Thursday, March 22, 2007
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Racing on natural snow, in Boston, on March 20th? You've got to be kidding me.
I always forget that "race-able" snow and "good snow" are totally different things. I had this funny idea we'd be skiing on smooth, beautiful wet granular conditions.
Well, it was granular, so I got that part right. The daytime high was 42 (low for this time of year!) but what little snow was there was soft. They started grooming around 6, which left a layer of frozen smooth stuff on top (because the temperature was dropping) that broke through to slush/grass when you pushed off. There were two water crossings on the course.
And somehow, they were charging $13 to for a trail pass, because they have no idea what they are doing.
Anyway, there was a pretty good turnout for an unofficial Tuesday night, most of the fast guys were there. The course kept firming up as time passed so it ended up as an icy, rutted mess, the kind that destroys shins and confidence.
This is actually really good for me, ice means high speeds (good for drafting) and favors technique over fitness. I got a good start and settled into second place like I knew what I was doing.
After one lap there was a lead group of I think 5 people, and the pace was disturbingly comfortable... ok, it was slow, really. So Rob Bradlee came through from 3rd to the front and then things really picked up. I went with him to stay in 2nd, but the difference in pace was staggering, and after a few minutes that little voice in my head started asking me, "do you really think you can keep this up until the finish?" I kept letting little gaps open and then having to work twice as hard to close them.
So at the end of lap two Rob broke me. I've got to hand it to him, he was disgustingly smooth for someone skiing on total crap. The guy who had led earlier, Dave Currie, came around me when he saw I was losing Rob but he couldn't stay with him either, so heading into lap three it was Rob off the front, then me and Dave, and then Chris City and someone else trailing us by 5 seconds or so.
Dave and I were both hurting from trying to stay with Rob, so about halfway through the last lap Chris City pulled up to us and went past. Continuing my trend of lazy/dirty/effective skiing, I went with him to stay in second place in the group.
Into the last up-and-back fairway section I went all out on the climb since I didn't trust myself to sprint effectively on an icy, rutted gradual downhill. I got a small gap and no one could really close any ground on the way down so I hung onto 2nd place.
Where the hell has THAT been all year?
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Posted by Colin R at 9:25 AM
Monday, March 19, 2007
Do not expect much from a 10k skate race the day after playing squash for 2 hours.
This is especially true if you don't play squash. At all. And were abused by superior players for 2 hours.
The good part of the race was leading for the first 2k. It's pretty cool to ski with nothing up barely-skied corduroy in front of you, and then to look over your shoulder and see a train of 20 people behind you.
Of course, eventually the trail pitched upward, I relinquished my lead, and managed to get a cramp in my stomach before admitting that the pace was to high and dropping off the lead group of 6.
So I panted shallowly for a few minutes while contemplating the purpose of nordic pain. In retrospect, I should have realized that the cramp was killing me and slowed down until it went away, instead of flogging myself up the hill for five minutes, but in any case when the trail leveled out I slowed down a whole lot. And then my cramp went away, and suddenly I was able to ski again.
This was about the same time the dude in 8th caught up with me, so we skied the rest of the way together. He was very chatty, which is always a strange experience -- am I supposed to be responding to him? He kept telling me how many hills we had left and that there were two guys behind us, and also cheering me on when I led him up hills (he seriously said "yaaah! yaaah!" like he was herding cattle at one point), which was both bizarre and oddly motivating. I was kind of ashamed to realize that some guy yelling at me like I'm a sled dog was making me push harder.
Once we neared the finish, he told me that we'd lost the other two guys, and it was pretty obvious he didn't care about sprinting. But I went for it anyway, just because it's a freakin' race, and if you care enough to race for 36 minutes then you ought to care enough to race the last 20 seconds. I think that makes sense.
Thanks to late March snow in Boston there's another Tuesday night master blaster race coming up, so my knee will get more chances to explode (did I mention this? It's really bad.) and I still haven't taken a picture of my pole that exploded in a way my knee can only dream of.
So I'll have more "content" later.
Friday, March 16, 2007
This guy took a mountain bike off what must be a 90 meter ski jump:
Just watching the video frightened me.
Posted by Colin R at 1:51 PM
Monday, March 12, 2007
You know it's March when I'm doing well in ski races.
