Sunday, March 20, 2011

Snowshoe racing, ski racing and running

Following my bad day at the Rangeley Loppet, I was a little depressed and decided to switch gears to running. I took a week off (mostly), skied the Carl Johnson on Saturday, snowshoe raced the Granite State Snowshoe Championship Sunday, and have focused on running this week, including a short, sweet hill climb Friday in Hope, ME. I skied the Sugarloaf Ski Marathon Saturday. So, lots to review!

Carl Johnson skiathon - good time trial that I wrote about in the previous post

Granite State Snowshoe Championship
As with the Blizzard, I entered the race with zero expectations, especially since I had skied a 3 hour time trial the day before (and on the same trail, at least for the first 5K). I started at a pretty moderate pace, which seemed to work at the Blizzard. Of course the Blizzard started with a steep climb while the first 5K of the GSSC was rolling hillets. Ian, Chuck, Jeremy and I were running together; Chris Dunn and Triffit were quickly out of site but we stayed within viewing distance of Steve Wolfe, so I'd say maybe 150-200 m behind him through about 3K. At this point, I picked up the pace a bit and I thought Chuck would go with me but he didn't; I didn't turn around so maybe he was right behind me. I passed a few runners that I didn't know and was slowly reeling in Wolfe. I basically caught him in the tunnel, which was the 1/2way point and marked the transition from the low rollers to the big climb. I thought about passing him before we got to the singletrack because passing on the single track would be tricky but I was reluctant because I was a little worried about bonking early. So I ran in Wolfe's wake for the first half of the climb; my singletrack technique could use some work and I fell at the start of the climb (yes on an uphill). About 1/2 way up the climb I asked to pass Wolfe and he kindly let me go. The climb felt great and I was feeling strong at the top. I did a quick turnaround and didn't see Wolfe or the other runner that I had passed just before the tunnel. I was now alone.

The long descent was a bit crazy because the probability of postholing was about 1-5%, which meant I'd be guaranteed of a few by the bottom. The postholes from the front runners were also intimidating. All I really thought about was falling and losing time so I'm glad I wasn't thinking about wrenching a knee like Ryan. About 1/2 way down I could see another runner quite far ahead but wasn't sure who it was. I found the descent long and boring and was ready to be done with it. I also figured I was running as fast as anyone could down this but I was wrong. At the bottom, as I turned into the woods, I turned around to see Wolfe had gained quite a bit on me. I didn't really assess how close he was but just seeing him meant close enough. I had actually recovered quite a bit on the descent and felt sharp on the rolling single track in the woods. I was gaining pretty quickly on the runner ahead of me and I figured it was Dunn. When I caught him, I mentioned that Wolfe was right on my tail hopig that Chris would pick up the pace. I ran in his wake for a short section but he kindly let me by and I maintained my previous pace, as I was still feeling quite good. I didn't turn around but I got the feeling that Wolfe was futher back than I thought. The woods trail dumped out onto a little trail next to Route 16 and I thought this was the end so I picked up the pace for a strong finish. Wooops. Unfortunately the race director (who coincidently was Chris Dunn) had other plans and sent us up some hellish powerline hill. I was mentally and now physically unprepared for this but having Dunn and Wolfe behind me was incentive to keep moving as fast as I could. After feeling great all race, now I was feeling aweful. I went through what seemed like an interminable series of ascents and descents and all I wanted to do was stop and walk, which I did for about 2s but again I had two big reasons to keep moving. I finally made it to the top of the final descent to the lodge and finish. I ended up 2nd master, 9th overall and not too far behind Ryan. I was dead, but happy with the results. Chuck, Jeremy, and Ian all came in soon after - we all had strong races. Acidotic racing threw a great awards party after and a late lunch at Moat with Jeremy, Ian, Emma, and Ryan helped to replenish lost calories.

I think I'll do more snowshoe running and racing next winter. It's a surprisingly low impact sport, and so compliments skiing nicely. I also like redlining my body - it's good preparation for shorter running races.

