Thursday, January 29, 2015

White Mountain Classic 30k

Last Saturday was the first "long" race of the season, but unfortunately, all the rain last weekend made it so they had to shorten the course, and our 30k became more like a 20k. The course was in great condition, considering the amount of rain they'd gotten, and I had excellent skis on covered klister, great kick (ok, I slipped once or twice on Yodel, but that was just me trying to find a groove), and phenomenal glide.  The women's field looked a little thin, so I made it my goal to ski with Rob.  As evidenced in the above photo, I did that for at least a little bit!

Everyone always goes way too fast around the field first lap, myself included, but I used Rob as my standard, and when he slowed down, I tried to do the same.  I knew I only had so much double-pole-power in my arms - once that was used up, game over.  I could only hope the power would last through the race.  We started climbing Yodel, and I slowed down to something more sustainable; my legs felt good but I didn't want to push into the red zone so early, and master men passed and pulled away from me slowly.  I definitely had my eyes open for any women, but so far I was still in the clear.  Once up in the upper golf course fields, I managed to double pole my way back up to Rob (boo yah, who needs summer training?), and was positioned nicely behind him as we started climbing the wave the first time. They had taken out some of the extra hills on the wave, which made it so that I could keep climbing at Rob's pace, rather than have to let him go, though I was finding that my skis would ride up on him on the flats and downhills if I did drift back.  This was ok, and I was starting to really enjoy myself.  

Coming down the wave on the first lap, we caught up to Ian from Bethel, a guy I've skied a few long races with in the past, simply through virtue of being the same speed. Unfortunately, he was going a little cautiously on the last corner, and like some idiotic aggro college skier I tried to pass on the outside, before realizing I couldn't fit.  Then I slammed on the brakes, but caught an edge in the act of snowplowing/sliding the corner, and topsided pretty hard, bouncing off my head. Ouch! Luckily I was up and out of there quickly, minimal distance lost, but I was pretty pissed at myself.  Of course, it could have been worse, as I caught up to my teammate Andy out on the fields, who'd broken a pole in that same spot.  I managed to catch back up to Ian and Rob on the never-ending loops around the fields, but that burned some matches in my arms that I didn't actually have to burn. I could tell that my upper body was pretty done, but thankfully, it was time to climb back up the wave, so I could transfer more of the work to my legs again, and forget that my arms hurt so much!

Rob slowed down as we started climbing, so I took the lead, keeping my strides short and easy, not pushing the pace. Andy was leading, having gotten another pole, but he wasn't putting any great distance on us, and I wasn't worried about catching him.  Rob found a second wind near the top, and I hopped behind, with Ian a little ways back. A loose pack, but comfortable, we wound our way through the touring wave of skiers like a human slalom.  This time down, I stayed on my feet, making sure not to try and pass anyone on a tricky corner, and then all I had to do was survive the flats.

At this point, my arms reminded me that I'd emptied the oomph canister last time we did loops around this field, and it became a real struggle to hang on.  Rob took off after Andy, who was stronger than both of us double poling, and I was left dangling off the back, trying to claw my way back on the occasional uphills, but failing at it.  By the time I finally got to the Yodel to head back downhill, Ian and two other masters had caught up.  I was a little sketched out by the conditions coming down Yodel - deep sugar snow with remnants of tracks, but I trusted my skis to go in the right direction, and that was the right approach.  Then there's just the double poling around on the lower golf course til you get to the finish, and both of the masters who'd been behind me down the hill came around, with nothing left I could do about it.  I ended up 24th overall, and first lady, but in the important race of the day, Rob beat me.  

CSU won both the men's and women's one-day Club Championship award. It was a nailbiter right to the end for the women, dependent upon Sara Mae (78 yo great grandmother, and founder of CSU) to finish the race. She did, and we won! The results are based on how you do in your age class, and we have decent representation in each class, which helps.  Left to right - Jody, me, Donna, Sara Mae, Lisa, and Sarah. We're missing a few other ladies who had to leave early, but that was a pretty good showing.  

