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.