Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Graduation 2017

The Class of 2017 graduated last weekend - sad and sweet as always.  Mac and Hannah have been mainstays on our team for the last four years - it's hard to think of two people who have played such a significant role in shaping Bowdoin Nordic.  These guys have epitomized everything a Bowdoin athlete should be - they've worked hard and enjoyed great success in school and on the ski trails, and they've done it all with a fun-loving, team-first spirit.  I couldn't have asked for any more than they've given the ski program these last few years.  Now they're off to new adventures - Hannah is headed to Switzerland on a Fulbright Scholarship to continue her geological research, and Mac is going to teach chemistry and coach skiing at the Dublin School in New Hampshire.  Congratulations Hannah and Mac!

Thanks for Meg Groves for these great photos!

Friday, May 12, 2017

2017 Thoughts

Every spring I write a post about things we learned from the previous season.  Here are a few thoughts from 2017:

Klister application – Working with Ian has been really good for my klister skills.  Ian is an old-school New Englander – very frugal.  This is apparent in his ultra-thin klister applications.  I’m a big “thin to win” guy with hardwax, but for some reason I tend to go a bit thicker with klister.  It turns out that the Ian method is vastly superior – the thinner application often provides enough kick by itself, and naturally it’s much faster.  And if it turns out that we need more kick, it’s way easier to make adjustments when you’re working on top of a thin layer.  Clever coaches already knew this, of course, but no one ever accused me of being clever.  Can’t believe it took me 17 years to figure this out.

Strength vs stability – For years I’ve been a big proponent of bodyweight strength training, or calisthenics, and I still am.  Calisthenics require a lot of stability, and each exercise activates a wide range of muscles.  If you’re not able to use all those little stabilizing muscles to lock down your joints, it doesn’t matter how strong the prime movers are – you’re leaking energy with each stroke, and you’re not skiing fast.  Having said that, I’ll admit that calisthenics aren’t as efficient as weight training when it comes to building pure strength in the prime movers.  I think I’m ready to stop trying to accomplish both goals within a single calisthenics-based workout.  I’m never going to be willing to spend a lot of our limited training time in the weight room, but I can talk myself into a few focused weight sessions supplemented with small frequent doses of stability training.  If I can plan this out right, we could actually open up more time for endurance and/or ski-specific training while still addressing our strength/stability needs effectively.

No-pole skiing – Everyone knows that no-pole skiing is one of the best ways to improve technique.  It’s also great for improving muscular endurance in the legs.  As we do more and more double pole training and get stronger and stronger in our upper bodies, it becomes more apparent that not all of our skiers have adequate fitness in their lower bodies.  If we focus on no-pole training even half as much as we’ve been focusing on double pole training, we’ll make big gains here.

Non-carnival skiers – We went from 13 skiers last year to 18 this year – our biggest team in years.  Big numbers means that some people don’t get to race in some carnivals.  This can be mentally tough for the skiers who are staying home – it can be hard to stay motivated for training and get excited to ski in non-carnival races.  A lack of engagement in some skiers is going to affect the whole team, so this is not a great situation.  It looks like the team will be getting even bigger next year, so we need to be thoughtful about how we manage the non-carnival group as the season goes on – establishing clear expectations, finding (or creating) good race opportunities and committing to them ahead of time, and holding people accountable for continuing to train and race outside the carnival scene.

