Tuesday, June 18, 2019

What We've Learned - 2019

Once things settle down in the spring, I always like to spend a lot of time talking with skiers and reflecting on the season to figure out how we can keep getting faster.  Plenty of good stuff to think about, and plenty of time to ponder now that the skiers have all scattered for the summer.  Here are a few things we learned this past year:

Intensity:  Threshold training is a staple of nordic ski training, and that’s certainly always been true for us.  But these last couple years we’ve been edging away from threshold in the fall, and replacing it with lots of mid-length intervals just above threshold.  There’s been some interesting research over the past few years arguing that threshold isn’t a particularly productive way to train - I don’t completely agree with this, but I’m starting to feel that we don’t need to do quite as much of it as we’ve done in the past.  This past year we ramped up the intensity earlier than ever – starting in September, we did lots of threshold plus training, lots of faster race pace work, and not a lot of threshold.  We’ve always had our best results in longer races, but these days we’re equally competitive in the 5/10k races.  It’s hard to nail down the exact reasons for a whole team’s performance changes, but it’s doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to think that this is driven by more training at 5-10k speeds and intensities.  We’re still doing fine in the 15-20k races, so for now it looks like a worthwhile change.

Peaking:  One of the reasons I’ve been conservative with higher intensity training is because I’m super paranoid about peaking the team early.  We’re pretty good at peaking on time – we’re generally on an upward trend for Regionals and NCAAs, to the point where I’m feeling like we’re actually a bit too cautious.  Our NCAA qualifiers seem to have plenty in the tank even into late March (we do have some people who are pretty exhausted by the end of Regionals every year, but this seems to be distinctly about school and travel rather than training).  So we were a bit more aggressive about peaking this year – less focus on maintaining fitness and more focus on getting fast and rested earlier in the season.  Starting in late January we cut back volume more than usual and focused only on short fast intervals for the rest of the way.  Seemed to work out fine – our last two carnivals were our best, and we had our best NCAA showing ever.  Probably will continue to experiment with this approach going forward.

Good skis are good skis:  Everyone knows that ski characteristics are way more important than wax or structure for determining if a ski is going to be fast on a given day.  But I don’t think most people understand how vast the gap is between the importance of good skis and the importance of good wax.  These last couple winters I’ve been borrowing a lot of athlete skis for testing while I slowly upgrade our old and sad test fleet.  This has been pretty eye-opening.  We have some great pairs of skis on our team!  We also have some not great pairs.  Wax can nudge things in one direction or another, but only within a narrow window.  On a 1-10 scale, a fast pair is always going to be at least an 8 or 9 even if flex and/or grind aren’t perfect for the conditions, and even if we don’t have the best wax.  You will always at least be competitive if you’re on a good pair of skis (I know this isn’t true at the World Cup level, where every pair is a good pair and differences are measured by fractions of a percent, but I strongly believe it’s true for college skiing).  The inverse is true for a mediocre pair – you’re never going to get to 9 or 10, even if your coaches nail the wax.  Again, this is nothing new, but it’s really hit home for me after experiencing first-hand the wide range of quality present in our quivers.  We’re going to have to be more proactive about getting our people on good skis – sharing good pairs and ensuring that any new pairs are bought from a reliable source.

Communication:  Although we had a pretty successful season competitively, the team didn’t have quite the same easy and joyful feel that we always strive for – for lots of different reasons, a few of our people really struggled with their enjoyment of the sport this year.  I’m not foolish enough to think that we can overcome all the challenges that people are experiencing in their lives outside of skiing, but one thing we can do is be more proactive about communicating with people – recognizing earlier when people are starting to get burned out and working with them to rekindle the fire a bit.  This is tricky – college skiing is pretty consuming, and it’s not for everyone.  Even so, more communication is always a good thing – sometimes we can help turn things around and sometimes we can’t, but knowing how people are feeling is an important starting point in either case.  I’ll be working hard this coming year to keep improving here.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Graduation 2019

The school year is over and Graduation 2019 is in the books!  Sean was our only graduate this year, and he got a nice send off on a beautiful sunny day from a good group of current skiers and alumni.  It's been a great run for Sean - he's been a cornerstone of our team for the last four years, and during that time he's helped bring Bowdoin Nordic to a new level.  He played a big role in solidifying a culture of dedication and focused training on our team, without losing the sense of fun that's such an important part of our team identity.  It's not a coincidence that we've enjoyed our greatest success ever during Sean's tenure.  He ends his college career with more top-30 finishes than any male skier in Bowdoin Nordic history.  Congratulations Sean - thanks for everything you've done for our team, and good luck!

Thanks to Beth Cork for the great photos!

