Welcome to my Blog!

Welcome! My name is Michael Somppi and I am a competitive cross-country skier. I am a member of both Canada's National Ski Team and the Alberta World Cup Academy based out of Canmore, AB. 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.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Patience & Faith

When trying to accomplish something great you must possess both patience and faith.  Patience, for greatness is not achieved in a small time frame but is derived from countless hours of practice.  Faith, for you must believe in yourself and your game plan.  By game plan I am referring to your practice methods and your big picture plan to achieve greatness.

Last year I pushed myself to the limit and then pushed it further during the training season.  In my exhausted state, my performances began to suffer and I gradually lost faith in my game plan.  I ran out of patience and yearned for a quick fix.  My confidence was shattered.

What I have learned from this experience is the importance of patience and faith.  This season I am attempting to utilize patience and faith to help me reach greater performance levels.

How am I doing this?  For me it begins with understanding the big picture plan.  At the beginning of the season I discussed the outlines of a big picture plan with my coach.  We each gave our input on all aspects regarding ski training, such as training hours, technique focuses, intensity focuses, mental health, strength training, performance goals etc.  My coach then worked to develop a big picture plan taking all these aspects into account.  I reviewed the plan, asked questions about anything I didn’t understand and suggested any tweaks I could think of.  A big picture plan like this isn’t set in stone; it is constantly in flux, being modified to accommodate changes in logistics, energy, health, etc.  Ideally however, the method/process and overarching goal of the big picture plan will not change and understanding the method/process of this plan helps me to have faith and confidence in the plan.

Once I have developed my big picture plan and clearly understand the method/process of the plan, then I can make smarter decisions when modifying it because I am better able to keep the priorities of my plan as a focus and the overarching goal in mind.  For me it’s important to maintain good honest communication with my coach regarding my energy levels as I have a tendency to over do it.  My coach can then provide suggestions and remind me to not stray from my plan’s priorities.

Where patience and faith come into play most for me is during the transition period from training to racing.  During the training season it’s ok to be really tired sometimes.  It’s not a big deal if your performance in a workout is not at its pinnacle.  When you hit the race season though, that all changes.  Making this shift is difficult for me.  Coming out of the training season I am generally not performing at my peak right out of the gate, my body takes some time to transition.  There is a recovery period after the training season and a sharpening period over the first few weekends of racing.  After working so hard all year it can be challenging mentally to stay the course when performances are initially below expectations.  I need to have patience and faith that my plan will lead me to success.

To give you a concrete example of what I am talking about, this season I started out racing on the Super Tour circuit in the U.S.  I had completed a very good month of training in November and my body was feeling a little worn out when I travelled to the first weekend of races which also happened to be at an altitude of 2000m (making the recovery process a little slower).  I was ranked in the top 6 for each race.  I finished 35th and 23rd.  Frustration.  Disappointment.  The next weekend on the Super Tour I was again ranked in the top 6 for both races and finished 34th and… 13th.  A glimpse of light.  On to the next weekend, the first NorAm of the season: similar level of competition and I finished 3rd and 4th.  Now I was mixing it up with guys who were dusting me the past two weekends.  In the final weekend of NorAm racing before Christmas, I finished 13th and 3rd.  My 3rd place performance was probably my best effort of the early season.

According to my big picture plan I was on track.  The training I completed in November was critical to providing a strong foundation so I could perform well in January and February.  The tradeoff was jeopardizing my performances in December a little.  For this big picture plan to work I had to be patient and have faith in the plan.  I had to understand why I wasn’t performing to my potential at first and that the present struggle would be worth it later in the season.  When you are a competitive person it’s really hard mentally to perform below your expectations.  Last year I was unable to move past this mental barrier.  I lost faith, lost patience, and lost confidence.  My racing suffered all season as a consequence.  This season I battled to stay patient, maintain faith and be confident through those difficult early season races.  I stayed the course.  Sure I was frustrated, but I didn’t let it shatter my resolve.  As a result, my performances improved according to plan and so did my confidence.

Sport is not rosy all the time.  You could replace sport with life in that sentence if you want to get philosophical.  The greats don’t win every time they compete.  In fact, even the greats lose more than they win.  I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career.  I've lost almost 300 games.  26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.  I've failed over and over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan.  If you want to achieve something great not only do you need a well thought out plan, you also need patience and faith to help get you through the hard times that you will face along your path to greatness.

