Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The off season

It's been a long while since I've had a true off season. Once I transitioned to no longer thinking of myself as an elite-wannabe-skier, the off season felt superfluous, and there was so much fun stuff happening in April! Enter years of great racing and training with the US Orienteering Team, trail races, and mountain biking.

This year, I've had a niggling, vague, undiagnosed injury all spring, that sort of appeared just after we wrapped up the ski-o World Cup. Yes, there are studies linking low sleep to injury rates. Yes, I've done all the usual things that should prevent/fix/heal injuries. One of these days, it might get better, but until then, I've reluctantly joined the injured runners club, and am trying to adapt to "normal" life. I don't like it. At least I can still ride my beater bike to work, but much more than that starts to trigger Bad Things.

The worst part about being injured, especially with no real reason or endpoint in sight, is the struggle with identity. It becomes very clear how intertwined my sense of identity is with my athletic adventures. When you define yourself as an athlete, open to any challenge, what happens when you can't move the way you want to? Hand in hand with this of course are body image issues, that I hadn't even known existed.

So, it's been a slow spring. I did get in a few late-season skiing excursions, and conditions for that were simply superb. The number of times I said to myself "if this is my last ski of the season, I'm ok with that" was starting to get silly. I've had to cancel a few races, which is of course upsetting, but I maintain hope that I'll get through this, intact, and stronger than ever.

 It's not all doom and gloom. Here are some photos of mellow spring adventuring.

Awesome late-season crust skiing at Prospect, on a bluebird day



It's not fun until you get caught in an April snowstorm on your bike. I was trying to make a loop that didn't really want to loop, but in the end it worked out and I emerged from the woods.

A warmer day, or at least a dryer one, exploring some nearby trails

Coaching some new young'ns


Artistic foliage shots while cheering for runners at 7 Sisters

The view along the Holyoke Range ridge, with time to take it in this year. Still torn up about not starting the race, but it was the right decision, for once.

Orienteering selfies! Helped to vet and set controls at the Junior Nationals, at Mt. Tom. Beautiful forests, and a really great event. 

Becky and Ed hard at work figuring out points over a pile of Indian food during the Mt. Tom Junior Nationals

Finish line at Junior Nationals

More orienteering selfies! It was a glorious misty morning, and I really enjoyed waking up and checking controls for that event. 

Day two of Junior Nationals poured buckets. Our arena turned into a lake.

Park-o selfies!

A warmer day for a park-o. Love that we have this Thursday night orienteering series. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

Spring Fling and Supertour

I hadn't been planning to head back to Craftsbury for the Supertour Finals. But, Ed had been in Vermont for a month, with no plans of coming home, timing various races, so that was my only chance to see him. And, it turns out, watching your heroes race in person is pretty cool. All the USST members were there, including Kikkan and Jessie from the gold medal relay team. I definitely cried when I watched that Olympic race, because it was just so cool to see Kikkan do it. She's been driving this sport for the last decade and a half, inspiring women and girls around her, leading by example, and building up a team around her worthy of Olympic medals. What a way to wrap up your career.
Kathy and I with a strong fangirl game, getting a selfie in front of Kikkan Randall finishing her race

Anyway, I got to see them race. They're so stupid fast. I got to cheer for graduated CSU juniors, who were also going stupid fast. The weather was awesome, and to top it off, there were citizens races after the Supertour races, so I got to race too! 

Saturday was the 25k Spring Fling, twice around the flattest loop they could put together. The weather forecast ended up being totally wrong, calling for much more wintry conditions than what we found, but Rob and I did our usual ski coach thing of testing rills and topcoats and skis, and we ended up on some ripping boards. Unfortunately, our one junior in the race never gave us his skis, so didn't have the same experience.

