Monday, March 26, 2012

World Cup finals: Boden, Sweden

Believe it or not, life has been kinda crazy for pretty much all of March. Weekends were packed, and so were weeks, and I was reaaaallly looking forward to spring break. Except, instead of a break, I went to Sweden, leaving on a redeye sunday night of EHS. Let's just say I slept really well on that flight.

After some good results in California at the first round of World Cups, I was excited to do it again. I guess I hadn't really considered how much of a drain all the coaching and not-training and driving stupid amounts every week would actually take on me. I came into this week under-trained and under-rested, racing on fumes and dreams. It meant that reality was a bit hard to stomach. Both Ali and I had equipment hardships, but that didn't change the fact that I did some poor navigating and some worse ski racing. I did have a good time while here, but I really would have liked to have had a good race. Oh well, take the downs with the ups.

Wednesday was the first race, a sprint distance. I felt like a total spazz. I made some errors early on, and never felt comfortable either on my skis or with the navigation. I don't really want to talk about that one too much.

The following day was a relay, and because you need three to score, and we only had two women and one man, Ali and I joined Greg in the men's relay so that we'd have a scoring team. This took the pressure off, since we knew that we'd probably be out of it; those World Cup men are fast! So this was a good day to practice being out in the terrain and using my map intelligently. Not that I necessarily did that, but still, practice is good.

Boden has tons of bridges and tunnels and stuff in their ski stadium (Pagla ski stadium), this is the lead men flying over the first bridge.

The Swedes won wire to wire, although my mad action-photo skillz certainly leave something to be desired in this shot...

Ali coming in to the map exchange in the relay.

The following day was a rest day, so we did a quick ski in the morning, and then went on the cultural tour offered by the organizers. It was a bus tour around Boden, which is a pretty small city, 27000 people all told. The guide was sort of reaching for things to talk about, although maybe Max Hamburgers really are so good that they're worthy of mention on a bus tour - we didn't try any. Probably should have! One thing we definitely should have done was checked out the awesome indoor-outdoor waterslide at Nordpoolen. Looks so cool!

Saturday was a middle distance race, and this went marginally better, from the navigation standpoint. Unfortunately, I did a rookie move, and changed my pole baskets the night before. Naturally, I lost a pole basket, and early on, on the way to #2. I turned around and picked it up, but then lost it again shortly thereafter. This made for slow skiing, because navigating those narrow trails with one pole is not easy. There was an equipment/coaching control at #8, so I basically limped along until there, losing a few minutes. MINUTES. ouch. I got to the equipment control, and I'd missed the cut-off to put out any of my equipment, so I was begging people for poles. The Norwegian coach had an extra, so I strapped it on and set off to finish the course as fast as possible! A few more little mistakes, but overall, things were good after re-acquiring a pole. Alas and alack, that could have been a good one.

The ultra-long was on Sunday. Ski-o marathon, wooo! Women were doing 24.7km straight-line, which turned out to be 33km shortest-skiable distance. This was where my lack of fitness really showed - my arms were dead meat by the third loop, and I just couldn't go that fast. It didn't help that I'd waxed according to the weather forecast, which didn't actually predict 5 inches of new snow. My skis were dogs. I don't do well with slow skis, because I don't have the fitness to put out extra effort, but that was a factor out of my control, so I tried not to obsess about it. Nothing you can do.

The first loop went really well for me, right up until I reached the stadium. There was a maze of narrow trails basically within sight of the finish, and I'd messed that up pretty badly in the sprint and middle, so was really trying to get it straight this time. But each time I got there, instead of being logical, I would ski around like a chicken with its head cut off, and check out every control until I could find mine. This is NOT an effective technique. So, I went from the front of my group to the back, as I lost 30 seconds in there bumbling around. I figured that was ok, I could make it up, and now I could see them going in to controls. But then I made another gaffe, and took my map #4 instead of my map #2. It took me way too long to figure this out, and 2:45 later, I was back in the stadium shoving my map into its #4 hole and pulling out the map #2. D'oh! Now I'd truly lost that group.

