Monday, December 19, 2016

Na Morave Nove Mesto

Tim's feeble attempt to be as cool as me.
       That moment when you realize you've amassed a collection of colossal mistakes in your athletic career hit for me last Saturday. I was sitting in the changing cabin, the pursuit wasn't fully over, but I was still there with my rifle and skis intact. After a month of racing, I had had a glitch free enough race to make the pursuit competition despite one of the toughest fields yet. Still, my luck ran out at about 1.5 kms into the race that day. This is the rundown of pandemonium in Nove Mesto last week and why I'm still feeling good about next year.  

Nice work Nove Mesto in getting the word out that biathlon is fun to watch!
       In case you didn't see any coverage of the world cup last week the crowd size out stripped Oberhof. Oberhof is the next world cup site and is know for drawing in tens of thousands of spectators. We're unsure about the total number of spectators but the decibels of screaming volume was indisputably louder than any other venue. Every last fan that showed up to watch the races was into the spirit of racing. We all knew our sport was popular in Europe, but this really drove the point home. After this week everyone one was wondering if Nove Mesto would become a staple on the year too year IBU race itinerary.
Did I mention I we didn't see the sun since we left Pokljuka?
      If there was one reason not to race there more often it was the living standards. Our hotel rooms were suspicious from day one. Tim and Lowell were congested and there were less teams staying in the hotel then there was back during the 2013 World Champs. I thought about opening the window; an obvious solution to vent out the room. Unfortunately, in the Czech rep. that means inviting the smell of burning coal. There wasn't much I could do. I survived the first two days and thought I was in the clear. This was a false hope, as I woke up with similar symptoms on the day of the sprint race. Thankfully, the feeling in the legs were holding on well. I didn't have any other choice; the race was going to happen.
        I don't like to rush shots, especially in prone. I would rather know beyond a nervous doubt that the target is going to fall. But that's not enough anymore. You have to ski fast, hit every target, and do so quickly. I went for a much more aggressive approach. Still holding on to some control, I was able to leave prone in 38 seconds with one miss. Afterword, the coaches on the range told me that a minor breeze had picked up in the middle of my stage. Just enough to push a shot out. This is not an excuse, but it did make me feel better about my new process. I took another miss in standing. No wind, but super high pressure on myself. We had good skis that day (by we I mean Lowell and I, Tim was sick) which came in handy on such a fast loop. I finished in 55th. While not the result I was hoping for it was significantly relieving not to be 61st.
      And just like that I was in the pursuit. The head cold had far from run it's course. I wasn't feeling the greatest, but the warm up before the race felt better as it went on. One of the downhill corners on the 2.5km loop wasn't progressing well as the day went on. It was turning into a sheet of ice more than it was groomed snow. Everything was in place. The race plan was memorized, all that was left was to execute it. What I didn't expect was the iced over corner being more lethal than I remembered. Loop one and I'm down. One second you're riding a safe draft and the next you're grinding your rifle into the snow as you crash into the banner. Nothing was in two or more pieces, so the race wasn't over yet. Place 59 was still in site at that point. When I set up for prone I couldn't see through my sites. I got out of position and blew into the sites, reset and still couldn't see. After about three aggressive attempts to clear out the rear site I was able to aim at the target. Now remember the part about grinding my rifle into the snow. Well, turns out that was enough to push the zero four clicks to the left. A good group, though it was, four clicks to one side is all you need to miss all five targets.
          At this point confidence and motivation levels were shot. My goal was to hang on and make the most of the effort the coaches and ski techs put into me that day. Results were out of the question. The only question left was "how many more loops can Russell complete before he is pulled for being lapped?" The answer was three. I took the corrections and only missed two on the next stage, and even cleaned my first stage of standing. At that point Martin Fourcade was in for his last standing. My pathetic attempt at a pursuit race was over.
          With my semi race over the end of the first trimester was fully over. Turns out I wasn't the only athlete to go down on that corner. One of the Czech team athletes went down and broke his stock. The women's mass start switched from a 5 by 2.5km race to a 6 by 2km course, to avoid the same corner. I spent the following Sunday packing, getting lost on a run in the forest, and working with a US precision shooter. The same athlete I had been working with over skype earlier in the year. We moved a few components around to have a more stable base. It's going to take a little while to break in, but I confident in the science behind it.  With those changes coupled with a more aggressive approach to range times the new year could be a grand one. It could also be another series of messes. That's just how it works. I look forward to building on the ski speed fitness over Christmas into January.
Would like to thank the GPS function on my watch that lead me back to the hotel.

