Friday, February 13, 2015

With record snow tallies, the "Tuesday Night World's" at Weston is thriving. I missed a week when I suspected dubious conditions. But the last couple weeks were fabulous. A challenging, nearly 3km course is now laid out over the original snow-making area and a long finger out into the "flats."

I came to this week's race slightly less tired than last week's. I lined up in the A-wave one row further up, row 8. Based on my finishing place, I could line up one or two more rows up. There are about 15 rows in each wave. But I'm not a strong starter and tend to get gapped in the first 500 meters. It is better that I not create a bottleneck. But it also means I have to fight like hell to gain those dropped positions back.

We do a rolling NASCAR start. After about 200m or so, the race goes live. Actually, it felt pretty live as soon as we started rolling. Robert Faltus started just behind me but promptly passed me and latched on to the lead pack of 20 or so skiers. That pack proceeded to go bye-bye as a gap opened and there was nothing I could do about it. Dang! It was perfect powder conditions, zero wind, upper 20's for temp. In other words, it doesn't get better than that. Didn't I warm up thoroughly enough?

Nobody was coming around me either, and the other half of the A-wave was either content with me up front or became as instantly gassed as I did.  I didn't single-handedly drag us up. Skiers started to get spit out of that lead group and I think Mark Doughty and one or two others might have come up for stints. We scooped up Robert.

By end of lap two, I think we were down a 5-some, me, Robert, Mark, Bob Burnham and Jessica Snyder. After a big pull, I got tired on the flats on the third and final lap. Jessica and Bob came around. Jessica took a massive pull, being small and not leaving much of a draft in her wake. I was gasping.  That was enough to pop Robert and Mark off I think, but they were dangling oh so close behind. I know from experience if I come into the finish with Robert, he'll decisively trounce me.

With less than two minutes to go, it was Jessica, Bob and me on the lower part of the course below the club house. Bob caught a rut and very nearly went down. I nearly went into him and he didn't even crash! That is how close together we were skiing and at a pretty good clip there too, having just dropped down. Then not 5 seconds later, Jessica apparently did the same thing and hit the deck hard. How Bob and I both avoided stacking on top of her is beyond me. There are many turns and hills in those last two minutes. I could not hold Bob's draft the rest of the way in. I crossed the line about 3 seconds behind him for 14th overall and 12.7% back from winner.

Was not a fast conditions night, but it was probably my best TNW race so far. Form felt decent, which it should in perfect conditions. Didn't make any tactical errors either. I've learned you have to be super aggressive in the first couple kilometers. Gaps will open, and it is too easy to be complacent and hope "somebody" is going to come around to pull you back up there. Just like in a bike race, if it matters to you, that somebody is has to be you. The last couple races I spent a lot of time out front with others in tow. Fun stuff, my primary mid-week workout, and it looks like I can count on it for many weeks to come.

I'll leave you with a photo from Friday's ski at Windblown. Mt Monadnock may look pretty, but it was a frightfully cold, windy day.


What's in your pie chart?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

I've been keeping a training log for going on 15 years now. Only aerobic activities are quantitatively tracked. It would be cool to animate the distribution of my activities over the course of a year. In a good winter, Nordic skiing would quickly dominate my pie chart, only to be squashed back down as summer moves in and cycling hours grow. Then as the end of the year approaches, skiing would start to push back on cycling hours again.

This winter is proving to be the particularly challenging to get quality riding in outdoors. By quality, I mean riding without constant fear of vehicles taking you out on roads barely wide enough for two cars to pass. Or riding off-road without constantly battling for control in powder. Or fighting weekly snowstorms.

I've learned several years ago to not fight ma nature when she thwarts your attempts to ride. Let ma nature be your ally.  There are many snow sports that can be enjoyed for similar durations and intensity levels as riding bikes. One I've become particularly fond of is skate skiing. The cool thing about skate skiing is how similar it is to mountain biking. The aerobic intensities, the average and max speeds, the adrenaline rushes going downhill, lung searing climbs, in the woods away from cars - all very similar between the two activities.

