Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Sisters-Billygoat double

Two of my favorite races fell on the same weekend this year: 7 Sisters trail race was on Saturday, and the Billygoat was on Sunday, at Ward Pound Ridge. The good news was they were on separate days! Sorry, body, you didn't actually need to walk on Monday, right?

7 Sisters Trail Race
This race is amazing. It packs the vertical relief of Mount Washington into 11 miles or so, with nearly every step requiring finesse and agility. The uphills are steep enough that you have to hike, often using your hands to pull yourself up rock faces, and the downhills are best described as a barely-contained tumble. As far as I'm concerned, this is about as good as it gets!

I actually targeted this race, focusing on the uphills and the downhills with the only easily-accessible vertical on my commute - Harvard Stadium. I was starting to feel pretty good about my fitness, and then I actually rested properly leading up to the race. Morning of the race, I felt good, and knew that despite the wet weather, this could be a very good day. My plan for the race was to start conservatively, let the speedsters take off, and run my own race. It's a long enough race that I wanted to save something for the return trip, and after getting completely depleted last time I ran this (protip: don't throw your food to the side of the trail because you think your water bottle belt is too bouncy), I had a feeding strategy and planned to stick with it.

Part of my tapering plan was to get a massage, which was dearly needed. Sam Peck is a master. But thanks to my crazy schedule, the only time I could get in was on Thursday, and that was a little too close to the race. I decided to go with it anyway, but that was a mistake - I could feel the sore bits as the race went on, and really just needed one more day in there. Argh, I hate preventable mistakes!

The second preventable mistake I made was to swap my shoes at the last minute. I had been planning to go with the X-Talon225s, an awesome racing shoe that I use for pretty much everything. They're hands-down my favorite Inov-8 shoe. But, I made the mistake of also bringing the TrailTalon250s to the race, and suddenly I had given myself choices. And we all know that before a race, if you have choices to make, you will agonize over those choices, and then you will probably pick the wrong thing. In this case, it wasn't wrong per se, because the TrailTalons had phenomenal grip and I have been doing a lot of my long runs in them. But, because they have a little more room in the toe box, I wanted to make sure that my feet wouldn't slide around at all, so I cinched down the laces way too tight. Like waaay too tight.

I've done this before. It's a bad idea. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson.

We took off and as predicted, Kehr and Kelsey were off the front and a couple others followed them. I found myself in 6th place, with a couple other girls getting pushy, but they didn't seem very confident on the rocks, so I knew they wouldn't last. I felt pretty good and light up that hill, but cresting the top I discovered that my shoes were too tight, and that was making my calves cramp worse than usual. A smart person would have stopped and loosened her shoes. Did I do that? Noooo.

We started to catch the end of the elite men's wave on that first climb. and it was nice to be passing people. I wanted to throttle back the effort a bit, but was struggling to do so. When I finally passed Ed, who had hiked out to the low point to cheer, I was settling into more of a rhythm. Hike the uphills, generally with hands on knees (gotta put that extra skier weight to use somehow), tumble down the hills. I was going back and forth with a couple guys at this point, who were generally better on the ups and I was better on the downs. This is how it goes for me.

At the Summit House road, I was 2 minutes behind my 2014 split. I was more depressed by this than I'd anticipated. Even with the tight calves and muddy trail, I'd felt like my training was more than good enough to make up for that. How had I gotten so slow? I couldn't speed up much more without paying the consequences later, so maybe my training hadn't been as good as I thought. Maybe age is starting to catch up. Maybe I could have been actually pushing a little harder. But then I lifted my gaze as I climbed up to the Summit House and saw a female figure disappearing over the crest - that's 4th place up there! Maybe I can catch her on the downhill.

After a welcome walk across the porch (forced by race organizers), where I tried to drain my bottle and rest the calves, we were into my favorite part - the sustained downhill to the turn-around. It's not only downhill, there are a couple lumps along the way, but it's all technical and all awesome. I quickly caught up to the 4th place woman, and had a partner in the descent as a guy in a Tough Mudder shirt was keeping pace, and this was nice actually. The front of Wave 1 was catching me by now, but not that many of them. Eventually I started seeing the leaders coming back, and then Kelsey, then Leah, and finally Kehr, touchable but only with a massive effort. I hit the turn-around about a minute behind 2014, and thought, maybe I can make that up on the return! Silly me.

I actually did feel really good climbing back to the Summit House. I was keeping pace with a guy in a red shirt, and only two guys from Wave 1 passed me, so that was good news. My calves were still tight, but not exploding anymore, but I was starting to notice my heels - almost like they were falling asleep, but not really, more like they were just starting to ache really badly on the bottoms. Again, a smarter person would have stopped to loosen her shoes. At this point I certainly had the leeway.

The wheels started to really fall off after crossing the road. My butt was so sore, it just wasn't working anymore, and it turns out you can't just use your triceps instead of your glutes. My calves hurt, my heels hurt, my quads hurt. By the time I hit the low point, it was sheer survival. The bottom of my heels were in sheer agony. Again, all I had to do was stop and loosen the damn shoes. I tried to drown out the pain with positive mantras. "I'm so strong!" on the uphills, "this is fun!" on the downhills. Over and over and over. The final two climbs up Hitchcock and Bare Mountain I actually wasn't sure if I could take another step. I dropped an additional 6 minutes to my 2014 self from the road crossing back to the finish, and all I could think about was how excited I was to sit down and take off my shoes.

