Monday, January 27, 2014

Tuesday night throwdowns

Two weeks ago, we were racing in a full-on rainstorm for the Tuesday night race. It was warm, relatively speaking, but the rain soaked me through within minutes, and I quickly got chilled. As somebody who refuses to wax my skis for racing at Weston (ain't nobody got time for that!), I suffered a bit more than usual in the wet slush, but luckily had an old pair of slush skis that were running well, despite their lack of fluoros. I didn't really notice the rain during the race, and the baseball cap kept it mostly out of my face, but cooling down I started to get unpleasantly hypothermic, and had to call it a night.

So, let's just say that I was mildly excited to race last week on real snow! The temperatures had dropped again, so they were running all four guns, and there was a natural blizzard on top of that, and basically, you're looking at another soft slow race but without the rain, making things SO MUCH MORE enjoyable. The first hill was a true mess, they were blowing snow directly onto it, and there was all the new snow, and that hill was so deep that warming up, I didn't even know how I was supposed to get to the top. I decided that the fewest number of steps possible, screw good technique, was the answer to my problem, and that worked surprisingly well, even on a stiff pair of skis. At the very least, I was negotiating that hill (and the Mt. Weston bypass, which was also soft and loose) much better than the guys in my pack, but I am also lighter than them, which helps.

Because the snow coming out of the sky was messing with Boston's usually terrible traffic patterns, I got to Weston with about 6 minutes to spare before the race. Yay for racing without a warmup! I decided to start slow and ski into it, but we're talking a 14min race, so there isn't much time for skiing into anything. Luckily, I was able to move through my usual pack of guys easily enough, and the conditions were slow enough that pack skiing wasn't as helpful as it usually was, so I cruised along in no-man's land quite happily until I'd done my requisite number of laps. The natural blizzard edition of the Tuesday night races was by far my favorite so far! But I'm ready for some of the usual cold sugar-slush fests - that's what Tuesday night throwdowns are all about!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Rumford skate race

Last weekend was the second Eastern Cup of the year, in scenic Rumford, ME.  I have fond memories of racing there in college; it's a tough course that rewards good skiing and good fitness; you can't coast by on one or the other.  And usually, the wind is blowing the right direction, so you can't smell the papermills from the ski tracks.  Yay!

CSU showed up with our usual army of juniors, and I signed up for the mass start skate race.  I love mass starts!  Rumford had gotten hit with the same rain as everyone else, but managed to keep their snow, and it looked a lot like churned-up manmade snow, despite its natural origins.  The interesting thing was that despite the crystals acting totally transformed, skis and rills that are good on natural snow were running quite well, leading me to a stiff pair of fresh-snow skis.  I have to say, between the good Madshus skis and the CSU wax team's application, I probably had the fastest skis in the field.  Now that's how I like to ski race!

I managed to draw a 6th place seed, but looking at some of the hungry juniors in the race, I knew I'd be pleased if I could hang on to a top 10.  The fast snow would help me, but I'm still not 100% confident in my ski fitness, so the plan was to ski well over the crests of hills and stay relaxed on the long climbs.  The course unwinds in such a way that the last half is all climbing, so I didn't want to blow up too early.  Off we went, and I was happy to let some of the young guns take the lead, thrashing up the first hill with far more energy than I had at my calling.  It had been a long week, and testing wax and leading course tours and warming up perhaps a wee bit more than I'd meant to meant I didn't have the pop in my legs I'd hoped for.  Luckily, the first climb is followed by 2km of downhill, and I had no trouble making contact with the leaders after that.  As we started the gradual climb back to the stadium, punctuated with some transition-filled downhills and one long grind of a climb called highschool hill, I fell in with the chase pack, and let a small gap open ahead of me on highschool hill.  This was in keeping with my pre-race plan of not blowing up, but in retrospect, I should have pushed a bit harder there, to stay with Cate and the two MWSC skiers.  I skied the downhills well, but spent the rest of the race dangling behind that group, watching them play tactical games while I just suffered.

I knew I had some girls closing in on me, some of them from my own team, and I really didn't want them to catch me.  Luckily, as I approached Highschool hill the second time, I could see one of the MWSC girls had fallen off the pack, and looked like she was really suffering.  So I put my head down, remembered to use my arms and my core, and heaved my wheezing self to the top of the hill, narrowing the gap but not quite closing it.  There is some skiing left after Highschool hill, so I thought I could reel her in, but she had coaches yelling at her about how close I was getting, and I didn't make contact until it was too late, zipping under the bridge to the stadium.  Another 10m of course and I probably would have had her, but as it was she held me off by half a second, leaving me in 8th for the day, and only behind one of my skiers.  A solid race for me, but I definitely need to start doing some ski intervals if I want to feel proficient at this sport again.  Skiing is hard! And I can't always rely on having the fastest skis in the field.

