Tuesday, December 14, 2010

IBU Racing: Martell, Italy & Obertilliach, Austria

We arrived in Munich one week ago for a tour of Central Europe.  Last week was a blur as we traveled to Martell, Italy and got a few days of training in before the Individual and Sprint races.
Martell Biathlon Range
The venue is nestled at the top of  a very deep and narrow canyon in the northern Dolomites.  As with most areas of the province of South Tyrol, Martell and its neighboring hamlets are quaint mixtures of new and old architecture, all with a distinctly Tyrolean flair.  The food too has a unique flavor given the French, German, and Italian influences.  Nearly everybody speaks both Italian and German because the region sits at the confluence of Italy, Austria, and Germany and was traded around during the second World War.  However, ask any of the locals to tell you about their region and it quickly becomes apparent that they claim direct roots to neither Germany nor Italy, but instead identify as Tyroleans.  The Tyrolean hospitality is impeccable so the Martell valley was truly a superb place to train and race for a week.
 The Martell Biathlon Stadium.  Above the Stadium is a hydroelectric dam.
The 20k Individual race started off very well.  The wind conditions on the range were some of the trickiest I've ever encountered so I was really pleased to make it through the first three stages with just two penalties and solid skiing.  The wind cooperated even less in my final standing stage and I added several more penalties to the tally despite my best efforts.  As I've said at other points, biathlon is the consummate love/hate relationship and my first Individual event of the season showed why that is.  Save for one unfortunate shooting stage and some leg cramping in the final two kilometers, the race was on a great trajectory.  Even so, I salvaged the effort and was pleased with how much did go well.  The second race, a 10k sprint, went similarly with a good ski effort and unfortunate misses on the range.  It's easy to get frustrated when all the pieces don't come together, but I'm inclined rather to be excited about how many bright moments there were.  

I traveled yesterday over the border to Obertilliach, Austria.  It's nice to move on to a new venue and refocus for the racing this weekend.  On Friday we contest a 10k Sprint and Saturday brings a 12.5k Pursuit.  The weather is 20-30 degrees colder so we're in for a taste of the frigid.  But given the Alpen scenery and fantastic snow, nobody is complaining. 
Obertilliach, Austria

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Europe Bound!

The past few weeks have been busy. Much as we skiers love when the leaves fall, the nights are cool, and it seems as though the woods are holding their breath in anticipation of the first snowflakes, there is always lots to get done in a hurry in preparation for the first on-snow camp and races. This year seemed especially harried as we worked to get all the loose ends tied up before making the trip to Canmore, Alberta to get ready for the World Cup and IBU Cup trials races.
Whiteface Mountain, Adirondack Region, NY

The highly variable weather in early November graced us with a grab-bag of 60 degree days and then a few when the temps dipped below freezing and we had a skiff of snow and ice on the ground. My training progressed smoothly despite having to be extremely flexible with working our sessions around the whims of the weather. The East is always temperamental, but Global Warming/El Niño/La Niña or whatever other phenomenon happens to be running things at the moment seems to have been amplifying the mood swings.

The funky weather carried over to the Canadian Rockies. The Canmore Nordic Centre went out of their way to store snow over the summer in a huge pit that was insulated with wood chips and tarps. This method has been used with great success in several European countries. The organizers had grand plans of extending skiable days by 2-3 weeks, which could be highly advantageous to American and Canadian skiers. They did get about a week out of their stockpile before the 50+ degree weather helped them water the trails. Unfortunately that meant that we arrived just in time to help sweep the remaining sawdust base off the shooting range so we could get back to rollerskiing. Nature can be a cruel partner and she definitely won that one. The Canadians called the early snow effort 'Frozen Thunder' anywhere it was advertised. Somebody offered that it was more like a 'Melting Blunder', which seemed far more fitting considering the suntanning weather.
Trail running in the Canadian Rockies.

Joking aside, we were able to do great dry-land training until the weather cooled and the venue was able to make snow. It was iffy for a few days while snow was being blown and then pushed onto the trails, but the temps kept dropping and the piles grew. By the morning of the first race there was a one kilometer loop and athletes were scrambling to put on more clothes. The thermometer read -3 at the start of the final race. Go figure.
The Women's 12.5K Mass Start.

We contested two sprint races and a mass start. All the races went well in my estimation. I've worked extremely hard on shooting this year and was excited to come out of the races with an 85% average. I felt somewhat unstable on the skis, but each race my ski speed increased and by the end of the week I was feeling ready to race. Overall it was a great start to the season. I qualified for the IBU Cup tour so I'll be heading to Europe for several weeks. Prior to Christmas I'll be racing in Martell, Italy and Obertilliach, Austria. It's been a long and productive year of training and I'm excited to start competing!

