Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Flying Moose Classic Race Report

After getting beat down on at the Eastern Cup on Saturday I headed north, back to the safe confines of citizen's racing for the Flying Moose up in Bethel. With an Eastern Cup being run at Holderness that day, it was a good chance to try to reassemble some ski-esteem with the Birkie looming.

Due to low snow (although a lot more snow than Holderness, I heard) the race was run exclusively on the Gould Academy trail system. Usually the race loops through there before ultimately continuing to the Bethel Inn for the latter half. Every time I've done this in the past, I've lost places after leaving the Gould trails, so I wasn't gonna complain about the change.

The feel-good-about-yourself plan was in full effect so I took it out s-l-o-w. With only about 60 people in the mass start it wasn't like I needed to throw elbows, and I certainly didn't need to stake out a spot at the front just to blow up after 5k. So everyone who wanted to race immediately went up the trail, while I hung out about 50 yards behind them.

Since I grew up four miles from the course, I had some serious home course advantage on the downhills, namely that you can actually run almost all of them without scrubbing speed. So while the front group started stringing out, I weaseled my way into the stragglers with some fast descending, and hey, now it's racin' time!

Catching people is always more fun than being caught, so morale was high. There's lots of stride-able climbing on the course, and my kick was great, so lots of fun was being had. I spent the first half of the race thinking about how fun the trails were and how awesome I felt, while steadily chewing through the field.

About the 12k mark, though, the inevitable transition from "hammer" to "nail" happened. I caught a guy at the top of a hill, dropped him on the descent, and he had the audacity to come back and pass me not three minutes later. Uhoh. Fun time is over.

I was instantly unable to stay with him, as he passed me on the only extended flat part of the course and apparently I had left my triceps back at Gunstock. I chased back on on the next descent, but only to get dropped climbing again. Crap.

The course finished with an extended climb, so I knew I wasn't going to beat him, but even worse, every time we hit a downhill I'd close the gap back down to a few seconds. That worse, because it meant mailing it in was also off the table.

Am I clairvoyant, or was it just a self-fulfilling prophecy? Probably the latter. We got to the bottom of the last climb, and I had just closed a hefty gap down to a few seconds on the preceding descent. I tried to use my mad suffering skills to get up to his "draft," but with 2 minutes of legitimate work left my brain and legs weren't having it. So instead I dangled at a frustrating five seconds, all the way to the finish line. Bah.

Still, good for 9th overall and about a jillion times more fun than the previous day. A solid finish to the "Birkie block" -- now all I gotta do is get my flight to actually take off in tomorrow's storm, and I'm set for the biggest ski race in North America.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Silver Fox Trot Race Report

It's been 3 years since I last did an Eastern Cup. There's a reason for this. Eastern Cups are basically the UCI race of nordic skiing, minus the B field that might allow one to salvage their self-esteem or even have a little fun. Nope, an Eastern Cup is basically an experts-only race, made even more aggravating by the fact that most of the "experts" are high school boys.

So that's why I'd been avoiding them for the last 3 years, but hey, as part of the "Birkie Build" training program (patent definitely not pending... ask me next Monday) I needed a big weekend, and I train most effectively with a number on. Thus I registered for the Eastern Cup under the guise of "training," as if that would make me feel any better when the results went up.

The weather was beautiful for riding, and gross for classic skiing. 40+ degrees with slush in the sun and glazed tracks in the shade? LOVELY.

It was a 3-lap 15k and I was seeded near the back, as I should be, so when I hit the course (1 starter every 30 seconds) there were already guys on lap two and three of their race on it. How exciting! For the first 3 minutes I thought I was doing really well, because I was fresh and the guys around me weren't. Oooh check me out passing #327, that dude is seeded so much better than me but I am dusting him, go me!

Of course this dominance was short lived, and once I loaded up with lactic acid #327 made quick work of me, despite the fact that he was on his last lap and I was on my first. Luke from Colby was a lap ahead of me, so I also put some ground on him at the beginning only to watch him make it all up as he finished his race. Hmm, so my first and second laps are dead heat with his second and third... so all I have to do is turn lap #3 faster than his first lap!

