Monday, March 19, 2018

Rune's Birken #2 - Top 25!

When you're on a roll, you just keep going, and that's how Rune's winter is going.  After his age-group win at the American Birkie, he headed across the pond to tackle the Norwegian version.  How did that go?  Like this!  Many thanks, Rune, for sending us your story so we can imagine what it would be like to ski like that, and thanks to Augustina also, for the photos, so we can imagine we are there.
Norwegian Birkebeiner 2018 
The weather forecast a few days before the race showed the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard, close to the North Pole, right around 0 degrees Celsius and Rena, the start of the Norwegian Birkebeiner, at -22 C (-9F); go figure!  Having done the American Birkie in similar temperatures only a month ago, I thought this wasn’t going to be so bad.  Wrong!  I swear, -22 C at Rena feels way colder than -22 C in Wisconsin.   Maybe because Wisconsin is always cold while the temps at the Norwegian Birkie typically are a few degrees +/- 0 C…?  With the temperature that low at the start, and a forecast of temps staying below -15 C throughout the course at least until noon, it really puts clothing and day of race routines to a test.  Layers and layers, topped with my wonderful Bergans down jacket, and I was actually quite warm by the time I had finished the 20-minute walk from the farm house I stayed at to the start area.  A quick test of the skis revealed a solid kick.  This year, I was fortunate to be able to have Zach Caldwell (Caldwell Sports) wax my skis.  After Zach waxed my skis at the Worlds in January, I have complete confidence in him and probably would have skied on klister if he had said to do so (or maybe not).  After I picked up my skis the day before the race, all waxed and ready to go, I must admit I got a bit of a panic attack after Zach called me later in the day asking me to scrape off all the kick wax he had applied.  This is how attentive to details Zach is; he waxed his own skis identical, then tested later in the day and found that the kick wax application was way too thick and would drag too much.  “Scrape it off and apply one layer of Monkey cold (never heard of the wax before) and you will kick up every hill.”  So I did and, as always, Zach was spot on in his prediction.  
Based on my American Birkie result, I qualified for Wave 2, barely with a 1-minute margin.  With 400 skiers in the wave and 8 tracks out of the start, it gets really tight and the tempo the first 10 k or so is very uneven, with a serious sling shot effect in the back of the group.  This can be very exhausting, constantly trying to speed up on the flatter sections only to come to a complete stop when double polers can barely make it up some of the hills.  Knowing that it would take longer than normal to even get your core temp back to normal, let alone get warmed up, I decided to radically change my start strategy.  I lined up at the very back of the group and as the start gun went off, I was still putting my jacket in my back pack and stepped aside so that the 100 Women Elite 2 starting with us could pass.  Then I hung around the start for another few minutes before finally starting my race, which officially starts when you cross the mat and not when the gun goes off.  The strategy worked out perfectly.  I was able to settle into a steady pace, enjoying open tracks and passing skiers as the group sorted itself out and the slower skiers fell behind.   After 12k and 550M of climb, we are at the top of the first mountain. The race was going perfectly with a great kick, a steady pace, and constantly passing groups of wave 2 skiers.  It was very motivating knowing that not only did I pass skiers, but I also knew that I was already 3 minutes or so ahead of the ones I passed, due to my “later” start time.  The 2nd part of the ski equation is the glide and I was delighted to find that my glide was as good as or better than the skiers around me as we did the first long descent.  Zach scored!  Full of confidence and motivation, I skied as hard as I could the rest of the course, never really having any weak spots.  Mountain #3, Midtfjellet, is a tough one with some of the steepest climbs.  I was certainly tired but as long as I was still passing skiers, I knew things were going well. 
I finished the race in 3:20:00, which was good enough for a 21st place in my age group (800+ skiers).  Last year I was 52nd in my age group and thought that, with great skis and a great day, I may be able to break top 25 so I was very happy about reaching the goal of top 25.  A total of 8,800 skiers completed the race and I placed 415th overall.  When Petter Northug can’t even break into the top 100, I am good with 415th!       

The next day, Rune and Augustina went out for a little ski in the winter wonderland that is Norway.  Sigh ...

