Monday, December 10, 2012

Obligatory Gundeloppet Report

As in years past I look forward to this 15K race every December. For a distance guy like me it's often first real race of the season. I've had pretty good success at this event over the past years (missed 2005 because I ran a marathon that day and 2009 due to the knee injury), but it's still early in the season and my fitness has often been sort of hit and miss. This year in fact, training has been a lot of miss. Rather than running all summer through most of October and tranisitioning into skiing, I missed a lot of time in August, September through mid-October. I've picked it up gradually since snow flew, the week of October 15 or 20, but haven't put in any big hours. I think the average has been about 8 hours a week, with a peak of 10. Not bad, probably about par, but the previous months were definitlely lower than I'd like.

Yeah, yeah, I could roller ski 5X a week, 1.5 to 2 hr a shot, with the occassional 2.5 to 3 hr on Sundays, but no 3X a week at 1 to 1.5 was it, plus some bike commuting and little or no running.

I definitely felt that on Saturday--and this year sure wish the race could have been on the tradtional Sunday start because there was a 16 degree temperature difference, not to mention new snow!

It was about -7 at the start (beats -17 or -30, which is what we were seeing earlier in the week), but the chill didn't seem too terribly bad. The usual suspects lined up on the tracks. Pardon my French initials here, but what the heck is up with having a Citizen race with some 70 or 80 participants with a start line in a stadium that is somehting like 80 yards wide, but only six sets of start tracks are set? That seemed like yet another arbitray BS decision from up top. No arguing, however, even though I tried, out of defiance more than anything. Gracous me! Next time make it 10 lanes wide at least.

Tracks were more or less a mess throughout. After three weeks of wind, deep cold, and no new precipitation, the snow had been compressed into a 3" crust strewn with birch seeds, leaves, and sticks. It's so hard that either the groomers tried and couldn't do much or didn't even bother to till the surface. They did set new classic tracks on Friday, but in the skate lane it was hard to tell if they were able to do anything at all. The trail was rutted throughout, and it was hard to stay on top of your skis. I don't recall feeling less comfortable in a longer race here (some of the past very early season 5K and 7.5K races with sketchy snow aside).

The four or five UAF skiers and Tyson took off off fast and they were out of sight by the time I made the first switchback on South Tower. I was in the middle of a large group, maybe a dozen or so, including a couple classic skiers. A couple years ago Dave skied classic on a cold day, and I was able to pull away half way through. That didn't happen this time!

It was pretty frenetic the first 5 or 6 K, until we hit the Sonot cuttoff and a few of the kids peeled off to the left for the shorter "7.5K" (that was closer to 9). Heading out onto the further reaches of White Bear Loop is where you find if  you have it (good fitness) or not.

I didn't.

Our large chase pack sort of thined out into two smaller groups of three or four. Jonathan, Neill, Kramer, and Pat up ahead about 15 or 20 seconds, fast striding Dave making a break (man he was motoring! Rapid and strong diagonal technique, I could not match that tempo), with me Max, Jesse (15K debut) hanging back. I made a move to pull away from those guys and caught a struggling Pat on the big climb out of White Bear, where it had to have been -15. Brr that was a cold stretch and my legs locked up (should have worn the warmer long underwear!).

Dave steadily pulled away from us and the Kramer Jonathan pack was almost out of sight by the time we hit Moilanen's Meadow. All I could do was hang with Pat. I felt good on the uphills, but everytime I'd try to surge around him he'd pick it up just enough to make it difficult. I did get around once, just before Moilanen's, but only long enough to go under. So I tucked in again, hoping that I'd have someting climbing into the stadium.

I didn't.

Pat pulled away easily up that last hill and I just hung on, finishing 10 sec back. Meanwhile, Jesse the comeback kid was only 12 or 13 sec behind me at the finish.

I've done this race a number of times and sub 50 is a decent time, and as well as can be expected. Birthday Boy Dave's low 49 min skiing classic was astounding, or seemed so to me. Watch out World Masters M6!

Meanwhile, here's to moderating temperatures, NEW SNOW!, and more hours over the next month or two.

Mean Temperatures (November Freeze)

Another very cold November is behind us, and finally after three weeks of sub 0, things have warmed up a to more livable temperatures. If there is one thing that will drive me out of here it's going to be these long cold snaps. The dark I can put up with okay, but when it's too cold do ski or run outdoors that's when I start to go bonkers and begin to hate this place.

At one time, in my past life as a field biologist, I was numbers guy. I don't do much of that for work anymore, but here is some fun (some not so fun) with local temperatures.

For the month of November the average high temperature (using the UAF Climate Research Center's data) is 11 F and the low -5.7 F. That doesn't sound so bad really. I can live with those numbers. However, there is rarely a "normal" weather month. The extremes make up the averages. I do wish they'd report the range and standard deviation for the 30 or 50 year averages., and then you could tell if a given month or time period really is different from "normal."

Anyway, November's average high was 0.4 and the low -17.8, making it the just about the coldest since we moved here. Here's how it shakes out.

2004: 15.8, -1.8 (ahh I remember that month thinking, hey this place isn't so bad!)
2005:  1.8, -12
2006: -2.8, -17.0
2007: 20.0, 2.6 (wow! But snow was real thin that month)
2008:   6.8, -9.6
2009:  7.3, -10.2
2010: 19.2, 4.6
2011:  0.4, -16.8 (brr, and that set us up for the coldest winter yet)
2012:  0.4, -17.8 

So in nine Novembers, we've had two that are relatively "normal" (2008 and 2009), three trending warm (2004, 2007, and 2010), with four that were freakin' cold (2005, 2006, 2011, 2012). Alhough just looking at the averages without any statistical testing, 2004 might be more normal than warm.

And snowfall? Forget it. We're trending way below. The climate data does not appear to tabulate averages for snow on ground, but at 6 inches we had about half of the average for total snowfall for the month. So let's assume 12 or 13 is the average. In our nine years here we've never reached that by the end of the month. The best snow Novembers in that time were 2004, 2005 and 2008 with 10 or 11 inches. The low was 2006 with just 4 inches on the ground.

To sum  all this up, and this is consistent with climate change models, Fairbanks and the Interior Alaska are trending somewhat low for November temperature and very low for snowfall. That said, I look forward to the first week of February when things are looking up temperature wise, snow cover is consistent and good, and the days are getting appreciably longer.