Saturday, January 23, 2016

One Day at a Time

          The past few weeks have been a strange few. This is the first time in years I've been based out of home this much of January. Last year, at this time I was bitter with myself for only being the reserve athlete for the Antolze WC. Two years ago I was skiing top 20 ski times in the same WC after qualifying for the Sochi team; times change I guess. Now I'm sitting here watching the pursuit on my PC. It hasn't been easy, but it hasn't been as difficult as you might proportionally think it should be either. The coping process of a season denied consists of two outlooks. One being the acknowledgment that when you stop caring about certain things life becomes a lot easier. The other is what lies in store for the rest the 2016 winter.

         December went down the drain. The best I can take from the Canmore trip is fact that I tried. Not every athlete, successful or not, can say the same. I didn't spend more time talking about what I wanted to accomplish than I did working for it. I'll be better off if I can convey that on a job resume someday. Since I can't do much of anything to change the past there isn't as much reason to be down about it. It's still rough, but this outlook makes things easier.
         Since then, I've been looking towards what's fun. If it's too expensive, it's not fun, If it's classic or involves heat rounds it's not fun. Lot's of travel-not going to happen. Cold- probably not. This has reduced my racing itinerary down considerably. Which is a good and bad thing. I like races that are suited for me, but sometimes going out of my comfort zone means having an excuse to leave the house to. Advantages and disadvantages, I suppose.
Time to swap out the baskets on the ol classic poles. 
        The one race scene that actually happened was at Quarry Road trails in Waterville, ME. On the plus side I think I won my starting seed in a commanding fashion. Unfortunately, despite unloading an obnoxious amounts of cash just for a start bib NENSA still pushed me down the start list. This is a known disadvantage when the condition are normal. When you're racing on a 1.5km loop and dodging (or taking out) other racers the whole time it adds to the disadvantage. Were these only the two obstacles, I might still have had a chance. The real clutch was the snowstorm that didn't let up for the duration of the race. Add in a non stop blanket of snow for an hour after the first senior man to the mix and that's what I was racing on. Shame on you NENSA. What a punch to face for the ninch athletes in my position. That concludes that rant. On a real plus side, the other MWSC athletes had a stellar classic race the following day.

        Looking ahead, a marathon in Craftsbury was sounding like a grand idea. Turns out I didn't read the fine print. There I was looking for a place to stay for what I thought would be skate marathon. A nine hour drive for a classic 50km does not fall within the fun window. With that out of the plans the next race is another eastern cup in Stowe, VT. The most glorified eastern cup of all. Or so I'm told. If all goes well I'll make the 10km skate happen.

        The real core of this salvaged season rest on the American Birkebeiner. The North American 50km to end all 50kms. I have little idea what to expect. What I do have, is a confirmed flight out, a place to stay, good ski bases and grinds, and a good wax team. Past experience tells me that when you're not sure what you're heading into racing wise the best thing you can do is be really, really fit. I contacted an old coach of mine for some tips regarding marathon training. I won't bore you with the specifics of said session, but it makes the actual 50km effort feel easier by comparison. Nailing the key sessions and timing is what's going to make the difference.

              There is more to the season than just the Birkie, but for now we'll focus on that. That, and maybe a better 10km effort come early February in Stowe.  If all goes well then great! Good for me. If not, then oh well. That might not be so bad either. Tomorrow I'm representing Snow Mt Trails in a 15km classic. You read correctly. I own two pairs of classic skies. Neither are in great shape and one is somewhere in Europe. Won't this be entertaining.


Monday, January 11, 2016

Still Functioning

A more elaborate update is in the future. For now here is a glimpse of a session I did last Saturday. It's the shortened version of a prep for marathon racing.
 Currently, I'm on antibiotics due to a tooth infection. If that clears up fast enough I'll go for a start at the Eastern Cup race this weekend.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Every Season Tries to be the Last

