Monday, February 28, 2011

VT Vacation

I'm noticing a trend - I need to take a vacation after a week of ski camp. This is problematic, because ski camps generally take up my vacation time.
Jamie is pictured here, standing in the doorway to my broom closet bedroom. I was mostly sleeping on the couch, but using the closet to spread out my stinky ski clothes, and find some privacy for phonecalls and stuff. After sleeping in a broom closet, of course you need a vacation!

Anyway, Ed has decided that he is going to tap the maple trees on Bullitt land up in VT, and have his cousin Rob do all the evaporation, so he is in the midst of carrying out some grand scheme to set out the lines and get everything ready before the sap starts running. Rob used to do that area, but I guess it was too much work, regardless, they have these grand plans to eventually have 1000 taps. Ridiculous. I get roped into Ed's grand schemes, which is fine, mostly, unless its snowing heavily and very windy. I don't really enjoy snowshoeing around the woods in a snowstorm, and after half a day of that, I bailed on Ed and went inside to drink hot cocoa and read my book. I was feeling wimpy.

Doesn't this just look cold and snowy?

And because Ed's truck was involved, we got it stuck. Naturally.

Ed expects to spend a lot more time up there running lines to maple trees, he has the mainline set up, and all the little secondary lines are going to run into that. The mainline will empty into a tank. Rob will drive by and empty the tank into his tank of sap in his truck, and then he will turn it into deliciousness at the sugar shack. I'll help with that part, all you have to do is watch water boil!

After a few nights of 12hrs or more of sleep, I'm feeling pretty good, and ready to take on the world again. Starting to get really excited about the ski-o world champs, all pumped to train really quality workouts for it, but its doing this freezing rain thing in Amherst, which makes me a lot less excited to train hard. Booo.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

February ski camp

After the races last weekend, most of CSU headed over the mountains to Jackson, for the February ski camp. I had a couple days off from school, thanks to Presidents' day and my awesome class schedule, so I joined them for the first part of the week. It sure is windy on that golf course, but once you got in the woods, the skiing was absolutely beautiful. Three days of skiing and coaching and more skiing, life is pretty good. Of course, because I couldn't commit to the camp until the last minute, I was using a broom closet as a bedroom, but hey, you take privacy where you can get it in a ski house.

The best workout was definitely the one where we skied to the top of the alpine mountain (on xc trails), and then skied down. Super fun. This is me at the top of the alpine mountain, about to put on five thousand layers of clothing and ski down. I guess its good that Bretton Woods is such a wimpy little hill.
Some hardcore intervals by the JO crew.

Thursday morning, I left at the crack o' dawn, to get to school in time for some classes, and the plan was to head straight to VT to hang out with Ed for the weekend that evening. Naturally, I locked myself out of my office (with the car keys in the office), and it took a while to get straightened out. But it's all good, I have keys, and I'm on my way to VT.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Cheri Walsh Memorial

After a so-so race on Saturday, it's good to have a chance to race again on Sunday. It was a bright and blustery day, not too cold but the wind was serious - standing out where we were waxing was pretty chilling. Luckily, the course is all in the woods, so you didn't notice the wind. After some brief ski testing, we settled on a good klister, and I left my skis with the wax crew. I was more in the way than helpful around there, so I took the J2s on a course tour - it was fast, not too icy, but tons of leaves down in the tracks. Cate did a pretty spectacular faceplant on one of the hills, and we all learned a little lesson about not planting your kickwax over a beech leaf.

I ended up skiing on a pair of atomics from 1998 - they're good skis, but a bit old, and with a medium-warm grind. Luckily the hard conditions didn't really matter for glide, and the skis are barely stiff enough to be good in klister. My start spot was in that top seed, and I was 15s behind Rachel Hall (SMS) and 15 seconds in front of Elena Luethi (GMVS), some good skiers. It was a pretty good start spot, and I was feeling a lot more ready to attack the course than I had felt the day before. I guess I just need a hard day first to get motivated.

I started out, fast, and by the top of the first climb I was already catching glimpses of Rachel. The downhill didn't last nearly long enough, but I could tell I was moving fast across the flats, and into the hill at 2km I was closing down the gap with a good kick double pole. We got some good downhills after that, and I passed Rachel halfway down, but skidded the last turn, which lost me some wax, even on a Chola binder. At this point, you basically have one long uphill, and then just a downhill finish, but as I started the uphill, I realized that I had started a bit too fast. My legs were pretty flooded with lactic acid, just burning.