Even though I have a mountain biking trip to Arizona coming up in less than four weeks, I've pretty much given in to the fact that skiing is going to carry my fitness over until then. Just as well. I have a 50k ski race the week before my trip.

I ordered some snowshoes, so before this winter closes out, there will be an additional colored slice to my pie chart. Maybe next winter will be a dud and mostly riding will be had. Either way, I'm covered.


Isn't it ironic...

Monday, February 2, 2015

don't you think? A little too ironic... and yeah, I really do think. The words of Alanis Morissette come to mind when looking out the window.  Nordic skiers and fat bikers alike were doing the snow dance while a snow drought persisted, and now we have snow by the foot.

I've never been one to "ride" indoors. I find it mentally abrasive, no different than say being blasted by music you hate or overwhelmed by the stench from a landfill. I've dabbled with indoor trainers a few times but just couldn't reach that flow state of mind that is achieved by moving yourself through the outdoor environment.

There was one year I missed only three days riding outside. I had no goal of riding everyday outside. Things just happened that way. I think the days I missed were due to business travel. I rode trails in the winter when I could. A 26" wheeled mountain bike with 2" wide tires didn't offer much float. The snow either needed to be super powdery or frozen granular. Winters were hit or miss. Some winters I was banished mostly to the road, until I discovered that Cape Cod often stays free of snow when the rest of New England is socked in white.

Was there a way to embrace the snow without involving two wheels? Yes there was. That is when cross country skate skiing entered the picture. This was something more aerobically demanding than riding and used many of the same muscles. How awesome was that?! If conditions got too crappy for riding, there was a high probability conditions would be superb for skiing. There was no way to lose!

This has been my modus operandi for a better part of a decade now.  When roads become dangerous and trails too deep to ride, skis perfectly provided the means to achieve an endorphin enhanced state of mind-flow.

Earlier this season, trails were staying bare, maybe a little snow cover, and sometimes a lot of ice. Had to drive to find marginal snow to ski, but the local riding was pretty good, especially just a bit south. Fat bikers were actually driving north to find snow to ride their bikes on! It had never occurred to me to drive somewhere just to ride a bike on snow when you could ride right here on dirt. My how things turned around. The fat bike phenomenon caught on way faster than mountain biking itself did or the singlespeed movement did. Wonder what that Kool Aid was spiked with?  The bikes evolved at a dramatic pace too.

The lack of snow earlier this winter was quickly made up. The last two storm accumulations were measured in feet. Everybody should be rejoicing, right? This is where paths diverge between the fat biker and Nordic skier camps.

You see, there never is such a thing as too much snow for a skier. More is always better, ensures a long and prosperous ski season. Riding off-road is a different story. When a large snow dump occurs, at first the trails are unrideable, even by fat bikes. There is too much resistance and even 5" wide tires won't float on two feet of powder. The trails need to be packed first, no different really than Nordic trails being groomed for skate skiing. Local snowmobile clubs will pack their trails. However, sled traffic often keeps the surface pretty loose and soft. Rideable, sure, but fun, maybe not so much.

The utopia fat bikers seek is packed singletrack trails. How does that come about? You enlist teams of your fat bike friends to go snowshoe stomping the trails. Great exercise in the great outdoors, a worthy activity all by itself. But say the trails are just starting to pack enough to ride and another big snow dump moves in. Son of a bitch! Start all over again. Buy a fat bike to ride in the snow, then when it snows you can't ride your bike in it. Oh the irony!

To be honest, I wouldn't mind more off-road riding opportunities during the winter. I tried a fat bike for a season and a half but had to part with it after it repeatedly crippled my knees. I can only assume the really wide Q-factor was behind this. So I've been pricing out 29er+ bikes. These basically are a regular 29er mountain bike designed to accommodate 3" wide tires yet still have a standard width bottom bracket. A 29er+ is far from a fat bike, but it at least splits some of the difference.  The only reason I haven't moved on this yet is I would really like to put 3" studded tires on it, and right now nobody makes one. There is probably not enough demand for somebody to ever produce one. So what to do?

