Friday, March 29, 2013

Review of 2012-13, the season without a cap

Closing this season out early, and like 2005 and 2010 (injured) finishing without the good closer at the Sonot. I'm disappointed but feeling good now.

Season Highlights:
Tristan's emergence into the top 10 at state and then breaking through again at Junior Nationals, with a pair of top 6 finishes and a national championship in the relay. We were expecting maybe top 20 at state and maybe 20s and 30s at JNs with a berth on the B relay team. What a month he had! He did the hard work but also thanks to coach Christina at West Valley and the coaches for Team Alaska. I enjoyed being parent/fan at state and JNs, rather than coach.

My own season, kind of tended toward disappointing, but the sub 2:30 at Tour of Anchorage and the 30K freestyle race here in February were the highlights, followed closely by the 20K Skiathon the other week. My best classic race in several years.

I also got a kick out of racing with my son Mikko and our friend Kuba at TD Relays. Good times and great memories. I'll be sort of sad to see them go off to college next year (nevertheless excited that they both plan to run for their respective universities!).

Obviously that last Wednesday Night Race in mid-March, which I was barely able to finish. I don't know what happened other than it was cold and windy, and I could not warm up. Some days you just don't have it.

Too many cold days for skate races! Except for the Tour of Anchorage the freestyle race days were all 5 to -10 F. I think only one of them (Besh Cup 10K at 5 F) was above zero. Can't do much about that I guess--or maybe we can. More on that later.

Killer local courses. Racing should have an element of fun. Moreover, local racing is not the World Cup. Too many local races now have courses that are simply too demanding to be enjoyable, and now that the new courses are established at Birch Hill it looks like it will be around and around on those big hills. Makes me want to retire from it all, or at least those races that are right on the edge of technically legal. Seeing how other skiers stayed away in droves this year, I'm not the only one.
Well, it's over.

Looking ahead:
I'm putting skiing aside early this year. Normally I'm at 60-40 skiing-running still and gradually transition to 50-50, which I'll hold until the snow goes out. I'm done with racing and will be running 4-5 days a week already and expect to be at 6 days a week by mid-April. Still look forward to a few more nice outings on skis.

I'm not sure what I'll focus on yet, it depends on my foot and how it responds, so far it's 99% better. I think I'll put a little less emphasis on running a "fast" mile and 5000 m in June. The speedwork seems to stretch out my foot, causing irritation and inflamamtion. However, I want to do the half marathon, my favorite distance, and 10K. Possibly a marathon, with some good choices in August, September, and October. There are good logisital and physical arguments for an event in any one of those months. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Just build a good base by mid-late May and decide in June or July.

To the next ski season? Already not looking forward to it that much. I'd like to see some changes, personally like how-when I train, and in the community. I'd like to see more opportunity for fun races outside of the Birch Hill scene. I can't say how refreshing it was to go to UAF the other week and do the citizen friendly Skiathon. We need more of that here. Fortunately, I have some friends who feel the same and we will be talking.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Sonot 2013: A year it didn't happen for me

First congrats to all the skiers who went out there and braved the elements on Saturday as well as for the course crew and volunteers. It was a tough day to be out there racing or working.

For me, somewhat regretfully, it didn't happen. I came down with a chills and aches on Monday night and by Tuesday that developed into a low-level cough. Thursday it moved into my head with some congestion. I was 50-50 for it by Friday afternoon, but in the evening as I was prepping skis for everyone I said Let's GO!

Was disheartened a bit to see the temperature (2 and falling) and snow fall (3" or so) but went downtown planning to go for it. Got all set up with gear and clothing and Gu, drink, duct tape on the face, went down to the river to figure out which skis would run better and did about 1K of warm up. My chest was crackling--that would be wheezing--my sinuses were somewhat congested and worst of all my legs felt the burn even from just easy warm-up level skiing. I'd have been unable to get enough oxygen to carry me up those hills. Even if it had been 20 with icy hardpack, I would have had a tough time of it, but with such slow snow (conditions very similar to 2007, when there was about 2" of snow and it was 0 to 2 degrees above), there was no way I'd be able to last 3+ hours out there.

