Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Canadian Rockies - Paradise on Earth?

Two weeks ago I arrived in Canmore, Alberta, a beautiful little town nestled in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. We're an hour and half from Calgary, twenty minutes from Banff National Park, and not far from Lake Louise. If you're looking for a great laid back town, amazing scenery, friendly people, and some of the best skiing in all of North America, Canmore will blow your mind. I know definitions of 'paradise' vary, but for those that include mountains, snow and Nordic skiing and Biathlon, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a more scenic locale. It's hard to see the details in the pictures below, but click on them to get a larger version.

I came to Canmore with part of the team to get on snow in preparation for the Olympic trials, the start of which are now less than one week away. If you refer to the picture of skis in my last post you can see that it takes a lot of skis to compete at the elite level. That picture is a sampling of the athlete skis, but is probably only one half of the number actually used by the 20 or so athletes in the program. Anyway, that's relevant because part of my job while here in Canmore has been to get my skis ready for racing. Each pair of skis has a different flex pattern to it and then is stoneground. Stonegrinding cuts various patterns onto the base of skis to give them optimized gliding properties for various snow conditions that range from cold, dry, and sharp snow crystals to warm, wet, pellet-like snow. Getting a pair of skis ready to race after stonegrinding requires many layers of wax and numerous miles of skiing to 'work in' the bases. I calculate that I skied about 110 miles in the last week and a half to get my skis race ready. Lots of work, but well worth it when the racing gets underway.
The Canmore Nordic Centre - Biathlon Range

Last week I came down with a head cold so my training has hampered somewhat. I did feel well enough to race the sprint race last Saturday. It was a great opportunity to go hard and work on putting a whole race together on snow. My skiing was good and I had 1 prone and 1 standing penalty so I was pretty happy with the effort. My cold has cleared up this week so I was really looking forward to the sprint race that was held yesterday. While these races don't matter for anything they were a great opportunity to go hard and make a few final adjustments before the Trials kick off next weekend in MN. I felt good skiing and only had 1 standing penalty. I feel good going into the races in the coming two weeks.
Views of Canmore from the Nordic Centre

I travel to Grand Rapids, MN tomorrow where we'll spend just a few days more preparing for the official start of the season next Saturday. The racing kicks of with a 10k sprint Saturday and a 15K mass start on Sunday. The following week we race two more sprints and one pursuit race. The field is deep this year because of the Olympics so there will be great competition.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fall Training & Olympic Trials Warm-up

September and October passed quickly. As the real racing gets close the remaining fall weeks always seem to fly by faster and faster. After returning to Lake Placid from Alaska I spent a couple weeks training in the east. The weather was unseasonably good considering how nasty things can get in the east starting in September. I was more than happy to only have to deal with rain a time or two. At the end of September I headed west to get ready for the final dry-land National Team Camp in Utah at the 2002 Olympic venue, Soldier Hollow. Soldier Hollow is an hour from Utah in the Heber Valley. Since that area is high desert the the weather is typically fantastic - cool at night and sunny and mid 50's during the day. Perfect training weather as far as I'm concerned. Kind of reminds me of summers spent training in Alaska except for a lot less moisture. The four weeks I spent in UT were a great last opportunity to train with the A Team. We spent hours training on the paved roller-ski trails at Soldier Hollow and also did a fair amount of training in the surrounding Wasatch Mountains. See the pictures below.
The Wasatch Mts. in beautiful Utah

Soldier Hollow, Heber City, UT - site of the 2002 Winter Olympics
Training day.

Team skis ready for snow.
During the camp we had two competitions. The first was a 10K sprint race and the second a 20K individual. In the 10K I had a nearly perfect day, shooting clean for the first time in my career and finishing second behind Tim Burke, the top US Biathlete. That was a fantastic result and gives me confidence going into the Olympic season. In the 20K I again had great skiing and shot very well putting me in 5th place overall.
Clean shooting in the sprint race.

