Friday, February 8, 2019

Brrrkie!


From the sublime to the ridiculous.  Two weeks ago I was racing in sunshine and short sleeves; this weekend I was heading up to Edmonton for the Canadian Birkie, an awesome-sounding 55k point-to-point race in a Unesco biosphere, rolling trails through a hardwood forest and across lakes.  What's not to love about that?  And if I finished, I was going to get a special award for completing all three Birkebeiners: Norwegian, American, and Canadian.  I would be traveling with some fun guys and staying in a nice hotel and probably having some excellent meals, oh, and a fabulous ski.  Jim had warned me it could be "butt-naked cold," but I wasn't worried; I'm pretty tough, and I have warm clothes, and I thrive in difficult conditions.

But then I started following the Edmonton weather forecast and the polar vortex that was consuming the entire midwest, and I watched the predicted race-day temperature get lower and lower and lower, into Jupiterian double-digit negatives.  I don't even know what this means in human terms!

 
I put out a help message to my Facebook friends and got a lot of thoughtful responses from people suggesting special hats and special socks and special gloves, all of which I do not own and would have to buy, and, above all, warnings not to sweat, no matter what you do.  Yikes!  And the Canadian Birkie posted a list of cold-weather tips from former participants, including one fellow who said he carries a sleeping bag with him, in case of emergency.  WHAT??  Shouldn't I be more famous, and be sponsored or something, if I'm skiing to the North Pole?  Then the local ski shop owner sent out an email, unprecedented, according to my friends who know him, that basically said, this is stupid; cancel the damn race.  Word came out that the race was shortened to 40k, then the start was delayed by an hour to allow the air time to warm up, but that only meant I would be finishing in the dark.  When I told my boss this latest update, he just shook his head and said, maybe you should reconsider this adventure.  I'm not gonna lie; I didn't want to bail out, but wow, I was getting really really nervous.  Really.

On Tuesday, as the forecast "high" continued to plummet, the race organizers got together and reluctantly decided to cancel the race, rightly citing safety factors for both skiers and volunteers.


I heaved a gigantic sigh of relief; I hated to have to cross a race off my list, but I'm happy I didn't have to be a crybaby and chicken out, and of course I'm glad I'll be keeping all my fingers and toes, and my nose.  The work it took to get into 50k shape is never wasted, and now I'm bringing a solid base of fitness into the final block of training for the last set of races on my schedule, the Masters World Cup next month in Norway.  Time to rest for a couple days, then stay healthy and refocus my efforts on Norway.

But first, the cold and snow have hit Seattle, and it's time to play!


PS. Today, Birkie Day, it was a fresh -37C in Edmonton.  I think everyone is happy the race was canceled!   But I still wanted an adventure, and Snowmageddon had dumped a good six inches of snow at my house, so I stepped into my skis from my back porch and went street skiing.  I skied down to the locks, then, in a cold north wind and spitting snow, out to Golden Gardens.  I skied on the beach -- how many times do you get to say that! -- and watched some seriously expert kite surfers put on an amazing aerial show for the few people standing on the beach.  Then I skied back home, back up the long hill.  It was not the adventure I had planned for today, but it was a marvelous adventure all the same.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Spring Skiing at the Teacup Classic



Ahh, the Teacup Classic 15k at Mount Hood.  It was spectacular spring skiing, complete with sunshine, soft tropical breezes, 50-degree temperatures, and the expected klister mania before the start (for the record, my fishscales were da bomb!).  The grooming was perfect and the tracks held up well throughout the race, even for people like me at the very back of the pack.  I counted 11 KSC members who made the drive down; Rob won his age group in the 5k, and Suzanne and Joy were second and third in their age group in the 15k, and all of us had a super fun day in the sun.  

