Monday, February 23, 2015

Snowy Mt. Trails takes the win!

        There were a few directions I could have gone in. With the racing season not really over by most standards I felt obligated to do some kind of effort. None of them were ideal but none of them were lacking in potential fun department. After some productive face palming in front of the computer screen I finally made the call. I remember wanting nothing more than to be home. I've skied the Snowy Mt Trails more than another trail and yet I have no desires to train on any other course right now. This is why my 2014/15 racing season is, for the most part, over. Here's what I could have done and why I didn't.

          I knew since the end of January that IBU cups seven and eight in Canmore, Alberta were an option. This was nice because it gave me some time to think it over before the official team naming. I ended up needed to all of that time as I was pretty well set on doing the races for most of it. I started looking into how to make the logistics. There were a handful of housing options, but none of them were for certain. The only ones that were, would be at my own expense. It was a similar situation for the flight over. Trying to plan trips that you're unsure of making in the first place is not a good way to start the day. I usually made it to about 10:30 before calling it quits to go snowshoeing instead. The logistical nightmare was a limiting factor for the Canmore option.
         Another option was the Birkie. The infamous 50km loppet in Wisconsin. This time around I had a housing go to, and with help of some good contacts could have secured a spot in the elite wave at the last minute. The Birkie was last weekend. So at the time it was coming up sooner than the Canmore races and I would have had to muster up a short mini peak in some cold conditions. The unique reason behind not committing to this trip was the fact that I didn't think I could profit from the trip. A win could have gone a long way. A top six would have paid for the trip. I honestly just didn't feel like investing the time and energy into the off chance that nothing would go wrong. Too many parts would have to come together to have a good race. Even the elite wave comes with a high risk of pole snapping. Knowing my luck I would have just missed the start for any number of reasons. Not too mention my track record with wax speed the past couple of years. If the trip was going to happen I was going to need better prep and support to better the odds of success.
          There were of course rumors of other races happening here and there, but the reasoning behind the first two options was a reacquiring theme. The other limiting factor in my decision was the lack of confidence. With two rough trimester under my belt it was obvious that this wasn't going to be the season I had hoped for. So it goes in this sport. We'll never know for certain how the IBU cups could have turned out. A lot of teams won't make the trip from Europe to western Canada and the chance for a podium is much higher. But even stating from North America would require a tremendous amount of resources to get me to the starting line. After two months of packing, traveling, unpacking, and training all so I can get my kicked in the teeth in a different place than the week before was enough to deplete my motivation. Funding wise, little to nothing was covered by anyone and I can do better business selling old gear on ebay at this point. In the end, I didn't think I had the capacity physically or mentally to have any successful races the rest of the season.  

         On  the other hand. There was the issue of support going into next season. MWSC doesn't have the support for the athletes like they used to. Racing most anywhere, especially the IBU cups could help in team naming from USBA. This is where US Biathlon nationals comes into the situation. Officially they are scheduled to be held in Truckee, CA later on in March. The latest update suggest that the lack of snow may move the races to West Yellowstone. Neither would disappoint. The point is that US nationals are far away enough for me plan for, train for, and feel confident enough to make happen. The competition may not hold a candle to a world cup, but the races will be taken into consideration going into the next training season. As of now this option is in the lead.
        Since nationals are not till the second half of March this gives me some time to relax. In an effort to end on a positive note let's just say that it's great to be home. I know how to connect all of the ski trails and permanently have a single. The best part of April is not having a plan. When you can wake up and make the day what ever you want it to be is something unique to the rest of the year. For me it's a vacation. I've forgotten what February is like in northern Maine. Shifting the April theme a month or two earlier has been pretty nice so far. It is what is. Since there is too much left to give up on the next three years I'll still be doing plenty of training. One way or another I have to see a better end to it than this. For now, however, I just want the place to myself.

