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Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion

July 9

Well, we're almost into double digit days this month and I am just now putting something in the journal. One reason for this is that I am lazy, but a better one is that I haven't had anything too exciting to report. I think I celebrated the 4th of July with a little too much enthusiasm and I spent the rest of this week paying for it. On Monday I felt like I was beginning to come down with a little sickness. It was just a scratch in the back of my throat, no big deal. Since this sickness could be traced back to a night on the town, I couldn't justify missing training because of it. I decided to fight through it, rather than rest. However, as the week went on, I didn't get better as I had hoped. I couldn't get out of bed in the morning, and after every meal I would get noxious. Training was a real struggle, but it is now Friday and I am proud to say that I've only skipped one workout this week. But today we did intervals and I felt like I should have skipped more to rest up. For today, Torbjorn had skiwalking intervals of four to seven minutes planned. Skiwalking, for those who don't know (lucky you), is basically walking uphill with poles in your hands, imitating a ski striding motion. We decided to do them on one of the downhill ski runs at The Canyons. The hill we picked was very steep. What little energy I had was zapped out of me just by looking up the hill. But when the intervals started, I just put my head down, put one foot in front of the other, and tried to make it up the hill. I was walking at a pace that would be considered average on flat ground. But the steepness of the hill and my general fatigue meant that I was in level IV (HARD) most of the way. I tried to keep the thoughts of how pathetic I was from creeping into my head and tried to maintain some semblance of technique so that Torbjorn wouldn't critique me. That was the last thing I needed at that point. After four of these intervals, I was beginning to see stars, but I had finished the workout and could now jump limp back to the car. Though I felt bad, I had completed the whole workout, which I took to be a major moral victory. Two more days and then I can put this week behind me.

July 10

I am a firm believer that every once in a while you have to do something crazy to keep training interesting and fun. Sometimes its a 12 hour, 54 mile run on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire. sometimes its a backcountry ski in unknown wilderness, and sometimes its deciding at 11:30 pm that its time to go train. Today it was deciding to try out for the US Bobsled team. Thats right, Bobsled. Since bobsled is a sport that is completely inaccessible and no one has any experience with it, the Bobsled coaches use a standardized test of track and field events to pick the team. There are six events and anyone who scores a total of 700 points or more gets to join the US team at a training camp in Lake Placid. The events are designed to pick the people who can push a sled up to max speed in the matter of a few seconds. Speed and power is what it is all about. So what was I doing there? Good question. I saw an article in a local paper advertising open tryouts at the local high school and I figured I had to do a speed/explosive strength workout anyway, so why not take a shot at Olympic glory? As I looked over the events on the registration form, I realized that the test would make short work of me: 30 meter sprint, 60 meter sprint 100 meter sprint, vertical leap, 5 consecutive hops for distance, and underhand shotput. I examined the page closely, looking for the 3 hour mountain run, or the rollerboard endurance test, but no such luck. If it took more than 12 seconds, they weren't interested. First up was the sprints. We were given the option of running all the distances separately, or just running the 100m and taking our 30m and 60m sprints. All the serious contenders did the sprints separately, but I was in a hurry to get to work so I did them all at once. My times were not as good as I hoped, but they were not all that far off the Bobsled Team members. In the 100m, most of the current team members were in the mid to high 11 second range. I couldn't quite break the 12 second barrier, coming in at 12.14 seconds. In the jumping events I was very disappointed with my performance. Whenever we do plyometric exercises in ski training, my vertical and longitudinal jumps are always some of the best in any group. But that is compared to other skiers. Today I was being compared to track athletes and I got put in my place. But the real disaster came in the shotput. The idea was to throw the shot as far a possible using a "granny style" technique. Having never even touched a shot before, I studied the Team members as they all took their turn. They all crouched very low, pumped their arms and legs a few times and then exploded up and forward, landing face first on the ground, but sending the 16 lb. shot flying for 15 meters or so. I had a breif moment of bravery and volunteered to be the first "rookie" to take my shot (pun intended). So I stepped to teh line, took teh shot in my hands, croutched real low, took deep breaths and pumped my arms and legs. Then, as i exploded forward and landed flat on my face. . . the ball fell out of my hand and landed a mere 6 meters away. I tried to laugh off my embarrassment, but I wasvery upset. No one told me how hard it was to hold that thing. I had two more tries though, so I watched a few more contestants ( most of whom were rookies who suddenly were much less nervous after watching me!) and then stepped to the line again. I repeated all the motions to make it look like I knew what I was doing and exploded with all my might. The trajectory of my ball was still too flat and it landed 9 meters away. Not even far enough to score a single point. I had one more throw, but I had injured my pride enough and I was already late for work, so I packed it in for the day. So I didn't make the team. I guess skiing is still my best chance for Olympic glory, and come to think of it, I wouldn't have it any other way. Unless, of course, there is an opening on the curling team. . .