The course is such a joy to ski: wide open trails, big uphills and big downhills and big swooping corners and, of course, big views of snowy white Mount Hood at every turn.  The snow was so forgiving and the grooming so delicious that even a downhill chicken like I am could just let those skis run with exuberant abandon.  The volunteers were terrific, the race was very well-organized, and the course markings were extensive and clear.  There was a nice chili-and-bread feed at the finish line, although they ran out of chili by the time I finished (Kare and Aase, missed having you there to take care of me!), but that was okay; there was a scrumptious homemade orange/tomato soup that substituted quite nicely, and then some of us went to a brewpub afterward for more carbo-reloading.

Other comments: (i) one guy, my new ultra-endurance hero, rode his bike from Portland to the race, did the race, then biked back home.  I'm trying to figure out how long it would take me to bike to next year's Gunnar Hagen and I don't see it happening, but I can totally see Hashimoto doing it.  (ii) Did I already mention the volunteers were awesome?  I called out to one course monitor as I skied by,"Thanks for the gorgeous day!" and he yelled back, "Hey, the sun is shining and you're skiing in short sleeves.  It's a GREAT day!"  (iii) Can I just say how much I love Hood River?  My requirement for a town I would live in is that it has to be big enough to have an airport and a university, but I think I could make an exception for Hood River: so much good coffee, so much good beer, so much good food, and the Mighty Columbia, right there on your doorstep.


Highly highly recommend this race!    See you there next year?

Sunday, January 20, 2019

A Conditions-Dependent Skier


One of my friends emailed me the day before the Gunnar Hagen and said, you're going to have a great race!  You're fit and strong, and you've been training hard!  And while I appreciated her encouragement, I realize that I am a conditions-dependent skier.  If the conditions are terrific, there is a good chance I will have a good (by my standards) race.  If they're less than optimal (read: icy), I'm more likely to struggle and be fearful.  All the fitness in the world cannot compensate for wobbly technique in this technique-driven sport I love.

So in the days leading up to last weekend, I was obsessively poring over the WSDOT pass report, and it did not give me reason to cheer.


I hardly slept the night before, imagining a solid block of ice waiting for me at Cabin Creek.  Would I DNS if it was icy?  Or would I start and have to bail out after one panicked lap?  Or would I crash on a downhill and break something critical, ending the season?  So many questions; so little sleep!  I rode up to the race with Peter B, an expert, elite-level skier, former downhill racer, master of waxing.  I asked him if he gets nervous before a race and he said no, and I realized that of course he wouldn't, because he knows he can handle whatever the conditions are. What is the price of such confidence?  I think, for me, it just means getting out there and doing it, over and over, and maybe even relishing the prospect of bad conditions as a way to improve, or at least build a little confidence.

So by the time we got there, I had talked myself into welcoming the prospect of a tough day.  We parked the car, unloaded our stuff, walked across the freeway, stepped onto the snow ... and I could have knelt and kissed it.  Master groomer Nick had done his usual masterful job, and the snow was in fantastic condition.  This was going to be manageable!  I could ski this!  Even though I had put base klister on my waxable skis, I decided to go with my pokey fishscales; I knew I'd be doing some snowplowing and klister wasn't going to last long on that abrasive snow.

As the clock ticked toward the start time, I thought about my battle plan.  Several of my friends said they were going to start slow and taper off, and although I laughed along with them, I knew I wasn't going to do that; my plan was to go as hard as I could the whole race, to attack all four laps with everything I had.  I knew I could do the distance because I had done it just a couple of weeks ago, and if I blew up, I was on the home field and I would survive.  I wanted to be completely worn out at the end, to have left nothing out there.  Not my usual operation, but I'm trying to be a different skier now.

And that's what I did.  I treated each lap as if it were the only one and skied it as hard as I could.  I was lapped multiple times by the speedy guys, which was awesome; I tried to stay with Rune, the race winner, for about one half second both times he lapped me and realized his tempo, his strength, his pure technique, are on a totally different plane.  It was eye-opening, and inspiring.  By my third lap, pretty much everyone who was going to lap me was done, and by my fourth lap, the sun came out and bathed the forest in the most magical golden light.  I felt so lucky to still be out skiing when most of the pack was already in the cabin, eating chili and winning prizes.  At the start of my fourth lap, I said to myself, don't let up.  Yeah, it's getting pretty soft and slushy, but push as hard as you can, attack those hills, go!  So I did.

