Friday, February 27, 2009

Globe trotting

I'm off to Japan on Sunday, for the ski orienteering world championships. We're competing at the Rusutsu resort, which is about 2 hours south of Sapporo. I probably won't get a chance to do much other than race, but I'm wicked excited anyway. I know that the Japanese eat things other than sushi, but I really hope they serve me sushi for breakfast, lunch, and dinner...

The US is sending four men and five women to this race. Each country can race four skiers of each sex in each race, except the relay which has three-person teams. This means that the women have to battle it out tooth and nail to see who has to sit out an individual start race. The relay will be picked based on results from the week. I think I have a good chance of doing all the races, so hopefully you'll be plagued with race reports.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bad idea

If you've ever wondered what happens if you put universal klister on your skis in December and then leave them standing upright at room temperature until the end of February, well, the klister runs down the ski and chemically seals the ski tie to the base. Some of the klister will leach through the ski tie and puddle on your rug, too.

Not that I would have done that. Oh no, not me.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tuesday night racing

This was only my third Tuesday night race, which is too bad, I like these things. I think they actually are really good for learning about drafting and skiing in a pack and minding your poles and your eyes and throwing elbows and staying upright. Nothing like a high-speed mass-start with your pride on the line to get people moving. Last night I had fast skis, they were the pair of skis I'd waxed for the Birkie with fluoros that had ended up being slower than the LF skis (meaning I used the skis with LF), so for once I had fresh jetstream moly on a pair of cold skis, putting me on equal footing with other people who wax their skis for Tuesday nights!

I got off to a bad start, I was right behind Marc Jacobson in the start grid and he fluffed a pole plant, bringing him to a standstill, and I skied into him, and then he started moving again and now I wasn't moving, so I ended up a couple rows further back than normal. Its too bad, because the start actually matters in these fast races, and I was hoping to see if I could ski with the lead pack with my fast sksi. I passed some people I normally don't see, and by the first downhill I was alone, chasing a pack with fast people in it, like Blazar. It quickly became clear that I was not gaining on their pack, and coming through the infield I looked back at the 180 and realized I was towing a huge group of guys. Crap.

I led over the top of Mt Weston, and then one of the guys went by, it was Neil Garrison, one of my J2s. I knew he'd be a smooth skier and easy to follow, so I sort of forced my way back into line behind him, and instantly the pace felt easier. Ahhh, drafting. Neil took us around most of that lap, and coming up into the infield from the river I let my momentum take me around again for another pull. I pulled through the 180 before the finish, and then approaching Mt. Weston Neil and Bob Burnham got ahead. I checked behind me, but it appeared that the big group had let a gap open up, it probably happened when somebody slipped on one of the icy patches somewhere, doesn't take much. I bided my time behind Bob, who provides a nicer wind shadow than a skinny little J2, and then used my rocket skis to pass him on the downhill going into the infield. Still behind Neil, I let him lead through to the final uphill before the finish, when he looked back as though asking me to take the lead. Aw hell no, I ain't that dumb! Poor guy had no chance as I slingshotted around him to take the "win". I think this might actually be the first sprint finish I've won all season. Thanks, Neil!

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Birkie!

I just got back from racing in the biggest ski race in the country, the American Birkebeiner. There were 7,500 racers, 15,000 spectators, 60,000 cookies, and 6000 gallons of soup. That is a lot of cookies. I had no idea what to expect when I signed up for this race, I knew it was big, but how big hadn't quite hit me.

I got to Minneapolis Thursday night, stayed with Aaron Blazar's family, and then we (me, Blazar, Eric Fitz, John Swain, and Nick Kline - stuck in a van full of Colby boys) drove up to Telemark Friday morning. I had to work in the Alpina booth for a bit that afternoon, and we were selling Bjorn Daehlie (the clothing line) hats, but we didn't have a mirror. So, I took pictures on my digital camera and people could look at themselves that way. I particularly like this picture, because it looks like Bjorn himself is skiing up behind me.

