Monday, February 25, 2013

WV Secret Decoder Ring

It's no secret that avid Nordic skiers have become disenfranchised with the Waterville Valley Nordic Center the last couple years. Grooming has become inconsistent in multiple areas, including the quality, frequency and reporting of grooming. When Mike Seeger ran the place, you could count on a quality product. When they said the trails were groomed, they were groomed to perfection. Now, it seems, you need a secret decoder ring to interpret grooming reports. I'll get to that in a moment.

After a punishing ride Saturday, 4+ hours in the saddle with nearly 5000ft of climbing, I was pretty beat getting up on Sunday. I needed a long ski, as it was my last training opportunity before the Rangeley Lakes Loppet the following weekend. I knew the weather would be a wildcard, with storm "Q" hanging over the northeast (The Weather Channel folks are idiots for naming every minuscule disturbance that moves across the country in winter).

Unfortunately, I timed my departure for WV at the worst possible time. A heavy squall moved in that spanned from Boston to the mountains. I suspect it was coming down 3-4" per hour with big wet golf-ball sized flakes. No way was the state keeping up with that. At one point, the highway necked down to a single doubletrack where I thought my car was going to start scraping bottom. Progress was painfully slow. A lot slower for others who ended up 100ft off the road. Always SUVs.

That wasn't the worst of it. In Concord, I got stuck behind an echelon of plows. 22mph was my average progress all the way to Laconia. What takes 15 minutes took better part of an hour. Of course I was bullshit. I want it both ways, to have clean roads AND to not get stock behind the plows giving me clean roads.

As I reached Plymouth, I got out from under the snow squall and the roads were just wet. I had already killed an extra hour to get that far. It was by far my slowest drive ever up to the mountains. Didn't have anybody with me to talk with either. My ski partner bailed on me. So I thought the worst was behind me, snowing lightly now, so it should be great skiing...

Checking in with the Nordic center, they verbally confirmed all of the North End was groomed that morning and the groomer was now working on the South End trails. Great, I thought, I'll just ski over to the north end, as I know what "grooming in progress" means from prior experience.

The trails had some powder accumulation since the early morning groom, which was fine. The moist snow actually had nice glide quality, but slow due to softness. I reached my favorite climb, Tripoli Rd, to see it untouched since the day before. Son of a bitch! I'm sure the skiers just around the corner heard my vocalized frustration. The snow was boot deep and completely unskateable. I asked the couple coming back from Moose Run if Upper Osceola was groomed. Nope. They too thought everything was supposed to be groomed.

So I turned around, went over to the Livermore side. Surely Upper Snows and Cascade would be groomed, right? Got to the top of Livermore and nope, grooming stopped. I was livid. I spent almost three hours on the road to ski a random smattering of uninteresting trails? I came to get a workout, so I had to make do with what was there. I dropped down Lower Snows and then doubled all the way back. Nothing bigger than a 300ft climb was to be had. The 500, 600 and two 800ft climbs all were not groomed since the day before.

Given the string of disappointments with Waterville grooming lately, I created a decoder for their grooming reports.

WV Secret Decoder Ring:
Groomed - It probably was at one time. Maybe last April. Could be rutted ice or boot deep powder.
Grooming In Progress - None of the trails you want to ski will be groomed yet. They won't be before you have to leave either.
Skate Groomed - Single pass with a snowmobile groomer. Expect to be competing for space with the classic tracks.
100% Open - The groomer made at least a cursory appearance in that part of the trail system.

If I classic skied, I no doubt could come up with a few more. It is troubling that the price went up and the quality went down. There are other places to ski. An extra 30 minutes drive reaches Bretton Woods, and they have showers with fresh towels for the same price.  Maybe I'll invest in a season pass for Weston next year.  Fortunately I got a decent endorphin fix from my ski. The slow conditions made for hard work all the time, including the descents. My attitude was suitably adjusted for the drive home, which was a smooth cruise.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Reverse Bike-Ski Weekend

In prime ski season, I usually prefer to ski first on weekends, then use any remaining fitness crumbs the next day for riding. It's a solid one-two body blow. Nothing escapes unscathed. Skiing usually trashes the body more for cycling than riding does for skiing. Not sure why. But I like to get my best workouts on skis this time of year. The body gets a bit of a break from riding, and 50km ski marathons are less onerous if you actually train a little for them.

Sometimes the weather doesn't cooperate. This past Saturday would have been a fine day to ski, better than Sunday, but Sunday looked like a total crap day to ride. I'd much rather ski in a snowstorm than ride in one.

