Monday, April 14, 2014

Three Days in DC

Let's kick this off with Washington's assent into heaven. 

Want to see what a lot of diamonds look like? 

It's actually spring time here.

Look familiar?

Because real libraries are equipped with swords.

I was in the back and this was the best I could do.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Season 13/14

          Once again the racing season is over. It's hard to think of everything that has happened since late November. The crazy part is that this is nothing out of the ordinary. Any NorthAmerican biathlete can expect to spend at least three months away from home, four or more if you skip out on Christmas. While this is pretty consistent, some of the racing was different this year. Namely the Olympics. That race series only comes in four year cycles. The base goal for the season was to secure a spot on that team. That wasn't the only goal in mind, but considering where I started from I knew it wasn't going to be an easy season. Some goals were met with flying colors and others left unfulfilled.
           There was no travailing to Ostersund for the opening WC. There wasn't even an IBU cup in my reach for December. In fact, I had to head in the opposite direction. If I wanted to meet base line goals I would have to be Mt. Itaska, Minnesota around mid December. Thanks to some dependable backing from the MWSC I was able to not only attend the trial races, but also secure some frostbite in Canmore, Alberta the two weeks prior. Canmore was cold on arrival, then delightfully warm and finally back to dangerously cold again before we left. Aside from some on snow training there was also a couple of NorAms. I needed these races to work out the cobwebs before taking any risk in MN. Turns our there was more cobwebs than I thought. Shooting was still in the hole and ski speed wasn't where I had trained it to be. I was starting to get nervous.
           Race one at Mt Itaska left me even more nervous. It also left everyone cold. Despite jumping a time zone over the bitterly cold followed us. After the four trial races were done I was safely in the top two. In the end I had to take the discretion card to make it to the next round. After MN it was Christmas time. Being able to relax and have a conformed spot on the Olympic team would have helped with the Christmas spirit, but it was still a good time.
           The next round of trials was in Ridnaun, Italy. Ridnaun happens to one of the better places on the Euro race circuit. With four races stretched over two weekends the stress levels never dropped much. I did my very best to suppress the fears and horrors of not making the team. Usually it's all blue sky perfect in Ridnaun. For the most part these two weeks were no different. Strangely enough though, the first IBU cup race was held in a blizzard. Visibility was down to a critical distance. It wasn't a pretty race, but I was able to work with it and come out as top American. I didn't do as well the following day when conditions were better, but it was still nice to have the races one after the other. Once that second race was over it was a week of waiting before the last two. This gives you enough time to prepare or recover if you are sick, but it can also give you enough time to stress over racing. This is a very involuntary move on my subconsciousness's part obviously. Thankfully the weekend came and with good weather this time. The individual isn't my strong point and in retro spec others may have been worried about this situation and others delighted at the opportunity move up in points. Either way I took my time in the range. More so than usual. On that day I was not there to win. I was there to qualify. In  other words a great result would have needed more risks, but the OWG's team naming meant not taking any risk. It paid off with slow, but decent shooting and the fifth fastest loop time on the day. I was the top American again by two minutes. The following race went well enough. After a while it was it was clear that my goal was going to be met.
            After that it was off to Antolze. The last WC of the second trimester. This time around the atmosphere was different. It was better. It was better because there was no more team naming to be had. Stress levels were the lowest of the season. I can't say I like prolonging dinner over a two hour span but a better mood still. I was interested to see what racing was like with out the pressure load. Unfortunately I still missed three in my first stage of the sprint and another in standing. On the plus side ski speed was good that day and I still made the pursuit with a 60th result. The pursuit was decent race. It wasn't great, but it was a good sign.
             Training in Antolze went pretty well over the next three weeks, but not without some glitches. Almost everyone was sick at some point. There was some questionable food issues here and there. Most of the team had to spend a day or two at a different hotel.  The See Hause is still great, but after this season I think the yellow page review might go down a notch if there were such a website for the S├╝dtirol region. It wasn't the normal training camp we do in the summer. This was the peak training camp. We weren't trying anything new. Just some fine tuning training before the most important races of the year. There were a few really hard efforts and a time trial to make sure everything was in order before heading over to Sochi
