Thursday, August 17, 2017

Summer Racing Review.

         Here we are again. Anther post August biathlon racing update. It was a learning experience when I was 16 and it wasn't  anything less last week at age 30. I sorely wish I could say that the changes I made this year paid off and that I might truly be on to something, but that's not the case. This blog has never been much to sugar coat it. You can know that any amount of positive news from here is genuine. With that in mind the weekend of racing was far from a complete loss. It was, after all another learning experience. My policy is still revolves around giving a 100% effort even if the odds are against me.

       In both races the feeling in the legs was all there. It was hot out, but a few degrees cooler than it was last year. There have been races when my face was starting to look white on the last loop. Others have succumb heat exhaustion. Thankfully, I was able to hold my own this year and ski as well or better than the field around me. Since it's August, I can't brag about this rightfully, but it certainly helps in a qualifying situation.

      The overall all set up in shooting was, if nothing else,  looking better than ever. The position for both prone and standing was more solid and the rifle looked more slick than it ever has. It would seem a few good shooting stages was in the future. Well... That didn't happen. How original of me, I know. Both the sprint and mass start was met with below expectations on the shooting percentages. There were a number of reasons for this. One being the nerves and pressure of performing on such a make or break level and the other being a direct process issue. In other words, I wanted the hits too bad to get them in standing and am pretty sure I over held on a couple of shots in prone for similar reasons.

     The final results were not season ending, they will just make things slightly more difficult. The trip home from races like these is never easy. Whether you're meandering through the states on East 2 or trying (and failing) to sleep on an plane, you sure do have a lot of time to mull it over. Fun fact: sometimes I try to arrive home evasively to avoid that initial interrogation of "what went wrong?"

        The conclusion that I came to after this particular drive north eastward was that everything is close to great. The difference between close to great and great is often much closer on the process level than it would appear on the result list level. A more tangible example: I need to be more aggressive in shooting. A little less fear and more forceful on the mat usually works well when I commit to it in training. Obviously, this is easier said than done, but I have ample time before the next races to make it a routine thing.

       You can't argue with results and I'm not about to. I didn't perform well last week and that's that. The best move from here is to use the races as reference point and trust that I'm on the right track. If that's true, then I shouldn't have any problem proving that at the next set of trials. I guess, it's just a little frustrating when you know you could have done better and have to patiently wait another seven or so weeks to prove so!

       The trick to going an entire year with out getting sick comes down to two main things. One: don't travel and two: get lucky. Since not traveling isn't an option for me, it's down to the luck side. I got unlucky at some point driving home and now have to work out a vicious sore throat and cold. The plan was take advantage of the energy in the legs by doing a short volume block. Instead I find, myself weeding the garden and blowing my nose.

      Once the cold has passed it's back to the grind. The next few weeks have me in Maine. There is another camp in Lake Placid towards the end of September into October. It's almost that strange time of year when the weather can't decide if it's summer or fall. Apple season is almost in full swing which means free food will be available for the procurement!

     

     

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Week in the Life of Jericho 2017

      Once again it's August and I find myself in Jericho, Vermont based out of the Ethan Allen National Guard base for the who knows what year in a row. There is no denying some of the advantages of training here, but there is also some understandable down sides.  Good training or not, some of the athletes swarming the loop everyday are here for experience and a few are here for the first round of December WC team trials. I made it here a few more days in advance to the weekend races, but the focus is still on those performances.

        After the last large training block, the energy wasn't in the legs, even after the recovery period. These kinds of responses, or lack there of, always make me nervous. I was tired the whole last ten days of the training block, but this expected. All I have to do is hang on and know that with three or four easy days in a row I'll be back fresher than ever. This time, after three days off in a row, the energy wasn't there. Maybe I'm getting too old, or the heat and humidity was too much, or maybe I just overthink it too much. Either way, I'm happy to report that the spring in the legs is for the most part back.

       The roller ski loop in Jericho is world class. It could just be the best North America has. It wasn't always like this. In the past, the pavement was questionable. Wet moss patches back in the day always made the downhills more exciting. In resent years the loop has be updated. It's closed in, but not falling apart with extra vegetation creeping in. The longest loop option is 4kms. The terrain has plenty of climbing and the stadium makes for a nice flatter choice if need be.

       It's not all perfection here though. Northern Vermont in August isn't exactly known for it's early fall like weather like northern Maine is. No one races well on the super hot summer days, but some handle it better than others. I am not one of those others. A solid ski speed performance has always been tricky to do at these races. The heat can really take that extra gear out of you. So far the weather forecast suggest that this week might be a manageable one. If it's not 85, it's usually pouring rain. So, I'm just sitting here hoping this weekend will be an exception to those two.