On Saturday, Dave and I stayed local for a long snow machine trail ride. Club websites were listing trail conditions as poor - icy, bare dirt, not groomed. These are perfect conditions for studded tire mountain biking. Many of the snow machine trails are open only in the winter months when snow cover is on the ground. They pass over many parcels of private land. With poor conditions, maybe very few sledders will be out.

We started at Sliver Lake State Park in Hollis. On my way there, I stopped up at a local business to buy the area snowmobile trail map. You will not find any info like this on the web.  I eyed a route that would take us through Brookline, touch into Milford, skirt along the Mason town line before coming back into Hollis. I hadn't ridden much of this yet. I had no idea how hilly it would be or how long it would take. I was hopping to get in about 4hrs riding, as I hadn't ridden longer than an hour in three weeks.

It was the first time in a while riding on hard ice on steep terrain for both Dave and I. Takes a while to trust the studs. The sled skis left deep ruts in the ice. These were quite treacherous if you got caught in them.

Dave approaching vista on Birch Hill in Hollis.

The route took us up to the vista on Birch Hill before climbing it again from another side to the summit. The two mile descent to Rt 13 was a riot, although I think I apprehension strained my sphincter on the sketchy icy conditions.

Next up was the Mile Slip climb, new to me, which was nice after the long descent. Lots more ice bombing descent followed as we headed south toward Brookline.

Near summit of Big Bear. 

After crossing Mason Rd, another climb ensued. Not sure what the formal name is, but there used to be a ski area on this one called Big Bear Mtn. It is hardly a mountain, but there was a nice vista from the art institute at the top. Some pretty wild sculptures about too. The Big Bear descent was treacherous, basically down an alpine ski slope fall-line, I bet at least 30% grade. I started to lose control of my speed on icy sections and aimed for the crusty snow edge. It was off-camber and my front wheel promptly washed out. I manage to eject without hitting the deck.

This caused Dave to giggle and heckle me, which promptly caused him to totally lose control. Next thing I see him airborne right next to me looking for a soft landing in the snow. I might have peed a little laughing at that one. Neither of us remounted right there, opting for a less sketchy spot a little further down.

Pick a soft spot to land.

This was crazy steep and just enough ice to be skidding studs on it.

It appears some of the trails on the map are no more, so our planned route got moved to the Brookline Rail Trail to take us back to the Birch Hill area. Now it was time to climb the 2mi descent we came down earlier. After hitting several few hundred foot climbs at threshold to super-threshold pace, my legs were feeling pretty noodly. Of course, Dave wasn't slowing down at all.

Earlier in the ride I wondered if Potanipo Lake ice was safe enough for us to ride across.
Looked like a redneck convention. Shanties, grills and trucks everywhere.

As we came back to Silver Lake, the snow and ground were softening up. The temp was approaching 40F. Fortunately, the sun wasn't out, or things would have gotten really messy. Dave had to get back. I wanted to check the loop out on the east side of Rt 122. I thought it was about 3mi and flat. I was terribly wrong. It was closer to six miles and nothing but double-digit grade hills. With the softening snow, several short hike-a-bikes were required. I definitely buried myself with those extra 40 minutes of riding. I needed it though. Turned out to be a fantastic day for an ice bike ride, really about as good as snow machine trails get, assuming you have studs. We did not encounter a single snowmobile.

The windblown orchard above Silver Lake. Birch Hill in distance.

Sunday's ski was not nearly as successful, a story I'll share if I have time on Monday.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hero Snow

It seems many cyclists are cursing the snow this winter. It's not like we've been having an epic winter. Just a couple major snowstorms so far. It does take a long time for a two foot dump to melt though. Roads are messy and trails are unrideable for big chunks of time.

I've learned to embrace the snow. My primary midweek workout for for the last few weeks has been to hit the Tuesday night sprint race at Weston. I was bumming this Tuesday as rain overtook New England. Just before the cutoff time, I called Brett who lives not far from Weston to get an on-the-ground report. Weather radars can lie, you know. Nope. It was really raining. Then I recalled skiing at Weston once in the rain and it wasn't too bad. So I called the ski shop to get up-to-minute snow report. Not glazed over. Hmm, I took a leap of faith, changed, and headed down. I'll ski slushy corn snow any time over glazed hardpack like last week.

When I got to Weston, it was raining lightly and cars were starting to stream in. Clipping into skis, I asked somebody that looked like they were just wrapping up how it was. He looked at his buddy and said "possibly the best groomed ever!" I thought yeah, right. I pushed off to find the course in pristine condition. The full width was perfectly planarized, barely touched corduroy, slushy corn snow but quite fast. This was hero snow. You could not make a mistake on it. Very forgiving. And as a bonus, the full course was groomed and lit, including the flats all the way out to Rt 128.  Now only if I had fresher legs...

