Saturday, January 31, 2009

Snarling Snow

I'm running out of ways to describe the recurring snow conditions at Waterville Valley. Only once this season have I encountered what I consider fast or even average conditions. It is always so freakin cold up there, and they always seem to get a dusting of abrasive snow after they groom. Today the snow snarled with each push of your ski, as if it were retorting "and where do you think you're going!?" No where fast, that's for sure.

Three of us went up, Skogs, Dave and myself. We started together but didn't stay that way very long. I was on a mission. Today was my last major workout before tapering for Lake Placid next weekend. I signed up for the 50k skate race. I wanted to go harder for less duration today. I only wish my harder effort netted a little more speed and distance than usual. It didn't with the slow snow. The boat loads of new snow were groomed out nice though.

We started out just like last weekend, doing the full south end perimeter. I drilled all the climbs. Concerned about imploading too soon, Skogs told me to just go on ahead, don't wait. I went 85 minutes before taking a breather to suck down a Gu at the top of Cascade Brook Trail. Taking Beanbender to get there was killer. I told myself before getting to Beanbender I wasn't going to do it again on sandpaper snow like last week. I did not need to strain hip flexors or a groin muscle. I just can't pass up a punishing climb though. I tricked myself into thinking I could just "soft pedal" it. In 12F sandpaper snow, there is no soft pedaling. For about 7 minutes I averaged 3mph. I was an inch of glide away from herringboning the sucker. I thought to myself I bet I couldn't even ride a mountain bike up it without wheelying over backwards, so skiing up at any speed is probably success.

I came down Cascade then crossed over to Lower Osceola to do the other 800 footer, Tripoli Rd. I met Brad Ek and Brad Sheehan at the bottom. I've skied and bike raced with Ek (NHCC) before but didn't recall ever meeting Sheehan despite the familiar name. Maybe an Exeter ride? A little research shows he rides for and is team director of the Metlife cycling team. Ek and Sheehan happened to be heading up Tripoli also and asked if I wanted to join. They are excellent skiers. Sheehan V2'd all but a few of the steepest bits of the Tripoli climb. I was having trouble V2'ing on the flats in this dry snow. Impressive.

Sticking to my mission of going harder shorter, I called it good after climbing Tripoli and headed back. The sun was working just a tad of glide into Swan's Way back to the Nordic center. Figures now that I was done. Turns out Skogs and Dave didn't ski with each other very long either. Dave did Beanbender and Cascade but not Tripoli. Skogs skipped the biggest climbs altogether and went for some flat land cruising around Moose Run and Wicked Easy. Skiing doesn't afford the luxury of "sitting in" like cycling. Minute differences in fitness or technique are quickly exposed. I don't mind waiting at the tops of climbs on the bike at all for others, but when you are soaked in minimal layers with windchills near zero, waiting on skis isn't a viable option. We each got back to the Nordic center within minutes of the planned rendezvous time. Despite chilly conditions and slow snow, it really was an awesome sunny day to be out in the mountains. 34.8km, 1036m vertical in 2.6hrs for the day.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dodge Plow

There are few things that scare me while riding. A couple of times, I was out on epic, solo rides in far away places when I ran out of daylight. One of those occasions was in the desert near Tucson and coyotes started gathering around me. At the time, I didn't know they were just "riding" with me and having fun. But past sundown with no light and not near my car, scared I was. Another time was near Pasadena. I underestimated how long a ride would take, ran out of daylight, only to find a bridge across a gorge I absolutely had to cross was missing. I rock scrambled down into the gorge, hiked downstream in the stream a long ways before I found a place I could climb back up on the other side. I got back to my car when it was dark out. I was just a little panicky.

Did you ever play dodge ball when you were a kid? Maybe kids don't play that anymore. Playing dodge with echelons of snowplows can get the adrenaline going better than the kid's game. Not wanting to break with my weekly training regimen of skiing Weston Tuesday night, riding hard Wednesday at lunch, I had no choice but to suck up what Mother Nature dealt me today. Snow was falling at about 2-3" per hour at lunch time before it changed over to rain. It was that dense, not good to to ride in at all kind of snow. I bet it would have been spectacular to skate on.

The side roads were completely unrideable. I tried cell tower hill, but the 4" of new snow over ice didn't work. I spun out before I got to the steep part and turned around. Gaining speed coming down the lower portion of the climb, I realized my tires weren't even really doing anything. They were just skidding along on snow that was sliding on the ice underneath. That unstable situation promptly ejected me into the snow bank. I'm sure when I came to rest, I was completely submersed in powder. Snow found all kinds of ways to infiltrate my layers of clothing. The only good thing was that had to be the softest impact crash I've experienced.

Heading back out to the roads with paved shoulders, I noted Industrial had recently been plowed. Miss number one. Longer Continental Blvd still was not plowed. I did two laps up and over the big hill on Industrial. In that 20 minutes or so, an inch of dense snow fell, enough to make the shoulder hard work. On my second lap, the plows came through Continental. Miss number two. So I did out and back on it before they came through for a clean-up pass. I was constantly looking back. Heading back to the office on Industrial, the plows had not been through again and it was getting tough to ride. Where could they be? Right behind me! You know how they form an echelon, curb to curb? That's what I was faced with. Fortunately a Fidelity entrance was coming up and I darted across to the other side. You have to constantly be looking over your shoulders when riding while it is snowing out. I doubt snowplow operators find spandex clad freaks in their way very humorous. Cyclist? What Cyclist? They'd find me in May when the last of this snow melts.

I managed to ride 80 minutes with around 45 minutes of solid threshold effort mixed in. Amazingly, there was another dude out there in this mess, on a hardtail with neon yellow windshell just like me. Too bad we were going opposite ways with a barrier in between us. I wonder who it was?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tuesday Night Worlds #4

My sprint race tonight forced me to tap into a dry well. I expected as much. The weekend entailed some pretty serious volume and intensity both on skis and the bike. Normally I do recovery rides at lunch on Mondays. Yesterday I was so beat up I didn't even bother to take a bike to work. 46 year old bones just don't recover the way my 35 year old bones did when I first got into cycling. I pretty much figured one day off was not going to have me in good form by Tuesday. Then again, these Tuesday night gigs are all about learning to go fast on skis, not about results.

I'm now three for four on Rt 128. Four visits to Weston have had me stuck in non-moving traffic due to accidents three times. Don't people know how to drive down there? There hasn't been snow on the roads for over a week. Last week when there were no accidents, it took me 46 minutes to reach Weston from Merrimack. Tonight was nearly double that. Needless to say, I didn't get much of a warmup in tonight.

Course was similar to last week with one additional hairpin turn thrown in and a little bit more climbing. There were many giant moguls created by snow guns to ski over, and the guns were blowing tonight during the race. This was the most technical and most fun course I've skied yet at Weston. It was also the coldest night. My skis were very slow, but I think everyone's were slow. I seemed to hold my place just fine drafting in paceline down the hills. My recently acquired RS:11's performed well.

I started in the 5th row. I think mostly slow guys were behind me, as few to none passed me double poling. I was no more than 14 back once the skating began, my best start to date at Weston. It all went downhill from there. I continued to hemorrhage places the entire race. In the first of two laps, around six guys passed me, including Marv Wang. He was easy to pick out, as we were both wearing IBC colors. I haven't beaten Marv yet but can stay with him. I did my best tonight to shaddow him. On the second lap Jamie Doucett passed me. I followed him to the line last week for a 14th place overall finish. I was struggling tonight though. Just didn't have any punch over the top of each hill. I stayed with the Marv/Jamie group to the finish. I was last guy out of more than 10 in that group to cross the line. I got nipped right at the line by Rene Harde.

