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Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion
  November 1

White Bear Temperature - 12 degrees F

A morning off. I really enjoy time off when I know I have earned it. On one hand, I feel like I could ski this morning, but I also know that my last few days of skiing will be much more effective if I am well rested. So I have no problem kicking back until this afternoon. I managed to drag myself out of bed for breakfast, but after a bowl of cereal, I crawled right back into bed for another couple hours. By 10:30, I was up again and I put in a few hours of work on the old laptop. At one point while I was holed up staring at my computer screen, Justin Wadsworth came in and said that I should open my blinds since the sun was shining for the first time all week. I took his advice and, indeed, it looked excellent out there. It looked like a great day out and as time went by I became less interested in resting than in getting out there and skiing.

By the time I actually got out the door, I was really fired up to ski. Amazing how quickly we can get excited to ski after just a few hours off. I guess that is a good sign, considering how often we do it. While I was glad to be heading out into the cold again, I knew I had to be careful on this ski. The next couple of days will be very tough, so tonight I needed to take it easy. Just loosen up, walk some of the hills, and keep it short. It was actually very hard to do. Many times I found myself starting to pick up the pace, and I had to walk for a few strides to calm back down. My wax was working well (finally!) and I wanted to tear up each hill. There is nothing better than feeling strong during a workout, but I really want to feel strong tomorrow and the next day, not just tonight. After two hours of trying to keep myself reined in, with a mild degree of success, I called it a day. I was happy to be skiing, even after just a day off.

November 2

White Bear Temperature - 4 degrees F

I had planned to do some skate intervals today, but since it was the coldest day yet, I decided I would delay for a day. No reason to freeze if I don't have to. Instead I classic skied for 2:30 and felt pretty strong. I was getting my wax to work better and I felt better at the end than I did when I started. I could have skied longer, but no need to overdo it today if I am doing intervals tomorrow. I want to feel good for those.

This afternoon was supposed to be a very easy skate ski. Scott Loomis had been complaining all day about how he bonked hard in his morning ski, so I figured that if I skied with him this afternoon, we'd be going pretty easy. Well, that was true for the first half hour or so, but after that we both got a little antsy and I think it is always hard to go slow when you are skiing with someone else. You always think the other person wants to go faster. So without realizing it, we slowly picked up the pace until we were almost in level II. This was faster than I wanted to ski, but I decided to go with it. I felt good so why not. We skied for 1:30, then headed home to watch VH1.

November 3

White Bear Temperature - 0 degrees F

Good thing I delayed those intervals until today. Real smart move. Not only was it colder, but I was feeling more tired. After 45 minutes of skiing, I took off my warm-up pants and started in on 5 x 5 minute intervals. After two of them, I couldn't take it anymore, I was freezing. My legs and feet were numb. Even though I was working very hard, the stopping and starting and being out in zero degree weather with only long under and tights on was too much. I went back and put on my warm up pants and decided to do natural intervals instead. That doesn't require stopping. This was much more successful, but when I finished I was still cold. There was no point in doing a cooldown ski, so I finished up for the morning. As I sat in the warming hut and waited for the other guys, who planned on skiing longer, about 8 people left to go out skiing. Each and every one of them came back in and put on more clothes after only a few minutes out. That made me feel a little better about getting cold. I think the cold weather snuck up on all of us since it had been so nice recently.

This afternoon, I wanted to do another strength workout. But this time no one else wanted to go with me so I had no ride. Instead I figured I would run to the club (on the other side of town) and have Chris Klein pick me up on his way home from skiing. It was a great plan except that running in downtown Fairbanks, as I found out, is a nightmare. It was starting to get dark, and in many places there were no sidewalks. Since I was dressed in a Navy blue warm-up suit, with minimal reflective material on my shoes, I did not want to run on the road. This meant trying to run through the snow banks on the side. Granted, with only 6 inches of snow on the ground, the banks were not that big, but it made for some slow, miserable running. At one point a local in a beat up old Ford truck rolled down his window and yelled, "Run Forrest Run!" At first I was angry, but when I began to think about how I must have looked (awkward running style because of the snowbanks plus my three week old beard) I began to laugh at the resemblance. After 45 minutes, I finally made it to the Athletic CLub, where I did another 45 minutes of strength before getting picked up right on time.

