Monday, January 30, 2012

Sierra World Cup: Long distance

Ali and I made it to Lake Tahoe! Some photos, and a story:
Team giggles at Spooner lake.

Training at the model event on Sunday, Northstar XC.

More training! This looks like a snowplow turn.

Waxing outside here is super nice. So warm and sunny!

Some Finns lounging in the sun at Northstar.

Ali and Brendan thought that was a good idea, and decided to do it too.

Today was the first of four World Cup races in the Sierras this week, a long distance race at Tahoe Donner XC. This is the first time North America has ever held ski orienteering races of this calibre, so the organizers were understandably a bit nervous. Ed is in charge of all the results gear, he's good at stuff like that. From the competitor's standpoint, the race went off great! I went over to congratulate Ed after on how awesomely he'd done, and he immediately started ranting about all the things that he thought went wrong. How do you live with a perfectionist? Sigh. At least first he congratulated me on my race!

The altitude has been a bitch to get used to - I'm still hunched over gasping for breath after a flight of stairs. Ali and I arrived Friday night, after a pretty long travel day, and our first two days were spent doing short, easy, skis, and trying to get used to this altitude. It's high. I also picked up a cold last week, which hasn't made the adjustment to this altitude any easier. By this morning, my heart rate was almost into the "acceptable to go train" range, so why not do a 17km race with 440m of climb?

The mass start combined women and men, seeded so that the higher-ranked skiers were in the middle. We had something like 35 men and 20 women racing - small fields, considering that there are 90 skiers signed up for the entire week of World Cups, but stacked fields. 16 of the top 20 ranked men in the world are here. Exciting!

My goal for the race was to avoid building too much lactic acid - I tend to quickly overload my muscles when I'm racing at altitude, and that, combined with the already-leaden feeling of sick legs, was going to make this race a slog. Luckily, it was hard and icy and fast, so at least I would have some speed to play with! I had a decent start, but of course we headed straight uphill almost immediately, since Tahoe Donner is all up or down.
At the start. Photo courtesy of Eddie Bergeron.

This was hard, and I had to let a lot of girls get away from me. Thankfully, what goes up must come down, and I navigated the first loop well, coming through the map exchange in 3rd place, apparently. Of course, I had the shortest loop first, but still, it's fun to come through looking fast. Ok, maybe looking frazzled.
Ack! Need to change maps! Photo courtesy of Eddie Bergeron.

The second loop went pretty well, too, although I made a few 15-20s errors and hesitations. A group of girls got past me on the climb (of course we had another climb! Duh), and there was just nothing to do but let them go. I felt like I was just walking. So frustrating! But then, we went downhill again, and I started having fun again. This time I came through the map exchange in 6th place, just behind a Finnish girl, pretty cool!
Attempting to get the map into the map holder. Photo courtesy of Eddie Bergeron.

The third loop was the longest, and sent us way down into Euer valley. I probably coasted a little too much down the hill, as there was a pack of 3-4 girls closing on me near the bottom. I managed to put a little time on them double poling the small trails on the flats, but all that did was show them where to go. At this point I was catching glimpses of Ali, maybe 1-2 minutes ahead of me, when she'd do an out-and-back, and one glimpse of the eventual winner. Things were going well down in that valley, but unfortunately, well, what goes down, must come up. I guess that works against me as well as for. As soon as we started climbing, it was like I dropped an anchor - the Finn just ahead of me was GONE, and Norway, Switzerland, Russia, and Lithuania caught me up. To add insult to injury, I skied into a groomer rut as I was reading my map, and cracked the tip of my ski. Great, broken equipment.

By the time I finally wheezed my way to the top of the hill, having decided that those other teams MUST have spent a week at altitude already, I could still see Lithuania, but the others were gone. And of course, when your legs are using all the oxygen, there's none for your brain. Two large mistakes on the last loop, one of which cost over a minute, and another pack of girls had caught me up. Panic time!

I managed to spike the last three controls, but the other girls were hot on my tail; really I was just showing them where to go. Because we were on narrow trails, they couldn't pass me, but I was worried about defending my position when we got to the finish straight. I went to slow to punch the "go" control, and slid over some bare ice, missing the punch. I had to turn around and backtrack to punch, and one of the girls punched and got ahead. I was moving faster in the sprint; a couple more meters and I could have gotten her, but it was too short, my mistake too costly. She got 10th, and I was 11th, so much for the top 10. Actually, thanks to the strength and depth of the field, I had my best World Ranking points ever from that race. So, many positives to take away, but I wish I hadn't felt quite so crappy coming up every hill.

