Friday, January 19, 2018

Antholz Sprint World Cup

Happy to have a starting bib today back in the world cup field. Here is the quick break down of how it panned out.

* Place 63. Top 60 move onto the Pursuit.

* 80% shooting. One mistake in each stage.

* If the field was devoid of cheaters / dopers I would be racing tomorrow, but I guess that's too much to ask for.

* Trails were in great shape. This is the best skiing I've been on all year.

* Was a little sick at the start of the week and was just recovered enough to make the race happen

* Range time was my demise today. I wasn't able to get out of prone fast enough. The wind pick up in standing and I had to fight to only miss one target. The extra time spent on the mat compared to the rest of the field was worth more than one penalty.

* Skiing was smooth and in control. I like the hard packed conditions. It's fair and exposes the disadvantage of bad technique.

* Energy was okay... Not great, but not bad either. Need to keep recovering and pushing the peaking level


I'm not sure when my next race will be. Worse case, today could have been my last. Best case, I'll get a start in Korea. More details are still in the pipeline for this blog.


Monday, January 15, 2018

The Other Side

        Oh look what happened. This old national B-team member from Stockholm, Maine rose to the occasion and snagged the last spot for the 2018 US Olympic team. The athlete that was told Rossignol Europe didn't have enough room for him and residency at the OTC wasn't possible overcame the odds and made it happen. After reading a fasterskier article about our December WC team that was named after a couple of roller ski time trials it almost suggested the February team was already figured out. I knew this wasn't the case and had to assure myself that there was still a chance for the "rest of us" to make it. Thankfully, not everyone was doubting my potential. The whole state of Maine seemed to be behind my goal and was willing to help in any way to make the goal more possible.

          I was feeling good about progressing up after the games four years ago. I felt confident that competing on the world cup and world champs team the following years was in my future. It was clear to me that this sport is unpredictable, but I wanted to prove my worth. That following April I didn't get named to the A-team and was moved down to B. The following two years I wasn't on any national team and despite my best efforts, was excluded from the team atmosphere I was so well accustomed to. The 2015/16 season was my all time worse stretch yet. I didn't make the any racing trip that season. It took the whole month of April for me to decide if I was going to continue with the sport or start a new life. The limiting factor in my decision to stay in the sport and fight it out for another two years was, in one word: curiosity. I had to know. I had to see if a few changes here and there to training and gear would be enough to put me back on the world class level. The conclusion of that particular season just wasn't settling and definitive enough for me to call it quits.

       The changes to make a step up were set in motion that following May. I didn't have much to work with, but I'm good at utilizing only a few resources when need be. With some local help I was able to procure a new rifle stock. Motivation and work ethic were never  a weak point for me. The real key was working differently in a better way. Training and coach input took some changes. I made the December WC team that fall. In January I scored a few WC points for the first time in years. Everything was on pace... Or so I thought. My spot for the 2017 World Champs team was open and I wasn't able to keep the focus together on the range. The low point of the season cost me a lot financially and result wise. Since I had made it that far, I wasn't about to call it quits as early as late January. Some local support once again came to my aid and I was able to train in Antholz, Italy for the last two IBU cups in Finland and Estonia in March. Once again everything was back on good pace. I nailed down a top 20 in the IBU cup and was hoping to do better... Then, once again I got sick and wasn't able to fully recover in time for any of the rest of the racing. I flew back state side and was home for a few days before heading down to US nationals where I pulled through in a snow storm to win the sprint race despite the A team showing up. Last season was what I called a "missed opportunity" but still a step back in the right direction.

      After two years of close to nothing (to be fair, a few key members did everything they could to help) from the national team I was named to the B-team. Someone asked me what the odds were after the season of snagging a February 2018 spot were and I gave it the old "50,50" answer. Which I still maintain was pretty accurate. I knew, very well all year that I was at least the 4th to 6th man on the team. The team made a step up during the roller ski races in August and October. While there was improvements on my end they were not enough to keep the pace. Still, the all but one man (World Champ Lowell Bailey) had officially been qualified for the February team. This meant there were still three more race spots and one reserve available. I would not be able to snag any of those in December, but the January IBU route was still open.

