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From The Vault

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Timmins, Ontario, can be quite nice.

I’ve been running around Ontario and Canada quite a bit this winter having some pretty intense adventures. I’ve skied in cool places, waxed a lot of bases, and drank more coffee than is probably healthy.

Over that time I have collected a ton of thoughts about coaching, writing, and skiing in general, but have yet to translate that into a worthwhile blog post. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve written a lot of uninspired drivel that after two paragraphs makes me want to hurl my computer through the window/hotel room/van/airplane/airport/ski chalet/coffee shop/wax room/condo/bunk bed/coaches meeting that I happen to be sitting in.

After watching plenty of Californication and deciding that Hank Moody’s strategy to get around writer’s block is neither possible nor socially acceptable for myself, I found myself scrolling through old word Documents on my computer.

And discovered this post I wrote last summer after having a pretty solid adventure – an adventure I haven’t forgotten, but the post slipped through the cracks.

So, here goes my From The Vault.

Spring, 2011 –

As a ski coach, I don’t often need vacation. Most of my life involves skiing, talking to people about skiing, going to cool places, and waxing skis, so what the hell would I need a vacation for?? My life IS what other people consider a vacation!

Yet somehow this past spring I came up with some misguided rational that I needed some time away from the 30+ teenagers I coach. My criteria:

–          Escape Ottawa

–          Driving (sorry, my idea of a vacation results in the death of penguins, although after the recent snow issues in Europe, I may have to reconsider)

–          Somewhere I have never been before

–          Good food and beer

–          Something I can’t do in Ottawa

Pretty standard stuff for a vacation, in my mind. Enter Nat Herz, former FasterSkier heavyweight, story editor, friend of Lukas Bauer, and blogger extraordinaire.

Despite the fact that he’s American, enjoys Frisbee, and thinks road biking is a sport, he’s a decently rad dude. Also, he’s from Maine, an American state I’ve never been to, is a short drive away from Ottawa, well known for having some great food and beer, and to get there you have to drive through some cool countryside with a population of gun nuts. What’s not to love?

So in the spring, Nat arrived in Ottawa on a Thursday, chauffeured by his little sister, tried to hack some intervals with my athletes, and settled for eating a burger and some fries and gravy, something which is pretty much mandatory when you come to Canada. After a brief hiking excursion where I managed to get lost in my own city and we narrowly avoided getting mugged by a bear, we were primed to depart Ottawa. Nat also picked up his newest racing suit, and we were ready to rock and roll.

We had some issues departing the city (I blame construction, Nat blames Canadian sense of direction) but once we got out of Ottawa, things got much better. At least for about an hour and a half, until we hit Montreal.

Let’s make something clear – I have nothing against Montreal. I think it’s a nice city, there is some cool old stuff, cool people, the Montreal Canadians are a decent hockey team – you get the idea. But it is without a doubt the worst city in Canada to try and drive through.

I’m pretty sure they handed a three-year old kid a crayon and a piece of paper and said “whatever you draw, we’ll pave a bunch of roads in that design, with no regard for traffic flow, common sense, or whether it will result in drivers wanting to commit murder.”

Regardless, we managed to make our way through driving hell to find my friend Sean’s house, where we quickly decided that parking the car and exploring Montreal by bike was a way better option than trying to battle the ridiculous road network.

Biking through the streets of Montreal minding my own business...

Montreal has this cool Bixi bike system, which you may be familiar with. Basically you use your credit card to rent a bike for 24 hours, with a couple of rules. You can only use it for 30 min at a time (so you can’t go all Andy Shleck or Cadel Evans, or whatever pro biker blows your skirt up) and then you have to return it for five minutes, and then you can snag another one. They have these stations all over the place, which makes it easy to ride anywhere, park your Bixi bike without having to worry about someone stealing it, or bringing a lock, which is pretty cool.

Side note – I’m pretty sure that 90% of them end up being used as bikes for people to ride home after a night at the bar, and therefore take a serious beating which probably explained why the gears were wonky on my first one, and that every second one had a flat, but at least they’re getting used.

After ripping around Montreal for a bit, we headed to a park for some light rallying, some Frisbee, and some food. At this point, I figured it would be a good idea to document our little ride.

As we were biking along, I reached into my pocket for my camera, and thought to myself ‘this really is not that good of an idea…ah well, I can hold on pretty tight.’

After snapping a few sub-par pictures with my camera perched precariously on the handlebars, my lack of biking skill (see 13 year-old Kieran falling face-first off his bike, eating pavement, kicking off a 10 year affair with the dentist Ed. Note – it continued this February) emerged.

While blasting along at the breakneck speed of about 5 km/hr, I hit a bump (crappy Montreal streets…) and the camera bounced out of my hand.  While swearing, I watched it fall glass-screen side down on the pavement, hard. F- – k.

Then I ran it over with the back wheel of my Bixi bike at the same time I slammed on the brakes, scraping the camera along the road.

Whoops..

While the screen was being decimated, the rest of the camera wanted to get in the act of total destruction.

The back of the camera popped open, and the battery went skittering across the road in one direction, while the memory card smelled freedom in the other direction. Watching my camera vomit parts of itself all over the street, I slammed my Bixi bike into some of those large orange traffic cones, folding myself over the handle bars. Finally, while I watched helplessly from my new perch astride the traffic cone, some guy riding one of those ice-cream cart bikes (you know, the one with the dinging bell?) runs over the memory card.

After picking myself up off the pavement, I was convinced that my camera had taken its last pictures. But I collected all the bits, put it back together, brushed the dirt, pavement, and broken glass off the screen, and held my breath while hitting the ‘power’ button.

While I am in no way being paid to support them, and in fact have a low opinion of camera makers in general, if you want a camera that can hit the pavement glass-down, be run over by a bike, chuck its guts into a city street and be run over by an ice-cream wagon, I highly recommend the Canon Rebel.

With the “adventure” criteria of the trip checked off, Nat took it upon himself to do some sweet tricks on his bike. Turns out the video function still worked, so instead of pushing my luck I played James Cameron to his Matt Hoffman, before Sean showed us an awesome sandwich joint, fulfilling some of the food quota, and heading to bed.

Both Nat and I have had several encounters with the shit-tastic Montreal traffic, so our plan was to get out of Montreal around 7 AM on Saturday morning – a time we thought most people would choose to be somewhere other than littering the roads with their disastrous driving.

The first 15 minutes went smoothly, until we ran into about a million other people trying to cross the exact same bridge at the exact same time as us. Montreal Traffic 2, FasterSkier staff 0.

A bad picture of some very good sandwhiches.

Anyways, after safely escaping Montreal, we turned south, and made a run for the border. We ended up at this tiny border crossing, the kind I imagine that human traffickers and cocaine smugglers look for, complete with the remote location, sleepy border guards, and stray dogs.

Despite the fact that neither of us have a particularly easily-explainable job, and that Nat departed his country with a sister and a Honda and was re-entering with a sketchy guy with a beard and a Mazda, it went fairly smoothly, and we entered the US of A, headed for the American Dream.

Or at least sailing, lobster, some guns, gigantic slabs of pizza. But that’s for next time…

Game On!

Friday, January 13th, 2012

It has begun.

