Thursday, May 26, 2016

College Skiing Issues

Some interesting discussions with implications for our skiers at the EISA spring meeting on Monday:

- Looks like sprints are going to become an NCAA Championship event at some point in the next couple years.  Not official yet, but from what I can tell most coaches have warmed up to the idea in recent years.  It's going to happen sooner or later - probably sooner.  I have mixed feelings about this.  I think it's appropriate for us to include an event that's become such a major focus in international racing.  I just don't like how it affects the experience for a lot of our college skiers - it's not much of a race day for those who don't qualify for the heats.  That's fine for one or two races a year, but we're going to have to hold several sprint races a year for NCAA qualifying purposes - it's probably going to take up almost half of our season, and I'm not crazy about that.  That's a lot of skiers who trained a lot of hours sitting on the sidelines for a lot of races (after a 3-minute prelim).  The current proposal doesn't call for a championship sprint race every year, though, which makes me feel OK about the change - I think it's a reasonable balance if we have a sprint every other year or so.  Interestingly, the proposal also goes in the other direction and raises the possibility of a 30k race at the championships.  That's probably never going to happen, but I'd absolutely love it, and I think most of our skiers would as well.

- We also discussed a proposal for men and women to race equal distances.  Fasterskier published a pretty good summary of the arguments on either side of the issue.  Lots of interesting points, and it doesn't break down cleanly along gender lines.  I'm in favor of equal distances - it's 2016!  I've never had a good answer for my skiers when they've asked why women do shorter races, and I'd love to not have to answer that question for my daughters if they become ski racers a few years from now.  I'm not in favor of shortening everything to 5-15k, though, which is where many people seem to think this is heading.  I'd rather have all skiers racing the full range of distances up to 20k (or 30k - wishful thinking).  I think my ideal setup would be something like sprint & 10 or 15k alternating with 10k & 20k every year.  We'll see what happens.  I have a hard time picturing this change happening this year, but I won't be at all surprised if it happens a few years down the road.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What We Learned in 2016

We’re down to the last few days of the 2015-16 school year – classes end tomorrow and exams start next week.  It’s been a very challenging yet very enjoyable year for our team, and I’m sad to see it end.  Like any other year, this season had some lessons for us.  Here are some of the things we learned these past few months:

- The bar continues to rise for upper body power.  Every year I scheme ways to improve our upper body power, and every year I feel like we’re devoting more and more time to this aspect of fitness.  It’s still not enough.  Double poling distance races has trickled down to the college level and even the junior level.  Even in skate races or classic races with wax, the advantage gained by skiers with great upper body power is readily apparent.  It drives me crazy, because I’ve KNOWN THIS FOR YEARS, and I’ve adjusted our training accordingly, but things are evolving so fast that I continue to  underestimate the sheer volume of double pole focused training that’s required.  I think we do good work with our upper body power training – we just need to A) do more of it, and B) do a more diverse range of upper body focused workouts.  I wonder if I need to start treating upper body power development like a whole separate discipline of skiing – ie, skate, classic, and double poling.  This isn’t a perfect model, because poling power is obviously a sub-category of skate and classic skiing, but breaking it down like this might make it easier to give it the attention it requires.  For example, when I think about training for skate or for classic, I plan a whole range of workout types for each discipline:   easy distance, threshold, speed, etc.  We also do these different workouts with a double pole focus, but I tend to squeeze it all into the category of “specific strength” training – it takes up a smaller proportion of our training, and we only scratch the surface with each workout type.  Maybe the answer is to cut the pie into three roughly equal pieces to make sure we’re fully developing each aspect of fitness within each discipline.  I’m not exactly sure, but I’m looking forward to trying something different and figuring it out.