So those are a few of my thoughts as I’m writing summer training plans and looking ahead to next season.  Meanwhile, the skiers are hard at work preparing for exams – almost done with the school year!  The sun is finally shining, the leaves are coming out, and campus is looking beautiful – looking forward to ending this fine year with a couple weeks of fine weather.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sapporo and Quebec

A brief report on the international racing by Bowdoin Nordic folks these past few days.  First, Jake went straight from PyeongChang to Sapporo, Japan, for the final races of the Paralympic World Cup.  He and Sawyer took silver in the 10k skate and then gold in the 5k classic.  Five World Cup races, five podiums, including three wins.  It is super encouraging to see that Jake is so competitive internationally - a great sign that he's on the right track as we head into the offseason with an eye on the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.
Skate Results
Classic Results

Meanwhile, Kaitlynn Miller '14 was competing at World Cup Finals in Quebec City.  Sometimes the best Europeans don't come over for North American events, but they certainly did this time - all of the top skiers were there.  Kaitlynn acquitted herself well in the three-stage mini-tour, finishing 52nd overall.  We're all really proud to see her holding her own against the very best in the world!
Skate Sprint Results
10k Classic Results
10k Skate Pursuit Results
Half the team made it up to Quebec to watch the races - such an amazing opportunity to have World Cup races just a few hours from campus!  Looks like they took advantage of it and had lots of fun.  They also scored some photos with ski celebrities.  Here's a photo courtesy of Fiona:

No, that's not Hannah Wright '13 - that's World Cup winner Marit Bjoergen!  Very cool.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Jake in PyeongChang

While Hannah was tearing it up at NCAAs, Jake was in PyeongChang, South Korea, for a Paralympic World Cup test event.  PyeongChang is hosting the Paralympic Winter Games next year, and this event was a chance for athletes and organizers to do a run-through in preparation for the big show next year.  Happily, these races coincided with Bowdoin's Spring Break, so Jake hopped on a plane right after classes ended last week, flew halfway around the world, and jumped into the races shortly after landing.  Apparently the jet lag didn't bother him too much, because he won gold in the 20k skate!  He followed that up with a win in the classic sprint and then a 3rd place finish in the 10k classic a couple days later.  A very impressive showing for Jake and guide Sawyer Kesselheim in their first international races together, and a major confidence booster for next year's Games.

20k Skate Results
Classic Sprint Results
10k Classic Results

Here are a few photos from the 20k, courtesy of John Farra:

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

NCAA Championships 2017

What a week!  The 2017 version of NCAAs was full of highs and lows, crazy weather, and great skiing.  We left Bowdoin on a Tuesday afternoon and made it to Jackson in time for a short ski before the banquet.  Jackson had surprisingly good snow despite the outrageous thaw that tore through New England over the last couple weeks - somehow, they still had the full 5k loop open with good coverage.  I don't think very many places in the East could have pulled off this championships on a 5k loop - we're lucky this was happening in Jackson.  The banquet was nice - great food at an imposing venue (the Mount Washington Hotel).  It was also a nice chance to catch up with fellow skiers and coaches, most notably Nick Crawford '09 (finishing his 2nd year as head coach at Alaska-Fairbanks) and Jackson Bloch '15 (killing it all year long as Colby's assistant coach).

After spending Wednesday testing klisters on the fully transformed snow, we awoke for Thursday's classic race to find a dusting of fresh powder on the ground.  Not a problem - we had a star test pilot (Kaitlynn) helping us, and we quickly found an assortment of klisters that worked in the fresh/transformed mix, and everything was going according to plan as homed in on the best option.  Just as we were ready to make a call, the wind kicked up and a mini-blizzard blasted the course and coated everything with more powder.  That threw us all back to the start - every team was scrambling around trying to adapt at the last minute.  We tested several options as quickly as we could and found nothing that was perfect - klisters were too grabby and prone to clumping even with a cover, hard wax was too slick, and zeroes were pretty bad in both departments.  With time running out, the four of us huddled up and agreed that our best shot was to go with hard wax and let Hannah try to make it work.  This wasn't a disaster, but it wasn't the best call either - her skis stayed free, but they just didn't kick well enough - too much running, too much jumping in and out of the track, and too much forced double poling.  She ended up 31st - a respectable finish, but we all knew that she was capable of more, so overall it was a disappointing day.  There was some small comfort in knowing that no one came up with a perfect solution - all of us coaches talked about the crazy waxing afterward, and I heard a lot of horror stories about slow skis and even skiers falling on their faces due to grabby klister.  Still, the race was a hard pill to swallow - any athlete hates being limited by subpar skis, and any coach hates missing the wax.  Fortunately, Hannah is pretty even-keeled - we walked away determined to nail it in Saturday's skate.

