Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Straight Busted

I bailed on the Tuesday night race this week. I was just totally broken from running that 5k on Sunday -- and part of my revolutionary 2009 training plan is "don't race when you're really, really tired, because you'll do badly and be unhappy." That's right, it only took me twenty years to figure that out.

It helped that the race had been shortened to only two laps because lots of folks had done Jackson or the Gunstock Tri (and I guess one idiot did both...), but the thing is, when it's that short you actually need more preparation because if you aren't ready to hit 105% effort at five minutes in you get dropped. I actually would rather do a longer (three lap, 8k) Tuesday night race when I'm tired, where you can actually settle in at race pace instead of spiking really hard and then having to recover -- because when you're tired you can't recover worth crap.

This weekend is a raceless one, so there might not be much blog fodder for a while. But after that we should be good to go at one race per weekend until March 14. Then I might actually try getting on a bike.

Next up is some nutty rando race Justin pushed on me like the crack dealer he is. I just picked up some new-to-me tele gear so what better way to test how the boots fit than 4000 vertical feet of skinning?

Now that's it's the end of January it's time to get some nordic ski base, right? Sunday is gonna be attempt #1 of the "one-lap-no-crossovers-or-repeats-50k-challenge" at the Balsams. Tentative course map is below; we mapped it at 48k but I'm hoping there's enough turns missing from that map to hit 50k. The Garmin never lies.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Gunstock Winter Triathlon Race Report

For some reason all the weirdest winter events I do end up being at Gunstock. First a Ski-O, then an "F1 race," now a "Winter Triathlon." No event is to bizarre for the crazy Russians at Gunstock.

This year's Jay Winter Challenge was canceled, so I jumped at the chance to get my snowbikeracing on elsewhere, even if it meant running a 5k. The fact that the third leg ended with xc skiing was just icing on the cake -- I would've cut a hole in a lake and gone swimming if it meant I could race a bike on snow.

I was briefly concerned about the 5k because I don't run at all, but wait, I did do a 5k already this fall! Sure I spread it over two days and did it with a bike on my back, but the important thing was that I did it. And running in five inches of mud is actually a lot like running on snow, so I should be set.

Believe it or not 50+ people showed up to this thing, most importantly my buddy Justin. I don't run, he doesn't ski, so we had a long debate at dinner about how much time he'd need to take out of me on the run to win; somehow we never even considered (or he was nice enough not to mention) that he wrecked me at Jay Winter Challenge last year AND had new snowcat rims AND actual gears on his snowbike now. Needless to say after taking 2:30 out of me on the run he took almost that much on the bike leg as well! But would it be enough...?

The race started with fifty idiots in seven degree temps running across a field onto some ski trails. My goal on the run was "don't kill yourself" and it was hard to keep that plan in action as a good 30 people were immediately ahead of me and pulling away while I could hear Linnea chatting it up with the competition right behind me. Fortunately it only took about five minutes of running before my legs reached a low boil and my thoughts turned to how soon I could end this nonsense.

There's a reason I don't run, it's too boring for an ADHD/internet generation kid like me, so when we started heading down the steepest hill on the run loop I decided to take my running to the EXTREME and let it fly. It was totally cool, I would definitely like to see lift-served downhill snow running as the NEXT BIG THING, I think kids would dig it and companies like K2 could start selling knee cartilage instead of skis. On an undoubtedly related note, my shin muscles are so sore today, but I can't stop poking them, argh!

After an incredibly long 5k (30 minutes, but it was on snow, with hills, so even the fast people took 24...) I hit the transition, er T1 and grabbed my bike. We did a bunch of practice footwear transitions in the hotel room the night before, and as cheesy as that sounds it was totally worth it. I was outta there in just over a minute, rocking the 'cross mount and off for three laps of the run course.

Because it was so cold the snowbiking was easier than most snowbiking, so at least it started out firm. Two laps of people running tore it up and bit, and three laps of people attempting to ride it tore it up further -- by the end it was well into technical-snow-bike-ride territory and I was very happy I had switched to the 2.5's.