I'm back in Lake Placid until the team departs on December 5th. One week ago it was a balmy 45 degrees here. Today it snowed several inches and dipped into the single digits with windchill. Bet you can't guess what the forecast is for next week. Who said 50 degrees?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fuel for Competition (and Life).

There's a huge industry in the U.S. dedicated to producing products that are designed to make you perform better - or so the manufacturers would like you to think.  Run a search on Google for 'sport supplements' and you'll get over a quarter million hits. Generalize the term to 'supplement' and the return is nearly 70 million.  So, what do supplements do for you and are they actually worth the money and hype?  Here are some of my thoughts on the matter.

I was recently talking to a friend that wanted to know what kinds of supplements I take.  He knows I've been training full-time for several years and have been an athlete for most of my life.  His perception was that I must be taking lots of special pills.  When I told him I don't take any supplements except for utilizing a PowerBar product here and there during and after training and racing, he wouldn't believe me at first.  So I'll give you the explanation I gave to him.  Every athlete in the U.S. (and most abroad) that are pursuing professional athletics in a sport that appears in the Olympic Games is required to submit to random drug testing.  In the U.S. we have USADA, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and most other countries have a similar program, all with the goal of ensuring drug-free sport.  In the U.S., we compete clean because we want to win on the merit of our hard work and not on that of a drug concocted in somebody's laboratory. There is also WADA, which is the World Anti-Doping Agency and they oversea the international anti-drug effort.  I'm required to update USADA with my general daily whereabouts so they can find me if my name is drawn for a random urine or blood test.  

What does all this 'ADA' stuff have to do with supplements then?  The short of it is that I'm responsible for any 'banned substance' (there's a list a mile long) that shows up in my samples.  Testing positive for a banned substance gets you kicked out of your sport for two years and perhaps indefinitely.  Don't forget that doping scandals also jeopardize the integrity of your teammates and country and in the case of cycling, the entire sport.  Not the way most of us envision our careers ending.  One would expect that going down to the local health food store and buying something off the shelf is a safe experience. It's true that most of the items on the shelves are fine to ingest, but only a small percentage of the manufacturers will guarantee to consumers that their product is clean.  In a world where commodities flow freely around the globe it's possible to get a product that contains ingredients from several different countries.  That free-flow of commodities guarantees that most manufacturers don't know where their ingredients are coming from.  The whey powder in your protein shake might come from Sri Lanka today and Mexico tomorrow.  You can't be certain!

Now, I'm not suggesting you become paranoid if you're taking a supplement, but it's worth thinking about where it may have come from and the potential for other ingredients to have found their way into your bottle.  Taking supplements is too much of a gamble for me.  It's likely that I could ingest most products in a health food store or GNC shop and not get a banned substance, but why chance it? Rather than risk it, I choose to eat a well-balanced diet.  I know that may sound corny since all of our engineered and fortified foods are marketed as though they are well-balanced and surely must be superior to lowly 'peasant food', but seriously?  What do people think our ancestors ate for thousands of years?  Sure there were illnesses in the 'old days' that were caused by dietary deficiencies, but that's exactly the point. Cultures eating a well-rounded Mediterranean diet, for example, tended to live healthy, long lives - and still do.

We have year-round access to a plethora of fresh, healthy foods so there's no need to choose vitamin-fortified and uber-processed products when you can readily get superior calories (more vitamins, minerals, phitochemicals, etc.).  As often as I'm able I go for fresh fruit, both raw and cooked vegetables, fats from unprocessed nuts, olive oil, and fish, some red meat and poultry, some dairy, some vegetable protein, and plenty of whole grain rice and other grains. Eating broadly and well insures your body has the building blocks necessary to maintain health and vitality, whether you're an athlete or not.  Don't get me wrong, I love sweets and treats as much as the next guy so I'm not suggesting you always forgo cookies or pie or chase a fad vegan or protein diet.  You have to be smart about your choices and that requires, among other things, a commitment to continued education on the subject.  As I mentioned above, I routinely use PowerBar gels or bars (notably processed products) during long and/or intense sessions for the quick sugars they offer, but I will just as readily down a piece of fruit or some raisins and nuts.