Map 1 from the race.

Map 2 from the race.

Map 3 from the race.

This cold will pass, and I get an easy day tomorrow, so hopefully the altitude will seem less brutal to me by Wednesday. Tomorrow is the North American championships middle distance, but I plan to treat it as a recovery/training day, so I can be rested for the World Cup sprint race on Wednesday!

I need to mention - Ali ended up in 4th place! Super cool, and so close to that podium!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

General chaos of a day

After getting back from the Bates carnival, and feeling like I really could handle these three jobs and keeping my life in order and all that, I managed to have a pretty massive fail of a day on Sunday. Sunday was the first EHS qualifier race for Massachusetts, at Weston, so we had pretty much every CSU kid to wax for. Then in the afternoon, I was hosting a ski orienteering meet at Weston, chosen because that was the only weekend where I knew I'd be around to host the meet. To complicate this, Ed was departing for California for the World Cup prep at noon, and I planned to take him to the airport. Wooo scheduling!

Things didn't get off to an auspicious start when I managed to break my french press. I think something died inside of me when I saw the glass lying all over the kitchen floor. I contemplated going back to bed and staying there, but that wasn't really an option. I still didn't have a finished map for the Weston ski-o, since we'd only just gotten some snow (finally!!), and I didn't know how anything was groomed, so I still had to update the map, set the courses, and print the maps. No biggie. First I had a race to wax for. So, coffee-less, I made it to Weston, and began testing wax. Being Weston, parts of the course were freshly groomed, parts hadn't been groomed since last night, and parts had fresh man-made snow on top - basically, it was a shitshow, and no one wax was going to run fastest. We still managed to get fast skis under our kids, helped when you have fast skiers to begin with, and placed 11 boys in the top 20 (top 20 qualifier for EHS), and 17 of the top 20 girls. We also swept both podiums! Every day we're creeping closer to world domination.

I couldn't stay for the entire race, as I had to get back home to take Ed to the airport. Driving back, I hydroplaned on some barely-noticeable water on the exit ramp, and kissed a guardrail. Just a kiss on the cheek, really, quite demure, but the guardrail went and got all feisty and tried to take more than what was offered. Pretty pissed at myself for that one; I knew my tires were bad, but turns out they're actually completely bald. Anyway, I got home, and Ed told me I'm never allowed to buy another Honda Civic, because all I do is crash them. I'll pretend it's the car's fault, and not user error. Ed, being a fixer, had also found that I can replace the beaker for my coffee maker, and so salvaged that part of my day.

I quickly finished updating the Weston map, planned a course, and we piled Ed and his stuff into the still-driveable car, where we went to the airport via Ed's office so I could print maps. Then back to Weston, where I began setting up the ski-o event. That went pretty smoothly, and everyone seemed to have a really good time, but I was starting to get really cold and hungry by the end. I'd rather be skiing. So when I finally got home around 5:30, I wasn't done yet - the folks in California had just finished putting together the text for bulletin 3, and I'm the person in charge of publicity and stuff, so I was up pretty late getting that to look pretty and catching all the typos and mistakes before we published the bulletin. Oof.

Monday morning; turns out the car isn't going to be too much of a hassle to fix, and it's in the shop now, and I've ordered new tires. What is it Tom and Ray on Car Talk always say? The cheapskate always ends up paying more? Yeah. Anyway, I leave tomorrow morning at the crack o' dawn with Ali for California, where I'll hopefully not die from the altitude, and we'll put together some decent races. Half nervous, half excited. At least now Ed is out there rallying troops and getting things organized; it's hard to organize things from half a country away.

We have people from 14 different countries coming for the World Cup; so this should be wicked awesome! Team giggles attacks the world again, wahooo!

Bates Carnival

Sporting a Harvard jacket.

Last week, Chris City, the head coach at Harvard, approached me to see if I could assist him for the rest of the season. Being a sucker for people who need help, and also needing the cash, I signed up for yet another job, and now am an employee of the big H. I did actually think pretty long and hard about this, but in the end decided the pros outweighed the cons, and the commitments weren't overwhelming - I gave a very take-it-or-leave-it offer back in regard to my time, and Chris took it. One of the cons of being a last-minute addition to a ski team, of course, is that it'll be hard to build any rapport with the skiers, but they're a nice group of kids and so far we get along fine.