- A close-knit team is a wonderful thing.  We had an amazing fall – training was great and everyone had so much fun. Our Fall Break and Thanksgiving training camps were probably the best camps we’ve ever had.  Everyone ended the semester feeling fit and happy and motivated.  Shortly after coming back to campus in January, we ran into trouble with weather and health, and things never really got better.  With the lame snow and the various illnesses afflicting our team, our team could have fallen apart.  We had some really rough moments, and it would have been the most natural thing in the world for people to just check out mentally or settle into a funk of negativity.  But these guys did the opposite and rallied to support each other and make the training and racing as good as it could be every week.  This was a really great season for Bowdoin Nordic despite all the challenges, and it was all because these guys really loved each other.  It was a good reminder that building a unified team is just as important as anything we do in training.  We were lucky to have a great mix of personalities on our team, but it still took an intentional, thoughtful effort on everyone’s part to make this team what it was – captains and seniors setting the tone, hard work and positive energy from everyone, and regular team activities to cement the bonds.  We also succeeded in one of our goals from last year – to work around class schedules and bring the whole team together for more workouts.  All of these things will be harder to achieve with a bigger group next year (we have a lot of first-years coming in), but I really think we can recapture the great team dynamics from this year.  We have to – it’s too important to it let slip away.

- We could stand to be a bit more neurotic about health.  Every team deals with sickness every year – it’s just part of the sport.  But this year was extra bad - I’ve never seen anything like the sickness that ripped through our team this year.  We had four skiers – almost a third of the team – miss a significant portion of the race season, and several others missed a race and/or several training days.  We just can’t afford to get hit by this kind of pervasive and persistent sickness – the season is too short.  I’m not sure how much we could have done to prevent the health problems we experienced this year, but we can certainly try harder.  We need to double down on the usual best practices – good sleep, good eating habits, hand washing, getting warm and dry after workouts, etc.  Coaches and veteran skiers need to be better about instilling these habits in the rest of the team.  Skiers need to be proactive about seeing a doctor for a persistent illness, and also honest with themselves about when it’s not OK for them to train and race.  And I need to be more ruthless about keeping sick people away from the rest of the team to minimize the chances of anything spreading.  All of this might add up to nothing – there’s a lot of luck involved in staying healthy – but we can at least improve our odds.

- Thanks, Quarry Road!  The folks at Quarry Road in Waterville really did a fantastic job this year.  They cranked out a ton of manmade snow when all of New England was bare.  They hosted our first two carnivals in January when there was just about nowhere else in the East to ski.  And they kept their loop in good shape for training as the snow steadily dwindled throughout the winter – we ended up training there several times this year when things were thin at Pineland, and this kept us afloat from one carnival to the next.  This was great work by the whole community, and it was a huge gift to us and to skiers all over the state.

So these are the things in the back of my mind as we ramp up the training for next year.  Pretty soon exams will be over and the skiers will disperse.  Campus will be peaceful and quiet, and I’ll have a lot of time to think about how we can keep building on our experiences to make next year ever better.  I’m really looking forward to this, but I’m even more excited to get a whole new season started next fall!

Friday, April 1, 2016

March Racing

March was a busy month for Bowdoin skiers and alumni!  Here’s a rundown of everything that happened:

Kaitlynn Miller ’14 competed in the Ski Tour Canada – her first World Cup races!  She completed the whole tour – a grueling schedule of 8 races in 12 days, with the last 4 at altitude in Canmore.  She held her own against the best skiers in the world, including a 39th place finish in the 10k classic and 38th in the classic sprint.  She closed out the tour with the 38th fastest split in the classic pursuit to take 41st place in the overall tour.  Several Bowdoin skiers went up to cheer her on for the Quebec races – definitely one of the highlights of the season!

Nick Crawford ’09 wrapped up a successful first year as head coach at Alaska-Fairbanks.  His skiers performed well at the NCAA Championships in Steamboat, highlighted by a 4th place team finish in the women’s classic race, with his top skier earning All-American honors.

Wilson Dippo ’12 had several skiers representing Bogus Basin at Junior Nationals.  His top skier earned All-American honors in all three of the individual races and was on the winning U18 relay team, along with a Jackson Hole HS skier coached by Rainer Kenney ’13.