Something to ponder.  The average car has around 3 thousand moving pieces and breaking only a few of them through poor maintenance or putting the wrong fuel in the tank will render the entire machine useless. In contrast, the human brain has over 100 billion neurons alone and comprises only a few percent of the body's weight.  The take-home message: Spend time to re-consider the items you're using to fuel your system because there's always room for improvement.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Golden Leaves & The First Snow

I just returned a few days ago from the West following a very successful camp in Heber City, UT. Spending time in UT during the fall is nice. The weather is predictable - usually sunny with cool nights and warm afternoons - and the fall colors, although not as prominent as in the Northeast, can be just as breathtaking. There's something reassuring about knowing that the weather will rarely impact the training plan and, of course, soaking up lots of vitamin D in a beautiful locale is always welcome.
While in UT, the team's focus was on quality volume training with the inclusion of a number of head-to-head intensity sessions that were designed to challenge ski pace and shooting focus. We did many hours of running and hiking in the Wasatch range above the Heber Valley and Park City. Our timing was impeccable, so we hit the foliage peak in the aspen and oak groves. Spending several years in the Northeast has only added to my eagerness each year to watch the forests put on a color show and this year was one of the best for colors in the West that I can remember.

With on-snow competitions quickly approaching, it's most important to refine the technique adjustments already made without implementing too many additional alterations. The bulk of the training has been done so it's simply a matter of maintaining fitness and doing the final prep in anticipation of toeing the start line. I'll be in Lake Placid for the next two weeks, during which time my goal is to take advantage of the low altitude training environment and then the team travels to Canmore, Alberta, Canada for the first on-snow training camp, which will include several races. We've already had snow here in Lake Placid three different mornings, so we're in a delicate duel with the weather. Eastern fall weather is especially frustrating at times, but with access to some indoor training facilities and a little bit of creativity built into the training plan, we'll roll through the next few weeks unscathed and come out on the other end ready to race.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The (early) Fall Edition

Following the European camp, I took a handful of much-needed days off. It's been a while since I've had to work so hard to recover from a training block. Of course, 'off' days are filled with catching up on mundane tasks like laundry, but even so, that's typically far less taxing than even the lowest training days, so it's possible to chomp through a list of chores and still manage to recoup. We did have lobster one evening - a huge perk of being so close to the ME coast and a great way to spice up the recovery schedule!
My most recent block of training spanned the past three and a half weeks. September brought cool nights, a tinge of pastel color in the maple groves, and baskets of fresh apples and sweet corn. With the beauty of fall in the eastern woods also comes the seemingly mandatory rainy periods. It's always a gamble concerning how long the rainy spells will last, but we lucked out and had several spans of fantastic weather. I was really happy with the quality of the training I was able to put in. The volume training was productive, I learned some new things on the range, and was able to put in high quality interval sets. There were also strength sessions to be done - some in the gym and a couple in alternative locations. My coach took a few of us bouldering in the 'world famous' Saranac Lake rock garden. That was a first for me and I'm sure won't be the last - I'll probably get a pair of shoes before the next outing though.
Rock climbing is just one of the many activities readily available in the Adirondacks. The Lake Placid athletic community is dynamic, with numerous sports and all age groups represented throughout the year. While our training schedule makes it tough to be consistently involved with junior programs, it's a blast to lend a hand when possible. I got a chance to help lead the IronKids training session one evening, which didn't disappoint. However, kids in the 8-12 year age bracket haven't yet learned how to pace themselves and most have compressed springs in every limb, so going for a run is more like a mile-long series of wind sprints interspersed with more questions and comments than is possible to address. Not to worry though, we let them burn off most of the week's pent-up energy and then sent them home with PowerBars. I'm sure their parents were stoked with the ensuing sugar highs!
One week ago I traveled west to Boise to spend a few days training there with Sara before heading to Heber City, UT for the annual fall altitude camp. The high desert weather never disappoints in the fall and with the BSU football team chasing the history books, Boise was anything but its usual sleepy self. Walking the streets of downtown or partaking in any of the media outlets was enough to infuse anybody, even non-footballers, with a tangible sense of electric expectation. That was a fitting atmosphere for the week, I thought, because Sara was inducted Friday evening into the Boise High hall of fame - on the blue turf. Speaking of which, I'm sure last night's win against OSU had something to do with Sara and the other inductees being on the field the night before. Call it an 'Olympic Infusion', if you will. A whole crew of supporters showed up to pre-game and enjoy the festivities. My job? Designated photographer. :)
I arrived last night in the Heber Valley. Training starts again in earnest tomorrow, so I'm enjoying an off-day and making sure all the equipment is set to go. The scrub oak and aspens are ablaze on the hillsides and the weather looks as though it will cooperate for the foreseeable future, so training should be great. Enjoy the fall!

