Saturday, March 11, 2017

Back to Otepaa

      The Tehvandi stadium in Otepaa Estonia is a nice venue. The presentation of the whole facility is impressive. The wax cabins to starting pen isn't far apart, despite the size of the place. That much, is rare with the modern biathlon venue. I wish I could say my performance this week was as equally impressive. I'm happy to say it wasn't that bad either, all things considered. What's more, is that it's not fully over either.

      Grinding out this clingy cold and sore throat from Kontiolahti was the focal point of my week. The sooner I can rid myself of it the sooner I can race at full capacity. Every time you get sick you never truly know how long it's going to last. This time around it was a solid ten plus days. I was tired of having to sit back and willfully retreat from racing because I simply got unlucky. That's often what it seemingly amounts to. My chances to prove myself on the Euro circuit were dwindling. The only option was to go for it, 100% or not.

      The races consisted of a single mixed relay, followed by two sprints, and a regular mixed relay on the last day. The single mixed relay only uses 1.5km loops. It's a little difficult to explain the mechanics of the single mixed relay, but lets just say I wasn't up to the task skiing wise and while shooting was actually not too bad, it wasn't enough for a note worthy result. That was okay with me, I wanted something to wake system up both mentally and physically.

      The first sprint was an odd one. In most cases you want to start in the first or second seed. This means you are on the course while it's still in the best shape. Thus giving you an advantage in ski time. On Thursday's sprint this was the case ten fold. It wasn't exactly snowing, but the snow was losing it's form fast. Even starting in the top ten vs the top thirty made a noticeable difference. I was lucky just to have bib 26. I recall finishing the race and assuming that it wasn't a good day. Shooting was solid 1,1 80%, but the system still wasn't firing at max from being sick. In the end it was on the better side of decent. Whether it was from the top quality training in Antholz or the relatively early start number is unclear, but I was aiming to improve on it.

      Today was the closest I've been to homeostasis since the individual in Finland last week. My throat is still a sore and sinuses aren't clear yet, but it's not consuming my full attention anymore. Nothing went colossally wrong today. Everything went somewhere between okay and mediocre. I'm not convinced we hit the skies today. If we did then the Norwegians and Russians hit it much better than anyone else.  Both teams were able to glide away from me when I was in there draft. I missed my first shot in prone, but carefully hit the next four. I wanted a clean standing so badly it worked against me. The pressure got to me and I missed two in standing. Still, 70% isn't terrible. The conditions were slushy. I had an early start number, but the start order was less detrimental today. I'm not as doomed in slushy conditions as I used to be. I've worked on the technique needed to race in this stuff. Still, whether it was the skis, the week plus of sickness, or unfavorable conditions I was unable to have the result I knew I could have had in different circumstances.

       That's how the sport works. One of opportunity and frustration. Tomorrow is the last race. The mixed relay. I seldom have the chance to race in relays because I'm usually told they favor shooting too much. The way I see it, one of the best ways to be better at relays is to do them in the first place. Which is exactly what's happening tomorrow. Overall the past few weeks have been alright. I was able to recover from the low point of the season that was IBU cup 6. One last race and then it's a shenanigan to make it back state side. Wish me luck for both endeavors.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

DNS 2017

          Only in endurance sports can a minor cold and sore throat make such an end all debut for an athlete. If you've checked the results for today's IBU cup sprint you'll find my name on the bottom next to a "DNS." I Did Not Start because I was clearly sick this morning. For about an hour I toyed with the decision to go for it anyways and playing the cautious card by staying in my room all day. I painfully opted out of racing and here is why.

         When your sick your system has to prioritize fighting off the bad guys. When you're racing your system has to fight off oxygen dept on par with life or death situations. Thus, you only have so much real-estate to work with and you don't want to be allotting some of that to a stuffy nose and scratchy throat.  I've raced well sick, it's rare, but some of my best races have been while undeniably sick. But those days are unlikely. More often than not, ski speed takes a dive in these situations. Back in January of this year I was forced to race sick (World Champs team naming) and went from having a ninth fastest ski time to a 50 something... It pretty much restricts that top end gear, similar to racing during a heavy training block.