           It's looking like I'll be heading to Martell, Italy for an IBU cup in January. The last time I was in Martell was for an IBU cup back in 2008. From there I can't say, but the goal is to be in Rupholding for another chance at some world cup success. The conditions back home look surprisingly great. I haven't seen real winter since the first race in Beitostolen, Norway. December didn't turn out as great as the coaches and I were hoping, but the break down looks promising. It has been somewhere between worse than the 2012/13 season, but much better than the 2015/16 season. As always, thanks for checking in on my sparingly updated blog.

      And yes, merry Christmass n' stuff.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


       The second world cup weekend took place in Pokljuka, Slovenia. An always favorite among the teams. Great views and A+ weather this year help keep Pokljuka in the top tier for race sites. There was only trace amounts of snow at the venue and no snow to be found down the mountain in Bled. Still, this past week proved how significant a trace amount of something can be. Whether it's a slight miss hasp with a magazine sending it over the firing line, a slight lack of confidence on the downhill corner or simply taking a little to long on the range, it doesn't take much to push you back in the result list with today's world cup field. Here is the limiting factor to my not making the pursuit, why the US team was not in the relay, and what I'm going for this week.

One of the start up default pictures for Windows 10 is a picture of this exact view. I knew it look familiar.
      Ski speed was decent. I did some intensity without shooting a few days prior to the sprint. There were a lot of hidden places to gain and lose time if you weren't paying attention. The snow was perfect all week; firm and responsive to a ski, but not bullet proof. At only a minute out from the race leader Martin Fourcade I had the 44th ranked ski time. The top 15 was a list of zero's stacked one on top the other. The wind was down and anything less than zero misses was a flaw. But the further down the list the more you could see ones and twos. I only had two misses. It was the first shot of each stage. Missing your fist shot means holding on to the next four for dear life. That mentality coupled with an already slow range time in general did not help my cause. It wasn't the tight ski times, it wasn't the high level of shooting that pushed me out of the top 60. This time it was the amount of time I spent on the shooting mat. A couple of decades ago and I would have been average. These days anything more than 40 seconds in prone is a free giveaway. Two less misses sure would have been nice, but even a five second drop in prone time would have put me in the pursuit race the following day.

      It's not easy to bring range time down. When you only have 10 shots to work with and the standards are high you tend to be a little more cautious. However, shooting well and skiing fast aren't enough anymore, you have to do both of those and not waste anytime doing them. With virtually no time to carefully solve this, my coach and I decided that I should do the pursuit on my own, later on the day when the world cup pursuit races were over. This time I was supposed to simply "go for it," for lack of a better description. As if cleaning a stage under pressure and a heart rate of 180 wasn't enough challenge, try doing so in no more than 40 seconds. It ended up being a solid time trial. Shooting was 75%, but the drop in range time made it a better overall performance than the sprint race the day before.
       The sprint race last Friday was my one and only world cup race. There was a relay on Sunday and all three of us were feeling good to go. With five start spots it's hard to think we wouldn't have a relay team available. Unfortunately Leif broke his toe while roller skiing on a treadmill. That's two bad things in one setting. Sean hasn't been with us this trimester because he is still recovering from mono. Instead, the team went for an easy classic distance the morning before the race. Admittedly, it was a nice day for easy classic, but we sure would have rather been competing.