         The original introduction to this update was going to be much more introspective. There is a reason why I've held on this sport as long as I have. I opted not to go into detail because it would take a lot to do properly and it's almost Christmas.  The reason for considering such an intro is due to the fact that my biathlon career is at an all time low. At first, my insurrection back into the world cup points was delayed a month and now it's out of the question. Realistically, I unloaded a lot of dwindling resources last week in Canmore only to end my biathlon career.
          Did I not play my cards well? Putting the headlamp on at 5:30 in morning to train before school when you're in the eighth grade simply felt like the right thing to do. It wasn't always easy, but if I was going to make it to the top then I was going to have train before school even when my class schedule wasn't in favor of it. Taking the plunge and dodging an education after high school or finding a part time job always made me a little nervous, but if you're going to commit to something then you should really commit to it, right? It was an investment and a risk, but in the questionable chance that it paid off what an awesome story that would be, right? Now more than ever, I don't think we'll ever find out.
         For reasons uncertain, performance dropped off the deep end these past couple of weeks. Just in time for a last chance at a Euro race start in the 2015/16 season. I was fortunate to have what little support that did to make the trip happen at all. It was four races in five days at the Canmore Nordic Center in Alberta. Prone is historically my week point. While the prone shooting didn't improve last week my standing was the weaker of the two. Why? It's still unclear to me. Everything was unusually low. Preemptively checking the forecast, the temps looked to be manageable. Literally, as the first race started the air temperature plummeted. By the time I was gliding into the range my fingers might as well have been chopped off to save weight. The lack of sensation made for a dismal range time only to miss three of five targets. My best standing stage out of the four races had only two misses. To think, I almost forgot what my left leg feels like after turning right in the penalty loop four times in a row.

       Being sent home after the Olympics in 2014 instead of racing the last WC trimester was rough. The season after that started off with a good opportunity and proceeded to go downhill from there. I was burnt out and back in Stockholm before March. I wasn't named to the national team this training season. With MWSC's support being more limited than ever I remained loyal to my goals in the hope of climbing my way back up the ladder. Besides, at this point things could only go up right? Wrong. My success rate sank lower. Now more than ever, no team wants anything to do with me. In all fairness, it's justified. You can't argue with results and after 14 years the results suggest that I might have made the wrong career choice. There was point when my hard work and determination was coming to fruition. That made for some of the best days of my life. I so sorely want those days to occur more often than they are.
       At this point it only keeps going further down a road of self loathing. So on a more positive we have the rest of the season... Any suggestions?  I'm all ears. Should I go for the nordic half of biathlon? Should I pour everything into making the Birki happen? Should I simply drop everything and start a new life?  Technically, US Biathlon nationals are in Fort Kent this year and that does open up a nice opportunity, but for obvious reasons that's not high on my list right now. That being said, don't expect to see me around Presque Isle during the WC; might be the perfect weekend to live in a cave for me. Maybe what I should be asking is: what can I do to prevent my biography from turning into a dark humor?
       In the real world dreams can end on an awkward and bitter note. After watching so many films I assumed it would go out on a glorified hero's end. Nevertheless, this isn't an end by any official means. This is more of a half baked rant of frustration. It certainly wouldn't be the first time for those few of you who keep up with this blog. In an effort to resist divulging into a lot of detail, giving up on this sport would be as challenging to do as it is for me to achieve the results I want. So as the title implies, this season is trying harder than ever to put me into the retirement home and I'm still not convinced it's going to make it.

Sorry for another dismal one in the books folks,

Merry Christmas!


Monday, December 7, 2015

A day in the life of the Fort Kent Outdoor Center

       The IBU A-licensed venue in Fort Kent, Maine, USA has been evolving for as long as I can remember. That's over 15 years, losely. When I was in middle school we did a "field trip" to the new venue and watched the Jr. Nationals for biathlon circa 2000. The place was half done and may or may not have had four walls yet. The amount of force it took to have the facility and trails up and running was asking for a lot. Today it still amazes me that how much dedication goes into maintaining and improving the place.
        There was a time when we didn't have a rollerski loop. When we finally did it was only a few minutes long. The fall that had the extension paved was a nice upgrade. If you were crafty enough you could stretch it out to 20 minutes. Those sort of additions make a huge difference when a large bulk of your job is spent on the less than exciting roller skis. The rest of the trail system isn't paved but is kept in great condition. The grass is mowed regularly. This actually makes a difference for early and late season skiing. For whatever reason people tend to stay on the pavement even when the grass is dry. It's unclear why, but apparently most people are less afraid of sharp pole tips and expensive gear than they are of... grass.
A slightly more foggy morning. 
          There is an undeniable dedication to grooming at the FKOC. Though not always spot on, when you see the building that was constructed strictly for the benefit of the groomer you can count on hard packed trails more often than not. It's unclear who was in charge on one not so great occasion, but it's impressive when you can do all the wrong things for trail grooming in one morning. After driving up for an important high intensity combo session I found myself dodging the groomer at around ten AM. Ten AM being the beginning of peak usage for the trails. I've actually had nightmares involving this situation. Needless to say it makes more sense to groom when the trail is more vacant. Also, the best time of day to set tracks is early morning. Right before the coldest part of the day. The late morning job of this day, with no exaggeration, actually made the conditions worse... To really cap off my rage the groomer proceeded to stop in the middle of the range while I was doing combos. Yes, the range flag was up. These workouts are key and take a lot of energy to do, so when you have to stare down the groomer in a fit of rage it doesn't help the cause. If you don't you want to see an expensive piece of equipment that isn't cheap to run put to bad use then don't repeat these events. End rant. The rest of the time the trails are top notch. Despite only a few centimeters of snow the trails were being rolled at two in the morning before training last Friday. During this time of year, those efforts are what really make the quality training sessions happen.

