So I actually entered a ski race a week ago, and should probably blog about it. I have waited due to a few factors: jet lag, a desire not to compete with U.S. Nationals coverage, and not wanting to admit how slow I raced.
The race was a Zak Cup at Gunstock.
The last time I raced at Gunstock was an Eastern Cup several years ago where I requested to be seeded as a Master racer so that I could make my start time after working in the morning. The snow slowed after the faster seeds and then started to speed up again as I started. By the time I finished the tracks were blazing fast. I won that race, but it is hard to say whether I did so despite or because of the changing snow conditions.
Last Saturday I started in bib #1, a consideration given to me as I was flying back to Europe that afternoon. The course was fast and icy (but very well prepared). I skied hard out of the start, and came through the lap right between a Bowdoin skier and Fabian Stocek of Dartmouth. I caught the Bowdoin skier in a few hundred meters, and shortly after Fabian caught us both. I moved aside a couple times to let him by, but he declined, leading me to think that maybe I was skiing fairly well.
As I came through the lap the second time, Fabian went by me. Somehow I managed to trip myself as he did so. I must emphasize that neither he nor the other skier near me had anything whatsoever to do with my fall, it was due completely to my own incompetence. I am just glad I didn’t taken them down with me. Anyway, it can’t have cost me 10 seconds to crash and yet by the time I next got a look at Fabian he was 20 seconds ahead and continuing to grow his lead. Based on the results he put over a minute into me over that lap, and then didn’t slow down on his third lap.
I ended up eighth place, losing to several skiers I don’t think had ever beaten me before. My 2 minute deficit to Fabian is certainly my worst ever result relative to him. I did win the master’s division by 8 seconds over Sam Evans-Brown; the last time I remember being on the same results sheet as him was four years ago when I was 4 minutes ahead over 45 minutes.
So … it turns out that living in a country with no snow and practically no hills (and not bothering to rollerski) is not good for ski race performance. I could try to make other excuses, but there doesn’t seem much point.
Yesterday I got to train in snowy conditions again. There was heavy wind and precipitation that straddled the hail/graupel line, with occasional bursts of sleet. I planned to run 8 times about 1500 meters in the Dunes, starting at 5:15 and getting steadily faster. I am hoping that the weather (poor footing in corners, sogginess, wind) slowed me down a huge amount, because in four repeats I couldn’t get under 5:27. All in all it was probably the slowest interval session I have done since high school. Jet lag? Too much skiing in the last month, not enough running? Weather? Or just getting old and slow, regardless of the sport? Time will tell.
Archives for November 2008
So I actually entered a ski race a week ago, and should probably blog about it. I have waited due to a few factors: jet lag, a desire not to compete with U.S. Nationals coverage, and not wanting to admit how slow I raced.
You might think that after a year in Holland – a country where almost everyone speaks good English – I would have the logistics of racing figured out. I thought so too. I was wrong.
Buses don’t run early on Sunday morning, so in order to get to Amsterdam for the Dam tot Damloop 10 miler, I had to first bike the the Leiden train station. There were two detours along the way. The first had signs indicating the alternate route, but the second had nothing (I later learned the the best course of action was to ignore the barrier and ride through the “closed” path). I didn’t do that in the morning though, so I missed the train I was hoping to take and got to Amsterdam 15 minutes later than I hoped.
I still had plenty of time before my race, and I got in a decent warm-up, found a port-a-john with a short line, and was ready to drop my bag in a truck to get it to the finish line. This is where things got tricky.
I found the truck that I thought should take my bag, but was told that as I was in the elite wave, there was a special truck for me – right by the start line, very easy to find. I jogged back to the start line (a kilometer away, so some of this was good warm-up but the crush of people made some of it less so). I found several volunteers, but no one knew anything about the truck for my bag, and there were no signs. I didn’t have time to get through the crowd two more times, so I changed to my flats there, taped by public transport card to my bib, found a construction fence to hide my bag behind, and hoped for the best.
