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Archive for March, 2011

50k the hard way!

28.Mar.2011 by Patrick O'Brien

The GRP crew kicked off our racing here in Sun Valley with the 50k at US Distance Nationals this last Saturday. The weather here in Idaho has been a mix of fresh snow overnight and sun and clouds during the day making for some great mid-winter conditions. The morning of the 50k we were greeted by falling snow and high humidity, which in a classic race can make for tricky “zeros” conditions. Luckily Nick and Pepa found a hard wax that provided both the speed and kick we were looking for and we were able to avoid having to stop mid race and re-wax like several other teams. Being US Distance Nationals, the course planners didn’t hold back in their design. The result was a 7 lap course (4 laps for the girls racing the 30k the next day) that featured a great combination of fast double poling, gradual striding uphills, as well as an extremely long and steep “A” climb to really separate the field before the fast decent into the finish area. Of the previous 50k races that I have done, this one certainly featured some of the most vertical at over 4800 ft of climbing in 50k (for comparison Mt Mansfield is 4395 ft above sea level and is only around 3600 vertical of climbing) yet the course was still very skiable for having that much climbing.

A 50k is a very interesting distance to race because it is so different pace wise than a 10 or 15k race. Yes you breathe hard, and your muscles burn on the hills, but everything is much more drawn out than the shorter races. Instead of racing for 30 or 45 minutes you’re going hard for 2.5+ hours, and during that time some funky stuff can happen. The weather can change a lot (it did), you run out of glycogen which is your primary fuel source when racing (I did), your muscles can cramp up from over use (they did), and then you might not be going as fast as when you started. Somewhere between the feed station and long hill going out on my 6th lap I knew I was done. I went from skiing pretty easily with the main pack on earlier laps to survival mode in the span of just a few kilometers. Judging from the number of people I passed pulling off bibs or taking off skis trying to stretch and loosen cramped muscles I wasn’t the only one hurting during the second half of the race. The last two laps I was skiing to finish.

A 50k is one of my favorite race distances because it is so much about the right mindset. You really don’t know how the race is going to go until you have a bib on skiing down the trail. There might be times when you feel great, and there are certainly going to times when you feel terrible and want to stop but few things feel better than crossing the finish line exhausted knowing your done and you raced a long long way in the process.

Ida cheering on Kikkan (USST) and Maria (Utah) in the 30k

Ida cheering on Kikkan (USST) and Maria (Utah) race leaders in the 30k

Han skiing away from a chase pack on the last climb

Han skiing away from a chase pack on the last climb

Apologies for the lack of photos so far. Super Tour Finals starts tomorrow with the freestyle prologue followed by a classic mass start the next day. Should be a blast!

The Long Goodbye.

21.Mar.2011 by Chelsea Little

I am not a crier. I would say that on average, I cry perhaps two or three times a year. I’m sure that in my 23 years of life here, there have been some years when I didn’t cry at all (they were probably in high school).

But so far in 2011, I have already cried twice. I’ve used up my quota of tears, and I’m at risk of regressing to the days when I was a small child throwing fits in the grocery store.

The first time was on January 25th. It’s not like I wrote down the date- I mostly remember it because it was the Tuesday before the Craftsbury Marathon.

For a long, long time, I had been wondering if I would keep ski racing after this season. I’d discussed it with a few of my teammates and in every conversation, I had said that I thought I would know when the time came to leave. What I meant is that my results would bad enough or good enough to guide my decision. But so far, that time hadn’t come. My results so far had been far from strong, but I’d also had very few races where I felt good. I was sure that if I felt good, I could ski faster.

But I finally realized that I didn’t want this question to dominate my season. I had to choose one way or another and get it over with. So after thinking for two days, I decided: I wasn’t going to keep on.

(So to Anders, who said he was “mad at the people who fired me”: I guess you can be mad at me. I fired myself.)

In my season and a half with the GRP up to that point, I hadn’t had a single result that had jumped out and grabbed anyone’s attention, especially not my own. I was fitter, stronger, and a better technical skier than when I graduated from Dartmouth. I trained better: longer on distance days and faster on intensity days. I was more coordinated and I had developed fast-twitch muscles for the first time in my life. But when I got in races, for whatever reason, the promise shown in training didn’t pan out. It’s something that Pepa and I have never figured out – I just should have been racing much faster than I ever did.

If I hadn’t improved with the GRP in two years, I didn’t think a third year would do the trick. Plus, I felt guilty taking up the incredible resources that this team had to offer when someone else – someone who was developing and improving – potentially had to leave skiing because they couldn’t find support for their racing career.

I toyed with applying to a different program because I was confident that I hadn’t reached my potential as a racer. But in the end, I felt that my time was up. When I became part of the GRP, I felt like I held a winning lottery ticket in my hand. I didn’t want to become addicted to gambling, so to speak; I didn’t want to be one of those racers who hangs around forever, racing to mediocrity and always hoping for the mythical result that would justify their ever-lengthening commitment to skiing.