The really good skiers are away at championship events. The pretty good skiers are burned out from training since August. And the mediocre skiers... I'm leading the pack, baby.
Saturday was the Sugarloaf Downhill Inferno, a race uniquely suited to my talents. Starting from the top of the Whiffletree quad and descending 1200 feet in 5 or 6k, it's not a race for the faint of heart of slow reflexes. And endurance is not a factor in any way... thankfully.
The race starts down an intermediate downhill trail on the alpine mountain, then hooks right onto a green trail with some trees on it, across another green trail (with a pretty big lip on the crossover), then down behind the condos, then a hairpin right turn onto the nordic trails, then another 8 minutes of sprinting and tucking generally downhill to the outdoor center.
Unfortunately, I pretty much killed it. There are no mishaps worth mentioning here, I just let it rip and hung on without crashing for the descent off the alpine mountain, and there's just not enough skiing after that for anyone with better fitness to close the gap. Linnea did me one better by letting it rip and wrecking twice, allegedly because her skis have two sidecuts.
So I won it by 25 seconds, not too bad in an 11 minute race. There were only 29 entrants, and no college kids, so it's not exactly the big time.
Sunday was a 12k duathlon at Great Glen Trails, so I did actually do some work in that one. Another small turnout, I think only 30 people, but there were 3 D1 guys and the Utah coach (after NCAAs this week) present so another win was looking unlikely.
The classic leg started out pretty slowly, the lead group still had around 8 or 9 people in it 2k in when the major climbs started. My universal klister was ridiculously good so the whole classic leg I went pretty easy and tried to ski smoothly -- by now I've accepted that I'm just not very fast and I'm done going into the red at the start of a race and wanting to die for the next 30 minutes.
Eventually the 3 D1 guys dropped the rest of us posers and everyone strung out climbing. The Utah coach was having kick problems so he dropped back, leaving me with several high school guys in my general vicinity. I came into the changeover in 5th place with 6th place right on my tail. 4th place was in sight, and the top 3 were long gone.
I had a pretty good change, after watching a million world cup duathlons I have the general motions right, so that's worth a lot over people who haven't done duathlons before. They guy behind me lost probably 10 seconds on the change and I never saw him again.
2k of skating had me caught up to the guy in 4th, so I was thinking this was a nice place to hang out until the end, but then the Utah coach closed up on us pretty quickly. Unlike me he wasn't feeling lazy so he just skied right past us and up the trail. Since I'm a giant wuss I didn't even try to follow him, I just sat behind the high school kid I was following.
A bit later though, he got sick of me sitting on him so he pulled aside and made me lead. It wasn't really the best plan on his part, because he did it going into the biggest k or so of climbing on the course, so he didn't really get much draft and I kind of pulled away. Near the top I was pulling ground back on the Utah coach and actually feeling alright in a distance race -- yeah, that only took the entire season -- so I was able to push harder up the last climb and close the gap completely.
The second I caught him he let me past, and then we skied the rest of the way together. His skis were as good as mine and it was mostly gradual downhill on the way in so there was no getting rid of him. I was happy to keep it together and not ski too hard, I figured that starting the sprint from the front on the uphill finish was probably the place to be.
Sure enough, on the gradual climb back to the finish he started the sprint, but I went all Petter Northug and opened up a big enough gap he gave up and I got to coast in.
So yeah, I can sort of ski now, which means it's probably time to start getting my butt kicked on a bike.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
So it's been a while since I wrote anything of consequence here, mainly because my ski season crumbled to pieces due to inadequate training preparation. I did some races and basically found out that my body doesn't clear lactic acid at all, and I'm not getting faster, I'm getting slower. So there wasn't much to report, at least not much I felt like talking about.
I did learn some things about training that should have been obvious in retrospect -- namely, that piling lots of intensity work on top of a mediocre base affects you a lot faster and harder than you'd expect. I raced cross all fall, and I was living in Florida last summer, so I didn't exactly get the base miles in. During cross season I was racing twice per weekend and riding once per week -- a VERY race-heavy schedule, but with 4 days off per week it seemed to work out.
Then ski season started and I tried to change that to 2 races per weekend and 3 training days, with 2 of them being hard days. I figured that 5-7 hours a week of training wasn't really that much, even if it was mostly intense. It didn't work. In retrospect, I was at my fastest the 3rd week of January, and I've just been slowing down since then.