Once I was racing things went well. I went out a little too fast, but still was passing a lot more people than passed me from 2 km on. It was rather windy, and so it seemed wiser to draft the runners near me than to slow down to the pace I had thought I should run. I went through 5 km in 15:58 and 10 km in 32:05. Around that point I lost contact with the group, and was running alone. The headwind was not as strong on that section of course, and there was a straggling runner ahead for me to try to chase down. Still, I continued to slow, getting to 15 km in 48:23. I thought that I put up a very strong effort in the final kilometer, but in fact I ran another 3:16.
Even with a second half fade, this is a new personal best for 10 miles. While I believe the wind was a bit stronger than last year, I took 11 seconds off my time. And when I got back to the start my bag was safe and sound. So it was a good day at the races, even if I was reminded that I still haven’t quite figured this country out.
Last Thanksgiving, I received an email forwarded through FasterSkier asking if I would write advice for another older athlete with kids and a full time job. I have received a couple similar requests over the years, and I keep thinking that I will make a blog post about this soon, rather than trying to respond to individuals. I have started the post a couple of times – maybe this is the version I will actually finish.
1. Train every day. This is really the most important part of getting and staying in shape. And for many, it is the hardest. Now, a day off here and there is a good thing, so – like any advice you receive, particularly from me – take it with a grain of salt. But as a parent with a full time job, there is almost always a reason to take a day off: family obligations, work obligations, exhaustion from an unplanned late night, a chance for a night out with your spouse… Every once in a while, this is truly necessary, but if you approach life with the attitude that not training is not an option, it is amazing how well and how often you can train.
2. Have a wonderful spouse. My wife does and always has supported me in many ways, among them that she does not consider it an option for me not to train. When we make plans, she puts just as much concern into when I will train as I do.
Of course, having a wonderful spouse requires being a great spouse, and so I always try to be this. I work hard to communicate with my wife about when I will be racing and training, and to adjust as needed. I do my best, when returning from a long hard workout, to shower quickly and start doing my share around the house (or, in the summer, I schedule hard workouts for days when my wife and kids are doing something else so that I can get home and be useless alone).
Finally, my wife has run a couple of marathons and a bunch of half marathons and I do my best to support her training for these events just as much as she supports me.
3. Recover well. I know I just said to train every day and not take time to yourself when you get done, but at some point you need to recover. Mostly this means getting a good night’s sleep and good nutrition. It also means that you should pay attention to your recovery level before planning intervals and overdistance.
4. Use your weekends. If, like most people, you work Monday to Friday, you have more flexibility on the weekends. And while you may have fun things to do with your family, you probably have time to sneak in a longer training session or one good set of intervals – maybe even both in one weekend.
5. Expect uneven results. Whether you are a former high-level competitor or someone who discovered endurance sports late in life, it is easy to believe that following the above advice should make you fast, and that if you focus on a particular race, you should be able to do well there. My experience at least, is that this is not the case. I have had some very successful seasons, and some much less successful seasons, often on basically the same training. I have had early season success that defied any reasonable explanation followed by late season races I tried to peak for that went disastrously. Once in a while, I have had great results when I planned to, but more often, my really good results have been as much a surprise to me as to anyone else.
6. Balance your training. Skiing fast requires endurance, technique, strength, power, and mental toughness. You need to make sure that your training builds each of these things. An optimal training program includes a lot of distance training, some overdistance, some intervals, some strength, and some racing. In an ideal world, you will get some of each of the first four every week, and one or two races a month. You will have to look elsewhere for the details of how to break these down, though, because my last piece of advice will be the same as the first:
7. Train every day. Train because it makes you fitter, because it relieves stress, because if makes you happier and more productive. Train in the hope that you will be fast, and achieve whatever goals you have set for yourself. But if there is a secret to my success, other than my genetics, it is that as much as I love to win, I love to race even more. And I much as I love to race, I love to train even more. And if you approach you athletic career with this attitude, you will be successful by the metrics that truly matter, and likely successful on the results sheets as well.
Okay, I don’t know that this is finished, but it is the third attempt in six months and I don’t think it’s getting any better. I welcome comments and further questions.