The Alpina booth at the demo. I scored a ton of free gels and stuff, I love ski exhibitions :)

Saturday morning, I was starting in wave 2, so I got to watch the elite waves go off. I looked for Bjorn Daehlie in the classic race but I didn't know what suit he was wearing, so I didn't see him. I also didn't realize that you're supposed to be lined up in your wave 10 minutes ahead of time, so I showed up with 5 minutes to go, and everyone was already lined up. I briefly considered lining up in the back, and then decided, screw that, I'm pushing my way to the front. So, I did, and I sort of felt guilty about just barging up to the front of the line, but at the same time, I think I'm pretty easy to pass, so at least this way I could get away cleanly and people could pass me on their own time later. They said go, and I started double poling, and I quickly found myself out front and sort of alone. 4-5 guys went by, and the first 3km went really quickly, until we made a turn and started climbing under the powerlines. A couple more guys passed me there, because I was quickly finding out that my legs felt like utter crap, and climbing was difficult.

It is really too bad that climbing felt this difficult, because there were some big climbs. My skis were fast enough that I would go whipping down the hills, catching up to the guys who had dropped me on the last climb, but then they would drop me again as things angled upwards. There wasn't much flat, but I liked the rollers. At about 12km, there was a really big hill. Actually, I don't think it was that big, but it looked huge. When the trail is 30 feet wide, its a little hard to make it not just go straight up hills in a giant swath of clear-cut. I figured that even though my legs wanted to die, I would just keep eating and try to keep my feet moving, and see what happened. We had some really fun, fast downhills after that big hill, and I was starting to enjoy myself.

The guys I was skiing with were really friendly, and although we never really formed a pack, due to the lack of flats, my Peltonens' rocket powers on the downhills, and my legs' inability to climb, but I was still starting to think of them as my guys, and I was disappointed when I realized that I had to let some of them go so as to not blow up.

When I passed the OO feed station, I knew I was about halfway done, and done with all the major climbs except Bitch Hill. For another 5km or so I put my head down and skied hard, cleaving through wave 1 skiers like a warm knife through butter, but then I caught up to one of my guys from wave 2 who was in a Bowdoin suit, and I just had to know when he had graduated. So we started talking, and skied together at an out-of-breath-but-talking pace for like 5-8k, weaving through lap 1 skiers, and then I realized I should probably go harder than this. I was also realizing, though, that my upper body was getting really tired, particularly my forearms, of all things. I went through the 38.5km feed station, and I'd been sort of taking splits on my watch, and I was glad to see I was going faster than in the beginning of the race when I'd been on track for a 3hr race. Dorcas was there, and she handed me a new bottle, and I did my best to speed up a little.

And then the coolest part happened. The lead classic skiers passed me, in a pack of four, and one of them was Bjorn Daehlie himself! I had to ask, are you Bjorn Daehlie? He grunted and nodded, and I skied along for a couple minutes in complete star-struck-fan-mode. Then I realized that I was catching back up to that pack on downhills, since I didn't have kick wax on my skis, so I got to yo-yo with Bjorn Daehlie for almost a kilometer! Of course, when we hit Bitch Hill at 40k, they classic skiers were gone, and my new life goal is to classic ski like Bjorn - he makes it look so easy! Anyway, my quads were right at the cusp of completely tweaking out, I was basically begging them to please hold it together and let me get up this hill, because if they started spasming that would be the end. Bitch hill ended up not being that long, it was just another of those wide-open attitude-destroyers, and there was a nice downhill afterwards. I made it over the crest without my quads starting to shake, but I could tell they were on the edge.