Monday, February 9, 2015 and Some Inquisition

       We're two months down on the 2014/15 season. For most of the field there is only six more weeks of racing and traveling to be had. With the Open Euro Champs in Otepaa, Estonia finishing up this week the attention roles over to the world cup in Nove Mesto, CZ. If you're wondering how I'm going to do in today's don't bother tuning in. If you're wondering how I did last week in Otepaa do me a favor and don't look up the results. The Tehvandi venue is a very well done place and deserves some credibility. My perfomance there does not, and it's still very unclear about where my season's itinerary will go from here, but I'll do my best to shed some light on the subject.
         Oteppa isn't a very large city, but it does offer a decent grocery store, some entertainment and functional internet. Those are three things most of the central Euro towns that we visit can not claim. It's no surprise Estonia is the birth place of Skype. This was before Microsoft bought it out of course. I had heard that places like Estonia and Finland are known for there awkward introvert population. I suspect this is true. Most people would stare at the ground when every we crossed paths in the road. Anything to avoid eye contact. The week before was in Antolze. Where the opposite occurs. Antolze is the land of the "euro stare".

           The course is nice. Nothing too technical and amply wide tracks. It was the first place that actually felt like winter. The days were pretty short. It wasn't cold, but with the wind and humidity it was clearly January. Before the races we had an actual warm up track. Lately the warm loop has been non existent. With the lack of snow we've been reduced to a short, crowded, and dirty stretch to use leading up to our start time. This place had a whole stadium of white snow and an uphill section to work with. Nothing was too spread out or hard to find, including the heated bathrooms. In other words, the important key points from an athletes perspective were great.  

 Here is a link to a site that may explain a little more on Estonia.

        My personal results are far from as nice. With poor skies during the individual it was down to the sprint. And while our skies were better for the sprint they were still sub par. But to be completely fair some of it was operator error. The energy and power wasn't there. The harder I try to hit the targets the more often I miss them. The other teams that normally fall back on the downhills were pulling away from me no matter how hard I pushed over the crest of the hill. The below expactions trend that started in December has been holding strong all season. Maybe that's why I was so anxiouse to just be home. I'm not a big fan of travel. Packing and check in counters are two of least favorite things. Having to go through that every ten days just to have more bad results in differnt place was taking it's tole on me. I knew I was spent before I even started the sprint race at the OECH.

       I have my suspicions to why it's been a rough year. I was certain I hit it well with training this summer, but the more I wrap my mind around it the more I'm second guessing myself. There is a long list of things I could have done better. When is there not? But that's not the most pending question at hand. The plan from February and March is still up for debate. Racing XC eastern cups was suggested. That's something I could drive to and wouldn't have to do any zeroing for a change. On the other hand I'm not convinced I could even hold my hold own on the New England racing circuit at this point. Techniacally I'm qualified for the last two IBU cups in Canmore, Alberta. If I use the time I ahve now I could revamp the shape and potential do pretty well out west. But with very little funding for the trip it would be an expance on my part. I dread the thought of all that travel and money for more setbacks on the result list.
            The other option is to... do nothing. I could call it done for the season. If the support for Canmore stays as gloomy as it is now I won't make the trip. I should have a meeting with all of my coaches sooner or later. Everyone else is busy with actual racing right now. At the moment all I want to do is curl up the quite little cocoon that is Stockholm. Some time to stay stationary would really mean a lot to me. This may be the worst season yet for me but there is too much potential left in the tank to completely call it quits. I'm actually pretty anxious to get started on next season.

Maybe it's just me but it would seem that building a house around here without a sauna installed would be frowned upon.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Slow Skis Anyone?

        Yeah that's right. If anyone saw the results from yesterday then this little side note is for you. Biathlon is a sport of many details. Some you can control and others you can't. The parts that you can't are more often then not the limiting factors.  Then there is a bit of a grey area. Nailing the race wax is pretty much in that grey area. The end result not being anyone's fault but still an unlucky day for our team at the Open European Champs here in Otepaa, EST.

            Despite not having the limitless resources that the top ranked biathlon nations have we typically have ski quality as good or better  than anyone else on race day.  This wouldn't be the first time I've mentioned this, nor would I be the only team member. There is a lot of effort that goes into the base of race ski. There is work being done on grinds in the summer, ski testing days before competition and early morning starts even for afternoon race times. Only on rare occasions do we have off days. The first two legs of the relay in Hochfilzen, AUT last December was a good example. One which help prevent me from finishing the last leg. See also the sprint in Poland a few weeks ago.
         The course here is not the kind of course profile to have slow skis on. If ever there was a course to suit bad skis it might actually be the 3.3km in Presque Isle. In other words this loop wasn't wrought with technically downhills. It's mostly long straight descents. You need a low tuck and fast skis to stay in the race. We didn't have this. You can imagine how hard it was to keep the spirit up when you're passing others on the climbs and losing it all and then some on even the shorter descents. Good or bad shooting I didn't feel as if I had a chance. Leif wasn't feeling the best before the race and dropped out. I don't blame him and complemented to the same.  