The race was a self-seeded mass start, and with over 200 racers, this meant chaos. It then had ~2km of flat to downhill terrain, so the chaos wasn't going to end for a while. Luckily I made it through the start unscathed, and in a reasonable position, a little ways back from Rob and Bob and ahead of any women. Gotta look out for ponytails and round butts in a mixed gender mass start. There were quite a few BKL skiers mixed in, doing the one-lapper, and they were kind of hard to ski with, sprinting ahead and then coasting. I guess you don't learn about pacing until you're older. 

My skis were great, so I spent a lot of time hanging out in a tuck. We finally started climbing up Sam's run, and I was with some masters that I knew, happy to not go any faster. A few minutes into that, a large group of college-ish-aged boys came through, clearly having gotten stuck in the start and not having the skis I did. One guy from my group upped the pace to go with them, but the rest were content to keep to our plodding ascent. We finally hit the crest, and I enjoyed the ride back down, gapping my group. Wheee! I could see Bob and Rob as we climbed back up to the Center, but I knew they were doing one lap, so didn't burn any matches to close the gap. 

The second lap was much more lonely, since a bunch of folks had pulled off after one lap. I was skiing with Steve M for the beginning, leading on the flats and he'd lead on the uphills, and still the three other guys I'd been with on the last lap. They started ducking and weaving as it warmed up and got sunny, trying to stay on the shady snow, which was a lot faster. Sometimes I followed them, and sometimes I just took the short line, because my skis weren't that dramatically slower in the sun. 

It spread out a little on the climb up Sam's, with the Craftsbury guy pulling ahead a little, and Steve discovering that his skis were dogs in the sun and dropping off the back. We started to see the back of my junior who hadn't waxed his skis, struggling in the slush and the sun. By the top, we'd made contact, and could see one other skier way ahead of us. Nice to have another rabbit. 

Coming back up Ruthie's, I got sick of the ducking and weaving, and took the lead. The pace had also started to feel a little stale. Let's kick this up a notch! I was feeling good, and could tell from the various breathing noises behind me that some of the guys were having to push a little. It wasn't a break, but that wasn't what I was going for, I just wanted to ski my pace for a bit instead of following someone else's lead. They came around on the final climb past the cabins, where we finally made contact with our rabbit, Ethan T, also suffering on slow skis. Up the finally little climb and into the finish I guess I didn't push as hard as I maybe could have; I had no skin in the game against those masters, and they were all gunning for each other. It was a good fun race, though, and my longest all season, so it was nice to feel strong at the end. 

You guys, skiing is just so much fun!!!

Sunday was relay day. First we watched the Supertour teams throwing down, which was a really cool experience. Then it was time for the NENSA Club Championship relay. I was on a CSU team of Tom Smith, Amie Smith, and Rob Bradlee. That would be team Fluorinated Bacon to you. Amie supplied us with bacon socks, and we were ready to roll. 


Rob went first (classic) then Amie (classic), then Tom (skate), then me (skate). Rob had a solid first leg, but Amie struggled a bit with the kick, and dropped some time. Tom had a good leg, reeling in quite a few teams, and tagged off to me maybe a few minutes behind the next mixed 200+ team, and even with the Mansfield Ice Agers, another mixed 200+ team.

My skis were rockets again, and I shot down Murphy's field barely holding the corners. Whooooooowee! Passed three teams by the end of Murphy's field that I hadn't even known I was behind. Then on the rolling stuff out past Duck Pond, I discovered that actually I was pretty tired. Rick, from Mansfield, caught back up, and I hopped in behind, even though that took some effort. Down the little hill in the field, I made sure to take the lead to give myself space, and that was the last I saw of Rick.

I started to push pretty hard up Eleanor's, knowing he was right behind me, and passed two BKL teams. Some people were cheering at six corners, which was helpful, and I got two more teams doing that little loop, but looking at results it appears those were both third-leg skiers. Back onto race course fare after that, over the B climb and into the final bit on Lemon's haunt, not too many people around to chase down.

