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Archive for February, 2011

Eastern Canadian Championships – Yup, I’m Still Alive

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Sorting skis Thursday afternoon before the madness began

Eastern Canadians was a marathon for the Nakkertok crew. In the 600 person field, 90 athletes were racing in Nakkertok colours, and of that 90 we were responsible for waxing 60+ pairs of skis. It was an epically fun weekend – and I have a few things to comment on before I forget.

First off, volunteers. In my mind, they are probably the best thing in the world. They make the ski world work. They lay out impossible amounts of time and energy to make things happen. They constantly impress with their dedication, willingness to do difficult things, and enthusiasm.

Joey (left with the mask) and Dave (right with the beard) two of the clutch volunteers gearing up for early morning waxing action

Of particular note for me are the 10 to 15 parents who chipped in to help the coaches wax the over 60 skis we had for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday’s event. It would have impossible without them, and while we did have several long days, including a 15 hour door to door effort Saturday, they made it possible, and did so with incredibly good humor. It shocks me that a parent with one kid in the program would agree to come out at 6 AM on their Saturday morning to stand around in the cold, and wax skis for four hours. All I can say is thank you!

On the flip side, there are also volunteers that lay it on the line for dubious reasons. The certain parking lot attendant who was more intent on his power trip than listening to my pleas for a favourable parking spot because of my lack of snow tires was especially frustrating (Being told “that’s not my problem,” is not a good way to endear yourself to me…).

Or volunteers who don’t seem to realize that I have been to a ski race before, and were quite insistent that I wasn’t to be allowed on the course. I know I look like a pretty big goon with my plaid jacket, ridiculous hat, NEOS, stupid sunglasses, and waving around an iPod, but seriously – chill out. Thanks buddy – this isn’t my first rodeo. Focus on making sure the racers go the right way, not on whether my boots are making slight impressions on the far edge of the course.

Cheering – if you’re not going to do it right (read: the way Kieran thinks is right), don’t do it at all.

I’m known for using a lot of tried and true coaching phrases for encouragement – “you’ve gotta go,” has turned into a bit of a theme for some of my athletes, but in general I aim for things that at least make sense.

Unlike the coach who I heard yell, and this is no joke, “you’re a shining star!” to one of her athletes. Really? You’re a shining star? Are you sh*tting me? If someone told me that during the race I would stop and laugh in their face. I say some ridiculous things, but that’s just unnecessary.

Also, I’ve noticed that just because someone was at one point a high performance athlete doesn’t make them good at cheering. I was standing next to the coach of a high performance Canadian team, and when one of his best skiers came by, I could barely hear him, and he was 6 inches away from my face. Sure, I guess some people don’t like loud cheering, but I will hazard a guess that your athlete might like to know you’re paying attention.

You know it’s going to be a long weekend when your wax room has a light bulb – much less the 10 our two rooms had

On the theme of cheering, I recently purchased the RaceSplitter app, and spent the weekend ironing out a few kinks.

A couple of notes about that. First of all, it doesn’t matter how sweet the RaceSplitter App is, if you’re not paying attention, it’s probably not going to be successful. When Graham Nishikawa and Drew Goldsack ski by you, and you forget to punch in bib numbers and hit the right buttons, you’re probably not going to get much out of it.

Second, when you make multiple start lists, make sure you choose the right one. I spent 10 minutes punching in numbers of athletes, and raging about how RaceSplitter didn’t work, only to eventually realize that I was trying to put the Open Men into my Juvenile Boys start list. Whoops.

Third, you have to have good sightlines. I mean, I knew that already, but I was standing on a tough uphill, with a good reference point, and somehow it wasn’t enough time. I couldn’t quite manage to punch in bib numbers fast enough, read the result, and then get my athlete a split I was confident in, all in the space of 15 seconds or so. Need more practice!

Speaking of timing, while I was a bit of a gong show with the split app, the organizing committee had some interesting ideas about timing as well. I appreciate the timing staff – they’re volunteers too – and they do a ton of hard work, and pull off miracles, but there are some times when they are a bit goofy.

After enquiring as to the whereabouts of results, one coach was rebuffed with “Zone 4 is in Alberta, we’re not using it any more. You have to wait for paper results.” I don’t even know what that is supposed to mean. It’s not like it should be a surprise that people expect times at a ski race. It’s a timed sport.

Rockstar wax bench - outside in the cold and dark, with a spotlight. Baller.

Also, Saturday featured the first 12 person sprint heat in NorAm – and possibly FIS – racing history. The sprint course featured an overlapping up-hill section, and somehow the starters managed to time it perfectly so that on the one uphill on the course all 12 athletes in two open men heats managed to jam together. Unfortunately I missed it, as I was in the wax tent, but I heard all about it.

Saturday also had some of the most bizarre weather I have ever seen. The weather regularly flashed between a mad snowstorm, and warm and sunny. Standing with fellow FasterSkier staffer Chelsea Little, we managed to both be cooking in the sun, only to be covered in snow five minutes later. Cool, but would have been annoying if I was racing.

Over my time as a ski racer, I have been to a lot of athlete meetings. I will admit that I was not an enthusiastic participant. If you ask anyone I skied with, my standard expectation was that I would receive start times and vehicle departure times. That’s it, that’s all. If the coach wanted to talk about more than those two things, it better be incredibly important.  If they started to ramble, or if some of my fellow skiers started to ask redundant questions (“is there ski marking?” is a particular piss-off for me, but I’ll save that for another blog) I quickly turned into peanut gallery. I can’t imagine I was any fun in those meetings.