Yeah, that totally didn't happen. I slogged out a pretty miserable lap three and ended up over a minute behind Luke and 71st/92 finishers overall. Yikes. Then I went back to my car and breathed in and out of a paper bag while mumbling "it's just training" to myself.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Another Tuesday Nightah

Man, I am so out of Tuesday night blog titles.

This week's Tuesday night race at Weston was especially exciting because it's the "vacation week race," where everyone with kids doesn't show up, because they're stuck at the police station after chaining their kids to a stake in the yard, because they were bouncing off the walls for the last four days.

Also adding some excitement to the mix was the "Whistler Olympic Park" conditions -- 32 and snowing. Warming up, I thought I had atrocious skis, but it turns out that no one's skis were actually gliding. As soon as the race got going, I was like, "oh, we're all going slow tonight. Phew." And sure enough, race time was about 3 minutes slower for a 20 minute race.

So despite the standard prerace whining, I made it into the front group pretty easily. Cool. It was weird because mentally, I felt like we were going really slow, but I was still poling and skating pretty hard, so it wasn't relaxing or anything. Apparently a Holderness kid had the same confusion going on, because he came flying around me on a downhill, and then promptly blew up and dropped an anchor not 60 seconds later. One of the fastest reversals of racing attitude I've ever seen. Props.

I got around him successfully and stayed on the "lead" group, with public enemy #1 (Cary) right behind. "Lead" is in quotes because Joel Bradley was long gone and we were racing for 2nd, as always.

After last week's debacle, I was just happy to be with the group, especially in slow conditions, so when it split in half I remained firmly planted in the wrong half. All was well, because I noticed Cary had been dropped from the group, and thus the night was already a success.

Somewhere near the middle of the race my legs started to agree with my eyes, that we were going pretty slowly. Oh, but I don't want to take the initiative, that seems like it will hurt!

In the spirit of "Birkie training" I hardened up and headed out in pursuit of the other half of the lead group. I made and effort to actually bridge, instead of just time-trial around, and surprised myself by actually getting there and recovering.

While I was recovering I noticed that John and Greg had gone off the front of the group, while Terry was also coming across to it from behind. Oh, damn. That means I have to go out into the wind again, doesn't it?

Terry, who was supposed to be tired, kept coming, and my "bridge attempt" quickly became a "hold off Terry to the line attempt." Luckily there were only 3 minutes of racing left, which falls squarely in the "hurts wicked bad, but you can do this" zone. So I did it. And it hurt. But it ended up being good for 4th place, which is totally awesome if you don't know how many fast people didn't show up.

Adding to the success was trial run #2 of the Birkie Cam, and while I'll admit that I felt pretty dumb skiing with a drink belt in a 7k race, I was stoked to see how much better the picture came out this around. Linnea is off in Vancouver with the video-editing computer so I've got nothing to show for it, but at least now I know I've got something that'll work in Wisconsin next weekend.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Close to the Coast Race Report

It's been 13 months since my last interval start ski race, so I was inexplicably pumped for a 10k skate race up at Pineland. "Man, I can't wait to ski alone for half an hour! Just me and my pain, out in the woods for a ski, interrupted only by the occasional terrified glance backward to see if anyone is catching us." It's gonna be great!

With the Birkie looming in 14 days there was no way that Cary could afford to let me get in any extra training in, so he joined me on the drive up through the snowless coast of Maine.

Of course the race was close to said coast, and as a result there was virtually no snow to be found at the race site, either. We parked in a field that had been plowed, but if you climbed over the plow banks -- grass. The only snow in the whole field was at the edge against the trees, where it was slightly shaded from the afternoon sun.

Oh, this is going to be great. Glad I brought my rock skis.

Once in the woods, though, everything changed. The immaculately graded trails couldn't have had more than 3 inches compacted snow on them, but they were perfect. With nary a rock to be seen, I headed back to the car after a few K to switch to race skis.