The majority of racers were not exactly Jay Winter Challenge Vets, so while they were lacking PTSD they were also missing the experience to run fat fat fat tires, with low low low pressure. The biggest obstacle in the deepening snow pits on the course was the perpetually toppling other riders, who were finding out the hard way how fast forward progress can end in snow. At one point I was descending quite briskly through a crowd of people and one of the walkers cheered for me -- while I was thinking about how great I was, someone toppled, and then someone veered, and then I swerved -- straight off the trail, jackknifing the wheel in the ski track, over the bars, into the cold, powder-filled ditch. The cheering stopped. Like I said -- things come apart pretty fast when you're riding on snow.

Linnea did me one better by having basically the same scenario play out, except instead of swerving she rode straight into the fallen rider's back and endo'ed over him. I still think that Sven Nys -- or even Thom P -- woulda just given that guy's face a little front wheel tap and then hopped him. Now that's PRO.

This is way more technical than it looks.

After finishing the run in 28th, I turned the 7th fastest bike split, and since loads of people had catastrophic bike legs I somehow had risen to 10th overall entering the ski.

For some perspective on how much the bike leg spread the field out -- if you ran at 145% of the fastest run leg, you would have been the 50th-fastest runner, only beating 8 people. If you biked at 145% of the fastest bike leg, you would have had the 19th fastest split.

The transition to skiing blew my little mind. I am ostensibly a skier, but after an hour of hard biking and running my legs were shot. The first ten minutes of the ski leg were quite possibly the clumsiest, slowest skate racing I've done since I was ten. On the steepest hill, I didn't even diagonal V, I just walked up it in a herringbone.

My suffering was significantly eased when I saw Justin ahead of me near the end of lap one -- even though he'd crushed me by nearly a minute a mile on the run, and another 1:30 on the bike, he can't ski worth beans and I had taken back four minutes in only three K of skiing. Much like Ski Orienteering -- if you're a mediocre xc skier who's sick of getting smoked by juniors, you should really do a winter triathlon.

I met up with Justin going into the downhill past where it turned out a news crew was filming, and our frozen expressions ruined many a dinner across Central New Hampshire that evening.

Relieved at passing Justin, and with the bike-specific lactic slowly fading away, I started to get into this whole skiing thing a bit more. I picked up the pace and was rewarded by seeing two more skiers up the next hill -- and a cramp in my calf on every single push off. I climbed the entire stupid hill with my calf twinging every stride, it was bizarre, after a while it started to feel like there was a marble stuck in my race suit. Man, I can't even write about it without having to rub my leg. Anyway, if you want to really hurt for 7k, try racing a bike first.

Despite my whining I was an actual ski racer on a course full of triathletes, so I kept picking guys off who had smoked me on the first two legs, I even got the legendary Alec Petro (Jay Winter Challenge Champion, 2009 Iditabike Entrant) on the final climb to hit the finish line in fifth overall, with the third-fastest ski time.

Justin was just a few minutes behind in 9th, and before I could warm up Linnea was done as well, 16th overall and second woman. All in all it was a huge success, both for us and for everyone else -- I was really impressed at how many people had a terrible time trying to ride in the snow, only to get on skis they could barely use, and still crossed the line ready to do another winter triathlon.
A photo of the news guy videotaping us. Whoa, that's like, so meta.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

White Mountain 30k Race Report

This year's Jackson 30k was, for the first time in a while, not my first real race of the year. I'd already raced 28k TOTAL of classic skiing, definitely a record for mid January. Accordingly, I tried a new strategy called "line up where you should be" instead of "line up so you'll get blocked and have to start slow." This led to the obvious result of being "in the mix" and getting an honest 1:40 of racing in. As for how it went...