My theory is that without adequate base training, my body just couldn't use the interval training, and instead it just broke down. I know, it's revolutionary! It's the kind of thing that everyone kind of knows about, but I know I never would've thought it would happen to me doing 3-4 hard sessions per week, with 2 days off. I thought (like most people, I'd guess) that overtraining was something that happened by doing two-a-days like a maniac for weeks on end, not by training hard for an hour a night.
Anyway, I took some time off, got sent to New York for a bit, so now I'm back into racing. The season's a wash but whatever, it's still fun to suffer in the cold. I think. This past weekend was the "Great Glen to Bretton Woods Nordic Adventure," which was pretty high on the suffer factor.
So a 50k classic race would've been difficult, even if it wasn't the ole' "Nordic Adventure." Now add in 2000+ feet of climbing and 18k without tracks, and you've really got a recipe for pain. And it only costs $85!
Ok, so about 200 people or so lined up in front of me. This was part of the plan, I didn't want to get excited early and go too hard. So instead I steadily passed people for 5k to start the race, and made sure anyone really fast was far away from me. That went pretty well. At around 6k the course leaves the Great Glen trail system and heads into the woods on a "trail" that is half snowmobile packed and half snowshoe packed. There's no opportunity to pass for five minutes, you have to sidestep up a ledge, cross a river, and a bunch of other things that you'd never expect to do on race skis. Things got kind of backed up in here so I was able to just hang out for a bit since I couldn't pass anyone.
After that we opened up onto the Dolly Copp trails, which seemed wide by comparison, just wide enough for two side-by-side, rock solid tracks to be set. The tracks were rock solid because it was in the upper 30s before, and now they had a slight dusting of powder in them. My kick was pretty terrible, along with everyone else who wasn't using a klister binder, so I started abusing my arms to climb. Which is always a good idea when you have 42k to go and you have the upper body strength of a 3rd grader.
Strangely enough I started feeling a lot less peppy around the 10k mark, probably because that's about how long most of my training sessions have gone for this year. I passed some fools on an insanely fast descent and then gave the places back at the bottom eating a PowerGel at the first feed station at 14k. Then began the first big climb... 2k or so, 400-500 vertical feet? It was sunny. I was hot, my wax wasn't working, and I was too stubborn to rewax, so I was dragging myself uphill with my arms some more. Only 35k to go...
Near the top the sun went away and the snow changed back to something more powdery. My decision to not wax warmer looked a lot better, I started kicking again and passing some people. There was a nice long descent to the next feed station at 19k, and I was moving pretty well. I got to the bottom, crossed a dirty and rocky snowmobile trail (a true hallmark of this race) and noticed that my arms seemed strangely tired... almost like they didn't recover from my previous efforts. Gee, wasn't I just mentioning this was a problem with my fitness this year? Luckily I was down to 31k left.
The next section of trail started out rolling again and I was still slipping. I decided that I had to do something about it, so I stopped to wax warmer. I lost about 8 places and 4 minutes but then I was kicking with a vengeance -- so of course it started snowing, and my wax started dragging. I'd like to play this up like it was a huge problem, but it really wasn't. Part of the race is variable conditions, and I'm sure everyone out there either had too much kick or too little at different parts of the course. So for the next 30k I had good kick and decent glide. But it wasn't perfect, so that's clearly what was holding me back...
I ended up with a group of 3 other people skiing into a stiff headwind on the powerline and rail trail section to the 29k mark. I tried to lead this group briefly since they seemed to be going slowly, but once I was out in front I figured out how windy it actually was, and quickly fell back to the end of the group after a 3 minute pull. Since we weren't bikers, one guy ended up leading into the wind for probably 7k. He asked the guy in 2nd if he wanted to take a turn, the guy said "not really" and that was it! I was surprised. No one's making me ski 7k into the damn wind. I thought about taking a pull, but my arms were freaking shot and once we were down on the rail trail it was all double poling. I could barely stay on the back of the group with the draft, so a turn at the front wasn't going to work out.
After the 29k feed station (only 21k to go!) the race really hits its "piece de resistance" or "coup d'etat" or "some other french phrase for difficult section." From 29k to 38k the trail climbs Jefferson notch, a 1600 foot elevation gain. It's on a forest service road, so the gradient isn't that terrible, but it's a popular snowmobile trail. So there were no tracks, really, just piles of sugary ice and rocks churned up by snow machines. Bad glide, bad kick, 9k, big hill. Not fun.