After a solid warm-up, I lined up for the race. We were doing three laps for 9.6km. The rain and humidity rendered my glasses more nuisance than help. I never skied without glasses before. Since the course was flawless, I just might get away with it.

With a smaller group than usual, I seeded in a very forward position, third row. After our neutral "NASCAR" start, the race goes live and ballistic. Apparently I didn't warm up enough, or I was much more tired than I thought. I got swarmed and just like that I was 20-something back.

Immediately, gaps started to form. Nooooo! The group I thought I was entitled to be with was going bye-bye. I had some work to do. I came there for a workout, after all. I popped out of the slipstream and chased the next group fragment down, caught them, recovered a little, and repeated. This required huge kilojoule expenditure.

By lap two, I caught my peer group. In it were Maddy, Joe Brenner, Robert, Mike and I think Nate. I thought if I could just hang with this group, I'd do ok. I started with these people and burned a lot of matches to catch back up to them during the first lap.

We all took turns at the front, but Maddy spent a lot of time toeing the line. A few times Mike let a gap open up behind Maddy. I came around to shut it down, but Mike would zip back up, leaving me out of the slipstream. Joe was more than happy to let me flounder off to the side. The slinky effect in the line was pretty severe, as I think everybody had trouble holding Maddy's "wheel."

Then on the third lap, Mike let a sizeable gap open between him and Maddy. I thought that was it, she was gone. But I bolted, and this time Mike wasn't able to respond. Joe didn't either and got stuck behind Mike. Perfect, Mike can block for me without even knowing it.

I went deep into the red to catch Maddy. Maybe she punched it too. The pace slowed a bit with about half a lap (one mile) to go. Joe was was bringing the others with him precariously close. If he caught us, it would be game over. I came around to set pace for a bit. Even at 12-15mph, it is amazing how much harder it is to lead on skis, plus you can't just tuck in the draft on the downhills, expending zero energy. I petered out and got over so Maddy could lead again. It wasn't happening. Now Joe and the others were no more than three seconds back.

I continued to set pace for the remainder of the final lap. Chasers were never more than five seconds back. I was dying. I never put myself so close to the hurl threshold for so long at Weston. I did not want Joe to catch me, and I could tell he wanted it badly. No rest on the final descent before the finish. All work. There was no margin. I expected Maddy to blow by me, but in my determination to hold Joe off, I just edged her out at the line. Joe was only three seconds back.  I think I had to wait more than a minute before I had enough composure to give the score keeper my time and name. Race went just over 29 minutes, and I snagged a top-10 finish. Woo-hoo! A few of the fast guys weren't there though, but John Sakalowsky was, and I was a respectable 15% back from him.

It rained lightly the whole time, and low parts of the course were filling up with puddles of water by the time I left. I nearly had the course to myself as I skied three more laps in the rain. It was so hypnotic to V2 for 30+ minutes straight after the race. I bet that will be it for the natural cover section. I was psyched to experience a probably once this season ski at Weston. That made for three seriously hard workouts on snow in four days. Other than a bit of biking in Saturday's triathlon at Weston, the bike is almost becoming a distant memory. What have I become?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Weston Winter Triathlon

[Updated 17-Feb-2013. Link to results and commentary added below.]

Earlier this week, Weston failed to come through for me. I hate ski racing on hard, rutted terrain and bailed out of racing. I much prefer a slow slog at Weston, where power trumps technique. It's funny how dramatically snow conditions sort Nordic skiers out. Some excel on the fast icy stuff, where I flail and go nowhere. Others, like myself, fare much better in soft or wet conditions, where weakness in technique imposes much less severe penalty.

On Saturday, Weston held a winter triathlon - run, bike and ski all on snow. The ski course was exactly the same as Tuesday Night Worlds and was beautifully groomed before the race. Good control and speed. Neither advantage nor disadvantage for me. The run/bike course was very firm crust. I brought both my 29er hardtail and fat bike. The fat bike was clearly not going to be needed, and I wondered if I shouldn't have brought my winter bike with 26" studded tires.

