Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Shame Hour in Ruhpolding

          Last week was the fifth world cup series of the season. Not unlike past years the staple that is Ruhpolding was the site of a relay, sprint, and pursuit. Winter was in full force. Snow fell in thick flakes for about five of the seven days the circuit was there. In the end, the upward trend I set in Oberhof took a dive with one too many trips to the penalty loop. Hopes are still high and theses days any start spot on the world cup is a learning experience. Good results or not so good are helpful in building to the next race.

        My one and only start was the sprint race. With a full team of five men I was the reserve for the relay. Relay's tend to favor fast and accurate shooters which is not my strong point yet. For the first time in my (world cup) racing career I was bib number one. It's technically random, but the coaches put me in the first seed, thus giving me the chance of drawing bib one. The crowd was about what I expected from Ruhpolding. This means large and energetic. Still, after the WC in Nove Mesto the energy in the stadium hasn't been the same. It's much more calm by comparison. The first three shots in prone felt like hits and were. The last two slipped out of my focus and didn't go down. Standing was a repeat story. I knew how to hit the targets, but wasn't able to execute it five times in a row. Biathlon showed it's cruel side yet again. 60% shooting on a day that demanded 90% or better was plenty to put me out of the glory zone.
   
        Not all was a loss. As I said, the first three shots in prone felt like hits and were. In the past I've had stages that ended in with a question mark over my head. The feeling behind each shot would be unknown, regardless of whether or not it was a hit. In this most recent race, I can recall the hits feeling solid and and the misses feeling like poorly timed mistakes. I deserved the results of my shooting that day.  The Ruhpolding course profile isn't the best for my style. The conditions were hard packed and it's not devoid of steep climbs. However, the flat stretches and broken up climbs make it a challenge for me. Oberhof was great, with the brutal unforgiving hill right out of the stadium and simple downhills. If you could stack the two hills in Ruhpolding's 3.3km loop one on top of the other I would be ready to go. With that in mind, I was pleased with the ski effort on the day.

      When you don't make the pursuit you're left to ensure that you'll be ready for the next race. In this case, it's next Friday. Just because you don't have a race effort in the mix for Sunday doesn't mean you get to sit in the hotel room and bide your time. No, you pack up your gear and get ready for a workout hard enough to replace the race you're not competing in. The women and men both had the their pursuit on Sunday. This meant leaving from the hotel early. The real let down in this session is that it's obvious what you're up to. You didn't make the pursuit and now you have to weave through the wax techs to make up for it. I've been in this slot so many times before, I've started calling it "shame training."

       With the penalty loop and loss of a pursuit start behind me I can move on to the next opportunity. Currently, the team is in Antholze. At the the SeeHause. This hotel restaurant is about a five minute ski up from the venue. I'm anxious for a another start. The energy in the legs is feeling good; better than it was in December. It's never fun to have a poor result and have to wait it out for another week to prove otherwise, but compared to past years that's a significantly reduced wait time.

       

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Winds Of Opportunity

Extra blue classic skiing. Great Success!
      I can't remember a time when racing in Oberhof didn't involve challenge weather conditions. While it was great to have plenty of hard packed snow last week, the wind and bitter cold temps made the racing difficult. Other years it has been rain or fog during the op

ening WC of the second trimester. That being said, I would rather deal with a cold wind over a damp drizzle. Not unlike weather in Oberhof, I've had plenty of demoralizing results there. That's why last week was boon for the old confidence.
   
      I can seldom warm up in the USBA down jacket without overheating. This was one of those seldom occasions. None of the athletes were in a rush to line up in their lanes at the start of the pursuit. It didn't help that so much of the course and stadium was vulnerable to wind chill. Still, no one was going to give up and the race started without a hitch. For whatever reason the bulk of the field does not take it easy on the first loop. I prefer to pace myself, but in this case it's best to find a good draft and keep up. I couldn't feel my fingers for the first prone and had two misses. With a couple of penalty laps I move down a few places. I took a few clicks before the second prone stage and cleaned. Range time was nothing special but it would have to do.
   
      Going through the stadium on my third loop I could see a lot of athletes in front of me cycling through the penalty loop. Was it that windy? Yes, yes it was. I almost made it out of my first standing with clean shooting. The last target didn't follow the others, unfortunately. I could see that 4/5 wasn't too bad on the day as I was in 35th on my fourth loop. My hands were still too cold to fully feel the trigger and I was loosing time just trying to load the mags into the chamber. I missed two in my last standing, after really hoping for a clean. Spirits were lifted after I glanced at the the racer shooting next to me. We were leaving at the same time, but his target had four penalties. Apparently it really was windy. The legs weren't feeling too springy on the last loop, but I was able to hold onto 34th place.