November 4

White Bear Temperature - 8 degrees F

Last day of skiing for this trip. I am ready to go home. It's kind of funny, no matter how long I come to Fairbanks for, the last couple of days are always tough. Well, OK, its not that funny. But really, I have been here for 16 days before and it was not until the two week mark that I started to long for warmer temperatures and more sunshine. But this year, I was only in town for nine days and after one week, I am ready to go. I think it has more to do with knowing that it is almost time to go than with the amount of time I have spent here. Going into a camp, I get myself ready for a very focused training regimen for certain amount of time and as that time gets close to ending, I start to look forward to returning to the life I couldn't wait to get away from less than two weeks ago. Even though I am ready to check out of Fairbanks mentally, physically I feel like I could make it a couple more days. Today I feel better than I have all week. This morning I skied for two hours of relatively easy distance, and the time just flew by. I wanted to ski longer, but since my ride was going to leave I had no choice but to stop. I think this feeling has a lot to do with what I mentioned earlier this week about using a session like general strength in the weight room not only for training, but also for recovery. Yes, my arm and back muscles are a little sore from the heavier weights I did, but aerobically I feel great and I think the run really helped shake out my major leg muscles.

My major tasks for today, other than skiing, are: travel wax my skis, pack my bags, watch "Making the Video" for Britney Spears' "Stronger", and eat as much food as humanly possible. We made the mistake a few days ago of going to the grocery store right after skiing. The saying that you should never shop for food when you are hungry was never proved more convincingly. Yesterday, Carl Swenson, who will be here for another week, came into our room to borrow some mayonnaise, took one look at our refrigerator and said, "ooh, looks like you'll be leaving me a lot of food!" True enough. I stuff myself with yogurt, english muffins, eggs, sausage, peanut butter, turkey, and countless other stuff all day, but we were still unable to finish it all. Carl won't have to shop for a while.

The other thing we did today was make a trip out to see the Alaska Pipeline., which runs right by Fairbanks. Scott and I had never seen it, so we figured it was worth the ten minute car ride to check it out. As we came over a hill and headed down to the valley that the pipeline ran through, I got a serious case of deja vu. Once we parked and got out I realized that it was not deja vu at all - I really had been here before. Two years ago we stopped here on our way back from the Chena Hot Springs. I guess I had been so underwhelmed the first time that I forgot about it. The pipeline was not nearly as big as I had envisioned and our first visit was not more than two minutes long, so it did not make much of an impression that time around. This time we actually took a few minutes to read the signs explaining the pipeline. Pipeline trivia: The pipe is four feet in diameter, with another 6 inches of insulation and external piping around that. It is over 800 miles long, 420 miles of that are above ground. It was finished in 1977. The first oil left Barrow on June 20th of that year and arrived in Valdez on July 28th. The temperature of the oil in the pipe is just over 100 degrees F.

After the pipeline excursion, we still had not had enough excitement for the day, so we decided to do something really crazy. We went back to Birch Hill and went skiing. But seriously, this was the last workout of the camp for me and also one of the best. I skated for over an hour and felt great, I was flying up all the hills and recovering well on the downhills. I felt so good that after 1:15, I decided to drop my poles and do some uphill speed-skating-style sprints. I did 15 sprints of 30 seconds in length. Each one gave me a good burn in my hamstrings, quads, and gluts but they were short enough that I was able to recover before the next one. I think that this is a great way to build leg strength and speed. Once I finished that, I made one trek to the top of the tower loop. Last year I had a goal of making the descent from the top of the tower loop to the bottom of Rollercoaster Loop without skating except on corners. If this doesn't sound familiar, check out last year's journal entry. If this does sound familiar, you need to get out more. Since I had to cheat to accomplish my goal last year, every time I have skied the tower loop this year (usually 2-3 times a day), I have made another attempt, all without success. But on my first time by tonight, I came very close, so I had to give it one more shot. What better way to end the camp but with a successful run. I rested for a minute at the top to make sure I was ready to go. When I finally took off, it was the fastest I had skied all week. The 15 seconds before the first turn are crucial since that is where you get all your speed. I hit the first turn going so fast that I almost didn't make it around. I used every inch of the width of the trail before finally reeling myself back into the center as I exited the turn. I then jumped into a tuck, and directed my skis into the classic tracks. A split second later, something on the edge of the track, ice maybe, grabbed my right ski and pulled it out from under me. What worse way to end this trip than to wrap myself around a tree? But I maintained my balance, pulled that leg back underneath me with a minimal loss in speed and the chase was back on. I swooped through the turns, taking generous skates around each corner. If it had been a classic race, I probably would have been disqualified. But it was just enough. I cleared the last hill with no speed to spare. I glided down the back side to my goal, feeling that my camp was now complete.

