my life be like….

sprints tomorrow, gettin stoked.

Driving East (to West): Road Trip Observations

California has snow. Nevada has rainbows. Idaho……is flat. And has windmills. This is what we have learned so far on our trek from Truckee to West Yellowstone. Other things we have learned: there are at least three female truck drivers between California and Idaho; I am a hipster; leftover brussels sprouts are surprisingly tasty (when saturated with bacon); and gravy baked into bread is a total success. Patrick and Spencer, through extensive experiementation, have learned that cows located on the left side of the road are less responsive to loud noises than cows who reside on the right side of the road (going east). We have also discovered that Martin can drop some smooth lyrics and that we were instructed to pack lunches (thank god for the brussels sprouts and gravy bread). Despite Martin’s lyric-dropping talents, he gets easily excited when looking for potato fields and may be likely to veer (nearly) off the road. We also did some field research in Twin Falls, Idaho, during which we discovered that there IS some level of diversity in Idaho, as well as a lot of thrift stores in a very small area. Idaho brings up many questions for us….for example, what does one do in Idaho? And more importantly, there is a place called Seagull Bay in Idaho….why? A final fact gained in a casino Starbucks in Elko, Nevada: Baja Fresh is not seafood.

Only four more hours to go…..

Redemption at Mammoth Marathon

It has taken me awhile to learn how to ski marathons. Last year, I thought that drinking some HEED from my drinkbelt would give me adequate calories for the 42km distance. Not so much. I was hurting by the time I reached about the 30km mark and I did not even come close to finishing strong. I learned that a bottle of HEED has about 100 calories depending on its strength. I did much better at the Gold Rush a couple weeks later, which was also held in warm spring conditions.

This year, I packed 3 GU packets along with my HEED. I took every feed that I passed by and I did much better. I managed to cram down 3 GUs in one lap which was a little much but I felt good enough to drop my drinkbelt and lose the weight for the last 2 laps. The aggressive feeding worked wonders for me. Even skiing on my own, I was pretty confident through the end, except for the banked S-turns. I could not risk an ugly fall here with my reflexes getting slower and slower.

The conditions were a little bit easier than last year. Although a fresh snow fall slowed the overall times somewhat, the last half of the race did not feature rapid changes from slick cold snow to suctioning warm slush like last year. Hitting the brakes in every warm spot was truly the last straw. If I have a bad race, it’s a great motivator for the next year.

Far West Nordic has two epic point-to-point races in the next weeks. The Tahoe Rim Tour will run from Tahoe XC to Northstar XC this coming Saturday. Find some fishscales or klister and get out for our longest classic race, or hop in the skate or snowshoe division. Anyone with a love for snow travel can do it without competing hard. The local race season concludes at the Village at Squaw Valley. It’s short (3.2 miles) and sweet (uphill). If you haven’t skied corduroy at Squaw High Camp before the alpine skiers arrive, you have not really lived in Tahoe.

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 ;)

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.

Allen Bard Classic

Michael Collins and Kara LaPoint start 20km race

With the 52km Birkie coming up in less than three weeks, it’s really important to get some longer distance races under my belt. That’s been a tricky thing this year with so many races postponed or canceled altogether. The Allen Bard Classic fit the bill and it completely wiped me out. I have done plenty of easy over distance workouts around 2.5 – 3 hours and about one specific strength (double pole) workout per week but somehow that didn’t prepare me for an hour of nearly continuous high tempo double poling. (Weird huh?) Result are up here.

The gym in which we stayed at Mammoth H.S. was a lot like the weight room where we stayed last year for the Mammoth Marathon . . . with one exception. The gym has virtually unlimited space for games, and comes with a full complement of basketballs, volleyballs, tennis balls, the big blue medicine ball for physical therapy, and maybe some other things I forgot about. This means that when ski training and bouldering are done with, there is still a nice space for just about any game you can think. So what did I learn on this trip? (1) Do more strength. (2) Juniors never, ever stop playing, no matter what the laws of physics would tell you.

Wrap-up and Inspiration

This season was a long one for me. It started in November and stayed busy through the middle of February. After a trip to Maine gave me a break, I had about a month and a half of rest (with the Great Ski Race in the middle) until the Mammoth Marathon/Billy Dutton Uphill/Gold Rush triple whammy. My race season has never lasted so long, although it was a little bit discontinuous. It was loads of fun though. As much as I feel tired now, I have a feeling I’ll miss the ski racing by July 4th at the latest. Mostly I am thrilled to be living in the location with the longest and sunniest ski season anywhere in the country. (My knowledge is limited though. Let me know if I have omitted your hidden paradise. Your secrets are safe with me, right?)

I had a few new adventures this year. From the Yellowstone Ski Festival to the Mammoth Marathon, I had the pleasure of skiing on a lot of new trails. Also, working with the fantastic student-athletes at Incline High School was an adventure all of its own. Since I picked up the sport on the relatively late side for ski racing purposes (at age 20), I am pretty excited to see new athletes giving the sport a try. Unlike running (and maybe cycling?), XC skiing has a rather high learning curve. Fitness doesn’t get you very far unless you can first stand up and move your skis without doing a faceplant. No one is born skiing, and there is a lot of work needed right from the start even to finish a race.

Perusing the interwebs I stumbled upon a skier who gave me a great deal of support when I was brand new. Brad Marden was one of just two athletes (out of 14) completing the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Ski Classic. Wikipedia tells me that the course changes every 3 years. Distances range from about 200 to 380km. It takes days. No grooming or feed stations, either. Sleeping bags are highly recommended. Tents are optional (but heavy!)

When Brad was assistant coach at Colby College, he taught me everything a Los Angeleno needs to know about XC skiing. Mainly: to keep my butt forward and my skis pointed in the same general direction away from any trees or bushes. Credit also goes to Paul Smith, now coaching at University of Maine, Presque Isle, for tolerating some cluelessness on a great many subjects. They had no obligation to help me, but they decided to anyway. The sport thrives because we love it, and we will do whatever it takes to get new skiers excited.

So I have to wonder: When am I going to get up to the Brooks Range for some classic skiing?