             The Olympic experience was very exciting. I didn't even make it to the opening ceremonies and it was still an over the top experience. This was not your typical run of the mills world champs. At least not in presentation. The endurance village was a non stop post card picture. That's excluding the days when the fog roles in and limits visibility to two meters.  Team processing alone made it clear that this was going to be different. The grandest difference may have been the Olympic biathlon venue. Normally you'll see one or two large buildings for storage and office work. Plus some stands and a line of small wax cabins. Our racing site had a large smooth and sleek building. It looked even better when the sun started to go down just over the mountains. The sky would glow orange as the temperature dropped from spring back to winter.
             Not everything was a glorious change. Some things hung around to plague me. My best finish was 50th in the individual. The top 60 in the sprint race in the pursuit... I was 61st. Someone has to do it and it just happened to be me. As always I was immensely frustrated at first and gradually got over it. Besides a bad prone stage everything was there. I had high hopes for the individual. Shooting during training had been at an all time high. All I had to do was keep it together and let the fitness and shouting do the rest. In the end it was another mediocre race. Not bad, but not beyond the threshold. There was two misses in the first two stages. That really isn't too bad, but these days it's more of a perfection or nothing scenario.
           From a non racing perspective the biggest complaint was the obnoxious amount of effort it took to get from point A too point B. Point B wasn't far off. But when you're in peak shape and don't want to spend 90 plus minutes a day walking it gets old very quickly. It was always a gamble to wait for a shuttle or not. Sometimes you would stand outside for five minutes, other times they would never drive by. As far as I could tell most of the shuttle drivers took 40 minute nap/smoking breaks all the time. In our smoke free village no less. It was almost not worth trying to visit either of the other two villages. If you knew where to go (and most of the volunteers didn't) you could make it to the Coastal village in under three hours. And don't even think of leaving the house with out your credentials. Do that and you're as good as dog food around those parts. I could go on, but the truth is the shenanigans and lack luster results didn't overshadow the grand experience of a first time Olympics. If you want to know why my reply to "How was it" is always "busy" that would be why. In the words of Lowell it was "a dedication to inefficiency."
        The greatest disappointment was no one's fault but my own. The memory of the relay still haunts me. In truth that level of shooting has happened dozens of times during training and past races, but when you're in fourth and it's being broadcasted across the world it really adds a new element of debilitating frustration.
        The closing ceremonies reminded me about the plus side of just making the team. I have faint memories of the last few hours before we made it to Inzell, Germany for our brief off week. No one had more than a few hours of sleep that weekend and the packing the van at six AM on Monday is just a blur now.
        Since this update has rambled on too long once again I'll leave the last article to explain the remainder of the season. It picks up where this one left off. If nothing else just make sure you don't leave the starting gate on the wrong pair of skies. I'm still waiting to look back on that one with laughter. Any day now.
          I told myself that not traveling would do just fine for an April break. But when the chance to go our nation's capital and shake hands with the president was being offered it's hard to not start packing. Besides, this travel is a lot easier without two awkward bags and an fire arm. That being said I was exhausted when it was over. It was a great time, but it felt like a full week crammed into three days. I caught up with some old highschool friends and had a nice tour of the capital building and part of the senate office.  I was glad to have a quick visit with our state senators. This wasn't easy to fit in on such a short notice so I was grateful for the brief chat that we had. Trust me, Susan Collins and Angus King are busy much more often than not. Afterwords I was able to squeeze in a visit to the National Air and Space Museum. That evening was the team USA best of awards show. NBC was broadcasting it so it had that high end production value. When that was all done and over I met up some other friends who just so happened to living in DC. It's amazing how many people I know that live in the area.
           On Thursday all of the USA Olympic and Par-Olympic athletes were sent through a gauntlet of security before we started the White House tour. Turns out it's a pretty nice living quarters. We didn't find any secret door in the library but some of the other sport athlete sure did want to try. Everything had the authentic historical feel that you would expect. Still, it's always better to see it first hand. After a lot of waiting all 400 or so of us lined up. The biathlon team was in no rush to make it to the front of the line so we were last group of people the president and first lady saw. We shook hands had a quick chat and moved on. I tried to take some good pictures of the speech, but when you're in the very back at a peak of 5'6'' most of them aren't going to come out very well, but it was a nice speech. Most of the athletes left that afternoon. Since I had another night in DC I visited with an old friend again before an early flight out of Dulles. Most of the money on the food card the USOC granted us was spent on cab fairs.

