Monday, November 24, 2008

Ski tracks: from promise to misery

Sometimes an off day can teach you a little humility, which really isn’t such a bad thing. But there can be a big gap between humility and abject humiliation. On Sunday I probably bridged that gap, and then some. As a skier I’ve had a good-solid run for about three years now, especially in the longer races. Nevertheless, out of a dozen or so races last winter, three stood out as pretty bad: 10K USSA classic (same event/course as yesterday), Town Series Sprint, and USSA Nationals 30K pursuit. Just bombed those races, so I’ve really worked on my classic technique, which at one time was my strongest.

Fast forward to this year, we had our first outing last week at the Salcha Sprints (freestyle). At only 5K, not my strongest distance, I was pleasantly surprised to feel decent and actually came fairly close (12 seconds) to winning the open division, which was topped by fellow 50 yr old Dave Edic who has been more than tough on the circuit in recent years (beating most of the high schoolers at local and JO qualifiers, in addition to gathering some Masters World Cup medals and top 10 finishes in 2006 and 2008). Just a week after running a 3:26 marathon, the infamous Bad Bob Baker (50), was a minute behind Edic, and smooth striding Ken Leary (also 50) just under 30 sec behind. We may be old, but taking 4 out of the top 7 wasn’t a bad day at all. [more about the Class of 58 soon]

Anyway, all was good heading into Sunday. I’ve been skiing classic 60-65% this season, and had done all my recent interval workouts using classic, and I’d been feeling stronger and more technically efficient each week.

Sunday dawned cold (-10) and late (about 10 AM this time of year), so they delayed the start by an hour. With 85% humidity, I decided on a high-flouro wax, which in retrospect was a mistake. Should have stuck with the low flouro which I used last week. For kick I corked on 2 thin layers of Rode Special Green—set with a fairly long, almost 3 feet I bet, wax pocket. My skis are semi-stiff for my weight, because softer skis feel like noodles. I topped the Special Green with a shorter layer (1 ft maybe) of Rode Multi Grade Blue under my boot and a little ahead. Things felt a little draggy on the warm up, but not too bad. I shortened the pocket about an inch under my heels and just a hair toward the tip.

I was the 2nd one out of the gate for the interval start in the senior-open race, and felt good. Took the steep downhill on Blue Loop at a tuck and set to work hoping to hold off as many for as long as I could, but woe onto me, barely a kilometer into the race, I could see that Bad Bob had already made up more than 15 seconds. I put in my best effort for the next 1.5 km to hold him off, but Bob reeled me in on the long Tower Direct uphill, and he was quickly followed by a high school skier who had started a minute back. I was done. I simply walked up the steep pitch on Tower Direct, until Dave caught me. I tucked in behind on the transition and downhill, hoping to draft, but then trains of college skiers started to barrel through every 15 to 20 seconds and I was forced to step out the tracks to let them by, losing precious seconds each time.

Not only were the wheels off, they were tumbling and cartwheeling all the way down to Salcha, no doubt suck in the mud somewhere on a bank of the Tanana River. So, the entire field passed me, and as I struggled in over the final meters into the stadium, the announcer said something like, “here’s Roger. His first sport is running,” (i.e., take a hint buddy and stick to a sport that you only half way suck at…)

Here’s the damage report: The race was won by UAF skier fresh out of Norway, Oyvid Watterdahl, in 28:30. It was a day to celebrate youth as us old guys took the bottom 4 places: Dave 33:01, Bob 34:27, Me 37:27 (2nd to last). That wasn’t just a thrashing, it was total mutilation on my part!

There will be betters days (I hope). I had a several solid classic races last year, but was inconsistent. So over the next month or two, I’ll try to make some adjustments with the wax pocket; not get fancy with high tech waxes; and most importantly figure out what’s going on with my technique—I’m not getting the power and glide that should on those climbs, and my threshold to hold off oxygen debt is low, low, low. At 50 I can still hold a strong effort for an extended period say heart rate at 150-165 bpm for an hour or more, great for endurance. But I probably max out at about 170 bpm and can't hold that for more than a few minutes before blowing to smithereens.

Next up: Turkey Day Relays on Friday. Dave, Bob, and I lay down the hatchet for a day and team up for a 3X5 km relay. We'll be "Still Got the Mojo", and here's hoping that it's still there.

