Friday, July 1, 2016

Metal Trickery and the Search for the End of Training

        Have you ever wondered what your tolerance for all things boring was? Or how good you are at measuring time without using a watch? The amount of true time I spend actually training can't hold a candle to an eight hour work day, but if you've ever tried to run for more than three hours consecutively you would understand why the mental side of training has it's own department of over thinking. It's a game of self trickery. You have to find a way to make the training session feel shorter and easier than it actually is. The outcome result is all the same, but if you approach it correctly it goes by in what seems like half the time and effort.

      The trick to making it through a longer distance session is to avoid looking at the time display on your watch. You can go crazy glancing at every minute pass by during a four hour bike ride. I switch the display on my watch to heart rate only or distance, maybe altitude. As long as I don't know how long I've been out for, I'm less likely feel the gravity of the whole workout. When I've reached a certain point or distance goal then I'll check in on the total time.

      The process of mental trickery for the harder effort sessions is a different process. For these sort of days you have to mark the next corner or transition as a point goal. The faster you make it to the arbitrarily selected tree the closer you are to being done with the interval; sound strange yet? This process also works because in this case, it encourages faster speed, which compliments the point to the workout in the first place. This process of thought keeps you focused on going faster while distracting you from the onslaught of fatigue you're putting yourself through.

      The other interesting part of this is the use of time perception as a measure of quality. The shorter the duration feels the harder the effort is. My training log is broken up into zones. If I'm trying to achieve quality time spent in the top end zone anything beyond a few minutes should ideally feel like an eternity. If it's a long distance day that is targeting base building then an hour should feel rather short and easy to tolerate. Were it a race pace effort session, 20 to 30 minutes should feel about enough because that's about how long our races typically are.  Sometimes, towards the end of a training period, an hour even at an easy level will feel longer than it should simply because I'm tired. It just takes more work to force the system into training when it would rather be resting.

      It's a little difficult to explain. The topic of mental trickery is all to well known for me, primarily because I have had a lot of time to overthink it. Most of which takes place during the three plus hour sessions. A lot of athletes don't have to deal with this because they train in groups and have that element of distraction to work with. Since I'm not a fan of group training I'm left with my own thoughts. Thus we have the scheming of turning otherwise boring or grueling workouts into more entertaining goal oriented adventures. I thought this would be good mention given the time of the year. The bulk of the training load starts from May into October. That's a lot of time to get to know a roller ski loop.


Friday, June 3, 2016


      Training is back in full swing. The plan of attack for this training season was to seek new ideas. Whether it was reaching outside of the sport or reworking the normal approach to training philosophy, it was worth taking the chances. Some of these efforts have come together, while the rest have taken some time, but are still in the works. Talking and sending emails might help you look professional, but at the end of the day you still have to make things happen on a tangible level. This is what I've mustered up so far.
Because why would we not have a snow storm in the middle of May. 
      To start, the training goal plan, was to make it easier on myself, or at least in some ways easier. The only real easier side of it this year is the lack of volume. The plan is set on about 650 hours. Not much over two hour sessions the day before high intensity days and the frequency of hard efforts has taken an increase, but the amount of time per session isn't through the roof. Last training year it was about 87% easy base training and 13ish% just below or in the race effort zone. This year, a sub 85% easy level training should be feasible. In other words: less time going slow, more time going fast. That coupled with a few specific session changes and lack of marathon training mid racing season will hopefully bring the ski speed up to world class level.

The parts that make a biathlon rifle are from all over the place. Germany, France, my neighbor down the road, Norway, the garage up the road in Fort Kent and some duct tape I bought at Mardens. 
       On the shooting front I was starting to get a little worried when I wasn't able to find much for resources. On the other hand, if I were to find some incite the new advise would probably lead to changes on the rifle itself. As much as I like my old stock I was already planning on making some changes to it. The clutch was that making any changes means breaking out the wood filler and sand paper. It works, but it's not the most efficient system for making adjustments. So you can see where this is this going. I sent an email or two out and shortly later there was new stock flying through the air with my name on it. It has since arrived. The break in stage is still ongoing, but this new stock is the best for making on the spot adjustments. That was what grabbed my attention in the first place. What little live shooting I've done so far has been promising.
       Good contacts can go a long way. Despite not being named to any national team this year, the world of biathlon hasn't forgotten about me. Everyone is still behind me and sending feed back when they can. A slow start yes, but it's a long training season and the components of better results are making some headway.
      The reacquiring obstacles are still around. The orange engine light in my truck likes to stay on, I could use another pair of roller skis, I can't recommend a Jamis cycle-cross bike yet, and if my lettuce would start growing that would be grand. It's also that time of year when I take an online class and go back to dreaming of the rest of the year when I'm not taking an online class. That about sums up that.
15 sec up / 15 sec down for 8 min. 3 time over. fun times. 
      There is a lot of progress to be made that is still in the "to be made" stage, but I'm doing my homework like I always have. It's just a matter of doing it correctly. It helps when you have random snow storms in the middle of May and get to train on snow in your back yard. Even the weather is up for making new ideas happen.


