Friday, March 28, 2008

Changing Seasons

WARNING: This may be the most masturbatory post in the history of this blog.

Inspired by Alex's season recap, and my modest desire to be a real athlete, let's take a look at this past ski season and the upcoming mountain bike season.

Ski Season:
CSU Sprints: 6th/40ish
Jackson 30k: 13th/100ish
Flying Moose 20k: 15th/80ish
Stowe Derby: 46th/300ish
Rangeley 50k: 39/80ish
Inferno: 3rd/30
Sugarloaf 50k: 21st/70ish
Gunstock F1: 3rd/20ish

Tuesday night sprints: 6th, 8th, 6th, 10th, 2nd, 4th, 2nd.

This year's ski season was vastly different than last year's -- this year I trained less, rested more, and raced less. The result was skiing way better than last year, and skiing way worse than if I trained year round, or even just fall-round.

But you know what? Fall is cross season. I've already done my time trying to be a fast cross-country skier, and I'm not. I have no intentions of scrapping cyclocross just to be a slightly less mediocre skier, so I'm pretty happy with conjuring up a respectable ski season with very limited time invested. I had fun, and if you read the right cycling blogs, I also did some "great cardio workouts" and "built aerobic base."

It's a good thing I did that, because I sure didn't ride a trainer/rollers very much. You know why? BECAUSE IT SUCKS. The cycling season runs from April to December, so I'm feeling pretty confident that I can catch up to all the hardcore types by the time it really counts (September).

What am I going to do before I race bikes in September? Why, race bikes, of course! The mountain bike season is a scant 8 days away, which means I'm only 9 days away from my first over-reactive 60-mile L3 training ride. I don't intend to take mountain biking super-seriously this year, but since it involves pedaling we can probably pull up some goals:

1) Top 3 at a Root 66 Race (last year: best finish, 5th). Last year I got my ass kicked all over the 19-29 Expert series. The magnitude of the beatdown didn't really come through in the race reports (usually), but I was a bottom-half racer with a few exceptions. I was basically in just-happy-to-be-here mode since I never expected to be an "Expert" when I started Mtb Racing back in High School, but I have a feeling that this year I would like to actually race, and possibly not break my bike. Thus, goal: make a top 3. There's a lot of randomness in attendance, and some of the guys are wicked fast, but I could do if I get lucky/get a lot faster.

2) Ride a 400km or longer brevet. Just to say I did it. Also for +1 roadie cred -- I have to do something if I don't shave my legs.

3) Break 4:00 on Eastern Ave. I'm not real big on measuring fitness because it seems kind of not-fun, but having a ridiculous goal on Eastern Ave (starting as low as possible and hitting the water tower intersection under 4:00) seems like it might make that stupid hill slightly less agonizing. Last year I don't think I ever got lower than 4:18, so this is a huge stretch. On the other hand, guys like thomp or ryank who have actual power at their disposal can probably blow that time away -- and since having some power for cross season is the primary goal of this whole "biking" thing... I'd like to break 4 minutes.

4) Get reasonably involved with my (alleged) new team. If you think this one's a gimme, then you obviously don't hang out with me in real life that much. Linnea will know what I'm talking about.

5) Don't get hurt, and have a kickass time. That's all there is to it. Or, if I do get hurt, hope it involves a) a good story and b) something that heals quickly.

See, I told you it was masturbatory. The great thing is that it's also a setup for an August "Mtb Season Recap/Cyclocross goals" post that will be JUST AS NARCISSISTIC AS THIS ONE. I can't wait!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Gunstock Spring Fling F1 Race Report

Another Monday has slipped away without me getting a race report up. I realize that solo needs reading material, so here's what happened this weekend, slightly delayed. If you read what Alex did this weekend then nothing I say will be news to you.

Saturday was the Gunstock Spring Fling F1 race. What is an "F1 Race," you ask? It's something the crazy Russians at Gunstock made up, because cross country skiing for a long time in the woods by yourself is stupid, and racing around in little circles is way cool.

If you think I'm joking, don't forget that I ski at Weston.