Rewards of a two-hour uphill ski!

After finishing the camp at the end of October I made a brief stop off in Boise, ID before heading back east for a few more weeks of training on my own. While eastern weather in September is always iffy, November weather is typically nasty. Usually we see rain and snow mixed on several days and daily precipitation is almost a given. I'm not sure what was going on, but of the three weeks I was in Placid training we saw temps in the mid 40's and 50's and only one day of rain. That's no fun for the locals because they want snow to come early, but dry, cool weather was a gift as far as we biathletes are concerned. We'd prefer to have great roller-skiing than have to deal with the in-between mess that happens when snow comes but doesn't stick. Needless to say, training was great and I was able to get in a solid block of volume training before heading to Canmore, Alberta to get on snow for the first time.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Training, Racing, and a Trip Home to Alaska

The past several weeks have seen lots more training, a little racing, and a fair bit of travel. During the first week of August I had some downtime thanks to a muscle spasm in my back. I've been focusing most of the summer on a few technique changes that, for whatever reason, seemed to precipitate me being laid up for a few days. As unfortunate as forced breaks typically seem, there is usually a silver lining. This time was no exception. I was able to get a few projects finished up and at the same time I rested more than would have been possible otherwise. August 8th and 9th were the US Biathlon Summer National Championships so I was doing everything possible to be ready to race. While still not yet 100%, I was able to race and posted very good ski times. My shooting was less than stellar, but taking into account the events leading up to the races, I was very pleased with my races.
Shooting Prone in the Sprint Race.

Headed for the Finish.

The day after Summer Nationals concluded in Jericho, VT, I got on a plane bound for Alaska. The last time I was home was in September of 2008 so it had been almost a full year since the last time I saw my family. I am very appreciative of all that the US Biathlon Development program offers for athletes in Lake Placid, but I wish there was some way to spend more time training in Alaska. The state has so much to offer its distance athletes and we even have a brand new world class biathlon range sitting in the middle of Kincaid park (unfortunately no roller loop yet). For better or worse though, my coaches are in Lake Placid, the US Olympic Committee provides room and board at the Olympic Training Center, and we have one of the best combined rollerski loops and shooting ranges in the country so the current situation has been great. Anyway, I'll get back on topic. I spent a full three weeks at home. While in Anchorage I got to spend lots of time with my family and was able to do great training in the mountains and on the trails that are both in and surrounding Anchorage. Talk about a well set up trail system. It is possible to get from one side of Anchorage to the other without having to deal with traffic. No cars and no lights to contend with. Just great multi-use trails that support the thriving outdoors community. An added benefit too, if you're lucky, is the chance run-in with a moose or bear. No worries though. They are far more interested in what's to eat off the trail than, in the case of the bears, the spindly-legged runners with PowerBars sticking out of their pockets. Speaking of animals, check out the beautiful bull moose that I nearly ran over while doing intervals on the Coastal Trail in Kincaid Park.

Share the trails!

Downtown Anchorage from the Coastal Trail.

While in Alaska I had opportunity to do a few great hikes in the mountains. One of the hikes was a 15 mile epic that I did with my dad and brother. We thought we were headed to a high mountain lake to fish for grayling and trout. Unbeknownst to us though, we had directions to the wrong trail head. We had a beautiful hike instead that took us up a long valley towards a huge glacier. No fish, but the scenery was fantastic and the weather couldn't have been better. Check out the picture below of Eagle River and the Eagle River glacier in the background.

Exploring the AK Backcountry with my Dad.

To top off a great visit home, my family planned a weekend camping trip in the Matanuska Valley. We took canoes, bikes, dogs, and, if my recollection serves me, a kitchen sink or two as well. :) It's one thing to eat freeze-dried meals on a backpacking trip, but 'road' camping with my family is a happening - complete with eggs and bacon, gluten free muffins, and other tasty treats. Beautiful weather graced us until the last day of the trip so we had plenty of opportunity to wear ourselves out. Between training sessions in the mornings, chasing my niece and nephew around all day, and hanging out around the fire, my 'vacation' was nearly more than I could handle. It's a rare treat to spend so much quality time at home.