        Now the field is in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. The first race in the men's sprint starting Friday evening. I'm not much for evening races, but I do like the course here. A push for better range times is a must, but with this sport you can't make any bold promises. So, with that said here's to one last shot at glory before the Xmas break.
The hotel manager said he used to enjoy walking out on the lake this time of year when it used to freeze  over.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Ostersund 2016

       "One miss and good skis, I thought for sure a top 15 was doable." That was Tim commenting on the sprint race last Saturday in regards to finishing 29th and the standard the men's field had set that afternoon. It's nothing shy of hostile on the results list out there. Still, if you break down the numbers this has been one of the strongest starts to the season yet. I can't recall ever having a super result in Ostersund. Last week didn't prove otherwise, but the reasoning to stay optimistic is still alive.

        Ostersund's facility is enormousness. The stadium is surrounded by two large buildings and the smaller storage buildings are around every corner. It dwarfs other venues like the one here in Poklijuka, Slovenia or the two in northern Maine. The course has it's nice parts, but is far from my style. It's wide enough to have your own space and still closed in enough to feel like home. On the other hand the less than stable conditions and technical downhills bring it down a notch for me. The temps this year were on the warmer side compared to past experiences. The "feels like" temps were on the colder side with the humid wind always making an obnoxious appearance.

      The individual must have been an interesting one to watch because racing in it certainly was. I used the first loop as a chance to see how the corners were holding up after the early race seeds had been on it. The loop wasn't getting any worse. It was in that sugary deep form before the race started. One of the faster corners on the loop was surprisingly staying solid. Still, this wasn't enough to stop me from losing the skis from under my feet. I went down on the first loop in a section that you wouldn't want to lose speed on. I had hoped the loss of time was the only set back the fall had caused. Unfortunately, the rear side of my rifle's stock took on some damage. This was made clear during the set up for my first stage of prone. The now free moving and component missing stock didn't help with the already chaotic winds. The end result was a decent race that could have been much worse and also much better. With two races into the season I had yet to have a glitch free experience.

     The sprint was actually a solid race. No falls, a fully repaired stock, and no MIA magazines. Even the wind took a break for our race. The result list post race wasn't what I was hoping for, but with so many athletes jostling for their own good result it's difficult to leave a mark. We're looking at about 80 athletes that are all capable of a top 40 fighting for the top 60 cut off. Skis felt fast. Our wax team did what they are good at. Energy was decent, sub perfect, but better than training season level. With no wind, shooting 2,1 (70%) wasn't good enough. Other years, my average was in the 50% range, with less than expected ski speed. So you can see why the break down holds promise despite not making the pursuit.

     Just when we all thought the level of the men's world cup field had reached it's peak, the sprint race in Ostersund proves otherwise. That didn't stop Tim and Lowell from a few top 15 results. I was about 15 seconds down from the those two in ski speed. With Ostersund over another chance for success is near. Everyone is in a good mood to see the sun blazing through the windows right now in Bled, Slovenia. All I can do is take the learning experience from last week and apply it to a new race this week. Keep the IBU site open on your browser this Friday!

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Beitostolen Breakdown

Here are the details about the IBU cup today in Beitostolen, Norway. No fluffy intro this time. Lets cut right to meat and potatoes of how it went and what it means for the racing season.

- Nice course profile, lots of snow, warm today, stable conditions.
- Legs felt a little heavy during the race. Might have been the two days of travel or six hours of jet lag, or the lack of race prep
- Very windy! Misses were more frequent than normal for the IBU cup field.
- Almost lost my cuff before the race. Found it, had a back up cuff ready to go otherwise
- Missed my first two in prone on the right, last three went down when the wind let up slightly
Accidentally ejected a magazine in standing! Shouted for spare. Single USA coach was on the course with my back up. Range officials eventually figured out the reason for my hysteria and I was able to complete my standing stage. 
- Missed last two in standing and about a minute plus in range time.
- Good ski speed, despite a one man wax team. Tenth fastest! 
- Result was a 111 point race. I needed to be under 125 points to race the WC in Ostersund.
- In the car with Jonas right now on our way to Ostersund.
- The faster route is snowed in. Now we're hoping for a sub nine hour trek. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Canmore In Pictures

Panorama doesn't always nail it. 

