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Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion
  April 1
The past week has been a whirlwind, which has been kind of nice after six weeks of relaxed, but focused, solitude. On Sunday, I was in Quebec. I spent Monday in New Hampshire packing my stuff, so that Tuesday I could fly back to Utah. I then spent three days in Utah, where there is no snow, before packing up again and driving five hours north to Sun Valley for Spring Series. Because of the lack of snow in the west this year all the races were moved to Galena Lodge which is about 20 minutes north of Sun Valley at 7000' elevation. Good because it means a lot less travel for me, bad because I just came up from sea-level. But I think that since I usually live at 7000', it shouldn''t be much of a problem. I am sure I will be gasping for breath, but I think I will still be able to move pretty quick. But will I have regained the step I had lost a couple months ago? That's what we are here to find out. I know I am skiing better than I was early in the season, but how much better? One great race in Quebec gives me confidence, but I also had a pretty bad race there too. The moment of truth has arrived.

April 2
Today's first race is a 10K skate. I figured this was good for me. Get the skating out of the way while I am fresh, then hit the two classic races. When we arrived at the race, I heard something that I never thought I would hear at Spring Series: the race is delayed due to cold. Sure enough, it was about 5 below zero. But after waiting a couple hours, the temperature was up into the teens and the race was on. I really enjoyed today's race. Right from the start I was hurting, but I was still doing ok. I wasn't challenging for the lead or anything, but I was still getting splits from coaches out on the course. A few months ago things were so bad that the coaches wouldn't even give me splits because they were so bad. But today I was hearing that I was in 8th-10th place. Sure there were still about ten good skiers behind me, but I was in the race. I knew that if I stayed close I could move up in tomorrow's classic pursuit race. I panted and gasped the whole way, feeling tired and slow, but I continued to fight and push on. I ended up finishing 18th. It's funny, a year ago that kind of result would have been horrible, but after all I have been through this year, I deemed it an accomplishment to be back in the top twenty. Plus I plan on climbing even higher tomorrow.

April 3
It figures. After moving the race because of lack of snow and a general concern that the little snow that was remaining was melting fast, we now have no worries. Yesterday it was extremely cold and when we arrived at the race today there was about a foot of new snow and it continued to snow throughout the morning. Who would have thought that we would be racing on extra blue hard wax in April? I was really excited to start today's race. Looking over yesterday's results, I knew that there were about 4-5 skiers who I had a good chance of catching and another 3-4 that I could get if I had a really good day. Right out of the start I hammered up the first hill to pass James Southam, who had started 3 seconds ahead of me. After passing James, I set my sights on a pack of skiers about 30 seconds ahead. But then my fast start began to creep back up on me. It was the right thing to do - in a pursuit if you don't make a move early to bridge the gap, you will get left behind. You need to start fast and just hold on. I was trying to hold on, but James made a strong bid to put me away, and Magnus Eriksson, who had started about 19 seconds behind me was flying and had made up the gap. I hung on and James, Magnus, and I began to close the gap ahead of us. On the first lap we picked off Dan Weinberg and got within striking distance of about 5 more skiers. About one K into the second lap we caught Dave Stewart and Jesse Gallagher. Stewart had already made up 19 seconds on Jesse, so I thought to myself as we went by that if either of them would hang with us, it would be Stewart. But, surprisingly, Stewart dropped right off, but we could not shake Jesse. He hung right there and soon we dropped Southam. Then with about 2K to go, Magnus, Jesse, and I began to close in on Pat Casey and Scott Loomis. We caught Pat, but it appeared that Loomis was just a little too far ahead to make up the difference in one K, so instead I focused on sprinting to the finish with the other three guys. I had been just trying to hang with them for a while, but now I was feeling better and ready to go. The finish would be the difference between moving up two spots and moving up five in today's race. As we approached the final 300 meters, I was concentrating mostly on Pat and Magnus. Pat is a great sprinter and Magnus had a number of spectacular finishing kicks in marathons this year, There were two lanes of tracks and I was following Magnus in the outside track while Jesse was right behind Pat on the inside. I felt good and wanted to make a move, but I wasn't sure I should yell "track" to make Magnus move over. First, that would ruin the element of surprise. Second, I wasn't sure he would move. But I knew I couldn't get around him outside the track. As I debated how to make my move, I heard Jesse yell "track!" to Pat. I was a bit surprised that Pat actually moved over and let him by, but I wasted no time in following. I switched tracks and jumped on Jesse's tail. Together, the two of us were able to get away from Magnus and Pat. As we entered the final 100 meters, which was slightly down hill, I thought back to the race in Rumford a couple weeks ago where Jesse and I approached the line together and I beat him out, barely, in a sprint. I knew I could do it again and I hammered on my poles with everything I had left. I got ahead and beat him by 0.6 seconds to come in 13th. I was very happy with this race. I moved up significantly and had the 11th fastest time of the day. Not yet top ten, but closer than I have been in a year. One more classic race left and I am ready for it.

April 5
Today's 10K Classic race was very tough. I was exhausted from the very start. I have done 8 races in the past 19 days and it finally caught up to me. I felt like I was shuffling along, not racing. But surprisingly, most other people were doing the same thing. It has been a long season for everyone and I think a lot of people felt that today. I finished 18th, but there were a bunch of Norwegians in the race today who were not here earlier in the week, so it was a better race than my 18th on Monday. In fact, I was only a minute out of the top five, which on many days would put me in the top ten. So now the individual races are all over. Since January, I have been focusing solely on the Spring Series races, knowing that they would be my best chances to get good points and salvage my National Ranking before the end of the season. I skied well, but I am not sure I will move up all that much in the rankings. Sure, I got some decent points here today, but so did a lot of other people. Plus, the addition of sprinting to the National Ranking List has skewed the points drastically. For example, right now, my points are about the same as they were a year ago when I was ranked 13th and two years ago when I was tenth. But now, I am ranked about 28th or so. Did everyone in the country suddenly get much better except for me? I don't think so. But sure, the points list is screwed up, but that is the least of my problems right now. Even without the sprinting points issue, I would still face an uphill battle to get back to where I should be. But at least now, I have proven I can still compete and that is a huge psychological bonus as I head into the off season. I'm beginning to ramble because my head is full of a lot of thoughts right now. But I still have a sprint relay to prepare for, so I'll leave most of the analysis for after the season.

