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Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion
  October 21

As many of you have noticed, my updates have been nonexistent this fall. I have been very busy. Between my full time job and full time training, I have had little free time. Plus, my training has not been very exciting. When I cam back from Alaska in August, I felt like I was a little behind where I wanted to be, so I committed myself to bearing down and getting serious about doing the nuts and bolts of cross country training. I have been doing the non-glamourous rollerskiing, weights, and running.

My excuse for not writing was that a) I have no time and b) the stuff I am doing is not entertaining or exciting. But now that I have a few minutes, I feel like I should at least recount a general summary of what I have been doing this fall. But be forewarned, this is has been a tough time for me. I am sharing these thoughts because most of the stuff I write about is fun and exciting. But I feel that you should also see the other side as well, which are the hard times when I have to "pay my dues." Otherwise you might begin to think that being a ski racer is all fun and games. So here it is, a glimpse into the darkest, loneliest times of ski racing.

As I have mentioned before, I have a full time job as a software engineer to pay the bills and allow me to ski race. Well, ok, its not really full -time, I work 35 hours a week, usually 11-6 Monday -Friday. Thus, in order to get in the 3-4 hours of training I need each day, my days this fall have gone something like this:

7:00-7:30 - get up and eat breakfast
7:30-8:00 - get my training stuff together and drive to wherever I am doing my workout.
8:00-10:00 or 10:30 - do my workout. Mornings are usually long distance (2-2.5 hours) or interval workouts
10:30-11:00 - drive to work
11:00-6:00 - work
6:00-6:30 - drive home
6:30 - 7:00 - grab a bite to eat and head out to train again
7:00 -9:00 - train again - evenings are usually weights (inside) or rollerskiing (specific strength) under the street lights.
9:00 -10:00 - cook and eat dinner
10:00 - 10:30 - exactly one half hour to myself before going to bed and doing it all over again.
10:30 - go to bed.

Now I should mention that this is my ideal schedule. Rarely do I get up right when my alarm goes off, rarely do I leave work right at 6:00, and rarely am I in bed at 10:30. But this is the schedule that is in the back of my mind all day, every day. As you can see, it doesn't leave much time for anything else. By the time the weekend comes around, I usually spend the whole time catching up on stuff I didn't do all week (pay bills, laundry, etc.).

Whenever someone asks me what I am training for, I reluctantly give the answer that I would like make the US Ski Team and the 2002 Olympic Team. But I always qualify my answer by saying that the main reason I continue to work towards these goals despite minimal support, is that I really enjoy training and I love skiing. I have always said that I would continue racing only as long I continue to improve and I continue to have fun. It goes without saying that anytime a person works so hard towards a goal that is so hard to achieve, it will not always be fun. There will be tough times. There will be bad races. There will be early morning workouts in the cold and rain. But I have always felt that those times are far outweighed by the good races and blue bird powder days. But this fall has tested my resolve more than any period of time since I began training seriously in college. I would even say that this fall, overall, has not been fun at all. In many ways I have felt overwhelmed. Because of my work schedule, I train on my own a lot. When I come home from work and my roommates (also skiers) are eating dinner, watching TV and relaxing, I have to force myself back out the door to train in the dark. There is nothing that tests my motivation more than doing hard workouts on my own. I am not afraid to admit that sometimes I give in. I am just too exhausted to get out of bed in the morning to train, or I just have too much to do in the evening to get in another workout. The combination of missing training sessions and feeling guilty about missing training sessions is a physical, psychological double whammy that can get me pretty down, but on the upside, usually gets me out the door quickly the next day. As I watched the Olympics from Sydney, the announcers loved to talk about the sacrifice that athletes had to make to get there. Its times like this that those sacrifices are all too apparent.

There have been times this fall that I have wondered, "Is this worth it?" "Am I still having enough fun and making enough progress to justify all this hard work and sacrifice?" "Would I be happier if I just left the sport now, on my own terms?" Each time I think this, I keep coming back to the fact that I have already invested almost five full years (plus countless training hours before that) towards my dream. I owe it to myself to grind it out for the next 18 months even if it is tough. I am close enough and still skiing fast enough that if I quit now I will always wonder, "What if?" I also keep reminding myself that the dark, cold days of fall are the hardest for training. Once I get on the road skiing again, I will be much more enthusiastic and motivated.

It is a double edged sword, no doubt. I envy some of my training partners like Scott Loomis, Andrew Johnson, and Kris Freeman because they don't have to work to afford to ski race. But I also really enjoy my job and I am glad that I am learning and using skills that I know will benefit me when I finally hang up my Atomics for good. I have no doubt that if I had the advantages that some other skiers have, such as funding for my training and racing, a team to train with, and coaches to work with on a daily basis, I could and would be one of the top few skiers in the country. I am close now and I have done it mostly on my own. But I also know that those advantages might be what separate me from where I am now and where I want to be.