Rabbits! Rabbits everywhere! The local wolf and coyote population hasn't caught on. 

Our attempt at classic skiing at Lake Louise was a partial success.

The camera was compromised. 

One last hike before a day and a half of travel. 

Success in Canmore

       Fitness was feeling good, shooting was coming back into place and a potential spot back on the world cup team was up for grabs. All I had to do was keep my whit and train well. With most of the national team present for the training camp there was plenty of reference to gauge my performance with. This was the warmest Canmore has ever been with the I've time spent there. It was seldom below freezing for the two and a half week training camp. Nevertheless, we were able to train on snow. It was only a 2.5km loop, but to be snow while wrapped around a 360 degree mountain view made the training camp a good time. The racing was tough, but the performance was there and my 2016/17 season has a good chance now. 

       Training was pretty straight forward. As long as you knew what time we were leaving in the morning and what time zero opened it was difficult to botch the session. On some days the conditions turned into a slush fest. Other days it was not unlike the bullet proof conditions we're used to in New England. Most everyday however, the loop was crowded. It was always an awkward operation to carry out the high intensity sessions. Once you were in an efficient rush to get around the loop the slower athletes turned into moving traffic cones. We were not necessarily in Canmore to go hiking. Still, skiing everyday would have been troublesome for the training quality. Some of the best sessions were the ones spent soaking up the scenery on a long hike. 

      I knew shooting was on the verge of something professional. Up until the last week it wasn't quite showing when it needed to. The changes I made a month or so back had shown promise. Unfortunately, not everything was ironed out and the hits weren't there under pressure. It took about a week into the camp to figure out that my zeroing should be on the top of the prone ring. Whenever I came in to shoot with a high heart rate the grouping would move to the center. The base for better shooting was in place, the final tweaks are still in the works. Yesterday was our last day of on snow combos. The first four stages were all clean with tight groups. Range time is still a ways off from professinol, but that's not the goal at the moment. In other words, hitting five in a row in 40+ seconds is better than hitting two or three in under 30 seconds. 

     We had two time trials back to back last week. Officially, they were both sprint formats that used the same course. However, this was not the perceived case. It never came close to freezing the night before the first race. With the sun hitting the snow in full force we were stuck racing in midday spring like conditions. After talking with some of the other athletes post race, I wasn't the only one counting down the number of times remaining to ski up a certain climb. It was a slow and debilitating race for only a 10km. The wind changed from where is was during zero. I wasn't able to compensate for this and had two misses in each stage. Since I wasn't the only to have difficulty with the wind, 60% was about the average for the day. 
      24 hours later we were warming up for the same format on the same loop. This time it had been close to freezing the night before. The snow was holding it's own and it felt like a good old fashion well groomed trail from the days when winter was a yearly feature. With firm conditions the average race time dropped about five minutes. Once again I wasn't able to master the change in wind flags from zero to the race. I took clicks on my rear sight, but it wasn't enough to match the new wind direction. That's where I took four misses. Conversely, I was able to clean standing. The ski speed was solid. I was somewhat glad to hear my group was decent for second day in row. It simply wasn't sitting in center. Had the wind been more consistent, the prone results might have been better.

      The next day my inbox had an email informing me that I was selected for the world cups one through three. That's Ostersund, Sweden, Poklijuka, Slovenia and, Nove Mesto, Czech Rep. All places, that I'm not unfamiliar with. Since I didn't race on the WC last season I am technically required to requalify at an IBU cup. This mean the first stop is actually Beitostolen, Norway before Ostersund. Another process that's been done before.

