Ski Incline!

Ida and I on the Tahoe Rim Trail.

For the last ten days, the Craftsbury Green Racing Project has been holding a training camp at Lake Tahoe. Why? People keep asking me if we’re chasing snow. Nope. The main goal of the camp is to get some altitude training in – ideally, we’d be skiing at altitude, but doing dryland at altitude is the next best thing. Tickets were cheap and we have a free place to stay in Incline Village, so things are working out well.

We’ve had many beautiful, sunny, warm workouts – exactly what one would expect in California. This makes it all the more surprising when things turn nasty.

Last night, Hannah and I sat in the hot tub as tiny snowflakes fell all around us. It had been cold all day, but at least sunny, and we merrily imagined snow piling up on the neighboring golf course. After all, there had to be some place we could dig up skis, even if they were kind of clunky.

In the morning, we faced reality. Not much snow had accumulated on the ground, but the roads were covered in a layer of black ice and snow had piled up on the shoulders, swept there by the passing cars. Motivation for our two-hour rollerski was low. Perhaps nonexistent. I crawled back into bed after breakfast, and thought over and over about how tired I was. Maybe I should just take a day off…

But no. I correctly recognized that while I was tired – the last week has been big on volume – I mostly was just being a wuss. I strapped on my skate boots, my warmest spandex, several layers on top, and actual ski gloves. We hit the streets.

I almost immediately found that I couldn’t skate on large sections of the road. My skis slipped out as I kicked, leaving me unbalanced and, mostly, frustrated. We double-poled the iciest sections, and even then, it took concentration to keep our skis upright and moving in a straight line. The challenge did have its benefits: before I knew it, twenty minutes had passed. I didn’t have time to complain about the sub-freezing temperatures or how tired I had been. I was just out there, skiing.

We tried to ski up the pass, but after half an hour, gave up. It was just too icy. Instead, we skied through residential neighborhoods along the lake. Adapt and overcome, as Ruff would say….

The tabs open in my browser are getting quite numerous, so here’s a link dump of, as Ollie says (hi Ollie) “things Chelsea has read and wants you to read.”

– One of my cabinmates from the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, when I was working on my thesis, is headed to Copehagen for the climate negotiations! Here’s a little bit about what she has to say. Go Ellie!!

– On energy: Obama can give a darn good speech. But, as climate legislation keeps getting bumped back and as Copenhagen looms, what’s his vision? Come on, buddy…

– On the other hand, apparently doing simple things like changing lightbulbs could actually make a big difference. So everyone, do the 17 things this Science article suggests.

– Closer to home, a Vermont program offering incentives for sustainable energy installments is inundated with applications. Hope all those things get built!

– I suspect that Meatless Mondays would have a similar reception on our team as it did in the Baltimore School System. We may try to sneak it past the boys somehow anyway.

– And finally: “Why Sleepyheads Forget.” We are definitely sleepyheads. Except Ida and Lauren, who wake up early.

This article is about some really cool research calculating Amazonian forest biomass from planes. Sign me up!

“Green” and 350

Today we hiked/ran from Squaw Valley to Donner Pass. Beautiful!

Today we hiked/ran from Squaw Valley to Donner Pass. Beautiful!

When people ask me what it means to be a green ski team, I sometimes struggle to answer. We haven’t changed the world (yet). But we’ve done a few things, we’ve tried to do a few more things, and we organized the Team 350 Challenge.

The idea of the challenge was to get people to think. Our earth’s atmosphere currently has 387 parts per million of carbon dioxide floating around in it. In order to avoid catastrophic environmental effects – which, more than just wrecking the “environment”, which a lot of people don’t really care about, would wreck people’s lives – this level should drop below 350 parts per million. One of these catastrophes is that there would be no snow, and we’d be out of luck for skiing.

We challenged our community, along with the rowing community, to cumulatively train 350 million meters over the course of a month. While our goal was to get as many people signed on as possible, and to log as many meters as we could, I imagined that if 1,000 people each logged 350 thousand meters (350 kilometers), we’d reach our goal. That’s not much more than 10 kilometers per day. There is quite a large number of athletes out there who train that much or more.

While the Team 350 Challenge doesn’t include any specific action to lower the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, each person that signs onto the challenge is aware of the issue. If we could get athletes to think about climate change as they logged their meters online, surely we could make a difference, or at least a statement.

As I write this, nearly 1,500 people have taken up the challenge. Among the names on the honor boards are Green Mountain Valley School coach Justin Beckwith and his team; NCAA All-Americans Rosie Brennan, Susan Dunklee, and Caitlin Patterson; and, of course, all the members of our team. Nearly 100 athletes have completed 350 kilometers of training.

