March 28th, 2015
Yesterday I did my final set of skiing intervals, on one of my favorite places for intervals, the Upper Osceola trail at the North End of Waterville Valley. Readers should have three questions about this (listed below in ascending order or relevance):
1. How did the intervals go? Can you give us excruciating detail?
2. Why are you doing ski intervals after all the races are over?
3. What do you mean by final? [You should read this answer.]
And my answers:
1. The intervals were okay. My goal, as it often is, was to go faster each time, and I did that. The snow was wet, dirty, and slow, and I don’t know how well I was skiing, so my time for the first intervals was quite slow – 5:51. On the second interval I managed to hold on to V-2 a little better and got to the top in 5:45. Number three was similar, and 5:44. My last interval was definitely the most ragged, with poor technique throughout and a slow start. But I hammered the top just enough to finish in 5:42. From a technique standpoint, it was mediocre at best, but in terms of taxing my energy systems it was a good day.
2. The reason I was doing skate intervals this late in the season is that I decided it was the best way to prepare for running season. With the local track still under 18 inches of snow, and with me having run 7 miles in the last two weeks, trying to do a good workout on foot seemed like a good way to get injured. And yet I didn’t want to go a month without any intensity. My first race might be just three weeks away, so this was a great way to remind my body what it is like to go hard without beating up my joints.
3. Ah. The point of this post. I am always surprised to have readers at all, and I am guessing that those who care to check out my posts have read down this far. I am taking another big step in my very slow retirement from ski racing – by moving to Holland. For the next couple of years (at least) my wife and will be teaching at the American School of the Hague. So it will be a long time until my next Eastern Cup race, and perhaps a long time before my next ski race of any kind (though I will be back at Christmas and am likely to jump in some sort of race then – and I might race something in Europe as well). I am scheming a bit about nordic skiing in some of the indoor ski areas in the Netherlands, and I will certainly bring my rollerskis. But even if I do jump in a race here and there, with my on snow time limited to a couple weeks in December, plus a week each in February and April (during our breaks), I won’t be keeping my hard-earned ranking as one of America’s 20 best distance skiers.
I will (unless the editors of FasterSkier decide otherwise) continue to update this blog. I figure I write more about running than skiing already, so this might not be a big change. So if you are curious about the Netherlands running scene, or advice on where near Leiden to go rollerskiing, or how easy it is to nordic ski at an indoor area, or what family ski vacations look like in the Alps or the mountains of Norway, my blog will hopefully continue to be worth reading.1 comment
March 9th, 2015
I skied my last race of the season on Saturday. It did not go well.
The last time I raced the Bretton Woods Nordic Marathon, I dropped the second place finisher in the first 5 km. Even though I knew that several Craftsbury Green Team members would be there, along with David Sinclair and a strong college skier contingent, I still let the memory of easy victory allow me to believe I was the favorite.
Unlike the last time I skied this race, there was still a very large group at 5 km. And I (in what is a bit of a theme for this race) was careless, allowing myself to drift back in the group on a big downhill, so that when I major pile-up occurred at the bottom of the hill, I couldn’t avoid it. I did managed to bail in such a way that I broke neither my own poles or anyone else’s. I stood back up in about 25th place, fought my way toward the front, and then almost crashed again on a sharp left turn — a Dartmouth skier and I both went off the trail to get around the group that had fallen.
At this point, I was sick of other skiers. I worked my way to the front, and on the one solid climb, I pushed at about 95% effort. I anticipated that this would break the field, but all three Green Team members, along with Sinclair and at least one other skier, stuck to me and didn’t seem to be in distress. I just didn’t have enough in my legs to drop them. As we came down from the top of the course to the lap (a long six kilometers of down and flat with only a couple interruptions of climbing) four or five other skiers caught us. I was not feeling good about my prospects in the race.
I felt a lot worse when we came to the lap and Vermeer and Dougherty switched skis. I had not done my homework, and did not know that this was allowed (another unforced error by me). It quickly became clear that not only were the two of them (plus Sinclair, who did not change skis) double-poling faster and more effectively than I was, but they were doing so on faster skis. The three of them attacked on a downhill just after I took a feed, and I had to go nearly all out to keep them in sight. I fought my way from 9th place to 4th. As we started to climb, I would make time each time we strided, and lose it again on the flats. I managed to get to within about five seconds at one point, and by skiing very aggressively through the rolling section at the top of the course I didn’t lose much time.
