Friday, February 27, 2009

Waxing with North Pole. Photo borrowed from Team Fast blog:

Yesteday's stint as one day assistant coach and wax tech for North Pole High School was fun, and tiring (maybe exhausting). I arrived on the scene at about 10:30 and promptly waxed up my skis and tested them. It was about 18-20 and snowing lightly. We compared a couple waxes and found that the tar blue (20-28 F) worked the best. So I set to wax up skis for 2 boys and 6 girls. The boys started at about 1:15 and the girls at 2:30. As race time approached it started warming up some and the snow kept falling, so we added a short 'sticker' of the next warmer tar (27-32 F).

Things were going well, but just a few minutes before the start the boys came back in and said that their wax was slipping, but without time to test anything new we just lengthened the top layer and sent them out. They had a tough day.

With some time to test and adjust, the girls had better wax (some flouro on top of the tar layers), but it looked like most everyone, not just North Pole, was struggling some out there. Still the girls put in a fine effort.

After being on my feet for five hours, then back to work for a couple hours, I headed head back out to Birch Hill to coach the middle schoolers for 10K of skiing in 3" of new snow. Phew! I'm whupped. I could run for 20-30 min at noon today, but maybe a day off would do some good.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Memo to Amby Burfoot

Memo to Runner's World snob in residence, editor Amby Burfoot (who recently pooh-poohed Ryan Hall's chances to win the Boston Marathon): Yes We Can!
American skier Kikkan Randall nabs a Silver Medal at the World Championships, the first ever for a US woman and 2nd ever, ever (last one was Bill Koch in 1983).

This is on the heels of a Gold by Lindsey Van in women's ski jumping (a new event), 2 Golds from Todd Lodwick and a Bronze from Billy Demong in nordic combined (ski jumping and xc skiing). Meanwhile, Kris Freeman took a wonderful but heartbreaking 4th (missing Bronze by 1.3 sec) in the 15K classic.
With relays coming up, there could be more medals.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Old Boy Gets Girled

Sunday was another birthday, and guess who’s not getting any younger at 51. Now we're into the best part of the ski season, with longer races, as well as warmer days with more light. What's not to like about the last five or six weeks of winter?

The February Frolic was a 30K "pursuit" where skiers do 15K classic technique and then switch skis and poles and do the same course skating. I've been looking forward to this one for weeks and have been encouraged by some good recent training and racing. That turned out to be a mixed blessing of sorts, because looking back at my log from February 5-18 I had done two 3 hr skis and a 2.5 hr, plus three hard fought race efforts, including last weekend's 23K time trial. After Wednesday's 3 hr ski, I have just felt very tired and flat, but at least not sick. Many folks, including my entire family, have been waylaid by the crud this month. Continuous hacking and congestion that doesn’t let go for weeks.

Race day was a perfect 15 degrees and sunny. The tracks were a little slow after several inches of new snow during the week and cold nighttime temperatures. I put on a binder and two layers of VR40 and was happy with a preliminary test about an hour ahead of the start. Should have left it.

But I went and put on two more layers and went out again about 25 minutes later and aggg, I wasn't getting much glide. I shorted the kick zone under my foot, which improved things some, but it was still dragging. Just a few minutes before the start I put on a thin layer of Start Top Blue. That seemed to make things run a little better. Not great, but it would have to do. (In hindsight I should have just scraped off the first attempt and gone with a couple layers of VR40, or some sort of blue wax).

Within the first km I could tell that my skis were dragging while I was leading a chase group of four or five, including Bad Bob, and Aurelia Korthauer, an NCCA All-American via Germany on redshirt status this year, and David a UAF skier. The going wasn't too bad, but I was having to work hard to keep up on the flats and downhills. After falling back 10 sec or so to get a drink at 5K, I had to work very hard over the next 4-5K just to keep contact.

Everything quickly fell apart over the steep final 300 meters of the big hill on White Bear. I started slipping out, which sent a cascade of Nordic badness: I felt fatigued and stepped out of the track and started to herringbone. David hollered for me to keep going, but once out of the tracks it's almost impossible to get that rhythm back, so I just ran-shuffled up the hill while Bob and Aurelia pulled away. They had 20 sec by the time I got to the top and I knew that I wouldn't be reeling them in over the last 4-5K of classic.