July 11

Fresh off my rejection from the US Bobsled team, I am ready to resume my ski career. Today I had the opportunity to train with the US Ski Team. They have been in town for a testing camp and put a cap on the week by hiking Mt. Timpanogos, one of the most spectacular peaks in Utah (11, 750 feet). We met them at the trailhead. It was a virtual who's who of skiing in this country. Nina Kemppel, Marcus Nash, Justin Wadsworth, and Pat Weaver, coaches Luke Bodensteiner, Chris Grover, and Christer Skog, and of course Eric Maas. And oh yeah, some woman by the name of Bente Martinsen. Yes, THAT Bente Martinsen. If you don't know who Bente is, take a look at the most recent FIS ranking list or the 1999 World Cup Points. She isn't hard to find, she's the one at the top with the #1 by her name. And not only is she currently the best women's skier in the world, she is also not too hard on the eyes. So for these reasons, I had jokingly listed her as a participant in our famed IRS races. So you can imagine my surprise when she and her boyfriend (Damn!) stepped out of a rental car at the trailhead. Had she seen my website and decided to make a prophet out of me? Not quite. She and her boyfriend are in the states for a little vacation and decided to join us on a hike and check out the new Olympic trails while they were in the area. Just a wild coincidence. Of course, if I see Mika Myllyla in the new few weeks, I am going to start playing the lottery. Anyway, the hike. The pace was very easy on the way up. We hiked past waterfalls, snowfields, mountain goats, and wildflowers making it to the top in two and a half hours. After a quick bite to eat, we headed back down. But rather than take the trail, we headed down the ridge to a huge snowfield and dropped in. Most people just slid down on their shoes, snow-surfing down about 1000 feet in 10 minutes. Eric Maas and I took a quicker route. We pulled out the trashbags we brought specifically for this purpose and slid down on our butts. We got up to some pretty good speeds, but steering was a problem. We had to be careful of the rocks that were starting to peek through the snow, otherwise we would literally tear ourselves a new . . . nevermind. This speed got us energized and when we got back on the trail, we barreled down the mountain in a full run. We jumped rocks, ran through streams and slid down snowfields, all with little regard for life or limb. Bente's boyfriend and I were soon well ahead of everyone else, flying downhill, and startling all the poor families who were out for a leisurely hike. We reached the bottom just over 4 hours after starting and my muscles immediately began to tighten up from the pounding on the way down. A quick dip in the reservoir on the way home helped us relax and recover. All in all a great hike.

July 14

Today I did speed on the track. I did 8x250 meters. Now 250 meters may seem like an odd track distance, but thats what the coach recommended, so I obeyed. Plus, if I was running 200s or 400s, I would be able to compare my times to REAL runners and find out that a lot of women can beat my times, and frankly I don't need any of that. I felt strong, got faster with each rep, and actually ran my fastest 250 (35 seconds) on my LAST rep. I was pretty psyched to hold up that well. But thats not why this session was notable. It was worth mentioning because it was the first workout I have done this year in the rain. I have been training for almost 3 months, sometimes twice a day and it never rained on me until today. While I feel very fortunate to live in such a beautiful climate, today brought back fond memories of training back east in the rain. There it happened slightly more than once every three months, especially in January! There is nothing like rain to make you feel like a serious athlete. You know that all the fair-weather exercisers are (by definition) cowering inside while you are out taking on the elements. It gives you a special feeling of accomplishment that you just don't get on a day that is 75 degrees and sunny. It lights a motivational back burner in my body and allows me to go even harder. Some of my most memorable workouts are ones that I came home soaking wet, after puddle-stomping or sliding head first down oversaturated grass slopes. It reminds me of the old saying, "There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing."

July 17

After this morning's IRS race I had planned to just go on an easy mountain bike ride. But every time I go riding here in Park City, I always find new trails I never existed. It seems that people are building new ones almost as quickly as the old ones are taken over by ugly condo developments. I used to think that Moab and Bend, OR were the best places to ride, but I am slowly realizing that some of the best singletrack in the country is right out my front door. Today I found a whole new network of trails nestled in the canyon that separates Park City ski resort from Deer Valley. I ended up exploring for almost 2 and a half hours. I know I'll regret it when I have to run for three hours tomorrow morning, but it was worth it.