Upon arrival, I discovered my helmet was still at home. Son of a bitch! When I go to Weston, I'm not thinking helmet, even though I had two bikes in the car. Asking many competitors and event organizer, nobody had a spare helmet. The event organizer said he lived close by and would send his girlfriend home to grab a helmet. Maybe I would get to race after all. My friend Brett was coming to spectate, so I caught him just before he left the house to bring his helmet too, just in case.  Even a triathlon, all on snow, requires a helmet. I'm pretty sure I go faster on skis at Weston than I do on a bike... Anyway, I was grateful busy people were willing to help me out.

While setting up in the transition area, the band of snow I left home in moved into Weston. It was above freezing, so this was only going to make the course slower. I was fine with that. I anticipated new, wet snow and waxed and structured accordingly. My race skis were slightly faster than my rock skis.

Taking a lap around the run/bike course on my 29er, I learned there was some real mountain biking in the loop. It dropped down by the river on a snowshoe trail with some steep off-camber turns and snow you could easily punch through. I suspected there would be carnage in the woods. Just hoped it wouldn't be me. It took a serious dig to climb back out of there. The rest of the course was mostly crispy firm snow that even my worn Racing Ralph front tire hooked up fairly well on. There were only a couple icy bits to beware of. Several others did bring studded tires or shoes, some wore Yaktrax. I brought some but felt they'd be a net hindrance.  This decision resulted in a pretty nasty spill...

We were doing two run laps and three bike laps at about 2km per lap. Lining up at 8am, it started snowing earnestly. There were only about 20 of us. I was a little disappointed more didn't join, given so many skiers cross train by running and cycling, and so many cyclists cross train by skiing and running. By hard core skier standards, I only dabble in skiing, maybe 50 hours a season. But I likes me a good hour of suffering, especially when it is compounded by three modes of punishment.

The start. I'm in blue CSU kit in back.

Heading out on the run, I started at the back to survey the competition. Like all runs, 90% take off like it is a 400m sprint. At least I hoped that's what was going on. I knew only a few people there, so I thought dang, this is going to be hard. My friend Arvid and Darcy (I think) led out for a ways. I kept my pace, and about 1km in, I started to pull away from the pack. A sense of relief began to settle in.

The run and bike loops differ slightly along the river, in that the run did not go down into the woods. But it did drop steeply behind the hill affectionately known as "Mt Weston." The falling snow masked a nasty icy bit near the top of the drop. I found it. I hip slammed before the first neuron even registered what was going on. I think I slid all the way to the bottom faster than had I stayed upright. It sure did hurt. My reaction was don't give up the lead, get up and assess the damage later, then look back to see if anybody saw it. My knee was throbbing mightily too. At least I didn't bounce my head off the ice. That was my first header ever since I started running.

I'll spare you the ice rash on my hip...

Coming through transition, I had a pretty decent gap. I knew exactly what to do for lap two, and the pace I set for lap one would be just about right. I knew where not to run down that hill.

Nobody was in sight when I came into transition for the bike segment. I practiced getting out of running shoes and into MTB shoes the night before. I got it down to 14 seconds. I thought changing shoes was better than trying to ride with flat pedals. Contrary to skeptics, I do generate power on my up-strokes. I felt I could more than make up that 14 seconds with improved power using clipless pedals. The only problem was I practiced in my warm kitchen with bare fingers. Now I had thick wet gloves on and I couldn't get the stupid helmet buckled or my shoes latched. The transition took over 30 seconds. Lesson learned. Practice in real-world conditions.

The legs felt a little noodly when I first got on the bike. Paul Curley was there, and I wasn't sure how far back he was on the run and thought he could be a threat on the bike. I quickly found my groove though and started drilling it. The woods was treacherous at speed. I had clean lines to choose on the first lap and got through unscathed.

Fitting that it snow hard for a winter triathlon, right?

Second and third bike laps I began to build a sizable lead. Brett was hollering time gaps in minutes out to me. I thought he was just being nice. I didn't think that was possible. Each lap through the woods I saw more full body imprints in the snow where riders dumped. Arvid was one of those unfortunate ones. I managed to clean all three laps through the woods section. I had a solid 17 minute ride at just below VOmax. Did I say I love suffering like that?

Coming into transition for the final ski leg, all the gear looked the same. It was buried under new snow. I think it snowed about 2" in 30 minutes. Again, in practice I got the bike to ski transition down to 24sec, but in the real world, it took a minute and a half! Could not get the helmet off, then my boots totally packed up with wet snow and refused to go into the bindings. Later I learned I was one of the fastest through transition. Practice no doubt helped anyway.