               It was a good season. Let's put it that way. Not great, but a long ways off from being terrible. It could have been a lot worse. I didn't have to swallow the disappointment of being denied all over after Vancouver. I had to take the long road to the Olympics. In December few people considered me as a contender. I had little no mention in ski articles... Guess they were wrong. The week that followed team naming was the best week of the season. The support rolled in almost non stop for a while. It still does. I couldn't even make the flight into Presque Isle with out being congratulated. There are letters and emails from people I haven't seen in years too state Senators too middle school teachers and coaches. Not only did I get a lengthy shout out on the Senate floor I even had the chance to meet the people that did the fact checking for it. I told every one that Sochi was great in part because it was so different from our normal routine. Part of that difference was seeing my parents over there. Never mind my email account the support that came through for there trip over was amazing. Naturally given Russian logistics only one short visit attempt was successful. The last month of racing was a disappointment, but I've had worse. The white house visit was exciting. It also reminded me how small of a world it is and what a difference good connections can make. There is always someone you know not far.
            In a grander conclusion, no matter how good or bad the results are I can always fall back on the effort card. There's no doubt that I didn't try to win the race long before I showed up for it. That's something certain others (with better results) can not claim. So if you're looking for a good lesson on loyalty and hard work, try competing at a world class level in one of the most competitive and physically and mentally demanding sports in the world. Trust me you'll learn a lot.

And yes, pictures to come later.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Last Trimester

         The last trimester of the season that I did and the one that the world cup circuit did were not one in the same. I was really hoping that it would be. That extra chance to pull out a good result helped keep the focus together after a long and busy Olympics. Unfortunately this is another less than positive update. It's hard to score WC points after you've been put out to pasture for the season. That isn't to say I don't have any other news besides that. Home two weeks earlier than planned yes, but completely done with racing: no.
          After the Olympics we had an easy week in Inzell, Germany. This was a strange place and time to be. On most days it felt warmer then in February than it did in August when we were there for a summer training camp. There was no snow and walking around in t-shirts out side was an option. Last year at this time we were going for easy classic distance from the doorstep. It hasn't been a great winter for this region. Strangely enough a forty minute drive from Inzell and maybe a couple hundred meters of climb brought us to some of the best skiing we had seen all year. So training was there when we wanted it and a late spring for the rest of time.

          I at least made it to the Pokljuka, Slovenia WC. This is the place that is always popular among the athletes and coaches. The crowds are not massive, so I'm not sure how much the IBU sponsors and TV crews like the place. In case you missed the earlier update the racing didn't go so well. It had good potential, but when you choose grab the wrong skis on a day that favored good skis it dons't go over very well with the result list. I was pretty bummed and down right embarrassed for pulling one of the dumbest moves I've ever done. Which happens to be a very competitive category.
            Sometimes I think I can feel the storm coming. Maybe it's just pessimism, maybe it was actually somewhat obvious, but I had a growing fear that I wouldn't be on the team for the last two WCs. I denied all negative thoughts and tried to keep it together. To my dismay the preemptive fear was spot on. I would be the only athlete on the team to be flying home and not to Finland the following week. Due to some ironic nation cup point needs I was the short straw out. It wasn't unfair from the mens team side. Only your team's top three score points and we had three good athletes on pace to keep us in a sage place. I was just disappointed for myself. This was my last chance to justify the training put in this year and year's prior. In one dreadful meeting all that hope went down the drain.

             Like most every athlete in the field at that point in the season I had been looking forward to going home for a while and yet as I packed for the transcontinental flight home there was no excitement to be had. Kontiolahti and Oslo are two great places for racing. There wasn't much for other racing available that interested me, and the thought of ending the season in early March just didn't feel right. It didn't really matter, all I knew was that I needed something to cling to. Something to think about during training. A reason to keep up with the vitamin

D and grab door nobs with my sleeve instead of hand. After some research (e-mailing) the best race itinerary was a 15km skate race in Vermont and a marathon in Sugarloaf.