         It's no ones fault. We didn't have the full waxing service or supplies that was normally have. These things happen. Yesterday was just proof of the grey area. Aside from my last stage, shooting felt decent. It was very windy. The results of the whole field can avouch for that. The energy level was good for me. Tomorrow is a new day and a new race. Let's see what happens this time.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Training in Anterselva

Didn't actually take this one. It's a picture of a picture, but you get the idea. 
          The credentials and Viessmann sticker were aligned and ready for some world cup racing action. Unfortunately, being the reserve for the first WC since December where no US athlete was sick prevented me from being on the start list. Hence "Training" in Anterselva.
There's a river outside our fence door. Just Toblack things. 
          Anterselva, or Antolze depending on your language preference is right on the border with Austria. It takes about 45 minutes of skiing up hill to reach the plateau that crosses the border. It's about ten minutes of skiing downhill to get back to the venue provided there are no collisions on the narrow pass. This particular distance session makes for one of the best there is. The view in the plateau is something special. All facilitated with perfectly groomed tracks and a restaurant or two at 2500 plus meters above sea level. It's worth mentioning that some of the other best of the best classic sessions can be done in near by places. Platzweise comes to mind and few others I don't know how to spell. One of them is Toblack (or Dobbiaco, whatever) which is where our portion of the US team stayed during the WC week. The rest of the team stayed at the usual Seehause, just above the venue. I'm not in position to complain, but the 30 minute drive and awkward breakfast situation was a turn off compared to the Seehause option.
          Without any racing to be had it was down to a few good quality training sessions. Casey Smith and I did one interval session with video work for technique purposes. The snow was slow, but realistically there was no excuse for inefficient technique. The conditions were perfect. Hard packed and cold enough to stay that way. Much like the rest of Europe Antolze was lacking snow. The trails are high enough to have what they need, but the classic track that normally starts down the valley a little ways from former USBA coach Armin's house wasn't there this year.  Three years ago that was my go to for easy distance sessions. There was one good strength sessions day in the mix. Strength tends to take a back seat during the racing season. It only fits in when there isn't too much racing going on, but not so much during a rest period. The end results is: most weight room time is logged during the training season. The lack of strength training was evident in the time trail the I did last Saturday. Naturally, being a TT held during training between WC races that didn't mean anything special it went pretty well. 70% shooting in prone and 100% in standing. Ski speed was solid, but the last two loops were rough with the sore muscles. Technique fell apart when I needed it the most. Or, at least it would have had this been something more than a training race.

       Still looking for those better results. The next chance is tomorrow. It's not a world cup and it's not in Italy. Currently a few of the USA athletes are in Otepeaa, Estonia. The travel over had it's ups and downs. I had enough room to breath and nothing more in the back seat among the excessive level of gear for the trip from Anterselva to Munich. Conversely, I had a row to myself on the plane ride to Tallinn. Beyond that there are enough details to make it wait for another update. Tomorrow is just another day. At this point all I can do is go through the motions and see what happens next.
The skiing in Toblack is great when winter actually occurs. 
Some skiing on the plateau in Austria. 

From my window. We may have been closer to the Dolamite mountains that we were to the Anterselva venue. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Ridnanna, IT

          Ridnaun has always been a favorite to race at. Even when we're not staying at the four star Schneeberg maze it's a place to look forward to. It's not perfect and my results this past weekend are far from helping, but with the day by day philosophy that I've clung to this new year it's not so bad. Let's keep this short and sweet. Some pictures and right down to the point.

          There a mild blizzard for all three races. The weather was perfect. Blue sky and sunny. Or at least it was when we arrived and again today when we're getting ready to leave. The actual business part of the trip was literally blanketed with snow and overcast.  Results were not so sunny. I'm making some progress, but not in fast enough time. The conditions were never in my favor. Still, the ski speed time in the pursuit was better than I expected. Shooting felt better than it was. In the pursuit it took one prone and one standing stage to find that right rhythm. That's no excuse but it's something to work with for the next race.

