Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Semi Super Tour Finals

       Despite my best efforts, next thing I knew I was waiting at the starting line for a classic five km race in Vermont. This is what a weekend in winter would look like when I was 15. At age 30 I didn't exactly see this coming, but sure enough I raced the first classic leg of the relay at SuperTour finals this last Sunday in Crafstburry, VT. The 15km mass start skate was on Saturday. If you break the weekend down some parts were working in my favor and some were not. In the end, none of it really mattered. I was there to thrash and have fun. Results in the xc and biathlon world are somewhat irrelevant now.

        So what went well and what was working against me? The skate race was fun, because there was actually enough snow this year. Not as much as we have back home, but enough to race the full 5km loop. Even more helpful, was the hard packed conditions. When it's not slushy or icy it's fair. You can use good technique and pace yourself accordingly. The course profile was also to my liking. Nothing too technical and with a couple of drawn out climbs.
      That much was in my favor, but the race was not devoid of disadvantages. The whole weekend was planned on a whim. With that in mind, I was searching for a good pair of skis to race on. While I was able to find a wax tech with many thanks to the team from Bozman, the quality of skis was a missed opportunity. Everything was coming together too close to the last minute. There was a fast pair of skis from a higher level at my disposal. They were flown over from Europe after the previous world cup. Unfortunately, without any cell service I wasn't able to find them in time to have them in the mix. My skis were decent, but I was loosing more than I wanted to on the downhills. Craftsburry is also a course that I suspect some wax teams know significantly better than anyone else in the USSA crowd. 

        The other disadvantage I had to contend with was racing in bib 49. In a crowd of 118 this could have been much worse. I was glad to have been moved up as much as I had. Still, 12 kms of that race was spent fighting through the masses. Poles were stepped on, certain words were used, and often I had to slip through a narrow opening to move up at all. I made the best use of the climbs as I could. By the time the race was down to a few kms I could see the lead pack. At that point it started to break up and at that point I was too far out and had spent most of my push just clawing my way up to that point in the first place.

      Overall, it was an alright race. I was glad when it was over and was pleased where I ended up given the extra distance I added skiing around others. If I was really concerned I should have planned ahead better on ski choices. A better start placement could have been had if I had done a USSA race at all prior to Saturday. The damage I did on the climbs was noted and I'm confident I could have been with the lead group were things a little different. Still, fair is fair.

         And yes I did a classic race on Sunday. For reason unknown to me, it did not occur to me that I should ski in my race skis before the start to give some feedback on the kick wax. So long story short, there was a lot of double poling going on during that race. Without very much kick it's supper hard to make a fast transition into striding on the climbs. The extra effort spent on really pressing the wax pocket only added to the frustration. Thankfully, much like the skate race, this race wasn't much more than just for the fun of it. The rest of my teammates (Clair, Raleigh, and Susan) did pretty well and we were not all that far back.

       Come to think of it, that concludes what could be my last xc racing experience. I'm trying not to overthink it right now. I was in southern Maine before the end of the day. On Monday I flew out of PWM and landed in SLC. Now I'm in Heber City, UT hoping there is enough snow to make US Biathlon Nationals happen. Again, these races don't have very much weight on them. Maybe I'm just looking for some closure. It might actually just be authentic Mexican food that I'm really after.

Friday, March 23, 2018

One Last Effort

        The warm care free feeling of calling is done for the season was a tempting one, there's no denying that. But we all knew that wasn't going to happen. Without being able to bring home any start bibs from the games my last real race of the season would have been the sprint world cup in Antholz back in January. So what started out as a pretty simple out and back to Solder Hollow turned in a spider web of elaborate planning. It took a lot of texting and staring at a computer screen but, for now, everything has momentarily come together.

      The first leg of my end of season racing project starts on Thursday. I'll fly out of Presque Isle (while it's still PenAir and NOT United) into Boston and then landing in Platsburg, NY. From there I should have a ride from the airport to Lake Placid where I can procure a pair of my training skis and race poles that somehow found themselves at the OTC. This is why I had to fly into up state NY, rather than driving over. I never requested to have my gear in LP, but whatever... On Friday morning I'll get a ride down to Craftsburry VT.

       US SuperTour finals for XC are in Craftsburry this year. I was aware of these races and the opportunity they brought to racing in the east, but I still wasn't really giving them the time of day. That was, until I was convince to jump into the mixed relay on the 25th. The ones doing the convincing were all biathletes. This meant that I was voted in to do the classic leg of the relay. I don't have any remotely competitive classic gear so I had to contact some help and now have a pair of klister skis to borrow for this occasion. This should have been the end of it but... Since I was in the Craftsbury area the thought of the mass start 15km skate race crept in. So making that happen became a part of the planning. Which is why I'm leaving Thursday. Friday will be a course warm up day and Saturday will be a competitive one to tackle. Any good racing skis that I have are in Europe and while I will see them again at some point, I had to pull some strings to get a good pair on their way to Vermont for this skate race.

       As I said, the last real race I did was in January. Thankfully I was in decent shape way back then. This is US XC spring series and some the men have been racing well in the distance races this year. I haven't raced against this group in a while so I really have no idea what my status is going into this race. For all I know I could be near the top or I could fall on my face both figuratively and literally. Late March is always an interesting time of year to see results. Some of the top racers can fall off the list just because it's not the peak racing part of the season. So here goes whatever.

