Thursday, February 27, 2014

Tuesday night worlds

The last race that would count for the Tuesday night race series was this week, and I was sitting in third place after missing a whole bunch of races.  Not like there's anything on the line aside from my pride, but I wanted to win the thing, so even though I didn't have all cylinders firing I found myself on the start line, this time in a timely manner (two weeks ago I'd nearly missed the start, standing with my pants around my ankles as everyone skied off.  Fun to ski through nearly the entire field over 10k, and duke it out with two junior/BKL boys that I coach. For the record, I won the sprint).  As usual, it was cold and windy, but I had felt good warming up running, and with the cold sugar snow I was confident my skis would be fast enough to maybe ski with Rob.  I've beat him once, I could do it again...

Well, we started skiing, and I could pretty instantly tell that it wasn't going to be my night.  We had five laps to do, and by halfway through the first lap I was pooped.  I feel like if I'd had a good long grind to work my way up and find a rhythm I might have survived, but Weston doesn't have grinds, Weston has poppy accelerations and turns and short hills.  My lungs felt delicate after the Birkie abuse (and exposure to Jane's strep throat, Ari's cold, and Ali's throat infection... geez louise).  My legs had nothing to give; every corner I thought maybe I'd fall down just because my legs couldn't handle holding up my body anymore.

The guys I like to ski with went around, and more of them went around, and I just kept dropping back, and back, and back, until I was skiing with Marv and Mark and Robert, and they were moving steadily and I could draft them.  I kept looking behind me, worried about Viktoria, but she wasn't there tonight.  A bit of a recovery on the fourth lap, then I took a pull, then I drafted behind Marvin until the end and slingshotted around him for the sprint.  Sometimes I feel bad about using tactic like that, but not on nights like tonight.  I'm really impressed how well the other skiers did who had also skied the Birkie - I guess skiing 50k alone took more out of me than I thought, and I couldn't rally as well as them.  Bob and Terry didn't even look tired!  (Jamie didn't look to spritely).

Luckily, that cinches the overall win for me, and next week is the costume race and pizza party.  My costume is going to be pretty darn awesome, I can guarantee you that already.  Vladimir Putin comes to Fat Tuesday...

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Birkie

I had Birkie fever this year, not too bad, but this was the one race I was traveling for and hoping to actually perform well at this winter.  The elbow tendonitis, combined with orienteering team trials happening in four weeks, led to much more running than skiing this winter, and a serious lack of arm strength, but I figured running keeps me fit, and I've had some good 10k skate races this year anyway, so the Birkie should be a lot of fun and I'd approach it with a good attitude and enjoy the heck out of the day.  If you can't win it physically, win it on the mental side!

I flew into MSP in the midst of a blizzard, got to spend a night and a morning with Marjorie and family (yay for robot-shaped blocks to play with!), and then met up with Ari and Ali to complete the giggle-mobile and drive up north.  The roads were a sheet of ice, but we got there safely, if slowly, and even managed to sneak in a ski once we'd arrived, so I could test wax and skis and try to work out some of the travel kinks from my legs.  Woooo Birkie!

Saturday morning was cold, possibly below zero, maybe just hovering above, but with massive winds.  We were up at 5am to ingest some oatmeal and coffee (ooooh boy, after a "caffeine taper", that first cup tasted so good!), and then it was off to the races.  We had spent the night at a friend of Ari's cabin, with a long narrow driveway that was barely plowed, so our little rental car with Texas plates struggled to get back up the hill.  With four pushers we got it out, check out how dark the world still was at 5:45!

Unfortunately, we had a piece of bad luck today, when there was a massive traffic jam to get to Hayward. I guess they didn't fully plow out one of the parking areas, and this meant that they had to send folks to some other parking lot, and this was taking a ton of time, so all the buses that shuttle racers from Hayward up to the start in Cable were stuck in a big ol' traffic jam.  The bus ride is supposed to be about 25min, and we had planned in an extra hour of oh-shit time, but apparently that wasn't enough.  Our bus ride took just over 1.5 hours. This meant that Ali and I a) got to pee on the side of highway 63 in front of all the stopped cars (talk about performance under pressure!), and b) missed the start by about eight minutes. They weren't doing chip timing this year, so your time starts when the gun starts, putting us at a disadvantage. It was also mega super duper windy, so not having a pack to work with was an even bigger, unmeasureable disadvantage.

We eventually got to Telemark, and Ali and I jumped off the bus (after much begging, since the driver wasn't supposed to let anyone off until the designated drop off spot, and we weren't moving and were behind a whole lotta other buses), and we raced to the start in full race gear. Ali found the hole in the fence to get to the start before I did, and got 45 seconds or so on me by the time I was on snow. The first wave classic skiers were lined up, and I threaded my way through them and out onto an empty trail, with a disappearing Ali in the distance.  This is not your typical Birkie experience - if anything, most people are complaining about how many people are in the way!  I am sure there are at least 1,000 people out of that 11,000 person marathon who would gladly have taken an uber-windy empty trail over passing thousands of other skiers.  But, the fact remains that I was now facing essentially an individual-start 50k race, into a strong headwind, while everybody else (other than Ali, who was in the same boat) was drafting in a pack and working together.  As a point in case, my heart rate when I was skiing alone was in the low 180s, but when I could tuck in behind a group of passing guys for a bit, it would drop to the low 170s.  Those extra ten beats can mean a lot more energy saved, and a lot more speed gained when everyone in the pack is resting and alternating leads.