           It was cold and snowy in Craftsbury, Vermont. It was nice just be able to drive down on day that wasn't storming. Long story short the race was fun, but not fast enough. I could list all sorts of little reasons, but I hate excuses and believe in results. So in all fairness let's just leave it at that. I will say that racing on what was most likely bronchitis did not help. What ever it is, it's still lingering now a week and half later. I was pretty frustrated with the day, but at that point I was close to my terminal frustration. In other words, what did I have to lose?
In all fairness that last flight into PQI has never looked better.
          I took two days off in a row. The legs felt fresh and ready to go again. I was still coughing up death out my my lungs every morning, but close enough for one last race right? I had never been to the Sugarloaf Outdoor Nordic Center. There are a lot of trails to explore. The bulk of them are all the same and lack variety, but there's not much wrong with gradual rolling terrain on a narrow trail through the Maine woods. I actually put in some effort into waxing my race skis for the marathon. I didn't know how the competition was, but that wasn't the point. The logic was that the faster the skis the shorter the race. Breaking a pole didn't help, but it didn't really destroy the race for either. It just forced about seven km of one pole skiing. Thankfully the UVM coach spotted me an extra pole which helped me get to my spare pole catch. By the second loop it was just the three MWSC athletes in front. Welly, Raleigh, and I had a solid 20 to 30 second lead. Eventually we split up, but the podium stayed in the MWSC.
          Ending the racing season in western Maine isn't what I envisioned but it was a nice means to an end. It has been a while since I actually won a race. Admittedly I put in a solid effort to keep my presence in the county under raps. With the two races in mind and lot of busy work to plow through I didn't have the time to catch up with the masses. The race season theme was still a go even after I landed in Presque Isle. Now that Saturday's race is over that subconscious contract is up. That was a run down of the post Sochi section of the 2013/2014 season. Next time I'll try to wrap up the November to March stretch. Aside from a White house visit there isn't a whole lot in place for April. That's a vacation with in it's self.

So as of now Maine's lone Olympian is both physically and officially back home in Stockholm.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Recovering In Fashion

       Here are some examples of camera usage. About half are from an actual compact semi DSLR and the rest are from the cellular devise.  Bavaria and Bled are typically easy spots for decent photography. I refuse to divulge into detail about the last few weeks. For certain reasons that includes my present coordinates. Give me one more week and my season will be officially over and I'll sum up the last segment of racing and non racing. After that (when I find the time) I'll give you my thoughts on the season. To give you a hint, it's going to be a very bittersweet review.

The Bavarian style blanket really helps compliment this afternoon nap. 

What a nice place to be. 

This is sort of the polar opposite of what we were dealing with. 
This one actually started out a picture from the balcony. 

An afternoon run.

The waiting game. 

And yes! I did attempt to storm the castle. My assault was thwarted when I didn't have two Euro on me to surpass the ticket booth guard.

Seriously. How you recover is up to you. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Bad Decisions 2014

         Let's throw a proper introduction to wind and skip right to climatic punch line. I skied on structure skis. There were race skis prepped and ready to go for me. I grabbed the wrong pair, checked them through and proceed to race on them. To call them slow would be an understatement. It was as if they were in love with the snow and didn't want to stop hugging it with every stride. I did use my race skis. This was during my cool down and just for curiosity. The skis that I was supposed to use were fast and really seem to hate all contact with the snow. This cruel sport never fails to deliver.

        Yeah so anyways this was the highlight of the sprint race for me today in Pokljuka, Slovenia. The conditions were decent considering how warm it was. They unleashed the salt effect on the places that needed it and held off where it didn't. The wind was factor for some and not for others. It was fairly consistent with the occasional gust.
       The legs felt pretty good during warm up. They have been a little heavy this past week and I was pleased to be feeling good today. My shooting was actually okay. Range times were slow, but that was due in part to some wind fighting during standing. It was actually amazing that I made it out of standing with only one miss. So with 80% shooting and a fresh feeling in the legs shouldn't a top 40 be in striking distance? Not really. Not when your rocking what could have been classic skis. When you lose a minute plus per lap there isn't much you can do.
       I don't know what this means from here on out. I still did my cool down. I'll go for an afternoon run later on. When the coaches are less busy I'll try to cram in a meeting.  We're staying in Bled, Slovenia and this place is awesome. I suspect Slovenia might just be one of the coolest places no one knows about. Maybe just not back home. As much as this place thrives on tourism it still feels like an under appreciated gem. I'll have some old pictures up later when the motivation is back.