The start was a pretty "interesting" setup, with about 15 start lanes going straight for 50 yards and then hitting five lanes crossing them at a 45 degree angle. This meant that if everyone jumped in the first track they saw, 200 skiers would go into one track after 10 seconds of racing. Since everyone is in full-stupid mode at the start, you can guess how that worked. Yeeeeehaw! I didn't even have a choice in the matter since the track was already occupied when I got there, I just busted across some guy's ski tips to the far side without so much as a "sorry." Hey man, you know how 30th place in a citizen's race is contested.

I'm joking but the eventual winner (Eli Enman) managed to get his pole broken in the start, so there WAS a reason I wanted to get the hell outta there.

I settled in around 25th-30th or so on the opening loop, refreshingly close to the front, but my arms were surprisingly tired given that this was an "easy week." Must be the steady diet of manly pull-ups I am on. Anyway, I was happy to hit the steep climb off the golf course and put my bomber kick to work.

At the top we crossed a road onto the second golf course (they like their golf up there) and went back into a decent breeze. I had settled into a group of 3 or 4 and immediately got my draft on while double-poling, acutely aware that my arms were hurting a lot more than I'd like them to at the 3rd kilometer of a 30k race. But, I gamely hung on for drafting purposes, until we hit the climb to the (New) Wave trail. There's no drafting at 3mph, so I was swiftly dropped by two masters and a UMaine-Presque Isle kid.

The steepest part of the Wave is the first couple climbs and I was HOT, despite the 15-degree temps. My prerace fueling/hydrating had already been questionable, and I knew that sweating a lot would almost guarantee a dehydration-driven explosion. I was worried, until I remember that I had God's air conditioner (baldness) hiding under my hat -- I stuffed the hat into my suit and it was AHHHHHHH SO COOL.

Plus, we were past the steep hill and into the striding climbs. Me and my bomber kick got our big strides back on, just like the Geschmossel, and by the time we hit the high point I was back with my group and actually had passed some other, more exploding racers. This led into a long and fast downhill, which I made about 100 times more sketchy than it had to be by trying to put my hat on while descending. While wearing lobster mitts... and forgetting to take my glasses off first.

Near the bottom of the downhill I made a little push to get past the UMPI kid, and then right as we hit the windy field he glided back past me... score. I happily double-poled behind him for a while, and then when we hit a climb and I put in some big strides to pull away because I was feelin' GOOD. It probably helped that Dobie was there, he took this cool picture of me, but not before heckling me for getting beat by Rob Bradlee, which makes as much sense as me heckling him for getting beat by Jonny Bold.

The good feeling strides continued all the way to the descent back to the start area (finishing up the first 15k "lollipop," if that lollipop was a factory second), where I passed two more masters and clocked 32 mph on the descent. Back down on golf course #1 I realized that the masters guys were Nat Lucy and Andy Milne, which meant (1) I'm having a good race and (2) I'm in for a world of hurt, since the major striding sections have just ended.

So we headed out for the second 15k and I went directly to the hurtbox, do not pass go, do not collect $200, there were a few striding sections on the looooong stretch along the river, but for the most part they were just double-poling for minutes at a time. I kept pace by kick-double poling behind them and liberal use of the pain face.

I was consistently skiing a "gear" below them (striding when they kick double-poled, kick double-pole when they just double-poled) all the way up the river and I was starting to think this could maybe just work -- but then we turned around at the other high point and started coming back down. I was quickly spun out kicking on the gradual downhill (to continue the metaphor) and had to go to double-pole only. With no way to cover for the overcooked rigatoni I was apparently packing instead of triceps, I cracked HARD and FAST.

The return leg on the river was about as ugly as ski racing gets for me -- at first I kept them in sight, albeit steadily pulling away, but with about 4k left the wheels really started coming off, somehow my left shin started cramping up even though I'd hardly used it in the last half hour. As you might imagine, discovering a cramp in your leg while step-turning is curse-worthy.

