Friday, March 30, 2012


I write about this every year, the transition from skiing-ski training to running. It's sometimes frustrating (less than ideal conditions, injury risk, and running like plodder for several weeks) but also somewhat exciting and this year moreso. I've been looking forward to it since October, and then got even more fired up about running back in January when we were locked into the six week cold snap and I had some promising workouts on the treadmill and indoor track.

Then skiing happened and that was good. Now it's time to start thinking again about running.

Even though I'd like to jump right into running it takes a fair amount of time, for me about 2 months, which I break into three week segments.

Weeks 1 - 3, adaptation. I've been at 15-20 miles a week so I'll build to 35-40. This week 25, then 30-35, and 35-40. Mostly easy running, but I'll mix in some strides next week and--geez that's early--Beat Beethoven 5K in just two weeks. I'll ski at least twice a week as long as snow lasts.

Weeks 4 - 6, build up and endurance training. Ideally, weeks of about 40, 45, and 50 in succession with a weekly tempo run, and some strides or fartlek about once a week. A weekly long run will increase from about 10 to 12 or 13 miles. Wrap up this phase with Chena River Run 5K. I'd like to get back into the top 10 there, but by recent years would need a 17:10 or 17:20. That's tough on the winding Chena course.

Weeks 7 to 9, pre-competition training. Maintain mileage at 50 to 55 but add in more 5K-10K pace work plus some speed (mile pace or faster), the latter are very short sessions like 5 X 300 or 4 X 400.

At the end of this I'd like to run a half (Trent Waldron Glacier half marathon in Anchorage is a good bet), and then tune up for Midnight Sun Run (probably) and Flint Hills Mile.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sonot Age Group Performances

There are no charts for age grading with Nordic skiing, as far I know, although there is some interesting data out there on swimming and running which could be extrapolated to skiing. But we're not going to go there.

Nevertheless, I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge many outstanding age group performances from Saturday's Sonot Kkaazoot 50K and 20K races.

In the 50K Older Junior (OJ) boys Logan Hanneman (2:41:36) and Kenny Brewer (2:44:26) skied to 4th and 7th overall. West Valley/FXC's 17 year old Bobby Signor skied 2:54:41 in his 50K debut. Randy Bladel (M6, age 55-59) all the way from South Bend, Indiana skied to a 2:58:27 and 19th place. While Sam Flora (M9, age 70-74) skied a very fine 3:34:31.

The 20K was dominated by 14 year old Max in 52:29 and brother Ty a J4 (age 10-11) skied 1:02:29. Among men M3 (age 40-44) Max Kaufman was 2nd in 53:26 and M4 (age 45-49) Jim Button was 3rd in 54:03. Chris Broda (M6, age 55-59) was 3rd overall for women in 1:09:11 and J3 (age 12-13) skier Jenna Difolco was 5th overall in 1:10:31.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sonot 2012: Sliding Into Spring

Okay, so maybe just maybe I was sandbagging a little when I said the Sonot was just a box to check. It's not the Tour of Anchorage or a big time race by any means (Town Races here are usually more competitive) but for me it's one of the more important events of the season.

First a summary of how it all went down and then a tally whacking at how it shakes out compared to my previous efforts at this event. This one is longer than most race reports, just because it is. Gets into the gory details.

One thing about this race, there is always something funky that throws you off your game. Primarily, however, the Sonot Kkazoot (Athabaskan for Spring Glide/Slide) 50K is just plain tough.

Nevertheless, if it's not the cold, it's poor ice on the river (so they move the entire race up on the hill), or fresh snow, and the course itself makes it one of the most difficult Loppets out there.

We actually lucked out this year because it was bitter cold all week (teens and twenties below zero in the mornings) but race day was a comfortable +15 F. Nevertheless, with an inch or so of fresh snow on top of the frozen layer that never had quite "set" into fast kkazoot conditions this years race was slow. Lead times (and mine) were about 15 min slower than last year (although we were skiing 1.5K longer this time).

I lined up not feeling all that great. After a solid Tour of Anchorage I came down with a cold in the middle of the month. I had been looking forward to the Skiathon 20K classic race last week but that was the nadir of the cold, not to mention teens below zero that day. So I DNS'd (my 4th or so non-start of the year, easily a personal record). Still was a bit congested and felt sort of blah under the gray skies and light snowfall on Saturday.