Friday, September 3, 2010

One From the Not-So-Old Archives

Not much to report on the training front this week, but here's a video I shot with ConocoPhillips, one of my Alaskan based sponsors from this past season. As title sponsors of the Olympic coverage throughout Alaska, ConocoPhillips had this spot produced as a feature piece that played during the Games. Check it out. I think they did a fantastic job of showing their support of winter sports in Alaska and, in particular, highlighting the sport I've come to love.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Euro Camp Wrap-up

I arrived back in the states a couple days ago following the conclusion of a five-week training camp in Europe. We spent the fist ten days in the Antholz Valley in northern Italy and then moved about 60km northeast to Obertilliach, Austria where we continued our altitude training for another week.

Obertilliach is located in a beautiful, lush Alpen valley that is interspersed with pine forests and open country that is used for haying, agriculture, and free-range livestock. We spent a fair amount of time training at the biathlon stadium that has over 4km of paved ski trails and the remainder of the workouts saw us roaming the numerous trails that crisscross the region. I did a couple of remarkable runs that covered miles of river valleys and high, craggy peaks and ridge lines. On one hike that took me into the border region between Austria and Italy, the trail climbed quickly to the high country and wound past picturesque cabins and huts, through rolling acres of grassland with a smattering of bell laden livestock, and finally reached a ridge trail that traces the border. The views along the entirety of the ridge were exceptional in both directions, south to the Dolomites and north into the Alps. One of the big surprises of the day was having opportunity to explore WWI bunkers built into the granite peaks, many still flanked with piles of barbed wire and crumbling fox holes. The unexpected find spawned images of the young Italian men that would have spent bitterly cold weeks patrolling the heights in defense of their homeland from the Austro-Hungarian advances. It's amazing how a little comparison has the tendency to bring perspective. For me, being out for five and a half hours was simultaneously a really long, 4,000+ calorie session and a leisurely stroll in the park. Go figure!

At the conclusion of our training in Obertilliach, the team took a couple of much needed recovery days. A few of the guys headed off on their own, but five of us chose to venture to Croatia in hopes of finding respite from the rain clouds that seemed to stalk our every move. Sunshine we found in abundance! Two days spent in medieval Adriatic port towns was a perfect recipe for renewed spirits and set us up well for the tests to come. Our first day back to training we had the toughest test of the camp - the Rossweld time trial. Rossweld is a mountain pass not far from Salzburg, Austria that climbs at an impressive pitch for what proved to be just over an hour of rollerskiing. The day was cool and wet, which was actually nice, save for making the pavement a bit slower. I felt good about the effort, especially since it was one of the first time trials of the season. The top of the climb usually grants nearly 360 degree views, but the fog kept us hemmed in for most of our summit time. Through one hole in the clouds, however, we did get a quick glimpse of Hitler's famed Eagle's Nest on a distant ridge!
The final week of the camp was spent in Oberhof, Germany where we split our training sessions between technique and ski testing sessions in the ski tunnel and more conventional summer sessions on the rollerski loops. This was the first time I've been able to get on snow in the middle of the summer and I felt great about the technique work I was able to do. It doesn't take long to start getting the feel back for long boards and I was able to take advantage of every minute on snow. Combo training on the World Cup loop was also great given the perfectly manicured pavement and the ambiance of one of the top stadiums in the world. Hopefully the next time I'm there it will be to compete for 30,000+ biathlon fans!
I'm back in Lake Placid now for a few weeks before heading west to Idaho and Utah for some more altitude training with the team before we head to snow in early November.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Reflections of Old & New

Home for a week.

The Dolomites.

Don't try this at home - wild Yaks!

The Antholz training venue...

It has been far too long since I last updated. To the handful of you that actually read my blog, I'm terribly sorry and, as is usually the case after an extended absence, will commit to trying to be more consistent. This time will be different. :) Whoever you are and wherever you may be, welcome back!

Since it is now August 1st, that means I'm already well in to the summer training schedule. Coming off a very successful season, yet realizing that I didn't make a couple of the teams I was pursuing (missed both the early season World Cup and Olympic team by one spot) has been a unique experience. It's always interesting when a situation can at the same time be both the Yin and the Yang. That certainly seemed to be a central theme of the last season. Of course, referring to the Yin and Yang would suggest equal parts euphoria and defeat and there was actually much more of the former, though that's almost always easier to see in hindsight. However, somewhat ironically at times, that can be a catalyst for growth. And did I ever grow. Some call it the 'calm after the storm' and others 'purification by fire', but regardless of cliche description, last season's experiences gave me new perspective on my life as an athlete and, more broadly, on sport's contribution to the whole that is me. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say I'm back training and have a renewed drive to excel in biathlon while continuing to search for a healthy balance between that and the other facets of life.