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Bowdoin Magazine Article

We were honored by a great article about our team in Bowdoin Magazine last week - check it out!  The best part is that this was written by one of our own, Nat Herz '09.  Nat is one of the most colorful characters to come through Bowdoin Nordic.  He's spent the last ten years doing fantastic work as a journalist (currently with Alaska Public Media), and I'm so proud of him.  He really personifies the team culture described in the article, so it's fitting that he was the one to write it.  Thanks Nat, and keep up the great work!

Friday, March 15, 2019

NCAA 2019

The 2019 NCAA Championships are in the books, and they were glorious!  Beautiful weather, tons of snow, and fast skiing by our people - couldn't have asked for more.  Here's a recap of how it all went down:

We left campus on Monday evening after classes.  The drive to Stowe felt long, but compared to last year's trip to Steamboat it was pretty painless.  Next morning we were out on the snow to check out the course - everything was in perfect shape.  The skiers had a nice quick course preview and the coaches spent a good while testing and getting things dialed in.  After a lovely banquet in which our skiers showed great fashion sense, we were ready to crush the skate race.

(photo courtesy of Nich Hall)

Wednesday morning was clear and cold and perfect for ski racing.  The atmosphere in the stadium was fun and high-energy, and the scenery was classic Vermont.

Once again we did a ton of testing - as always we cut it close but we found a great combination and got Elliot his skis with at least 30 seconds to spare.  Always on time, always under budget.  Elliot did his usual Elliot thing with a nice relaxed start - I could tell it was going to be a good day, because his smile in the early going was even bigger than usual.  The early splits weren't so encouraging - he had the slowest split of the whole field through 2k - but we knew better.  By the 5k mark he was starting to pick up steam, and by 7k he was regaining time on the skiers who had gained on him in the first lap.  With 1k to go he was absolutely flying, but times were tight and there was no way to know where he'd finish.  After a few tense minutes waiting for the late starters to finish, he was 18th - best ever NCAA finish for a Bowdoin man!  It was a ridiculously close race - he was just 9 seconds from All-American and 14 seconds from 5th!

Renae was up next - with only 5k, her race went by in a flash.  She looked strong out of the start and skied with great tempo.  By the final long climb she was clearly tiring but fought really hard to keep it together until the line.  Like the men's race, the times were really tight, and this last great effort kept her ahead of a whole crew of racers.  She finished 31st, just 1.1 seconds from scoring points in the top 30.  It was interesting watching the women's race unfold - the rolling course and moderately fast conditions really rewarded big strong gliders over smaller tempo skiers like Renae.  Something to work on for next year.  Nonetheless, this was one of her best 5k skate races ever.  Overall a great start to the championships!

We took things pretty easy on Thursday - an exam and a quick ski for the racers and a lot of kick testing for the coaches.  That afternoon we got back together for a tour of the Ben and Jerry's factory and a nice dinner.  The skiers were pretty mellow - a bit subdued, but also confident and really excited to race.  A good sign!

Next morning the sun was out and temps were warming quickly - a bit scary for waxing, especially for a pair of longer races, but luckily it had been cold overnight and things stayed well below freezing for the women's race.  It was another perfect day - coaches were testing like crazy and our crew of Bowdoin fans was having fun.

Last time we raced at Stowe, Renae had taken it out aggressively and had been right with the leaders for a couple kilometers, but another skier crashed in front of her and took her out.  Today she was determined to try this strategy again to find out what was possible if she pushed hard from the start.  Good thing, because the women's race went out HOT!  College women's mass starts always start fast, but I don't know if I've ever seen such a fast start as this one.  Renae was ready for it, and she stayed right with the pack - no crashes this time.  By the end of the first lap she was moving well and had skied her way into 14th with a whole hornet's nest right behind her.  As the race went on she slipped back a few places, but she hung on wonderfully, widening the gap between her and the back half of the field.  She finally got tired in the final couple kilometers and the mid-teens group slipped away from her, but once again she fought hard on the final climb to hold off the chasers and lock up a fantastic 20th place finish!  A really gutsy effort that paid off beautifully.

By Elliot's race, the sun was blazing and things were getting pretty toasty - bad flashbacks to Rumford!  This time it was a bit colder, and we felt safe about adding some pre-emptive kick and cover it up without making the skis to sticky or slow.  This was the right choice - things got slick in a hurry after the gun went off, and lots of guys were slipping.  Elliot stayed calm and skied nice and easy for the first half of the race.  He started near the back as usual, but as people got tired and/or started slipping, he picked up places steadily.  By the halfway mark he had sneaked into the top 20 and was looking strong and relaxed.  By this point things had settled - the people who were going to fade had already faded, and the guys around him were pretty well locked in.  The leaders weren't really getting away, and for a while it looked like Elliot might be able to close the gap and make a run at the top 10.  But at the start of the final lap, the leaders upped the pace, everyone else followed, and suddenly he was just trying to hang on.  He kept fighting and was able to maintain a slight gap on a big group of chasers, finishing in 16th - another fantastic race to close out a wonderfully successful week.

