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Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion

Fairbanks Training Camp

Select Journal Entry by date, or scroll down.
October 26|28|30

October 26

It's that time of the year again. I have paid my dues through six long, hard months of dry-land training, and Now I am finally rewarded with my first taste of winter. Or so it should be anyway. In reality, it seems like just a month or two ago that I was in Fairbanks for training camp prior to last season. Just a few short weeks ago I was swimming in Squam Lake. Just yesterday I was mountain biking in Moab. How did summer turn to winter overnight? Don't get me wrong, I am excited about this season. I trained harder and better than I ever have this year and I am ready to start seeing some results. But I think I missed out on a rite of passage into every ski season: The anticipation of the first ski-able snow. When I booked my ticket to Fairbanks a month ago, I knew I would be skiing on October 27. It takes some of the fun out of looking forward to winter. Of course, growing up in New Hampshire, the fun in hoping was usually gone well before the ground was white.
Anyway, it's time to kick this season into high gear and I am ready. The flight was unusually pleasant. Everything went according to schedule and as a bonus we had an incredible view of Mt. Rainier on the way into Seattle. I felt like moving to Washington based on that view alone. If only it didn't rain so much there.

October 27

Temperature on White Bear Trail at 10 am: 17 degrees F

AM Workout: Classic Distance 1:45

Didn't get to sleep until 1am due to a midnight arrival in Fairbanks. Slept in this morning, and finally rolled out of bed at 9:30. Went skiing around noon. It's the first day on snow, so I decided that one session would be enough. The skiing wasn't all that good - barely 3-4 inches of snow. I only brought race skis with me, but they made in through the first day without significant damage (knock on wood). I classic skied for 1:45 on extra blue hard wax. After skiing, I made a beeline for the nearest CD shop to get the new R.E.M. album, released today. My initial opinion is that it is an incredibly good album. Not that you asked. Finally met the family I am staying with this evening when they got home. Very nice people and very hospitable. They live a long way from the trails, but its a small price to pay for free housing. Imposing on other people's homes is a necessary evil in order to make this trip affordable. I feel lucky that we ended up with such nice people.

October 28

White Bear Temperature: 10 degrees F

AM Workout: Skate Distance 1:45

OK now I feel like I am in training camp mode. Got up before the sun this morning, of course in Fairbanks that just means I was up before 10am. Went skiing this morning for an hour forty-five again. I skated and felt pretty good technically. It always takes a few sessions to get used to having the long boards on my feet after months of rollerskiing. But this year it seemed especially easy. Maybe its because I did a lot of work on my technique in the off-season, or maybe its because I was too busy trying to avoid rocks to notice that I was flailing. It's important to ease into the on-snow training. It's very easy to be too excited about being on snow and training for 4-5 hours a day as soon as you arrive. If you do that, you'll pay dearly in the second week of the camp. The season is not won in October. Patience is key.

PM Workout: Classic Distance 1:15

This afternoon, after a big lunch and an even bigger nap, I classic skied for an hour and fifteen minutes. Considering that there are no classical tracks, I felt surprisingly smooth. I skied very easy, but I didn't feel tired. Its usually the third or fourth day on snow that tiredness starts to creep in and you realize that you haven't done this in six months.

October 29

White Bear Temperature: 7 degrees F

AM Workout: Skate Distance 2:00

Today was the first day that the poor conditions finally got to me. The first two days I would curse (no, not really Mom) each time I hit a rock. If I had done that today I would have been too out of breath to ski. With each section of trail only having 2-3 inches of snow and being traveled by 50-60 skiers each day, the conditions are deteriorating quickly. I didn't bring rock skis, which doesn't help matters much. I was miserable out there this morning, leading a good pair of race skis to their demise. Even the refrain, "I could be rollerskiing" was of little consolation. I considered it a major moral victory that I skied all two hours that I had planned on.

PM Workout: Classic Specific Strength 1:00

After this morning's less than thrilling ski, we decided to check out the trails at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Since I am going to do my first ski interval workout tomorrow morning (skating) I worked on arm strength this afternoon. That basically meant an hour of double poling, with as many gradual uphills as I could find. Though the skiing wasn't any better at the University, it was nice to be on new trails, which helped excite me a bit. The evening was spent watching Magic's Biggest Secrets Revealed. Watching bad TV is as much a part of training camps as skiing itself. Otherwise, we would just waste all that free time...