November 15

I have been back in Park City for the past week. When I made these travel arrangements a couple months ago, I figured that a week of dryland training at home would be a good thing to do in between Fairbanks and Silver Star. But little did I know then that winter was going to strike early in Utah this year. I was able to ski every day I was home. This made for an interesting dilemma. Do I continue skiing and training hard for the week, or do I back off and take an easy week doing mostly strength and running to take a break from skiing? At least this was the dilemma as presented to me by other skiers and coaches who were in the same situation. My response was simple. For the first time in four years we have good snow in Utah in early November and you are considering running all week? Are you high? I am a SKIER. I SKI. I backed off on the hours a bit and balanced in some weights and running, but for the most part I was skiing on beautifully groomed trails. It almost seemed like a shame to leave that all behind when I left for Silver Star this morning. Almost. I mean, come on, I am going to Silver Star, home the best early season skiing and most colorful houses in North America. Sure it is more expensive than staying at home, but with the Canadian dollar dropping in value almost as fast as stock, it is well worth the trip.

Plus, there are important races in Silver Star. FOr those who don't know, there will be a pre-Olympic World CUp race week in Soldier Hollow, Utah this January. As the host country, the US gets an extra 15 spots for top racers. The North American Continental Cup races will serve as qualifying races for the World Cup. This means that, theoretically, the top 19 American men on the COntinental Cup will qualify for the World CUp races. I say theoretically because you never know what the US SKi Team is going to do to protect their own interests. But, that aside, I need to race well here in Silver Star, then in Quebec, then at US Nationals in order to qualify. 19 spots are a lot for a race at this level and as a result, basically the entire race community from high school to Olympians have descended on Silver Star in hopes of getting an early leg up on one of the prized spots. These will be some of the most competitive races on the continent this winter. But there is still over a week until the first race and I have some training to do.

I went for a short run after arriving at our accommodations in Silver Star. I loosened up the muscles, cramped from traveling and took in the beautiful scenery that is Silver Star mountain. This is one of my favorite places to ski and I am very glad to be back. I've been looking forward to this trip ever since I started training back in May.

November 16

The report on snow conditions is that there is good skiing on the mountain, but the trails below the village (i.e. the race courses) are not covered yet. So this morning I pulled out my classic skis and headed up the mountain. The trails on the mountain wind back and forth through the alpine runs and wrap around to the top of the peak, with many short loops branching off along the way. The trails on the mountain are probably one-third of the total trails here, and I managed to ski on the mountain for two hours without getting to every single trail! A welcome change from Sunday on the golf course in Park City where I literally felt dizzy from doing 9 laps on the same track.

Aaahhhhhh - a nap. Perhaps the single best thing about being on the road training is the fact that I can take a nap in the afternoon and not feel guilty about it. Nothing brings on a nap quicker than skiing for a couple hours, then eating a big lunch. There is usually enough time to watch a half hour of TV or check email after eating, but then the eyelids start to feel heavy and soon there is nothing you can do but lay your head down and drift off. For most of the year I do not have this luxury, since drifting off at work is generally frowned upon. But now no one can keep me from my nap and I love it.

This afternoon, after waking up from my hour and a half vacation, I went skiing again. I skated for an hour and a half and did 10 no-poles sprints uphill to work on my leg speed and strength. This thoroughly exhausted my legs, which might not have been a good idea on the first day here, but I want to be pretty aggressive with my training for the first few days, so I'm not too worried.

November 17

Just in case my legs were not dead from yesterday, this morning I skated for two and a half hours, one hour of that without poles. I was amazed at how quickly the time passed. I had been skiing for two hours before I even looked at my watch. Even though there is not a lot of snow here and only 1/3 of the trails are open, I still didn't have to ski the same trail twice. It is amazing how much quicker the time passes when you are still exploring unskied terrain and not doing laps around the same 5k loop.