My Garmin measured 5.82km with a 17:27 racing time, netting 22/76 overall. That is exactly 20kph, which is a fairly typical speed for me at Weston. It felt a lot slower. Looking at my HR data later, my HR responded nicely at the start and stayed dead flat for the rest of the race. My avg was 169bpm, max only 173bpm.

It's not worth backing down on Sunday to do a little better at Weston on Tuesday. I need the Sunday bike training days. I have a ride planned on Hawaii in early April that might possibly be the hardest ride I've ever done. It will go 97 miles, have 15,000ft of climbing, done with a MTB with knobby tires, mostly paved but good portion of it is rugged, loose 4WD road, and the average altitude will be around 10,000ft, max'ing at nearly 14,000ft on two different summits. It will take over 8hrs riding time to complete. My longest ride so far this year has been 2hrs, and only 4-5hrs per week.

You can't beat Tuesday night at Weston for the cardio training value. That is one reason I go. Another reason is going fast on skis under your own power is quite exhilarating. For a klutz like me, it is no small undertaking to learn how to ski. The learning process itself is highly rewarding. I have much more to learn, and as long as I keep chipping away at technique improvements, skiing will never be boring. I'd like to poke into the top 10 some day at Weston, but I've got a ways to go.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Snow Bikin'

So how do you top off an excellent day on cross country skis? You hit the snow again the next day with wheels. I've been riding my winter beater bike, a Jamis Durango frame built up with odds and ends parts, exclusively for about six weeks now. I've had to replace the rear derailleur cable housing once already. Now I had to replace the whole rear derailleur. It seems the pivot spring (around the screw you bolt it to the hanger with) has disintegrated. I had a really old XTR derailleur in the junk drawer that I decommissioned long ago because it didn't work so well. It works way better than the toasted spring derailleur though.

While my beater bike was up on the stand Sunday, I took my singlespeed out for the first time this winter. It does not have studs. I had hoped to be hitting the Cape each weekend, but the northern half of the country has been in an ice age since early December. It hadn't snowed in a while, so I thought the snowmobile trails would be nicely set up. I drove up to Massabesic Lake to ride. To my horror, there was street parking only with hundreds of trucks with snowmobile trailers there. Hmmm, maybe this was going to be more dangerous than Mass Ave during rush hour.

I started out down the rail trail. The snowmobile clubs groom the trails for snow machines. They stay nicely planarized. You could probably skate ski them quite nicely. But every few minutes, marauding gangs of snowmobilers would come by. Most were cordial. A few knuckleheads would come by 2ft away at 70mph. I wonder how many were actually sober. I could tell there was no getting away from inhaling partially combusted gasoline and motor oil.

New Panasonic LX3 shot. Drastically reduced in pixels and compression from original, but viewed at 100% is still impressive.

I brought my new camera with me. It is a Panasonic LX3, a point and shoot that rivals SLR quality. It is pricey, not high pixel count, but super wide angle and 2x faster lens than most point and shoot cameras. It will be wicked nice for shots from Haleakala in two months. Not two miles into my ride, I hurled myself over the bars and landed hard on my back and camera. I think the camera survived. Shoulder was mighty achy today. It seems if you get too close to the edge of the groomed snowmobile trail, your front tire will punch through and just disappear, as in drop 2ft. Riding the middle of the trail was dicy with all the 50mph sleds going by and it was very soft there from being minced by track spikes.

By the FOMBA mountain biking trails, I caught up to a dog team. This wasn't one of the elite Iditarod Teams you might see training there, but a four dog, mixed breed set pulling a woman. I "drafted" them at about 12-15mph for a few minutes. I was working hard on the mushy surface. When we came to a small hill, I prepared to get dropped. You would expect this following any kind of gas guzzling machine. The operator just requests more kJ from his fossil fuel stores and over he goes. But you know what, dogs must be a lot like humans. They slowed down about as much as I did to get over the rise.

I did a ride over Tower Hill, then down the starting chute of the Watershed Wahoo MTB race course. There were very few snow machines there despite being ride by the Snow Slickers club house. I worked my way around Tower Hill Pond, even riding out to the middle of it on a packed snowmobile track to take some pictures.

Wrapping up, I took a short piece of paved road back to my car. This took me around the rotary just off Exit 1 on Rt 101. Some woman decided my life didn't count for much and exited the rotary as I was continuing around. I narrowly missed piling into her trunk by swerving bike right and counter-balancing my torsel over her trunk has the back of her car whizzed under me. I hadn't had to scream unpleasantries at a motorist in a long time. Customers at the nearby convenience store wondered what my problem was. So much for a pleasant off-road ride.

At least I got an amazing workout out of the ride. My quads were noodly when I finished. I rode 20 miles in about 2hrs, working very hard in mushy conditions most of the time. I suspect had I taken a geared bike, I would have capitulated and found back roads to ride. It would have been too easy to drop to the granny ring, only to not have enough momentum to keep going most of the time. I believe I have a 32x18 on the singlespeed right now, and at <10mph, it was a low cadence, high force workout. Exactly what I needed.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Parity in the Valley

With a full stomach and a fading endorphin buzz, I'm in a writing mood. Settle in for an essay. When I was a kid, my dad wasn't into athletic activities. I never got into stick and ball sports. In fact, later I learned I utterly sucked at them. It could be because my dad never "played catch" with me to develop these parts of my brain. I suspect though, I have a very low kinesthetic IQ. This means I don't have as intricate wiring in my motor cortex as most folks do. It's a catch-22 problem. It's quite possible my dad never played catch with me because I couldn't learn to catch a ball. My dad was and to this day is an avid sportsman. He hunts or fishes almost daily. I went hunting and fishing with my dad many times growing up, but trouncing through the woods or sitting in a boat doesn't exactly build the fine motor skill skate skiing requires.

Fast forward to January 2003. My friend "Skogs" from work convinced me and Steve Gauthier to try out skate skis at Waterville valley. I was already an accomplished MTBer, having won a couple expert field races. I was looking for alternative ways to stay fit over winter, but skate skiing seemed over the top skill-wise. I was very hesitant to head there with Skogs, as he is Norwegian and has been skiing since he was three years old. I remember the day clearly. Conditions were kind of crusty. We rented equipment, got a lesson, then ventured out on our own. I spent more time on the ground cussing than actually moving. I could not figure out the motive force behind those crazy things. Having classic skied a couple times in my life, I was constantly searching for the fish scales for kick. It was no minor miracle that I went back a second time. I fared only slightly better. Going back a third time that winter, I started to get it. I bought skis, poles and boots.

The summer of 2003 I met Brett Rutledge at a hillclimb race. Some how we got on the subject of skate skiing and I mentioned I "skied." We skied a few times that following winter when he convinced me to try a race. This was no ordinary race, this was the infamous Lake Placid Loppet. So here's the deal. Brett had years of skiing with some coaching under his belt. I hadn't even a season's worth yet. Brett had done Lake Placid before and knew what a spanker it was. In fact, in the 1980 winter Olympics, the Russians protested one of the hills in the course because it was too steep. To this day that hill is called "Russian Hill." Brett talked me, a total newbie, into doing this 50km marathon with thousands of feet of climbing. Lake Placid is recognized as being one of the hardest marathons in North America.

The short story is I finished DFL in my category, and nearly DFL for all men and women categories. Brett fractured his ankle in a crash about half way through the race, then finished a full second lap, and still finished half an hour faster than me. I suppose I've spanked Brett on many a hillclimb, so maybe this was payback of sorts. I'm lucky I wasn't indelibly scarred.