The 2012 ski season. A dozen different races in two countries, three provinces, 6 different plane rides, countless kilometers to drive, and hundreds of skis to wax.

It’s daunting, for sure, but something I have been pumped about for the last 8 months. If you think you train all year as an athlete to race in the winter and are stoked to kick things off, multiply that by 40, and you understand about where I’m at.

Things began nice and clean this year – on January 1st, otherwise known as New Years Day.

On the back of a completely lacklustre New Years Eve celebration, I hit the road for Rumford, ME, and US National Championships.

Now, it’s been well documented that I’m not a huge fan of following ‘directions’ or even getting good ‘directions’ in the first place, so I should note that the GPS I organized for the trip to Rumford was half-assed at best.

Kieran’s version of a GPS. It’s not as good.

But despite my lack of planning, I only made two or three wrong turns on my way to Black Mountain. Where I found some conditions better suited to a ski race in April than January, as the snow was a tad thin, and the weather was balmy. But as it was the first race of the season, we powered through, testing some skis, and slapping on some wax in our cushy digs.

Temperature in Canadian at Black Mountain when I arrived. That's effing warm.

At this point, I should mention that we were staying in a ridiculously nice chalet. It featured a crazy stove with a grill top, a games room with a projector, pool table, foosball table, and large screen TV’s in just about every room. Oh, and some large stuffed animals, including a few pretty rad moose that were cool, but had seen better days.

Me and my new moose buddy. We bonded.

About 11 PM, as the three man wax crew wrapped up our waxing and was packing things up, we noticed that instead of the “light snow” we had been promised by the race organizers for overnight weather, it was in fact puking rain. We got soaked just loading a few skis in the trailer. As per Twitter, I ruminated that things might be tough on the race course, but we headed to bed ready to rip at 5:30 AM and get cracking.

Only to wake up the next morning, pack ourselves and our lunches, and find out that the races were a no-go, courtesy of (and I’m not kidding about this) FasterSkier’s Twitter find. Instead of hitting the skis, I hit the pillow, for some much appreciated snoozing time, thanks @FasterSkier!

I spent the day buying beef jerkey and catching up with Alex, Audrey, Matt, and Steve, the FasterSkier staff that I don’t really know but quite like. We had a pretty rad time, although they mostly worked really hard while I was the peanut gallery.

After a quick dinner, the wax team headed to bed yet again, hoping that we could actually see some racing in the morning.

And surprise, surprise, there actually was a race on Tuesday morning. The crew set up our wax digs outside, watched athletes run up and down the road to warm-up, and in general made a nuisance of ourselves (some dude: “hey, we can only run either this power to your wax stuff, or the snow making equipment…” us: “is that a really a debate?”).

Some several skis and covers later, Nakkertok and associated members had drawn third and fourth in the junior A-Final, and had some solid results. Not to mentioned frozen to death in the diving temperatures and surprisingly cold winds. As the races wrapped up, I packed my assorted goods into the back of the Mazda, and made like hell for home, as round two the whirlwind tour continued.

No joke, this was the thermometer reading just after we crossed the border into Canada less than 72 hours after the first reading in Rumford.

With the help of a real GPS and Do Moncio-Groulx (a rad Nakkertok athlete), I cruised into Ottawa around 10:30 PM, stopping just once at the LL Cote in Errol, NH (I think) to buy gas and check out their sale on women’s Carhartt goods. Which was good, because Wednesday afternoon, after some quick laundry, I boarded a plane to Thunder Bay, ON, and the first real test of my winter – Ontario Cup #1 held at Lappe Nordic.

Which will have to wait until tomorrow – but the pancakes are awesome, the trails are hilly, and my athletes kick ass, so it will be good – trust me.

Really? Mystic Pizza? This sounds like the worst movie ever invented - do NOT rent, download, buy, borrow, steal, or smuggle. Just don't.

So Long, And Thanks For All The FIsh

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Well, it’s been fun – but that’s all from Kieran Jones.

My two World Cup-weekend swing to Europe brings to a close my time at FasterSkier. In case anyone thought otherwise, they were both awesome, eye-opening, and unbelievably.

My writing for FasterSkier is going to be on hiatus for at least for the next four months, as I focus solely on coaching (the 40-odd athletes from 15-17 years old at Nakkertok Ski Club), and traveling around to a number of different awesome locations doing splits, waxing skis, and sleeping far less than I would choose to on my own.

The experience I have had at FasterSkier has been, in a word, great. I’ve always been a fan of skiing, as well as writing. FasterSkier put me in a position to see the ski world happening up close, to get in touch with hundreds of different people, to write stories I wanted to write, and most importantly to me, create a platform for Canadian skiing news.

But it almost didn’t happen. I appreciate the leap taken by Topher, Matt, and Nat when they selected me as an intern in the summer of 2010, picking this random kid from a no-where town in Canada who had no journalism experience, used a writing sample from his school ski team’s blog to apply, and literally had to have his hand held the first time through WordPress. I leaved heavily on my sense of humor, and the hope that people would appreciate it – like Nat and Toph most of you seem to have stuck with me on that front, and understood that ski journalism can be fun, exciting, interesting, and completely different from anything you usually read.

Nat especially had to suffer me longer and more intensely than anyone else – being my first point of contact, he was the primary editor of the really stinky stuff during the first four months, and thereafter. He had to endure long and painful Skype calls where he was forced to explain the basics of writing, interviewing, and why the U.S. keep running sprint qualifier-only sprint races when the rest of the world runs heats (but I digress…).

To all those who took the time to talk to me, sit through a painful interview, answered questions while grocery shopping, or did a post-race interview phone call during the Super Bowl (that would be Drew Goldsack), and thereby gave me the information needed to write stories, I thank you.

To all those who I talked to and never managed to turn your interview into a story – I’m apologize. I can only do so much – the fault was not with you, but me.

To all those who read, commented, pointed out mistakes, or gave me feedback personally or via e-mail, thanks. Your interest and enthusiasm pushed me to work harder.

To all those who hated everything I wrote – you’re in luck, you no longer have to see my by-line on the homepage!

But I do still have some loose ends to tie up. I have a few short articles that I want to finish and post before Christmas, and I want to stay in touch, maybe with some continued Canadian content, and I still follow the World Cup more than avidly, which can result in the occasional preview-writing experience.

I won’t flatter myself – I don’t imagine my departure will be much of a loss. Audrey Mangan and Alex Matthews have been home-runs in their short time at FasterSkier, and as the race season progresses, no doubt they will get even better. And I wasn’t much use last winter, as most people noticed.

The one thing I do hope for? A continuation of the Canadian presence – there is currently no dedicated Canadian ski news website in existence, and that hurts Canadian skiing. If you hadn’t picked up on the fact, I’m Canadian, and intensely proud of our ski program, skiers, and accomplishments, and feel they deserve more coverage.  Not just with their decision to hire me, FasterSkier has admirably stepped into that void in the last year or so, and I believe that they will continue to lead in that department.

I’m going to continue updating this blog for the winter – I have some back-bloggage to file, including my recent European adventures, a lobster-eating mess with Nat last summer, and I also hope that my winter will produce some interesting tidbits.

