Saturday, February 18, 2017

Meanwhile in Antholz

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pictures to come...

Friday, February 10, 2017

Set Backs and Resets

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

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


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

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

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

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




Trains are great!!

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

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Eight Day Breakdown Highlights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Less Text More Pixels


Why don't we start with some color and work our way down from there. The first few are from Antholze. The rest are from an afternoon run in Duszniki Poland. Enjoy.





A very Bavarian structure.

The Antholz WC might just have the best Y-club food.
I wonder if they planned this walk way when these trees were planted.

Buildings appear to be taken down only by natural causes.
Oh how nice! The coal riddled grey sky cleared for a day. 







The window outside our hotel.


black and white! Aren't I special!


More info on the racing this week and the itinerary to come. Don't expect a super positive one. At the very least, it's honest. The finer details are still pending.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Out of the Starting Gate

       It's all about racing. The focal point behind every training session whether it's the pre-race session that I have planned tomorrow or the hill bounding intervals I did on the path leading up too the fire tower in Stockholm last July. Ever training session directly or indirectly revolves around the racing shape from December too March. That's why I'm here in Duszniki, Poland. This is an opportunity to get out of the starting gate. I was in Antholz last week with the goal of having a few solid races followed by a brief relax period before a pre-world champs training camp. But when does life go completely as your goals dictate?

        Antholz is always such a relief. There is a reason we call it Suntholz. Hard packed conditions, fresh air, great coffee and that warm glow that creeps down the mountain behind the range and hits the range around 10:30. Still, I was in the business of racing again. Rupholding wasn't anything special and I wanted to prove otherwise. This time around we actually had more athletes than start spots. The opposite of our team depth in December. If the race was a sprint format the team line up might have been different. I ended up not racing at all last week. Everything was feeling ready to go, but the whole point behind being in Antholz this time of year wasn't fulfilled. 

        The plan took more shifting from there. The whole men's team did extremely well in the individual and my spot on the world champs team is now up for debate. Packing up for the nine hour drive to Poland for European champs was a certainty. Admittedly, I was strongly considering the races for previously mentioned reasons. Not only do I have the competitive environment of the Euro racing scene, but once again the element of team naming is present. Something I have dealt with on more than one occasion. 

        Dusniki, Poland is not a foreign race venue for me. I competed here a couple of years ago for an IBU cup. I remember the cold rain, lack of snow and lack of confidence in my ability to compete. Today the landscape was sunny and covered in snow. It's not my style of course; one decent climb was found and it's only in the 2.5km loop. The rest is rolling / gradual terrain. The first race is on for Thursday. While European champs isn't popular enough to be televised on biathlonworld.com the level of competition isn't much of a step down from the world cup. Naturally, I won't make any prediction as anything can happen.  


Pictures are in the works, but the internet at our hotel is not the business of functioning very often. If this text makes it on the blog it will be a hard days work for this router in Poland.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Shame Hour in Ruhpolding

          Last week was the fifth world cup series of the season. Not unlike past years the staple that is Ruhpolding was the site of a relay, sprint, and pursuit. Winter was in full force. Snow fell in thick flakes for about five of the seven days the circuit was there. In the end, the upward trend I set in Oberhof took a dive with one too many trips to the penalty loop. Hopes are still high and theses days any start spot on the world cup is a learning experience. Good results or not so good are helpful in building to the next race.

        My one and only start was the sprint race. With a full team of five men I was the reserve for the relay. Relay's tend to favor fast and accurate shooters which is not my strong point yet. For the first time in my (world cup) racing career I was bib number one. It's technically random, but the coaches put me in the first seed, thus giving me the chance of drawing bib one. The crowd was about what I expected from Ruhpolding. This means large and energetic. Still, after the WC in Nove Mesto the energy in the stadium hasn't been the same. It's much more calm by comparison. The first three shots in prone felt like hits and were. The last two slipped out of my focus and didn't go down. Standing was a repeat story. I knew how to hit the targets, but wasn't able to execute it five times in a row. Biathlon showed it's cruel side yet again. 60% shooting on a day that demanded 90% or better was plenty to put me out of the glory zone.
   
