Monday, January 27, 2014

Controversial Omissions for US Olympic Cross Country Ski Team

You could see this one coming a good eight or nine months ago when the US Ski Team (USST) announced its athlete selections for the 2013-14 Nordic team. No selection process is perfect and there will always be issues and what ifs, but this was probably the strangest that I've seen in 30 years of following. Last April they picked about 10 or 12 male and female skiers and said that was the team. To break into the team an athlete would need to score World Cup points, be at the top of FIS rankings within the US, but they did announce room for "coaches discretion." Now that always makes you squirm and you know something weird will go down.

In the past (and I think this goes back into the 1970s, certainly 1984 on) they held an Olympic Trials/Winter National Championship in January and the top athletes (usually between 4 and 8 for each team) would go to the Olympics. This is very cut and dry and it's how they do it for track and field, marathoning, and swiming. The down side of this process is that you have to be on that day (and that week for skiers, because it's usually just not one race but several). Have a minor injury or illness and years of hard work go away. Another problem is that the athletes must peak twice in a short amount of time, and if they're traveling to the World Cup in December, they'd have to go back the US, re-acclimate, race hard for a week, and then gear up for the Olympics in just a few weeks.

By more or less pre-selecting the core of the team nearly a year in advance, the athletes do not have to be concerned with peaking early/twice and the travel. The downside this year was that there has little or no head to head competition between the US Ski Team that has been in Europe for the past two months and the athletes at home. The system favors established skiers at the expense of neglecting the up and comers and specialists (sprinters and long distance skiers). The youngters simply do not have enough World Cup starts to establish a points base, and specialists are constantly on the bubble because they don't have enough all around points to get a top 50 ranking.

Here is the men's point list (Super Tour rankings) for Nationals. (USST members in bold) Men’s distance

1. Hoffman
2. Freeman
3. Gregg
4. Liebsch
5. Ellefson
6. Havlick
7. Bjornsen
8. Newell
9. Koos
10. Sinnott

Men's Sprint
1. Newell
2. Hamilton
3. Koos
4. Bjornsen
5. Blackhorse-von Jess
6. Sinnott
7. Ellefson
8. Hanneman
9. Naney
10. Scott

Last week the USST went to points rankings only--no discretion nor consideration of US Nationals--and selected Bjornsen, Freeman, and Gregg, and Koos. Really. But what is really baffling is that they had 14 spots taken, and left three off the potential list of 17. Why, because they went by World Cup standings alone. So even though Hanneman got a 1st, a 2nd, and 3rd in his three races, and Ellefson won the 30K. Neither was selected.

Hannemen 152
Bjornsen 142
Freeman 120
Ellefson 116
Gregg 108
Koos 88 (only scored in the two sprint races)

Likewise, in the women's side Caitlin Gregg, Kate Fitzgerald, and Becca Rorabaugh each had a very good nationals, Gregg's win in the 20K by a whopping 3:36 seconds was a particularly strong statement. But it rings a little hollow I guess when the seven women on the USST were sequestered in Europe. We never got to see how she would have stacked up. Granted they did fly her over at the last minute, but talk about a whirlwind. Race in Soldier Hollow, hop on a plane, race a sprint (she's a distance skier) and then a 10K classic (she's a skate specialist) right away with no time to acclimate. Her bonk in the 10K classic was almost a foregone conclusion.

At the end of the day the US Nationals was nothing more than the Utah January Super Tour. There would have been no downside to adding two or three more athletes to the Olympic Team, spots that the USST has earned for doing well on the World Cup circuit in the past few years.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Voting with My Feet

Rather than face the Chill on Birch Hill, even though it was a nice day and all, I opted to do the Moose Mountain Snowshoe Race on Saturday. It was almost a distaster. I had to make an emergency errand into town to get a prescription for a family member, and in my rush forgot my running shoes. So I got to the start and was about to just head back home, but I asked around and the hosts had a pair of size 10.5 racing flats. About one size too large but they worked. Thankfully they held up the start for a couple minutes while I scrambled to get the shoes and snowshoes on.