The trail itself had awesome cover. Everything else, not so much.

In summary,
Dear Everyone Who Skipped This Due to Snow Concerns,

It was awesome, suckers!

-People who raced

For maximum excitement, the organizers decided to put us on course at 10 second intervals. In theory this would reduce lapped traffic, with everyone starting within 10 minutes of each other, but at the expense of having more traffic on the same lap, right? I'm not sure it made sense, but it was certainly good for the old self-esteem to have 6 people within a minute ahead of me. 3 or 4 were college girls so I was EXTRA EXCITED.

Unfortunately my ten-second man was Ben Haydock, who is about a mile tall and skis for Colby. He immediately opened up the gap, while I tried to convince myself I was just "starting conservatively."

After the first k or so, the course turns back on itself, and I saw Cary go by less than 30 seconds behind me. He started 30 seconds back, so I was definitely either "starting conservatively" or just "sucking."

Luckily, the course was packed with traffic, so I had lots to distract me from the fact that I might be sucking. I probably passed 10 or 15 people in the first 15 minutes. Clearly thing weren't going that badly.

More importantly, when I got back to the spot where I saw Cary on lap 1 he was nowhere to be seen, and I started seeing a tall guy ahead of me through the woods. Both good signs that I might be pulling my act together.

The tough thing about 10 second intervals is that even if you can see your 10-second man, he's still probably beating you. I started to think that I was beating Ben because I could see him, but then I made the mistake of counting how many skate strides it took me to get to where he was -- oh crap, 22? Unless I'm somehow taking two strides per second... yeah, no.

Still though, I was catching him ever so slowly as the k's ticked down, which was a nice alternative to hanging out alone with my pain, the novelty of which had long since worn off. I did my best to keep WANTING IT instead of just skiing, which led to crossing the line only 7 seconds behind Ben with a healthy amount of spittle on my face. Ski racing!!

Cary came through 46 seconds later, ensuring that he would be allowed to ride in the car on the way home and not be shot in the woods on our cooldown.

This race report was very positive. It might trick you into thinking I am a good skier. In that case, please do not look at the results, and definitely don't notice that Jake Hollenbach put almost 20 seconds per kilometer on me.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tuesday Night Roundup

I think the best thing about the winter season is that even when I get sick and take a weekend off, I can always hit up the ol' Tuesday Night smackdown at Weston and get in something blogworthy.

Before we get to the "action" (spoiler alert: there was drafting), I want to call your attention to a new race on the New England calendar.

Last year my dad and I were kicking around the idea of trying to make a single-loop 50k "Dixville Loppet" up at the Balsams, you know, that place with the giant trail system and amazing snow that never has races, and thus is unknown to the nordic racer dork crowd?

I don't want to give my INTERNET PRESENCE too much credit or anything, but they are finally hosting a race at the Balsams this year, and it's a single lap 30k classic race, aka a moderately more sane version of exactly what we proposed. The great irony it's the same weekend as the damn Birkie, which I signed up for and bought airfare for back in November. So I can't even do the race I blogged into existence. Bummer.

Anyway, if you're sick of skiing on transformed ice, or sick of doing the same 8 races every year (or is that just me?), you should really check this one out. The details are here here, registration is here, and check out the lodging deal -- book a room in their grand freaking Hotel either Friday or Saturday night and you get two days of skiing, race entry, and meals included. It's entirely possible that's too classy a deal for anyone reading this, but hey, they won't know you're a racer bum if you don't tell 'em.

Yes, I just spent half a page shilling for a ski race, but is it really shilling if you believe every word you're saying? I think not. Go to the Balsams.

Aside from that, yesterday was Tuesday, which means Weston beatdown time! After an entirely sedentary week I decided to hit it hard on Sunday and Monday, so of course I felt like crap on the start line. I whined my hardest to Cary, but it didn't matter, I still had to beat him.