Coming off of last season's successes of qualifying for the European Championships, being the Olympic Team alternate, and winning the overall North American Championships, I was excited to be renamed to the National Team. The team has been reduced to only eight men this season so it was great to have made the cut. The improvements to the team structure are already evident to me since I finally have access to full-time coaching and a much better support network. I'm into my fourth year of residency at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid (can you believe it?). Hard to imagine how quickly the past three seasons have passed and how much my training has progressed. It's great to see that the positive trajectory continues for me and the Team.

Training has been very focused and effective thus far in the season. We started off the year with a camp in May in Lake Placid. Three weeks of solid training and getting reacquainted with the coaches. Following that camp I was excited to spend two weeks in Alaska with my family. Not getting to be home very often makes it that much greater to return. The weather cooperated perfectly and produced typical Alaska training; read: fantastic. There was plenty of wildlife to see, including moose, fox, eagles, and even a black bear boar that said hello on the Coastal Trail near Anchorage. The weeks following being in Alaska included a shooting specific camp in Lake Placid, a trip to Rhode Island for Sara's grandfather's 90th birthday party, a quick trip to the San Francisco area for a wedding, and then on to Europe for a month-long training camp that has just gotten underway.

I arrived in northern Italy a handful of days ago and have been using the time to get adjusted to the altitude difference. We're currently in the Dolomite Mountains near the Austrian border in the Antholz/Anterselva valley. I've been lucky to see many beautiful places in the world, each one seemingly grander than the last. This area surpasses most of its predecessors on my list with its rugged, steep peaks, turquoise bejeweled lakes, quaint valley villages, and charming culture. I certainly can't do Antholz justice with mere written descriptions so I've included a few pictures above that will whet your appetite should you be in need of a place to venture. I'm here in Italy for another week before heading to Austria for ten days and then on to the ski tunnel in Germany for a final week of training before returning to the states. Hopefully the next locations will be just as photogenic as Italy has already been. If so I'll be able to pass on the views.

Until next time...Ciao.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Euro Champs Wrap-up

Opening Ceremonies Line-Up

I'm sitting in the airport in Tallinn, Estonia waiting for the flight back stateside. The U26 European Championships in Otepaa this past week were very well organized, which made them a great event to take part in. My racing this week wasn't stellar - heavy legs made the skiing more painful than usual and slow skis didn't help much in the 20K individual. I did have a strong showing in the 10K sprint, finishing 38th with 90% shooting. That finish set me up well for the pursuit race yesterday, but unfortunately I had one poor shooting stage that really knocked me out of things. While the field consisted of only athletes of U26 age, a number of the best ranked biathletes in the world made that cut so there was no room for major errors in skiing or on the range. All in all, a great learning experience and one that will certainly inform next season's training plan. I was able to get quite a few pictures so I've included a few as a video I shot of the stadium approach and range.
Time Check on Course
Nice Scenery on a Stroll 'Home' From the Stadium
The K90 Jump Visible Over the Race Course
I'm happy to be heading back to Lake Placid for about a week to give my legs a rest and get ready for the final three competitions of the season at the US National Championships in Fort Kent, ME. We race March 18, 20, and 21 and then it will be time for a couple weeks of down time before the 2010/1011 training season officially kicks off.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Estonia Bound!

Another few weeks have whizzed by. As an athlete, the passage of time is always an interesting thing. The continuous cycle of training, racing, and recovery has it's unique way of marking each day's passage, especially during the winter when I spend much of my time on the road moving from race to race.
Since returning from Europe at the end of January, I've been busy. I was fried when I finally made it back to Lake Placid. After over two months on the road prepping for and racing trials competitions it was time for a few days off. I put my rifle away for a few days and focused on getting caught up on sleep, laundry, e-mails, etc.
The first two weeks of February I put in a volume block and on the weekends raced two North American cups in Jericho, VT and two at home in Lake Placid, NY. Despite the rainstorm in January that wiped out much of the snow pack in the east, the crews worked overtime to get the tracks ready for racing. We had excellent conditions in Jericho and I pulled out a third place finish in the sprint race and came back to win in the pursuit. The following week in Lake Placid I narrowly won the sprint and in the pursuit put together a solid shooting day to win. I was really happy with the racing, especially because those races were the first competitions all year that weren't trials races so I was able to use them more for training purposes than strictly racing. I enjoyed experimented with some technique ideas on course and faster range approaches.
Last week I took a (very) quick trip out to Vancouver to watch Sara and the rest of the team compete in two events. I arrived back home in Lake Placid this past weekend and jumped into a short relay format race on Saturday and then focused on volume and threshold training through yesterday. A I write this I'm sitting in the Albany, NY airport getting ready to catch a flight to Estonia for the European Championships. We have four races next week and I'm looking forward to getting back in the start chute.
Before I sign off I want to express my condolences to the family of Jim Bowles, President of ConocoPhillips Alaska. Jim was killed in a snowmachining accident recently and I know that he'll be missed.