This year, I have started to take in coaches meetings. I have decided they are very similar, and I’m really there for roughly the same information. Start times, and important changes that will impact my athletes directly. They are equally painful, and my attitude is the exact same when things go off topic – I’m still the guy sitting in the back cracking jokes. “You look so grown up with short hair,” one coach who I have known since my early days of skiing remarked to be this weekend. Don’t worry – it’s just the hair, nothing else has changed.

Coaches working the taps at the coaches meeting

However, the most recent edition featured something I haven’t seen before – a keg of beer. Leave it up to the Quebecois organizing committee to bring in some of the local microbrew to loosen the crowd up.

Finally, I observed possibly the most difficult situation ever as a cross country skier. As the final few Open Men were completing their 30 k (which is a long way,

I know), the Midget boys were sent out to hammer out 5 k. About 1 k in they promptly started tracking the Open men. I know that has to be killer – all you want to do is get through your last lap, and then you’re forced off the trail by 70+ skiers who are 12 years old, and just hammering away like crazy.

Mad props to the guys who kept pushing, and finished off the race. I know my ego couldn’t handle being tracked by midgets – that would be the point where I would end my association with cross country skiing, probably forever. While I easily could have taken a picture of some Open Men being humiliated, I opted to spare them the permanent record – and I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.

Recharge mode on Monday morning - coffee, omelete with broccolli, and a big sleep in

Bibs, Guts, and 365 Days: Why I Still Want to Race

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

It has been over 365 days since I have pulled on a bib, stood on a start line in my racing suit, and gone for it. Over one year of no ski racing. During that time I’ve watched countless ski races at a variety of levels, but I haven’t had the guts to do it myself.

It wasn’t the race in particular that turned me off racing. The last time I raced wasn’t a good day, but I’ve had far worse. Racing 30 km for the first time in my life at the Eastern Canadian Championships NorAm against 66 other open men wasn’t really what I needed that weekend, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

I can be pretty happy with my final effort. It’s not often that a skier can finish 36th, and almost 18 minutes behind Graham Nishikawa and ‘happy’ will be a word that comes to mind, but hey, I finished 30 km, which seemed like a pretty solid achievement at the time (and to be honest, it still does). Also, I didn’t examine the results super closely, but I’m fairly confident that not many other skiers pulled off the negative splits that I did over the last three 7.5 km loops, and if they had a time marker for the last kilometer, I can virtually guarantee you I would have won it.

Conducting my retirement interview - "It's been an emotional run, finishing mid-to-back of the pack, but now it's over, I'm going to take some time, focus on my family, and then make 6 or 7 comebacks because I can't let go, just like Brett Favre."

Now, for most people, taking a year off ski racing wouldn’t seem to be a big deal.

Bu as far as I can determine, I have raced at least one cross country ski race every 12 months since I was about 5 years old. As long as I can remember, weekends in the winter were about ski racing. Sometimes one day, sometimes two days, classic, skate, different distances, different places, but always sitting in a car, heading to a race site to put on that bib, toe the line, and go for it.

And 368 days into ‘retirement’, as I call it when some of my smart-ass athletes start razzing me, things are a little different.

Instead of cruising to the race site to listen to my iPod, shoot the shit with friends from other clubs, and get in a good warm-up before listening to those oh-so-comforting start line beeps, I now show up sometimes hours before the athletes.

I stand around in the dark. I go for short skis on test skis. I gear up to wax 39 pairs of skis (Thunder Bay NorAm, thank you very much). I jam to sweet tunes on our wax room sound system. There are days when I don’t ski more than 1 k. There are days when I don’t even put on a pair of ski boots. There are days when the most exercise I get is busting across the stadium in my Neos to catch one of my athletes coming up that last hill into the stadium, and I narrowly avoiding yakking my pancakes all over a well-meaning but slightly over-zealous volunteer.

I recently had another coach ask me if I missed racing. For once, I had nothing to say. I usually like to think my clever quick-witted responses get me places; but for once, I didn’t really know what to think.

In most countries, this isn't even considered technique. Except Poland...

After some thought, I decided to be self-serving – I miss the good days, but never the bad ones.

I never miss those 15 km skate races where my legs felt like concrete blocks after 2 km. I never miss the klister days where it would work in the sun, and not in the shade, only to switch on your next lap. I never miss gasping for air at the top of some brutal climb thinking, “damn I hate my Dad right now, because he’s so right about me paying for skipping those long

zone 1 workouts.” I never miss falling on my face 100 m into a sprint race. I never miss finishing at the back of the field behind people who have never beaten you in your life. I never miss standing around in a mass start with all your warm-ups off at -19 while the race organizer breathes on the thermometer to make the call to start the race. I never miss the days when it’s so cold that you’re not sure whether your hands and your junk are going to make it. Most of all, I never miss the days where I didn’t have enough guts to even finish the race off.

But then there are the days I do miss. The days with lengthy back and forth battles between close competitors and friends. The days when it feels like you’re not even working you’re going so fast and your skis are so slippery. The days when you get down to the last 1 km, you’ve held off a guy way better than you who started a minute back, and then you smoke him in the sprint finish. The days when your grip is bombproof on the ups, your skis are rockets on the downs, and you finish better than you could have imagined. The days where the start chute feels more like a party than a race. But the thing I miss most is the feeling of crossing that finish line knowing that you are dead tired – that you couldn’t ski any faster, and you worked as hard as you could. I’ll be completely honest – there were not a ton of those days. But when they did happen… it’s what kept me coming back.

But do I want to go back and race now? Always a bit. But every time I do an interval set at practice, or in the middle of my distance ski put in a good solid effort, it makes me want back in. I don’t know how, or when, but I have to do it.

I want days like this back. Allright, minus the flow, but you get the idea.