Rachel was back on my tail as I crested the steep part of the hill, and for a while we were even, her striding, me kick-double poling, but then Elena came through, and I knew I couldn't stay with her. Rachel got on her tail, but I was starting to slip too much, just unable to set my wax strongly enough, and my arms were pooping out from making the skis work earlier. I was certainly taking a peek around the pain cave as I came through 4km, and luckily at this point you get some rollers, so I could rely more on my double pole. I may be weaker than normal this season, but I can still double pole well - technique doesn't die.

Elena was gone, but my fast skis narrowed the gap to Rachel on the last downhill, and I put in a hard sprint to the end, nearly closing the gap completely. I was pretty pooped, but the effort was good enough for 9th, which is better than my seed spot - always something to strive for. I was still a minute behind Hannah Dreissigacker (the winner), but much closer compared to yesterday, relative to the distance, and more importantly, I felt like I was skiing well out there. I haven't really been in that much hurt in a race in a while, so it was good to experience it again.

They named the JO team afterward, and CSU is sending 8 skiers! One of my J1 girls, Olivia, was on the bubble, and skied two really solid races to put her on the team, so I was super pumped about that. We also got the overall titles for the Eastern Cup - Corey won the open women's title, and Cate won the J2 girls' title. It is so much fun to live vicariously through these fast little skiers!

Post JO-team-naming, most of CSU headed to Jackson, for a training camp during their winter break. I'm here for a few days, and while it's certainly a bit crazy being in a house full of juniors, it's pretty fun, too. More on that, later.
Ali on the podium - miss Oh-I-don't-know-about-my-training-recently, on her home course had no problem going fast!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Silver Fox Trot

Photos by Jamie Doucett

The Silver Fox Trot is the last skate race of the season, and it's usually held at Oak Hill. I've managed to not race here since 2004, I think, and all I could remember of the course was that there was an endless uphill in a field, and there was a downhill that included a sharp turn and a steep drop-off, with running water at the bottom of the cliff, for if you didn't make the turn. Fond memories, clearly. Anyway, after skiing the course a couple times in warmup, I determined that the hill in the field wasn't actually all that endless, and the turn by the dam wasn't actually all that scary. The course was actually quite fun to ski - good rollers, a couple good S-turns near the end, and a nice long V2 grind for about a km somewhere in there.

I started early, and already the course was changing - some of the hills were transformed and glazed, where they were in the sun, some were chopping up to sugar snow, and anything that had been scraped was scarily icy. I chose a stiff pair of Q1.3s to race, and just handed them over to the experienced wax team of the CSU engine, and they came back criminally fast. I didn't ski on them before the race, and as I started out, toward the first downhill S-turn out of the stadium, I couldn't help but whisper "ohhhh, shit". The skis were just flying. The next words out of my mouth were "OHHH SHIT!" as I completely failed to make the second turn of the S. An ice patch had developed in the middle, exactly where you'd expect it, and like a noob I skied right into the ice patch, skittered to the side, and couldn't turn my skis fast enough to avoid going off the trail. I got up quickly, but my momentum was shot, and I'd just wasted a few seconds untangling myself from a snowbank.

As I started skiing I could tell that I just wasn't relaxed - I was skittering all over the place, even though the footing was pretty good. Pre-race nerves that just wouldn't calm down, I felt so wobbly and unsure of myself after the crash. Kept repeating "its a 10km, you have time", but that didn't help. Finally I hit the first hill, and it was a relief to start working hard, and lose the jitters. I could hear the Dartmouth girl, who'd started 30s behind me, a little ways back, but my goal for the race was to just ski my own race, and ignore all the fast people around me.

It was climbing this first bump that I discovered my left boot was way too tight. I'd had enough time before the start to put on dry socks (oh the luxury), but when I re-tied my boots, I did it too tight. I did this last year at the Birkie, and you'd think I'd have learned from my mistake. I remembered that I'd suffered through 6km at the Birkie before cracking and loosening the boot, so I tried to just ignore the fact that my left foot was going numb. Unfortunately, when you're already feeling like you can't glide, being unable to feel your foot is actually a bit of a handicap. Sigh.

