White Mountain Classic 2013

white mountain classic jackson new hampshire

Five degrees Fahrenheit didn’t feel too cold in the sun and without the wind. I was more worried about the race distance, my wax and Yolo. It was third time doing the White Mountain 30 km Classic — the NENSA club team championships. I had been making good progress on my classic technique and was looking forward to a long race to see how much I had improved.

I felt sluggish and tired during warm up. I usually do and I’m getting used to it, even though it seems to take a little longer each year to work through it. I can almost convince myself that the sluggishness I feel is calm and confidence. I’ve been racing for so many years now that there should be nothing exciting about it.

I skied out to Yodel and to test my wax. With the temperatures consistently in teen and single digits all week, I had planned to use the same formula as the Geschmossel earlier in the week: Swix VR30. I had made my wax call and applied it two days in advance, leaving little room to do any last minute tweaking or panic waxing. On the flats and short uphills over the golf course, the wax tested amazingly well. On Yodel, it slipped on the icy spots but otherwise felt good. So I put a little extra on top and that was it.

On the start line, I found a sunny spot and hopped and danced to stay warm. Waiting there in the cold, the five minutes standing there felt like an hour. The gun went off and Kris Freeman took off. A few brave souls went with him and the front end of the race was strung out in the first few hundred meters. Despite my sluggish warm up, I immediately felt better once the race started. I got into a chase group with teammates Frank and Andy and settled in for the long race. The first few minutes would have no bearing on the 30 km race.

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Geschmossel 2013

Geschmossel 2013 Bretton Woods Mt. Washington New Hampshire

There was a point in my life where I swore I’d never do another day like this, never do the crack-of-dawn departure, the 3-hour drive each way for a half-hour race,  the stumble through the door, exhausted at the end of the day, with a duffle full of dirty gear.  There was a point in my life where I would be able to sleep in and relax my way through the day.  Drink some beer. Watch some TV. Maybe get a little fat.

But I’ve never able to stick to that program.  So instead, I did the Geschmossel at Bretton Woods.

I woke up at 5:15 AM.  Had breakfast and a pot of coffee. Prepared my bottles.  Put on my race suit. Worse, I dragged my 10-year old son out of bed so he could watch me suffer through my race…then do one of his own.

We were on the road by 6:15.  Driving up with Robert (pronounced RobEHR in the French Quebecois manner) who took full advantage of the superchargers in his S4 , we made good time until we hit snow in Franconia Notch and slowed to a crawl behind a pair of  plows.  When we arrived at the Bretton Woods Nordic Center, it was sunny.  It was calm.  It was cold.  The temperature was 2 degrees Farenheit.

We discussed the wax situation.  The day before had been warm and slushy.  The cold front overnight had frozen everything up, then a few inches of snow had fall on top of it.  Some were talking klister because of the ice, which was no good because I had left my klister skis at home.  Since the race was short, we settled on hard wax and a sandwich of base binder and race wax.  I put on 6 or 7 layers, alternating between Swix VG35 and VR30.  It worked perfectly.

After skiing a recon of the course, where the hills all looked shorter and less steep than last year, I froze my ass off waiting for the start. My hands were numb.  My toes were cold.  I could see my breath in the air.  I was hopping up and down and windmilling my arms to keep the blood flowing.  Once underway, I knew I would be warm within a few minutes.

The race started with nearly 100 skiers fighting for position as the trail narrowed from 6 starts lanes to two tracks.  The pace was reasonable but there were a couple guys already hammering at the front, eaking out a small lead on the double-pole stretch.  I wasn’t ready to turn on the juice.  I was waiting until I started to feel warm.  As we hit the first subtle hills,  a lead group formed and I could see them pulling away.  I was watching them go.  I was wondering why the skiers around me, the guys just in front of me in particular, were letting them go without even trying to close the gap.  I was starting to get nervous.  I was skiing up on the tails of the guys in front of me and trying to find a way around them.  Eventually I got through and proceeded to crank up my pace and try to close on the lead group.  But I went out a little too hot and had to back off.  I had missed my chance.  Maybe I would have been able to hang with the lead group if I had stayed there with them from the start.  But I wasn’t going to close them up so I settled into a rhythm and tried to ski a smart race.

