Gloomy Days

When you open your eyes and see this out the window, it’s hard to get out of bed:

Dark. Gloomy. Rain in the distance. These are things that seriously hamper my motivation to go train.

Yesterday was particularly tough – the morning workout was threshold around the lake, something I often struggle with. “Around the lake” sounds flat, doesn’t it? And Big Hosmer Pond isn’t that big, is it? Well. The loop is actually 7.1 miles long, and starts with a long climb – about 200 feet of height differential in a mile.

Threshold work is supposed to be light and fun. The idea is that you are working hard, but not accumulating too much lactic acid. For me, I try to keep my heart rate at 180 to 185 beats per minute for threshold work. That’s about 90% of my max.

When you do 8 minute intervals at threshold pace, it feels good, like you could keep doing intervals at that pace forever.

When you run for 7 miles straight at threshold pace, it doesn’t feel so easy. Except for the fact that you don’t sprint at the end, the pace is not all that different than racing over the same distance.

Anyway, yesterday morning I woke up and looked out the window. It was gray. It was drizzling. It was a little bit cold. And I didn’t have a training partner for the workout: Ida, Susan, and Hannah are gone on extended trips, and Lauren was in Jericho doing biathlon. I ate a quick breakfast and set out on the workout.

Even on gloomy days, you have to suck it up and try to motivate yourself. Was I as excited for the workout as I would have been if it was perfect running weather and I had a buddy to run with? Absolutely not. But I did manage to get the workout done and accomplish what I was supposed to accomplish. When I got home, I made zucchini bread, with lots of chocolate chips, and ate it warm out of the oven. Gloom calls for hot baked goods with melty chocolate.

This morning, I was faced with another similar situation. Before I went to bed last night, I checked the weather, which called for rain all day. Lauren and I had planned a 3 1/2 hour bike ride, and we had to do the workout no matter what the weather did. When we woke up, it was indeed wet and cold. But we put on our long-sleeve shirts and headed out promptly at 8 a.m. anyway.

On the first downhills, our fingers and toes felt frosty. But after ten minutes of riding, we were headed up the East Craftsbury road, which climbs about 700 feet in 4 miles. It’s no mountain pass, certainly, but it did warm us up.

On numerous occasions we felt sure we were about to ride into the rain. We could see it, right there, on the hill across the road. But after a minute of light sprinkles, the rain would disappear, and we would once again be riding through the wet, cold air – nothing to get too excited about, but at least it wasn’t wet, cold rain.

The ride went perfectly except for one thing: I flatted twice. The first time, I was upset, but changed the tube and used one of Lauren’s CO2 cartridges to fill up with air. As neither of us had used one of these handy tools before, there was a lot of giggling and screeching, especially when the cartridge seemed to freeze onto my valve. New skill: check!

The second time, we were in Irasburg, with less than 45 minutes left to ride. I chickened out and didn’t feel like fixing another flat so close to home. Luckily, my housemate Anna happened to be driving through Irasburg and picked me up! So I got a ride home, where I took a long, hot shower and ate some more zucchini bread.

Fall is in a way the toughest time of year for finding motivation. It should be easy, because racing is so immediate: you need to get out there and get ready. But at the same time, you’ve been doing dryland training for months already, and you’re kind of sick of it. Do you really want to go for another long rollerski now that it’s cold and, invariably, raining?

I know that I have to buckle down and stop being such a gloom-bucket myself. There’s always a hot shower waiting for me at home – so how bad can it be?

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Sleeping out under the Perseids.

Last night was the third night in a row that I looked for shooting stars. And each time I found them, whether it was sitting around a table at Parker Pie, beer in hand, friends surrounding; lying in the grass by myself contemplating life and the cosmos; or nestled into a sleeping bag next to slumbering teammates.

Every August the Perseids roll around, and Craftsbury is the perfect place to take them in. Other than a few trees blocking the view of the horizon, it’s quiet and peaceful, with no light pollution. When the stars come out, they really come out. You get the sense that you really are part of the universe, with the large, bright stars coming towards you and the smaller pinpricks of light fading away, farther in the distance.

Last night started innocently enough: Lauren and I and the biathletes who are staying with us this week (Mike Gibson, Danika Frisbie, and Carly Wynn) walked outside, across the field next to our house, and sat down in the grass. I had a cup of tea which I clutched to my chest, warding off the coolness of the night. A large cloud passed over us, obscuring the meteors. We were disappointed.