In the mean time, I'll continue to log ski miles and see how many 40 and 50km days I can do this season. Everybody should embrace the snow. Shoeing your favorite trails shouldn't just be a means to an end. The process of staying fit outdoors should be reward in of itself.


Weston Worlds, 2015 Opener

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Tuesday night crit-on-snow race series has begun at Weston on the Leo J. Martin golf course. A large group showed up Tuesday, despite frigid temp, with over 80 racers between the A and B fields. With conditions marginally sketchy after a full day of activities on the course, I pondered for a moment if I shouldn't race in the slower B group. Hard packed conditions brings out the worst in my weak technique.

I queued up a little further back than I was at the end of last season. Looking around, I realized I was still too far up with faster skiers behind me. Before I could even give this a second thought, we were off.

I made it through the freshly made mashed potatoes snow ok, but then the speed picks way up on the hard pack. Should be easy drafting, right? At least conditions were fast even though it was cold. I hemorrhaged several places. Coach Maddy came around and I thought I at least need to stay in her draft. My useless flailing just wasn't delivering enough kilojoules to the snow. Maddy slowly faded away into a tiny silouette down the fairway. Bye-bye.

After a large gap opened, a few more skiers came around. Marv, Robert, Tom and Viktoria. Ok, I can usually hang with these folks. I was still going backwards though, and I was afraid to look back and see there was nobody left behind me!  But hang I did. Marv was drilling it with many in tow for all of lap two. Laps were running about 1.8km.

Some fractures were opening in our group on the climbs in the third and final lap. I took advantage of this weakness and moved up a few spots to behind Marv. That move burned matches. Moments later on the long gradual climb by "Mt Weston," I came to the front. Stupid I thought, as there is much flat terrain and a downhill before the finish. Everybody was still there, and surely they would all pass me just before the finish. One did, Robert. Robert does much better than me on fast, hard packed terrain.

You know how in the Olympic races they all fall over after crossing the line? Well, that was almost me. That was the hardest I breathed since doing this last year at Weston. I did reasonably well, finishing 14-15% back from the winner, right where I was last season. Great workout and good mid-week adrenaline rush. Can't wait to do it again!


Trail News

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Merrimack, NH - Authorities are seeking help in identifying a trail terrorist spotted on Tuesday afternoon in Horse Hill Nature Preserve. This individual was observed riding a bicycle with skinny tires on unpacked snow, leaving marks up to 1" deep in the snow.

The terrorist attempted to blend in by wearing local cycling club clothing

Authorities are warning the public to not approach or attempt to apprehend this individual. He or she appears to be from a dangerous terrorist cell that was believed wiped out many years ago, a cell referred to as "The 26ers." The 26ers have a ruthless reputation for mass destruction of untouched snow by riding bicycles with small diameter wheels and skinny tires on the snow.

The damage was extensive.

Considerable lengths of trail were destroyed by this terrorist, ruining  experiences for all trail users for at least 3 or 4 days. Authorities are collecting evidence at the crime scene and have begun a systematic search of social media sites the terrorist may use to post his exploits to taunt authorities. Please contact your local trail enforcement authorities with any information you may have about this individual.


Why do you ride?

Friday, January 2, 2015

I've had a busy, but refreshing holiday break. I cut the work tether. Working sometimes 60+ hours per week was replaced with visiting family and aerobic activities. A week in snowless Michigan was thoroughly enjoyed by riding hero dirt conditions at all my favorite places. A little Nordic skiing would have been nice, but the riding was as good as it gets.

My interest in competitive sport continues to wane. Can't say there is any single reason for this, as I loves me a good race. I haven't renewed my USAC license in over two years now. One of the main drivers pushing me away from riskier forms of racing, such as road and cyclocross, is risk of injury. My bone density continues to decline, especially in my spine. A "comprehensive" risk vs. reward analysis I performed showed these two forms of competition did not make the grade. Perhaps this is only perceived. Nonetheless, in humans, perception is reality. Why participate in an activity that induces anxiety?