There are many really stunning photos of this race from Scott Mason, Joe Viger, Gianna Lindsey, and Great Glen Trails. I was the butt of a series of aural jokes about this one, which actually highlights my stunning balance NOT falling (you have to see the whole series). My favorite photo, of course, is this one here. As far as my, ah...heavy breathing, this started last year at Mother's Day 5K. I only do this when I'm redlining for many minutes, so typically a 5K but also some longer races as well (PT8K and this race). Maybe it's some kind of intense-exercise induced asthma. Does this give me an excuse to take albuterol before future races? I did like the response from one runner at GSSC that thought when I passed him at the 5K mark "yeh, I heard the breathing and thought, he's done, but then he just kept drifting further and further ahead" (I didn't even have my asmathic breathing at this point).

Hatchet Mountain Hill Climb - 1st hill climb of the season.
This is about 2 miles down the road from Cacky's parents house and it just opened up last summer but I hadn't run it before. I think some guy was going to build a house on the mountain and he built a wacky wicked steep driveway but then the permitting fell through and he abandoned it and there was a big drive to buy the property and create a community trail. So the 1st 3/4 of the trail is an abandoned split rock driveway and the last 1/4 is a narrow trail to the peak. The driveway part is wicked steep - I'm guessing 10-15% slope with 20% in sections. I was surprised that the peak is at 1100 feet so the total climb, from the Hope General Store (the hippest general store in Maine), was about 775 feet. I took the steep sections pretty hard but the overall run was short and sweet because I did have the Sugarloaf Ski Marathon the next morning!

Sugarloaf Ski Marathon
I'll keep this report short. This was my best 50K to date (although the actual distance was more like 44K). The course was 4 laps each of about 11K. It was a slightly different from last year and used part of the newly cut race course in the lower section. The temperature was perfect. The snow was mostly perfect. The major climb was packed well and actually very fast through all four laps. The wall on the lower part of the course sucked - it was chopped up transformed snow and the slope and chop made it hard to get a rhythm but I think I was climbing it better than those around me. The long descent in the top half was perfect and didn't slow at all in later laps. The sharp turns in the middle part of the course (from 4K-8K) were fast and rutted. On lap one I was skiing with fellow master blasters and took these all insanely fast for me and couldn't believe that I didn't go down on any of them. Or hit a tree. I was a little more cautious on my other three laps but still hit them pretty hard...with no falls (yes, my downhill turning training is paying off!). The new race course section had nice flow.

I managed almost perfectly even splits, which was a major goal of mine. My third lap was the slowest - I wanted to start picking up the speed but was reluctant because I didn't want to bonk and I instead skied it too slowly. I skied the lower section (the last 5K) of the last lap much faster and caught and passed three skiers and was catching up to another pack up three when the finish line got in the way. Given my final lap time I'm guessing I took the upper section climb in the first half a little too easy. Gotta figure out this pacing thing. I was a little tired from skiing hard the final 5K but think I could have skied harder on the other 40K. The problem is that finishing a race after bonking is really, really painful so maybe I'm too risk averse.

Splits: 1) 36:57.8, 2) 37:54.8, 3) 38:34.5, 4) 36:45.5
Place 23/37 Men; 4/6 AG

The Colby skiers do a great job organizing this race and manning the feed stations and the course is fun so its a shame that more skiers don't have this marathon on the calendar. Lots of the fastest NE skiers were at Craftsbury this weekend but what about everyone else?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Carl Johnson Time Trial

I love ski racing! I still suck at it, though. Saturday was the third year in a row that I've skied 5K loops at Great Glen. Two years ago it was the Nordic 300, which was 5 hours (300 minutes) of skiing a 5K loop. That was my first introduction to severe dehydration. Last year and this, I skied the Carl Johnson Memorial Ski-a-thon to raise funds for ALS. The Carl Johnson is a how-many-laps-can-you-ski-in-3-hours skiathon. I was actually planning to ski the Bretton Woods marathon Saturday but the $75 price tag was too much and I opted for another year in the ski-a-thon. It was apparent that a bigger and more elite ski race was happening on the other side of Mt. Washington because at the start, I felt like I was crashing in on a private family reunion. There was a very athletic looking woman on classic skis and a few sub-driving-age folk who were darting around with impeccable skate technique. I guess this would be more of a time trial than a race (at least I hoped it wouldn't turn into a race - I'd hate to lose to a 12 year old girl). After a few photos of the wacky tights, the cannon fired, and I was off and in the lead (pheeeew, I got out in front of the kids!).

