Saturday, August 20, 2016

110% Relative Humidity

         The first time I did a race at the Ethan Allen venue was a mass start. I was 17. The Canadian Juniors were using ridiculously fast roller skis, It was raining at the start, but still super hot out and this was before the mold on the downhills was removed. These were the days when you had to commit to a direction going around one of the downhill corners because once you hit the moldy patch there was no changing direction. The loop has come a long way since then. We are all on zeroed roller skies and the pavement is in near perfect condition. Nevertheless racing in a muggy swamp is still a returning component of racing in Jericho. Last weekend help to remind the USBA field of this in this year's trial races.
Special thanks and photo credit to Brian Conchieri
      Thanks to some helpful friends I was able to dodge the barrack life. The thought of cutting the minimal living standards out of the trip was enough to motivate me into leaving a few days ahead of schedule. The loop and range was already plenty crowded. After two days of the normal rifle use I promptly dug out the rifle oil and lathered on a healthy layer over the outside of the barrel. Otherwise the humidity would have rusted the shine completely off.

    Saturday was the sprint race. It was not exactly a glitch free day. This time it came in the form of missing my start. Two of the three times that I've made that mistake have been in Jericho. The missed start amounted to about 10 too 15 seconds. The energy going into the race was there, but the extra gear wasn't. So the ski speed was decent, but not at optimum level. It could have been the heat. It could have been the time of year. It could have been a dozen other variables. The 60% shooting didn't help my cause either. There was some feeling of let down after such a lack luster race, but after all these years getting bent out of shape over a one day doesn't accomplish much. Rehydrating, breaking the race down, taking a nap, and simply relaxing does help.

And here we have me missing my start...
       The mass start race came up only 24 hours later. Given the heat and short time frame keeping it together on the recovery front was an advantage only a rookie would miss. It was, as expected, hot and humid. No one went down despite the close quarters on the first lap. Prone did not go as well as I hoped. I had two penalties in the first stage and three in the second. To add to this I also went the wrong way in the second lap. Thankfully the racer behind me gave me the heads up memo. It was an awkward slow down and turn around maneuver to get back on the correct course. If I had kept going things would have been much worse. Standing was almost perfect. I use "almost" because the last target of both stages didn't go down. Still, it was enough to open up an opportunity to make it to front of the non Tim Burke / Lowell Bailey pack. Also known as third. I was pleased, but some cooler temperatures and better prone shooting certainly would have been nice.

       Catching up with everyone is always nice. Since I drove myself down there was less of a bum rush to vacate the area code. I did eventually make it back, at which point it was pretty much back to work. It's back to some equipment changes and upgrades. I looked through my training log and decided on what the next few weeks are going to look like.

        The important part is that the weekend could have been much worse and it wasn't. It was successful enough to snag me a spot in a training camp in September. This time I'm also excited to work with a handful of new ideas before the next round of trials. Also, the lower back is in fully functional shape again. You never know how nice it feels until it heads south for a week. The vegetables are plentiful right now and amount of running in Stockholm turns into a apple scavenging quest.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Progress and Digress

        More likely than not we are beyond the half way point of the summer. The leaves will turn in late August if you pay close enough attention. Still, you could call this the half way through summer report. Close enough, I say. Summer has been pretty solid. The hot and occasionally humid weather hasn't worn thin on me just yet. Training is, or was, going well. I carried through well with a few goals. Shooting percentages are not averaging in the 90s yet, but the overall quality has improved. Physical training has had it's ups and down. The overall feeling, not unlike shooting, is heading in the right direction. The past couple of months have not been without the hang up here and there. Here is a break down of how the sport has been going lately.

Can you see what's wrong with this picture? 
        The most recent news revolves around the disaster zone that was my lower back. Does any of that sound familiar? Pulling the weeds in the garden at the house may not have helped, but if you've ever seen an athlete put on a pair of rollerskis it would make a physical therapist cringe. There I was with the intention of an easy two hours on the roller loop at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center. I bent over to clip into my bindings when I felt the breaking point. The denial game didn't work. Training was over and it was back to the gauntlet of recovery techniques. The rebound time wasn't as expedient as I hoped so naturally I went into panic mode. This lead to trying to contact anyone that could help on a Saturday. Since then I've visited a chiropractor, scheduled an appointment with a PT and made good use of Ibuprofen and an ice pack. The real punch to face is blow training takes. Biking has been the staple of training since the break. Running is too high impact and roller skiing is what caused the problem in the first place. On top of that shooting was off the routine. Leaning back and cradling an eight pound rifle for standing doesn't work on a seized up back.
        I'm certainly not the first ski-racer to have this sort of problem. For all the benefits of cross country skiing the occasional muscle imbalance and stress it puts on your back is not one of them. The trick to racing successfully amidst the unavoidable injuries and sickness you'll encounter is to do your best to prevent them and train around them when they do occur. It will always be a gamble, but with more experience you can better understand what your limits are. Since I wasn't even able to get into prone position, much less standing I resorted to watching world cup video from last season while working on good trigger pressure. Even switching clips was an option. When your limited on resources you can only make the very best of what you have. It was not until the following Tuesday that I was able to get into prone. This let me do some slow fire at the range. I attempted to up the road biking level and do a higher intensity session. This ended up with a busted spoke, but thankfully I traded my road bike in for a freshly repaired mt. bike. Good timing can go a long way.

A bit much on the flex end for rollerskis.
       In regards to reaching outside of the sport for some insight. After pulling a few strings I was able to set up an on range skype meeting with a precision shooter, Matt Emmons. Admittedly I was a little skeptical at first. From a glace the sports seem to have a few obvious similarities, but the actual mechanics are very different. This was not the case after all. The new stock I picked up this year allowed easy adjustments. The advise that Matt had was very useful. We made a few changes to standing that made aiming much more solid and cleared up a plaguing problem I've had in my standing since I was a junior. Prone required another session to work out. It's still not perfect, but I feel better with it than I did at the start of the training season. For now I'm going to take what I have and iron it out in time for the August trials. Post trials has an arsenal of ideas I would like to look into for shooting mechanics and components. Some are easy to experiment with, others require some funding and/or carbon weaving.

      Physical training was going well. There was a point when the energy level was starting to feel stale. With enough effort completing the training was not impossible, but doing so with the quality that I wanted wasn't happening. The energy going into the training needed to be higher. Better energy can generate better response to training. At my old age I want to make the most out of the key sessions. Training myself into the ground has it's place in the plan, but when it feels like this when it's not in the plan then we take the most simple solution. Which is to stop training. I took a four day stretch off. Naturally the spring in the legs came back and I felt good about training again. A few days later my lower back suggested otherwise. And this brings me to where I am now. Thanks to some long bike rides I've been able to keep the training load in check. As soon as I bring the injury back to homeostasis I can get back into the productive grind.
      Maybe the optimism is too high. If the first round of trials is a disaster it wouldn't be the first time. If this back injury becomes a reoccurring issue all year training quality will ultimately take a hit. On the other hand there is plenty of reason to suggest that this could be a good season. Confidence has worked well for me in the past so I'm going to play optimism card as much as I want.

Oh the glories of fresh pavement. 


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