Saturday, September 22, 2007

Fall has arrived...

My last post may have been a little tedious, so I'll try to keep this shorter and on the lighter side. Since it's fall, two things are happening that I really love - the leaves are changing and the apple orchards are beginning to provide one of the most delicious foods ever created. On Monday of this week Sara and I took a trip over to Peru, NY to pick apples. Much to our surprise nobody else was at the orchard when we arrived and it stayed that way. We ended up meandering through several acres of trees tasting and picking at will until we had filled our two half-bushel baskets. We picked several varieties of apples including Macintosh, Cortland, Golden Delicious, Gala and Honeycrisp and I think I ate at least two of each kind while we picked. You're probably thinking that a bushel of apples is a whole lot and that's correct. However, you've probably never seen Sara or me put away apples. I must point out that fresh-picked apples go down so much easier than the often two-year old, wax-covered apples you'll find at the store. In my 'expert' opinion, eating three fresh apples is actually much easier than eating one apple from the store.

If you've looked at the picture below you're probably wondering why anybody in their right mind would be carrying a jar of peanut butter in an apple orchard. Let's just say that there are few things more delicious than slathering a big spoonful of all-natural peanut butter onto an apple that is still on the tree and then picking said apple and quickly devouring it. If you've never tried it, I suggest you do the next time you find yourself in an orchard. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Because our training schedule this week only called for around 9 hours, that left lots of time for taking pictures and enjoying the fall colors. On Tuesday Sara and I hiked about a mile in to a lake near Whiteface Mountain. We built a raging fire and then ate dinner while the sun went down, casting soft light on the hillsides. Sunset and sunrise really bring out the best in fall colors.

Thursday morning we did a run up Cobble Hill, a small mountain that overlooks Lake Placid. There are few places to get an unobstructed view of the town so it was fun to get a better idea of how everything fits together.
This last picture is something I snapped on the edge of one of the highways. Shrouded in haze as they were, the ski jumps reminded me of some sort of giant Star Wars era machines rather than something feather-weight kids use to pretend they are Superman. But what do I know?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

An Overview of My Training

Today I'm going attempt to provide you with an idea of what my training actually looks like on a given day, over the course of a week, and even over the course of a month. This will probably be most informative to those of you not familiar with the methods of training for any sort of distance sports. Regardless though, training for biathlon presents challenges unique to the sport so there should be something interesting for everyone.
One of the first things to know about training is that workouts are grouped by week, month, and even two to three month sections of the year. We usually refer to this as periodization. The year is set up in one-month blocks. The National Team trains three weeks hard in a row and one week easy because that mimics the World Cup circuit where athletes race 2-4 times per week for three weeks and then they get an off-week to recover and travel to the next race venues. Because the Development Team's purpose is to train athlete's who have the potential of being on the National Team at some point in the future, the coaches feel it is important that our training mimics that of the National Team as closely as possible.

Each of the three hard weeks in a typical one-month block consists of an average of 18-19 hours of dedicated training, which includes 2-3 strength workouts, 2-3 high-intensity (interval) workouts, 1-2 specific strength workouts (done on rollerskis or in another medium that mimics the motions of skiing), and several distance workouts for a total of 9-14 workouts. In a weekly block we train six days and take one day off to recover, similar in principle to how we train in our monthly blocks where we train hard for three weeks and then use the fourth as an easy/recovery week. This pattern can also be seen in our yearly schedule, but we won't focus on that aspect of the training in this post. In order to give you an idea of what training actually looks like on a typical week, below is a copy of my training plan from last week:

AM - Shooting drills (we don't count this as "training" time because this drill wasn't
mixed with any aerobic training like running or rollerskiing.
PM - (120 min) Skate rollerski technique drills + 8 Combos alternating no pole & double
pole techniques

AM - (120 min) 8 Skate Roller ski combo intervals @ lev 3* w/ 2 minutes of rest
between each.
PM - (120 min) 10 easy Classic rollerski combos

AM - (180 min) Distance Skate rollerski
PM - Off

AM - (65 min) Running Time Trial w/ 4 shooting stages - this TT was in the same
format as a pursuit** biathlon race so we did 5 x ~5 min of running between
levels 4 & 5*. I missed 2 shots of 20 - a very encouraging shooting score
PM - (100 min) Strength workout - Power lifting & core exercises.
AM - (170 min) Distance run
PM - Off

AM - (115 min) Skate rollerski intervals (3 x 20 min. w/ 4 min. rest between each) at
level 3*
PM - (125 min) 60 min Classic rollerski + 65 min strength (Power lifting and core

Sunday - Off

So, I trained a total of 18.6 hours in 9 sessions, including 3 interval sessions, 2 strength sessions, 3 distance sessions, and 1 distance session that included ski-specific strength exercises.

