Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Happy New Year!

Racing in the New Year is off to a great start.  After spending the Holidays training in Ridnaun, Italy I traveled with the team to Munich and then on to Nove Mesto, Czech Republic for more IBU Cup racing.  That area of Czech reminds me of the rolling terrain of northern Minnesota.  There are far fewer lakes and of course a higher population density clustered in towns full of uniquely Eastern Bloc architecture, but even so it can be surprising where Déjà vu strikes.  Most of the country heats with coal still so the heavy hanging, distinct odor of combusted coal adds to the sensory experience.

Training in Ridnaun, Italy
Central Europe has had a fantastic snow year so far and the tracks in Nove Mesto were better than the two previous seasons.  Additionally, since the organizing committee is hosting the World Junior Championships this week, they made copious amounts of snow in preparation for all of the forthcoming events; just in case warm temps and/or rain struck.  When we arrived there was a pile of snow ready for transport onto the trails that filled an entire parking lot.  The crews ran dump trucks full of snow onto 1.5 kilometers of the race trails for an entire day and hardly made a dent in the stockpile.  The result was a base of snow nearly a meter deep and 5-8 meters wide.  That's a lot of snow any way you break it down or pile it up.  Needless to say, training was fantastic in the days leading up to the races and superb through the weekend.
Nove Mesto, Czech Republic
The 20k was a really good ski race for me. I started on the conservative side in the first couple of laps and was able to ski fairly even laps.  I unfortunately had some trouble on the range and had a few too many penalties on the day, but it was great to see my ski times being competitive with the field.  There's always work to be done, but I'm gaining ground on the red group.  The following day we raced a 10K sprint and I had a much better day overall.  I again skied strongly and added a good day on the range to post my best result of the season.  

Last week the competitions moved to Altenberg, Germany, site of last year's final round of U.S. Olympic trials.  The town and race complex both sit only a couple kilometers from the Czech border and are in the middle of one of the most uniform forests I've ever seen.  If you've ever been in Oregon or someplace similar where clear cutting is a common logging method, you'll perhaps have an idea of what thousands of new growth trees look like all clustered together and stretching off to the horizon.  Like in Czech, Altenberg had nearly a meter of snow pack when we arrived and they hadn't needed to blow any snow.  Little did they know what was in store though.

Altenberg is a fun course to race even if the range sits in the middle of Nowheresville.  I think the planning committee completely forgot to look at the weather patterns in the area because they located the range in a geographic depression that is extremely susceptible to fog.  Now, fog isn't necessarily a problem in sports like Nordic skiing, but it severely complicates Biathlon training and competition because one has to be able to see the targets in order to hit them (on purpose).  Last year, one of the women's races there was canceled due to fog and this year we couldn't shoot during a training session and were unsure about our first race for the same reason.  Luckily, the first race was run and we ended up dealing with a torrential downpour rather than fog.  So much rain fell that portions of the trail were at risk of washing out.  The wax techs did a great job with our skis and soaked as we were, I posted the best result of my season.  Still not perfect on the range, but my ski times continue to get faster relative to the field and I qualified for the pursuit (top-60 of 130) the following day.  The rain continued throughout the night and by morning nearly 2ft of snow pack had melted away.  The race was sloppy wet again thanks to continued rain and several inches of slush.  I had another good race, moving up several spots on the result sheet.  

I'm back in the states now getting ready for the NorAm Cups next weekend in Lake Placid.  New England and other parts of the country have been in a deep freeze for several days.  Temperatures are supposed to climb a little in the coming days so here's hoping...     

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?