I guess there is a first time for everything.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

OWGs: Done and Over

       We never heard the Olympics be officially announced during openings, but at least the US biathletes had the chance to hear the games be officially closed. These Olympics are over and soon everyone will be anticipating the Summer games in Rio, while we'll all be training and racing like we do every year waiting for the attention to ramp up for 2018 Pyeongchang. However, it's safe to say that these Olympics will have a lasting memory for me well after they are done and over.
        I wish I could say that they are all fond memories. That is far from the case. There are some situations that I can't wait to forget about and others that left simply left a permanent scar to be brutally honest. I'm not going to miss the lack of transportation. This was addressed in an earlier update. It never really got any better. Most of the shuttle drivers could be found parked at the center station either sleeping or outside smoking at the "smoke free" Olympic village. Complaining about the obnoxious, and unnecessary efforts it took to do... almost anything would take too long to recall. Let's just say the exit strategy set for the athletes made for a nice going away present from the Russian logistics department.
      In case you missed the relay it did not work out the way I imagined it would. We were not running at our best capacity from the start. Tim was and still is sick and is on antibiotics. Sean, as the team alternate took his place.  Leif was also sick and wouldn't have even trained in a different situation. So it was Lowell, then me, Sean, and Leif as out anchor leg. We were keeping optimistic about it. From the sounds of it we weren't the only team salvaging it up for the last race. Long story short I killed what ever chance we had. Lowell really went for it on the first leg. It worked out well. He tagged off to me in fourth. Less than ten seconds off of the lead. I snagged a great ride behind the Russian team for the first lap. All was going well until I landed on the range mat for prone. This is where things start going down hill. I had three misses from the clip and proceeded to miss them all over again with my three extra rounds. One penalty in a relay is bad news. I had three. The other guys had decent races. Unfortunately they were fighting towards the back of the race. I was not in very comfortable mood after the race. I really just wanted to punch the whole world in the face. I didn't do any punching, because after all unless I can go back in time and redo that prone stage there isn't much point in doing anything spiteful.
The people that you meet. 
Team USA chalet. 
          The whole experience from the relay really help finalized the theme I had been going through for all of the racing at the OWGs. Close to something great, but never really there. It's that threshold that I've been trying to break for decade or so now. You can imagine how excited it was when I was told I would at least be in the Pokljuka WC team. The thought of leaving the racing season on such an awful note would not be easy to swallow. Now there is at least a chance to redeem myself.
           In the 48 hours that followed I logged loosely seven hours of sleep. It was mix of pandemonium and waiting. Yeah there was a lot of cram packing and paperwork, but there was also the closing ceremonies. I did my best to take some pictures. Hopefully you saw some of them on TV because there isn't much use in trying to describe it. It was an impressive display with a lot of variety to keep us from giving into the sleep deprivation. After that, the whole scene shifted to the coastal athlete village. We were meandering around on the bike until our bus left for the Sochi airport. I say airport, but the D-terminal was actually just a giant unheated tent full of semi alive athletes. We made it too our usual place in Inzell around nine in the morning. I took a brief three hour nap. Some of the others were breaking the six hour mark.
So long Endurance Village. Can't help but wonder what will become of this place down the road. 
         All of that is only a brief summary of the last weekend in Sochi. The Olympics may be over, but does it ever feel nice to have a dinning hall with in 30 seconds of my room. There's no need for credentials. Going into town is a five minute drive with no x-rays  along the way. As much negativity that I've mentioned the Olympics were still the Olympics. The goal of the season was to be there for them. That much is done. Some better performances while at the games sure would have been great and at age 26 I've come to expect more out of myself, but hey, it's in the past now and there isn't much I can do about it.

