although in competition I would be disqualified). Overall, happy.

Took the road-bike out for a big tour on Saturday: a little over 3 hours. I thought that there will probably not be many more apportunities for really long sessions from now on, so it would be good to get one in. A nice ride into Austria, with a little light rain, and navigating by a very vague mental map which got me back to where I started by a circular route, which was more or less ideal. Felt stronger than I have done on some previous long rides, which was good.

After that took the kayak out on the Traun for an upstream workout: going as hard as I could I could just make progress against the current, and after 30' had made about 600m upstream. I turned round and paddled gently back to the start, in about 5'. A good workout, although I felt somewhat sick, perhaps because I was dehydrated following the morning's effort.

This week we are preparing for the German team's Autumn performance check: 3 roller-ski biathlons in Ruhpolding the weekend after next, and 3 more in Oberhof the following weekend. This means lots of high-intensity work, which is much more exciting to do than the bread-and-butter long, steady training.

Yesterday morning 'tempo changes': going very hard on the uphills, and for the last 600m into the range, followed by 1km sprints; in the afternoon sprints up the big hill that we normally descend (about 1'20").

Today loops of 6' and 8' flat out, with a 2' rest after each shoot. This gets very tiring; the shooting is also a challenge as I probably ski harder in these 8' sprints than I would in a race; I certainly ski harder into the range than I would racing (when I would probably ease up a minute from the range). So it is satisfying to force myself to get the first shot off early, and find that it hits despite the fatigue and breathlessness.

I am beginning to get some signs of progress on the sponsorship front, which is a great relief, as I am spending faster than I anticipated.

7 September

Test race: sprint, in very dull weather, but it stopped raining as I arrived at the biathlon centre, so could be worse (probably will be for the pursuit tomorrow).

I cleared the prone shoot reasonably quickly, and the stand was very quick, until after the fourth shot I thought "1 more and that is a clear race"; I took two breaths (normally only one between shots), took careful aim, and, of course, missed the last target.

While to call this a deliberate miss would misrepresent the process behind it, it was hardly accidental: I am quite capable of knocking down targets quickly, and to slow down and miss is perverse.

However, that makes 90%, which equals my best ever race score. I remain perplexed at why I shoot higher scores, and usually faster, in races than in normal training. I presume that it is to do with the performance/arousal curve, and that I am too cool in training. The obvious solution is to 'psyche myself up' before training, but this is not necessarily easy - I have to be able to convince myself that what is happening is special, and everday training is in the obvious sense not special. On the other hand, anything that propels me towards my very special goal is itself somewhat special, so perhaps that is the answer.

There is an attitude difference between my shooting in races and that in training: in training, I apply the techniques that I know to be correct, in the presumption that this will cause the targets to fall. In races, on the other hand, I make the targets fall - they must go down, because that is a part of a good race performance, which is my business.

Oh, and I took a wrong turning again. Different this time, as I actively believed the course went another way, rather than negligently forgetting. Particularly annoying because it upsets the pursuit tomorrow. So I went home and listened to Rigoletto, Il Trovatore and half of Nabucco, and felt better.

10 September

Pursuit race; at 10" intervals, rather than on the times from yesterday. Rotten shooting, particularly the standing, with the same mental problem as yesterday, with a trigger twitch problem to compound it - I don't know where that came from.

Quite tired towards the end, and started the last loop some 35" behind Joe; should really have caught him, but was not excited enough to drag that extra out.

So, an easy weekend, then presumably a couple of days of intervals, and three days of races next weekend - the Herbstleistungskontrolle.

13 September

Training winding down now for the Herbstleistungskontrolle races, starting the day after tomorrow: anyone interested in being in the German teams will be racing, along with sundry foreigners and hangers-on. Should be an experience.

The insurance replacement for the vidoe camera that I broke in April arrived today - new for old, latest model because the one I had is no longer made, excess £20; the delay mostly because I delayed claiming, thinking I would do better through the BOA's insurers. So very happy with Hogg Robinson - this was my first claim in 10 years of insuring.

As always, it would be nice to have film of how I was performing back in June when I first arrived in Germany, for comparison. But the main thing is the benefit going forward, so I will have to relearn how to use the thing.

Discussions with team manager Richard Dening-Smitherman last night: I am to go on the glacier training camp at Tignes, which should involve 12 days on location. Unfotunately it is all very high - the accommodation is at 2,100m - so acclimatisation will be required, which may eat into the ski schedule.

