Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The 38th Annual Billygoat

The Billygoat is one of my favorite orienteering races. Mass start, goofy rules, low-key event that people all take way too seriously - it's awesome. This was one of the first events I did as I came back to orienteering after a hiatus to race only on skis, and the camaraderie, goofiness, and fundamentally hard-core-ness hooked me. But after years of running in the event (and winning it the last three years!), Ed and I decided it was time to host it. Wearing our NEOC hats, we set the course in Townsend State Park, recently mapped for a national meet. I enjoyed setting these courses - parts of Townsend are utterly glorious, mature oak forest with long sightlines and knobbly contour features, just enough rock to interest you without being so overwhelming as to slow you down. But then there is the dark side of Townsend - the parts of the forest infested with mountain laurel. This is a very pretty plant to look at, but it's the bane of anyone trying to run through the woods, as its gnarled woody stems don't provide any way to pass through. At least it is easily mapped and thus easily avoided.
With only one course to worry about, I had the chance to design a kick-ass goat skull logo. It was only fitting that the skull rest on a wreath of laurels... 

The day dawned with a 90% chance of rain, but thanks to statistics, we ended up with barely a drizzle, and even a little sunshine for awards! I couldn't have asked for anything better. I had designed the courses such that we had a very long walk to the start, but I figured it was better to have people march out to the good terrain off the clock. Only a little bit of grumbling ensued. Isabel Bryant, speedy CSU junior, had volunteered to help carry all the clothing back from the start, and it was quite a load, as everyone had brought rain jackets and things. Turns out, 100 rain jackets actually take up a lot of space. 

I decided to run the Pygmy Goat, the short version of the Billygoat, after I got everyone started. I wanted to see some of the race from on-course, and this was an excellent way to do it. I got a chance to cheer on some of the folks who are normally further back than my group of runners, and I got a chance to cheer for the lead pack of runners on the Billygoat, as they looped through the Pygmy Goat course. Ed was manning the results, and did his usual superb job. 

2nd place, Will Enger, flew out here from Seattle just for the race!

Teammate Ian Smith, appeared to have found some mud...

Women's winner Hilary Saeger. It was a close race between the first two ladies, with Hilary just catching Kseniya on the long trail run portion to the finish.

Kseniya, second place for the women

Pizza was a good idea. When we ran out, I ordered more for the later finishers, and that was also a good idea. Ari came back from the dead to run the race, and he apparently survived, with no ill effects that we can tell.

I was so psyched that the sun could come out long enough to dry things out, and give folks a chance to do what orienteers do best - analyze the course to death. It was agreed that the leg from 15-16 had the sexiest terrain out there. It warms a race director's heart when people truly appreciate the course you've set. Makes the whole thing worth it. This race had all my favorite parts of directing orienteering events, and none of the parts I don't like.

More map analysis.

World Famous Sharon Crawford coming in hot, and earning yet another Billygoat teeshirt. Sharon has got to be the most competitive septuagenarian I know. I can only hope that I am running and skiing as strongly  as Sharon when I'm that age!

This was a fantastic race to direct, and I couldn't have done it without Ed. As usual, he takes my outlined ideas, barely cogent, and transforms them into something functional and beautiful. I suppose that's the role of an engineer. Will I host another Billygoat? Hopefully other people will take on the task for the next few years, but considering that this event embodies everything I love about this sport, I won't rule it out.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

West Point National Meet

Maybe some day, West Point will go really well for me. I had high hopes, feeling like I had a handle on work and life stress, but apparently my body hadn't quite caught up to where my mind thought it ought to be, and rebelled in the form of super tight calves. I used to think that the whole mind-body connection was just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, but the old me was wrong. Anyway, it was a gorgeous day, not too hot and not too cold, and we were running in Deep Hollow, which has very nice forests.

Middle Distance
This was, overall, a satisfactory race. Unfortunately, I was unsatisfied, because I didn't want satisfactory. I wanted a good race! I went through all my pre-race routines with a good attitude, only a small niggle of worry about my calves, which were still sore from Wednesday's workout.

Click for full-sized map

The race started with an uphill, and I quickly discovered that the sore calves were actually a problem. In an example of some of the worst behavior they've exhibited in many months, they totally locked up on that first climb, aching and exploding and generally just limiting my ability to run. Arrrgh! Palpable frustration.