      Shooting is still feeling better. I'm not exactly averaging 95% with sub 25 second range times, but the important key sessions are going well. The changes made to my positions are still coming together. In the past month the effort to nail that perfect stage has become more and more routine. In the past couple of weeks the mechanical side of things has come a long way. A lighter barrel and actions is too pricey for me, so we had to innovate. There is no extra wood, plastic, or even metal in some spots on my rifle now. Some of the parts made for rear end of the stock came out better than I could have hoped for. While it's close, both the equipment and process of shooting isn't finalized yet.

      August has never been the time of year to make an accurate judgment of ability in a winter sport. In the end, you do have to make a call at some point. The fastest biathletes are there in February, but if you held the qualifying races one after another in late January it wouldn't be fair then either. This weekend is super early for talent to shine, but that's the hand I'm dealt with. We're looking at a sprint and mass start format for this first round.

      I will soon be out of the barracks. I won't go into detail about the right of passage it is for a junior athlete to be at the Jericho camp, but I will say that I'm looking forward to moving into a quieter place in a day or so. It might take a few years, or perhaps decades, but eventually I'll look back on the summer Jericho camp fondly.

Provided I'm not too lazy, a full rundown of the week will be up shortly after.

   

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Summer Grind

       Since nothing too far out of the ordinary has occurred in my world I couldn't think of central theme to this update. Nor do I have the motivation to whip up a proper intro. So here are a few bits of random information that have happened since the last check in.

* The remaining two weeks of training in Lake Placid were a success. The last day was spent rollerskiing up Whiteface in the rain. A whole hour of threshold training and not once did we hear the thunder. Since it was all uphill the rain wasn't as obnoxious as it usually is.

* The garden is teaming with fresh vegetables. Despite my best efforts there is only so much a lettuce I can eat.

* Before I left the county, I had a pea plant growing in the window. The watering of said plant had ceased with my departure. When it did finally have a drink, it was given soap water by mistake. At this point it was left for certain death. As of yesterday, I noticed a pod starting to grow in response to my vein attempt at revival.

* The coaches mentioned that they thought my shooting had improved since last year. It felt like it was heading in the right direction, but with the significant changes I still thought it had some breaking in to do. On the other hand if not one, but two coaches that have been working with me for a month want to tell me the shooting has improved, then I'm not going to argue.

* The actual rifle it's self has undergone some significant changes for the better. A before and after picture would have been a nice way to show this. That one will have to wait until the final touches are done. For now the rifle feels like a better fit than it ever has.

* Last week was the end of a three week training cycle. Three weeks in a row, nothing under 20 hours. After the drive back from Lake Placid I started the following Monday off with a four hour ride. This was about when the stretch of heat and humidity kicked in. There were about three high intensity sessions per week. The energy lasted to about the half way point, before every session was part of a countdown to Sunday. It's July and a winter sport, who needs energy anyway?

* The last day of that training period was the Nordic Trail Fest at the Nordic Heritage Center. The whole event was well populated and it's nice to see the place be in heavy use. The premise of the event is to essentially run or bike in circles from 12:30PM to 6:30PM. You're welcome to divide it up with a team effort, or you can thwart it on your own. I ended up going with the latter. My legs were not happy with my brain's commanding decision. 55km (33 miles) was the longest I had ever run on purpose.

* The very much needed recovery period has made for a nice break. I've been able to catch up on goals I've put aside lately. Some any normal 30 year old would have to deal with and others exclusive to me. This blog, rifle work, vehicle inspection, garden weeds, waffles and season three of The Simpsons for example.


With any luck and dedication the next update will have some more pictures in it.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

So On and So Forth

      Rest assured, I'm alive and well. All systems are a go. Living quarters is still the OTC in Lake Placid. It will be this way for a couple more weeks. Despite going to bed early and consistent afternoon naps I'm still training hard enough to be amply tired. Despite having meals ready available three times a day and training spoon fed to us I still find myself cramped for free time.  This is just another quick update with some photos to keep everyone up to date.

See! It's not so bad.
      Thanks to the support I gained I was finally able to bring the cross bike in for some much needed repair. We're looking at a new chain, disk set, bottom bracket repair, front and rear fork alignment, new brake pads, and two new tires. It will be ready and fine tuned to help me get lost on the woods roads of northern Maine in no time.


One step closer to isolating the limiting factor between a miss and a hit.
      The shoulder injury I took on a few weeks ago is undoubtable healing. The rate of recovery however, is annoying. If an injury last more than 12 hours I consider it annoying. This one is going on three weeks. More and more use of it is becoming possible. This is essential when the training load is as high as it is this time of year. You can only off load a certain muscle group so much, before you run into overuse of another.