I took my last gel and pushed hard into each downhill, still able to see Bjorn's pack of skiers but unable to catch up to them. I was still passing wave 1 skiers like it was my job, but I had reeled in two more of my guys from wave 2. The Bowdoin skier I'd left behind me. Finally we came down a long hill onto THE LAKE. I had heard real horror stories about the lake. How people lost minutes to their competition battling a fierce headwind and snarling wolves and shouting natives and beer-guzzling snowmobilers and racers lost their will to finish in front of a grill filled with sausages and cold beer. I didn't think it was so bad, though, I didn't have anyone to draft since I was passing people, but I just put my head down and V2-alternated as hard as I could, and 2km later I climbed up the shore of the lake into the town, and I knew I was almost done, yippee! The finish is down main street, and the snow was all sugary, but the street was lined with fans from shoulder to shops, it was amazing. I've never skied the finish of a race like that. One of my guys from wave 2 passed me on the finish straight, but that was alright, those were nice guys.

After the race, they gave me a medal for finishing, and pointed me in the direction of my clothes bag, and the girl handed me my clothes bag and I tried to hold it in my cramping left hand and immediately dropped it. My forearm was visibly spasming, it was really weird. I managed to grab the bag in a bear hug and made it to the changing tent, and then the soup tent, and then the hang-out-and-wait-for-your-friends tent, and despite being rather tired, I felt pretty good. Its amazing how when you don't bonk, marathons can actually be quite enjoyable! When I finally went to look up results, I found out I was 23rd, so that darn well better put me into the elite wave for next year. Kind of cool to ski into a top 25 from the wrong wave! I think I'll be back...

Elite men's wave.

On main street after the race with Adam and Eric.

Looking toward the lake.

Main street. Packed. Looking at the finish.

Finish area mayhem.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Everyone needs a weekend off from racing now and then, so I lined it up with my birthday and we went alpine skiing and life was good. I also bought some strawberries, since it was my birthday, and on your birthday, you can buy out of season fruit, and that made me intensely happy. I think I should buy strawberries more often.

The past two weeks have been tough, motivation-wise, but I think I'm nearing the end of my midwinter slump. This weekend I fly west, for the Birkie. I thought I was starting in wave 10, and maybe I still am, but I petitioned to start higher, and the online confirmation thing says I'm in wave 2. Hopefully I won't get shunted back to wave 10 when I go to get my bib. Either way, I'm going to have a good time, this much is certain.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A rewarding night at Weston

Wednesday night, I went to help with Bill Koch League skiers (skiers between 5 and 12 or 13 years old) with their double poling. Jim Stock, the head BKL coach, was worried that none of them were double poling well, despite striding well, and after seeing them do it, I had to agree. I've never coached a group this young before, usually I deal with highschoolers, and since they're skiers they're almost always good kids, attentive and willing to learn and in it because they love it. I figured the little kids were probably in the same boat, but just in case, I made sure to never talk for more than 2-3 minutes, so as to not outlast any attention spans.

We were working mostly on the "teaching area" at Weston, because it is under the lights, and we had a lot of parent volunteers and other coaches (also parent volunteers) to keep things organized. It was a big group, the biggest group I've ever worked with, but apparently Jim talked up my supposed classic technique enough that they thought they were getting something really special, a notion I was not about to disabuse. So they listened attentively, and even willingly shouted "BAM!" as they slammed their poles into the snow like I told them to. Highschoolers would never do that...

I am always amazed that suggestions made by a coach can actually manifest themselves as technique changes, especially when it happens right before your eyes. After doing some drills, I gave them two things to think about, and they were almost instantly skiing better. After we finished up our double poling part of the lesson, I called on different people to ask what they'd work on, and everyone gave me serious answers that followed in line with something I had said earlier in the night. I was definitely on a teacher's high after that. There is nothing so rewarding as teaching something that you love to a younger generation and seeing them "get it". These kids are going to be the next wave of CSUers going to JOs, and I was psyched to have gotten to work with them this early. Now if they can just remember any one thing I've said, we'll be ok...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tuesday night lights

I was going to say Tuesday night fights, but, there was no fighting to be had. Andy gave us a talk about playing nice before the race, and I didn't see any foul play out there. It was almost disappointing. Weston was fast and icy, and although I started near the front, my shins couldn't hack it, and I had to slow down before anything exploded. Anna and I had lined up in the third row, which is too far up, but since we can go like heck out the start, it makes it cleaner to just let people pass us half a km later. I don't think people mind passing us, too much anyway, I try not to be an ass about it but you never know.

