Monday, September 3, 2018

Some Thoughts Part III

        Well, it's been about six months and I still haven't decided what the post athlete life is like. By now it should have been clear, right? The contrast from what the average day consisted of a year ago to what it is now is clear. The decision to retire was in the works back in 2016, but I never gave much thought to how I would feel afterwords. It wouldn't have mattered much, there was no realistic way of sustaining the full time athlete life anyways. Still, there is a lot to be said about this change of pace.

       Firstly, if you're wondering what an average day is like for me now, it's nothing extraordinary. I was based out of southern Maine. I enjoyed the work of landscaping but the job wasn't sustainable and a small part of me was missing the county. If you're not from here, you wouldn't understand. I was suggested to look at a job opportunity at a business in Presque Isle. In the end, I took the offer. And just like that I was back in Aroostook county. No tics and no traffic. The job, in short, is a warehouse gig.  It's consistent and for the most part I know what I'm getting into at the start of the day. This is part of the contrast from past years. If my task is to show up, do my job and go home, then I'm in. After 16 years of of grinding it out with no promise of success or pay off this is the change I've always wondered about. Simply going home to the same place for more than a month at a time is a nice difference. I've long since forgotten what that's like. I hope this sheds some explanatory light on why I opted for such an uncharacteristic work change. 

      Oddly enough, the biathlon world is not completely lost to me. Training volume won't be hitting 20 plus hours a week anytime soon, but it's kept in check. I've given the running track at CHS a few good interval sessions, the Stockholm weight room is a popular go to, and I would love to bike more, but I'm going to need a new bike at some point, so in the mean time distance training is running only. The glory of not having to reach training obligations hasn't worn off yet. If I don't feel like going for a run, I simply won't. Still, after 15 years of pursuing a top level in one the most physically demanding sports in the world, it's not easy to fully let go of the progress made.

       For the longest time I assumed I wouldn't want to have anything to do with the sport after retirement. When asked if I would ever consider coaching I scoffed the notion off. That assumption lasted a few months before I started to seriously reconsider. The goal of living a quaint a simple life is still in the lead, especially given my new job requirements, but I'm oddly less resistant to the idea of contributing back to the sport as before. And what would you know, it looks like Russell will be an assistant coach of sorts to the UMPI XC ski team the season. I've never been much at turning down opportunities. When this particular one came up it didn't seem too invasive of my time and the more I think about the experience attained with some world class coaches over the years, the more I think that sharing that knowledge is feasible. This is coming from someone who usually avoids social gatherings so there must be some really worth while knowledge on the table.

      There are so many memories and stories. Many of them are only interesting to me, while a few are note worthy. I can remember suffering through a flight for the first time with a cold and sore throat on our way to Fairbanks. My ears hurt so bad I couldn't hear anything. There was the first trip to Europe for World Jrs in 2004. They were in France that year. I got left behind during training one day and had to asked a complete stranger to give me a lift back to the hotel. Then there was that time we crashed what might have been a wedding party in Croatia. That took place in the middle of what was the best training camp of all. I can remember waiting in the make shift terminal in Sochi for our departing flight. Everyone was so hungover and eventually just resorted to sleeping on the floor. At a glance it looked like a room full of dead people. For a few years in there, every October brought me to Soldier Hollow, Utah. That was always the last big training block of the year. One year in particular the camp ended with a Saturday Halloween. Shenanigans ensued. Then there was the time I got lost running around in the Adirondacks for seven hours. So on and so fourth there are far too many stories and memories to elaborate on here. 

        Maybe it will take a full year before the depth of it all sinks in. In the meantime everything is doing well. Despite the 40 plus hour work week and lack of travel it feels like I have more freedom than I've ever had. About this time a year ago I would have been so tired that walking up the stairs was a risky idea. Now I can see pay checks being deposited on my account like a normal adult. Weird, huh? In an effort to keep this update succinct I'll leave it at that. But rest assured there is so much more to the last 16 years of my life than I can elaborate on. One of these days it's bound to all click and come full circle about why everything panned out the way it did.