Fast forward to this week. I continue to learn about the nuances of skis. I've learned that my best racing skis are ill spec'd for my weight. One of my readers, Matt Kmiec, weighed in on this via personal email and just so happened to have a set of skis that might be perfectly suited for me. I had Friday off and decided to swing over to Keene to check out the skis. Like my race skis, they are RS:11s, the last year Atomic made them before coming out with the World Cup model. They are soft flex, very soft in the tips in fact, and had a custom cold grind structure. We met at Granite Gorge, a small alpine/nordic ski area just north of Keene. Only a few km were marginally groomed for skate, but there was a bit of climbing in it to get a good feel for ski behavior. I first did a loop on my stiff race RS:11s. Then a lap with Matt's RS:11s. Wow. Matt's skis were considerably faster. They were much easier to V2 on the uneven, rutted terrain. I didn't catch the tips as much. Gliding, I felt planted. With my stiff RS:11s, I always felt like I had springs under my feet. I expected Matt's skis to be just like my softer training RS:11s, but they weren't. They are probably even softer, but maybe just in the tips and not under the foot. I bought the skis.

Today I took my new skis up to Waterville Valley for some skiing with the gang. It was wicked cold starting out and it got colder as the day progressed. The trails were nicely groomed, very firm, but sandpaper slow some of the time. Brett and Jody were going to be a few minutes late and suggested Dave and I do a pond loop but no climbing to tire us out. I said we should do some hills waiting for him to get there so I wouldn't drop him so bad when the four of us head out together. He warned me that he'll be on his brand new top-of-the-line RCSs. Ooooweeee. I just love this trash talkin' stuff. What I didn't tell Brett is that I would also be on some brand new to me RS:11s. Thus I had a secret experiment planned.

The four of us start out on the south end, the first time skiing it this season. The big climbs are not here, but there are numerous steep little buggers. We hit Jennings Peak first, then Drakes to Upper Fletchers. Part way up Upper Fletchers, Brett and I did a heartrate check. He was 156bpm. He asked me and I said 156. He thought I was repeating his number, as I'm always much higher while skiing with him. Not so much on the bike, as we're pretty close there. Now sometimes your HR runs low and you're suffering. This was not the case. My HR was low and I felt comfortable. Hmmmm, were the skis responsible? I have made leaps in technique improvement this season, so no doubt that is a factor. We were both on new equipment. Maybe his skis/wax were wrong for the day. Starting out, he was quite confident they were fast though. Maybe I was just having an exceptional day. Who knows. There's no way to control an experiment of this sort. But it got me thinking.

After some more putting the hurts on each other around Criterion, we started climbing that beastly blip at the bottom of Lower Snows. At the top we compared HRs again. He was 156bpm, I was 152bpm. Now that has never happened before. I recall skiing with Brett a few years ago where he hovered in the 130's going up Livermore when I stayed in the 170's desperately trying to stay with him. Our relative fitness on the bike has changed little over the last few years, yet something dramatically has changed on skis. Maybe I'm finally starting to get it. I still didn't tell Brett I was on new skis. My new skis looked just like my other two pair. I'll probably get a WTF call when he reads this. Brett has always been able to put the screws to me on skis. He still can in areas where technique matters most. But I think I've reached parity on the climbs now.

I'm convinced I've been skiing on too stiff of skis until now. I'm sure improved technique is a factor. I've been trying to work Andy Milne's clinic feedback into my skiing. Stiff skis are easier to control on many surfaces when you lack good balance. I've been using stiff skis as a crutch to make up for bad technique. My new skis may be too soft on really hard surfaces, but I still have my beat up training RS:11s that are slightly stiffer to fall back on. Building fitness when I first took up cycling was far easier than learning skate technique. Remember my comment on kinesthetic IQ?

Brett, Dave and I stuck together for most of the ski. I logged 41.9km, 1265m vertical (over 4100ft) in 3:04 skiing time. Jody ended up buing some new skis today and is looking to make strides in his technique. When you have this much fun, you don't even notice temps dropping into single digits with sub-zero windchills. I enjoy these ski epics as much as the long dubious training value rides I do in the summer.

Next up is the Lake Placid Loppet in two weeks. Brett signed up for the 25km. Dave was going to do Lake Placid but now says some chainsaw class is more important that day. Dude, the ice storm trees on your property will eventually rot anyway! I've been on the fence for which distance to do. I could do quite well in the 25km I think, but a little voice says I need to redeem myself in the 50k. All my training has been for long distance. It would be nice to finish in the upper third, having the dubious honor of DFL a few years ago.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Weston Double Owie

Had to return to Weston again tonight for my weekly endorphin fix. They were serving up double shots. The 15" of new snow was groomed out nice but still soft in most areas of the course. At least the snow had decent glide. For those that didn't make it tonight, the course was longer than last week, went up more hills, and went three laps. Factor in the softness, it was a power course that would require some stamina. I felt my prospects should improve given this scenario.

Hard to say how many were there. At least 70 I'd say. I did not see the buses this time. As usual, I lined up in the sixth row. Brett Rutledge also made it out tonight and found an empty spot in the row ahead of me. I'm learning to dress lighter for these things. Despite being quite a bit colder than the first two weeks, I had a single layer on up top with my IBC wind breaker vest. I've had the vest almost a year now, and this is the first time I used it. I'm convinced it is impossible to get cold in a sprint race.

We take off at the base of Mt Weston. I lost only a couple positions this time on the start. We did not go over Mt Weston starting out, but it was in the course for laps two and three. There were some tangle ups at the start. With such a wide area, they were easy to avoid. Brett got a really good start and was about eight guys ahead of me. He and I are quite closely matched in training. He has much better form than I do, but I carry a little better fitness over from the bike. I hadn't gone head to head with Brett at Weston in a couple years. I've never beaten him there.

The first lap had a lot of tripping on poles going on around the corners. I started picking people off right away, avoiding the minor mishaps. I was more than 25 back once things got sorted out. Each time I passed another guy or two, Brett passed one or two also. My mantra became "had to catch Brett." He hooked up with some pretty fast guys and started to pull away. I was not going to catch him drafting slower skiers. I went into no-man's land for a good portion of lap one to latch on to Brett's train.

In lap two, we had a five or six man train. Things started slowing down so I came to the front on the flats. After 500m or so, I felt uncomfortably close to the hurl threshold. I capitulated the pull and let the three remaining others, including Brett, come by. We maintained a good pace for the rest of lap two. During lap two, I passed a guy that had on an obnoxiously bright headlamp. When I got in front of him I could see nothing but my own shadow. The snow to the sides was blinding blue-white, but blackness in front of me. Lamps should not be allowed during the race.

In lap three, we caught up to a couple others, including a big guy I later learned was Jamie Doucett. Life became good again. I knew my effort dropped quite a bit drafting Jamie. I couldn't be sure if it was because the pace was slower or purely drafting benefit. Regardless, I was content riding this train home.

Coming back from the flats, we climb that steep little bugger by the lodge building. Jamie is up front, then one or two other guys, Brett and then me. Brett caught an edge or tip maybe cutting the turn going into the hill a little too tight. He piled in right in front of me. I was almost as pissed as he was, not that he piled in in front of me, but I wanted to see how this thing was going to play out at the finish. We had less than a kilometer to go. Neither of us can sprint on the bike. Now I had several seconds lead on him with a sizable gap to the train I was supposed to ride home. I managed to get back on Jamie's group, tried to pass them on the next hill, but was completely gassed at that point. I had nothing left to contest the sprint and just stayed tucked in behind Jamie over the line.