 I ended up with one of the fastest last-leg times, which was sweet, and held off Rick by putting 30 seconds into him, which was also sweet. We're listed as fourth 200+ team, but I think there's an error because the team in third is the SLU coach and three of his athletes, no way they're old enough. So a podium finish for team Fluorinated Bacon! Super fun.


I'm super glad that I went up to race this weekend. It was a really fun way to wrap up the season, and now I'm ready for a little down time (though I won't say no if a ski trip pops up in my future). 

Ed catching some zzz's during the jury meeting... turns out he doesn't like early mornings. Who knew? But he and John crushed the timing game again, quietly making everything work and run smoothly. Fantastic.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Eastern Highschool Championships

The last official race of the season was the Eastern Highschool Champs, up in Rumford ME. CSU sent pretty much every kid to this race on the Massachusetts team, and I was head coach, which meant I could make all the other coaches do the work while I ate brownies and watched the races.



Race venue was Black Mountain of Maine, in Rumford. I love this race course, it's hard but fair, with some good climbing and lots of skiing, not just a highway. I don't love the smell of the town of Rumford, but that paper mill employs a lot of people, so can't complain too much. Usually the wind is blowing the right way to take the smell away from the ski area.

Love how many women we have on our coaching staff. I think we may even outnumber the men on this team, not a normal thing in the ski coaching world. Brian Burt photo.

Caught in the act of actually doing some work. Brian Burt photo.

First race of the weekend was Friday's 5k skate. Turns out the Massachusetts boys all brought their A-games this year, and absolutely carried the team. The CSU boys were a large part of that, led by senior Oliver in 5th, then James in 6th, Ayden in 16th (huge race for him!), Jackson in 18th, and Jacob in 21st. That was just the first page! Laura led the girls in 6th, with Shea 11th, Madeline 13th, Amelia 21st and Rebecca 25th. Super strong showing for first-page results, though unfortunately Mass also had a reasonable showing on the last-page results, too, for the girls.

Saturday morning started with a mass start classic race. Hardwax in March! It's always great when EHS isn't a total klister-fest. We had more great results from my CSU kids, and mass starts are so exciting to watch. Laura moved up into 4th, skiing the whole race with the lead pack, followed by Shea in 9th, Madeline 15th, Rebecca 16th, and Amelia 26th. The boys absolutely sent it again, led by James in 2nd, Jacob in 6th, Oliver 18th, Henry 22nd, Jackson 24th, and Linden 27th.
Start of the girls' mass start. Winter conditions.
Boys' mass start, OSnow in a good start


Saturday afternoon was the sprints, wave starts with one skier from each state in each wave. That's a super fun format for spectating, again, and I really enjoyed watching the races. Mass had a great day in the sprints, and we ended up 2nd among all the teams after the three individual races. On the boys' side, CSU put 10 in the top 33! That's pretty good for a single club that trains on a golf course in eastern MA. Huge results Alex, Kevin, Dwight, Connor, and Thor, stepping way up.

The final race of the weekend is the mixed-gender/mixed-technique relay. This is my favorite race of the weekend, because the kids tend to absolutely send it. Nothing makes you work hard like doing it for a teammate! We had a couple really good relay teams, and it was a super exciting race to watch. We took the silver medal, which was the first year in the last eight or something that we haven't won the relay, but that was a tall order this year with Ben Ogden on the VT team. He put something like a 40-second gap on the field, which is almost impossible to make up. But in making that move, it strung out the pack, and Jacob was able to hang on for a little while, buying some time for the rest of his team.

Our second relay also had a great ski, with some really gutsy moves along the way. They ended up in 7th, and our third relay was 11th, just 0.1 seconds out of 10th. NH ended up beating us on the day, but not by enough to move ahead, so Mass held on to the silver medal position! I'm super proud of this team and my CSU kids, the guts and determination and attitudes they brought made a huge difference in both the results and the professionalism on the team.

My boy Jackson absolutely crushing the last leg of his relay. Brian Burt photo. 