I started out after fueling with more power gels and a brownie about 50 yards behind some people, and I dangled there for about 15 minutes of steady but kickable climbing. I'd done this once before so I knew it was incredibly long, so I talked myself out of picking up the pace to catch up with them. This was important because after about 25 minutes of constant striding my legs, back and arms had reached new heights of pain -- there's just no way to train for that much striding when you ski at freaking Weston. Even my calves and feet were getting in on the pain, since due to the lack of tracks the footing was terrible and you could never relax your ankles.
Out of nowhere, Liam Cassidy passed me like I was standing still. I had been looking back (always a sign things are going well) about once every 2 minutes for quite some time and never saw him, and then suddenly he went tearing by me on the steepest, longest grade so far, so steep that I was reduced to walking. While I struggled, I watched him pass another 3 people in front of me and go out of sight having made up at least a minute on me in about 180 seconds. It was really impressive.
I passed the 35k mark after maybe 40 minutes of climbing. I was now walking almost every steep section, and my whole body had been soaking in lactic acid for what seemed like hours. Realizing the top was nowhere close, I made a decision that ultimately turned around my race -- I ate my 5th Powergel of the day while walking up a steep climb. It's amazing the effect, both physically and psychologically, those things have on you. It only took a few minutes to make up the time I'd lost on the people around me, and then I was passing people for the first time in an hour. I made up 3 places in the next 3k to the crest of the hill, and was rewarded with a beautiful sight -- the 38k feed station, and no less than six people with numbers crowded around it.
I'd just eaten a gel, and it's 12k downhill to the finish (we're at 3000 feet at this point), so I didn't see any reason to stop. Everyone else was feeding like they had just climbed 1600 feet. I downed a powerade as fast as I could and skied through, but not before seeing Liam come wandering out of a heated tent holding his skis. I love this guy. He probably made up 10 minutes, AT LEAST, on the climb against me, and then he gives it all back by taking his skis off and going in a tent at the top. That's a man who races for fun, not for places.
But I race for places, so I was heading down the backside of Jefferson notch. Somehow, losing 1600 feet requires a lot of double-poling, so it wasn't really that restful, but a welcome rest for my legs. It was snowing pretty hard over here so the tracks were really slow -- the fastest way down was through the ice and rocks left by the snowmobiles. Not exactly relaxing, but I did pass two more people that way. One of them stepped out into the sled track with me once I caught him and we traveled together the rest of the way. The two of us passed Ken Kimball -- whom I owed for pulling me 7k earlier -- and a Michigan Tech coach -- in town for NCAA's this week -- quite easily. Even though my skis felt slow in the new snow, a lot of people were having a lot more trouble than me.
In the past the race has ended with a long, gradual downhill section along the river, so I was planning on just hanging onto my traveling companion until the end and then winning the sprint. So, I was a little surprised to see the course take a left onto "Coronary Hills" with about 3k to go. My legs hadn't taken a kick in about 8k, so of course my hamstring immediately cramped up on the hill and I almost fell down. My fellow racer announced that he was "pretty pissed" as we dragged up the hill.
But really, after a 9k climb, it just wasn't that bad. Two more minutes of pain and we hit the top, then a descent onto the golf course and more double poling in fresh snow. My arms have NEVER hurt that much, or been as useless, as they were at this point, but the guy I was racing against was content to wait behind me as we slowed to a crawl with 500m to go. I kept expecting a finishing burst from him, but when it didn't come with 200m to go I upped the pain one last time to pull away for a glorious 35th place finish.
...And then spent the next 2 hours in the fetal position or lying down in the lodge. And then lay down on the floor at dinner. And it's Wednesday, and my hamstring is still sore.
Can't wait till next year.
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
So apparently pushing stragglers up hills is part of road racing. I'm going to remember this next time I need to mock roadies.
Here is an entire gallery of some guy pushing people at the Tour de California, and apparently taking himself way too seriously (or being sarcastic in a way far too subtle for me to catch).
Luckily, Barry Wicks is on the scene, mocking fools, so at least someone is looking out for my interests.
Posted by Colin R at 12:49 PM