For now, be satisfied with a picture from the press conference last weekend in Davos:

World-exclusive photo of Kikkan having a rad time with Emil during the press conference in Davos, Switzerland last Sunday.

Yeap, Europe!

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

It’s kind of crazy to think that in less than 24 hours, I will be on a plane to Europe. For the first time in my life, I will be leaving North America.

Sure, call me a homer, or lame, or unworldly or whatever, but I don’t care I have never been off this continent – I am pumped to do it now, and in style.

Where am I off to? The first stop is in Dusseldorf, Germany, followed up by what seems to be the Canadian National Team coffee-drinking mecca that is Davos, Switzerland. I’m hitting both for their respective World Cup stops, which should be epic.

There is a little back-story to how this adventure came about.

First off, I should say that the Dusseldorf World Cup weekend has had me hooked from the first time I discovered it. Dusseldorf is like the crack-cocaine of my ski world – so much so that I even brought it up when I first applied to be an intern at FasterSkier. While I would like to share that initial enthusiastic offering, I am far too embarrassed about it to copy it onto my blog for others to read – Topher, Matt, and Nat will just have to snicker quietly from home.

It’s always been this idle dream – I can’t count the number of times my roommates, teammates or family members have heard me talk out my ass about how I was going to somehow organize my life so I could go to D-Dorf and Davos, the two most highly regarded locations on the World Cup tour, at least in my mind.

And I always that it was just that – brainless chatter that I could never back up (I have a tendency to do that around vacations – I’ll explain why later).

So when I got into the following conversation on Skype this past fall, you could understand why I got excited.

[19/09/2011 9:46:38 AM] [Name Removed For Privacy]: Hey you should come to dusseldorf, mom and dad are talking about it.

[19/09/2011 9:46:46 AM] Kieran Jones: whaaat??

[19/09/2011 9:47:11 AM] Kieran Jones: that would be great

[19/09/2011 9:47:15 AM] [Name Removed For Privacy]: yep that’s what dad said in a text yesterday’

Allright, so I better disclose at this point that I’m going with my parents. They’re awesome for letting me tag on, and we get on pretty well (the three of us also went to the Olympics together, and all came back in one piece, although it was touch and go when a buddy and I set the fire alarm off one night at midnight making some inebriated nachos).

They’re also damn good ski fans. They read FasterSkier, mostly to correct my grammar, like their Canadians, and take some rad pictures, including a batch at World Championships last year in Oslo. Suffice it to say they know what they’re doing a heck of a lot more than I do.

My Dad took this one of a bunch of Norwegians and their home-theatre setup along the trails at World Champs last year.

But back to me, and going to Europe. Now, before you think I’m just going to strap on some skis, pound some German beers, and eat Swiss chocolate, check yourself – it’s hardly going to be a full-blown tourist-wander through Europe, or a Cancun-debauchery style vacation.

In fact, it kind of irks me when people call it a ‘vacation’ – my primary purpose in heading to the two World Cup stops is to provide FasterSkier with some wicked on-site coverage. And I’m pretty sure that isn’t exactly going to be a walk in the park in two countries where I don’t speak the language (German 101 in university doesn’t really count), have never done the on-site World Cup reporter thing before, and am doing it without any other more experienced FasterSkier staffers to lean on. Although Nat did call to give me a good pep talk today – expect me to get all up in Emil Joensson’s grill about his thigh injury – if he even starts.

I’m preparing myself to work hard, learn a lot, and hopefully come back fully employed by FIS (just kidding Topher, and any Nakkertok coaches/athletes/parents reading this).

But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the whole trip is somewhat anxiety-producing. This week as I have scrambled to get organized, I remembered why it is that I have not missed more than ten Nakkertok practices since I was hired by the club 16 months ago. (While that may not seem like a lot to some people, multiply roughly 3 practices a week x however many weeks that is – it’s a lot.)

It’s way more work to organize yourself to go away than to just stay here. There are a million tiny reasons that come up, and a ton of things I know other people can handle just as well or better than me. In the back of my head, I know my athletes won’t all fall to pieces, explode, or run amok in 14 days, but it’s still tough to disappear.

But now it’s less than 24 hours away; I can’t back out, I’m locked in, and it’s going to be awesome. Stay tuned for more notes and thoughts in the next 14 days!

Anyways, here’s some random things that I have been doing/thinking about the last couple of weeks:

–          This past weekend I went to Foret Montmorency, north of Quebec City, to get a little bit of early season skiing in. Oh yeah, and I brought 40, (yeah, that’s four-zero) athletes along with me. Talk about a long weekend.

–          The best part about the trip to Foret was the massive numbers of Americans on location for the weekend. My favorite part was during one specific meeting where all the coaches were brought together to discuss shared snow usage. One unnamed coach opened with “well, we have an off day tomorrow, so we’re clear.” Wait, you scheduled an off day during a four-day on-snow training camp? Allright…

–          Not sure why there were Americans in Quebec at all. I thought they were all over in West Yellowstone…there probably would have been more skiing.

–          Packing for this trip to Europe has been interesting. I bought some new luggage, which is exciting because for the last 5 years I’ve used the same massive black hockey-style bag that is falling apart and makes me look like a goon on trips.

–          I bought new snow tires and rims this week, which were desperately needed. The tires on my car barely grip the road when it’s dry and sunny – if the pavement gets a little chilly they start slipping, much less snow and slush. On the plus side, I feel like an F1 racer, because any time the weather is bad, I don’t take my car anywhere.

–          It’s difficult to imagine some days, but outside of skiing I do actually lead some sort of life. This month it has been mostly about going to NHL hockey games with my roommates, who are a good bunch of dudes. Unlike this guy we found drinking his beer out of a straw while wearing a New York Rangers Sean Avery jersey. I didn’t even want to know what he had to say.

Yeah, this guy. If you're going to support to Blueshirts in Ottawa, at least buy a Marian Gaborik jersey, you dink.

–          Len Valjas’ moustache combined with his fifth-place finish in the Kuusamo classic sprint last weekend is the early leader for performance of the World Cup season. I’m going to ask him so many moustache related questions in the mixed zone in D-Dorf, it won’t even be funny. I hope he gets on the podium, and then at the post-race press conference when they take questions from the floor, I can get that one in.

–          I feel oddly confused about preview season ending. On one hand, it’s a massive amount of work – on the other, it’s the thing I am most proud of during my time here at FasterSkier. If you didn’t catch any of 23 Teams in 23 Days, you should go back and take a look. It’s always a surprise what I turn up, or what turns up after I post them – like Estonia’s major newspaper picking up the Estonian preview. I wonder how well my humour translates…

–          There is nothing I hate more than coming home from a trip to no food. When I’m tired, grumpy, hungry, and angry at the world after consecutive 16 hour days, I should really have something other than beer in the fridge. It’s not conducive to anything.

–          Before I headed to Quebec, I got on snow in Ottawa! It was a bit greasy, but I hammered along the Ottawa River not far from my house between 6:30 and 8:00 AM one morning, mostly just so I could tell people I had been skiing.

By the end of our time at Foret, this bridge was a bit bare...

–          My goal is to update this blog fairly frequently while I’m away, at least with short anecdotes, pictures, and hilarious back stories about getting lost in a country I don’t really understand. Stay tuned, or follow me on Twitter (yeah, personal plug there) @joneskieran.