Saturday, April 30, 2016

Stubbornness and Stupidity Can Move Mountains

         The goal was to have a set decision on what I wanted to focus on next year, the post April era, by the end of the month. A few weeks ago it was 50/50 on the athletic / biathlon vs the non athletic / real world approach to life. I was fortunate enough to have a meeting with a group of old and new coaches. We went over what was available and what unfortunately wasn't. Everyone made it clear that it was my decision and would support either direction. At some point, it was also mentioned that I'll know "for sure" what I want to do sooner or later and it won't be the 50/50 scenario anymore. Turns out that was precisely the case.
Former MWSC coach and USBA coach Per still using me as a reference.
         So I'm in the sport for another year. As mentioned before, pre-Olympic year retirement is seldom, so two more years is likely. Unlike past years, it wasn't the usually inability to give up. This time it was a conscious choice. This was the closest I've ever been to hanging up the fight and seeking normal world possibilities. In the course of one day however, it was clear (for more than one decision) that I was going to be a biathlete for a little while longer.
       The reasoning had to be justified though. If I stay in 100% and fail to figure it out or achieve my goals it will only have been an extra two years tacked onto an already long career of 100% effort. It wouldn't be easy to deal with over the next two years, but a decade or so down the road and I'll have those additional years beyond the glory result seasons to fairly say "I tried." There are more successful athletes that wouldn't be able to say the same. Let's not forget the other side. Should I finally break a threshold in shooting percentages I would be able to at least set myself up for greater results. Ski speed was up and down last season, but there was one too many days when better shooting would have drastically brought up the performance. Ski speed hasn't dropped off enough to give up on and depending on how to look at it, neither has shooting.
       It is not that I don't have other interest, more so, I would like more time to think it over. An education is still the works, but I'm taking my time more than I would like to admit. Nevertheless, an online class starts up this Monday with my name on the list. The horror stories of the real world are non stop. Based off of what I've heard it would seem there is no point in getting out of bed in the morning, much less pursuing your goals. So that being said, I'm aware of how crushing life can be.
      So what is the plan to make a notable difference on the shooting range?  The truth is there was a slight push to think outside the box last year at this time. Unfortunately, everyone was busy and occupied with other task and in the end my training stayed in the all too familiar biathlon training system. This isn't to say that that system doesn't work. It has worked for me before and I certainly would consider it a comfort zone, but it's clear now that outside opinions are worth the effort. An idea or two is on the wall and unlike my last update some of them are coming together. No details yet, but think other shooting sports and opinions.
      The logistic and resources needed to make this happen were a limiting factor in the decision process. Ultimately, the sooner I can make an itinerary of how to attack this year the sooner I can conspire a way to make it work. Training wise, the total volume will drop again this year. Most athletes don't have a problem making that happen. Typically increasing the total training load is the difficult part. Somehow I over shot my 700 hour plan last year and hit 770. In layman's terms, that's unusual. The loose idea from here is to keep the energy up enough for the important sessions and allot my schedule with enough time to make other arrangements feasible. Whether it's a niche part time job (any suggestions?) or a flight into Colorado Springs the drop in volume should alleviate some stress.

      Plus I didn't feel like writing a lengthy farewell update. Some things never change. Not yet anyways. Nothing is set in stone. A bit unlikely, but motivation could change a month down the road. For now, it's down to working my way back into training while pinning at an outside perspective on the shooting front. Not unlike the recent norm, weather has been all over the place. It was -8C the other day. I did some intensity on snow twice last week. It's not the best skiing, but the longer I can dodge roller skiing the better. It's amazing what a stubborn attitude can do when applied to the bigger picture. So hear's to thrashing it for another round. In the long run, if I win I win and if I loose, I win. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

An Update from the Camera

Crust skiing in Yellowstone is not so bad. 