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Some Thoughts Part II


Another cold and dark not so late morning in Ostersund, SWE for the December WC
          For all the worthwhile parts that make up the modern life of an aspriring biathlete in this country there are some noteable downsides to the deal. Explaining them was never my style. It wasn't worth the time and it would only stand to kick up a storm of awkward relations with the community I was stuck in. Before I elaborate, know that I had no regrets going down the biathlon path and could go on for pages with positive memories and life lessons. There are a few people involved that always believed in me and were on my side through it all, but this is not the topic- not this time. If I was talented and motivated this could be a heads-up, warning or even a call to change. But that's not really for me. Realistically this just another rant, some bitter matters that I've always wanted to shout about. When you spend enough time with the same group of people you get to know each other too well. When you spend enough time fighting your way to top of an organization you get a slice of how cruel the world can be. In most situations, I would say this is fickle and you're better off focusing on things that actually matter, but I'm not competing anymore and am no longer tethered to the keeping my opinions to myself obligation. It seems like a good enough reason to share a small piece of them with you. I'm not sure where to begin.
           Whether you're trying to make it in nordic or biathlon I suggest having two parents that are both full time doctors. These sports are not cheap and don't leave much room for a job (side note: many so called Olympic sports do, biathlon is, however an actually demanding sport and doesn't leave time or energy for a job and normal life, other so called sports feel like a joke to me at this point). The parental financial help was always a common route for the upper middle class level of support. It always made my jaw drop when I heard the tuition costs the juniors I raced against were paying to attend the private ski academies, a phenomenon of the east it seemed. All that for teenagers who didn't strike me as all that motivated to begin with. I never went on much of a vacation during April. I simply didn't understand how any of the others were able to make it happen. Plane tickets and hotel room cost were out of the question. Seriously! None of you had jobs! Where did that extra money come from if not from your parents!? If it weren't for the timing that I nailed with Maine Winter Sports Center and USBA my career would have ended years ago. There was actually a point when a coach suggested that I give Solleftia (one of the top ski schools in Sweden) a go for a year after high school. After asking the right people it came down to a few thousand dollars to make a year in Sweden happen. I mentioned this to my parents and it was shut down due to the finances in matter of minutes. So, if you're coming from a lower middle class starting point never mind the cliquey condescending nature of the rich kids, just be prepared to work in a fragile make or break financial situation for most (if not all) of your career. It's cringe-worthy knowing that some of the athletes I've shared teams with actually make donations to themselves in a roundabout way to reduce their tax burdens. I can even count on one hand the number of years that I've generated enough income to file for taxes. That level is a whole different planet that I can only imagine.
          There are plenty of well-off trust fund kids that do not fit the negative description that I'm giving them. They are very dear friends of mine that I would have never met were it not for this crazy sport. To be fair, if you're willing to find a way to make that much money and raise children to spend it on that's technically fair game. Just don't let them turn into some of the oblivious whiny snobs I've come to know.
           It's scary what money can do to some people. Biathlon is not a pro sport. Even the Euro athletes don't exactly have their own private jets. Still, some of the upper job positions in this community rake in a lot at the end of the fiscal year. When a non-profit organization cuts coaching staff budgets and Christmas bonuses while the CEO claims about quarter of million a year, it makes you wonder what everyone is really after.
         Then there are the resources being flaunted for needless reasons. Anyone can complain about the company they work for spending the budget in the wrong direction. It's not an original complaint and most of it is highly subjective. So here's this: It makes me cringe when athletes on the stipend plan have their extra bag fees reimbursed while the non supported athletes trying to fight their way to the top get an abrupt "no" (though often when you send an email with a question like that you just won't get a reply at all.) The money that is spent on fancy dinners for the "in crowd" could cover a lot of extra bag fees and even hotel room costs. What is the reason USBA exists in the first place? Is it to fund the top end or is it to fund the up and comers so they can someday replace our top athletes and reach the podium too? The mission statement is not transparent. To be fair, the top level athletes might deserve the support, as they have worked for (or in some cases stumbled into) their success. Still, this capitalistic structuring is an ineffective pain in the ass when you have $300 added to your personal travel expense for one flight for a career that generates no income (for you anyways, not so much the ones making the decision in charge of you.)