The End of The Running Season

Friday, November 11th, 2011

The end of my racing season has come and gone. All right, so you can barely call the half dozen running races I’ve done over the last 7 months a ‘racing season’ but it’s all the racing I’m planning on doing this year.

The ‘promising’ season began with a documented marathon-running adventure, and ended a few weeks ago with an interesting trail running affair – the Jim Howe Memorial Cross Country, an 11 k beater through the woods and mud just outside of Ottawa.

There were a few interesting highlights in between those two tilts, including a vomit-inducing Canada Day 10 k where I woke up 10 minutes before the start, skipped breakfast, broke several traffic laws en route to the race, was the very last person across the start line which the crew was packing up, and promptly passed over 300 people while recording my PW (personal worst) 10 k time. There was also a 4 miler where I humiliated a collection of Junior Boys that I coach in what the Nakkertok Head Coach told me afterwards was “the most effort I’ve ever seen you put into a race,” which is embarrassing, because he also used to be my ski coach.

Anyway, back to the trail run. I have to admit I was absurdly excited about it. I love trail running, it’s way more exciting than the road variety, and if there is a chance that I’m going to come out the other end of an adventure covered in mud, my enthusiasm goes up.

Also, Brad (yup, he’s back) had coerced me into signing up, so I thought that it would be a fitting season finale to our continuous back and forth duel.

And unlike Canada Day, this time I was determined to go in well prepared (but not too well prepared, I didn’t realize it was happening until about 5 days before…). As soon as I figured out that I needed to run, I shut down the hops and barley related beverage consumption, increased the amount of sleep and water in my life, set my alarm, and told my parents (who were picking me up in the morning) to call me when they left home to make sure I was actually ready to go.

All the tick boxes checked then, in Kieran’s mind. Then, when we roll up to the location and pile out of the car on Sunday morning, my Dad pops the trunk to reveal a pair of spikes. Sure, it was a pair that would have been regarded as dashing in the 80’s, but still, they were lightweight, and had pointy nobs on the underside. A quick check of my Brooks Cascadia 5’s (just a fantastic, utterly amazing shoe, light, nimble, sexy colors, clever top-side aeration and comfortable*) I quickly realized that I was going to be out-gunned in the shoe department.

Nonetheless, I didn’t let that discourage me from doing a sub-par Zone 1 warm-up, a couple of half-assed sprints, and a fair amount of trash talk to the gathered ski-crowd, most of it Carleton University and XC Ottawa (the local Senior racing team that have some solid talent ).

Feeling good about 300 meters in (I’m the dude in red) (Photo: Thanks Mom!)

As I lined up next to the XC Ottawa and Carleton U athletes (I should mention at this point that for the most part they are actually athletes, not “athletes” as I would classify myself. Big difference.) I was busy sizing up the crew around me. To my left was an incredibly serious trail runner with spikes, a fleece hat, running gloves, and a hefty paunch who was motioning and yelling at the crowd (two or three supportive spouses, a couple of small children) to get out of his line. To my right were the abovementioned real athletes, who I incorrectly assumed I was in the same league as. I know, it’s absurd that I thought my half-assed coach-training lifestyle would put me in the same running shape as a bunch of guys and girls who are actually aiming to race fast this winter, but I blame the sudden reduction of C2H5OH in the bloodstream.

The gun went off, and I quickly focused on not going out too hard, but slotting myself in behind the group of leaders and next to a few guys who I used to race against. Seemed like a solid enough strategy for the first kilometre at the time, so I stuck with it. Until about 500 meters in, my brain stopped registering my legs as ‘large masses of effective muscle’ and re-categorized them in the folder in my brain labelled ‘concrete blocks’.

“Aha,” I thought to myself, “this seems like a good time to slow down, and actually listen to all those little things I tell my athletes about pacing, mid-race recovery, long strides, breathing, yada, yada..”

After giving that a shot for the next kilometre, I found myself grinding out the first major uphill, where the lack of spikes was a slight inconvenience, and getting passed by local hill climbing legend and XC Ottawa veteran Sheila Kealey was actually a point of pride. She’s just that good.

After cresting the hill, and meandering through some interesting terrain, XC Ottawa’s other hard-woman Megan McTavish came cruising up beside me just as we left the woods for some open terrain, and some surprisingly windy loops around a couple of soccer fields. Now, rather than be accused of being sexist, I opted to be quite magnanimous at this point and let Megan lead for a significant portion, just ducking in behind and hanging on.

As we re-entered the woods, myself now a dozen yards or so behind Megan, and entering a bit of a muddy section, Brad came cruising into the picture. After some hard-fought trash talk (“don’t spend it all on the first loop, Dad,”) I matched him stride for stride for a little while, until he used the muddy conditions and his completely-legal-yet-not-really-in-the-spirit-of-the-competition-spikes to up the pace and scoot away firmly attached to the ground. While he caught up to Megan, I floundered my way through the mud, and dropped 20 meters or so fairly quickly.

At this point, I was content to settle in, hold a consistent pace, and then try to make up ground on the second loop, which was going to happen in less than 1 km. As we headed down a hill and into the final approach to where the lap and finish lane splits, I saw Megan crank up the pace.

My hopes for redemption started to sink as she turned on what I would deem a full-bore sprint across the field, with Brad keeping pace – until she turned into the lap lane. Which immediately made me feel a little bit better, as A) she wasn’t sand-bagging it on lap one, and then going to hose me by 10 minutes on the second lap, and B) Brad had just been forced to up the pace and spend some effort, something which would play into my hands as I reeled him in on lap two.

Unfortunately, while item A was pretty correct, my body had other ideas about item B, and instead of picking up the pace as I headed out onto the second lap as my brain instructed, my legs decided that they were pretty happy with the status quo, and opted to maintain it.

I must admit, at this point I was rather frustrated. Brad was out of sight. People who I didn’t know were starting to pass me, and I wasn’t able to hang with any of them. Every time I saw my mom, her cheering was less of the enthusiastic and excited variety and more of the “keep up the good work, you’ll probably make the finish line before lunch, and if not, I still love you anyway,” type.

There was a wallowing in self-pity party going on in my head, and the place was rocking harder than the dance at U.S. Junior Nationals (I have to be honest, I have no idea what that is like, but JohnnyKlister mentions it like twice a week, so it must be a good time).

It was around this time that a former coach of mine went by me with some words of encouragement – nice of him to be sure, but unfortunately it didn’t do much to spur me on. At least at the time.

Me and my new running buddy - just call him Axel Teichmann...

Another couple hundred meters, another couple of passes, this time by a University-aged girl and a grey haired but talented runner. Enough was enough; the only guy not at the pity-party so far, pride, decided he’d had it. Pride took the opportunity to roll into the pity-party, slap my brain violently, grab it by the throat, and drag it out into the street for an entirely different sort of entertainment, namely an ass-kicking.

After mope-arsing, as one of my room-mates would call it, for most of the second lap, with roughly two km to go I had opted to make a plan to salvage something from the experience. I set off in hot pursuit of the grey-haired gentleman, and reeled him in, and then he and I worked together to collect the woman. Heading up the last hill I was content to just sit in behind the other two, jogging lightly, and conserving energy for the upcoming highly embarrassing but very effective Petter Northug-style finishing sprint.