Brett was telling me I could take it easy on the ski. Yeah, right. Mark Jacobson was there, who finishes well ahead of me on Tuesday nights. I saw he had some kind of bike mechanical, so I didn't know how far back he was. I wasn't taking chances. The new snow was very slow and wet. My skis did ok. It was a full-on power slog, which suited me fine for this event.  It's nice to bring upper body into the picture after torturing the legs for 30 minutes, but the legs were so noodly by this point they barely supported me. I had the ski course to myself, laying fresh tracks in the new snow. That's a Weston experience you don't get very often.

I finished in 51:08 minutes with 8 minute lead. Pretty much dominated each discipline. The 4k run was covered at a 6:35 pace, pretty sporty considering it was on snow and ice and I took a tumble. My friend Arvid was second fastest in the run, only 38sec back.  The bike segment is where I put my best effort in.  This 6k segment was covered in 17:42min, nearly 2 minutes faster than my closest rival, Paul Curley, who I knew would do well in these conditions. Bike timing does include run-to-bike transition time. There were no separate mats to record transition times.  I grew my lead by exactly 3min on the ski segment. Additional important factors come into play in the ski segment, such as ski preparation and the more involved bike-to-ski transition. While  pedigree of mountain bike would not have mattered much in this event, ski preparation was important. Not everybody has the expertise or required equipment to wax their skis.  It doesn't matter, you can still have a blast, and if you aren't fussing over your skis, you probably aren't obsessed with results anyway.  Events of this duration fall in my sweet spot, where suffering is maximized, risk of cramping or bonking is nil, and optimal endorphin response is realized.

It would have been great if a few more people participated. Maybe the entry fee was a bit much for some. I need folks like Rob Hult or Alex Jospe to chase around. The event was pretty well organized and the courses were very well marked. The ski course was freshly minted corduroy, a rare Weston treat.  A little more space in the transition area would have been nice, as well as posting course maps before the event.  I would love to do a series of winter tri's each year.  I hope Jason and Will bring this event back next year. Maybe a series? Thanks guys!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Weston doesn't always come through for me. I headed there Tuesday after work. The temp was still in the 40's. All that new, soggy snow packed down nicely. Too nicely, with a day or two's worth of ruts in it. These rutted, glazed over conditions absolutely confound me. I must look like Bambi on ice trying to skate ski on such crud.

I was in a pretty pissy mood from being stressed out at work and my mind really wasn't into Tuesday Night World's mode to begin with. I bailed out of racing. No need to crash, get hurt or take others down with me. I guess the race went ok for most people. Conditions actually improved a bit after the race, as 80 skiers going around three times kind of "groomed" the course, taking some of the rough edges off.

I brought both pairs of skis again. I fussed over my race skis, which are more for soft conditions, waxing with HF, pure fluoro and rilling. My rock skis got partial treatment, using a leftover nub of wax I'm not even sure what it was. Maybe Fast Wax HF Bronze for warm temps. I also rilled.

Ironically, my rock skis turned out to be much faster than my race skis. Go figure. I warmed up on rock skis, took out race skis, decided not race and then switched back to rock skis. Not that I needed more speed. Conditions were ridiculously fast. Even casually double-poling could average over 10mph. I skied 24km at a non-aerobic pace. I did not get an endorphin fix. I really needed an attitude adjustment. I'd have to wait until intervals on the bike on Wednesday.

At least the storm last weekend brought copious amounts of snow to most of New England. Six of us skied together at Waterville Valley on Sunday. Conditions were very slow and a little soft in places. I was disappointed in the consistency of grooming. "Grooming around the clock" implies well packed trails, not a pass through with snowmobile groomer. Upper snows was not groomed at all.

100% hand shoveled between wife and I. Can't get a better functional workout.

The snow was that fine, cold, dry kind that makes a racket as you ski over it. It had nice tonal qualities actually. The surface was firm, and there was a thick layer of less dense snow below that made a resonant cavity. I thought to myself that drawing a ski across the surface was like drawing a bow across a cello. Both rely on stiction to stir up an oscillation, both couple this oscillation into resonant cavities.

Picnic tables are a lot shorter than a week ago.

Anyway, I skied about 37km in 2.7hrs. Perceived effort to average speed ratio was off the chart. Brett and I killed ourselves heading up Livermore/Cascade, but you'd never know it by looking at the climbing time in Strava. A solid workout for sure. Brett heads to the American Birkie next week and gets to start in wave 2!

Looks like I lost my KOM on Tripoli to Dave Cahill. Need to do something about that. I'm confident I can go sub-17 minutes on Tripoli given a fast conditions day.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Weston is better than P.E.D.s

I've hit Weston three weeks in a row now for what is affectionately known in ski circles as Tuesday Night Worlds. I draw puzzled looks when I bail out of work early to catch a ski race near Boston. People will invariably ask "Is there snow down there?" Yaw, the man-made kind.