The next day found me at Notchview, coaching the MA state qualifier. We qualified nearly every CSU skier to a championship team (EHS or J2s), and as the head J2 coach this year, I'm psyched about the team.  Luckily the waxing was easy Sunday, so we could get out of our horse stall and go watch the races.  

Frigid windblown fields made up half the skate course.  Lovely soft conditions, though!

Coach Amie, recovering from knee surgery, was very excited about getting a ride on the sled =)

The start line.

Oh, and then we got a snowstorm in Boston. Maybe you heard something about it in the news. Lovely night to ride home on a bike, actually, if you don't mind the snow.

DCR even pre-salted the esplanade!

Tuesday morning I was planning to go do Tele turns down the road I use for hill repeats, but they were plowing too well. Darn!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Tuesday Night Worlds

The Tuesday night scene has started up, and we're two races in. I much preferred the conditions last week to this week; slightly slower snow meant more skiing, but it was still fast enough to get in some good drafting.  Tuesday night ski races are a special breed of race; hyper-aggressive masters on fluoroed skis letting off steam after a long day at work, it can be fun or terrifying, depending on how you look at it.  That said, there's no better way to get good at riding a high-speed ski in a pack than these races, and learning to glide comfortably on crummy "snow" while being jostled is actually a useful skill.  Last week the conditions were more snow-like, this week, after the rain, we had plenty of death cookies, and a solid base of ice under the foot of sugar slush on the hills.  Great conditions considering the amount of rain that we got, but definitely not your perfect corduroy.

Race #1
This was a good fun re-introduction to aggressive pack skiing. I felt like everyone was super hyped up, and I got pushed back in the start line-up behind my "usual" pack of guys, and quite a few new folks that I didn't know. Maybe mid-pack start. The NASCAR start, as usual, didn't really spread things out at all, and I kept double poling most of the way up the first hill, trying to keep out of trouble. The first hill was pretty soft, since the snow guns were pointed at it, but I can usually float on top of that stuff pretty well. I spent the most of the first lap in heavy traffic, doing a lot of passing, but I got to near the front of my pack by the end of lap one. At this point the chase pack had gapped us, and though I felt like I had the energy to go with them, I didn't have it after burning matches to get to where I was in my current pack. Moving around people is tough on skis. So I hung out for a little bit, maybe a minute of recovery, and then jumped a gap to get up with Bob and Drew, who were trying to ski away from us. I slipped by them on the middle hill, and as they say, it's do or die - staying put and breaking the wind for everyone else was not an option, so I put in an attack on the flats and got a gap. I should also mention that skiing at Weston has DEFINITELY improved my ability to do V2-alternate at high speeds. That's my attack stride now!

On lap 2 I slowly started to reel in Ari, who was skiing in no-man's land, and I got him by the end of the lap. Drafted for a wee bit, then looked back and saw that Bob was pulling the pack up to me, with Maddy sitting in second. Oops. I pushed the pace a bit, but by the short punchy climb it looked like they were actually closing, so I sat up and waited. Bob and Drew came around first, but Ari responded to that by going faster, so I jumped behind on the final climb, out-gliding Dres, which got me ahead and into Ari's draft. He's a skinny dude, but it still makes a difference heading into the final downhill, and we stayed away as I tried to slingshot around to win the sprint. Tough to say who won it, probably Ari, but that was some good fast racing.

Results - 8th overall is about where I'd expect to be, with the usual names showing up.  Certainly had to fight for it, though!

Race #2
Well, the rain didn't wipe out the snow, but it also didn't do it any favors, so things were pretty icy this week. Icy under a coating of sugar slush, just to throw you off.  My plan was to start a little further forward this week, so that I could use my energy to hang on to the lead pack, rather than jump gaps being opened by weaker skiers in the chase pack who found themselves in front. I lined up behind Rob, because I trust that he'll thread his way through the pack effortlessly, and I was right. Such a smooth start from up there.

