Thursday, January 31, 2013

Arrowhead 2013: A Year of Regrets

This is going to be a tough one to write.  Races like this peel back the layers and let you know what you're really made of.  Sometimes it hurts.  Sometimes it's not something you want to see, but if you don't see it how can you fix it?

 This is the first year that I have dropped out of the Arrowhead 135 due entirely to my own weakness of will.  Actually I might be the only person who didn't have a good reason to drop this year.

 Upwards of eight inches of snow (20 cm) during the race made everyone's race difficult.  The bikers had to push rather than ride, the runners had to slog through it, but us skiers, it was our year.  Actually I was in perhaps the best position of anyone there.  I had skated the first half on classic race skis and when the snow started getting heavy I applied some grip wax and switched to classic technique.  It was working great.

 I had a really great first 75 miles.  I arrived at Melgeorge's two hours ahead of where I had expected and feeling great.  75 miles (120 km) in less than 17 hours, but I squandered all of that.   I started thinking.  More specifically I got it in my head that I wasn't going to be able to finish.  I thought to myself that there was no way I could do it.  The challenges were too great.  It was going to take me too long. 

 The thing is I have done it.  I walked for 56 hours through -40 degree cold to finish in 2010.  This would have been easy compared to that.  Of course it wouldn't have been easy, but as has been noted before we "don't do it because it's easy."

 Somehow I managed to fool myself into thinking I couldn't make progress through the snow.  The funny thing is that I was making good progress through the snow when I convinced myself of that.  I was probably moving 3+ mph (5 kph) when I thought that.   That's a lot better than a finishing pace.

 As you can probably tell I'm pretty bummed out about it.  I really regret having dropped, but there's nothing I can do about that anymore.   That's in the past.  I have to move on and prepare for the next thing.  As I said to another skier who dropped, sometimes you need a setback to remind you why you do these things. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Post-Triple D and Pre-Arrowhead

I suppose I'd better get a blog post done before I head up to I-Falls for the big dance. 

Triple D was last week in Dubuque and it didn't disappoint.  Well, actually it did.  There was no snow and so I couldn't ski.  I had hoped for a tune-up ski going in to the Arrowhead.  A proof that I could do it.  That wasn't to be, but I had sent the check in and so I biked it. 

The course was great and would have been greater if there had been a good 8" of snow on the ground.  The off road snowmachine and ATV trails were a lot of fun.  It's good to see landowners willing to work with a race and allow us to bike across private property.  I wish there were more of that in this country.   Parts of the course, particularly the Heritage Trail, were rather icy and I did go down a few times. 

I took the race fairly easy.  I never pushed myself so much that I hurt which is the right thing a week before a big race.  I did injure my wrist somewhat in an icy crash.  It's not sprained or broken, no swelling, full range of motion, but it does hurt when I roll it (pitch and yaw are fine).  Some have suggested that I "bruised the bone" but I'm not sure that's even a thing. 

Anyway, Arrowhead.  I'm nervous.  That's good.  I should be.  I failed at Tuscobia because I wasn't ready to commit myself.  I am commited this time.  It will be difficult, but so long as there aren't any freak accidents I should be able to do it.  Two things I need to remember that I forgot at Tuscobia are: This is your race, it doesn't matter how others are doing.  And, there are 60 hours in the race, use them all if you have to. 

The skis are waxed.  The list has been checked once (two more times should do it).  All that is left is to get some dinner and a good night's sleep. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

In Polite Company

Social media has been awfully caustic lately. More caustic than during the election which might be saying something. I hear from some folks that what I'm seeing is the extreme minority. That nobody really believes that stuff. A quick survey of my “friends” reveals that that simply isn't the case. People really do believe that stuff. Regardless, a lot of what I am seeing is very disturbing to me. It makes me angry and while being angry may work for some people it does not work for me. It becomes self-destructive.

I have seen smart people say dumb things, reasonable people say unreasonable things, and good people say evil things. Some folks that I have a lot of respect for have said some really hurtful things. I have been told in no uncertain terms that “my brain damage is terminal.” I could simply “unfriend” or block these people, but I know from personal experience that these are good people whose opinions I often want to hear. 

Some of them really are my friends.

This blog post could turn into a haranguing, telling everyone to tone it down or knock it off, but I know that that won't work. What I am searching for here is a way for me to disagree with people I like. A way to appreciate people who sometimes insult me and my opinions.

What this amounts to, for me, is remembering the good times. Remembering what we have in common and realizing that those times will come again or if they don't that they really were good times. There were no tricks.

I am probably as baffling to these people as they are to me.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Desperation or determination?