I wasn't even 100% sure of my tactic (although I had a couple scenarios). Just go by how it feels I figured.

Usually the top skiers, national class college and post college level, take off fast and everyone follows. This time was different.

Course profile (a bit exaggerated, but that's Bad Bob for you).

I hit it quick and knocked poles a few times with a couple of J2 skiers, doing the 20K, and found myself up in the top 10 or so. Then Tyson (2009 winner, and frequent dominator of local races) went by at about a half K. We were almost a full K into it when UAF's Lex Trienen double poled past--staying in the tracks--okay I was going way too fast. By the first bridge I was maybe 20th at the back of a peleton that had all the leaders from both races, and I could tell that the gap behind me was growing. Nothing to do but relax and hang with this group for as long as reasonable.

I stuck it out for 4K before succumbing to the reality that I had no business even tagging along, attempting to draft. So I settled into my own rhythm, mostly V2 alternate. The going was not 100% smooth, as the river snow was both soft and sort of wavy. Did a head check and the second peleton was a good 20 or 30 seconds behind. Per usual, off in my own private no-man's land on the Chena. (Last year at least I got to share it with UAF's Marit Rjabov).

By the time we hit the base of Birch Hill Ski area at 10K (30 min) for me, the lead group had broken up, and three or four guys were in sight about 30-40 sec up on the the new connector while a couple of youngsters from the chase group had already passed and a few more were reeling me in. Uh oh, I blew it. Went out too hard for the first 10K.

However, I settled in with those guys and the new connector was almost cake--easy compared to heading straight up the ski slope. So instead of 350 ft climb in 1K it's stretched out to about 2K. A huge difference. By the time we got onto White Bear a nice train seven skiers had coalesced and I was only about 10 seconds back, so by the deep hole and climb out at the far end of White Bear loop I was back onto them.

The most disconcerting thing was that I was as old as three of them combined, mostly 18-20 yr olds. Felt good and settled for the long haul and not trying to expend any extra energy. By Moilainen's Meadow (~20K) it was almost like they were slowing me down, and by 25 and 30K that was definitely the case. Thing is, the trail is all single track and passing people with even a small amount of fresh snow is never easy Plus, I don't think the youngsters were too thrilled with a 50-something in their midst, let alone one trying to shake things up. So I just had to bide my time.

The Sonot is definitely a race of attrition. The fastest/strongest skier does not always win (or in my case place decent), it's who can maintain through the numerous climbs coming out of White Bear through Outhouse Loop (roughly from 22K to about 33K) without expending too much ATP/glycogen reserves. You need something left on Tower Loop and the long stretch on the river.

Several of the guys attempted to stretch things out a few times and a couple of others did drop off. I made one move. In the stadium after the Black Loops I took a quick drink and skied ahead, hoping to drop them on Blue Loop. But that didn't net much, and my legs were starting to tie up so I tucked back in before the steep climb out. There were five of us left.

Benji, the only other skier over 30 in the train, started putting the hurt on us on Outhouse and Relay, and the two teenagers remaining dropped off the pace. So now it was Benji, me and Dash. I was borderline cramping up in my quads and my arms were tight, but I was able keep contact. He pushed hard and I just tried to hang and get some feed or drink every few Ks. We really flew down the hill on the connector and the pace was torrid on the flat coming back to the river.

Then it hit, a double cramp. My left quad knotted up and my right triceps was spazzing, as if someone was shooting a 100 volt current through it. I'd never had an arm go out on me in race! I figured this was it, and I was about to pay for that early effort and having the audacity to try to stick with skiers so much younger, fitter, better, more able than me. I thought I could hear Estle cackling away, from somewhere (it's usually Finland or New England this time of year): Sayre, What an Idiot!

They had 8 or 10 sec on me and I wanted to keep in contact, but I just had to slow up and finish off my electrolyte drink that I'd been carrying. I settled into a modifed V2 alternate, rapid tempo but light on effort, and hoped not to blow up on the river. They had about 18 or 20 sec when we hit the river at 41K. Benji was doing most of the leading, but he was V1 skating, which means he was probably hurting too.
Pat was about 20 sec back.