Upon actually taking off my shoes, I found I couldn't stand. Ed carried me back to the car, and over the course of the next hour or two I tried to relearn how to stand, walk, and move around. I've never been so hobbled after a race. It was terrible, and it was entirely my own fault. This doesn't take away from the awesomeness that is Sisters, it just ensures that I'll be back, to try for that elusive 2:20 again.

Post-race leg-soak in Puffers Pond was heavenly. And frigid. 

The Billygoat
Overnight brought no relief. I didn't really sleep at all, the pain in my feet keeping me tossing and turning as though maybe if I lie on this side my feet will hurt less. Come morning I still couldn't stand. Last night I'd sort of been able to tiptoe around, this morning my arch muscles were in as much pain as my heels, so tiptoeing brought no relief. 400mg of ibuprofen with breakfast got me to the point where I could lurch to the car, and I decided that this wasn't the sort of pain that was likely to cripple me long term, so I'd better just take some more ibuprofen and do the race. I really badly wanted to win the ugly billygoat doorstopper back. And you can't win a race if you don't even start it.

Another 800mg and I got through a short warmup test jog. The pain was now at a level where it just felt like a dull ache, no more stabbing. Let's do this thing! We started off, and I immediately felt the effects of doing neither a cooldown yesterday nor a warmup today. Those legs were STIFF. Everybody was running off, and I was left in what felt like the dust. But I focused on being efficient, and despite climbing up that first hill at snail pace, I found myself a loose group of Jeff, Andis, and Keegan for the first controls. This was a good group!

I then decided to abandon my reliable group and strike out on my own to 5, going left on a trail, that gave me bonus climbing, bonus mountain-laurel-bashing, and bonus cliff-scaling. That cost me about 4 minutes, and now I was alone and depressed. My everything still hurt, and I knew Izzy had a big lead, and I kind of just wanted to sit on a rock and listen to the birds. When I saw a pheasant flapping away from me I knew nobody had passed through in a while, and got even more glum. Figured it was about time Izzy won one of these things, anyway. Too much hubris to think I could do both a tough trail race and a tough orienteering race in one weekend. I'm getting old, need my recovery, don't have the snap that I used to.

About three controls of wallowing later, I finally started to pick up some runners. That lifted my spirits enough to pick up the pace a little, and I managed to get back into the game. As I headed to #9 I saw Izzy leaving it, and from the direction she was going, I figure she was skipping #10. In this race, you're allowed to skip a single control, which adds a different element of strategy to it. Seeing Izzy skip 10 firmed my decision to skip 14, which looked about equal in its skippability. Gotta try something different, see if it'll lead to an advantage. Like that, the competitive embers stirred, and the flames began to grow. This race isn't over yet.

I started to run a little more aggressively and moved up through the pack. The thing I love about the Billygoat is that I pretty much know everybody who is racing it. Definitely one of my favorite communities, that I wouldn't trade for anything. By the time I finally got to #13 and headed off towards #15, confident in my skip choice, I was feeling a lot better about my placement. I'd been steadily moving up, and had a long trail run ahead of me. My body was cooperating, the sun was shining, life was great.

At 15, I ran into both Izzy and Kseniya. Yay! Contact made! I relaxed a little, to try and recover, knowing that at some point, somebody would attack, and I wanted to make sure I could match it. We were together, with a few men in our pack, until about control 21. We had a long trail run then, and I decided to stretch the rubberband a bit and see what happened. It wasn't quite enough, but I could see that my trail running was a little stronger. We converged on 23 again, and then Kseniya got a bit of a gap coming down a steep rocky slope in the woods. She hit the trail by the river and accelerated, and I knew that this could be decisive if I didn't cover it. Definitely burned a match to close down the gap, but that had been a bluff - I could see her fatigue as we hit 24. Her attack had dropped Izzy, and I knew that with a mostly-uphill finish on trails and fields, things were in my favor. I took the uphill side of the wall leaving 24, which was more packed-down than Kseniya's side, and this gave me a few seconds. We hit the trail, up a hill, and I gave it some oomph, determined to not look back. I couldn't tell if the footsteps behind me were the West Point cadet or Kseniya, so I kept driving. One final uphill through the field, and as I turned 90 degrees to head to the finish I risked a look, and saw a comfortable gap. Phew!

I was very proud of the end of that run. It had been a mental game from the beginning, and came down to determination and motivation. I was very pleased to have been able to summon the oomph that I needed near the end. And, I hit all my goals of the race:

1. Finish, in under 3.5 hours
2. Beat Ed
3. Win the women's race

So I collected the ugly doorstopper for another year, as well as a delicious victory pie. A great end to a tough weekend.

Monday felt a little creaky, but my heels appear to be recovering, and by Tuesday I could run. So glad this isn't permanent damage!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Orienteering in CA

Two weekends ago was the US Ultralong Orienteering Championships, in the Bay Area of California. I had to be out there for a board meeting anyway, so figured I'd do the races, maybe work a few days from our Oakland office, take a break from the northeastern spring ski season. My preparation for anything orienteering-related has been somewhere between minimal and non-existent. That's the whole point of being retired. However, I'm way too competitive with myself to be satisfied with anything other than winning the race, so my plan was to stay super focused on the process of finding the points, and hope that my running training will suffice to get me around the course in a speedy manner.

