Cold, Fast Conditions in Late March? Sure Why Not . . .

I sometimes get worried if I feel strong the day before a race (or the morning of a race) because then I have been known to fall apart during the race. Likewise, feeling off before a race makes me think that I be back on top of the Wheel of Fortune when the start gun goes off. I don’t like being superstitious, but there it is.

I felt great in training yesterday at Tahoe XC and, contrary to my superstition, I felt great in today’s 10km at Royal Gorge. The gravity assistance helps too, but I felt very smooth on a course that features long stretches of hard-work V2. The course had enough snow to slow things down on the hard corners (a big plus for me) and I had some great wax as well.

Afterwards I got lost in the Palisade Peak trail area of Royal Gorge with Peter Hanson, a great help with the Incline H.S. team. Usually we can handle a post-race ski without too much trouble, but apparently that did not hold today. It was worth every calorie.

I think I can let go of my pre-race superstitions . . . until they are confirmed in a couple of months ;)

Race Season is On!

It’s pretty obvious to anyone who has been shoveling the last few days that our winter is back on. This is the point in the ski season when it is sort of difficult to motivate for training and racing. On the other hand, conditions are great and the next 4 weeks of racing feature some really fun events. Paraphrasing my college coach, “Everyone will drive 15 hours North to find snow in December. When they have great conditions on their front doorstep in March, they don’t bother to get on the snow.” It’s really true though.

Maybe just pick two races to do instead of doing all four. Focus on technique. Do some adventure skiing somewhere new (up the fiberboard freeway maybe?) The race today was a great return to our usual winter conditions, and the good base makes the next month very promising.

I hope to see some busy ski trails!

US Biathlon Nationals- West Yellowstone, MT

Hello from West Yellowstone, Montana.  Sorry about the lack of bloging the last few months. Life kinda spun out of control.  Anyhow, do to lack of snow many of the races I planed to do this winter got postponed or canceled. As a result of our poor snow year I have only raced twice since the beginning of January.  One race being the 10th Mountain Biathlon at Auburn Ski Club, I fell on the second lap breaking my pole and fell again on the start of the third lap broke my binding. Luckily, I had a warm up ski in the stadium to replace the broken binding ski and Glenn provided me with a spare pole when I came into the range. With all that drama, I still finished second behind Jordan McElroy.  Besides racing very little I’ve had lots of time to get some good training when usually I spend my time racing and recovering. After Nationals I plan on racing the Mammoth Biathlon, Tahoe Rim Tour, and the Billy Dutton Uphill.

We have solid California representation currently at US Biathlon Nationals.   Glenn Jobe is coaching Britt from Mammoth, Sam Zabell from Truckee, Rick Eckert from Reno and myself.  Jordan McElroy from Truckee is participating in a USBA junior camp and is being coached by USBA.  Also, Ted Hulbert from Palo Alto is competing this week in West.  Today was the sprint competition; overall the shooting was our weak link especially standing.

Far West Placing in age group:

Phillip Violett-5th 7misses

Britt Cogan-5th 7 misses

Jordan McElroy- 6th 6 misses

Sam Zabell- 11th 8 misses

Ted Hulbert- 6th 4 misses

Rick Eckert-10th 9 misses

Hope the rain at home turn to snow.  Good luck to those who participate this weekend in the rescheduled Snowshoe Thompson at ASC.

Trampled by Turtles

Training has been a bit sporadic these past few days. I’ve done all of the races that I had scheduled for myself at the beginning of the season, and my training has reflected it this week. no direction. I’ve been doing whatever I’ve felt like doing for training, and it has been kind of fun. I’m going to try to keep some of the intensity up to stay sharp for the rescheduled Tahoe Rim Tour in April, but it’s beginning to feel like I missed race season entirely. Hopefully this new snow storm will remind me of what winter feels like.

 

Here’s a band my sister showed me a long time ago, but she has only recently convinced me they’re worth a listen. Plus, who doesn’t love a stop-motion video. The band is Trampled By Turtles, and I hope you like them http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FT8gaiNVqOM

-G-span

 

Yellowstone Redezvous 50K

After the Great Race got cancelled because of lack of snow – on the day we got a bunch of new snow, unfortunately – I decided I would drive up to West Yellowstone for the Rendezvous. I had to get some revenge for my Birkie. This time I wasn’t going to freeze. All bundled with balaclava and all, this one went a whole lot better. I ended up 5th, only about 15 seconds from the podium. It was a really fun race. And a tougher workout than anyone could have imagined when we woke up to blistering winds and 5″ of new snow on the track. You know it’s slow out there when the winners are in the 2:40 range. Way fun though. And great to mix it up for real with all the old Idaho master blasters from back home. A few Far West folks made the trip as well.

