Monday, January 29, 2007

Training Week January 22 - 28

This was perhaps the oddest, most off week of the season. Last week's 20k at the end of a fairly high volume stretch seemed to take a toll that lasted through Sunday.

Monday - 1:30 ski, freestyle, at UAF trails. Online thermometers registered +5 F all afternoon, so I went to UAF to take a break from the hills. It was actually -5 to -15 out there, and after an hour, a pretty miserable ski.

Tuesday - Easy ski, 50 min classic, include 20 min without poles.

Wednesday - 20 min warmup, 4 X 4:00 intervals, with 2:00 rest, 25 min cool down

Thursday - rest

Friday - Easy 1 hour, mostly skating, but did a little classic to practice exchanges

Saturday - warmup, 4X4 km "pursuit" race, with 4k classic and 4k skate. That was probably the toughest race all year. Never felt good, and had a series of lapses/mistakes from 3.8 to about 5.5 km, culminating with having to stop for 10 sec to control breathing. 26:45, 17th place. Looking forward to longer races.

Easy 3 mile run later in the afternoon.

Sunday - easy 3 hr ski, skating. Felt much better than any time during the week. Finally recovered.

In the afternoon I went for family ski and had encounter with a moose on the trail. Fortunately the moose was more interested in lunch than defending its space, even though Tristan skied by (and fell) less than 5 feet away.

8:40 for the week

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Training Week Jan 15 - 21

Monday - 3:00 hour ski, skate technique, with miserably slow snow. It was about 0, and we had 3" to 4" of new snow. I was bonking by 90 minutes but just muddled through

Tuesday - Easy 45 min, classic. Ski 20 min without poles

Wednesday - 20 min warmup (skate), then a set of long intervals of 8:00, 9:00, 4:00, 8:00, with 2 min recovery, then a cool down. 1:15 for the day.

Thursday - Easy effort classic ski, 1:50, include 2 X large hill (5:00) double pole; also included some pickups

Friday - Run easy, 30 min

Saturday - Very easy classic ski, about 12km 1 hour. Conditions perfect!

Sunday - Race 20 km, classic. Ugg. Great snow, perfect temperatures, tough day. Skis were not fast, and I was anaerobic by 4k, just hanging on through 10. Moved up some, from 7th place to 5th (2nd masters) and stayed there. ~1:11:20. A for effort (2nd lap was slower but in better control than first), B for tactics (pushed too hard for those first 4k, just keeping up with the Jones'), B for waxing, C for concentration (2 stupid falls).
Ski time 1:30 for the day.

9:50 for the week. Highest for the season. Plan for another 10 hour week next week and then we'll see if I need a cutback or to press on for one more big week before marathon taper.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Skate Revolution's Western Front - 1985

Ski Season 1985

After the excesses of 1984's season and resolved for a life of aceticism. Least of all, I had scientific and administrateive problems to solve in grad school where I was doing food habits research on captive elk, and that was after the immediate problem of just catching up to finish the spring semester in good standing. Over the summer and fall I attempted to run again but my 5 and 10k times were much slower than the previous year. That summer I also met Tamara, a lively CSU senior cross country runner at a concert, so that was one resolution scratched.

Skiing was not even on the agenda through the mild, snowless fall. But just before Christmas, Tamara and I headed out to Beaver Meadows, a small resort with about 10 km of tracks/trails, an hour out of Fort Collins. I may have discussed ski team experiences briefly, but it was already just a memory. Although Tamara had done backcountry skiing with family and friends, she had never seen Nordic track skiing. With finals and reports behind, I put on my skis and instantly fell into a race pace diagonal stride, and realized within seconds that I had missed skiing!

Tamara’s burst out in uncontrollable laughter as I showed her diagonal, double polling, and marathon skating. Was she laughing at my skinny legs covered by that silly green skin suit?

“I had never known that people could ski fast!” she later mused. “I had always thought that Nordic skiing was about plodding through deep snow.” We were instantly hooked and went skiing at every opportunity during break.