        That's not all, lets not forget about the aftermath of racing sick. Once you've run your system through a hard effort the endorphins ware off and the infection takes advantage of a tired athlete. I once did an eastern XC cup race when I was a junior. I had been on the edge of sick or not sick all week. I didn't need to race that weekend, but I was fed up with sitting in van for eight hours only to sit around and watch some ski academy school kids race their home course to victory. It was also cold that day and my lower back was seized up. Still, I ignored all the warning sings and went for it. This was one of those rare occasions of racing well. It was a great race, but my throat was so infected afterwords that I had trouble breathing that night and had to go on antibiotics the next day. Another example: to go back to the race in January of this year, after not racing well, it only got worse. I ran a fever the next day and wasn't able to fully recover for about tens day.  The race of the following week was the worst on the season.

          So with that in mind, it might seem pretty clear to not race today. On the other hand, my shooting was feeling the best it has all season and the course here in Kontiolahti favors me. With a price tag on this particular week of racing I really wasn't in the mood not to get out and fight. The real reason that made me feel better about my decision was considering the opportunity of next week. The Otepaa venue in Estonia is a nice one, though the course is not my favorite. Still, we have two relays and two sprints crammed into one week. Two sprints is a grand opportunity to work with. If I took my chances today I would be gambling with performance both today and next week. If I lay low and recover I open up a better chance of success next week. If you look at my shooting times, you'll see that I'm not much for taking chances.

         While, no one has seen the sun in Kontilahti, it has been warm. While I didn't race today I did have a solid performance on Thursday's individual. Ski speed was up there on day when I didn't even feel great. Shooting was mostly there, aside from the last stage, even when the nerves kicked in. Overall, the move to train on my own for three weeks in Antholz seems to be panning out well. With a top 20 at an IBU cup under my belt I have something to hold onto in the worse case. With next week's races on the itinerary it's far from that worse case. For now, I'm going to hit the zing lozenges until this cold and sore throat are done with me.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Grinding Through Imperfections

No time for fluff. Here is the pseudo bulleted break down of the individual format today in Kontiolahti, Finland.

-- Early start, for whatever reason the whopping one hour time change has been difficult.
-- Energy didn't feel great yesterday or today. No particular reason, but sometimes the legs are heavy.
-- Tricky choosing skis, had to factor in snow fall and different parts of the course.
-- Zero was good. Only 15 shots needed total.
-- Still tired leading up to start.
-- Started the race off with a pole break. Couldn't even make it out of the starting gate correctly.
-- A profanity and some one pole skiing was how the first 200 meters of the race was.
-- Acquired a spare pole, not mine but an improvement over only one.
-- Acquired my spare pole a few hundred meters before the shooting range.
-- Not a fast range time, but a clean one.
-- Slammed some honey water on the second loop, it is 20km afterall
-- Still taking my time I missed the last shot in standing
-- Conditions are starting to wear thin on me. Already counting down the 4km laps left to go
-- Nervous, but in control I clean both prone stages. A rare sight and one that feels great.
-- Miss my feed hand off and have to get it at a different spot.
-- Feeling good about one more standing stage.
-- Proceed to miss low twice adding a healthy two minutes on to my time.
-- Legs are not into the last loop and breathing is now a pathetic wheeze.
-- Finish 17th. Almost great! But further from bad than most of the season.
-- Like the course profile. Don't like the conditions.
-- Need to be more smooth with transitions and tactics.
-- Maybe not miss two in my last stage.

       I hope that sums it up. It was good day and Saturday's sprint race could be a good one to. Finland is alright. If you like your own space and strive to avoid social confrontations, or maybe you just really like all things licorice then Finland is for you. Not much for pictures yet. We've been working with overcast so far and it hasn't made for any good photo moments yet.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Less Text More Pixels Round Two

It sure is nice when you make it to top of the pass. 
This was taken in almost the same location as the previous one. I guess the fog decided to roll in that day.
It started to feel a little creepy after a few laps.

One of my first memories of racing in Antholz is skiing on this lake.

While on the fog topic, it started to creep down into the valley that afternoon.