So what does this all mean? Right now I am not sure. I am not naive enough to think that I am the only one out there who is struggling to balance a lot on their plate. The majority of my competitors, and almost all Masters skiers have just as much of a time crunch as I do. I am not about to make any drastic changes in my life, either with skiing, or my job, or anything else. If I have a few good races early in the season, the hard, lonely days of fall will seem like ancient history. If I continue to struggle on the season starts, then maybe I will have to reevaluate my approach next spring. There are three things I know for sure: 1) I have been lucky enough to pursue my dream to this point, I am not about to quit now. 2) Cross country skiing (and the training that goes along with it) is the best sport in the world and I am fortunate to be involved in it. 3) No matter what happens in the next year or so with regards to the Olympics, etc. I know that I will look back and know that I did my best with the cards I was dealt. And I'll know that it was, most of the time, a lot of fun.

October 27

Finally. Today I get to put the fall behind me and jump right into winter. Right now I am on a flight from Slat Lake to Anchorage, on my way to Fairbanks to start the season with 8 days of skiing on the trails of Birch Hill. Because of my hectic fall, I did not keep up my training log as well as I should have, so I spent most of the plane ride filling in the blank spots (like September). Fortunately, I had printouts of my weekly plans, along with notes I had scribbled in the margins, so I was able to recall almost every workout in miserable or glorious detail.

I am in a very strange and unfamiliar situation right now. I honestly have no idea where I stand in terms of fitness. Am I embarrassingly out of shape? Am I in the best racing form of my life? I have no clue. Judging solely on my perception of my training this summer and fall, I would say that I am not yet where I want to be. I am probably 3-4 weeks behind schedule. But why I think this, I can't say. Whenever I do workouts with other athletes, I usually do pretty well in keeping up or finishing where I want to. Additionally, I am hard pressed to come up with anything that has really been missing from my training recently. All the workouts I should be doing are getting done. But yet I still have this nagging feeling that I am behind, that everyone has passed me by. It is especially unsettling when I can't figure out why I feel like this. I was almost shocked when I added up my total hours a few minutes ago and realized that to this point in the year I am fifty hours ahead of my pace from last year. Exactly where I want to be. It can't be. I don't feel like I am better prepared than ever. I really feel like I am out of shape, even though all the numbers tell me otherwise.

Maybe this is a good thing. I have accomplished all this training without feeling like I am hitting my peak in November (which is what happened last year). Maybe I should feel like I have more work to do. Then I will be rolling in a couple of months. This is the way I am trying to look at it, but I still have this little voice in the back of my head that seems to think I am going to try and ski and just pass out from the excursion because I am woefully out of shape. I think many of these questions and doubts will be answered soon enough after I start skiing. You can't fake your way through 8 days of skiing four hours a day.

After a brief stopover in Anchorage, we took off again for the short flight up to Fairbanks. It is a very nice day, so our pilot has chosen to fly the scenic route by Mount McKinley. When he told us this I was psyched, since in my two weeks in Alaska in August I only caught one fleeting glimpse of the High One. But I tempered my enthusiasm. After all, how close could you get to a mountain that size with a passenger jet? Well, apparently you can get very, very close. I was speechless as we flew by the mountain. Altitude-wise, we were just about even with the summit and couldn't have been more than mile from the peak. I could see ridgelines, pick out crevasses in the glaciers and even see the wind pattern as it blew snow off the peak. I felt guilty. People spend months climbing that mountain, risking life and limb, and here I was getting the same view from a seat in a climate-controlled plane. It reminded me of running up Mount Washington back in New Hampshire, only to have to deal with all the cars and tourists that drove up when I finally reached the top. Only now the shoe was on the other foot. But it was still amazing. No amount of guilt could keep me from appreciating the awesome spectacle. I sat in silence, scanning all visible parts of the mountain for about five minutes as we flew in a semicircle to get around the peak. After passing by the mountain I could see down into the river valley in Denali National Park, where I had been camping only two months ago. Wonder Lake, McKinley Bar. It all looked a little different from above with a covering of snow.

October 28

White Bear Temperature: 20 degrees F

Skiing. It's the reason we are all here. Over the course of the next couple weeks, most of the top skiers and biathletes in North America will spend some time in Fairbanks, getting in their first on-snow training of the year. Two years ago, the snow here was pretty bad this time of year, so most people stayed away last year as a result. I came up with three others from Park CIty, but we were the only ones to make the pilgrimage. But while everyone else sat at home with abnormally high temps, we skied on beautifully groomed snow. It appears that those others who missed out learned their lesson and are back this year. I would estimate that between October 20th and November 10th, at least 40 of the best skiers from the US and Canada will have come to Fairbanks.

The snow this year did not disappoint. They have been skiing here since the beginning of October and despite the fact that there is only 6 inches of snow, the skiing is beautiful. We are all using our new race skis. I'm not sure how they do it, but it takes almost no snow to create great skiing here. Very smooth trails and very cold temperatures, probably.

Since today was my first on snow, I only skied once. Don't want to wear myself out in one day. I skated for about two hours, mostly with Chris Klein, and felt good. We were skiing fairly fast, but I felt strong. The thought that kept occurring to me was, "Well at least I am not horribly out of shape." It's a start anyway.

