Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Schooled

Another Tuesday night race, another chance to feel horrible. Here's a quick recap.

I showed up 30 minutes early with considerably more food and drink in me than last time I did this. Felt better warming up too. The race started with the typical cluster that one would expect from a 60 skier mass start 6k. I got squeezed big time in the start and ended up back around 15th. The pack was a long line of skiers tip to tail on the first lap -- but of course the people at the back slowly got dropped. The guy in front of me would suddenly let a gap open, and I'd have to go around him and push it to get back on. This happened 3 or 4 times, and then suddenly it was my turn to get popped. I just couldn't keep up on a gradual downhill, with the draft.

After that it was all downhill. I decided that my skis were slow (they were a little, but whatever) and that I must be dehydrated. While I was sorting out my list of excuses Anna McLoon passed me. And then some other girl from UAA did. On the last lap I was really feeling like a sorry excuse for a skier when another girl -- even smaller than the first two -- skied up next to me with pretty effortless technique. It turns out she's a darn good skier, but at the time I was pretty sure she was some random High Schooler. I told myself, "if you can't hang with this girl for the last 400 meters and beat her in the sprint, you may a well stop skiing."

So, I did. And it really freaking hurt. And I didn't get past until about 20 meters left. She was damn fast. But at least I did it.

I really have no idea why I race so badly on Tuesday nights. Next week I guess I'll drink gatorade all day and eat more. And wax my skis. But it probably won't help.

If you want to see the badness, the results are here. My time should be 17:55, not 17:45, as evidenced by Claire's 17:56.

In summary, maybe racing every weekend since August and now racing Tuesday nights also isn't the best training plan.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Extreme cross wreckage

I've never seen someone somersault over the barriers in a cross race before. Holy cow.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqzgbJS8Fs4

Monday, January 22, 2007

Hobbies: Internet

Mad props to Tobias Angerer for leading the World Cup and also listing "Internet" as one of his hobbies. I can only assume he frequents some kind of hardcore German internet where every website is about goatees. And his keyboard is probably laden with umlauts.

Meanwhile, I keep ski racing. I like to think I'm walking the fine line between the most aggressive way to get in shape and just breaking my body down by doing too much with too little. So far, no sickness or injury, and I'm gradually getting faster, so I'm going to keep it up.

Saturday was 30k of a flat classical mass start in Jackson, NH. I was so confident in my legendary double poling ability that I decided to get to the start as late as possible so that I could line up behind people in windpants. I'm just that cocky. My poles weren't even on when the race started. Also part of the plan. If I had been up front, I might have settled in with all the guys I want to beat and then I would have had to suffer for an hour and a half. But instead I had a hilariously bad start, ended up waiting in line to cross the covered bridge... and the road... so about 1.5k in the race was already just for fun. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

So I'm slowly picking by way through a hundred people going up the Ellis River trail. I catch up to Alex. I strike up a typical mid-race conversation with her, that is, completely empty but still amusing because we're talking during a race. Ha, ha.

We get to a feed station. I decided I wanted some Powerade, so I took my pole off. Because obviously sacrificing propulsion for a better grip on a paper cup is how pros would do it. The Powerade goes mostly in my mouth, and I lose like 5 places. Alex passes me and makes fun of me.

Now laden with sugar water I pick up the pace and go hunting for masters skiers. I pass lots of people, none of whom I know. At the 8k turn I get some more tasty Powerade. This time it has been warmed up for me (is this a good thing?). I fall in with a group of 3 guys for a while as we go over the biggest climb. I start convincing myself that maybe I'm doing ok -- after all I've probably passed 80 people since the start of this thing. I start thinking about hanging around with these 3 guys for the next 20k -- they seem to be my speed. This is why you shouldn't start at the back, every time you catch a group you debate staying with them (easy) or hurting yourself to ski ahead of them (hard).

Once we hit a break in the double poling, however, I quickly open up a gap on them on one of the few hills on the way back down the Ellis River trail. So it's off to find some other company with 15k left to go.

At the 15k turn there are a lot of people watching, so I make my best (pointless) tele turn around it. Does anyone cheer and yell "WOO STYLE POINTS!!!" at me? No. My genius is lost on these people.

Going back up the river for a second time, I'm really starting to get sick of double poling. My arms are weak and pathetic. I did not strength train this fall. Worst of all there's a group of 6 or 7 guys that I can see on the long straightaways with still over 10k to go, so I'm gonna hate myself if I don't try to catch them.