When, just before the top of the course, I was passed by Jeff Tucker and Vanya Rybkin, I lost motivation. I had used all of my energy to keep in the race until this point, and I just watched as the race unfolded in front of me on the downs, and then as the top skiers went out of sight.
At the time I was frustrated by my poor skis, but this seems silly. Everyone in the race waxed their own skis, so I have no excuse there. And while I was probably the best climber in the field, there were at least half a dozen other skiers who were better on the flats – and this was a very flat course. Maybe on a day where I felt stronger, or different snow, I could have been in the race after 25 km. But the simple fact is, while I have been close to or ahead of Vermeer, Sinclair, and Dougherty on shorter races with more hills, the three of them are clearly better than I am in a race like this.
And as I am not sure I said this very clearly to them at the finish line, I will close this post by offering them congratulations on their well-earned success in this race.
February 17th, 2015
That was my margin of victory Sunday. I just typed a long race description, which WordPress lost, so I will just say that I was only able to ski faster than Gordon on this course because I have skied that loop hundreds of times, including over a dozen races and dozens of intervals, over than past 32 winters. I guess I should clarify that the race was a Holderness, about 15 minutes from where I now live.
I got one split, about 1.5 km from the finish. I was told I had “a couple second lead.” I wasn’t sure how accurate this was, but I pushed harder than I thought I would be able to all the way to the line. Without the extra motivation of believing it really was a close race, I don’t know that I would have finished that well. And if I really had a lead at 1.5 km then Gordon also skied a really strong finish, because I was pretty impressed with the way I climbed the last couple of hills.
Anyway, this is probably my last USSA scored race of the season, so it was nice to end on a strong note. One or two more races and then I can focus on just enjoying the snow, which hopefully will stay around for a long time.
February 9th, 2015
I raced two SuperTour races this past weekend, and had by some measures my best result since my “retirement” 9 years ago.
Saturday was a 10 km freestyle, and was a combined Eastern Cup/EISA College Race/SuperTour with 214 racers on the start list. I was in the second seed group, which started after the first seed, so if anyone had been giving me splits this would have been an advantage (but no one was…) I started very aggressively, attacking the first kilometer of the course and catching my 15 second man by the two km mark. I passed a couple of others who had started just in front of me as well, and caught my 30 second man near the lap. I drafted him for a bit, then took the lead again. He stuck right on me, and I was unable to generate the same power and speed I had on the first lap. Still, we worked well together. He pushed me hard up Screaming Mimi (the big hill at the end of the Craftsbury course) and then passed me, and I worked to hang on to him…he was spent as we crossed the lower stadium with only a couple hundred meters to go, and I thought I could get around him, but he crossed the line about a second before I did (for a race time 28 seconds slower).
I received no information on course, so while I knew from how I skied relative to those around me that it had been solid, I had to look at results to discover that I was 11th place, 1:35 behind my brother, 31 seconds off of Lex Treinen in third, and 19 seconds out of sixth place (and thus a cash prize). I was behind only five college skiers (four Americans and one Canadian).
This result is comparable to what I earned in the same 10 km skate race a year ago, and I followed that with a very disappointing 20 km classic, so I really didn’t know what to expect on day 2. It was cold with fresh snow, so I felt comfortable waxing my own skis – a newer pair of Salomons (three or four years old now) with a fairly recent (in terms of number of races) LS1 grind, and a mix of Swix BD4 and Toko LF red. For kick I started with Rode Multigrade Blue, buried a layer of Swix Extra Blue, and then covered with two partial layers of Swix VR30. My skis felt fast, with good but not perfect kick; I was feeling good and I wanted skis that needed a real racer to make them work.
The start of the race was refreshingly calm. The front two rows were all experienced skiers who had no need to take an early lead when all that meant was the chance to plow the tracks for everyone behind. I was in the lane behind Eric Packer, and after he made clear that he could have taken the lead, he pulled up, and I was able to follow him into a good early position.
Silas Talbot of Dartmouth was the only skier interested in pulling us around, so we settled in behind him. I was mostly able to hold on to fourth or fifth place, and so save the energy of slowing down or speeding up too much as the pack went up and down hills. Not much happened in the first lap and a half…there was some scrambling on some of the climbs, but I was able to cover all the moves without losing position or tiring myself too much.
