Monday, December 19, 2011

Ski racing! First round of Eastern Cups

Despite the complete lack of snow everywhere in New England except Presque Isle, Craftsbury managed to pull off an impeccable 1.5km loop of manmade snow, to host 500 racers in the first round of Eastern Cup races this winter. The format was a 1km sprint qualifier-only in the morning, a 3km classic prologue (why does the prologue come second? Can someone answer that for me?) in the afternoon, and a 5km/10km skate race on Sunday. Most of the CSU juniors elected to only do one of the classic races, since none of us have been on snow since that freak Halloween snowstorm, and two classic sprint races in one day, when you haven't done it yet that year, is a recipe for injury. Luckily, yours truly doesn't abide by this silly "common sense" thing, and signed up for the entire weekend.

Did you know, if you do two classic sprint races in one day when it's your first day classic skiing, you'll be in a lot of pain the next day?? Who would have guessed it. At least I was able to provide amusement for the other coaches when my hamstring and groin cramped up completely and I was shaking and crying and clutching my leg and trying not to scream, Saturday evening. Good times.

So confused by those long slide-y things attached to my feet!

The course was pretty fun - it had three hills, of varying degrees of steepness, the worst being the wall in the field that everyone was herringboning up. I think that's where the groin cramp originated, because you sure don't practice herringboning on rollerskis. Lots of twists and turns and good transition-y stuff, I like that sort of course. With about 30 kids racing, we were ironing out some new ideas and techniques for the EC weekends, the most successful of which was the parental waxing army. Rob and Jamie and I tested wax, told the parental army what to apply, and they whipped through the kids' skis, producing some fast, sticky, rockets.

It was a bit of a pain to not be able to warm up on skis, since the only snow at Craftsbury was being used on the course, and that was closed as soon as the races started, but by Sunday I'd figured out how to manage. Saturday's first race I started almost completely cold, and my body really doesn't deal well with that. I also could have used much stickier skis, but was applying some panic wax for one of my skiers during the time I could have been panic waxing my own skis. End result were some slick skis, but at least they were fast. Sprint courses are just over so quickly, I never felt like I really found my stride, and barely remember any of the course. The post-race hack indicates I took it at race pace, luckily.

A brief break, and then it was time for the prologue. Things were pretty relaxed in the CSU waxing area, since we'd nailed the wax (that toko base green binder stuff works like magic in manmade snow), and although I wasn't much more warmed up, I was at least a bit tired out starting the second race. My upper body was tired from my four minutes of race pace double poling earlier in the day, which goes to show my dismal ski shape, but I added a bunch more wax to my skis, and this time felt way more comfortable with the whole kick and glide thing. We got to do two laps instead of one, and that helped me, I think, although herringboning the steep hill still felt awkward.

I'm pleased with the second race, and kind of just disregarding the first race completely; not much to learn from that in my case. My juniors crushed the world, taking first place in J1 girls, J2 girls, and J1 boys in the morning - I was proud of all of them, especially with how supportive they were of the kids who weren't so happy about their races. The team aspect is really what ski racing is about - results are so secondary.

Sunday morning, I was hacking up a lung and could barely walk for sore hip flexors, but I actually did enough warmup to shake things out; finally getting the hang of how this ski racing thing works. Given that skate skiing is a lot easier to transition to from rollerskis, I felt ready to hammer the race. My skis were rockets, and that just makes everything more fun. The uphills were already getting pretty chopped up, so I tried to stay light on my feet and just keep the skis moving, and this was definitely the right technique up the steep hill in the field. On the flats, I didn't feel super solid on my feet, but smooth enough to keep generating speed, and my skis continued to be really speedy.

The second lap I tried to maintain that calm feeling I'd had the first lap, and while transitions still felt a little shaky, I was definitely hitting my groove on the uphills. Coming through the lap I was starting to get fatigued, but my top J2 girl caught me just then, on her second lap, and I hopped in behind, to catch a ride. She still skis like a J2, but boy does that kid have some power. The steep hill felt a lot harder the third time 'round, but knowing that you're almost done is always motivational, and I finished pretty strong, basically not having passed or been passed the entire race.

