Piney Relays.

someone else.

Women's nordic team at the ski banquet last spring. Note my awesome bike-jersey tan; it's perfect for formal occasions. Photo credit: someone else.

Monday was our only practice of the year with both nordic and alpine athletes. It was part relay race, part teambuilding. I assumed that meant “easy,” because even the best of the alpine skiers, the All-Americans who can lift twice as much weight as we can, aren’t the quickest runners.

At 2:45, we “nordies” ran out to Oak Hill. After doing weekly intervals there all fall, the jog out is getting a little too familiar. The “pineys” took a bus out instead of running, and I was jealous.

When we arrived, we toured the three race loops. We would have to run each one twice.

The first loop curved up the hill leading out of the stadium, crossed the parking lot, and dropped down to Storrs Pond. Another was an out-and-back on the first hill of the 10k loop. The last was “tree slalom,” winding up and down small, steep hills and narrowly avoiding the big white pines.

We divided into teams of three, with a nordic and an alpine boy and one female skier. My teammates were also seniors, making our team unusual. After all, we were supposed to be making connections with skiers we didn’t know. Sean is a nordie and Michal (pronounced MEE-how) was in my freshman dorm, so we had a head start and could get down to the serious business of racing.

We decided that I would lead off the relay, which consisted of each of us running the first leg, one after the other, and then the second, and so on. I felt like I was back in my high school cross country days as I lined up in the start box.

It was a mad dash up the hill, with runners of us slipping in the mud grass as we tried to get traction. Entering a section of thorny bushes, one of the piney girls darted in front of me to get on the single-track path. I was dismayed. How could I let a piney beat me at my own game?

Along the flat of the parking lot and the access road leading to Area One, I stretched out my stride. It felt good.  Despite the fact that I quit the Dartmouth cross country team after two worse-than-mediocre seasons, I’m in the best shape of my life and that ironically means I’m running faster than I ever did when I raced.

I dropped Corinne Rotter and caught one of the straggling boys, pushing to beat him to the tag zone. When Sean took off, we were solidly in the middle of the pack.

I leaned over to catch my breath and remembered I had five more loops to go. The uphill had not felt good. I chatted with Hannah Dressigacker, who agreed that her legs felt heavy, and had experienced a piney scare of her own. We agreed: we weren’t as fast as usual!

The week before had been a “special intensity week,” with the Moosilauke time trial Sunday, 4 x 4 minute intervals Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and a 5 kilometer rollerski time trial on Friday.

Despite time off and easy distance over the weekend, we hadn’t fully recovered. Training plans depend on having a different focus from week to week, varying the stresses on a skier’s body and forcing it to adapt. Sometimes, you are going to feel tired and slow, but that’s part of the plan.

The teams were in a different order when I started my second leg. I chased down the piney girl who had started in front of me, even though I sometimes felt like I might as well be walking up the hill. Boys who started behind me flew by almost as if I was standing still.

The race wore on and everyone tired. Michal thought he would throw up after every loop he finished; luckily, he didn’t.

When I wasn’t racing, I enjoyed watching the other skiers tackle the tree slalom course. The boys tried to cut the corners as close as possible. A few fell while trying to make quick turns, and they loved to cut each other off and pass on the inside.

It was especially entertaining to watch Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess, who gets quite competitive, attempt to pass 5-foot-1 Alice Bradley, who tried sabotage to hold him off.

The peanut gallery kept track of what was going on. Coaches, injured athletes who had come to spectate, and resting competitors laughed at slips and falls and cheered their teammates as they came into the tag zone.

At the end of the day, Sean, Michal and I finished in the middle of the pack. The race was won by a team of eager freshmen who had somehow amassed a huge lead. I was exhausted; the workout had been far more difficult than expected.

The pineys got back into their buses, and we started jogging back to campus in the gathering dark and cold.

I think the relays achieved their goal of teambuilding. Maybe I can’t remember the names of all of those freshmen boys on the alpine team, but at least I can recognize their faces when I see them on campus.

Culinary adventures, or not.

someone else.

Ski camp is one time when we can cook whatever we darn well please! Mont Saint Anne, Quebec. Photo credit: not me.

I considered last week to be a victory. I can think of only three meals that I ate at the Dartmouth Dining Service (DDS) facilities over seven days.

Why was this a victory? It’s simple: health. When I cook at home, I eat better.

It is certainly possible to eat healthy food on campus. But it is much more possible to do the opposite.

Walking into Food Court, you will often see football players lined up at the grill, awaiting their daily dose of grease: fries, burgers, chicken nuggets, or pizza.

As my housemate Kristin Dewey notes, Food Court provides you the most “calories per dollar” if you’re trying to be economical.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the best place to eat. Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess complains, “I feel gross after eating at DDS… like I’m leaking grease out of my face.”

Maybe Food Court is okay for the football team, but as Kristin says, “It depends on your sport. Runners and skiers can’t carry around too much extra weight!”

I worked hard to lose more than 10 pounds last spring, and I certainly wasn’t eating at Food Court during that time.