By January the snow had fallen in Fort Collins and we were back on the 1 km circuit at City Park. We’d get up early in the morning and ski 8 or 10k, before heading to class. Tamara would do an afternoon workout with the track team and I’d either ski again or go for an easy run. Much of the team had scattered to different parts of North America. Franz with his girlfriend, Heather, had moved up to Summit County and were focusing on the USSA and marathon circuit. Parker, Holcomb, and I were still in town, but had completed our eligibility with the CSU team. Hofer was the last holdover from the 1984 team and he was now their leader-guru.

Otherwise most things were much the same at the City Park loop, but the look of the tracks had transformed. Rather than the double groove classic track around the Firecracker Hill circuit, you would see an angled track jutting out a couple meters at maybe 30 degrees. Rather than double polling, we were marathon skating more and more. Pekka was still there too, and he was up to his old tricks. After making an appearance he would lock in behind for half a lap before we’d have to step aside and let him zoom past with a powerful diagonal stride.

All our January and early February races were along the Front Range on soft snow at Eldora or Snowy Range in Wyoming, where I broke another ski with in meters of where I’d done the same thing a year earlier. Parker streaked by again, claiming massive victory in our internacine rivalry. Nevertheless, my diagonal technique was much better and I was placing higher in these low-key citizen races.

At this time our technique was a mix. We’d diagonal or kick-double pole about half the time, marathon skate maybe 20-40% of the way, and use the diagonal V about 10% usually on the steeper climbs. By mid-season 1985 the skating revolution raging in Europe and in pockets of North America, including a few enclaves in the High Country of Colorado, like Gunnison, Granby, or Summit County. On the Front Range we were out of the loop. The university teams at CU and Wyoming were traveling and full bore into their competitive season.

In late February we ventured to the Western Slope and the Frisco Gold Rush, a 10k with 500 or 600 entrants, one of Colorado’s most popular races. The event started on Lake Dillon at 9,000 feet. I was shocked and awed to see how fast people skated out over the first kilometer, and was in no better than 50th place. Although I had a strong finish, aided with a flurry of marathon skating and finished in the top five percent, it was disheartening to be some 9 minutes behind CU’s John Main (not even their top skier) who completed the course in a blazing 30 minutes. He had skated the entire distance and had blown away the field by several minutes.

Main was onto something that had traveled all the way from the Scandinavian Arctic. Meanwhile, the World Championships in Seefeld Austria were aflame in controversy over skating vs. traditional skiing. The skaters ruled, with those holding onto the classic technique finishing far down in the standings. And while the controversy raged in Europe it was apparent that the new wave of the skating revolution had also landed in Colorado.

Italian legend Marulio De Zolt leads a Norwegian skier at the 1985 World Championships in Seefeld, Austria. Both skiers are using the powerful V1 skate up the steep section.

Over spring break, I had two more races, a 10k in Grand Lake and the Turquoise Lake Classic at 10,000 feet near Leadville. We had a mini-reunion with Franz and Heather at Grand Lake; I hadn’t seen them all year, and they were fresh off of US Nationals and the Great America Ski Chase. I started to prepare my skis with my favorite kick wax, Swix Extra Blue, when Heather asked, “What are you doing?”

“Why waxing my skis,” I replied, defensively but not knowing exactly why.

“No you should take off that kick wax and put on glider from tip to tail, and skate the whole way!” Heather responded.

I was incredulous. “What about the hills, how can I climb the hills?”

“It’s scary at first, and it takes a lot of commitment,” she replied. “You have to commit to skating the entire way, but it’s faster because you have such great glide.”

Commitment. Heather and Franz were engaged, so commitment must have been on their minds. I’d been with the same girlfriend for eight months, a record by half a year. If so, maybe I could commit to 10k with paraffin waxed skis.

With trepidation, I re-waxed those skis and resolved to skate the whole 10k. On fast spring snow over a rollicking course through lodgepole pines, meadows, and around a mountain lake, I marathon skated in hypoxic ecstasy to finish in 31 minutes, at least three or four minutes faster than would have been possible with kick wax.

You're Go-un The Wrong Way!