*see my last post from Sept. 4 for an overview of how we categorize the intensity of our workouts into 5 levels -

**There are four different formats for a biathlon race. They will be outlined later in this post.

I hope you're not overly confused at this point. I'm including all this info for anyone that is super interested in the details of my new "job." Many people don't understand how I can be so busy just doing "some skiing and shooting." It's primarily for them that I've included an overview of what an average training day looks like. We wake before seven most mornings and start the day with dry-fire drills, which consists of going through the motions of shooting our rifles. The only difference is that we don't have bullets in the gun and we're 'shooting' at black dots on the wall. This helps us train all the muscles to know proper body positioning and breathing, both being requisite for shooting quickly and accurately. Between 7 and 7:30 we make it to breakfast where we choose foods to fuel the first workout of the day. If the workout is going to be long I eat quite a bit more than if the workout is either short or a hard interval session. The last thing I want to see in an interval session is my breakfast all over the side of the road. After the morning's workout we return to the OTC in time to shower and make it to lunch where the process starts all over again. At lunch we are focused on refueling our bodies quickly so we'll have as much time as possible to recover before the afternoon workout. After lunch we usually take a short nap that helps the muscles regenerate and also keeps the mind fresh so we can focus on the details of the coming workout. Following the afternoon workout we again shower and then head straight to dinner to refuel. By this time it is usually 6 or 7 in the evening and it's time to do a little more dry-firing, watch some biathlon videos to study technique, or simply read a book or focus on something other than biathlon for 2-3 hours before going to bed. The training does get monotonous at times. One key to keeping things exciting lies in good music, good books, and a vivid imagination. My iPod accompanies me on most long workouts so I'm able to do a little 'grooving' on the trails. When I'm in my room recovering I can often be found redesigning the energy-efficient house I'd love to build someday or going through one of the books that I've collected over the last several years. Enough on that though.

I promised earlier that I'd explain the different race formats, so I'll attempt to do that here. I've also included some photos that will hopefully help to illustrate some of the details.

Relay - 4 X 7.5 km; Each skier skies three laps of 2.5 km each and shoots once prone (8 shots for 5 targets) after the first lap and once standing (8 shots for 5 targets) after the second lap.

Sprint - 10 km; This is an individual race that consists of three 3.3 km loops. Skiers start in 30-second intervals and shoot once in prone position (5 shots for 5 targets) after the first lap and once standing (5 shots for five targets) after the second lap. For every missed target skiers are required to ski a 150 meter penalty loop. It pays to shoot well.

Pursuit - 12.5 km; The start order of this race is based on the final times from the sprint race. If, for example, skier X was 1st in the sprint and skier Y was 2nd just six seconds later, then skier X will start six seconds in front of skier Y. In order to win, skier Y must catch skier X and pass him. This makes for an exciting race because both racers and spectators know exactly what position every skier is in. The race consists of five 2.5 km laps with skiers shooting after every lap except for the last (the order of shootings is prone, prone, standing, & standing and racers get 5 shots for 5 targets in each shooting stage). Missing a target in this race gets skiers the same penalty as in sprint races.

Individual - 20 km; This is the original biathlon race. It consists of five loops of 4 km each and racers shoot after every loop except the last. The order of shootings in this format is prone, standing, prone, & then standing. Like the other two individual races, skiers get 5 bullets to hit 5 targets in each stage. Unlike the other two races however, every missed shot automatically adds one minute to the final time of an athlete. So, if you ski as fast as one guy but manage to miss 10 of 20 targets your final time will be 10 minutes slower than his. If this should happen, you definitely won't be taking in hardware home. On the World Cup, hitting 90% of targets is average for many biathletes. That is my goal.

The top picture is of me in prone shooting position. In the distance (50 meters away) you can see the 5 targets at which I'm shooting. The bottom picture is a close-up of the targets with the first, third, & fifth targets hit and the second and fourth missed.

The two pictures below show both prone and standing positions.