 As we all know, if one thing hurts, the best option at that point is to make something else hurt worse, to take your mind off the pain. So naturally, running up this stupid hill, I stepped on one side of a flat rock. It was a wiggly flat rock, and the other side flipped up just as I was swinging my foot through. Rock-foot collision, and I think the rock won out. I was left gasping for breath and wondering if I had broken my foot. Thankfully, after a moment I could wiggle my toes, so the only real casualty was a ripped shoe and broken shoelace. Carry on, kid, enough histrionics.

Now my foot hurt enough that I didn't notice my calves as much. Success? It didn't mean I could run any faster up the hills, and after making three 20-second errors on the first three controls, I'd blown the navigation, too. I made another mistake on the way to 7, when my internal compass got really confused, and disagreed by 90 degrees or so with my physical compass. Luckily, I had the presence of mind to stop and figure it out. Could have been a worse race, but certainly not what I was hoping for, and when I saw the M-20 runners finishing 10 minutes faster than me, I started feeling pretty bad about my performance.

Sprint race
That afternoon was a sprint race. In hindsight, I should not have raced, because my foot really hurt, with a big old lump and an ugly bruise already. But I got my [ripped] shoes laced up, so I figured maybe I could get some redemption for the morning's race. I gave my calves a longer warmup, and a pretty good massage, but they were just as bad. Grumble.

I was just slow, through the race, but then to add to my frustration with being slow, I took control 20 out of order. You have to go in order, in this sport, and when I realized I'd gone from 19 to 21, and had to back track to 20 and then REDO 21, I nearly cried. Race over. I plodded through the remainder of the course, upset at myself and my body and my inability to pull together a good race when I wanted to.

We had a very nice dinner at Kseniya's house, and I figured we'd get to bed early and be all well rested for Sunday's long distance race. Unfortunately, my bruised foot decided to make itself known (maybe the afternoon's ibuprofen had worn off), and I woke up around 2am with my foot throbbing painfully. I was out of drugs, and my foot hurt too much to move it, or bear any weight, or touch the bed. I sat on the floor, massaging my foot with an ice cube, surrounded by a growing puddle of cold water and my own despondency. This weekend had not started out how I wanted.

Long Distance race
Luckily, 2am is usually the worst time of day for all emotions. I slept a few hours, waking up to discover that I could indeed walk. May as well race!

My calves felt better than Saturday, and I was excited to test myself against the physicality of this course. I'd been to Turkey Mountain before, and it didn't go too well. Here's a chance for redemption!

I merrily trotted off toward the first control, enjoying the sunshine and the open visibility and the beautiful hills and rocks and things, but I made a massive parallel error. After maybe 5 minutes of headless wandering, I realized that I was definitively NOT where I thought I was. At this point, the thing to do is to go to a big obvious feature and relocate. I ended up pretty much running all the way back to the start before finding myself. Ok, try this again. This time, I found the first control. Well, THAT wasn't how I meant to start this race, either!

I tried to bring some effort to the rest of the course, telling myself that everyone makes mistakes, and maybe I can make up for those 12 minutes lost if I just nail the rest of it. But, the fight had drained out of me, and maybe it was my subconscious speaking up about the fact that I didn't really want to be racing, but I could no longer find it in me to push hard. I gave in. Walked every step of the climb up to the 5th control, and figured that actually, I felt pretty good moving at an easy distance pace, so I just stayed at that pace, enjoying my ability to run through the woods and find controls. I love finding controls! It's what makes orienteering so much fun! This attitude powered me through the rest of my run, but I finished way down in the results list. I decided not to look. It was easier than dealing with the fact that I'd blown it, three races in a row.

It sounds rough, but really, I had an excellent time last weekend. You can't let a bad race ruin a perfectly fine day, so I didn't. Not one to brood, I really enjoyed hanging out with all the wacky people in the orienteering community last weekend, and the gorgeous summer weather certainly didn't hurt. Thanks to West Point for hosting yet another national meet! Maybe some day, I'll learn to race well here.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Troll Cup

Last weekend was the first domestic orienteering race of the season for me - the Troll Cup, hosted by local club NEOC. The races were down in Foxboro, which meant typical coastal Massachusetts terrain - thick vegetation and interesting rock features. I really haven't gotten a chance to race much, and given a slow come-back from Achilles tendinitis I didn't feel like I was in the shape I wanted, but I was really psyched to put on a bib and stand on a start line!