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Rune and Birkie #1 for 2018

Rune and Augustina are in the snow heaven that is Norway right now, where he double poled the HalvBirken last weekend and came in 8th in his age group, feeling strong and fit, before he heads to the Big Daddy Birken next weekend.

But first, he had a little warm-up ski at the American Birkie, where he not only demolished his own age group, but also put some serious kick-ass on the 40-somethings!  Here is his story:

This year, the organizers were about as lucky as possible, as opposed to last year’s rain-out and ultimate cancellation.  6” of show 5 days prior to the race and another 6” 2 days before, with cold temperatures throughout, made for fabulous conditions and firm tracks.  Although the -9F at start was about 20F below predicted temp -- didn’t see that one coming!  
While the skate field has its steady participation of top level European racers as well as a number of US top guns, one never really knows what to expect in the classic field, and I have learned to not get too caught up in how I fare out of the gate.  Two years ago I shot out to a top 5 spot relatively easily.  This year there was a cluster of about a dozen skiers shooting out at a much higher speed than the next group of another dozen skiers or so; I quickly realized that the 2nd group was more my speed and settled into a relatively comfortable speed within the group.  Most years, I have kind of been in between the top guys and the rest and skied quite a bit of the race by myself.  Skiing in a pack of 10 – 12 skiers was a little different than I was used to and, instead of going as hard as I could at all times, I was finding myself skiing near the front but never leading the pack and focusing on just staying at a steady rhythm, figuring that this group will dissolve on its own sooner or later.  And that is just what happened.  Some skiers took a little more time at the feed station at OO than others and didn’t have the speed to catch up with the group after the feed, so soon we were down to about 6 skiers who stayed together until Mosquito Brooks, a mostly flat stretch with lots of double pole and great opportunity to draft.  Most of the work in the front was done by a young kid who never seemed to mind that he had half a dozen to a dozen skiers riding on his tails.  Good for him, I thought; hopefully he saves some for the last hills. 
Some of the most substantial climbs at the Classic Birkie actually come at the end, and staying in the pack conserving energy paid off big time.  I was able to hold a steady pace up the hills, now skiing mostly outside the track since the kick wax was starting to wear off a little and the temperatures were reaching a balmy 20F or something like that.  Shortly after Bitch Hill (the hill seems so innocent when training but during the race, it deserves its name!), I realized that I had a gap behind me and from there on, it was just to give it all in the last few hills to get as much of a gap as possible before getting onto the flat at the end.  I kind of felt sorry for the kid who did all the work for us, but such is life at the Birkie trail; years of experience pay off and he might think differently about pulling the entire race next time.  By the time I got to the lake, no one was in sight behind and it was just to let the arms go all out the last 3 K.  I finished in 12th overall, won my age group as well as every group from 40 years and up, and was quite happy with the race and how the skis performed.  
As I am writing this, I am sitting in a cabin in Lillehammer, Norway: tons of snow, miles upon miles of groomed trails and temps in the teens to lower 20s.  The conditions for the Norwegian Birkie are looking spectacular and I am excited about the upcoming race!
Now for some serious eye candy from snow heaven, I mean, Norway.  Augustina and I want to live in that cabin forever and eat Norwegian pastries every day!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Birkie Story: A Success!

Three cheers for middle-of-the-pack skier Carol Anway!  It's always cool to read the stories of racers finishing on top of the leaderboard, but there is a special satisfaction in reading the story of someone like Carol, who had two hip replacements in 2016, came back with a year of solid thoughtful training, and -- spoiler alert! -- set a new personal record at this year's Birkie!  Way to go, Carol, and way to show all of us in the pack how it's done.  And just to prove it wasn't a fluke, she headed to Hyak today and set another personal best on the Iron Horse trail!  Here is her story:

I am Dr. Carol Anway, physicist, musician, and proud daughter of Dr. Allen Anway, one of the Spirit of 35 skiers at the Birkebeiner.  I live with my husband, Keith, and daughter in North Bend, WA. I started skate skiing in 2012 and did the Birkie in 2014 and 2015.  Running combined with hip dysplasia led to both hips being replaced in 2016.
Birkebeiner 2018 was all about reclaiming my physical fitness.  My surgeon asked me not to run until a year after the second hip replacement, so I obediently waited to start running until Sept 1, 2017.  This was six months before the big race.  I increased my speed and endurance aggressively, too aggressively, because I developed left thigh pain in December that sharply limited my mileage.