          Speaking of which. The next race, as far as I'm told, will the world cup in Anterselva. The valley 90 minutes over from here. Antholze has a slightly better course profile and better venue set up. Much like Rindaun it's not unfamiliar. After that it's off to the Open European Champs in Estonia. More details on that later.  Beyond that I don't have the slightest idea and don't have the motivation to dwell on it. For now here are some pictures of one of the best places to be.
The team VW still going strong since 2006
With some poor shooting I was out of the relay. In it's place was an 1:40 run. 
Not all of these pictures are in chronological order. There wasn't enough snow for a 3.3km loop when teams were arriving. 
...And then the snow came just in time for us to race in it.

Sunday, January 11, 2015


         Now I can say I've raced in Poland. Long story short, I can not say that much success has been had racing here. From the start, the Individual competition was reduced to a sprint on a 2.5km loop. The sprint that was originally planned on Saturday was held, but only on a 1.3km loop. And the pursuit was just never held at all. The fight for snow continues. Not unlike the fight for a better race.

         Travel could have been worse. All of my gear made it over in one piece. That's asking for a lot from United these days. After leaving Chicago they discovered that our plan wasn't fit to fly over seas and had to turn around 90 minutes in. So no flight to Munich until the following afternoon.

            Skies were off the mark on Friday’s sprint. It was unusual to see the pair that I choose not perform the way they had been in December. But slow skies coupled with three misses in standing made for an sub decent result. Saturday's sprint required our techs and coaches to count our loops for us. It seems simple, but you don't want to risk disqualifying yourself for being unable to keep track of when you should go into the lap, shooting, or finish lane. Skies and shape felt better than Friday, but the final result was still off of what I thought I could do.

          It rained for the bulk of Friday night and Saturday morning. With so little snow the pursuit was up for debate. The decision was to have the race on a 2.5km loop or not at all. Before 8 am this morning we had the official word that there would be no pursuit. Had the race gone as planned Wynn, Sean, and I would have started within five seconds of each other. Most of us went for an easy run and did some hotel room strength instead.

            On the plus side it was nice to have the rain stop before our race. Just above freezing temps with rain is not my favorite. Our hotel owner speaks great English and always around to help. The internet is temperamental, but more functional than central Europe. The course atmosphere is nice. Closed in with lots of spruce trees. Try skiing in Vermont or the Nordic Heritage Center in the winter and tell me you don't prefer to see more conifers. The venue lay out is also well done. Nothing is too far away. Conversely The wax rooms could use some rearranging. More chairs, and less icy flooring.
Next week was supposed to be in Langdorf, Germany. A place I haven't been to in years. The Langdorf option was out of the question a week ago. Oberhof was the B-site option. As of this morning they were unclear if they would be able to host the IBU Cup 5. It wasn't until dinner an hour ago that we found out Oberhof was out and the plan C was the new race destination. This brings us to Ridnaun, Italy. Wouldn't be the first time I've competed there. We leave early tomorrow morning for the nine plus hour drive. Aside from that there is nothing to complain about. No one hates racing in Ridnaun.

            Motivation has been in the fog for the new year. A solid result might help, but who knows. At this point it's a day by day strategy. If the conditions are hard packed the way they usually are in Ridnaun things could start to turn around. If they don't, such is life. With a day by day process worrying about next week is a non factor. For now it's just finishing up with this blog. That and my most favorite activity of all: Packing! Your welcome to try and contact me, but keep in mind we're headed into the heart of the globe's internet blind spot that is central Europe. This is me still hanging in there. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

All I Really Wanted for Christmas


       This must be what it feels like for college grads to finally obtain that degree and still fail to find a job with it. Maybe I've mentioned this earlier but I recall doing slowfire drills in the rain and snow in Fort Kent. It was May first and the coaches really wanted me to increase the volume of shooting this year. We don't have a covered range and it wasn't the best conditions that day, but hey goals are goals... and so is hypothermia. The point is, thus far that effort has been in vain. I also recall snapping the lenses out of my race glasses in frustration while I clenched the the sides of my head in the changing cabin. That was last week, post WC sprint race in Slovenia. What can I say I really like great results and don't bode well when things don't pan out the way I want them to. In a lot of cases this in understandable, but in this case the work was done and I was expecting better performance from my myself.