So Gunstock had a 10-lap race set up with 700m loops, which were both hillier and longer than a Weston lap. In between each loop you had to make a pit stop to change skis, so you ultimately skied 5 laps classic and 5 laps skate. To make things even more motorsport-ey, we all did a "qualifying lap" to get spots on the start grid, and they added a cone chicane on the backstretch.

If you're under 30, you're probably thinking that this sounds like a pretty entertaining way to finish out the season. If you're over 30, you're probably thinking (as Sam Evans-Brown put it), "hurrr, that sounds like too much fun, I'm gonna go ski a marathon."

I was the oldest person on the start line, which is a first for me and will sadly not be a last.

Anyway, there was an actual race hiding inside the nonsense and like any actual race it ended up being pretty painful. I had the 3rd starting spot behind Sam E-B and Sam Marshall, two guys who are way faster than me, so of course I skied with them for the first lap, and even considered passing at one point.

Also predictably, they dropped me by the end of the first classic leg (lap two) and I got to ski all alone for the final 8 laps, checking periodically to make sure Alex wasn't in sight.

Throughout the race the chicane on the backstretch got harder and harder to navigate. I was depressed at my declining handling skills as I got tired and the turns got icier, and I came closer and closer to eating cones each time through. Only after the race did I find out that Igor (the aforementioned crazy Russian) was tightening the chicane after every lap, which is a pretty sweet trick. This kind of insanity should be brought to the cross scene -- why not try raising the barriers over the course of the race? What could go wrong?

Directly after the chicane was the ever-changing jump section (another thing that ought to be added to the World Cup), which got progressively harder until I had to jump a bamboo pole Igor was holding horizontally on the last lap. Luckily I had been practicing my mad hops so it was no deal.

As previously mentioned, I ended up 3rd, which meant a podium spot and some Easter chocolate. I ate my chocolate before getting off the podium because I was bonking.

That's it for the ski season, finally. I've progressively pushed back the date I would quit skiing and start training for cycling over the course of March, but it's finally time to get serious about things that roll with King of Burlingame two weeks away and lots of blogosphere mtb cred on the line. I'd get into the details of exactly how I'm preparing (hint: it has pedals) but I don't want to become that which I parody.

Oh, and Sunday I rode three hours at Otis with Callie,Alex and Linnea. Great ride, or greatest ride? You be the judge:

(Otis in Google Earth -- lots of this data came from MTB Tom. Email if you want it.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sugarloaf Marathon Race Report

Saturday morning I woke up. My throat was sore. Really sore, just like it had been the last 3 mornings. I thought about the situation for a while and decided it was time to do the smart thing that is so hard for a racerhead like me -- skip a race I had preregistered for.

"I'm not going to race Sugarloaf," I told Linnea, "I'm too sick."

"Ok," she said, "I'm going to go anyway." She used to work at Sugarloaf, and was volunteering at the race.

And with that, my fate was sealed. I can't sit around the house for a weekend, so I have to go with her. And if I go with her, I'm going to end up at a race that I'm already entered in. I can walk away from a race that's 4 hours away if I'm sick. I cannot walk away from a race that's happening right in front of me.

And based on how things went, I will not be learning my lesson any time soon. Sunday morning found me feeling the best I'd felt in 5 days, which was still not especially good. But good enough to think that this might work out after all.

The race was a 3-lapper with two defining features, a 2k climb about 1.5k into the lap and an extended section of hairy corners and downhills around the 8k mark. I decided that after doing 3 50ks with the "start extra slow, screw around a bit, start racing for real at the 20k mark" I would try to be serious and give it a real go from the gun. May as well try it when I'm sick, right?

The first 3k of the race were fast, too fast. I kept trying to convince myself that I wasn't going that hard, trying to take deep breaths and relax, but it was a 2k climb and I was in a pack going at about my 10k pace. I could see Blazar a few skiers ahead of me in line and since I beat him Tuesday nights, I figured I needed to at least go at his pace at the start of a 50k. Behind me was Dave Roberts, whom I skied 10k with at Rangeley, and after 5 minutes of steady climbing he says, "Hey Colin, want to pass these guys?"

Hell. No.

This is bad. We're 3k in, I can barely hang with Blazar, and a guy I beat two weeks ago thinks we need to go faster. I am still sick. I should not be skiing. I hate this sport. Where's my bike.