A couple days later I went for a ski with Franz and Bill Allen, who had also been on the elite circuit. We ventured to Keystone Mountain to ski UP the alpine slopes, some 1,200 feet vertical to midway, back down, and then up again. Three skinny guys in lycra, skating on featherweight skinny skis, going uphill against spring break afternoon traffic.

If that weren’t enough Franz and Bill were doing something quite different. Rather than the single-pole diagonal V skate, they were propelling themselves with offset double pole skate.

Countless times the alpiners hollered, “You’re Go-un the wroonng way!!!” most with a strong Texas twang. Every so often Franz and Bill would stop and give me some pointers on this strange new technique, but between dodging angry or confused tourists and fending off verbal assaults, learning the timing was slow. Before we had a collision or had someone pull out a six-shooter, we turned around and skied down the mountain along with into the flow of thousands of spring break skiers.

A few days later at the Turquoise Lake Classic at 10,400 feet near Leadville, I struggled with this new skate technique. Although no grandmas zipped by, I do recall diagonal V skating helplessly as a 98 pound high school girl, fresh off the medals podium at Junior Olympics, skated by easily using the alternating double-pole stride, later called V1. Nevertheless, the season had ended in a satisfying way, and I was already thinking about the next year.

Meanwhile Chris Hofer lead CSU to another solid shoing at the NCSA Nationalswhere he took 13th
place in the individual race. Interestingly, he reported that he and most of the skiers relied primarily on classic technique. We found this noteworthy because by then the NCAA and elite skiers had switched completely to skating.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Training Week January 8 - 14

Monday – exercise bike for 50 min, variable pace (-30 outside)

Tuesday – ski 40 min classic, very slow but did some (maybe 6) pickups (-25 F)

Wednesday – ski 1:20, classic, including 2 X 5 min, 1 X 2:30, 2 X 5 min intervals at 5k – 10k effort, with 2:00 recovery.

Thursday – 1:50 ski, mostly easy. Double polled all the way up White Bear monster hill.

Friday – ski easy 1:00, classic

Saturday – Warmup, intermittent, probably 3-4 km total; 10k race, classic technique. 33:26, 4th overall. Good effort, perhaps skied km 3-6 a little too fast to make up stagger, and then was somewhat tied up at the end. Had a solid finish kick for first time this season! Cool down 5km

1:20 total

Sunday – Original plan for a 3 hr ski, preferably skating, but to maintain family harmony, I needed to postpone. Result was rather weird training day, but a good day nonetheless.

AM Ran 3+ miles easy (30 min)

PM, ski with family for 5k, intermittent; later ran 4 miles with high school runner to work on pacing/effort perception and then skied for 30 min.
1:30 for the day

8:30 for the week

Friday, January 12, 2007

Tracking The Skate Revolution's Western Front 1983-84

Memoirs of a Nordic Berserker I

After a year of trapping and tracking wolves for research in Minnesota, I moved back to Colorado in spring of 1982 and soon declared that I intended to master backcountry telemark turns in the deep powder and to learn country swing. Neither happened. Rather, my life would become about Nordic skating and slam dancing.

I had been an enthusiastic alpine skier since the age of 5, growing up on Colorado’s quiet northern Front Range. I had done some recreational cross country skiing in high school, in Iowa, and after my undergraduate I had even entered a few cross country ski races to supplement my running habit. Those races were fun, but my equipment was shoddy and technique worse, and at times the performance and results outright comical—that is if you think that having your ski fall off a couple times in a race and getting passed by 50-year old grandmas wearing wool knickers and a Dorothy Hamill bob is funny.

Although I was in the best shape of my life in 1983 and posted a sub 33 10k at 6,000 feet altitude and a 2:34 marathon at 5,000 feet, I finished far behind the leaders in the occasional citizens ski race that I’d enter. Broken down from 3,000 miles of running and two marathons by the end of the year, I decided to finally get some decent equipment and join the Colorado State University Nordic ski team, for grins if nothing else.

By the end of 1983, the marathon skate was a commonly used technique among elite Nordic skiers, and even some general sports enthusiasts had heard of Bill Koch and his exploits on the international circuit. Nevertheless, our early on-snow training emphasized lots of over-distance using the traditional (or classic) kick and glide technique. One team advisor even suggested that the marathon skate was over-rated.