I was happiest with the skate race - only 4% behind Sophie Caldwell is a good race, and although the points aren't out yet, I think it shows some good early ski fitness. I placed 27th, which basically just shows the depth of the New England women's field. Stacked. A few years ago, 4% behind the winner would be top-10 placing.

I'm kind of psyched about ski racing now. Not so much that I'm going to rush out and buy a USSA license to race at nationals, but enough that I've stopped doubting myself. Time to get on snow, somewhere... re-learn how to classic ski!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Prospect Hill time trial

Last Sunday, the CSU juniors did a time trial up the road at Prospect Hill park, around the flat bits for a little, and then all the way up to the top. The course length was only 4.5km, but given that there was basically no rest, and most of the course was climbing, the times were more appropriate for a 5km race. Course map. I spent a while standing still at the top talking to Jamie, and then we all hiked down to the bottom (too steep to ski down safely), and I spent a while standing around talking to various juniors, and then I took photos while they all started, and then I was like, hey, I should do this too.

At this point I was thoroughly chilled, and completely cooled down from standing around for so long. I figured I'd use the first climb as a warmup, and that actually worked relatively well; I could ski at a consistent tempo with some power application without completely blowing myself up, and by the time I hit the rollers at the top, I was ready to go. Sort of. We did two out-and-backs up top, on a relatively flat rolling road, and that felt like a lot of work, although less work than the killer uphill to the finish. A good hard time trial course, and I ended up just behind one of my J2 girls (ahem), by 3 seconds or so. I'll blame it on taking the first uphill so easy.

As the last tune-up workout before the Eastern Cup this weekend, I'm hesitantly excited. I seem to have some good fitness right now, but I really haven't been on skis, other than an hour on Weston's gerbil loop the other day, and I think that is going to make it difficult to go fast this weekend. We'll see what happens...

Jamie took photos, and he has learned to just send me photos of myself, since otherwise I'll pester him for them endlessly.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Niflheim Nordic CL700 rollerski review

Ed's company, Niflheim Nordic, started selling classic rollerskis last fall. I hadn't actually gotten around to trying them out seriously until this fall, a serious fail on my part, but most of the problem was related to the fact that I wasn't classic rollerskiing enough. Anyway, I've since put in a bunch of kilometers on the skis, and I have a favorable review for them. I've been skiing on a pair of Marwe combi skis for the last six years, so that is the standard to which I was holding the CL700.

Let's start with overall speed. Like the skate skis, the classic Niflheim Nordic rollerskis come standard with a speed reducer. Unlike the skate skis, though, striding up a hill with a speed reducer on your front wheel sucks - it feels like you're pushing your ski through deep, heavy, snow. So, you can't really use the speed reducer to modify your constant speed the way you can with the skate skis, unless you're just double poling. The skis run medium-slow, without the speed reducer, and I found it to be a comfortable-hard speed for a long ski (in company with some J1 girls who will probably be on the podium at JNs this year, so we weren't exactly dogging it), level 1 on the flats and level 2 on the uphills, for those of you who speak that language. The speed reducer is INCREDIBLY effective at slowing the ski on the downhills - when I put the speed reducer all the way on, I slowed down to a stop. Ed won't let me call it a brake, because it's not, but it sure functions in a similar way. I guess this is mostly due to the wider wheel for the speed reducer to work on, or the longer speed reducer lever-arm, or something like that.

The wheels of this ski are very flat - it is a very stable ski. This is great for striding, but it meant that when the road was deeply cambered, the skis wanted to roll off the edge when I wasn't paying attention. Usually, you only hit that much of a camber on corners, luckily, and I found that I could just adjust my ankle positioning. What was amazing about the wide wheels was how they absorbed bumps and road vibrations. I had always attributed the comfort of my Marwes to the honeycomb shaft, but the Niflheim skis are aluminum, and they are incredibly smooth on rough pavement. It makes for a really nice ride.