Conditions have been pretty good on the 2.4km course actually. No boiler plate ice. Man made snow can be pretty fickle stuff though, depending on how recently it was blown and under what weather conditions. With 4-6 snow guns, Weston can make snow on only a small portion of the course at a time. So in some areas, you get old, coarse granular this is wicked fast, in other areas you get slushy snow that will suck your skis down to a crawl in a heartbeat.

I'm getting a little smarter with ski prep. I've been warming up on my rock skis and then switch to race skis right before the race. The man-made snow is pretty dirty and fouls up a wax job very quickly. No sense in starting a race with slow skis. This week I also followed Rob Bradlee's wax tip verbatim (almost). Kind of silly spending more time prep'ing skis than you will actually spend racing on them...

The prep consisted of applying Toko HF Red, scrape and brush. Then apply Star F1 pure fluoro (I didn't have the recommended Toko Jetstream) and brush. Final step: rill with Toko blue structure wheel. I just picked up the structure tool and it was my first time using it. It puts microscopic grooves in the ski base to give water a channel and break up the suction a flat surface creates. I think this proved to be extremely useful Tuesday night.

Warming up on my rock skis that hadn't been waxed recently, I nearly face planted every time I hit some new, wet snow. It sucked, literally. I was sure hoping my race skis would be more consistent. You'd go from fast ball bearing snow to brakes full on in about 15 feet. Then it was impossible to maintain any speed in the slow snow. Maybe 20% of the course had really slow snow in it.

I lined up 5th row, much further ahead than usual, thinking I shouldn't be there. Too many fast people behind me. With about 3-4 per row, that meant I should expect to finish 15-20th place. I finished 28th two weeks ago and 23rd last week.  We self seed based on expected finish. We go off, and immediately I'm amazed with the speed of my race skis. I was coming up on peoples tails. After the partial neutral lap, we go live. For a little bit, a large lead pack stayed connected.

Coming back around Mt Weston on the first lap, a non-racer was in the way. I nearly hit him and went way wide to avoid a collision. I got popped out of the train and lost many spots. Shortly after that, a gap formed. Bummer.

I still was with some fast skiers that normally finish ahead of me, like Robert Faltus and coach Maddy. I noticed though, that when we came through the active snow making area, I could tuck and FLY past Maddy. Her skis were exceedingly slow on that stuff, probably just like my rock skis. I've heard non-skiing skeptics say waxing and ski prep really doesn't matter much, and amateurs are being duped if they believe otherwise. Well, I'll tell you, proper ski prep on Weston's course Tuesday night made a PROFOUND difference.

With that kind of advantage, it didn't take long to put distance on faster skiers on slow skis. I almost felt guilty. But I know all the top guns fuss over their skis. They all warm up on one pair, then pull out the race skis last minute.

During the third and final lap, I was drafting Andrew. We had dropped the rest of the gang with a modest gap behind us. He was much better than I around the 180 degree turns around barrels. I'd get gapped every time and have to claw my way back into his draft. Unfortunately, that meant I was hammering to get back on instead of recovery in his draft. But I made sure on the last two turns I did better to stay on, getting a little recovery. I normally don't contest a sprint at Weston, but I was up for a good final adrenaline rush. The last 100m or so is slightly uphill. I barely edged out Andrew for 15th place out of 80 overall.

I was the most gassed yet upon crossing the line. I'm pretty sure I maintain a heart rate for 20 minutes at Weston that is significantly higher than what I hold doing VOmax intervals on the bike. This is possible because skiing is weight bearing and uses all of your major muscle groups. This drives your HR up. These compact workouts are very efficient. Big return for short duration.  It is these efforts on snow that bring about good performance on the bike many weeks later. Tuesday Night Worlds at Weston is my secret performance enhancing drug, and I'll never test positive.

This intensity combined with a late supper means very poor sleep at night. My metabolism stays jacked for many hours afterwards. I usually wake up at 4am and cannot fall back asleep with my heart pounding so hard it makes the bed shake. Seriously.

