Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Craftsbury marathon

I haven't back to the Craftsbury marathon since 2010, and I had actually had fun then, so figured I'd better just quit while I was ahead. No idea why I decided to do it again this year, maybe seven years was enough to learn how to wax my skis and succeed in long races, but my main goal was to enjoy the day.

They start all the distances together, but luckily the bibs are color-coded so you know who is doing what. The fast Canadian master who comes to the EC races and crushes us all took off with Kaitlynn Miller, but they were doing two and one lap, respectively, so I had no need to speed up, and settled in to a comfortable but snappy pace. Out into Murphy's field the first time and Emily Stitt, Middlebury grad and last year's top American at the Norwegian Birkie in 59th, took the lead with Amy Caldwell. Amy was only doing two laps, but I liked her rhythm, so rolled along with them. I noted that both were kicking much better than me, but my skis were faster. Even that early, if your competitors have the kick that you don't, the writing is on the wall. Should have gone with that extra layer of the multigrade.

 Photo from NENSA

 Photo from NENSA

We were well into the back of the men's wave by the feed at 2k, and it became a game of human slalom. Kind of fun, kind of frustrating. All the fresh snow meant that skiing out of the tracks was painfully slow, and skiing in the tracks was glazing and fast. But, most of the guys we were passing had no idea that there were faster people coming through, and so to pass someone you had to hop out of the track, do a little sprint, and then hop back in. I was not a fan of burning matches like this. But, no real other way to do it. Maybe next year we can have an elite wave?

The human slalom got even more entertaining coming down the s-turns in the fields by Eleanor's, but then we got a nice long stretch of double poling with three tracks. The middle track was definitely fastest, but at least you could use the other tracks to pass the guys without wasting too much energy. Emily, Amy and I were still skiing together, and I was just loving the scenery - winter wonderland! I mentioned that out loud, just to be able to remember how beautiful I was finding it on later laps when I might not be as inclined to look around. Entering Ruthie's Run, around 6k, Amy called out "you girls know you have another 44 kilometers to ski, right?" I could only laugh - skiing fast is so much more fun than skiing slow, that I'd rather start fast and flare out than trudge along monitoring my heart rate.

My lack of kick became apparent climbing Ruthie's Run. It's not a big hill, but it does go on for 2km, and I didn't want to use my arms to force it, because I needed those muscles for later. I finessed my way along in time with Amy, but just as it got steep I got stuck behind more guys, and the trail had narrowed to cross a bridge and I was boxed out. Emily and Amy put a small gap on me, and once I got around and found my own rhythm again I didn't feel like accelerating to catch up. Now it was going to get lonely.

But, my slick skis made up the difference on the downhill, and I made contact again. It was still really heavy traffic, looking at the finish times of the 2- and 4-lap men, I may have already passed ~120 guys by that point. We started climbing back to the stadium and I had to do a lot of switching tracks, any time I wanted to get around someone. Emily pulled ahead, and Amy dangled behind her. I was finding that out of the tracks, my skis were icing, because there was just too much fresh snow out there, but I really couldn't kick too well in the tracks. Tried not to stress about it, because the name of the game is energy conservation, but I was frustrated.

The second lap was a little calmer in terms of passing the guys. The ones I was catching were moving a little faster, skiing a little better, and I could see Amy dangling ahead of me on the hills. I focused on my hips coming up Ruthie's, and it worked well enough, not a very powerful stride but at least I got up the hill. I was pretty close to Amy after the flat bits at the bottom of the descent, but she pulled ahead again on the climb to the stadium, and I came through the lap maybe 30 seconds after she finished. Emily long gone, so now it would be a lonely race of hoping nobody would come from behind. The only guys I would be passing now were 50k skiers, with the occasional lapped skier.

Murphy's field allows a look behind, as it's 1-2 minutes to go around the field, and I could see Jane McClelland not that far behind me. I also could see Robert Faltus and Jamie Doucett, masters from CSU, about 2 minutes ahead of me, and made it my goal to hunt them down. It had stopped snowing, and my skis were kicking a lot better now. This also meant it was less slow to ski out of the track, which is what I would do on the steeper uphills to get some stick to my shuffle. I still had really good energy, so let myself flare off some fitness cresting the hills. I was seeing Jamie's back on the Race Loop climb, but he double poles like a canoe racer, so I didn't actually make contact until Ruthie's Run. The outside tracks, which were less glazed, gave me slightly better kick, and I allowed myself to use some arm wax to make sure I stayed in the track. Being able to ski in the same track for longer than 20 seconds was a new thing this lap, now that most of the slow guys had finished, and it was nice to finally settle in to a rhythm.