On Friday night I competed in a track meet for the first time in more than 18 years. The last time I was at a track meet I set two PRs – one in the hammer (101’3″) and one in the 400 (57.5) – I was actually drafted at the last minute to rabbit the 800. How all that came to be is a story for another time.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on my return, but it actually felt quite familiar. Despite being in another country, and being alone, the feeling of being at a track meet is very much the same. There was the rush of adrenaline every time the gun went off to start another heat, the nervousness of checking out the competition, the frustration with the meet being a bit behind schedule.
And about that schedule – the 5000 m was schedule to start at 9:25 pm, and they were running a little late. I am pretty sure that is the latest in the day I have ever run a race. Still, after my warm-up and striders I was feeling strong and fast and not the least bit sleepy.
Despite a fast PR I was seeded a ways back in my heat, so I started on the outside and a bit forward, and ran with the other scrubs through the first 100 meters before joining the main pack. We all ran like we had something to prove, and I settled in to about sixth place and went through 200 meters in about 33 seconds. I tried to calm down, and we went through the first lap in just under 70, then followed the group through 800 meters in 2:23. That being a little slower than I wanted I accelerated just a bit and found myself in second place for about 500 meters, including hitting 1200 meters in 3:34.
After that my memory of the splits gets a little hazy. I was on pace for sub-15:00 for about half of the race, and I spent a lot of time bouncing between third and sixth place, with a varied cast around me. Toward the end the second and third place runners got away from me, and my pace fell off. I pushed hard for the last 800 meters and managed to get away from almost everyone else, but was passed with 100 meters to go and had no answer. I finished in fifth, in 15:10. Only one runner crossed in the 10 seconds before I did, but a half dozen did in the 10 seconds after.
Overall, I am disappointed. I don’t (a substantial body of evidence to the contrary notwithstanding) enjoy making excuses, but it was late at night. And other runners were complaining about the wind. And I haven’t raced under 10 km in almost a year. On the other hand, running on a track is just plain faster than running on the roads. And I was right with the guy in second place, who just cracked 15:00, and I let him go. And if every race seems to be big wind, that is just silly (plus a big headwind gets balanced by a big tailwind on every track I have ever see).
So I had a not so good race. I am planning to race 10 km on the track in a few weeks. Hopefully that one goes better.
I doubt my blog silence has been noticed by many, what with Nationals going on, not to mention three U.S. women on podiums in different stages of the Tour de Ski, but it seems I do still have a blog! I was home in New Hampshire for three weeks, and got to see lots of family and friends. And despite the weather (Kris and I summitted Sandwich Dome on Christmas Day, and there was no white stuff to be seen) I managed to get in about 20 hours on snow.
Now that I am back in Holland, this has given me the answer to a question I have had for some time: just how many days of all skiing does it take before the return to running is all sore muscles and excruciating pain? Turns out the answer is somewhere south of 10 days 🙁
Anyway, sore – and jetlagged – or not, I headed to Leiden on Wednesday for a workout with my club. It shouldn’t have been too bad: 8 times 600 meters in around 1:50, but it beat me up pretty good. It is also, as best I can remember, the first track workout I have ever done in the month of January. I will be doing my first ever February track workout in a couple of weeks.
Before that though, I will be running my third cross country race of the century. The second was about a month ago, in the town of Baarn, where I ran a disappointing 33:36 in the mud. I convinced myself I could have run 30 seconds faster and contended for the win with proper spikes, so while I was in the U.S. I bought some, and in a week we will find out if I was right. Stay tuned!
I know this blog is on a skiing website, and I know that this is the time of year when a lot of readers (if I have a lot of readers) might be looking for some technique drills to get ready for the upcoming ski season. I don’t think this is the post for them (but it might be. You’ve come this far, so why not keep reading?)
This is a post about technique drills for running. It is not a post I ever thought I would write, as I have always been skeptical of any attempt to dictate running form. My experience over the past couple of months at my running club, however, has changed my mind. In particular, this week I considered not going to the weekly track workout, as I have been nursing a hip injury. But I went. I felt my hip a little during the warm-up, and then we moved into drills. By the end of the drills, I had no pain, and I had less pain and soreness after the workout than I have over the past week after easy runs.
I have also noticed that the drills we do get me ready to run fast during a track workout better than any other warm-up routine I have ever tried. I don’t know that it actually makes me race faster, but it makes speedwork go smoother.