I was in complete bonksplosion survival mode after that, I have no explanation for it except that I burned a lot more calories driving up at 5:30 AM than I realized. My legs were DONE and my arms had been DONE for quite some time. With a K of golf-course double poling left, I had just lost a place and could see the UMPI kid I had long since written off closing as well. I dug as deep as I could to keep it together down the last fairway, with a steady tailwind -- and of course the finish was 100 meters past a turn back into that wind. Fueled purely by the terror of getting beated at the line I squeezed 30 more seconds of flailing out of my arms to get to the line for 20th place.

Ever the other-people's-pain connoisseur, Dobie took another picture just after I crossed the line:
Considerably less picturesque than the last one, I know.

I was totally wrecked, but it's ok, I had at least 20 hours to recover before doing a winter triathlon! Luckily classic skiing was NOT one of the three legs, and I'm sure none of the muscles I use to ride, run or skate are involved with classic technique, so it's all good.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Geschmossel Race Report

It's Tuesday night and I'm not racing. It's been seven days since my last post. Generally these would be signs that my world is falling apart, but in this case it just means there was a three-day weekend with a Monday race. Fear not! Collapse from overtraining and/or overblogging is still weeks away.

This three-day weekend started with a trip to watch the Eastern Cup sprints in Rumford on Saturday, which were cold and less exciting than I had been envisioning. I briefly (very briefly) had considered racing, but $55 just to miss the heats seemed like a stupid idea. Apparently this was the consensus among people old enough to pay their own entry fees, as a grand total of 3 people over the age of 23 raced. You might think this means that nordic skiing is going to be huge in a few years (omg so much youth!!), but it's really just the odd age/seriousness segregation the sport exhibits. I ended up racing Monday and being the fourth-youngest participant.

Sandwiched in between the young people race and the old people race I managed to fit in four hours of classic skiing in falling snow at The Balsams with Linnea and my dad. This place used to be New England's best kept secret for nordic skiing, but with the uber-rich clientele in decline (it's a "Grand Hotel" that just happens to have its own alpine and nordic centers), it could disappear soon. If you're a nordic skier in New England, you owe it yourself to check it out -- they have the biggest trail system and the most consistent snow this side of Mont Sainte Anne. That's not exaggeration -- they were skiable the entire 05-06 winter (aka "The Winter That Wasn't") and could probably run a one-lap 50k marathon on their trail system. GO THERE BEFORE IT'S GONE.

So four hours of breaking trail in fresh snow isn't exactly what coach would recommend, but we're still waaay early in the season by my standards, so a 15k classic the next day is still a good idea, apart from the fact that my arms didn't really work. The astute reader should ask, "do they ever work?" which is precisely why I wasn't too concerned.

As mentioned it was a nice, relaxed group of masters racers in attendance so it was going to be a good day for my "percent beaten" graph. Despite their alleged chill-ness, they somehow managed to get to the line five deep well before I was expecting. I lined up well back and decided this would be another one of those start-slow-and-ramp-up races out of pure necessity.

We quickly funneled down onto a double-tracked trail and traffic was dense. I passed the time by working on matching strides with the person in front of me so I could ski closer without banging skis together. Hopefully I'm not the only person who considers this a valuable skill.

Right about the time we were thinning out enough that I could start hopping tracks and moving up, we hit the first big hill and two lanes of striding became one lane of herringbone. Back to playing the waiting game.

Over the top of that it was officially cleared out, time to stride it out and move forward. The course was a "rough double-lollipop" (that's a technical term) with a major climb on each lollipop, so I had kick-waxed a bit aggressively. It was absolutely the right decision, and let me take monster strides on the long climbs. I may have been well back in the field but I felt like a goddamn rock star, which is actually a lot more important to a having a good classic race than you might think.

Near the top of lollipop #1 I caught up with a group of four that contained my nemesis from last years skate marathons, Dave Roberts. Based on that, I considered skiing with them for a bit, but I had that whole rockstar-kick thing going on so I went flying by over the top of the climb and set out after the next group down a tricky descent.

Everyone knows that once someone's in the rear view they disappear from the race, so I was shocked to have two guys (including Dave) glide past me not a minute later when the descent flattened out. Rockstar kick is not without its price.