This afternoon I classic skied in the dark with my headlamp on. Nothing jazzes up an otherwise normal ski like bombing down a windy downhill in the dark, dodging trees, skiers and small furry animals, hoping that the upcoming turn isn't as tight as it looks. Fun fun fun.

November 18

Today I skied. Surprise, surprise. Intervals this morning: 4x3min,2x4min. Then strength in the weight room this afternoon. Nothing too exciting. Instead, I figured today I will give you a peek into the rest of my day. Here is what I watched on TV today: lots of MuchMusic, Ohio State vs. Michigan, World Cup Slalom from Park City, Tin Cup, Blind Date, Florida State vs. Florida, Beavis and Butthead and a little bit of local weather thrown in for good measure.

November 19

This morning I was awoken by the sounds of one of my roommates, Tav, complaining about the weather. Having been raised in Park City and now living in Tahoe, Tav is not used to more than 12 hours without sunshine in any given week. By now he has been here for three days and has not seen the sun once. It is clearly making him irritable. After listening to him rant for ten minutes, Frosty, Chris & I, all easterners, needled him about how he was a soft westerner, spoiled by good weather. To which he declared that he would not come in from skiing this morning until the sun came out. The first thought that went through my head was that maybe we will get some peace and quiet during the days he is gone. But as I headed out to ski moments later, I realized that Tav would not have a hard time keeping his promise - the sun was beginning to poke through the clouds and it was turning into a beautiful day. I had planned a 3 hour OD this morning and the weather was perfect. I skied for three hours and wished I could have gone longer. The views were spectacular and the snow was crisp and cold. My legs were a bit tired, but I took it easy and enjoyed the amazing surrounding. Just as I returned home, so did Tav. He was so excited to have finally seen the sun that I think he too would have skied all day if he could have. I think it made his whole week just to see the sun. He was in a much better mood, and to be honest, I think we were all very happy to be out of the clouds for a day - even if we do really need some snow.

November 20

Time to start backing off. I have put in four very solid days of skiing since I arrived in Silver Star and with races coming up soon, it's time to let the training soak in and recover. But this morning I put in one last good session before resting. I skated for an hour and then did some one and two minute intervals. Just long enough to make it hurt a bit, but short enough to go really fast and not feel too exhausted afterwards. It was a good session because even though my legs were tired from the days of training, it almost felt like they were energized by the speed and I kept getting faster and faster as the intervals progressed. It was a great session in that not only did I get in one last interval session, but it also put me into a positive mindset to begin my race preparation.

After skiing the rest of the day went as follows: lunch, nap, write journal entries, jog, dinner, register for races, movie, bed.

November 21

Day off. Today is my rest day to prepare for the upcoming races. If I have been training hard, I always like to have one day completely off leading up to important competitions. Ideally, I think it is best to take a day off two days prior to the race. That way you get the rest in, but you also can ski a decent amount the day before the race to loosen up and get you in the racing mindset.

It worked out perfectly for me to take today off, not only because it is two days before the race, but also because we had to move to a new house. So this morning, instead of skiing, I packed up my bags and dragged them across the road to a house called the "Great Escape." We are moving into larger digs because we have a lot of people joining us today. A good portion of the Fischer/Salomon/Subaru Factory Team , who had to spend this past weekend in Yellowstone for promotional reasons, are arriving today and will be staying in our house. The house is nice, complete with hottub, sauna, and steam room. It is amazing what becomes affordable when you squeeze 13 people into the house! So needless to say, I spent the better part of my day doing circuits of a different kind: Hottub, steamroom, sauna, etc. It was a very relaxing and enjoyable day off.

November 22

Last night, one of my roommates (there are three of us to a room here) spent a good part of the night in the bathroom being sick. I am not quite cruel enough to tell you who it was, but I am sharing the story for a reason. When you are less than 36 hours from the first big race of the season, the last thing you want to hear is that your roommate, who you eat, sleep, and live in close quarters with, is violently ill. The noises woke me up at about 3:00 am and I couldn't get back to sleep. I felt bad for my roommate, but I also began to worry about my own health. My mind was racing. How do I feel. Was that a growl in my stomach? Should I go sleep on the couch in the other room? Is it too late? When I agreed to go in on this house in the first place I remember thinking, "This will be a great place - as long as no one is sick." Now we had the potential for all of us to get sick in a very short time. After about an hour I was able to relax and fall back asleep, with the hope that I was still healthy.