All of us left the championships feeling incredibly happy - what a fun and satisfying week.  Renae and Elliot were locked in all week - they did everything right.  They saved their best races for when it counted most - of course that's what everyone hopes and plans for, but so often it doesn't work out.  They represented our team so well on a national stage - with just 2 skiers, we managed to finish 17th, and I'm pretty positive this was our highest-scoring championships ever with 39 points.  As always, we were also lucky to have such great support from parents, friends, and teammates (thanks to Todd Anderson for the great pictures in this post).  Friday's cheering group in particular was fantastic - so good to see a bunch of our skiers make the trip up from Maine!  Christian served as our volunteer tester, and he was a great help in getting the skis dialed in - we couldn't have gotten good skis without him.  I'm really proud of Elliot and Renae and our whole team - already getting fired up for next year!  I can't wait.  Ok, that's only partially true - I think we're all ready to catch our breath and rest up a bit.  But the 2019 season has been fantastic, and the future is bright!

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Midd Carnival and Regionals 2019

Carnival season is over already!  I don't know why I'm still surprised after 12 years - this happens every year.  Anyway, I'm happy to say that we ended with our two most complete carnival performances of the year.  Here's a quick recap:

Warming fresh snow made for a challenging day at the Midd 10/15k classic.  Conditions were just shy of zeroes for the men.  We got their skis pretty well dialed in but added a bit extra to protect against the warming temps - this proved to be our undoing, as the skis clumped and dragged a bit.  We certainly weren't the only ones having trouble, and the guys were able to keep it respectable - Elliot 20, Sean 25, Christian 28.  Cirque just missed another top 30, and Noah E set a PR in 39th.  The women were solidly into zeroes conditions, but unfortunately we only had 2 suitably sized pairs.  We ended up with three different things going on:  Renae made a klister/hard wax combo work beautifully, skiing a super aggressive race to finish 12th.  Lily was on Christian's zeroes and rocked it, finishing 19th.  Gabby opted for speed and straight hard wax and ended up light on kick, but she put up an incredible fight and managed 22nd place.  Fiona had a strong showing as well, just shy of a PR in 38th.

Next day's 5/10k skate was combined with an Eastern Cup - always fun, always chaotic.  The men were on fire - best skate showing in a long time, maybe ever, with Elliot 10th, Sean 13th, and Christian 15th.  We've had 3 women in the top 15 once before, but I'm pretty sure this was a first for men.  Big skate PR for Sean!  Noah E continued his late season charge, bettering his brand new PR with a 33rd.  On the women's side, Renae (11), Gabby (21), and Fiona (42) all set PRs, with Lily completing the scoring in 28th.  Overall, we were 4th for the carnival, tying our top performance ever (St. Mike's Carnival in 2018).

Leslie stayed at Midd to support Noah G, Orion, Luca, and Perrin for the Eastern Cup classic on Sunday - solid showing by all four.  It's always tough to keep the fire burning for those not skiing carnivals, and I'm proud of these guys for staying focused and racing hard.

We closed out the regular season with Regionals at the Bates Carnival in Rumford.  The skiing was amazing - tons of snow up there!  Gabby came into the weekend just outside of NCAA qualifying, so there was a lot riding on the skate race.  She rose to the occasion and came up with a best-ever 18th place finish.  Renae followed in 25th and Lily in 30th in a race featuring super tight times.  The men continued their skate hot streak, with Elliot 6th, Christian 15th, and Sean 20th.  That evening, we celebrated Leslie's birthday and Sean's last carnival with an amazing dinner hosted by the parents.  We are so lucky to have an amazing group of parents supporting our team - every year I can't believe how much they do for us!