January, I changed over to skate skiing, which did not bother my thigh.  Keith and I talked about it, and decided the strategy was not to hit a particular goal of performance, but simply to maximize physical fitness given all the constraints on my time (such as working full time and being a mom).  I skied on weekends, and during the week, I swam, slid back and forth on the slider board, and hiked up hills.  By the end of January, I could reliably do 25-35 k each day, often in the rain.  In February, I added Friday skiing when possible.

I have never had a formal skiing lesson.  New hips might be an opportunity to learn properly.  I called a coach, Todd, who gave some general skate ski advice on the phone in September.  He had moved back to Vermont and so could not coach me in person.  He recommended other coaches, but they were in the Methow valley, and it was just too far, so I went without.  I found Todd’s general advice quite helpful.  He recommended starting slowly with gentle movements, to learn how to ski again.  Light steps, with relaxed angles.  Less arms on uphill, more arms on flats.  Hands in front on up hills to keep the hill heart rate lower.  

Other skiers proved instructive. One example: There were two friendly gentlemen in blue jackets skiing together at Cabin Creek one Friday.  We were going the same speed on the downhills, flats, and small uphills, but then there was a longer uphill. I dropped to herringbone.  They continued to skate.  And I never saw them again.  A clue!  The next time I went out, I changed to skate up all hills, stopping to breathe if I needed, but really challenging myself. This took six minutes off my 10 k time. 

I experimented with form at the old railway trail at Hyak, trying to make my motion efficient and automatic.  Eventually, I could go the whole way to Stampede Pass Road, 12.4 k, without stopping for any reason, at a super-fast pace, then eat a sandwich, and go back to the start just as fast. My fastest was 25 k in 2:05.  (Note that the Olympians do the whole 50 k Birkie in just over 2 hours, but I do not aspire that high.)

I experimented with breathing.  Flat trails allowed me to breathe with the rhythm of my poles.  Hilly terrain at Cabin Creek (exit 63) required panting on uphills.  The more tired I got, the more I panted continuously.  My lungs are simply not as strong as other people’s, and so I’ve started asking people what they do.  It seems sprints are the answer.  More detailed advice would be helpful.  I figured the rolling hills at Cabin Creek were sprints.  I made gradual improvement.  My best time there was just under one hour for a 10 k icy course.  
Each of the two weekends before the Birkie, I accomplished a total of 105 k spread over three days.  I was consistent in my split times.  The Sunday before the Birkie, I did 40 km at Cabin Creek on nicely groomed new snow (Nick is a genius groomer) with a time of 1:10 for each and every 10 k loop, 4:40 h total (includes sandwiches).

Thursday, Feb 22, I traveled to my parents’ house in Superior, WI.  Friday, Dad (Allen Anway, bib 35004) and I waxed and tested our wax at the Superior Municipal Forest.  Mom made tacos for supper before race day.  We chowed down!

Race day, Saturday Feb 24, 2018, Dad’s friend Mike picked us up at 5:00 am.  We drove to Cable and waited in the warm car in premium parking.  At the exact right time for minimum cold exposure at 0 deg F, we headed up to the little warming house at the start.  The other Spirit of 35 skiers were there.  I think I recognized one of the guys from Cabin Creek. Dad lined up with the other skiers for the National Anthem, and then the gun went off at 8:15, and zoom!  So proud of all of them!

I watched some waves go, wandered around, and then finally shucked my coat into the bag and got in position for wave six, bib 6269. It was 12 deg F, so purple wax was fine.  Gun start at 9:55. Keith and I had calculated that I was a pretty good match in speed for the wave, and so I decided to be in the middle rather than near the back of the pack.  This turned out to be a mistake.  I did no passing for the first 3 k.  I was only passed by others, which pissed me off. The snow was slow and terrible, mashed potatoes 2-3 inches deep.  Finally, the wave seven skiers were starting to pass, and that REALLY pissed me off.  I’m sure I made a strong personal start given the conditions, because I was really working hard to stick with the ones passing me. 