October 30

White Bear Temperature: 9 degrees F

AM Workout: Skate Intervals 2:10

I'm not usually one to get excited about intervals. I usually consider them to be an enemy that must be vanquished as swiftly and painlessly as possible. But after three days of skiing the same trails at the same pace, I am ready to pick it up a notch. I did level 4 (hard) intervals in the following sequence: 4 min, 6 min, 8 min, 10 min, 8 min, 6 min, 4 min. It sounds pretty impressive, but the reality is that I was so busy dodging rocks that it was tough to go hard and ski well technically. I felt relatively smooth and my heart rate was usually between 175 and 185, so I considered it a good workout.

October 31 - Happy Halloween!!

White Bear Temperature: I have no idea

PM Workout: survival

Its Halloween, which in my book means that you undo all the training you have done for the past week by eating as much candy as humanly possible. (Just kidding coach - sort of...). While I tried to show restraint and not steal Reese's peanut butter cups from the bowl designated for trick-or-treaters ( I bought my own), I did plan to take the day off from training. I didn't really feel like I needed it, but its better to rest early in a training camp than get really tired halfway through and drag yourself through the last week. Instead, our host took us out skijoring. For those unfamiliar with the sport, you put on your skis, tie yourself to a sled dog or two and then hold on for dear life. It was the coolest thing I have done in a long time!! My dog was named Cheddar. She was a monster when you got her going in the right direction, which happened only when she had something to chase, such as another dog, moose, or small child. We started out up a hill and it was incredible. With Cheddar running and me skating, we were flying. Unfortunately this became a problem when we reached the top of the hill and Cheddar did not listen to my panicked cries of, "Stop! Heal! Oh %*#!" Instead we took off full speed ahead down the other side. The trail was a narrow mushing/snowmobiling trail with large ruts, overgrown shrubs, six inches of snow and a fairly good pitch. I quickly realized that a snowplow was not going to slow this animal down, so I flung my body at the ground in a hip-check motion, momentarily forgetting that my health insurance doesn't take effect until November 1. This stopped the two of us pretty effectively. Using this technique occasionally, we managed to cover about ten kilometers. It was a complete blast, and I momentarily considered giving up skiing for skijoring. Then I remembered the bruises on my hip.

November 1

White Bear Temperature: a balmy 20 degrees F

AM Workout: Classical OD 3:00

Got up a little early today in order to be on the trails by 8:30. After all, football starts at 9am up here and I didn't want to miss more than the first game. Good thing Dallas plays tomorrow night. Skied for just over three hours and felt really good. Sometimes when I am training a lot and I take an easy day, I feel terrible the following day. This is due to all the training finally catching up with me when I finally stop to rest. However, since this was not the case today, I figure I need to bump up the hours for this coming week. Its a bit of a balancing act, because I would like to feel good for the races next weekend, but at this point in the season I think the volume is more important than the race results. The skiing was surprisingly good today. Its amazing how much better the skiing got with the half inch of snow that fell yesterday. I think that says a lot more about how bad it was before than it does about how good it is now.

PM Workout: Run 1:00

Since I skied quite a while this morning and I will probably be doing intervals tomorrow morning, I didn't want to ski this afternoon. I did feel that I should loosen up, since I was in such a rush to get home for football that I didn't stretch out after skiing. So I went running, but I won't bore you with the details.

November 2

White Bear Temperature: 28 degrees F!

AM Workout: Skate Distance 2:20

Felt really good today. I intended to just ski very easy because I did an OD yesterday and I am planning intervals for tomorrow morning. But I felt great and couldn't help but push the pace a little. I skied for 2:20 and wanted more when I was done. I would like to carry this good feeling over into tomorrow, so I didn't go overboard. Skiing was really fun. It was one of those workouts when you think to yourself, "This is why I do this." I hadn't had one of those in a while and it couldn't have come at a better time - halfway through a big camp.

PM Workout: Specific Strength 1:00

After lunch and a writing a few letters (yeah, right) I headed out to the university trails to do a specific strength workout. It was dark by the time I got out the door (must have been all those letters I was writing) and the university trails only have one hill that is lighted. It worked out ok for me, though. I just double poled up that hill more times than I care to remember. It took 4-5 minutes per loop and I was out there for an hour. You do the math.

