Monday, March 29, 2010

Detox

Anyone know where Skier's Anonymous might be meeting soon? I skied 26+K at Great Glen with a friend yesterday. A nice easy ski - no hammering the up hills although we did hammer all the down hills. The snow was fast but very, very edgeable. Hero snow. What other sport combines such an awesome workout with the mad adrenaline rush of speed?

But Great Glen closed yesterday. Rangeley closed yesterday. The Balsams closed Saturday. But at least Rangeley allows skiing on the trails post-season. Good for them! Now we're having yet another epic rain. How many hundred year floods has the Presumpscot R. had this spring? Four? So i'm stressed. Will there be any snow next weekend? Rangeley? Sugarloaf? I need my fix. I don't want it to end. Should I buy a ticket to Sweden and go ski a glacier? Or Argentina?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The one where he muses about future plans

(click on image to enlarge)
Given the craptastic snow conditions in the GPA over the past month, I've been running on weekdays and skiing on the weekend. The "trail runs" on the above calendar are almost all Back Cove. Indeed I've not really hit real trails yet; only TNR@Twin Brook last week and SMR@Pineland this morning. I've been addicted to the long ski races on the weekends. Racing is over but I am going to Great Glen tomorrow for one last long ski day. The roller skiing above was limited to double poling. I found that I really like double poling on roller skis. I'm too out-of-balance to glide long on a roller ski so I don't v2 very well (or maybe my brain recognizes that the consequences of being out of balance while gliding on one roller ski are a little more consequential than on a snow ski). The "Treadmill runs" are my Mt. Washington training runs using 11.5% grade. All but one have included a race pace segment for 25-35 minutes. If I don't get into Mt. Washington than I'm sure these will help my Pineland race.

On Wednesday I almost quit running. I've been having so much fun skiing that I thought, why run? Why not bike, and hike, roller ski, and row (concept II) and avoid the constant injuries that plague all distance runners (at least those that add in speed work and other fast runs). I couldn't decide weather to bike or row, so I went out for a run to think about it.

I've entered the running season thinking about a marathon. I always thought that I'd wait until my running peaks before entering a marathon but I'm starting to get ready to dip my toes in. I don't plan on being a marathoner. But I'd like to run one well. The marathon is a humbling sport and to run it well would require really good training, or many, many years of base in the body. I'm not sure that I can ramp up the mileage necessary to run a marathon well. I was thinking that I could do it by running doubles instead of longer singles but now I think I'm going to level off at 40-45 miles/week and augment that with some cross training. But the purpose of the cross training *is not* to run faster but to stay in better ski shape for next winter. It all comes back to skiing! So I'm going to try to add rowing, double poling on roller skis, and a long weekend bike ride in the mix. I don't have a lot of confidence that this cross training will last long.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sugarloaf Ski Marathon


My post (high school) season addiction continues as I decided on Tuesday or Wednesday to register for the Sugarloaf Ski Marathon. Nothing like long endurance races without training! Forecasted temperatures were Friday night lows in mid 30's, 40F at the start and 55F high. Roger Knight and Boulder Nordic Sport East were giving free top coats, which was a tremendous help. The course differed this year. Instead of the grinding climb and terrifying descents from previous years, the directors went with a 4-lap course with a shorter climb and a fast fun (and straight!) descent. It was basically trail 29 up, then 32/7 down then trail 10 on a roller coaster back to the start. Great course. Enough windiness and roller coasterness to challenge transition skills, a couple of very short steep walls, and the gradual climb on 29 became a mental challenge in the soft mashed potato snow over the last 2 laps. The lower sections were dirty and had a few very very small open patches. But overall, there was lots of snow. The course was short, I got 41K on my Garmin 305 (a little of 10K per lap). Five laps would have been closer to the advertised 50K but I'm glad we didn't have to do that.

NENSA posted the splits, which is great data for numeric stalkers like myself (thanks NENSA!). Everyone's splits dropped from lap one to four. The difference between first and last lap ranged between 5 and 10 minutes. My difference was 9 minutes and I suspect this reflected my lack of ski fitness going into marathon season. I was happy enough with my time. I've gained about 5% on the faster skiers since the 50K Rangeley Loppet last year (based on a subset of skiers racing both). Still a lot of room from improvement though.