           Don't ask me when I'm going to be home. I don't know and wouldn't tell you if I did. When I do get home if someone would like to sell a mound of clothing on ebay for commission price that would be great. There is almost no snow in Inzell right now. We'll be in Slovenia next week and supposedly  they have three meters of snow. Maybe we'll get out of April and back into winter.
There is just so much to be said about this one. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Meanwhile In Mother Russia: Round 2

         Who would have thought the Olympics would have been this busy. To be fair, probably a lot of people. I don't know why I didn't see this one coming. The race itinerary for biathlon got off to fast start with the sprint and pursuit and only a couple of days rest before the individual. After that there was actually a brief rest period. I wasn't in the mixed relay and at the time wasn't even sure if I would be in the men's relay or not. Well now we've arrived at the 21st of February. Closing ceremonies are drawing near. Before we go through that experience we have one more suffer fest to dual out. Here is a brief run down of the past couple of weeks.
         The sprint race close to something great. Not in the medals but a season best by a lot. Unfortunately this cruel and vicious sport held it's cut throat standards. While skiing was solid with the 28th fastest time and standing was clean in about 26 seconds, the prone shots, though close together were all on the left side of the target. This granted me four healthy penalty loops. I was 17 seconds away from making the pursuit. I didn't think I had a chance. I gave it my best shot and was a narrow three seconds from 60th. I've never been 61st before. Someone has to do it. I wasn't too excited with the results, but the break down of the race was enough reason to stay positive.
         With no pursuit my next chance was the individual. The four kilometer course at Laura biathlon venue is brutal to be put lightly. Basically you start the loop out with a wall, then you have a couple of sharp corners all the way to the bottom of the course. These corners are not hard to handle if the conditions are normal. Either way, your legs are fried by the time you reach the bottom. After that you climb up just far enough to get run through another short series of corners. This brings you to the real climb of the loop. The hill is hard before you even start it. You still have another three minutes of ascending after you realize you're hurting. There is a long gradual stretch at the top of the course. It's actually the most dependable place to make up time. It holds up when the rest of the snow starts to fall apart. The downhill into the range is the only straight forward rest on the course. You can really generate a lot speed going into the range or finish.
          Long story short the individual was nothing great and nothing too bad. Ski speed was decent, despite not having the most favorable snow conditions. I missed two on the first stage and anther two in my second stage. With the level of competition of today's mens biathlon four is too many for anything special. Thankfully I was able to bring it together and do some damage control by cleaning the last two stages. Range time was the best it has been all year. Similar to the sprint race it felt like I was close to putting it together, but still not able to cross the threshold. On the other hand Lowell had a stellar performance. With one miss he was eighth! The rest of us were hoping for something better, but it was still great to see one us pushing the podium.
          With out a start in the mixed relay I was looking at a stretch with out any racing. I was able to have one full day off. As in an actual day off. There was no two hours of walking and no headaches caused by everyday Russian logistics. These days have been hard to come by lately. I was happy to manage one.
        Training went well, but was subjected to some changes due to weather. The men's mass start was postponed again and again. It wasn't until a the day after the women's mass start that the fog cleared for a long enough time to host the race. The visibility was around three meters for a most of  the day. I'm not exaggerating on that. For training that day I had to find an easy loop on the XC course with a classic track that I could follow closely.
        After about two and half weeks in the Endurance Village the guilt of not being able to say I left or did anything else was starting to build. To be positive I'm glad to say that I ventured out and put in the effort. I saw the Olympic Park and ate at the Coastal Village dinning hall. It wasn't very exciting and only helped to further prove how awful Russian logistics are. "The dedication to inefficiency" is an appropriate phrase. Still, managed to leave the EV. At least there is always that.
        In case you were wondering I will representing USA in the  relay tomorrow. We're not running at our best capacity. From the sounds of it a lot of team are in the same position. Just watching the women's relay you could see that some of the normal expectations were off. Tim is sick and will not be in the race. Lowell is our first leg, I'm second, Sean is third and even though Leif is sick he will be our anchor leg. It's not the best, but there is still reason to be positive. So that's the route I'm taking.
        That's the quick run down of my time up to now. The relay starts at 18:30 Sochi time. I think that's 9:30AM for anyone on EST. It's been a busy few weeks, but none of it for a bad reason. This weekend is going to be very exciting. Hopefully because of a good result. Not to mention being able to attend the Closing Ceremonies this time.