November 3

White Bear Temperature: 22 degrees F

AM Workout: Classic Intervals 2:30

Ah yes, intervals. The workout that Torbjorn planned for me today was a doozy. It consists of 2x 8 minutes at level three followed by a sequence of 10x 3 minutes uphill at level four, with each three minute interval followed two minutes later by a one minute all out sprint on the flats. Confused? Good. Do not try this at home. We are trained professionals. The total interval time is almost an hour, not including recovery time. Now that I've built it up so big, here is the part where I tell you that it was no big deal. Yes it was hard, but in a strange masochistic way, I loved it. I'm not usually one to relish intervals, but today I felt like I just couldn't go hard enough. I started to bog down a bit on the seventh three minute one, but I resolved to make the eighth the fastest one of the day (determined by how far up the trail I made it) and I accomplished that. After that, the last two were cake. Two and a half hours after I started my warm-up, the workout was over. I was dead tired, but I showed those intervals who was boss.

PM Workout: Run 1:00

I had that post-race tired and sore feeling in my legs this afternoon. I find the best way to get rid of that is a jog. So instead of skiing again this afternoon I ran VERY slowly, walking the uphills, for an hour. Then watched the election results on TV. Can somebody from Minnesota explain to me how Jesse "The Body" Ventura got elected? Granted, I know nothing about his platform, but he couldn't even beat Hulk Hogan in a fake fight. On the other hand, politics are ver similar WWF.

November 4

White Bear Temperature: 18 degrees F

AM Workout: Skate Distance 2:00

Feeling tired today. Getting out of bed was a bit of a chore. Ironically, after getting up late (7:45) we were the first ones on the trail. I was skating, and for the first hour I was dragging. Walking all the uphills and cruising the rest. Definite level one. I started to feel better after that, but stopped at two hours. I am doing some sprint races this evening so I want to feel OK for those.

Lexus Sprint Tour Races 2:30

Wax of the Day: Solda F-10 Green
Tonight was the opening event of the 1998-1999 Lexus Sprint Tour. This is a new series that consists of seven races around the country, usually held in conjunction with another major race. The format is as follows. The course consists of two laps around a 1 km loop. Racers are split into heats of five or six skiers. In the first round, the top three (if there are six in the heat) or two (if there are five in the heat) advance to the second round. The losers in the first round go into a consolation field. After the first round, if you lose, you go home. The winners field is eventually pared to three and the consolation field is narrowed to one. These four then sprint for the money. $1000 for first, $500 for second, $300 for third and $100 for fourth. It was a tough men's field, including Marcus Nash, Justin Wadsworth, John Bauer, Pat Weaver, Rob Whitney, Carl Swenson, Eli Brown, and three members of the Canadian National Team. I was unfortunate enough to be in a first round heat of five people including Carl Swenson, John Bauer, Peter Alden, and one other local high school skier. After one lap, John, Carl, Peter, and I came through the stadium in a pack. At this point I made a quick decision that my best bet was in the consolation round and I dropped off the back. My strategy was foiled when Pat Weaver did the same in his heat. That meant that in order to make the final, I would have to beat Pat and Peter Alden, who beat me in the first round. In the next round, I advanced easily. In the next heat, the consolation final, one skier would advance to the "real" final. Pat took the early lead and Peter and I jumped in behind him. At the top of the first hill, we were still close together. They got a bit of a gap on me coming back down in into the stadium, due to the fact that my rock skis were not running so fast. Starting the second lap, I worked as hard as I could to get back on Peter's heels. Just before we entered the stadium, I made my move past Peter and followed Pat stride for stride. At this point, I was a bit surprised to still be in contention, but I remember thinking, "Well as long as I'm here, I might as well give it a shot." As we entered the stadium, I pulled out from behind Pat and tried to make a move. To my amazement, I was suddenly right beside him and pulling away! I crossed the finish line about a ski length ahead and at least a hundred dollars richer! In the final, I was again up against formidable competition. Carl Swenson, Justin Wadsworth, and Robin McKeever from Canada. All three are former Olympians and National Champions. I gave it my all, but ended up in fourth place. Carl finished first, Justin second. Still a very good night for me. It's a rare occasion that I can make money at a ski race, so I was very happy with the results. I will put more complete results (as best as I can remember them) on my Racing page soon.