The first day was an "extended" middle distance event, around 6.5km straight-line, at Pt. Pinoles park in the east bay. I'd been in town for 24 hours already, working out of my company's Oakland office and staying with a friend in San Francisco, and it had been impossible not to go for exploratory runs any chance I got. Nice to run somewhere that isn't locked into winter, and when you've got jet lag on your side, mornings start nice and early. So I wasn't totally rested, but the course promised to be relatively flat. It had been raining a lot, which meant that all the grasslands at Pt. Pinoles were totally saturated, feeling very much like the Swedish Squish (tm) that I hated so much last year at WOC. As an early starter, none of the grasses had been knocked down yet, and I felt like I was some sort of jungle explorer, pushing my way through these deep wet bogs all alone.

The navigation was relatively trivial, and I made it through without any mistakes of note. This was surprising, as I'd expected to feel a lot rustier in my technique, but I guess when you can see so far, with such a nice network of (totally waterlogged) trails, there isn't much room to get lost. I made one route choice error near the end, which lost me 36 seconds, but overall I was pleased enough with the race, especially given my lack of top-end training lately. I ended up 2nd, 45 seconds behind my old teammate Hannah, who is also semi-retired, so it was kind of nice to see that we are still as close as we ever were when we were both serious.

Day two was the actual Ultralong championships. With a name like "ultra," you expect something long, but in reality the straight-line distance was only 12km, so it's kind of a misnomer. But the event was in Briones Regional Park, which had plenty of hills (and cows!), so distance takes on a new meaning there. All the route choices in a place like that are about how to minimize climbing, and, in my case with my bad ankle, how to minimize the amount of time spent running through cow pastures. Cows leave big holes in the grass, and my ankle stabilizer muscles were not ready to deal with these holes, leading to a pretty slow pace across any sort of field, which is frustrating, because of course in those fields I could see exactly where I wanted to go; I just couldn't get there fast enough. Of course, when you're not in a field, you're going through the forest, which is filled with poison oak. And poison oak is orders of magnitude worse than poison ivy. People tell horror stories about poison oak.

The Ultralong was a mass start, and my goal was to beat Hannah. That was pretty much the only goal. I didn't know where we'd stack up in terms of fitness, but I could feel my ankle stabilizers tweaking out with every step after Saturday's run, having not been used all winter, so this could get interesting.

Hannah and I were together for most of the race. I was a little ahead for the first five controls in the forest, and then we hit the first butterfly in the fields, and I dribbled away about a minute to Hannah, incapable of running with any degree of speed through the lumpy fields. My ankle hurt a lot by the end of this butterfly, which helped with my decision to stay entirely on trails for the long leg to 14. I had been behind another woman after the first butterfly, but I ran hard on the trails, and got ahead by a bit, thinking I was still chasing Hannah. She took a straight route, though, and dropped 3min to me because of all the climbing. I was clearly running faster on anything trail or forest, but she was crushing me in the fields.

I executed the next long leg to 16 pretty well, but those were kind of stupid controls - dropped us down a dangerously steep reentrant just to essentially come back up. I did not enjoy the 7min of climbing hand over hand through poison oak at face level with every step sliding back a foot or more. That was stupid.

The second butterfly was also in cow fields, and I dribbled away another 40" to Hannah on this. I had a gel, and the caffeine boost helped my (poor) decision to take a slightly straighter route on the next long leg, thinking it was too far out of the way to backtrack to the trail. This was a 1.5min mistake, and gave me another hands-in-the-dirt climb through poison oak. I was telling myself to just trust myself, I did fine, and then I saw Hannah running along on the around-trail well above me already. Argh!

I ran hard to close the gap, and got it by sledding down a steep grassy hill on my ass. That was the most fun part of the course. I basically was the bowling ball and Hannah was the pin, I may have slammed right into the back of her giggling the whole time. But there was only one sledding track, and trying to run down a hill that steep was just ludicrous.

Then we were mostly together the final controls. I took a different/worse route to 26, closed the gap again to 27, and decided on the way to 28 that this was my last chance to play the one card I had left - had to get enough in front that she couldn't run past me in the final cow fields, because it was predetermined that I would suck there. I felt like I still had plenty of fitness to burn, but I was incapable of moving fast across cow fields, so it had to happen on the trails or in the woods. I gained about 20 seconds on 28, and another 25 seconds on 29, and was feeling like maybe I had this in the bag. Then somehow I ended up in some nasty dark green thick vegetation on the way to 30. Hands and knees, sometimes elbows and knees, through poison oak and other scratchy vegetation. I was pretty pissed when I finally emerged. Hannah got stuck too, but she got less stuck than me, and punched first by maybe 5s. After 2 hours, and plenty of different routes, we're still together. That's actually kind of awesome.

Then my ankle pretty much gave out on the way to 31. Too many holes from the damn cows. I basically walked/limped it in down the hill to the finish, in a pretty big grump. Mostly because of the green, because that was where I lost the race, but more because I just wanted to be able to run without my ankle hurting. This was supposed to be fun, but reality didn't quite stack up.

From a distance, it all looks so lush and beautiful.

Morning. Also beautiful.

I found some green space to explore before hopping onto a red-eye to get home. Very nice to run among the trees before spending hours in traffic and airports and buildings. 

I spent the next week dealing with the worst poison oak reaction. I thought I'd quarantined clothing well, but evidently not well enough, and getting all those cuts on my arms from crawling through the poison oak at the end of the course was the nail in the coffin. By the time the rash was covering about 20% of me, I went to the doctor, but it was pretty unpleasant.

Back east, we got an April Fool's snowstorm, so before I knew it, I was playing in the snow again. No poison oak there!  