My trend these last several weeks has been to run short and easy on Monday, longer and harder on Thursday. Tuesday is ski race. Wednesday is VOmax efforts on the bike, which are extra special after Weston. Older readers may recall the good old carburetor days. If the choke was set too lean, the engine would hesitate something fierce when cold. Well, that is how my first VOmax effort goes the day after Weston. The body basically says FU, I'm not going anywhere. It comes around, and maybe the 3rd or 4th effort goes ok. I finish the week out with a 3hr ski on Friday or Saturday and a 3-4hr ride the following day. With potentially a lot of snow on the way, many more killer workouts on snow are in store.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The New Face of Competition

As I was reading the current issue of Dirt Rag magazine, a revelation came to mind. Competition in cycling has fundamentally shifted in the last five years or so. I've lamented in the past about my favorite road and mountain bike events going by the wayside. These include road events like Turtle Pond, Bow, Jiminy Peak, and off-road events like the Watershed Wahoo. All of these events share one thing in common: they are circuit races where you go head-to-head with your competition in real time. First one over the line wins.

The feature story in Dirt Rag revealed that all-mountain enduro racing has become hugely popular in Europe and is now making inroads on this side of the pond. The enduro format doesn't favor pure fitness or raw downhill skill. It requires a balance between skill and fitness. The events are not timed in a traditional sense either. Riders may climb or traverse to a timed section of the course at a social pace. When the timed section is reached, usually a descent, it is a race against the clock. Each rider's times are tallied over several segments spanning multiple days. Lowest accumulated time wins. Lifts may be used in some of the stages. Much of the time on the bike is not timed and ridden at a friendly pace. The downhills are no holds barred.

On the road cycling front, it seems every spring you hear of a few more Gran Fondos being announced. Big in Europe for many years, they are now gaining popularity in the States. Gran Fondo NY has a 7,000 rider limit and costs $265 to enter. Levi's gran fondo in California sells out at 7,500 riders. These events are not labeled as races, but they are either timed or have timed segments.

Gran Fondo NY has three timed climbs. You can cruise the rest of the course socializing with your friends, but when you cross the timing mat beginning one of the timed climbs, the gloves come off.  Modern chip timing enables this format of competition. You are not competing against other riders in real time, but against the clock. At the end of the day, leaderboards show who won.

The revelation that came to me was how opposite and yet how similar gran fondos are to enduros. They are opposite in that gran fondos tend to time the uphills, while enduros tend to time the downhills. They are similar in that the total elapsed time is irrelevant and competitors can spend time socializing and enjoying the day. Promoters of these formats state this is how you often ride with your friends anyway, so why not organize events this way.

I also can't help but notice the co-evolution of websites like Strava and this new racing format.  Strava users treat each ride like a personal gran fondo or enduro. Spin easy to the next segment, then kill it. You only need a GPS and Strava takes care of the rest, building the leaderboards for you.

Multi-lap circuit races definitely seem to be fading into obscurity. Doesn't make for interesting Strava content. Cyclocross is the only exception here, especially with worlds on US soil this year. To be sure, there are several other racing formats that are gaining traction too. One of my favorites is "monster cross," where a cross bike is taken on a single loop trek cross-country style, over a variety of terrain and obstacles, usually for 100km. There is a monster cross series now. Multi-day MTB stage racing continues to grow in popularity too, where each day a unique loop is ridden or more distance is traversed in a several hundred mile point-to-point race.

So where do things go from here?  Race promoters, bicycle industry and web app folks with vision to see the near and medium term future could prosper. No doubt the web will become increasingly integrated with bicycle competition in ways I can only begin to imagine. Could sanctioned competitions take place not in real-time? This already is happens in one form or another. Stava posts all sorts of challenges.  How do you officiate online competitions to thwart cheating or corruption of results? Moto-pacing, using mechanical assistance, or just uploading a track from driving your car would quickly lead the community to dismiss these types of competitions.  GPS files are pretty easily edited too, to enhance one's results.

I see GPS's getting much smarter (Garmin, are you listening?). Or the GPS's in smart phones need to get much better. An app that encrypts the data for competition, so it cannot easily be edited, would ensure integrity of data. Only upload direct to web app can decrypt the data. It would be nice if GPSs could alert riders to upcoming segments too, and then tell you your time after completing the segment. Maybe smart phone apps do this already (I don't have one). There are many opportunities for GPS, smart phone, device and web app folks here.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Five Weekends and Counting...

Since the first of the year, I've been fortunate in not missing an epic ski-bike weekend. These usually entail a 40-50km skate on my off-Friday or Saturday with a few thousand feet of climbing, followed by a 3-4 hour ride on dirt the next day. This hits my body with around seven hours of fairly intense aerobic effort in two days. Riding only twice a week these days, I'm probably not in top cycling form. But when I sit down for a meeting at work and find my heart rate at 34bpm, I can only assume my cardio fitness is pretty good right now.