The real clutch to rebuilding you position is the modelling component. 
Enjoy morning runs? I hope you enjoy wet shoes to. 
      Shooting is also heading in the right direction. A bit slower than expected, but still progressing. I thought I had it figured out for my standing position by the middle of May. I wasn't confident with prone and didn't bother settling down on a formula. Turns out I was way off in both prone and standing. After the brief camp with the team shooting doctor the process of reworking the muscle memory from almost point zero up to a knee jerk reaction level began. Since then, it has become more and more familiar while the groups have been getting tighter and tighter. I was able to differentiate between how to do a precision test well versus hitting targets during high intensity training combos. There are shots that still drift far away, but the misses are not from lack of effort.

          Depending on how you look at it nothing else is new. This will technically be my last update from my twenties. I'm pretty sure the root of turning 30, 40, or 50 and so on stems from the turning over of an extra digit in our base ten numbering system. Don't ask me how, but I think I would only be turning 26 in a base 12 system. Not such a big deal now, huh? Despite being within striking distance of another Olympic team and contemplating retiring there after, one way or the other, I'll probably Peter Pan my way through the next decade. Perhaps not as resource dependent on others, next time around though. At the moment, it's all about this rest day. Then it's all about making the most of training while it's being stream lined to me here at the Olympic Day Care Center. Enjoy the summer!

     
Here goes Russell in his thirties. 


So long dandelion season. 


Those days when your legs are not into it and the hot humid weather isn't helping it helps to remember how loud this afternoon was in Nove Mesto. 


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

This Is Still Our Normal


       When I found out that the team shooting doctor would be in Lake Placid to work with the national team circa early June I had my doubts. It's a long drive, I wouldn't have a place to stay at that point, the first camp starts a week after, and why not go for a thorough skype session instead? Despite going though with it at the very end of a tough training block, I have to admit that the trip was worth the effort. If you're going to do something, at least try to do it right. I needed Matt's in person perspective with my shooting even it meant going out of my way to make the meeting happen. Injured shoulder and all, the trip was success.

        Training has been going well. Or at least "going" in the literal sense. Even after I've contacted the pavement the movement was still happening. Everything was going smooth at about 20mph when my pole planted between my legs. An all to common mistake in roller skiing. I've gone down in this fashion so many times before, all I cared about was landing in a way that didn't break my pole. On the plus side the ski pole didn't snap. On the down side, my shoulder took to bulk of the fall. I do recall the feeling of my leg and elbow sliding on the unforgiving pavement. I was going pretty hard at the time and the impact knocked the wind out of me. At first, I scrambled to my feet carefully, as to not break my pole on the way up. Then frustration followed. The same frustration that comes with every fall. Then came the pain, as I hung out on the side of the road I checked the damage. The blood coming off my arm looked worse than it was. That poor scared elbow had recently healed from a bike to ice slip earlier in May, and there is was hemorrhaging all over again. The part that concerned me was the shoulder pain. That problem had held on since then. It's getting better, but it's made certain training methods difficult.

       On Wednesday I headed north, then west, then south, then meandered through the Adirondacks until I found myself in Lake Placid yet again. The place felt familiar, as if I had been there a week ago when it was actually almost a year since the last visit. Not unlike home, it was cold and raining. The dinning hall at the OTC was open just long enough after a long drive and short run to catch dinner before calling it quits for the day.

       My first meeting with Matt Emmons was Thursday morning. The roller ski session beforehand was cut short when my shoulder wasn't into it. I put on what I thought would be warm enough clothing for an outdoor shooting session in June. I was wrong to underestimate the covered range. We were both on the same page with what we wanted out of set up for prone and standing. It took a while to move the various components around to the right places. In then end we had a set up that made sense both fundamentally and for my comfort zone. There is a lot of science to precision shooting.
       
      Matt is a world Champion in precision shooting. Not only that, but he's also very good at conveying the important parts of shooting over. This is what I want in shooting from a coach, because it takes a lot of trust to make any major changes. To give you an idea of Matt's skill level: it was windy that morning. When my grouping wasn't spectacular, Matt put my cuff on and tried my rifle out for five shots. He was baffled when the group wasn't perfect. It wasn't his rifle, he shot pretty fast, and it was very windy! He opened up the front sight and swapped it out for a slightly smaller ring, got back into position and shot what we (biathletes) would call a perfect group.

        The last few days of the week were busy. The dome light to door in my truck was disconnected. This plan backfired on me when the warning light for the headlights stop ringing when you left the lights on. Thankfully, I only drained the battery twice. Both times in the OTC parking lot. Since it was the end of our three week training stretch my battery was running low. Naturally, I forgot my road bike back home and with the shoulder injury it ended up being a slight running camp. We ironed out the smaller details in shooting as best as we could. It's still going to take some time to become accustomed to the changes, but it's going in the right direction now.
 