Friday, January 29, 2010

IBU Cups, World Cups, and The European Champs

The month of January flew by and we're now heading into the home stretch of the season. Post Olympic trials I had to do a quick turn-around to get ready for a second weekend of IBU Cup racing in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. Although very disappointed to be the Olympic Team alternate and not actually getting to compete in Vancouver, being successful as an athlete requires moving forward regardless of wins or losses. This was no different. The races in Nove Mesto were combined with the racing in Alternberg to determine which US skier would prequalify for the U26 European Championships to be held early March in Estonia. We had two races in the CR and I posted my best international results to date. In the 20km Individual race I finished in 36th place and in the 10km sprint broke into the top-30 with a 29th place finish. My results were good enough to move me into first place on the points list, which prequalified me for the trip to Estonia! I was very happy to nail the racing in Czech!

The Shooting Range in Nove Mesto

Based on my results from the racing in Nove Mesto and Alternberg, I was called up to race the World Cup races in Antholz, Italy, a beautiful town located in a long mountain valley in the Dolomites. On the way to Antholz I had opportunity to stop in Ruhpolding, Germany to watch the men's World Cup relay and get a feel for the World Cup. The race was exciting with our men posting a season best 6th place in front of over 25,000 spectators. The picture and video below will give you a little taste of the action.

Germany and the Czech Republic have a reputation of being pretty grey during the winter months and while we were there the reputation was lived up to. Italy, however, is on the other side of the Alps and because of this feature tends to get all the sun that Germans wish for. It was great going over the final passes into Italy and being greeted with increasing amounts of sun. The biathlon venue sits at the top of the 20-ish mile long valley like a cherry crowning the perfect sundae. I know, perhaps a cheesy comparison, but it's true. Antholz is the perfect combination of old world charm and modern flare.

The races in Antholz were my first World Cup appearances and I really enjoyed the opportunity. Over 15,000 spectators came out for each of the races so the atmosphere was electric. It's really cool going from the US where only a handful of people show up to an area of the world where biathlon is the most widely televised sport and spectators come out in droves for an all-day party.
The Range in Antholz
Biathlon Stadium - Antholz

I got back in the states just over one week ago and I'll be here for most of February. I have two weekends of North American Cup racing this month and then I'm taking a short trip to Vancouver to watch my girlfriend, Sara, in a couple of her races as well as a couple of the men's races. I leave on the 25th of this month for the European Championships in Estonia and will get to race at least four events there during a two-week period. I'll have some racing after Estonia as well but the final schedule is still up in the air. For now my focus is on nailing the training and racing week by week.
Nothing more to report for a few days, but do be sure to tune in to the Olympic coverage starting on the 14th. Biathlon isn't often televised in the states so I hope you'll take advantage of the opportunity to watch an event or two - I'm confident you'll love it! Speaking of biathlon coverage, in October I helped shoot video for a short feature on biathlon put out by Time.com. If you look closely you can also catch a glimpse or two of me. Check out the video short at http://www.time.com/time/video/player/0,32068,64069733001_1957690,00.html .

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Olympic Trials Update

It has been a whirlwind of a week. I hoped to have more time to update you on the races, but alas the racing and training ended up taking up consuming our time. The weather and skiing in Altenberg spanned the gamut from clear, hard conditions with no wind to stormy soft tracks complemented by snow-storms and some of the nastiest wind I've shot in all year.

The team time trial dawned clear and cool. We arrived at the venue to find perfect hard corduroy tracks and no wind to speak of. There were only the six of us U.S. athletes starting so zeroing, warming up, and getting the race started was a cinch. I felt really solid during the race and was ecstatic to shoot clean on the range. I finished just 9 seconds behind my teammate who has been viewed all year as a lock for the team. That was the second clean shooting race I've had this season, which is more than any other US athlete. My shooting all season has been drastically improved from last year and having two clean races shows that the work I’ve done this year is paying off. Of course, having a clean race in a high pressure situation makes it that much sweeter.

A few hours after the race on Thursday clouds rolled in, snow began falling, and by Friday the conditions were completely changed. On Saturday the tracks were really soft and the wind was randomly coming from every direction, which made zeroing our rifles frustrating and, depending on how you look at it, nearly pointless. In Oberhof, Germany the World Cup athletes encountered very similar conditions, which the U.S. athletes poignantly described as, "a Las Vegas-style lottery." Unfortunately my race Saturday wasn't as smooth as that of Thursday. My legs felt like mush, which didn't help with the skiing and I missed 5 on the range. The other guys also missed 5 or 6 targets as well, which unfortunately put us a ways down the results sheet and out of the running for Sunday’s pursuit (only the top 60 in the sprint race are allowed to start the pursuit).