Just hold on and keep moving, seeking the smoothest part of the trail. The Ks slipped by, not fast enough, and I gained just a few seconds with 4 or 5K to go. But at 47K they were only up by about 10. I caught them with about 1.3K to go and tried hard to pick up the tempo but the effort made me dizzy and more naseous. Someone, Dash, was right on my tail and with 300 to go I tried to find another gear but almost did a face plant instead. He accelerated and all I could do was to try to stay on my feet.

2:48:17, 10th, and I felt like keeling over.

I felt sick all day, but ate a fair amount to refuel. I think it's the Gatorade. Too much sugar. At Tour of Anchorage they had G2 and that's what I had in my water bottle. It's much easier on the stomach. And on Sunday, per usual for post Sonot, I was totally completely wiped out like recovering from the flu. I'm usually tired from Tour of Anchorage, but that's from the drive home and long day. Sonot recovery is a whole different level.

Going out with that lead group was bodacious, something I rarely try anymore. In hindsight, hanging with the 2nd train out on the river might have saved some energy to move up in the middle of the race, but in the end I don't think it would have made much if any difference. With the fresh snow it was a hard day to make a break from our mid-race train. There must have been five or six breakaway attempts from 25 to 35K and every one was matched. Again, the Sonot is a race of attrition, not speed and power.

Here's the skinny on previous Sonots. I may well be old, and indeed an idiot, but percent-wise this was my best.

2006 - 2:41:40 9th (17.4%)/winner Kjtetil Dammen
2007 - 3:06:44 9th (17.8%)/winner Trond Flagstad
2008 - 2:14:25 8th (14.0%)/winner Petter Eliassen
2009 - 2:39:59 6th (18.4%)/winner Tyson Flarharty
2011 - 2:34:12 13th (15.4%)/winner Eric Soederstroem
2012 - 2:48:17 10th (13.3%)/winner Lex Trienen

(2008 and 2009 were short course 43K at Birch Hill)

NCSF, the Bakers, and sponsors for putting on this event.
Great aid stations by local schools Lathrop, West Valley, and Tanana, and North Pole at the finish.
Good grooming this year, and it's going to get better with the Pistin Bully.
Hanneman's for the soup and bread at the awards.

It was the 25th Sonot, my 6th, and one more branded wood chip; I have no idea what to do with those things. I've had three stacked up like pancakes on a coffee table and the others sitting in a sock drawer.

Friday, March 23, 2012

About had enough of this loathsome winter

The vernal equinox sort of slid by unnoticed a few days ago mainly because it's so cold out that you don't even want to go outside and enjoy the extra sunlight. Right now it's about -8F; supposedly it's going to get warmer this evening and tomorrow with a few inches of snow just for the Sonot.

How about warmer with no snow to make for some fast glide? We can only hope. As long as they groom the course after it snows, even if they are only an hour ahead of us with one pass, it would help.

Who can forget Sonot 2007, when it was sub zero with 3 inches of overnight snowfall. There was no grooming and it was the slowest day evah! In 2009, with the whole thing at Birch, it was also cold but they did groom. To tell the truth anything below zero for 50K is pretty miserable.

As long as it's 10s and 20s and snowfall is less than 3" we should be fine.

Overall I'm not as excited about the Sonot as in previous years. Just another box to check off this time and then let's get on with spring. Once I'm out there on the river and on the Birch Hill trails I hope that it will be fun. Looking forward to skiing the new connector instead of the ski slope. That was always a ticket to oxygen debt and early bonk. Last year's climb was particularly tough but you know at the same time I didn't bonk either.

With running marathons they say the race doesn't start until 20 miles. The Sonot doesn't really begin until 25 to 30K, where you either have to move up or hold on, while keeping that last 10K in mind. You also don't want to bonk out on the river with 8 or 9K to go.

Usually I keep skiing 4 or 5 times a week until the final days of snow cover here, and slowly-agonizingly-reluctantly waddling around with running for about a month before letting go of the skis and giving in to running. This year is different, I've been looking forward to the end of winter for a long-long time. Next week and herein until melt off I'll be skiing no more than twice a week and running 4 or 5 times. I'll start out slow. Thinking of Tok Trot. Way too few 10Ks around here and that's a rare opportunity for a fast certified course.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Life and the 5K Shortfall

I woke up at 3:45 this morning with a vivid dream that captures aspects of my current and past life. Also, I'm now within a week of the age that my dad died from heart disease. Be warned that this is going to be a rambling introspective piece about goals, success, and dealing with failure. That is if you see the world in black or white, that falling short of a goal is failure.