The format was three races, and the times from all three races were combined to determine the weekend's winner. Saturday featured two middle-distance races, and Sunday was a "classic" distance race. The Saturday races were technical, lots of controls and a detailed area of the map, while Sunday was a little bit faster terrain. NEOC ordered up some amazing weather, warm and sunny but not TOO warm, and it was overall a fantastic weekend to spend running in the forest.

Hunting for a control, having come over the hill not quite how I'd expected. Thanks to Dave Yee for the photos!

Click the map above to see my route.

The race started pretty well for me. My goal was to move carefully and nail the navigation, and with the exception of about 20 seconds that I dropped in a directionally-challenged moment on the way to 16, and about 40 seconds of hesitations over the course of the race, I had a very good run. It was enough to beat nearly all the men on my course (just 2 seconds back from Andis), but third for the women, behind a visiting Ukranian and my US Teammate Hannah. But, I was pretty close in time, so with two more races, I thought maybe I'd have a shot at making back the time!

The second race of the day showed me how not in shape I am. Not only did I struggle to go fast, but my physical fatigue bled into my ability to navigate smoothly, and I made many more little mistakes and hesitations, which add up dangerously fast. This time, many more of the men beat me (I'm racing the M-40 and M-20 classes, so not the elite men), and I was again 30 seconds behind Hannah. Luckily, Polina, the Ukranian, made some bigger mistakes, so I beat her soundly. 

Classic Distance
So after two races, I was sitting solidly in second place, 58 seconds behind Hannah. I typically perform better than her in the longer races, but she's in good shape right now, and has many more races under her belt already this winter. Nothing was guaranteed. I got ready to run aggressively, happy to discover that my legs felt pretty fresh this morning. Let's get after it!

Click the map to zoom in and see my route

I unfortunately took the attitude of getting after it a bit too much to heart, and ran out of my comfort zone and into my mistake zone. No increase in speed will make up for mistakes, and I made some 7 minutes of mistakes. Not my finest showing. I was essentially even with Hannah at control 11, but then dribbled away time on some poor exit directions and other execution errors in the next few controls, finishing about a minute behind, instead of a minute ahead. I'm disappointed, because obviously I hate losing, but it's great to search for your limits, find them and surpass them, even if it means you sometimes come crashing down. I'd rather try and fail than play it safe. Polina beat us both again, but luckily not by enough to edge me out of second place, so I hung on to that silver medal.


Next weekend is the West Point National Meet, so hopefully I can redeem myself, and refine my ability to find that racing edge without blasting past it!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Stromstadmedeln and Kvillebyns klassiska

In an act of extravagant first-world privilege, I went to Sweden last weekend. Tickets were cheap, but that doesn't offset an airplane injecting carbon dioxide exactly where it is least needed. Blinders on, pass the buck to the next generation and the populations least able to deal with the effects of climate change. 

Um, I meant to talk about racing, not first-world privilege and the associated guilt. 

The US will pick our World Orienteering Championships (WOC) team in June for this summer's competition in Sweden, but I decided to take the gamble that I will probably get selected, and get started on my terrain-specific preparation. While orienteering maps all follow the International Specifications for Orienteering Mapping (ISOM) standards, the terrain being depicted by these standard symbols looks and feels different depending on where you are in the world. When a map or terrain feels familiar, like the maps around Boston, it is very easy to find controls. Comfortable. I subconsciously adjust my routes and my path through the forest based on past experiences and intuition.

But when I go somewhere else to orienteer, there is an adjustment period, at the physical, mental, and emotional level. Traveling to a country ahead of time, especially if it is adjacent to the competition arenas, is incredibly valuable. Emotionally, I have the time to figure out how the heck I am supposed to get from point A to point B, and I mean in a car, people. The stress of traveling in a new country is legit, and will actually take away from the energy you need to race. I now have a very good idea of where the speed cameras are between Gothenburg and Stromstad... I also have an understanding of what sort of food I can get in the grocery stores. Details matter. Did you know Sweden claims the highest volume of candy consumed in all of Europe? 