         Now it's back to crunch time. That's the time when we you have less than a week to cover all of your bases before you're back in training gauntlet. With the confidence in the new set up I can start working towards updated the parts on the rifle stock. The next step in training has me back in Lake Placid for long training camp. Since that's more of a next week issue and this is technically a recovery week, I'm going to have to resist going into details about more training. 
 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Success!

             Plot twist! Lo and behold the support rolled in just in time. The rallyme site that I set up in April with a 45 day limit didn't have very much of attention until the last two days.  It was like racing 50km where none of the athletes make any move until the 48km mark. So, it goes without saying that the help was appreciated.

          Who would have thought an Olympic sport would produce so little money for the athletes?  Resources have been stretched thin the past three years. Yet, the amount of time and energy needed to compete at a high level doesn't let up just so you can find a job in the meantime. I've proven that I can compete with the upper end of the sport on a good day,  but the upper end of the athletes do pretty well for themselves. The level just below them, such as myself, doesn't necessarily train any less than they do, the difference is that they simply don't have the spoon fed support to carry them along. This is where the conflict of interest comes from. It's also where everyone who donated to my cause put a thorn in the problem. Do I forfeit and thwart the odds in the real world? Maybe next year, but not before the Olympics are over. Funding the gap between what I'm trying to achieve and what I can afford to achieve was lessened by your contributions.

         The first step from here is to maintain what's going right while also work on fixing what isn't. On a more tangible level this means I've recently finished out of a short rest period and going into a heavy training period. That much I can do, shooting has always been the tricky part. This year, the coaches and I decided to rebuild the foundation of my position in shooting. Since this has been harder than expected the plan now is to meet with USBA's shooting coach in Lake Placid next week. Were I on the A-team this would be easy, but without the OTC residence it becomes a long drive for a denial of a place to stay. The chance to work with someone who can help me find the right fit that looks right on a proven scientific level is worth the drive and expenses.  And, while I'm there, I should probably use this opportunity to pay back my coach for that pricey rifle harness he covered for me three years ago... There's also that.

         I hope this makes it clear that the donations are very much appreciated. None of it will go to waist. I would also like to point out that the vast majority of the support came from the state of Maine. The link was to the site was sent to a wide range from around the US. In the end it was the local crowd that was really behind me. So with that in mind, lets show the world what humble Maine can do.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Dark Humor and Optimism




       What do you think: if a biography of my biathlon career was made would it be found under the dark humor aisle or the inspirational come back section (not sure what the technical name for that genre is) of the book store?  To be fair, I did say I despise asking for money, I'm not very skilled at it, and with or without help it's far from over. After all, they can't stop me from training! Still, the current status of my fund raising attempt is not suggesting the latter for my biography theme. 

        I can always train well. Training has been going well. Last week was the first 20 plus hour week of the year. My foot has been questionable in that I'm not sure if it's injured or not. Sometimes it hurts to walk on it other times, like yesterday, I run on it for 30kms and it doesn't complain. The roller skis and pole tips are weathering the training storm well. I was even able to home repair a bike into mostly working! 

       Shooting is still in the hacking phase. The plan is make the stock work for as much as I work for the stock. We're still moving the guts of my prone position around trying to find this perfect fit. Standing has shown some progress with this new outlook. Prone will do the same, but needs more trial and error at the moment.   

  In conclusion... here are a few pictures to add some more color to this update. 
And yes! I successfully skied on May first.

However, this particular day on the crust was the best. 
    
The road doubles as a river.
Not the final version. This is a experimental version. 

The trial and error of getting my head to be more level in prone.
Proof! That I was once in my early 20s.




p.s. Who ever donated that $40 is awesome ! Many thanks! 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Here We Go Again

       https://www.rallyme.com/rallies/6319


          The grind season is officially underway. This grind that is the training season that amounts to a lot of physically demanding training and thousands of rounds out the barrel. That, and a lot of other stuff crammed in and around the training and shooting. After a certain point (a point I hit more than a decade ago, but whatever)  training "hard" or "a lot" isn't enough to make the difference. This is when you have to start training "better" than the competition. The trick isn't mustering up enough motivation to get out the door, but rather knowing what you should do once you're out. Play your cards right and you'll eventually wind up on top. Thrash around like an idiot and no amount of natural talent will grant you success on the world cup level. The tricky part is figuring out what plan works best for you. Since the training season is up and running, here is how I plan on tackling this final round.

