Welcome to my Blog!

Welcome! My name is Michael Somppi. I am a competitive cross-country skier and a member of Thunder Bay's National Development Centre. I developed this blog so sponsors, family, friends and fans can keep up to date with my life as a full-time athlete. You can expect regular blog posts about racing, training, and life in general. Check out other sections of my blog by clicking on the tabs above.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Building Momentum

My return from an exhausted state has been an arduous and humbling journey.  I spent the better part of January working my way into a consistent training routine with one strength session, two intensity sessions and one long distance session per week. 

At the end of January I made the lengthy trip to Western Canadian Champs in Callaghan Valley, BC.  I secretly had hopes I would find some magic, but mostly knew I needed to saddle up and get back into racing habits.  Unfortunately there was no magic to be found.  I had no speed in the sprint race and struggled in the distance race with slippery skis and bad form.  I finished 13th in both races.
Best ski of the year to date!  3 hour ski on the Callaghan Valley rec trails.  Fresh untouched groomed trails, fast twisty downhills, amazing scenery.  Beautiful! 

With no NorAm racing the following weekend, I had plans to compete in the Kamview Ski Tour.  Unfortunately some rainy weather caused organizers to post-pone the local race weekend so our team put together some time trials at Lappe instead.  We did a full classic sprint race and mass start skate distance.  I won the sprint qualifier, finished 2nd in the heats and won the skate distance.  Positive vibes.

Next weekend I headed to Eastern Canadian Champs in Gatineau, QC.  The sprint was a good effort, but the 10th place result wasn’t great.  I opted for fast slippery skis since the main climb was mostly herringbone and no one had bomber grip in the glazed tracks.  The idea was right as my teammate, Angus, crushed it and won silver with the same strategy.  However, running climbs with slippery skis isn’t my strong suit.  I couldn’t hack it on the climb to be competitive.

The two distance days at Easterns were my best races of the season to date.  That’s not saying much, but finally I was at least competitive in the races.  I finished 6th in the 15km classic and 5th in the 20km skate, roughly 45 seconds behind in both.  Finally, I was starting to find some form.

Back home for a week, I had the chance to jump in a Fresh Air Thursday night race at Lappe.  It was the first time I’d done a local night race in years and it was super fun!  Another highlight was a 51km ski with Andy on the Kakabeka trails followed by lunch with a delicious chocolate chai tea at the Metropolitan Moose.  I can’t believe I’ve never been to the Kakabeka restaurant before!  That’s definitely becoming a regular road ride coffee break stop.

Fun weekend dog sitting Marley and Olly!  Lots of snowshoeing in the backyard and post-playtime naps for all involved!

To cap off February, our team road tripped to Ishpeming, Michigan for a Super Tour race weekend.  I was disappointed with my sprint performance, finishing 16th; my legs had no jam after the long drive around Lake Superior.  In hindsight, I wish we’d planned to drive a day earlier to give the legs a chance to loosen up rather than showing up the day before the first race.

The next day my legs felt much improved and true to my recent upward trend, I had two good distance races, bettering my performances from Easterns.  Saturday’s 20km skate mass start was less competitive with many Super Tour racers opting to sit it out since it was only a collegiate race.  Regardless, a few top guys were on the start line and we had a good battle on the trails.  After a relatively easy first 5km, I grew restless, went to the front and pushed the pace for 4km over all the major climbs.  When I let up and looked behind, the pack had been widdled down to 3 other guys: my teammate Evan, Adam Martin and Rogan Brown.  The rest of the race became a tactical affair with the 4 of us clear away from the field.  My legs never fully recovered from my early push and in the end I settled for 3rd.

All the top guys were back for Sunday’s Super Tour 10km classic.  It was a hotly contested race with the top 9 guys finishing within 30 seconds.  I ended the race in 8th place.  Although it would have been great to ski 2 seconds faster for 6th place and get in the podium photo, I was pleased to be competitive with many Americans who have been having strong race seasons.

Saturday's 20km Mass Start Skate Race
Pushing the pace on lap 2 and breaking up the race

Fast klister classic skiing on Sunday
Next on the plan was the American Birkebeiner!  Evan and I were really excited to race the 50km Loppet and be part of the festival atmosphere.  My form is coming around and I was looking forward to taking another shot at the podium after missing bronze in a photofinish in 2012.  Evan is clearly skiing well after 1st and 5th place finishes last weekend and was pumped for his first Birkie experience!