Around the middle of the second lap I found myself at the front of the group. It wasn’t a conscious effort, but we were starting to climb so being in front wasn’t a detriment, and I skied at a solid pace. On the rolling section in the middle of the biggest climb, my brother asked me to let him by. I moved left, let him slip past, and then, the next skier in line having let a gap open, I slotted myself back in behind him. Kris attacked, and only one of the Green Team was able to go with him. At the top of Screaming Mimi Kris had only a few seconds on us, and next to nothing on his closest pursuer, but by the lap just one kilometer later he had a solid 15 second lead.
I fought for position in the chase group. With Kris gone it was clear that no one in the group was too much stronger than me, but I tried not to worry about finishing position and just tried to ski smart. I failed at that a bit going up the sprint hill, opening up a gap that was a little too big to be just relaxed skiing but far too small to be of any use. Still, I figured it was safe to keep the lead on the downhill, so I was still right at the front as we started climbing with 2.5 km to go.
The pace steadily increased as we climbed, and I could see a couple skiers getting away from me. I tried to pull them in on the descent before Screaming Mimi, but they had a length or two at the bottom and it was all I could do to hold position as we made the final climb. By the top Gordon Vermeer and Lex Treinen were clearly dropping me, and my connection to Eric Packer and Frederic Touchette was tenuous. Somehow I held on for the very small final descent and then put everything I had into the last few hundred meters. I couldn’t catch Packer but Touchette was behind me with 200 to go, then 100 to go, and even at 50 to go. I honestly had a hard time believing I had out-double-poled anyone at the finish, but I came across in fifth place, earning money in a FIS race for the first time since the 50 km national championship in 2006 (another race my brother won, and I would put up money we are the only two racers who finished both of those events).
The joy of my good race was somewhat dampened when I was accosted by two of the APU racers who accused me of … actually it is hard to say what they were accusing me of. They wouldn’t say directly, just that they used to respect me and now didn’t. What I could piece together from what they said to other people at the race is that they thought I was intentionally blocking for my brother, and that we had planned his breakaway.
There is video available on FasterSkier, and in particular you can see the top of Screaming Mimi early in Kris’s break. I think the video speaks for itself. (Also, there were three lanes on pretty much the whole course. Three.) I did Kris a favor when I let him by me, but that was two seconds out of the race, and the rest of the time I was focused on skiing my own best race.
I was rather annoyed with the accusations, particularly given that they were made almost entirely to people who were neither me nor race officials. But with a little time to reflect, I realize that this is well within the range of how basically good people react to being beaten by a guy who has been retired for nine years. In the unlikely event that I or some other long retired father of two manages to out-ski two different APU skiers on both days of the same weekend, I am guessing the team will respond with far more grace.
January 30th, 2015
I drove up to Craftsbury this morning to race in the 30 km classic mass start SuperTour race. It was a small race – just 33 entrants, but a fairly strong field, headed by my brother.
After two weekends of college racing the start was refreshingly mellow. We went out for a couple kilometers and everything was pretty easy. I had asked Zach Caldwell for skis with killer kick even if it cost me on glide, and he delivered; while I think he was a bit disappointed in the less than perfect glide on my skis, I had incredible kick the whole time, even when my technique went near the end of the race.
But this did put be a little behind the lead group as we started up the hill on Ruthie’s. I caught the group remarkably quickly, and was surprised to find myself sitting in 11th place at 6 km, just off the back of the lead group. Over the next 13 kilometers, I pretty much sat in 11th, sometimes in the lead group, sometimes five seconds back. At 19 km I looked ahead and noticed two things: one, my brother was leading for the first time, and two, I could not keep up any more. I was a good 10 seconds off the pack as we came through for the lap at 20 km, and losing ground all the time. I thought I might have a long slog by myself (especially challenging in the light snow that was falling) but Gordon Vermeer fell off the back of the pack a minute later. He had about 15 seconds on me at that point, but over the course of 4 kilometers I slowly caught up to him. I made the decision to lead down Ruthie’s as I was a bit worried about my ski speed, and then I let him lead the double-pole section. With a kilometer to go I switched lanes and tried to attack, but nothing happened. I fell in behind him, then had better technique at the top of the last big hill to open a tiny gap. He got me back on the downhill, and then I took the lead on the gradual climb toward the finish. I was still ahead at 100 meters to go, and I really thought I could hold on, but he ended up nipping me by 0.4 seconds.
Anyway, it was a good day for me, just under 2 minutes back from my brother.