Jackson Bloch '15 and Tyler DeAngelis '15 finished their two-month European marathon tour by completing the most prestigious of all nordic ski races, the Norwegian Birkebeiner, in which they were the top American finishers.

Jake flew to Finland over Spring Break to ski in several Paralympic World Cup races.  His best performances came in the classic sprint and the 10k skate – just off the podium in 4th place!

SuperTour Finals in Craftsbury provided the big finish, with a huge crowd of Bowdoin skiers and alumni in attendance.  Mac and H. Miller did all four races, along with alumni superstars Spencer Eusden ’12 and Kaitlynn.  Jake, H. Marshall, Sean, Ellie, August, and Sam each doing at least one, and our alumni marathon specialists Tyler and Jackson dropped in for the 50k.  Since our NCAA training/racing period was over, the skiers had no coaching support and had to wax their own skis – the variable spring conditions made this tough at times, but they did a great job of figuring it out from day to day.  H. Miller led the way with a 43rd place finish in the 10k skate, and Mac followed it up with a 46th in the classic sprint, just a few seconds from qualifying – very strong results against a super competitive field that included almost all of the top skiers in the US, along with dozens of college skiers and fast juniors.  On the alumni side, Kaitlynn took 8th place in the sprint and 12th in the 10k.  The Bowdoin folks formed 2 teams for the mixed relay, and Miller Low Life (Mac, Jake, and both Millers) scrapped their way to 21st place finish.  The final race of the week (30/50k classic mass start) was an event like no other – many, many laps around a short loop with some nasty climbs, made even harder by wet, slow snow.  The women went first, before things got really sloppy.  The Millers were our only racers - Kaitlynn had an amazing race to finish 5th, and Hannah was strong as well, holding her own for 35th in a very tough field of experienced racers.  Things got really ugly in the men’s race – the tracks had been obliterated, the temps had reached full-on spring mode and continued to rise, and the snow was incredibly slushy, soft, and slow.  The race quickly turned into an ultramarathon-style test of survival rather than a race – people dropped out left and right, including some of ours.  Even the top skiers were just walking up the hills – it was too soft and slow to do much else.  Spencer showed great veteran poise, steadily powering his way to a 36th place finish.  Sean and August just kept plugging away, and both managed to finish – the only two juniors to complete the race!  A crazy race and a fitting end to a crazy season.  A huge thanks to Deb Miller for hosting the ever-growing group of skiers throughout the week!  Thanks also to Everett Marshall and Deb again for the photos in the post.

And that’s the end – no more ski racing for Bowdoin Nordic this year, unless someone decides to go race across Greenland this spring or some such nonsense.  It’s been a great year despite all the challenges – although we’re sad to see the end of it, we’re all excited for the new adventures ahead!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Regionals 2016

Our season ended with a beautiful weekend in Middlebury at the Eastern Regional Championships - our final carnival of the year.  Because of a massive rainstorm on Thursday, the races had to be pushed back to Saturday/Sunday to give the organizers time to put the course back together.  Amazingly, the folks at Rikert were able to till up the ice and push around some manmade snow until we had a pretty decent surface for racing.  Saturday's skate was still tricky, though, with icy patches causing carnage on some of the turns - Sam and Jake both had crashes, with Jake breaking a pole.  Overall, though, it was a good day.  Mac was just outside the points in 31st, closely followed by Sean.  Wil caught a ride from a skier two bibs back and was able to hang on for most of the second lap, ending up as our third scorer for the day.  This was his first race in almost a month after a lingering illness, so it was a pretty impressive comeback.  Hannah Miller had the race of the day - like Wil (and a couple others), she had a nagging cold that cost her a lot of training and racing in February, and she was still fighting it during these races, but she was able to dig really deep and grind out an 18th place finish - really a remarkable effort.  Ellie was 34th for one of her best finishes ever - she was just 14 seconds from Hannah, which shows how incredibly close the times were.  Marshal was a big part of our success for these races - he helped us out with testing and fluoro application, which allowed us to do a more thorough job of testing several different options to get the fastest skis possible.  That night, we had a wonderful dinner at the Groves house, with several parents in attendance - it was great to combine family time and team time!  The skiers finished their evening with the usual Middlebury Inn shenanigans - hide and seek and Piggly Wiggly (a game I still don't really understand and am not sure if I want to).