The Hall kids!

I've been back in Lake Placid now for a couple of weeks. Training is going well and I feel on track to have a great season. I set a personal record last week in a shooting test and another PR today in a time trial so I'm feeling good going into the fall training. Of course, the leaves have already begun to change and the air is crisp in the mornings, two key ingredients that hint at the snow and racing that will be coming in the not too distant future. I'll be leaving in a week to spend a little time training in Boise with Sara before heading to Heber City, Utah - host of the 2002 Nordic and Biathlon Olympic races - for the fall National Team camp. While there I'll have two races that will help decide the 5th man to be named to the December World Cup team. I'm looking forward to the coming weeks of training and the challenges that they will bring. I'll do my best to keep you updated with all of the nitty gritty. Until next time...get out there and enjoy the fall.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Summer Training

The training season has been progressing really well so far. I'm always amazed at how quickly the weeks pass when the days are filled from top to bottom with training. I'm typically up with the sun and it seems as though it's time for bed way before it should be.

Shooting on our computer-operated SCATT machine


Spring training was effective and went smoothly. We lucked out with weather here in Lake Placid. Typically the spring can be wet and unpleasant, but we floated through relatively unscathed. I did a lot of focused technique work early in the season and was happy to see that both my technique and shooting scores were improved compared with the same period last year. While I spent the majority of my spring in Lake Placid, I did get away for a weekend to Boston for the Dartmouth Wearers of the Green, a banquet that honors current and former Dartmouth athletes for their achievements. It was great to reconnect with some of my Dartmouth teammates - all very accomplished athletes and one of whom has run a sub 4 minute mile. I think Mikey ran a sub 6:30 once. He had a tail wind though... ;)

(L2R)Glenn Randall, me, Ben True(the Gazelle), Mikey Sinnot, & Patty O'Brien


After a solid spring we transitioned right into the June National Team camp. Most of the team was in Lake Placid for three weeks and the coaches and staff all made the trek from their respective homes in Germany, Italy, Sweden, Maine, etc. Compared to the two prior June camps, the focus was more on distance training and less on high intensity sessions. We certainly did our fair share of intensity, but it was easier to manage. I was excited to have the opportunity to work with the 'A' Team coaches during that period. Getting their feedback is always extremely beneficial. During the camp we had a couple of time trials, one a 10K and the other a relay, that went well for me. I skied and shot well, which reinforced that I'm doing good training. Check out the video below from one of the TT's.

video


The month of July was similarly good for training. I was able to put in lots of hours and kept the quality high. My goal going into the season was to increase the number of hours trained from last year and continue to focus on making each session count. Thanks to the generosity of all of my sponsors (please check out their websites on the right side of this page) I've been able to train more effectively and recover better than ever before. My goal of making the World Cup Team and qualifying for the Olympic Team would not be possible without the generosity of all those who have and do currently support me.

video


This weekend I'll be traveling to Burlington, VT for the North American Rollerski Championships, two races that will factor into team naming for the December World Cup team. I'm excited to test my training against some of the best biathletes in the country. Check back next week for an update on the competitions.

In other news, I'm heading home to Alaska next week to spend three weeks with my family and training in the mountains around Anchorage. The last time I was home was nearly a year ago so I can hardly wait. Aside from missing my family and friends in AK I have a nearly brand new nephew that I haven't yet met. Not to brag or anything, but check out my niece and two nephews...

Stephanie, Matthew, & Aaron Jr.

In still other news, for those of you who speak German, I now have a German Wikipedia site set up by an unknown fan. If you have any interest on practicing your German feel free to click the following link - http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zach_Hall .