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8 Years Old And Counting

Romeo

Today, my son Romeo turns 8 years old.  Or he would have if he hadn’t died when we was just 17 days old.  He should have come in April, on Marathon Monday to be exact, but for some reason he couldn’t wait. So he came in the thick of winter instead.  In the dark of night, at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, during a snowstorm, during the snowiest winter in one hundred years.

The snow was a burden and a nuisance that year.  Every day, several inches to clear from my car and driveway just to drive to the NICU to see him. The streets of Boston, a cluster-fuck to begin with, were choked with snow, narrowed to a lane or two.  So much snow, there was nowhere left to pile it.  One day, there was even a blizzard and we couldn’t even leave the house and I considered making the trek to the hosptial on skis.  But no, the nurses and doctors said, no need to come in.  He’ll be fine.

He came into this world tiny but loud and full of fight.  After two weeks, he was exceeding all expectations:  putting on weight, eating, breathing on his own.  We were talking about moving him out of the hospital.  We were talking about bringing him home.  Then, suddenly, in the middle of the night, during a snow storm, he got sick.

I still remember the phone call at 1 AM.  I slept through it, heard it go to the machine.  I tried to call back, again and again, couldn’t get through and finally got in the car and drove through the snow, into the city, to be at his side.  We tried everything.  When it became clear that there was nothing we could do for him, we did what we could to make him comfortable and to ease him from this world.

It was hard to find any equilibrium in the days and weeks and months that followed.  Some days, I struggled just to get out of bed or to keep my car on the road.  Winter was relentless and unyielding and it was crushing me.  I became afraid of the dark and the snow. It was unclear how I would survive that winter or all the winters yet to come.

I refused to fight winter.  I  opted to embrace it instead.  I found Weston Ski Track.  At night, after everybody had gone to bed, I skated around the tracks and trails at Weston.  I was usually the only guy out there, alone with my thoughts and my ghosts, often past the time they turned the lights off.  I would ski for a while. I would cry for a while.  It was better than wallowing in it at home.  It was better than laying awake in bed all night, listening for a phantom phone call, hearing the ring only to pick it up and find nobody there.

Years later I would read an article in Outside magazine  that said for people suffering from post-traumatic stress, “the most helpful sport of all seems to be nordic skiing.”  Something about the repetitive motion helps the brain to process these difficult memories, to reprogram it and make it healthy again.

Every winter since then, I’ve looked forward to the snow and getting back on skis.  It reminds me of Romeo, of the brief time that he was mine to hold and the how it was to go on without him.  In the years that followed, I devoted myself to skiing and much of what I do is connected to him, whether it’s the suffering in races that I’ve written about before, or coaching young skiers, or just going for an easy ski on my own.

None of it will bring him back.  None of it will make up for his daily absence or restore his future or fill in all the blank memories and milestones.  But it does make it bearable.  Somewhat.  There are still days where the thought of having lost him cripples me.  When the thought of it still fills me with rage.  And there are days when I am at peace with it.

And then there is today, when he would have turned 8, when I would have taken him skiing with me but instead I’m writing about him not being here.

1996: The Stories So Far

A few months ago I started working on a series of stories about my final season racing bicycles at an elite level.  These stories have proven to be a challenge, requiring at times as much endurance to write them as the actions and activities took in the first place.  Each story forces me to go back through my artifacts to reconstruct the past.  There are training logs, race results, journals, newspaper articles, and, of course, the music I listened to at the time.  It’s been fascinating how a few details and some tunes can unlock memories from 15 years ago.  Often, they come in a flood and I remember everything in perfect detail.  But sometimes I need some help from old teammates who remember a story or may remember it a little differently, or who can corroborate facts that I’m not so sure about.

2013 will bring more stories.  I’m currently working on the one about early-season training in the Southwest.