Otherwise, it was sunny and summer in Bozeman. 

Late March in northen Maineh holding it's own. 

The best part is being able to ski on the crust on both sides of the country. 

The woods roads make for the best training almost anytime of the year. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Fork in the Road


So what happens now? US Nationals (NorAm champs) are long over. With those races out of the way the spring time check out period has started. The goal for April has always been to relax. The peak focus of professionalism means a few coach meetings to discus training structure for the next season. This year things are different. Normally we're trying to come up with a new plan that's going to make the big difference I've been shooting for. Not unlike past years, that part is still in discussion. The difference circa 2016 is that that's only half of the equation.

          It was nice to see the other athletes on the A team in Northern, Maine again this year. The Fort Kent Outdoor Center did an impressive job hosting NorAm champs. The racing for me was solid. Nothing too out of the ordinary happened. Shooting was it's abysmal self for two of the three races. The mass start showed signs of improvement beyond the first stage anyways. Ski speed was right where I wanted it to be for all three competitions. I was clearly in the mix with the A team athletes.

 The limiting factor currently, is deciding what I want to be doing next year. The specific ideas range from training volume, to consulting precision shooter professionals, to finishing out an education, to finding a simple job. Where should I start? Well, in the big picture it's a two party situation. I can stay in biathlon and continue fighting my way back up to the level of three years ago. Or! I can abruptly and awkwardly declare retirement and start what would realistically be a new life.

If I stick with the sport for one more year I'm in for it two more years. Nobody quits the year out in an Olympic cycle. The thought process has been very conflicting. On one hand, grinding it out for another two years with little to no resources is an exhausting strain on everyone involved. On the other, were I to land another spot on the 2018 team it would all have been worth it. I wasn't named to any team again this year. Shooting must have weighed heavy because ski speed clearly was not my weak point comparatively speaking. I don’t clean sprint races very often, but when I do I’m at least capable of making the pursuit cut. Right now I'm looking into what resources are still available. Since nothing is official I'll hold off on the details.

Opposing directions include even more indecision. I wish I had an excuse not to get a degree of some sort, but the current scholarship deal I’m locked into is hard to argue with. I don't have a definitive idea of what to pursue yet, but at this point, simply committing to more than one class a year would be a decision within itself. Then there is the prospect of living in the real world. As someone who consideres quiet time to himself as good as currency, having a job that could enable me to live on my own is a tempting thought. To be fair that sort of job is also hard to find.

           There has been a lot of thinking going on and not so much decision making. My motivation changes from day to day. The goal is to have an answer by the end of the month. I'm going to wait and see what if any options I have. That aplies to both directions.
           Now, this is April. Since I had amassed some unused ticket credit that was going to expire there was no reason not to put it to good spring time use. It's down to one more connection flight to Bozeman, Montana. Proving once again that it is a small world I'll be staying with an old friend from northern Maine. Infact, to further drive home the small world theme, this trip will be a good chance to catch with several old friends from all over the place.

       All this, while trying to do less "am deciding" and more "have decided." Wish me luck

Friday, March 4, 2016

It's Not Over Yet

        The season that never was continues at it's steady pace. I was not named to any team after the NorAm races in Jericho. The effort and motivation were there in full force, as well as the stress surrounding team selection. Unfortunately, it didn't work out and yet again, I'm back training on my own in Stockholm. So what happens from here?

       Despite a nasty cold and sore throat I felt a little fresh in the sprint race. The conditions were decent. Northern Maine is pretty much the closest thing to winter in New England has right now. That weekend in Jericho had us on a meter of artificial snow. It was basically a ribbon of forced winter curving around in spring time. The wind was a severe limiting factor in the sprint race. If you were lucky you would get a brief window of calm to shoot in normal difficulty. That was not the case for me. I "camped out" during standing. It was a gamble and I lost with six penalties total. I was a ways down the result list.

