Thursday, March 28, 2013

End of Season Blues?

Ok....season over. I’ll admit I’m a little bummed out. I think I get this way every year at this time. Always have for the last 30+ years of racing. The bummage mostly comes from not living up to pre-season race expectations and sadness that the excitement of racing is over. Mostly the first one though. Especially this year. This was going to be my last world cup skimo go round I wanted to finally prove to myself that I could perform respectably at that level. However, I didn’t live up to my dreams. I’ve got a blog post on my sportfaith blog that discusses this in detail:

Yesterday I went for a little walk (& prayer) to mull over things. It took all of about 5 minutes to move from disappointment and disheartenment to hopeful expectation to the future. Shouldn’t be surprising if you take the time to read my sportfaith entry on "Dealing with Disappointment". I share how sport (& really all of life) is a challenging game....a puzzle. A chance to break an endeavour down into it’s micro pieces, find a way to improve each one and in the process get faster, and also grow in character. Ultimately, it’s not about results (though if you consistently chip away at each area you’ll certainly end up getting faster).

If you just focus on the end result, you’re fated to be disappointed continually as there’s always someone faster than you (especially for me now as I’m getting older, with new fresh blood coming into the sport....defiantly a good thing for the sport in Canada). The real challenge is improving yourself... making yourself better. If I can isolate areas of growth and measure them against myself, I can have satisfaction.

In my last race of the year, Lake Louise skimo race, there were about 6 national caliber guys. I finished 6th. Was I disappointed? Nope. My main goal was to make some headway on the downhills. This race especially featured 4 challenging double black diamond downhills. For me, I rocked them. Went faster than any downhill I’ve done in a race so far. Probably slower than most of the guys in front of me, but good for me. For this, I came away from my race satisfied. I felt I skied consistently hard too, with good transitions. Overall a personally solid effort. Just not podium worthy (didn’t even get a door prize!).

The week before, I pre-skied the DogTooth Dash race course with eventual winner Scott Simmons. He really went fast on the downhills. Really, quite unbelievable on the skinny race sticks. There was deep, manky, cut up powder and he just rocketed through it. It was a bit of a revelation for me. I now saw what one has to do to compete at a high level in this sport. Scott told me he only owns 3 pair of skis. All skimo race skis. It’s all he skis on. He mentioned to really get good at skiing all one has to do is ski every day on race sticks exclusively. The conversation made me feel like I need to cull my quiver a bit.

With my XC background and primary weakness being fast downhill skiing, my springtime goal now is to work on this deficiency while I can. No time for emotional let downs, there’s (fun) work to do! Plus, my good friend Mike Norton, has asked me to be a part of his "Ski to Sea" team in May (a huge televised race in Oregon with over 500 teams). One more chance to rock those downhills!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Doggy Tooth Dash

How to tell if you’ve had a good race? That’s a common question in skimo racing where courses, competitors and conditions can vary so much race to race, year to year. My good friend Stano, on his blog, Skintrack, has some good insights. He suggests having a few specific goals within the race to shoot for. At this year’s Dogtooth Dash, I had 3. 1) ski consistently strong (aerobically) 2) solid downhills 3) fast transitions.

For goal #1 I felt I mostly achieved my target. I used a heart rate monitor during the race to gauge my effort. Early on I used the device to control my excitement and not go too hard (I stayed w/ the pack the first climb, but backed off on the second). I observed that I was able to keep it pretty high for the rest of the race. One of my strategies to keep the intensity high was to attend to my nutrition. Going over 2 hours especially mandates a plan. So often in the heat of racing you don’t want to take the seconds to feed, but you’ll always pay for it later....hence a strategy/plan. I’d planned out ahead of time exactly where I’d take my gels (2) and drinks. I stuck to the plan and was glad I did. One more last feed was some Red Bull. I could feel it kick in. I’ll definitely do this again!

As for #2, conditions made the downhills especially challenging for me. It had snowed most days last week and with weekend downhill traffic the double black downhills were especially challenging with skied up powder and on one downhill, a cut up sun crust. This weekend, Scott Simmons (USA & race winner) travelled with me. He shared that he only owns 3 pair of skis, all race skis. It’s what he skis on exclusively. He mentioned that one really learns how to ski downhills well when you do all your skiing on our micro sticks. And boy can he rock on the downhills! When I think of where I’ve come in this mini skimo discipline (dh), I have satisfaction, as I’ve definitely improved the last 2 years; however, there’s a lot more ground to make up. But that’s what makes sport so fun... the challenge of applying yourself to improve. I’d say I really didn’t meet my goal for #2.