For college track I was a late starter to running. I only began serious training about two weeks before indoor track during my freshman year. I started out as a middle distance runner with the fairly modest goals of 53.9 for the 440 yard dash and 2:03.9 for the 880. Those were written on a piece of scrap paper on my dorm room bulletin board. I didn't approach those times that season, and ran something like 55 high or 56 low (relay splits) for the 440 and 2:08.1 for the 800 meters. Those are very modest times, even for a freshman at the NCAA Division III level. Reluctantly, and slowly (it took my entire college career to figure it out), I found that I actually got better-more competitive the longer the distance so in outdoor track my sophomore year by default--no one else on the team wanted to run it--I became the team's 5,000 meter specialist.

The only thing was, in spite of showing a little bit of promise at the 2 mile (running 9:40s and 9:50s indoors) and 10K (high 32s on the roads) I could never put it together for 5K on the track during college. With times like those I should have been capable of 15:30s/15:40s but only ran 16:14. I'd go out in low 5, 10:10 for 1600 and 3200 and then just hit the anaerobic wall. Nevertheless, at our conference meet at the University of Chicago in 1980 a younger teammate--who did want to run the 5000--ran a school record 14:49 and I thought that was pretty awesome and set out to run sub 15 post-college.

Meanwhile, career-wise during college I didn't have much of a clue of what I wanted to do (other than graduate). Not until the last semester, under a fit of introspection and pondering of what to do with my life, did I think much about a career. I took one of those interest surveys from the counseling office, and science research and forestry did come up pretty high. So over a period of a month or two I set out to go to graduate school in ecology or natural resources, preferably in the West.

The question is did I ever break that 15:00? In fact I did once, may be twice, sort of. Paranthetically, however, I hardly ran any 5Ks for the first three years out of college. Just a few months after graduating I had moved back out Colorado and there was a 5K from the Mary Jane resort to the base of Winter Park, a drop of 450 feet on a snow-covered ski slope. I ran something like 14:25 at 9000 ft elevation. A 450 drop in elevation? That simply doesn't count for a personal best.

My very next attempt, about two and a half years later in the fall of 1983, while working as an intern and then entry level Range-Forestry technician for the U.S. Forest Service in Steamboat Springs, Colorado I ran a 15:28 for a road 5K. At 7,000 feet this would easily convert to sub 15, and even though I ran step for step with a guy who had run 9:20 for 2 miles and about 31:10 for 10K, I never felt that this was a legitimate 5K personal best because the course was not certified and I do feel that it may have been short.

Career-wise, I was headed in the right direction at 25 although I still had no clue what exactly I wanted out of it other than having a job someday.

To keep things rolling along I went to graduate school that winter in Range Science at the School of Natural Resources at Colorado State University. I continued running and shifted from a distance/marathoner focus to 5K and 10K. I did that for two reasons: First, the 10 to 15 hours a week of marathon training required a level of obsession that I felt would conflict with my grad studies and research. I was getting paid by the state to go to school, which was an honor and a privilege, it took a lot of work to get there, and I didn't want to blow it on account of being a running bum. Second, the marathon training I did in Steamboat Springs (amazing open forest and range land near Steamboat Lake and the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness) resulted in a bad hip and dreaded ITBS that knocked me out of running for about 8 months and racing for almost a full year.

So I opted for a more moderate approach to training, emphasizing quality over quantity, and going 40 to about 55 or 60 miles a week. The trade off was that I did retain a fair amount of sharpness for several years (ran my best mile-1500s at 28, and actually achieved that 2:03:9 800 also at 28), but a little less endurance--my best 10K times dropped off by about 20 seconds compared to higher mileage days. At the time I was seeing a lot of peers running a few fast marathons, or trying to, and then flaming out with serious sometimes career ending injuries. I decided to stay with running for the long haul, which is likely why I'm still at it and not walking around with an artificial knee and/or hip.