I've got a really hard workout in the morning so I'm going to try to wrap up this post. Last week, as you saw above, was a busy one for training. This week has been fairly easy comparatively with only about 9 hours of training. I had an encouraging shooting test on Wednesday, besting my last test substantially. There's still quite a ways to go until I'll have a chance against the likes of National Team members Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey, but it's exciting to see some of the pieces falling in to place. Below is a picture of one of my prone targets from the test. If you click on the picture you'll get a close-up in another window. There are six shots there, all that would score as prone hits. For size reference, since I haven't covered it before, the prone targets are roughly the diameter of the 8-ring and the standing targets are the diameter of the black area on this sheet of paper. When shooting prone, biathletes see the entire large circle, but they must shoot the center of the target for an electronic mechanism to score a hit.

I'm really going now. Don't worry, I'll be back. When I do I'll post some pictures from a recent apple-picking excursion, and several hikes in the Adirondacks that have netted some beautiful shots of foliage that is starting to near its prime. Until the next time, be safe and find some time to get out and breath the crisp fall air. Adios.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Travel, HOT weather, & lots of combos

Greetings from Lake Placid. I’m back here for the remainder of the week after spending Monday and Tuesday in Jericho, VT where we put in three great combo workouts. Last week was fun although the 24+ hour trip back from Alaska on Monday was long. Even that though went as smoothly as can be expected and I wasn’t overly exhausted when I made it back to Lake Placid. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were spent training in Lake Placid and then Friday morning we left early and traveled the two hours over to Burlington, VT and the Ethan Allen Firing Range where we would spend both Friday and Saturday training.

Friday proved to be one of the hottest days of the summer at close to 90 degrees with nearly 100% humidity. We had three hard drills on Friday that were brutal given the oppressive heat. I made it through two and a half of the three combined hard skiing and shooting drills and unfortunately broke one of my roller-skis so I had to put running shoes on to finish the workout. Saturday was another hot day and we had a 12 Km cross country roller-ski time trial. The New England Nordic Ski Association (NENSA) put the race on as part of a series they sponsored this summer. V2 rollerskis provided a batch of matched-speed skis. The speed of rollerskis varies greatly from brand to brand and even from batch to batch of the same make and model of skis, so matched skis level the playing field. The time trial went very well given the hot conditions. I finished in fourth place, one minute and five seconds out of first place, a time posted by Andrew Johnson, a 2006 Olympian in cross-country. That was an encouraging result. Check out video from the race by clicking on the following link: . Saturday afternoon we had another combo workout and then headed back to Lake Placid to spend Sunday, our rest day, at the Olympic Training Center (OTC).

Sunday was a much needed rest day. We are usually pretty tired at the end of a hard week so we spend our rest days doing very little activity in order to recover adequately in preparation for the next week of training. We do use our rest days for catching up on chores and other things that a regular training schedule often doesn’t allow, so even sitting around can be very productive.

The past three days have seen more great training. We drove back over to Jericho, VT Monday morning for more combo training Monday and Tuesday. The weather was much more cooperative. Monday we had a shooting workout in the morning and then some easy combos in the afternoon. Tuesday morning we had a level 3 interval workout that consisted of roughly 70 minutes of on-time (8 x 8.5 minutes). Shooting during these workouts is difficult because of the elevated heart rate, but this is especially necessary now that we are less than three months away from the start of the competitive season. It’s a steep learning curve, but I’m confident I’ll be ready when the first races in Canmore, B.C. roll around in early December. Tuesday afternoon we did an easy combo workout and then loaded up and headed back to Lake Placid. We drove most of the way back in pouring rain and lots of lightning. The rain was coming down so forcefully at some points in the trip that most vehicles pulled off the roadways to wait it out. I love storms and that was impressive.

This morning Sara and I did a three-hour bike ride. Fall is finally here! The weather was crisp and blustery and the leaves have finally started changing. Apple trees are starting to drop there delicious bounty all over the back roads and deer are becoming more prevalent on the roads and trails. As the foliage hits its prime I'll do my best to get a few good shots posted for those of you on the west coast who don't have quite as much color out your back door. Tomorrow is a hard running time trial with four shooting stages so I had better wrap this post up for now and head to bed.
Keep checking back. There's lots more to come...