I think this netted me 14th place overall with a finishing time of 25:47 minutes. Thus this race ran almost twice as long as last week's race. This finish should pick me up in the standings a bit, maybe bump me up a starting row. In the HR data, the elevated area is the race. You can see the precipitous dip near the end of the race where I got on Jamie's train, then things shoot right back up after I struggled to get back on when Brett bit it. In hind sight, I should have taken advantage of a couple opportunities to "attack" this group well before the finish. I hadn't planned to hit Weston every week. I would probably go through withdraw symptoms if I missed a week now.

From what I learned the last couple weeks about my two sets of RS11 skis, I knew better than to take my stiff racing ones. In these soft conditions, I would have been utterly doomed. Like at Rangeley last year. I took my rock skis. They felt perfect for the course, super stable, and my glide was just as good as others on the descents. Last week I would get gapped even drafting on the descents with my stiff racing skis. I have a potential pair of used RS11's in good shape to check out this weekend. They are soft flex with cold structure, which should be identical to my chewed up RS11's I use for training. I would then sell the stiff ones. They are in near new condition if anybody is interested.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

They all go up...

When I went to bed last night, I thought skiing conditions today would be so sucky that I'd have to wait until Sunday when it was warmer. When I got up this morning, they were talking winter storm tonight and Sunday, so if I wanted to be sure I would get a ski in at all this weekend, it would have to be today. It was -22F at Waterville. I read it hit -50F somewhere in Maine. I waited until the temp got above 0F before heading off to Northfield Mountain instead.

32.3km, 1050m climbing, 2.4hrs

Northfield ties Waterville Valley in fun factor (if hills are your gig). I'd go there a lot more often, maybe even buy a season pass if the snow was more reliable. That is one advantage the Whites have vs. the Berkshires. The Whites tend to get snow earlier and keep it longer.

I hinted at performing an experiment a couple posts ago. I broke out the Toko Moly base prep and Start Green waxes. I spent a good deal of time waxing my best pair of skis, Atomic RS11's. I've heard the Start Green is hard to work with, but I took extra care to melt it in good and used a sharp scraper after cooling. I had no chatter or chipping issues. I then used my new Toko soft copper brush to leave as little structure in the base as possible. The bases were a thing of beauty, as long as you were heading for some very cold snow.

Side view of Tooleybush Turnpike in foreground

You may recall I speculated these racing skis may be too stiff for me, at least that was the excuse I was grasping at for slipping back a few places relative to my nemesis group at Weston last Tuesday. I did a table top test between my racing RS11's and my training RS11's. I cannot compress the race skis nearly as far as my training skis. They are identical model numbers but visually have different grinds and apparently flexes. I recall buying "stiff" versions for my race skis. The training skis I bought used and have no idea what they are, but now I assume "soft" flex. Referring to Atomic sizing charts, a 192cm stiff ski is way too much ski for me, generally for those that weigh over 180 lbs. I weigh 165. What this means is all of my weight is distributed only on the front and rear tips of the stiff skis, where it is more uniformly distributed on my training skis. Argh! I paid good money for those. At the time I wasn't that concerned with racing, and I figured I always skied with a Camelbak with 8 lbs of water and other crap in it anyway, so I needed the stiffer version. To make matters worse, I'm pretty sure the grind is "warm." Not exactly what I want when most of my skiing is in frigid conditions.

Looking down from top of Reservoir Rd

So I started my Northfield ski around 1pm. The parking lot was full and people were still coming in. There were highschool teams there too. Up on the mountain, it was not crowded at all. I went up Reservoir Rd first, an 800ft vertical ball buster with no warmup. It doesn't get as steep as Tripoli Rd at Waterville, but it keeps going and going. Coming down I got the most excruciating icecream headache. I saw some of the highschool girls there not even wearing hats. I figured surely I'm tougher than they are. I chose not to wear a balaclava, just a hat. I bet the kids didn't cruise 25mph for 10 minutes in single digit temps though. First my jugulars went numb, then the sides of my face, then the brain. Tough but dumb.

There are many tasty climbs here. In fact, all of the trails here go up. Unless, of course, you do laps on the field out by the road. I did Tooleybrush Turnpike next. This has some insanely steep pitches in it, at least 20%, maybe 30% grade in the section called The Chutes. Sandpaper snow made this a real slug fest. My skis weren't quite as slow as I expected, but slow enough that maintaining skate glide on these steep pitches took considerable focus. I wondered if my skis just needed good wax after all. I came back down Reservoir Road again for some more brain freeze action. In just two climbs, I contemplated not even doing a third. With this dry snow, it was so much work. I went there to do at least three, so 10th Mountain trail was next. This goes up the other side of the ski area, starting under powerlines. When the trail cuts into the woods, more painful pitches are in order. After summitting Northfield Mountain a third time, I was a cooked crispy critter.

The powerline section of 10th Mountain trail with some embedded punches

I hadn't finished my experiment yet. I also brought my training RS11's with old wax on. I skied them three times I believe since waxing, and I think I used warm flouro. They should be slow as mud, right? I did laps around the field first with my race skis, then the training skis. I was dismayed. The training skis had much better glide than my pristine race skis I spent 45 minutes waxing. How can this be? Plus the training skis felt so much more stable V2'ing. The bottoms are all chewed up and were white-ish looking, yet they were faster. Had I started on those, I bet I would have had enough left in me to do four climbs today. The grooming was even very firmly packed, yet these stiff skis were still so much slower. They were slower at Weston in warm wet conditions, and now slower in cold dry conditions. Both times the surface was similarly firm. I raced these at Rangeley last year in mashed potatoes. I suspect that is about the biggest mismatch I could have used.

So now what? I plan to do the Lake Placid Loppet. If I don't break new skis in soon, I will use my beat up training skis for it. I will look into Atomic World Cup skis, available up to 190cm length, but get the soft flex version. I'm not going to pay $500+ for them though. Perhaps there are still some RS11's out there cheap. I really like my training skis. I used to have some Fischer RCS's, but they had a different side cut and I could never feel stable on those things. I bought some RS10's back then, loved them, then upgraded to higher performance RS11's. My training RS11's were a recent acquisition, bought used with a few dings in them already for a really great price. My thinking was I would like to train on exactly the same ski I race on, but I've learned not all RS11's are built equal. I may seek out the advice of the good folks at Waterville valley on Sunday if we're not snowed in. And I'll try not to write another dissertation for my next post.

Friday, January 16, 2009

From frigid to frigid

Looks like it's a done deal. Booked airfare to Hawaii last night. We'll be going the first couple weeks of April, a mix of family and friends. In addition to the "normal" things people do in Hawaii, a few "abnormal" Hill Junkie endeavors are planned. My two favorite climbs on the planet are on the islands. These are Haleakala on Maui and Mauna Kea on Hawaii, the big island.

Upper portion of Haleakala hillclimb with numerous switchbacks. 1.5x vertical exageration. Hawaii with Mauna Kea climb in background.

Haleakala gains 10,000ft from sea level in about 35 miles. It is pretty much all up. Know any other place you can coast downhill for 35 miles? The goal is to beat the daily showers up, enjoy the top of the world views before descending back through the clouds with potential brief stint of rain before wrapping around into the rain shadow of Haleakala. I last visited Hawaii in 2005 and did this climb solo. I hope to have some company this time around.

This is not Mars. Summit area of Mauna Kea hillclimb. 1:1 vertical scale. Maui in background.