What’s This About Slam Dancing?

I had spent the summer of 1982 taking an intensive field course at the Colorado University Mountain Research Station, located at 9,200 feet elevation on Niwot Ridge near Nederland. The Director and many of the staff and students enjoyed going out on weekends for swing dancing. I had no clue as to the steps or how to lead, but joined them once or twice and actually had a good time. So I promised a couple of patient partners that I’d learn some steps.

Meanwhile, I had always wanted to telemark and figuring that at 24 I’d taken the alpine skiing about as far as feasible. Extreme skiing, alpine racing, or freestyle competition didn’t seem as fun as the free-wheeling recreational mogul bashing and tree skiing that I had been used to, but the prospect of hitting a tree or busting a knee on a mogul would not make for a healthy and independent lifestyle. And lift tickets? Forget about it, they were approaching $25 a day, $30 at Aspen or Vail! Telemarking and backcountry looked like a good pursuit.

However, something happened between those heady low oxygenated days on Niwot Ridge and the sun baked foothills and prairie of Fort Collins in a very short period of time. Who knows if was just me, or four zany new roommates? But we bonded by going to local night clubs every weekend, usually more often, where the musical fare was anything but country (with the exception of Neil Young or Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen). We listened to The Clash, The Blasters, Squeeze, The Ramones, The Talking Heads. So much for country swing, and pass another beer thank you very much! Likewise, my next door neighbors were the coordinators and top skiers on the CSU Nordic team and I was intrigued by the sport. Although did join friends on several back country outings, I never had the proper equipment and commitment to learn good telemark techniques.

CSUs Team

Our team leader, Franz Froelicher, was guru skier-coach who always had a funny story up his sleeve, was laid back about everything, except skiing where he was an intense competitor. Franz had had near flawless classic technique, save for skiing a little knock-kneed due to a crushed ankle from a rock climbing fall that nearly took his life a few years prior. At 130 pounds he was our slightly built bionic skier.

Classic Photo from Morton (1992) Don't Look Back

Also a good skier, Chris Hofer was an easy-going New Jersey native, just my age who had Nordic ski bummed in the Rockies for years and was getting back into school to finish his degree. Going into the season Chris wasn’t in top shape because he’d spent the summer on a fishing boat out in the Gulf of Alaska. He didn’t complain on our 10-12 mile runs, and once on snow he proved to have formidable technique.

John Holcomb (also known as “Ho-hum”) a nickname given by his cyclist friends was so laid back that you’d think he was falling asleep in the middle of a conversation, but watch out when you put him on a bike (he was national class in that sport) or skis, because he was always a scrappy competitor with bottomless lung capacity.

Rounding out our top five for most of the year was Parker, who was insouciant and smart-mouthed. If you looked at him in the right angle, he might even look like Franz’s twin, but Parker had a leg-length discrepancy that made himself three-times more knock-kneed. In a strangely idiosyncratic way, Parker was the spirit of our team of goofy, over-aged (Holcomb was the youngest at 22) college skiers.

Early on we had a true freshman, 18 year old Paul, who was trying to qualify for Junior Olympics. But he moved on after our first race to focus on the JO races and probably to look for more mature company.

Although he wasn’t officially part of the squad, Ray Sharp, a world class and U.S. champion race walker, was with us most of the way through. His girlfriend Wendy was a stellar racer on the women’s team. Ray went along for most races and workouts, if he wasn’t on the U.S. indoor track circuit. Always an intellect, Ray would provide an analytical perspective, like an aerobically gifted Mr. Spock.

The unofficial rite of passage for the team was ski camp in Granby Colorado. We commandeered two mid-sized rooms at the Homestead, and promptly packed in 15 to 18 skiers into a Nordic flophouse. We’d ski two or three hours a day, and devoured stacks of pancakes in the morning and plates of pasta in the evening. Packed like lycra sardines with smelly poly-pro long underwear, we quickly saw who was fit for refugee camp living, and who was not.