      We're only two races into the second series bout. Both of which, looked good, but I would like to keep the trend going. This is much easier said than done. Last week's races were great for me because it's the best result on the world cup circuit I've had in years. Not only that, but the top 40 score WC points. The relay in Rupholding is today. I'm the reserve man, but will have a race bib for Friday's sprint. The conditions are nice, the course profile ins't my favorite, and the crowd is very loud. Stay tuned for more updates.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Oberhof

       There are a few things that come to mind when I hear the word "Oberhof." One is spectator count, one is the climb right out of the stadium, and of course the wind, rain, and fog are safely in the mix. Unlike past years, this year brought us enough snow and it doesn't look like it's going to rain while we're here. The wind has made it's presence felt every day so far. Instead of rain we've trained and almost raced in heavy snow fall. As always, this made for a "could have been better, and could have been worse" kind of result.
     
         The men's sprint race was yesterday. It was snowing sideways for the majority of zero and warm up. The coach and I had to screwdriver the ice bits off my bolt to let the firing pin work consistently. All ten shots left the barrel without a glitch. I didn't have take clicks in prone, but had one miss in a mediocre 45 second range time. Standing had a slight breeze. Enough to acknowledge, but not enough to blame two misses on (let's go with one miss and call it even). My rear sight had some snow in them and I had to blow it out. This, coupled with some off timing cost me two misses and a less then capable range time. Still, I wasn't the only one with a few too many misses and ski speed was feeling good. The lack of snow falling from the sky at the start of the race only favored the later starters. It's rare when this happens, but every once in a while an early start isn't the advantage. I was pleased to have the 25th fasted ski time. 46th overall on the day, safely in the pursuit and within striking distance of WC points.

       I was very pleased with the outcome of the sprint. I wasn't expecting to be named to WC4, so just having a start was a plus. While the conditions did favor me, the spring in the legs was better today than it has been so far this season. Shooting has room for improvement and lately the chance to improve feels more plausible than it has in the past. With so many parts that could go wrong it's hard to believe a perfect race could happen, but this applies to everyone. The women race their sprint today and both pursuits are tomorrow.  Feel free to tune in.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Na Morave Nove Mesto

Tim's feeble attempt to be as cool as me.
       That moment when you realize you've amassed a collection of colossal mistakes in your athletic career hit for me last Saturday. I was sitting in the changing cabin, the pursuit wasn't fully over, but I was still there with my rifle and skis intact. After a month of racing, I had had a glitch free enough race to make the pursuit competition despite one of the toughest fields yet. Still, my luck ran out at about 1.5 kms into the race that day. This is the rundown of pandemonium in Nove Mesto last week and why I'm still feeling good about next year.  

Nice work Nove Mesto in getting the word out that biathlon is fun to watch!
       In case you didn't see any coverage of the world cup last week the crowd size out stripped Oberhof. Oberhof is the next world cup site and is know for drawing in tens of thousands of spectators. We're unsure about the total number of spectators but the decibels of screaming volume was indisputably louder than any other venue. Every last fan that showed up to watch the races was into the spirit of racing. We all knew our sport was popular in Europe, but this really drove the point home. After this week everyone one was wondering if Nove Mesto would become a staple on the year too year IBU race itinerary.
Did I mention I we didn't see the sun since we left Pokljuka?
      If there was one reason not to race there more often it was the living standards. Our hotel rooms were suspicious from day one. Tim and Lowell were congested and there were less teams staying in the hotel then there was back during the 2013 World Champs. I thought about opening the window; an obvious solution to vent out the room. Unfortunately, in the Czech rep. that means inviting the smell of burning coal. There wasn't much I could do. I survived the first two days and thought I was in the clear. This was a false hope, as I woke up with similar symptoms on the day of the sprint race. Thankfully, the feeling in the legs were holding on well. I didn't have any other choice; the race was going to happen.
        I don't like to rush shots, especially in prone. I would rather know beyond a nervous doubt that the target is going to fall. But that's not enough anymore. You have to ski fast, hit every target, and do so quickly. I went for a much more aggressive approach. Still holding on to some control, I was able to leave prone in 38 seconds with one miss. Afterword, the coaches on the range told me that a minor breeze had picked up in the middle of my stage. Just enough to push a shot out. This is not an excuse, but it did make me feel better about my new process. I took another miss in standing. No wind, but super high pressure on myself. We had good skis that day (by we I mean Lowell and I, Tim was sick) which came in handy on such a fast loop. I finished in 55th. While not the result I was hoping for it was significantly relieving not to be 61st.
      And just like that I was in the pursuit. The head cold had far from run it's course. I wasn't feeling the greatest, but the warm up before the race felt better as it went on. One of the downhill corners on the 2.5km loop wasn't progressing well as the day went on. It was turning into a sheet of ice more than it was groomed snow. Everything was in place. The race plan was memorized, all that was left was to execute it. What I didn't expect was the iced over corner being more lethal than I remembered. Loop one and I'm down. One second you're riding a safe draft and the next you're grinding your rifle into the snow as you crash into the banner. Nothing was in two or more pieces, so the race wasn't over yet. Place 59 was still in site at that point. When I set up for prone I couldn't see through my sites. I got out of position and blew into the sites, reset and still couldn't see. After about three aggressive attempts to clear out the rear site I was able to aim at the target. Now remember the part about grinding my rifle into the snow. Well, turns out that was enough to push the zero four clicks to the left. A good group, though it was, four clicks to one side is all you need to miss all five targets.
          At this point confidence and motivation levels were shot. My goal was to hang on and make the most of the effort the coaches and ski techs put into me that day. Results were out of the question. The only question left was "how many more loops can Russell complete before he is pulled for being lapped?" The answer was three. I took the corrections and only missed two on the next stage, and even cleaned my first stage of standing. At that point Martin Fourcade was in for his last standing. My pathetic attempt at a pursuit race was over.
       