       The science part of training will be mostly similar to last year. Last year (4/2016 too 4/2017) I trained about 680 hours. That's almost 100 hours down from the 15/16 year prior. This year the year plan has me at 670. That's not too much for an experienced athlete in my position. I was hitting higher year training loads when I was in my early too mid twenties. Once the base was established it made more sense to push the harder efforts more than the longer efforts. Time spent in the speed just below race pace and time spent above race pace will take an increase this season. The strength training side of things will be more elaborate this time around. Last year's plan had good intentions for strength, but took a left turn when I injured my lower back in July. It helps to have confidence in your plan. I always take past results, other athlete's results into consideration, and mull it all over before handing my thoughts over to a coach. Once my coach does the same thing we lay out the details of the coming year.

       Not unlike past seasons the outcome of the races could have been exponentially better if the shooting had been only slightly better. Yes, most any competitive biathlete can say the same, but after being pushed to every end of the result list and team status most of those biathletes would have long since given up. Though it's been close, that's still not my style. So what am I trying this time to better the performance on the range? April wasn't over before skype meetings were happening. Components to the stock are already in the testing phase. If I can mold a rifle stock that works with me more than it does against me the odds will be more in my favor. Shooting always comes down to odds. You can never guarantee a hit, regardless of how confident you are, but you sure can give yourself the high probability of a hit. That's what I'm pinning for with my prone and standing set up.

        Finding the best set up for shooting is only part of the whole. Once we know what a stock that works for me and not me for the stock we'll start the the process of making it fire proof. Taking weight off one of the heaviest rifles on the WC field is on the to do list. Making it shiny and avoiding excessive duct tape usage won't make me shoot better, but it sure would look nicer. So much of hitting or missing comes down to the few key focus points ingrained into your head. At some point before the first round of trials in August I will have to have some idea of want thought process works the best. And if you've been keeping up with this blog you'll know how important range time is in our sport. It's another weak point for me. One that I've been trying to fix since I was 16. Every week of year has a focus and goal in the plan to bring up the shooting level.

          Training camps are an actual influential part of the summer and fall this year. There is no on snow Bend, OR camp for the B-team or a summer Euro camp, but there is a solid amount of time back in Lake Placid. Since the first camp is only five days and an eight hour drive I opted out. This will keep me in northern Maine until mid June for the fist LP camp. Spending more time training with the A-team and working with the coaching staff is what I'm looking for.
   
       That about sums up what the outlook for the summer will look like. The fall is loosely in place, but open to change. The winter is the part that matters. It's an Olympic year, so naturally everything for any winter sport will revolve around February. My RallyMe campaign has made approximately zero progress thus far. It's not over yet, and I'm plenty optimistic. Still, if it was over, it would be okay. Supported enough or not you can't stop me from trying. As I said last year at about this time "Stubbornness and stupidity can move mountains." I'm also an advocate for the "less talking, more doing" policy. With that in mind it's about time to start tinkering around with my rifle.

     

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Team Effort

           


              With one year to go before the next winter Olympics it's clear that I won't be able to make it happen without the help of generous fans. I always despised asking for funding, but if there is one thing worse, it's not reaching my full potential because I didn't have the resources to make the last bit of difference. So with the season behind me and some new ideas on the way Operation: Olympics Round Two is going to need your help.
 
            The season was a pricey one. When I said there were some narrowly missed opportunities here and there, what those misses cost me could be measured in results and monetary Euros. For a brief time, with the help of some generous support, I thought I had more than what I needed, then it was close to, and finally when the totals came in I fell short by a substantial amount. For the record, it was worth it. I needed those races, pricey or not. February's personal training camp in Antholz was top quality compared to the alternative of a trip all the way back home. Everything contributed to having enough success to set up national team support for this coming training year.

          The coming training year has a hand full of ideas on the table. Nothing is set in stone yet. Part of the reason these ideas have not been laid out is because they are not cheap. The changes I want to make on my rifle would require a plane ticket. The opening for some training in Lake Placid might require a place other than the OTC to hold up at. And yes, gas can add up when you have to drive anywhere from 40 minutes to training or eight hours for a training camp. Food is pricey when only the top quality nutrition will do. Those, plus the unpredictable equipment breakdowns and that, of course, includes vehicle maintenance. This isn't an attempt to sell the situation as gloomy, more so just highlighting what's needed to make the most of this coming Olympic year.

         This is where the rallyme campaign comes into play. As mentioned earlier, I'm not a fan of having to do this. Hence, this is the first time I've taken this rout. It's a bit unclear how the donating system works, but rallyme is popular site and has had success for plenty of athletes in similar situations. The introduction on the site is similar to this update, but includes the outlet to donate.

           Lack of commitment has never been my weak point. I still maintain that it is a matter of playing the right cards at the right time more than it is gifted talent. With your support I can better make the right changes needed to secure another Olympic team naming. Needless to say any donation will very much appreciated. The dead line is May 20th. If you have any questions you can reach me at currier407@gmail.com.