Colby hosts the race and Colby skiers manned all the feed stations and they had heed, water, and gels. They also had excellent chocolate and blonde brownies at the finish. And bananas and oranges. Oranges are really, really, tasty after a long ski race. There was a massive pile of schwag for the raffle. I got another brick of ski-go LF wax for my wax box. Sweet.

Distance 41K
Time 2:42:02
AG place 9/11
Conditions: Sun, light wind, 45-50F, mashed potato snow, no open puddles.

Monday, March 15, 2010

40K at Carl Johnson ski-a-thon



Saturday I skied the Carl Johnson Memorial Ski-A-Thon at Great Glen Trails at the base of the Mt. Washington auto road. The race was a fund-raiser for ALS Northern New England (there is far less fund raising in the ski racing world than the running racing world). When I registered on Tuesday the forecast was for 50F and rain but the forecast kept improving and on race day we had nothing but sunshine and low 40s. The snow was a little soft but no puddles.

The race is a three hour as-many-5K-loops-as-you-can format. I did 8 loops (41K according to my Garmin 305) in 2:48:24. I felt pretty good through 30K but was sluggish on lap 7. I had a little spring in my skis on lap 8, either because I knew it would be my last lap or the gu that I took after lap 6 was finally oozing into my muscle cells.

There were three prizes. One went to most laps and I didn't win that. I came in 2nd but have to confess that because most of the fast citizens racers were at Bretton Woods for the ski marathon I was racing mostly against grandmothers and their grandkids. There was also a prize for wackiest tights. I didn't win that either. My tights weren't really wacky but I thought the whole outfit was might have won it. The last prize went to the most pledge money raised for ALS. I didn't win that either but I did pretty well, having raised about $200. So thank you all for that. It is going to a great cause.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Rangeley Loppet

Last year's (blue) and this year's (red) race course.
The Rangeley Loppet fell on a weekend with stunning spring air temps on top of deep, clean snow. Night and morning air temps were cold enough to keep the snow temp from rising to quickly, at least for the 25K. The result was moderately fast conditions. Perhaps the 2nd lap would have slowed a bit with temps reaching maybe 40F but unlike last year, I only did the 25K this year. Too much coaching and too little training to do 50K.

The racers were divided into two waves; both 50K and 25K were in each. I was assigned to wave 1, I guess because I had raced last year (and the year before). I seeded my self at the end of my line (there were maybe a dozen starting lines in the mass start). Not surprisingly, the first 1K was really slow. The 2nd K was a little faster but I still wanted to move faster than the pack. Finally, at some point after 2K, I found my little pace group. Actually they found me and snuck into my draft as I pulled them through the flat, open, first few K. When we finally got to the first small climb I was on my own and had a big pack in front of me that occasionally dropped skiers that I would eventually pass. I closed in on the pack by the top of the climb but they gained ground on the following down/flat section. At some point during the roller coaster section (outer limits trail, about 6-8K), two racers from wave 2 passed me, including Riley Eusden, a wicked fast racer from Oxford Hill HS. Then four wave 2 master blasters passed me and I briefly thought about trying to hang onto them. Hah, I could not have sprinted as fast as they were skiing 50K.

On the 2nd climb, a long, straight, but not steep climb headed straight to the alpine trails, I passed a couple of more skiers dropped from the pack in front but then I got passed by Jackson Bloch and Eric Hemphill, two of our (James and I) top Falmouth High School (State Champs!) skiers (wooohoo, they were working together). I hung onto them to the top but then they dropped me in the little transitional section after turning into the woods (note to self. Really need to figure out how to stop loosing time in these sections with lots of transitions).

The rest of the race was pretty typical. A couple of skiers passed me on the long downhill, then I passed them back on the 3rd and final climb, and then they passed me back in the transitional area before the final downhill. The last 3K I skied alone; I couldn't hang onto the skiers that had just passed me (no more climbs!) but no one caught up with me either. On these final 3K, I did pass a few of the 25K classic racers (who had started an hour earlier). I also skied past some very fresh moose droppings and learned that the leader of the Classic race had to shoo three moose of the trail with his pole!