A more subtle reason I may have shied away from racing is total stress load. When I race, I race to win. This requires big commitment to training specific to the events you race. Road racing requires lots of interval work. Interval work can be stressful and be a chore sometimes. You must also taper for important races, which means you cannot go out and hammer the day before a race when you've had a bad day at the office.  When you have other stressors in your life you can't just make go away, optional stressors like training have to take second priority.

Riding can be hugely effective in mitigating stress in one's life. Riding as training for events can have deleterious effects. Racing can be a lot like deadlines at work sometimes.  Even though I value the training process more than race results, racing does increase stress.  Riding purely for release of tension can have medicinal effects. My riding this past year has been almost exclusively therapeutic.

My wife and I dealt with a challenging situation involving our son for the last half of 2014. Testing is still ongoing, but he may have a rare form of Lupus that can exhibit psychotic effects. Aaron experienced a major manic episode this summer, taking him cross-country on a bizarre mission. It may be a good thing the law caught up with him before anything more serious happened. That is mostly behind us now. Now we have to figure out exactly what is going on and how to treat it. Lupus is an autoimmune disorder with arthritic symptoms, and Aaron has also been dealing with severe joint pain. Lyme disease has been ruled out multiple times.  We hope 2015 sees Aaron on a path to wellness.

I no longer measure a year in race successes and stats. In fact, I participated in only three cycling and two Nordic events in 2014. But it was a good year. I posted my fastest Rangeley Lakes Loppet and Vermont 50 times ever. Skate skiing is so much about technique. I continue to make incremental improvements. Fitness can wane and one can still get faster on skis as skill improves. In the case of the VT50, I think so many "junk" miles of stress management riding is actually pretty good training for an endurance event. Maybe some of my supposed Type-IIA muscle fiber converted over to its slow twitch form. I just didn't do my normal regimen of 5 minute VOmax intervals this year. Fast twitch muscle can be a handicap in endurance racing. Nobody older than me beat me at the VT50. I was pretty happy with that performance.

A look at 2014 activity hours gives a hint of non-focused training. Even though total aerobic activity hours is slightly above my 10-year average, road hours were diminished, being replaced by trail riding hours. Most of those trail riding hours were on my Tallboy long travel 29er, the most enjoyable bike I've ever owned. Running hours dropped some, while skiing hours stayed about constant.

These 655 hours represent about 7,572 miles of cycling, skiing, running and hiking. Some like to focus on miles, and I suppose if you compare only road bike miles to road bike miles, that is ok. But when most of your miles are on snow and dirt, it makes more sense to talk about hours. After all, all the activities I engage in use the same motor and require similar output.

Strava says I climbed about 590,000ft in 2014. Slacking off, I guess;)  Vertical comes much easier on pavement. There's no easy way to caveat vertical with "snow vert" or "dirt vert." Again, total hours captures this, as climbing is slow, hard work.

So what's on tap for 2015? Hopefully more cycling travel. I really enjoyed my solo 10 days in Colorado last fall. Ideas being kicked around are Arizona trail in March, North Carolina road in April, and somewhere out west at the end of summer. I would really like to get back to Europe too, maybe another Thomson Tour. They have put some new ones together, like Slovenia, that look really attractive.

Cathy and I have also been thinking a lot more about the next phase of our lives. Moving to Colorado seems a certainty. There are many variants around this theme. One, like my dad adopted, is to own two modest places and split your time between them. For him, he spends summers in Michigan and winters on the gulf coast of Texas. For Cathy and I, it gets fuzzier, as we like winter activities (at least I do). Splitting time between Tucson and Durango would sure seem nice. Not too far apart, and you can enjoy best of both worlds in the winter months. Been spending time in Zillow looking at options.