Coming down from Ruthie's, I was chasing a guy in Craftsbury Green, Peter Harris. I couldn't get by him on the climbs, as he had really good skis, but we both reeled in Robert together. I finally got ahead of Peter and Robert as we started the fourth lap, and I was looking for a new rabbit. Into Murphy's field and I could see Bob Burnham just entering the woods, so target acquired. I took a look back as I finished the loop, and Jane was still there, maybe 20 seconds further back than the last lap. But I was still feeling good, really strong and plenty fit, so started trying to push the pace again. My arms were getting tired, but they weren't cramping.

I was finding my skis were wanting to ice here and there, so I had to be careful if getting out of the tracks. As I came through the Ruthie's feed station, I first saw Sara Mae having a chat with the volunteers, and then caught sight of Bob heading up the next little climb. Still out of reach, but getting closer. Through the flat bits after the descent I started some positive self-talk, that definitely included a line about how I'm such a beast I'm going to catch Bob. It worked, and I caught him and another two guys on the climbs back to the stadium. Again forcing myself to stay in the track, because it was just so much faster, just took a little more arm strength to make the kick happen.

I couldn't drop Bob until the final hill to the cabins, but at least he wasn't telling stories. I was happy to be done, no cramping, no bonking, and good energy throughout, but I really would have liked slightly stickier skis. Probably just more layers of the Rode, maybe on a stiffer pair of skis. But overall, this was fantastic. I enjoyed myself and really enjoyed skiing in those beautiful woods, and I ended up in 2nd place, ahead of names like Meghan Killigrew and Jane McLelland and Elissa Bradley, so I'll take it! Emily got me by 10 minutes, which is kind of embarrassing, but hey, if I could have gone faster I would have, so no real shame there.

Ed and I headed down to Middlebury for the Eastern Cup after the race. I had abandoned my team on a classic sprint day, but they were totally fine, mostly because Rob had acquired some food-grade french fry warmers to keep the klister warm. If you're going to do something that stupidly awesome, you better own it. Rikert is so beautiful in the morning when you get there for a ski race, and the far ridge of mountains was covered with a dusting of fresh snow. The course was in great shape, making me wish I'd signed up for the race, but by my second lap around testing skis, I was happy enough to remain a spectator!

With clouds like this, you hold off on rilling all the skis for transformed manmade snow until just before the races start. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

White Mountain Classic

The White Mountain Classic is a supposed 30k "marathon" at Jackson, the one-day club championships. It was beautiful klister conditions up there, loose granular that actually stayed put thanks to a short dip below freezing on Friday night, some gray ice in the tracks but mostly just sugar. 

I've done this race a few times, and the course is a lot of fun, though with lots of double poling on golf courses between the fun bits. The start was a little more chaotic than I remembered, but after two laps around the golf course people got themselves straightened out. I was tailing a group of masters men being led by Rob, and as we headed up Yodel it was great - they were peeling off right and left to start herringboning, and I just stayed in the track, eyes in front, trying to keep the effort reasonable on the steeper pitches but definitely just STAY IN THE TRACK. That got me past most of those guys, but making up no time on Rob, since he was also kicking up the track. I should mention that beating Rob is always a goal of mine. I could feel some effort as I crested Yodel, but my energy levels were really good today, so the lactic cleared quickly and there was no lingering fatigue from the long hill. My goal for the day was to remember to really ski - no shuffling or shuffle-running.

Brief double pole recovery in the fields, where Rob and I bridged up to the next pack. Then we started the climb to the wave, which is tricky because you think you get recovery on some of those transition-y little downhills, but really it's all climbing. I was skiing at this point in a group with Steve Moreau, Peter Harris, Rob leading the way, and two Sr skiers flailing around near me. They were only near me and not ahead because of the flail - boys that age should be a lot faster than me. I kept focusing on really kicking and gliding, and staying in the tracks around all those corners, which quickly led me to discover that my skis were really fast in the tracks. 

Again I could feel the work by the top of the Wave, and was very happy to be done with it, but the fatigue dissipated quickly, and I caught up to Andy Milne's group on the downhill. This was going well. Zipped out to the front, and then a small group of maybe four or five of us started the double poling around the flats. I managed to keep up with the boys ok, and then the guys started slowing down too much as we came through the feed the second time, content with their pack placing. I looked back and could see the purple/green Ford Sayre suit of Elissa, chasing in 2nd place. Uh oh. I moved to the front and upped the tempo, and only Rob kept pace. 