Highly embarrassing for me, because while I approve of Northug’s tactics, he makes it good because he does it for the win, rather than 19th place in a local cross country running race against non-age category competition.

Anyway, the three of us cruised across the flats, down a steep pitch, and then I unloaded my kick, putting six seconds into the unsuspecting competition in the space of 200 meters. Again, I’m not pleased with my actions here – I’m just retelling the story.

End result – an embarrassing 48:06 11 k, or good enough for second last in the Male 20-29 age category. And about a minute 15 back of Brad. Whoops.

Luckily my parents still took me out for lunch afterwards, and I didn’t get disowned. After an awesome croissant sandwich at a very hippy bakery/lunch joint, I was still less than pleased with my race effort, but significantly happier to go home, sit on the couch, and watch football for the rest of the day.

Some other things I’ve been kicking the tires on recently:

–          I went out for lunch with a friend of mine recently, and we got to talking about the difference between being a skier, and being a fan of skiing. Why is it that I can find dozens of people who spend hundreds of hours a year devoted to skiing, and yet can’t name more than two non-North American World Cup athletes? These are the same people that can rattle of hockey statistics, or tell you who won the football game. Sure, skiing isn’t on Sportscenter, or the front page of your newspaper, but have you heard of the internet?

This is my office in the Gatineau Park. Yeah, it's worth it.

–          My office is awesome some days.

–          I dislike washing dishes.

–          The recent discovery that 23 Teams in 23 Days was featured in Estonia’s national newspaper reminded me that when I first thought of the idea for it, we at FasterSkier weren’t sure whether it would be a good use of our time. Suffice it to say I tend to think it is, but please see my first point.

–          I didn’t do Halloween (I mean the dressing up and collecting candy part) but instead my roommates and I went grocery shopping the day after. We now have over 500 mini-chocolate bars in our house, and are in desperate need of a dental plan.

–          From my perspective, a huge portion of my job as a coach is having athletes learn lessons. If I just say “do this, don’t do that,” that it defeats the purpose – they won’t know exactly how it feels when they do something that isn’t so great. I like to think I make educated recommendations, rather than be a dictator, because then when I’m no longer around (it’s quite possibly I won’t be coaching kid X or Y for their entire life, I hope) they can make their own decisions. Yes! Independence!

–          I organized a bunch of photo’s last week, and found this.

A real man's ice-cream, pretty unreal.

*Advertisement not actually paid for by Brooks Canada, although if you would like an endorsement in my blog (which I don’t know why you would, and I’m reserving the right to creative inclusion) please email kieran@fasterskier.com

Adirondacks Tripping and Farm-Visiting

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Last week I hit the jackpot – a trip to the Adirondaks. That would be mountains in Upper New York State, for those unaware. Roughly here.

Nakkertok regularly has a bit of a get-together where people hike a variety of mountains at a variety of paces, and stays at the Alpine Club of Canada in Keene Valley (location top secret, especially after Hurricane Irene decided to alter the geographic landscape in the region.)

Now, I don’t mean to brag, but I’m a bit of a veteran when it comes to the Adz. I’ve been a lot of times – according to my parents, who know about these kinds of things, I was riding a backpack before I was two years old, and I was hiking at three. I estimated this trip down was somewhere around my 40th, which is pretty good considering I’m not all that old. Suffice it to say I think I know what I’m doing.

Anyways, I left Ottawa Friday morning heading for the US of A, armed with little. Very little actually. A sleeping bag, a pillow, some hiking clothing, and a bag full of wicked pasta sauce generously donated by an awesome Nakkertok family. Certain other mandatory camping appliances didn’t make the cut – tent, stove, sleeping pad that didn’t suck, for example.

I’m pretty confident in my direction finding ability, and that confidence is occasionally misplaced. On a recent adventure with a fellow FasterSkier staffer I went the wrong way three times before getting out of Ottawa – he wasn’t all that impressed, but that’s a story for another day.

Regardless, I figured a quick check of Google Maps before leaving and my memory would be good enough to get me to Lake Placid. No need for a New York State map, GPS, person to navigate, I thought.

The only map of the Adirondacks I had in my car...

And I was mostly right. Although when things did get a bit hairy, the only map I did have wasn’t so great on the whole details thing, but I managed to get to the right spot.

I even got into Lake Placid with enough time to get some time at the Starbucks, organize a meet-up with the FasterSkier world headquarters for Sunday night, and hit the grocery store for some much-needed food, where I ran into a Nakkertok athlete riding a grocery cart and eating bananas.

But back to being unprepared. Again, no tent for the adventure, or stove, so the plan in my misguided head was to turn the Mazda 3 into a CamperMazda for the weekend (this was a great idea in my head, and in real life, it was pretty f-ing good as well), eat a lot of cold sandwiches (I love sandwiches – this wasn’t going to be an issue), and maybe borrow some hot water to cook pasta on Saturday night.

After rolling out my sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and pillow inside a dry CamperMazda on Friday night while everyone else was setting up their tents in the rain, I felt pretty pleased with myself.

Waking up every two hours that night because my sleeping pad had holes in it wasn’t awesome, as was the amount of stale air that resulted from having no windows open and my head stuck in the trunk. And waking up in the morning with a sore throat and runny nose really sucked, not to put too fine a point on it.

Now, I know I’m not exactly Devon Kershaw on the Tour de Ski (if you don’t get that reference, you need to read more of Kersh’s blogs), but waking up sick the day before you’re planning on cranking out a 9-hour hiking day that includes hitting potentially four peaks isn’t a great idea.

Pav and I rocking plaid and hats Saturday morning - unplanned but awesome.

After a quick breakfast where I managed to score some water for my oatmeal and my coffee (thanks Jan and Al – you pretty much bailed me out the entire weekend), the group (some 70 athletes, parents, and associated hangers-on) collected to discuss routes. I had relaxed from my official coach-capacity, so I was happy to sit back and rock some stylish plaid while people debated the merits of hiking Mt. Marcy vs. Phelps, and whether Irene had reduced the trails to hip-wader style mud-slogging.

Anyways, we blasted off to Adirondak Loj and the approach to Marcy, a hike I have done somewhere around 5-10 times. And I enjoy it, when A) it’s not raining (which seems to be just about never), B) the trail warden at Adirondak Loj isn’t crawling up my ass about how the max group size is 15, and how we have to leave half an hour or a mile between groups (I felt like asking him if he wanted to come with us – my group of Juvenile/Junior Boys was going to do that first mile in about 10 minutes), and C) I’m not feeling like someone punched me in the throat (metaphorically speaking – the actual throat punching I leave to blogger Nat Herz – and yes, Nat’s recent blog is going to be referred to several times in this post).

Before I get into the blow-by-blow of the hike, I just want to clarify that I am not Jon Krakauer, and Mt. Marcy is not Mt. Everest, so don’t expect too much of an epic.

Regardless, I was game for an adventure, and after we hit Marcy Dam and the pace increased (Junior Boys again…) a little less than an hour in, I was happy to drop to the back of the group and focus on surviving rather than kicking ass and taking (mountain) names like some of my athletes.