The race was slipping into damage control mode and the rest of the classic leg was misery. My technique and confidence on the climbs had gone to hell. It was frustrating because the things had gone well over the past weeks.

Meanwhile, I also felt like I was overheating, wearing the heavily insulated 'lobster claw mitts' (a must when it's zero). I asked my wife Tamara if she could retrieve my gloves, in my bag inside the building. I was 55:46 at the exchange, 1:20 behind Bob and Aurelia had 1:20 and 30 seconds back from David.

It was looking like disaster, because I was beat, but fortunately things got better in the skate. I had a very quick exchange and was only 10-15 sec behind David. At about 17K, Tamara was there with the gloves and I whipped off the mitts and ear muffs and set out in pursuit of Bad Bob who was now about a minute ahead.

I passed David while switching my gloves, thinking I can’t lose to Bad Bob--as tough as he is--on my birthday. On Tower Loop we had several switchbacks where I could gage whether I was gaining or not. By 19K he was ahead by 48 seconds, and at 21K it was 35. I finally caught him at 24K, again just before the big hill on White Bear. Aurelia was out of sight, and I wondered if she had stopped at 15K. But no, Bob said she had dropped him and was somewhere ahead.

Up the hill I caught Max, who had skied the classic in no man’s land, only to bonk in the skate. Three guys down, one girl to go. At this point, I was semi-staggering. I skied as hard as I could over the last 5-6K, and by the end Aurelia was back in sight here and there, but there would be no miracle catch up.
Finished in 1:50:36 7th overall for men, 2nd in age group (pounded again by the redoubtable Dave Edic who was 4 minutes up), 1:13 behind Aurelia but a solid 2+ min ahead of the guys I had passed.

Glad to have held it together in the skate leg. The classic leg, however, was a near disaster. I need to wax better, adapt more quickly when it’s not quite working, and more importantly keep the faith and technique going when it gets tough on those long and steep climbs. Aurelia and Bob were keeping a reasonable pace and I could-should stay with them, even when other things are not working 100%.

Girling happens a couple times each year. Usually at Tour of Anchorage sometimes at the Sonot. You just have to keep your chin up and acknowledge that they happen to be very good skiers.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Big Day for USA at Nordic World Championships

The news is just filtering in now, but Lindsey Van won the Gold in the first ever women's ski jump competion at the Nordic World Championships in the Czech Republic. Meanwhile the 33 year old and formerly retired Todd Lodwick won Gold in nordic combined, following up from medals in combined by Billy Demong and Johnny Spillane in 2003 and 2007. And Kris Freeman topped off the day to take 4th in today's 15K classic, only 1.5 seconds out of Bronze. Freeman's amazing. He has diabetes, and this year has been hampered with compartment syndrome which has limited his training and racing to classic technique only for the past month. He's had an up an down year and is scheduled for surgery next week.

Van & ski jumping:

Lodwick wins:

Men's 15K, Freeman 4th:

Monday, February 16, 2009

Tortoise and Hare, Through the Rabbit Warren We Go

Here's the official eyewitness account from FAST's blog.

Here's my story.

At the end of a long training week, following two full months of cold, I needed a long, sustained workout to get ready for the upcoming marathons in March. When I found out that some of the skiers from Team FAST (Fairbanks Alaska Ski Team) would have a 20K time trial, a pursuit with 10K classic an 10K skate, I inquired if they'd let an over-the-hill masters skier join the young hares, who happen to be among the top junior-level cross country skiers in the US.

Um okay. Sanity check anyone? Three top junior racers, with a combined age that still fits into my age group. Okay? Knock knock, nope nobody there, in my head

Nevertheless, I was looking forward to the effort and after waxing up on Sunday morning, just before heading out the door, I tried on my pursuit boots for the first time this year. All seemed good, but then I tried them on with an arch support and rippp! went the zipper.

Swearing under my breath in Finnish (that's when you know I'm mad), perkele! satana! umalouta!, I grabbed a roll of duct tape and headed to Birch Hill with damaged boots. In the wax room I swatched up my boots with the duct tape and slapped on a thick layer of Swix VR45 onto my skis and covered it with two layers of VR40 and headed out. The boot held together and the waxes worked.