The main point of a glacier camp is to get back into the feel of skiing on snow rather than tarmac. High altitude inhibits this, as it makes it very hard to do any intensity work; when the accommodation is also high, recovery is slowed, which potentially means that you cannot do even as much easy training as normal. On the other hand, simply being at altitude for a couple of weeks confers physiological advantages, as the body adapts to the lack of oxygen (the partial pressure of oxygen at 2,000m is about 75% what it is at sea level) by producing more red blood corpuscles - provided that you are able to absorb enough iron from your food. The concomitant disadvantage is that the muscles do not get exercised as effectively at high altitude as they do low, so the ideal altitude training programme is to sleep high and train low - or to live low and use an artificially hypoxic or hyperbaric atmosphere, which many people do.

The weather now decidedly autumnal: the lakes chilly, the sycamores and horse chestnuts reddening, leaves on the roller-ski track, dew that takes most of the morning to evaporate. Skiers getting excited as the prospect of snow approaches.

I was asked to write an article on cross-country skiing for Running Fitness magazine, to be published October, which was nice. I even get a little money for it. I submitted the article for the deadline yesterday and keep thinking of things I should have mentioned - like the fact that skiing is so much better for the knees than running (no, I'm not joking).

Ricco Groß has been training with us lately, and doing our training races. Good to see that he is no quicker either on track or in the range than Greis and Stitzl; he tends to hit a little more. Fritz talked to me a couple of days ago about the latest results summary his computer has produced: in the last two races, my stand shooting % was the same as Ricco's, and my range time average 1" quicker. Fritz asked me how much dry firing I do and I answered truthfully "not enough" - I do generally between 10' and an hour per day. He reckons that his lads do none, and the diminishing gap between my/Joe's performance and theirs is due to our dry training. Target shooters may dry-train 3 hours per day; a biathlete who does no dry training gets probably about half an hour per week shooting training. Fritz says this makes him want to give up coaching.

I suppose this must be a common problem, when a coach finds his athletes less committed than he was to training and improvement. Obviously it will occur mostly when the coach competed at a higher level than his athletes - as in this case. I found the same when I coached our Nordic development gang briefly last year - exasperation that no-one was asking questions, looking for extra opportunities to go skiing, or simply showing signs of old-fashioned keenness either to improve their performance or just to enjoy skiing.

14 September

Official training for the races. The men's races are at 11am, which makes a nice change - usually the women get the lie-in. Everyone is here: Frank Luck, Sven Fischer, Peter Sendel, Carsten Heymann, the European Cup racers, some Swiss, Swedes and Slovaks, and the two Brits. The range this morning as full as it when the British Champs are there - it looks very odd seeing everyone in Summer gear.

We all drew roller-skis from the DMS stand, which we test to make sure they run straight, and hand back overnight. They all have new wheels and so should be the same speed - which is to say, abominably slow.

Did an easy combination today and shot reasonably well. Went for a jog this afternoon, fiddled with the rifle a little, and did a little mental prep - quite a lot to do yet. I am not sure whether it is better to do that now or in the morning - normally there is not time on race morning, but an 11 o'clock start changes things. Perhaps I will play safe and do both. Or perhaps I will play lazy and do neither.

15 September

Well, I thought I had done a pretty reasonable job of my mental prep. However, I had a terrible race. I was tired almost from the start, I missed the last target on my first two shoots, and a disgraceful 3 on my second prone. On my last loop I could barely get up the hills.

Joe started 2' ahead of me. I expected to pass him without any great difficulty, and as I entered the range for the first time he was just leaving it - I had taken over a minute off him already. But I never saw him again, and finished 7" ahead. He had 6 misses, as I did, so I just beat him, but that is not really what it is about: 6 penalties from 20 is a very poor race, and should not be happening now. My time is also worrying, as I am unable to find any reason why I should be slow, other than the unacceptable one.

It was a bright, hot and horribly humid day, and I laid out a bottle of chilled rocket fuel by the track, to take half-way round my fourth loop (only one go, with no-one to retrieve it when I dropped it). I was pretty disappointed to see on my 3rd lap that it had been pinched. I was unable to find it afterwards, and only hope that the rascal who took it was sick, as the stuff in it was fairly unpleasant.

Michael Greis, one of my training group, was 2nd, and Andi Birnbacher, still a junior, 4th. Frank Luck won with the only clear shoot of the day.