And yet… we were happy, sitting there in the grass. It was nice. We listed to the night sounds surrounding us and gradually became more and more comfortable. “You know, last year, I slept outside and watched the stars all night,” I said. “But this year, with the volume week, I feel like I should probably get a good night’s sleep in my bed.”

The murmurings began… it was so nice out…. and finally we all ran inside, grabbed pillows, sleeping bags, and quilts, and reconvened in the same spot. Before we had been sleepy and relaxed, but now we were giddy, like 7th grade girls at a slumber party. The cloud had passed, too, and we began to see spectacular meteors with tails that lingered in the night sky.

Eventually, everyone fell asleep except for me. This is because I’m a terrible sleeper even in the best of circumstances. I was awake at 11 o’clock when our housemate Troy walked in on the trail, literally feet from me, without seeming to notice; I noticed and freaked out. I was awake at 12 o’clock when my teammate Pat drove in from the Cape and unloaded his truck into the garage. And I woke up at 1 o’clock when the coyotes at the bottom of the hill had a raucous party.

I must have fallen asleep eventually, because when I woke up again, it was beginning to get light out. I lay there, content, until finally the sun was too bright to ignore. It was almost 7. Time to get up, eat breakfast, get ready to work out. The night might be beautiful and mysterious, but the day is just usual.

Happy 4th.

I swear that I am more thrilled than I look in this picture. Lauren is actually smiling. I meant to smile but for some reason it didn’t work out.

Yes, I was thrilled to be on top of Mount Mansfield today. The members of the Small Boat Training Center had decided to hike it, and Lauren and I couldn’t pass up the chance to tag along (or lead as the case may be). We decided not to do any work today to celebrate Independence Day, and enjoy the full glory of a sunny day on the summit without the specter of an afternoon’s-worth of labor hanging over our heads.

I thought a bit about my previous 4th of July celebrations. I spent three summers celebrating in earnest out in Colorado, running a race early in the morning and starting to drink immediately afterwards. There were costumes, parades, running through firehoses and getting pelted with water balloons, and naps to combat afternoon hangovers. It was fun. It was exhausting. It’s entertaining to look through the pictures from those years.

I wish I could be out in Crested Butte right now for that raucous celebration, but I can’t. Today was a more low-key 4th, yet in its own way it was just as enjoyable. For weeks I have been wishing that I could go hiking and get on top of a mountain, and I feel totally spoiled to have been able to do so twice in four days. Having the other Craftsbury athletes for company was a treat too.

We decided to hike up under the gondola, following a Graves family tradition despite the fact that there were no Graves boys actually present. I can say without question that this is my least favorite way to get up the mountain. But we made it to the top of the gondola, regrouped, and then headed up the Cliff Trail.

Luckily, the Cliff Trail is my new favorite trail on the mountain. It was really fun to pick our way up, down, over, and between boulders, following the elusive stripe of paint that suggested a route through the rocks. In addition I was able to snap some cool photos of the SBTC crew hiking up behind me. Now I guess I just have to figure out how to get to the Cliff Trail without having to hike straight up a ski run.

The whole crew eventually made it to the top, where we snacked on trail mix and sandwiches. Although the rowers had made fun of the drink belts Lauren and I had worn, I think we had the better deal: several of them brought backpacks, and one didn’t bring any water at all – stupid on a day where it was in the 80s in the valley! Nordiepacks aren’t no laughing matter.

We capped the trip off by running back south on the Long Trail, jumping on the toll road for half a mile, starting down Nosedive (ouch), and then running down the Haselton Trail. Last year, when our team had hiked on the mountain, we had gone up the Haselton Trail after already running for 2 1/2 hours. I had been grumpy and it had seemed really hard. This time, running down it, I loved it. I was able to really cruise along, jumping from rock to rock and skipping over roots: the trail was rugged enough to be interesting and challenging and require my full attention, but I was still going at almost full-speed. Being light of foot kept me light at heart. I was in a great mood when the trail spit us out at the bottom.

The rest of the day was nothing special: we swam in a pond, watched a movie, and relaxed after dinner. I guess this is what independence means to me now, not having to go do anything I don’t want to do. We are about to start a fun but stressful week-long camp for younger skiers, so it was nice not to have any obligations for a day.

Thanks, rowers, for giving us an excuse to go climb a mountain!

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.

 

First OD of the year!

As you may have noticed from my last few columns, I love road biking. It’s an ideal activity for early spring: easy, fun, and we get to ride far and fast and see different corners of the Upper Valley.