The SeeHause 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Meanwhile in Antholz

        What a week this has been. First off, congratulations to Lowell Baily on a world champs win. Secondly, training has been going well... great. Performance level is back on the rise. And thirdly, I know what the rest of the season is going to look like for me. It's not all that I hoped for, but there is still room for hope.
        After so many years in this sport, I can say that results don't always dictate the most committed athletes. I still maintain that you can't argue with results and shouldn't make excuses, but it's demoralizing when the sacrifices you've made for decades don't have the results you know they can. More so when anyone out of the top ten isn't considered note worthy. It's as if you didn't exist. Did the training I did from the age of 14 on never happen? Will there ever be a podium for the "They Tried" format?

      Watching Lowell secure a full blown win last Thursday made me think that there is in hope for the determined. Admittedly, Lowell is super talented, but I will back that he has put in the effort and work to fully deserve that win. I can only imagine (and I do, frequently) what it must have been like to cross the finish line after 20km of racing and see your name on top of the world. There you have it folks, the American's broke the threshold and won, at world champions no less.

       As for Stockholm, Maine's team? Well, for being denied a spot on the world champs team this is a decent second place of a situation to be in. The weather in Antholz never takes a day off. It has been sunny and warm everyday so far. With out a scope or any zero paper the shooting training has been fully functional. The Australian team has been around to help with zero and the range is always ready do go regardless. The shooting percentage is back on the upswing. I've put the last few races behind and worked towards building the confidence back up. A minor adjustment to the focus process has made the difference. The last two weeks have been a mix of long distance classic sessions and top quality intensity sessions with shooting. Next week will still take place in Antholz. The plan has an increase in the amount of intensity. The goal is to push the amount of race like training sessions while keeping the legs fresh. That will put the fitness at a peak for March.

       From Antholz the 2016/17 season has me in Kontilahti, Finland. It's the IBU cup race, not the WC. It wasn't easy when I learned that the pre-Olympic WC or Korea wasn't going to happen. It all came down to one WC point. It hurt to think of how many different ways I could have changed that outcome. Some I could control and others were pure bad luck. Still, that one point difference will keep me out of the entire last trimester. Have I mentioned this is a cruel sport to pursue?

         On the positive side, Kontiolahti is nice place to race. The course isn't half bad. I've have an individual, sprint, and pursuit to work with. The last IBU cup for the season is in Otepaa, Estonia. Another place I've competed at. That one will have a cluster of relay formats. Who knows, maybe I'll get to race a relay this season after all.

         So far this has been the season of  "could have been worse and could have been better." It really is scary to think of what could have been if only a few parts had panned out differently. This isn't untrue for a lot of athletes, but if I swear I'm prone to bad luck when it comes to this. I so sorely wanted to be on the Korea WC team and I missed a chance to see a lot of old faces at the world champs. On the other hand this has been a monumental step up from last year. That was the closest I've ever been to calling it quits for good. I didn't, hung on for another year, scored WC points, and now I'm soaking up the sun in Antholz training for more Euro racing. So call it what you want. All I can do is make the most of training next week. If I can put it together in March this could be a spectacular season.

Pictures to come...

Friday, February 10, 2017

Set Backs and Resets

Nice weather for our drive from Poland down to Slovakia.
        There are various levels of athletes in this sport. Some have been on the world cup year after year for more than decade, others seldom make it beyond the NorAm cup scene. Then there is the middle zone athletes. The ones that have been on top and had the time of there life while also having been kicked in the teeth and pushed straight down to the bottom. Guess which area I fall into? With that in mind, you never really know where I might end up. I was on the first and second WC trimester of this season and yet I won't be competing at the World Champs in Hochfilzen. Oddly enough, this didn't bring me home. The racing season in Europe isn't over for me yet, and I really do despise that transatlantic flight only to have to turn around and do it again.  So how did I tackle this dilemma?

"Deploy the cow catcher!"
        The last IBU cup was in Osrblie Slovakia. A nice course that I've skied well on before. After being sick with a cold and fever it was unclear what kind of ski speed I could produce. Not only that, but shooting wasn't what I had hoped for the week before at European Champs. Still, it was the last race before a long stretch. Unfortunately the race was a complete disaster. The zero before was solid, but as soon as I left the starting gate everything started to go down hill. I missed three in prone and four in standing. I took a second to glance at the targets in disbelief and contemplated dropping out. What precisely went wrong is beyond me. Ski speed was also off, which I attribute to being sick the weekend before. Recovery time is always hard to gauge. I wasn't enjoying life very much after that race. The year started off so well only to gradually fall down hill.