I only had a half mile warm up so took it out moderately for the first K. We climbed gradually for about a half K and then dropped down into a drainage. And then up up up. I'm hearing 800 ft of climb over about 2K. It was steep the entire way, more so than the steepest trail sections on the Equinox for example, and as steep as the Alder Chute in some place. We climbed for more than 20 minutes, power hiking most of that (probably 90%). Getting to the top was a relief. Kevin was up about 20 seconds and I was able to ease up on him as we were at the top of the burn area on a nice winding section of trail that was relatively flat and not real technicial other than being punchy.

I got my wind back, and just before the descent passed Kevin and poured it on the rest of the way. We had one long steep downhill into the valley. And the last 10 minutes or so was a series of rollers that were tough on the ups! Not as bad as the initial climb but each time I was wondering if I could hold on.

55:20 for 1st. Hey I'm having fun with the series. Unfortunately I'll miss the next two races but maybe can make another one or two before the end.

No regrets about skipping out on the 20K ski race, but did get in a nice 2:50 skate on Sunday afternoon.

USATF XC in Pictures

Rivers Edge Golf Course the day before the race

We're off! Start of the men's masters 10K race.

In the middle of the pack at the start (note blue bibs on back that denote 55-59 age group, which is how we could identify our competition).

Rounding a downhill switch back. The course was very technical.

Kicking it in for 6th in age class. That was a hard day!

Celebrating with Mikko after the race.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

2013 Is Behind, Now What?

Ten years in Fairbanks, that’s a long time! In fact that’s the longest I’ve lived continuously in one place. Ever.

Running-wise 2013 turned out better than I had envisioned. That was partly propelled by getting into a new age group, but also by getting through the year without injury for the first time since 2008. Had some aches and pains along the way but never had to stop. I ran just over 2000 miles, which is the most in many years 5 or 6 at least, and had a bunch of good races (more on that in a bit).

For whatever reason, my skiing seems to be waning. I had some good races in February last winter (Besh Cup 10K, and the local 30K freestyle), and the Tour of Anchorage 50K turned out pretty well with a 2:29 and a 3rd place in the 50-54 (breaking a three year win streak in that category). But by the middle or end of March I was pretty much fried. And my enthusiasm with skiing and the ski scene here in Fairbanks—other than coaching some of the kids here—hasn’t really picked up. I’ll see what happens over the next two or three months and reassess.

Back to running, I started a few weeks earlier this year, racing by early April, and ended almost two months later with the USATF XC championships in mid-December. Age group wise (including 50 and over), that was my only defeat of the past several years (and humbling). Nevertheless, I was happy 6th place in the 55-59 (and something like 34th) if you count the age 50+ runners. I want to go back next year to Pennsylvania to maybe improve on those numbers. It won’t be easy because if anything the competition will be tougher on the East Coast.

Anyway, that’s probably my primary goal.

To get there I’ll need to improve on the times from 2013.
1 mile – 5:10
5K – 17:18
10K – 36:35
Half marathon – 1:20:20
Marathon 3:17 at Equinox – if I do one I’d aim to run 2:55 or so on a flat course (Humpy’s?), although logistically Equinox is quite convenient and I think with some better weather I could bring that time down a bit.

A good level to aim for would be the holy grail of age graded 90%. According to the USATF calculator, my best chances would to do 17:13 for the 5K or 35:50 for 10K.

It starts with training, and I just plan to keep consistent (uninjured), and I might do more hill reps at a hard pace than I did this past year. Finally, I think I could improve on nutrition, as I tend to slack a bit. Get a little leaner, run a little faster.

Bend was definitely the highlight of the running year, to be running outside with sunlight while not freezing in December. What a concept. I didn’t really want to return to the dark and cold of Fbx! So that might give a hint of what’s ahead.

Meanwhile, I’m enthused to be coaching a bunch of athletes from Fairbanks to Ohio, Texas, to Maryland. They also have big goals, and I want to help them along to achieve those.