The lead pack was not going very fast up the middle hill, and things were starting to bunch, but I figured if I stayed behind Rob I could just stay out of trouble and let things play out.  But, he was going too slowly; I got impatient and pulled to the side, watching the front of the race play itself out ahead of me. There was a guy in a black suit skiing way too aggressively, and he was bumping into Andy a few times. This is where I made two mistakes - First, I thought Andy was staying upright, because it looked like he'd saved it from the bump, but he fell. Then, I thought I had room to go around, but I didn't, and caught my left ski (right ski was in the air, so I didn't step on Andy) on something, probably his arm or his pole, and I went down with a jerk. Damn!

It felt like most of the pack got by me by the time I was up, but it probably wasn't that many. Andy came ripping by, pretty pissed to have gotten tripped, and I tried to hop in his draft, as we clawed our way back up through the pack. Essentially, falling down put me back where I'd started last week, only even further back, and I couldn't hang on to Andy's furious pace, so had to back off and jump the gaps under my own steam.  I was near the back of my usual pack by the end of lap 1, but, disappointingly, I could see Maddy with a solid 30-45s lead near the front of the pack, with a gap between her pack and mine.  I was still passing stragglers off the back of the second chase pack, but the efforts were getting harder, so when Terry came through, I just hopped in his draft, totally gassed.

Luckily, Terry was moving pretty fast, having hit the deck earlier as well, and anxious to make up ground.  By the end of the third lap, he'd pulled me up to Bob, and though Bob valiantly tried to defend his place, I fought back, no cutting me off, and stayed in Terry's draft down the hill.  Terry legitimately won the sprint, and I discovered I had put in an effort even harder than the week before.  The post-race hack, augmented by breathing heavily at the junction of two major interstates during rush hour, took a few days to fade.

Results - much further back, and quite a ways behind Maddy, which puts us 1-1 in the coach competition.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Rumford Eastern Cup

The second Eastern Cup of the season was at Black Mountain, in Rumford ME.  I love the course at Rumford, it really rewards good skiing and good fitness, and I was finally feeling like I had some of the latter at my disposal. It had been a busy last two weeks, so I definitely went into the race with moderated expectations regarding energy levels, but I figured if the Tuesday race was any indication, I would have some oomph at my disposal.  
Paul Bunyon had some oomph at his disposal. Guarding the entrance to Rumford, as ever.

Saturday dawned -8F and mega windy, a constant roar with occasional gusts rolling off the mountain and chilling me to the bone. We were testing skis in full down parkas, and I may have been double puffed.  It was beautifully sunny, but the wind and cold temperatures made it hard for me to get into race mode. Luckily, I borrowed a wind vest from Rob, and despite the size being a little off (he’s only a foot taller than me, obviously we can share clothing), it was a good move, as my core stayed warm enough to deal with the cold.  Being a coach and a racer definitely brings more fatigue to the party, since you can’t just focus on yourself to have your best race ever, but I’ve either developed the tolerance or the endurance or just somehow thrive on this sort of stuff; I felt peppy despite a solid 25k of ski testing and course tours prior to my race. My goal for the race was to attack the transition-filled downhills, and then keep the tempo high on the climbs, especially considering the cold and squeaky attributes of today’s snow.  I had a decent start spot, behind most of the college racers (this was the Bates carnival, an open carnival), but up with some of the big guns who race professionally, because I still have some points from last year.  

Sunny day, but coooold.

Out of the gun I felt nice and relaxed, snappy but smooth, and my skis were running really well.  Just the straight cold factory grind from Madshus, with our extra special CSU love from the wax army.  I focused on treating the first 2.5k of downhill like a sprint, nailing the transitions and keeping the ticking clock in mind, and near the bottom I could tell that my 15-second girl, Kaitlin Miller from Craftsbury, was getting closer.  She’s a professional ski racer, so this was cool, but I figured I wouldn't be seeing her any more once we started climbing, and I was right.  The first downhill bit of that course is so much fun! The snow was great, loose enough to get an edge but fast enough to really fly, and i was having fun as I confidently rode my rockets. It’s a good feeling.