January 22nd, 2015
About a year ago I posted about classic intervals up Tripoli Road (pronounced “Triple-Eye” by a majority of locals, in case you are curious), where Kris gave me a 30 second head start and then chased me down. He apparently enjoyed it, so this week we returned and tried it skating.
Last year, as best I can remember, Kris was theoretically in level three for the early parts of his intervals and only hitting race pace late. This year, he was race pace early and above race pace at the end. And whether on not that is true, I am sticking with that story because otherwise I have lost too much fitness in the last 12 months. Last year, I held him off for over 8 minutes each time. This year, he caught be at about 7:15 (6:45 for him) on the first interval, 7:10 on the second, 7:00 on the third, and maybe before 6:00 on the last. I was actually pretty consistent, reaching my stopping point at 7:28, 7:32, 7:38, and 7:45. I might even have been faster on the last one had I not sprinted for 20 seconds trying to keep ahead of Kris, thus completely blowing up.
Anyway, there is a chance my brother is actually in shape this year, and after that workout I am hoping to improve on last weeks results when I take on the College field again this Saturday.
January 17th, 2015
Paddy Caldwell asked me today if I would blog about the weekend’s races, so I figured it was time to write something. Apparently I still have fans.
Anyway, I headed up to Rumford yesterday to race in the Bates Carnival. I was the only non-college racer to enter (I believe that between three and six slots are reserved for guest racers), so the majority of the other racers were born while I was in college, and the rest while I was in high school.
Friday was a 20 km classic mass start. An interesting fact that I will note here is that World Cup mass starts feature the third most aggressive fields in the world. Second are Eastern Cups, and first are Eastern college carnival races (World Loppets generally have very wide starts, so at least near the front they aren’t bad. SuperTour races are definitely calmer than any of the top three, as are OPA cups and Canadian NorAms.)
What this means is that the experience of starting in the second row of a 100 racer college carnival is not a fun experience for someone with as little starting speed as me (you might suggest that I have had a lot more time to work on this than my competition, and you might be right, but it doesn’t change the facts). I was is bib 14, but I was probably in about 40th place at 1.5 km. Once we started climbing it wasn’t too hard to get into the top 20, and after the first trip up High School Hill I was near the back of a lead group of 14.
I was feeling pretty good until about 7 km, when a snow squall blew in. It dumped over an inch of snow over the course of the next lap. I had been a little nervous and put one too many layers of wax on, so the fresh powder made my skis painfully, absurdly, and comically slow. The others in the lead group were affected as well, but the slowness of their skis only required two adverbs to properly express it. I found myself falling a little off the back of a pack on nine on the downs, and having to work hard to catch up on the climbs.
Meanwhile, Colin Abbot of Carleton University had the best skis in the bunch, and escaped off the front. Around the time the snow ended, I made a weak attempt at a move around the outside of the group. It didn’t accomplish anything, but a couple of skiers decided to attack, including Paddy Caldwell, who bridged the gap to Abbot. Meanwhile, the chase pack started to split up and to drop me.
The third time up High School Hill I was still in contact, and I think even through the stadium I was more or less on the tail end of the chase group. While my skis were never fast (and as my own wax tech I have no one else to blame), they were responsibly for maybe 5-10 of the 60 seconds I lost over the course of the last lap. I crossed the line in 10th.
Saturday was a shorter race (and a shorter description, I promise). I had great skis, as did almost everyone: it’s hard to mess up waxing for a skate race on cold, dry snow. I went out very hard on the downhill, and skied pretty effectively on the early hills of the skate loop. I skied deliberately up the early parts of High School Hill, and pushed well over the top, dropping the skiers I had been with. I came into the stadium feeling pretty good until I saw Paddy Caldwell leaving it. I glanced twice at my watch to determine that he had put 36 seconds into me in the first lap.
I was a bit depressed by I kept hammering. According to the official splits I actually slipped a spot during the second lap, but I felt like I was skiing well. I held technique pretty well, and I certainly gave it everything I had. I crossed the line in ninth place, way behind Paddy but only 35 seconds out of second place.
All in all it was a solid weekend of racing. Hopefully next weekend will be even better!
December 3rd, 2014
Last Sunday I raced the Craftsbury Opener. It was my fifth day on snow – and I actually had a three hour overdistance workout under my belt by then. Plus I even did some good rollerski skate intervals a week and a half before – and two core strength workouts! So with all this training, plus being only 30 seconds behind my brother on Mt Moosilauke I was a bit surprised not to win the race.