In some ways it was like a huge weight was lifted. I could race for the rest of the season just for racing’s sake, for the fun of it all, without worrying about how my results or my FIS points would set me up for next year. I could really enjoy skiing in a way that I hadn’t before, not since high school, before the days when I put pressure on myself.

But I cried, too. I love skiing, and I love racing. Even though I had made my decision and I knew it was time to move on, it was hard to give up something that I loved so much. That’s where the tears came from, a realization that simply loving racing wasn’t enough to let me stay.

I decided to make the next eight weeks the best weeks of my life as a skier. I planned out some races I was excited about. I wasn’t going to mess around, now that these were my last chances.

That very weekend – the weekend of the Craftsbury Marathon – I competed in a mini-tour in Orford, Quebec. While I certainly wasn’t winning or setting any records, they were the best races of my career with the GRP. I felt like I was skiing well. I was “in” each race, responding to what was happening around me, attacking, making things happen. I had a ton of fun. I immediately wondered if I had made the right decision. What if every race could be like this? Wouldn’t that make it worth staying?

But I think that part of the reason I skied well was that I wasn’t worrying about anything. I didn’t change my mind – instead the races reinforced my commitment to leaving the sport.

After races in Stowe, Vermont, and then in Gatineau, Canada – both of which were fun but unspectacular, results-wise – my season veered away from its planned course.

I headed to the Midwest, where the SuperTour races I was signed up for in Madison were canceled due to political protests. After an unexpected training weekend, I raced the American Birkebeiner, which was supposed to be something for fun – I’m not a strong marathon skier – but had suddenly become the focal point of the trip.

I also got the opportunity to travel to Oslo, Norway, to help FasterSkier cover World Championships, most-expenses-paid. With few races in New England in early March, it seemed like a no-brainer to go. And it turned out to be the best trip I’ve ever been on.

But I didn’t really train while I was there. I skied, but it was the opposite of training; practically all of my skiing was in that grey zone where you are going hard, but it’s not a quality workout.

Then I came back to the U.S. and got a cold. Too many late nights, too little eating, too much drinking, and that not-training all added up to poor health.

By the time the Spring Tour rolled around – the last races of my career – I was in a bad spot, athletically. In the last month, I had done one race, which was a marathon, one set of max intervals in late February, one aborted threshold workout in which I felt terrible, and a set of thirty-second intervals to wake up.

I was not in shape to go hard. And it showed in the first two races. Yikes.

I had had this idea that I would finish my career with a bang. I think, somehow, I had believed that all the karma from anything good I had ever done as a skier would come back to me, and I would go out in a blaze of glory; maybe I’d even win a race.

Obviously, this is not how things work. Especially when you haven’t been training.

The last race of the tour was the best, in a number of ways. I just went out and skied. I caught a few girls in the pursuit, I raced as hard as I could, and I basked in the sun. Then I continued to bask in the sun during the men’s race, and during the post-race barbecue, and during the second ski that I made myself go on through the fields on Sam’s Run, and as we sat around in the yard drinking beer, our last activity as a team before Matt and I left. By that night, I had a vicious sunburn.

It was the best way I could have ended my career as a “serious” racer – even better than if I had won. On a perfect spring day, I was reminded of the best things about the ski world: camaraderie, community, and fun.

And when I left the assembled chairs, crates, and logs where my teammates were sitting in the sun, still drinking beers to celebrate a season well-done, I was sad to go pack up my few remaining belongings.

I had thought that since I had decided to leave two months ago, I would have had time to sort out these feelings. I didn’t think it would hit me all of a sudden as I left my now-empty room and carried the last box out to my car. But it did hit me, and I started crying for the second time in 2011.

Craftsbury has been my home for two years. Not since high school have I lived in a single house for as long as I lived at Elinor’s. Nor have I lived with the same people for so long, or felt as much part of a single place. For all the ups and downs, the adventures and bonfires, the frustrations and disagreements, the good races and the bad, this had been my place, where I belonged.

Saying goodbye to a place that has affected you so much is impossible, even if you’re excited about what comes next.

I kept crying as I gave my teammates hugs, wished them luck, and promised that I’d see them again. After briefly putting myself together, I cried as I drove by the Common for a last time, and then shed my final tears – perhaps for the year – as I turned off of South Craftsbury Road, onto Route 14, and towards the future.

Getting Stoked!