We drove to Hayward, Wisconsin after the races on Sunday and settled into our hotel room.  Unfortunately Mother Nature was not cooperating.  Warm weather on the weekend followed by a rainy day on Monday wrecked havoc on the ski trails.  Tuesday evening we joined the Hardwood crew at Cresthill resort for dinner, sauna and a refreshing dunk in the lake.  Scott Wilson, owner and pillar of skiing in the region, came by to chat and we discussed the probability of a race happening.  The Hardwood crew decided a race was unlikely and planned to leave the next morning.  We followed suit and drove back to Thunder Bay on Wednesday morning.

It was a tough decision to leave, we both wanted to hang onto the hope that Friday’s forecasted snow storm would make it possible, but reality was, even if it snowed Friday, the trail base was decimated and even to make a 21km course on the North trails would require significant new snow.  Our hopes of winning Thursday’s city team sprint and podium finishes in the Birkie would have to wait until another year.

Today the Birkie race was officially cancelled.  We made the right call to leave early and get back to training on snow in TBay.  Thanks to all the organizers for your positivity and efforts to make skiing possible.  I hope to be back in the future on a snowy winter weekend!

With no Birkie, my attention turns to the Sleeping Giant Loppet 50km next weekend!  Despite it being my hometown Loppet, I’ve never raced the full 50km.  It’s always been too close to National Championships, or I’ve been away at other races.  I’m really looking forward to being part of the big local race!

As for my race form, every race weekend I’m getting stronger.  I’m building momentum.  December was rock bottom, January was about getting back into training and racing, and February was building momentum towards what I hope will be an amazing March!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

New Years Resolution

In skiing, we like to use metaphors— when you’re peaking, you feel invincible— on top of a mountain peak!  When you’re burnt out, low on energy— then you’ve dug yourself a hole, you’re standing on the bottom and you can hear an echo when you shout, searching for a way out.

Last year I found myself in a sizeable hole in the beginning of January.  I had travelled and raced a lot over the previous two months.  I trained in ForĂȘt, QC and Gallivare, Sweden before racing the first period World Cups.  I travelled home for Christmas and raced the Boxing Day Classic at Lappe, then road tripped to Michigan for US Nationals. 

I had some good performances, nothing amazing, but some ok days on World Cup, a convincing Boxing Day win and a bronze at US Nationals.  I then raced Trials at Lappe and quickly discovered I was out of energy.

For the rest of the season I barely trained, going from race weekend to race weekend on the NorAm, struggling to accumulate CPL points to qualify for Ski Tour Canada.  In the Ski Tour I grasped at straws for the energy I needed to compete.  I completed the Ski Tour, but it wasn’t pretty.  I managed to find a little more energy for the first two distance races at Nationals, finishing a respectable 5th and 6th place, then came down with illness, missed the 50km and the season was over.

This January I find myself in a similar situation, standing at the bottom of a hole; only how I arrived here is a much different story.

After my struggles last winter, I finally recovered in April and entered May full of motivation.  I made a goal to train over 800 hours and with my coach, designed an 850-hour year training plan. 

From May 1st to the end of my Park City, Utah training camp on Oct. 13th, I trained 460.5 hours.  That breaks down to 19.4 hours/week and 2.8 hours/day.  The summer and early fall had gone very well!  I was very fit, but also very tired upon my arrival home from Utah.

At this juncture is where I believe I started to dig my hole. Although I did take some time for rest, I returned to training before I felt completely recovered. In hindsight, I wonder where I would be today had I taken a longer recovery period following my Utah training camp?

From Oct. 14th, I averaged 14.6 training hours/week leading into the race season, with an increased number of hard intensities.  Things seemed to be shaping up ok as I started on-snow training in November.  I generally start slow in the first race weekend so I brushed off a poor showing in the AB Cup easily.  Small improvements in feeling and performance the following weekend in our team’s Silver Star time trials seemed to reinforce I was on the right track.  I thought, with my training tapering for the NorAms, I would find my form.

Something very different happened.  The more I rested, the more my body shut down and the slower I skied.  It seems as though continuing to train had kept my body going at some level.  Resting, instead of causing good feelings, was allowing my body to realize how fatigued it really was.  Now it craved more rest and starting the engine was even harder.  The Silver Star NorAm was rough, and when I rested more before Rossland, I was even slower in the first race.

Time to shut it down. 

Of course, Christmas Eve I was hit hard by a seasonal cold. I hadn’t been sick all year, but a week of rest and whammy, sick.

This is where my New Years resolution comes into play.  I resolve to not repeat last winter’s struggle.  I will no longer prioritize criteria over my own well-being.  I pushed my limits training, misjudged my ability to bounce back and now I must take the time my body needs to recover completely before I race again.