Until then, these are the stories so far:

Stereolab, “Cybele’s Reverie” & Killington

“Loser”, Mad River & Binghampton

Superweek & “The Girl From Ipanema”

Pavement, “Unfair” & the California Cup

The Bogburn 2013

the bogurn 2013 nordic skiing cambridge sports union

The Bogburn is quickly becoming one of my favorite races.  This year’s event took place in near perfect conditions. Fresh snow.  Good trail coverage.  Temperatures never got above the mid-20’s, keeping the waxing situation klister-free.  The more familiar I become with the tight, highly technical course, the more I enjoy it.

We were only the road at 6:30 AM so we could make the Bill Koch race with the kids.  Then we hung around a few hours unitl the 1:30 start of the men’s race.  I was ready to go home after the kids had raced.  But I filled the down time eating and sitting by the wood burning stove inside of Bogburn Hall, until it was time to start preparing the skis.

There had been much debate about the wax selection.  There always is.  I had skied the course in the morning with Swix VR40 which had worked fine.  There was plenty of slipping, but it was all coming from the soft, unconsolidated snow.  The kick zone was working properly. But throughout the day, the temperature had climbed and everybody started talking about warmer waxes.  I ended going with Swix VR 45 with a sub-layer of VR 50.  In warm up, it was grabby.  Maybe I had put on too much or had waxed too warm.  I hoped it would ski in.

I feel more than a few times during warm up.  The glide zones of my skis were super fast and every time I got back on my skis they slid out from underneath me and I would lose control and end up in the woods.  One fall tweaked my back a little.  I hoped that I had all the crashes out of the way.

The Bogburn is an interval start and I had gotten stuck with a late starting time.  There would be a lot of traffic in front of me on the course as they tended to start the faster skiers earlier.  It was a mixed blessing for me.  Ten minutes before my start time, my stomach started cramping up.  I sprinted to the port-o-potty and quickly took care of business.  Just in time, I got to the start.

The guy in front of me looked at me and said, “You have to give me at least to the top of the first hill before you pass me.”

I could only promise him the 15 seconds he would get from the interval start.

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Mont-Sainte-Anne 2012

MSA 2012 Mont-Sainte-Anne Quebec Trail 34

I just got back from six days skiing in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec.  I’ve never skied conditions so good.  All trails were well covered with fresh, soft snow.  The snow hung thick and heavy on the trees.  There was an endless variety of trails to ski on, too.  From the mellow 33 Le Harvey, to the wonderful single-track classic 38 that wound it’s way through the forests, to the steep grinds and spine-tingling drops on trail 24.  We picked up a few inches every few days to keep things fresh.

I did a lot of classic up there.  The conditions were perfect for it.  Temperatures never above the 20’s.  I used Swix VR 40, touching up a little here and there, until the last day, when I added a top coat of VR 30 for the final, early morning ski because temperatures overnight had dropped to single digits.

Last year, I did this same camp and I had to work hard to keep up with the other guys.  I skied most of the days at race pace for me and was endlessly exhausted.  This year, things clicked, especially for classic technique.  I came out of the dryland season fit, strong and fresh.  I carried over a lot of the comfort and technique improvements from last year.  Most of all, I figured out how to stride the hills, especially the steep ones.

The conditions helped.  The new Fischer Carbonlite classic skis, with a longer and flatter kick zone helped.  I finally got the leg extension, hip follow-through and body position to all come together.  There were still moments when I slipped here and there, but I was able to recover.  My ratio of good kicks to slips was the oppositve of last year, 90-95%.  The snow was so soft in some spots that I couldn’t depend on my poles to muscle my way through, because the minute I leaned on the pole it would sink a foot or two.  So I had to put even more emphasis driving from my legs.  It was unprecedented for me to be climbing things that steep without struggling, with my heart rate in the comfort zone, with confidence I’ve never had before.  I owe a lot to the guys who had the patience to work with me to improve my technique, to provide positive feedback and to put up with my endless questions these past few years.

I’ve been at this skiing thing for more than a few years now.  Every year I get better. A lot better.  This speaks to how much room I have to improve.  After last year, I figured I would have reached a plateau.  But these long, hard days at MSA have shown me that I have made another big leap forward.

And there’s no better way to start the race season.