      The season hasn't even started yet, but when your team qualification process starts as early as August and ends mid November you have to be carefully on the ball. Fast enough to make a team, but training enough to race well in February. This year I have a chance from the the very start of the race season to have a successful one. From that perspective it's been a better year than last year was before it's even started, oddly enough. After about 36 hours of travel I should be back in the north of Maine area. In about a week the ski and rifle case need to be packed again for an Oslo airport arrival.

Thanks for the well wishes regarding team naming and overall support this year! 

Pictures to follow later on in the week.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Frozen Thunder Traffic Jam 2016

       What a nice change of pace it is to be in Canmore, Alberta when the temps aren't peaking in the single digits. Then again, being in Canmore anytime of the year (if you can afford it) is a nice situation. Still, we're on snow and it's only now November. It took a lot of travel and resources to get the US biathlon team out here, but with a 2.5km loop and a 31 point range it was worth it.

        Training has been going well. The altitude is high enough to feel, but not so high that you can't keep your whit during training. The loop is over crowed even when it's supposed to be closed off to non national team athletes. On more than one occasion we have had to run over skis when three skiers abreast are taking up the trails without the slightest idea that another athlete might be going faster than they are. Nevertheless, training has been going well. Shooting felt a little nervous the first week, but after the past couple of days it's been under control again.
         The loop was occupied by a XC race so the US biathlon team went for a run instead. Here's a few pictures snagged during.
And here we have Canmore.

Not too much for photographic evidence of the loop yet. If look closely you can see the ribbon of snow.    

Local running trails here are okay I guess. 
The most photogenic bird I've ever encountered. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Post Trials and Pre Canmore

Less heat, less humidity, and more colors makes racing in Jericho possible. 
        Not unlike the old days I'm sitting here making the most of the brief time between one trip and the next. It was a close one; a few more misses in the mix and it would be just me sitting hear getting ready for another month of training on my own. Fortunately, that is not the case as I was able to put together a decent enough cluster of races to snag a spot on the Canmore, AB national team camp. The races in Jericho were not what I was hoping for, but there is room for hope.

        The changes in set up for prone that I made a few weeks back were making an undeniable difference. Still, there were enough moments of failure in training to suggest that I wasn't immune to bad stage in an important race situation. My fears came true when I missed the first three of five in the sprint race last weekend. For a brief moment I felt sick to my stomach as the thought missing four or five became a possibility. I missed another two in the following standing stage. With 50% shooting it was down to damage control mode. Thankfully the old ski speed was on good form. Despite a cold and sore throat three days before trials the energy and snap was solid enough to help the cause. It never felt like I had all five gears skiing, but at least 4.5.
Thanks to some good contacts I was able to stay in the coolest house I've ever seen.

      The second race was an exact replica of the race 24 hours earlier. A sprint format using a 2km, 4km, and 2km loop. I took my time in prone, but was able to keep it down to a single miss. Hopes were high going in standing, but a light breeze and tense nerves gave me another two misses. 70% is better than 50% but still under what I know I can do. Similar to the previous race, ski speed was strong for October. I ended up second overall. It was nice to see the results back in the mix with Tim and Lowell like the old days.

      From here it's all about working with the new shooting process more and more. Since I'll be around the rest of the team I can work with it under pressure. On top of that Canmore will have snow. The first week has a bulk of volume in it. Enough to get the legs back into the feeling of skiing on snow in place of pavement. From a more immediate time frame it's all about packing, Russell's favorite activity. It will be nice to ditch the roller ski pole tips for snow baskets, but dealing with check in employees after a five hour drive to the Portland airport, not so much.