Back to what I know - Olaf the snowman tights earning turns on a sunny spring day.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

March coaching

March has all the fun marathons, but it also has all the big championship events for the juniors, and this year I put the coaching first. I coached at Junior Nationals for team New England, and then turned around and led the Massachusetts team at Eastern High School Championships. 

Junior Nationals
JNs this year was in Lake Placid, the site of my last JNs when I was a kid. Unfortunately due to low snow they had to move the venue from Van Hoevenburg to the Olympic Jump Complex, which meant the courses got a lot less interesting to ski, with a lot more hill. It was about 60m from the bottom to the top, with very little recovery along the way. The NE team showed their fitness, and left nothing to chance, dominating the entire week. I was in charge of the U20 women's team, and they were a great group. Positive, supportive, and super speedy, headed by Julia Kern, who came through the CSU program. Now she's off racing World Cups, and she showed that she was at a totally different level during the week of junior competitions. Case in point: winning the sprint qualifier by 24 seconds.

JKern and Mackenzie on the podium after the 5k skate

They called themselves the lady bosses. Pretty accurate.

I was super impressed with the quality of this event - the organizers did a fabulous job, with a "chillax" zone for the athletes, an ice cream social and ice skating during mid-week awards, and excellent facilities during the races. Team NE got to stay at the Olympic Training Center, which is always a cool experience for these kids. And with Superior Timing in charge, the racing side of things went off without a hitch. 
I may have escaped one afternoon and trotted up Cascade. love those high peaks. Thank you Inov-8 for my metal-studded Arctic Talons, or that would have been a sketchy run in places.

The jumps made an impressive backdrop to our racing. We had a wide variety of weather, from sunny and 40+ degrees to snow squalls to -8F for the relay morning. Here, a storm rolls in during the sprint heats.

CSU had sent 7 current athletes to JNs; we came away with three all-Americans (top 10 in their age class) and everybody having at least one top-thirty result. Rob and I were there for coaches, but what's great about JNs is that the team is well-integrated, with all the kids hanging out together rather than club-by-club.

Eastern High School Championships
This year, Easterns was up at Mountaintop Inn and Resort, in central VT. We'd just gotten a big nor'easter dump, which allowed the event to use all the trails rather than their 2km manmade loop. That was almost too close for comfort, but the venue and event staff did a fabulous job getting everything packed and ready for the 200-odd skiers and their four races. I had a great coaching staff working for me, which meant that I mostly got to ski around and watch the races. (ok, I may have done a little more work than that given how tired I was on Monday, but largely, I just enjoyed skiing in beautiful conditions). 

CSU qualified every skier who was of age (although two girls ended up not going, one because of illness and one injured), and most of them skied really well. We made up a large part of the team, with the Greylock ski team making up most of the rest of the spots, with occasional other kids. I was psyched to see them all getting along well; sometimes you have problems bringing a lot of ski teams together but most of these guys know each other pretty well. 

Maddy and I got out during the boys' classic race


Team Massachusetts!

After the first three races (5k skate, 7.5k classic, and 1.2k skate), we were in third place, about 600 points behind NH, but only 130 points ahead of ME. VT was way out front with like a 2000 point lead. The relay teams are mixed gender, mixed technique, and our goal was to try and close that gap to NH. Our girls had been holding even, but the boys had been losing ground steadily every day, so this was going to be difficult. Luckily, the boys really upped their game, and we ended up winning the relay, and only a 30-point deficit to NH on the day! After first place our depth dropped quickly, but I was still really proud of the kids for all skiing well above their abilities.

Frank and I out during the sprint race

Pretty idyllic setting

Jeff, Maddy, and I discussing who knows what. Probably waiting for doughnuts.

With that, the ski season is over. We still have some snow, so may eke out a couple more Tuesday night races, and I may have spent an hour practicing my jump skills at Weston yesterday, but I'm looking forward to the "off" season. If only for the relief from driving to practice!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Final Eastern Cups

I registered for both races for the final weekend of EC racing. No good reason for it, especially considering it was two 5ks, which are pretty darn short. I guess I wanted to feel some hurt, and so that became my goal for the weekend - really dig in, and see how hard I could push. After some longer races where it's all a ski-pretty-and-wait game, this would be interesting.

Saturday was moved from Hanover to Craftsbury, which made for a longer drive on Friday. I got up in time for dinner, and had a nice evening at the Village Inn with some of CSUers. No time for a ski, but I tried to make up for that with a heavy foam rolling session, ready for a long day on my feet punctuated with a 15-20 minute burst of adrenaline-filled self-induced wheezing. 

Silver Fox Trot
After a morning of ski testing and course tours, it was time for my start, near the back of the field thanks to my continued non-updated USSA points. It was nice to use the full 5k loop, which skis really nicely. I love that course, with real stride-able hills, and some good elevation change. My goal, as stated above, was to really suffer, but also to remember to really ski, rather than just start shuffling or running. The course starts out with some flat stuff, then the sneaky little sprint hill climb, which starts out kind of steep, then levels off. Managed to keep striding, no running, focused on the weight transfer. I could see my 15s girl, a local C'bury kid, and I passed my 30s and 45s girls up that first hill. Starting in the back is good for my ego, if not my results.

Down the windy sleeper hill I actually caught my 15s girl, but she pulled even and got ahead up the steep part of the A climb. I got her back as it evened out, and then whipped past three more girls on the downhill - really good skis today. One more scalp at the bottom of the hill, pretty recovered at that point, then the second A climb. The tracks were wiped out near the top, so I did some herringboning, but really shouldn't have. Pretty wheezy by the top of the wall, but I got past two more skiers, and discovered that my double pole has actually returned to levels I haven't seen since 2012 or so. Around the tight little corner and then into the tracks with my head down, recovering as much as I could before the final B climb.