As an addendum  to the Birkie report, here’s a great part of northern Wisconsin: live bait in gas stations.

live minnows year-round

9,000-Strong Nordie Showdown

A few days ago I returned from my first trip out to the American Birkebeiner in Hayward, Wisconsin. The experience of skiing on such cold and dry snow was something to behold. Even when the West Coast does get a nice storm (as we are now) it’s rare for the snow to come so dry. I am not sure if this is purely a function of the temperature during snowfall, or if Sierra snow always comes down wetter due to the humid air coming directly off the Pacific.

In any case, this is one event that every Nordic should do at least once in their career. The northern Midwest has a tradition of Nordic skiing that I have not seen anywhere else. There are about 9,000 participants in all the events (54km skate, 50km classic, 23km skate, 23km classic) and most of those are from the Midwest. That says something about the popularity of Nordic skiing in the Midwest, but there is more! When you drive to one of a few massive parking lots for a shuttle to the start, you can hear about the course conditions from the local experts in North America’s only known sportscast for a Nordic ski event.

I was lucky enough to start in the elite wave with about 200 other men. Those spots fill up quickly. Once they are full it’s a done deal and there is not any way to get in. Even you don’t think of yourself as “fast,” always apply for a better wave start. The Birkie recognizes Great Ski Race results as valid because of the large field. If you have any racing ability at all, you need to get moved out of the last Wave 10 up to somewhere in Waves 1-6, depending on ability.

I had a relatively slow start but I was quick to catch up with a pack of fairly quick guys. Drafting off of fast skiers on the downhills is critical since the course loses 1400′ in elevation from start to finish. The high point is at 13km but the first 22km does not have any enormous net loss or gain and then the course takes a series of long rolling downhill until 38km.

I stayed with my pack of guys finishing around 100th place until about 44km or so. I didn’t get truly get dropped from the pack of 10 but the pack continued to spread out more and more. Once I got to Lake Hayward I had used up a lot of energy and I just had a hard time keeping my pace up in the headwind. There is about 500 meters going down Main Street in Hayward but aside from that the final 3.5km is all on the lake and it is tougher than any hill on the course. I lost a lot here. Even if you have lost places coming up on the lake, a racer has to pull it together for the lake and draft on someone to be successful.

I finished in 128th overall and 120th among men. Frankly, I was fairly confident I could place in the top 100, so it is a little bit disappointing. Many of the other skiers in my travel group pointed out that the race is extremely tactical because of all the drafting and that Birkie experience counts for a lot. What does that mean? I need to come back next year, naturally.

I have posted a photo from the middle of the race. I am not sure of the exact location. I made a point of posing for the camera while recovering in the finishers pen and if I can find the picture on the interwebs I will have up here on the blog.

This race is not one to miss. Ask a Birkie finisher for some advice if you decide to go this. It’s a complicated race to train for and plan for, but it is well worth the effort.

The frost beard begins to grow.

Brrrrrrkie

That was a crazy race. I started in the first wave, where there’s about 700 or so skiers all jostling to get a spot on the front line before the start. As soon as the official lets us move up to the line, it’s a mad dash to the line. I did my best from the front of the mass of people, but still only ended up getting a spot in the third row. Stage one over, 54 k to go.

I got out to a decent start, was moving up steadily, then got tripped up in the first 1.5 k. Just as I finished passing all the people that had gone by at the top of “power line hill” and was descending down the back side, I thought, “dang, it’s really cold here.” It was about 10 degrees, but the sun was still below the trees and the humidity was high (at least compared to Nevada). 8 k in I caught my Colby college buddie Jeremy Blazar. Two man wolf pack. Time to start catching some elite wave skiers, baby!

But another 10k later I started to get really cold. Another 5k and Jeremy dropped me as I began to shiver on the downhills. Then the birchleggins crowd and other gray old master blasters began to blow by me. I was practically walking. At the second to last aid station, with 12 or so k left, I skied up to a volunteer with feeds and said, “I need a coat”. She said, “You’re coming with me.” Inside the warming hut, I was given massages, hot drinks, food, and a spot next to a wood stove. For 20 minutes. Until I finally stopped shivering. Then, determined to finish, I took off with a donated purple patagonia sweater beneath my race bib.

I felt great after that as I slalomed through about 200 people on my last leg – many of whom were old skiers and tourists wearing bulky clothing under their bibs just like me. The crowds on the last stretch were awesome, and I had a blast soaking up the Birkie madness.

The purple sweater that saved my race

All in all it was a great day and a ton of fun. It was also a great learning experience: wear plenty of clothing and eat a lot, especially early in the race. It’s easy to ski a bit overheated; skiing frozen is slow and dangerous. Hypothermia isn’t fun and isn’t something to mess with. Lesson learned.