Mauna Kea gains nearly 14,000ft from sea level in about 58 miles from the Kona side of the island. In 2005, I climbed it from the wet Hilo side, a short 42-all-up-miles climb. Climing time alone took over six hours. From Kona, there are some nearly level spots at the lower elevations. Staying dry should be much easier, although bombing down through tropical 80F rain at 40mph hardly makes you cold. What is cold, especially today, is the summit of Mauna Kea. It is winter in Hawaii too, as it is in the norther hemisphere. Today it is below freezing with 90mph winds at the summit. I've done Mt Washington with 60mph gusts, but 90mph is simply not doable. I hope the weather settles down in a couple months. It seems many of trips to warm places involve snow. Sometimes I travel to places not associated with snow when there is no snow in New England only to encounter snow at my warm destination. Of course, that snow is earned by biking up obscene vertical.

Mauna Kea today, Januarary 16, with 90mph wind at <0C temp. Hard to tell where snow stops and clouds thousands of feet below start.

Other rides planned are the classic loop around West Maui on tandems. Off-roadies cannot visit Maui and not do the Skyline Trail either. There are very few legal places to ride off-road in Hawaii. What is cool, the most incredible place you can ride off-road is legal, and that is off the back side of Haleakala. We may shuttle this ride, as a 7000ft paved climb with MTB's may be a bit much. So "earn your vertical!" you say? I have many thousands of earned vertical feet in the bank. I'm entitled to cash a little out once in a while. This past year alone I banked at least 8000ft on Mt Washington and Mt Equinox where we must take cars back down.

Dodging craters on Skyline Trail off "back" side of Haleakala.

Anyway, booking airfare always seems to be the most stressful part of trip planning for me. Once you pull that trigger, you stop stressing over whether you should even go on an expensive trip. The rest - cars, hotels, activities becomes easy to fill in. Right now it looks like a week or so on Maui and the last three days on Hawaii. I've been wanting to go back to Hawaii a couple years now. I'm psyched. Need to start training for my vacation!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Skiing could suck this weekend

This global cooling situation is getting pretty serious. Pipes are bursting in peoples basements. Snow is no longer slippery to ski on. It was +2F when I left work today and is currently -14F at Waterville Valley. The coldness may moderate a little by this weekend. On the bright side, this will be a perfect opportunity to try out the new Toko Moly and Start Green waxes I have. I may actually do a controlled experiment if I become really bored Friday night and wax both pairs of my RS11's up differently to see what difference I can muster up between them.

So far this year, ski sessions, miles and hours are all staying ahead of riding. This has never happened before over a two week interval. In fact, I didn't even realize that I went three days in a row without riding this week. Skating provides the fix just as well if not better than riding. That doesn't mean I haven't been riding though.

Cell Tower Hill, repeat many times, studs required.

I've ridden at lunch each of the last two days. Hill repeats yesterday and a recovery(ish) ride today. Even though it was colder today, calmer winds really made it completely tolerable to ride. Not even an icecream headache to start. I did notice I had to be careful with snot rockets. A couple times the overspray caught my sleeve. The spray instantly froze on contact. My shell looked pretty yucky by the time my one hour ride was up. Riding outside beats the trainer any day. I have a goal to not ride indoors once this winter. It will be my easiest goal to meet.

I've been riding my Jamis Durango exclusively for over a month now. I paid $69 for this frame from JensonUSA and put ad hoc parts on it for a winter beater. The frame is quirky with a 13" high bottom bracket. Hardtails are usually much lower than that. But it actually works out nice when riding rutted out ATV or service road tracks: the pedals don't bang into the sides of the rut as easily.

I wrapped up my two-session skate clinic with Andy Milne last night. We had a couple more people in the group this time. Was a tad challenging staying warm on the open Weston golf course, but Andy kept us moving with drills. I don't think there was a single drill I could do correctly. Some people could do one thing really well but others horribly. I hope I can remember all the things Andy pointed out for me to work on. I may have to take a couple steps back in apparent speed, unlearn the bad habits I have, then re-learn the right way. Not sure if I will have the patience to do this, as I love a good hammerfest. It's gonna take some discipline.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tuesday Night Sprints #2

Owie! This one hurt. Warming up, I immediately recognized my skis were uber slow, especially on the downhills. I waxed with a colder HF. But I wonder if more is going on that just that. I used my race skis tonight. They are RS11's, just like my training skis, but I think they may be one notch stiffer. At 192cm, they may be too stiff for me. They surely felt different than the skis I've been on all season so far, yet they are identical model. I definitely need to sort this one out before the bigger races.

This time we seeded based on last week's result. I was in row six just like I self seeded last week. Also like last week, there were bus loads of kids there. It was a new course format that I could not figure out warming up. I prayed that those I followed did not lose contact with those in front of them, and somebody up front knew where they were going. I immediately lost ground on the double pole start, maybe five or six came by. We were not in tracks. It was a slight downhill, and my slow skis were no doubt a contributor. Two skiers tangled just after the skating began, with at least one going down. I was far enough back to avoid it. I held my ground for a while on the first of two laps, but man, it sure seemed like there were a bunch strung out way ahead of me. Things split up, and I was at the back of the third group.

We ventured onto part of the golf course that has no lighting, a section I haven't seen used in Tuesday night races before. The ground there undulates something fierce. It was the most unnerving feeling not knowing if your ski was going to plant 4" high or 4" low. The snow was super moist too with temp in the mid-30's. It very quickly packed down and became hard and less edgeable.

In the second lap, I passed six skiers. One stayed on me along the straight away across the back of the course. I tried to hold him off at the line, but I think he just edged me out for 22nd place. The clock appeared to die again. I estimate my race went 4.86km in 14:53 minutes per GPS (I was too busy trying not to hurl instead of hitting the lap button right away). No results yet, but I was told I was 23rd to finish out of at least 70 that started. Another clean race for me with no crashes or close calls.

Warmup, race, and post race tempo laps

This course was much flatter than last week, and I felt like I was flailing half the time. I need those hills to level the playing field some. It was also too short, about 30% shorter than last week. Looking at the heartrate data, I was just getting warmed up when the race was over. I should have done some more rigorous efforts before the race. My HR might have responded a little more quickly at the start. I probably wasn't recovered from last week's skiing either. I logged 98.5km, most of it on the weekend at a rigorous pace. Nearly 100km is a new weekly PR skate skiing for me. After taking Monday off and working late, it was good to get a superb endorphin fix in. I probably won't fall asleep until 3am tonight.

On a side note, I posted some time ago about Omega-3 supplementation for asthmatics. I have not used my albuterol inhaler in about six months now. The true acid test is intensely anaerobic efforts in cold air. These last two weeks at Weston have not produced a single wheezy inhale. I am essentially asymptomatic, going on six months now, for the first time in my life. Can't say for sure it's the fish oil I take twice a day, but my asthma went from frequent nuisance to non-existent. Recent studies suggest it is not so much a lack of Omega-3, but a huge imbalance of Omega-3 to Omega-6. Americans get way too much Omega-6 in their high fat diets. Perhaps I could acheive the same effect by drastically cutting Omega-6 fat sources out of my diet.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Just in on 6-gaps

Interest in 6-gaps of Vermont continues to rise each year. I often wondered when an organized, supported event would pop up. I've even said I'd help in anyway if approached by someone leading the effort. Well, there's a 6-gaps event up on Bikereg for 2009. It is called the Chet Warman Memorial Ride. Philippe from Quebec brought this too my attention. I see a familiar name on the confirmed riders list already.

July is a hot month for 6-gaps. The only time I didn't finish a 6-gaps ride was in July when the heat index was over 100F. Since we moved our ride to Memorial Day weekend, we've had great success with weather and finish rates. I probably won't do the Chet Warman ride unless a bunch of riding buddies convince me otherwise. Many of us could almost ride the route blind folded now. No sense in paying and starting wicked early.