The IOF has embargoed the actual forests we'll be using for the races, but, there are maps adjacent to these areas, and all over, really, since this is Sweden. The border guards not only know WHAT orienteering is, but likely volunteered at the race you just left. The big teams spend weeks in training camps for the year prior to WOC, and most people from the smaller teams who are good at the sport have found some excuse to move to the right country to prepare. Part of me gets all upset that I'm trying (and failing) to compete against professional athletes, or athletes taking 8 years to finish an undergrad degree, and part of me thanks my lucky stars I can balance a meaningful career while pursuing my athletic dreams on the side.

So anyway, I wanted to go to Sweden to prepare for WOC. Time for a double whammy and get in some race starts against a deeper field than I usually see at home. We've got some really talented runners in the US, but we're so spread out that we never run against each other. Racing in Sweden, every weakness is exposed. I sort of crashed the OK Linné training camp, courtesy of Ross and Sam, and shared a cabin with US teammates Brendan and Cristina. It was great to see all my favorite expats, play some 7 Wonders, and have a place to actually cook dinner.

I enjoyed the morning commute to a different city than my usual beat. I landed at Gatwick at 8am on Friday, spent the day visiting family, and then back to the airport in the evening to complete the journey. 

I didn't have any big results goals for these races. You have to know your limitations before you can rise above them, and operating on five hours of sleep the day after a redeye transatlantic flight in terrain you've never seen before is a pretty hefty set of limitations. Luckily, Ross and Brendan and I (and one of the OK Linné girls, Cat) did a short morning exercise on the Tveteskogen map, and that helped me get my head into orienteering-mode, and my legs into running-over-mossy-ground mode. My plan for the race was to take it steady, one control at a time and practice some of the habits I've been working on over the winter. Ignore the physical side of things, because if I think too much about how tired I am, that's just unproductive.

Click the map to see full-size map and route.

I started out pretty rough. A miss in the circle at the first control, and then I totally mis-read the contours on the way to 2, expecting the cliff to be on the near side of a hill that was still going up, as opposed to the far side of that hill, descending to a valley. That was a costly one, and between those two first controls I'd already given myself a 4-minute penalty. D'oh! I took about 5 seconds at control #2 to regroup, refocusing on the process goals. Things improved mightily from there, and I steadily moved through the course, sucking wind like a champ on the climbs trying to ignore my leaden legs, and keeping my head up to spot the important features as I gallumphed back down. The course was very physical, not much flat, and much of the climbing was up or down very steep hillsides with a smattering of cliffs. 

I made a few more headless-chicken type mistakes, but felt like by the end of the race I was understanding what techniques were working well for me and which ones weren't. It was definitely a learning experience, and I was psyched to finish 12th, even with close to 6 minutes of errors. 

We headed out to another map on our way back to the cabins, to absorb more of the forest, and though I didn't have much energy left in my legs, the navigation came much more smoothly. The terrain here is so interesting and varied, it is a landscape I could really come to appreciate. 

Kvillebyns Klassiska
The next day was a long distance race, 9.6km straight-line. I expected that we would have a chance to practice execution on some of the route choice legs, and I was right. The major factor causing the choice were the long parallel lines of cliffs, thanks to the glaciation of the area. There were some gaps mapped between the cliffs, but it was hard sometimes to differentiate between a cliff and a not-cliff, because it was all steep, and often bare rock. Or moss-covered rock, and sometimes the moss would help with traction, and sometimes it would tear off and take you with it. It has also been a wet enough spring that the marshes were very slow, since each step would sink you in to some unknown depth; could be just the top of your shoe, could be your entire leg, and no good way to tell which it would be. The swamp monsters were hungry, on Sunday.

Click the map to see full-size map and route.

Luckily, I expected all the natural hazards. The point of me being here was to learn the fastest way to deal with them! It seems that course setters in Europe are much more willing to thrash the elite classes than course setters in the US. Maybe American course setters are [justifiably] afraid of getting sued. 