All my fans were on that hill, so I may have gone a little too hard, as I got to the top and had pretty much emptied the tank completely at that point. Stayed in a tuck too long down the other side into the rollers, and nearly came to a stop, but standing up was a questionable activity at that point, not to mention skiing. Final downhills to the little marsh and then back up past the cabins, managing to kick and glide even though all I wanted to do was shuffle. Or maybe lie down and take a snow nap.

Pretty good race-feeling, and I don't think I've pushed that hard yet this season. Feels good to suffer like that, especially while knowing you're doing it with good technique. My result was kind of crap, but, I can't complain too much, and I was happy with the race. Probably the best skis I've been on in 2-3 yrs - those Madshus Redlines are magic on hardwax.

Cheri Walsh Memorial
Sunday I could feel the fatigue of the hard effort and the coaching, with heavy quads. It had snowed a decent amount on both Friday and Saturday, so the course was soft and slow. Not my favorite conditions, but I had a good pair of skis for it. I limited myself to a single course-tour with the U16 boys that morning, and it was good to analyze all the turns and transitions. The Holderness trails are fantastic, filled with transitions, and in soft snow the narrow trail feels even tighter. Very reminiscent of Mendon Ponds, where I grew up learning to ski.

Suffering. I could use more right ankle flexibility, in my life, but particularly when skating up steep hills please.

I got in a decent warmup, maybe a little on the short side, but I'd seen some foam rollers inside and my quads were tight and heavy, so I went to take care of those first and that ate some time. Starting near the back, as is the new normal, would have been a problem at 15s intervals, but it was 30s intervals and I had a ghost in front of me, so a pretty clear course. My skis were good, but not amazing - I think it was all slow out there. Not my conditions, on an icy day I would have rocked that course a lot harder. But, this is still a good course for me, despite nearly 2k of winding climbs, some of them really steep. My main goal for the day was to beat my fellow coach Kathy, starting 1.5min ahead.

I tried to stay light and quick on the climbs, but was still wheezing at the 1k mark. Passed my 1-min girl, got a brief breather on the downhill, then into the second climb, where I did try to push some V2. Caught my 2min girl on that hill. Both of these were my skiers, so I tried not to be too aggressive. Then it was into the rollers, and it's so hard to generate speed on the winding flat stuff when you're already red-lined. All the hills on the course are short and sharp, requiring some hop skating and more strength than I have to give, but I was finessing my way through it. No snoozing on that course.

I got a split from Doro around 3.5k that I was 8s down on Kathy. The final 1.5k are mostly downhill with some transitions, and Kathy is one of the few people who'll ski a downhill better than me, so I knew it would be hard to pick up 8 seconds on her. That didn't stop me from trying! I was still wheezing the whole way down the hill, working each corner and crest and dip for everything it was worth, pushing through the wobbly legs and exhausted shoulders. It wasn't pretty, but I was hauling. Thank god for that final downhill into the stadium, to catch my breath before a sneaky 500m around some soccer fields that just didn't want to end. I concentrated on continuing to try and eke out the seconds and had a decent kick, but unfortunately Kathy made it around that course 1 second faster than me. D'oh!

That was good enough for 15th, my first NENSA point of the season (and first one in a couple seasons, I would imagine), and Kathy and I were the top CSU ladies on the day. A rare occurrence, and one that means my kids better start skiing faster. It felt so awesome to really redline it this weekend. Purposeful suffering can be so cleansing.

Came home and got to do a different kind of workout!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Craftsbury marathon

I haven't back to the Craftsbury marathon since 2010, and I had actually had fun then, so figured I'd better just quit while I was ahead. No idea why I decided to do it again this year, maybe seven years was enough to learn how to wax my skis and succeed in long races, but my main goal was to enjoy the day.

They start all the distances together, but luckily the bibs are color-coded so you know who is doing what. The fast Canadian master who comes to the EC races and crushes us all took off with Kaitlynn Miller, but they were doing two and one lap, respectively, so I had no need to speed up, and settled in to a comfortable but snappy pace. Out into Murphy's field the first time and Emily Stitt, Middlebury grad and last year's top American at the Norwegian Birkie in 59th, took the lead with Amy Caldwell. Amy was only doing two laps, but I liked her rhythm, so rolled along with them. I noted that both were kicking much better than me, but my skis were faster. Even that early, if your competitors have the kick that you don't, the writing is on the wall. Should have gone with that extra layer of the multigrade.

 Photo from NENSA

 Photo from NENSA

We were well into the back of the men's wave by the feed at 2k, and it became a game of human slalom. Kind of fun, kind of frustrating. All the fresh snow meant that skiing out of the tracks was painfully slow, and skiing in the tracks was glazing and fast. But, most of the guys we were passing had no idea that there were faster people coming through, and so to pass someone you had to hop out of the track, do a little sprint, and then hop back in. I was not a fan of burning matches like this. But, no real other way to do it. Maybe next year we can have an elite wave?

The human slalom got even more entertaining coming down the s-turns in the fields by Eleanor's, but then we got a nice long stretch of double poling with three tracks. The middle track was definitely fastest, but at least you could use the other tracks to pass the guys without wasting too much energy. Emily, Amy and I were still skiing together, and I was just loving the scenery - winter wonderland! I mentioned that out loud, just to be able to remember how beautiful I was finding it on later laps when I might not be as inclined to look around. Entering Ruthie's Run, around 6k, Amy called out "you girls know you have another 44 kilometers to ski, right?" I could only laugh - skiing fast is so much more fun than skiing slow, that I'd rather start fast and flare out than trudge along monitoring my heart rate.