After the first feed station, the skiers strung out more, and I got more into the rhythm of the snow.  It was slow, but I learned to be ruthless in choosing the less puffy areas of the trail, and to lift my knees a little higher to avoid stumbling.  I dropped to herringbone technique up the steeper hills, because there was no glide.  Finally, near High Point, I admitted to a skier near me that I was finding it slow going, and she used the same cuss words I had been thinking about to describe the conditions, so that made me feel better.  It was 28-30 deg F.  The Birkie registered my average speed in the first two sections as a puny 4.3 mph.

I loved the feed stations.  I loved the volunteers.  I loved my sandwiches, and the orange sections spoke to me at a level I haven’t encountered for a long time.  I knew there were seven feed stations, and I counted them as I went.  One surprising pleasure was that I had trained with feeds every 10 k, and the race spacing was closer together, so I was repeatedly surprised by what felt like an early feed. Nice!

At the sign that said 33 km from the end, I remarked to a nearby skier that we were one third of the way through the race.  She exclaimed, “and that’s the worst section!”  She had a special bib for 20+ years, so I commented that she should know, given her many years.  She said, “Yes, I DO know, and it IS the worst!”  Very definite.  Indeed, that point marked an improvement in trail quality and where it became more downhill.

At County Road OO, 27 k from the end, the mashed potatoes snow disappeared!  Instead the base was packed tightly, and I could speed up.  So, I did.  Still panting, but now having more results from the effort.  The Birkie registered my average speed increasing to 5.7 mph.

Up and down hills, everything blurred together.  There was a second hill with snow-mobile people heckling the skiers.  I fell there, but not badly.  That was my only fall.  Mostly I just tucked and went down, nothing fancy.  Mostly I skated up hills, but the steep places I used herringbone without shame. 

At kilometer marking 21 to the end I came to an uphill and saw my Dad!!!  I put on a burst of speed and shouted, “Dad!” Everyone nearby was alert to the activity and interested in the outcome.  I have never caught up with him before, so it was really exciting!  We skied together for a little bit and talked to the people around us.  Then I took off, and there was a feed station around the corner.  Dad was faster than me at the feed station, because of my sandwich habit, and so I had the pleasure of catching up to him again at marker 20.  We again skied together a little bit. It was hard to leave him behind.  Afterwards, even kilometers later, people chatted to me about catching my father on the trail and how many Birkies had he done?  41, wow!  And wasn’t that amazing??  I was pleased that people understood what a treasure he is and treated him so gently.

More feed stations, more miles, more up and down.  There was vodka ski hill, and even though a vodka sounded quite nice, I didn’t want to stop my forward motion long enough to partake.  Bitch hill had a “Jesus Saves” theme to repent of the cuss words we used going up the hill.  

Then Lake Hayward.  Flat.  Gloriously flat.  Automatically I knew what to do because of my work at Hyak.  Boom! I fired up to top speed.  Each step carried me far, with good rhythm and everything.  I amused myself by passing skiers who had passed me in the first five km.  Take that!  The Birkie registered my average speed during that last segment as 6.9 mph.

Then came International Bridge with all its flags.  Skated strongly up the gentle incline of Main Street in Hayward, many cowbells, cheering. Announcer read my name, I waved, more cheers!  And finished!  Personal best at 6:14. I beat my previous personal best by 1:15.  Woot!  Third Birkie finish!  I guess these new hips work just fine.

After changing clothes and eating soup, Mike and I walked downhill to catch a glimpse of Dad on the way up. Twilight deepened. It started snowing.

Finally, there was Dad, skating at an easy pace up the hill. I shouted. He looked tired. I cried.  The announcer read his name over the loud speakers and the crowd roared big approval.  He swayed, his balance uncertain.  I ran ahead and wormed through the “media only” entrance.  Just after he crossed the finish line, I hugged him, and felt like maybe I should go on holding him so he didn’t fall over. Mike carried his gear.  Dad and I walked arm in arm up the hill.  Dad was the last skate skier to finish, but he finished.  Dad’s time was 9:26. His 41st Birkebeiner finish.  Wow! 

(ed. note: for my money, this is the most amazing photo.  This, my friends, is what mental toughness and fortitude look like!  Now back to Carol's story...)

Next morning it was time to help Dad shovel out the new snow.  Our muscles were not happy about this!  But what are you going to do?  It was probably good to get moving. 