The skis also handle gravel well. Ed said something about the wheel having some space between it and the shaft, and that causes the gravel to not stop the skis, but whatever the cause, I could roll over stones that I wouldn't want to hit with my Marwe skis. I don't think it's good practice to aim for rocks when on rollerskis, but sometimes you find yourself with no choice but to go over a rock. These skis did not throw me down, the way I expected in that particular situation.

The Niflheim skis are also really comfortable when striding up hills. Because of the wide wheels, they're super stable, and they feel soft, if that makes any sense - very smooth.

The one downside to the skis is that the wide wheels make them a heavy ski. Being used to my narrow-wheeled combi skis, I had issues when I tried to do all-out sprints. I'm used to a narrow wheel that will let me quickly correct for a ski heading in the wrong direction, and I had trouble quickly moving these skis around. That said, very few people are doing all-out sprints on rollerskis, so I don't expect this to be a widespread problem! I didn't have too much of a problem edging off of the skis, although I suspect I'd be unhappy if I tried to skate on them for a long time. That's fine, though, because these are classic skis!

And, like the skate skis, the classic skis are anodized red, so they stay pretty and shiny. Overall, I'm a fan.

The price point is $199, without bindings, so as far as classic skis go, these are also cheaper. I guess the ratcheted front wheel bumps the cost, but it still saves a bundle of money compared to V2 or Marwe or Swenor.

Link to the Niflheim Nordic website. And here is a link to my review of the Niflheim Nordic skate skis.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hot chocolate 5k race

I raced six times last weekend, while doing 5.5hrs of running in two days. I would never have guessed it, but that sort of weekend will leave you really sore. What's up with that?

Phil Bricker set a chase sprint race at Cemetery Hill for Saturday, and though only 29 people showed up, they were all pretty serious orienteers. The format was that you ran two separate sprints, and then your time was added, and the final sprint was a chase start, a la pursuit style, so that whoever came home first won the day. I had some issues getting my legs going, and then had an up close and personal encounter with some thick spiky stuff in the final sprint, not my finest day. Results.

Punching the finish.

After some much-needed pizza, a whole crew of us headed out to do a night-o at a park that shall not be named. This went alright for me, although I didn't feel like I had a ton of energy. Most of the boys beat me this time, but I still had a good time out there and didn't make any huge mistakes. The night-o was followed with dinner at Peter and Gail's house, and then a respectable amount of boggle.

Sunday morning dawned clear and cold, and I was very stiff, and quite sleepy. Some yoga took care of the stiffness, and coffee took care of the sleepiness, and soon I found myself in a car heading down to Northampton for the annual Hot Chocolate 5k race, trying to figure out a race strategy. I expected to be maybe 30s faster than the xc races - so somewhere between 20:30-21ish minutes. I ran the course to warm up, and quickly discovered that my legs felt really light and snappy. I had unfortunately eaten the sort of breakfast you'd eat before a ski marathon, which, strangely enough, is not ideal for running, but my stomach quieted itself before the start.

With 3200 other runners lining up for the race, this thing had some serious potential to get crowded. Everyone I'd talked to had said to line up in an area a minute faster per mile than you think you'll run, and although I hate the "I lied because everyone else was lying" approach to this, I figured if I wanted a clear run I'd have to do that. People were pretty relaxed, and Greg Balter (a middle-aged orienteer doing this with me) lined up nearby, he was hoping to break 20min by a bit, so I figured I could start near him and see how that felt. I haven't really run too many track intervals lately, so I didn't have a sense of what pace would break me.

We started out, and the course quickly climbed a steep little hill up to the center of town, and then headed out on a gradual downhill grade. The traffic wasn't bad; there were people all over, but I didn't have to change my line or move around too much, and that first mile felt pretty effortless. They had clocks at each mile, and the first read 6:25 - bang on for 20min pace! The pace may have felt pretty effortless, in terms of cardiovascular effort, but my quads could feel that I wasn't used to going this fast, and Greg had a decent lead on me already. Luckily, we turned a corner and began a gradual climb up to the 2nd mile. This is where I really discovered that my legs felt light - I swung my way up that hill, and it felt like I was just rolling along, no extra effort. Awesome!