On the approach to Marcy, you go past the trail up Phelps Mt., which is advertised as a two mile round trip. Feeling a little bit like warmed up death at this point, I kept on going right by it with a couple of lads with little discussion. However, the majority of my guys headed up the trail at what can only be described as breakneck speed. And found out a couple of things: 1. It’s steep. 2. The top was socked in and you couldn’t see anything. 3. It’s still steep on the way back down. 4. And most important, it’s not worth wasting an hour and a half of valuable hiking time.

While the rookie hikers were struggling with the waste-of-a-mountain Phelps experience, I was approaching the top of Marcy – after putting the hammer down on the last half-mile approach to the summit and dropping the two guys I was with like Petter Northug in the finishing straight of a 50 k, I clocked in at 2 hours and 27 minutes from bottom to top. Which, considering I wasn’t really pushing if for the first 5.5 miles, I wasn’t feeling very hot, I was carrying four bagels, a full cucumber, a full tub of cream cheese, two shirts, 3 litres of water, an apple, and a guidebook, I thought it was pretty good.

But the top was socked in, so after eating my entire cucumber, getting chirped about cream-cheesing my bagel without cutting it in half, watching some guy smoke a cigarette, and getting pretty damn cold, we headed off the top in the direction of Mt. Skylight, Mt. Algonquin, and Avalanche Pass, our next destination.

Top of Mt. Marcy - a little cloudy while haning out with a few 'thletes (Photo: Chris Mueller)

After wandering around for awhile, and getting yelled at by the summit steward about walking on the super-special summit grass (we weren’t, I swear – she was just bored and probably cranky and cold) we found the trail down.

I found myself hiking with two first-year Juvenile boys (14 years old) and we had a scintillating conversation about the use of the word noob – they thought using it in every second sentence was legitimate, I disagreed. Note – If you are over the age of 30, you have probably never heard the word noob, and seeing as it’s a useless word, don’t be too concerned.

We headed up Skylight for the first and only good glimpse of sunlight for the day (how appropriate – Skylight!), where the other group finally caught us after their Phelps mis-adventure. We joined forces for a little while, with some lads deciding that a headlong charge down the mountain was the way to go. I got dropped pretty quickly, partly because they were just plain faster, partly because I was a little more concerned about not breaking any bones.

The original plan had us scheduled to go up Algonquin last, and then back to Adirondak Loj, but when we got to the junction to head up to Algonquin at 4 PM, it was debate time. With less than 3 hours of daylight left, a general lack of food and water (among the athletes – I still had most of my groceries), and having hiked for about seven hours already, there was some concern that we were going to be able to do the steepest ascent of the second-highest peak in the region and still get back to the parking lot before dark and still alive.

To their credit, at least half the group wanted to continue – one guy in particular was a little bit heart-broken when we decided to opt for the shorter, flatter route home. But Avalanche

The unscheduled but still rad Avalanche Pass canoe-rowboating workout

Pass on the way home features some decent scenery and the opportunity for a quick paddle for some guys, while I sat around and consumed a lot of sesame snaps.

As we rolled into the parking lot at the Loj significantly more muddy, tired, a smelly, the final tally of time on my watch said 8 hours 50 minutes, and I stopped it during the two large food breaks. As I stumbled into the campsite 20 minutes later, I was pretty ready for food and bed, even if it was in the back of the CamperMazda with an un-inflatable sleeping pad.

After some excellent pasta, a beer, and some sit-down time, the CamperMazda provided a deadly sleep – but didn’t make me feel any better the next morning, despite the brilliant sunshine that woke me up nice and early.

Another quick discussion, and people spread out to two different peaks – Cascade, and Giant. After a brief moment of enthusiasm regarding Giant, my brain weighed in, reminding me that A) I had done Giant upteen times, and B) one time on Giant as a pre-teen I spent 5 hours in the pouring rain (no joke – it poured rain the entire time) hiking it with my mom. It was what is now referred to as a character-building experience – though for me or my mom, I was never really sure. I’m just surprised she didn’t ‘lose’ me halfway down, I sure as hell would have if I was in her hiking boots. Oh, and C) following the hike I was heading to Williamstown, MA, to Cricket Creek Farm, otherwise known as the FasterSkier World Headquarters, so I didn’t want to be out all day.

I blasted up Cascade, took advantage of some good picture taking and lunching opportunities at the top, and then headed for the bottom, Lake Placid, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, and an internet connection so I could find my way to Williamstown.

Cool photo-taking opportunities at the top of Cascade on Sunday. (Photo: Chris Mueller)

Turns out it’s pretty far from Lake Placid – like 3 hours, as opposed to my mental approximation of about an hour. It doesn’t help when the first major highway I hopped on instead of moving quickly, like they do in Canada between large cities, this one had a border patrol check point. Yeah, in the middle of New York, nowhere near the border, there were a bunch of border cops stopping traffic on a four-lane highway.

Here is the verbatim exchange when I finally get to the front of the line:

Border Patrol: Citizenship?

Me: Canadian

Border Patrol: Where you headed?

Me: Williamstown, Massachusetts

Border Patrol: Allright, have a good day.

And that was it. No searching the CamperMazda, no asking for my passport or drivers license, no nothing. I could have had a couple of kilos of cocaine, half a dozen illegal immigrants, and enough guns to make the LL Cote in New Hampshire jealous, and they never would have guessed.

LL Cote in New Hampshire on an adventure earlier this summer - guns!

Which was fine with me – I was back flying along, and relatively shortly I rolled into ‘the Farm’, as boss Topher Sabot has been referring to his residence for last year and a half I have been working for him.

At this point I should probably note that Toph and I have never actually met – I’ve met Nat, Chelsea, and Alex, but for some reason (I live in Canada, and he isn’t allowed up here) I have never met the guy who hired me. Yes, that is how FasterSkier operates sometimes – when I mentioned I was coming down, Toph and Matt Voisin joked in an email how I was going to be really surprised when I found out that FasterSkier was actually run by two grade 8 students after school (for the record, it’s not, although sometimes when we get wound up on conference calls, it’s not that far off).

So I pulled into what I really hoped was his driveway, and parked next to a large pile of wood, which featured a woman operating a splitter off the back of a tractor. After a brief exchange in which I found out that I was at the right place, I was co-opted into helping with the wood.

Which was cool, because I translated that into an awesome dinner, a bed, a tour of the farm the next morning, and some coffee before getting on the road and heading back to Canada.

As for Topher and Matt, they were both pretty much what I expected. Toph’s farm has been much-documented on the blog front, and while Matt hasn’t he’s a rad dude who should get more attention.

Up next – regular fall training, trying to put more time into FasterSkier, and possibly a rematch with Brad cross country race this Sunday – get yer popcorn ready.

The CamperMazda all set up to rock. And aside from the crap-ass sleeping pad, it was wicked! Although I am not currently sponsored by a car company, if a Mazda spokeperson is reading this, I will sell out readily.

Some random things:

–          Upper New York State has the highest concentration of cops I have ever seen. I think I counted over 100 cop cars, and only 3 of them had someone pulled over. By my calculations, that means that 97% of police in upstate New York are doing nothing. Want to fix your economy America? Maybe cut back on the police force, or move them to somewhere they can actually do something. I heard a rumour the Bronx needs an extra cop on beat in the daylight…

They weren't kidding - about 15 meters after I took this picture I saw a cop.

