Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Masters World Cup

Last summer, Kathy mentioned to Rob and me that the World Masters were going to be in Minneapolis, and thus we should go race there. Hey, why not? It's an easy trip, no time changes, and lots of support available from all the various people we know in this skiing world. Important to go on a skiing adventure every once in a while, even if it's a tame one.

Rob's connections with the Toko Tech Talk Team led us to Jerry Slater's house, in a comfortable suburb of Minneapolis with a garage dedicated to waxing. Perfect! Those Toko guys just like to hang out and tell stories about waxing, leading Kathy renaming them to the Toko Talk Team. To be fair, the classic waxing wasn't super straightforward, and conditions were likely to change on race day anyway, so there was much speculation to be done.
Candlelit dinner at Jerry and Kathlyn's house, courtesy of the Toko Talk Team's blowtorch.

The night before the first race, I wasn't remotely nervous, because I had no idea how I would fare. The younger classes at World Masters are generally sparsely attended, but I didn't know any of the names on the start list. It actually made things easy; I went into the race with the vague idea that I'd like to podium, and a slew of process goals mostly centered around getting my skis right.

Day 1: 15k classic
They combined the M1/M2 wave for women, to make a larger starting field (and, I imagine, to compress the start window). Some guys were lapping as we started, but it mostly wasn't too much of an issue. We started off at a reasonable pace, and soon an M2 (Josie Nelson) was moving at a slightly higher tempo, starting to pull ahead. The first 2.5k loop was pretty flat, some rollers but a lot of transitions and no long hills, so I decided to go with her and see what would happen. I quickly discovered that my skis were killer on the downhills, just flying past people. I closed the gap to Josie as we dropped back into the stadium, staying in a tuck for a looooong time. That always feels so good!

The second part of the course was hillier - basically one hill with a couple fingers that went down and back up. Josie's skis were kicking much better, and I think she's fitter, so she would drop me up the hills and I'd close it on the downhills. I thought maybe she'd got away for good on the final climb, which was also the most psychologically difficult, but I closed the gap back down and passed her on the downhill to the lap. I love courses that finish with a downhill.

The second lap we were passing many more M9 men, and then we started to run into the back of some of the older women. I led most of the first 2.5k, and thought Josie would come back around me, but she stayed behind, getting close on the uphills and then dropping back a bit on the flats. It started to warm up significantly at this point, and my skis weren't kicking as well, but they were also a little slower, probably picking up some of the gunk in the tracks. Uh oh.

Up the hill into the second part of the lap and Josie caught up and passed me. She was super friendly and talkative, and very encouraging, which actually ends up being discouraging, because when you're tired and out of breath the last thing you want is a friendly person vocally cheering. You want them to be hurting, too. I suppose we weren't technically racing each other, but I've never been an extroverted racer (unless it's to yell at people in my way. Then I get loud). I came back around on the first-finger downhill, and then she opened much more of a gap on the steeper climb back to the middle hill, striding to my herringbone. I was questioning whether I'd catch back up at that point - these hills just kept coming!

I forced myself to stay in the tracks and make it work up the final hills. Yes, it takes more oomph, but the speed pay-off is worthwhile, and I knew that if I could keep Josie in sight up the final long hill, I could take the race. I managed to close the gap on the downhill, skiing the corner efficiently and then double poling past a bunch of ladies herringboning up the next little hill. I could only hope that Josie was caught a little behind them, but I also didn't want to risk slipping anymore, so just double poled like hell up the gradual roller before the final down. I had confidence in my double pole, and it was well-placed. I crushed the downhill, nearly took out an M9, and double poled hard to the finish to keep my advantage. Not that it mattered, because different classes, but I like to beat people. I ended up winning my class by 4 minutes! That was cool.

Day 2: 15k skate
That course skis better as a skate race, with really fun transitions, and exhilaratingly fast downhills. They combined the M1/2/3 categories again, and this time, I knew that I wanted to win. No struggles with wax, and I knew I'd have good skis, since both Brad Bates and Rob had told us during their races how good their skis were. This was going to be fun.

Short double pole start, and then I sort of looked around like "where'd everyone go?" because my skis were actually that fast. Guess I'll lead for a bit and see what happens! I figured I may as well take advantage of the HelX while it lasted (the stuff both wears off and gums up with dirt, so I expected the second lap to be a little slower), stringing out the field a bit and keeping out of trouble. I had maybe a 15s lead after the first flatter loop, and figured, if I'm already winning, why go too hard? So, I sort of chilled up the hills, whipped down them, and the pack slowly closed on me on the long finger hills by the wax test hill. But this was fine; I was only going fast out front because it was easy for me thanks to the fast skis.