It also reminded me of Equinox 2006, where I attempted to run (and did finish and did set an age record that still stands, but overall it didn't go well), and I used that experience as a reminder that it's less than wise to enter such a tough event when you are less than 100%.

I called it a day, skied about 8 or 10K on the river, and cheered Tristan and his teammate Jesse in the 20K. They had a great sprint finish!

Daily News-Miner Photo 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

On Youth Coaching: Whatever it Takes

I've been youth coaching for almost a decade now, my kids, their friends and many others. Now while I may be something of a nobody in this town/state in that field, where you need pedigree and to be friends with the right people, I do have some thoughts on the matter.

Over the years the kids I've worked with skiing and running have done pretty well.

It might be surprising that I believe you do whatever it takes. However, more surprising I believe that this is not a call push to kids, or to do everything that money can buy. Rather, whatever it takes is a caveat.

My basic philosophy for all levels for youth sport (endurance based, but this probably applies to other sports as well) to keep them going with a healthy attitude toward thier activity is that you do what it takes to keep them motivated and looking forward to the next level. It is as simple as that. And underlying that of course is that it is up to the young athlete to decides on their level of involvement. Not the parents, coaches, or even peers (although the latter probably do carry the most influence once they hit their teens).

Too often I have seen young, pre-or early adolescent children excel only to level off by the time they reach their mid-teens. The key is to keep them involved, working on skills and thought processes through those early years, and then when they hit 14, 15, 16 they are ready to take on the higher levels. Likewise, though, some will peak at 15 or 16, while others keep their passion and improving well into their 20s and sometimes 30s.

At the end of the day, the goal is simply to promote a fun and healthy lifestyle.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Two Races Two Outcomes: But Where is Dave? Dave's Not Here!

Amidst whirl of activity surrounding Junior Nationals last week, not mention squeezing in a few days of work, I did a couple of local races. Citizen races in the truest sense. One was awful the other turned out well. That happens with ski racing.

First up was the Wednesday Night Race. It might just be my last. After a tremendous couple weather weeks here, the temperatures dropped into the single digits on Wednesday while the wind gusts kicked up to the 30-40 mph range, and average wind speeds were in the teens all day. That makes for -10 to -20 wind chills. We usually don't get weather like that here. Just a few times a year.

The trail was full of debris, in fact there was a tree 400 meters into the race, and it was ungroomed and scoured from the winds. I don't think I got in enough of a warm up either. It was kind of fun to have a dozen or so ringers from Anchorage and Lower 48 line up, including a World Cup skier who got beat! The course started at the biathlon range took the Sonot connector to the bottom of Birch Hill downhill area and came right back up.

Here's the News Feature:

As soon as we turned around, where I fell, and started the climb I knew I was in trouble. I pushed it for about a half K, and caught a couple guys but could no longer get a good breathing rhythm, so I just shut down to avoid an asthma attack, not to mention having legs gummed up with so much metabolic waste. Tanked. That rarely happens, especially in a skate race and one with a long (2K) uphill. Normally I do best on hills.

I have enjoyed the Wednesday Night Series for the past three years and support the idea. However, some bad luck (primarily weather/sketchy course conditions and course marking) seems to follow these. Plus, 5K or 6Ks are just so damn uncomfortable anymore. I'm likely done for the year, and maybe for a while longer.

After that fiasco I wasn't so confident about the 20K Skiathon. I'd enjoyed this classic race in the past but it had been six years since the last time I did it (conflicting with the Oosik Classic, spring break, and injury).

After the long week at JNs a 20K seemed over the top, especially being just six days ahead of the Sonot. But I wanted to give it a go, and when Dave--fresh off three top ten finishes at World Masters--said that he'd be a late entry, and joked that he'd wax up three, make it four pairs of skis I had even more incentive.

Not to mention this is about the only local race NOT at Birch Hill. No more fences, no more rules, no more you know who's dirty looks!