Thankfully, I felt fine when I woke up this morning. I went for an easy ski on tomorrow's race course although it was hard to make it an easy ski because the course itself was very hard. It will be a two lap race of a five kilometer loop. The first 3K of the loop are nice and rolling, not too tough, but enough to get you tired. Then the last two Ks are brutal. A long climb, followed by a fast downhill, right into an even tougher climb back up to the stadium. The final climb, which is over a kilometer in length, is unrelenting. It varies in steepness, but it goes up and up and up. Usually the first races of the year are fairly moderate in difficulty, but not this one. Rumor has it that this time the Canadian coach insisted on a tough course and he definitely got it.

After skiing, I stretched out, had lunch and got ready for tomorrow. It's been almost eight months since I've gone through the pre-race routine, but its just like riding a bike - you never forget how to do it.

November 23

I have mentioned a few times that I have no idea where I am at in terms of performance this year. I have not really been able to compare myself to others in a race situation for quite a while. Well, today is the day that I start finding out where I stand. The race season is here.

I started 10th in the men's field, which was early, but many of the top skiers were ahead of me. I started fast, knowing that the first 3K wouldn't really tire me out. At about the 3K mark, I could see I was catching Marc Gilbertsen, who started 30 seconds in front of me. But at that point I also got a split that said I was in 8th place. Not so great when you are the 10th person to go by. I was hammering up the hills, trying to catch Marc and get back into the race. On the hard climb before the lap, I got another split that said I was in 7th, only a few seconds behind 6th. The fact that I was moving up got my adrenaline pumping and I raced up the hill. Unfortunately, the hill lasted longer than my adrenaline rush and after I passed Marc on the uphill, I began to suffer dearly from my killer pace. As I went through the lap area, I was struggling and Marc was hanging on. I also knew that Rob Whitney, who started 30 seconds behind me, was closing in, so I tried to pick up the pace. I started to feel a little better on the second lap and when Rob finally did catch me at about 7K, I stayed on his heels until the last, dreaded uphill. I think that hill had mentally crushed me on the first lap, because as I started up it the second time, I started to fade fast. It was all I could do to make it up the hill and to the finish. After I finished, I watch some of the other racers come in and I didn't like what I saw. It looked like many of them had beaten me. I left the stadium to go ski a warm down. Then, the doubts came into my mind. Was I really out of shape? Did I miss the boat this season? By the time I returned to the stadium, I was ready to hang it up. Well, kind of. By then, the results had been posted and I took a peek. Surprisingly, it wasn't that bad. I had finished 16th, which is not good, but better than I had expected a few minutes ago. More importantly, I was not as far back in time as I thought I was. Considering how bad I felt, both physically and technically, on the last few hills, this was a decent result. I left the race feeling pretty good. I was not happy with the result, but my plan this year is to ski faster in January and February, and if that means starting off the season a little slower, I am all for it.


November 24

Sprints today. Sprints are cruel and usual punishment. Sure they are spectator-friendly and exciting to watch but there is nothing worse than warming up for an hour to do a two minute qualifying race, then going home and sitting for three hours, wondering if you were one of the 16 who qualified for the evening sprints, which means that you get to go back and do the whole thing over again. Hurry up and wait, it's painful. But that's what I did today. The qualifying trials were at 3:00 pm. I went at about 3:25 and it was over exactly 1:32 later. I did not feel good about my sprint. As soon as I started my arms when numb, like they were asleep. I couldn't feel my poles. I felt like I was in slow-motion. I thought I still had a chance of qualifying for the evening head-to-head elimination sprints, but it would be close. When the results were finally posted (three hours of waiting later) I had qualified in the 11th spot. That was the good news. The bad news is that I had to go up against Carl Swenson in the first round.

