Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Craftsbury EC

Last weekend was the first Eastern Cup of the season, up in Craftsbury.  They had enough snow to hold the classic race (10k mass start) on the real race trails, moving away from the silly little manmade loop that we all end up racing around most of the time.  I nearly signed up, but decided that we had enough skiers showing up that my time would be better spent waxing, and anyway, elbow isn't really 100% ready for prime time on classic skis yet.  So, I signed up for the skate sprint, expecting that I just laid down $35 for 1.3km of racing - with all the college kids in town, and everybody all trained and fit and strong, I did not expect to be a contender.  But, skate sprints are fun, and a new pair of skis just showed up in the mail, so I needed to see how they ran!

An early morning jogeroo shook the cobwebs out of my legs - I spent too long sitting down on Friday, and then frantically packing for a two week vacation.  Woo!  It's exciting to take this time off, but a little sad how much I'm looking forward to getting some work done. Wait, I think I'm doing vacation wrong... anyway, I'd felt pretty stiff and groggy, but the jog woke me up and got the blood flowing, and I was in full-on Alex-on-a-race-day-morning mode by the time I hit the dining hall for their scrumptious bacon!  We got out testing skis, and the course was fast and hard, not at all feeling as slushy as I'd expected given the temperature.  Colder grinds and colder waxes were running fast, and our skiers were on some speedy boards by the time I rolled up to the start line.

Speaking of start line... the women's race start was delayed.  First by 10 minutes, then another 10 minutes. I'm apparently quite terrible at math, because somewhere in this mix I thought I had an extra 12 minutes before I started, when actually I had less than 1.  I heard them calling my number, and thankfully my skis were near the start, so I skied over, stripping off clothes and poles, jumping a barrier, and getting both poles on (but only one glove) with about four seconds to spare.  Whoops.  Oh well, I could use a shot of adrenaline!  The nerves combined with criminally fast skis meant I felt jittery the whole way round the course, never settling into a rhythm and never feeling like I was riding my skis.

Always treat a sprint like you've moved on, so I took care of myself and got some lunch down, before heading back into the rain for the heats.  CSU had sent 12 (including some alumns) into the heats, and I was pumped to watch all the blue suits zipping around the course!  I'd qualified in 23rd, nearly 16 seconds back (wowzers, that probably shouldn't have made the heats!), so I knew I wouldn't have the speed to just run away from my heat.  My plan became to tuck in and freeskate as much as possible, let my fast skis carry me past people on the downhills and then try not to die on the uphill into the finish.  My goal was to move up a few spots by finishing 3rd or 4th in my heat, but if I didn't move on I was quite ok with that. Ski racing is hard, and my legs didn't feel like they had three more races in them today.  That may sound pessimistic, but I was having a bit of trouble motivating the give-a-damn.

The heat played out according to plan, thankfully two girls tangled and went down on the first downhill, leaving me clear to just hang on to the front pack of Corey, Emily, and Hannah.  It was work to ski that fast, but not impossible, and I moved up into third climbing the wall in the stadium.  One last rest down the hill into the horseshoe, and then it was an uphill finish, and I ran out of gas, sort of as predicted.  Turns out, skiing takes strength and coordination, and I didn't have much of either going for me.  My oomph ran out, and Hannah snuck ahead of me into the finish lanes behind Corey and Emily, and I didn't have the fight to go around, so finished 4th in the heat.  This moved me up nicely from 23rd to 19th, so I was satisfied with the day.

I was super pumped watching some of my juniors racing.  Two of my girls are total pros, and they moved smoothly through the heats and into the A final, finishing 4th and 5th overall.  Another of my gals skied a gutsy race to move from 26th to 15th, and one of my juniors in the junior heats had a break-out race, moving into the A final and taking 4th! We had three J2s in the heats, one boy and two girls, and they all skied with heart and really learned from the experience, which was pretty sweet to see.  Despite the rain, we were all pumped to give it another shot tomorrow in the classic race.

Unfortunately, the temperatures dropped and everything froze overnight, while it kept raining.  They managed to groom the course, but the trees were so coated with ice that the branches kept falling, making a noise like gunshots.  They rightly canceled the race, because it was too darn dangerous to be skiing out there, and that was the right call, but a little depressing for the skiers who wanted to make up for the sprint day with a good grind-it-out distance race.

To leave, I had to use a metal putty knife to chip the ice from my windshield, but eventually I got out of there, and kept driving until I got to Rochester, for the holidays at home.  Next up, Mont Sainte Anne!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Racing! (on skis and foot)

Ski season is just about starting, with the first race this weekend up in Craftsbury, VT. I elected not to sign up for the classic race, given that my elbow is still not perfect and I don't want to mess up all the good physical therapy I've been doing for it, but I am signed up for the skate race. Skate poles are longer, and that seems to be less aggravating for the triceps tendon insertion. I can't wait to race! I don't feel ready, but this week I've been shoveling enough snow to actually get strong, or at least, sore, so we'll see if snow shoveling is at all ski specific. Hmm.

