The Story

In August 2013 the biggest mountain bike race in the world, The Birken, drew two Englishmen to Norway. The race was completed and they both were left in awe of the organisation and scale of the Birken event.

The Birken bike race is the summer cousin to the original winter ski event. Not long after returning to the UK a plan to return was hatched but this time not on 2 wheels but on skis. Apart from the obvious challenge of the 54km of cut cross country ski tracks which make up the Birken race there was another more pressing issue... neither of the mountain bikers had ever cross country skied.

Can two absolute novice skiers learn to master the technique of cross country skiing in time to complete the Birken Ski Marathon by March 2014 ? well there is only one way to find out ... the Zero to Hero challenge was born.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Seasonal RollerCoaster

Two weeks after training on snow in Norway there was a real need to keep the ball rolling, or kicking and gliding as the case may be.

Now as a cyclist it’s handy to be an hour from Manchester Velodrome, and I have great road riding on my doorstep in North Lancashire. If I want to get out in the hills hiking it’s only an hour to the Lake District, and several hours to the Highlands of Scotland. However the problem I now face is I live nowhere near regular snow. Specifically cut tracks for cross country skiing! Snow in the United Kingdom is a fickle thing, especially at low altitudes and on terrain suitable for cross-country skiing.

One fortunate thing is I live only a mile from the coast and a traffic free promenade that stretches for over 10 miles - perfect for roller skiing. So in mid December Jean-Francois flew in, like Santa, from Norway bringing with him Pro Ski roller skis , Madshus boots and Swix poles (as well as some rather nice looking Madshus Nanosonic Skis should the opportunity arise to get on snow before our next visit to Norway).

With the reindeer taking a rest before Christmas I picked JF up at Manchester Airport, where under a leaden sky and steady rain we loaded the car and headed up to the Fylde Coast, and Blackpool  - one of if not the most famous seaside holiday location in the UK complete with it’s Tower and 3 piers.

After the inevitable ‘chippy’ lunch washed down with a mug of tea we headed off to recce out a suitable area of promenade for me to be introduced to classic style roller skiing . Driving down past Cleveleys and Anchorsholme we settled on the area just north of Blackpool’s famous North Pier.

I must say I was pretty nervous at the thought of standing on little wheels, having not been on roller skates since I was a kid, or not having taken up inline skating when that was all the rage. I’ve never looked good in neon.

Thankfully the ‘skis’ proved pretty stable, with the ratchet in the rear wheel meaning you can only travel one way standing up right proved manageable. The proscribed wisdom is that although ‘classic’ roller skis allow you to lift your heel and mimic the action of an on snow kick ‘n’ glide, what actually happens is that you rely on the ratchet on the back wheel to provide ‘grip’ which can result in poor technique and pushing back with your toes. On snow the ‘grip’ comes from downward pressure by the whole foot.
So with precious little time on snow to learn good technique the last thing I want to do is pick up bad habits.

Where roller ski training comes into it’s own is that it provides  a great opportunity to improve double poling technique and importantly fitness. Come the Birkebeinerrennet and it’s 54km’s of hills there was going to be a need for a get out of jail card - double poling could be it! The technique can be seen here on the American Birkie YouTube site.

With rain still falling we headed south past North Pier and under Blackpool Tower towards Central Pier before returning over the ‘Comedy Carpet’.

As we’d rolled south I’d spotted a friend and client at work in The Beach House  - Blackpool’s newest and most unique bistro, bar and restaurant, on the promenade.

As it was quiet and it was unlikely that two damp and hot roller skiers would cause the place to empty we swung by for a fresh coffee and mid ski break before returning back to the car.

All that was needed now was more practice to develop technique and build some relevant fitness.
JF was on a whistle stop visit so the following morning we headed to a stretch of the upper promenade between ‘The Gynn’ and Little Bispham - this area is well surfaced with tarmac but more rolling that the previous afternoons location meaning that there were short uphill sections to build some strength as well as steady but thankfully short downhills to help with balance and confidence. Out and back it gave a good hours training.

After a quick shower it was off to the railway station - JF heading back to Norway and me to London to shoot a last minute campaign for BBC Worldwide. There’s never a dull moment.

With it looking likely that it could be up to six weeks before getting on snow again and with such limited time before The Birken in March the pressure was, and is, on to get as much work done on the rollers as possible, building as much core and XC specific fitness as possible.

While most regular XC skiers use roller skis as a summer fitness regime we’re having to use it as the majority of our training. So I even took the opportunity to get out on Christmas Day for an hour - partly as it was a novelty to get out roller skiing at Christmas and also because it was one of the few days recently when it hasn’t been either pouring with rain or blowing 40mph winds with gusts up to 70mph.

Just my luck to take up roller skiing on an exposed promenade the same month as some of the worst gales in living memory have pounded the coast of Britain !

So as the sun sets on 2013.

It's best foot forward into 2014.

Henry Iddon

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