November 5

White Bear Temperature: 12 degrees F

AM Workout: Classic Distance 1:50

I didn't sleep very well last night. Torbjorn loves to tell stories of how Bjorn Daehlie will be so tired after an interval session that he will just lie in bed and shake, completely exhausted but unable to sleep. I'd like to think that I was feeling a little like that after going all out in the sprints last night. Today was planned as an easy distance day. This morning I skied for 1:45 at a very easy pace. I felt sore from yesterday but loosened up as I went. Only a few people were on the trails today. I guess the U.S. Ski Team decided to take the day off. The winner of this weekend's races gets a spot on the early season World Cup, so they are all resting up. Frankly, it's a minor miracle that they can even hold a race here. The snowpack is about an inch thick, but because the trails are so smooth and grassy the racecourse is in good shape. After the morning workout, I came home and played Snood (computer game) for much too long. The only consolation to this colossal waste of time being that I set a new high score. I planned on skiing again this afternoon, but after talking to Torbjorn at about 3:00, I reconsidered. I have trained almost 14 hours this week and it's only Thursday. I think I can rest up a bit for Saturday's race and still hit 20 hours for the week. I am not putting a whole lot of emphasis on this race, but I would still like to feel smooth and ski well. So I took this afternoon off and did some computer work on a couple of web pages instead (no, not Snood).

November 6

White Bear Temperature: 22 degrees F

AM Workout: Skate Distance With Speed 1:00

The day before the race. I still use the same ritual for the workout prior to the race that I learned in college. Everyone knows that they should take it easy, but my routine is a little more structured. I try to ski at the same time the race is held. This is for a couple of reasons. One, it gives the body a sense of what it will be going through the next day. For someone who hates to get up as much as I do, this is fairly important. Secondly, assuming that the conditions don't change muh overnight, it allows me to do some ski and wax testing. Neither of these factors is crucial for this race, but since it is the first race of the season, it's still important to get into the habit. I always do essentially the same workout as well. Ski for about an hour, on the course if poosible (today it wasn;t because they are trying to preserve the snow). I then follow the ski with a series of 6-8 sprints of about 20 seconds, using each technique that I will use in the race. After that, about fifteen minutes of stretching and I'm done for the day. While I think it is important to have some sort of routine, it's even more important not to worry when things don't go according to plan. I know too many people who freak out because they can't ski the course the day before, or can't decide which wax is running fastest, or whatever. I'm a firm believer that you just make the best of whatever happens, and don't stress. I can think of a number of races in adverse conditions (lack of snow, rain, etc.) in which I did well primarily because other people freaked out. Maybe that will happen tomorrow.