After the race on Sunday I was in a very close third place on the points list. The first racer was automatically named to the Olympic team and since the 5th spot was by coaches’ discretion, the decision came down to a couple of us men. I’ve been thinking about this day for a very long time and I can tell you the wait for the final decision was horrible. Nothing quite like waiting for a decision and knowing that there is absolutely nothing more you can do to affect the outcome. There’s no way to sugar coat this so I must unfortunately relay to you that the decision didn’t come out in my favor. I’m in the process of regrouping and doing my best to get focused on the remainder of the season, but it’s going to take a few days to get over the disappointment.

I traveled to Nove Mesto, Czech Republic today to get ready for two more IBU Cup races this weekend. I can tell you that it’s quite a process to have to immediately refocus after not achieving the goal I’ve been pursuing as a biathlete for two and a half years and as an athlete for over fourteen. However, I now have a chance to qualify to race at the U26 Championships in Estonia in early March so that’s the next marker for me.

While the season is far from over I do want to take a moment to say a huge thank you to all of you who have supported me in my athletic endeavors thus far and joined with me in this Olympic dream. I’m only the motor that makes the skis move and the bullets fly. Without the continued and generous support of friends, family, fans, and sponsors, my dream of pursuing the Olympics would have never taken flight. I do want to mention my three sponsors for this season as their financial support has made my pursuit possible. I would first like to thank ConocoPhillips, my title sponsor for the season. Dykon Blasting, my cousin’s company in Tulsa, OK, generously gave their support this season. And Larry & Allan, good friends and owners of Alaska’s very own A Wildflower Inn and The Arctic Fox B&B, have been supporting me since I started biathlon. Athletics at all levels is a community event and those communities take many forms. I am proud to represent my home town of Nikiski, the state of Alaska, and my extented community from numerous states and countries around the world. You're the best!

Just so I’m clear, I may not have made the team this year, but this season is only half gone and 2014 isn’t that far away. I’ll be back for more!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

'Turkeys' in Germany

Just a quick update to say that everything is going well here in Altenberg, Germany. I arrived Sunday night after a 9-hour drive from Ruhpolding through holiday traffic and a raging snow storm (apparently the drive is supposed to take about six). I was here at the IBU Cup last year so it's fun being back at the same hotel and venue. Snow has been a little thin but the organizers are doing a commendable job getting the courses ready for the racing this week.

Tomorrow is our first of three races. We'll be racing just amongst the American athletes in a 10 km team time trial and then this weekend we'll be mixed in with a very large field. As of now there are 166 entries for Saturday's race so the course and range will be busy. I'm excited to race after nearly a two week break since the races in Minnesota.
Unfortunately the battery charger for my camera decided to die on me so I'm up a creek until I can find some batteries. I did manage to get one picture from a friend taken on the border of Germany and the Czech Republic yesterday. Check out the sweet pants! Usually our team apparel is navy blue but for reasons yet unknown we are sporting turquoise this year - or 'turkeys' as our German staff usually says. The whole incident has made for some great ribbing. Not that we don't like the gear, but it's just funny to be running around looking like we're from some far-flung eastern European country. Much as the 'new' color is a refreshing addition to our navy gear we've already been told to soak it up this year because we'll be back to blue next season.
That's all for now, but please check back in the days to come. In the mean-time I'll be racing and looking for some batteries...

Friday, January 1, 2010

Minnesota, Alaska, & Germany

The last month has been a blur. From our on-snow training camp in Canmore I traveled to Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Now, I'm sure MN is a great place to live, but I seem to have the worst luck when 'visiting' for races. Last year during the IBU Cup trials races we had extremely cold weather that canceled one of the five races and made the other four less than comfy.
This year, as luck would have it, we had a nearly identical repeat save for the fact that we were able to race all five scheduled events. We raced a 10 and 15km the first weekend and then a 10, 12.5, and another 10km the following weekend. The entire race series was a lot of fun, but that much racing is taxing, especially when the temps hover around or below zero degrees. Anticipating the cold weather I was amply prepared with all the cold weather gear I could get in my luggage and that saved me - for the most part.
This year's MN race series was the first round of the US Olympic Trials process. Of the five races, each athlete's best three of five races were scored and added and the top four male and female athletes at the end of the series earned a trip to Germany to race in the final round of trials to determine who will fill the remaining Olympic slots. In the first 10K sprint race I finished third. The 15K Mass Start was a tough and very cold race. I shot well and skied even better and came out with a narrow win. I mentioned earlier that I nearly made it through the races unscathed. That's because the 15km proved to be colder than the other four races. I came out with frostnip on two fingers and an ear. Not too bad all things considered.
In the second weekend of racing I was again able to post some solid results. In the 3rd race, another 10km sprint, I finished in second place. The 12.5km pursuit was another good day and I landed on the podium again with 3rd place. The final race of the series, yet another 10km sprint, I narrowly beat out another athlete for 3rd place making it five for five on the podium. I was the only athlete to podium in all five races and also had one of the best shooting percentages for the series with 80%. Having only been in biathlon for two and a half years I was very pleased to ski and shoot so well and am especially excited to have qualified to race in Germany.