Around halfway through, the climbing starts, first with a more gradual V1 hill, and then a wall, smack in the face. I tried not to go nuts on the gradual climb, flowing my way into it, and then up over the wall I tried to up the tempo, keeping things light and quick and forward. Channel your inner Liz Stephen!  A friend was cheering near the top, which was helpful, and I tried to keep some power through the V2 section preceding Highschool hill. That’s an obnoxious uphill section before Highschool Hill, while the hill itself is really not that bad - sure, it’s big, but it’s over with all at once, and it’s steep enough you can just put your head down and hurt for a few minutes and then you can go downhill again.  I caught my ex-skier Zoe up the hill, and that helped with my confidence, so I tried to keep the tempo high and the feet sliding, and despite far more fatigue in my arms and legs than I wanted, I gasped my way over the top in a respectable manner.

From there the hard parts aren't even done yet, because you really oughta V2 the next climb, and that’s just so hard when you’re all exhausted from the previous climbs, but I knew that the seconds were worth it, and I managed to actually recover somewhat on the descent from Highschool hill, so I attacked the remainder of the course with what little energy I had left.  It was definitely a nice feeling to feel like I finally have some power to my skiing, especially for those gradual uphills.  It was enough to finish 23rd, which, with all the big guns in town and in an open college race, is quite respectable.  I was definitely helped by being on very fast skis and a course that suited me, and best of all, I could feel my fingers again by the time I finished. Score!

Sunday was a classic sprint, and I know better than to sign up for these. They’re both crazy in terms of the general wax chaos, and I suck at them, so no reason to waste my money on something where I won’t really have fun.  We got caught a little behind when the weather went crazy and started ice storming, but our kids pulled through with grit and guts, even though their skis didn't really work. Don't worry, the analytic heads on our wax team are already figuring out what went wrong and how to fix it for next time.  Of course, said ice storm gave a little perspective to my day, as we went from "hmm, tricky waxing day, eh?" to "oh shit, I can't drive this car because the roads are a sheet of ice".  Luckily, we all made it home alive.  

Rob attempted to teach us a lesson in waxing. Something about Toko wax. We just complained about the stupid Xcelerator bindings being impossible to get into. At which point Rob reminded us that he could easily switch the rolls and leave us in the waxroom while he tested, so we shut up and got on with skiing. Look at those attentive students in the wax class!

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Bogburn

The Bogburn is a great race - old school narrow trails winding through Bob's forest in the middle of nowhere Vermont, groomed with a snowmobile, and designed to make you smile when you successfully negotiate a downhill corner. This year, there'd been some rain two weeks ago, resulting in a pretty nasty ice crust, covered with a few inches of fluff, so there was only so much he could do with a snowmobile to break it up. This meant death cookies in the tracks, very fast conditions, and a shallow track, but it was still great skiing.  He took out the first downhill s-turn, because people would probably have died, good call, but a bit of a bummer, because those are some fun downhills.

Last week was a tough one for me, focus-wise. Coming back from vacation, I wasn't doing well with the transition back to working regular hours, training in the dark, and no more afternoon naps.  There was a restlessness building inside of me, a manic energy that needed an outlet. By the time Friday rolled around, I went to the indoor track workout with CSU, and I knew I couldn't hold back, despite having a race the next morning.  I ran too fast, not feeling the work, not feeling the pain, just giving my energy a way out, through my feet and through my breath.  This took the edge off, and I was feeling much calmer, and more than a little sore, the next morning when we landed up in North Pomfret, on a gorgeous sunny day.  What is this bright thing in the sky?