The forecast for Stockholm next week. May have dodged something here. 
       In case you were wondering a possible start for the December WC team is very much possible. What I have to do is keep my whit during this coming training camp and it shouldn't be a problem. Shooting wasn't what I wanted last week, but I'm still feeling good about it. Everything was solid for yesterday's intensity session, shooting, ski speed, energy, absence of rain. There is plenty of reason for optimism.

     Since I live in northern Maine my trip westward starts Sunday afternoon and ends what I hope is before Tuesday morning. Shortly there after I should be skiing on snow.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Zeroing Through the Fog

        Quick update here. Training is going well. Fall is in full swing. The training camp in Lake Placid went well. I set a new PR for the Mars Hill Climb this last Saturday. Tomorrow I head south for Jericho, VT. This time it's the second round of trials. Shooting is still feeling well. In the meantime here are few pictures from the past few weeks.

There is World Class A licensed Biathlon range somewhere in the fog.

2nd Place in the Climb to the Castle again this year. 1st for the non blue wheeled Marwees category

Am I the only one who see the giant billboard next to every apple tree this time of year? The glowing one that says "FREE FOOD IS HERE." Why are more people not capitalizing on this?

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Substance Part 2


      There was almost a frost on the ground yesterday morning. It was about quarter past seven when we were packing into the van at the OTC parking lot. For whatever reason it is always a few degrees warmer in Wilmington. It was nice to ski up White Face when the ski is clear. This seldom happens in my experience. The colder temps and clear sky are just a couple of examples of new changes that have happened in recent months.  Summer is close to over for us in the north east. After the trial races in Jericho I set out to fix some limiting problems.

       Equipment failure is a chronic problem you can't escape. Three sets of pole tips have been swapped out and replaced since Jericho. The rear rim on my road bike lost a spoke earlier this summer. That is nothing new, as it happens about once ever year. The front rim decided to take up the slack from the recently retunned rear tire and lose a spoke. Yesterday I picked it up from the bike shop in Lake Placid, just in time for about one more good ride before the temps get too cold. The most obnoxious hangup came in the form of rollerskis. In this sport you need rollerskis to train effectively. Excluding ski tunnel use, I suppose. My attempt to save some money by repairing what I had didn't work. Luckily, thanks to some support from Finsisu, Swenor, and some local help I was able to solve the problem the best way you can. Now I have two fully functional pairs of rollerskis allowing me to train professionally.

       The physical side of training has been going well. After Jericho I was able to get into a normal training rhythm. Everything started out with an intensity block consisting of five hard sessions crammed into four days. Nothing says ski faster than hill bounding in the AM and back to back mini time trials in the PM on a Friday. After that it was a brief volume block. Which is pretty much the opposite. Consisting of easier, but longer distance sessions. By the end of the week, the three hour roller ski followed immediately by a two hour run was feeling even longer than it actually was. With trials coming up again in a few weeks it's not always easy to have that dedicated training rhythm. That said, it felt very productive to have a solid block of intensity and volume.
        Shooting underwent a handful of changes. Lo and behold, I may or may not be on to something. The new process is still in the break in phase, but all signs have been hopeful so far. I moved some of the components around on the stock changing my natural point of aim. Before, it was all about nailing a small window of timing and rhythm. This worked super well when I could find it, but the lack of consistency was holding me back. With the new set up I can depend more on aiming and confirming a good shot before taking it. This is a subtle change, that makes a big difference. The rifle it's self has also undergone some changes. Thanks to some local machining the front and rear sights are higher. Now I can properly bolt the chamber with out having to punch myself in the face; how convenient. The changes haven't fully set it, but overall all signs are looking up.

A small partial view of the course.
        So that's where I am up to this point. This Sunday is the Climb to the Castle race. This will be the third time racing up this suffer fest. Efficient technique and engine capacity are your best friends for this style of racing. The rest of the following week is packed with testing and time trials. If you're going to train in a group there is no better training than this kind. Energy is feeling fresh and good to go. Wish me luck.

The final stretch.