Start of the relay, Laura and Kate in good position

My kids skied great. This senior class was the one who had been on the fateful bus trip from Fort Kent four years ago, and it was great fun to have them close out their Highschool careers at this event. I was super psyched to see the great attitudes everyone brought. Lots of positive energy, fast skiing, and some heavy snotcicles.


The relay podium, Mass in second place! 

 Thanks to all my coaches who did the actual work! Hilary Greene, Robert Bradlee, Maddy Wendt, peter Rayton, Frank Feist, Gunther Kern, Dorothee Kern, Susannah Wheelwright, Hiram Greene, Graham Taylor. And a huge thanks to NENSA, Amber Dodge Freeman, and Chisholm Ski Club for hosting this great event!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Craftsbury World Cup

Probably two years ago, Adrian and Ken got excited about hosting a World Cup for ski orienteering in the US. They got the IOF excited (which doesn't take much, considering that orienteering with a global distribution is one of the goals of IOF, so they're always ready to jump if North America wants to host something big), and somehow got us committed to the thing before exactly having all the key players placed. I'm a sucker, so I got roped into course setting with barely a fight. With hindsight, should I have pushed back more, and had them find a different course setter? I'm not being boastful when I say that I think we needed me in the roles I was filling to pull off this event to the level we did, so I'll stand behind my decision to be course setter. But this last week was not easy, especially for a gal who likes her sleep.

But, I got to talk on the radio! Here's a link to the piece by VPR: 

That sounds a little negative. This event was pretty awesome. We just needed four times as many competent volunteers with very specific and hard-to-acquire skillsets working on the event.

I won't bore you with the details leading up to the event. But consider it like planning a wedding, where nobody gets married. And if you screw up, the entire party will be upset at you. Particularly for the World Cup athletes, this is their livelihood. No pressure. 

Early on, Andy Hall had volunteered himself to help with course setting, and that was a lifesaver. We went a few times up to the venue to scout trails, and way too many hours on setting and redoing and redoing and redoing courses, and then redoing again on the night before the event when we finally understood how the map would look. 
Andy and Ollie, clearly in charge because they both have radios and coffee. Ollie was a little skeptical about this whole ski orienteering ordeal, but I think he came around by the time I saw him sharing beers with the Swiss "pirate" wax tech. 

The fun thing about ski orienteering is that the map will change on a daily basis, depending on the grooming. Our Senior Event Advisor, Antti Myllärinen, was a whiz with the snowmobile, and managed to get things groomed that we didn't think were possible. That was pretty great. COC staff currently refer to him as the "badass Finnish groomer," and rumor has it they're going to name a dog after him. 

Antti, our badass Finnish groomer. And everything else.
Our junior IOF Event Advisor, Staffan Tunis. This guy also won the World Cup back in 2012, so it was great to have him around to pick his brain.

Super thanks to Bill and the rest of the Outdoors Center staff for all their help this week. I think they were fairly entertained by the craziness of this sport, and enjoyed learning about something totally different than the usual slew of ski races they're so familiar with. John Lazenby photo.

So the order of events is that you have to redo the map, reset all the courses, place all the controls, and not screw any of that up in about 12 hours before every race. There's no way that's not crazy. Good thing ski-o is so much fun, or nobody would do it. The local kids (and grownups!) were all pretty excited with the narrow trails, too, and people were getting a real kick skiing around them. That made me happy. We had really good turnout for the Tuesday night open race.

Adrian, our fearless leader, in the opening ceremony parade. John Lazenby photo.

The Races
First race of the week was the sprint race for the World Cup, and Middle distance #1 for the masters. Conditions were thin, frozen corn snow that softened into slush for the masters, with a generous scattering of branches, dirt, rocks, and pine needles. It took a good skier to stay on your feet, and Tove Alexandersson, the women's champion, said that she felt like a pinball, bouncing off of trees the whole time. Lots of broken equipment, but that's part of the game in this sport. 