I certainly wasn't the first to discover 6-gaps. Not sure how far back the history goes. The name and route could be decades old. Based on numerous emails I receive over the course of a year, I believe content I placed on helped popularize the route over the last several years. Now 6-gaps is "legit." Southerners have a 6-gaps ride too, in Georgia. It entails less climbing, a lot less distance, and has nothing comparable to the infamous Lincoln Gap. I posted a while back about Rapha listing 6-gaps as a world-class ride. It will be interesting to see where things go from here.

Crust Ride

I was torn today. Do I take out a road or mountain bike? I haven't been on a road bike in almost four weeks. Many roads were clear enough, but it was cold, and drivers were scurrying about since we're under a winter storm warning for tonight. I decided to risk MTB on- and off-road.

Trails in Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsboro State Forest were unpredictable. Some parts I could stay on top of the crust, others I'd punch through. One trail had a solitary hiker come through before the deep sleet froze. The foot prints were a butt pounder for 15 minutes. I did have an incident. Any deviation off the trail usually meant immediate front wheel punch-through. Caught off guard one time, I got hurled over the bars and slammed both knee caps into the icy crust. Mmmm, that felt so good.

After having enough of LDT, I swung by one of my employer's facilities on the Merrimack River. This was on the Cow Hampshire side of the state line, and the crust was much weaker here and involved some not so fun hike-a-bike bits. I wrapped up by coming around the back side of Seavey Hill to my house following some more challenging ATV tracks. All in all a great 24mi, 2.7hr ride that was far more interesting than riding busy Mammoth Road up to Manchester and back.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Moosin' Around In Waterville Valley

We had hopes of a large posse heading up to the Valley today for some fr-fr-frigid skating. One had a remodeling contractor to deal with, another got a free lift pass to alpine ski with his daughter (earn your vertical!), another tweaked his back doing squats (silly trackies), and another had a chest cold. So it was just Dave and I. It barely got out of the single digits all day, and with 30mph wind gusts, it was one of the colder days up there.

It would have been a perfect opportunity to experiment with my expanded wax selection, but the last thing I wanted to do late last night was spend a half hour waxing my skis. I quickly threw on some green instead. As expected, we were skiing on sandpaper most of the time. I don't think I've ever skied at Weston with slow conditions, yet for epic skis in the mountains, that is all I get.

The place was deserted. We laid first skate tracks on freshly minted corduroy almost everywhere we went. Since Swan's is reasonably covered now, we started at the Nordic center, hitting Livermore first. Lower Snows is in fine shape, and Dave and I both noted what a fine state of mind cruising down Snows induced. But the ball buster was next - up Bean Bender. This averages 20-25% grade for about 0.3 miles. Factor in snow with zero glide, I could barely do it without stalling out. Speed dropped to 3mph. Not bad really, considering Lincoln Gap in VT is this steep, and I go only 4mph at 350W up it. Skiing friction today was at least 100x rolling friction of road tires.

All of Cascade is open now. That has another artful descent. Only deal was, there's still an open water bar that threw me for a tizzy. I didn't see it in time and had a panic spill. We chilled for a bit V2'ing around Moose Run/Wicked Easy. Grooming everywhere was flawless. The 8" of new snow was very firmly packed. It was nice to practice some of the drills Andy taught us on Wednesday, but a little more glide sure would have been nice. After Upper Osceola, I was pretty nearly cooked and dreading the biggest climb of all we saved for last, Tripoli Road. Ironically, it was now afternoon and nobody had been on Osceola or Tripoli. From the summit of Tripoli, it is nearly 1000ft drop over several miles back to Nordic center. We covered 40km, about 1000m of climbing, in under 3hrs skiing time.

So will totally depleting ski sessions like these make me faster at Weston? Probably not. Working in bits of technique drills certainly will. Will these workouts make me faster on the bike come spring? Probably not faster than I was last September. So why do them, you may ask? As far as training value, at the very least I believe they are a stop-loss activity. Anything that intense for a few hours will no doubt keep one in superb cardio shape. But that is not the only reason I do these workouts. I enjoy them. The feeling they induce when you are finished is hard to describe. But there's even another reason to do these kinds of workouts, whether on skis or bike. I originally got into cycling to regain my fitness. Epic workouts are just part of the process of staying fit. They are part of a lifestyle. There does not have to be a competitive results value assigned to every workout. We all know athletes that are results driven. They are ready to throw in the towel when results go south. The way I see it, snagging a nice result once in a while is a bonus, not the primary motivation. Solobreak touched on this in a recent post and it resonated with me. I think masters athletes, especially, should take an introspective look at what drives them. For me, training, or the process of maintaining a specific state fitness, has intrinsic value regardless of whether I ever win another race or even compete again.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sleet for Lunch

Riding has been anything but normal lately. For someone who detests the trainer, I have to roll with Mother Nature's punches. Today certainly looked intimidating. If I didn't ride today, I would have gone three days with zero spinning. Can't have that. I didn't need an aerobic fix. Got that Tuesday night. More on that shortly. I needed to flex the cycling muscles.

There must have been two inches of sleet in the parking lot rolling out on my lunch break. My 2" Nokians were neither skinny enough to punch through it nor fat enough to stay on top of it. It was in that dreaded in between. Fortunately, the roads were in varying degrees of plowedness. Also fortunately, there were very few people stupid enough to drive in the stuff. That left the roads for even stupider cyclists to ride on.

I did intervals. No, not the breathing hard kind, but the mashing hard kind. If you shift to a big enough gear and go up a modest hill, you can develop considerable resistance. Resistance is what I need right now with diminished riding time. Need to maintain muscle mass and neurological connections to stimulate it. My legs hurt after doing about seven one minute mash sessions. Mission accomplished.

Tuesday night I competed in my first race of 2009. I hit the Weston Tuesday Night Sprints, a training race series. Conditions were reasonably fast, and CSU had a nice 1.5km circuit set up with thee hill blips per lap. While warming up, multiple bus loads of serious looking college teams unloaded before the 7pm race. I thought surely none of them will be racing. I was wrong. At least three quarters of them lined up.

We self seeded, which amazingly sort of worked. I had no idea where to seed myself with so many fast looking skiers less than half my age. I was about 6 or 7 rows back out of 20+ rows, four per row. I was surrounded by Harvard girls. We go, and I immediately realize I can't even double pole as fast as the Harvard gals. Then the skating started. I was certain I was going to get schooled by every 20 year old female there. To my surprise, there were no crashes as things slowly thinned out in the first lap. Then I began reeling skiers back in. Only a few passed me during the start, and I was pretty sure by the end of the second lap I had a net gain relative to my starting position. My seeding position was spot on.

I settled into a groove and continued to pick people off. By the fourth full lap, I was picking people off more rapidly. I was not fading at all, yet those around me seemed to begin dropping like flies. Around the last hairpin to the finish, two skiers tangled and went down right in front of me. That cost me a spot as a cluster of us were looking at a bunch sprint on the wide straight away to the finishing chute. I finished 23/68 men, 24/88 finishers overall. This was an all-time record number of skiers for a Tuesday night The race was about 7km long and took me 20:45 minutes to finish (results).

The course consisted of essentially three out-and-backs with hairpin turns at the ends where we had to ski around a barrel or cones. Not much different than a 'cross race really. You start in a massive bunch, everybody near the front wants the hole shot, then things near the back pretty much grind to a halt around the first several corners. Instead of locking handlebars, you are tripping over poles and other skis.