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Wedding, the AK State Fair, & More Training in AK

Last week, my second in Alaska, was busy. My girlfriend, Sara, who is also a member of the US Biathlon Development Team, flew in on Monday just in time for a salmon bake with my family. Picture a steaming tray of fresh Alaskan salmon hot out of the oven with all the fixings and complement that with my sister's yummy, gooey Gluten Free peanut butter cookies for dessert - now that's what I'm talking about. That party set the stage for a great week not soon to be forgotten.

Sara and I got to train Tuesday on the paved coastal trail that winds its way through the forest following the coastline from downtown Anchorage to Kincaid Park. It's not uncommon to see a moose or two on the trail and we lucked out and saw two large bull moose with 50+ inch antler spreads. While the picture included here isn't of those specific bulls, it is of a similarly-sized animal I photographed last fall near Flattop Mountain in Anchorage. The training in Anchorage and the Matsu Valley proved to be fantastic for the whole week. We trained 16+ hours during the week, which was pretty substantial given the fact that we were helping get ready for my brother's wedding. As always, training rarely stops.

So now for the wedding. My brother and his fiance chose to be married in a small outdoor ceremony on a grass landing strip that is situated at the base of the Chugach Mountain range. Beautiful sunny weather graced us on the big day and the ceremony came off beautifully. Check out the picture below of my brother, his new wife, and the rest of the crew. The reception was fantastic as well and, for many like myself, was highlighted by a great DJ that kept the party hopping for hours.

The week wrapped up with a trip to the Alaska State Fair. One of the biggest attractions is the tent housing all of the award-winning, home-grown vegetables from all over the state. There was an 89 lb cabbage, a 109 lb kale plant, and, on the record books from last year's harvest, a 1019 lb pumpkin from my hometown. The Alaska Grown brand lives on in style.

That's it for now, but keep checking back for some more biathlon-specific info. In the works for future posts are discussions and explanations of what biathlon is for those of you who are still curious, a look at the rifles we use in the sport, and a discussion of what it's like being a gluten-free athlete. Of course, if you have any questions you'd like answered about the sport or my training, feel free to send me an email and I'll address them in upcoming posts. Thanks for reading. Until next time, cheers!

Training in VT & an Easy Week in AK

Training in Jericho, VT during the week of August 13th went very well. We spend time training there because it is the nearest facility that has a paved rollerski loop and firing range. That becomes especially important this time of the year as we start integrating more 'combo' workouts into our training that better mimick on-snow biathlon. A typical workout includes eight or ten combos, each of which consists of a 5-10 minute loop and then one shooting stage (five shots). This training can be done slow or fast depending on what our focus is for the workout. During this particular week our training included one easy combo workout in level 1/2 (on a scale of 5), one level 3 workout, and two time trials that were done in levels 4 & 5. Lest you get too confused by the numbering system, let me quickly explain. (This is important only if you care to know a little more about how we structure our daily training - if you don't care, skip down to the next section). Levels 1 and 2 are done at a sufficiently easy pace and low heart-rate so as to allow the athlete to comfortably talk to his/her training partner. If I can't talk because I'm breathing too hard, I know I'm at least in level 3. Level 3 workouts are done at a 'marathon' pace. That's to say, you're going hard, but you could theoretically do that pace for a couple hours if required. Level 4 workouts equate to a 10K race pace so they are done very hard, but not all out. Level 5 is done at an all-out effort and usually will only be seen in sprint situations - 100 meter sprints are good examples of an all-out, level 5 effort.

The training and time-trials were just what I needed. We were on the range twice a day for almost a week so we got lots of focused shooting instruction and I finally started feeling more comfortable with combining skiing with shooting. I didn't win either of the time trials, but I wasn't very far out on the skiing times, which was encouraging for my first and second ever biathlon races. I shot around 60% both days, which isn't too bad considering. It's by no means the 80-90% being shot by the best World Cup skiers, but I'm confident that my percentages will get better in the next three months of training before racing starts.

At the end of the last block of training I flew to Alaska to spend time with my family and celebrate one of my brother's weddings. The first week home was a much needed off-week. I took advantage of the down time to do some focused dry-fire work with my rife and also spent some time doing absolutely nothing. I didn't completely veg out, but that was high on the list of priorities for a few days. I was able to help my parents out by doing projects around the house in preparation for fall and the snow that will be on the way in a couple of months and I also got out in the mountains one morning for an early fall ptarmigan hunt with my dad and a neighbor. What a beautiful day that was!

Stay tuned for more exciting, perhaps random, but always interesting posts from yours truly.