The pack had just about closed at the lap, "pack" being a loose term for Sarah Peters (M3) and an M1 behind her. I stretched it out on the flat bit heading into the second lap, and Sarah made the jump without pulling the M1 with her. She came around to lead, and I was ready to cover the move, still feeling pretty fresh. I didn't want that other M1 to catch up, so Sarah and I were trading leads for a bit, me in front on some of the downhills and she'd lead the uphills. She was gapping me a bit on the uphills, which wasn't good, because my skis had slowed back down to human speeds at this point so we were well matched, and I had to do a little work over the crests.

The downhills by the wax test hill were just criminally fast, and I whipped by Sarah on the corner. I started to dig pretty deep on the final long climb, managing to just about stay with Sarah over the crest. Even though she worked the downhill harder, I made contact again across the flats before the final descent. At this point I was envisioning a sprint finish scenario, but definitely keeping all options open. Into the final descent, there's a gentle left-hander, with some icier stuff in the middle. Sarah went down in the icy part, and then skidded a bit, and I saw my opening. Stepped the corner in the lowest tuck I could muster, wove very efficiently through some M9s, and took the lead with some hard V2 over the final rise. I managed to stay on my feet around the final corner into the finish, and then didn't let up. I ended up with a good 2-second lead over Sarah, and 30 seconds over the second place M1. Woo! That was a fun one. I ended up with the third-fastest time of the day for the women, but it doesn't seem fair to compare the M1 times to the older skiers, since the whole point of the thing is to race people your own age.

Day 3: 7.5k skate
At this point, I was starting to feel a little tired. I was also a little apprehensive of the incoming weather - 6-8 inches of fresh warm snow falling between 10am and 5pm, with my race starting at 3pm. It was going to be a heavy snow slog out there, not the perfect thing for tired legs. But, I was looking forward to the bad weather. I get excited about stuff like that, and they were calling for 30mph wind gusts. I know how to pack ski, thanks to Tuesday Night Worlds, and I intended to use all my mad master-blasting skillz.

I decided that given the wind and driving snow, I didn't want to lead too much. But, it would be hard to pass, since there was basically one trampled-down lane, and the rest was pretty deep fresh powder. I made a crucial adjustment before the race of moving my bindings forward one click, which made the skis feel much freer in the deep snow. Toko red all the way up the line again, on the soft Madshus Redlines.

The start was all M1/2/3s, and there was an enthusiastic M2 who took the lead. She was pretty flail-y, not doing well with putting her skis in the ruts, and I was using half the tempo to stay behind, so eventually I gave up on that and moved around to stretch things out. Nobody caught up immediately, I think because it was just hard to pass, but I did my trademark "I'm winning, so why should I go hard?" thing on the hills in km 2, and the pack caught up. Another few minutes of pulling them, but it was windy, so after slowing down more and more and more and still nobody making any moves to pass, I outright double poled for a bit and then slotted into second behind Dalvia, yesterday's silver medalist.

I followed her lead up the hill out of the stadium, and it didn't feel all that hard. We weren't outright gapping the rest of the pack, but there was daylight between us now. I recovered well on the first finger from the top of the hill, and scooted around her on the downhill corner. Stretched out my stride just a bit, keeping the tempo low and skis in existing ruts, and while I could still hear her behind me, the rubberband was stretching.

I couldn't see a damn thing down the wax test hill. My glasses had gotten too icy (and I hadn't brought my dork shield), and the snow was really sharp and hurt my eyeballs. I managed to make it around the corner and stay on the trail, but because I'd stood up a little to try and shield my face, Dalvia and one other were right behind me up the next hill. Pushed the glasses back down for the next descent, which helped, and I got a small gap, maybe a second. Stretching the rubberband.

I V2ed into the final hill as far as I could, and kept the effort higher. Snap went the rubberband. Woo! Then I skied off the trail, because I couldn't actually see where I was going because of all the blowing snow. D'oh. I extricated my ski from the soft powder and backed up back onto the course, and they hadn't quite made contact yet. Ok, let's try this again. I'm fit enough to make it happen. I put some real oomph into the crest of the hill and worked the downhill, managing to stay on the trail this time. Really I couldn't see a damn thing down the final hill, just the fact that I've skied it enough in the last few days kept me going the right way, with a little bit of a hope and a prayer, too, feeling the skis plowing through the snow. I punched the final ascent as much as was possible in this much soft snow, and then tried to find the right ruts for the finish. I held off second place (who was an M2 anyway; what was I worried about?) by 4 seconds, which feels like a nice long gap, actually.

So, not the fastest race, because of all the cat and mouse shenanigans, really felt like a TNW situation, but a lot of fun, and that pace kept me feeling pretty fresh.

I'm totally pumped to be a 3x gold medalist. Way above any expectations, but a big thanks to Toko and Madshus for speedy skis, because I certainly didn't do that on fitness alone. It was also cool to have Kathy and Rob performing well, because when everyone rocks the vibe is great. Kathy took a bronze and a gold, and Rob took a 10th and a bronze. I coach with some speedy skiers!