Now, I am not going to claim to be an expert in this area after a couple of months. Indeed, as my running club is Dutch, I don’t understand a word of what my coach says when explaining a drill, let alone know what if any justification he has for it. But I have gleaned a few key principles:
1. Accept that speed drills will take some time. Our typical routine is 15 minutes jog, 5 minutes active stretch, 20 minutes of drills, then intervals. Part of this is because we do a lot of drills, and part is because we need to take adequate recovery.
2. Vary the drills in a session, and intersperse 100 meters accelerations. We might do two variants of a quickness drill, then a strength drill, and then run 100 meters one or two times, and then repeat with new drills. The reason this seems to work for me is that a drill teaches a muscle to activate in a certain way, and then running fast allows your brain to connect this muscle use to running in a concrete way.
3. Vary the drills from session to session. This is emphatically not about getting really good at certain drills. The goal is to use a drill to teach your body something about running – how to get quick turnover, or more float in your stride, or better posture. By using drills that are accessible but not too familiar, you maximize the chances that you will teach your body about running and not about performing drills.
Okay, so what are the drills? High knees running at different tempos, single leg lops, double leg hops, bounds, running forward or backward with straight knees, and then each of these with the resistance of either a medicine ball held in your hands or a partner provide resistance with an elastic band. One of my favorites was grabbing the bar at the top of a fence and holding your legs up off the ground (so you were almost sitting on the fence, but touching only with your hands) for 30 seconds, then right into a 100 meter stride. This is a great way to get your transverse abdominis to activate while you are running. As I said in the three principles, you mix something that practices high tempo, something that practices balance and coordination, and something that practices force generation. You do enough strides and accelerations to connect it to running. And then you fly through your workout.
There might even be something for skiers to learn here. My favorite drills have always been the ones that lead in a clear way into skiing with good form…
Okay, WordPress has eaten this post twice. The most brilliant prose I have ever written, and it is gone (as far as you know). Here are the highlights:
The Dam tot Damloop in Amsterdam has 48,000 participants. The winning time was 45:19. I was 30th, 28th man, 2nd over 35, in 52:05.
The Dutch have outdoor, semi-enclosed urinals at there races which makes the line at the port-a-johns a lot shorter.
Near the start of the race I ran for over a kilometer through a tunnel under the canal. That was kind of cool (not least because in created a small hill on which I made crazy amounts of time on the Dutch runners who really can’t handle the least hint of an incline).
I still don’t have internet at my house here so this may be a short post. But I am getting running figured out – who needs internet or a cell phone or food that your youngest child can eat when you know the closest track and a good trail for long runs?
Anyway, I found both of those last two things. It is about a 9 km bike ride to the track owned by Leiden Atletiek, a club I may end up joining. They have a beautiful and well-maintained eight lane outdoor track. I did ride about 18 km yesterday just to get there, as I did not remember exactly where the track was. And no one I asked even knew there was a track in the area – which is no surprise given that the track is hidden with residential neighborhoods on one side and a big urban woods on the other.
But I cranked out six 1000s there in 3:06, 3:04, 3:04, 3:02, 3:00, 2:58, and I think I know how to get back.
Today I went for a long run, maybe 8 miles through the dunes between here and The Hague. Surprisingly, there are some hills here in the Netherlands. Granted, the total elevation change as you run through the dunes is comparable to what you would find in New Hampshire is you worked hard to find a loop with no hills, but a series of hills with as much as 40 feet of elevation in each one is a lot more fun to run on than the completely flat running inland of the dunes. Oh – and the paths there are paved with tiny seashells – I have never run on that surface before!
Wow! Blogging has been slow this month. So I will make a quick summary.
I raced Loon Mountain a few weeks ago. I had an unremarkable race to end up third. I like to think that I could have at least scared Ryan Kelly for second place (instead of being a minute back) but I didn’t, and Josh Ferenc was untouchable another 20 seconds up.
And last week I raced the Bill Luti, bringing home my third title in that race with another so-so effort: a younger runner led me through the mile in 5:00, and then dropped like a rock even as I had a lousy second mile up the hill.