It takes 3 or 4k but I finally get to the back of a large group of masters skiers. They are taking turns leading and occasionally saying stuff to each other. I feel like an outsider. If they only knew how fast my hair was falling out, they might accept me, but alas I am wearing a hat. So I am a young punk, and it only takes about 1k for me to "somehow" end up at the front of the group. With 6 guys drafting me.

I'm a team player so I do my time at the front, but after 2 or 3 minute I step out into the other track. This is a paceline, right? We're all friends now, right? The guy behind me stands up and steps over with me. Guess not. I slow down a bunch and finally someone comes through on the main track. There's a big gap behind him so I step in, meaning I rotated all the way back to second in the "paceline." Thanks guys.

Anyway, there's nothing really wrong with this, it's not really like I expect us to work together. It's not like cycling where the draft advantage is so great... if I was half the skier I want to be I'd dust these guys from the front without any problems. But instead I am a scared little man, and I don't want to do the work. Can't I just sit in and then try to win the sprint? My triceps are doing a good job convincing my brain of this.

But! Just when 8k of boring pack skiing looms, I end up at the front again at the 22k turn. Everyone behind me yells "Powerade" (feeding with 25 minutes left? Bah) so I pick it up while they have their drinks. The first time I look back I have 20 yards, so I keep it up. 8k of panicked suffering loom instead... a far more exciting proposition.

So I flail up the steepest hill, double pole like I mean it, and generally ski pretty seriously for 15 minutes back down the Ellis River trail. The gap goes up to 30 seconds, and I'm home free and feeling good. I can see someone else far ahead on the straightaways, but I'm seeing them more often as we get near the finish. Coming back out of the woods onto the windswept golf course, the gap ahead of me is down to 10 or fewer seconds, so it's time to hurt just a little longer. My lungs feel great. My arms are jello. Curse you, flat classic race.

In the end I get into my foe's draft with half a K to go and then win a slow motion, double pole sprint into a 25 mph wind with relative ease. When I finish people are quite excited, although it turns out it's because my opponent was the first woman to finish. Which means, for the first time all season, I didn't get girled. These means one of two things -- either I am getting faster, or the college season has started. Unfortunately it's the latter.

Oh well. I blame my internet hobby.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Da Holeshot

Has my ski career declined to the point where all I can do is get pointless holeshots? Quite possibly.

Tour de Rumford: Three days of Pain

This weekend was the "Tour de Rumford," and the two weekend races were basically the biggest nordic races other than Nationals to ever happen on the east coast, with 400+ competitors on both Saturday and Sunday. And unlike a cross race, only about 10% of these racers could be considered anything less than hardcore.

So that's a recipe for a pretty serious beatdown, if you ask me. But let's start with the good part.

Friday was a freestyle sprint relay, and unlike the weekend races was lightly attended. After my first partner bailed at the last second I ended up with Josh Plog, who skied well enough that I was the slower link on the team, but only by a little. So we were a good team.

The course was a 1.2k lap with a pretty long climb in the middle. I was on the opening leg (six legs, with each skier skiing 3) and I ended up randomly assigned to the front row. Thanks to my cross experience, I recognized this as a great opportunity to be that guy who gets the holeshot on the first corner and then blows up. So I grabbed some sponsor time (if only I had sponsors...) while leading the pack around first corner, through the straight and back under the bridge. Once the climb started, a steady stream of elite juniors passed me. I have some video of this, and thankfully I got out of sight of the camera before the real explosion happened. I'll get the video up soon.

Anyway, I finished the first lap in around 6th or 7th, then lost another place on my next lap (the team's 3rd) to push us back to 8th place. Josh got that place back for us, and I hung onto it on my last lap, and then Josh brought us in in 7th out of 16 teams. I was a little disappointed that we couldn't compete with the top guys, but I had no idea what was coming....

Saturday was a 10k classic on a 1.7k snowmaking loop. 6 laps, cross style, except it was interval start every 30 seconds. And my number was 186... so I started one hour and 33 minutes after the first skier. In fact, by the time I was done, almost 2000 racer-laps had been skied. Let me just say... the course was not exactly in good condition. The hills were torn up sugary snow, the tracks were obliterated on every corner, but the real problem was the pole track, which was utterly pulverized.

But that's not really a good excuse, because plenty of people starting back when I did had decent results. I thought my race went ok, but I neglected to factor in that I was racing at the back of the pack with all the scrubs like myself. The D1 college guys and all the good juniors were already done with their cooldowns by the time I start, so I didn't get the reality check of them smoking me on the course. When I finished, I figured I had done ok -- when I checked the results, I was 139th out of 184 finishers. Whoops.