FAST coach Bill McDonnell pondered the course and we agreed on a 2X classic loop (I'm convinced it was closer to 6.3 or 6.4K) and the Besh Cup skate 10K which also happens to be a killer course.

Got it?

The Birch Hill Trails are like a rabbit warren, some 30Ks are packed onto 200 acres of land, most seem to be switch-back loops and loops within loops along with intersections every 100 meters. Memorizing a race course on that patch of land is about like locking into algebra permutations in your head while rubbing your belly and chewing gum.

Yeah, right! Got it!

I had a 5 min stagger on Werner, who had 3 min on Reese, and David was another 45-60 sec back.

What a great morning. Tracks were perfect, the sun was out, and for once the snow wasn't sandpaper slow. I chugged along at a solid effort, but not taxing, taking a few splits at course landmarks, and came through the first loop at 21:42. I tried to push harder on the 2nd circuit, but my splits were exactly the same. All was good. Werner was closing the gap and seemed about a minute back by the end of the classic.
Didn't get my overall split for the classic, but my 2nd loop had to be within a few seconds of the 1st, so about 43:25 or 30.

Took a slug of sport drink and skated without poles half-way up Stadium Hill before getting those straps back on. At 1K the skate course takes an anomalous turn (only used a couple times a year) where it dips onto the last leg of the Outhouse Loop before hooking onto the grueling Russell's Revenge/South Tower hill. Off in la-la land, I kept going on the parallel Relay Loop, which is what we always do, but 50 meters in, I remembered the correct route and did a quick about-face and got back on course.

Half way up South Tower I heard something and sure enough Werner was closing in, no more than 100 m behind. I skated hard over the top and vowed to hold him and the FAST-closing hares off for as long as I could. By the time we got to the stadium(about 4K into the skate), he was still a minute or so back (or was it David?).

Down into the wild turns on Competition and Black Cross that parallel and resemble the abandoned bobsled course, I managed to keep on my feet before the toughest climb of the day, Black Funk. The Mother of all Headwalls. It’s about 165 feet of climbing over less than 400 meters, resulting 2-3 minutes of Nordic Hell.

Werner was closing some as I approached the top, just where several side trails intersect--which way to go?

Competition split off to the I slowed, turned around, and pointed my poles and shrugged my shoulder. Werner looked up and hollered LEFT! So left I went. A couple hundred meters later another trail, Competition Return, took off to the right. I stopped this time and waited for Werner whose head was down in concentration.

LEFT! He hollered again.

Left I went.

Back into the stadium area, I was totally out of gas and confused. Now do we do West Ramp, or the Stadium Hill? Didn't even ask this time and went by instinct. Stadium Hill it was.

Got to the top, and Ah, hell! There went Werner (I thought), speeding around the turn on West Ramp and onto the dive that takes you onto Blue Loop. I skated like mad to catch up. He had 40-50 m on me, but I think I actually gained or held my ground through the down and rolling part, until the steep climb out of the hole, but he flew into high gear on the climb and I fell way back. I waited for Reese and David to go blowing by.

A half K later, at the end of Relay loop, a skier caught up and it was....Werner! So who was that in front!?? It was David, already 30 sec up and pulling away.
Nothing left to do but try to stick with Werner for as long as possible and make him work for it. Up Tower Direct I was able to stick close, and then we had 1K of downhill. He was quicker on the transition, but my skis were running pretty well so by the time we got to the biathlon range cutoff on White Bear he was still just a couple seconds ahead. But then he looked back once and put down the hammer, leaving me 12-15 seconds back over the last K.

My elapsed time was 1:17:53, roughly 43:25 for the classic, maybe 45 sec for transition, which makes about 33:43 for the skate. That split was almost the same as for the full 10K race last week--somewhat faster snow no doubt—but still a good day.

So David took at least one wrong turn, Reese apparently was all over the course and took in some sights on extra loops. Werner got it right and kept me on course. Although I made it through with only one wrong turn, I was clueless at times on the skate loop. Oxygen debt can do some funny things to your compass and clarity of thought.