My strategy was to negative split, something I've never come close to doing in a ski marathon, so I took off at what I thought was a moderate race pace. I also figured I'd ski 8 x 21 minute laps, which is what I did last year (which was done in very positive splits). The first lap was probably my most eventful lap since I didn't know the course but was told to follow the orange discs with arrows. The disc went missing at one intersection so I stopped to ask a large group of recreational skiers if they knew the "nordic ski meister" course (the Tuesday night race course) and they brought out a map that had the course marked. Sure enough, I needed to take a right turn, which was confirmed by the athletic woman on classic skis that had now caught me. I took off again and stopped one more time because I made a turn without confirming with the orange discs. When I came into the start area, there were no water cups on the feed table and no one manning the table! In short order, the race director rushed over to pour me a cup, which was nice because that would have been hard with my hands inside of gloves inside of pole straps. I clicked "lap" on my watch, crossed the start/finish line, and looked at my watch: 21:06. Right on time except that I had easily 2 minutes of standing around during the lap, so either the pace was not moderate or I was skiing well.

My second lap was the 2nd most eventful lap. During one of the fast downhill sections I had to put on the brakes because the large group of recreational skiers that had helped me the previous lap were now skiing (but mostly talking) toward me. Then on the last little downhill I took my first gel but didn't want to throw the wrapper on the ground since this wasn't a real race. I just held on to the wrapper for the last 1.5K but dropped it twice, each time stopping to turn around and pick it up. I came into the feed station at the start/finish line to get some water to wash down the gel, clicked my watch: 19:58. OK, I thought, maybe I should just do 20 minute laps.

The problem with 20 minute laps is that this just gives you time to get a 9th in before the 3 hour curtain call. Which gave me something to think about for the next 5 laps...would I do a 9th lap? I continued to ski 20 minute (or just under) laps and these were pretty easy. I was practicing taking gels (not easy with gloves inside pole straps attached to poles) but my water stops at the start/finish line always were inefficient (as this wasn't a race, it wasn't set up to be efficient). On one downhill section I tried reaching into a lumbar pack pocket to grab some power/hammer/gu chews (cannot remember the brand) and struggled for about a minute (long after the downhill had run out) before giving up attempting to reach in a small pocket with gloved hands. Note to self - the chews are impossible with ski gloves, stick with gels.

The course itself was in excellent condition given the torrential rain the day before. The infamous Mt. Washington winds helped to dry the snow out and the temperature was about 30F all day instead of the predicted 40F. The steepest downhill turn quickly developed a deep rut that would have had me snowplowing two years ago and falling a couple of times last year. But my many hours working on downhill turns if finally paying off and the deep rut just added to the fun of a fast(ish) turn. My form felt sketchy on the first couple of laps but was feeling better and better with each lap (weird, huh?). At the end of the 7th lap, I had the nice race director help me with the bag of gu/hammer/cliff chews that I couldn't get myself earlier, and I drank some water, clicked lap on my watch, and noticed that I had a needed to average a little under 19:30s on each of the last two laps to get 9 laps in under 3 hours.

Not a problem. I skied the penultimate lap at a little faster pace and went through the start/finish without stopping for water or gu (the first time!). I forgot to press "lap" but I saw that I had about 20 minutes left so that must have been a 18:55 minute lap. I picked up the pace a little more on the final lap and about 1/2 way through caught and passed the athletic woman on classic skis. She was the last skier that I lapped and it took me 9 laps to do it. She said she wouldn't finish her 8th lap and I told her that she would (she did). I hammered the rutted turn and skied pretty hard home and finished the last lap in about 18:20. I felt great and could easily have gone on to do more laps. That was my fastest pace for a 50Kish distance race. I totally negative split, too, which I think was the key to the success. Each lap was about 5.3K so my totals were 47.8K in 2:58:26.