We lined up, and it was apparent that like the famous Cheech and Chong skit from decades ago, Dave? Dave? Dave wasn't here! Well, 50 or so people did line up and I had my skis waxed up with LF4, two layers of binder (very abrasive and dirty snow) and 4 layers of Rode Multi-Grade Blue. It was about zero, and would be colder than that on Smith Lake, and no more than single digits by the time we'd finish.

Pete a visiting MD from Idaho--fresh off a top 20 finish at the Boulder Mountain Tour last month--took off right way, leaving me, Greg, and Erik as a nice chase group. They had faster skis (that binder!) down the long 1 km downhill stretch to Smith Lake, and I had to work to reel them back in by the T-Field. We mostly double-poled and kick double-poled for about 5 or 6K until we looped back onto the hilly Midnight Express. In years past I sort of dreaded these hill sections, because I had stiff skis and would have to work extra hard to stay on top of them. But I love my new Fischer Carbonlites, and the extra layer of binder did it's magic. The hills felt quite manageable.

Greg dropped off on Midnight Express, while Erik and I cat and moused along for several kms. At the end of Big Whizzy, just before 10K (37:20), I was feeling pretty good so I put in a surge through the five or six way intersection and down the short (400 m) Calypso loop. That has a fairly sustained steep climb coming out (40 sec or so) and I pulled away there.

The rest of the course along Skaarland Loop, across T-Field and Smith Lake, is mostly double pole so I went kind of mad with it. Keeping a good tempo, while making the most of striding out on the short rolling climbs on Skaarland Loop. I had a good 30 second advantage coming back to the T-Field but got momentarily confused with the course direction on the little power line connector--no sign or arrows there, just some pin flags on the main T-Field route--so I had to stop and think for a bit. Erik came back into sight and I jumped onto the connector and hammered.

I felt good until Smith Lake with 2K to go, and up the road I was feeling the burn but decided I wanted to keep that 2nd place, for posterity and to make up for falling apart on Wednesday. My classic skiing isn't that good anymore, I've really struggled over the past several years, but this was easily my best one in a long time.

They still haven't posted official results, but here is the top 4 more with times more or less:

1. Pete 1:08:44
2. Me 1:13:03
3. Erik 1:13:52
4. Greg 1:16:40

The next person was over 1:30.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Another Big Day at JNs!

After a long week of racing, Tristan lined up with the 9th seed for Saturday's 5K mass start classic race. For me those are harrowing, but he took it with his typical understated aplomb. Other than going over the course on Friday the only advice I could give was to keep doing what you're doing.

The start was pretty frantic and fast, and  was concerned that he would be swallowed up by the pack and would have difficulty fighting back. (in middle of screen, #409 with blue hat)

By 2.5K a lead group of four had broken away, while Tristan was in a chase pack of about five skiers, already 10 seconds back.
                               (lead skiers from Midwest, New England, and Alaska)

However, this is a course of many hills (two A climbs of 100 and 150 feet) and three B climbs. By the top of the tough White Bear Access climb with just over a 1 km to go Tristan was fighting for a top 5 position with a skier from New England with a group of five or six in hot pursuit..

The heated battle went on to the final 100 meters as they closed in on the 4th place skier, from Anchorage.

Here they are at the awards:

(Left to right here, Bue (10th), Williams (6th), Sayre (4th), Harmeyer (4th), Ketterson (2nd), Gordon (1st), Donaldson (3rd), and Bassett (5th)).