Phases of Water

Sunday, December 21, 2014

In our temperate climate, water takes on three forms, or phases. These are solid, liquid and gas. This time of year, outdoor athletes are exposed to all three forms. The solid form can accumulate on the ground as snow and ice, making running and riding more challenging. The liquid form falls out of the sky, making trails messy and bodies cold. The gaseous form has less direct impact on athletic activities. When it is warm, high humidity makes sweating less effective. When it is cold and dry, our lungs must warm and moisten the air, causing pulmonary stress.

Going back to high school chemistry, or even 8th grade chemistry for some, the diagram below shows how much energy is gained or released when water transitions between each phase. The energy to evaporate water is many times that needed to freeze water.  The neat thing about a phase change material is that it holds it current state until the requisite energy has been put in/taken out of it, then it suddenly snaps over to the other phase. This is why snow on trails does not melt easily or why bodies of water do not dry up quickly.

This weekend I had to tolerate the liquid form of water on my ride and took advantage of the solid form skiing. The mountain areas of New England are still holding onto a nice base of snow despite the warm weather and copious rain. Friday I hit Bretton Woods for a 54.5km skate ski. It looked like winter wonderland north of Franconia Notch. Hard to believe just a few exits south the highway median was bare grass.

I'd love to ski full time in the winter months, but I ski with passion and it takes a lot out of me. I don't want to lose too much cycling specific fitness either. So Saturday I headed to Ipswich, MA to hit some trails I've very familiar with as well as some I've never ridden. I think in the last 2-3 weeks, the area has received something like 6-8" of rain. Temps were dropping just below freezing at night, so I was banking on water encountered being in the solid form.

Salem-Beverly Canal Trail Path, barely above water

I lucked out for the most part. The ground had a frozen crust, and the coastal area was socked in with clouds, keeping the sun off it. My legs were more limp than overcooked pasta from Friday's ski though. I rode south towards Wenham along dirt rail trail and a path along a water supply canal. The wetlands along the canal were very high, the path just inches above water level. It would have been very messy without that frozen crust to shield my tires from the goo just below. The trails in Willowdale State Forest tend to follow eskers, high and dry. The riding there was mint.

The trail runs through this mess. Took a good while to cross.

To close the loop, I hit trails lit up in the Strava Global Heatmap that are also part of Willowdale State Forest, but west of Rt 1. Hadn't been in there before. It started out with some sweet, almost grown-in singletrack. There are many pockets of wetlands in this area, and beaver no doubt help make it so. After all, they are called natures environmental engineers. Now that they are more nuisance than endangered, I think of them at swamp rodents. Beaver can lay waste to perfectly good trails in no time. Twice I had to cross massive dams with no obvious way to avoid wet feet or risk of injury. Glad I had my Shimano winter shoes on. The Goretex kept my feet dry from the couple times I slipped and went in.

Sunday it was back to the solid form of water at Waterville Valley (in keeping with the water theme, of course!). Grassy median getting off the highway and cryptic snow report had me thinking conditions were dubious at best. But they weren't bad. One of my favorite climbs, 800ft up Tripoli Rd, was Piston Bully groomed and in superb skating shape. An inch of powder had just fallen, slowing things down considerably. I expected icy granular and didn't bother to wax my skis. I'll take the slow skis with better control than fast ice and little control any day.

Flurries from Bob's Lookout at Waterville Valley.

After two depleting days in a row, I felt like death starting out. Why do we dig holes like this? I had planned to ski only 25km or so, but after I hit Tripoli I just had to do it again. The Livermore Rd climb was not nearly as nice, snowmobile groomed, and nearly skied off by the heavy traffic. Full-on death slog to the summit and I was done. That was good for 37.5km, a 92km weekend on skis.

Summit of Tripoli Rd with layer of fresh powder.

Looks like a lot more liquid precipitation is on the way this week, which could kill Nordic skiing in most of New England. I'll be heading to Michigan for a few days, and things look even bleaker there, with no snow and lots of rain all week in the forecast. What to bring... just Goretex shell and running shoes? I normally bring full spectrum of toys. I've enjoyed my best start to the ski season ever, and it sure would be nice to keep that momentum going.


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