Heading into the flats on lap one, my left shin was hurting like a banshee, and I couldn't balance at all. I had to back off to keep my shin from clear falling off my leg, it hasn't hurt yet this season but something about skiing in icy conditions, particularly on flats, seems to aggravate my lower legs. I think I just need better balance. By the time we'd gotten to the infield I'd lost the front group, and I skied alone for most of the rest of that lap until Bridge Hunter caught me just before Mt. Weston. I almost let him go, but realized damage control was done, so put in a surge to catch back up on the flats as Victor caught up to me. I knew I couldn't let Victor go, because hes a perfect draft, so I followed these two guys back down to the lights and through the infield. We were a happy little group through the second lap, at times it looked like the chase group might make contact but Victor and Bridge were trading leads and keeping the pace up. I tried to lead a couple times, but the pace obviously slower with me in front, so one of the guys would take back over. I still couldn't ski very smoothly, but tried to V2-alt on my right since the left leg was the one bothering me, and kept up through most of the third lap until our last pass through the infield, where I got sorta-dropped and held that position, 2 seconds back, through the line.

I've missed racing at Weston, if nothing else it really forces you to focus on being smooth, which is obviously something I'm missing. I also enjoy skiing just ahead of the chase group instead of in it or behind it, because it makes things very peaceful. In the chase group, there are a lot more desperate moves to get up there, and the skiing is far more aggressive. Weston racing really is its own breed of race... oh for some hills!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Trapps Supertour

With my feet on American soil for a solid 48 hours, I headed north to Stowe, VT, for the Supertour/UVM Carnival/Eastern Cup races. I had missed the Wednesday sprint, since I was still in transit, but the racing continued over the weekend and no matter how jet lagged I might be, I wanted to take part. Anna, Jess and I made up the jaded seniors group, and we showed up to perfect tracks and a sunny sky on Saturday. It was another 5km skate for the women, I am starting to feel like a 5km skate specialist this winter.

I started in the A seed, just behind the college race. Lindsey Dehlin (US Ski Team) started 30 seconds behind me, and I wanted to see how long I could ski with her when she passed me. The course starts with about a kilometer of rolling downhill, then a climb back into the stadium, then some more twisty downhill to 2km. A short climb, a gradual hill to 3km, then a long downhill and some flat to 4km. The last km is mostly uphill, with a very short flattish part between the two major climbs. I knew I wanted to start semi-conservatively, to have something left for the last km of uphill, but I got too excited and hammered out of the start gate and worked that downhill. The first uphill I was slowly reeling in Keely Levins, my 30-second girl, and I passed her near the bottom of the second long twisty downhill. I knew I had another long downhill coming up, so I V2ed as much as I could of the gradual hill, and approaching the 3km mark I could hear people cheering for Lindsey right behind me as I crested the hill.

My skis were fast enough that I was at the edge of control on the next downhill, trying to eek out every possible second of the free speed, and then it was on to some flats where Lindsey finally passed me. Along the flat part, I matched her pace, but then we started to climb and my legs gave me the veto. I tried to keep it quick and light but the burning was too much, and by the last hill where everyone was cheering, I could tell my form was falling apart and my momentum was largely upper-body-driven. Into the finish straight I V2ed as hard as I could, but I was pretty dead, and could tell that my legs weren't as happy as they could have been. I still ended up in 28th, out of 173, which isn't too bad a result, but I wish I hadn't faded so much on the last climb. The positive side of this race was that with actual supertour racers in the mix, it was a 160 point race, which is much better than usual in the East.
Finis. Kris Dobie photo.