The only steep hill is about 15 feet high and about 50 meters from the finish so I sprinted up this and did my best Petter Northug sprint finish (even though I wasn't racing anyone). Final time: 1:27:25. Not bad but I feel like my progress is stagnating - I'm not any faster than last year. Last year I finished the first lap in about 1:29:30 but last year's course was about 1K more distance so 1:27:25 is actually slower. Given that I did the full 50K last year, I'm a little worried about my ability to get much faster. Falmouth HS and MS skiers had a big presence and cleaned up many gold, silver, and bronze medals. I won my age division for the 25K (M3 40-44) and Neighbor John came in 2nd in our AG! This is mostly because all the fast master blasters ski 50K and leave the 25K to recreational skiers like me. (Note to Jamie du la Nord: Dr. Jamie jumped into the 25K and had a great race, where were you?).

The course had two small changes which you can see in the map above. The major change was the excision of a 1K loop just before the 2nd climb. I'm not sure why this was done. The director of the race (Nat Steele) thought this shortened the lap to 23K but I and others, including Mary Lou Lowrie who also helps with the race, measured it (during the race) at 24K. The shortened race created some confusion for a few racers, including Neighbor John and Falmouth middle schooler Sam Pratico, who saw the "finish right" sign but went left thinking they had another 2K to go. Other than this minor snafu, the race was directed beautifully. There was a huge array of homemade soups, chili, casseroles, etc., brats, and more cookies and brownies than bakery. Plus coffee. Medals went 3 deep in all the age categories (that is a lot of prizes!). And the table of raffle prizes was piled with goodies (everyone wins a raffle prize!). Other race directors could learn alot from Nat and Mary Lou.

On Sunday after the race, Neighbor John and I skied 15K with Nat and Mary Lou. They took us up the long climb to the Alpine trails, then down a trail that rarely gets groomed (Nat had groomed it that morning). Then across the lake back to the start. The picture of me on the lake from last night's post was during this tour. It was about 50F and bluebird skies. After lunch, John and I went out for another 15K so got in 30K total for Sunday and 55K for the weekend.

Not a Rangeley Loppet Race Report

Two days of skiing:
Bluebird skies and 45-50F.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Winter in Review

I've skied most every day this winter, at least up until two weeks ago. But the frequency is deceiving. 90% of that was coaching, which involves a lot of stopping and watching and talking and doing stuff like fixing broken bindings and pole straps. The chart above shows my weekly mileage last year and this year. Some notes:

mileage: 2008/9: 819; 2009/10: 399 (I'll probably add another 30 miles to that)
weeks above 50M 2008/9: 10; 2009/10: 3
days >20K: 2008/9: 25; 2009/10:6
days skied all Pineland 2008/9: 15; 2009/10:1

There are many other differences. Last year I alternated classic and skate daily. This year I classic skied in the Portland area 3 times. Last year I was on my race skate skis most of the winter. This year I've been on my rock skis nearly every day.

It's now marathon season. Last week was the Balsams 30K. This saturday is the Rangeley Loppet. I did the 50K last year (and had a great race) but this year I'm only doing the 25K and hoping I don't die! Next week is the Bretton Woods Marathon and then the next week is the Sugarloaf Marathon.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Great North Woods Weekend


Race Loop (Red)
Technique loop (Green)
Fun skate loop (Blue)

The Balsams had a decent deal this past weekend: $149/person/night got you race registration, a room, dinner, breakfast, and a 2nd day of skiing (alpine or nordic). Cacky, Neighbor John & Sarah, and friends Jed & Amy and I took the bait. My race report is here. Cacky, John, Sarah, Jed, and Amy all did the tour and their skis iced up badly as well. Races aren't meant to be fun so the icing on my skis was just another added challenge. But tours should be fun and I think the icing on their skis was very, very disappointing. But I heard the gourmet food along the course was delicious.

The Balsams is a classic old hotel with lots and lots of open space and big, inviting and comfortable rooms most of the length of the first floor. There were a few complaints about the service but none from me; I was either in an accommodating mood or maybe I'm just not a whiner : ). Before dinner, John and I played some pool in the Billiards room and then we all visited the voting room, where the first presidential votes in the country are cast. Dinner at The Balsams is a real treat. They have a loooooong buffet with many, many tasty looking gourmet dishes. I had a little of everything. I couldn't stop filling my plate. After dinner, we retreated to the pub in the hotel for more drinks. I did the tour de Scotland (3 different single malts) and tour de Kentucky (4 different bourbons). The band was fun in a silly way. Mostly rock and roll for the 60+ crowd - the kind of stuff you'd hear at a wedding. And the crowd was mostly 60+. Breakfast was just like dinner. I tried a bit of everything.