However -- time lost on the downhill dwarfs time (that can be) gained climbing, so I was back to the front trying to stride it out up the second long climb. There were another four or five guys visible on the long sections so I kept telling myself "the race is in front of you," and very gradually skied away from my companions, and into what turned out to be the hurtbox. Not because I was cracking more than usual, just because skiing really hurts. "Having a good race" just means every muscle is hurting at the same high level, instead of one muscle group exploding.

But, I was having a good race, because I was steadily catching a group of four, which became a group of three, thanks to an awesome header on the final descent. We still had three kilometers of rolling terrain left, so I willed my arms into knocking out enough quality double-pole to close the gap.

My three opponents were two masters and a junior. It turned out that both of the masters were 45+ (one was 55!) and the junior was 13 (I didn't know this until afterward!!), so that's a nice illustration of where my ski career is at right now -- a "good race" means I can hang with the fastest guys who are half my age and double my age.

Seriously, that 13-year-old was ridiculous. I'm going to remember his name, so when he's at Junior Olympics in a few years I can feel a tad better about the extreme difficulty I had going with this kid when he upped the pace on one of the last climbs. The two masters guys got gapped and I had been using my "cyclocross experience" to ski at the back of the group, and then I got to "burn some matches" when I realized the kid was skiing away.

But I did get back to him, and based on the way he cracked in the next K I think he might have thought it was the final hill (it wasn't). I stood up while "drafting" his tiny frame and took some deep breaths and assessed the situation. The masters guys had closed the gap back down, and we had just reached the last hill, so I was all like THRASH THRASH into the other track and then THRASH ATTACK THRASH up the hill as hard as I could, and thanks to my ROCKSTAR KICK I was able to make some pretty killer progress despite all the thrashing. This was very important because once over the top I had to make it to the finish line using just my arms, which were not rockstar at all. Luckily the finish straight wasn't too long, so I hung on for what ended up being seventh place by a few seconds.

All this rockstar business made me really tired, so I decided to skip the Tuesday night throwdown to try to preserve my unusually good morale. On tap this weekend are two events that are going to be wicked fun -- White Mountain 30k on Saturday and the Gunstock Winter Triathlon on Sunday. That's right, running that doesn't involve carrying a bike, I am looking forward to some extreme soreness next Monday. If you're a tri guy who can ski... please don't crush me too hard. If you're a tri guy who can't ski... hope to see you up there!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tuesday Night Something Something

After a whopping 2.5 weeks off I guess I'm fully "back on it," with the 3rd race in eight days. Because I don't spend my time as a desk jockey just so I can go out and do base training at night, you know? Not when I could do some damage to my lungs and lower my self-esteem, all in an efficient 13 minutes!

So yeah. Tuesday night sprints, race #2. The natural snow enabled us to race a "new" course, as much as anything is ever new at a place as small as Weston. We basically tacked on some fast flats to the top of the course, and one fairly dark pass behind some trees, to make a 2.3k loop. The race ended up only being two laps, for no apparent reason -- flat and fast and short, even by Weston standards.

My 12th place from last week earned me a third-row start spot, and my feel-no-pain fast-twich start earned me 6th position in line going around the first turn. So far, so good, now to just hang for a scant five kilometers...

The lighting on the outer loop wasn't great, and with the 34 degree snow it was wet and packing HARD. Footing was tough in the poor light, and I was once again feeling some pretty extreme burning sensations in my shins and calves. This time, though, I was a little more distressed, because COME ON, I did ONE HOUR of no pole skiing LAST WEEK, can I please be in shape already??? sheesh.

So the legs were a-burning just like always, but I was still sitting in line in 6th, feeling pretty bad, but with only two laps to race I didn't need to hang on long. We finished up one lap and I was still there.

Then my stomach informed me that it was NOT down with the current level of exertion, as it compared to the length of warmup and recent Clif Bar consumption. There was no bargaining with it -- it owned me. In the space of 30 seconds I shuffled backwards in the pack and then immediately fell off the back of it. Another failure to stay with the lead group -- good thing we're in the first half of January still... right?