We hit the top of the climb and Dave passed us, never to be seen again. Blazar pulled over and completely blew up. I pass him and then managed to blow up a little more slowly over the next few minutes. I remember thinking to myself, "crap, I just blew up 5k into a 50k race, I am such an idiot," only to ski past the 4k marker a few minutes later. Ouch.

The first time down the winding, rolling descent I found out just how sketchy it was, as I turned a corner to find a guy on the ground and another getting up with a broken pole. I was the 25th person down the hill, roughly, and it was already scary-fast with a big berm on the corner at the bottom. Can't wait to do that twice more...

After several k of mostly descending I was around the 10k mark and just rejoining a master who had dropped me on the climb. I skied with him until the lap ended, slowly recovering and deciding that I did not, in fact, need to drop out because I was sick. I just needed to not ski at an idiotically fast pace for the first 3k next time. Noted.

The next time up the climb I stuck with a different master who had come through and was skiing faster. It seemed like we were making good time, and I was certainly close to being in difficulty near the top -- but then I looked back.

Barely 30 seconds back was the red suit of Alex. I guess that answers the question of, "am I skiing fast enough?"

Freshly motivated by my fear of getting girled, I retook the lead from my traveling companion and upped the pace. Now off the long climb my mediocre fitness wasn't so much of a problem (I could use my core strength, not) and I really pushed it down the descent, which had turned into the typical scraped off/sugar piles mix that race downhills get. A few times I narrowly avoided joining the scenery, but by the bottom I had dropped the master and Alex was nowhere to be seen. I had another Gu passing through the 25k mark and got down to the business of lonely suffering, interrupted by lapping the occasional 30k tourer.

Two more gels and a world of hurt got me back to the 37k mark, at the top of the big climb for the last time. At the high point I looked back -- shit. I hadn't seen anyone behind me in nearly an hour, but somehow Alex's red Alpina suit was there again.

I kept pushing as hard as I could, which becomes embarrassingly not-hard in the closing kilometers of a marathon, checking frantically on the hills for the red suit. It seemed to be working, because I never saw it again. Soon I was lonely again, counting down the last kilometers.

Turning the corner onto the last significant climb, I saw something I hadn't seen in 15k -- someone in front of me skiing fast enough that I couldn't be lapping them. Fleeing Alex had paid off in another way, because I had finally caught someone. Two people, in fact. The reward for pushing hard for the last lap? Pushing even harder for the last two kilometers.

One of the guys was bonking, and I passed him with 1000m to go. The other I reeled much more slowly, finally catching him on the last corner and barely passing him down the final straight to take 21st place. Somehow, I managed to have a sprint finish in both of this year's marathons.

As for Alex -- she won the women's race, and that was her behind me on the 2nd lap. The red Alpina suit I'd fled on the third lap turned out to be a guy with the same sponsor as her -- so my final-lap panic was entirely unnecessary.

Dang, I'm f'in bald.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Do-It-Yourself March Cycling Blog Post

So, are you a cyclist? Do you have a blog? If you answered "yes" to both of these questions, I hope you've already written your March Training Blog Post.

You know what I'm talking about. To make it easier for those of you who haven't yet written the required cycling-blogger March Training Post, here is a handy template. Just cut and paste the text and then choose whichever option from the brackets [option1|option2], or add in the details [something vague] for whatever fits your training more accurately, and BAM, blog post DONE!

Early Spring Training Post Template

Just a [quick|surprisingly detailed] update about how training is going this year, in case any of the [joke about small number of readers] care. This week I've done [15 hours|30 hours] in the saddle, [getting up at 4 am|returning after 8pm] each time. It's been pretty chilly out there-- 5 below [celsius|fahrenheit] when I [started|finished] yesterday, but I'm toughing it out because [I'm better than you|I'm better than most people|I want to burn out by June]. This past weekend I rode [50|100|200] [yards|km|miles] with [link to someone] and it was [a beautiful day|an epic death ride] -- so much better than the [big number|lie] hours I spent on [rollers|the trainer] back in February!

[Artsy picture taken while riding|Picture of you in front of a snowbank]

I was [comparing|falsifying] my training log against last year's and it looks like I'm [up 20 hours|putting out 5% more watts] over last year at the same date. Things are going pretty well, but I need them to go even better to attain my lofty goal of [upgrading to a higher category|sandbagging the crap out of my current category]. Plus, my weight is down to [low number] from its peak of [shockingly high number].