After breakfast, we all went out for a skate ski. The conditions were excellent, if a little soft. The Balsams was buried in snow. There was already a big base before the series of snows last week and these snows just piled it on. I think there was about 8" of fresh snow from Friday night and maybe another 6" Saturday night. John & Sarah took off so Jed, Amy, Cacky and I worked a little on skate technique and then started the long climb up from the hotel to mud pond. Jed, Amy, & Cacky turned around to check out so I set out on my own. I quickly found John and we took off on a really stunningly beautiful loop (the blue loop on the map above). Everything was groomed beautifully. The trails are very, very wide. And the woods and vistas are fabulous. Most importantly, the last set of downhill turns (trail #4?) coming into the hotel were wicked fun and very manageable in the slow new snow but would have been intimidating on fast, old snow and a nightmare on ice.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Classic Debacle



The Great North Woods 30K was, by orders of magnitude, the most frustrating 3 hours of my short ski racing career. The GNW30 is a classic race at The Balsams in Dixville Notch NH. The Balsams is one of the few grand hotels scattered about the New England woods that still remains (The Mount Washington Hotel at Bretton Woods is another). I've heard only great things about The Balsams, so when they announced this race (this was it's first year), I thought it would be great fun for Cacky and I and other friends to spend the night up there and enjoy 2 days in the Great North Woods.

I'm one of those people whose knowledge largely comes from books instead of experience so the thought of "getting the wax" right for a classic race has been stressful and daunting. And the forecast for the race was aweful. 32F and snowing is (apparently - remember I have no experience with this) the absolute worst conditions to figure out the wax. The wax that I am talking about is the grip wax which is in the middle part of the ski (the kick zone) and allows you to grip the snow when you push down on the ski (just like your foot grips the floor when you walk). The problem with 32F and new snow is wax either seems to not provide enough grip (or "kick") or the wax causes snow to cake onto the kick zone. This "icing" reduces glide if it is minimal or makes any glide impossible if it is severe. Indeed, waxing for these conditions are so difficult that all the pros (and more and more college skiers) have special skis called hairies or zeroes just for it. In these skis, the kick zone is not waxed but rather is roughened up so that little hairs are sticking out. These little hairs provide the grip andnd a nice coat of fluoro over them allows glide and prevents icing. All the ski companies now also make fish-scale skis for racing. Fish scales were invented so recreational skiers could dispense with the stress of waxing but at some point it was discovered that fish scales work pretty darn good at 32F. So Fischer, Atomic, and other companies make a fish scale version of their racing skis. These don't have as good of glide as hairies (so they are not as fast) but the fish scales grip over a wider temperature range than hairies.

Given the temperature/snow forecast, I sat in front of a pair of fischer Vasa Crown fishscale racing skis at the LL Bean store (with a hugely discounted price) on Friday but decided not to buy them. I also got into a discussion with snowman on Friday night about borrowing his but given how late it was I didn't really see this as an option (I would also have had to find boots that fit me). In the end, I went to BNS twice on Friday afternoon and bought all the wax I though that I would need.

I also planned on leaving Falmouth at 6:30AM to insure that I got to The Balsams by 9-9:30, which would give me plenty of time to figure out the right wax. The race started at 11AM.

Cacky and I left on time (or close - 6:40) but a combination of snow, slow roads, slow drivers (even slower than I), snow plows, oil trucks, getting the van stuck in a snowy parking lot, two bathroom stops, etc. etc. meant that we didn't get to The Balsams until about 10:20, which gave me enough time to register and wax my skis with the best guess but not to test the wax. I talked to friends and based on their recommendation I went with the Skigo HF Yellow, which is a little warmer than the recommended wax***(see update below)*** but I wanted to insure that I had good kick at the expense of a little glide. This is where my inexperience shined! I knew there would be a increased icing but I thought I could just "kick it off" like I had done at Rangeley the week before (the only other time that I experienced icing). What I didn't realize was the extent that skis could ice.