I was there early, because I carpooled with folks who had kids in the BKL race, so I strapped on my skis, and started skiing.  Because the conditions were so fast, the course took on a transition-y feel I've never noticed before - rather than long grinding striding hills there was some double poling, some skating around corners, and you had to keep thinking to stay on your feet. In other words - fun!  I kept skiing loop after loop, until it was time for the women's race. Fueled by poptarts and with extra blue under my feet, I was in a good spot. My mantra was to hang on to that feeling of loving to ski, and I think that was a good choice.

Out of the start, we had some s-turns in the field, not with any speed, and somehow I managed to catch an edge, three seconds out of the start, and crash into a snowbank. Naturally, this popped out my stupid clip poles, and so I'm crawling up a hill to get my pole (this sounds familiar), in front of everyone else who is waiting to start their race. Great. Good start, ski coach. Show 'em how it's done!

Things got a little better after that. I was more cautious than usual on the downhills, sliding some corners I normally might have stepped, but it paid off, and I stayed on the course, unlike some other people.  It felt like I didn't really get going until the long-ish striding climb in the middle of the course, and my pace never picked up much beyond 20k pace, but I was having fun.  I passed my 30-second girl, but then I skied alone for the rest of the course.  I really enjoyed zipping down those hills, and despite the death cookies, the course was soft enough that you could really get an edge into the snow to push off around corners.  By the time I hit the field with the view, I knew it was nearly over, and tried to shift gears a bit to something higher.  Just running up the herringbone hills, I wish I had splits to know how much time I made up in those final climbs - I felt good!  Tried to keep the gas on over the top, and then it was finished. I wasn't quite ready to be done that quickly, felt like I hadn't really done any work until the final hills, but I think that was just because the conditions were so fast.  Race over, I got on some warmups and just kept skiing, a little with Jess, a little on my own, until the oomph canister was good and empty.
Jamie took photos. Thanks Jamie!

Chilly morning.

The post-race discussions =)

I spent Saturday night in Andy's little cabin in the woods, totally off the grid, and totally awesome.  Then on to Craftsbury in the morning for some Euro-style ski orienteering!

Love this view of the Whites from rte 2 heading into Danville.

This is what I mean when I say ice crust.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Annual pilgrimage to Quebec

Like any good pilgrim, I left home with a destination in mind. This destination is a cold place, but the skiing is great.  I was lucky enough to build a two-week trip around this annual pilgrimage to skiing Mecca , starting with the Eastern Cup in Middlebury, then rolling westward to land in Rochester, and spend some time working in a different office and visiting the parental units. They have just about given up on Christmas; no tree in sight meant we drew one with crayons and plastered it to the wall, to at least give some pretense that we are honoring the pagan God and his twisted westernized version of a Christian holiday.  As always, the visit was too short, and the mindless drive across frozen brown flatlands of southern Quebec was too long, inducing some not-unexpected seasonal depression and feelings of desolation. But finally, with no automotive mishaps (not a given, with my sometimes-less-trusty-than-I'd-like Civic), I arrived at my destination - a mostly-deserted parking lot by the Alpine area of Mont Sainte Anne.  At last! Skiing up trail 11, following the river under a crescent moon and listening to the water and the swoosh of my skis, I could feel the tension draining away, the motion clearing my head and opening my lungs.  This place may be far away, but it's worth it.  