You gotta love short efforts like these. 60 seconds into it, you are on the verge of puking. Then you have to maintain that for 20 minutes, punching it up even harder as the finish nears. Nothing will get you a better endorphin buzz than a ski race. Nothing will push your heart rate higher. The only downside to these sprint races is they are in the evening. When I push myself that hard late in the day, then having to eat something afterwards, my metabolism stays in overdrive most of the night. My HR remains at least 50% higher than resting rate and pounds so hard I can feel it making the bed shake. And my mind stays 100% wide awake. I can't sleep. I get the same thing doing Wednesday night Exeter training rides too. It's the intensity that does it, not so much the total training stress.

So if Tuesday night on snow wasn't enough, I went back to Weston tonight for a skate clinic with Andy Milne. All that sleet that fell in Merrimack today, it fell in Weston too. The course was lightning fast, possibly the fastest I've ever been on. At least as fast as rolling on ball bearings. Most of the clinic took place indoors, covering stance, angles, timing, all sorts of things. I reaffirmed that I am a complete klutz. Then we went outside for a while to do some drills without poles. There really isn't much with my technique that is right. What I suck least at is V1 climbing. But Andy points out I have the typical cyclist faults. I want to use my glutes and quads and maintain a stance as if on a bike. That is all wrong on skis. Plus you don't push off with the front of your foot. Pedal cleats go under the ball of your foot, right? Indoors, we did bounding exercises where we watched each other to make sure we maintained heel contact when pushing off. I found it exceedingly difficult to do. Throw in all my timing deficiencies, it is amazing I can ski at all, let alone finish in the top third of a mostly young field. So much to work on. The cool thing about skiing is I could quite possibly spend the rest of my life pefecting the technique, always improving, maybe getting faster for many years to come. Prospects for cycling aren't as cheery. Eventually, maybe soon, I will start getting slower.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

2008 Highlights

The holiday break has certainly been nice the last two weeks. Before my 2009 work year begins, I should wrap up 2008 with a post. I could go into a quantitative analysis of how the race season went. With 2009 already underway, I doubt anybody really cares about how many races I did or how many (or few) podium finishes were achieved many months ago. Instead, I'll provide a train of thought of 2008 events that stand out in my memory.

Cycling Trips. I hit more cycling destinations in 2008 than in any prior year. Memories of places I visited are more fond than good races I participated in. In 2008, I biked in 17 states, 16 of them off-road, 5 of them first time ever. A family trip to Arizona in April provided some great riding opportunities in addition to hiking with mom and Cathy. This was essentially a solo spring training camp of sorts. Later in April, a more formal spring training camp took place in Virginia with other serious racer types. This was the only road-only cycling trip I've done so far. In July, Dave and I hit Colorado and New Mexico. The trail riding around Durango was stunning. I'm already studying the calender to see when I can go back in 2009. A business trip to Minnesota allowed riding opportunities there plus Iowa and Wisconsin. Then most recently, I went on a solo short trip down to Arkansas and Oklahoma for some epic days of riding in the Ozarks. If I never raced again, I would still maintain similar fitness so I can continue to go on trips chocked full of daily, epic rides.

Cycling Competition. There are hits and misses here. I had hoped to win a couple masters road races in 2008. I won races every prior year. Road races are hard. Fitness to win is usually necessary but not sufficient to win. I've learned some hard lessons in 2008, namely to be more patient and conserve thine kilojoules. Hillclimb races were a different story. These are easy. I set several PR's on major climbs in 2008, climbs I've been doing for eight years. Perhaps the high point of the racing season was setting a new PR on Mt Washington with a broken bike, making the top 10 overall. Whatever I did for training worked. Ironically, I carried more body weight through the season. Just goes to show that minimum weight does not necessarily produce the highest W/kg.

Skiing. Skiing is hard to report at the turn of the year, as the year change comes in the middle of the training season. It would be like if the year ended in June for the cycling season and you had to report how your season went then. I did only a few races in 2008. The 10k Cross Trainers Challenge at Waterville went well, taking a podium spot, only because the real masters were at another real race. The Mt Washington Ski to the Clouds race went well too, I believe only two people older than me beat me. I was still quite far down overall, however. I hope to improve on that in 2009. The slogfest at Rangeley Lakes was a spanker. I nearly finished DFL. This may be further evidence that I'm just a Type 2a muscle fiber guy and I will never do well at events that require relatively high, steady output for a long time. I beat Brett in the 10k, but he spanked me in the 50k. Perhaps in 2009 I should focus more on Type 2a events, like 25k or less distance. Skiing is mostly just plain fun though. It is perhaps the best way to get your endorphin fix in the winter months.

Health. 2008 was essentially an injury free year. Early in the year I experimented with running in the hopes of doing a winter triathlon. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Perhaps I went into it a little too aggressively, but in less than 10 miles of running total over a couple weeks, I developed knee bursitis. This quickly subsided when I stopped running. It did not impact cycling at all and minimally impacted skiing. I really remained illness free throughout the season. I did come down with a cold before the Turtle Pond road race and had to bail out of it, but that was pretty much it. I think that is a testament to working sufficient rest and recovery into the training routine. I don't really follow a plan. Sometimes I ride my bike really hard. Sometimes long. And once in a while I don't ride it at all.

So what's on tap for 2009? More trips, of course! Right now I'm checking to see if another family trip to Hawaii later this winter is feasible. Spring training camp in the southeast is being discused again. I would like to hit two more new states in 2009 too. These might be Tennessee and Kentucky. And of course, I have to get back to Durango one way or another. Competition? Yep. Really don't have a plan here, and I plan to keep it that way. I will do a selection of hilly road races again, the kind of races I don't suck at. I will do hillclimbs. A new series is on the calender that ought to bring more excitement to this fringe, cult-like activity. One thing that will be different in 2009 is getting back to off-road competition. I have a nice race worthy dualie now. I may travel to some events. I would like to do at least one 100 mile race, but I have some reservations about the dreaded seize-up I've experienced at Everest Challenge and more recently the Iron Cross CX race. I placed 10th overall at the VT50 the last time I did it in 2001. It will be interesting to see if I still "got it" when I come back.

Ok, you can't completely escape a bit of quantitative review before I conclude. In 2008, I logged more hours of aerobic activity than in any prior year, about 650 hours. Most of this is cycling. I got on a bike to ride 298 times, logging 548 hours in the saddle. This produced only 8329 miles distance covered, as over a third of those hours were off road. When skiing and hiking miles are added, total 2008 miles approach 10,000. I randomly log my body weight and fat in my log. Averaged over 2008, I weighed 164.8 lbs at 9.9% body fat. That's quite chunky for a hill climber actually. I also logged a total of 254,000ft of climbing, but this is only a small portion of the total climbing I did. I only note really big rides or rides where I know what the vertical is. 2008 total vertical is easily over 500,000ft.

Training volume doesn't change much over the course of the year. It holds fairly steady at 12 hours per week. In winter, a good portion of the cycling hours get traded for skiing. The volume doesn't show the whole picture here. My highest intensity workouts during the winter months are on the skis. Much of the riding becomes recovery or light aerobic work. In this regard, I do have an "off" season from riding, but I still maintain near constant VOmax and threshold work, just in a different discipline. Image to left shows trail, road and trainer (like all two hours of it) in blue. Roller and skate ski are shown in red. The green "other" is mostly hiking and a little shovelling in the winter months. Trips are a nice way to spike the volume.