As always, thanks again!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Less Text More Pisxels Round Three

      It was a decent year for the camera. Not a great one, but "okay" at the very least. There was no pictures taken from Beitostolen, NOR, but officially that's where the season started. That said, these pictures are actually in order. More info on operation 2018 Olympic season to come. For now, here are some of the better pictures from the past few months.




The icy path to breakfast in Ostersund Sweden
And then we were in Slovenia...
Yeah, SLO is not so bad.
Just getting lost on a run in Nove Mest, CZ.




Impressive crowd size from the Nove Mesto WC.

An easy classic ski in Oberhof, Germany.

I wonder if they planned this when they planted those trees like that in Dusniki Poland.

All in one afternoon run at Euro Champs.


The post Euro Champs ride into Slovakia could have used a cow catcher.
Green light outside our window on snowy night. What timing.
Seldom sunny in Brenso, Slovakia.
You sure do get to room in some interesting places.




Russell attempts to travel via train with a ski bag. 

An average sunny warm day in Antholz, Italy.

Most days the side walk in Kontiolahti, Finland is in better shape than the actual road. 

 Tiny houses in Otepaa, Estonia. 
Racing in the bright purple of USA at the IBU cup in Otepaa. 
One of my favorite venues, the Tehvandi stadium in Otepaa. 



The final race of the season. The mass start in Jericho, VT






Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Weekend on USA Snow

        Since my last update time zones have been crossed. Races have been denied, won, and, if nothing else, hard fought. There is a lot more on my mind at the moment, but it's fair to my blog readers that I start by updating the status of my season since the last post. Hopefully, within the next ten days I'll have a more rounded update on what's happening in the world of Stockholm's top biathlete, but for now here is the past few(ish) weeks.

       I recall saying that the US IBU cup team had one more race to go. The mixed relay in Otepaa, Estonia. The sinuses and throat were far from 100%, but at that point the plan was to go for it. Here's a fun fact: on the day of the mixed relay the British team accidentally packed my race bib into there bag and proceeded to leave Otepaa for the season. I didn't know this and needed it for zero, not to mention starting the race at all. After some professional panicking the organizers whipped up a make shift race bib. It was official enough to get me zeroed in one of the most brief pre-race zeroings I've ever done. Shortly after, one of the British athletes came running through the stadium to return the bib. We all make mistakes. It was nice to see everything workout in just enough time. Unfortunately, having a race bib didn't make a difference. I was the third leg of four. The US team that day was lapped on the last lap of the second leg. I remember being in the tag off zone and having the IBU official look at me and say "I think you not race today." There wasn't much I could do about it. These days happen.

       Did I mention I wasn't 100% recovered from that sore throat and cold? Did I mention I had to cross more than half a dozen time zones? While it's open to debate, the best guess is a post nasal drip brought on by a nasty cold. Whatever it was, I can still feel trace amounts of the sore throat that originally manifested after the 20km individual in Finland at the start of the month. In this line of work, a few sick days can be a disaster, so anything that last as long as this one did is a set back. Thankfully, the bulk of the season was over. The trip home was mostly glitch free. I lucked out and was able to convince the sister that picking me up at the Boston Airport was a good idea. -20 is bad enough, travel might be higher on the list of things I'm not going to miss post retirement.

      When I did make it home the urge to fully relax was prevalent. After all, it was mid March. The last time I was home was at Xmass. The warm fire, and local fresh eggs in the morning made a strong case for not even bothering to unpack race gear. Obviously, I didn't let the urge get the better of me. Within a few days I found myself in Madawaska racing the famous 40km. Everyone had a good time. The snow was soft. Last year I completed the race in about 90 mins at a light threshold effort. This year the recent snow storm made for some soft conditions. Not my strong point, so it was a good day to work on less desirable conditions. I was happy to finish in under two hours.

      And now this brings us to the final stretch of the 2016-2017 racing season. That is, of course, US nationals. I won't go into the details, but it's nice to see the A team make a showing at US nats whether they like it or not... In the past racing a NorAm or making it out to US champs was a bit of a lost cause. Given the lack of depth in the NorAm biathlon field any racing outside of Europe was barely worth it. That's hasn't been the case for the past couple of years. This year we all had a chance to race against world championship medalist. Thankfully the races were held in Jericho, which meant they were within driving distance for us northern Mainers.

      Poor weather conditions are never an excuse. You can curse the race day snow fall all you want, but it won't make it go away any faster. You simply have to deal with it. This was the case on the day of the sprint race. Maybe in December coping with a snow storm would be acceptable, but at this point in the season it's not what any of us were in the mood for, including me. And what would you know, I prevailed and won my first US biathlon sprint title. To the best of my recollection the mass start and pursuit title are in there, so I can check the sprint format off of the list. It was the first day I woke up with almost no trace of sore throat. Snow was in my front sights and it took me about 10 or 15 seconds of blowing into it to clear it out enough to see the target clearly. After this was done I hit all five and gladly dodged the penatly loop. The snow was slow, to say the least. There was no gliding to be had. Which meant no recovery. I missed two in standing and thought a podium was feasible. When I finished, I had heard Lowell had only missed one. A second was sounding likely. Much to my surprise, I was able to ski myself to a win, despite two misses in standing. A win doesn't happen very often so this was a nice boon to the end of the season.