I've been logging all the miles on my winter bike, [nicer bike than your summer bike], but I can't wait for the roads to clear up so I can take the [stupid pet name for a bike] out and try my new [bike part(s)] out. I picked up these [bike part(s)] from [my LBS|ebay] for $[low number], because [my team deal is awesome|it's frickin ebay]. I promise a [full|useless|gratuitous] review on [bike part(s)] soon!

Well, I'd love to keep writing about [how awesome I am|boring shit], but I need to [get back to work|get back on my bike|unfreeze my junk] so that I can make my March training goal of [more hours than I'll ride in August]. See you [out there|behind me]!

Note: If you think this post is directed at you specifically, it probably is. Good thing you can laugh at yourself, right?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sugarloaf Inferno Race Report

The Stowe Derby is pretty insane, but 500 people do it, so it can't be that bad.

Well, 30 people did the Sugarloaf Inferno, because it is that bad.

The day before the race Sugarloaf got over an inch of rain. The day of the race, it was so windy that all but 3 of the lowest lifts at the alpine area were closed -- including the lift we needed to ride to get to the start line.

Thus, 9:45 found me standing outside, in a 30mph wind, waiting in line to board a snowcat, to go up on a mountain that had just been turned to a sheet of ice -- with my freaking cross-country skis! The mood among the racers was a mixture of apprehension and impatience. Let's get up there and get this thing done -- am I gonna die?

The start line dwarfed the highest open lift, so we were alone on the mountain. The course had been rerouted down a trail I'd never skied (foreshadow!) that had actually been groomed that morning. Unfortunately, when there's an inch of rain in your snow, you can till it and pack it all you want, but it will still set up icy and hard. And you know what doesn't work very well descending on icy and hard snow? Cross country skis. Well, shit.

One by one racers skated off across the opening flat and around the corner toward the King Pine chair. No one looked very comfortable on the first, slowest, flattest corner -- and then it was my turn.

20 yards out of the start the 30mph tailwind caught you. I cut the first corner across the ungroomed ice and grabbed my tuck. The King Pine chair and the first real turn were a quarter-mile away; it looked pretty flat. Only one choice -- straight down. If I'm going to beat the college skiers it has to happen up top.

Long before making it to the chair I was scared. I was probably crossing the 40mph barrier when I stood up to put the air brakes on. Nothing happened -- the screaming tailwind ferried me straight toward the corner, where a ski patroller was pointing left with increasing urgency.

I snowplowed. Nothing happened, my edges slipping pathetically across the rock-hard corduroy.

After attempting to hockey-stop for another 50yards, it was time to try to make the turn, sliding and stepping to the outside around ruts and crash marks on the inside. It worked, barely, and I just barely stayed out on the trail. Suddenly there was a right turn in front of me that I was not expecting. There were more ruts and crash-divots. I tried to head outside, start sliding, but by the time I got my skis on edge I could see just how sharp the corner was. And I knew I was pretty much f'ed.

I fell down, more as an attempt to stop myself than due to slipping. I didn't stop, though, I went sliding across the trail on my hip, tearing up my forearm on ice as I tried to stop before going into the woods. It didn't work.

I hit a tree feet-first, almost. The tree hit my ski just in front of my toe, slamming the tip into my knee and cutting it. My legs started to fold, until they ran out of travel and my full body weight slammed my shin into the tree.

I lay there in shock for a moment, wondering how the hell I lost the race in the first 60 seconds, until the pain hit me. Then I started an inventory. Poles -- still attached, not broken. Skis -- also attached, somehow not broken. My leg -- still attached, not broken, extremely painful. I got up and gingerly checked to see if it could hold weight. It could. Race on?

Well, I gave it my best shot. Adrenaline is pretty amazing -- after 20 more seconds I couldn't even feel that I had just peeled several square inches of skin off my shin, through my race suit -- but it couldn't overcome my brain. And my brain knew it that it had just made a really bad decision, and was lucky to still be able to ski. It wasn't going to go too fast again.