There's also the fact that almost nobody coaches two ski teams at once, but as long as there isn't any overlap, I think I can manage this. Given that I'm missing the next two carnivals to go to California (I'll get to that), I'm missing the one carnival that is also an Eastern Cup, where the only awkward overlap could happen. Nothing if not a master juggler, here.

So last weekend I headed back to Rumford, this time driving a Harvard van, for the Bates Carnival. It's been a while since I was on the carnival circuit, but not much has changed. The coaches meetings still deliver a solid 15 minutes of information jam-packed into an hour, the head coaches are all the same folk, and the skiers are just as speedy. Friday was a 5km/10km skate, and Saturday was a mass start classic 10km for both men and women. Chris and I quickly developed a working relationship in the waxroom, and ripped through testing and fluoring the skis with enough time to get out and watch the races. I know one of the girls from before, and I coached one of the boys as a junior at CSU, so at least with them I could scream my head off, as I'm wont to do; the others I held back a little with the cheering because I didn't want to scare them too much...
Testing wax with head coach Chris City.

The following day was the mass start classic race, and luckily the waxing was really easy; that's always a worry when it's mass start and you have 11 pair of skis to do. But the skiers performed, and although there are always crushed expectations in the first carnival, I think it gave us a really good handle on where we are, and where to go from here. Mostly, it's exciting - quite a future in this team!

Steam rising from the river, looking toward the smokestacks of Rumford's paper mill... as the sun rose, you could see the hazy glow of light diffused through smoke. Very pretty, but disturbing...

Rumford wax rooms are sweet. Love waxing indoors, and so do my hands. I get such wicked dry skin when I have to wax outdoors, and cuts all over my hands because I can feel a damn thing because my hands are frozen. So yeah: indoor waxrooms rule.

Slightly more snow in the stadium than during nationals. It was actually really great skiing, I snuck out for a workout after the race, and had a super fun time.

Chris Stock in the race. I coached him as a junior, and it's been really fun to see him progress. Actually, it's awesome how many CSU juniors were out there racing for D1 colleges - Chris at Harvard, Hannah and Isaac at Williams, Chris Burnham and Olga at Colby, Hilary at Middlebury, Jimmy at Bates, and I'm probably missing some... anyway, it was really cool to see them all in the college race, and to scream my head off for them!

Men's pack up highschool hill the first time. That hill certainly separated the wheat from the chaff.

Women's pack.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Titcomb Mountain Eastern Cups

Photo credit Jamie Doucett.
After a super successful week at nationals, a week back home to recoup, and CSU was on the road again, heading back to Maine for a weekend of Eastern Cup races at Titcomb Mountain, in Farmington. Saturday was kind of disappointing for me - I couldn't get my head into the game. I regretted signing up for the race, because you have to do what you sign up to do, unless you actually have a valid excuse, and then after I qualified for the heats in 28th, I was resigned to racing a second time, because you have to finish what you've started. Just very unmotivated to be racing that day, and the course, a flat, double-pole power course, wasn't doing much to excite me. But a race is a race, and all races deserve to be treated with respect, and after doing a warmup running on the road, I'd at least thawed out my frozen feet and broken a sweat. Physically, I was ready.

Having the worst bib in my heat meant I picked my lane last, but I got a quick start, and managed to get into one of the three tracks after the scramble zone. Things stayed tight around the first downhill and across the flats, and then up the hill in the stadium, everybody was double poling, despite having wax on their skis. I moved into the middle lane and was able to kick double pole up to the front, but things were still really tight. As we crested the hill, Maria Stuber pulled away, being on skate skis, and the rest of us were in a tight pack down around the corner again.

Nearly done, I found myself in second place, and here I made the first of two errors - I chose the middle track, instead of the one on the left, despite knowing that there was a left turn coming up into the finish. Then I made my second error of the day - I remember thinking to myself, "make sure you end up third, because you don't want to have to keep racing today". That is NOT the mindset you should have in a sprint. I think this moment of hubris caused me to let up a bit, and the girl in the left track pulled even with me, two more girls close behind her. As we made the sharp left corner into the finish, they had the better line, more momentum, and I couldn't hold them off double poling. I was pretty disgusted with my mental state during that race, but put it behind me, determined to learn from my mistakes and never put on another bib if I'm not ready to treat the race with respect.

After an exciting night that involved both a fire alarm at the hotel and some serious insomnia, I woke up feeling like excrement. But I took the tough love approach with my head, and cursed myself into readiness, lying to me about how awesome I felt and how much I wanted to race up the alpine mountain six times. Unlike Saturday, Sunday's race featured a climb of ~50m up the alpine slope. The women did this loop six times, for 8.4km total. My goal for the race was to attack that hill six times, and keep the tempo as brutal as I could manage.