Even though I've been working hard on my downhill speed tolerance, I wasn't quite able to put that new comfort to use.  There were two sets of tracks around almost all of the course, including most of the downhills; personally, I like to be outside of the tracks on the downs, not necessarily snowplowing but at least being light and quick and able to move around.  With tracks in the way, I wasn't able to do that, so I was slower than I wanted to be ... but that didn't matter.  The fact that it took a couple of extra seconds on each downhill is irrelevant, and having the tracks there did force me to try different ways to get down each hill, so it was all good.

So even though my race time was nothing to write home about (Dad, guess what!  I was second to last in my race!), I was totally pleased with myself.  I had skied as hard as I could, I had been as aggressive as I was able to on the ups and downs, and I did not let up.   And I lunged across the finish line, just like the cool kids!  That's all I can ask of myself.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

"This is Perfect!"



One of my goals for this winter is for each workout to have a specific purpose.  A related goal, then, is to find the value when the exact workout doesn't quite happen the way I planned.  Case in point: yesterday I went to Stevens Pass with the specific purpose of putting a bunch of hills in my legs.  Secondary purpose: do some more work on speed tolerance on the downhills.  For my money, there is no single stretch of trail within a reasonable driving distance that has a greater proportion of uphills and downhills and curves and corners per kilometer than the Side Track trail at Stevens.  There is not a flat k on it.  The hills are short and steep, long and steep, long and gradual, short and gradual, but they are relentless, and almost every downhill has some kind of corner of varying sharpness at the bottom of it.  In other words, perfect training for someone with my particular set of weaknesses!

So I did four out-and-backs on this windy gray Saturday.  The first two were sublime; the downhills were that perfect snow condition that allows a chicken like me to let the skis run, let the skis do what they want to do, knowing that I can control them whenever I need to.  It was so much fun, charging up the uphills and flying exuberantly down the downhills, saying "Yes!" to myself, and sometimes out loud, on each one.  The third and fourth lap were a different story; there were a LOT more people out on the trail by then, so the hills got really choppy, rutted and plowed.  So again, I said, "This is perfect!" because I really need practice when the conditions are a little rougher.  Those two laps were just as much fun, as I worked on where my balance point is and focused on skiing smoothly through the chopped-up snow, riding the rut, letting the plow move me around.  It was awesome; I went back and forth so many times that one of the ski instructors, who was out there with a class, said, "You're going to wear this trail out!"  Yes!

Stevens is expensive (my snow-park permit doesn't count there) and a long drive, especially if I get caught in the legendary Highway 2 traffic back-up (pickup-camper dude, you couldn't have checked your gas gauge before you headed out?), but I think it's totally worth it for the goals I have this winter, and I'm going to spend as much quality time there as I can.


Today was another chance to find the bright spot.  After a couple of hard days of training following that pretty intense week off over the holidays, my plan for today was just to ski the road at Cabin Creek a couple of times, a recovery ski, nice and easy, stretching out the glide, working on the balance, ain't no big thing.  Turns out, the snow was hard and packed, and the tracks were shiny and glazed.  I had almost no kick at all, which was going to put a dent in my plans for nice smooth kicking and gliding.  So instead I skied on the rough choppy shoulder next to the track; not the smooth kick I was hoping for, but I still aimed for fluid and steady, as much as I could, and told myself that this was a GREAT workout for all those important little muscles in my feet and ankles and lower legs.  Sometimes it's harder than other times to convince myself that "This is perfect!" but any day skiing is better than any day not skiing, and I feel like both of these days this weekend made me just a little bit better of a skier.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Training Block


Rune told me last year that you don't ski yourself into shape if you have racing on your mind; the season is too short and the races come too fast.  Instead, you think of your summer and fall of training as filling your savings account of fitness, and then you draw that down over the course of the winter, hoping it lasts until your last race!  And then you rest, and then you fill it back up again over the following summer.  I love that cyclicality of skiing.

