Back to Norway! I was incredibly excited to make a return to Norway. In 2016, my friend and I had a van and went around the majority of Norway, except to Lofoten Islands and inside the arctic circle. I won’t be going there this time, unfortunately, but that doesn’t bother me because I know that I’ll definitely be returning again. Since visiting in 2016, Norway has cemented itself into my favourite places in the world. A common question I get asked is “Josh, what are your top 3 favourite places in the world?” I typically respond to this, “Norway, Hawaii, and Vietnam (I think Panama has now claimed a spot over Vietnam) are my favourite I think!”
Whilst in Panama earlier this year, my friend told me about the Daehlie Ultimate Challenge. He was a Norwegian, hence, that’s how he knew about the famous Daehlie Sportswear, a Norwegian XC Skiing brand which is now expanding into the running scene and global market. He knew I had just run an ultramarathon and was very fond of Norway, and would love the idea of returning to Norway to challenge some of their best athletes. I had to submit a video application of myself directly after finishing a run, announcing that I thought I was indeed tough enough to take on the Norwegian XC ski teams.
Fortunately, my application stood out and I was one of the 10 athletes selected to take on the Daehlie Ultimate Challenge. I was very hyped flying into Oslo, I couldn’t wait to meet the others who I’d be spending the rest of the week with. The team was incredibly diverse, with everyone flying in from countries spread out all around the world. Amongst the 10 of us, we covered Sweeden, Germany, Scotland, Norway, USA, Australia and Finland.
Meeting the team was awesome, as I started to learn about everyone, their passions, and sporting backgrounds. Within the group were some incredible athletes in their own right, in their respective events from marathon running, ultra running, sky racing, orienteering, vertical climbing, adventure course racing, XC skiing and much more. A lot of these disciplines and tangents to running I didn’t know much about at all, so I was fascinated by the events my new friends had completed and were training for.
Once we all arrived, we set off out of Oslo into the magnificent scenery of Norway. I was instantly buzzing, I truly had missed this place. The mountains make you feel so small as you drive along, but I was mainly in awe. I love the lakes, the small red & yellow houses that are scattered along the shore and up the hills, and the extremely fresh air. When you go to a place you connect with, I think you fall in love with everything about it. Norway has that effect on me. I can’t speak for the deep winter months, but summer, autumn, and spring – Norway is amazing.
None of us knew what the next few days entailed, and it was all still kept secret from us. All we knew was that we had a challenge first thing the following morning, and it was going to be hard, very hard. However, none of us knew what it would be and I wasn’t even going to bother guessing either. Our first evening, we spent in a traditional Norwegian Barn. These barns were built before the black plague and were also made for those who make a pilgrimage each year. We spent the night there, eating traditional Norwegian food, trying on all our new Daehlie gear and speaking to the coaches/external team members of the Women’s Norwegian XC team. This was our time to find out about the challenge in the morning but also a bit more about how the professional’s train. This was fascinating for me, as I love learning about how other athletes train to reach their individual goals. The main takeaway point was that they do a very high volume of training, with the majority of it being low intensity. When they do their high-intensity work, they really hit it hard. As they’re training between 25-35 hours a week, they spend a lot of time in the forest, swamp, and woods so their bodies can absorb the impact better. Keep in mind, this is their summer training, because once it hits winter, they’ll be racing or training on the snow.
Disclaimer* – Before going to Norway, I really didn’t know anything about the sport of XC Skiing. Over the days I attempted to learn as much about the sport as possible. Now that I have a better understanding, I feel incredibly privileged to have trained alongside some absolute champions and idols of the sport.
Session #1 – 5 x 5min uphill intervals, with 2-minute recovery.
USING SKI POLES.
The session began, and I was told not expend too much energy early. That was a very smart decision. The Women’s XC Ski team were machines; the combination of their aerobic capacity and leg strength was incredible. In the mix of the athletes was a lady called Therese Johaug. Therese has won four individual gold medals at world championships and is a three-time Olympic medallist. She had a reputation of being the best of both Women and Men’s XC at the ‘elghulfs’ training session, and this was evident very quickly. She motored up the mountain side and would loop back to the back of the back every rep. By the third rep, I decided to try and take her on. For about three and half minutes, I went with Therese up the steepest part of the training session. We were both breathing and sucking in as much air as we could and my legs and arms were on fire. The air that filled my lungs was icey cold and I had tingles and lactic acid across my whole body. The intensity was relentless and although I was battling, I was loving every moment. The next 2 repetitions were very tough as a result, but I managed to make it through the session and make a slight improvement with the ski poles. Hopefully, I can get a pair to use in Australia to add some variation to my hill training in the future. Once finishing the session and making it high up the mountain, we ran/drove back down gazing out at snowcapped mountains and meandering through dense forestry.
Challenge #2 – 1.6km (1 mile ) race with 500m incline.
Day 2* Challenge #3 – Rollerskiing.
We were to do two laps, have a 15 minute break and the return to race another two laps. I managed to get through the first race relatively safe and rather slow. I decided to try and push the envelope a little harder second time round. Up the small incline on our track my legs were feeling it. Coming around the bend and onto the downhill, I decided it would be fun to try and make some time up. My legs were shaking from the incline yet I was picking up speed. As I tried to steer, I lost control and hit the tarmac. I regathered and once again tried to pick up speed, but hit the deck again. It was a laugh and I lost a little skin, but the main thing was that my time improved. Maybe there is still hope for me yet!?
Challenge #4 and #5 – Long runs with Men’s XC ski team.
I am super thankful for the experience with Daehlie sportswear and stoked to be back in Norway. I can’t wait to see what my new friends will achieve along with the professional team too. Cross XC skiing is something I will now be paying more attention to, and if you get a chance, I would highly recommend checking it out.
A quote which sums up the week very well was from my friend Sylvia.“Strength lies in differences, not similarities.”
“There’s no such thing as balance, just time management. There’s no such thing as time management, just self-management.”
– From a chat with my mentor Catherine Mattiske.