That’s the thing: we skiers need a lot of calories, but they have to be the right ones. “DDS can provide a quantity of calories, it’s true,” says Dakota, “but the problem is that when you are entirely missing certain parts of your diet, like good raw vegetables, eating more doesn’t make up for that lack.”

In addition, “The food that is served in significant quantities isn’t very good,” laments Pete Van Deventer. “DDS tends to serve primarily steamed vegetables that lose a lot of their flavor.”

Let me make something clear. I’m not saying that DDS isn’t trying, or that they’re not doing a decent job with what they have to work with. But when you’re trying to feed thousands of students, a drop in quality is to be expected
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When I do have dinner on campus, I tend to eat at the Pavilion, which serves Kosher and Halal food. Relatively few students eat there, and the smaller batches lead to better meals.

Unfortunately, the higher quality food is “expensive to eat in the volumes that I need,” says Pete.

Besides the way the food is prepared, we want to know what we’re eating and where it came from. Three of us took Suzanne Friedberg’s “Food and Power” course last spring; this is stuff we care about.

I really admire the Farm to Dartmouth program, in particular, and wish its scope could be expanded. It only accounts for a small portion of the food that DDS serves.

Hannah Dreissigacker has made a goal of eating no meat from DDS this year. “I’m not a vegetarian, but I’ve been trying to only eat meat that I know the source of, not the crazy hormone-antibiotic-corn stuff that I know is what I’m getting from DDS.”

This is a view shared by quite a few members of our team. Ida Sargent says, “I’m used to eating a lot of natural lean protein and it’s hard to find on campus.” To me, locally sourced beef tastes better than the industrial kind anyway.

This might make me a snob. But I’m trying to take care of my body and give it what it needs to train 10 or 20 hours a week. Dakota says, “As an athlete, I value the ‘quality’ of a calorie first.  If I put junk into my body, I should expect it to run like junk.”

The solution is clearly to cook for ourselves.

A stock meal at my house is pasta – usually tortellini stuffed with cheese or spinach – tossed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chicken sausage, a variety of vegetables, and parmesan cheese.

This simple meal only takes 20 minutes to prepare. I get carbohydrates, vitamins and nutrients from the vegetables, protein, and some fat to hold it all together. Plus there’s leftovers for lunch. Oh, and it tastes really good.

I would love to talk more about the delicious things we cook, or maybe about our four-student bread co-op, but here’s the point that every person I talked to agreed on, summed up by Ida: “I think I’ve eaten a lot less DDS [since moving off campus] because it’s more expensive. I can cook the same thing at home for a much cheaper price and it usually tastes better.”

Dakota gave me three or four examples (including sandwiches, salmon, and a whole chicken carcass), with dollar amounts, of how much more cost-effective it is to buy ingredients and put them together yourself.

Pete noted that he liked local vegetables and cooked them so they were “tasty,” not steamed.

Kristin simply said, “DDS overcharges for everything.”

But here’s the kicker: even when we don’t eat DDS, we still owe the college money. Every Dartmouth student is required to have a meal plan, and the smallest amount you can pay each term is $655. That’s even if you have an apartment and cook your own meals. If we don’t use it up, let’s just say there aren’t refunds.

So maybe last week was a victory for my health and my taste buds, but my checkbook will still be punished.

Homegoing.

photo: Geof Little

This was the last weekend before Dartmouth homecoming.

It was a coincidence that before I spent most of the weekend elsewhere. But after all, in order to come home to Dartmouth, you have to leave first.
So I went to my real home in Lyme.

We Hanover High graduates are made fun because we could do our laundry for free if we wanted to, but the truth is that most of us get sucked into campus life and don’t spend much time with our parents.

I only go home about twice a term, and it’s usually on a moment’s notice. Sometimes I don’t even bother to warn my parents I’m coming (hi Mom and Dad).

I’m not the only one. A lot of my friends on the ski team are from Vermont and are grateful to be able to go home if they want to.

Freshman Sophie Caldwell headed back to Peru, Vermont this weekend to recuperate after being sick ever since she arrived at Dartmouth.

When Sarah Van Dyke had mono three years ago, she went to her parents’ house in Stowe, because it was nicer to spend all day in bed there than in a noisy dormitory.

Illness is one of the most obvious reasons to go home. There’s nothing quite like sleeping in a quiet house, in your own bed, with your parents and making sure you take your cough medicine and eat enough meals.

But it’s not the only reason we seek comfort outside our dorm rooms and apartments.

Kristin Dewey and the women of the Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority met, greeted, and deliberated over potential new members until 4 a.m. on Thursday and 2 a.m. on Friday.

By the time Saturday rolled around, Kristin wished she could go home to recharge. Unfortunately, our Sunday morning practices made it impractical; while I can drive down from Lyme by 8, she would have had a challenge.

“I think going home on a weekend or something is a really good way to relax and chill out and kind of re-group,” she told me. “I only go home if I have free time to hang out with my dog and my family… I’m glad I live close by.”

Pavel Sotskov’s family just moved from Gilford, New Hampshire to Meriden, where his father is the new athletic director at Kimball Union Academy. Even before the move, Pavel spent the majority of his weekends with his parents.