1* 402 GORDON, Koby 15 NE Stratton Mountain School 14:50.4 
2* 405 KETTERSON, Zak 15 MW Loppet Nordic Racing 14:51.6 +
3* 403 DONALDSON, Max 15 AK NSCFairbanks - FXC 14:56.2 
4* 404 HARMEYER, Bill 15 NE Mansfield Nordic 15:12.4 
5* 401 BASSETT, Jake 15 AK Alaska Winter Stars 15:12.9 
6* 409 SAYRE, Tristan 15 AK FAST 15:14.4 
7* 408 HARMEYER, Henry 15 NE Mansfield Nordic 
8* 419 WILLIAMS, Zach 13 IM Sun Valley SEF 15:21.6 
9* 410 HEIMBURGER, Fischer 15 IM Soldier Hollow 15:25.0 
10* 423 BUE, Joe 15 AK NSCFairbanks - FXC 15:30.9 

Note that the three local Alaska boys, easily the smallest in size-weight of the bunch, have been ski buddies since 1st grade!

A video is worth a couple thousand words and snap shots, so here is a good one:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

National Champions!

This has been an unbelievable week as a dad and coach. My son Tristan has been on this crazy improvement trajectory for more than a year now. He started getting more serious about training in the fall of 2011, after entering high school as a 9th grader. This was following a summer of injuries to his knee (bike crash) and achilles (xc running, going a little too fast in some workouts before his legs were quite ready).

Last year he was about the 14th J2 in Alaska in the Junior Nationals qualifiers, and 8th on the high school team. He's worked consistently to improve his skiing and running, rarely missing a workout, but not overly intense about it either. His goals this year were simply to be a scoring member (top 4) for his high school ski team and to make Team Alaska (top 8) for Junior Nationals, here in Fairbanks. He acheived those, and to understate things a bit, then some, surprising me and just about anyone.

Last month finishing top 10 at state and putting his relay into first place with a stellar third leg, helped them win thje over all title: that was above and beyond anyoyne's expectations for a skinny 15 year old sophomore. How can you top that off?

Well this week at Cross Country Junior Nationals he has done just that, and we're only half way through the competition. His training has been pretty chill since state. Just some sharpening workouts and a lot of recovery. We didn't talk much about expectations and goals. This is his first Junior Nationals and I figured just getting the experience was the most important thing. However, on Monday morning I woke up and thought, hey a top 10 was possible. He'd been looking good, healthy, and seemed relaxed. However, I didn't want to increase any tension so kept very quiet.

Just get out there and ski, and have fun competing!

Wow, just wow. Bolstered by the excellent results at the state meet, he was seeded in the bracket with the top seeded skiers in the 5K interval start race. I kept some splits and as he ate up a New England skier who had started out 30 sec ahead on White Bear Access, with a half a km to go it looked good. He had about a dozen who had started behind, and as I wrote down their finishes times I could tell he was ahead of all but one or two. Only teammate Max Donaldson was skiing visibly faster!

A 4th place finish. Beyond any expectations.

With Alaska going 1,3,4 on Monday, things looked mighty good for the 3X 3.3K classic relay. Lanky and powerful Jacob Bassett took the lead from the start with the fastest leg of the day, but New England was only 4 seconds down as Tristan charged up Stadium Hill. At about 1K in, his lead was about 6 seconds and he looked in control. He maintained that lead through about 2.5K. Again on the tough climb up White Bear Access, and over the tricky Sidewinder corner, he put the hammer down and pulled away, extending that lead to nearly 20 seconds (I had 19 on my watch). With the diminutive but mighty "Big Max" at anchor it was all but a done deal. Max cruised to an easy 35 second national championship victory for the J2 boys.

Two more races to go a freestyle sprint and 5K classic. Again, all expecations off the table for this week. Just ski well my boy and soak up the experience.


Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Feeling Better. And Better.

Almost caught up on my sleep last night. Seven hours is as about good as it gets when you have to get up at 5:15. I think next year, I'll only be getting up that early once a week instead of four or five days. So I'm already starting to feel recovered from Sunday's marathon. I'm also looking forward to a more relaxed coaching schedule over the next few weeks--just watching the kids race at JNs next week and providing background support. Sounds good to me. A lot of the dust has settled and it's nice to be feeling better physically, and more refreshed in my head.

Also feeling better about Sunday's race. I went back through the online archives, which go back to the late 1990s, and found that only four other skiers in the M5 (50-54) age category have gone under 2:30 in the Tour.