Oh. My. God. If my skis were on anything other than a glazed classic track, snow instantly caked onto my kick zone to about 2 inches thick. And there weren't many glazed classic tracks. This was northern New Hampshire and somehow they had escaped all the rain that inundated New England on Jan 25 (a date which will live in infamy). Actually there were hardly tracks. There was so much snow and wind that whatever tracks they set the night before were either obliterated by the wind or by all the skiers ahead of me (I even heard that the groomer was having a hard time grooming because the new wet snow was clumping).

So I seeded myself well back into the pack but the first 3K was a massive pile of slow skiers and I had the choice of 1) staying in the track where the icing was ever present but minimal but skiing at rediculously slow pace or 2) passing out of the track and instantly caking up my ski with 2 inches of compacted snow that was impossible to kick off. I tried both strategies and liked neither.

After about 3K I pulled over to put a "colder" wax on my kick zone in order to prevent the icing. I thought about DNFing and just hanging out and waiting for the tourers to catch up, which tourers included Cacky, neighbor John & Sarah, and friends Jed and Amy. But I decided to re-wax and see how it worked. I should add the re-waxing is a part of the sport, others had stopped before I and others continued to stop along the way. The colder wax helped with the icing but I lost my kick. And it didn't help with the waxing for long. So around the 5K point, which was the top of the long initial climb (yes it was a 5K initial climb), I stopped and re-waxed again with the colder wax. It was a good time to do this because I had a fun downhill and I could actually ski downhill instead of snowshoe downhill with iced up skis. It was also about this point that the classic tracks disappeared until about 5K or so from the end (that is about 20K without tracks). Striding without tracks is definitely a skill that I haven't acquired yet. Which really sucks because in order to keep my skis from re-icing, I needed to keep them flat on the ground and get good kick. But because I cannot stride out of the tracks well, my skis tended to rise up (that is, I was running rather than kick-and-gliding) and then they would come down and ice up. I could kick it off and get a few strides in but then I would pick up my ski soon enough and it would ice up. And invariably the icing would get so severe that I couldn't kick it off and it would accumulate into a thick dense mass that required me to take my skis off and scrape them against each other to scrape of the ice.

The next 20K of the race is pretty much a continuation of what I've described. Trying and failing to kick-and-glide on the cut up (remember it was snowing) groomed trail out of the tracks. Lots of double poling through heavy fresh snow on the flattish trails (of which there weren't too many). Lots of running up long climbs followed by taking my skis off and scraping of the caked snow. It really, really sucked.

The last 5K was a little different because most of this section did have classic tracks and the terrain was more roller coaster rather than long long climbs and descents. But the roller coasters added another twist to my strategy. When I got to the top of the climb with caked on snow, do I just run down the next hill (not much fun!) or do I take the time to scrape the ice off. Because there were tracks, I was doing a better job minimizing the icing, at least to a level where I could kick it off frantically at the top of a descent (imagine running on your wooden floor in your socks to get a good slide in but then realizing that you have rubber on the bottoms of your socks). But I failed enough times to kick the ice off that I did a lot of stopping and de-icing over these last 5K.

I was pretty sure that I was going to be DFL so I worked pretty hard over the last few K to pass some people. In the end, my final time was 3:06, good for 35th out of 49 men (ski races always separate the times of men and women, as it should be). There were probably a lot of DNFs out there, including some college racers who DNFed within the first 2-3K (I saw them walking back down the initial climb as I was walking on my skis up). Remarkably the winning time was 2:03, which is painfully slow for 30K (by comparison, the winning time in the White Mountain Classic 30K in Jackson NH last month was 1:21). But looking at the times and talking to some racers after it was apparent that everyone had icing problems. And this is where skill and experience, both of which I lack, helped. You needed the experience to know to err on the cold side (because caking is worse than lack of kick) and you needed the skill to get good kick in tough conditions and to kick the ice off when it occurs. Or you could have just said FYVM to kick waxes and skied on a pair of Fischer crown vasa fishscale skis. That's what the winner did.

***update - Zach Caldwell (Boulder Nordic Sports) has some nice notes for waxing in these conditions. Swix special red was what the friend recommended. The stated range is 0F to +1F (pretty narrow!). The Skigo Yellow HF range is -1F to +5F so I thought this would be better. Thought is the operative word as I had no time to try it.