Great conditions for skiing, and the trails were in better shape than I’d seen all year. The 20K (make that 22) pursuit time trial was all in good fun and it was a stellar workout!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Confessions of an Aging Ski Racer: Besh Cup 2009

Last week I wrote a bit about our race schedule, complaining some that the races were too short and generally geared for high school skiers. I guess that still holds, but against my better judgment I shelled out $54 for the season’s two final “Besh Cup” races, which are used to decide who gets onto Team Alaska for the Junior Olympics to be held in Truckee, CA in March.

They have Senior and Masters divisions, and I’m not sure why other than to make sure there is some extra competition for the youngsters, to give aging parents and fans a chance to line up against the best in the state, and no doubt to pull in some extra cash for CCAK, the managing organization.

As the 5th and 6th races in the series and the decider for those on the bubble, the courses are particularly, if not infamously, tough. The men’s 10K classic featured 337 meters of climbing over two loops; while the women just did one loop over the same course. The skate course is even tougher and 355 meters climb, including three tough hills—one, a 150’ headwall called the Black Funk, downright brutal.
I’ve had two of my worst three races of the past several seasons on the same classic course. So my goals on Saturday were modest: try to win my age group (helps when chief local race rivals were in France for Masters World Cup!), and do a negative split.

The interval start classic race went fairly well, my kick was great and I was able to stay in the tracks without scrambling or shuffling, and the glide was decent. I've been very inconsistent at classic over the past couple years, and I tried to take it out a little easier, but may have pushed harder than necessary on Tower Direct (2-3K). The second lap was very tough but I kept going by focusing on trying to catch the skiers ahead. Won the M5 age group by 3.5 min and was overall winner for all masters over 40, but I didn't get the negative splits. First lap approx 17:30, 2nd 18:00 for a 35:31 (22% back).

Day 2 of the weekend double featured the 10K skate race. Everybody shot out of the stadium like it was a 1.2 K sprint heat, while I took it out kind of slow, maybe 35th place, and didn't kick into faster skiing until about 3 or 4K. I picked off a skier here and there until 7K, and then it was just a matter of hanging on with about four younger skiers in my sights. I felt fairly good on the climbs, but not particularly fast on the downhill sections. Passed three of the four skiers with just ½ K to go, and had the other one in my sights, but alas, my finishing kick is almost as bad as my starting ability. One passed and other pulled away by 10-12 sec over the final 350 meters. Finished in 33:46 (18% back) for an inauspicious 27th place, but first M5 again.

Maybe I should start concluding these rambles with what I learned and what areas need some work. Hmm, classic, I think the race went just as well as it could have on that day. Maybe easing on the gas just a little the first time up Tower Direct. I felt the low blood sugar thing again, about half way through. Not sure what’s up with that.

Sunday was a better race overall, but at the same time I’m slightly more disappointed. I have no sprint power at the start and finish and it does end up costing places. Equipment-wise my boot wasn’t tight enough at the start of the skate race and I felt it; just a minor glitch. Blood sugar was better because we had an earlier start (11 instead of 12:15) and I made sure to eat a PB sandwich at 9 and Cliff Bar at 9:50, and this was after breakfast at 8. My skis didn’t feel fast on the cold snow; they are nearly new and retain the factory grind, whatever that may be, so it might be time for a grinding to match our local (almost always cold) conditions.

Before the races I told a few folks that maybe this would be it for Besh Cups—that I might retire from this type of competition. I did have a good time out there, but there is something to be said for finding a longer race and/or having more time for the coaching and cheering on of the younger skiers.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Ground Hog Day Over and Over Again

Our groundhogs will not check to see if the sun is shining today. The event will not be televised. It’s -25 F and Alaskan marmots, cousins to the groundhogs, are buried under three feet of snow and another couple feet of permafrost. Winter will last another 9 or 10 weeks, guaranteed.

Winter’s officially half over, and ski season is heating up with most of the important races just ahead. Training is a challenge right now, but hopefully this latest cold snap will pass within a few days and we can get down to the best skiing of the year. Before that happens though, I’d like to babble some about the local race scene. The good and not so good.