I did get in one opener race; while up in Craftsbury for Thanksgiving (wheee! skiing!!). That place is becoming like the home-away-from-home for us Boston skiers. I certainly can't complain about their delicious maple bacon and everything local, organic, and delicious in the dining hall. Oh wait, I'm there for the skiing? Anyway, the race was billed as a 10k, but was more like a 7.5k, 5 times around a 1.5k loop. It had been cold, but warmed up the night before the race, leading to some quality manmade sugar-slush on the hills. Not my favorite conditions, but it was fun to rev the engine a bit and see what would happen. What happened was a lot of wheezing and some burning legs, as well as a fourth place finish among the college skiers who were up there. If you plan to race yourself into shape, you gotta start somewhere, and admit that you're not starting at peak performance. Turns out, ski racing is mighty tough, and I could have used a bit more oomph, but I was totally ok with the result.

Morning view on a race day! Coffee mug on one side, wax iron on the other, and your wax table is all set.

In non-racing news, Ed's mom sent us a gingerbread house kit. Zan came over and helped us decorate, we were quite a team of sprinkle applicators. Unfortunately, Ed and I differ in our philosophies regarding gingerbread houses. To Ed, a gingerbread house is something that is supposed to sit there and decorate your counter during the holidays. Then, at the end of all the festivities, it is hard as a rock and not tasty, so it gets thrown away. To me, we're looking at a house-shaped cookie, and I want to eat the darn thing. I've limited myself to only eating one side of the roof, but Ed seems to have noticed, and is making comments like "there was more roof damage in a storm near the gingerbread house yesterday". I think he's on to me...  

Last weekend, I stayed home rather than search out the skiing somewhere.  Weston has been blowing snow, so we had an on-snow practice with the Bill Koch league, and there was even some natural snow, but not quite enough for skating.  From BKL practice, I joined up with Terry and Pat, two of the CSU runners, and we drove up to Melrose, for the Assault on Mt. Hood.  It turns out that Mt. Hood is actually a golf course; I had expected a bit more.  But, it was a hilly race, with a fun low-key atmosphere, and snow on the ground. Not quite a trail race, but pretty fun for xc.  3.5mi, ish. 

I wasn't really sure what to wear, but settled on a windblock polypro and another one on top, with two layers on my legs.  It was chilly, 13 degrees!  And then there was the guy in a speedo.  Seriously?

Exhibit A. Speedo on the right.

The race started out with the part that went up Mt. Hood, so I took it out slow, and then there was a really steep descent (wheeeee!), and an even steep ascent back up to Mt. Hood, which I discovered was faster to power-hike than to run.  I was already benefiting from my slower-than-usual start, reeling in the runners and starting to find my stride.  Pretty happy with my choice a shoe, the TrailRoc236, which have aggressive outsoles but a nice wide platform, lending some stability on the slippery snow.  At about two miles in, I could see mr. speedo ahead of me, and I determined that I would pass him.  This helped the motivation, and once I caught him, I had half a mile left in the race and I had to hold him off!  Success in that regard, but I ended up just off the podium, in 4th, for my age group (and 5th overall).  That meant that I didn't get a giant nutcracker award - bummer!  Next year...


The CSU masters team took the win, and took home some nutcrackers for their effort. Go CSU!

Also, this is pretty cool. Yay thesis, woo!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Blue Hills Traverse

I've taken a few years off from the Blue Hills Traverse, even though it's a good race that's held every year and it's relatively local.  The last one I did, in 2010, was just a really bad day for me, and left a bad taste in my mouth.  So I figured it was time to do this race again!

It was chilly this year, about 24F with tons of wind, I was hearing windchill of zero degrees. Brrr.  Once in the woods I was generally ok, though there was one hillside where the wind was cutting right through the trees and I couldn't get down into a valley soon enough.  The Traverse is a mass start race, and you're allowed to follow, so it's always fun to see what group you end up running with.  This year, the fast boys took off quickly, and I found myself slogging cross country and feeling kind of cold and slow.  It didn't help that the day before had been a monster day of orienteering, setting up and taking down a meet up in Lynn Woods, but there was just no pop in my legs.

I could see a group of guys ahead of me for the first few controls, and I knew with this much fatigue in my legs I'd have to be flawless in my navigation.  Shortly after that realization, I thought I was overrunning control 3, so turned around, making some spectacular parallel errors and losing five minutes and my pack of guys.  Damn.

On to the second map, and I re-found most of the guys I'd been running with, Ben and Ari and Will and Jon, as they wandered around searching for a boulder on a hillside littered with unmapped boulders.  We got lucky and found the control, and I got mad, because I didn't think that was a particularly fair control location, so I started running faster down the hill. I couldn't quite drop the guys, but I did make contact with Tim and Juha, and I had some moments of good orienteering.

That didn't last, as I chose the wrong route to 11, losing about a minute on the route and another minute because of vaguely mapped terrain, but this got everybody, and I was near the front of the pack.  Whee!  Jon latched onto me at that point, because he'd apparently dropped his map somewhere, so was just following people in to the finish.  Not a bad solution, actually.  I pulled ahead with Ari and Jon into control 15, feeling pretty good about the race so far, and then we proceeded to be unable to find control 16.  It was a rootstock, with no solid attackpoints on a flat plain, and it turns out it was also mishung, by 50m.  So, as we wandered around, Will and Ben and Tim and Juha all caught up and passed me by, and that really broke my give-a-damn.  So when the boys still with me on the trail ran faster, I just didn't speed up, and eventually stumbled into the finish very happy to be done, and very frustrated with the parts that hadn't gone so well.  Luckily, I had my big megapoof to put on, and I won a gingerbread man, so life quickly returned to its general state of awesomeness, but I'm STILL pissed about losing five places in the last 10min of the race!