I hit the second mile at 12:42; now just under 20min pace. I still felt very comfortable in my breathing, and I found that a little surprising. My legs were beginning to be a little tired, but there was no lactate burn, and I still felt like I was flowing across the pavement. The third mile climbs, fairly significantly, and then descends, again somewhat steeply, into town, and finishes down the little kicker we climbed up from the start. I dug deep on the hill, since I clearly didn't have the leg speed to push the flats hard enough. I began to pass some people, and could see Greg ahead of me up the hill. The positive thoughts were flowing, and nearing the top of the hill I was breathing more raggedly - how I'd expect for a hard effort.

Turning the corner to start the downhill into town, I wasn't looking at my watch anymore. This was it, all downhill to the finish, and that hill had very successfully put me into my own private lactic-acid-filled hell. One of the guys I'd passed going up the hill came back past me, and I realized that feeling of doom, knowing you've dug too deep too soon. Greg was now dangling about 10m in front of me, but I couldn't close the gap, and every step felt like it was shattering my quads. Another middle-aged guy passed me by, but he gasped out - "work with me!" Somewhat unexpected, but I knew it was time to get tough, and lengthened my stride to match his. He pulled me up to Balter, and I knew I had this race in the book. I just had to not trip over myself.

The last 200 meters were excruciating. I wouldn't - couldn't - let up, but my legs and lungs were maxed out, and the downhill was steep enough that I was actually worried I might not get my legs in front of me enough to catch myself as I rolled down the hill. Gone was the floating sensation, instead there was just burning. I staggered past one last woman, and finally crossed the finish line. Oh sweet relief, I can stop running now!

I ended up running 19:39, a new PR by almost 1.5 minutes. MINUTES! That's not supposed to happen at this point in my life, but I'm not complaining. Results, 11th woman, 89th overall, of 3209 total runners.

The sixth race of the weekend, orienteering down in Connecticut that afternoon, was not performed very quickly.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Skiing is hard.

Skiing is hard, yo. Frank convinced me to do a no-pole skate time trial, because I'd missed the one in the fall and he wanted the data from my times (to correlate to my double pole test, and add a data point in an obsessive study relating ankle compression to ski speed... or something along those lines), to add to his massive database of skiers. I was sort of like, how hard can this be? And then I really regretted it. This test is evil. Four times up a steep hill, no-pole skating, is considerably harder than four times double poling up that hill. I suppose this was the point that Frank was trying to prove to us - our skating needs a lot of work, and that weakness is exposed when you remove the poles. I'm glad there wasn't anyone taking video of me, that couldn't have been pretty.

By the time this was done, my butt was totally wrecked. My legs weren't feeling too good, but the gluteus medius was TRASHED. The good news is that my calf didn't blow up, so I was able to push through all of these. But today I can barely walk, my butt is so sore.

Anyway, the times were 3:20, 3:25, 3:29, 3:23, for a total of 13:36. Given that my first double pole test of the year was 13:18, I'm pretty pleased with the no-pole variant. Given my decent ankle compression, it fits pretty well with Frank's theory that good ankle compression --> good no-pole times relative to double pole times. Or something...

Above is the homework assignment that Frank sent to all the juniors. They had to pull out frames from a video of them skiing, and measure the ankle and knee ankles at three different stages - glide, compression, and kick. I didn't have a protractor, so I just copied my angles onto Frank's, since we were using him as a template. We have about 10 skiers who have actually gone through and done this, by now - they're the overachievers, and I approve!

Anyway, while doing time trials that are painful and exhausting, I remembered that skiing is hard. I forget this sometimes, especially as a coach. My athletes are lucky I do the workouts with them - it forces me to remember how much work they're doing, too. So I was in this tough-girl "skiing is hard!" mindset all day, and then that just faded, enough for me to remember why I love to ski. So I drew a picture. And wrote a blog post, that almost got too sappy, but ended up motivating. I think.
Skiing is hard, and I love it.