By the time I hit the endless hill in the field, the Dartmouth girl (Hilary McNamee) had caught up to me, and she was being cheered loudly by the coaches at the top. I snuck in behind her, and discovered that my skis were faster, which gave me a bit of a breather as we headed into the downhills. I made it across the dam without losing much speed, and as we started climbing, at the 3km mark, I noticed that she was coach-skating the steep part. In my naivety, I thought maybe the Dartmouth women's team had decided this was the fastest way to climb the hill, but when she didn't speed up as the hill flattened out, I realized she was just slow. So I passed her, and by now, I was feeling more stable on my feet, aside from the whole numb-left-foot issue.

I did scrub a little speed on the S-turns heading back into the stadium - not proud to admit that, but, I was running scared, and really just didn't want to fall again. Back onto the course, and I skied the first S-turn really badly again. As I finished the corner, slowly, I said to a volunteer "I swear, I can actually ski downhills!", and then I realized that A) I sounded ridiculous, and B) I shouldn't care what the volunteers are thinking of me. A UNH skier was struggling up the hills in front of me, and I used her as my rabbit, catching another Dartmouth girl (both on their first lap) on my way. The hill in the field was brutally windy, and it was hard to get a forward position on my left leg, but the sooner I got to the top of that damn hill, the sooner I could go downhill, so I kept plugging. I probably should have pushed a bit harder on the last flat part, because with a course that finishes on a downhill, the finish isn't actually at the finish, but hindsight is always 20-20.

I finished with a decent sprint, but I still ended up nearly three minutes back of Hannah Dreissigacker, the winner of the women's field, good for 20th place. It was about 45 seconds to 10th place, which is where I was seeded - I don't think that would have been out of reach with a good race. The good news is my body felt pretty good, after a few easy days, so hopefully the classic race tomorrow goes well. Nice loose boots. And cold klister!

Now is the point where I remember that I broke my good cold klister skis up at Mont Sainte Anne.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Balsams Ski-O

This past weekend was the New England Regional Ski Orienteering Championships, and I was the meet director. This basically means that my life was consumed by work for this race for the couple weeks leading up to it, and Ed's life was consumed as well. Ernst Linder was the third guy who got sucked into this - he was the course setter for Saturday. I set courses for Sunday, and Ernst and I conferred on each other's courses extensively. Lex and Pete Bundschuh did the bulk of the volunteer work during the weekend, with Pete standing outside manning starts, and Lex inside manning registration while Ed dealt with the computer stuff. Overall, things went really smoothly, and I wouldn't have been able to do it without such a good team.
Lex instructing Ed how to do something.

Ed and I drove up there with all the set-up gear on Friday morning, which actually made things so easy it was like cheating. We met with the head ski patroller (Andy Pearson), who was planning to dump the control stands at strategic locations around the trails. This was crucial, because the stands are fairly heavy, and very awkward to carry on skis. All we had to do on the event morning was ski out to the dump-point, and spread out the stands. By midday, we had the registration area all set up, so we headed over to the golf course by the hotel to make some snowshoe trails for the sprint map.
All those dotted trails are snowshoe trails. Of course, on the day, it was snowing and very blustery, so the map was rendered useless since you couldn't even see the trails. People just went straight, and seemed to enjoy themselves anyway. That's good.

Ed was driving, so I tried to frame pretty pictures of Franconia Notch as we drove north.

It's not a trip in Ed's truck if this doesn't happen at least once...

This is how Ed feels about snowshoeing.
This is how I feel about snowshoeing.

Ed snowshoeing some trails on the sprint map, with Abenaki Mountain in the background. There is a ski trail that goes to the top of that, but I was a benevolent course-setter and didn't send anyone up there.

Saturday was the middle distance race, and it went really smoothly. Nobody got lost, everybody was smiling, and most people genuinely seemed to enjoy themselves!

Ernst calculating the points for the Valentine's sweetheart cup - chocolates (a Lindt sponsorship!) went to the top three couples racing today - everyone got scored separately, and then combined with your sweetheart's score, you get ranked against other couples. Last year, Ed and I won the cup, but this year neither of us were racing.

I did go out on a blue course, but I got my butt kicked. Apparently, when you don't sleep, and you ski too much, and you stress too much, you get tired. Who woulda thunk it?Check out all those contours under the powerlines from 5 - 6. That was just cruel.

Heading out to pick up controls on Saturday. Yes, I am totally sane! On a barely-related note, the classic skiing at the Balsams was skigasmic. I only put my skate skis on for 15 of my 100km weekend, for the middle distance race I did, because I just couldn't bear to be out there not striding.