        In an attempt to leave the age-old money topic on a positive note I will say that one of the best parts of the nordic and biathlon world is that you can't buy your way to fast skis. You can when you're a U16, and the ski school kids sure did have better gear than I did, but it wasn't long after that the gear cost less and less and got faster and faster while no amount of bribing could save them. When I was hanging on for one more year to see if another Olympics was possible, the state of Maine as a whole came through and helped my cause to prove that not everyone is hoarding strictly for themselves.
         The community that I come to know all to well merits a lot of thought. Again, I've met a lot of inspirational people and worked with organizations with the mostly right intent. Not a lot of people can say that. However, mostly doesn't cover all of it.  After all these years, the ins and outs, the haves and have nots, the good old boy's club of USBA has become clear to me. There, I said it. I hope the in-crowd enjoyed their staff retreat of back country skiing in Norway this spring. I could always sense an ulterior motive behind team naming and support levels. It was very much possible to be on the team without actually feeling like you're on the team. I've been on both sides of the ICC discretionary decisions. From having the upper hand and feeling as though USBA wanted me to succeed, to being phased out and indirectly told to retire. The ICC is basically the firing squad of team naming. When you realize the staff of the biathlon and nordic world is comprised of primarily failed former athletes and successful athletes where neither have ever seen the middle ground, you question if they even care about your part in the goal of the team. You're left to wonder what went on during that conference meeting to decide your fate. The members make the call and still get a paycheck at the end of the day and the athletes get whatever. Fer luck next year" if you're lucky. I stopped getting those follow-ups in the past few years.
         Lies and half truths, anything to end the meeting and get back to supporting the new team focus. You might think that the new team focus and development would start in May when the new training season begins, and that the best athletes of the year are rewarded throughout the season with the starting spots. Well not for me. In February, after making damn well sure that I was in shape for the off-chance that I got a start spot, I was told the focus for a new team of developing athletes had already begun, and therefore in the interest of “development” I was denied any starts in the last trimester of world cups.  Want another example while we're at it? When I was told that Rossignol Europe didn't have any room for me, was I not supposed to notice or piece together the obvious when another US athlete on our team was fully outfitted with Rossi skis from scratch? You could have just told me the truth and I would have thought better of you.
         Team dynamics is another interesting one. From what I've heard we get along much better than some NGB teams. Still, hearing a few athletes in particular tear apart another for overly judgmental reasons behind their back always made me wonder what terrible things they must have said about me when I wasn't around. Hell, sometimes they were so eager, the conversation had to end abruptly when I walked over. It was to the point that you had to buy into their hobbies to have any chance of knowing the in-crowd beyond the conversations of fake personalities. There's nothing like having a team sports psychologist tell you that you're the blunt end of jokes on the men's team. Maybe some of it I deserved because I stopped caring and decided to just be my weird self. Most of it was residual enough to not pick up on the snide remarks and indirect insults immediately, but those little bits and pieces add up. When you're designated team mental punching bag you can only smile and pretend to go along with it for so long.
           On more than one occasion, I had to mention the difficulty of training during August because of the trial races. The races were always so crucial to racing during the winter. I was always in that grey area between the WC team and no team. In the past few years of racing, I had so little racing that wasn't a make or break race day. In a sport that's all over the place for consistency I always had the confidence to believe I belonged on the team, but was still always in constant fear of full failure. There were athletes that had nothing to lose and athletes that were safely on the A team. The perpetual A-team never had much of chance to race on the bubble of team naming. Most of them were never really throttled from the top to bottom level of support. The lack of humility because of this was clear. There are athletes that will scoff at this when they hear me complain about the non A-team support. But their point of view becomes narrow when they have never been lower than having their life spoon fed to them by the NGB. Seems a bit one-sided to me. Maybe the best solution would have been to just have better results. Then I could have been ignorant to my lessers like my peers. But that's not how the sport works. Only one person can win and from there the rest are left to fend on their own.
         There are results within results. No two racing fields have the same depth of competition as each other. Again, coming from years of experience there are athletes that have what look like impressive results on paper, but leave me with no inspiration or admiration when I remember their so called work ethic that past year. From athletes that are more in love with the sound of their own voice and talking about training than they are actually training, to athletes that are too cool to put in a hard effort at US nationals. Since I was booted out of a WC start spot (for questionable aforementioned reasons), I was reduced to email information regarding support for US National Champs. I was grateful to have a small amount of support. While others were venting frustration about the same amount of support not being enough. To further pour salt in the wound these were the athletes taking in more in month from the stipend then I was getting for the US nationals trip reimbursement. All that and you're a too cool primadonna to try much harder than training speed during the races? Get over yourself. What a great example for the youths that showed up to watch you race. I wish those were the only two examples I had, but that's far from the case. I've seen too many pseudo professional athletes walk around on the trails and half ass every corner they can only to walk onto teams. I never took July off to go smoke pot and skip training and still have a considerably successful racing season. Maybe I wasn't talented enough or maybe the field I was racing against wasn't as forgiving. When I was on the stipend I was making enough to relax. An apartment in Lake Placid was feasible. But knowing how cruel and competitive racing on the men's WC field is, I saved as much as I could and used it to support myself when the income dropped back to $0. Needless to say, I never took any of it for granted.  I busted my ass regardless of the help.
         This was all just a bitter rant from someone who has seen a lot of different sides of biathlon. There is much much more to be said. Some things could be a lot better and others are much better than they used to be, and I was lucky to have timed my career as well as I did. There was a touch to it all that was diminishing the last four years. I stopped feeling welcome at the OTC or a part of the team when I did make it. I couldn't help but feel like I was a crack in a plan set in stone for the Pyeongchang team. What a punch to the face it must have been when I secured the last spot.  All of this is really a first world problem more than anything.  For so long, I refrained from even hinting at this frustrations like I am now. The whole time banking on this update to my tiny stupid blog about the little things. This took me a long time to finally complete. It was exhausting to put it together and I thought about saying screw it several times. But it needed to be said, and I don't think much will come of my rant, but I feel a little better now. So there you have it. If nothing else, I hope this was entertaining to read.
Antholz... I will miss Antholz more than most race venues. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Some Thoughts Part I