There are lot of grand pictures to be had from Bled Slovenia.
       Let's just keep the negative train going for little longer. After two racing series we all thought I had the cobwebs out and was primed for a better day. We had a plan that was simple enough to follow even during race. The conditions were not perfect, but with one of the hills salted it made a nice  chance for the late starters. By the way; not unlike the other two places we've been to this trimester Pokljuka, SLO was also struggling for snow. It doesn't feel like winter anywhere in central Europe at the moment. After patiently waiting for my bib (101) to leave it was finally my last chance of the year to justify being on the circuit. In case you haven't already guessed, prone was my downfall. Four misses and the race was virtually over. I told myself not to over hold on the aiming. Time and time again this year that was the problem. The timing and a small part in the set up have been the cause all the problems in prone it seems. Why did I do this? It's hard to take a shot any earlier than you want to. It's temping to take that extra 2/10ths of a second to double check the aiming. This works fine if you're shooting off a bench at a resting heartrate. I was around 180 bmp. The window of opportunity to have an eight ring or better is a narrow one. Ironically, it seems the more I want it the more I miss. See why I consider biathlon to be a cruel and viscous sport?

       Standing was also the worst of the month with another two misses. Normally the last lap is fight with your fitness level. On this day it was a struggle to keep it together mentally. I felt bad for the coaches and techs on side of the course that had to wait for me. Though I do appreciate the unconditional support. The other three guys had a solid day. We're on good pace in the nations cup points. Needless to say I wasn't in the best of moods. I was going to have to watch the pursuit on EuroSport for the third time this year.

If you want to see more you should hit up the google machine or the archives of this blog for more Bled, SLO  pics.
      And finally, I might as well mention that ski speed was also demoralizing. It has been the whole trimester. The energy level has been up and down, but more so down. That springy feeling in the legs is always a good indicator that you're recovered and ready to race. I can't say I've felt that way for most of the race starts. Not completely sure why. I've seen it happen to wide variety of athletes so there are countless reasons.

        Okay so where does this put Russell's 2015 racing season? First of all, staying calm under pressure may not be not my specialty, but neither is giving up. The contrast between a good day and bad day is staggering for me. Just ask the other guys. Seeing the leaders cross the finish line on TV reminds me how grand a successful day can be. I've invested too much into this to think that I can't be closer to the top. Let me put it another way. If (hypothetically) cutting off one of fingers meant having the results I want to have, then I would go through the rest of my life with nine fingers if it lead to successful racing career. Obviously it wouldn't be my trigger finger. Maybe my ring finger... That one isn't going to be useful anytime soon.

Just breakfast things.

        Lets get down to the point. If the third time is not a charm then maybe the fourth is. I have two key ideas to work with in shooting. Next week will have a brief amount of volume before Christmas. Followed by a full recovery. Resting is the most fail safe way to bring the energy levels back up and it's pretty easy to do this time of year. The week after Christmas will have some quality shooting sessions. All with a race pace effort. The goal is to flesh out the racing zone. It can take some time to get into top form. A few controlled high intensity sessions can do a lot to build on that. The more I can recreate a race like effort with shooting the more I can bring the progress from easy sessions to the higher pressures situations. In other words: I want to train in the “fail zone” so to be rid of it before the next important race.

Oh yeah. Now I remember why I sought out a "better than a cell phone camera" camera. 
      And yes there is more racing to be had. It's not even 2015 yet. I'll have more details on that one in another update. Think Poland for now. I mentioned in an interview back home a while back that I had made good progress in training all year; that shooting had good promise to it. This has been undeniable... during training. The days before the past world cups are usually around 90% shooting wise.

           It only takes one good race to start the catalyst of a great season. No promises. This isn't a sport to make promises. It's a sport of good probability. The plan to increase the probability is set out and as always I'll carry through with the plan the best that I can. Sorry for the less than positive updates lately, but hey “you can't argue with results”. 

Thanks for reading.

See also: Merry Christmas n'stuff.

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P.S. To add to the bad news: I'm pretty certain I need a root canal done. My insurance will not cover it and I don't have the time right now. It hurts like hell and often wakes me up in the middle of the night.