The final carnival race of 2019 was a 15/20k classic mass start.  It was a gorgeous sunny day, starting out cold but quickly warming.  We were lucky to have our dream team working on the skis - John Eldredge and Steve DeAngelis joined us, with Luca and Orion helping with testing.  This was fantastic - it allowed us to get a bunch of waxes on the snow and make adjustments quickly to keep up with the changing conditions.  We got skis dialed in nicely for the women, and things were looking good at the start.  Renae got off to a great start and kept getting stronger throughout the race - she flew up High School Hill every lap and kept picking people off, ending up with a nice PR in 7th.   Lily also skied a big race - she went out hard and was able to hang on to the chase pack for a fantastic 16th place finish.  Perrin had a nice race as well, setting a new PR in 42nd.  There was one major cloud over this otherwise great race, though:  Gabby got cut off by another skier just a few hundred meters in and ended up in a tangle.  She recovered quickly but the lead pack was long gone.  She put up a heroic fight and worked her way back to the top 20, but couldn't get any higher, ending in 18th.  Meanwhile, another skier on the NCAA bubble had a great race to lock up the last qualifying spot.  This one really hurts - I don't know if I've ever felt so disappointed about the outcome of a ski race before.  We knew Gabby was poised for a great race, and I know she would have had a shot at staying with Renae and skiing top 10.  I guess that's life on the bubble.  Not much to be done besides train hard and come back strong next year - I know she will.

The men had a tough act to follow, and also tougher conditions - the sun kept beating down and the snow kept warming.  After last weekend, most of the guys were a bit reluctant to get extra kick to stay ahead of the warming, so we got them dialed for the moment and hoped for the best.  Not surprisingly, we had good skis for two laps, and after that it was just survival - the sunny hills got really slick, and it became a double pole and run fest (not just for us, but for most of the field).  Elliot ended up 16th, with Sean 26th and Christian 31st.  Not the closing race we were looking for, but not a bad showing on a tough day.  Noah E was the lone guy to ask for pre-emptive kick, and it turned out to be a great decision - his skis worked well throughout the race, and he once again bettered his PR with a 32nd place finish.  It's been fun watching him break through in the second half of the season - very encouraging signs for the future!  Overall, Regionals was a great finish to a very successful carnival season.  We were 4th again - pretty gratifying to have our best 2 showings to close out the season.  It's hard to believe that we've been solidly in the upper half of the league these last two years, after so many years of inching our way up from the bottom.  On our best days, we're at the top of the EISA's second tier - it's going to take a ridiculously large jump to get into the top tier, but you'd better believe that we're going to try in the coming years.

So, that's our last carnival for 2019 - but the season's not over yet!  Elliot and Renae are going on to NCAAs in Stowe - the big finish is next week.  Meanwhile, several others will be racing into March - Rangeley Loppet this weekend, and all kinds of other possibilities after that.

Sadly, the end of the carnival season means the end of Sean's college career.  It's been a joy watching Sean grow as a skier and as a person these last few years.  He's been such a big figure on our team for so long - it's hard to imagine Bowdoin Nordic without him.  For years Sean has set the tone in training and provided a great example of how to be a college ski racer - he's helped shape the way our whole team approaches the sport.  No one loves this team more than Sean, and we are going to miss him so much.  Thanks for everything, Sean!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Dartmouth Carnival 2019

Fun weekend in New Hampshire for the Dartmouth Carnival.  Warm weather last week made things a little touch-and-go, but the race volunteers did a ton of shoveling and got the course in great shape.  Friday morning was warm with occasional rain showers, but the skiing was nice and fast.  We dumped a ton of fluoros into the skis and sent the women off for the 10k skate.  Renae led the way in 14th place - one of her best skate finishes ever.  The sun came out for the men's 15k - didn't hurt the early starters much, but as the race wore on the snow got slushy.  Things slowed way down, and it became a brutal battle of attrition - the difference between people's first and third laps was striking.  I'm proud to say that our skiers did a great job of holding technique together for the whole race - although they slowed down like everyone else, their skiing stayed solid.  Strangely, we didn't get paid back with great results - they were solid, but not quite what I'd expected given how well they skied.  That's always a bit frustrating, but some days are like that - just a reminder of how competitive the league is.  Elliot led the way in 15th, with Christian close behind in 18th - his best skate finish of the season.