I skied tentatively hard down to the bottom, but I would've had to have had an amazing run to make up for the crash. The margin for error in an 11 minute race is a lot narrower than spending 30 seconds crashing and putting yourself back together; the eventual winner beat me by 25 seconds.

More importantly, I can still walk today and plan on another (final) 50k next weekend. I might have failed at defending my title, but Linnea took the women's title by nearly 2 minutes -- proving that she is several deviations crazier than the average woman on skis.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Stupid Mapping Tricks

Hey, is that a map of every cross race in New England, with circles indicating the amount of participants??


Thursday, March 6, 2008

King of Burlingame PSA

The King of Burlingame MTB TT is only a month away and only has 38 slots left (62 people already registered). It's only an hour away from Boston and a $17 entry fee on April 6th -- sounds good eh? Plus it's a rare chance to take on such "legendary" MTB riders as GeWilli and the King of Yogurt.

It will probably fill up, so get over there and register while you still can, or don't come crying to me when your April 6th is SUPER LAME and not at all BIKE RACEY.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Tuesday Night Waterskiing

I just read Alex's writeup and she basically took all the adjectives I was going to use to describe the conditions last night. In summary, it was pouring and hadn't been below freezing in 48 hours. In typical Weston fashion they groomed and tilled it anyway to make some pretty corduroy slush that didn't hold up at all. The untilled ice was way faster, but other people seem to like slush and/or get surprised when it doesn't hold up.

Thanks to mostly luck I had a pretty good run. I finally earned a front row start and got into the first lap in second place, which is basically first place since Bret quickly skied away like always. After the parade lap I pulled aside to let Dave Currie come through, and when I looked back there was a 10 yard gap behind him.

It turns out there was a crash at the start that Luke took the blame for which launched us off the front. In any case, it's been 5 weeks since I saw open space behind me at Weston so I was pretty stoked to put the hurt on people who were too far back to draft me. I passed Dave back, told him we had a gap and gunned it.

For a while it looked like Andy might be able to close the gap to us, but he never quite made it, and then we pulled away for good.

On the third lap Dave took the lead and the pace was high. He's an aerobic animal so the slushy V1 climbs were perfect for him, and I was start to suffer pretty badly churning through the piles of slush. There was no way I could hang on to this pace for another lap -- but wait! Dave attempts to finish with one lap to go -- which explains why the pace was so high -- and is understandably disappointed when I yell that there's one more lap to go. Now laden with incorrect-finish-sprint lactic acid, he drops away pretty easily on the last lap and I solo in for 2nd.

This ends the Tuesday night series. I made it to 7 of 9 races and ended up 6th, despite scoring the 5th most points per attended race -- they don't drop any races so one person who did all 9 finished just ahead of me. My best result was 2nd (twice) -- which is basically 1st with Bret B. racing -- and finishing with the lead pack 6 out of 7 times was a huge improvement from last season.

See you next year!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Rangeley Lakes Loppet Report

The forecast was for 6-10 inches of snow during the race.

I haven't done a skate race longer than 50 minutes all year.

And yet, before the race I had convinced myself that a skate 50k in a snowstorm was going to be fun -- or at least, epic. Was I right? Let's find out!

(Hint: Ow)

It was snowing hard when we got up, and it took over 2 hours to make the 74 mile drive to the race start over the most frost-heaved road in Maine. Linnea somehow managed to sleep on the way despite the car being periodically airborne, which shows you how laid back she is about ski racing. Parking was full, so we got sent two miles up the road, theoretically to return via shuttle -- although the shuttle never really appeared and we fortunately got a ride down with Alex's boyfriend Ed.

To make a long preamble short, I ended up skiing exactly 50 yards to the start line to warm up, and I was basically the last person to make it into wave one... although at least I made it!

(Race promoting tip: If you have a wave start, you need signs announcing this at registration, instead of a few people with paper trying to direct surprised and confused traffic at the start line)

So my warmup consisted of, as usual, the first 3-5k of the race, skiing at a laughably low heart rate, occasionally double poling around people.

Eventually the gaps started opening up and I had enough space to get things rolling at "race" pace, jumping from group to group through the gradual climbs. I got to the point where there was a several hundred yard gap to the next group, but I could see two Alpina team suits in it -- meaning that Alex was up there.