Sharing medals with Kathy and Trina Hosmer, a many-time Olympian in her day. Pretty proud to be standing with those two! 

CSU coaches looking pretty pumped with three podiums!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

2017 Racing Review

After my races at the 2016 North American Championships, where I landed on the podium three times, I retired from international orienteering. I expected to be racing less often, and took on a position on the Board of Directors for Orienteering USA. But after a break, I found myself yearning for the thrill of a start line and the suffering of a finish line. I needed some new challenges.

The first was an obvious one - having never run a 50-miler, it was time to give that a try. The Stonecat 50 was close enough to be local, and the course was 4 loops, perfect for your first “real” ultra. My training for this thing was a bit on the light side, having just completed my orienteering season, and tapering doesn’t yield many long runs, but I managed to squeak a second-place finish off a month of distance training. Of course the competitor in me was disappointed to have not won the race, and plans for 2017 were hatched…

The ski season was sort of unremarkable. I have finally managed to get my elbow tendinitis to a place where I can ski, but didn't do much by way of upper body strength, worried about re-triggering the injury. I raced three of the four Eastern Cups, with fairly mediocre results, until the final set of races at Craftsbury and Holderness, where I notched my first and only EC point (top 15). My goal for the season was to race well at the Craftsbury marathon, and I set up well for that winning the Jackson 30k the week before. Craftsbury went pretty well, and despite not getting the wax perfect, I skied strongly to a second-place finish. No cramps and no bonks, which isn't a given over that distance, so I was pleased. March was consumed with coaching, and a slow build-up to the running season.

First up, 7 Sisters Trail Race. I love this race, but it unfortunately often conflicts with orienteering races. This year, it was the day before the fabled Billygoat, a long orienteering race in western Connecticut. How bad can it be to do two long hard races back to back? Well, when you’ve had to take some time away from running over the winter to let injuries heal, it’s harder than after a good winter of training. My fitness wasn’t where I wanted it to be, and I also made some stupid mistakes in 7 Sisters, tying my shoes too tight and causing severe bruising on my heels. You can read about it here, but suffice to say, for a race I’d been targeting, it was a disappointment. I still ended up in 4th place, but I was pretty upset with my time out there. 

I couldn’t actually put weight on my heels the morning of the Billygoat, but no way was I going to miss this race. Thank goodness for ibuprofen and a little adrenalin, and I managed to hobble up to the start line. I won’t say that running felt good, but in a test of mind over matter, I managed to make up a lot of places, and win the women’s race. That was a hard fight!

The next goal was to win the Grand Tree series. To do this, I needed at least 6 trail races in the series, and I needed to be faster than everyone else. Sort of the definition of winning, I suppose. With 7 Sisters as my first race in the series, my points weren’t great, but you can’t change the past (or your shoe choice - should have stuck with the X-Talons!). The next race was Soapstone Mountain, a beautiful course in Connecticut that I’d never run before. I ended up running past a junction, and then rolling my ankle, before starting to suffer heat cramps. Not a great race, 4th again, but not terrible points. You’d think that as an orienteer, I’d manage not to get lost at a trail race!

As the summer wore on, my mileage increased, preparing for the Quebec City Marathon. I’d watched the Boston Marathon in April, living just two miles away from the course, and gotten all inspired to run it. That means a qualifying race. 3:35 sounds pretty cushy, how hard can that be? Training was going well, and I was feeling pretty fit. I hit two more Grand Tree races, the Greylock half marathon (over a mountain), where I took fourth, AGAIN, and the Skyline trail race where I finally redeemed myself with a win, on a very hot day.

Then of course, it all came crashing down. Or rather, I came crashing down, tripping over a cobblestone while jogging to work, and slamming my kneecap into the pavement. The resulting minor fracture had me resting for the following six weeks, at which point I was supposed to race a marathon. Because the kneecap injury prevented pretty much any activity that bent my knee, most cross training was out. I was woefully out of shape. My partner and I decided to go up to Quebec anyway, as a mini vacation, and I’d start the race, dropping out when I couldn’t hold the pace anymore. Of course, my race brain is a complete idiot, so even though I should have dropped out around 14 miles in to the race, I kept going, for an embarrassingly slow not-BQ. Well, I guess I have to try that again, this time preferably WITHOUT breaking my kneecap six weeks prior.

A few more weeks to let the kneecap fully heal, and it was time to try and rebuild my fitness and find two more Grand Tree races. I was also eyeing the US Classic Distance Orienteering Championships - I may be retired, but it would be nice to win there, wouldn’t it? It took about a month to get back to the point where I felt I could reasonably don a race bib, which was just enough to eke out a third place finish at the Groton Trail Race and a second place at Mt. Toby Trail race, which, considering it went up and down a mountain, I was pretty proud of.