      The pursuit was, for the most part, a significantly better race. It was full spring racing mode condition wise. This meant thrashing around in the slush. This has never been my strong point, but thanks to the trends of the past five or so years I've learned to work with these spring like conditions. Seriously, this is what winter has been in central Europe year after year lately. So, to my liking I actually made a strong case for ski speed. This was best performance on skis I had done in a month. Prone was decent with three misses, but it was standing that held me back. It's unclear what happened to the reliability of my standing.  

     So anyways, training is still revolving around something in the near future. I'm back home marking up the trails around the house. I can't say I miss travailing or the drawn out team dinners, but I do miss the European racing atmosphere. The next chance to make a case for myself is the North American Champs. Which, happens to be in Fort Kent, ME this year. How convenient. The focus has been on volume this week. The next two weeks will have some more shooting and eventually a brief race intensity block. Hopefully this will put things into a late season peak. After that point, I can't tell you what the plans are. For now, it's all NorAm champs.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Plot Twist

         This was supposed to be the day I pack up for a flight westward tomorrow. The itinerary had me landing in Minneapolis where I would meet up with some friends and drive to Hayward, WI. This time of year any sentence with the words "Hayward Wisconsin" in it most likely has "Birkie" somewhere else in it. This was supposed to be the update of how well my marathon prep training has been going. The clutch is, it simply hasn't been going the well. Add in a race or two to confirm that and maybe some old friends showing up for the Presque Isle world cup and you have the new and improved salvage operation of 2015/16.
          I'm unsure where training went downhill, but I have my suspension. I started attempting a rather challenging session. I've always been confident in my ability to soak up training so there was no reason to fear it. I was actually excited about. This was the session that was going to allow me to crush it at the Birkie. Low and behold I suspect this was the session that crushed me. My last full effort at this marathon training left me at full depletion. I tried to do some more intensity a few days after and was unable to complete the whole workout. Naturally, I took it easy and made my way down to Craftsbury,VT for and eastern cup 10km skate race. No, the course did not favor me, but this time I had a reasonable start seed, and overall it was completely fair. The real limiting factor was the lack of spring in the legs. That sixth gear, the one that separates summer training from winter racing. Without that snap on the last loop I had no choice but to deal with a lackluster result.

         Convinced that I simply need a bit more rest to rebound I proceeded to stay indoors and stick to easy classic distance on the trails down the road in Stockholm. They needed a handful of biathletes for a the TV beta test prior to the first WC event in Presque Isle. This was a good chance to race in a more relaxed setting. A good race that day would mean that everything was actually on good pace, that the Birkie was going to be the glorified comeback to my setback of a season.
       The test race did make for a good indicator of how the shape was going. The results, however were simply not good. By not good, I mean I contemplated dropping out of a 7.5km. Stand this against less than two weeks before a 51km competition. Now do you see some reasoning behind dropping the Birkie option?

       There is another side to this as well. There is more than one reason for the change of plans. Aside from being able to catch up with the other athletes at the WC it also gave me a chance to touch base with some of the USBA coaches. Seeing the other athletes help show some contrast from the world of nordic racing and the world of biathlon. It was clear which one was my comfort zone, and which one required an ivy league education to be accepted into.  Meeting with the coaches made it clear what my best course of action should be if I want to get back into the USBA system.
      This new race itinerary puts me in Jericho, VT this coming weekend. There is a NorAm on Saturday and Sunday. The MWSC team departs tomorrow. If all goes well (it may or easily may not) then it's off to Europe for some late season racing. This will grant me a start spot for a German cup race and the last IBU cup race in Martell, Italy. Should I be able to put together a performance half as good as I know I can do it shouldn't be too hard to see myself in Europe this season afterall. On the other hand if things really head south the way they did in December then it's back to skiing on the Snowy Mt Trails.

       At this point neither would disappoint me.  I'm not suggesting that I'm neutral towards my goals right now, but the motivation these past few weeks have has been changing from one side to the other. If you average it all together you could call it neutral.

     In the meantime, energy feels decent, but it's still unclear. I wasn't able to do the intended intensity yesterday. For the first time in more than a year I woke up with all to familiar feeling. That undeniable scratch in the back of your throat. That congealed stuffy feeling in your sinuses. So it's back to the gauntlet of tricks to expedited a cold. I'm confident that by the time Saturday morning rolls around I be good to go. The bib count won't be in the thousands, but those that do show will be old acquaintances that I like enjoy racing with.