          With my semi race over the end of the first trimester was fully over. Turns out I wasn't the only athlete to go down on that corner. One of the Czech team athletes went down and broke his stock. The women's mass start switched from a 5 by 2.5km race to a 6 by 2km course, to avoid the same corner. I spent the following Sunday packing, getting lost on a run in the forest, and working with a US precision shooter. The same athlete I had been working with over skype earlier in the year. We moved a few components around to have a more stable base. It's going to take a little while to break in, but I confident in the science behind it.  With those changes coupled with a more aggressive approach to range times the new year could be a grand one. It could also be another series of messes. That's just how it works. I look forward to building on the ski speed fitness over Christmas into January.
Would like to thank the GPS function on my watch that lead me back to the hotel.

           It's looking like I'll be heading to Martell, Italy for an IBU cup in January. The last time I was in Martell was for an IBU cup back in 2008. From there I can't say, but the goal is to be in Rupholding for another chance at some world cup success. The conditions back home look surprisingly great. I haven't seen real winter since the first race in Beitostolen, Norway. December didn't turn out as great as the coaches and I were hoping, but the break down looks promising. It has been somewhere between worse than the 2012/13 season, but much better than the 2015/16 season. As always, thanks for checking in on my sparingly updated blog.

      And yes, merry Christmass n' stuff.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Seconds

       The second world cup weekend took place in Pokljuka, Slovenia. An always favorite among the teams. Great views and A+ weather this year help keep Pokljuka in the top tier for race sites. There was only trace amounts of snow at the venue and no snow to be found down the mountain in Bled. Still, this past week proved how significant a trace amount of something can be. Whether it's a slight miss hasp with a magazine sending it over the firing line, a slight lack of confidence on the downhill corner or simply taking a little to long on the range, it doesn't take much to push you back in the result list with today's world cup field. Here is the limiting factor to my not making the pursuit, why the US team was not in the relay, and what I'm going for this week.

One of the start up default pictures for Windows 10 is a picture of this exact view. I knew it look familiar.
      Ski speed was decent. I did some intensity without shooting a few days prior to the sprint. There were a lot of hidden places to gain and lose time if you weren't paying attention. The snow was perfect all week; firm and responsive to a ski, but not bullet proof. At only a minute out from the race leader Martin Fourcade I had the 44th ranked ski time. The top 15 was a list of zero's stacked one on top the other. The wind was down and anything less than zero misses was a flaw. But the further down the list the more you could see ones and twos. I only had two misses. It was the first shot of each stage. Missing your fist shot means holding on to the next four for dear life. That mentality coupled with an already slow range time in general did not help my cause. It wasn't the tight ski times, it wasn't the high level of shooting that pushed me out of the top 60. This time it was the amount of time I spent on the shooting mat. A couple of decades ago and I would have been average. These days anything more than 40 seconds in prone is a free giveaway. Two less misses sure would have been nice, but even a five second drop in prone time would have put me in the pursuit race the following day.

      It's not easy to bring range time down. When you only have 10 shots to work with and the standards are high you tend to be a little more cautious. However, shooting well and skiing fast aren't enough anymore, you have to do both of those and not waste anytime doing them. With virtually no time to carefully solve this, my coach and I decided that I should do the pursuit on my own, later on the day when the world cup pursuit races were over. This time I was supposed to simply "go for it," for lack of a better description. As if cleaning a stage under pressure and a heart rate of 180 wasn't enough challenge, try doing so in no more than 40 seconds. It ended up being a solid time trial. Shooting was 75%, but the drop in range time made it a better overall performance than the sprint race the day before.
       The sprint race last Friday was my one and only world cup race. There was a relay on Sunday and all three of us were feeling good to go. With five start spots it's hard to think we wouldn't have a relay team available. Unfortunately Leif broke his toe while roller skiing on a treadmill. That's two bad things in one setting. Sean hasn't been with us this trimester because he is still recovering from mono. Instead, the team went for an easy classic distance the morning before the race. Admittedly, it was a nice day for easy classic, but we sure would have rather been competing.

