The Last Stretch
We're into our last week of the camp before we head back home. We don't travel home until Monday but considering that we've been here all month, it seems like the trip has flown by.
Right now we're staying in Liberec, CZ, in the Dukla's athlete/employee housing. The Dukla is a nationwide athletic club with locations around the Czech. It's funded by the government and free for the athletes. We're lucky enough to be able to tag along with them; I think it's pretty unusual for athletes outside of the Czech Republic to stay here.
Liberec's been a great place to train out of. There's a nice rollerski course just outside of the city that we raced at Saturday. In the evenings, we can go over to a little building with a sauna, pool, cold tub and whirlpool. They have a weight room inside and soccer fields, volleyball courts and soccer courts behind the Dukla that we can use. For meals, we walk down to a restaurant that has a meal plan for us. Breakfast is great and the lunch and dinners are usually pretty good, although the fried cheese and potatoes that they served us the other day for lunch was not my favorite. Some of the guys liked it, but it was just too much for me.
While we're here, we've been jumping the K120 as much as possible. It's a great hill and it's really helpful to get some consistent training in on a large hill. The Czech special jumping team is here as well. It's pretty amazing how good some of these guys are when you're there to watch them on the hill. One of the jumpers, Jakub Janda, won the World Cup overall title in '06, and Antonin Hajek, another Czech jumper, jumped five meters short of the world record one of his first times ski flying. He's on their B-team!
Since we've had more time in Liberec than anywhere else, we took the day off on Sunday to visit Prague.
I've been to downtown Munich, but other than that I haven't done much sight-seeing while in Europe. Prague was an absolutely amazing city to see! We spent the whole day touring the city and I was still amazed at the architecture when we left.
Every hour in Old Town Square, this clock comes to life. You can't really see it from this picture but there's two windows above the clock that open up, and little wooden figures appear. I found a video that shows it more clearly than I can explain. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D02rvtCIei8
At the beginning of the day we climbed up a 30 story watch tower to get a full view of the city. Of course, a photo can't really capture the stunning view.
The two pictures above are of the Prague castle. The flags are up, which means the King was there when we visited. It was originally built in the 9th century, but was renovated and added to much more in the 13th and 14th centuries. It's considered the largest "ancient" castle in the world. I found it astonishing how no single design detail was left unnoticed. The smallest, most benign thing, like a nook in a wall, or a door handle, would be a work of art. I can't imagine all the years of work that have went into that place.
During our stay in Ramsau, Austria, we had the opportunity to do some pretty cool testing. The Czech team has been working with a couple of sport science researchers from Prague. They came down to Ramsau to measure our balance on the jump and during imitations.
We started with looking at our jumping off the hill. As part of our warm-up routine we do imitation jumps off a step or rollerboard and our coaches catch us at the hips.
Wearing the contraption above and special insoles in our boots, we did jumps off the rollerboard and then watched the recording on the computer screen. Each insole has 99 sensors that provide incredibly precise feedback of where force is being applied. The computer program gave us a display of the pressure points on our feet as we jumped, along with measurements of force and a comparison of the force by one foot compared to the other. Ski jumping is all about putting force down from the right balance, so there's a lot to be learned from this.
The next day I used the sensors on the jump. It was tricky with the waist belt on and really hot leaving my suit zipped up for two jumps, but it's not an opportunity that you get everyday. After each jump my coach watched a replay of the force and measurements on the computer alongside a video of my jump.
Since then, I've been working on starting from a position that's a little more forward and keeping the pressure in that same spot as I jump. It was definitely a productive experience and I'd love to do it more in the future.
Old school jump, 4 star hotel and 1/2 mile uphill running race. That sums it all up!
The most memorable part of our short stay here was without doubt the running race. It was point-to-point, mass start, and only 6km long but with 2250 feet of vertical! Needless to say, it was a one of the harder races I've done. Michael Ward ran a great race and won it with a time of 35:30. I ran most of the race with Tyler Smith and finished just a bit behind him in 4th, ahead of one of the Ukrainians. Our team took 1st, 3rd, 4th and 6th, a pretty solid performance out of 45 runners.
Jumping wasn't so hot for me. I had a decent cushion from the race so I managed to stay in 4th place for the overall NC comp, behind Michael, the Ukrainian and a Czech. None of the Czech A-team guys were in the top 5. I guess they must be better skiers than runners.