This one started a little rough, too. I was nearly late to my start, some combination of not having my shit together and not knowing where to go. Then I took two maps by mistake, and wasn't sure if I could just drop one, so ran back and dumped it back in the bin. Totally pro. The start triangle was at the top of a hill, and I could feel the four hours of training from yesterday, the short nights of sleep and redeye flight treatment, flooding my legs early. First control was a long leg, and it looked intimidating. Somewhere along the way, I found a surprise bog, and spent about a minute attempting to extract myself from there. The swamp monster had my foot and wouldn't let go! Eventually I got myself to the far side of the map and the first control, just to miss 20 seconds in the circle. As I said, not a great start. 

Improvement from there, as one might hope. The run felt pretty steady to me, but not fast. It was a combination of physical fatigue and navigational hesitation that kept me from really striding out, even on the [non-cliff] downhills, which is usually my forté. We had one very sketchy cliff-climb, on the way to #6, where I had to employ the map-in-mouth method of orienteering, to use both hands to rock climb. Just don't look down. But I was really enjoying myself running across the open hilltops, just cruising and loving this sport. 

Then came the cliffs on the way to #7. I am fairly positive I was at what was mapped as an opening between cliffs, but, it looked pretty cliffy to me. Things always look worse coming down than going up. I could hear the waterfall on one side, and I could see the treetops at my current elevation, which meant I only had to fall the length of one tree if things went badly. Hmm. One tree is actually kind of far from the ground. I was standing on top of a pile of very large, moss-covered boulders, with an uncrossable cliff above me and these boulders below me, and I knew that the boulders were big enough that once I dropped down to the top of the next boulder, there would be no returning. I couldn't tell from up here if I would be stuck on top of another cliff, or if there would be more boulders for me to use to "safely" descend. I'm not scared of heights, but I am a fully-functioning adult who is aware that actions have consequences, and I didn't really want to have the consequence of a broken leg on an inaccessible ledge with very little chance of being found. 

That was a somewhat dramatic build-up to say that I think my route choice cost me 2-3 minutes, and I got to the bottom just fine.

With a little more trail running for controls 8-13, I picked up the pace a bit, but it was too little too late, and I was also starting to make some fatigue-related mistakes. I finished the race feeling pretty whipped, but not totally dead, which maybe speaks to my general resilience. That is some tough terrain out there, and I definitely learned a lot by putting on a bib and trying to execute routes at speed. 

This is an extract from the Tvesteskogen map, where we trained before the Stromstadmedeln. Beautiful open hills, great visibility. Click for the full map.

Extract from the final training I did, on part of the World Cup middle distance race from last June. This was super fun. I'd just had a good cup of strong Swedish coffee, had a few hours after the race, and it was nice to have something in the forest at the controls, since they'd left up the wooden stands from the World Cup. I also found plenty of elephant trails from the runners then, which aids in both runnability and confidence, and boosted my enjoyment of the session immensely. 

The compound for this weekend, and August too if I make the team, is made up of adorable little cabins at the end of a fjord. Apparently that iconic red is the color it is thanks to the copper mines in northern Sweden. It's patriotic to use the paint from there, so you see lots and lots of rusty red houses, giving a splash of color to the otherwise bleak landscape. Maybe there will be more colors in the summer, but early April was cold and unforgiving with a constant mist.

This area of Sweden is beautiful. Rugged, misty, remote, and when you run through the forest it feels like the stuff of fairytales, and not necessarily the good ones. More like the Brothers Grimm version. Trolls waiting behind every rock and witches hiding in the thicker forests.

This sign either accurately depicts what happens if the ferry isn't there, or how I felt after all that running in my jet-lagged state. They needed a sign like this at several places in the long distance race!

All told, this was a great little trip. I learned a lot, trained a lot, and got to see some great friends. Now we'll see if I can practice what I think I need in my familiar forests, and carry this positive training momentum up through the team trials!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Eastern Highschool Championships

Each season usually wraps up with a championship race for the juniors, whether it is Junior Nationals, U16 Championships, or Eastern Highschool Champs. The U16 and EHS champs are where the states are pitted against each other, and CSU makes up a large portion of the Massachusetts Team. I love coaching these events, because it is always fun to watch my skiers really throw down when it matters.