2:18:32 Cramner 2002
2:22:05 Jensen 2013
2:27:16 Suddock 2013
2:27:33 Beckner 2004
2:29:36 Me 2013

(technically the 2:29:01 in 2008 I skied was past age 50--just a week after my birthday--but officially I was still an M4).

Anyway, while I'm definitely not in Cramner's and Jensen's league as a skier, I'll take it. I'd like to look up some of the archives because I think the legendary Dick Mize of Anchorage must have had some fast times back in the 80s and 90s.

And speaking of the M5 category, there was a lot of depth out on the trails on Sunday. I haven't checked all age groups yet, but to have 15 guys 2:53 or faster. Plus six under 2:32, and 13 under 2:50, that's pretty solid!

 Trond Jensen  2:22:05.5 Anchorage AK 50K Free M 16
 Rich Suddock   2:27:16.8 Anchorage AK 50K Free M 24
 Roger Sayre   2:29:36.3 Fairbanks AK 50K Free M 27
 Charles Homestead   2:31:22.5 Anchorage AK 50K Free M 30
Jim Lokken   2:31:51.6 Fairbanks AK 50K Free M 32
John Weddleton   2:38:36.0 Anchorage AK 50K Free M 47
Dan Brokaw  2:42:16.4 Girdwood AK 50K Free M 52
Jim Jager  2:42:29.7 Anchorage AK 50K Free M 53
David Ward   2:43:37.0 Anchorage AK 50K Free M 59
Steven Bergt   2:44:46.2 Anchorage AK 50K Free M 62
Ken Leary   2:45:15.9 Fairbanks AK 50K Free M 66
Greg McDuffie  2:48:29.6 Anchorage AK 50K Free M 73
Dennis Poirier   2:48:40.4 Anchorage AK 50K Free M 75
Randall Kanady 2:51:06.7 Anchorage AK 50K Free M 84
John Quimby  4 2:53:08.3 Anchorage AK 50K Free M 91

Monday, March 04, 2013

Tour of Anchorage 50K: Fighting Angst Needing Sleep

This is going to go down as something of an enigmatic race effort because I'm not exactly disappointed with the outcome but not quite pleased either.

I'll start with the outcome and go into some more background and thought a bit later.

Finished with 2:29:36, my second fastest time ever (2:29:01 in 2008), 27th overall, and 3rd in age class. I'd won four age titles in a row (2009, 2011, and 2012 for the 50K, with a first in the 25K classic just before knee surgery in 2010), so I'd gotten used to winning. But when I saw that Trond Jensen was entered, fresh off several top 10 finishes at World Masters in the past few years and a relay medal just last month, I knew that coming out on top this time was a long shot. And looking at the start list I knew Rich Suddock of Anchorage also would be tough. He's 4+ years younger and we are fairly evenly matched time-place wise.

Still I'd had a very good 30K the other week, and had some good momentum.

However, the last couple of weeks have not gone well. I have been fighting the evil triangle of stress, anxiety, and insomnia for the past two weeks. Other than two decent nights of sleep last week (maybe 7 or 7.5 hr), it's been 3-5 hours a night of interrupted sleep. Such disruption becomes an ugly self-perpetuating pattern and once you're into a cycle like that it's hard break out. Maybe I just need a "vacation." Get away from it all for a few weeks.

Unfortunately that is not going to happen.

Adding to it all was this has always been a family trip, but those plans fell apart at the last minute so it was just me and my son's high school teammate (who had a great race in the 40K). I slept exceptionally poorly on Friday night, maybe got in 3.5 hours and it was a long drive, and a fight just to keep awake all day. Saturday night was somewhat better, but I woke up at 4:45 (could have slept another 1:30 or so easily) and couldn't get back to sleep. Maybe 6 hours.