Over the next 48 hours, temps dropped steadily and the wind gradually picked up.  By Saturday morning, it was super cold and super windy - single digit temps, with wind chill values way below zero.  Fortunately, we were waxing inside a nice walled tent, and the folks at Jackson went above and beyond to provide a heater that kept it in the 20s.  Since the women were racing at noon and the temps were forecast to remain stable all morning, we had plenty of time to get the skis dialed in.  Normally we keep it simple and only test topcoats and structure on race day, but with so much time and only one athlete we had the luxury of testing everything, and we did - HF paraffins, powders, topcoats, and structure (we'd tested base layers the day before).  Everything was running fast, but we teased out some differences and waxed up Hannah's skis with confidence.  As the race got closer, a bunch of ski team members showed up, and suddenly there was a comfortable, familiar feel to everything.  When the gun finally went off, the start was pretty clean, but a couple skiers got hung up in front of Hannah, and she was near the back in 35th as the pack went into the woods.  She must have made some aggressive moves on the ensuing climbs, because when we saw her next at 2k, she was right in the thick of it in the low 20s.  By the end of the first lap, she'd moved into 18th and was in the process of bridging the gap to the group ahead of her.  It was clear that she was feeling it, and I started to get this irrational sense of optimism.  As the race went on, every time we saw her she'd gained another place or two, and by the end of the second lap she was just outside the top 10 - All-American was in sight heading into the woods for the last time.  We were all going crazy.  I don't think I've ever been so excited watching a ski race, but I wasn't nervous at all - it just seemed inevitable that she was going to get into the top 10.  I was right.  She burst out of the woods in 10th place and held off the chasers in the final sprint around the field.  10th place - All-American!  Such a great scene at the finish - one happy skier and a bunch of happy fans.  The whole thing just felt so right and so well-deserved - Hannah has had more than her share of hurdles over the last couple years.  Last year mid-season illness kept her from going to NCAAs and cashing in on an outstanding year of training.  After another great round of summer training, this fall there was always an ill-timed cold or field trip or some such thing setting her back.  Sometimes it felt like it just wasn't meant to be.  None of that matters now.  Hannah is an All-American - she owns the best NCAA performance in Bowdoin Nordic history.  She was the top D3 finisher and the 3rd Easterner.  I couldn't have imagined a more perfect way to end her college career.

Lots of people helped to make this happen.  Ian must have waxed a hundred pairs of skis last week.  Kaitlynn was indispensable in testing and helping Hannah stay grounded.  And of course dozens of friends, teammates, alumni, and family members provided love and support, either in person or from a distance.  In particular, many thanks to Deb Miller for the great photos accompanying this post!  We're so lucky to have a great community of people surrounding our team - I've never felt that more strongly than I did last week.

And that's the end of the 2017 college season!  There are still a few more races to go, of course.  Jake is off at the Paralympic World Cup in PyeongChang - still one race to go (more about this coming soon).  A few people may jump into March marathons or some other random event.  I'll keep the updates coming as this fantastic season wraps up.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Regionals 2017