It’s ideal, too, because in the summer and fall we will focus on ski-specific training: running, but also lots of rollerskiing and bounding with poles. It’s good to avoid those activities early on so we’re not too sick of them by the time September rolls around.

However, in the middle of the spring, training begins to become less carefree. Yes, I’ll still ride my bike. But face it: you can ride a bike for 3 hours as many times as you want. While you’ll be tired at the end, it’s still a lot easier to ride a bike for three hours than it is to run for three hours.

On the other hand, doing intervals on a bike is pretty tough. Because your upper body is stable, your legs have to be working hard to raise your heart rate. Imagine riding a bike at threshold for 25 minutes. To get your heart rate to threshold – for me, 170 beats per minute – you have to be riding aggressively up a steep hill. Now find such a hill that lasts for 25 minutes. You begin to see where (part of) the problem lies.

So there is a moment every spring when real workouts become a necessity. We start adding: first, maybe one threshold session a week, and one really long session that isn’t on a bike. Then we start adding the max interval sessions we’ll include in our training for the next eight or nine months.

Usually it’s a bit of a shock. I am so used to training all year, training 15 or 20 or more hours per week, that I expect that I can do anything. I won’t really be that tired after intervals, will I? Why would I bonk on a long run? We do this all the time! But being accustomed to one-hour runs and easy long bike rides does not prepare you for harder training days.

And so it was with some trepidation that I set off running on Saturday. My teammate Katie Bono and I had decided to do our first long run. We were joined by our teammate Julie Carson and her boyfriend, Mark Davenport, who may not have realized what we were up to: he didn’t bring water, unlike us girls who modeled our stylish hip-belts.

We slowly jogged across the bridge into Norwich, and by the time we started up the hill on the other side, Julie and Mark were out in front. I smiled to myself: I was in for the long haul, mentally alternating between purposely going easy and refusing to think about how long we would be out.

We ran up the Ballard Trail from the Norwich pool. It was beautiful and quiet in the woods, with the ferns still unfurling and the trees just sending out bright new leaves. In places we had to jump along the side of the trail to avoid submerging our sneakers in mud, and in others we had to climb over and through broken tree tops which had fallen across the trail.

By the time we got to the end of the trail, on Beaver Meadow Road, we had already been out for the time of my longest previous run all spring.

As we started up Tucker Hill Road and Julie and Mark once again took off. Katie and I shuffled along, chatting about how this was one of our favorite roads to run on. The views were beautiful as always, and I daydreamed about how much I’d like to live in any house we passed. Or, as I told Katie, in any of the barns. Imaginary house-hunting is a great way to occupy time on long runs.

We girls said goodbye to Mark when we turned onto the Burton Woods trail. None of us had run it before, and we soon realized that the first mile of trail was entirely uphill. I picked my way around the spring stream that ran down the trail, leaving the surroundings mucky and wet, and hiked a few steep spots where the bedrock was exposed. Katie tripped over a down log and joked that her coordination was disappearing as she tired. We laughed, but all knew it was true; the same thing was happening to each of us.

We hit the Appalachian Trail in a small clearing, where a sign pointed south to Podunk Road (1.8 miles) and north to Elm Street (3.5 miles). We ran toward Norwich. It was one of the trail sections I am most familiar with, since it’s so close to campus, but at the same time, it is one of the sections I understand least. So much looks the same. The obvious landmarks are only close to the end.

And so while the forest type changed from hardwood to pine and back again several times, we wondered how close we were actually getting to Elm Street. It was at one of these transitions to a dark, pine forest where the ground was soft and muted the sounds of our footsteps that I realized I was tired.

I wasn’t bonking, no. But while only a few minutes before I had been bounding over rocks and logs and roots, I could feel that my pace had slowed. I was more apt to walk a few steps up a steep section. It was more of a chore to stride out the flat parts. It was more dangerous to run freely down the hills, because I was starting to trip over things. My curiosity and energy were dampened just like the sounds of my feet, but Katie and I kept talking, discussing the subtle psychology of training in groups.

At the same time, Julie was developing blisters. Mark had drank half her water before he left us, and she was out. She lagged behind and stopped talking. I worried, sometimes slowing down to let her catch up, sometimes trying to draw her into the conversation. But it was fairly useless. Julie was in her own world.