Okay, not really. But I was racing on my 38th birthday, making me a solid 15 years ahead of the other contenders (they even started me at the end of the field with the other master skiers), and the training described above shouldn’t have me in particularly good shape yet, so I was actually happy. And when I realized – not that I am obsessive or anything – that this would have been about a 92 point result if it was a USSA race, I felt pretty good. Hopefully with a little more training, I can have a solid season of racing against skiers who are less than half my age!
October 16th, 2014
I ran intervals with Kris today. It was a good workout – 6 times 1 mile on the track near my house, in the rain. Kris was taking long (5 minute) recoveries, and while I have not been too focused on running fitness lately, I am still quite fit. Kris’s goal was to run 5 times 4:59 and then see what he could do. I acted as pacesetter, and while I was occasionally a second fast or slow on a lap, I brought the first four through exactly on pace, and Kris was on pace for three, but on the fourth he fell behind, finishing in about 5:08. We discussed what to do, and decided that I would pace him for 5:08 on the fifth one. I was right on, and Kris stuck to me like glue. He wanted to do one more – I agreed to pace him halfway. I brought him through 800 meters in 2:34, and then took off, running the next 800 in 2:20. Kris stumbled in not quite 100 meters back in 5:09.
It is a solid workout for him, and I am impressed by his fitness level. I am not confident that I could win an uphill race against him right now (though I would give myself slightly favorable odds). I do take issue with the end of his blog post, however, where he claims that he was the faster runner when we were both skiers. We raced the Tilton-Northfield 5 km three times in this stretch, and I came in ahead twice, and also owned the fastest overall time. And while he defeated me several times in the SoHo 10 km race, I ultimately set the record on that course, putting it so far out of his reach that he hasn’t dared even try to beat it. He may be a much faster skier than I am or ever was, but in the totally irrelevant contest for running dominance, he loses by any measure.
September 16th, 2014
Five years ago I ran a PR at the Lone Gull 10 km in Gloucester. I matched this time (31:36) three years ago at the James Joyce 10 km. Seventeen years ago, on the Tufts University track, I ran my fastest 10,000 m, in a time of 31:21.
Last year, despite a lackluster season, I went into Lone Gull hoping to set a PR, but missed by about 17 seconds. I knew I was running better this year, but signs were not good. I was on duty in the dorm, so I had to stay up past midnight the night before and then get up at 5:45 AM. Then I was tired and sluggish getting ready, so I didn’t arrive with as much time to warm up as I hoped. And then it was noticeably windy (yes, again – other people commented on it too). And while I didn’t know this at the start, I had failed to properly tie my shoes so that one would come unlaced with a mile to go in the race.
Even the start of the race was inauspicious. There was some confusion and delay, and then the start was with a police siren, and everyone took an extra second to start because no one realized that we were supposed to go.
For the first mile the substantial wind was at our back. I let the top five go and settled into the front of the chase pack, hitting the first mile in 4:50. I settled in behind a couple other runners for the second mile, as we contended with cross winds, taking the lead only on a very minor uphill. We hit two miles in 10 flat, and I thought about leading again, but the pace picked up and we had a nice group of five (places 7 through 11) go through three miles in 15:02.
At this point there was still a tight pack of five in front, with one runner in no man’s land, and then a group of five chasers. I made a decision that I would sit tight as long as I could and then move about a minute before the five mile mark. We cruised through four miles in 20:10. On a slight rolling section someone pushed the pace, I moved toward the front, and then we were four. I settled back in behind, out of the wind.
At 24:00 into the race I went to the left side of the group and attacked. Almost simultaneously – I don’t think it was a response – one of the other racers attacked as well. I had more in me, and by the time I passed five miles in 25:09 I was all alone. Around this time I realized that one of my shoes was coming untied. I could not – and cannot – believe I made such an amateur mistake. Still, the shoe was on tightly enough and while I made very slight adjustments to my stride to avoid stepping on my laces and tripping, I mostly just continued.
Ahead of me a couple runners had fallen off the front group and were coming back a little, but I had no hope to catch them. I just focused on running a fast, even pace, and went through six miles in 30:11 and cruised in to finish in seventh place at 31:18. This smashed my PR from age 20 and proved that I still have some very fast races left in me. Suddenly, this whole season seems a lot more successful, and I am excited to take down my five mile PR next summer, and maybe even find a track meet where I can better my 800 m and mile marks which both date from high school.