             At almost anytime of the year you can expect to see someone around working on a new project or fixing a door hinge if need be. The local athletes helped removed the excess brush when the stadium was being expanded this fall. During the height of this construction the roller loop would be covered with rocks and debris. Instead of leaving the mess there with no regard to the athletes that depend on the pavement the leaf blower was put to good use. In the end, the bulldozer and it's wrecking path were never in the way of training.
Sunday December 6th 
           The FKOC has been a fail safe option for years. I'm not going to divulge into what I think of other venues, but let's just say some venues seem to work against you. Perpetually locked doors, grass growing up to the targets, moldy roller loops, and an organizing committee that stays in hibernation most of the year.  To be fair a lot of venues meet this description. What it so great about the FKOC is that it fits the opposite of this. When you need a place for quality training you can count on the drive up to Fort Kent. If you're looking for a place that's providing a physically active opportunity for the public the FKOC club is doing there part ten fold. Though I'm still bitter about that one occasion back in March, making a point of the effort that goes into this place is the least I could do.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Technique Specific Strength

** asked me if I would be interested in doing one of the featured Wednesday Workouts a week or so back. After taking the time to write this one up it was a no brainer to post it on the blog. This is the original version.

Technique Specific Strength

        It may have been the start of the 2009, or maybe it was the 2010, training season when I first saw “TSS” written in a training plan sent to my inbox. Confused, I asked my coach for an explanation during a skype meeting. To the best of my memory it was described as “rollerskiing up a short and steep hill while focusing on the best form and longest glide possible.” Or something along those lines. If I have to describe it to another athlete, I tend to start with saying it's your most aggressive downhill technique, while skiing uphill. Truthfully, the first question usually refers to not knowing what TSS stands for. Since, this isn't the most popular training idea in US Biathlon history the answer may vary depending on who you ask. The common reply has been “Top Secret Strength” or just “Top Secret Stuff.” My personal favorite is “Totally Stupid Strength.”
         Another way of describing TSS would be to think of it as hill bounding on skis. If you had to combine a weight room strength session with a rollerski technique drill session the result would be TSS. It's on my training plan year round. All you need is a short steep climb you can ski up and down repeatably without being in the way. You're only going as far as you can in 20 poles plants so it doesn’t really need to be an alpine hill.
          The purpose, is to reinforce good ski technique and power with the exact muscle groups involved in that technique. The focus is to generate the best form and longest distance per cycle as you can. Any choice of skate technique will work. Sometimes this tends to feel like skiing in slow motion. Sometimes it feels strange to be forcing a slow tempo V2 alternate up a wall, but it also makes it feel that much natural on the flats and downhills. One of the advantages it has over hill bounding on foot is the use of double pole, adding an upper body component. In my experience, this is as effective doing core strength in a gym.

The Workout:
Technique Specific Strength

The Place:
Groomed trails or pavement. Steep 30ish meter long climb.

Warm up:
Easy distance skating 15 to 20 minutes.

The Important part:
5 x 20 Double Poles
2 x 20 Skating without poles.
2 x 20 V2 cycles
Repeat once or twice and add some extra V2 alternate and V1 sets if the energy is still there.
15 to 25 cycles or pole plants depending on the technique.
Total routine is about 25 too 45 minutes.

Cool down:
20 to 30 minutes easy skiing or running.

         When there is a bad habit in your technique that you can't seem to forget this is the workout to use to combat that habit with a correct one. TSS doesn’t require a lot of resources beyond decent trails and functional equipment. This is a strength training that contributes directly to the sport we're trying to compete it. I'm always trying to update the quality of training in my plan. That being said, the afternoon TSS sessions still find a place in my average week.  

Friday, November 6, 2015


         That abrupt lack of sunlight, the desertion of leaves from the trees, the seemingly always overcast skies? If any of this sounds familiar than you might be experiencing November. Imagine December without snow, or holidays and you'd have November. It's actually not all bad. If you're from the area you can probably appreciate the first day of deer season and with the colder temps the chance of snow is on everyone's mind. Thus far, I'm still waiting on both of those advantages to occur. In the meantime here's a summary of training and other news from the past few weeks.