It’s extremely difficult to miss the US Nationals/Canadian Trials races in Soldier Hollow.  I’m giving up on many international-racing opportunities in doing so. However, I cannot bring myself to risk repeating my winter last year.  I know if I take the time to recover well, I will be able to race to my full capacity later this winter.  After my experience last winter, being unable to race to my full capacity, to me, is scarier than missing selection for international competition.

After spending nearly two weeks away from ski training, I am gradually building back into normal training routines.  As my health and energy improves, I will increase my training and soon enough I will be back on the race circuit with every intention of skiing strong over the second half of the season.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Shoulder Season

The shoulder season is upon us.  The nights are growing longer, the air has turned crisp and the colourful leaves are falling.  My first major race weekend of the season is only 7 short weeks away!

For me, the heavy lifting is done.  My major training goal this season is to increase my training hours to in turn increase my general fitness.  I’ve spent enough time on the World Cup circuit to realize how fit the best in the world are and the only way I see myself moving towards that level is by improving my general fitness.

Despite April being my rest month, I competed in local ski races through the beginning of the month and gradually began introducing strength, running and cycling towards the end of the month.  By May 1st I felt ready to go and jumped into a 15-hour training week.  5+ months later I’m on track to accomplish my 850-hour annual training plan, a 100-hour increase from my biggest training year to date.

I say ‘the heavy lifting is done’, because I finished my last major volume block of the training season on Wednesday this week.  A training camp in Park City, Utah was a great way to cap off what has been a consistent training year for me.  It was a good opportunity to put in some big hours at altitude with a focus on climbing.  Over 17 days in Utah, I put in 70 training hours with a total elevation gain of 22,131m.

I’m back home now, enjoying some well-deserved recovery before I change my training focus to intensity in order to sharpen my fitness heading into the race season.  In many respects competitive skiing is becoming ‘old hat’ for me, however, I’m still excited thinking about the race season ahead.  I’ve had a fantastic training season to date.  I’m confident in the work I’ve put in.  I’m excited to see where this winter takes me!

Beauty views and fall colours from Sunset Peak in Utah
Battling the elements on Big Cottonwood Pass
Beauty day on Mirror Lakes Road!  The snow made for a tough day on Big Cottonwood, but it sure was pretty the following day!  My 5hr day up Mirror Lakes Road took me to the summit of Bald Mountain shown below.

A second summit of Sunset Peak with some of the boys: Andy, Evan, Bob, Ricardo

Friday, 26 February 2016

It's Tour Time Baby!

Four days until the Ski Tour Canada kicks off in Gatineau!  Wow, that’s really soon.  I need emoticons for this haha.  Great news to share, I made the team!  I will be representing Canada over the 8-stage World Cup Tour, taking place in Gatineau, Montreal, Quebec City and Canmore.  I have always idealized the notion of being an all-around skier, capable in all disciplines.  For this reason, I avidly follow the Tour de Ski and dream of competing in it.  Ski Tour Canada is essentially the same thing, only better because it’s hosted in Canadian venues!  I am extremely thankful to all the organizers for making this event possible and I’m stoked to have the opportunity to compete in the Tour!

The past month has been entirely Tour focused for me.  I’ve been racing my heart out on the NorAm despite struggling with my energy levels to earn a spot on the Tour team.  My energy has been gradually improving and I’m elated to report I had some killer vibes in my final tune-up intensity yesterday (cross my fingers, knock on wood, wouldn’t want to jinx anything).

You can follow the Tour at skitourcanada.com and watch the live stream at www.cbc.ca/sports.  Unfortunately the Tour ain’t free for us athletes.  Expenses will be in the ballpark of $2500 - $3000.  If you’re interested in becoming a part of my support team, please shoot me an email (mxc_somppi@msn.com) and I’ll be in touch with you as soon as possible.

Go Canada Go!
A bronze for me and a podium sweep for NDC TBay in Mont St Anne!
Eastern Canadian Championships 15km Skate Victory!  A big day for me towards qualifying for Ski Tour Canada.  Below is a photo from the race.  I was ecstatic to claim my first big win of the season. 

Lead pack of 5 in the Western Canadian Championships 20km Classic Mass Start.  I had a blast skiing in the lead group with my club teammates Evan and Andy.  Unfortunately I hit a patch of ice on the final descent into the stadium, costing me a podium result and a chance for a Lappe podium sweep.  You can see the look of exasperation on my face as I wind up 4th place.  Big ups to Evan for claiming his first NorAm victory!