Here’s our 2008-09 Schedule:
November 15 - Salcha Sprints – 5K Freestyle
November 22 - Town Race Series #1 – 7.5K Freestyle
November 23 - USSA NRL Points Race – 10K Classic
November 29 - Turkey Day Relays – 3X5K Freestyle
November 30 - Salcha Turkey Day Classic – 10K Classic
December 6 - Town Race Series #2 – 1.2K Classic Sprint
December 13 – Fairbanks Distance Series #1 – 15K Freestyle
January 11 - Fairbanks Distance Series #2 – 20K Classic
January 24 - Town Race Series Event #3 – 10K Classic
January 31 - Town Race Series Event #4 – 4K/4K Classic/Freestyle Pursuit
February 7 - Besh Cup #5 – 10K Classic
February 8 - Besh Cup #6 – 10K Freestyle
February 22 - Fairbanks Distance Series #3 – 15K/15K Classic/Freestyle Pursuit
March 14 - Sonot Kkaazoot – 50K Freestyle
March 21 Skiathon – 20K Classic

As you might expect for a community with 6 months of winter, Fairbanks has a full schedule of races. For 2008-09 the average citizen racer could enter 15 local races from mid-November through March. Elite skiers, or those somewhat less than elite but daring (or stupid/delusional like I was last year), have an extra week to enter four more races at the USSA Nationals.

A Lot to Cheer About
Other than just having the opportunity to race frequently, the races are quite inexpensive (ranging from $5 to $20 for ski club members), they are usually low key but ‘professionally’ managed mostly by volunteers, and are generally of high quality. You won’t miss a turn or rarely would you ski on trails that are not well groomed. In additon, the schedule offers a fair amount of variety.

No Whine Before Its Time
My biggest peeve is that unless you are in high school the Town Races are too short. The younger juniors ski at 1 to 3K, but it would be good to have some of the older ones (J4s and J3s, i.e. age 10-14) ski a bit longer, maybe 2 to 4K. If time is an issue, then why not mix up boys and girls in the same race. For adults, it’d be good if they upped the Town Series #1 to 10K. And I’d really like to see a longer pursuit format for Town Series #4. Let the high schoolers do their 8K, but anyone over 18 or 19 could be doing 15K.

I’d also like to see a little variety for race venue. Other than the Salcha races and one 20K at the university of Alaska, everything is at Birch Hill, pretty much the same thing every week and every year, like a frozen Bill Murray trying to get it right.

Another minor complaint about Town Series races is the insistence on gating the whole damn stadium as if this is a World Cup or Olympic event. I’ve read other reports comparing the Birch Hill scene to a concentration camp. Now I wouldn’t go that far, but my first couple years here I was totally confused by the intense crowd control barriers, which makes navigating around the stadium a challenge, especially when it’s sub zero and you have small children to manage. Then I went through a phase of outright protest and I’d do what I could to visibly annoy officials and some of the more ardent volunteer enforcers. What’s the purpose of implementing artificial crowd-control barriers when there are all of 200-300 people in the area? By now I’m used to the format and usually follow procedure like the docile bovine they want us to be. MMOOOOOOO!!

Oh well, I guess it trains us for the bigger races like Besh Cups, Super Tour, or US Nationals when some crowd management is needed.

Anxiety Relief At the Distance Series
Ahh, it such a relief when we have the once a month Distance Series. These races have a smaller and older crowd, but usually there is good competition. And best of all no cattle gates or Stasi to tell you where to go. The distance races, combined with the marathons (Tour of Anchorage and Sonot Kkazoot) are the highlight of my winter.

I wouldn’t mind seeing one addition to the schedule; let’s do a 25-30K classic at the end of January-early February, either a 'Tour de Birch' (all of Birch Hill's trails) or a two lap tour of UAF including the narrow Skaarland trails to lend an old school feel. And let’s drop the late February 30K pursuit in favor of the 30K freestyle. This would be a better prep for the March marathons.

Finally, about the -20F temperature cutoff. I’m beginning to think that -20 is too cold. I saw a lot of frostbite (at least 10% of the skiers) out there last Saturday when they were racing at -18. FIS says -4 but to Nordic Ski Club Faribanks it's -20. How about a compromise at -14 or so? This is supposed to be fun, remember!