Sunday, we woke up to 40 degrees and rain, and by the time we'd gotten up to Trapps it was 38 and snowing. Luckily, one of my pairs of Peltonens are designed specifically to be hairies skis, Jess did a nice writeup on hairies if you want more information. Basically, they're the perfect ski for when it is above freezing and snowing. They aren't zeroes, like what Fischer and Atomic market, because the base material in the kick zone is the same as the rest of the ski, its just roughed up really well with sandpaper. All of the CSU J2s were on either zeroes or hairies, and we took 1st and 3rd in both the boys and girls races. Testing skis, I really liked my hairies, but I was worried that it would stop snowing, because then my skis would stop working. But I ended up racing on the hairies, figuring that I could just get out of the tracks if the track got too slushy. I didn't figure in the number of other people skiing out of the tracks...
This may look like I'm striding but really I'm just running. Kris Dobie photo.

It was a 10km, and within half a kilometer out of the start I was wishing I could drop out, I was that tired. But being a coach makes you think twice about doing something stupid like that, I could never have lived it down, so I reset my sights to "finish the race". As I slogged up the first climb, I realized that the sun had come out and it had stopped snowing. Only 8km left of herringboning and double poling! The upshot was that my skis were wicked fast, since there was no drag. I realized that everyone else on hairies would be in the same situation as myself, so I made a pact with me that I would not give up, that I would keep running no matter how I felt. Still in the A seed, I was getting passed by a lot of people, but I found that my double pole was taking me pretty far up some of the hills, even though my slogging/jogging/herringboning was wicked slow. I finally finished, and despite having a pretty horrible race, I was proud of myself for not giving up. Looking at the race, a lot of people did give up...
Just keep running... Kris Dobie photo.

So, the Eastern supertour has come and gone. It was a really well-run event, and I loved the combined atmosphere of college carnival and eastern cup. I hope that the supertour becomes a mainstay on this coast. But now for a weekend off from racing, this girl is tired...

Happy to be ski racing. Dobie takes awesome pictures.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Ski-o: what does it look like?

I figured that since I don't have any really good pictures from last week, I'd post some of the random pictures that I took of the gear associated with ski orienteering. There are a bunch of parts, compared to skiing anyway.

Here is somebody pretending to ski in the living room. Note that she is wearing the mapholder (where the map goes), and has her numbers pinned on. She also has the EMIT punch on her hand. Therefore, she is all set to go. She is, however, missing the skis, boots, and poles, which would help her to go a little faster.

This is the EMIT brick, which is one form of electronic punching. It is not nearly as easy to use as the sportident punches, but unfortunately EMIT gives away a lot of equipment and money, so many competitions use the EMIT system. Problems with EMIT include: it is awkward to ski with, leading to slower punching. It doesn't beep when you punch so you have to watch it closely to make sure that the light on the thingy lights up. It flops around on your hand as you ski. Some of the thingies you punch into don't have lights, so you have no way to know if it registered as punching. The backup system involves that little piece of yellow paper, which means that you have to fit the brick completely into its puncher doohickey if you want the backup (which you do), although it will read at somewhere between 1-5cm away. Basically, it sucked. I missed having sportident (which attaches to your finger and just acts like another finger that you poke into a hole). Because of the flopping action of the EMIT brick, I had six safety pins in it. I generally lost between 2-3 pins each race. Maybe they just weren't good pins.

This is the mapholder. The map goes between two sheets of clear plastic, which stick out from your abdomen. The top layer of plastic lifts up, as a hinge, and there are little snaps to snap it shut. The metal bar connecting to the colorful part (which rests against your stomach) lifts up and down, so you can angle your map however you want it. I have a compass duct-taped to the top of the mapholder, which is less than ideal, because it can cover part of the map and I hardly use a compass anyway.

These are some of the narrow trails on Swedish marshes. The marshes are nice to ski on, because they are perfectly flat. The trails can get pretty tracked up, as you can see, but because its so flat you can go really fast just double poling. I liked skiing on the marshes.