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

NorAm Cups, US Nationals, & Canadian Nationals

The season was a success. It's been a while since I last updated my blog so I'll try to give a somewhat inclusive rundown of the latter half of the season. After returning from an educational and successful trip to Germany and the Czech Republic I had a few weeks with no scheduled races. I spent the time getting in a solid block of training to keep my fitness levels high for the second round of big races, mainly a few North American Cup races as well as the US and Canadian National Championships.
Snow in the east this year was better than average (read – there were only a few sessions that outside training was rained out completely and only one warm front came through that melted most of our snow and put us out of business for a few days until the next snow storm). Life as a skier based in the eastern states is characterized only by the need to be flexible. Negative 20 one day and 50 above the next seems to be the norm although, much to my dismay, we saw many more of those dreaded negative temp days this season. I don't know if El Nino or global warming had anything to do with it, but this was one of the oddest winters in which I've had opportunity to train and race. That's beside the point though. Following the mid-season break from racing I had a couple weeks of North American Cup competitions that went well despite a flue that I was fighting. I managed to stay marginally healthy through the two weeks of racing and was really happy to have had a couple of podium finishes. Unfortunately, the day after the last race I got really sick and took a not so lovely week-long vacation in bed. I wasn’t initially happy to have the unexpected down time, but it was probably for the best because it forced me to rest. The down time ended up being a great mental break that set me up well for the US and Canadian Championships.
We raced the US National Champs in northern Maine. I had some bad luck on the range in a couple of the races, but then turned around and had great shooting during the sprint competition and landed myself in third place, just one shot from a National Title. I was very happy with the result and am confident that my training is on the right track. The last weekend of racing in the season happened just outside of Quebec City. The weather was in the 40’s and 50’s every day so conditions were wet and challenging. Mental fatigue is always an issue for racers at the end of the season, but I was very pleased to perform well in the last races of the season.
I’m looking forward to the coming season. I’ve been renamed to the National B Team again this year and I feel like I have the tools at my disposal to continue seeing big improvements throughout the summer and fall training periods. I'd like to say a huge thank you to all of you who have continued to support my athletic endeavors. The Olympics are only 9 months away and the trials process starts even sooner so stay tuned for updates on my training and racing as the season progresses.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Germany & The Czech Republic

Hello from Altenberg, Germany. The past week has been a whirlwind of travel, training, and racing. This being my first time ever across the big pond, there are definitely a number of things that I've never encountered before. However, I think the transition was as seamless as could be expected.
Leaving the Range
It's hard to explain what biathlon means to Germany other than to say that it is pervasive here as the NFL is in the US. Just this past weekend over 5 million Germans tuned in each of three days to watch the World Cup biathlon events. And that doesn't take into account those throughout the rest of Europe and Scandinavia that were also watching. Needless to say, it's quite an experience to finally get the opportunity to train and race in a place where everybody understands what it is that I do.
Fans in the Stadium
The races this past weekend went extremely well given that they were my first ever European competitions. The field consisted of over 125 men and included elite racers from several of the powerhouse biathlon nation's World Cup teams. To finally get to step onto the same snow with many of these men is what I've been training months and, indeed, years to do. In the 20K competition the windy conditions contributed to poor shooting conditions for most of the athletes. Each miss automatically adds one minute to your overall finish time, so hitting targets is paramount in the 20K competition. With an unfortunate 7 misses I finished in the middle of the field. The 10K sprint went substantially better on the range. I only had 2 penalties and felt like I had a solid day on the ski tracks as well.

Sprinting for the Finish

Tomorrow we'll be leaving for the drive to Nove Mesto, Czech Republic to begin preparing for the two races there this coming weekend. It appears that Russia ended its gas dispute with Ukraine so the heat will be back on in much of Europe. We're very happy for that because the Czeck Republic has been without heat for the past week. That would have made for an interesting race experience. There's not much more to report for now, but hopefully I'll be able to find an internet source at some point during the coming week to get some more pictures up along with another post.