This past week's freakishly warm weather left Nordic skiing in tatters across New England. I set my week up to ski on my off-Friday. I had doubts whether it was worthwhile driving up to Waterville. I waited until they opened to get a more direct report before committing to the drive. No additional clarity was obtained. What else was I going to do? With a couple ski events coming up, not skiing was not an option (double negatives make perfect sense to me). I took a gamble.

I had to drive to the north-end trails from the Nordic center, as the connecting trails were closed. I started on Livermore Road, normally one of their better trails in thin cover. It was a disaster, not due to thin cover, but tree debris. It was only partially groomed and hard as rock. I face planted going up it, hitting tree debris. I quickly realized I made a mistake skiing so soon after a warm spell. I was rather pissed I paid full trail pass fee for this. I thought about abandoning and see if I could get a rain-check for another day. It was so bad that other skiers took their skis off to walk back down.

Skis stop dead on sticks, yet unable to control speed coming down.

Before I abandoned, I crossed over to the Tripoli Road side. Now this was much improved. Good even. I went straight up to Thornton Gap. If I had fresh legs, I would have contemplated going for a PR climb. But Tuesday night's ski race, Wednesday's 5x4min VOmax intervals on the bike and Thursday's 10k run left me a bit ragged. The descent was scary fast. A confident skier could easily have gone 40-50mph on skinny sticks. I scrubbed speed off to stay under 30mph. Tripoli was so good I climbed it again.

I also hit the smaller Upper Osceola climb once. That was in fair shape with some tree debris. Mission accomplished. I skied 40km in just over 2.5hrs with about 3000ft of climbng.  There have been times in past seasons where only Tripoli Rd was open. It certainly saved the day for me on this trip.

From Bob's Lookout.  This is more like it!

On Saturday there were rumblings of a group ride being organized at Russell Mill, and perhaps I could lead the group on my C-towns loop, or as MKR calls it, the Big Loop.  I thought it would be just a few NEMBA guys from the Merrimack area, but no, it was a much bigger group with some of the top guns in New England MTB racing amassed.  I was the oldest present, with many of the guys probably closer to half my age.  Oh boy, I thought, this is going to be interesting after a punishing ski the day before. What did Shawn get me into here?

We head off into Russell Mill at Mach 12 speed. Shawn billed the ride as a LSD ride. Clearly, these guys were going for blood. Or Strava cred.  I was getting whipped around at the back of this pack like a fly on the end of a fly fisherman's line.

Also joining us was Soups. He just picked up a mountain bike, being essentially new to the sport after dabbling a little in it fifteen years ago.  I was humbled by how well he handled the breakneck pace and technical terrain in Russell Mill.  I guess good cyclocross handling skills carry over quite readily to trail riding.

I was one of two riders not on a 29er. Neither of us did well. I took some ridicule still riding little 26" wheels. Yeah, I had some close calls nearly stuffing my front wheel a couple times. Given that new trails are designed around the 29er, guys on small wheels are outgunned when riding with big-wheeled guys. That pretty much clinches it for me. I've been mulling over building a new dualie for a couple months now. I was thinking about going with the new 650b (27.5") wheel format, but real wheel size is only slightly bigger than 26" wheels, which typically run larger than their 26" trade size suggests. 29" wheels realize a substantial increase in diameter over both 27.5" and 26" wheels. I'll go this route even though it means I may have to settle for an inch or two less suspension travel.

After ripping through all of Russell Mill about 1.5 times and a good chunk of Great Brook, PR'ing almost every Strava segment, the group split up. Most of the guys could not commit another three hours to do the big loop. Shawn, Andy, Mark and I were in. We'd be hitting it in reverse from how I normally ride it, which is nice for a change, but it made remembering the route more challenging. Since I had the route in my head, I had control of the pace, meaning a more civil pace was sure to ensue.

The trails were in mint condition, really as good as they can get anytime of year. There was zero snow or ice on the trails, maybe a couple icy water crossings, and the ground was frozen rock hard. Riding at the back of the pack at times, I was riding in a dust plume. How often does that happen at the beginning of February?

Towards the end of the loop, I felt a couple cramping spasms coming on. This ride was going to end just barely soon enough for me. Upon re-entering Great Brook, I was relieved to here nobody wanted to cover trails missed on our initial pass through. I had to ask though. It is the Hill Junkie way. Bury yourself and recover another day. With my sensored Garmin 705, I logged 43.3mi in 3.9hrs with over 3000ft of climbing. I was hoping to ski again Sunday, but I'll probably be in a catatonic state.