The big event of the month was running the Pemi Loop with Kris. We have both had our eyes on this ~33 mile loop with ~10,000 feet of vertical for many years, and finally decided to go for it. We had a perfect day for running – overcast, high 60s, light wind. The downside was that we visited 8 of the most scenic peaks in the state and saw one brief view of Mt Carrigain for about 3 minutes and the rest of the time we saw only fog.
Given that I had done a total of three workouts that exceeded 2:15 this year, surviving an effort that turned out to be 7:30 or logged time (plus 29 minutes of breaks) was a bit questionable. My father resupplied us on top of Mt Lafayette, about 2/3 of the way through. He wasn’t sure I should continue, but I did make it. I even led Kris on some of the late downhills when it became clear that we had a chance of breaking 8:00 total time (the record when we first considered this loop was about 7:20 – it has since dropped to 6:14).
I won’t be running many mountains until next summer – I fly to Holland in two days!
I have been slow to report on the Mt Washington road race, but it is still worth writing about. In many ways it was actually a boring race. I went out hard on the first couple hundred meters of flat, sharing the lead, fell to 11th when the climb started, and passed about one person per mile until I reached four miles. Just past mile five, former winner Rickey Gates passed me back, and so I finished in 8th place. I was 30 seconds behind Rickey at the finish, and almost a minute ahead of 9th place, so there just wasn’t much drama (unlike last year, where I passed Dan Princic in the final minute).
It was, however, a great day. I ran up the hill in 1:05:55, a little over 30 seconds under my previous best. I have been pretty tired the last couple days in a way that tells me I really dug deep.
This makes four times as the top New Hampshire finisher. This all feels pretty good, but I am certainly not the most impressive finished from last Saturday. For that category, here are the contenders:
Joseph Gray was almost 8 minutes ahead of me. His time of 58:15 (run almost entirely by himself) is the second fastest in the race’s 50+ year history, and he is the first to win back to back races in over a decade.
Simon Gutierrez (the last man to win back to back races) is now 49 years old. I was only about a minute behind him last year, and I thought with a good effort this year I might finally catch him. Instead, he finished in 6th, almost two minutes ahead of me. If I make it back next year, it looks like I am going to be crushed by a 50-year-old.
But Simon has nothing on George Etzweiler. 10 years ago, the oldest age category in the race was 85+, but they have had to amend this twice; George finished the race this year at age 95. He was over two hours behind me, but he made it to the top. I was with a group that stopped and cheered him as we rode down, and you could see that he was working hard to maintain his pace. I don’t enjoy three hour maximal efforts now – I have a hard time imagining trying that 57 years in the future!
So usually if a race is a week old I figure there is not point in blogging about it. But I am going to today, because I have an excuse…
Anyway, I raced the Pack Monadnock 10 miler last Sunday. I raced this three years ago, losing to Brandon Newbould in the final climb (the course climbs about 1800 feet, half in the last two miles). This year I entered with elaborate contingency plans should I be racing any of several potential rivals, but none of them showed up. I had a 20 second lead by two miles, over a minute by seven miles, and earned an easy four-minute victory.
Then I went home to work on packing up my house. The next day my nephew and I moved all of our furniture and most of our boxes.
On Thursday, in addition to more moving-related tasked, I did the downhill race – the Hollis Fast 5 km. This race drops a couple hundred feet in 5 kilometers. I ran 14:37 for 6th – four seconds slower than two years ago but three places better. Maybe the heat slowed people down, or maybe the field was weaker. Either way, it was a decent effort.
One week till Mount Washington. Hopefully I will have finished the many little tasks I need to complete my move before then.
With my impending move to the Netherlands, I have decided that this is definitely the time to get in as much mountain running as I can while it is still an option. The flat courses in my future could be good for PRs, but this weekend I drove up to Sleepy Hollow for the kickoff of that USATF mountain running series.
I was a little confused about the course and ended up running the middle of three loops for my warmup, when I had hoped to run the final loop. This had no effect on the outcome of the race, nor did the fact that I expected Josh Ferenc, the defending champion who is running more and more ultras, to take the race out slow, and so I arrived at the line having run a fairly relaxed warmup.