Regardless of the fact that we will not reach our goal, we have reached out to a significant number of people. And this ties back into our goal, into my answer to the first question, into what makes us a “green” racing team. Although acting is undeniably better than thinking, at the very least, our goal is to raise awareness about sustainability issues.

Tim sometimes refers to “the hypocrisy of being a green ski racer.” We will never be a zero-waste, zero-emissions team. It’s not possible. You can’t walk to every race on your own two feet. You can’t train at altitude in Vermont – hence we’re in Lake Tahoe right now.

But we can do as much as we can make sure we are not wasting resources unnecessarily, and to make sure that our competitors are aware of their own effect on the environment. We can do our workouts from our house whenever possible instead of driving somewhere. We can eat as much local food as possible. We can write letters to our legislators and politicians and try to make sure that the Copenhagen negotiations are fruitful.

There is a lot of buzz around 350 right now. We hope that you’re paying attention to what so many people are saying – thanks Andrew Gardner, thanks Steinbock, thanks Sara Renner, thanks to so many others – and we hope you continue to think about it for the rest of the year, too.

Training notes: Autumn in Vermont


Pepa has been in Bulgaria for the last two weeks. Ida, Hannah, Tim, and Lauren have been in Lake Placid for the last week. The rest of us have just tried to hold down the fort.

Training without Pepa is bizarre – I never thought I would say that, because I am proud of the fact that for the last three summers I trained almost entirely by myself. I also just enjoy being alone – there are training days where I like to ski along chatting, but there are also days when it is a relief to be able to use that time to think your own thoughts and be inside your own head. When some of my teammates expressed dismay that we would have to train without Pepa, I basically told them to grow up.

But, really, I miss Pepa. Now there’s nobody to tell us “Good morning, my sleeping beauties,” and nobody to make sure my technique is good when I’m skiing. Some days it was hard to motivate ourselves to go train. It’s especially hard when it’s gray, rainy, and less than 50 degrees out. Those days are toughness training. On one such day, I decided to run our negative-split workout instead of rollerskiing. Ollie decided he was sick, and Matt didn’t decide anything. Instead, he sat around in his training clothes in a perpetual state of indecision about whether to go rollerski, and at the end of the day said, “I blew it. I really need Pepa to come back”.


One of the amazing things about Vermont is that each town seems to have its own weather system. This morning, we started rollerskiing in sunny East Craftsbury. By the time we got over Johnson’s Hill, it was hailing, which wasn’t so bad since it didn’t get us wet. In Greensboro the hail turned to a cold rain. Ida and I, soaked and freezing, turned around to go get jackets and gloves; coming back over Johnson’s Hill it was snowing, but in East Craftsbury it was still sunny. We put our jackets on anyway.


On a less cheerful note, I have developed tendonitis in my elbow. It’s from rollerskiing. It first appeared after our 5-hour classic ski a few weeks ago. I’ve been liberally applying some Bulgarian anti-inflammatory gel, and I thought it was getting better; this turned out to be because I took a break from training, and now that I have skied four days in a row, it’s back with a vengeance. It’s in my left elbow, and Lauren’s theory is that the roads are crowned so the inside pole is planted slightly above the outside pole every time you stride. I am hoping I can make it to ski season without it getting much worse, and that snow will provide a nice low-impact cushion. Until then, I hope to avoid 5-hour rollerskis…


Yesterday morning’s rollerski also left me pretty wet. My boots were literally full of water, to the extent that I could pour it out of them (note: I need to make fenders for my rollerskis). Then in the afternoon, when it was beautiful and sunny, we had BKL practice. I really didn’t want to put my feet back into my soaking-wet boots, so instead I broke out my brand-new pair of Salomon S-Labs, which I had been saving up for when we got on snow. When I went to put them on, I looked in the left boot and saw…. fluff. A mouse house. Apparently nothing is safe from the mice. Luckily, they hadn’t chewed up the boot at all, and also luckily, there weren’t any actual mice in the boot. I was still bitter though.



unrelated: Lauren presses cider as I watch at an event at the Outdoor Center. Photo: Judy Geer.

unrelated: Lauren presses cider as I watch at an event at the Outdoor Center. Photo: Judy Geer.

At lunch today we were sitting around, listening to coach Larry Gluckman and our housemate, Shay Seager, work on a training plan.

Shay is a rower and, although our sports would appear to have much in common, we are still completely mystified whenever the rowers talk about their training. They train at specific stroke rates or wattages; we train at heart rates, which seems much simpler.