Carsten Heymann is a remarkably cool skier. I noticed that about him when I watched the world cup in Hochfilzen last year (he does not usually get airtime on Eurosport), but was really struck today. Andi Stitzl had just overtaken me in his usual fighting style, when Heymann came past, looking like he was not trying, and breezed past Stitzl as well. He put in (I think) the fastest time.

And so to tomorrow and the sprint. On my last sprint I missed one target (the last). There is no reason not to shoot clear tomorrow, and that is what I must aim and prepare to do.

16 September

Women's mass start race at RuhpoldingWell, quite a bit better today, but still plenty of room for improvement. We zeroed in still air, but then the wind got up, very inconstant in both strength and direction, and it looked for a while like a storm was coming.

No storm came, but the wind kept swirling and gusting. I started reasonably conservatively, with a contingency plan in my head for the wind. I got to the range, and there was the wind, so I adjusted 2 clicks, and missed 2 targets. Twice round the penalty loop adds some 55" to my time, and out again. I found that some of the people who passed me on the flat I was able to pass on the ascents: interesting, and needs futher analysis.

For standing shooting the wind is only an issue if it blows you around while you are shooting, so no problem today. I had a misfeed and dropped a round on the ground, but fortunately had put a spare in the end of each magazine, so was able to hand-load my spare rather than scrabble for the dropped one (firing too few incurs a big penalty). Hit them all, which is always nice, and squirted out of the range for the last loop.

Got quite tired again towards the end of the long series of climbs (this is becoming a recurrent theme), but worked pretty quickly up most of them. Coming across the bottom of the ski-jump I managed to plant my pole between my skis and go flat on my face, but bounced more or less straight up again , so lost probably no more than 10". And scrambled to the finish, very tired.

18th September

Today a beginner's error: I assumed that zero and start times were as for the previous two days. When I got to the biathlon centre, I realised something was up when Joe asked me whether I was racing. My immediate inclination was not to bother, as I had missed the opportunity to zero my rifle, but I soon warmed to the idea - it was a sprint race with relay-format shooting (ie 8 bullets for 5 targets), so I could afford a few misses without suffering the disgrace of the penalty loop. And besides, it was an opportunity for a good story: the day I didn't bother zeroing and still shot clear.

Oh, and it was raining. Real, Bavarian rain.

So I raced, without zeroing, without warming up. And this was meant to be about learning to race properly. But it didn't go so badly: I skied at an adequate kind of speed, knocked down all the targets (eventually), and got very wet.

The idea of doing these races was to practise race performance, and to compare my performance with a more or less world-class field. The first I did for two of the three races, and learned a bit. The second is tricky, as there are so many factors to consider, but I have a pretty good idea: what it comes down to is that there is no room for error - penalties, falls, dropped rounds. To compete at the level I want to, I have to produce perfect runs, which is something I have not yet done, although I have come close in training races.

23 September

And back to sunny England, after a couple of days training alone at Ruhpolding (everyone else is racing at Oberhof) - a very symmetrical end to Joe's and my sojourn here, as it is exactly how we started.

Thought my rearsight seemed very far away today. Got home and checked it against my records: 20mm too far forward. When I took the rifle apart yesterday (after shooting in the rain) I had put the sight back into an older position. It seemed strange, and perhaps that was why I missing more than usual from standing.

A week taking it very easy in England, as I am concerned about overtraining; then a fortnight on the glacier at Tignes with the British squad. This will be interesting, as I have not trained on a glacier before, and the very high altitude presents some challenges (our accommodation is at 2,100m). The prospect of getting onto snow again really excites me, and it will only be three weeks (all being well) after France that we get onto 'real' snow in Austria. I will probably spend those three weeks in Germany, but am not yet sure.

I am now entering a fairly critical part of the training year: I have to start focusing on producing race performances when it matters - and in mid-November it will matter very much indeed. This means shooting clear and producing good skiing: good reasons for failure do not show on the results list, so they are no use from now on.

Will I find any sponsors in England? I have been busy writing letters, so I hope something will come up.

25 September

As good a drive back as could be: Joe and I drove wth his ancient Sierra loaded to the gills, saw some jams in the opposite direction but got caught in none and took no wrong turns, so very happy. On the ferry to Dover the weather was so beautiful that we stayed on deck for the whole crossing, admiring the jellyfish.

Went for a swim in the sea on Sunday, quite chilly at 17°C, but 10 minutes was a nice, refreshing dip.

Northern France and England are not nearly as autumnal as Bavaria.