Recognizing defeat I slowed a bit to try to put myself back together, but the problem with cracking after 7 minutes of a 13 minute race is that you haven't really dropped anyone yet. I quickly picked up two more guys on my tail. Deciding that I needed all the recovery possible, I pulled aside with about a k to go and double-poled. As they went by, I saw the one at the back had an oddly-shaped head. Quite possibly, there was a ponytail under that hat. Girls wear ponytails. Despite its regularity, I do not like getting beat by girls, and definitely not when it's mano-a-chicko in the last k. Regaining some motivation, I hung grimly onto her draft.

Because of my stomach issues I'd kind of given up swallowing, so I was drooling some phlegm out of my mouth with each breath, if I'd only had a beard some really gruesome things could've started collecting. What I'm trying to say is that I was completely on the rivet here, and 100% dedicated to not getting bloused. With 200 meters to go we went through the dark section, then into the light before the last downhill. I moved up the outside for all I was worth, gliding into the lead as we tucked for a few seconds. The previous leader went to move into my draft, and just to prove that I am way too serious about Tuesday nights I immediately skated across the lane, Tour-sprint-style, hopefully leaving him in the wind for just a bit longer.

Then I flailed really hard, finished 10th, and my lungs are still screwed up as I type this a day later -- so screwed up I actually skipped tonight's workout because I was worried about it. Thirteen-minute nordic ski races are the most painful thing in the world. See you next Tuesday!

Oh, and it turns out it wasn't a girl, just a high school kid with long hair, after all that.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Bogburn Race Report

This weekend it was time for leg number of two of the reality check chronicles -- an individual start, 13k classic race called the Bogburn. I was on the fence about this one until Alex -- fresh off a trip to US Nationals in Anchorage, that saw half the races canceled -- rallied the troops and got four of us into her car and on the road from Boston at 8 am.

It was definitely the right decision. The snow was deep, the trails were awesome, the downhills were sketchy -- as far as old-school venues go this one was hard to beat. There were a disturbing number of college teams in attendance, but I'm far past matching myself up against guys who do "dryland" and "ski camps" and whatnot. I was more interested in seeing if I could hold together something resembling "race pace" for 45 minutes of hilly classic skiing. Despite my pull-up dreams, the upper body strength is lagging well behind where it should be.

With 15-second intervals between starters I was expecting a lot of traffic, mainly passing me, so I was pleasantly surprised to not get passed by anyone for 2/3rds (5k?) of the first lap. Unfortunately, when I did finally get caught by someone it was by my 1:15 man (!) and he was dragging along my 45 second man with him, so yes, some people out there were skiing much faster than me.

The lap ends with a stair-step climb back to the finish which is probably the longest on the course; I hadn't skied this part during the warmup, which only compounded my misery here. I got caught by my 30 second man (a Dartmouth kid) and my 15 second man (a Colby kid) who were skiing together, right as we turned the corner to where about five members of the Dartmouth girls team were cheering. Despite the fact that I had only lost 30 seconds in first 20 minutes to the Dartmouth kid, I probably lost another 30 just on that hill, such is the power of da ladies. Colby kid was also motivated by the college girls, so he disappeared up the trail as well.

I finished the first lap and noticed that Colby kid's crowd-pleasing efforts had done a real number on him and I was suddenly closing rapidly, now that we were back in the ovary-free parts of the course. This made me feel a lot better, although the Dartmouth kid was still pulling away.

I closed the gap down and passed him back, dear god, I think we're actually have fun and being somewhat competitive here! Wait, that's because I'm on the generally downhill part of the course. My arms were, of course, not up to the task of climbing any hill longer than 30 seconds, so I felt like a rockstar through the rolling descent -- and turned back into a pumpkin on the real climbs near the end.

The stair-step climbs back to the end of the lap, and the finish, were pretty killer. I could feel the finish line just minutes away, so I kicked it up a notch, then Emeril was like BAM, that's my trademark, and I almost threw up. Turns out that supplementing a light breakfast with McDonalds en route is not a recommended fueling strategy, despite Thom P's claims that "breakfast is the freshest meal they make at McDonalds!"