                   Naturally, I was highly recommended to hit the ground running when it came to post retirement paths. Since, I hate being told what to do (even when it's good advice sometimes) and I can only put 100% into one goal at a time I did not exactly have a whole career waiting for me after my long biathlon life wrapped up. Figuring out what I wanted and or could do was the closest thing to a plan. I had the impression that this ordeal would take a while (for a number of reasons) and within that time span I would be able to fully take in the last 16 years and leave is conclusively in the back of my mind. Events did not pan out this way. Within a few days I had a job lined up and a place to move into before the end of April! Here's what happened and hasn't happened yet.

         When the dust had settled after my semi vacation in Bozeman, MT I immediately took to the spring skiing in the mornings. This was one of the better years for skiing on the crust. Crust skiing is the gold standard for XC skiing and I'll always look forward to every spring that it's available. That was the mornings, the afternoons had at least some attention on the new life front. The details of how I was going to make it happen were still up the air. The goal was to find a spot where I could work and make enough to move out of the rents house. Then, grind out that day to day life until I felt like moving on to something more ambitions. The attempt to make it as an athlete proved chaotic and inconsistent. I was not in the mood for something stressful and was willing to pursue something boring and repetitive if it meant having dependability in my life for change.  Thanks to some good friends I was able to find a nice place to call home and job that fits within those parameters. The last week at the house in Stockholm was a busy one. Between packing, skiing and a 24 hour trip to DC I didn't have much time to think.

      Somehow, enough of the shenanigans came together to for me to make it to work on time the following Monday morning. I currently work at a landscaping company based out of Saco, ME. I'm not the most mechanically inclined and can't back up a trailer to save my life, but tedious manual labor is second nature. If there was every a generalization that northern Mainers are the go to employees to work their asses off then I'm doing my part to keep that generalization in tact. My arms are always covered in scrapes from rose bushes and my farmers tan is back in full force. The real draw back is the 45 minute drive each way. Audio books help alleviate this otherwise wasted time.