Anyway, my next best 5Ks were at altitude: 15:39 or so at 5000 ft in 1985, on a certified point to point course. I consider this to be my best 5K, followed by 15:48 on a loop course in 1986, also at 5000 ft. These convert to about 15:13 and 15:18 respectively. So even with altitude conversion, I never did get there.

Is that failure? I did not reach that goal. Nor did I qualify for an Olympic Trials marathon It's a big gap from 2:34 at altitude, roughly worth a 2:30, to the 2:18/2:19 needed at the time. And I fell short for making an Olympic Trials in Nordic skiing, although I came fairly close to that level in a couple races in 1988 and maybe could have done it in 1991-92, if I'd done some qualifying races, but always fell a day late and a dollar short for that! Setting a high goal and falling short, but doing your best along the way, again, is that failure? Depends upon state of mind perhaps, and the beholder. But I'm jumping ahead here.

By my late 20s I did think about the future some more, and yes a job would be good. A natural resources job in a northern climate where I could ski for half the year (or close) would be great. A good professional position, but no so demanding that I would not have time to enjoy the outdoors and continue training for skiing and running. So I finished my masters degree in the spring of 1987--defended just a week before heading off to my first U.S. Nationals at Royal Gorge, California. Getting that stable job in a good place would be a long-long haul.

Not that there weren't good jobs and great places to live for many many years: Ithaca, NY, the Badlands of North Dakota, the north woods of Minnesota, Amherst, Massachusetts, and Colorado all had a lot to offer.

Somewhere along the way, I got diverted and went for a Ph.D., something I had never really wanted to do after seeing what my father had gone through. He had a high powered career in civil engineering at a major research university and government. He was a workaholic but seemed burned out by the time he was in his late 40s, or maybe that was his heart taking its toll. Regardless, after some discussion with one of my mentors from CSU in 1988 my career goals shifted from just wanting a regular job in a nice area to the bright lights of higher powered academia.

Fitness-wise, my last best chance for a fast 5K was in the summer of 1989, at 31, when I was working as a researcher at in natural resources a Cornell University. The plan was to work for them for year and then go on to a Ph.D. program. That first summer I qualified for the Empire State Games and would have a good opportunity for an attempt. I put in all I could over that summer. Realistically, I did feel 15:10 and a personal best was possible. However the race was on a rock hard asphalt track and the weather on that August day was in the 80s with high humidity. I ran a respectable 6th place, after running dead last for most of the first mile, but could only manage a 15:34. If it had been Bislett or Boston at springtime on a tartan track and 55-60 degrees, who knows. What is certain is that I never ran faster than that again.

Likewise, I never did enter the Ph.D., program at Cornell. I ended up working at the university for three years on soft money. It was great work, I was getting some publications and exposure, but never quite found the right fit/funding for a research program, so when an opportunity arose to study bighorn sheep in the prairie outback of North Dakota I jumped.

Ha, I never should have watched Dances with Wolves that year!

By then my career goal was to get on as research wildlife biologist at an agency or university and I pursued that fervently for another decade. The fallback was teaching maybe at a more laid back Division II type school, or industry. It took 5 years and a lot of angst to finish my dissertation. As a post doc I sampled all three avenues.

Yes, the best of those was doing research for USDA back in Colorado (again, for the third time in my life living there). In 2001 I narrowly missed getting that dream job. It was based in Colorado, but would have split time in the Yellowstone region, doing research on wolf management. Supposedly I came into that interview as a distant third because I'd only had one year of work as a predator biologist but gave it my best effort ever. The guy hiring said I ended up in a near tie for first. In a way it was like running a 15:01 5K, or placing a close fourth when the podium is top three.

But worse. Because there is no consolation for second place when you are trying to get hired.

It was weird, but I never got another opportunity like that. By then I was working with a private lab near Fort Collins, and hated every single minute with that outfit and I spent nearly a year trying to get out of there.

That's how I ended up, not as a biologist, but as an environmental planner. With a young family, mortgage, need for health insurance and stability not to mention to pay off loans and bills that had been building for years. I took a step back and more or less started over as planner.

And here I sit far far away, and a decade later, pushing 30 years past my PR 5K running days. My job is not unlike what I envisioned during my 20s, a good professional position working with a team of specialists hopefully setting up wise management of public lands. At least that's the intent.

