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.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

And a Series of Unfortunate Events, again.

          Racing on a narrow ribbon of forced snow is becoming all too common these days. Unfortunately for my season thus far the lack luster results are on the same all too common pace. But hey if you want to win the race you have to pace yourself.  Leading into the finish is the important part. Everything before that isn't relevant. Hochfilzen has been good to us in some ways and believe me when I say I'm still happy to be here and have the chance to bang heads on the WC.  But the raw honey comb and sunshine doesn't compensate for the sprint result and unlucky relay. This is the run down of what happened during our week in Hochfilzen, Austria

          The flight from Ostersund was one the smoothest travel days in recent memory. Nothing went wrong. It was a charter flight so they didn't even bother giving us seat assignments. Everyone was offered a full meal and the flight attendant just so happened to look like a supermodel. The bus ride to the hotel wasn't even the usual four hour sauna trek. Our hotel is great. There is always a large wired box of raw honey comb for breakfast. This gold could be considered candy if candy was locally produced and surprisingly good for you. I've considered buying some from the hotel. The only motivation not to is due to the fact that the excess "stuff level" is overwhelming and with only 23kgs allowed for flying it's best not to add to the pile.
Last night's desert. 

           So anyways aside from that there is the racing portion this update. I had high hopes for the sprint race. What else can I have? Naturally I was in the last seed. The difference this time was that the conditions held up better than they did in Ostersund and the last starting seed wasn't being ignored by some top level biathletes.  Bjordalen and Fourcade were both around my start time. This is what eventually  made the race even more painful. I had my focus ingrained into my head. Stressed or relaxed it didn't matter. I refined the process down to a few key words and held on to those the best I could.  It helped, but wasn't enough to stop two rounds from missing the eight ring. With two penalties a clean standing would have to be in order. Of the 20 shots standing I've done this season I've only had three misses. The second stage of the sprint race had one of them. With three total on the day I knew it was going to be close if I wanted to make the pursuit. It was... The first split had me at seven seconds out of the top 60. The next one was two seconds out. Then two seconds in. With not much course left I should have been safe right? When I crossed I was listed as 59th. The clutch was that Ole and Simone Fourcade had not finished. Ole had shot the same as me but skied faster. I was ahead of Simone ski speed wise that day, but with his clean shooting he was going to be in the pursuit and I was not. The two knocked me down from 59th to 61st.
            It happened to me in an Oberhof race, at the Olympics, and last Friday for the third time. I wasn't feeling to well. The goal was a top 40 and there I was knowing that I would be left out of the pursuit. It wasn't a very happy post race cool down.

             The relay was a second chance. A good relay could do a lot. Well folks that was not the case. We have a very talented wax team. We're one of the most organised teams out there. We can expect to have skies as good as any other team despite not have the limitless resources that the bigger teams have. Only on the rarest occasions do we miss the mark. Saturday was one of them. There wasn't enough time to switch out the skies before Lowell's and Tim's leg. They both had solid races but when your skies are clinging to the snow you don't have a chance. Trust me I've tested this out by accident and it's close to hopeless. Leif and I were able to get on the corrected grind for the day. We both had fast skies, just like anyone else. Leif has been shooting well this year, but Saturday was an off day. No one is safe. It happens. There's no better way to describe it. With a few penalties it wasn't shaping up to be the day I envisioned. I was the last leg and was tagged off with the Belarus team. It made for a good draft the first loop. I thought we were going a little too hard, but I figured one of us would lose it on the last loop if that's what it came to. Prone went clean with two extras. The group around me had to have used at least this to get out, because I was ahead leaving the range. I came into standing pretty hot. With the range approach in Hochfilzen it's hard not to do this. Standing went well. One miss from the clip and only one extra to clean. I raced around the corner onto what I thought was my last loop. Instead I was met by IBU officials who were waiting for me and anyone else still racing with there arms waving in the air. The lead team had crossed the finish line before I left the range. Via IBU rules we were not allowed to finish. I was denied my last loop.
           This may have been the worst relay team USA has ever had. No one is really thinking about it. It was a lot of bad things crammed into one race. Even more there was no race to be had the following day. If only I had been two seconds faster. Place 60 didn't even race the pursuit, nor did Bjordalen. It was rough having to watch the men's pursuit on Eurovision yet again.