November 7

White Bear Temperature: 21 degrees F

YOKO Series 10K Skate Race 2:25

Wax of the Day: Solda F-20 Violet
It may only be the beginning of November, but on the way to the race today I was very excited to start racing. I arrived at Birch Hill an hour and a half before start time. This gave me a half hour in which to check out the start list, get dressed and get my race bib before heading out to warm up. The race had to be altered because of the snow conditions. Originally, today was supposed to be a classic race with a skate race tomorrow. But with only an inch of snow, they couldn't set classic tracks. So the classic race was cancelled and the skate race moved to today. In addition, the race was being staged at the far end of the trail system, where the snow cover was better, rather than in the stadium. Though very thin on one downhill corner and the lap lane, the snow was good enough that most racers still pulled out the good skis. On one inch of snow! Because of the changes the race was no longer FIS sanctioned, which is a bummer for those of us hoping to pick up points in such a strong field. I was the third man to start, following my teammates Erik Stange and Scott Loomis. A minute after me was the first U.S. Ski Team member, John Bauer, followed by Pat Weaver, Marcus Nash, Justin Wadsworth, and Carl Swenson. I started pretty hard and kept Scott in sight for the first two k's. I lost sight of him on a series of downhills, but caught a glimpse of his red and white suit as I started up a series of three decent climbs. It appeared that he had not gained any time on me and this motivated me to hammer up the hills. As I came down the hill into the lap area, I was trying to recover as best I could before heading out on the second and final lap. I was hurting and thinking, "Maybe I started too fast," but I wasn't losing any time to Scott. There was no one else around to judge myself off of. I survived the second lap and at the top of the last climb I got a split from the U.S. Ski Team coaches that I was 3 seconds up on Scott. That was all the motivation I needed for the final sprint. Initially I thought that it was a pretty good race, but nothing special. That was until John Estle, race organizer and fellow Littleton, NH hometowner told me that I had "done Littleton proud" and finished fourth! Justin Wadsworth won by catching up to Marcus Nash, who finished second ahead of Carl Swenson and then myself. I have been surrounded by some big names on the results sheet this week! After initially being thrilled by my result, I began thinking on my warm-down, "I want to be skiing like this in January, not now!" But talking to Torbjorn on the phone after the race, he told me not to be afraid of progress. I guess if I can get a result like this, I won't be picky about when it comes. Check out the results on my Racing page. On the way to the awards ceremony in town tonight, we were treated to a fantastic display of Aurora Borealis snaking across ths sky. Primarily greenish-white, there was a single ribbon that stretched clear from the southern horizon above the Alaska Range and Denali National Park to the northern horizon, waving in the air like a flag in a gentle breeze. It was spectacular, but that's enough flowery language.

November 8

White Bear Temperature: 24 degrees F

AM Workout: Easy Classic Ski 2:00

I woke up early today in order to ski at 8:30. We had plans to meet our host family at 11:00 for a trip to the Chena Hot Springs, so we motivated a bit early. I wish we had raced today as well. Maybe I'm just on a high after yesterday, but I felt great skiing. I tried to ski easy, but I kept finding myself charging up the hills. I had to hold back to make sure I stayed in level one. After skiing for two hours, we met our hosts and took the senic one hour drive to the Chena Hot Springs. I had some pre-concieved notions about these hot springs. Since we are in Alaska and these springs are out in the middle of nowhere, I figured it would just be a couple of holes in the ground, with maybe a few wooden benches to sit on if we were lucky. I was surprised, and a bit disappointed, to arrive and find that the tubs were inside, looked just like a hotel swimming pool, and they were charging $8 to get in. The only way you would know that these bright blue hot tubs and pools were fed by natural springs was by the slight sulphur odor in the air. We still managed to soak and relax for a couple hours before heading back to town. We also stopped to see the Alaska Pipeline, just for kicks. With dog mushing, northern lights, smoked salmon, the pipeline, and moose encounters, I'd say we've had a full Alaskan experience.

PM Workout: Run 1:00

November 9

White Bear Temperature: 13 degrees F

AM Workout: Easy Skate Ski 1:45

An easy "wind down" ski this morning put the cap on a successful training camp. Since I am going back to altitude and will be anxious to start training again after a few easy days, it is important that I try to recover as much as possible while I am still at sea-level. Therefore, just one session today. As I skied, I had time to think about how the camp went and how to approach the season from here. Obviously, I am very happy with my race results, but it's important to remember that it was only one race and a sprint and it is a long season. The last race of the year is April 2nd - exactly 5 months after the opening sprint races here in Alaska. I have started this season well and put the miserable experience from last year's Nationals behind me. But more important than the races, is the training that I did over the past two weeks. My goal was to train for 35 hours over the two week period and I accomplished that. The next step, after a relatively easy week, will be to increase this volume for the Yellowstone Camp - hopefully getting in 30 hours of skiing over a 10 day period. I think I have pretty good speed and tempo for this time of year, so intensity will take a temporary back-seat to volume. As for other aspects of the camp, I can't say enough about our hosts. Two weeks is a long time to spend in someone else's home, but were happy to have us the entire time - even a bit sad when we had to leave! They were excited about what we were doing and fascinated by our ski stories. All in all, it was a perfect way to start the season. Now it's back to Utah. Supposedly they have been getting snow all week, so maybe I'll be skiing there. So I guess that wraps things up for a while. The journal will be put on hold for a while as I go back to my "normal" existence in Park City. But look for new entries starting on November 20th or so when I make the annual pilgrimage to West Yellowstone.

© 2003 Cory Smith. All Rights Reserved.