Sunday was more of the same, 10k skate with girls going first. Spent an hour freezing watching the girls race, then trying to warm up, eat and hydrate, finally getting on the course at 3:03 PM with number 162 this time. Standing on the start line, my excuses were plentiful.

But there was one reason to be optimistic. My brother showed up with a friend of his, and they had a megaphone. And they were on the hardest part of the course, and they were being jackasses. They said stupid things to me, which made me smile and ski faster, which made me grimace and ski slower as soon as I got out of their sight. I had seen the megaphone pulled out at cross races before, but I dismissed it as a silly gimmick -- I was so wrong. First off, anything you say into a megaphone is louder than people cheering, and because you don't have to strain your voice to yell it comes through a lot clearer. I could hear that damn thing loud and clear for like 80 yards in both directions. Secondly, it's way easier to be funny talking into a megaphone, because you can vary your tone and be sarcastic, which is pretty much impossible if you have to scream at the top of your lungs.

In summary, megaphones are great in the hands of anyone who is shameless and clever. I don't want to name any names, but I can think of one guy who needs to bring a megaphone to a Verge race next year.

Oh, right, the race. I hurt a lot, but I did a little better, 133rd out of 187 finishers. I can't believe the day has come where I was happy with 133rd place.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Uppin' the nerd ante

I did some more work on crossresults.com tonight. The big thing was adding results from nationals, and fixing up two races (UNH and Sterling) that were screwy, but I also added the ability to "merge" racers. What is this, you ask?

It turns out that many, many people like to use different names when they race. Steve is sometimes Stephen, Dan is sometimes Daniel, Chris is often Christopher, etc, etc. And don't even get me started on people who show up on results as "John fadshflksah" because of their terrible handwriting, or the fact that results were typed by a blind and drunk college student.

ANYWAY! The names were full of errors. Now, if you know of two names that refer to the same person, you can magically merge them into one person! Hooray!

I really hope people will use this, at least if they come across people they know who are entered under different names. There are nearly 2000 racers in the database, so I'm certainly not going through and fixing them all myself.

Monday, January 8, 2007

As If Nordic Racing Needs Help Dying

So there's really not much to report about this weekend, unless you consider record high temperatures and no snow noteworthy. It might seem relevant, given the title of this blog, but I can't bring myself to complain about the obvious, at least not without some halfway interesting facts, or something.

Instead providing any sort of narrative about my ski career, then, I'll take this time to call out NENSA (or whoever is in charge of these things) for some surprising incompetence regarding the "Tour de Rumford." Basically, the NENSA schedule has been up for several months, listing this weekends races as "Friday: 2pm prologue, Saturday, 10k individual start, Sunday, 15k Mass start," or something to that effect. Registration opened last week, and the race is next weekend. I'm not sure about the wisdom of a Friday race, but I'll withhold judgment until I see the turnout.

Then, yesterday, they drop this gem -- "Friday's event will be a 2x3x1k Team Sprint that will count for overall standings but will not be a JOQ."

Now don't get me wrong here, I think team sprints are pretty much the best event in the world. 10 or more skiers sprinting at the same time is awesome. Getting 2-3 minutes off and then going back out to try to make yourself puke is even more awesome. The fact that I'm actually kind of decent at this is very awesome. Making a team sprint race that I don't like is hard to do.

But here's my beef. You can't just freaking change events like that once registration is open! You can't convince me for one second that "prologue" could be construed as "team sprint." Ever. If the actual explanation of this is "we meant to do a team sprint all along," then put that on the freakin internet! I assumed, like anyone else who is dimly aware of the Tour de France, or bike racing in general, or this year's "Tour de Ski," that the prologue would be some kind of individual short sprinty event. So what the hell? People are registering for this, and then you completely change the event? This is like changing a time trial to a team time trial once you've been taking people's money on bikereg.com. It's a BIG CHANGE. Not everyone just has a "team" of peers to ski with, and they shouldn't be expected to. The organizers solution to this? Pairing lone skiers together to make ad hoc teams. Because when you pay $75 for a race, you might get the funny idea that it was a serious or competitive event -- but you'd be wrong. Some guy you don't even know is going to be your teammate, and if he sucks you're going to lose a big chunk of time through no fault of your own. And if you suck, he's going to lose a bunch of time. What the hell are we trying to determine here? "Fastest overall skier who also has a fast friend?" But it's ok, because nordic skiing is a team sport!

OH WAIT NO IT'S NOT.