Roznov seemed like a pretty cool place. We didn't have a lot of time to explore it though. Fortunately our hotel was right downtown and we were able to do a little walking tour of it.
Somehow we were put up at a sweet hotel for the same cost as the place that the Czechs stayed at. The food was amazing there. Their soup was some of the best I have had in a while; soup over here is somehow always better than in the states. And the Czech version of apple pie made up for the half hour wait we had for our last lunch before leaving.
The End of Leg One
The vans are loaded up and we're about ready to head out of Strbske. Next we're on to Roznov pod Radhostem in the Czech Republic.
It's been a great start to the trip - with a lot of good training, both on and off the hill. As I mentioned earlier, we did a competition on Sunday, which went pretty well for our whole team. Aleck Gantick had the long jump, and Michael Ward ran up from 4th to win it. I had a solid jump and ran up to 3rd place. I think we surprised the Czechs by taking 4 out of the top 5 places. The competition in Roznov will be tougher though; the Czech A team, along with athletes from Poland and Ukraine, will also be competing with us.
We also went on two awesome hike/runs while we were here. Our coach, Martin, lived and trained in Strbske for most of his career, so he knows all the best spots. On Monday, we ran up to a 60-plus foot waterfall nestled in the mountains. It was raining off and on going up but the rain and fog definitely added to the mystique. Fortunately, my camera was safe at home, unfortunately, I don't have any pictures to show. As we switchbacked up beside the waterfall it was tough to tell what was rain and what was mist blowing off the falls. I felt like I was in a Lord of the Ring's scene - especially when we got over the falls and found a small, misty mountain lake.
On the other hike we climbed over 2000 vertical feet to the peak of one of the nearby mountains. It was a crisp, clear day and I was just enjoying the views the entire time. Three hours of hiking in the Tatras is not a bad way to spend a morning.
Ooops - actually didn't get this up this afternoon when I wrote it. I'm in Rosnov now with a busy day ahead tomorrow!
Strbske Pleso, SK
We're only a few days into the Europe camp, but we jumped right into the swing of things. After meeting up with the Czech team (our training buddies for the month) in Prague on Thursday, we drove 6 hours across the Czech countryside and into Slovakia. Tyler and I rode in one of the Czech vans and quickly learned that they don't speak a lot of English. I'll have to learn a little Czech.
Strbske's a small town, but an awesome place to train. Most of the people here seem to be tourists taking advantage of the scenery and outdoor activities. We're sitting right on the edge of a big patch of national forest, so we can run from our hotel right up the mountain on some sweet wooded trails. The rollerskiing is a little sketchy but still pretty good; it just takes a little getting used to having European drivers fly by you at who knows how many k's per hour.
Friday we did some plyometrics with the Czechs. It was a different workout than the stuff we do for sure. Some of the hurdle exercises involved jumping off balance boards, and for others we had to dive into somersaults on a mat. I'll admit I'm a little rusty on my gymnastic skills. Let's just say that I'm sure the Czechs got a laugh at our lack of grace.
We have a competition this afternoon and a running race to follow. The Czechs are pretty strong on the jump hill, and in general not as fast on cross-country side. However, our team hardly runs much at all, so we'll see how we stack up today.
On The Way - Barely
I'm sitting in the Denver Airport at the moment. It's going to be a long while before we finally arrive to Strbske Pleso, where we're training for the first week. But I'm psyched for what's ahead, especially after almost having my trip taken away from me.
Yesterday, while we were going for an easy training ride, one of the most bizarre things happened. As we were getting close to town, we rode up a short hill in a brisk paceline. Coming the opposite direction, a pickup truck crested the hill - missing a wheel. Being near the back of our 6-man group, I didn't see the truck until Aleck, who was leading, was bailing into the ditch. A moment after I saw the truck, I headed towards the ditch as well, and then I had to deal with the tire screaming at me. I didn't have time to get out of its path, but managed to leap off my bike as it crashed into my front tire and swept my bike from under me.
It was one of those wildly unlucky situations, where I somehow came out incredibly lucky. In so many ways, things could have turned out so much worse. My bike is far from rideable, and I'll have to deal with that mess when I come back, but I came away completely unscathed. Ok, I did scrape up my thumb, but that's literally it. Just a little wake up call...
Where am I?