         The MWSC athletes thwarted the age old Mars Hill climb. To the best of my recollection this would mark the 14th year since we first came up with the idea of suffering up the local alpine hill. Naturally, it was snowing with a head wind. That, and we had to alter the start of the race. I stopped caring about besting my time and went for best workout possible focus. Despite the less than favorable situation both were a success. I set a personal record time and the agony of running up a hill was intact to ensure it was an effective training session.
         After trials in October the energy level was feeling decent. I took this opportunity to get back into the three week training cycle. Before trials it had been an awkward mix of medium training weeks and high intensity periods. The last week had that genuine heavy leg death march feel to it. I managed to dodge the cold rain all but once. When I go for the detailed day to day plan at the start of each the site is my first consultant. The last three weeks have been primarily volume driven. With the colder weather biking has been less of an option. So there has been a lot of long roller ski and running sessions. The two harder effort sessions in each week were at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center. The functional range and well maintained roller loop make for the obvious choice of important sessions.

      The lead blasting front has been doing well. In other words, the shooting side is on a better trend. The goal lately, has been to repeat the rhythm of a good confident shot for every shot. Seems obvious, but it's easier said than done. The better the muscle memory of what a hit feels like the more able you are to do it consistently.  Usually, in dryfire I try to work on the basic skills of shooting, such as aiming, follow through, trigger control, bolting, arm tension and so on. Now, I'm just going through the best dryfire stage I can as if it was a race over and over again. A few dryfire sessions have been a hour long. Anything to keep the hits frequent and misses few.
         As always the average day is never dull. There is always something happening and never enough time to do it all. I haven't seen any deer with more than just ears. I've shot at a few birds, but haven't hit anything. My equipment has held up adequately. The leaking tire in my truck was fixed and I replaced my water logged phone. A couple of Rossignol race skis arrived at the doorstep, which is always nice. Sometimes checking the mail is the best part of the day. I haven't had much worthwhile mail in a while, but just the sheer chance of such on the walk out the mailbox is worth the time.
          The MWSC athletes will be at the North Haven roller ski race this weekend. It's actually known as "the lobster roll," but I'm not a fan of lobster and it's my blog, so let's just say I'm doing a 15km race this weekend off the coast of Maine. Next week it's back to the old OTC in LP. Hopefully there will be snow to work with. Forced or falling from the sky it would a befitting end to the rollerskis. Late November and early December is open. A trip to Canmore for the first NorAm is still in the realm of possibilities, but funding is still in the unknown stages, so it will have to wait. Either way, despite not making the first WC trimester I'm starting to feel better about the upcoming 2015/16 racing season.  

Friday, October 23, 2015

Cold and Rainy

       Over the years it's been made more than clear that this sports will kick you in the teeth more often then it doesn't. In others words, the good results are far and few in between the not so good results. No matter how many bad days I have in row I can never say I didn't try. That motivation has always been there. It's that motivation that helped me awkwardly cram the last round into a clip yesterday after the cold rain rendered my hands less than optimally functional. As cruel as the weather can be this time of year, that wasn't the hard part.

       The second round of trials did not go as well I had hoped. To be fair, the overall performance was actually a cut above where I was last year. Technique was more efficient, fitness was solid for October, and shooting had as much or more potential. While the potential was there, I was never able to utilize it. One of the key differences this time around was the increase in performance from the rest of the team. It was less of a competition for a fourth or fifth spot and more of a race against the whole A team. It's nice that the guys are doing well, but it also makes qualifying more difficult.
         The end result was not being invited to the Utah camp. The fall of 2005 was my first year training in Soldier Hollow. The goal was to see it to a full decade. With the Utah camp out, my shot at the December WC trimester is also out. In the meantime it's back to training in the north. While Utah may be done, a ten day camp in Lake Placid is in. Hopefully by mid November the snow making business will be up and running in the Adirondack region.

           Beyond that, the plan is to muster a way into trials at Mt Itaska, MN. The clutch this is absence of support. Aside from trying to find a room and a flight over the athletes from Maine won't even have a coach for the trip. The solution to this is in the works. As someone who hates logistics this has only added to the entertainment. Still, as long as I can make myself there with equipment on time all that's left is to have a few decent races. From there it's off the January IBU cup in Nove Mesto, CZ. If that weekend goes well it's back up to the WC. The advantage to this race schedule is the extra month to prepare for racing in Europe.

           This isn't ideal, but historically not having any Euro racing in December has panned out well for me. The last time this happened I landed a spot in the Olympic team and the time before that I had two top tens. So, in the name of optimism, I've got that one going for me. For now it's a game of trying to rearrange my training so that I don't end up training in the freezing rain. If you want to know what kind of conditions could be worse than 20 below try 38 above and raining.