       The relay is on Sunday. Start order hasn't been nailed down, so I could very end up doing a five km skate race. The thought of racing classic was reason enough to make an appearance at the Henry Anderson Memorial Ski Dag this past Sunday. For as much snow as we've been having the conditions were well groomed. It was fun to try a slightly different style of ski racing but I think I'll stick with skating when I can. Still, I have at least one hard classic ski effort under my belt before I jump into a national champs relay. It's five km classic male, then five km classic female, then five skate male and 5 skate female. I think... the details are still unclear, but it will come together when we all meet up in Vermont. 

        On Monday I have a ride to the Portland Airport. This is where the focus switches back over to biathlon. The US Championships are held in Solder Hollow this season. I have a place booked in Heber City. The snow coverage of the venue was a pending issue all year, but since no one has heard otherwise yet, it looks like the races will still happen. They might be on a 1.5km look, but happen nevertheless. It's the same deal as the past two years. First day is a sprint, then a pursuit, and ending with a mass start. All in the Thursday to Saturday time span. Solder Hollow might not have the climb that Fort Kent does, but it is at altitude.

         This is the last race trip effort of the season. Without much race experience in the past two months, it will be interesting to see where I end up. The training has been there and I haven't been sick much at all this season so there is plenty of reason for optimism.

         Once the racing is done the logistics of the trip are not over. Since I will have made it all the way out west what is an extra sixish hour ride into Bozeman MT? I'll be there for a couple of weeks, with no immediate itinerary other then to relax. It will be April by then and much more of a justified timing to relax then the alternative of calling done before it was even March. With or without the race starts it's been a long season, and the next two weeks of racing followed up with some Bozeman sky will be a fitting end.  Wish me luck.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Pictures Round 2

Through the tunnel at the Nations House Village
Team Sweden's house

One last afternoon jog.

Closing ceremony was pretty slick. 

Nothing a 13 hour flight through 14 hours of time change to make it feel like it never happened.

Back in northern Maine where snow is. 

It just won't let up. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

There And Back Again


           And just like that it'a all rapped up and done. I'm back where I started in Stockholm. This place felt foreign for about five minutes when I got home at about six in the morning. Shortly after it was as if I never left. Which feels off considering less 12 hours earlier I was in South Korea. The change of pace from this past February compared to my February a couple of years ago when I didn't qualify for any teams is staggering. Oddly enough, I still did more racing two years ago. Everyone put a maximum effort. We didn't have the results that we wanted, but that's no easy task in one of the most competitive and challenging sports that took place in Pyeong Chang. Still, everyone had a good time and I was happy to be there when I arrived and just as happy when I woke up at 4:30 in the morning to make the bus ride into Seoul to fly out.

       No racing was had by me. It was close for the relay when one of our guys was sick only a few days prior. My job was to be the reserve. This meant being ready in case any of the other four guys were not. It's a long trip over to Korea and if someone isn't feeling well it would be a shame not to fill the whole quota. Not to mention the risk of not having a spare athlete for the relay. I never let up on training and made sure to be in peak shape in case I did wind up on the start list.

        For the most part, everything ran smoothly. Something as large as the Olympic games is a logistical nightmare. For everything to function at all requires a level of organizations I can't even imagine.  That's not an excuse for problems, but it's reason to complain less when the transport buses don't have enough space. Some of the elaborate steps needed to do just about anything felt obnoxious to me, but by the end of the three weeks I had most of it figured out.

       The truth is, we were obligated not to complain even if we wanted to. The impression that I got from the presentation at the start was to stick with your run of the mills generic neutral answers to any media interviews. If you've ever wondered why so many athletes come off as bland and lacking personality, this might explain why (although some could give that impression anytime of the year). While I'm at it, we were also told that the Olympics were supposed to be sponsor free and "for the athletes" or some slogan like that, more than they were for the commercial effect. I found this odd given the amount of Nike and Ralph Lauren apparel we were instructed to wear properly. Maybe, by "sponsor free," they were only referring to help that might go directly back to the athlete. Wouldn't want that to happen, now would we?

         The month as a whole was worth it. Despite my bitterness towards the corporate side of the Olympics, or the time spent in the elevator, or the puzzle that it was trying to go anywhere outside of our apartment, all of it was worth the time and effort it took to get there. I was never able to compete and the US biathlon team didn't have the results that we wanted, but at the very least I know that we did everything we could. Biathlon just isn't the sport to promise medals in. If you want to do that, choose one of the other sports that typically has less than 20 athletes competing on a world cup level. Long story short: Some results weigh more than others. This is why I have to say hats off to Kikkan Randal and Jessie Diggins for winning the team sprint in XC. That was a long time coming and what a way to break the medal threshold. We weren't watching the race in person, but we were all cheering during the live coverage.

          The rest of the season was unclear to me. I was the fifth man. Unlike the Olympics the US mens team can race up to five guys in a world cup. The hope was to get back into some high level racing during March at the world cup seven and eight. Unfortunately, I wasn't named to the last two WCs. You could argue that I was qualified to, but USBA has their reasons and ultimately there is nothing I can do about it. So after all the stress of not knowing, now that I do know where I'm not going I don't know where I should go in place of. Currently I home and trying to keep a low profile while I can. US nationals for Biathlon are in the works, but that doesn't fill the void between now and late March. To be honest, I'm slightly exhausted and might just stay home and train.

        It was nice to see so much snow on the ground when I made back to the north of Maine. It was a long trip home and coming back to another false winter with trace amounts of snow was not what I wanted. Thankfully, that wasn't the case. There is a local race this Saturday at the Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle. I plan on trying to beat my sub 20 min 10km time there from a couple of years ago. I don't think the snow will be as fast, but it's worth a try. If you would like an inside gossip perspective on life in the athlete village feel free to show up and just ask.