I haven't written lately because I haven't had time to put my thoughts together and write.  I've been far too busy skiing.  Now, however, that has come to an end.  Last night I went out and skied from slush pile to slush pile in 48f (9C).  It was bad, but I got a good hour and a half of slogging in.  Today though the temperature has dropped and those slush piles are patches of ridged ice.  I might be desperate and/or determined, but I'm not going to waste my time with that. 

I have solved a few of the problems that presented themselves at Tuscobia.  I remembered how I solved my blister problem three years ago the last time I skied Arrowhead.  Dress socks.  Thin nylon dress socks worn underneath my wool ski socks really did the trick that year and in the weeks since Tuscobia they have done it again.  Breaking in the boots hasn't hurt either. 

One of the frustrating/rewarding things about skiing is that every time I go out I find myself learning something new.  One friend calls it "opening up locks".  Learning to keep my hips forward, learning to keep my weight over the ski.  As usual it is one thing to say "complete weight transfer" and another to actually do it.  Even choice of ski makes a huge difference.  Some skis are forgiving of sloppy skiing, some aren't.  I am finding that my chosen race skis are not forgiving, they are fast. 

A little more testing needs to be done with my cold weather clothing and camping gear.  It is surprising how many little things need to be changed when you go from pulling a pulk to carrying a backpack.  With a pulk carrying a few extra pounds or cubic inches isn't an issue.  It is a big deal in the backpack. 

I have started to have anxiety dreams about Arrowhead.  That is a good sign.  It means that I am working on my problems, even in my sleep.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

There goes my shot at the Hrimthurs.

I now have the dubious distinction of DNFing twice in one race. I entered the 150 mile Tuscobia ski race and dropped out after 30 miles. Then, since I had plenty of time on my hands, I entered the 35 mile ski race. I made it 5 miles in that one.

So what went wrong? Lots of things. The proximate reasons for dropping from the race (both times) were blisters and a sense that I was working way too hard. The deeper reasons are that I wasn't adequately trained for skiing and my mind simply wasn't in the race.

The blisters, or mostly just the blister on the instep of my left foot, were largely the result of having only worn these boots once in the past year. Yep, once. You simply can't expect to put on a pair of boots, especially stiff skate boots, and ski a long distance without getting blisters. I could have suffered through it. I've done it before, but I really didn't want to beat myself up so much that I couldn't walk for a week afterwards. Again, I've done that before. Maybe that's just what it takes to do a 150 mile race. I guess I wasn't up to it.

As for working too hard I am not sure what is up with that. For the first fifteen miles or so I was good, but then I started stopping every mile or two. I didn't feel tired or anything I just had to stop. Whenever I stopped I noticed that my heart rate was way too high. I don't wear a heart rate monitor so I can't tell you what it was exactly, but I know it wasn't something I could have sustained for 40 hours. It felt more like a cyclocross race than an endurance race. I think my cardio-fitness level is okay so the only conclusion I can come to is that my ski technique isn't up to snuff.

Speaking of technique, there were a couple of things that even I noticed could use some work. One, I wasn't always managing to glide fully on the ski. It was more like stumbling than skating at times. I was only using the inside edge of the ski and not getting all my weight over the ski. Two, and this is related, my knee wasn't tracking straight over the ski. That makes it hard to get good glide and is a lot harder on the legs and knees.

Equipment still needs some tweaking before Arrowhead too. I used classic skis but skated on them in the manner of Tim Kelly.  There is something to it. I didn't have any (extra) problems with it though as I was using shorter poles (155 cm rather than 165 cm) I couldn't double pole with the same power/speed as I normally would. On the other hand I found I could Wassberg/V2 pretty well with the short poles.

I did find my arms starting to cramp towards the end of my 30 mile ski which tells me a few things. 1)I wasn't drinking enough. 2) I was using my arms too much. 3) I wasn't using my abs/core/bodyweight as well as I should.

One reason for using the classic skis was so that I could classic ski if occasion warranted. About 20 miles in I did apply some kickwax to try and stride, but I couldn't seem to get much kick. The wax I had taken with me is supposed to be a wide temperature range “racing” wax, but I haven't had much luck with it. I have a lot more luck with the good old basic kickwaxes. I will stick to those in the future.

My hydration system needs some work. With the pack fully loaded my gear squeezes the bladder and forces water into the hose even if I have cleared it. That leads to a frozen hose in cold weather and needs to be fixed if I'm going to continue to use this pack. I have a few ideas of how to deal with the problem, but it will require some testing.

By the way, mentioning that you have blisters to a runner is like mentioning you have a bit of a sniffle to your mother.