As I stood next to Carl in the start, I felt like I had nothing to lose. No one would expect me to beat the person who is arguably the best sprinter in the country. But I am a good sprinter and I knew I had a chance. My strategy was to start as quick as humanly possible and try to get the lead, even though carl had the preferable start lane. If I could get the lead, I would do whatever possible to maintain it, since passing on this windy course would be very difficult. If I didn't get the lead, I would tuck in behind him and wait until the big downhill before the finish, where I would get in his draft, and hopefully use that speed t shoot by in the home stretch.

The starter's orders were supposed to be "30 Seconds", "Five Seconds," "Go." But as I was waiting to hear "Five Seconds", I heard "Go" instead! It caught me off guard and I lost a half step out of the start. With that disadvantage, I knew I wouldn't get by Carl here. So I tucked in behind him and waited. As we wound through the course I felt really strong and smooth. I knew I could ski faster than the pace we were going, but I also had a feeling that Carl was only doing what was necessary to stay ahead. If I made a move, he would speed up to hold me off. Better to wait for the last downhill, where the person in the draft has the advantage. As we came down the hill, I was still right behind him, and gaining. As we entered the home stretch, Carl chose the inside lane, and I had to go to the outside. I had expected this, but what I hadn't expected was the soft, powder snow in the other lane. The inside lane was packed down from lots of travel, but the other lane was barely used. I tried to fight through the snow, but it was too much. Carl took the sprint by about 2 ski lengths. My night was over.

I was a bit disappointed to be out so soon, but overall it was a good night. I got some good Continental Cup points for my 11th place finish and I had hung tough with one of the best and I really think that I could have beaten him. Today was better than yesterday, which is a good trend to start.

Preliminary Qualifying Times

November 26

First skate race of the year today. I am pretty excited for this race. I didn't ski very well in the classic race, but a good sprint kept my spirits high for this race. Out of the start, I felt pretty good. The course was 3 laps of a 5K. It was the same loop as for the classic race so I knew that I had to save some energy for the hills, but at the same time I wanted to start fast and get some positive energy for the hard sections. After the first 3K I got a split that I was in 7th place. Not great since I started 11th, but since everyone in front of me were also top skiers, it wasn't bad to be in the middle somewhere. I was doing ok, and I felt decent. But then I hit the last, biggest hill on the loop, and it hit back - hard. I felt fine on the lower sections of the hill, but as I climbed my legs tired quickly. In the back of my mind I am sure that I also had visions of Thursday's race, which didn't help my energy on this hill. By the time I stumbled my way over the top of the hill and back out for lap two I was exhausted. In the span of three minutes I had gone from thinking I would pull off a good skate race to trying to minimize the damage. About 2K into my second lap, Carl Swenson passed me. I tried to stay with him as long as I could and as I followed I studied his technique. Carl was clearly skiing much different than I was. His nickname is "Glide" and anyone who has seen him race knows why. The power he puts into each stride is amazing and the resulting long glides make it look like he isn't even working hard. I mimicked his strides for about 300 meters, but I couldn't keep it up any longer. When I went back to my usual technique (but still trying for maximal glide) he quickly pulled away. After the race I mentioned to someone that I had watched Carl ski and that I had a lot of work to do, since his technique was clearly much different than mine. There response was "NO ONE skis like Carl." True enough, but that didn't keep me from trying many different approaches to skate technique over the last lap and a half of the race. Nothing was working. Every hill felt like a mountain and I was dropping places fast. On the last lap, every split time I got said that I was in 12th place. It didn't take much math to figure that since I started 11th and one person had passed me, I was in last place. I tried to stay positive, after all everyone ahead of me on the course was a good skier, there were plenty of people behind me that I could beat, but I also knew that my daily goal of making the top 20 was probably not going to happen. I slogged on home to the finish, thinking that at least the first races of the year were over and I now had some time to work on getting faster.

When the results came out, I had finished 22nd. Not as bad as I had anticipated, but still not where I want to be. It is a little discouraging, but I also try to tell myself that this could all be going exactly according to plan. This year, my main goal is to ski faster in January and February, not have my best races in November like I did last year. So maybe I am right on target. Granted I would like to ski fast now, and ski even faster in two months but I guess I just have to be patient. I will take all the slow races in the world this time of year if it means a podium finish at Nationals or good results in the Olympic qualifiers later in the year.

© 2003 Cory Smith. All Rights Reserved.