That evening, we had the awards ceremony, in a small room off the major dining room of the Balsams. The thing about the Balsams is that it's a 5-star resort - you aren't allowed in to dinner if you aren't dressed right. It was funny seeing all the orienteers dressed up, but apparently we do clean up pretty good. Everyone loved the dinner - it was a mile-long buffet table of all my favorite foods. I only had three plates of dinner, but I did a solid 4-5 plates of dessert. Those dessert plates are way too small!

The Balsams was the title sponsor of this even, and they made us some Balsams Bark - dark chocolate with toasted almonds - to give as prizes. Combined with Lindt Chocolates for the Sweetheart's cup winners, there was much chocolate being given out as awards. Basically, the weekend was all about eating.

After my fifth plate of dessert, Ed rolled me out of the dining room, we did a little setup for Sunday, and then passed out into one of those exhausted sleeps, assisted by a serious food-coma. Morning rolled around way too early, and we got up and outta there in time for our first 20km of the day, spreading out control stands and setting epunches. I got back in time for breakfast, which was as sumptuous as dinner. Holy cow, that was a good breakfast. My mouth started watering just thinking about it. Poor Ed couldn't get away from the registration table, so I brought him a selection of pastries, which made him considerably less grumpy. So people started out on our long courses, the longest of which was 31km shortest skiable distance, with 650m of climb. Not easy.

While they were suffering away doing that, I toodled along through the "Feastival", a 15km ski tour with four gourment food stops. Can you say yum? I was still pretty full from breakfast, but luckily the first couple kilometers of skiing took care of that. What a great idea! The first stop was a sundried tomato, spinach, and feta fritatta. Then we skied another km and got to the second stop, which not only had a bonfire, but the executive chef was hanging out grilling chicken, for chicken sandwiches on cibatta bread with herb mayo. He also had chili and fried tostada things at that stop. We spent a while feeding Canada Jays from our hands, and then it was time to zip around the lake to the third food stop, which was some sort of pork congee with asian spices, and the hot soup was quite welcome after the windy lake. Then the last food stop was an apple-cranberry crisp, and the most delicious crisp I've ever had. Following the tradition of the night before, I had seconds, and thirds.

It's a good thing I had such a competent crew of volunteers, because I didn't do much of anything meet-related on Sunday, other than set out some water for some people who had asked nicely. There were reports that Alex was hanging out at a bonfire out on the trails eating food. They were probably accurate... I did see a fair number of competitors whiz past me, as I enjoyed my apple crisp.

Thankfully, there was much skiing to be done to pick up the courses, or I might not have fit into the car to go home.

We had some of this weather on Saturday afternoon, but then it cleared up, and we got this weather:

All in all, it was a great weekend, and I am super glad that I decided to try and put on a meet there. We ended up with nearly 45 starts on Saturday, and 60 people at the banquet, which was about five times more than what I'd expected. Good times, but I don't think I'll be doing another two-day meet for at least another couple months...

Monday, February 7, 2011

Lake Placid Loppet

Don't all races have an oompah band providing live entertainment?

I've been warned about the Lake Placid Loppet and its hills, and the grim tone of voice is usually what turns me off from doing this race. One of those season-wrecking courses, that just climbs so much you can't recover from it. But then Jess called me up and told me she was doing it, and I figured, how bad could it be? Its just hills. Turns out the course was sweet. There was a good bit of climbing; my garmin thought we did 1200m of climb over 47km, but the descents make it all worth it. You gotta go up to go down, the curse of this silly sport. The women's field was thin, to put it mildly, but that made it easier for Jess and me to ski together, without having to worry about some other fast chick to make us have to speed up.

It was a beautiful day to be skiing, warm air but cold snow, and bright blue sky. The snow was super soft on the Porter Mt. loop, and while that sucked mightily, at least I had a good pair of soft skis for it, that were running pretty quick. We lined up maybe three rows back, started out comfortably, and fell into the conga line somewhere around 35th probably. I don't think I could ever see the front of the race, but it was pretty packed until we hit the first downhill. It wasn't a long one, but it had a corner in it, so there were masters snowplowing right and left, and Jess and I passed a whole slew of people. Kind of fun, having fast skis and being able to ride out the downhills that intimidate other people. This trend continued for the first 15km, and so despite the uphills being pretty painful, I was having fun. The hills on Porter and East Mt. are big enough that by the time you hit the ladies' 5k loop, it feels easy, despite there still being some pretty serious climbs in there.