Maybe after running ultras this race feels like a 100 yard dash to Ferenc, because he practically sprinted off the line, and the whole field went with him. I was seriously anaerobic about 45 seconds into the race, and sitting in 6th place. By 60 seconds in Ferenc had a small gap on us, and no one seemed interested in bridging it.
The first hill flattened for a bit, and then got steep again, and I worked my way into second place, just ahead of Matt Lipsey and another runner. I crested the hill in second, and was quickly passed by that other runner, and I followed him down the other side. He was going at a pace I liked, which should have been a warning sign because after 30 seconds Lipsey and Alex McGrath passed me and I could feel a group behind them (several runners described running in that pack as being very scary, with people flying down the hill quite out of control). I accelerated and stayed near the front of the group.
As the course leveled out and then started back up (at the two mile mark) I passed McGrath and took over second place. All the way up this, the longest climb, I kept Ferenc in sight, but I couldn’t close any of the 20 second gap. Near the top I opened a significant gap over McGrath and Lipsey, and I even maintained it as I started down the other side. For several minutes I thought I would get to the bottom of the hill first, but finally McGrath caught me and Lipsey was right behind.
We ran in a tight pack past four miles and into the final loop. When it started climbing, I again too the lead, only to give it back to Lipsey when we started running on singletrack. I stayed right on Lipsey and we opened a huge gap of McGrath. As we rolled over the top of this loop, Lipsey got a slight gap on me. He then slowed on the last short uphill pitch, and I thought I could catch him. Right at the top of the hill I made one bad foot placement into some mud and I came mentally and physically undone, letting a two second gap grow to almost 10 in virtually no time at all.
From there I kept the gap fairly constant. I thought I was running the downhill well until I heard footsteps behind me. I adjusted my direction to make sure that McGrath would have to pass me on the outside (we were on a wide trail at this point). I could hear that passing on the outside was taking a lot more energy, and I knew that this was the time to throw in a solid move and try to break my opponent. Unfortunately, I didn’t have it to give. McGrath passed me and even made time on Lipsey; they both finished a bit under 41:00, about a minute behind Ferenc. I finished another 15 seconds back.
For me to be successful in mountain races I am going to need to do some downhill intervals on trails. I am not sure this is part of my plan right now, but it is just sad getting dropped every time gravity starts helping.
I just had my first race of the year. It was an inauspicious lead up, as I took most of last week off from training with a nasty virus, and then took Tuesday off of both training and teaching to stay home with a sick child. This pushed my first track workout to Wednesday, only two days before my first race. I have been trying to get away from 400s on the track – I have found that I am getting better and better at doing 400 meter repeats as time goes on but that my performance in these workouts is less and less connected to my racing. So I did three times (200/200/800) with (200/200/400) recovery. The 200s were all 33 and 34. The 800s were 2:25, 2:26, 2:27, as steadily increasing effort levels. This is fairly fast for a skier (or a 38-year-old teacher) but not promising.
I was still very sore when I was warming up for the NHTI Delta Dental 5 km. This is the fourth time I have run the race in five years, and the third course (they have a nice trail that is always underwater in the spring, so they usually have to adjust).
We started out and I hung back in third, letting Jim Johnson set the pace and a younger runner I don’t know chasing right behind him. By half a mile the younger runner took the lead and led us through the mile in 4:50. Way too fast! He faded in the next couple hundred yards and Jim passed him shortly before we crossed the start line and started the second of two laps. I continued to stay behind Jim, occasionally moving back and forth to stay out of the wind but mostly just saving my energy by letting him set pace. At two miles (9:50) he seemed to surge a bit, and I thought he might get away. Then, right around 2.5 miles, he looked back at me, and I knew he was hurting. I made the most decisive move I could, and put a couple seconds on him. There was a fair amount of traffic by now with runners still on their first lap, and I knew this would make it psychologically harder for him to follow me. I didn’t have much kick left in the final stretch, but I had a big enough lead that it didn’t matter. I crossed the line in 15:26, six seconds up on Johnson and 17 ahead of Patrick Ard in third.
I was a touch faster last year, but I am feeling better about my fitness progression this year. I still have a number of races here before I head to Holland (and I am registered for the Dam tot Damloop 10 miler in September, so look forward to a post about running against 50,000 people!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!