Following the trials in MN I traveled home to Alaska to spend a few very quick days with my family. I don't get to be home very often and I haven't been with my family for Christmas in three years so it was very special to spend the holidays in AK. Early this week I flew from Anchorage to Munich, Germany to get back to training. I've been training in the Bavarian town of Ruhpolding, home to one of the most well known biathlon venues in the world. We arrived to spring-like conditions. There has been plenty of snow at the venue thanks to lots of early snow-making and stockpiling by the organizers, but the training was pretty slushy for a few days. After Minnesota's ridiculously cold weather, having a few days at 40 degrees was a welcome change. Seeing green grass in the fields, although a little weird at this time of year, was also pretty cool.
Ruhpolding's Chiemgau Biathlon Stadium

Training here has been a lot of fun. Several of the German and Norwegian national team athletes are here as well and busloads of people have been showing up just to watch training. It's somewhat comical that at times there are more spectators watching training here than come to our races in the states. Hopefully with the positive trajectory the US Team is on that will start changing this year.

My training this week has been more fine-tuning. I put in some good volume and made sure to get in speed and strength as well. A pretty typical week for the most part. As of today it's less than one week now to the first race. I haven't raced in about two weeks so I'm really looking forward to getting back in the start pen. There was rumor that a lack of snow in Alternberg, Germany might force a change of venue to Austria, but the rumors were never realized. Snow has been thin in most parts of Germany for a while now but a huge storm rolled in last night and we woke this morning to several inches of fresh snow and as of this evening had accumulated around 6 inches and counting. Spring to full-on winter in less than 24 hours!

Of course, one of the benefits to racing in Europe is the occasional opportunity to check out the beautiful architecture and fun cultural novelties. The cute little inn where we're staying this week opened its doors in 1414 and it appears that many of the other structures in the town may date from a similar time period. Coming from a state where there are very few structures older than 100 it's neat to see buildings over 500 years old that are still functional. New Year's Eve was pretty chill for us athletes. I had every intention of getting to sleep relatively early. However, the townspeople in the area had a very different idea. At midnight I woke to strobe like flashes on the ceiling and explosions everywhere. It's customary in the states for towns to have firework displays on New Year's Eve and for some citizens to even light off a few bottle rockets. This was truly unlike anything I've ever seen. I contemplated pulling a pillow over my head to drown out the noise and lights, but then decided that I had to go see what was going on. From a small balcony a couple of my friends and I watched the most amazing fireworks display I've ever seen. Just as a side note, I watched a New Year's fireworks display from the roof of the Dunes Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas that culminated with the implosion of the entire complex at midnight and I've seen several other similar displays since then. But, the displays here came from every hill and street in and around the town. I've never seen anything like it. People everywhere were shooting off rockets and the sky was filled with a huge simultaneous display that lasted nearly half an hour. To add to the beautiful colors was the fact that safety seemed to be only marginally important. Nobody got hurt that we heard about but one misdirected rocket ricocheted off our hotel and went off next to our team bus full of all the skis. Another rogue rocket bounced off a couple of buildings before exploding beautifully a few feet above the river across the street. I saw some huge rainbow trout in there a few days ago and have to wonder if any of them were stunned by the explosion. Regardless, the colors were amazing and I'd come for New Years in a heart beat. The fuzzy picture below will give you a taste of the craziness
Tomorrow we head to Altenberg via the Autobahn. Speaking of which - sure would like to have an Audi Quattro for a day to zip around on the Autobahn (I should probably focus on finding some basic wheels though before I dream too much about an Audi). A guy can dream though, right? :) Anyway, the trip is only a couple of hours so we'll be settled in by late afternoon. Early next week is a little more fine-tuning on the range and tracks and then racing gets underway on Thursday. We'll race a 10km on Thursday, another 10km on Saturday, and a 12.5km pursuit on Sunday. Monday the 11th the remaining spots on the team will be named. Stay tuned in the coming days for more pictures and updates. Thanks for reading!

Happy New Year!