       The pursuit and mass start were solid races. I finished third in the pursuit and fourth in the mass start. One less miss in the mass start could have potentially put me on the podium, but that's how the sport works. It's important to note that racing this time of year is different from racing in January or mid February. Top level athletes peak for the most important races of the season. The results late in the season or even at the start are often not the best indicator of an athletes best performance. So you have to take this past weekend with a grain of salt. Still, racing is racing and I was pleased with the outcome.

        Now we are back into the spring time. The best time of year for many in winter sports. There is lot to extrapolate on but that will have to wait for another day. Lets just say, I'm trying to tackle some unexpected bills and potential expenses for the coming year. That, and how to make the most out of training. Which means I need to take everything into considerations to generate the best strategy. If all goes well I'll be competing on my second Olympic Team.

     

     

       

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Back to Otepaa

      The Tehvandi stadium in Otepaa Estonia is a nice venue. The presentation of the whole facility is impressive. The wax cabins to starting pen isn't far apart, despite the size of the place. That much, is rare with the modern biathlon venue. I wish I could say my performance this week was as equally impressive. I'm happy to say it wasn't that bad either, all things considered. What's more, is that it's not fully over either.

      Grinding out this clingy cold and sore throat from Kontiolahti was the focal point of my week. The sooner I can rid myself of it the sooner I can race at full capacity. Every time you get sick you never truly know how long it's going to last. This time around it was a solid ten plus days. I was tired of having to sit back and willfully retreat from racing because I simply got unlucky. That's often what it seemingly amounts to. My chances to prove myself on the Euro circuit were dwindling. The only option was to go for it, 100% or not.

      The races consisted of a single mixed relay, followed by two sprints, and a regular mixed relay on the last day. The single mixed relay only uses 1.5km loops. It's a little difficult to explain the mechanics of the single mixed relay, but lets just say I wasn't up to the task skiing wise and while shooting was actually not too bad, it wasn't enough for a note worthy result. That was okay with me, I wanted something to wake system up both mentally and physically.

      The first sprint was an odd one. In most cases you want to start in the first or second seed. This means you are on the course while it's still in the best shape. Thus giving you an advantage in ski time. On Thursday's sprint this was the case ten fold. It wasn't exactly snowing, but the snow was losing it's form fast. Even starting in the top ten vs the top thirty made a noticeable difference. I was lucky just to have bib 26. I recall finishing the race and assuming that it wasn't a good day. Shooting was solid 1,1 80%, but the system still wasn't firing at max from being sick. In the end it was on the better side of decent. Whether it was from the top quality training in Antholz or the relatively early start number is unclear, but I was aiming to improve on it.

      Today was the closest I've been to homeostasis since the individual in Finland last week. My throat is still a sore and sinuses aren't clear yet, but it's not consuming my full attention anymore. Nothing went colossally wrong today. Everything went somewhere between okay and mediocre. I'm not convinced we hit the skies today. If we did then the Norwegians and Russians hit it much better than anyone else.  Both teams were able to glide away from me when I was in there draft. I missed my first shot in prone, but carefully hit the next four. I wanted a clean standing so badly it worked against me. The pressure got to me and I missed two in standing. Still, 70% isn't terrible. The conditions were slushy. I had an early start number, but the start order was less detrimental today. I'm not as doomed in slushy conditions as I used to be. I've worked on the technique needed to race in this stuff. Still, whether it was the skis, the week plus of sickness, or unfavorable conditions I was unable to have the result I knew I could have had in different circumstances.

       That's how the sport works. One of opportunity and frustration. Tomorrow is the last race. The mixed relay. I seldom have the chance to race in relays because I'm usually told they favor shooting too much. The way I see it, one of the best ways to be better at relays is to do them in the first place. Which is exactly what's happening tomorrow. Overall the past few weeks have been alright. I was able to recover from the low point of the season that was IBU cup 6. One last race and then it's a shenanigan to make it back state side. Wish me luck for both endeavors.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

DNS 2017

          Only in endurance sports can a minor cold and sore throat make such an end all debut for an athlete. If you've checked the results for today's IBU cup sprint you'll find my name on the bottom next to a "DNS." I Did Not Start because I was clearly sick this morning. For about an hour I toyed with the decision to go for it anyways and playing the cautious card by staying in my room all day. I painfully opted out of racing and here is why.