I won the most laps contest and felt a little guilty about taking it away from the 12 year old girl. I won a nice (woman's) headband that I donned at the Granite State Snowshoe race (report upcoming) as it totally matched my ibex striped woolies race shirt. Great Glen (and Snowman) put on some fabulous, low-key races - I hope they keep this one on the calendar for next year.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

So I suck at ski racing

March is for ski racing and Team Blackstrap (neighbor John and I) kicked off the season with the Rangeley Loppet. Lots of other friends raced too. This is the fifth year I've skied and the fifth year I skied this race. I "toured" the first year because I was too chicken to register as a racer, then raced the 25K (2008), 50K (2009), 25K (2010), and now the 50K again. I was shamed into the 50K after doing the 25K last year but the reason I opted for the 25K last year is because ski coaching de-fits you. This year I attempted to coach and train for a 50K and felt pretty fit going in. We'll return to that thought in a minute. I work pretty hard on my skate technique and I was also feeling very good about all my gears and my downhill turns.

Rangeley hadn't received any of the rain/ice that southern Maine received in the past week so the conditions were a little bit of fresh snow on top of packed powder. I consider these conditions medium speed. The kind of crushed and groomed ice that we get at Pineland is what I consider fast. More importantly, the snow was soft enough that the climbs would get a little chopped sugar and the sharp turns would get very rutted, which would matter most on the 2nd lap.

I was placed in the first wave and by the time I got to the start I was at the end of the line in the first wave. No matter, I suck at ski racing so having all these folks in front of me would keep me from going out too fast. The first four miles feels flat and is a net downhill. There was an unpredicted high wind blowing down from Saddleback so drafting was a key strategery of mine that I've hadn't done well in previous years and I tried, largely unsuccesfully, to draft behind some Colby women and assorted old men that I had caught up too. The little down hills told me that my skis were slow so I had to work just to draft, which kinda misses the point.

Miles 4-12 include 3 big climbs of 220, 300, and 200 feet. The Colby women had dropped me on the downhill in between climbs 1 and 2 but I caught and passed 2 of them by the top of climb 2, which is the biggest and had a big wind in my face...or in the face of the master blaster I was drafting. I let the girls pass at the top of the descent because I thought they'd have faster skis. I've been really worried about my skis so I had them hotboxed this past week. This didn't do squat. The first part of the descent is less steep and I had to work hard to keep up with the women. Then we got to the dead tuck section and over about 3/4 mile I lost probably 200 meters. Uggg. My skis suck! And if I'm not gliding as fast downhill then I'm also not gliding as fast on the flats with each pole/skate push. Which all adds up to more work just to ski the same pace.

Miles 13-15.5 include the descent from the last climb and a flattish section in the bog. I had lost almost everyone in my group on the descent so I was now skiing alone. My legs were also very tired and I debated pulling over after the first lap and just taking a slow 25K time. But I didn't.

I skied alone the entire lap 2 and mostly thought about DNFing and heading back to eat chilli and chocolate chip cookies. The wind was ripping on the powerline trails (Saddleback actually closed all their lifts). My skis were even slower than the first lap. My legs were tired. And I was starting to feel the effects of dehydration, including cold hands (it was mid 30s temperature) because they had stopped sweating. I stopped to drink profusely at each feed station. I struggled to eat gels while skiing. It wasn't a repeat of the Great Glen 300 from two years ago but my body was semi-shutting down. For whatever reason, I pressed on and finished lap 2 about 14 minutes slower than lap one, which gave me a 3:14:11 overall time and 56/75 men.

My analysis: I felt very good about my technique and pretty good about my fitness going in but I'm not at all happy with my time. I did very little tempo or interval training and all but one of my long skis were punctuated with numerous stops because these were all done with friends. Real training requires skiing alone. Ultimately, I think I just suck at ski racing. On the positive side, this was my first race that I didn't fall and I was actually really comfortable hammering the rutted turns in the first lap (not so much lap 2 when I was wobbly from fatigue and dehydration).