This summer and fall have seen some of the best training I've ever done, not just in terms of volume, but also smart, focused training.  I can't help the fact that I came to skiing late in life and will never have that technical proficiency and ease that comes from skiing since you were four, but I can at least try to be strong and fit and maximize the amount of fun I have.

So I took the last ten days off from work -- what a delicious break! -- and turned it into a training block, trying to top off the savings account without training myself into a hole that would take all winter to work back out of.  Out of these ten days, I skied on seven of them, and each day's workout had a specific purpose.  No recreational touring for me this week; even the easy distance day I had on the Iron Horse was still an opportunity to focus on technique, on weight transfer, on stretching with every stride for that extra two or three inches Coach Ozzie told us about.  There were a lot of snow bombs on the trail that day, which put speed bumps into my attempts to be smooth and dynamic, but I just considered them another chance to improve; there is never a guarantee that a race track will be smooth and perfect, especially in the back of the pack where I hang out.


There were a number of things I wanted to work on this week: for one, my wimpy tolerance for cold, with a race planned in Edmonton ("butt naked cold"), Alberta, in early February.  Around here, Stevens Pass is your best bet for cold(ish) temperatures.  The first time I went there, I count as a fail.  Sure, I held out for 90 minutes, which was about half what I wanted to do, but I never did warm up and felt awkward and stiff on both the uphills and the downs.  That wasn't doing me any good, so I bailed.  The next time I went, I did a better job of dressing and learned what I need to be comfortable when it's 20 degrees: a hat that covers my ears, an extra layer under my ski pants.  I felt so much better (although still cold), and I skied for two and a half hours.


The other good part about that day was another thing I wanted to work on, which is downhills.  Stevens is great for that; there are no flat parts, and the downhills are continuous and curving, some steeper than others, but all challenging and fun.  This particular day, the snow was a mix of crunchy/soft/crunchy/soft, so the transitions kept me on my toes and made for excellent practice.  Plus, did I already say fun?  Yes, fun!


Another thing I wanted to work on was speed (or what counts for speed for me!).  I did an awesome workout at Cabin Creek that was, after a warm-up cruise down the road and back, six loops around just the Berg loop, which I think has the most hills per kilometer.  I did each one as if it were a bounding women workout, charging each uphill as hard as I possibly could, taking advantage of the hero snow to charge the downhills, too, going for max exhaustion, just to see if I could do six laps like that without letting up.  And I could!  That was awesome and, again, super fun!

In the same vein, I needed to recalibrate my pace; what kind of speed can I maintain over a longer time?  All the bounding women workouts were two hours; how fast can I push myself for four or more hours without blowing up?  My previous long races and workouts have been at a very pedestrian cruising pace; can I go faster, now that I am stronger?  So this time I did the full Viking and Berg loops, five times, ratcheting back the intensity a little bit from the Berg speed workout, but still trying to push hardish on the uphills, or at least not slow to a walk, and keep up the dynamicity on the flats, pushing the downhills as fast as I dared, and not letting up the intensity for the full four and a half hours.  That was a day that snowed really hard all day; flying down the downhills, the hard little snow pelted my eyeballs, making me almost blind as I skied down.  That was interesting!  The tracks started filling in by my fourth lap; by my fifth lap, everyone else had left and I ended up skiing in my own track, in several inches of soft deep snow, but I didn't let myself let up too much on the intensity.  That was one immensely satisfying day, and a real confidence booster.