I set off on the second loop, telling myself it was a long race and I had time to make it up. By about 2/3 of the way through loop 2, I was seeing a Russian and a Norwegian ahead of me, so I knew things were looking up. We caught up to a Finn, who was going pretty slowly, and I was starting to think that I could do this - the pace wasn't bad, and I was in control and feeling good. Then we got back to the stadium, and I totally messed up that maze, again checking out every control before eventually finding mine. WTF, Alex, you have a map to show you where to go! Use it.

Now I'd lost that group, too, but coming in to the map exchange, I could see Ali. Cool! Going up that ski slope a third time was painful, though. I was really feeling my lack of training over the winter, and wishing my arms worked a little better on the narrow trails. Third lap went pretty well, but I was mostly alone for all of it, which is kind of boring in a long race. I again messed up the stadium, but not so badly this time, only 30 seconds. Still, pretty unacceptable - I've been there how many times now?!? I picked up the fourth and final map, and I knew I was tired. The slow skis didn't help, and my triceps were cramping; a problem when you have to climb on narrow trails, since that is mostly double poling. But leaving #3, who should I run into but the slow Finn! Wahoo! Back in the game! I was feeling victorious as I took a better route to #4, but then, leaving 4, I managed to get myself completely turned around. I stood there for nearly a minute trying to figure things out, and when I finally got moving again, slow Finn was long gone. The other mistakes were bad, but this one just crushed my soul. I spiked the rest of the controls, but still felt like poop coming in to the finish. There were so many good parts of that race, but then there were so many disasters.

The ski season is definitely over now. Although 40 hours of traveling, from the arctic circle all the way back to Boston, does allow you much time for work, I am really looking forward to a couple weekends with no travel, and a chance to just stay in one place and get stuff done!

The ski-o season, despite its ups and downs, went quite well this year. I'd never before competed in two rounds (out of four) of World Cups, and that showed in the points - I'm now ranked 35th in the world for WRE points, and 21st for World Cup points. I've always known it's crazy to try and compete against professional athletes when you're a working stiff, but I think I may give this lifestyle another few years... nothing like competition to whet the appetite for more!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Championships coaching

The last two weekends I've spent coaching the Massachusetts' state team at first the J2 championships, and then the Eastern Highschool Championships. Both weekends we had great weather, but unfortunately, when you're already on a low snowpack, good spectating weather isn't good for the skiing. Both weekends were super fun, but fairly exhausting, as coaching always is. MA rocked, led primarily by the CSU skiers, but also a strong contingent of good skiers from western MA, and I was really glad for a chance to get to know the western MA coaches. We all seemed to mesh pretty well as a team. Good stuff.

It was fun to end on the EHS weekend, because my girls absolutely rocked the house. They swept the podium in two of three races, and that third race they took 1st, 3rd, 4th, 8th, 9th, and 13th. In the overall standings, my CSU girls took 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 14th. Hot DAMN! For the boys, Eli won the overall, and one of the races, and Calvin had an 11th place in one race, which was pretty impressive. All the way down the list, I was impressed with how my skiers were racing - they almost all skied beyond their expectations. Seeing her skiers excel, that makes a coach feel good.

Misty morning in Sunderland.

My favorite troublemakers. Yes, I do want to wring their necks sometimes... but we usually work out our differences.

We had some great snow conditions at EHS. What is the best wax for fertilizer? In all seriousness though, Mountain Top did a great job with the snow they had - not easy to pull off in 70 degree weather!

Aww, I'm going to miss Corey when she graduates. Nothing like watching a skier grow up and mature, as well as kick some serious butt on the national scene.