My lack of kick became apparent climbing Ruthie's Run. It's not a big hill, but it does go on for 2km, and I didn't want to use my arms to force it, because I needed those muscles for later. I finessed my way along in time with Amy, but just as it got steep I got stuck behind more guys, and the trail had narrowed to cross a bridge and I was boxed out. Emily and Amy put a small gap on me, and once I got around and found my own rhythm again I didn't feel like accelerating to catch up. Now it was going to get lonely.

But, my slick skis made up the difference on the downhill, and I made contact again. It was still really heavy traffic, looking at the finish times of the 2- and 4-lap men, I may have already passed ~120 guys by that point. We started climbing back to the stadium and I had to do a lot of switching tracks, any time I wanted to get around someone. Emily pulled ahead, and Amy dangled behind her. I was finding that out of the tracks, my skis were icing, because there was just too much fresh snow out there, but I really couldn't kick too well in the tracks. Tried not to stress about it, because the name of the game is energy conservation, but I was frustrated.

The second lap was a little calmer in terms of passing the guys. The ones I was catching were moving a little faster, skiing a little better, and I could see Amy dangling ahead of me on the hills. I focused on my hips coming up Ruthie's, and it worked well enough, not a very powerful stride but at least I got up the hill. I was pretty close to Amy after the flat bits at the bottom of the descent, but she pulled ahead again on the climb to the stadium, and I came through the lap maybe 30 seconds after she finished. Emily long gone, so now it would be a lonely race of hoping nobody would come from behind. The only guys I would be passing now were 50k skiers, with the occasional lapped skier.

Murphy's field allows a look behind, as it's 1-2 minutes to go around the field, and I could see Jane McClelland not that far behind me. I also could see Robert Faltus and Jamie Doucett, masters from CSU, about 2 minutes ahead of me, and made it my goal to hunt them down. It had stopped snowing, and my skis were kicking a lot better now. This also meant it was less slow to ski out of the track, which is what I would do on the steeper uphills to get some stick to my shuffle. I still had really good energy, so let myself flare off some fitness cresting the hills. I was seeing Jamie's back on the Race Loop climb, but he double poles like a canoe racer, so I didn't actually make contact until Ruthie's Run. The outside tracks, which were less glazed, gave me slightly better kick, and I allowed myself to use some arm wax to make sure I stayed in the track. Being able to ski in the same track for longer than 20 seconds was a new thing this lap, now that most of the slow guys had finished, and it was nice to finally settle in to a rhythm.

Coming down from Ruthie's, I was chasing a guy in Craftsbury Green, Peter Harris. I couldn't get by him on the climbs, as he had really good skis, but we both reeled in Robert together. I finally got ahead of Peter and Robert as we started the fourth lap, and I was looking for a new rabbit. Into Murphy's field and I could see Bob Burnham just entering the woods, so target acquired. I took a look back as I finished the loop, and Jane was still there, maybe 20 seconds further back than the last lap. But I was still feeling good, really strong and plenty fit, so started trying to push the pace again. My arms were getting tired, but they weren't cramping.

I was finding my skis were wanting to ice here and there, so I had to be careful if getting out of the tracks. As I came through the Ruthie's feed station, I first saw Sara Mae having a chat with the volunteers, and then caught sight of Bob heading up the next little climb. Still out of reach, but getting closer. Through the flat bits after the descent I started some positive self-talk, that definitely included a line about how I'm such a beast I'm going to catch Bob. It worked, and I caught him and another two guys on the climbs back to the stadium. Again forcing myself to stay in the track, because it was just so much faster, just took a little more arm strength to make the kick happen.

I couldn't drop Bob until the final hill to the cabins, but at least he wasn't telling stories. I was happy to be done, no cramping, no bonking, and good energy throughout, but I really would have liked slightly stickier skis. Probably just more layers of the Rode, maybe on a stiffer pair of skis. But overall, this was fantastic. I enjoyed myself and really enjoyed skiing in those beautiful woods, and I ended up in 2nd place, ahead of names like Meghan Killigrew and Jane McLelland and Elissa Bradley, so I'll take it! Emily got me by 10 minutes, which is kind of embarrassing, but hey, if I could have gone faster I would have, so no real shame there.

Ed and I headed down to Middlebury for the Eastern Cup after the race. I had abandoned my team on a classic sprint day, but they were totally fine, mostly because Rob had acquired some food-grade french fry warmers to keep the klister warm. If you're going to do something that stupidly awesome, you better own it. Rikert is so beautiful in the morning when you get there for a ski race, and the far ridge of mountains was covered with a dusting of fresh snow. The course was in great shape, making me wish I'd signed up for the race, but by my second lap around testing skis, I was happy enough to remain a spectator!

With clouds like this, you hold off on rilling all the skis for transformed manmade snow until just before the races start. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

White Mountain Classic

The White Mountain Classic is a supposed 30k "marathon" at Jackson, the one-day club championships. It was beautiful klister conditions up there, loose granular that actually stayed put thanks to a short dip below freezing on Friday night, some gray ice in the tracks but mostly just sugar. 