Ozbaldy Race Report: It Snowed

We/ve come to expect almost anything from the weather at Cabin Creek for the various Kongsberger races, and this year's Ozbaldy did not disappoint.  After blissful spring skiing on Saturday for the kids' races, and the expectation of more of the same on Sunday, many skiers (and volunteers) were caught by surprise by the SNOW!  It snowed and snowed and snowed, then it eased up a little, and then it really really snowed.  Finishers later in the pack found really tough going, but even the guys at the pointy end had to work hard to wrestle with all the fluffy white stuff.  The pass was closed intermittently during the day, but that didn't matter too much because we had the cabin, the fire in the stove, and our own Kare and Aase keeping everyone well fed and happy all afternoon.

A great big thank you goes to our world-class groomer, Nick Whitman!  Many thanks to all the volunteers, including (I know I'm missing some, but you are loved just the same!) Dale and Chris in the parking lot, Jim as be-everywhere do-everything chief of course, Augustina, Anne, and Tom as timers, Susie as bib collector, Kare and Aase, of course, in the kitchen, Meredith, who was the everywhere-helping hand whenever anything was needed, and Lisa, Kirstin, Mandy, Victor, Brandon, and a bevy of energetic kids at the feed station.  Super big thanks go to the race directors Alex, Aaron, and Todd, one of whom is a relatively new member and the other two of whom are brand new members -- way to step up, guys!  They did a terrific job of herding all the cats and keeping the process running smoothly.  It was a really really fun day, and the pass finally opened and everyone went home with tired muscles and happy bellies, and some with a prize!

David Evans offers a cool perspective on the race, for when you're planning your schedule for next year:
Living up to its moniker, today’s Ozbaldy 50 K, boasting a first lap up and around its grueling eponymous loop, saw 68 Nordic ski endurance aficionados test their mettle in Kongsberger Ski Club’s annual 31 miles of speedy sylvan skate skiing… or slogging and surviving, particularly if you were like the author on the 5th of the race’s five10K laps. 
The third of three in the club’s triumverate of excellently organized Nordic ski races each winter, whether you zip through it in a bit more than 2 hours, as the winners typically do, or approach it in a more measured 5 or 6 hours, the Ozbaldy is an equal opportunity event, inclusive of those who attend some of the world’s most competitive ski races (and do well while there!) as well as those for whom just completing 50K of anything without the benefit of battery power or the assist of an internal combustion engine is an accomplishment in and of itself.  
Plus, for the race entry fee of a mere $30, you can have as much food, gatorade and water as you need at the superbly-staffed feed zone twice each lap and, once the race is done, you can further indulge in an all-you-can-eat buffet of chili, noodle soup, breads, desserts and beverages!  Honestly, a deal like this doesn’t exist in the world of endurance racing anymore – unless you are lucky enough to live in the NW, know about the Kongsberger Ski Club’s devotion to the promotion of Nordic ski racing, and get to do the best March race anywhere, the Ozbaldy 50K.   
And as if that’s not, the die-hards at Kongsbergers have attracted a number of sponsors for this race series, so not only does the wonderful volunteer staff take care of you during and after the race, but during the awards ceremony there are regular intervals where the proceedings are stopped, a few names are drawn, and the lucky ones get to walk away with things like beautiful jackets, expensive ski wax, gift certificates and such. 
So, my advice is to begin right now training for next year’s Ozbaldy 50K.  It may be a long race, I grant you, but you will attend no finer ski-racing event, and surely none at prices most Seattle folks can’t remember anymore!
Some pictures of the day:

Timers timing

Chief of course: when Jim wasn't snowmobiling around, he was skiing around, offering gels to skiers still out on the course

Skiers skiing

Feed station hustle and bustle, with skiers coming from both directions


All smiles at the feed station!

This guy left some of his face out on the course, so his pace-daughter skied the last lap with him to supervise

Expert service; the smiles are free!

Thanks, of course, to all the racers who fought the snow battle!  Some won, some lost, but everyone gave it their best shot.  It's been an amazing winter; train hard this summer, and we'll see you on the starting line next year!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Augustina's Sense of Snow

It's a classic love story: Norwegian boy meets West African girl; they fall in love and merge their lives.  The Norwegian boy introduces the West African girl to his big passion: cross country ski racing ... outside ... in the winter.  Wait, in the COLD?  Augustina shows us what happens next ...