So who is this handsome young lad? Summer of 1975, twelve years old, with a brand new Schwinn Continental 10 speed. I must have never landed on the top tube, as I fathered a child later in life. Bike was purchased with blueberry picking earnings. The blueberry farm was right behind the house I grew up in shown in the background. I had hoped to score an earlier photo with my Stingray, but the family photo archive does not seem to have one. So you may think I've been riding bikes all my life. Nope. Cycling was just plain uncool in redneckville West Michigan in the 70's. Still is today for that matter. Guys with Ford trucks and Remingtons don't dig guys in spandex. Once I started driving around 1980, I didn't ride for 16 years. I've been riding now again for 12 years. I can't imagine life any other way.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Is this cross-training, or is it something more?

A small posse of us headed up to WV for some more snow-based self flagellation. Having skied very hard 1.5hrs Thursday and biked fairly hard 1.5hrs yesterday, I was a tad concerned I'd be overdoing it. Conditions were quite good. Wicked windchills meant there would be no "down time" out on the trails. Glide was fast to slow, depending on whether you were on wind blown granular or dusting of abrasive powder.

A couple laps of Wicked Easy/Moose Run prep'd the legs for the meat and potatoes of the workout. Osceola at race pace was the shock treatment for two longer intervals up Tripoli. I gave my first Tripoli interval my best shot. I was about 15% slower than my PR climb a few weeks ago. I really don't think it was the previous two day's effort. I maintained an amazingly high HR. Unlike a bike climb, ski climbing times are more dependent on conditions than anything else.

After an hour-plus anaerobic work, I was nearly cooked. Cascade was now open to junction 29, so I just had to do that before calling it a workout. This is another 800ft climb that gains half the vertical in the last quarter of the distance. I chased another skier that was a better descender than I all the way back down Livermore at insane speeds. He wiped out with me drafting right on his pole tips. How I avoided a crit style pile in is beyond me.

UPS delivered this yesterday. Several reader suggested items here. Will they make me faster? Probably not, but maybe I'll feel faster.

That makes nearly 7hrs of skating this week, all of it at aggressive intensity levels. I'm feeling pretty good about my fitness right now. Coupled with improvements in technique, I just might be marginally competent in competition this season.

Originally, I got into skate skiing as a means to maintain fitness over winter. I think it has gone well beyond that now. Would I ever forgo a cycling season to train for skiing all summer? Unlikely, but I go through withdraw symptoms when the season ends in the spring. I really feel more cyclists would benefit by skiing in the off season. I saw several other cyclists at WV today. So here are a few reasons why you should take up skate skiing:

1. Some riders are burned out riding a bicycle outdoors by the end of the season. Riding a trainer indoors could push you over the edge to never wanting to ride your bike again. Skate skiing is a wonderful alternative.

2. Skate skiing is more aerobically challenging than riding. You will use all of your major muscle groups. Because you bear your own weight, your heart must work a little harder for that too. You will see heartrates not achieved on the bike. I believe the highest measured VO2max's in the world are of XC skiers.

3. Skate skiing is weight bearing yet non-impact. Running is stupid IMHO. Many riders are converts from running. Classic skiing technique is more impulsy, but still a tiny fraction of the hammering running does to your joints. Skating power transfer is very smooth, possibly even smoother than pedalling a bike. The motion is even hypnotic. You will still feel your body going through the motions when you lie down to sleep at night.

4. Skiing will bring some balance back to your body. Cycling is a very asymmetric motion, using only limited muscle groups. If you are like me and don't do much (or any) core work, skiing will bring your upper body and all sorts of bits around your hips back into play.

5. Equipment cost of entry is much less than cycling. If you ride outside in the cold months, you already have the clothing needed for skiing. An intermediate ski/binding/boot/pole setup costs around $500. Race level setup is only $1000. A racing road bike will cost 5x that.

6. Skiing is much safer than riding messy winter roads. No belligerent motorists, no helmet necessary, although you do need to exercise caution on the steeper descents.

So are there any down sides to skating? Perhaps. Skaters must drive to a place that grooms for skating. For readers in the greater Boston metro area, you can ski cheaply at Weston. Flat, but the highest 15 minute average heartrate I ever saw, skiing or riding, was at one of the Weston sprint races. Skiing a groomed trail isn't free, but a dedicated skier will buy a season pass that generally costs about the same as a pair of road tires. So there you have it. Head over to Weston, rent some skis and get a lesson. You might hate it the first time, but give it a few tries like I did. It just might grow on you.

Friday, January 2, 2009

First Ski and Ride of 2009

Our drive back from Michigan wasn't quite as harrowing as the drive there, but we managed to time it with another storm. Normally we drive back straight through non-stop on New Years Eve. But due to weather, we left the night before. Our tiny Scion xD had nary a cubic centimeter to spare with all the gifts we scored. We tend to bring small gifts since space is limited, especially if we fly. Gifts we receive can be bigger. With bike, skis, skateboard, banjo (my son's), weeks worth of winter clothing for three and gifts, we were pretty much max'd heading out, but overstuffed coming back. I did not want to get tagged coming through Canada, as it would have taken more than an hour to repack after the hour-plus for them to gut the car looking for WMDs or even worse, tobacco products. I bit the bullet and took the estimated 1.5hr hit in travel time by staying in the states. Plus, the storm front had already moved into Ontario, so the roads were probably bad there. We made it to Erie, PA on perfect roads in six hours. The next day was a different story. Snow squalls and messy roads for nine continuous hours of driving.

Great Brook ski. Can you tell where the short hill laps were?

I'm not much of a traditionalist. Sometimes I ride on New Years Day, sometimes I don't. If skiing looks better than riding, I'll ski. Temps were a tad on the frigid side (single digits) and roads were a messy. I could have hit the roads with studs, but Great Brook promised decent skating conditions, so I decided to start capitalizing on the season pass I bought there. The base was a bit sparse. I nailed rocks many times with my near rock skis. I was surprise how crowded it was given how chilly it was. There were at least a couple hundred people there. Having rested the day before (if you can call nine stressful hours in the car resting), I was determined to get the heartrate up. There are three nice short loops that have a hill blip in them, two on the north side, one on the south. I did many laps each with minimal interference from recreational skiers. En route between these loops, I'm sure I pissed a few people off, you know, the clueless ones that completely block off the skating lane and look at you like "what do you want?" Over the 93 minute workout, I managed to average the highest HR for a ski workout so far this season. Surprising, as there really are no hills there. I did manage nearly 1000ft of climbing. If you do a 30ft climb enough times, it will add up. I turned the near rock skis into full-up rock skis.

January 2 was a ride day. Not having ridden in two days, I was looking for something to "stretch" the legs on. Roads were nasty busy and messy on the edges. You almost need to have a death wish to road ride under these conditions. I must have have a lot of death wishes. I rode the winter beater with studs down to the Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsboro State Forest to see if anything was rideable there. It is less than four miles from my house. I got no more than 10ft into the singletrack when a stick sucked up my rear derailleur. It did not shear off or break, but it twisted things around some. It's operation was proof of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, in that it remained in a superposition of two gears for the remainder of the ride. Trails that had been hiked were squirrelly to ride on. I found one NEMBA trail that was untouched. This was sweet. Soft, quiet and fast.

Toying around with trip ideas for 2009. I might visit this place again with family towards spring. So where do you think this is? Hint: It is not Mt Washington. It's not even on the North American continent. This image was captured today at approximately 13,700ft elevation. It is on the big island Hawaii. I would love to bike up that beast again, 6hrs, all up, almost 14,000ft net gain. Obviously, January is not a good month for such an endeavor.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

"How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,
Riding over the same old ground.
What have you found? The same old fears.
Wish you were here."

- Hill Junkie variant of Pink Floyd lyrics.

Have a great 2009!