Temps continued warming up for Sunday's mass start classic race - sunny skies and perfect klister skiing!  Sean had a fall early on and had to work his way up from way in the back, but somehow he got himself right back to his usual spot to finish in 19th.  It's been an excellent season for Sean, with top 20 finishes in every classic qualifier and a top 10 in the Bates sprint - certainly one of the best seasons ever by Bowdoin Nordic first-year.  Mac, Sam, and Jake worked together brilliantly - they started out toward the back but right in contact with a big group, and then moved up steadily.  It was really exciting to watch Sam hanging right onto Mac through the middle kilometers, skiing well above his usual level.  As they came out of the woods for the final time, Mac had pulled into 35th, with Jake and Sam close behind in 42nd and 43rd.  We later found out that another skier had stepped on Sam's pole on the final big climb and broken it - he had to ski the last kilometer or so with one pole, which surely cost him a couple places.  Still, it was a huge PR for him.  He's been skiing really well all year long and has been just shy of great races several times, so it was really satisfying to see him finally break through.  Things got really warm for the women's races, to the point where lots of people were racing in t-shirts, and we broke out our warmest klisters.  H. Miller had clearly spent her reserves the day before, but she still gave it a great effort to lead the team in 34th.  Ellie skied with a lot of spring on the climbs and a nice big double pole on the flats to finish 46th - probably the best classic skiing I've seen from her.  It was fun to see the three seniors in their last college race ever - all three of them were battling hard, and they all skied well in both races for a strong finish to the season.  A perfect day to end a career - gorgeous spring skiing and a nice long mass start!  I should also mention that Marshal was once again a great help to us on the wax table, joined by August for this race.

All in all, Regionals was a lot of fun - a really nice way to wrap up the season.  It's been a good season overall, despite the really disappointing snow situation and the outrageously persistent illnesses that many of our skiers had to deal with.  I feel really lucky that we had such a cohesive and positive group to navigate one of the toughest winters I can remember - a different kind of group could have easily broken down in the face of all this trouble, but our skiers hung in there and kept supporting each other and kept having fun.  A huge thanks to all the parents, who were magnificent as always - I know how lucky we are to have such great parents, and every year I'm thankful for their support.  Now, just like that the Bowdoin Nordic season is over.  There's lots more excitement to come, though - several of the skiers are headed up to Quebec City this weekend to watch Kaitlynn race in the World Cup events, and people will do a few more races (marathons and/or SuperTour Finals in Craftsbury).  More updates to come!

Here are some photos from Everett Marshall, Doug Hands, and Meg Groves:

Monday, February 22, 2016

Williams Carnival 2016

Another week, another relocated carnival.  This time it was the Williams Carnival - moved from Prospect to Lake Placid.  What a crazy winter this has been!  I remember a time when Prospect was the backup for other venues because they always had more snow than anyone else.  Fortunately, the jumping complex in Lake Placid had a nice 2.5k loop of artificial snow, so we made the long drive to NY after Thursday classes.  The early vans were able to stop at Rikert for an evening ski on our way through VT, and we followed this up with a great dinner at the Groves household - many thanks to Laurie and Meg for breaking up the drive with their great hospitality!

The next morning was pretty relaxed - due to other events at the jumps, our races (10/10k skate) didn't start until the middle of the day.  The course was in good shape - fast, transformed snow, with some long climbs and long descents.  Unfortunately for us, most of the women were a bit under the weather, but they hung in there, with H. Miller in 36th and Ellie 41st.  Lucy did a great job of working the climbs and finished 52nd, her best race of the season.  Jake found a new gear and finally broke into the top 30, finishing 28th to claim his first-ever NCAA points.  Sam also had a notable race - he was really energetic and had put himself in position for a big PR before a crash on an icy hairpin turn dropped him back several spots.  We finished up the day with a nice dinner in a private room in Lake Placid's finest pub, followed by a rousing song identification challenge - the whole team was quite good at this game, and the Minnesota boys (Sam, Marshal, and Sean) in particular proved to be unstoppable.