Wait, I hope that I don’t have to be a skier to submit a race report. Well, no matter, here’s my report anyway! 
I was going to begin my report by saying that ‘there’s just not enough vodka’...but that would make me sound like a lush.  
The cross country ski world is so incredibly admirable to me. First, it’s a sport that takes place in the cold__or as Rune would put it, ‘fresh conditions’; secondly, athletes balance on these very skinny sticks; and thirdly those athletes on skinny sticks intentionally go and work out in said fresh (ice cold) conditions. 
My preparations for the season began months ago and were well planned. 
My training went a little like this: 
February 2017: I began to investigate and do some comparison shopping about snow boots. My search engine had a lot of sentences like ‘how to prevent frostbite’, ‘what is the best way to keep your toes from freezing off’ ‘how much heat does one lose through the feet’ and the like.  
April 2017: I was looking at coats and trying to determine how I could be covered from head to toe while still being able to maneuver AND see my way around cheering sections. I had to nix any thoughts about using a sub-zero rated fluffy down filled sleeping bag for my cold weather comfort, while watching ski races. 
July 2017: It was time to get way up in the northern hemisphere, so that my body could acclimatize and forget any ideas about the equator or warm weather. We took a trip to Norway, and spent (summer) time in Bergen that pretty much wiped out any memories I had had about warm weather. 
October 2017: I made myself run in the rain, I hiked Tiger Mountain in the snow, and I grudgingly did circuit training in the garage—in balmy -3 Celsius temperatures.
I was getting there. 
December 2017: I trained myself to do some imagery and learned how to talk myself off the ledge when my fingers almost froze off , just from walking 100 meters in the elements.  
But, really, the preparations were going very well. 
Finally, I was ready for Minneapolis and the 2018 circuit.  
January 2018: Minneapolis! World Masters! Yeah! I got to cheer on Rune, Debbie, Suzanne, Kent, Per, Paul, and Pat. 
The first two days of competition were so exciting. Racers were skiing so quickly! The energy at the ski venue was electric! The snow was so beautiful! By the third and fourth days, my thoughts were somewhere along the lines of ‘why is the air so damn cold?’
Through it all, I discovered that one of my absolute favourite pastimes was listening to skiers discuss (yes, I’ll call it discuss ๐Ÿ˜ƒ) all the reasons that got in the way of their preparations, how they ‘hardly’ trained, how they just did not deserve to be at the race, and mostly how the speed of fruit flies, the axis of Mother Earth and the ocean currents in the South Pacific were going to affect their ski race results negatively๐Ÿ˜‚. Skiers—they are such lovable creatures! 
As a former warm weather athlete...not to be confused with the artist formerly known as Prince (may he Rest In Peace), I can expressly state that this skiing thing has grown on me. I love being out there and cheering on all the athletes. I love the fantastic athletic displays and grit, and training, and the lingo. It’s all quite fabulous, really. 
This season, so far, has been such a delight and the whole experience has been breathtaking. As stated by my pal, Kent Murdoch, ‘the only possible way that skiing could be better, is if it were a warm weather sport’. That’s not going to happen, though...since global warming is a hoax and I’ll stick with my blanket coat, fuzzy boots, taking a sip or two of the lovely stuff, and enjoy the ride. 
You are all delightful! 
Cheers, everyone

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Imaginary Coach

Bluebird conditions at Cabin Creek: cold crisp snow, cold crisp air, perfect waxing conditions!  One of my self-improvement goals this winter is to spend more time on my waxable skis; my fishscale skis are awesome and have taken me on many adventures, but they always give me bomber kick and therefore make my technique a little lazy.  So, today, I corked in a couple layers of Toko Red and I was ready to hit the road ... where I slipped, and slipped again, and slipped again.  Aarrgh, I thought, and almost went back to my car for my fishscales.