October 29

White Bear Temperature: 9 degrees F

The one drawback about coming to Fairbanks to ski is that it is usually very cold. Even in October, the thermometer usually spends more time below zero than above it. I think the warmest temperature we saw last year was about 10 degrees F. So I couldn't really complain when I set out to ski and the temperature read a chilly 9 degrees . I slapped some Rode Super Blue kick wax on my brand-new, freshly stoneground and prepped, Atomic Beta Classics and hit the trail. The whole ski was a struggle to get kick. I was slipping all over the place. It was very frustrating, especially since I couldn't figure out why. Was it the wax? Probably not. Super Blue is for 23-30 degrees &Mac246;F, so it should definitely work now. Was it my skis? Possibly. I haven't figured out the wax pocket yet, but I waxed pretty long and they are supposed to be soft skis. Was it my technique? Possibly. After using racheted rollerskis all summer, it is often difficult to set the wax when you first get on snow. But even when I really tried to set the wax, I was slipping. I felt like I was thrashing about. At one point, it was so bad that I stopped and looked around, hoping that no one could see my embarrassing display of how not to ski. No one did. After two hours and fifteen minutes of futility, I was all too ready to head for the lodge. When I got inside and started taking off my boots, I was relieved to hear the other guys talk about how bad their kick was. They all had the same problems I did. Our technique was probably part of it, but I think the snow is kind of funny too. Even though it is pretty cold, the snow crystals are almost greasy. So many people have been skiing over the same snow that it is almost getting glazed. The only people who had kick were those who re-waxed with Mulitgrade VIOLET!

One thing I wanted to do differently this year in Fairbanks is to add more variety to my workouts. Because it is our first time on snow for the year, we all get really fired up to ski and as a result we end up doing lots of long distance skis and not much else. Plus when it is so cold out, you don't exactly feel like doing specific strength, intervals, or anything that means stopping and starting a lot. But this year one of my goals is to increase the variation in my workouts during the season. So I might as well get started here in Fairbanks, especially while the weather is mild. So this afternoon, after 50 minutes of skating, I dropped my poles and skied for an hour working both on leg strength and technique. I did some sprints, and some sustained climbs. By the time I was done, my legs were tired, but in a good way.

October 30

White Bear Temperature: 18 degrees F

Another attempt at classic skiing this morning. It was kind of warm today, so I waxed with Rode Super Extra blue and Super Blue. I put on about 7 long layers, hoping to maximize grip even at the expense of glide. I am still feeling strong starting my third day of skiing. Right about now is when I should be feeling the effects of my first few sessions. But even though it took quite a bit of effort to set the wax on each stride, I skied for two hours and fifteen minutes and felt very good. The last forty five minutes I did specific strength. Double poling, diagonal poling, triceps, and stomach exercises on a gradual uphill. Another session where I managed to add a little variety.

This afternoon I wanted to continue on my quest for variety. I decided to head over to the Athletic Club of Fairbanks to do some general strength. I dragged Scott Loomis and Andrew Johnson with me. Scott and I went for a half hour run, saw a fox along the way, then did an hour of weights. Even though weights are a pretty tough workout, it is also recovery in a way. By using the muscles in a completely different way, it actually helps to shake things up and refresh the muscles between distance workouts. So after weights, a few minutes on the basketball court realizing why I am became a skier, and a wonderful 20 minutes in the steam room, I went home feeling relaxed and refreshed.

October 31

White Bear Temperature: 10 degrees F

Happy Halloween! No real tricks for me today, but I did have my share of treats. We bought Halloween candy in case any young ghost or goblins came to our door. But for some strange reason all our Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Kit Kats were gone long before any kids showed up. Funny how that happened.

I skated for two hours this morning and I have to admit that I was not feeling very energetic. I don't think the candy was entirely to blame. After all, today was my fourth day of skiing. It's about time I start really feeling the effects.

My original plan was to take a day off half way through my stay here, and since tomorrow is halfway, it couldn't have come at a better time. I decided that instead of taking one day completely off, I would take this afternoon and tomorrow morning off, then ski next on tomorrow afternoon. I don't really feel like I am going to need a full day completely off, plus by splitting the rest up over two days it prevents me from going stir-crazy sitting in our room all day. Usually I revel in being able to do that every once in a while at a camp, but our quarters are pretty cramped here (I am sleeping on a mattress in the living room) so I don't really feel like spending an entire day between my bed and the desk in the corner. By skiing once for the next two days, I manage to get out and get some fresh air while still recovering.

This evening we made a candy run to replenish our depleted supply and even had a few trick or treaters to give some of it to. We are up on the third floor of the building and I was very disappointed to see that many of the kids' parents would run up the stairs and knock all the doors, and even collect the candy while the kids waited at the foot of the stairs. I was kind of a hard-ass in that I insisted that all kids had to come up and get candy from me directly. I think this annoyed a couple of parents, but I used the excuse that I wanted to see the costumes. I know that I had to hike all over town to get candy when I was a kid. These kids ride around in cars (because of the cold temps) to trick or treat so I think the least they can do is walk up a couple flights of stairs.

Continue to November Journal . . .

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