I could see Ali ahead of me and skiing with a lot more oomph than I had at my disposal; my body really doesn't work without a warmup, so I think even if I'd been on the snow at the same time as Ali I wouldn't have been able to match the pace. This was a major bummer, because it was mega super duper windy (oh, did I mention that already?), and if I had been fast enough I think working together would have definitely helped us both. Darn.

Anyway, I decided that I couldn't let that get me down, this was my race now, and I couldn't control the stupid traffic jams, but I could control my attitude and my skiing.  So, I focused on skiing comfortably, and keeping my lower legs relaxed (frozen feet had led to cramped calves), and the first 8k went by pretty quick. I definitely felt the hills; it was slow cold windblown snow so not much glide to be had up those hills, but I had good energy and had warmed up enough by 8k to start skiing more aggressively.

The lead men caught me at 10k, and as subsequent packs came through I tried to use their speed to infuse some more energy into my skiing, but my arms and shoulders were starting to get pretty tired. The guys are just so strong! I am so weak! But any little bit of drafting was helpful. By OO, slower guys were coming by, and I could get longer drafts, even with the accordion effect. I could tell how badly I was doing based on the oldness, fatness, or joker-ness of their suits, and how quickly the old fat funny-dressed guys dropped me.

My triceps started spasming around 35k, but by then I had a tired guy that I could keep up with, so we skied together for a while trading leads. He dropped me on one of the hills after Bitch Hill, but now there were more bonked guys so I was occasionally catching people. I kept counting the number of ladies I caught and passed, but it was a distressingly small number.  I ended up skiing with some dude in windpants, and we traded leads for a while, with him doing the bulk of the work across the lake. We were moving well across the lake, closing on a group that apparently had more girls in it, but didn't quite make it up to them.  Not a good showing in the results.

So, definitely not the race I'd hoped for. It was a bummer to have good energy but have my muscles give up on me, and a bigger bummer to have had to ski alone for so far. I did a really good job controlling the parts I could control, but some things were just bad luck. I'm trying not to be too disappointed, but I am.

Example A of a silly suit.  I believe those may have been wings on the back of his track suit?  Unsure.

I found Greg after the race, and we cheered in Ken, who had had a rough day in the soft slow snow.  Fun to see those guys!

Yay for ski-o team representation!  This is the small-medium-large puffer coat edition =)

So will I be back next year?  I'm not sure.  I'm pretty upset about how it turned out, given the massive investment of time, money, and energy, and I don't know that I need to experience that again anytime soon.  I had hoped to quit doing this race because I had done well enough to satisfy my competitive needs, but now I may just quit this race because I'm permanently frustrated with it.  There's always some excuse, and part of that's me (messed up the taper, or tied my boots too tight, or started in wave 2...). May as well have my excuses happen on a local scale.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Waterville Valley Eastern Cup

Last weekend was the final Eastern Cup of the season, and the last chance for my juniors to score points to get to Junior Nationals.  I signed up for the skate race, a 10k, but decided not to sign up for the classic race, worried that there might be last-minute panic-waxing, and I wanted to be available for that.  I had never raced at Waterville Valley before, but have skied there a lot, and I found the course to be a bit too flat for my tastes, only 280m of vertical over 10km means a lot of V2 work.  

It had snowed a lot in the previous few days, and the ski center organizers chose to run the groomer in the morning, leading to a very soft track.  Thankfully, I finally have a pair of soft-track cold skate skis, and these Madshus rode the deep ruts beautifully.  My plan was to keep the tempo high and the power low, just float over the deep snow without exhausting myself, while still V2ing most of the gradual climbs, since in deep snow a V1 often turns into a high-energy churning flail.  I had a sweet start spot, 15s ahead of Julia, and 30s ahead of Katharine, who is just back from tearing it up among the European juniors.  There was no doubt in my mind that I'd get caught, the question was just when it would happen.

It being my birthday, I decided to race in a sparkly pink tiara.  Not sure what it did for my aerodynamics, but I do know how much it helped my psychological state!

The course starts out immediately climbing into the gradual hill, and I found a rhythm and settled in.  Just after the first km, KO had caught up, pulling Julia.  I let them by with no hassle, and upped my pace to match theirs.  Definitely work, but not quite in blow-up land.  As the hill flattened out into the rollers at the top, Julia dropped back from KO's pace, and I stayed behind her, happy for a ride and a rest.  We caught my 15s girl on the downhill, and then my position in the draft brought me around Julia, and I figured I'd take a pull and move over when Julia wanted to pass.  I could hear her laboring behind me, though, so it was clear sailing up the second climb of the course, V2ing past tiring skiers who had started before me.