Between the weekends there was a brief stint in Amherst, long enough for a delicious meeting with the renegade O' club, and now, after a warm, muddy weekend in Chittenden VT, I've made it to Sweden. This week is the last round of World Cup races for ski orienteering, and I'm here with Ali and Greg, to see what havoc we can wreak. I wish I were feeling a little more motivated for winter sports, but hopefully skiing on real snow, not on a 2km man-made loop, will remind me that I do actually like to ski. I feel woefully out of shape and unprepared, but who knows - maybe I'll surprise myself!

Ali attacks her food. With gusto.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Rangeley marathon

Thanks to the epic snowstorm of February 25th, the Rangeley marathon was a go, and I was set to battle my Rangeley-demons. For some reason, I always think this marathon will be flat and fast and easy, and it's never any of those things for me. It usually leaves me whimpering and cramping and sobbing and hating life, but this time, I was determined to put that past me. I was going to conquer those demons, and enjoy myself at this race!

Thanks to 12" of snow on Thursday night, lukewarm temperatures in the mid-twenties overnight, and Rangeley Lakes' obsession with grooming the course that morning, conditions were soft and slow, as expected. Knowing it would warm up to the upper thirties and probably start raining, I chose a pair of skis that runs well in soft wet snow, and was very glad of this decision about 20km into the race. I can't succeed in races anymore if I don't have the best skis out there...

I made it to the start line with just a minute or two to spare, but had no trouble slipping up near the front, next to some speedy-looking college gals. I sucked down a gel, put on my poles, and then off we went, about eighty people all told. By about 5km into the race, I found myself in a pack that included the top 5 women, with a couple master blasters for good measure. Sabra Davison, last year's winner, was out front, probably trying to ski away from us all like she did last year, but this time, Stephi Crocker and Isabel Caldwell could actually see her, and they weren't going to let her get away. I knew I wanted to ski with those Dartmouth ladies, as they are smooth skiers and set a nice pace, so we worked together for the first 15km or so, dropping stragglers behind us but keeping things relaxed. And fun! Fancy that.

As we came through the stadium, the snow had turned to sleet, and that was where I started to notice my old 1998 Fischers began to pick up speed. Wheee! These babies aren't ready for retirement just yet! I pulled for a couple klicks, but as we headed out on lap 2, I started to notice that my arms were getting tired. Uh oh. This is what happens when you don't do any real "skiing" all winter - all you do is putter around on man-made loops of snow on golf courses, and your arms forget what it's like to ski for longer than 90 minutes. Oops. Well, nothing to do now except shift more work to my legs, but in soft snow, that's not always a good strategy.

Stephi took the lead around 30km, and I noticed that the pace was starting to feel like work, now. Sabra got dropped on an uphill, and then caught back on with the help of one of the master blasters, and I knew for her it was just a matter of time until the yo-yo string snapped. So when I took my next pull, I went harder than I probably should have, starting to really push, now, hoping to drop her for good. Except my brain had clearly forgotten what my body had not - I haven't done a distance workout since December, and this was a lot of work to ski for this long without stopping to lean on my poles!

When I finally slipped back into the draft, I knew I was soon to be a goner. No cramping, but my limbs felt heavy, and skiing was now a lot of work. Oh, well. It happens. I held on to about 40km, and then Izzy and Stephi dropped me going up the wind-tunnel hill of death, and there was just nothing I could do to go faster. In marathons I guess I just have a speed I can go, and that day, that speed didn't want to last the full 50km. But I certainly couldn't just give up and die - Sabra had been dropped earlier, and I really didn't want her to catch back up, so I was skiing hard. The last 10km of Rangeley's course aren't easy kilometers - you hit the FIS-certified trails, with long winding uphills and plenty of wind thanks to the wide trails. I was alone now, and it was an excruciatingly painful final push, but I got to the line without seeing anyone else; a relief actually when you're in that situation. The Dartmouth girls had put three minutes on me, but I'd put another two on Sabra, and finally finished on the podium at the Rangeley marathon! Wahoo!

The part I was truly excited about, however, was that I actually had a positive attitude in this race. I'd say the demons were excised. For now.