       Don't bother trying to find me. The address will not show up on google maps which by 2018 standards means I'm as good as invisible. Living quarters is the basement of an old friends place. With the walls and ceiling recently redone with pine it looks and smells like a lovely sauna in here. Plus I added xmass lights and a window plant to say I contributed. At night I can hear the loons and the chickens keep us supplied with plenty of fresh eggs. The drive to most anywhere is at least 20 minutes. Downtown Portland is 45 minutes away. That's about the distance that I want it at. Close enough to try a new restaurant whenever I feel like it, but far enough so that I'm not living near a city in any form.

       Nothing is perfect. The truck is running fine for now, but the long drives are not helping it's 200,000+ miles. The traffic is horrendous compared to driving up north. Despite not having any obligation to train nor having to pack up and leave every two weeks I still don't have all that much free time on my hands. I've removed more ticks than I care to count already. I've spent a night in the hospital since I've moved here but that's another story. I could go on, but these are all first world problems and everything is actually more under control than it was a year ago which is what I was hoping for all along.

      Once an athlete always an athlete. Not sure where that came from, but it's proved true for me thus far. I did some hard running intervals last week. I squeezed in a three hour run this weekend to see how my legs held up should I chose to do the longer event this coming weekend at Pineland Farms.  The truth is I have yet to fully think over the previous career as an aspiring athlete. This didn't fully hit home until I had to send a official letter of retirement to USADA. I hovered over the send button for a few minutes before I was able to do it. The details on that will have to wait for another update. This is here to let you know just where and what exactly I'm doing, should you have wondered.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Even More Pictures

Spring skiing was so great this year. If you're going fast enough the snow starts to feel sharp. 

Oh and I had another tour of the white house this April.

Not too many bargain priced furniture and paintings in this place. 

Last day at the house before heading south. 

       A more detailed update is still in the works. I know I've said that before, but it's been a busy few weeks. Some thoughts on the past 16 years and some info on what I've been up to lately. April has been an entertaining one. A couple of weeks in Bozeman, great spring skiing on both sides of the country, a 24 hour trip to DC, catching up with friends, and general sense of freedom.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

More Pictures

Sunny and snowless in Soldier Hollow

Or at least naturally lacking snow anyways

Bozeman however, not so devoid of winter just yet. 

The crust skiing up at Fawn pass was not so bad.

It actually doesn't get much better than this.

Still found time to get on the crust back home.

The subtle differences between crust skiing in MT and ME.

Monday, April 2, 2018

US National Championships Of Championships

         This past week brought me to Soldier Hollow in Utah. This past week was also officially the last series of biathlon races of my career. The full details on that thought will come in another update. The full impact hasn't set in yet. This is just a quick break down of how the three day racing extravaganza played out. That, and how and why I'm not back in the far right end of the States.

         We all expected much less from the trail conditions. The reports were coming in from Soldier Hollow were not so positive and we all thought it was heading for the back up venue in Casper Wyoming. This fear was gone when it was clear that the man made snow effort was going to make the races smooth. There was also some salt usage in the snow just to top it off. All three days had hard pack and fast conditions. We were anticipating a drudge through the slush on a 1.2km loop. Instead we raced on a full 3.3km loop. The effort that went into making a ribbon of hard packed snow on a landscape of brown was appreciated.

      Not unlike the past couple of years the races were pretty similar. It kicked off with a sprint format, followed by a true pursuit, then the glorified mass start style race. While the conditions differed from my expectations the relaxed atmosphere that I expected was exactly how I thought it would be. The warm temps and sun only encouraged the laid back feeling among the athletes that made it out. All this combined with the pending last race of my career in the back of my mind made the three races feel surreal.

       Still, once an athlete always an athlete. I landed in late on Monday. I booked my hotel on what was the cheapest- big mistake. I also didn't rent a car and had to carefully talk my way into a transport. Nevertheless, I had a bed and never missed a race start. The results were irreverent, but that didn't stop me from doing some combos and high intensity training during March in preparation. I was pleased with the ski speed in all three races. I liked the course profile and conditions, but with that altitude and time of season there was no promise that I would be able to do much damage on ski speed, so good ski speed was a sign that I'm not that old yet. Shooting, after all these years, was still my weak-point. There were a few good stages in the three races, that proved how long I've been doing this and the rest made me feel like I was 16 years old again. Such is life. Not once did the successfully hit targets feel lucky or undeserved.