As a postscript, how's this for Mojo: as part of this weekends races, the UAF Nanooks took on the UAA Seawolves for the 5th Alaska Classic. On day one UAA stomped the 'Nooks 15 to 27 and it looked to be over, but UAF roared back on Sunday for a surprise win, 40 to 44.

That's a great comeback and it shows how quickly things can turn around in skiing.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Nordic Skiing in Fairbanks : Balknized or Opportunity?

Okay, the days are getting cold and short and the nights are colder and long. Time to stir things up before we fall off into winter torpor. For a town this size Fairbanks has a plethora of opportunity for Nordic skiers. There are some who would like everything to be under the umbrella of the club, NSCF, while others might like a more autonomy. I think we can have it all ways and still have a great time out there while providing premier opportunities for developing skiers.

Before I get into it, rankle a few folks in the process, let me just list the groups that a skier can join, with a little definition to help discern the alphabets and nuance. We'll start with the youngsters and move up through various ages.

Jr. Nordics - sponsored by the ski club, this program offers basic to intermediate level lessons from the small kids (5 or 6 to about 16). There are usually 250-300 kids in Jr. Nordics. Most have one or two lessons a week from November to March.

Jr. Nordics Comp Group - also sponsored by the ski club, the Comp Group has about 25 skiers from about age 10 to 15. Skiers in Comp usually have a couple of years of ski experience and they are interested in further developing their skills and racing ability. Comp Group requires a little more commitment, usually meeting three or four times through the season.

School Programs - several of the local elementary and middle schools have their own clubs, some with very high participation rates. You might see 60 or 70 kids withe their family in tow.

Fairbanks XC (FXC) - again sponsored by the ski club, FXC provides an opportunity for developing and young elite level skiers, ranging in age from 12 to 20. The younger skiers train up to nine months of the year and the older ones throughout the year. During the ski season they meet five days a week (maybe more for the older ones).

Fairbanks Area Ski Team (FAST) - FAST is similar to FXC, a development and junior elite team, but it is not affiliated with the ski club. It's a small group with less than a dozen skiers, ranging from 13 to 19, with an honorary 20+ skier or two.

High Schools - The larger high schools (Lathrop, West Valley, North Pole, and Eielson) all have ski teams, and skiers do not necessarily need to be part of the ski club or other affilated teams. Lathrop and West Valley have up to 70 or 80 skiers per team.

University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) - An NCAA Division I team, with a mixture of US, Canadian, and European skiers, UAF has a strong skiing tradition and boast several national and world class skiers in their ranks.

Adult Lessons - The ski club offers adult beginner and intermediate lessons. A great way for parents to learn some tricks in order to keep up with thier kids.

Individual Lessons from the Olympians - If you're really aspiring and want to hone in on your technique you can take a private lesson from Aelin Peterson (2002 Olympian) or Audun Endestad (1984 Olympian).

Touring Group - for the less competitive crowd, who wants to get away from the groomed trails and 'scene' at Birch Hill, the touring group has been resurrected, and that's a good thing.

John Estle Race Club (JERCs) - Coached by former UAF and Olympic Coach, John Estle, the JERCs involves intermediate and advanced technique classes, as well as a weekly interval group with ages ranging from mid-late 20s to mid-60s.

SCUMs (Susan's Club of Uncoachable Men) - This infamous but spirited group of masters skiers meets every Sunday through the season. I think the rule is that you have to have some major flaws in technique or personality to be a SCUM.

That pretty much sums up what's available. A lot to choose from, for most any level. The only thing I'd like to see is more opportunity for college age or post college skiers, through masters, who want to keep up a high level of training and racing. The racers tend meet informally, but unless you are eligible to invited to be on the UAF team, or stay on with FXC for a couple of years, there is not much opportunity for those who are post college through masters level to be on a team of some sort. Train together, travel, share expenses, and maybe get some team discounts on equipment. Anchorage has the Alaska Pacific University (APU), which is a elite level club. Maybe Fairbanks should think about its own version, if not something scaled down.

Finally, there has been some local controversy in recent years surrounding the junior and developmental programs. All I can say is hey lighten up! It's wonderful that the kids have some excellent opportunities and that they have great choices. I for one support all levels of skiing and appreciate what all these groups are doing.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Swab the deck you scurvy dogs!

Halloween costume, 2008.