Along the way, we caught up to Rebecca, another of my juniors, and Jamie caught what may be my newest favorite photo of me in racing action.  We crested the hill, and it immediately heads back down for the lap.  Somewhere along the flats, Julia came around, and I tucked back in behind, still not working too hard, but working hard enough that I felt no need to pass.  In retrospect, I should have taken the lead up the first climb of the second lap, and pushed a bit harder, but at the time, I was comfortable, so stayed put.  We were passing more skiers now, those who had started ahead of us and skiers on their first lap, and it was hard sometimes to pass cleanly on the soft narrow trail.  

Down the hill I took the lead again, this time determined to drop Julia on the next uphill.  I did manage to get a gap, but the hill wasn't quite long enough to get the full 15s back from her, and though I stayed ahead I only gained 10s on her, to lose by 5s.  This was good enough for 4th place, but 2nd was only 10s ahead of Julia.  This really makes me wish I'd pushed up that first hill harder on the second lap! oh, hindsight... 

The good news was that I felt really good, physically, and was able to change gears when I needed to.  The taper is starting to kick in! I leave tonight for the Birkie, so I'm pretty psyched to be going in rested, healthy, and with a good race result under my belt.  

I'm not sure if the tiara made me ski faster, but it sure made me feel faster.  Not sure I can pull off this look with the black Madshus suit... 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Coaching in Vermont

With Rob in Finland for the U18 USST trip, and Jamie at the Craftsbury marathon, I was next in the chain of command to lead our CSU army to success at the Stowe EC.  This meant no racing, because even though our wax team is good enough to handle it all without my obnoxious micromanagement, I figured it was better to play it safe than sorry.  So Saturday was a lot of kick testing, as my skiers rocked out on a solid track around the sprint course at Stowe, and then a whole lot of kick wax applying through the heats.  Sprint days are long, and I was pretty tired by the end of the day, but pretty psyched to have seen my juniors ski so well.  Sunday was similar, though easier from the waxing perspective, since it was an individual skate race, and I actually got the chance to do some coaching and some cheering.  Woo!

Because one weekend of coaching wouldn't have been enough, I led up the small band of athletes who were racing in the Supertour at Craftsbury.  Too late, I discovered that I could have raced even without a USSA license, which was a bummer, because I totally could have raced, and I've been itching to get some racing in.  The day could have been a disaster, when I left my skate boots at home (oops), but luckily the Craftsbury Outdoors Center rents NNN boots, and I was able to test wax as planned.  Phew, that was a close one.  Other misstep was forgetting the forms that slide onto the bench, but I was able to improvise that one just fine. The rest of the day went off without a hitch, and my skiers again skied super well.  Super fun to watch them excel.
(note the gloves around wax boxes taped to the bench - we call that zorshfulness where I'm from).

The A-team coming back from bib pick-up on Sunday.

After the races, I figured it was time to head out for some Birkie-training, and set my sights on 50k for the day, even though I'd spent the first 13k wax testing all stop-and-go, it counts.  It was a truly awesome day for skiing, fresh cold snow packed well under sunny skies, and my skis were ripping fast.  

As I headed up Sam's Run, a rock cairn came into view. It took me a moment to realize this was a memorial for Torin Tucker, the Dartmouth skier who had passed away last weekend in the Craftsbury marathon. I didn't think I'd stop, but I found myself standing facing the cairn, which had some mementos on it - a cork, a hat, flowers - and I burst into tears. I didn't know this young man, but from everything I've heard of him, he was a wonderful kid, with a big smile and loving everyone, and he just loved to be outdoors adventuring. Even knowing that he died doing what he loved, it seems so unfair, that the life of this bright kid with so much potential to make the world a better place would be snuffed out so easily. I kept sobbing as I skied on, dedicating the day, the ski, to a young man I'd never met, promising him that I would not take this for granted, that I would enjoy this sunny ski in perfect conditions, because he can't anymore.

Saturday was a 15/20k classic race, and that's pretty long for junior skiers, so most of them sat it out.  Rob was back from Finland and back at the helm, so I figured I'd give him some space, and met up with my parents and Ed at Mad River Glen for some fun skiing.  Took a run to remember, but then the endorphins from teleskiing hit hard, and I forgot how much I'd missed this silly sport.  Make it feel like it should, as they say in the Colby outing club.  Gorgeous day for skiing, if a little thin on the snow front.

He's still got it! and that confident lady in the background was skiing better than I remember; it's been years since I skied with the parental units, and they're skiing just how I remember.

Ed still rocking the old-school Salomon skis.

Sunday was a sprint race, and I didn't get any photos, but we were down to just four skiers to coach.  All four women qualified for the open heats, against some of the best in the country.  That was pretty exciting, but then watching Zoe advance as lucky loser on a seriously tough course was even more exciting.  She didn't make it out of the semis, but you gotta start somewhere!  

I'm really itching for another race effort before the Birkie, Tuesday nights aside, so I've signed up for the 10k skate on Saturday at Waterville Valley.  Should be good fresh snow, given the latest snowpocalypse, and I can't wait to take the new fresh-snow Madshus for a real race!