We finally crossed the powerlines, and then the stream that told me we were only minutes away from Elm Street. I have an incredibly distinct memory of running up the hill from that stream with Kristina Trygstad-Saari, class of 2007, on a fall day two years ago. I wondered why the memory was of that place and not some other along the trail.

As we ran up the long hill into Hanover, we could smell the pig roast at Theta Delt, a fraternity on West Wheelock Street. It was a reminder of how different we might be from the rest of campus: on this Green Key party weekend, our classmates were wearing sundresses and had probably only woken up a few hours earlier. We had been running for three hours, and were drenched in sweat, exhausted, smelly, and covered in scrapes from tree branches.

But after we showered, we went to Theta Delt ourselves to restore our energy supplies, munching on corn and meat. As we discussed plans for the evening, I thought we weren’t any different from the rest of campus after all.

And in any case, we had survived to rejoin our classmates in their revelry. We had survived, and the next difficult workout, number two of the year, would be entered with more confidence, less trepidation, and a sense of satisfaction: we did what we needed to do. As recovery, maybe I’d do an easy bike ride the next day, just like nothing had changed.

Maybe it is about the bike, actually

Lance Armstrong says that it’s not about the bike. I don’t know if he’s telling the truth though.

My last week was framed by two rides. On Monday afternoon, my roommate and I spun up route 132, over the hill from South Strafford into Sharon, and back along the river on Route 14. I rode with the understanding that I was hurting myself by spending these three hours on a bike instead of at a desk working on my thesis, but I didn’t care.

Riding bikes with girls is refreshing. I could have written a column last week that was called, “riding on bikes with boys,” and would have said how tired and sunburned I got, and how I never wanted to give up and be slower than the boys. I’m too competitive, and when someone is actually better than me, it leads me to exhaustion.

But Monday, that wasn’t a problem. Kristin and I don’t compete with each other. Not going up the hills, and not going down them, either. As we came down the hill into Sharon, we were followed by a logging truck. I tried to pull to the side, but with no shoulder and so much speed, I was worried about hitting the edge of the pavement. The logging truck had to wait for the curves to end. With boys, we would have had to race, and I would have been scared.

Kristin and I talked about school, our house, our team, boys, the economy, the future. The miles go fast when you’re talking, even if it isn’t anything particularly important.

She didn’t know the route, so as we rode I pointed out the things I grew up with: the Elizabeth Copper Mine, where my AP Environmental Science class did a lab in high school; the Strafford Saddle Shop, where my mom and I would drive every spring; the burnt-up parking lot that used to be Brooksie’s in Sharon, where we’d stop to get breakfast before going to Tunbridge.

It was the kind of ride where you feel the wind in your face without having to work for it. We basked in the sun and the green and the smells of spring, and the coolness rising from the river.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were not kind to me. I slept an average of three hours every night and spent the days frantically running statistics and trying to write them up coherently. I can honestly say that I’ve never felt so isolated in my life. I’ve been solo backpacking and felt less alone.

I watched my friends go about their usual routines, going running and biking after class, making dinner together and going out at night, while I was stuck. I didn’t even get much sympathy; nobody seemed to notice I was missing. I began to wonder what it said about me as a person if nobody noticed that I wasn’t there. Everything bad anyone had ever said about me came back and I began to think it was all true.

So by Friday, I was ready for another ride, regardless of whether I should be doing work instead or not. I e-mailed the team asking if anyone wanted to join me. Nobody did. But that was all right. I could go my own pace.

I set out at 1 p.m., and after a half hour of biking up into Hanover Center, it started pouring rain. I thought about turning around, but then I hunkered down and kept pedaling. In a sense, this is what I had wanted: an outlet for my frustration and anger. Unlike the million thesis revisions I had been frantically completing, this was something I could control and overcome. It was just rain. I was stronger than rain. It wasn’t going to stop me.

About as soon as I got into that mindset, I rode out of the rain. The pavement smelled wet and warm and I only worried for a moment that it was greasy. Then I bombed down the hills on Dogford Road. The sun started to dry the rain off my jersey.

Being alone, I could pedal slowly while I daydreamed. So what if my heart rate was below 130 beats per minute and my new coach had told me I’d have to train 5 hours to make that pace worthwhile? Today was not about training. I didn’t have that luxury. It was about mental recovery.

So when I pedaled back into the rain, which was almost hail-like on Greensboro Road and left pink welts on my exposed arms, I thought about my ride, and the one on Monday. No, they weren’t about the bike. But what allowed them to be about anything else? In truth, the bike.

Sorry, Lance.