April 7
The last race of the season: the National Championship Two-person Sprint Relay. Once again this year, Scott Loomis and I will be the team for The Utah Nordic Alliance. The way this race works is that it is a mass start of about 35 teams, whose first guy sprints one kilometer and then tags off to his teammate who then sprints the same 1K loop. The second guy then tags back off to the first guy. And this cycle repeats itself until each skier has done 5 laps. This is an extremely hard race. Think of the hardest interval workout you have ever done, then imagine you had done it with 50 of the best skiers in the country with a national championship on the line. It hurts. A lot. I went first for our team and had us in about 5th place after the first lap. I felt good and was a little surprised to be that close to the front. Scott held our place and I started my second lap in good position. About half way around that lap, I died. I felt like my body just shut down. A few guys went by and I staggered back to the tag zone. Scott managed to pick back up a couple places, but on my next turn I was still dead and lost a few places again. And that's the way our race went until the final lap. On my final lap, I felt a little better. I fought hard and refused to let anyone go by me on the last lap of my season. Plus, Andrew Johnson was right in front of me and I knew that if I could stay with him Loomis might be able to pass Andrew's teammate, Kris Freeman. Loomis did get by Kris, meaning that Scott and I finished in 9th place. We were also the third "Official" team, meaning that we were both members of the same club. The rest of the teams were just made up to allow people to race. Accorinding to the official results, XC Oregon (Justin Wadsworth and Pat Weaver) were the first club, Boulder Nordic (Nathan Schultz and Magnus Eriksson), were second and Gold 2002 (Lars Flora and James Southam) were third. But since Magnus Eriksson is not even a member of USSA, I don't see how he can be eligible for USSA prize money, meaning that we were actually third. But seeing how we finished 9th, I didn't feel like we had any more right to prize money than anyone else, so we kept our mouths shut.

The season is over and more than ever before, I am not ready for it. I guess that happens when you miss half the season. After doing nine races in the past three weeks, I am ready for a break for racing, but I don't want to stop skiing. I keep thinking back to how great the skiing was in the east. I would love to have another month or so of that. But it is not going to happen. So instead, I will try to direct my desire towards next season. I don't plan on taking much time off so that I can get a jump on next year. I have a slightly bitter taste in my mouth from this season and it is not going to go away until I can get back out there and prove that it was a horrible fluke.

The Season In Review
Over the past few weeks, I have rehashed my season a number of times, so I'll keep this review brief.

Plain and simple, this season was a worst case scenario. With all the effort and training I put in during the year, it could not have gone any worse without a significant illness or injury. I felt like I was on a slippery slope, sliding downhill with no way to stopping it. The harder I fought, the worse it got. I managed to have a few good races at the end of the season, but this was only after months of disappointment. So having said all that, where do I go from here? How do I not only get back to the level I was at, but also make the jump I need to make in order to compete for the Olympic Team? Here is what I think.

Training at sea-level - I tried to do some of this last summer, but it wasn't until I spent two months in New Hampshire this winter that I really felt like I was getting my speed back. So this year I plan to spend a significant part of the dryland season at sea-level. Probably two or three periods of three-four weeks. I want to still spend time here in Park City, since there are a lot of good people here to train with and this is where it will all go down next winter, but I want to make sure I keep my speed up as well.
Racing In the Offseason
- I tried to do a number of running and rollerski races last summer and fall. I think it was a good idea, but I never took them very seriously. As a result, I wasn't pushing all out. That made it harder to push full bore once the ski season started. This year, the running and rollerski races will be serious. I want to win. But don't worry, the IRS won't change.
Running on the Track - I did this a couple years ago (when I was skiing well), but I didn't do any last year (when I skied slow). Coincidence? I think not. I hate running around in circles, but it needs to be done to make me faster.

Training alone - I did most of my workouts alone last year because of my work schedule. I thought I was training well and improving, but I wasn't. If I had been training with other people, I would have realized this. It also would have made me push a little harder. There is a good group of skiers in Park City and I plan on taking advantage of that this year.
No No-Poles rollerskiing - I tried an experiment last year. I did all of my leg strength in the weight room, rather than bounding or rollerskiing without poles. It didn't work as I hoped. I plan on doing a lot of skating without poles and a lot of bounding this year.
No technique work - I slacked off in the technique last summer. I felt like I didn't have time and there were more important workouts to fit in. But I never felt like I was skiing really well. Part of this was because my strength was not there to support the kind of skiing I wanted to do, but I need to get in the habit of skiing better. My technique is ok, but it needs to get better. More video analysis, more coach observation, more practice.
Too much distance training - Though I didn't plan it this way, my log from last year shows that I did a lot of workouts in the 1:15-1:45 time area. Not enough over two hours to build endurance and not enough shorter ones to increase speed and strength. More variation is what I need.

So there you have it. I think that my basic training philosophy is good, but I need to make the changes mentioned above. I've kind of gotten away from what made me successful two years ago. It's time to go back to what worked and step it up a notch. For five years, I have been training with next winter in mind. The time is here. If I am going to make it, I'm going to do it in the next 8 months. It all comes down to this. Its time to get to work.

© 2003 Cory Smith. All Rights Reserved.