Not such great snow conditions. 

Next up was the middle distance for the World Cup, and the second middle distance for the masters. These were good courses, but the snow continued to be thin. I started to hear some complaints from the older skiers about how they didn't appreciate the thin snow conditions, but they were also complaining when I didn't send them into the small trails, so really, there's no way to win. The wide trails were still in excellent condition, because Craftsbury has one of the best grooming crews out there. Anyway, the World Cup racers all seemed to enjoy the middle distance courses, and that left a warm fuzzy inside for Andy and me. 
Men's middle distance map. Pretty great courses, and the athletes 
seemed to really enjoy them too. Humility has never been my strong suit.


Men's champions on the middle distance: Erik Rost, Linus Rapp, and Jorgen Madslien. Lazenby photo.

Estonian racing through the forest. Lazenby photo.

It happens. Lazenby photo.

Tove Alexandersson skiing aggressively, a style she's known for. Lazenby photo.

Beautiful weather for the sprint distance. Lazenby photo.

Snowfall!

We got some snow finally on the "rest" day, Thursday. It was actually a reasonable dump, 8 inches or so, and that was good news except that it meant now we had to regroom and remap the entire area. Cool, no problem. We got behind on Thursday, and every step seemed to put us more behind, enough that we had barely finished printing all the maps by 5am when it was time to start getting the controls into the terrain. I still think it's a small miracle that our little team managed to get everything into the terrain and with the accuracy that we did - unfortunately, we did have one control mislabeled, and that caused some problems. There was no formal protest, but it leaves a really bad taste in your mouth to know that you've screwed up, and that it ruined somebody else's day. The mistake was in not having somebody who had actually slept review what we were doing. Live and learn, and hopefully never find ourselves in that position again. We also had a crucial gap in our information train, and some of the masters went out without knowing that they had a map exchange to do, which ruined more peoples' days.

On a related note, I don't remember my last all-nighter, but the experience has certainly not gotten any more pleasant with age. Kudos to Andy and Staffan for suffering through it with me.

Anyway, the final race was a sprint relay, mixed gender. This was good fun to watch, with the athletes going head to head for most of the race. The Swedish team of Erik Rost and Tove Alexandersson won the race, even though Tove broke her ski near the end of her last loop. I hopped into the open relay with Ari, just for kicks, and it was fun to race on my own courses. At this point I knew the trails so well that it's not like the navigation was a challenge, but it was a lot of fun anyway. 

Then on to the banquet (with a quick stop by Hill Farmstead). Some of the details for that had been left to the last minute, but we made it work, and the athletes all got their awards. 

Overall, a great week. It may be a lot of work, but it is rewarding to see something of this magnitude come together. Hopefully once I've caught up on sleep I can distill some of our lessons learned into something we can apply to our National Events.

Overall world cup winner Andrei Lamov

Flying ponytails! Salla Koskela, women's long distance winner.

Team USA - Ari and Jimmy! Next time we'll get them some team uniforms.

Race office before the chaos.

Boris was our announcer, and absolutely crushed it. And, he got to announce from the inside of John's sweet remodeled bus.

Not all manmade features are on the map. Probably better throw some snow on this one...

Very serious course setting team.

Office team, getting ready for the chaos

John and his bus

 The crush within the office when maps are announced as ready to return

Long distance medals

Jimmy on the start line. Photo by Greg Walker.

Pain faces. Greg Walker photos


Ed's timing hut. Greg Walker photo

Lamov coming to the finish. Greg Walker photo

Finnishing. Ha. Greg Walker photo.

Mass start - Greg Walker photo

Women's start. Greg Walker photo


Craftsbury breakfasts are my favorite part about going there. This week didn't disappoint. Somehow I didn't gain 5lb. Must have something to do with the 18 hours of skiing and 18 hours of sleeping that happened while there.

A huge thank you to everyone who made this week possible. It was a successful week in a great venue.