The ladies' 5km also has the awesomest downhills, and despite not knowing what was coming, I was bombing every one. That caught up to me on the last corner, where I was trying to step turn through the berm and got my feet caught up in deep snow, and fell down. I got up pretty quickly, but by the time I'd gotten up, Jess had gone down, because she had passed me as I sat in the snow, turned around to heckle, and caught her own rut. So we were giggling and picking up waterbottles and glasses, and I was eating one of Jess's gels that had fallen off her waterbottle belt, when the group of masters we'd dropped on the previous downhills caught up. They thanked us for both falling down, and skied off, but then we caught them on another downhill. Hey! Hey guys! Guess what! We're faster than you on the downhills!

After the 15km of hills, we got a 10km loop over at the biathlon side, really cruisy, and the snow was a lot firmer over there, so my shins and calves could calm down a bit. I drove the pace for a while trying to dump the group of masters that was drafting us, but it was too flat for that, so we slowed back down so we could chat. Eventually we got back to the XC stadium, and one of the masters took the lead (seriously, what's with making the small people do all the work pulling? At least it wasn't windy). I figured we'd be losing him soon when he mentioned that he felt like he'd just done a hilly 25k and had to go do it again... yup, you aren't going to last too long if that's how you feel going in to the hills. Shortly thereafter, a real heavy breathing guy came up behind us, lunged his way around, and staggered up the hill with much flailing. It was only amusing because he tripped himself within 3 seconds of trying to beat the girls up the hills, and we all just sort of skied on by. By the top of Porter Mt. we'd caught the Berkshire master, and then we got some downhills, so we put some time on the rest of the group.

I took the lead going up East Mt, because I figured then I could crawl along at whatever pace I felt was comfortable. Jess didn't seem to want to take the lead back, so it was basically like a hard-paced distance ski, pretty chill. At the top I mentioned that I was starting to feel it, and Jess just sort of chuckled, said she figured that was the case since I'd gotten pretty quiet. More sweet downhills, and by the time we came through the feed at 40k, the race was basically over. We'd dumped our group of masters behind us, and there were two more guys ahead of us that we could see we were closing in on. Some steady skiing caught them, and at 5km left, Jess skipped the feed and took the lead. I was ok with this, because I was planning a massive sprint finish win, and if I could rest for 5km in her draft, that would help with the whole "winning" bit. But then we went down a hill, that wasn't tricky or anything, just straight, and my foot caught a rut and my leg was too tired to correct for it, and I went down in a tumbled heap, killing my momentum.

I got up and going again pretty fast, but Jess had enough momentum from the downhill that she was already over the crest of the uphill, and I knew that if I were up there, I'd be attacking with everything I had left. So I put out more effort than I'd expended yet, and set to chasing. I got lucky in that we were 45k into a 47k race, and Jess was pretty tired, because I finally made contact on the last uphill of consequence, a steep little bugger out of the sand pit thing and up to the level of the tunnel across the road. I was wheezing pretty hard, its not easy to change pace when you've been at one speed for that long, but Jess didn't throw down a counter attack (again, I totally would have done that if I were in her shoes), she just kept skiing steady, so I got a little bit of rest before we crossed under the tunnel and back to the XC side of things. We now had something like 300m left, so I decided it was time to do this massive sprint win thing.

Alex: Could I get by on your right? I think I would like to do what they call "an attack".
Jess: Oh, sure, I'm pretty done.
Alex: AND she's attacking! After a grueling stage, will she have what it takes to win the sprint?
Jess: Does she have enough in the tank?!? Jess is pulling out a counter-attack, she is challenging Alex for her position!
Alex: I have to stop narrating now, I'm too out of breath.
Jess: Yeah, me too, ski racing is hard.

I did end up taking the win, by about two seconds. Jess didn't totally give it up to me, but I think she cared a lot less. Either way, it was super fun to ski 50k with a close friend, on a beautiful day, on a challenging course, with fast skis. Despite the 7hr drive home in a snowstorm (thanks for keeping me awake, Cary), I was in a pretty good mood by the end of the day. We ended up placing pretty well among the men, too - 21st and 22nd, of 58 starters.

Breakfast of champions. I meant to take a photo of every new setting and make a pretty little montage, of Alex downing two bowls of cheerios and two heaping bowls of oatmeal, but I forgot, and in the end, its not that interesting anyway.