Skiing to my first NorAm victory of the season and first EVER NorAm sprint win this past weekend in Canmore.
Used my new-found sprinting confidence to claim another win the following day in the 20km Skate Mass Start.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Making Memories

Say goodbye to summer and hello to the autumn months!  My favourite time of year is here.  Crisp cool mornings and warm afternoons.  Snow in the mountain peaks (or just everywhere in Canmore) and hues of yellow, orange, and red in the leaves.  Football season is upon us and my fantasy team has been drafted!  Not feeling overly confident with my roster this year…

Training has gone about as smoothly as I could hope for with limited sickness and injury.  I spent June in Canmore building fitness, making progress in the gym with a new strength program and learning the basics of climbing at the indoor climbing wall.  July was a busy month of training in Canmore with plenty of quality intensity sessions and routine strength sessions combined with solid volume.  I was a lucky guy to have Britt visit me for the month of July.  The hot weather had us making regular nighttime visits to the quarry for a cool off swim before bed.  Before the month was out we took a short road trip to Vernon accompanied by our friend, Jack Carlyle, to visit the resident banger Dudley Coulter.  A good time was had by all: soaking in some Okanagan Valley rays and shredding the mountain bike trails at Kal Park (well, let’s be honest, getting shredded up by the trails…).

Britt and I travelled home to Thunder Bay near the beginning of August for my sister’s much anticipated wedding!  It was great to visit family and meet my new brother-in-law’s relatives.  I can vividly recall my sister walking down the aisle with my father, an acoustic rendition of “Here Comes the Sun” being plucked in the background, looking beautiful, all grown up, and full of joy.  It was an emotional moment.  All in all it was a joyous celebration and I was bummed I had to jet out of town so quickly after the wedding.  Fortunately before the wedding I had enough time to spend a weekend at Britt’s camp on Lake Superior, catch up with a few friends, catch a few fish with Andrew (the groom) and his two best buds, and face off with the local NDC guys in a couple running races.  I’m happy to report I am now the record holder of the Lappe 3km Uphill Running Time Trial, being the first person to crack 11 minutes!  Who knows how long this will stand, but it was good for the ol’ confidence to dust my previous best time by over 30 seconds.

The reason I had to rush back to Canmore was our team’s Haig Glacier training camp.  The first few days were a little bumpy for me as I had to fend off an upset stomach, mild fever and loss of appetite, but I was able to push through it without missing much.  The focus was volume and volume was accomplished with roughly 50 hours of training in two weeks.  It’s always nice to strap on the skinny skis and train on real snow in the summer months.  I capped off the training block with a maximal effort on the roller ski treadmill, then enjoyed a few days of rest and recovery, hence the writing of a blog post haha.

The summer months were awesome and I’m looking forward to more good times this fall.  I’m super stoked on my schedule!  I travelled to Thunder Bay yesterday to spend the rest of September living with Britt and training in my old stomping grounds.  Then I’ve got a flight to Salt Lake City at the end of the month for a two week training camp in Park City, Utah where the warmer weather will be a welcome treat in October.  A long drive back to Canmore post-training camp and a week of recovery will bring me to skiing on Frozen Thunder and the first local races of the season.  From there it’s only a couple weeks of training in November and the competition season begins!

This is all starting to get a bit wordy so I’ll leave you with a bunch of photos because I know that’s the real reason you clicked on this post.

Top: Patrick and Kevin making their way up Powderface Mountain
Bottom: Seb and Kevin at the summit of Mt. Allan (2819m) 

Backflip central at the Calgary Stampede
Top and Bottom: Britt hanging out on Wind Ridge

Can you guess what we're about to do?
Top: Look Ma, I'm Flying!!!
Bottom: Britt taking over the parachute controls like a boss

WOOHOO!  Mission accomplished.
Top: The boys out in Kal Park, Vernon
Bottom: Jack and I goofing around on a run near Mara Lake

Top: The wedding party looking bright and summery.  Congrats Krista and Andrew!
Bottom: Britt and I dancing the night away

The best day of our glacier camp caught on camera by my awesome roommate, Russell!  It's easy to take the Haig Glacier for granted as I've been up there a number of times now, but it really is an incredible place.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Another Day Another Dollar, Another Year Another 365 Dollars?

The 2014-15 season is well under way now but before I get into what’s going on right now I’m going to jump back and do a quick recap to wrap up last year.  National Championships were a great event again this year with Corner Brook and Blow Me Down Ski Club playing host.  Thank you to the organizing committee and all the volunteers!  We had a mix of weather conditions as to be expected in March, but thankfully nothing too extreme.  I had the chance to ski some of the rec trails on a blue bird training day and was impressed with the trail system.  Some really nice stuff further out!  As a whole my Nationals were mediocre with a few highlights.

After a crash and broken pole off the start line of the Team Sprint Final, Andy and I clawed ourselves back to a 4th place finish.  It would have been great to see where we could have finished if we hadn’t had the crash… hopefully we can find redemption at the 2015 Nationals.  I won a bronze medal after a really good effort in the 15km Skate event.  I also qualified 3rd place in the sprint race, but unfortunately missed out on the A-final by 2 hundredths of a second.

Top: Good feelings to be on the podium at Nationals.
Bottom: Made it big in the local paper!