           As always, if there is ever a chance for success then it's reason enough for a full effort. The next chance lies in Pokljuka, Slovenia. The season is just getting started and the parts of slowly coming together. It only takes one good day to start a catalyst. If that's a possibility for me then I'm going to go for it. The hiking was good today. Tomorrow will be a semi rest day. Tuesday similar with some easy combos. The sprint race is on Friday.

         Some things never change. Some things need to change. Wish me luck in trying to break those thresholds next week by having a better day. Then I can relax and come home for Christmas. I hope you've enjoyed reading this as it's not the most exciting way to spend an afternoon. I like to keep anyone back home who's interested up to date. Maybe it would be enjoyable to write if I had better news.

Okay probably not.

Hochfilzen in June? No no. This is earlier today. 


Wednesday, December 10, 2014


         There wasn't much for success last week in Ostersund, Sweden. The only thing that kept me positive after the individual was the thought of proving otherwise in the sprint race two days after. The best way to cope with a bad race is to look forward to the next one. When the next race is only two days away it's easy to keep the spirits up. When the next race is in a flight and five days away it's not as easy. That was the case for me after a dismal sprint race last Saturday. A good result to have under the belt before the races in Austria would have made a convenient difference. Instead I'm left to keep the confidence up on my own without any undeniable results to back it up.

         The misses were low. There are endless amounts of reasons why those four misses in prone were low. Zeroing was a little strange that day. Perhaps my position was off. Was it the last tenth of a second aiming? That's been a crucial focus point this year. My standing stage was solid, but I did miss that last shot. Ski speed wasn't much to write home about either. The conditions were all over the place. Not unlike the individual they broke down as the race progressed. The deep and sugary snow covering a base of ice is far from my specialty. By the time the race was over I was unsure about myself and it was only the second race of the season.
          After some thought I came back to the conclusion that I always do. If there was ever a chance for success then there is no reason not to give 100% of your effort. So the coaches and I thought it through and next thing I know I'm outside a hotel in Hochfilzen, Austria doing double pole intervals on the C2 machine. For the past month shooting has been great when it doesn't matter. It's only been the race days that cause the percentage to drop. There were four clean prone stages in row during easy combos today. The ability to relax just isn't my strong point. There are a few things you can do about this. It's much easier said than done though. Since that's the case I'm going to wait for Friday to be over before I divulge any more details. For a sport that is monumentally physically demanding it also has a significant sport psychology side to it.
         Training was good yesterday and for a change the energy level carried through today. Shooting is back under control. The next race is this Friday. We're skiing on a mix of man made snow, snow from the closest glacier, and even trace amounts from the sky. Still, there isn't much that separates Hochfilzen's December from it's late April right now. The work is done and the pieces are there. All I have to do is put them in place for ten shots and ten kilometers.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Moron Everyone!

        Only in Sweden can you call everyone a moron have them think you're just commenting on the time of day. It does give some strange looks in the afternoon though. To summarize the individual on Wednesday I'll put the details in to three categories.

What Couldn't be Controlled :
-- The conditions post bib 94. It was warm and the course was not holding up well. Some parts were manageable but most of it was a disadvantage for the last start seed. Also it was a tricky day on the range. As indicated by the unusual amount of misses from a WC field.

What I should have Controlled
-- Prone. Or the shot timing, for closer detail. It's hard to trust the sight picture when you want the hit badly. This lead to some over holding and ended with 40% prone shooting.

What I did control.
-- Standing was solid. 90%. The pre pressure on the trigger and sight reaction were spot on aside from the one miss.

          Unfortunately with seven misses at a minute each there isn't much you can do on the result list.  It's rough to think about the missed opportunity knowing how much better training and shooting has been this year. Conversely it's relieving to know there is another chance tomorrow. Not to mention several after that. I've not one to sugar coat the bad days, but I don't believe in basing an entire season off of one race either. I know some old coaches that would do just this, but lets just leave it at that.

        Shooting was good in training today. I don't think the conditions will hold well tomorrow, but with some better focus in prone there is still a good chance for a better day.