        Not all was a loss. As I said, the first three shots in prone felt like hits and were. In the past I've had stages that ended in with a question mark over my head. The feeling behind each shot would be unknown, regardless of whether or not it was a hit. In this most recent race, I can recall the hits feeling solid and and the misses feeling like poorly timed mistakes. I deserved the results of my shooting that day.  The Ruhpolding course profile isn't the best for my style. The conditions were hard packed and it's not devoid of steep climbs. However, the flat stretches and broken up climbs make it a challenge for me. Oberhof was great, with the brutal unforgiving hill right out of the stadium and simple downhills. If you could stack the two hills in Ruhpolding's 3.3km loop one on top of the other I would be ready to go. With that in mind, I was pleased with the ski effort on the day.

      When you don't make the pursuit you're left to ensure that you'll be ready for the next race. In this case, it's next Friday. Just because you don't have a race effort in the mix for Sunday doesn't mean you get to sit in the hotel room and bide your time. No, you pack up your gear and get ready for a workout hard enough to replace the race you're not competing in. The women and men both had the their pursuit on Sunday. This meant leaving from the hotel early. The real let down in this session is that it's obvious what you're up to. You didn't make the pursuit and now you have to weave through the wax techs to make up for it. I've been in this slot so many times before, I've started calling it "shame training."

       With the penalty loop and loss of a pursuit start behind me I can move on to the next opportunity. Currently, the team is in Antholze. At the the SeeHause. This hotel restaurant is about a five minute ski up from the venue. I'm anxious for a another start. The energy in the legs is feeling good; better than it was in December. It's never fun to have a poor result and have to wait it out for another week to prove otherwise, but compared to past years that's a significantly reduced wait time.

       

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Winds Of Opportunity

Extra blue classic skiing. Great Success!
      I can't remember a time when racing in Oberhof didn't involve challenge weather conditions. While it was great to have plenty of hard packed snow last week, the wind and bitter cold temps made the racing difficult. Other years it has been rain or fog during the op

ening WC of the second trimester. That being said, I would rather deal with a cold wind over a damp drizzle. Not unlike weather in Oberhof, I've had plenty of demoralizing results there. That's why last week was boon for the old confidence.
   
      I can seldom warm up in the USBA down jacket without overheating. This was one of those seldom occasions. None of the athletes were in a rush to line up in their lanes at the start of the pursuit. It didn't help that so much of the course and stadium was vulnerable to wind chill. Still, no one was going to give up and the race started without a hitch. For whatever reason the bulk of the field does not take it easy on the first loop. I prefer to pace myself, but in this case it's best to find a good draft and keep up. I couldn't feel my fingers for the first prone and had two misses. With a couple of penalty laps I move down a few places. I took a few clicks before the second prone stage and cleaned. Range time was nothing special but it would have to do.
   
      Going through the stadium on my third loop I could see a lot of athletes in front of me cycling through the penalty loop. Was it that windy? Yes, yes it was. I almost made it out of my first standing with clean shooting. The last target didn't follow the others, unfortunately. I could see that 4/5 wasn't too bad on the day as I was in 35th on my fourth loop. My hands were still too cold to fully feel the trigger and I was loosing time just trying to load the mags into the chamber. I missed two in my last standing, after really hoping for a clean. Spirits were lifted after I glanced at the the racer shooting next to me. We were leaving at the same time, but his target had four penalties. Apparently it really was windy. The legs weren't feeling too springy on the last loop, but I was able to hold onto 34th place.

      We're only two races into the second series bout. Both of which, looked good, but I would like to keep the trend going. This is much easier said than done. Last week's races were great for me because it's the best result on the world cup circuit I've had in years. Not only that, but the top 40 score WC points. The relay in Rupholding is today. I'm the reserve man, but will have a race bib for Friday's sprint. The conditions are nice, the course profile ins't my favorite, and the crowd is very loud. Stay tuned for more updates.