      Still the season wasn't over. I was pre-qualified for the last two IBU cups. Those races do not start until the end of February. Technically, there was no need to travel all the way back to North America. The catch was finding a place to stay and train for the time in between the races. After some logistical leg work and kind help from back home a room in Antholz was ready to go. From Slovakia the trip to Munich took about six hours. The following day I took a shuttle to the airport where I could buy a train ticket. Traveling via train is pretty slick once you figure it out. Still, I wouldn't recommend a 70+lb ski bag and duffel as a travel companion.

Skiing in Austria
        So this brings us to the current situation. I'll be training in one of my favorite places to train for the next two weeks. Antholz is a great place for a biathlete. The set up reminds me of training at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center in some ways. You can show with a rifle and ammo and have everything ready to go. The trails are always groomed very well, the mats are close by and zero paper has been available everyday so far. Today I skied up the pass into Austria. Once you're done with the climb there is wide open plateau of groomed trail to explore. The sun blazes the stadium most everyday once 10:30 rolls around. Antholz isn't so bad right now.
The trick is to trust that the sun will warm everything up by 10:30. You can watch this happen as the sun crest the mountain.

      I have a decent amount of time to work out the glitches that held me back these past few weeks. I'm not making any changes to the mechanical set up of my shooting. The goal now is to find the right mental focus that produces the best results under stress. When the chances to have a great race are so few you really want those good results. That overcautious second guessing and fear does not help my cause.
         Going home this time year would not help my confidence levels. If I can stay in the Euro racing, or even training, scene I'm better off. The exit strategy is unknown for now. As soon as I know what the exact details of racing from here on out is, I can start finding a way there. In the mean time I'm not giving up on the 2016/17 season. It's had it's highs and lows. Since there is still a chance that it could be a great one, then it is a chance worth taking. 
An interesting approach to room design for our hotel.

Also the color scheme of our bathroom in Slovakia was murder red.

Trains are great!!

The view from my hotel balcony. In the early
 afternoon it's warm enough to nap outside.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Eight Day Breakdown Highlights.

        Quick update here:  The past week has been an interesting one. Here is a time line of what happened. It's something different from the usual format.

Wednesday Jan 25th : Individual race at European Chamsps. Great skiing 9th fastest. Two bad stages        on a day that demanded four good stages.

Thursday Jan 26th : Easy! Short classic ski with shooting. Was really looking forward to another                chance at racing.

Friday Jan 27th : Sprint race. Woke with congested sinuses and scratchy throat. Did not ski fast or              shoot well. Had to race for a shot at World Champs. Motivation was shut down after the race.

Saturday Jan 28th : A regular sick day. No pursuit. Call from coach to confirm no World Champs this         year. Rest of season is also not looking good. Easy run. Highlight of day was not getting lost.

Sunday Jan 29th : Easy classic ski at the venue. Felt good during training. Fever followed shortly               after. Had to stay at the venue to help pack up gear. Not in very good shape that afternoon.

Monday Jan 30th : Fever was down, sinuses still congested. Started elaborate plan for next few weeks         to salvage the season. Chances for success were not 100% impossible as previously thought. Six         hour ride south to Orsblie, Slovakia.

Tuesday Jan 31th : Orsblie is just as a vaguely remember it from 2012. Super steep and long climb            out of the stadium. Cold, but plenty of snow

Wednesday Feb 1st : Energy is back. Shooting is not, difficult to limit bad stages. Warmer out today.          February plan gets laid out. Logistics are looking plausible.

Thursday Feb 2nd (today) : Pre-race training session. Shooting is still in a hole. Some good stages,            some scary bad stages. Energy was good, course was hard to work with. Anything could happen          tomorrow.

That about sums it up. The sentence fragmenting made this update much more relaxed and easy to do :) While I really like shooting well during training it actually doesn't matter how well or poor you shoot here. All I have to do is shoot well when it counts. Tomorrow is a new day and a new chance to have a good race.