Saturday's 5/5k classic was a pursuit - the first time EISA has done a pursuit since I don't know when.  The weather was challenging - a little snow overnight, followed by a tiny bit of rain, followed by gusting winds and sun appearing and disappearing throughout the morning.  We played around with different klisters all morning - just as we would find something that worked well, the conditions would change just enough to render it obsolete.  Some of our skiers ended up on zeroes, and some on klister, with variable results - serviceable but draggy for the women, and decent for the men.  Sadly, the nagging sickness and fatigue continued - only Lucy, Emma, and H. Marshall made it to the start line, and Hannah was clearly just toughing it out.  Lucy again led the women with a very solid effort, finishing in 48th overall.  On the men's side, Sean moved up several places to finish 32nd, with Jake right behind in 34th.  Overall, it was not our best carnival, but I felt like people skied well given the challenges we were up against, and I think we're in good position to finish strongly at Regionals this weekend if we can just get everyone healthy!  Thanks to the parents, who really outdid themselves this weekend with a tasty and healthful post-race spread both days - you guys are the best!

Here are some photos from Everett Marshall:

Monday, February 15, 2016

Dartmouth Carnival 2016

Quite an unusual weekend we just had!  The Dartmouth Carnival (moved to Craftsbury) was scheduled to be a one-day affair (15/20k classic), which is unusual by itself, but for a while it looked like it would be a zero-day affair.  The forecast for Saturday was grim - super cold temps and very high winds - and we spent the whole week wondering if we would actually get to race.  We drove over to Vermont on Friday afternoon and went through the process of preparing for a race, but the whole time the weather warnings became more and more apocalyptic, and it was hard to shake the feeling that it wasn't going to happen.  On Saturday morning, it was indeed very cold, but the winds were minimal, and that made all the difference.  With temps just above the FIS legal limit, the jury decided to go for it, and off we went.  The men's field stayed close throughout the race - a lead group got away, with a couple people eventually going off the front, but the various chase packs weren't far back.  Sean hovered in the 20s before moving to the front of his group late in the race - he made the final sprint look easy and locked up 18th for the third straight classic race.  Mac and Jake skied together the whole race - they made a big move to get to the front of their pack and finished in 29th and 31st, respectively - Mac's first NCAA points ever, and a PR for Jake.  The men finished 6th overall - I'm pretty sure this is our best men's finish in several years!  The women's race was even colder, as temps dropped steadily throughout the day, but fortunately still legal at the start.  With several elite skiers (including Kaitlynn) in the race, the pace was brisk - a group of 10 or 12 quickly went off the front, and the rest of the field strung out behind them.  Still recovering from being sick the week before, H. Miller didn't have her usual snap, but she skied smoothly and hung in there for 41st.  Ellie was feisty out there and really battled on the hills to set a classic PR of 45th.  Overall, a very courageous effort by everyone - a 15/20k race is tough enough by itself, and with these extreme conditions it was really a daunting task.

Here are some photos from Everett Marshall:

After the race it was time for the annual tradition of Carni Crush - much loved by the skiers and tolerated by the coaches.  Despite the cold, the skiers milled around in the stadium doing their Crush presentations - reading poems, doing dances, and generally having a good old time.  As far as I can tell our skiers showed off their talents in a creative and generally appropriate manner, which is good.  A fun and successful weekend for all.  Thanks to Tara Whiton for joining us as a volunteer assistant this weekend - she did great work helping us with waxing and feeds.  Extra thanks to the parents this week - in these conditions, it's extra tough to stand around and cheer, take photos, and set up food tables.  These are also the conditions where the skiers need extra support, so thanks to all of you!