I've done this race a few times, and the course is a lot of fun, though with lots of double poling on golf courses between the fun bits. The start was a little more chaotic than I remembered, but after two laps around the golf course people got themselves straightened out. I was tailing a group of masters men being led by Rob, and as we headed up Yodel it was great - they were peeling off right and left to start herringboning, and I just stayed in the track, eyes in front, trying to keep the effort reasonable on the steeper pitches but definitely just STAY IN THE TRACK. That got me past most of those guys, but making up no time on Rob, since he was also kicking up the track. I should mention that beating Rob is always a goal of mine. I could feel some effort as I crested Yodel, but my energy levels were really good today, so the lactic cleared quickly and there was no lingering fatigue from the long hill. My goal for the day was to remember to really ski - no shuffling or shuffle-running.

Brief double pole recovery in the fields, where Rob and I bridged up to the next pack. Then we started the climb to the wave, which is tricky because you think you get recovery on some of those transition-y little downhills, but really it's all climbing. I was skiing at this point in a group with Steve Moreau, Peter Harris, Rob leading the way, and two Sr skiers flailing around near me. They were only near me and not ahead because of the flail - boys that age should be a lot faster than me. I kept focusing on really kicking and gliding, and staying in the tracks around all those corners, which quickly led me to discover that my skis were really fast in the tracks. 

Again I could feel the work by the top of the Wave, and was very happy to be done with it, but the fatigue dissipated quickly, and I caught up to Andy Milne's group on the downhill. This was going well. Zipped out to the front, and then a small group of maybe four or five of us started the double poling around the flats. I managed to keep up with the boys ok, and then the guys started slowing down too much as we came through the feed the second time, content with their pack placing. I looked back and could see the purple/green Ford Sayre suit of Elissa, chasing in 2nd place. Uh oh. I moved to the front and upped the tempo, and only Rob kept pace. 

We entered the hills and I was working, doing a little herringboning this time, but driving and striding where I could. I had one of those awesome revelations near the top of the climb to the Airport - I am so fit. That is such a nice feeling! Rob and I really pulled away on the transitional climb to the top of the Wave - being a good skier really pays when you have lots of transitions. He was a little in front, so I was mostly using him to pace myself. Trying to put more time into Elissa, without blowing up. 

More tourers this time 'round, but nobody in my way down the hill, and this time on the flats I kept the tempo high the whole time. Rob wasn't letting himself get dropped, though I'm sure I don't offer much draft to somebody a foot taller. The final time up the hill to Eagle Mountain House, I was starting to slip a little, not because of wax but just because I was getting tired, so my form was crumbling. My klister caught at the turn at the top of that hill, in the powder, and I nearly face planted, and Rob got a small gap. I couldn't close it down on the double poling back to Yodel, and then I just couldn't keep pace up that last hill - couldn't get the kick in the tracks, but icing up out of the tracks. Final double pole sprint after the ripping descent, and I just couldn't close the gap. Finished 6 seconds behind him, and first woman, about a minute ahead of Elissa. That was super fun. I love it when my skis just WORK, and the conditions are great and it's a beautiful day and I have people to ski with the whole time. Also, I love winning. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Quarry Road Eastern Cups

The second weekend of Eastern Cup racing was at Quarry Rd, in Waterville. My alma mater's home course! They only built the venue six years too late for me to ski there in college. Those are some really nice trails, and you can tell Tracey had a hand in the design, with serious climbs and technical downhills, and very little flat recovery. Not remotely close to what we train on during the week at the Leo J golf course.

CSU Army back at it. We've got wax team and we've got the food table team, and really that's all we need. 

Saturday was a skate sprint, and Sunday a mass start 10k classic. I decided to sign up for both races, figuring I'd sit out the classic race if things started to go haywire - priority is on making sure all the kids had their skis waxed, not on me getting another race start. I was very excited for the skate sprint, as that's one of my favorite formats, and I'm usually really good in them. I love doing races where I'm good at the format!

Well yeah, then the races happened. I'd been feeling pretty flat all week, and I didn't magically feel snappier on Saturday morning. I suspect the root of my problems lay in a warmup that wasn't hard enough, but I just felt terrible for the entire 3.5 minutes that I flailed through that course. I felt terrible on the uphills, I felt out of control on the downhills, and I couldn't generate any speed on the flats. All in all, a pretty miserable qualifier. I didn't even come close to advancing. And here I'd thought I'd be qualifying in the top 10. Hubris.

My U18 boys made it into the same heat. Really fun to watch them ski so well!

One of my first-year U16 girls leading the heat! Don't underestimate the small ones.

Sunday was a new day. The venue was still icy, but we had good skis, and it was warmer than Saturday. But I wasn't really feeling the whole racing thing. Maybe it was a black cloud left over from Saturday, but my legs felt like wooden pegs, with these long awkward slidey things on the bottom, totally disconnected from any useful function. Maddy and I skied a lot that morning, testing all the various klister combinations, searching for the perfect mixture of sticky and tenacious and fast, and Rob kept dreaming up new combos, that needed testing. And there's no point testing kick on flat bits, you need to hit the hills. After an hour and a half of skiing around, we jumped back into the trenches with the wax team, frantically applying cold klister to all the women's skis. Cold klister does not go on quickly or easily. At this point, I was fairly sure I shouldn't race. I was unmotivated, cold, and exhausted. And, if I started, I was bib 314 of 317 (yay for USSA not recognizing coaching licenses as a way to get seed points), which meant starting on the last row of a mass start. I figured I'd be a lot happier if I just watched the races today. I race because I like to beat people, and that wasn't looking very likely today.