We asked Larry why this was. And then we realized that skiing has many fewer variables than rowing: namely, there’s only one of us on each pair of skis. If you have two guys in a boat, you have to give them something in common to shoot for during training. A coach’s job is figuring out how to get each guy to work equally as hard while they row at the same stroke rate.

One thing led to another and soon Larry was telling racing stories. In 2005, he took his Trinity College team – a D-III club which had finished second at their national championships – to the Henley Regatta in England. Henley racing is match racing, a bit like March Madness brackets – each race features only two crews, and the winner advances. Trinity was seeded seventh, and in their second day of racing, they faced the number one seed, Cal’s undefeated freshmen crew (who, Shay pointed out, had beat Cal’s own first varsity that year).

Even though we knew the outcome of the story, we were all on the edges of our seats. Two of our friends, Tom and Peter Graves, were bow and stroke in the boat.

Larry described how they had done scouting. There is a cattle guard on the trail that runs around to the river at the 700 meter mark, and they knew that the Cal boat covered the distance to the barrier faster than they had in their first race. They also knew that their crew was faster over the next part of the course, until the Fawley Farm mark.

“I never told them what to do,” Larry said. “I always let the boys make their own race plan.”

The crew decided that they needed to get out fast, because if they Cal got ahead, it would be very tough to make up time. Then, they would just do what they always did, and hope they could hold it together.

Larry described, a little bit, the scene at Henley. Each team has a few tickets for launches – boats that can drive along beside the race. They are usually used by coaches, but Larry gave the launches to parents and watched from the grandstand instead. At several intervals along the course, there are placards that are updated as the boats pass, showing the relative position of the two crews. It was mainly through these placards that Larry could tell how the race had started.

Trinity rowed out harder than they ever had before, balls to the wall, and after two minutes led by ¾ of a length. Larry was watching from the stands at the finish, and he was pleasantly surprised when he saw the placards.

The Cal crew had never been behind before, but they stayed calm and didn’t panic. Gradually, over the next three minutes, the Cal crew crept up on the Trinity boat. At the second placard, they had made up a quarter of a length, and at the last placard before the finish, it was almost even – in fact, nobody could really tell who was ahead.

“I thought it was over,” said Larry. “I thought that when they rowed to the finish, Cal was just going to slip right by. Plus, the guy in the 3 seat had really bought the farm. He was slumped over his oar, just kind of moving back and forth and maybe – maybe – putting his oar in the water on some of the strokes. He was the strongest guy in the boat, and I have no doubt that he was the main reason we got that ¾ length lead in the first two minutes – but he had spent all his energy.”

As they pushed toward the finish, both crews were rowing harder than they had all season. The giant crowd – ten or twenty thousand – was yelling. Larry isn’t quite sure what the cox told them, but they didn’t lose much ground. Soon there were only 40 or so strokes left, and the crews were still neck and neck.

Larry says that his crews always practice the last 40 strokes, and, in particular, the last 10. You never want to drift over the line; you want to have more momentum than your opponent. So when it got down to here, his crew dug in (the guy in the 3 seat may have even started rowing again) and pulled.

The boats crossed the line and nobody knew who had won. It was quiet. There was no announcement. Larry started walking down to the water, sure that his team had lost.

Then there was an announcement. “Trinity.” Not “Trinity College of Hartford Connecticut of the United States,” like usual (since there are also other Trinity Colleges, like the one in Dublin). Just “Trinity”.

As Larry got down to the enclosure, he saw why. The guy in the 3 seat had completely collapsed and partially fallen out of the boat as they crossed the finish line. His head was in the water, and the guy in front of him was trying to hold him up. A referee’s boat came out to take him out of the boat, but he insisted he was fine. As soon as the boats reached the dock, one on each side, both crews tumbled out and lay down, completely wasted.

“It looked like a war zone,” said Larry. What the men had accomplished was absolutely incredible, and they had paid a serious price for it.

As is sometimes true in tournaments, the next day’s race was much easier. Then, on Sunday, they were in the championship. The number of boats in the boat tent had been reduced from a few hundred to maybe twenty. Half these boats would be champions.

As it turned out, Trinity was one of them. They beat the Yale lightweights. At the end, Tom and Peter stood up, at opposite ends of the boat, turned toward each other, saluted, and sat down. The moment was captured and used as a centerfold in Rowing News.

It was a good race, and they worked hard (the 3 seat again bonked beyond belief), but it was no Cal race. That race garnered them attention and respect. Although they are a D-III team, they now race almost exclusively D-I schools, and based on that one regatta alone were invited to Stanford’s annual invitational.

Listening to the story, we were all completely enthralled. It got our adrenaline going. It made us look forward to racing – in fact, we wanted to go race right then and there.

Get me my skis, the snow is coming.