Sleep on the first night of camp was near impossible, but we still put in 2.5 hours on the second day. That night I found a little corner space after dinner and slept for 12 hours, with teammates checking in a couple times to see if there was still a pulse. By the third day, Parker and several younger skiers could take no more and they cleared out of that rat's nest. Parker would return for the rest of the season, but a couple of the others never came back.

Through blizzards and sub zero temperatures we traveled in Ray’s 1970s VW bus and trained on the trails at Devil’s Thumb, Snow Mountain Ranch, Silver Creek, and in Grand Lake. Listening to The Dead on the way to yet another long workout, I realized that while not quite counter-culture we were hippies of the 80s. But our LSD to break through to the other side was aerobic development, not psychoactive drugs. By the end of the week, our numbers had dwindled down to just a handful of foolhardy but physically fit souls. We had survived camp and were still speaking with each other. A High Country miracle.

Winter Season 1984

The college season began in January, under record-breaking snow and cold, and even though my technique and placings had improved tremendously from previous years, I finished well back in the early races and did not make the team's top 3 to qualify for the 3 X 5k relay. However, at the end of the month in Park City, Utah we had a brilliant sunny day with temperatures in the 20s and loads of packed snow. I skied unofficially as an extra on the opening leg (not having enough skiers to complete a B team). The course was just an looping circuit through a golf course, with no steep or technical climbs, which made it perfect for the marathon skate.

Marathon Skate Photo from Morton (1992) Don't Look Back

Like a skateboarder using their rear leg to push themselves down a sidewalk, marathon skate is a pretty simple endeavor. A weight shift is required, but the transfer is not always complete. While my competitors, all good classic skiers, did the diagonal stride most of the way, I instinctively marathon skated as much as I could and finished the 5k with a surprisingly fast split, 2nd fastest on the team, and one of the fastest overall. Seemed like a big breakthrough, but one that didn’t fully arrive for more than a year.

Back on campus and into our classes, we had less time to travel to Nordic centers on the Front Range or Western Slope, but snow cover in town held for weeks. So by skiing we packed down a set of tracks on 1km loop around “Firecracker Hill” (a grassy knoll where the JayCees set off fireworks on the 4th of July), next to the duck pond at City Park. Workouts were usually pretty dull but not to bad if you didn’t mind the footprint pocked tracks and dodging the occasional dog or goose poop. We’d use the diagonal stride and kick double pole techniques through most of the loop, but would marathon skate the four corners. Due to the cold weather in January, the tracks lasted for several weeks.

Most memorable about those sessions, was Pekka, a middle-aged Finlander (Finnish-American from the upper Midwest) and former U.S. Olympic biathlete and Nordic skier. We’d be into 15 or 20 lap workout, and Pekka would appear. We never knew if he lived across the street and waited for us or if he just had special radar for the advent of CSU hack skiers at City Park. However, the ensuing events were predictable. Pekka, was an excellent skier with a fluid and seamless diagonal stride. Our tracks were always a little washed out and squirrelly, but Pekka just floated around the loop like, well, an Olympian. Pekka was also quite out of shape. He’d show up and watch us ski by a couple of times, sizing us up. Then, like a prowling wolf, he’d select one or a few of us as quarry.

As a decent, but not top skier on the team, I was frequent prey. I’d be striding around the track using my still developing but still somewhat stunted stride—not quite shifting my weight with each step, bent forward at the waste a little too much, and not getting all of my weight under the ball of my foot as I tried to set the kick wax onto the snow to gain a not yet powerful push-off. At 25 loaded with endurance, but with a stride best described as work in progress. I’d ski by, minding these shortcomings, when Pekka would suddenly be on my tail, sometimes clicking my skis. He’d never say anything, but standard skier etiquette is to let the faster skier by. So I’d step off and Pekka would stride past, with his swish, swish, swish of each stride drowning out the sound of passing cars. He’d hammer the remainder of the lap, sometimes do another, before stopping to rest for five or ten minutes, and to wait for his next victim.

This was not Finnish-American interval training. It was humiliation by diagonal stride, and like the drip drip of water torture, it would happen over and over within a workout, sometimes several days of the week.