Last year I coached the U16 trip, and this year it was EHS. We were up at Rikert Nordic, which harvested snow masterfully through this bleak season, and despite the weather stay above freezing for the entire week before, we managed to have our four races. If it hadn't dropped below freezing on Friday night I think we might have been SOL, but they worked some serious magic defying mother nature last weekend.

Conditions were seriously treacherous each day, for varying reasons. There were the deep ruts in the slush, grabbing your skis and sending you sideways into the woods. There was the icy mass start on a downhill into a 180-degree corner with 110 skiers. There was glare ice on the uphills, glare ice on the downhill corners, and glare ice in the tag zone of the relay. We had one broken thumb, two broken skis, a slew of broken poles, a sprained wrist and a lot of bruises from some pile-ups in the mass start. We had skiers fall off the trail into the mud, bounce back up and keep skiing without skipping a beat. We had crashes in the tag zone. It was a weekend about rising above the challenges and reaching past your limits, and I saw some seriously impressive performances. Of course not all my skiers were happy with their races, but you could tell who had kept training through the last month of crappy training conditions, and who had given up. The Mass team showed their mettle, and I was impressed.

Matt and Oliver slogging through the ankle-deep slush and mud.

My job as head coach this weekend was really easy. We had a large coaching staff, and the parent wax team for in the trenches. I mostly stood around and leaned on my poles. Got a chance to watch all the races, talk to each kid before and after the races, and even go on a couple course tours! What a treat. It's easy to run a large team like this when they're so good at what they do.

The view from the "team" side of the team photo.

That definitely marks the end of a painful ski season. We were struggling pretty hard to keep doing this sport all winter, and it is actually a huge weight off my shoulders now that I no longer have to worry about what we'll be doing for practice. Ironically, it snowed 4" on Sunday night in Boston...

Here's to the spring racing season!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

North American Ski Orienteering Championships

This blog has been pretty quiet lately, as all the ski races kept getting canceled due to lack of snow. We had a long break between the final Eastern Cup and any other important races; I'd signed up for Rangeley Loppet, but even Rangeley lost too much snow to hold the race. Jess and I headed up for some skiing anyway, and it was 90% superb, 8% pretty bad, and 2% rocks. So I guess it's good they canceled the race, but that's always a bummer.

So after many weeks of not-racing, it was time to head north to Aroostook county for the ski orienteering champs. Not only had I not done any ski-o yet this year (see the above paragraph about lack of snow), I was feeling slow and out of shape. It'll come back to me, right?

Ed was one of the three organizers, technical director, so he'd been up there most of the week before, setting everything up and skiing a lot. He and Greg and Ken did a spectacular job, cutting new narrow trails, setting great courses, and getting us going with touch-free punching, which is a big improvement over having to stop and punch each control. So I knew that regardless of how I skied, the event was going to be awesome. We managed to get about 40 people up to the event, which, for a niche sport of two niche sports, in a remote location, is pretty darn good.

Sprint race
Friday's race was an afternoon sprint. It was warm, and even Presque Isle had gotten rain on the Wednesday of that week, so the stadium was largely a puddle. Luckily, the snow had been transformed enough that it was still fast, despite being slushy. I broke out a pair of skis from 1998 that are just totally designed for slush, and that was a good call. We had one-minute start intervals, and somehow I managed to leave myself barely enough time to get into all the necessary paraphernalia before starting. I managed not to get too flustered, but this being my first ski-o of the year and all, I never felt like I could really push the pace. Decisions were just coming up way too fast! Luckily I managed to avoid overskiing any junctions, and I made the right decisions, and I even managed to be fast enough to win the race, barely a minute ahead of my US Junior Teammate Melanie Serguiev (who, I should mention, just got back from a week of racing at the Junior Ski-O World Champs in Austria!). I was pumped - it's always good to start a race weekend with a clean race and a top step of the podium!

