Tales of a first-time race director

(All photos taken by Nancy Moran. These are just snapshots from a small digital camera, but Nancy, my neighbor in Craftsbury, is an amazingly accomplished photographer – check out her website!)

For weeks now, I have been planning a celebration of National Trails Day for the Craftsbury Outdoor Center. I excitedly picked a slate of events from all the ideas we had thrown out there, and we settled on four: a trail race, a nature walk, a pizza party, and volunteer trailwork. I had my work cut out for me coordinating all the various pieces, but the race was the thing I was most nervous about: most of the other activities depended on other people, but the race, well, that was all on me. Plus it was supposed to be a fundraiser for the Northern Rivers Land Trust (my idea), so if it didn’t do well, I would feel beholden to all of their board members, not just my fellow staff at the Outdoor Center. But in the few days leading up to THE BIG DAY, things seemed to be coming together. I was confident that the whole thing would be a big success.

Then it started raining.

And it kept raining.

And it rained some more, like pouring piss out of a boot. (I picked up this phrase from my parents at a young age… I am not really sure what it refers to, but I like it.)

I was sure that nobody would show up. But I still went to the Touring Center and set up shop, and sure enough, just at the time that registration was supposed to open, a man from Montpelier came walking through the door. I breathed a sigh of relief: we were going to have a race after all!

By 9:30, we had 13 participants signed up. That’s hardly a big number to start with, but when you take out the people that I know, it becomes downright miniscule. First, my teammates Ollie Burruss, Ida Sargent, and Dylan McGuffin raced. Also, Dick Dreissigacker and Judy Geer, who run the Center, took part. Ollie’s girlfriend Anna Schulz came too, and convinced her parents, Amy and Eric, to join in. That left Adrian Owens and George Hall, members of the Craftsbury Nordic Ski Club, plus the gentleman from Montpelier, and two five-year-olds who were running the kids’ race together.

I shepherded everyone to the starting line, which, since I hadn’t planned things out very well, was really just an imaginary line between the two soccer goals in our upper field. After a brief set of instructions that went something like, “Follow the signs for Race Loop. And the signs we pounded into the ground. And Judy pounded them into the ground so if you get lost, talk to her….”, I sent them off in the pouring rain, around a course that even under the best of circumstances is one of the toughest 5k’s I’ve ever run.

Thank goodness I wasn’t racing myself!

Me and my timers trekked down to the lower field, where the race would finish. And we waited. And we waited. After a while the kids, who had only run a 2k loop, came in, all smiles and completely adorable. They had run the whole course, which blew my mind – they were 5 years old! They proudly told us that it was their second race, and pointed out that they had finished before the grown-ups which definitely meant they were faster. So, so cute.

Quite a bit later Ollie and Dylan rolled in. As I tried to write down their bib numbers and times, my pen literally ripped through the soaking-wet paper on my clipboard. Great. I momentarily wondered if we would be having any results at all.

They are both quite good runners, and even though Dylan had been doing the race as a tempo workout their time of 20:30 was quite slow for them. I was dismayed at how terrible the conditions must have been out there and felt really bad for the other 9 racers still out on the course. But Dylan insisted that it was really fun and he loved the course, so that made me feel a little better.

When Ida finished, she was mad. She had just returned from a semester in France the night before, and said, “All I wanted to do was go for a nice rollerski and speak English. What I ended up doing was running in the rain, completely by myself. Every time I saw a shortcut I thought about taking it.”

Oops. So, that started making me feel not so good again.

The last two people to roll in were Anna and her mother. It turns out that this had been Amy’s first running race, ever. And she didn’t exactly enjoy it. I really hope this doesn’t mean that she never does another one. But, on the upside, there were three women in the race, so all of them got to take home some of the peanut butter cookies I had made for prizes. I think that cheered her up at least a little bit.

And that was it for the race. All over. I hope my next event is more successful… maybe the weather will cooperate a little better.

The nature walk and trailwork were canceled due to nobody showing up in the pouring rain, but we still made pizza in our outdoor bread oven. And it was good. Amen.

Welcome home to Craftsbury

I realized that I’ve been posting basically non-stop, and none of it has been about skiing. I hope nobody’s disappointed. To me, training for skiing is what I do every day, and it’s often not exciting. I always feel like I would be boring people if I talked about training all the time: it’s so repetitive, and the things that make one session distinct from the next are often small. I only want to blog about skiing when something exciting or notable happens. So I have found other things to blog about.

But it is, after all, skiing which brought me back to Craftsbury after my “vacation” in Nova Scotia and Maine. And I am happy that it did.

I am just finishing my first week back in town (or, “town”), and for the first time I remember what it feels like to be tired – the kind of tired where you want to sit on the couch all afternoon, and the kind of tired where doing any meaningful work is like an uphill battle. I have trained approximately 10 hours in the last week, so I shouldn’t be exhausted – it just goes to show that even if your workouts are going well, getting back into things can be tougher than you think after you’ve taken a break.

When I think of spring training, I think of playtime, basically. I think of running on the trails, road biking for hours, basically doing whatever sounds like fun that day. Since my return, training has not been like that. I was welcomed back on Wednesday morning to some 90% max intervals on the SkiErg (double-pole machine). Saturday, step test on the SkiErg. Sunday, 5k test on the SkiErg. Today, 1k test on the SkiErg.

On a few of the days it was raining (or snowing) out so being inside didn’t seem so bad, but a few of these days were sunny andbeautiful and I stared longingly out the windows as I was warming up. Due to the early, warm spring, things are already incredibly green in the Northeast Kingdom. Wildflowers are blooming – strawberry, violet, some kind of marsh marigold. Ferns are unfurling. You can see the bright new needles on the conifers next to the older, darker growth. (Less excitingly, the blackflies are out.)

Despite all of that, the tests didn’t go so badly. I have lost very little of my aerobic fitness over the last month – although regular readers might remember that my last few months of the ski season were horrendous, so it’s questionable whether that presents any sort of meaningful baseline. I set a personal best in the 1k test, beating my time from last season. I wasn’t far off in the 5k, either, and mainly missed it because I went too easy in the beginning. 5k is a long time to be on a SkiErg, and I was afraid, so early in the spring, of starting too hard and then suffering through many minutes of bonking. In addition I recorded my highest heart rate on the SkiErg ever, and I think my highest lactate at the end of a test as well.

I don’t want this to sound too much like bragging. As Pepa told me several times last year, I am “good athlete, but not good skier.” I still need to raise my VO2Max considerably. And we had our first rollerski of the season yesterday. My technique is miles ahead of where it was when I started rollerskiing last year, but I am still very inefficient and need to work on my power application – fitness and strength doesn’t matter if you can’t apply it to skiing. My SkiErg test results show that I’ve come a long way towards being a skier, but the rollerski part of things is still problematic. I have my work cut out for me this summer. It’s not going to be easy, but its work I’m ready to do.

We seem to be done with the tests for a bit, so I will get a few more opportunities to run on the trails, bike on the roads, and row on the lake. Spring is one of my favorite seasons (I think I say that about every season!) and I am eager to get out and enjoy it. I’m happy to be back in Craftsbury and embarking on the ski adventure once again – even if sometimes it makes me turn into a couch potato in the afternoons!

Training notes: Autumn in Vermont

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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”.

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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.

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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…

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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.