      The nerves started months in advance. From as early as training in May. It only gradually grew from there. That is, gradually, until the races in Minnesota where it felt more like exponential progression of stress than anything linear. The races in Minnesota were successful enough to net me a  top qualifier position going into January. The races were solid, but I never felt like the ski speed was where it could be. I took it easy for a few days over the Christmas break hoping to reset the energy and prepare for the last round of trials.

        The first two of four races were held in Brenzo, Slovakia. I had raced here a couple of times prior. The first was during Euro champs a while back. I was skiing well at those races and was hitting top five loop ski times. The other occasion was last year when I was in the midst of recovering from a brutal sore throat and cold. I missed seven targets of ten in the sprint and was not feeling so well about my shape at the time. None of that mattered this time though. Being a headcase about those things is a waste of time. For a rare occurrence, I cleaned the first sprint race and finished 14th. I missed three for ten the next day and still skied well enough to keep myself in a safe spot for trials purposes.

        From Slovokia we did the seven hour van ride into Arber, Germany. This is a place I had raced at before, but that time was almost exactly ten years ago. In fact, the race venue wasn't even referred to as "Arber" back then. You were racing in "Landorf," Germany. I have no idea what the details of that exchange were, but the place did feel vaguely familiar. The next trial race was not an IBU cup, but rather a team time trial instead. Two of the four of us were sick and unable to race. So Leif and I were dueling it out. 15km with 45 seconds added per miss. Neither of us had an outstanding performance, but I had a narrow lead of about 13 seconds. However, this race was also being used to help name a fourth man to the WC relay team in near by in Ruhpolding, Germany that following Friday. Leif is one of the fastest shooters on the team and it made sense to have him in the relay.

      That brings us to the last race in our two weeks in stress hell. One more sprint format in Arber. I wanted the day to be over before it started. After breaking through the stress with clean shooting the week before I was confident I could keep it together one more day. In the end biathlon showed it's cruel side yet again. I skied very well, by only skiing 45 seconds down from the lead ski time. On the other hand, shooting didn't go as well. I missed two targets in each stage and lost a great deal of time just getting the shots out the barrel. But the team isn't named off of one race. It came down to each athlete's best two out of four. In the end end this put me in second. This got me named as the fifth man for the February team.

        Naturally the meeting to determent this was not held until 8:30 in the evening. So, despite the race being over the stress prevailed in force. My fears were vanquished when I learned that I would be in South Korea in February. Team naming is just one of the many cruel and vicious sides to this lifestyle. The slightest difference in a day to day performance can make a staggering change in your life. We all knew this was deal when we were handed a race bib and there is never a completely happy ending for the whole field. All these jarring day to day swings and for the most part no pay check to really call it a career. But hey, I had to know. If I had won, I would have won and if I had lost I would have won. It was more about knowing what a gratuitous amount of effort would cause if I played my cards right.  I've been on the other side so many times, that the times when I do make a team are still good enough for that seven year old on Christmas day sort of joy.

       I could drone on about where I am now and what's going to happen from here, but that can wait for another day. I wanted this to be a grand article to this tiny little blog of mine. A few more days of thinking it over and polishing could help, but it's been due since Sunday and I owe it to my viewers to have something up sooner rather than later. For the record there is a chance that I could not race in Korea at all. I'm the fifth man on a team that can only race four guys. That, and some more details will be made more clear later. There are a a lot of solid pictures in the near future though. That much I can promise. 

        None of this success could have happened without the support from everyone back home. There was enough support in the mix to argue that this is as much of a success for me as it is for the supporters that stayed with me over the years. I also hope this makes it clear that even a lower middle class raised, once chubby, introverted weird kid from a town with a sub 250 population can in fact make it to the grandest winter carnival in the world, not once, but twice. That's about as sentimental as I will ever be so please enjoy. Thanks for checking in!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Race 4 done!

Hello everyone. Please don't think I have forgotten about keeping this place in the loop. All it well over here. The full update on how everything went is coming. We have a long trip ahead of us tomorrow but sooner or later everything will be explained!

Thanks for the support!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Team Time Trial Race 3 Done

We're getting closer to the end.

* 15km individual with 45sec penalties per miss.

* Two of the four of the men are sick and didn't race. It was a race between Leif and I.

* Neither of us had a spectacular race. Leif had the better of the two and will race the relay in Ruhpolding

* Weather felt like it was spring time. Snow held up better than expected, but still soft enough for a grueling effort.