It happens every year - all of a sudden it's Regionals, and we're left wondering where the season went.  Six weeks, six carnivals - it goes by so fast!  This year Bates and Black Mountain were the hosts for our regular season finale.  After the massive snows of mid-February, we got an equally massive thaw - super warm temps all week leading up to the carnival.  Friday brought blazing sun and temps in the 50s for the 5/10k classic race.  The men's race was first - sadly, it just wasn't their day.  Most of our guys were a little off, and it didn't help that the skis dragged a bit.  Very disappointing after a season full of great classic performances.  The women were sharper and their skis ran well, and they put up some strong results.  Hannah posted her best distance result ever in 5th - one of Bowdoin Nordic's very best performances ever!  Lily also tied her distance PR, finishing 39th.  This race also served as the Chummy Broomhall Cup, or the Maine State Championship.  We finished 3rd - Lily and Sean earned Second Team All-State honors, while Hannah made the First Team.  Congratulations to Bates for a great showing to win the Cup, highlighted by an impressive victory in the overall carnival by Sadie James (sister of Bowdoin Nordic legend Emma James '13)!  UMPI also had an amazing day - their men came out of nowhere to finish 3rd overall and 1st for the Maine teams.  Obviously we're disappointed that we weren't able to put up a better showing in a race that's been a major target for us all season, but at the same time we're happy for all of these guys.  It's good for the league when new teams and individuals rise to the top - plus, all of us Maine teams have to stick together!

Clouds and rain replaced the sun the next morning, and the track was wet and slushy for the 15/20k skate.  The men's race featured a pileup right out of the gate - someone caught a ski in the slush and went down, and several skiers got tangled up, including Christian and Sam.  They both recovered nicely and skied calmly to make up for lost time.  Christian was able to catch up to the pack remarkably quickly, and pretty soon he, Jake, Mac, and Orion were skiing together, with Sean slightly ahead.  This has been the standard pattern for our men in the mass start races this year, and as usual they moved up gradually as the race went on.  Going into the final lap, Jake found an extra gear and surged ahead - Christian went with him and they picked off several more skiers before finishing in 23rd and 27th, respectively, with Mac and Sean close behind.  This was a PR for Jake - a strong and encouraging performance to finish the carnival season.  The start of the women's race was much cleaner - no major mishaps except for one unlucky person who lost a basket when her pole got stepped on.  Sadly for us, that person was Hannah.  She had just passed a crowd of people with replacement poles and was about to head into the woods, so she actually had to stop and ski backward for a couple strides.  Fortunately, Middlebury coach Andrew Johnson made a heroic effort to throw her a new pole, and she was able to get back on track.  Amazingly, she made up a ton of ground in a hurry - by the time I saw her at 3 1/2 k, she had moved to the front of the chase pack and was close behind the leaders.  By the start of the second lap, she had bridged the gap and was skiing in the top 10!  As the lead pack dwindled, she stayed right with them until it was down to 5.  They finally dropped her going up High School Hill for the third and final time, but she was able to stay clear of the chasing skiers and lock up another 5th place finish to put the cap on a fantastic weekend.  Meanwhile, the rest of the women were skiing strongly as well.  Apparently Lily fell 3 times and managed to take Fiona out during one of those falls, so that wasn't amazing, but she made up for it with an incredible third lap - she made such a huge jump that I almost missed her coming through on her final lap much earlier than I'd expected.  She finished 43rd - definitely her best 15k of the year.  Katja also skied a nice steady race, starting conservatively and skiing smoothly to pick up several places and finish in 54th - her best performance of the season.  Overall, it was a good day to end on.  Hannah's stellar finishes clinched an NCAA berth, so she's headed to Jackson next week for one last blaze of glory before her college careers winds up.  Mac has skied his final college race, sadly - "out to pasture", as he puts it.  These two have been such an integral part of our team over the last 4 years - they both played a huge role into shaping the team into what it is today, and they'll be impossible to replace.  We'll miss them both so much!