Long distance race
It froze up hard overnight, thankfully, and conditions were a mix of frozen granular on the big trails and ice on the narrow trails. This was good, because I never felt like I could really push the pace, stuck moving at marathon pace, so at least the fast conditions kept me moving well. Below is the first map - we had two map exchanges, for three total maps, and this spread the competitors nicely. The organizers made this individual start again, so I had no idea of how I was doing, and I think I got a little too comfortable out there. US Teammate Anna Voegele (from Tahoe, a land of snow) was winning the race at control #9, and more worryingly, took the lead back again at control #19. Luckily, I managed to pick up the pace for the final loop, and ended up in the lead, by a scant 5 minutes over a 70-minute race. That's tight, for ski orienteering!

There was some really nice route choice on this map, and the fast snow made things really fun. I took a couple short cuts that might have been ill-advised had I actually gone over the edge of the trail (it was damn close), but the crust was really good skiing today, thanks to the freeze-thaw cycles of the last few days. I had a ton of fun skiing that race.

Skiing through the woods on the crust in the long distance race

Ed was so psyched with the timing hut! He could unload all his technology into an indoor space, with a 360 degree view.

Start gate

Middle distance mass start
The final race of the weekend was the middle distance race, run as a mass start. We had one map exchange, and the courses were "forked", meaning that although everybody goes to the same controls, they might not do it in the exact same order, to discourage following. My goal for the day was to really race, push the pace and end up tired. Naturally, this led to more mistakes than the previous two days, where I had navigated cleanly. I was flustered off the start, skiing by the wrong first control before getting it figured out, and then on the descent to the east side of the map I couldn't figure out how to get out of the stadium, losing even more time. Argh! 

Thankfully I got it sorted out after that, and started racing more aggressively. Maybe too aggressively - I was taking a narrow trail through the woods, and there was a small wooden bridge (for the mountain bike trail that this narrow-groomed trail was following), over a deep little gully. The bridge had lost most of its snow, but I tried to jump the part without the snow, and while I mostly made it, I miscalculated my momentum, and one ski hooked on the opposite bank while my body slammed into the icy snow above it, left hand first. 

That hurt. I couldn't move my left hand, and pain was stabbing through my fingers and wrist. I wriggled up onto the bank, and managed to get back onto my feet, wondering if I'd broken my hand. After what felt like 3 minutes, I discovered I could wiggle my fingers, so I sort of poled along the trail with my right hand until I could punch the control and decide what to do. By now, adrenaline had kicked in, and I could move my hand, so I tested poling on it, and while it didn't feel awesome, it was doable, and adrenaline took care of the rest. Let's race.

Now I had some time to make up, so I hammered up the hill with a lot of gusto. I caught back up to Anna, who had passed me during my little hand episode, and then had a series of really clean legs, coming into the map exchange with a clear lead. I cruised through the final map with no mistakes, but I had probably 5 minutes of mistakes on the first map, which is frustrating. It was still good enough to take the win again, making three for three! I call that a successful weekend. And the hand appears to only be sprained, recovering quickly in the next few days.

Elite class results

Skiing by a control in the middle distance. 

This shot is from Jess, when we went skiing at Rangeley the week before ski-o champs. The lakes were nicely frozen! 

And, we had time to do a little hiking - almost looked like winter up there! Not often that you can climb a 4000 footer in sneakers in early March, though. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Eastern Cup racing

The last two Eastern Cups were back-to-back, both a hefty drive from Boston, AND both Supertour races, which means bigger names and more stress for the organizers. First up was Lake Placid - I looove racing the ladies' 5k course, but they didn't have enough natural snow, so the races were at the jumps complex. I'd signed up for both the skate sprint and the 10k classic, for no reason other than that I just wanted to race. My ski fitness (well, my everything fitness) is pretty poor right now, and given how few ski intervals I've done, I didn't expect that either race would be particularly good, by the standards I use to measure that. That said, I was sort of hoping I'd be able to qualify for the heats in the sprint - top 30. I'm pretty good at skate sprints, so that wasn't a totally unreasonable goal, and had the course been more of a skiers' course with transitions and finesse required, maybe it would have happened.