        Now the field is in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. The first race in the men's sprint starting Friday evening. I'm not much for evening races, but I do like the course here. A push for better range times is a must, but with this sport you can't make any bold promises. So, with that said here's to one last shot at glory before the Xmas break.
The hotel manager said he used to enjoy walking out on the lake this time of year when it used to freeze  over.





     

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Ostersund 2016


       "One miss and good skis, I thought for sure a top 15 was doable." That was Tim commenting on the sprint race last Saturday in regards to finishing 29th and the standard the men's field had set that afternoon. It's nothing shy of hostile on the results list out there. Still, if you break down the numbers this has been one of the strongest starts to the season yet. I can't recall ever having a super result in Ostersund. Last week didn't prove otherwise, but the reasoning to stay optimistic is still alive.

        Ostersund's facility is enormousness. The stadium is surrounded by two large buildings and the smaller storage buildings are around every corner. It dwarfs other venues like the one here in Poklijuka, Slovenia or the two in northern Maine. The course has it's nice parts, but is far from my style. It's wide enough to have your own space and still closed in enough to feel like home. On the other hand the less than stable conditions and technical downhills bring it down a notch for me. The temps this year were on the warmer side compared to past experiences. The "feels like" temps were on the colder side with the humid wind always making an obnoxious appearance.

      The individual must have been an interesting one to watch because racing in it certainly was. I used the first loop as a chance to see how the corners were holding up after the early race seeds had been on it. The loop wasn't getting any worse. It was in that sugary deep form before the race started. One of the faster corners on the loop was surprisingly staying solid. Still, this wasn't enough to stop me from losing the skis from under my feet. I went down on the first loop in a section that you wouldn't want to lose speed on. I had hoped the loss of time was the only set back the fall had caused. Unfortunately, the rear side of my rifle's stock took on some damage. This was made clear during the set up for my first stage of prone. The now free moving and component missing stock didn't help with the already chaotic winds. The end result was a decent race that could have been much worse and also much better. With two races into the season I had yet to have a glitch free experience.

     The sprint was actually a solid race. No falls, a fully repaired stock, and no MIA magazines. Even the wind took a break for our race. The result list post race wasn't what I was hoping for, but with so many athletes jostling for their own good result it's difficult to leave a mark. We're looking at about 80 athletes that are all capable of a top 40 fighting for the top 60 cut off. Skis felt fast. Our wax team did what they are good at. Energy was decent, sub perfect, but better than training season level. With no wind, shooting 2,1 (70%) wasn't good enough. Other years, my average was in the 50% range, with less than expected ski speed. So you can see why the break down holds promise despite not making the pursuit.

     Just when we all thought the level of the men's world cup field had reached it's peak, the sprint race in Ostersund proves otherwise. That didn't stop Tim and Lowell from a few top 15 results. I was about 15 seconds down from the those two in ski speed. With Ostersund over another chance for success is near. Everyone is in a good mood to see the sun blazing through the windows right now in Bled, Slovenia. All I can do is take the learning experience from last week and apply it to a new race this week. Keep the IBU site open on your browser this Friday!

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Beitostolen Breakdown

Here are the details about the IBU cup today in Beitostolen, Norway. No fluffy intro this time. Lets cut right to meat and potatoes of how it went and what it means for the racing season.

- Nice course profile, lots of snow, warm today, stable conditions.
- Legs felt a little heavy during the race. Might have been the two days of travel or six hours of jet lag, or the lack of race prep
- Very windy! Misses were more frequent than normal for the IBU cup field.
- Almost lost my cuff before the race. Found it, had a back up cuff ready to go otherwise
- Missed my first two in prone on the right, last three went down when the wind let up slightly
Accidentally ejected a magazine in standing! Shouted for spare. Single USA coach was on the course with my back up. Range officials eventually figured out the reason for my hysteria and I was able to complete my standing stage. 
- Missed last two in standing and about a minute plus in range time.
- Good ski speed, despite a one man wax team. Tenth fastest! 
- Result was a 111 point race. I needed to be under 125 points to race the WC in Ostersund.
- In the car with Jonas right now on our way to Ostersund.
- The faster route is snowed in. Now we're hoping for a sub nine hour trek.