–          Today was the first day in a long time where I didn’t drink a coffee. And I found I was way more fired up than when I do drink it. Has my body somehow switched over to the point where not consuming caffeine is the new caffeine?

–          I’m going to Dusseldorf and Davos for the World Cups in December. This is kind of a big deal, and I’ll dedicate a separate blog post to it at some point. I took German 101 in university, and am planning on using all of it on Steffi Boehler.

–          Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey are quite clear in their support of a certain sunglasses company, but I think they should give this one a shot – if that picture at the top is any indication, it could be a hell of an interesting time.

Training Camps – Rad Stuff

Monday, September 5th, 2011

I think it’s an established fact that training camps are awesome. I don’t think there is anyone in skiing who thinks that training camps suck. Look at the World Cuppers camps – the Canucks have been to Hawaii, Alaska, and Bend, Oregon. Kikkan Randall and Liz Stephen have chilled in Sweden with Emil Joensson and Anna Haag.

For me, training camps are as integral to cross country skiing as snow, kick wax, and snotty noses.

Throughout my brief stint as a junior racer as well as University journeyman, I had numerous opportunities to enjoy camps both in my home city and away, and they were without continuously one of the highlights of my season (if it was a crappy season, the only highlight of my season, but let’s not digress).

For those who have never been to a training camp, you’re missing out. And here’s why.

First off, it’s not all about the training – if you just want ‘good’ training, go out for a 5 hour rollerski. By yourself. And then do some intervals. For me, at least part of the draw of a good camp was the proverbial ‘shooting of the shit’. For the first time in 6 months you get to catch up with the people you compete against around the province, and figure out what has changed.

This includes a whole truckload of things. Examples: checking out chicks/dudes from other clubs, finding out which dude you narrowly beat last season is now injured/dropped out/joined the military/grew two feet/took up fencing instead, introducing other dudes to your new ass-kicking teammate who’s going to rock the circuit to its foundation, talking smack about how much you trained/haven’t trained/plan on training, and giving the occasional beat down to some pasty freckled kid from Sault St. Marie/Timmins/Thunder Bay/Orillia in poker/soccer/Frisbee/wrestling/pushups/video games.

And that was usually just in the first 24 hours.

As things progress, you get to check out new training places, new training ideas, and listen to new coaches tell you new things (or so you think at the time – really they’re just saying the same thing as your own coach, but you’re actually listening). You get to show off your killer core work, your lack of upper body strength, and your ability to bonk like a champion and puke into the bushes in a four hour run. You get to sleep like a log, whine about getting up early to run, eat monstrous amounts of food, sweat buckets, and offend people with your teenage body odour.

But best of all, you get to do it with a pack of people who understand why you do it, organized by a bunch of people who want you to enjoy yourself.

Kieran Jones (l) meets Kieran Jones (r) and much fun ensues.

About 20 minutes into the monster SOD Camp at Hardwood Hills thi8s week (100+ athletes, 20+ coaches) I realized that in my coaching capacity, the same things still apply.

I ran into some guys I went to university with, caught up with them. Banged heads with a few coaches I knew, met a bunch more who I didn’t know, but now know. Had an awesome encounter with Kieran Jones (Juvenile Boy, about 5’3, from Hardwood – same name, and in the 10 minutes we hung out, just as awesome. He now understands why some guy was cheering for him at Ontario Cups this winter using his full name, and why he was often entered into the ‘University’ category.) Sat down with Harry Seaton from NDC Thunder Bay and caught up on his training season, and where some of the other guys we know are at.

Heck, I even did some exercise. I learned how to do some strength exercises, and did some running and rollerskiing. Lesson learned – coaches are an awesome crew, but as a group there is a reason that most of us are coaches, not athletes (most – there are some exceptions, but definitely not me).

I thought camps were awesome, and I still do. When planning on attending training camp, you can look at the schedule and see the different activities, but what you can’t see is the group interaction. It’s this attitude and experience that is the most valuable aspect of training camp participation, and the most impossible to explain when someone asks “how was the camp?”

My advice? Stop asking how the camp was, stop asking why they’re important, think broader than just specific races and training sessions, give it a chance, and go experience it yourself! Who knows – maybe you’ll find the experience as worthwhile as I have, for over 13 years of ski racing!

CNST World Cupper Len Valjas' presentation opened with this slide. The classi sprint at Nationals as a seond year Juvy boy - he was nice enough to point out he came 41st, and I finished two spots ahead of him. It got me a sarcastic round of appalause. Hey, any round of applause is welcome!

There is No Step Two

Friday, July 8th, 2011

“Step one, start running. There is no step two.”

With that neatly-summed up tidbit of wisdom from Barney Stinson (of How I Met Your Mother fame) in my mind, the 42.2 km running tour of Ottawa began.

Now, I could run step-by-step through the marathon process, but that would take quite a while. I was out there for a little over three and a half hours, and there are a lot of specifics which I don’t really remember. I mostly just remember how much my legs hurt.

Anyway – the real goal of this post-post-marathon blog (which is by now several months stale) is to talk about the act of running a marathon – key word is running, rather than racing.

First of all, it should be no great surprise how I felt after finishing. Tired. Hungry. Relief. Wet. Sweaty. More tired. All of those things pretty accurately depict what crossing the finish line. Especially the hungry. I went out for lunch with parents, went home for a nap, ate a medium pizza, sat on the couch, and then ate a burger. It was delicious.

But after some reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that at least for me, marathon running is a bit confusing.

I have to be honest, I have no idea where this picture was taken, but I don't think I was kicking ass

When I got to the 19 km mark, things were still going well. I had energy, I had enthusiasm, I was well under pace, and I had the delusional goal that I was going to put together a charge at some point in the final 10 km and catch my Dad.

Roughly 2 km later at the halfway mark, I still felt fairly enthusiastic, but the wind was coming out of my sails a little.

And then around 28 km, the realization that I had run further than I had ever raced before, and that there was a very real possibility that I wasn’t going to stop running for at least another hour and a half really hit home.

At that point, it quickly ceased to be a race. The guy pacing the 3:20 marathon went by with a big pack of runners. I kept my head down, and let them go. Running through some of Ottawa’s most diverse neighbourhoods with a bunch of friends and family making random appearances on the side of the road, I was hurting. At the 32 km mark, with just 10 km to go (which took me an hour and seven minutes to run, compared to the 46:16 which I ran the first 10 km in, yeah, I know), the course wound back to a point where you could see the finish – but you had to run out and back to get to it. This was the really painful part – where I realized that just getting to the finish was going to be a real challenge. (I also realized that looking a little bit closer at the course map would have been a good idea – why are there so many bridges on the Rideau Canal??)

That point where it stopped being a race really confused me. I’ve done some long workouts before, long hikes, long rollerskis, but the max I have ever raced in running shoes is 25 km, the max I have ever raced on skis in 30 km. Sure, I may not have done all that well (as mentioned before, I got killed by Graham Nishikawa by 10 minutes in the 30 km) but both were still races by the time I neared the end.