         When your sick your system has to prioritize fighting off the bad guys. When you're racing your system has to fight off oxygen dept on par with life or death situations. Thus, you only have so much real-estate to work with and you don't want to be allotting some of that to a stuffy nose and scratchy throat.  I've raced well sick, it's rare, but some of my best races have been while undeniably sick. But those days are unlikely. More often than not, ski speed takes a dive in these situations. Back in January of this year I was forced to race sick (World Champs team naming) and went from having a ninth fastest ski time to a 50 something... It pretty much restricts that top end gear, similar to racing during a heavy training block.

        That's not all, lets not forget about the aftermath of racing sick. Once you've run your system through a hard effort the endorphins ware off and the infection takes advantage of a tired athlete. I once did an eastern XC cup race when I was a junior. I had been on the edge of sick or not sick all week. I didn't need to race that weekend, but I was fed up with sitting in van for eight hours only to sit around and watch some ski academy school kids race their home course to victory. It was also cold that day and my lower back was seized up. Still, I ignored all the warning sings and went for it. This was one of those rare occasions of racing well. It was a great race, but my throat was so infected afterwords that I had trouble breathing that night and had to go on antibiotics the next day. Another example: to go back to the race in January of this year, after not racing well, it only got worse. I ran a fever the next day and wasn't able to fully recover for about tens day.  The race of the following week was the worst on the season.

          So with that in mind, it might seem pretty clear to not race today. On the other hand, my shooting was feeling the best it has all season and the course here in Kontiolahti favors me. With a price tag on this particular week of racing I really wasn't in the mood not to get out and fight. The real reason that made me feel better about my decision was considering the opportunity of next week. The Otepaa venue in Estonia is a nice one, though the course is not my favorite. Still, we have two relays and two sprints crammed into one week. Two sprints is a grand opportunity to work with. If I took my chances today I would be gambling with performance both today and next week. If I lay low and recover I open up a better chance of success next week. If you look at my shooting times, you'll see that I'm not much for taking chances.

         While, no one has seen the sun in Kontilahti, it has been warm. While I didn't race today I did have a solid performance on Thursday's individual. Ski speed was up there on day when I didn't even feel great. Shooting was mostly there, aside from the last stage, even when the nerves kicked in. Overall, the move to train on my own for three weeks in Antholz seems to be panning out well. With a top 20 at an IBU cup under my belt I have something to hold onto in the worse case. With next week's races on the itinerary it's far from that worse case. For now, I'm going to hit the zing lozenges until this cold and sore throat are done with me.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Grinding Through Imperfections

No time for fluff. Here is the pseudo bulleted break down of the individual format today in Kontiolahti, Finland.

-- Early start, for whatever reason the whopping one hour time change has been difficult.
-- Energy didn't feel great yesterday or today. No particular reason, but sometimes the legs are heavy.
-- Tricky choosing skis, had to factor in snow fall and different parts of the course.
-- Zero was good. Only 15 shots needed total.
-- Still tired leading up to start.
-- Started the race off with a pole break. Couldn't even make it out of the starting gate correctly.
-- A profanity and some one pole skiing was how the first 200 meters of the race was.
-- Acquired a spare pole, not mine but an improvement over only one.
-- Acquired my spare pole a few hundred meters before the shooting range.
-- Not a fast range time, but a clean one.
-- Slammed some honey water on the second loop, it is 20km afterall
-- Still taking my time I missed the last shot in standing
-- Conditions are starting to wear thin on me. Already counting down the 4km laps left to go
-- Nervous, but in control I clean both prone stages. A rare sight and one that feels great.
-- Miss my feed hand off and have to get it at a different spot.
-- Feeling good about one more standing stage.
-- Proceed to miss low twice adding a healthy two minutes on to my time.
-- Legs are not into the last loop and breathing is now a pathetic wheeze.
-- Finish 17th. Almost great! But further from bad than most of the season.
-- Like the course profile. Don't like the conditions.
-- Need to be more smooth with transitions and tactics.
-- Maybe not miss two in my last stage.

       I hope that sums it up. It was good day and Saturday's sprint race could be a good one to. Finland is alright. If you like your own space and strive to avoid social confrontations, or maybe you just really like all things licorice then Finland is for you. Not much for pictures yet. We've been working with overcast so far and it hasn't made for any good photo moments yet.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Less Text More Pixels Round Two

It sure is nice when you make it to top of the pass. 
This was taken in almost the same location as the previous one. I guess the fog decided to roll in that day.
It started to feel a little creepy after a few laps.

One of my first memories of racing in Antholz is skiing on this lake.




While on the fog topic, it started to creep down into the valley that afternoon.


The SeeHause 


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.