The remaining races in February were under powdery conditions and on narrow trails. We could marathon skate some, but mostly around the turns and on some flats. The good classic skiers ruled these races. Although I was pushing the Chris and John in most races, I slipped back to 4th or 5th on the team.

Our primary National Collegiate Ski Association (NCSA) regional rivals were BYU and the College of Idaho. Schools like CU Boulder, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Utah were literally in a different league, NCAA Division I, where the best Americans and elite Europeans were provided full ride scholarships to ski. Occasionally we would have races with NCAA schools and our division, the non-scholarship NCSA. Racing against the NCAA schools was always a lesson in humility, because we would be so far behind them in the standings.

While prepping our skis for one race, we overheard the Norwegians women from the University of Wyoming, talking in their native tongue, “Bljonie skoolrni, husker du, yadda yadda” in the sing song Scandinavian inflection. “CSU!…..a little silence and many giggles.” Somehow I don’t think that they were admiring our lycra suits!

Even though the NCAA skiers, the Norwegians in particular, just rocketed by, it was always a good learning experience just to watch them glide over the snow at three minutes per kilometer while making it look effortless. They were excellent athletes and in top shape, but what was striking was how they flowed and stayed on top of their skis so well.

As was typical in Colorado, March slipped quietly with mild temperatures and sunny skies, and even the winds were calm. The NCSA championships were just over the Rawahs and Zirkel Wilderness Area that year, in Steamboat Springs. Rather than freeze in an unheated cabin as we did in January, the team rented a spacious house for the four day weekend. So we had an early spring break, with a couple of races to add some excitement.

First up was the 15k, on a challenging trail system at the Steamboat Nordic Center. On the Saturday and Sunday training days we enjoyed sunshine and 30s, with fast snow that ranged from icy powder to granular. Waxing wasn’t too hard, just slap on a binder and some Swix Special Red, and you were ready. However, race day dawned cloudy, warm, and somewhat windy. The tracks were a little icy and more granular, so we added a layer of stickier wax beneath the Special Red.

Soon after the first racers headed out, wet dime-sized snow flakes plummeted from the sky in an angry squall. The flakes built up quickly with two inches with in 30 minutes and the temperature dropped below freezing. John, an early starter, came through his first 3 km with two inches of fresh snow caked onto his kick zone. He had to sit down while we scraped off as much as we could. I had the same wax and only a minute before my own start. No time for panic wax, barely enough for a strip and go. We scraped off the yellow goo, down to the binder, with scarce moments to throw on a thin layer of Extra Blue, with the hope that I’d have at least some kick.

5,4,3,2, the start of NCSA Championships
I lined up in the start area and waited my turn for a long 30 seconds. The first downhill was swift on the soft snow that was about the consistency of mashed potatoes left overnight during ski camp at the Homestead. I double poled and glided through the twisting S turns, and even passed a couple of skiers. Then we had to climb back out for a kilometer, and I found that there was no grip. I feared that this would be my worst race of what had only been a decent debut season as a ski racer. There was nothing to do, but jump out of the track and to skate.

I used a mad-frantic diagonal V on the steeper climbs combined with a double pole, or marathon skate on the gradual ups, and double poling on the flats. A few very fast skiers flew by over the challenging course, but I was actually passing more than my share. Several good skiers dropped out or fell back. Other than a very bad fall at the bottom of a steep descent at about 12k, I felt strong throughout and surprised myself as much as anyone. The result was a respectable 27th place, only 9 seconds behind Chris, and about 2 minutes back of Franz, who was 17th. Over the next year I often wondered, if I'd hit the wax right would I have placed higher?

Although there was some controversy within the ranks, I had slam danced into the third
spot for the 3 X 5k relay! I didn’t have the greatest day on the relay, and was outkicked by a BYU skier who I’d beaten most of the year. However, we still finished a respectable 6th overall against a field that included several schools, like Northern Michigan and Minnesota, who had just dropped down from Division I due to budget cuts.