Anyway -- with two steps to go I suddenly felt a novel pressure in my stomach that was very alarming. I slowed down. I turned the corner to find Alex and Linnea waiting for me -- time to force that Egg McMuffin back down.

I sped up just long enough to be kind of photogenic, then trashed over the last hill and slid in for a big bad 40th out of 99.

The tale of the Garmin showed an only slightly positive split between laps, which is very encouraging to me -- at least I'm in touch enough with my slowness to start slow, instead of detonating like I have in the past, when I tried to ski like I had been training for it. All things considered it wasn't too bad a result -- after all, it's only January 10th, I still have two months to find enough muscular endurance to not embarrass myself in the March marathons. Low expectations really are the foundation of happiness.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Tuesday Night Reality Check

Everyone's favorite fitness test/sufferfest was just as brutal as expected this week. The recent melting had chipped away Weston's outer loops, but the cold nights had allowed them to complete the inner section for the traditional "three fingers" course design. A record 88 skiers show up, and for the first time in the history of self-seeding people were actually reasonable -- 22 rows, 4 skiers per row. It looked like Nascar.

My rep from last year was only good enough to get into row 4, but since the plan was "make the lead group, hang until you can't" it was a totally workable start spot. When the tracks ended I used my cyclocross-start-freakout skills to dart around a row of people and settled into around 10th. After the prologue lap ended, I noticed some free space behind me -- make the front group: check.

Two minutes in, it felt just like last year, skiing behind the same guys with the same questionable technique, feeling the same burn accelerating, so I reasonably assumed it would all go the same as last year -- hang on to the last lap and sprint it out!

Four minutes in, I noticed with some consternation that every single muscle on the outside of my leg was on fire. I noticed this at the same time as I noticed the gap in front of me had reached three skier lengths. I grudgingly closed the gap, but the writing was on the wall.

Turns out cycling doesn't require strength for lateral motion or stability for a push off, and skiingwalking slowly around the woods doesn't build it. Which is to say, my ass was on fire.

The lead group dropped me and I went into time trial mode, losing a good 80 yards on them in a lap. No matter, still holding down my place, I thought, except a five-man group was suddenly bearing down on me. There's 88 people on a 1.3k loop, did you really expect to ski in alone?

Right. I tried far too long to hold off the group until I eventually gave in and the leader came around, reacquainting me with my good buddy the draft. This immediately improved the situation, but I continued to slip back, until I found the one and only Kris Dobie suffering at the back of the group, where I joined him. I could tell he didn't recognize me, giving me an unfair amount of "gotta beat that guy I know" motivation.

With the end fast approaching, Cary popped up spectating and started cheering for Dobie. He also didn't recognize me, I guess, or else was wise to my plan and didn't want to blow my cover. In any event, the yelling got Kris moving up from the back and I knew I had to do the same. And just like a cross race -- I didn't.

Instead, I double-poled down the third-to-last shallow descent while trying to reduce the burning in my... cheeks, remaining dead last out of our six-man group. I started bargaining with myself, making deals, maybe you can win a six-up sprint from the back, off a hairpin corner, in lapped traffic. Yeah, this can totally work.

I'm not 100% sure that my decision to double-pole for a good 20 seconds to rest my legs was why the group appeared to slow on the next climb, but I'd like to think it was. They fanned out, but left some room on the inside, so I jumped from last to first, and it became suffertime.

Luckily if there's anything I still have going from cross it's hurting really badly for the last (or first) two minutes. I wove through lapped traffic (not because I'm dirty, they were just everywhere, I swear) and counted down the strides until the last hairpin, got a quick rest on the final downhill to hold back the time bomb in my legs, and trashed across the finish line.

Whereupon I nearly threw up, and my lungs didn't recover for 24 hours. A scant three weeks removed from cross season, and a 20-minute effort already qualifies as boot factor five... dear god.