Beautiful rock-hard tracks, that actually held up through the end of the men's race! Two of my U16 boys had break-out races, which is always exciting when you're a coach. 

And then the only pair of skis left to wax were mine. I had 12 minutes before the start.

You know what? Screw it. Step aside, ego, because the only way I'm going to get warm today, and get all this klister off my hands, is if I go out there and do a 10k tempo effort. I may not have the available oomph for a proper race, but mass starts are awesome, and I love skiing, even when it's slow. Let's go ski racing!

Five minutes to go, and I had two skis with wax on them, I was wearing a bib, and I was at the start, totally cold. The gun went off, and it was a good five seconds before I moved. Nothing like watching the leaders ski out of sight before you even take a stride!

The back of the mass start. I'm the jerk poling between the tracks desperately trying to move up before we hit the u-turn. Photo from FlyingPointRoad.  

Total traffic jam at the corner that comes 200m after the start, and then a couple girls on their butts at the next corner as we entered the woods. I negotiated all of that pretty well, and kept moving forwards as we rolled down to the bottom of the course. I was using this part of the course as a warmup as much as a chance to pass people at no added effort, and by the time we hit the first gradual hill, I was striding around bibs in the 270-280s. 40 people down, that's some improvement. I even recognized some of them! But the front of the race had already crested this hill. Well, no point dwelling on what I can't control, just ski up this hill smoothly.

In some ways, it's a lot easier starting in the back - going up the hill, everyone was in a line, so there really wasn't much room to pass. I was ok with this effort, as it wasn't too hard, but I knew I should keep moving up. I managed to not take out any skiers on the winding downhill, getting past a good number of snowplowers, and then we started up the major climb of the course. I could move pretty well while striding, but as soon as people were herringboning, the trail was blocked. Again, I didn't make much effort to get past, reasoning I'd waste too much energy to no avail, so I just sort of herringbone-walked in line with everyone else. 

Then we hit the gradual bit at the top, and I jumped up a few more groups, angling to make some space for myself on the technical downhills. The first two corners were totally step-able, since you don't have much speed at that point. The third corner is a little harder, off-camber and more than doubling back on itself, so I had found that morning that skidding a little speed off at the beginning and stepping through the end yielded the most speed. It shot you into a short uphill, so carrying speed was definitely beneficial. It was amazing how many girls I passed on those three corners. Like they were standing still. Free speed, ladies! 

After the short uphill the course shot us back onto the sprint course, three more downhill corners, again the first two were easy and the third you carried more speed, and then the uphill from the sprint before a long double poling bit through the stadium. I stayed in my tuck for a long time into the stadium, catching my breath and still passing people who had stood up to double pole. This was fun! I love passing people just because I'm more efficient! 

I rode this feeling of being awesome all the way to the bottom of the course starting my second lap, and then I started uphill and all that fatigue I'd felt in the morning came crashing through my little bubble of happiness. Oh right. Ski racing is hard. Sort of simultaneous to that realization, my pole strap broke. I guess it must have been pretty worn, and my beastly double poling around the stadium was just too much. The pole was still usable, but it had suddenly gotten a lot less efficient. I was at the front of a loose pack, now, with a bit of a gap which meant I could finally ski my own pace, but I knew that the last 3km would be bad without a working pole strap. 

Starting the long climb, I saw a junior spectating the race, carrying poles, and I swapped with him. Unfortunately, that pole was 5 inches too long. I figured it was better than nothing, and was worth the 15 seconds or so that I'd lost making the swap. But double poling was difficult and awkward now, even worse than with my broken strap. Luckily near the top of the climb I saw Tracey, my coach from Colby, and she gave me her pole, much closer to the proper height. I lost another 15 seconds or so with the second swap, but now I had two poles that both worked! Unfortunately, all that swapping of poles put me behind that little pack I'd been at the front of at the bottom of the hill. Bad positioning. Naturally, I tried to make up for some of that time on the downhill, and took that third corner a little too aggressively, passing someone on the inside in the ice. As I stepped out from the ice, my klister caught the berm of sugar snow, and I went tumbling. Luckily I'm a pro at falling down, and I rolled out of it and was up without losing much time, but that killed my momentum into the short little kicker midway down the hill.

I think I did my first real work of the course on the final climb before the stadium, but I was still at the back of the pack. I made a few more passes before the end, but it was far too little far too late, and before I knew it I was across the line and done with the race. Dang, I was just getting started! 

I'm really glad I ended up racing. Even if the effort wasn't what I would have liked, I had a blast playing NASCAR in the mass start, and it is a lot of fun to ski on skis that kick well and are still faster than everyone around you. The result was so bad I won't even link to it, but that wasn't the point of today. 
Some days, you stand at the end of a double rainbow (snow-bow) and yell "I'M A LEPRECHAUN!" Glad I can teach my skiers to treat those moments with the same joy I do.

Part of me wonders about my recent attitude about ski races. I've been very lackadaisical lately, and not that interested in pushing through any sort of struggle. This is new, mildly disturbing, and makes me wonder if I've used up my lifetime of give-a-damns about race starts. I guess time will tell, considering the next two weekends are two races I should care about. It could be as simple as shifted priorities when at the Eastern Cups, focused on my skiers above all else. One thing is damn sure - I need this skiing stuff in my life to keep my head balanced and happy, regardless of what speed I'm going.

White Mountain Classic this weekend at Jackson, and then the Craftsbury Marathon next weekend. I'm excited to look for a little effort in these races. Here goes!