“I tend to relax more when I am at home – I can sleep in and get a good breakfast cooked. On the other hand, most of the time I don’t get as much work done… I get carried away with stuff I want to do at home, from going to the store to tinkering with bikes.

“If I didn’t live so close I probably wouldn’t go home as often, but I think it’s a convenience that I might as well use.”

As I left my apartment on Saturday, Hannah Dreissigacker asked, “are you going home? I’m so jealous! It’s going to be beautiful up there!”

And she was right. Our family has the kind of house you are probably familiar with: an old farmhouse with a barn that’s sinking into the ground, miles and miles of decaying split-rail fences and crumbling stone walls, and more grass than our animals can possibly mow.

I spent Saturday afternoon sitting in a field across the driveway, with my dog, Bravo (who is only partially mine after four years of college), sitting next to me watching over the farm.

When I looked up from the biology papers I was reading, I could see across the valley to Thetford, where the hills were blanketed in color.

Did I do as much work as I might have on campus? No.

Elsa Sargent would head home before final exams and finish her term papers days before the rest of us. I’m not so focused. To me, mental recovery is more important.

Hannah and I discussed how a lot of students forget that there is a “real world” outside of campus. Maybe going home isn’t the best way connect with the real world, but at least you get out of the Dartmouth bubble.

Hannah hails from Morrisville, Vermont, but her family has a farm in West Fairlee. “It is my absolute favorite place to escape to.  I like going there with friends to pick apples or tap the maple trees for sugaring, and it reminds me that school is not really that important after all.  The only problem is that it makes it hard to go back to classes.”

Right, classes. Maybe I should have spent more time on them this weekend.

the last first day.


Tomorrow, I will begin my senior year at Dartmouth College and with it my final season of collegiate ski racing.

Although winter sports teams can’t hold official practice until the first day of fall classes, the reality is that we are all deep into our training seasons.

Training started in April for me. I began lifting weights in the gym and going on short runs and long easy rides on my road bike. Even though I grew up in Lyme, there are corners of the Upper Valley which are still unfamiliar, and my bike is the best way to find them.

In May the runs lengthened to one or two or hours, often in the hills of Norwich with teammates and friends. We watched the deciduous trees leaf out across the valley from the top of Bragg Hill Road, and we tried to stay dry while negotiating the mud and streams on the trail from Tilden Hill to Beaver Meadow Road.

Summer came and while the sophomores stayed on campus and practiced daily with Ruff, the men’s coach, the rest of us scattered across the country to places like Park City, Utah; Morrisville and Orleans, Vermont; Crested Butte and Durango, Colorado; Worcester, Massachusetts; Bend, Oregon; and a large, green bus or a slim bicycle criss-crossing the United States.

My teammates told me stories from camps with regional development teams, practices with high school teammates and coaches, and visits to see each other.

There is a book titled The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. I haven’t read it, but it must describe my training pretty well, because I never had a partner.

I worked 40 or more hours a week on my senior thesis project, time spent outside observing and measuring plants. It was stressful to be responsible for my own research and results.Training was one of the things that kept me sane.
I’d rollerski out from Crested Butte along Highway 135, starting in the cold at 6 a.m. before the sun came over the hills and before the cars were on the road. The coffeeshop was my reward for getting out of bed, and I’d finish with a mocha before scrambling off to work at 8:30 or 9.

Those early mornings gave me time to think about things at a slower pace, to organize my life, and to maintain an emotional existence instead of becoming a research robot. In the field, the plants had all of my attention; training gave me the time to plan weekends and trips, and to get over it when my boyfriend broke up with me.

Eventually, we started coming back to Hanover, one at a time, to lead freshmen trips or to move into apartments before taking one final vacation. Only a few of us have been here consistently over the last few weeks – those of us with lab or office jobs to pay for rent, tuition, and new skis.

We train in small groups, rollerskiing out along Route 10 after work, or on our own, hitting up our favorite running trails before official practice dictates our routes.

Tomorrow all of this will end. Not only will we spend the day in classes, exercising our slightly musty minds – I’ll be learning about the environmental applications of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) – but at 2 o’clock, we will all assemble in Robinson Hall and do the same workout.

Just like classes, practice means tests. You can no longer fool yourself into thinking that you’re in better shape than you actually are. There are time trials and strength testing, especially in the first week. Maybe you’re right where you want to be, or maybe your teammates are leaps and bounds ahead of you – now you get to find out.

Before the first practice of every year I get little butterflies. I feel like I have to prove myself in these early weeks and I’m nervous for our first time trials. Sometimes I want so badly to do well that I sabotage myself. I know that for me, staying in it mentally is 90% of the race, but even knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to stay tough.

My teammate Minal Caron said, “I was nervous freshman year. But testing just is what it is, and you’ll always have excuses, so I don’t worry about it that much anymore.”

Yes, I’ll always be able to make excuses if I do poorly. Most athletes could take up side careers as professional excuse-makers. But nervousness is another degree of excited, and I’ve always thought that if you aren’t at least a little nervous, then there’s something wrong.

So I’m ready, senior year. Bring it on, butterflies and all.