End result? 12th place, 55 seconds behind the lead group, 2 minutes behind the solo winner. To answer: "How bad is my fitness?" -- "Slightly worse than last year."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Surviving Race Report Void

Post-posting update: Go read Rosey's unusually verbose thoughts about growing cross, they are good, so good I haven't figured out how to respond to them yet.
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It's safe to say that the last 12 days proved I'm nothing without race reports. It's one thing to sneak the odd non-race-report item into a 4000-word essay about a mountain bike race, it's another thing to build that non-race-report item into a 4000 word essay. There's a length requirement for these things, right?

My desire to crush souls on snow, despite the fact that I did zero dryland training and didn't even get on skis until December 20, has already caused some problems. I'm up to, let's see, 9 days on snow and there has been zero progress in how I feel. Linnea and I hit the snow for 3 straight days over New Year's, and by the last day I was completely useless, not getting stronger at all, I just wanted to walk up hills until we hit two hours and I could legitimately quit and go back to sleep. Is it possible to go from zero to overtrained in two weeks? Probably. I feel exactly the same as I did in February 2007.

So anyway. We're backing that off a notch, which -- now that the holidays are over and all I have is Weston -- shouldn't be too hard. Luckily the Tuesday night races start tonight, which will both create blogging fodder and answer the question, "just how bad is my fitness?"

If tomorrow's post is "so I just won a Tuesday Night Race" then I am sorry for wasting your time with my whining.

Elsewhere, on the obligatory-January-cyclist-self-improvement front, I have two New Year's Resolutions to share. Many people have real, important, serious goals for 2009 and are making positive changes in their life to achieve them, which is great, although why we all wait until January 1st to get our shit together escapes me. I actually came up with this stuff on January 3rd, anyway.

Without further ado, my grand and illustrious goals for 2009 are:
1) Drink three glasses of water a day. It's a sad truth that programmers love the coffee, and I'm no exception. By some weird coincidence, I also often find myself heading out for training rides/Tuesday night races thinking "man I'm dehydrated." Perhaps if I can get the thought "I'm thirsty, I think I'll refill this coffee mug" out of my brain, I can solve this problem.
2) Be able to do 15 pull-ups without stopping. There is no good reason for this except that I read a fasterskier article where the author, a former pro, said: "Pull-ups are the essential part of my week and a good indication of my upper body strength. If I can do sets of 15 each week, I know my arms will be there when I need them in a race." Of course, I have never been able to do 15 pull-ups in my life, never mind sets of 15.

This is my favorite idea of all time, because almost everyone who reads this is a cyclist, and thus has the upper body of a T-Rex. So 15 pull-ups is as intimidating to you as it is to me, and more importantly, when I reach this lofty goal -- you might say something like, "Pullups aren't going to make you faster on a bike, moron" but you'll be thinking to youself "oh god I'm so weak and pathetic."

Lastly, to fulfill the non-race-report-blog-entries-must-be-three-unrelated-items quota, I've been riding a fixed gear to work for over a month now. Sadly it is not Miriam's Sweet Fixie or even a "sweet fixie," but it's still my fixie, which is pretty cool to me. After a month of bouncing my knee off my chin when I try to stop pedaling, I've mostly got it down.

It's a brand new Surly Steamroller, acquired from from IBC for the right price. I would have taken a picture of it, but that's a bit too velospace-y, and besides it looks just like the one in the link, except it's a nice poop-brown color and has brake hoods and fenders. As always, the bike and its accessories were assembled by Thom P, who is so good at his job that my bike mechanic skills are rapidly atrophying.

After riding home through 4 inches of packed snow back in that big storm we had, aka longest-sandpit-ride-ever, I can safely say that this bike is wicked, and that pushing a fixed 2.5:1 ratio on 23 mm tires through snow is stupid, but in a fun way.

So now, when you find yourself saying "how'd that mountain biker get such a buttery-smooth pedal stroke??" -- you'll know the answer.

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