Strength, of course, was another focus.  On the day that the pass report said chains required, I decided it was a good time to go to the free gym in my office building for a max strength workout; I don't want to be anywhere near trucks on I-90 when it's a chains-required day!  So I got in one good solid set of everything I wanted to do, and then some doofus guy came in with the worst case of flu you can imagine, sneezing and coughing and snotting and blowing and just about as disgusting as he could possibly be.  No way I wanted to be around those germs, so I shot him a hateful look, washed my hands, and left.  Yuck!  But I made up for it today, channeling Anders Aukland with a super-hard double pole workout at Cabin Creek.  I skied down to the end of the road, then double-poled all the way back to the Berg intersection, all double poling, no striding, and people, it was freakin' hard!  I've never been able to do that all the way before, and I really wanted to do it at least twice.  On my way back down between repeats, I skied smoothly and easily, focusing again on weight transfer, balance, fluidity, stretching out the glide.  After I had done two, I saw Rob and asked him, with all of his coaching experience, what he thought the optimal number of repeats would be.  He thought three would be great, four would be the absolute max, so I did four.  And wow, it was really really hard, which was exactly what I was looking for on this last day of my training block.  I hope I can get out of bed in the morning!


So, that is the end of the training block, and tomorrow I go back to work.  I feel very satisfied with how that went: I didn't waste any time, I followed through on my plan pretty much every day, I got plenty of sleep and took naps, and I ate a lot of vegetables.  Training gets a lot more complicated when I'm trying to work it in around my erratic work schedule, but this was a good chunk of quality hours stored in the savings account and in my legs and lungs, and I'm ready for the ski season to begin.  Can't wait to see what will happen in the next three months!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Test Run


I'm just loving my bounding women workouts so much!  I started the idea back in June; I wanted to do bounding workouts on the ski trails at Cabin Creek to improve my skiing, but I didn't want to do them by myself because I'm afraid of cougars.  All I really needed was just one other person, someone to alert the authorities if I were being eaten by a big mean cat, and more people, sure, that would be fun.  And after seeing those awesome training groups of women at MWC, racing against each other and cheering for each other and hanging out with each other at the awards ceremonies, I didn't know why we couldn't have something similar here.  It looked like fun, and I'm all about having fun!  There are plenty of women in the club, and plenty more in the broader community, and yet so few sign up for races.  If it's because of a lack of training opportunities, sister, I've got your back!

As it turned out, a small core group has developed.  Suzanne and Carol join me almost every time, give or take a vacation here and there, and Emily is a semi-regular, working around her biathlon schedule. But I have made every single one of the workouts, and I'm working hard on my biggest weaknesses: strength, dynamicity, and quickness.  I'm watching Norwegian ski team videos and reading training articles and constantly coming up with new ideas to add to our arsenal.  We started out in June meeting every other weekend, and beginning in October, as we get closer to ski season, switched to every week.  Earlier in the summer we had a real live coach -- Ozzie most of the time, and Per once -- and having those expert skiers to follow up the hills, to visualize, to bound in their footsteps, was hugely valuable; I really appreciated their taking the time to share their wisdom with us.

I believe in consistency, in the value of working steadily over a long period of time at something you want to improve.  But can I objectively know if I am improving with all this training?  This weekend was a chance to test my fitness/strength/quickness levels.  Normally our bounding workouts focus on the hilly sections of the Viking and Berg loops; we take shortcuts and backtrack on the trails to avoid the flats and do repeats on all the hills, shorter, longer, longest, steeper and steepest.  This weekend, for a change-up, we planned to skip our own workout and join the time trial/trail run over the full race course that Rune had organized, so we'd be covering the entire Berg/Viking/Ozbaldy complex, the flat sections as well as the hilly bits.


As it turned out, Rune canceled the official time trial, but some of us -- Rune, Suzanne, Rob, and I -- decided to do it anyway.  It was a bright chilly morning at the cabin, perfect for putting your mind into ski racing mode!  By the time I got there, Rune had already taken off on his lap and I never did see him, but Rob and Suzanne were waiting for me in the cabin.  We filled our water bottles and adjusted hats and gloves -- did I mention it was chilly? -- started our watches, and headed out on the trails.  Suzanne and I stick together in our usual workouts, with Rob doing his own training elsewhere on the trails, but this time, we split up; Suzanne is faster than I am, and Rob wasn't planning to do the whole race course, so we were all on our own.  That was okay; just having other bodies out on the trail would hopefully keep the cougars away!


