Racing hard at testing camp in Norway

Maks and a teammate running.

Photo: Lars-Erik Nygaard / Faster Skier
Just keep running: hard training is what Maks Zechel moved to Norway for.

Maks Zechel
Faster Skier

It is late at night when I finally get the message: “Meet at Føyka stadium, 9:00am, for practice, 10x2min zone 4 double poling.” I panic. In less than ten hours, I will be meeting my new teammates for the first time. My initial reaction is defensive: “I can’t do this. It’s too late. Maybe if I had more time to prepare…. I’ll just do the workout on my own.” I know what to expect, and it terrifies me.

When I was 13 years old, I went to a school in Germany for a year; nobody spoke English and I barely spoke any German. On my first day of school, I walked through the school doors alone. Somebody asked me what my name was, and I replied, “I don’t know,” only realizing what they had said after they looked at me like I was crazy. I ended up having an amazing year in Germany, and I am still in contact with some of the friends I made there.

Seven years later, the thought of yet again integrating myself with a peer group in a country where I don’t know anyone and can’t speak the language makes me nervous. It was time for me to make some decisions—time to step up and seize my opportunities. I did not come all the way to Norway to train in solitude for fear of the awkwardness that comes with learning a new language and meeting new people.

I went to practice. I arrived 20 minutes early and waited, breathing in the thick air of anticipation. Slowly, the rest of the team started to arrive. I greeted each of them with a smile, a handshake, and “Jeg heter Maks (My name is Maks)… I am from Canada.” Almost everyone spoke English well, and even if they didn’t, we all spoke the language of “I think I’m going to puke” at the end of the interval session. I rollerskied home from training, giddy with happiness.

We transitioned quickly to the team’s second testing camp of the year. The “lactate party” started on Friday evening with a brutal 5.8-kilometer mass-start uphill running test. The race started with a lap of the track in the center of town, then climbed steadily to the halfway point, where the course entered the forest and followed steep, narrow trails requiring all of my willpower just to keep running. The race finished on top of Hagahogget, a rocky peak with an incredible view over the fjord and surrounding towns. I ended up third, far behind the winner, Erland, who happens to run an 8:50 3,000 meter.

The next morning we began the second test, a 4.4-kilometer mass-start uphill double-pole race. It was difficult to go from racing at 7:00 p.m. the night before to racing again at 9:00 a.m. the next morning, but it reminded me a lot of afternoon distance race starts followed by early sprint qualifiers the next day, something that I experienced last year at U.S. Nationals in Soldier Hollow and Canadian Nationals in Canmore.

Day three started off with one of the tests I had been looking forward to the most: a 9.5-kilometer individual-start skate time trial at the Holmenkollen rollerski track. After driving up a long road out of Oslo, I arrived at arguably the most recognizable Nordic sports stadium ever built. In the center of everything is the spectacular ski jump.

The Holmenkollen rollerski course is filled with the types of steep climbs common in winter ski races but almost non-existent in summer rollerski races. There were two or three hills per lap where I was forced to offset, something that I have never done before in a rollerskiing race effort. This type of dryland training is invaluable to winter racing success.

With the morning time trial finished, we completed the testing camp with a flat, double-pole sprint qualifier in the afternoon. Four race efforts in three days, and five intensities in a week: not a gentle introduction to Norwegian ski training. The amazing part about this weekend was having many strong teammates to compete with.

I have to acknowledge how welcoming and kind the Asker Skiklubb community has been. I have already made many friends and have talked to numerous parents who have sought me out just to get to know me. I am having no difficulty working with the coaches, who are excited to have me join the team and want more skiers like me to come train with them as Team Asker grows. Have I convinced you yet?

Maks Zechel is a competitive cross-country skier who secretly wants to become a professional mile runner. He loves hiking and going on canoe trips with his family, as well as peanut butter cups in ice cream. Johan Olsson is his favorite skier, and he hopes to race the Cortina-Toblach stage of the Tour de Ski one day. Follow him on Instagram @makszechel.

This article was originally published on Faster Skier. View the complete post at fasterskier.com/fsarticle/closing-gap-testsamling-testing-camp.

This article also appeared in the Oct. 20, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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