Many thanks to all of the team parents for their hard work and support all year long.  We had a great turnout of supporters for this carnival - family members, friends, alumni, and teammates showed up in great numbers and gave the whole weekend a fun and friendly feel.  In particular, thanks to Deb Miller, Meg Groves, Jim Ahearne, and Steve Fuller of Flying Point Road for the great photos in this post!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Middlebury Carnival 2017

Middlebury Carnival was one of our best so far!  Our team always really enjoys this carnival - nice venue, fun course, great lodging at the Midd Inn, and of course wonderful team dinners at the Groves house.  So all this positive energy must have added up to give us a boost last weekend.  The women were sharp in the 15k skate.  Hannah hung onto the lead pack until the final couple kilometers when things broke up, ending in 8th.  Ellie eased into the first couple k and then something clicked - she got a look on her face that I've seen in a few of her best races, and from there on she started passing people left and right to finish in 36th.  Rachel scored a big PR in 53rd, including a great finishing push to pick up one more place in the final few hundred meters.  It was particularly great to see these two put up great races, because this was their last race of the season - they're both headed to New Zealand for a semester abroad.  Very satisfying way to finish.  The men followed up with a great 20k performance.  Just like our last mass start in Jackson, they started out fairly conservatively.  Mac and Christian started in the middle of the pack - around halfway they caught up to Sean, with Orion close behind, and they worked their way up in a little cluster to finish with 3 in the top 25 - Mac 20th, Christian 23rd, and Sean 24th, with Orion not far back in 34th.  Christian has been really consistent all season, with several finishes in the 30s, but I knew he had a bigger race waiting to come out, and it was great to see him smash the top 30 barrier so decisively.  We now have 9 skiers who have posted top 30 finishes this season!  I think our previous best was 5, so this is a level of depth that we've never seen before - exciting stuff.

After the usual goofy team activities in the Porter Mansion that evening, the team woke up energized and ready to crush the classic sprint relay on a beautiful sunny morning.  Hannah got off to a hot start for our first team, and we were all super stoked to see her burst out of the woods with a gap on the pack - first time we've ever led a relay!  Asking a first-year to take over in the lead with all the top teams chasing is a tall order, but Lily is a tough customer.  She battled hard and stayed in contact with the skiers who passed her - only Dartmouth's first team got away.  The next four legs played out in a similar fashion - a blistering leg from Hannah to jump us up into second and then gritty skiing from Lily to keep us in contention.  UNH and the second Dartmouth team were able to slip past Lily in the last few hundred meters, but she finished right on their heels and held off the other teams to lock up a 4th place finish!  This was our second best relay finish ever - a real thrill to see our team contending with the best in the league.  Fiona and Katja were solid as well and hung in there with several of the other second and third teams - good skiing by the whole group.  Temps warmed up quickly for the men's race, which made for a bit of a mess - the snow became too warm and wet for hard wax, but not transformed enough for klister.  We ran out of time to test (things were changing too fast to keep up with anyway), so we threw out our best guess and hoped for good luck.  Sean's skis weren't great, but he was right in the thick of it when he came out of the woods - until his klister caught.  He crashed, broke a pole, and got tangled up with another skier - by the time he got free and tagged off to Mac, we'd lost a ton of time.  Double poling on skate skis, Mac put up some fast times, and Sean kept fighting despite variable skis - they were able to hold off Colby's top team and finish a solid 12th.  Meanwhile, Jake and Sam were skiing well and staying right with our first team, until Sam broke a pole on his final lap.  A broken pole is never a good thing, but when you're double poling on skate skis it's a rather huge problem.  Sam showed good fire grinding it out with one pole, but this bit of misfortune dropped them way back.  By the time Christian and Orion went out in the second heat, we'd had time to identify a more workable klister, but not enough time to actually put it on anyone's skis, so we ended up putting Orion on my test skis (Christian was double poling anyway).  They weren't super fast, but they kicked well and stayed free, and these guys were able to have a solid race with no crashes.  Overall a good day despite frustrations with the men's waxing situation - I took some small comfort from seeing that the other coaches were having similar challenges.

Many thanks to Meg and Laurie Groves for hosting us for dinner two nights in a row (and for some of these great photos)!  Thanks also to Deb Miller for tons of photos, and to all the parents who came out to support us.  Looking forward to finishing the regular season strong this weekend at Black Mountain.  It's not only the Regional Championships, but also the 11th Annual Broomhall Cup - can't wait!