It took a while to warm up, but wow, it was just a glorious morning!  I did stop a couple of times to take a quick picture, but mostly I moved as fast as I could.  I haven't been in running mode this year, but I ski walked with my poles as fast as possible on the flats and downhills, and attacked every single uphill, no matter how big or how small, sprint/bounding up them as hard and fast as I could.  No stopping for recovery at the top; I kept on moving over the top of each hill and back down the other side, just like I would in a race, recovering as quickly as I could so I could sprint the next hill.  It was ... fabulous.  I didn't have any way to measure my improvement objectively, but subjectively, I knew I have never before attacked that course that strongly, never before felt so dynamic and strong on the ups, never had so much fun breathing so hard I thought my heart would explode.  I loved every minute of it!

So now I know the training is working and I'm inspired to keep at it, and I also know the next thing I need to focus on.  Sprinting and bounding up those hills was like I had perfect wax, as every foot plant landed perfectly and stuck, no slipping or backsliding.  The important thing now will be to improve my waxing skills so that I can do the same thing on skis that I can do in shoes, actually putting this new hard-won fitness to work where it counts, on the snow, in a race.

Onward!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

A Trail is Born



All of us -- skiers, hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers -- love a good trail to carry us out into the great outdoors.  But trails don't just magically appear; someone put them there, and it's not an easy process.  How does it happen?  Like this ...

First, the land, and the vision.  Nature Conservancy owns the land on top of Amabilis and they are open to our putting in new ski trails up there.  That's half the battle right there!  Then it takes people like Suzanne to work with various parties to line up permissions and make sure we're following the guidelines, and people like Don and Frank to scramble around through the forest, climbing up and down, hanging blue tape on trees to mark a possible route, then moving the tape, then moving it again, looking for the optimal line.


Then we have a trail work party and the chainsaws come out.  Last fall we were able to build about a kilometer of new trail on this new system that Don and Frank are envisioning; last Sunday, I got to go with Don to hack in the next kilometer and see the sausage-making in action.  He had his chainsaw, I had my loppers, and we went to work.  It's an amazing process -- hard hard physical labor, and so so satisfying to see a new trail being born.

That's raw dense forest up there, and Don just started walking into it, knocking down trees that were in the way of the imaginary new trail.  I followed behind, keeping my eyes open for where trees were falling, and moved logs out of the way, chopped down little bushes, loppered branches, javelin-threw smaller trees deeper into the forest to get them out of the way.  It was basically a five-hour CrossFit workout, outside, on uneven terrain and with no water fountains.  CrossFit does that thing where they pick up the end of a log and throw it down, over and over?  Did that.  The kettleball lift?  Did that.  The javelin throw?  Over and over and over.  Hard hard work.

Every few minutes Don would turn off the chainsaw and walk the trail again, deciding, should the trail go around this way or keep going straight ahead?


Only a skier could build this trail, someone who understands and can visualize the best line, the most fluid course, the most fun trail.

Later in the morning, Brandon and Glenn joined us, bringing their pole saws and loppers, to keep clearing the trail behind Don.  And by the end, we had broken through to the next logging road and that section was real - wow!

Then it was time to head back to the cabin for lunch, and to compare stories with other trail workers.  Frank had led a group doing more clearing on the kilometer we built last year, Jim led another group on the lower trails doing more clearing there -- because those damn alders keep growing back!  Some people did a fall snowpark clean-up, very much needed, and some people joined in the trail run so our race timing crew could practice their timing.  And the most important people of all made us chicken for our lunch -- thank you, Kare and Aase!


Such a satisfying day; thanks, Don, for letting me tag behind you like a puppy chasing a stick!


He reported back later in the week:  "We pretty much finished up the trailwork yesterday.  3 saws (mine, Victor and Glenn) plus Frank makes quicker work of it. That said, it was still a 12-hour RT for Frank and I."

Now we just need snow, so we can let Nick loose up there with his groomer.  Winter is coming!