I always have a race plan in the back of my mind – it sometimes gets a little mixed up, but it’s always there. But at some point during the hellish middle 10 km, that kind of disappeared, as while my legs were rioting like Vancouver following the Stanley Cup, my brain decided to follow suit and close up shop.

With a little under 10 k left, I'm in shut-down mode.

But the last 2 km really sums up how I feel about marathons. With just over 2000 meters to go, I took a look behind me and saw the 3:30 pace guy slowly creeping up. With 1 km to go, he passed me with a horde of people who were gunning for a sub-3:30 time. Now, I don’t mean to brag, but if there is one thing that Kieran never lacks, it’s a finishing kick. If you want to beat me in a race, lose me before the last km, or else be prepared for a fight.

But in my marathon – and this is the absolute worst part about it – that fight was gone. My internal dialogue went something like this: “Oh, there’s the 3:30 pace guy. That’s what I hope to run. There’s only one km to go. I can stay with him.” Two steps later. “Nope, I can’t. Oh well. Guess it won’t be a 3:30 day for me.”

Realizing that you can’t come up with enough hustle with 1/42th of a marathon remaining is pretty demoralizing.

So when people come up to me and ask me how the marathon went, and I shrug, and say “It was okay, I ran a 3:30,” I’m being totally honest. It’s good, but I’m not ecstatic, because it wasn’t really a competition. And in any other race I’ve done where I have switched from competition mode to survival mode, it has not been a good thing.

So for my first marathon, it wasn’t a bad time. It was interesting, an experience, and I’m going to have to whitewash the memories of it for a few more months before I sign up for another, but basically, Barney Stinson really was right – there is no step two.

Brad and I mugging for a photo post-marathon, Brad looking surprisingly fresh for running his 30th consecutive Ottawa Marathon in a time of 3:15, or 15 minutes better than me

Up next in the blogosphere – when a Canadian and an American road trip to Maine via Montreal, stuff happens, including Bixi bikes, guns, and lobsters. Stay tuned!

Marathon May

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

In my last blog I alluded to some disgusting-ness happening in May.

For those not up on their Ottawa-area athletic calendars, I was referring to the Ottawa race weekend, and more specifically, the Ottawa marathon.

Yeah, I signed up to run 42.2 km. I think I signed up accidentally. Which is impressive, seeing as an entry fee is about $100.

But really, I blame most of it on my first real run of the season. In March I was still in Canmore after Canadian Nationals. I was sitting at my sisters’ dining room table on my computer, idly tapping away at some business or other, when I realized I really wanted to be outside. And I didn’t want to go nordic skiing – there had been way too much of that. So instead, unbidden, I slapped on my shoes and toured Canmore on foot for a little over an hour.

And it was awesome! I felt super good, despite it being my first real run in about a month. I started feeling invincible, and as every athlete knows, that’s a dangerous place to go. The seed was planted.

After arriving home in Ottawa, I went for a run with a good friend (let’s call him ‘Aaron’), and we started talking about our running goals for the summer. About 30 minutes into our run, the conversation turned to the marathon weekend, and despite the fact that the event was over 2 months away, due to the over-eager running community in Ottawa, we realized our only option for action on the Ottawa Race weekend was the marathon (everything else was sold out).

At this point, a third person enters the narrative – one Brad Jones, otherwise known as Dad, B-Rad, or my father. When Brad crosses the finish line of the Ottawa marathon on May 29, he will have ran his 30th consecutive Ottawa marathon. That’s right, 30 years in a row. Brad has ran the marathon for more years in a row than I have done anything in my life.

While Aaron and I debated the merits of doing 30 marathons, we started edging closer to the decision (insert throw-away joke about Lebron James here, if basketball is your thing. If not, ignore).

When it comes to running, Brad and I have a history. While it started much earlier in life when he really liked running and I didn’t, things heated up last summer when Brad and I had a bit of a running tilt going. We ran a few road races, I talked a lot of trash, he did a lot of good running, but ultimately I managed to be a little bit faster, mostly in the last 100 m of races. But it was a ton of fun.

While Brad is accusing me of running the marathon primarily to blog about it (which is at least partially true, but only because I have written critically-acclaimed race-blogs in the past), it’s also because I have a lot of respect for him. If he can run 30 consecutive marathons, the least I can do is make sure I run one with him, using ‘with’ as a pretty loose term here.

Also, it may be his last. He has decided that 30 years of Ottawa marathon-ing may be enough. That he can step back, and let someone else run a few blocks in Canada’s capital. And if it’s going to be his last, I better show up and see if I can at least survive one.

I am harboring no illusions as to the quality of marathon I will be running. While I can run (ie: one foot in front of the other, repeat), I’m not exactly Usain Bolt, Steve Prefontaine, or even fellow FasterSkier blogger Justin Freeman. It is extremely unlikely that I will be challenging Brad for Jones family marathon supremacy. I have actually written a previous blog about how I am not ready to take on Brad in a marathon, but as previously stated, the situation snuck up on me, and things are getting real.

In 16 days and 9 hours I will be standing on the start line. People are continuously asking me how the training is going, etc. But here’s the thing – I’ll be ready to go. Because if I’m not, Brad will never let me hear the end of it. And if the last 30 years are any indication, he’ll stick to it.

Brad (l) and Kieran (r) hitting up some crunchy snacks in Canmore over Christmas

Running: It’s Rad

Monday, April 25th, 2011

First of all, it’s easy. Can you put one foot in front of the other? Yes? Okay, now do it a little faster, and you’re running. You don’t have to be good at it, you just do it.

You don’t need coordination; you don’t need skill; you don’t need a stick, ball, bat, skates, mask, club, net, pads, lines, goals. Shit, you don’t even need friends, although sometimes they do come in handy, especially when running in rural settings with many angry dogs.

You can go from pure couch-sitting nacho-eating debauchery to physical activity in 60 seconds. Just slap on some shoes, shorts, maybe a shirt if that’s your thing, and you’re out the door.  You need shoes, shorts, and a little willpower to get out the door. You don’t need to drive anywhere, pack anything, put any stupid little shoes on, pay money, wear a helmet, or organize. You’re practically out the door before you can make excuses as to why you shouldn’t be going running.

Second, for me, it’s the last true disconnect. Because of what I do, I find myself sitting in front of my computer a lot at home. There is a TV, a radio, a cell-phone, and all manner of fun things to distract me. Partly distracting me from doing work, but also just from thinking.

When I’m running, I’m unplugged. There is no email to check, no text messages to receive, no SportsCenter to watch, iTunes to listen to, or Faces to book. The fact that no one can contact me when I’m out there is probably the single greatest draw. It’s not that I’m insanely popular, and that I’m overwhelmed with people wanting to talk to me – I have an average amount of emails and phone calls, but I’m addicted to checking to see whether I have anything new.

Running prevents me from doing those things unnecessarily. If I counted the number of times I checked Facebook and my email while writing this blog and found nothing it would be embarrassing.

Oh, and lastly, why I run right now, in the month of April? Because if I don’t, Sunday, May 29th will be the most painful day of my life, but that’s a story for another day…

This has nothing to do with running, but it is what happens when you leave for a month and your potatos try to escape