CSU Nordic ski team at NCSA Nationals, March 1984

I went back to Fort Collins, swore off drinking, debauchery, slam dancing, women too, and locked myself into my room for spring break and the rest of the semester. I need time to catch up on all the course work I had missed. It was also time to heal the hip bursitis from the 1983 running year. Other than Parker I didn’t see much of my teammates for the rest of the year, and was oblivious to the inroads in the skating revolution at the Polar Cup in Scandinavia. By then telemark skiing and country swing were all but forgotten.

To be continued...

Thursday, January 11, 2007


We had two months of snow-cover deprivation, the lights were dimmed for a month, and the temperature bottomed out the other day but now we're being released!

The 6 inch base held out (barely) through the week before Christmas, and then it started snowing. It's been hard to actually enjoy the new snow since then (we have about 15-20 inches now) because it's been so cold and slow with a texture of fine sand. Now for the first time in weeks we're above zero. And the light, did I mention that since the solstice we've gained more than a full hour?
We'll have 5 hours of daylight by the end of the weekend.

From this weekend through late March we'll have 8 or 10 races, with something almost every weekend. I'd like to keep the volume up for another 4-5 weeks before cutting back and doing the much anticpated long races. Meanwhile the upcoming month will feature several races ranging from 8k to 20k, but those are just tune-ups.

These are the ones I'm really looking forward to:
Feb 18 - 30 k pursuit
Feb 24 - 51 k Birkebeiner (very tenuously considering)
Mar 4 - 50k Tour of Anchorage
Mar 10 - 20k Skiathon
Mar 24 - 50k Sonot Kkazoot

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Bottoming out at -44

While -20 or -30 are frigid by any standards, by the time you get to -40 the conditions turn into something surreal.

We've been at -44 all morning, the coldest of the season but the good news is that they are predicting a 30 to 40 degree warming by tomorrow. Based on previous observations of predicted weather patterns, we'll see.

At these temperatures just getting around poses challenges. First, you need an engine block heater, which heats your radiator, oil, and battery. If you don't have one not only will starting your car be difficult--batteries can run down after just a few tries--you might not have much of an engine before long. The gunky oil is too stiff to lube much of anything, so the pistons just run metal on metal for several minutes, leading to metal shavings in your oil and accelerated engine wear.

Beyond that, you can pretty much tell the temperature by getting into the car and driving. Below -30, a lot of little oddities occur. A frozen, rock-hard seat is the first thing you'll notice. Square tires are the next. Well not exactly square, but the bottoms of the tires freeze into shape after serveral hours. So you end up clunking along for a half mile or so until they warm up enough to regain their shape. Certain models of tires just fizz out and lose their air at -45 to -50.

And in low-lying areas, like Fairbanks, with a higher population density you must navigate through "ice fog," which is frozen water vapor created by exaust from vehicles, heaters, and power plants. The ice fog often hangs from ground level to only 20 or 30 feet up, so you can see blue sky, above but visiblity is quite limited on the horizontal plane. The colder it gets, the more dense the ice fog. A revving pick up truck can leave you blinded for hundreds of yards if you follow them too closely.

Those are just a few of the joys of the very cold. I now see why many people here plan on January vacations.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Training Week January 1 - 7

I've been sporadic about writing down training summaries, especially during ski season. I seem to be including all the right ingredients for a decent training program, or most of them, but it's always a good idea to keep writing these down for future reference. So why not here?

I had grandiose plans of a 10 hour week, which would have been the highest since last winter, but the cold weather put a dimmer on that. There can be a fine line between dedication and stupidity, wimpiness and being wise. So I'm stupid and wimpy! But I'll be hungry to get back on the snow once things warm up a bit.

Monday - Ski 1:15, skating. Wow, at -12 too cold for skating! Miserably slow.

Tuesday - Snowshoe run 1:05

Wednesday - Felt great. Back to classic skiing. 35 min warmup, 1 X 9:00, 8:00, 6:00, at 10k race effort, with 3:00 recovery. Skied another 15-20 min cool down, for 1:20 total.

Thursday - 1:40 easy effort classic technique. I felt pretty sluggish. Snow was very slow. -12.

Friday - Nothing. I drove up to Birch Hill and it was -22, so I decided to hold off, hoping that it might warmup later in the day or over the weekend. First day off in about 2 or 3 weeks, so no biggie.