We entered the hills and I was working, doing a little herringboning this time, but driving and striding where I could. I had one of those awesome revelations near the top of the climb to the Airport - I am so fit. That is such a nice feeling! Rob and I really pulled away on the transitional climb to the top of the Wave - being a good skier really pays when you have lots of transitions. He was a little in front, so I was mostly using him to pace myself. Trying to put more time into Elissa, without blowing up. 

More tourers this time 'round, but nobody in my way down the hill, and this time on the flats I kept the tempo high the whole time. Rob wasn't letting himself get dropped, though I'm sure I don't offer much draft to somebody a foot taller. The final time up the hill to Eagle Mountain House, I was starting to slip a little, not because of wax but just because I was getting tired, so my form was crumbling. My klister caught at the turn at the top of that hill, in the powder, and I nearly face planted, and Rob got a small gap. I couldn't close it down on the double poling back to Yodel, and then I just couldn't keep pace up that last hill - couldn't get the kick in the tracks, but icing up out of the tracks. Final double pole sprint after the ripping descent, and I just couldn't close the gap. Finished 6 seconds behind him, and first woman, about a minute ahead of Elissa. That was super fun. I love it when my skis just WORK, and the conditions are great and it's a beautiful day and I have people to ski with the whole time. Also, I love winning. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Quarry Road Eastern Cups

The second weekend of Eastern Cup racing was at Quarry Rd, in Waterville. My alma mater's home course! They only built the venue six years too late for me to ski there in college. Those are some really nice trails, and you can tell Tracey had a hand in the design, with serious climbs and technical downhills, and very little flat recovery. Not remotely close to what we train on during the week at the Leo J golf course.

CSU Army back at it. We've got wax team and we've got the food table team, and really that's all we need. 

Saturday was a skate sprint, and Sunday a mass start 10k classic. I decided to sign up for both races, figuring I'd sit out the classic race if things started to go haywire - priority is on making sure all the kids had their skis waxed, not on me getting another race start. I was very excited for the skate sprint, as that's one of my favorite formats, and I'm usually really good in them. I love doing races where I'm good at the format!

Well yeah, then the races happened. I'd been feeling pretty flat all week, and I didn't magically feel snappier on Saturday morning. I suspect the root of my problems lay in a warmup that wasn't hard enough, but I just felt terrible for the entire 3.5 minutes that I flailed through that course. I felt terrible on the uphills, I felt out of control on the downhills, and I couldn't generate any speed on the flats. All in all, a pretty miserable qualifier. I didn't even come close to advancing. And here I'd thought I'd be qualifying in the top 10. Hubris.

My U18 boys made it into the same heat. Really fun to watch them ski so well!

One of my first-year U16 girls leading the heat! Don't underestimate the small ones.

Sunday was a new day. The venue was still icy, but we had good skis, and it was warmer than Saturday. But I wasn't really feeling the whole racing thing. Maybe it was a black cloud left over from Saturday, but my legs felt like wooden pegs, with these long awkward slidey things on the bottom, totally disconnected from any useful function. Maddy and I skied a lot that morning, testing all the various klister combinations, searching for the perfect mixture of sticky and tenacious and fast, and Rob kept dreaming up new combos, that needed testing. And there's no point testing kick on flat bits, you need to hit the hills. After an hour and a half of skiing around, we jumped back into the trenches with the wax team, frantically applying cold klister to all the women's skis. Cold klister does not go on quickly or easily. At this point, I was fairly sure I shouldn't race. I was unmotivated, cold, and exhausted. And, if I started, I was bib 314 of 317 (yay for USSA not recognizing coaching licenses as a way to get seed points), which meant starting on the last row of a mass start. I figured I'd be a lot happier if I just watched the races today. I race because I like to beat people, and that wasn't looking very likely today.

Beautiful rock-hard tracks, that actually held up through the end of the men's race! Two of my U16 boys had break-out races, which is always exciting when you're a coach. 

And then the only pair of skis left to wax were mine. I had 12 minutes before the start.

You know what? Screw it. Step aside, ego, because the only way I'm going to get warm today, and get all this klister off my hands, is if I go out there and do a 10k tempo effort. I may not have the available oomph for a proper race, but mass starts are awesome, and I love skiing, even when it's slow. Let's go ski racing!

Five minutes to go, and I had two skis with wax on them, I was wearing a bib, and I was at the start, totally cold. The gun went off, and it was a good five seconds before I moved. Nothing like watching the leaders ski out of sight before you even take a stride!

The back of the mass start. I'm the jerk poling between the tracks desperately trying to move up before we hit the u-turn. Photo from FlyingPointRoad.  