* To be fair a better race for the both of us could have been more likely if we had had better race prep.

* We left Slovakia yesterday morning and were in the van all day instead of pre viewing the course like any other normal professional race.

* Next few days will be easier as I work towards the last race on Saturday.

* Hang in there. We're almost done!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

IBU Cup 2 Done

* Decent result today 27th with 70% shooting

* Ski were great. Compliments to our wax team

* Better start number today with bib 7

* Wasn't able to focus as well in prone as yesterday and took on two misses.

* Almost made it out of standing quickly with no mistakes. Almost got me to last shot before missing one.

* Good energy on skis. Conditions were a little better, bur far from ideal.

* Optimism is still intact. More races to go. Things are going well enough.

* The team departs tomorrow morning for Arber, Germany.

* Two down Two to go.

* This is me still alive and fighting.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

IBU Cup Sprint 1 Done!

Here we go again.

* Good race today. 14th overall. Top US result.

* Started bib 76. Conditions were deep and slushy.

* Conditions were consistent  with a terminal mashed up factor, which helped with having a late start number.

* Conditions, being deep and slushy, were not my strong point. You can't cherry pick where you want to go for and where you want to hold back. A lot of energy is wasted just trying to lift your skis out of the snow.

*  Did not have a good prone range time. One of the slowest on the day.

* On the other hand every target went down.

* Standing similar story.

* Clean shooting felt nice. I never even glanced at the penalty loop.

* Skis were great! We've missed the ski part of racing on the IBU cup before. So today was such a nice change of pace to have skis that were in the top tier mix.

* Energy was solid! Hard to tell in these conditions. The course is nice, not my best, but it has enough for me to work with.

* Next race is tomorrow. Same format. Everything all over again.

Thanks for the support!! I should be able to keep these to the point updates coming.

Monday, January 1, 2018

En Route To Slovakia

      This is me sitting in the Bangor Airport waiting for check in for my delayed flight to open up. This could take a while...

        Everything has been revolving around the upcoming races next weekend. That has been the focus since the last race of trials in Colerain, MN. Christmas was a nice break, but I didn't have much time to relax before the racing prep was in full swing. The plan was to give myself the best probability of success in the next few races. as possible. Part of that plan involved some less than desirable temps and part of it still involves a successful trip to Europe.

       I kept checking the weather forecast. Certainly it will warm up at some point before I leave again, right? More often than not, when I'm training on my own I can adjust the day to day training plan to fit the weather. There was no opening for pleasant weather to work with. It was going to be obnoxiously cold everyday of the week. Cold temps would be fine by me were the I not trying to make it in the world of biathlon. When you have to zero (and zero well) your rifle and be ready to ski fast in below what are officially legal temperatures things get complicated. Not impossible, but very complicated. The trick is to equip more and more layers of clothing until you don't feel cold anymore. Then add more layers. Once you have too much, you'll want to take off a layer. This is your narrow window to zero. Even getting the barrel and ammo to work with me in these conditions is tricky. The training ammo that I've been using all year couldn't stay in the black when I was shooting prone. That basically means it's completely useless. I had to ration out what was left of the top shelf ammo I had in reserve to make the cold shooting feasible.

      After layering on enough warm gear, loading the good ammo, and mustering up enough motivation I was able to make the important training sessions happen. The energy in the legs was back. It wasn't fully there when I was racing in MN. I didn't have super high exceptions for the shooting given the problematic nature of these conditions, but was supersized and excited to see some good percentages. It was down to two key sessions. This was about all I could handle without succumbing to frostbite. Both of these days were at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center. The trails were in great condition considering the grooming task the recent snowstorm left to take care of. Having a range available and a warm building to use makes all of the difference.

        Everything is going well enough. Confidence, energy, equipment is all making good pace. This positive news excludes the delayed United flight, of course. The IBU cup team should be in Slovakia by tomorrow night. The first race is a sprint and it's on Saturday. The next race is the same thing all over again on Sunday. There are more details from there, but for now let's leave it at that. The February team still has openings. I never make promises for results, but all things considered, I'll cough up blood to make the results happen if need be.

Thanks for checking in. Everyone back home this past week seems to be behind me so I'll do my best to keep this place posted with good or bad news.