These two final races were just enough to put me into the lead for the 2017 Grand Tree series! Finally, a goal realized, despite the summer’s setback. Results: http://runwmac.com/gt2017/gt17-best.html

On the orienteering front, I had a good fall of racing. My first race back after the knee injury was at Letchworth State Park, where I had a hard re-awakening to what racing feels like. I had found my edge again by the Boulder Dash, a two-day event in NH. It was highly technical terrain, which served me well with my lack of fitness at the time, and I ended up with two very clean runs and the overall win!

As the final test of whether my fitness had truly returned, I raced the Hudson Highlander, a 26.2km race in the Hudson Highlands of Harriman State Park. This is another of those storied orienteering races, that sends you through waist-deep blueberry, up and over mountains, and faces you with some serious route choices. I ran strong and steady, but I wasn’t fast enough to take the overall win - a friend of my visiting from the Spanish National Team won both the Queen of the Mountain stages and the overall race. I was still pleased to discover that my body was holding up, and had a great day out there!

The final orienteering challenge was the 2017 Classic Championships, down in Virginia at the Quantico Marine Corps Base. I was finally feeling fit, and ready to attack the race instead of just survive it. The terrain was gorgeous, and with just a hint of winter in the air the weather was perfect. I had two good hard clean races, but just wasn’t fast enough to overtake Violeta, my Spanish Team friend. It was fast enough for top American, though, which won me a shiny medal! 

Since then, I’ve been back in training mode, coaching my skiers and prepping for the Skiing World Masters races. Looking ahead to next year, I’ll be aiming for Boston again, this time with the Sugarloaf marathon as a qualifier and a slightly longer training plan, then going for a repeat win in the Grand Tree series, and trying to sweep the Triple Crown of orienteering - the Billygoat, Hudson Highlander, and Blue Hills Traverse. I’d also like to put a fall ultra on my calendar, but haven’t quite narrowed it down yet which I’d like to do. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2018! 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Mont Sainte Anne training camp

The usual whirlwind around the holidays took us to Rochester, where we spent some days with my family, and then off to Canada. Only not quite so fast, because I'd left my passport in Boston. Luckily that fell into the category of problems that can be solved with money, and I managed to spend Christmas day with my family and still make it back to Boston in time to be rescued by Carina, who had broken in to my house to get the passport and then picked me up from the airport. Ok, NOW we can go to Canada!

But first, got a chance to meet Sylvia, Ali and Tom's new human, and we took many snowy walks. So great to have such good snow before Christmas in Rochester! I got to ski at both Harriet Hollister and Mendon Ponds, places I haven't been in years. I had forgotten how large the hills are at Mendon - not your homologated race course! 

Family walk at Lucian Morin Park. Gorgeous little glacial park at the south side of Irondequoit Bay, with snow-covered trees and lots of gallumphing to be done on the trails.

So after the passport thing, Carina drove me up into Canada, and we stopped for a nice little jaunt around the trails at Mt. Orford. I've never been there before, so that was fun to explore a new area. We got to the team condos at Mont Sainte Anne just in time to oversee some dinner, and as the temperatures plummeted, the training camp began. The first day was the warmest of the week, hitting a balmy +3F for the afternoon ski, before the mercury dropped into the negatives and didn't reappear until I'd driven 400 miles south. 

Despite the sub-zero temperatures, we had a great camp. Cold weather is part of the sport, and all the kids learned how to dress warmly and keep moving, and as far as I know there was no frostbite. That's a win! Mont Sainte Anne also has these convenient warming cabins along the trails, which are fantastic except for the fact that eventually, you have to leave them and keep skiing. Better to just never succumb to the temptation.

I also got the chance to test out a new pair of skis from Madshus, klister skis but you can kind of fake it with enough wax. These skis felt so good during the week, I really love how Madshus is making their classic skis. We did a 30/30 workout, which is basically just sprinting forever, and I loved being able to just kick and glide and outrun everyone in my group. To be fair, I was beating up on the U16 girls, but they're fast U16s!

Very serious crew. I have no idea what is going on here.

Frosty selfies and a tour of Trail 38, this little trail that winds through the lowland spruce marshes and some of the upper maple forests. It's gorgeous and friendly, and the single-track aspect just makes it even better. Funny how now everybody loves that old-school feeling when you're surrounded by endless kilometers of wide perfect trails, but at home, it's all grumbling when we take people to old trails like this. Can't win. 

By the end of the week, I'm feeling relatively good. I got in some good volume, without pushing the pace too much, and two good quality sessions with the kids. Hopefully, this positive feeling can carry me through the next round of Eastern Cups, and into World Masters with good fitness and a happy head. Yay for a good start to the ski season!