#3...transitions. Mostly ok. I was skiing with a taped up broken finger. This slowed me down a little as most technical stuff had to be done with just the one hand. Still I did ok. Except for the disaster. While ascending Terminator Peak boot pack the 2nd time, there were some ultra slow and out of shape hill patrons that were so worn out from their little bootpack that they refused to move over an inch and give me any room. The second person actually bumped into me as I passed them, actually my skis, attached to my pack. It made one of them come off and it slid down the hill and came precipitously close to going over a several 100m drop. I had to duck under a safety rope to retrieve it. If my skins weren’t still on it would have shot over the cliff and my race would be over. I lost about 5 minutes retrieving it. I was so bummed.

I ended up 18-20 minutes off the podium (which I was on last year). I could have done a lot better with solid downhills and no boot pack disaster, but when I compare where I’ve come through the 5 years of Dogtooth Dashes it’s pretty satisfying. I’ve actually really improved a tonne. Kickturns, fitness, transitions...even downhills have come so far.

I have an XC ski friend that was doing his first skimo race. He’s really fit and previously firmly booted me out of my local master’s xc ruling spot years ago. Yet in skimo he’s starting out where I once was. It was fun to recall the excitement of discovering a new, cool sport, yet one that is really hard. The challenge of mastering a new discipline and the frustration of making so many mistakes and having your result come nowhere near what your fitness level would dictate.

The adventure continues!
                                                                                                                    (photo: Malcolm Taylor)

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Magic of the Shirt....Ski Mountaineering World Championships

I have a Nike base layer shirt. It either brings me incredible luck or disaster. I first took notice of this shirt’s magical powers after I wore it while winning the Footstock running marathon in 2006. I’d entered simply for a quality training race leading up to an Ironman Canada berth. Long story short, I ended up winning. In the ensuing years I’ve tried to somehow relive the magic of that special day, yet as far as I recall it hasn’t happened. Apparently, there was only one good race in that Nike shirt’s luck arsenal.

The shirt’s last chance was the Ski Mountaineering World Championships teams race in Pelvoux France. I even told my race partner and roommate, Peter Knight about the shirt’s history. Unfortunately, the black Nike once again didn’t deliver, so never again will I wear it in a race.

The day started out a bit dubious as I barely made it to the race venue. My teammates had been there a full week in advance to fully scope out the course, country and ski treasures. I on the other hand was stuck in Torino, Italy. I’d been in Schladming, Austria to support my good friend Jan Hudec at his world championships-Alpine skiing (a slightly larger affair with over 100,000 spectators and a world wide audience. Jan did his country proud, finishing both his races as the top Canadian, yet was disappointed when he didn’t achieve a podium finish). After stressing out for 12 hours waiting in the Torino airport, I had to go back to my hotel room after the plane my ride FINALLY got on, had a mechanical-cancelling the long awaited flight. Incredible bad luck all around. Fortunately, the next day, he did arrive so we could make the short 2 hour drive to our remote ski venue.

Reaching the destination the next afternoon I skipped the opening ceremonies to get a short ski in on the course just hours before I had to start the race which I’d been labouriously preparing for the past several months.

It was a tough course with the first climb sending us roughly 1600 vertical metres upward (4000+ ft.). Being a world championship I didn’t hold back. I had a heart rate monitor on and was trying to race steadily, but it’s hard to hold back, especially when it doesn’t seem that hard. However, about halfway into the climb my engine started crashing. I don’t know if it was the pace, the stress of the last couple of days, the diet that wasn’t super good in the week leading up to the race or the aura of that black Nike shirt, but in any case, my day was done. Unfortunately, we still had a lot of real estate to cover before the finish.

I still owe my race partner a steak dinner. He pulled out the tow cord and helped me through the rough parts. I owe him a big debt. There was a lot of disappointment, especially when you start counting up all the hard hammer workouts that were done especially for this particular race. However, I summed it up at lunch that day to our team leader. I told him that "you take what the day gives you." For every great race, there’s usually about 5 or so you wish you could forget. Of course you want that good one to come on the big days. And maybe that’s what makes great competitors so good. They’re able to put it together on those big days when it really counts.

I had 2 other races during the championships-the sprint and the vertical race. The sprint I’d like to get back. For some reason I didn’t push hard enough. All I’m going to say about that. The vert was a 600m climb that took about ½ hour. I was 4 minutes back of our best Canadian (and top North American). A decent result for me. I was satisfied. I didn’t beat a lot of country’s skiers, but I wasn’t last either.

So I figure my international ski career is over.... at least on the world cup level. However, we did go to a small town in France where they hold the "Super Bowl" of skimo, the Pierra-Menta, a 4 day skimo stage race. Looks pretty intriguing. I`ll keep ya posted.