I was the first starter in the field of 114, so I had some fast girls starting not too soon after me. I hit the hill for the first lap, and decided that it wasn't so bad, because it was kind of gradual, at least compared to something like highschool hill. But of course then it flattened out drastically in the middle, and a good skier should be able to V2 that part of the course, and I sort of instinctively knew that if I V2ed that flat bit, before it tilted upwards again, I'd get mired in my pain cave and never emerge. So, I just jacked the tempo even more, not giving my skis any time to slow down, until I reached the top and did a U-turn and headed back down. The downhill was actually kind of scary; it was very fast, and there were some lumps and bumps in there that meant you couldn't really rest as much as I'd hope. The first time down, I caught an edge, and somehow managed to save it, but was cutting it pretty close to the outer limits of that turn. After that, every time down the hill I was frantically thinking: stay on your feet! stay on your feet!

The rest of the race was pretty uneventful, each lap getting more and more painful. Occasionally, earlier starters would pass me by, but then I'd slowly reel them in as reality hit. Going into my third lap, Maria Stuber passed me, from a minute back, I figured this meant she'd probably beat me by 3min, more or less, and she did. Although I'd picked up the pace to ride her draft across the flats, once I hit the hill I let her go - I had a pace that worked for me, and when you're pushing near redline, you have a limited number of times you can go over without paying the consequences. By the sixth lap, I was starting to get tunnel vision, and I was mildly worried about the descent down the hill with this much lactic acid swimming through my legs. Luckily, I made it, and hammered in to the finish pretty pleased with how I'd approached the race. I haven't felt that much good pain in a long time.

In the end I was 10th, and had almost perfectly even splits - nice. Just looking at the bit going around the loop (not the start of finish straight), I was 4:38, 4:38, 4:43, 4:42, 4:43, 4:41.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Three weeks in a whirlwind of Alex

As I rolled - ok, slid sideways across greasy slush - into the driveway in Vermont, the tiredness was starting to pulse through me, like waves, and each time the wave hit with more force. Inside, I peeled damp socks from feet that had been standing for most of the day, and the five days before that, and sat down heavily, each limb feeling like it was being pushed to the floor. My eyes felt gritty, used up, and occasional muscle spasms wracked my legs. Turns out, coaching can be hard work, but it only gets really hard when you're also trying to keep up with your supposed real life job at the same time. Skiing twelve hours in a week, or seventeen hours in a week up at the training camp, isn't hard when you're also sleeping enough. Alas, coffee really isn't a good replacement for sleep.
Is this dog not the cutest thing you've ever seen? She's the main reason I ever go home.

I started this trip filled with excitement and anticipation. I love going places! After a quick few days in Rochester, trying to catch up with social obligations and simultaneously finish some school obligations, I was feeling a bit run down, a bit short on the shuteye, but I figured I'd catch up while in Mont Sainte Anne, at CSU's annual training camp. Another nine hours in the car, this time listening to a spy thriller on CD, and I was in a winter wonderland, some place with hills, and snow, and all my happy little skiers ready to thrash me kilometer after kilometer. Part of the training plan is the mandatory nap after lunch - after having skipped said nap for a week, now I understand why it is mandatory. But when the skiing is so good, I just can't stop!

Speedy li'l buggers.

From Canada, I headed south, through some pretty crappy weather (unfortunately, not snow), and ended up in Vermont, in time for the New Year's party, with Ed. Happy 2012! A few short hours later I was on the road again, to the same spy thriller, now heading to Rumford, to coach at US nationals for cross country skiing. We had seven athletes staying in a house, and three others day tripping just to get some race experience, with four coaches and a shifting mix of parents, although Peter really did the heavy duty organization and cooking. You'd think that after a week of Peter's amazing breakfasts we'd all be ten pounds heavier, but it turns out that if you stand outside all day and test skis all day and and run around excitedly cheering all day and substitute caffeine for sleep, you actually lose weight. I think this is a Bad Thing.
Crammed into a condo in Rumford, ME.

The week went awesomely - the CSU juniors all skied well above their seeds, and above their expectations, and we qualified one for the Junior Worlds trip and two for the J1 Scandinavian Cup trip. I am very proud, and certainly take some of the credit. After Friday's race, the three making trips stayed for the banquet, and I was back in my car, heading to Vermont again, hoping for some r&r.

By Sunday, we're back in Boston, catching up on life, and the whirlwind is over... for now!