Lake Placid Eastern Cup
With my new status as an M1, I had no points to carry into the race, so I started about 5th from last again. This meant a much more chopped-up course, and many slower skiers to pass. The sprint course at the jumps is pretty brutal - up a big hill, three seconds of flat, then up more of a hill, and then you come back down. I didn't do enough warmup, partly my fault and partly because of some issues in the start pen, when two of my girls' skis went missing, and I was the only coach around to solve things. I'm sure it was an honest mistake, because there are a ton of people racing on carbonlites, but looking for your skis when you should be preparing for a race is not a good thing. We came up with a backup plan but thankfully we found both pair of [really expensive!] skis next to the timing hut. Apparently the would-be-klepto realized that he had the wrong skis, and just left them by the building. Crisis averted, but warmup also averted.

So anyway, I'm on the start line, and I KNOW how much this big hill is going to hurt, because my body is just not where it should be. Time to get my suffer on! I tried to stay light up the first big hill, throw myself into a V2 before hitting the little wall, and then accelerate as I crested the final hill, but boy oh boy was I ever wheezing by the high point of that course. Kathy and Maddy were not racing, and they were cheering their brains out at the top, pretty sure they gave me 1-2 free seconds of oomph, but I could barely stand on my feet coming down the hill. Seconds count, and I was searching for every one, but by the end of the lap I'd passed four skiers, each one taking precious time and energy to get past. As the results came out, it turned out I'd just failed to make the heats - 33rd place, and 0.23 seconds too slow. In some ways, that was quite a relief.

Sunday rolled around, and after a morning of testing and waxing and watching most of the women's field start, it was my turn. Unfortunately, I went a little too light on my klister, and thus not much kick. I could force it on gradual climbs, but there weren't really any of those, just four laps up a big ol' hill and then back down. My arms were tired, my legs were tired, my back was tired, my head was tired. I shouldn't have started the race, but I did, and I just sort of waddled around wheezing heavily until the race was over. The high point of my day might have been the high point of the course on the fourth lap.

UVM Eastern Cup
It's a long way back from Lake Placid, and with back-to-back weekends that's not much time for us to unload, unwind, and then pack up and do it all over again. I couldn't muster the oomph to do the Tuesday night race, which is saying something, and it felt like the Friday evening departure (in a snowstorm!) was here all too soon. I only signed up for the skate race, since tension is always kind of high at the last Eastern Cup of the season, and I wanted to be more available to the anxious kids and parents, waxing and coaching. 

Because of the warm rain on Wednesday, we couldn't race at Trapps. I'd been excited about racing there, but hey, New England winter does its own thing. Thankfully, Craftsbury's manmade loop was holding up, and they did a fantastic job pulling off a supertour on extremely short notice. I do love racing at Craftsbury. 

The skate race was twice around a 2.5k loop, with lots of short hills and transitions. Super fun skiing, and it skied a lot like a sprint course. Unfortunately, it was a 5k sprint course, and I didn't magically find race fitness in the last week. I started out well, catching up to a Craftsbury junior whose name was also Alex, so I felt like everyone on course was cheering for me! The second lap, they stopped cheering, which was a bit unfortunate. My energy ran out on the far side of the course of lap 2, and I still had the final climbs to negotiate. I had to consciously slow down, legs totally flooding with lactic acid and unable to get in enough oxygen. It was maybe a 15-second period of going 80% instead of 100%, but it was enough to maintain my form to the finish. Hard racing, because without long uphills, there are no long downhills on which to recover. My result was as mediocre as the race, 165 points and 95th place, out of about 220 racers, but at least I hadn't had to start all the way in the back. It's good to know people in high places. 

Sunday was a long day - covered klister, with 49 skiers to wax for - left me feeling pretty whipped. But, we had good skis, and the kids skied pretty well. We've got a few weeks now before the championship races at JNs, EHS, and U16s, it'll be nice to have an actual training block. 

Rob, showing exactly how we feel at the end of the day after doing all those skis.

Driving home, it was still daylight as I hit the Notch. The sun had about an hour left in the sky, and the mountains just looked too beautiful, so I decided I'd probably be a happier person if I stopped driving and went for a short run. There was just a dusting of snow, and the color of the setting sun on fresh snow is one of the most beautiful things I can think of. My legs started like lead and slowly worked the kinks out as I kept trotting along, just loving that I can do silly things like go for a run in the mountains whenever I feel like it. Much better way to cap the weekend than standing in a puddle, waxing skis, with everything you own covered in klister.

Orocs were just the ticket. Reliable grip and a low profile. Thanks Inov-8!