16.Mar.2011 by Ida Sargent

World Champs have come and gone and I’m still having trouble finding the best words to describle the experience.  It was downright amazing and an event on a level above anything that I’ve ever seen.  Norway loves Nordic skiing.  The atmosphere at Holmenkollen was a testament to that devotion.  There were usually more spectators lining the trails and cheering on training days than one sees at your average race in the United States making it hard to not hammer around all the time.  The enthusiasm and energy was contagious!   Despite having horrible races, I left Oslo feeling more fired up and motivated than ever before!  Here are a few pictures from Holmenkollen and World Champs 2011!

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Big thanks to my parents who came to Oslo (and took a lot of these pictures).  Here is a view of the stadium including the final steep climb of all of the courses.  The cheering in the stadium was deafening and turning onto the final homestretch took the noise to a level that has probably never before been associated with Nordic skiing.

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Athletes warming up for the sprint

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A few of the people who came out to cheer

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And it wasn’t just Norwegians

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A few of the days it was incredibly foggy and visibility was basically nonexistent but that didn’t deter any of the fans.

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Jean Koons at the front of the pack with a New Zealand and an American flag.

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The distance courses made big loops away from the packed stadium giving ample room for camping and partying.

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There were flags everywhere but nobody cared where you were from and everyone cheered for everyone.  Lots of people had downloaded start lists and knew all the athletes’ names so HEIA IDA HEIA IDA followed me around the course.

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Here I am racing in the skate sprint.  It was a really frustrating day for me personally as it didn’t go as well as it could have or should have but I was psyched to be there and looking forward to doing it again two years from now!

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Matt Whitcomb and I test skis before the classic race.  Our coaches worked incredibly hard throughout the championships with ten consecutive days of racing.  Huge thanks for all their efforts! We had a great team with lots of positive energy!

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Team USA in our hotel.  Where’s Waldo?

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The 10km classic was held on an extremely hard 10km loop.  I’ve seen a lot of very hilly courses this winter but Holmenkollen took it to a new level!

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It was also very fun and inspiring to join the crowds as a spectator and watch the other races of the championships.  Our Athlete bibs and credentials gave us full access to the Holmenkollen venue.  Here Sweden, Norway, and Slovenia battle it out in the final of the women’s team sprint.

P2270137The Men’s 30km pursuit

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Even the Norwegians had labelled Kikkan as the favorite in the sprint and we were all pretty bummed when that day didn’t turn out for her as well as it should have.  But she’s an amazing competitor and teammateand was all smiles despite the huge disappointment and battled back skiing really well here in the team sprint.

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By far the best day of cheering and watching occured when the Canadians won the team sprint over the Norwegians.  Later that day we joined the crowds,  which numbered close to 100,000 in downtown Oslo, to watch the medals ceremony.

P3020299Cheers!

A Winter Week in Vermont

8.Mar.2011 by Susan Dunklee

Late last week: blue skies and temps in the 20s…

Late afternoon in Elinor's Field

Late afternoon in Elinor's Field

The forest critters are out and about

The forest critters out and about

Hannah's art gallery in our living room- the inspiration for my attempts at photography

Hannah's art gallery in our living room- the inspiration for my attempts at photography

Saturday: Marathon Tour, very windy, tricky waxing, rain showers begin in the afternoon

The drifts at Rocking Rock Road, location of the Tour's first food station

The drifts across Rocking Rock Road, location of the Tour's first food station

Craftsbury BKLers take a break partway through the Tour

Craftsbury BKLers take a break partway through the Tour

Judy and Ethan help supervise a post Tour biathlon clinic.  We had 30 participants show up and we had to run a second session.

Judy and Ethan help supervise a post Tour biathlon clinic. We had 30 participants show up and we had to run a second session.

Sunday: 12 hour Torrential Downpour…

"Rumble in the Rain:" Craftsbury's first (in modern times) biathlon race.  Matt is lining up participants for the start of the novice race.  This picture doesn't do justice to have devastatingly drenching it was.  We were initially hesitant to hold the race because we didn't think any one would show up (wrong! we had a whooping 15) and we thought we might damage the trails.  Little did we realize what the weather gods had in store...

"Rumble in the Rain:" Craftsbury's first (in modern times) biathlon race. Matt is lining up participants for the start of the novice race. This picture doesn't do justice to how devastatingly drenching it was. Initially we were hesitant to hold the race because we didn't think any one would show up (wrong! we had a whooping 15) and we thought we might damage the trails. Little did we realize what the weather gods had in store...

… Switching to blizzard and one of Vermont’s bigger snowstorms in recent memory

HOLY *#$%!  The view out our backdoor Monday morning.

HOLY *#$%! The view out our backdoor Monday morning. And it was still coming down.

We thought about skiing off the roof, but the upstairs window was snowed in too.

We thought about skiing off the roof, but the upstairs window was snowed in too.

Digging out the cars

Digging out the cars.

Ollie marks where the Mercedes is so that Corey doesn't hit it with the plow

Ollie marks where the Mercedes is so that Corey doesn't hit it with the plow

Tuesday: Back to blue skies

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