Total traffic jam at the corner that comes 200m after the start, and then a couple girls on their butts at the next corner as we entered the woods. I negotiated all of that pretty well, and kept moving forwards as we rolled down to the bottom of the course. I was using this part of the course as a warmup as much as a chance to pass people at no added effort, and by the time we hit the first gradual hill, I was striding around bibs in the 270-280s. 40 people down, that's some improvement. I even recognized some of them! But the front of the race had already crested this hill. Well, no point dwelling on what I can't control, just ski up this hill smoothly.

In some ways, it's a lot easier starting in the back - going up the hill, everyone was in a line, so there really wasn't much room to pass. I was ok with this effort, as it wasn't too hard, but I knew I should keep moving up. I managed to not take out any skiers on the winding downhill, getting past a good number of snowplowers, and then we started up the major climb of the course. I could move pretty well while striding, but as soon as people were herringboning, the trail was blocked. Again, I didn't make much effort to get past, reasoning I'd waste too much energy to no avail, so I just sort of herringbone-walked in line with everyone else. 

Then we hit the gradual bit at the top, and I jumped up a few more groups, angling to make some space for myself on the technical downhills. The first two corners were totally step-able, since you don't have much speed at that point. The third corner is a little harder, off-camber and more than doubling back on itself, so I had found that morning that skidding a little speed off at the beginning and stepping through the end yielded the most speed. It shot you into a short uphill, so carrying speed was definitely beneficial. It was amazing how many girls I passed on those three corners. Like they were standing still. Free speed, ladies! 

After the short uphill the course shot us back onto the sprint course, three more downhill corners, again the first two were easy and the third you carried more speed, and then the uphill from the sprint before a long double poling bit through the stadium. I stayed in my tuck for a long time into the stadium, catching my breath and still passing people who had stood up to double pole. This was fun! I love passing people just because I'm more efficient! 

I rode this feeling of being awesome all the way to the bottom of the course starting my second lap, and then I started uphill and all that fatigue I'd felt in the morning came crashing through my little bubble of happiness. Oh right. Ski racing is hard. Sort of simultaneous to that realization, my pole strap broke. I guess it must have been pretty worn, and my beastly double poling around the stadium was just too much. The pole was still usable, but it had suddenly gotten a lot less efficient. I was at the front of a loose pack, now, with a bit of a gap which meant I could finally ski my own pace, but I knew that the last 3km would be bad without a working pole strap. 

Starting the long climb, I saw a junior spectating the race, carrying poles, and I swapped with him. Unfortunately, that pole was 5 inches too long. I figured it was better than nothing, and was worth the 15 seconds or so that I'd lost making the swap. But double poling was difficult and awkward now, even worse than with my broken strap. Luckily near the top of the climb I saw Tracey, my coach from Colby, and she gave me her pole, much closer to the proper height. I lost another 15 seconds or so with the second swap, but now I had two poles that both worked! Unfortunately, all that swapping of poles put me behind that little pack I'd been at the front of at the bottom of the hill. Bad positioning. Naturally, I tried to make up for some of that time on the downhill, and took that third corner a little too aggressively, passing someone on the inside in the ice. As I stepped out from the ice, my klister caught the berm of sugar snow, and I went tumbling. Luckily I'm a pro at falling down, and I rolled out of it and was up without losing much time, but that killed my momentum into the short little kicker midway down the hill.

I think I did my first real work of the course on the final climb before the stadium, but I was still at the back of the pack. I made a few more passes before the end, but it was far too little far too late, and before I knew it I was across the line and done with the race. Dang, I was just getting started! 

I'm really glad I ended up racing. Even if the effort wasn't what I would have liked, I had a blast playing NASCAR in the mass start, and it is a lot of fun to ski on skis that kick well and are still faster than everyone around you. The result was so bad I won't even link to it, but that wasn't the point of today. 
Some days, you stand at the end of a double rainbow (snow-bow) and yell "I'M A LEPRECHAUN!" Glad I can teach my skiers to treat those moments with the same joy I do.

Part of me wonders about my recent attitude about ski races. I've been very lackadaisical lately, and not that interested in pushing through any sort of struggle. This is new, mildly disturbing, and makes me wonder if I've used up my lifetime of give-a-damns about race starts. I guess time will tell, considering the next two weekends are two races I should care about. It could be as simple as shifted priorities when at the Eastern Cups, focused on my skiers above all else. One thing is damn sure - I need this skiing stuff in my life to keep my head balanced and happy, regardless of what speed I'm going.

White Mountain Classic this weekend at Jackson, and then the Craftsbury Marathon next weekend. I'm excited to look for a little effort in these races. Here goes!