A k or two of honest work got me within reach of the group, but as I closed on it one of the Alpina suits fell off the back. It turned out to be Alex, who immediately told me that she wanted to drop out.

I know I'm not elite, but I was a little offended that being passed by me is apparently a sign one should drop out.

Given that we had 40+ k remaining, I decided to slow it down and ski with Alex for a bit. I figured that the insult of me dangling in front of her for a while would be enough to get her motivated to race more and whine less. I'm not gonna say I was the sole reason that she didn't drop out, but I'd like to think I contributed.

Another benefit of skiing with Alex is that you never know when you're going to see an awesome crash. We were heading down one of the longer descents on the course and there was a pretty large dip in trail, in flat light of course-- I hit it and pitched forward a bit, stumbling awkwardly. I regained my balance and looked back just in time to see Alex attempting poke her eyes out with her ski tips as she bounced her head off the snow.

I didn't just laugh, I forced myself to laugh loudly, to make sure she could hear me over the sound of her brain rattling around her head.

Alas, it was soon time for us to go our separate ways, as a large group was catching us from behind and there were a scant 30k remaining. I pulled away on a hill, and set out alone.

Back at full throttle, the first few kilometers flew by and soon I came through to finish the first lap in 1:33. I was picking people off steadily and feeling good, cruising down the hills no-pole skating and thinking about how I could definitely keep this pace up for 25 more kilometers. Yeah, another hour or so of this pace, no problem. I feel fine right now.

And just like always, the switch from "fun ski adventure" to "nordic death race" came quickly and brutally. I caught Dave Roberts around the 30k mark -- on his way to winning the 50+ category -- and decided it might be time for a little rest. I ate another Gu and drafted him for a bit. Next time the course pitched upward, he seemed to be skiing quite quickly. My quick rise up the standings was over, but the agony was just beginning.

There's no hiding in a 50k. I haven't done the specific strength training for skiing, especially the upper-body part of it, and it was time to pay the price. First to go were my arms -- they became heavier and feebler, until it was debatable whether or not I was pushing off at all. I was putting my poles ahead of me, and then skiing past them, but I'm not sure they were actually propelling me.

After a while I tried to dispatch Dave, leading up a long climb. Five minutes of agony netted me a 10 second lead and a sudden sense of dread -- there were still 10k to go and I had reached a full-body pain cave I've never experienced on a bike. To maintain the gap to finish would require a 30-minute stay in the cave.

I was hungry, maybe even bonky, but I couldn't find my last gel in my water bottle carrier. Had I lost it? Did I even start with 4?? I panicked and stopped -- on a downhill of all places -- to dig for it. By the time I got it out Dave and another master were past, and it took me another 2k to regain their tails.

I suffered in silence behind them up the last big climb. Near the top Dave started to open up a gap so I had to thrash around the other master on the edge of the trail to get back and close the gap.

Entering the last 3k I realized everything was set up for me to win in a sprint. Winning meaningless sprint finishes is basically what I do on skis. The problem was, drafting a guy twice my age for 5k and then sprinting past him for 40th place is a truly cheesy maneuver. I decided on the more honorable approach, and took the lead.

Once again I was able to gradually pull myself away at the expense of extreme muscle pain. I went at the absolute limit for the last 10 minutes -- and yet my heart rate barely broke 170 (my max is 195 or so). My muscles were just that dead. I could feel my calf threatening to cramp every fourth push off, but when I looked back I had a ten second gap.

There are markers every kilometer but I swear the last ones are stretched out. Getting from the 49k mark to the finish took hours, and just when I thought I was finally done, I saw a CSU suit through the trees. It was Jon Peterson, one of the Tuesday night crew.

I was planning on being just happy to finish near him, but when I came out of the woods there was Linnea screaming at the top of her lungs, and a group of college guys who had already finished. There was no escape. I had to go for it.
Believe it or not, I passed him by the finish line, at the orange flags.

See, I wasn't joking about that meaningless sprint thing. If you need someone to win the sprint for 42nd place, I'm your man.

Afterward, we staggered back to a hotel and then to Saddleback for some tele skiing in the foot of new snow.
Not exactly the best recovery, but what's more fun than falling into a stream bed covered by 4 feet of windblown snow?

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