 Post-Nationals I headed back to Canmore for a little over a week.  Had an awesome day downhill skiing in fresh pow at Sunshine, raced Sharkfest (3rd and 2nd place finishes) and partied in Banff.

Spring-time fun in the mountains!

 And finally it was time to go home.  Feeling worn out I boarded the plane with a sigh of relief.  Through April I enjoyed some low key days and spending time with my girlfriend, family and friends.  Snow was still prevalent so I did some skiing when I felt like it.  I competed in a few fun events (Run & Ski, Orienteering, Biathalon Balloon Toss) and joined NDC TBay for a 5-day volume skiing camp.  I felt like I was getting back to my skiing roots and I think I needed to rediscover that.

Last Big Snowfall of the Year in TBay
Beginning of May I travelled to Canmore to kick off the new season.  It was hard to leave home behind once again, but I got into the regular training routines with our first training camp right away and morning skis at Sunshine were spectacular.  Conditions were like mid-winter with fresh powder the first few days and we had some unbelievable crust skiing days as well.  Things were a little up in the air with a new coaching system being put into action, however the camp went smoothly and things started to fall into place pretty quickly after the camp.

It’s one week into June now and I’m feeling like I’m on the right track.  I had a solid month of training in May.  I’ve been able to implement my training strategies.  So far the changes in the system I’m working under have been positive.  I’ve been doing this ski thing for some time now and like any other career or job there are days when I wish I was doing something else, but the majority of the time I can’t believe how lucky I am to be living this life.  I love training, being outside breathing in fresh air, and working towards a big goal alongside likeminded people.

Top: Andy in a snow covered gondola on our way up to Sunshine and skiing!
Bottom: The TBay guys getting their skis ready for another blue bird ski day.

The photo speaks enough words on its own. 
Top: Summit of Heart Mountain
Bottom: Jana further up the ridge closing in on Grant MacEwan Peak

The Heart Mountain Horseshoe ridgeline

Saturday, March 8, 2014

European Tour

Everything went smoothly the first few days, training and adjusting to the 9-hour time difference.  It was odd to be in Europe in February and not see any snow on the ground, but I was there to race and they had a few kms of man-made snow loops everywhere we went so although it wasn’t ideal, there would still be races.  I competed in a 10km classic at Latvian National Championships as a warm-up race, and felt off.  I was frustrated, yet it was easy to write it off as my first race in Europe and I must simply not be completely adjusted, that’s all.

The next day I felt ill with stomach pains.  I wound up suffering from stomach issues all week and missed all 4 Scandinavian Cup races.  Actually, I was so desperate to race I tried doing one of the sprint qualifiers, but I had nothing.  Tough to travel all that way, then sit on the sidelines and be a spectator.

Cheering Kevin on in a Scandinavian Cup race.  Don't be fooled by all the white, it happened to snow a couple cms during the race, but there was nothing on the ground beforehand.
After a week of stomachaches and low energy I started to feel a little better and got out skiing on Monday.  Thankfully it went ok and I was able to get back to training leading into the Lahti World Cup.  Things went well the rest of the week and I started to feel surprisingly good.  I did the sprint on Saturday not expecting much, mostly just hoping to get over any World Cup jitters before Sunday.  My focus event of the entire trip was Sunday’s 15km skate and if I had a good race it would salvage my entire European tour.

It was one of the most challenging 15km races I’ve ever done.  The course in Lahti is tough to begin with, which I like, however because there was no real snow, the 5km loop we were racing on was an icy hard man-made base with loose sugar snow on top.  This meant steep climbs broke down into deep sugar mush and many parts of the course were icy, meaning hard pushes with your legs would result in your skis skidding out.  It was difficult conditions to ski in, but it was the same for everyone.  I pushed myself to that familiar redline edge and did my best to keep myself red-lined to the finish without fading too much.  My body was moving pretty well and my skis were running well.  That didn’t stop it from hurting though.  I actually clearly remember thinking “this is a b#$**” while I was cresting over the top of one of the bigger climbs in the final kilometers.

My goal was top 30.  I finished 58th place out of 92 racers, +2:46.5 behind the winning time.  Although my result came up short, it was still the closest I’ve been to the winning time in a 15km World Cup.  I’m not thrilled with the result, however I am satisfied I had a solid race after being ill and it was nice to not be at the bottom of the results sheet in a very competitive World Cup field.  The top 30 goal still stands.

Next up is National Championships in Corner Brook, Newfoundland.  The first event, the team sprint, is on Saturday, March 15th and I’m looking forward to teaming up with my former training center teammate and fellow Lappe skier, Andy Shields, for what is shaping up to be a real battle for club supremacy.
Lahti World Cup 15km (Photo Credit: Nordic Focus)
With a long layover at Heathrow Airport we cabbed it to Windsor Castle to see a bit of London.   I was shocked at how accurately my idea of England matched the real thing... pretty cool place!  Windsor Castle is expansive!