And it sure helps to have the amazing resources, community, and infrastructure for Nordic skiing that we have here. But at the same time career-wise this is not what I had envisioned during that more ambitious period of my life from my early 30s through early 40s. This year I find myself restless, not exactly satisfied with where I've been and where I'm headed.

Running and racing can very well be a microcosm of life. You set these goals, sometimes unrealistic or arbitrary, and you expend years if not decades chasing dreams. You have moments of letdowns but also time of reaching down and exceeding levels that perhaps in your distant past you thought would be impossible.

Dreaming is where this started too and it's about time to end this ramble.

Obviously, at 54 now, a sub 15 5K is far out of the question. I could aim for an age graded sub 15, but that's something like 17:40 by now. As long as I can keep injury at bay that should be a piece of cake this spring. How about making it a real challenge? I'd like to break 17:00 this year--just for grins and for myself--and will give it a go.

This career thing, I do intend to keep it going here this year, but over these past few months I'm also re-awakening a bit, remembering that there is more out there.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Tour of Anchorage Elite Wave Bottom Feeder

So it's come to this. It seems that I can no longer hang with the train in the elite wave. And it is very apparent that on the Chester Creek Trail in particular, and Coastal Trail, the success of your race is very dependent on savvy drafting and keeping in contact. I just couldn't get the job done, and yesterday's effort was much like 2009 and 2011. Not that I'm complaining too much. Here's how it went down. Started in row 3, we cruised through the first K without mishap, which is always good, and settled into a pace. A nice train of 20 skiers was just up 20 or 30 meters of but I settled in behind a masters skier who usually does well because I was already working hard didn't want go under too early. By Spencer Loop (between 5 and 6K) that group was about 15 sec up, and I was in chase group of about 7 skiers. I made my way up to the front by the arduous 500 foot climb and set out to catch a couple of stragglers. Was right in contact at the top, then a youngster from UAA biffed on an S turn and crashed big time. Squirted around him barely and had Dave Arvey and #33, wearing an old UAF uniform, right there. Onto the Chester Creek path, I tried hard to maintain contact. Was just less 3 sec back at 15K (roughly 48:50) but was fighting it. Had to come to decision, keep fighting to stay with these guys--breathing hard--or feed and hope to catch up in the middle somewhere. I took a Gu and drank a bit of sport drink and was suddenly 12 to 15 sec back. It's such a maddening trade off! There goes train 2.
Skied by myself through about 20k, when I heard two guys coming up from behind. The UAA guy who had fallen and #97 from wave 2 and they were FLYING! So latched on and enjoyed 4 or 5K of great drafting. Using no more energy than before but instead of 3 min Ks, we were doing 2:50 or so. Then it happened, my one quick lapse of the race. Just before APU we made a sharp left, and my left ski tracked a little too far and it dove into the deep snow on the trail side. I didn't fall, but it threw me momentarily, and suddenly I was 3 or 4 seconds behind. I fought hard to get back but could feel HR racing and again didn't want to go under just half way into the race. Soon we started weaving through waves of classic skiers who had just started. Six seconds became 10 and there was no catching back onto Train #3.
At this point there was nothing left to do but return to my bottom feeding ways--steady effort, keeping it strong but within myself, and hoping to catch drop offs, as we approached the Coastal Trail at 35K. In years past I've been able to pick off 6 to 10 skiers this way. But not this year. Caught #26 at about 30K and we jockeyed back and forth through 40K. I took one last Gu at about 42K and he passed me; that got me charged up and I put it down. A top elite, wearing bib 003 was fading badly and I caught him. With about 4 or 5 to go I saw Max up ahead--not again! I thought! Max and I after the Tour 2012 (photo by Bruce Guard)
In my latest two Tours and on of the recent Sonots (2009 I think), Max skied strongly the entire way but somehow I've been able to catch him on the last hill. Sure enough, powere up the long dreadful climb into Kincaid I reeled in Max. I was wobbly, but could keep the tempo. Sorry Max. 2:34:03. 36th, but 1st in age group. I think the 30K the other week was a little better, as the guys I hung with there (a minute or so behind) were several (5 to 10) minutes ahead. But at 54, I'm not complaining either. It was another good day at the Tour, my favorite race in Alaska.