       There is a lot to be said about the last stretch of the final loop during the mass start. Even fully exhausted I couldn't help but appreciate a foreign feeling of knowing this was the end. That was a new one. This is where there is a lot to be said about... all of it. There is lot more to be said then there is to be said about the this year's US Nationals. So obviously that will have to wait for another day. Some of it will be positive,  some of it will not. There is no regret for my decision. It sure did feel much more last minute than I thought it would based on the reaction my followers have had. The truth is, this decision was 97% made two years ago. The remaining three percent had it's reasons.

      It has been a long and strange trip. It was as much mine as it was for the supporters of me that never gave up through the highs and lows. For now, I'm in Bozeman Montana for a semi vacation. I was already out west, so why not kill two birds with one round? With that said, I'm going to enjoy the brief moment in moving from the non real word to real world transition. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Semi Super Tour Finals

       Despite my best efforts, next thing I knew I was waiting at the starting line for a classic five km race in Vermont. This is what a weekend in winter would look like when I was 15. At age 30 I didn't exactly see this coming, but sure enough I raced the first classic leg of the relay at SuperTour finals this last Sunday in Crafstburry, VT. The 15km mass start skate was on Saturday. If you break the weekend down some parts were working in my favor and some were not. In the end, none of it really mattered. I was there to thrash and have fun. Results in the xc and biathlon world are somewhat irrelevant now.

        So what went well and what was working against me? The skate race was fun, because there was actually enough snow this year. Not as much as we have back home, but enough to race the full 5km loop. Even more helpful, was the hard packed conditions. When it's not slushy or icy it's fair. You can use good technique and pace yourself accordingly. The course profile was also to my liking. Nothing too technical and with a couple of drawn out climbs.
      That much was in my favor, but the race was not devoid of disadvantages. The whole weekend was planned on a whim. With that in mind, I was searching for a good pair of skis to race on. While I was able to find a wax tech with many thanks to the team from Bozman, the quality of skis was a missed opportunity. Everything was coming together too close to the last minute. There was a fast pair of skis from a higher level at my disposal. They were flown over from Europe after the previous world cup. Unfortunately, without any cell service I wasn't able to find them in time to have them in the mix. My skis were decent, but I was loosing more than I wanted to on the downhills. Craftsburry is also a course that I suspect some wax teams know significantly better than anyone else in the USSA crowd. 

        The other disadvantage I had to contend with was racing in bib 49. In a crowd of 118 this could have been much worse. I was glad to have been moved up as much as I had. Still, 12 kms of that race was spent fighting through the masses. Poles were stepped on, certain words were used, and often I had to slip through a narrow opening to move up at all. I made the best use of the climbs as I could. By the time the race was down to a few kms I could see the lead pack. At that point it started to break up and at that point I was too far out and had spent most of my push just clawing my way up to that point in the first place.

      Overall, it was an alright race. I was glad when it was over and was pleased where I ended up given the extra distance I added skiing around others. If I was really concerned I should have planned ahead better on ski choices. A better start placement could have been had if I had done a USSA race at all prior to Saturday. The damage I did on the climbs was noted and I'm confident I could have been with the lead group were things a little different. Still, fair is fair.

         And yes I did a classic race on Sunday. For reason unknown to me, it did not occur to me that I should ski in my race skis before the start to give some feedback on the kick wax. So long story short, there was a lot of double poling going on during that race. Without very much kick it's supper hard to make a fast transition into striding on the climbs. The extra effort spent on really pressing the wax pocket only added to the frustration. Thankfully, much like the skate race, this race wasn't much more than just for the fun of it. The rest of my teammates (Clair, Raleigh, and Susan) did pretty well and we were not all that far back.

       Come to think of it, that concludes what could be my last xc racing experience. I'm trying not to overthink it right now. I was in southern Maine before the end of the day. On Monday I flew out of PWM and landed in SLC. Now I'm in Heber City, UT hoping there is enough snow to make US Biathlon Nationals happen. Again, these races don't have very much weight on them. Maybe I'm just looking for some closure. It might actually just be authentic Mexican food that I'm really after.