Things got nice and cold overnight and we had some great klister skiing for the 3x5k classic relay.  The 2.5k loop had only one big climb and a lot of rolling stuff, so we were looking for speed and just enough kick to get through a few tough spots - with volunteer assistant coach John Eldredge helping out, we got the skis dialed in nicely.  Gabby got our first team off to a great start, tagging off at the front of the chase pack in 5th.  The Midd team got past Lily, but she pulled away from the rest and handed off a solid lead to Renae, who widened the lead and brought us home in an outstanding 6th place finish, behind the top 2 teams from UVM and Dartmouth as well as Midd's first team - great showing!  Our second team ran into a few bumps with four falls, but they kept fighting and kept themselves right in the mix - judging by their place in the pack I never would have known that they'd had all those falls.  Perrin, originally slated to be our wax tech, was also able to race thanks to a kind invitation from one of Dartmouth's teams that was one skier short - she crushed it and moved them up several places on the final leg.  The men followed up with an equally strong showing - Sean and Noah E were absolute heroes on the first leg, putting us right in the thick of it, and Christian and Cirque both kept us there for the second leg.  Elliot got the tag in 7th with two Williams skiers right next to him - he was able to pull away, catch Colby, and come close to Midd and Laval to finish in 6th - another kilometer and he might have had them.  He skied the fastest third leg of the day.  Meanwhile, Luca showed some serious grit by battling with the Dartmouth and UNH first teams - they ultimately got away from him, but it was pretty cool for him to be scrapping with those guys.  Our second team finished ahead of everyone's second team except UVM and Williams, and beat several first teams as well.  A great effort by the whole team - it's so rare to have everyone skiing well on the same day, so this was pretty special.  Sometimes relays bring out the best in everyone - I'm glad that's how it worked out for us.  After the race was the usual Carni Crush shenanigans - I kept my distance as usual, but from the noise and the smiles, I'm pretty sure everyone had a great time.

Back in Maine there was more racing action.  Noah G and Orion took 1-2 in the John Roderick Memorial 15k in Rumford.  Rachel Z joined them and took 2nd for women.  This was the frosting on the cake of a great day for the whole team!

We were incredibly fortunate to be hosted by Perrin's family last weekend - the women stayed with them and the men stayed with family friends/relatives, the Bandler/Holcombe family.  Both houses were amazing and the hospitality was fantastic.  The Millikens hosted dinner both nights, including a bunch of Bowdoin ski parents on Friday night.  It was so nice to have this big group together - a real family feel.  The whole weekend just felt really special and fun, and our hosts were a huge part of this.  Thanks so much to the Millikens, the Bandler/Holcombes, and all of the Bowdoin Nordic parents who do so much.  And thanks especially to John Eldredge, who continues to be a huge help and a real good luck charm on classic days.  Great weekend - can't wait for more at Middlebury!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

UVM Carnival 2019

Back to Trapps for the UVM Carnival this year!  We missed Trapps last year, so it was good to be back.  No troubles this year - trails were gorgeous and snow was plentiful.  It was also really cold!  Friday's 5/10k skate was windy, too - that was nice.  Didn't stop our women from crushing it - very solid performance all around, led by Renae in 16th.  The men were not quite as sharp - Christian was our top finisher in 25th.  We haven't quite hit our stride with skate yet - most of our skiers haven't done much distance skate yet in 2019, so we'll be looking to sharpen this up in the second half of the season.

We had beautiful conditions for the 15/20k mass start classic - firm tracks and fresh snow.  We were also lucky to have Rachel helping with testing and Steve DeAngelis on application - so nice to have a wax crew!  The women did a nice job of putting themselves in competitive positions out of the start.  Gabby was her usual tenacious self - she stuck with the leaders from the beginning and held on for 11th.  Renae was right in with the lead group as well, but unfortunately a skier crashed in front of her and she couldn't avoid going into the powder and losing a ton of time - always a bummer, but she kept fighting and moved up remarkably well to finish 21st.  She told me afterward that she was basically sprinting for 13k trying to make up lost ground - perhaps a moral victory and a confidence boost there, knowing that she has the fitness to hold a fast pace for a full 15k.  Lily closed out the scoring in 29th - three skiers in the top 30 is always a good day!  The men held up their end of the deal - Christian 25th, Sean 26th, and Cirque with a huge personal best in 28th!  Christian had a similar experience as Renae, unfortunately - right in with the leaders for 8k before a crash dropped him well back.  Again, it's at least good to know that he can ski at that level - just need to keep him on his feet!  Cirque's race was one of the best performances I've seen from a Bowdoin skier in a long time.  Before the race he told me he had a plan that was probably a bad idea - go out hard and see if he could stick with the fast guys long enough to finish top 30.  Of course I told him to go for it - he's been skiing great all season, so why not take a chance and try for a home run?  He got himself solidly in the 30s in the early going before gradually skiing away from his pack and moving up place by place to score a huge PR.  It was pretty inspiring to watch - it's not easy to pull off a jump to the next level, but he skied his plan and made it happen.  I love seeing our people skiing with well-earned confidence - it makes all the difference in the world!

Overall a strong finish to the weekend - it's not often that we've had all 6 of our scorers in the top 30.  This showing was particularly notable because Elliot was out sick for the weekend - can't wait to see what we can do when our team is back at full strength!  Now we're fully into the second half of our season - off to Hanover for the Dartmouth Carnival this weekend.  Everything we've done for the past several months has been built around skiing fast in February, so now's the time to cash in!