But then I thought, the wax does not lie.  This is the right wax for the day, so if I'm slipping, it's because of my lazy technique, and switching to the comfort blanket of my fishscale skis won't make that technique any better.  So I decided to turn that frown upside down and find the bright side: every slip was a reminder that I'm doing something wrong, something I can try to fix.  I imagined I was skiing alongside an imaginary coach, and while we're imagining, I imagined his name was Sven, tall and strong, with a twinkle in his eye and a little Viking in his accent as he called out, "Hips forward!  Weight transfer!  Drive the knees!  Set the wax!"

It turned into an awesome workout; the gentle undulations of the road, and getting in and out of the tracks to go around the crowds of people there, gave me unlimited opportunities to play around with body position and stride length and foot placement, finding the sweet spot where I could try to ski with dynamicity and still have good kick.  By my last trip up and down the road, I was hardly slipping at all (the cooling temperature probably helped, too) and feeling like I was kind of getting the hang of it.

Then I ran into Rob and Suzanne at the trailhead, as they were loading up their car, and burbled to them about my great workout.  They said, "Oh, you just needed more wax under your foot."  So there was that, too.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Back to Basics

My last couple of years of lazy-ass so-called training and no racing have caught up with me, and I realize to my discomfit that I am a shuffler rather than a strider.

I watch the amazing women on the World Cup scene and am blown away by their athleticism and power, but I tell myself, well, they're professionals, and decades younger than I am, and started skiing when they were four, and they have coaches, and and ...  of course I can't ski like that.  But then I go to MWC and see women in their 50s, 60s, and yes, 70s, skiing in a similar way, bounding up the hills with so much energy and flair, dancing up to the podium to get their medals, and I watch my weak little excuses wither and float away.  Sure, some of these inspirational women are former Olympians or national team athletes, but now they're older, with families and jobs and busy lives and creaky knees, and yet they train hard and race hard and are evidently having a ball doing it.  So I decide that, sure, I came to skiing later in life and I'm seriously lazy and my job is consuming and unpredictable, but those don't seem like valid enough excuses not to at least try, and see where I can get.

Justin Freeman says:
"This, then, is why we set goals, and not just any goals, but goals that might seem unachievable. It is partly for the brief euphoria of getting to the date circled on the calendar and achieving the time or the placement we have written down in the training log, the locker, the diary. But mostly it is because being fit and fast, and becoming fitter and faster, is a great reward unto itself, and the goals we set for ourselves are what make our training sessions into optimistic, joyful times." 
So I took a good look at my underlying weaknesses: not enough muscular strength (oh, hello, free gym in my office building!) and a lack of, how shall I say, dynamicness.  Dynamicity.  The quality of being quick and strong, light, explosive, powerful.  This is why I shuffle on the flats and walk on the uphills, skills that will put me in last place in pretty much any race, a place I don't like to be.  I partly blame the roller skiing I did last summer and fall, which was plenty of steepish uphills, good for building cardiovascular conditioning but too steep (for me) for building dynamicity.  (Oh, hello, bounding!  We are going to be friends this year, you and I.)

It's time to go back to basics, rebuild the engine, relearn the skills.  I bailed out of the last two races I was planning this year and turned my focus to beginning to work on next year, putting some thought into the best way to start attacking my weaknesses.  So many weaknesses!  Then I took my skis to Cabin Creek today for some glorious spring skiing, but I stayed away from the hills.  Yes, I need to get stronger on the hills, but I'm not there now and continuing to walk up hills will only reinforce bad habits.  Instead I skied the road and forced myself to ski dynamically, not reverting to my old familiar shuffle.  The road has just enough gently undulating ups and downs that I had to work a little bit, but not so much that I couldn't maintain good technique.  You know what I mean: hips forward, ankles flexing, knees driving, powerful core, bigger more open strides.  I took big long strides without poles on the downhill sections and worked on maintaining that openness on the flats and ups.  In my mind, I replayed World Cup videos: Kalla, Nilsson, Parmakoski.  Of course I ski nowhere near those goddesses, but having those visuals in my head moves me in the direction I want to go.  And when I felt my technique starting to unravel, I stopped, rather than continuing to imprint bad habits in my muscle memory.  There is a time and a place for just skiing, no matter how badly, but there is also a time and a place for focus and commitment and seeing where you can go.
"This is one of the great gifts that sport can give us: a glimpse into possibility, a reminder to reach. Whether or not (and how) we apply it in our daily lives is up to us."  ~Heidi Swift