The race was also dry run #1 of several to test out my "birkie cam" setup, that is, mounting my HD Flip on my water bottle belt facing backwards. Sadly... trial #1 didn't come out that well. I need to stop moving my hips when I skate. Ah well, I'll figure out something.

Even though I felt like crap, the standard Weston strategy was still in effect -- make the front group and hang until you can't. Sometimes I can hang all the way to the finish, no matter how badly I feel, so it's dumb not to try.

Everything started as usual, I got away cleanly and into around 10th position or so. There was the typical accordion, the typical accelerations, it was all going so well for about five minutes. Then I realized that my lower legs weren't recovering anywhere near how they ought to be, and my time with the leaders was actually going to be quite short.

My excuse for this is that I put my new orthotics in my ski boots for the first time on Monday, skied for 45 minutes while thinking "wow, this is totally different, and my technique is getting messed up by having an actually supported foot." So I got scared and took them out for the race. As a result, my legs/feet had no idea what the heck was going on. "Support me or don't support me, just pick one!" Sorry guys.

Of course I fought too long to stay on the front group (but I'm draaaafting!) so when I finally did get popped, I blew up and dropped an anchor with 10 minutes to go. Excellent. Even worse, I heard a woman yelling at someone for stepping on her poles behind me, so I knew that Anna McLoon and Cary were close behind, and if there's any two people in the race I need to beat it's them.

I got picked up by Anna and Cary, and it was time to GROVEL. They were sharing the work, taking turns, and generally not skiing like they were hanging on for dear life. Me? I dangled at the edge of losing the draft for the next five minutes, while frothing phlegm all over my face.

However, thanks to the race only being 7k, the finish line was approaching just fast enough to convince me I could keep up the suffering. With a two climbs left, Cary went to the front and started pulling away. Oh no! I dug deep, came around Anna, and closed the gap over the top of the climb. I had a lot of cross races to avenge.

On the downhill Cary was free skating while I was tucking, and I got close to him. Really close. And his first pole plant ended up being right in front of my ski, and I stomped it. The pole didn't break, but with his basket pinned to the ground for that crucial second there wasn't much he could do except crash.

I realize that rubbin's racin' and all that, but I still felt like a big tool, so I stopped and waited for him to get up and get back in front of me. But we only had a climb left, so as soon as he was in front I had to attack him anyway to try to win the sprint. In retrospect, standing up to let someone get in front of you, only to go sprinting past 20 seconds later might be as toolish as just crashing them out.

Luckily Cary is a cool dude, so none of this fazed him. He is just stockpiling motivation for our Birkie showdown, anyway, so every time I wrong him it can only hurt my chances in Wisconsin.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Craftsbury Marathon Race Report

I realized the other day that I had virtually the exact same January 2010 as January 2009. Same races, same training, same results. I think I'm turning into solobreak. And now it's February 2010, and I have the same head cold that I had for the first week of February 2009. Creepy.

Of course, I did do one thing differently in January, I finally hardened up and did a 50k before March.

Sentences like that one prove that I'm not a real skier, because it's past mid-season for most people at this point, and they've been on snow for 2+ months, rollerskis since September, and are trying to "hang onto their form" as the season drags on. Meanwhile, I'm congratulating myself on the fact that I skied for a whopping 3 hours without breaking down completely.

Craftsbury is the "big" New England marathon, which isn't saying much compared to actual big marathons like the Birkie. But since I'm registered for the Birkie (wooooooooo) I figured it was probably a good idea to get a 50k under my belt before then. Cary and Blazar, fellow Birkie travelers, felt the same way, so off we went to Vermont as the temperature plummeted. Race day morning was forecast to be -10. I slept in my windbriefs, just to be safe.

Somehow, I am e-friends with the only 'cross racer in Craftsbury Common, so we had the nicest lodging hookup of anyone in the entire race. We were literally able to ski to the start line from Sheldon's house. We had to drive away from the start line to pick up our bibs. Sheldon and Linda rule, and I can't give you their last names, because then you might locate them and steal my lodging.