Skiing in the dark has some sort of magic in it.  Time slows down, time doesn't matter, all that matters is the motion, and it got me thinking about the people who were so influential in causing me to love this sport. I love my family, but we were not, are not, and never will be a nordic family, as much as my parents sometimes try to pretend like they enjoy themselves when I force them to strap on skinny skis.  My thoughts started to spiral way back, to the origins of my need to run and my need to move, but ultimately this obsession with skiing started some time in my sophomore year of highschool.  I'd been convinced, coerced, pressured into trying this sport by the girls on my cross country team, and I didn't have much respect for it. Real skiers ski down hills. Quickly I learned respect, and that real skiers ski up hills. No stranger to hard work, I knew I wanted to be good at this silly sport. My coaches were fantastic, though they weren't necessarily the ones who taught me to ski well. They taught me more important things, like how to be a good person, and those are the lessons I try to pass on to my own skiers. Anyone can teach technique. Though I do happen to be much better at teaching technique than teaching the important stuff. As the years went on, skiing became more and more fundamental in the fabric of my being. Is this good? bad? inconsequential? It made me who I am as a person, introduced me to the people I consider my best friends, and opened doors to other sports and other circles. It gave me permanently sore shoulders and imbalances and overuse injuries that still plague me, and closed other doors to potential opportunities.  I guess most importantly, skiing gives me a medium through which I can deal with the world and work out my problems. And I want to pass that ability on to my juniors that I coach. Who knows if I'm ever successful. Most of them will probably just learn to V1 better, but maybe there are a couple to whom I've actually made a difference.  

This is what river ice looks like when it goes from freely flowing to nearly solid in 36 hours.  The other cool thing was being able to see the ice clouds forming above the river, humidity being squeezed out of the air at -12 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Home means random projects that have been saved up until extra hands show up.

Home means games, of all varieties.

Skiing with J2s, taking stupid selfies, skiing ourselves silly.

Quebec City has an ice luge thing in the center of the city. You pay $6 for the privilege of carrying a sled to the top of the slide, and then riding down and hoping you'll stop when you hit the giant snow pile at the bottom. Needless to say, this is a stupidly fun entertainment.  

I wasn't going to go in to the city, opting for an afternoon ski instead, but Kathy rightly pointed out that skiing hadn't yet cured my nasty-sounding chest cold, so maybe I should try something else. As usual, Kathy was right, and I had a good time.  Quebec is a cool city, but very hilly.  The reason we had the afternoon off was that we'd done a time trial in the morning, and, showing some restraint for the first time in possibly ever, I opted to sit it out, going for an easy ski instead.  I picked up a cold while in Rochester, that had gross new developments every morning I was in Canada, culminating with a monster living in my chest and trying to claw its way out.  Every time I'd laugh, my chest hurt. If you know me, you'll know how much my chest was hurting.  I was also hurting really badly from having a bad crash day - the sort where you can't stay on your feet, but you keep trying to conquer your demons and go faster and lower down each hill, thus falling faster and harder each time you do.  This left me feeling pretty battered for the next day or two.  

It got reeeeaaaaaal cold for our last few days up there.  But that's normal, so we were all prepared.  

Camp came to an end with the usual frigid morningski and frantic packing of the condos.  Kathy and I had a really great condo of kids, all very helpful and fun to be around, which makes the trip so much more enjoyable.  We were all set to take off and head south until my car wouldn't start, so that delayed things a bit, but eventually I was on the road, barreling south to the tunes of a good Quebecois folk music station, with a strong tambourine and accordion theme to each song.  Made it to Vermont with the last vestiges of daylight in the sky, took a nap, and then was ready to ring in the new year with Ed and the usual VT crew over at his cousin's house.  A cold night, where you can't stray away from the bonfire for long, but a fun night, filled with laughter (less chest pain than two days ago) and good people.  New Year's day involved climbing a small mountain I'd never been up before - Holt Mt. We weren't actually planning to climb a mountain, but that's one of the possible dangers of wandering into the woods with me.  "ooh, look - a mountain! Let's go up to the top!".  Thankfully the snow had a good hard crust, making it an acceptable activity for someone who is both ill and hungover.  Found the jar with other people's names in it, and we were, unsurprisingly, the first 2015 visitors.  Start each year doing something you love, right?

Now to kick the cold, do some ski-o, and, very excitingly, next Tuesday is the first master-blaster race at Weston!  I don't know that these last two weeks have been very relaxing, physically, but mentally I'm feeling pretty ready to conquer the world. I think that's the point of the annual pilgrimage. Time to go for a ski!