I like the idea of cross-country stage racing. Give me bonus seconds, combined times, overall standings. I think that's all great. But the Tour de Rumford organizers screwed this one up badly, and I expect more from the "Eastern Cup." This isn't some sort of "fun race" put on by a club on a wednesday night, this is part of the biggest series in New England. A little professionalism (having your crap straight, and posted online before you start taking people's money) and common sense (if you're running an event with combined times, don't throw in random team races, since nordic skiers are not inherently on teams) would've been nice.

If I can find a fast teammate to race with, I'm still going to go, because team sprints are awesome. Even when they're completely wrong.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Matt White is a Pimp

Do not argue with me, just click.

Also, in an interview at race.cx, Greg Reain (Canadian 2006 CX Champ) said this:

36. Any words of advice for those new to cyclocross?
Find a ninja to learn from. Technique is paramount. Try new things. Think smooth, not speed. Equipment is unimportant.

That last bit makes me feel a lot better about riding my 45psi clinchers and not giving a damn about trying to gain that extra 0.5% with a bunch of expensive bike parts. Screw the equipment weenies, just train.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Throwin down with the master blasters

Tuesday night sprints!

There might only be 300 meters of skiable snow in all of Massachusetts, but that's probably 250 meters more than what the CSU guys would race on. Tonight was the first of the CSU Tuesday night sprints at Weston, and the course was -- according to my time, anyway -- about 65 seconds long. Basically, you hammered for 25 seconds, then did a U-turn, then hammered for 25 seconds, then did a U-turn. Eight laps of that.

These races are not "organized," in the conventional sense of the word, but they are timed, which is good enough for me. I got a sweet 5 minute warmup in after booking it out of work early, and then a mob assembled. Someone said it was a self-seeded mass start, and no one else seemed to want the outside of the front row, so I stood over there. And then someone said go, so like 30 people started ski racing on a postage stamp of snow. Which is awesome.

The first couple laps were a tight line of skiers, pretty much tip to tail. I fell into second for a bit, and then I stepped on the leaders pole pretty bad on one of the turnarounds. I didn't want to come off as someone who takes these things to seriously, so I apologized profusely and kind of let up. So I went back to fourth, and there I stayed.

I didn't figure out until afterward, but I was a complete idiot strategically. Let's see, a race that has a sharp turn every 25 seconds... what other sport that I did all fall does this sound like... hmmm... and what did term did this sport teach us? "Accordion effect?" So where's the best position in a lead group of four? Probably not fourth!

So I sat at the back like an idiot, and every time we skittered around an icy U turn the gap opened up, and I'd have to really turn it on to get back into the draft on the straightaway, because the guy in 3rd was having the same problem hanging on to 2nd. So he certainly wasn't waiting for me.

Unfortunately, this was not sustainable. Somewhere around lap 5 or 6 of 8 the gap opened to almost five meters on the corner, and that was it. The lead three hung out in front of me for the rest of the race, just out of drafting reach on every straightaway, and I was pretty much resigned to fourth on the finish straight. Then there was a crash, so I passed that guy to get a 3rd, but it was really a fourth. My time was 8:53, I believe the winner was 8:47 or so.

Afterward I felt freaking horrible. A day of drinking too much coffee, a five minute warmup, followed by 9 minutes at or above my anaerobic threshold -- this is not a recommended training program.

Afterward I skied a few cooldown laps, then my foot cramped up and I fell down in a little pile of wuss while clutching it.

But, it's now time for dinner and a beer. So things are looking up.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Stat Geekery: Verge Series C Men Results

I'm really happy with how easy this turned out to be.

Indiscriminate Beatdown

On Saturday I did a 10k ski race. This was the first ski race I'd done in 2 years, because I spent last year in exile in Florida. I finished the 2004-2005 season by winning 2 of the last 4 races I entered and placing a very respectable 9th at the Maine Sprint Championships.

What does this have to do with a ski race in 2006, you might ask?

Absolutely nothing.

I got beat down by men, women and children alike on Saturday. The top 4 women beat me. The top 7 juniors beat me. The top 4 45+ guys beat me.

And people my age and gender? They crushed me.

In the end I finished 23rd out of 47 men, just squeaking into the top half. The numbers don't look that bad compared to my cross results, but I've been doing this sport for my whole life, so I have slightly higher expectations. Unrealistically high, usually.

In any case, the winter is shaping up so terribly that I may not have to ski race again for quite some time. I'm not complaining about that -- it will give me some much needed time to hurt myself on rollerskis and try to get up to speed with the rest of the nordic community, which has been "training" or something while I raced cross.

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