This is the start box. First the guy in front checks that you are who you are. Then you go into the tent and they strap an electronic timing chip to your ankle. Then you go out of the tent and they clear the past data from your EMIT brick and check it against a control. Then you stand on a line until they tell you to pick up your map. Then you pick up your map, put it in the mapholder, and try to figure out where you are and where you're going (depending on the race, 15-60s to do this). Then they say go, and you start skiing. Hopefully in the right direction...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Holding tight

I was hoping to go home today, but no such luck. Able to check in to the first flight no problem, but waiting two hours in the gridlock of potential passengers at Heathrow to check my skis caused me to miss it. They send me to the customer service, which was a rather large line, wrapping around most of the terminal. While in line, I borrowed a phone from the gal behind me, called BA, and they rebooked me for a 4:05pm flight. I figured I could definitely make this one. Get back in line to check the skis. Wait another 1.5 hours, finally get to the desk, and she says, your flight is cancelled. Look back at the monitors, but its still on the screen! Well, they say its canceled. Wait here while I check. Yes, canceled. Call BA back. They can put me on a 7pm flight, or tomorrow morning. I choose the morning and head back to London for a great dinner with aunt and uncle, cousins, and grandfather. Some things do end well, but I just want to go home.

Take 3, tomorrow.

Monday, February 2, 2009

I've been traveling for 22 hours and I'm only in London...

Around 2pm Sunday, I piled into Neil's frigid car with Kat and Boris, and started my trek homeward. The car went to Uppsala, a bus took me to the Vasteros airport, a plane took me to England, where instead of landing at Stansted, it landed at East Midlands, because there was "heavy snow" all over southern England and Stansted and Luton were closed. There was a promise of buses to take us back down to Stansted, but after waiting almost two hours for my skis, I realized that I would never make my 10:45am flight from Heathrow to Boston if I went with their plan, so I shelled out more money for a 4.5-hr bus ride to Heathrow airport, arriving some time around 8 in the morning. At that moment, my flight to the US was still a go, so I waited around, napping with my ski bag as a pillow, until they cancelled it, at which point I waited another hour for a cab (the London buses were not running, and the circle line of the metro was closed as well, meaning a cab was the only way to get to my grandfather's house). 50£ later, I was finally some place friendly and warm. Supposedly, I get to go home tomorrow morning. We'll see if they've cleared enough snow to open the airport back up by then, I gather London hasn't had real snow like this for eighteen years, so they're understandably a little slow in response.

Last Friday and Saturday were the last two races of the Nordic Open Champs, the middle distance and the relay. After a good result in the long I was excited to see if I had actually learned to read a map in the middle, but it turns out I'm not actually that advanced, and I made a 6.5 minute mistake, along with a couple other 30-60s mistakes. Not pretty, but not as disastrous as the sprint. The long mistake involved actually being lost, rather than just taking a wrong turn, I actually didn't know where I was. That is always exciting. I was on a mixed team for the relay, being the only American at this event. It was cold, something like -16C, and since I didn't know when my Finnish teammate would come in, I got pretty chilly waiting around. I'd like to think that this contributed to my clumsiness when I tried to put my map in the mapholder, because it took the entire 300m of stadium for me to get that stupid map in place, at which point I still hadn't looked at it. So, the first two controls were a little hesitant, but then I found myself racing Yvonne from Switzerland, she would make good route choices, I would think I was being clever and then realize I had done something stupid and ski like crazy to catch back up before repeating that chain of events. She ended up beating me. I came into the tag zone not too far behind her, looking for my third leg skier, who was nowhere to be found. By the time I'd gotten my clothes back on, she had apparently gone off skiing though, so at least we finished. This concluded the racing. Some good points, some bad points, and a lot of things for me to learn...

Middle distance map.

Relay course.

Sunday I spent some time training on the map, and then started my traveling. I hope I can go home tomorrow... I'll add pictures and maps once I have a way to do this.

If you're interested in maps, results, splits etc, here is a link. I know it looks like I did horribly, but keep in mind that all those Finns and Swedes ahead of me are competing to be on their national team, and will very likely be contending for the top spots in Japan. And there aren't really any sucky people, its like racing on the supertour. Fields of 20, but stacked fields.