Saturday - Plan was for a 7k time trial, but at -24 I just stayed inside and cycled for 55 minutes, including some V02 max effort surges, 8:00 and 4:00. Hoped for a warmup later in the day but that didn't happen.

Sunday - 1:15 cycle AM, working a few 3-4 minute "hills" for posterity, and finishing with 20 minutes at threshold effort. Ran 45 min PM, when it was about -23. I actually felt pretty decent. Toes got a little cold and an icicle shot up my nose. Other than that, a decent run.

8:15 for the week with enough quality to keep it interesting and to keep the engine going. Didn't lose anything this week, but didn't gain either. Hoping the cold weather will break soon.

Friday, January 05, 2007

How Cold Is Too Cold?

So far we've had a relatively "mild" winter, with low snow fall (1/3 normal) and warmer than average temperatures in December. But now we're in for a real cold snap. It's -25 to -30 F in the town of Fairbanks and hovering around -20 or colder in the hills, which are usually substantially warmer than the valley due to inversions. They're predicting -40 tonight.

This is getting into the realm of too cold, at least for this Cheechako.

As indicated the other day, I'm usually pretty good with -10 to -15 and just dress in layers and prepare to go a little slower. Yesteday at -10 I did 1:35-40 and actually had to take off my warmup pants after a few kilometers because it was just too much. Felt a little cold the rest of the way, but not uncomfortable. By the end of my workout, I was surprised to see that the Birch Hill upper parking lot was nearly full, with at least 25 cars out there.

At -20 or colder things change. Your skin freezes faster, the snow gets incredibly slow, and it is almost impossible to warm up. I went up there at lunch today, hoping to go an easy 40 min, but it was -22. Nah, not today. Maybe we'll do an inversion dance to hopefully bring the temperatures up a bit over the weekend. Meanwhile, it looks like 45 min to 1 hr on the stationary cycle tonight.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

And Then, The Cold Sets In

The good news is than in just 13 days since the solstice we've gained 25 minutes of daylight. However, it's not quite noticeable yet because 4:06 of daylight is still very short plus it's been pretty gray and almost foggy most of the time. Things will turn around quickly, however, beause by MLK holiday we'll be at about 5 hours and the sun will be getting higher. Bring it on!

Now, the challenge is the frigid temperature. Highs in town have been in the teens and twenties below zero, and it looks like it won't get warmer for several days.

On New Years Day I went out for a ski, thinking that our thermometer was accurate at -1 or so. But I got to Birch Hill, just 6 miles away, where it was -11. With fresh snow, that made for some very slow skating. My plan was for long intervals, but I wasn't even out of the stadium area before deciding to scrap that idea. So plan B was to ski the 10k White Bear Loop, and then finish off with some shorter loops to complete about 1:20 or so. Within a kilometer or two I bagged that too, and headed in for another layer of warmup pants. The initial 3.2 km circuit took about 20 minutes, on a course which would normally take 12 - 15. The rest of the workout was just a slug fest., with a fair amount of walking up the steeper sections.

Blew off Tuesday's ski workout and and went for a 1:05 snowshoe run instead.

January in Fairbanks is a good month for classic skiing, because you don't need to fight the abrasive and extremely slow snow. If I get more than 4-5 skate days, you know we'll be basking in balmy 0 degree temperatures.

Postscript, January 4--Here I was complaining about the cold and feeling blah yesterday afternoon, just before heading out. The plan was for 1:30 easy effort, with some specific strength and technique work (double poling uphill and skiing a few k's without poles), but after the rather arduous task of getting dressed (4 layers of pants and 6 layers on top) and on the trail, I realized that things were clicking. Skis were moving well, despite the -10 temps, I felt no pain from the cold (invigorating!), and best of all I felt in good balance with both kick and glide. So after a 30-35 minute warmup, I did some long intervals (9:00, 8:00, 6:00) at 10k effort, with about a 3 min rest. Felt pretty good throughout, besides some abject cardiovascular distress at the end of each repetition because all three finished on the top of a rather long climb (1 to 1.5 min). Anyway, the workout ended up by far the best classic training session I've had this season.