Obviously, with it being below zero outside, bib pickup requiring a drive, and the race starting at 9, we were going to cut it close on time. I got up, shoveled down some gruel and coffee, and all of the sudden it was 8:15, I didn't have wax on my skis, I wasn't dressed, I hadn't even used the bathroom, and we had to ski 2.5k to the start. I ran around wildly for 20 minutes, threw every piece of clothing I owned on, and rushed off toward the start line.

Of course, when you're wearing double long underwear and 3 jackets, while skiing to avoid missing the start of your race, you generate a lot of heat, even if it's -4 outside. So when we got the start line with five minutes to spare, the first thing I did was start ripping clothes off. Because obviously, when you've just coated yourself in a layer of sweat, you should strip down until you feel "comfortable" and then head off skiing for 3 hours with zero chance of changing clothes.

I think the only thing that saved me from dying of hypothermia was that I didn't have time to take off much. I ditched my pants, jacket, and the vest I had under my suit, and by the time I got my number back on they had just called "one minute." Well crap. Let's just go ahead, then.

Luckily I was using the "put dudes in the way so you start slowly" strategy so lining up at the back was no big deal. It worked really well. Really really well. The race started, we went 50 yards to the first hill, and then we stopped. I walked up the hill, the tracks narrowed down to 4, and we stopped again. We went around the field to the first herringbone hill, and I stopped again.

I realized that I needed to ski faster just to warm up, because it was -4 and I had just taken off most of my clothes.

Ok, so Cary could be seen about 10 skiers ahead, and I was cold, and there was kind of a track on the edge of the trail. All of these problems could be solved by trying to pass ten people on the next hill, so I went ahead and did it. Everything was going so well until the track ended, and I became "dude who really wants to get into that line of skiers."

If it was a World Cup sprint I would've just leaped onto someone's tips and been done with it, but 50ks require a bit more civility. Somehow I got into the middle of the two tracks, which now meant that I was pinballing between two lines of skiers. This was not an improvement, and they were displeased enough by my antics that no one let me in. Including Cary.

Eventually things sorted out, but hey, that was embarrassing!

All the flailing did get my up to Cary, which meant I could calm down again. We skied together for a while, maybe to 5k or so, but then I took the lead on one of the downhills and never saw him again. Apparently, he learned the hard way that Toko spray-on green klister applied 30 minutes before race start is not an adequate binder for an icy 50k. He eventually stopped to rewax twice.

After shedding Cary I strode up next to Luke from Colby, and we skied together with some masters for the rest of the lap. Luke let me know that he wasn't going to get dropped easily by skiing all over my tails for Ruthie's run. Ah well, that's what college guys do, right?

On lap two I ended up at the front of our group going into one of longer climbs, and gave it as much gas as I'm willing to give with 35k left. After a few minutes, no one was in sight behind me, so I guess it worked. I actually felt really good on lap two, but still managed to go a minute slower than lap one.

Finishing lap two I noticed that it seemed like I'd been out there forever, and yet clearly I was only halfway. Oh yes, I remember how this works... I feel good right until I want to die in every single marathon I do.

So of course lap three I was still mostly functional, but the writing was on the wall. I stopped catching people, and started suffering to stay with the group I was in. I remember thinking, "wow, the guy in front of me must have no wax" as he double-poled up a 3% grade, followed directly by "wow, I can't believe I'm getting dropped by a guy double-poling up a hill."

I dropped another 2 minutes off my lap time on lap three, but it wasn't until about 10k to go in the race when I completely dropped an anchor. Just like my last classic marathon. Pretty much everyone I'd been skiing with left me in the dust. My hamstring started threatening to cramp, so my stride became what could generously be described as a "power shuffle." My arms were long since trashed, so I navigated most of the lap via "power shuffle."

The results were not pretty, I added five minutes to my lap three time, and staggered in at 3:05 for 54th place... 35 minutes back.

And best of all, I considered this a total success.

Ouch. I am definitely not pedaling. Ouch.

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