Wax: (too many people are too hush hush about waxing): I used a mixed bag: Toko LF Moly for base, two layers of Swix HF 6 (Swix recommended HF 7, but I had an feeling that it would be in the teens over night), and the only pure flouro I could get my hands on was Toko Jetstream Red. I actually felt pretty good about the wax: the skis did slow up the final hills into Kincaid but other than that they felt fast. Nevertheless the fact I did overhear skiers from an Anchorage that they went with LF with cold powder. Really? It was perfect high flouro conditions.

So I was feeling a bit out of it by the time I lined up, especially with too short of a warm up (just 3-4 minutes) at Service High School. However, the race itself, I wasn't nervous for that. Just tired. Started in my usual 3rd row position and barely averted a crash when two skiers went down 50 meters into the it (including eventual 4th place finisher Lex Trienen of UAF). I could tell right way that I felt off, my skating felt wobbly on the icy hardpack, and I was at the back of the pack (35th or so out of 40 in the elite wave) by the time we did that short half K loop behind Service and headed out. I was out of breath on each climb and just felt tired, like I needed a good nap. The peleton moved away very quickly just leaving a few of us stragglers. Heading into Spencer Loop at 4.5K, I could see that they were a good 45 seconds up already--when usually I'm right on their tail and ready to take out some of those guys up those long climbs.

I kind of kept in sight contact with three guys up the climbs hills and vacillated between starting to feel better (I was slowly reeling them in) and pretty awful and still out of breath. Normally I think I'd  have got them and then started working on the next group. Not on Sunday.

Hit 10K 34:29 and 15:K in 46:49 in one piece had just caught the three when I slowed for my first feed and water. Ooops, struggled getting that water bottle back into the holder and lost 15 seconds. It happens every time. Two of the guys made a big gap but I caught up to Gary, from Anchorage. We worked together for more than 20K. I didn't feel bad, but not great either. I did notice that my right quad was tight by 20K which we hit in 1:01:08. Even though it was a pleasant 15 or 20 (by far the warmest skate race of the year), I felt chilled. My face felt like it had been slapped around by a Yeti.

At 30K 1:29:06 things were warming up a bit as we approached the coast and I wasn't feeling too bad. For the first time I had some hope for a decent finish. We were pretty strung out, but I counted 3-4 guys up ahead through Westchester Lagoon; usually an encouraging sign as I've been able to finish fairly strong in recent years and catch a bunch of those skiers.

I took a caffeinated gel at the lagoon and dropped a few seconds to Gary, but took over the pull and by the time we hit the hill leading to Earthquake Park he was no longer with me. I picked off a few more fading skiers along the way. I didn't stop my watch at 40K but I think it was 1:59, so I knew I was slowing some.

In the endless winding stretch along the gravel pits before climbing to KincaidI caught a couple more. Up the hill was torture. That part is always hard, because I'm always either in full blown bonk or just about to go under. I felt wobbly but kept an okay pace. There seemed to be more turns and switchbacks this time. By now I could barely catch and pull away from mid-level 25K classic skiers who were approaching 90 minutes into their event.

The stadium was a welcome sight. But somehow different. Usually the family is there, plus dozens of friends from Fairbanks. This year not too many people from here made the trip, so it was quiet.

Done! It was a relief but I finished with mixed feelings. Fast time but weak effort? Looking at the results-- not too bad compared to other years--maybe a minute or two off from a really Good race. It was just that baffling sluggish start, where I lost the group by the first kilometer.  Angst and feeling over tired? Lack of an adequate warm-up? Did they go out way fast?

Otherwise I feel pretty good about it. Each segment got better than the one before it (other than the final 2-3K) and in a 50K you can't ask for more than that.

My TOA 50K History
2013: 2:29:36, 27th OA, 3rd AG, 24:54 behind overall winner
2012: 2:34:03, 36th OA, 1st AG, 24:22 behind overall winner
2011: 2:40:22, 22nd OA, 1st AG, 25:21 behind overall winner
2009: 2:34:37, 36th OA, 1st AG, 25:32 behind overall winner
2008: 2:29:01, 26th OA, 2nd AG, 21:48 behind overall winner
2007: 2:38:41, 27th OA, 4th AG, 24:41 behind overall winner