I elected not to race the classic race on Sunday; in part because my elbow still hurts when I use classic poles, but also because the wax job was a bit tricky, and we needed all hands on deck to get 35 pair of skis out there in time. We had some great results (and only a couple bummer results), and hanging out with the CSU wax army is always a fun time. From there, one more day of skiing up at Jackson, where the snow was surprisingly good! I was pretty wiped, though, and nearly had to stop and take a nap halfway through my ski. Haven't been that tired in a long time. I guess ski racing is hard? And coaching is hard? Nah, gotta be something else.

The course was in great shape, despite all the rain and ice and lack of snow. Love that spectator bridge!

Only problem is that there's always a lot of schlepping to get to wax rooms.

A rack of test skis.

I got home to Boston as the sun was setting. It looked pretty, and made me like the city I live in. Yay!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Simulated blizzards

The first Tuesday night race was last night. Tuesday night world championships! Intelligent people were suggesting that it would be good to stay inside, because of the "arctic vortex" whipping around. It was indeed chilly, eight degrees or so with 30mph gusts. Because it's finally cold, Weston had all the guns going, full blast making some fake snow. Skiing through snow guns means your face gets blasted with little ice pellets, that freeze to the first thing they hit. The fresh snow out of the guns is wet and slow, deep and lumpy. Everywhere else, glare ice. 

I had second thoughts about coming to race. Even third thoughts. I got home, and knew if I went in the door I wouldn't come back out. Somehow I got in the car and drove to Weston. I certainly didn't have the right racing mindset; I knew I didn't want to be there and my body was tired and not looking forward to a hard effort. But habit is a hard thing to break, as is peer pressure - everyone else looked ready to race, therefore we race. Sixty three nutcases were out there battling the simulated blizzard, ice pellets whipping into bare skin and finding any gaps in the clothing layers. 

I couldn't find it in myself to shift gears into race pace.  I skied hard, but was unwilling to ski alone, chasing the leaders, so ended up in a pack of guys, playing the tactical game. I couldn't come around Victor at the finish, and ended up second in the pack, for 9th overall. It was fun, after the fact, to ski around in silly serpentines with sixty two other whackos! What a crazy sport...

Vacation, and the Bogburn

From Craftsbury, it was on to Rochester for some pagan rituals involving "loot" and "goo", those terms referring to what goes under versus on the tree. A few short days, and the adventure-mobile headed north and east, through the belly of a snowstorm that added 3 hours to the trip, landing me at Mt. Sainte Anne, Quebec. As expected, the skiing was fabulous. I basically skied until I couldn't anymore, and like every year, it is too easy to fall into the routine of eat, ski, eat, sleep, ski, eat, sleep... Kathy and I ran a tight ship, and our condo of "orphan" CSU kids was well-behaved and fun to have under our charges.

After skiing more than was good for me, the trip wasn't over. South I went, and came to a stop in Weston VT, for a proper new year's celebration, where it was cold enough that the beer was frozen. So more skiing ensues, because what else can you do when it's that cold out? I suppose some might consider indoor activities, but I've never been too bright.

Finally, my vacation came to an end, and I had to re-enter the world where days have meaning and time goes by too quickly. But not without a quick stop by Pomfret VT, for the Bogburn, a true classic of a race. Individual start, single track, one lap, windy awesome trails. The course had gotten the full brunt of the snowstorm two days earlier, making for some fabulous skiing. I had trouble going any faster than 30k pace, which was unfortunate for the results-oriented department of my brain, but I really enjoyed being able to pass all the people I passed, and ski racing because I love it.    

A snowy Christmas Eve walk through Rochester. Actually a cool city, now that we're out of the suburbs.

Doing some coaching on the Mt sainte Anne trails. 

Kathy and I got out for a ski one afternoon. So cold, but so fun. 

The annual camp pursuit race went off at five degrees (Fahrenheit!) and blustery. I had fun racing with my juniors, and managed to just sneak ahead of Kathy, but Rob beat me in the all-important coaches race. 

Sometimes they are little monsters, but most of the time our group was awesome. 

Pretty star at the New Years party!

Ed's beer was frozen. Thankfully no bottles exploded!

Sharon had an awesome penguin hat!

Two feet of snow at -15F. Wowzers!