July 18

Run for three hours? Ha, I should be so lucky. Today Scott Loomis and I decided to explore the Uinta mountain range. Though these mountains are only 30-45 minutes from Park City we hardly ever make it over there because of all the trails right in town. But today we motivated and drove up to the top of Bald Mountain Pass (10,000 feet) to do our OD run. We had planned to pick up a map from the Fee Station on the way in but the attendant was late for work. We decided to just study the map in the window and run the loop from memory. Mistake #1. When we arrived at the trailhead we couldn't find the trail we had planned to take, but we found the trail we hoped to come back on, so we decided to do the loop backwards. Mistake #2. You know what's coming, don't you? The run went smoothly for the first hour and half. We were on a beautiful rolling trail that meandered slightly uphill past open lush meadows and streams. At 1:40, we found a slightly confusing intersection. There was a trail that headed back towards the trailhead, but we thought it was much too early to be heading back. Plus the sign said "Duchesne River" not "Duchesne East Fork Trail" which was the trail we were looking for. So we stayed on the trail we were already on. Critical Mistake #3. At about the 2:20 mark, we began to get concerned that the trail was not headed the way we should be going. But we kept running anyway. At 2:30 we asked a couple if we were headed towards a trailhead. They looked at us like we had asked to see all their credit card numbers but eventually mumbled a few words that we took to mean that there was a trail head a couple miles ahead. So we kept running. By 2:50 we knew we were not going the right way and we were just hoping to find a road so we could run or hitch back to the car. At 3 hours, we came upon a couple who were camped next to a scenic lake (we saw at least 25 scenic lakes on our tour). They seemed a bit surprised to see other humans but they were happy to help us when we asked to see a map. The man pulled out the map and showed us where we were, which was on the shores of Mohawk Lake. I then pointed out where our car was parked. All he could say was "WOW." That was a bad sign. As we inspected the map further, it became painfully apparent that the quickest way back was the way we came. We were already at the end of our workout time so we had eaten the one energy bar we had between us and we were getting very low on water. However, without any better options, we turned around and started back with the newfound knowledge that instead of being done with our workout, we were only halfway. The following is a timeline of the next three hours. Time listed is the time after we started the workout.

3:01 - We go through a mental readjustment of preparing for three more hours of running rather than looking forward to the post-workout food we were both craving.

3:30 - We realize that despite the fact that we are both very tired, we are making good time. It might not be a death march after all.

4:00 - I start hitting the wall. I start getting a splitting headache, I start stumbling over rocks, I am concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. I have to put the fatigue out of my mind. Its only pain. I can live with that. Scott starts to recount how the last time he went running in the Uintas he and the US Ski Team got lost and hiked for 6 1/2 hours.

4:10 - We make it back to the intersection where we took a wrong turn (Duchesne River) and decide to finish off the loop. We figure it is about the same distance both ways.

4:30 - We realize that we are running downhill, which is great for making time, but we just know that we will have to regain the elevation at some point. Maybe if I'm lucky I will be airlifted out before that.

5:00 - Sure enough we cross over the Duchesne River and start heading back up. For the first time all day, we start to do significant walking. At this point Scott is hoping for the trailhead to be around each and every corner, while I have resigned to being out here for the rest of eternity.

5:30 - I finish off the last of my water. I had been saving a little bit for the last push home. I start daydreaming of burgers, pizza, ice cream, and donuts.

5:40 - My body has gone numb. I no longer feel the pain in my feet, the dryness in my throat, the soreness in my knees. Scott remarks that he could fall down and crack his knee open and not know the difference.

5:45 - I start to sense that we are getting close. I get a small dose of energy.

5:46 - That energy is quickly zapped when we hit a steep hill. The world starts spinning and I begin to wonder if I will make the final stretch.

5:50 - Scott says that if we haven't finished by 6 hours he is just stopping. Someone will have to come get him.

5:59 - We aren't there yet. Scott restates his threat.

5:59:50- We catch a glimpse of the parking lot. Scott agrees to finish. I immediately forget my pain and exhaustion and run the final two minutes to the parking lot.

6:02 - I then collapse beside the car and don't move for about 10 minutes. I am then able to summons the strength to get into the car. I am very glad Scott is driving. Sucks to be him.

6:13- Scott expresses concern that we don't have enough gas to get to town. I tell him that we do. Of course, my eyes are closed, I'm not even looking at the gauge, and I am dilerious, but I refuse to let this car run out of gas.

6:20 - I can't fathom that we are actually done. I keep thinking that I have to get out and run at some point.

6:50 - We stop at the nearest restaurant to refuel. It happens to be a burger stand/dairy bar. Scott orders a double cheeseburger, hamburger, onion rings, chocolate malt, and large lemonade. I order a double cheeseburger, large fries, banana split, and large water.

7:00 - All the food is gone within minutes of hitting the table.

8:00 - I collapse into my bed. A morning run that turned into an all-day affair is finally over.

July 20

I took yesterday off completely, which I had planned to do even before Sunday's misadventure. From past experience, I knew it would take more than one day to fully recover from something like that. I planned to have an easy week this week anyway, so it made sense to me to start training again today, even if I still felt tired. I wouldn't be doing that many hours. But I knew today would be hard because we had scheduled rollerski intervals. They were supposed to be level III intervals, but either Scott and Erik didn't get that memo or I was completely exhausted. We did a sequence of intervals of 4 (minutes), 5,6,3,4,5. I lead the first one. I was skiing level III, but I could tell by the way that Scott and Erik were right on my tail that they were itching to go faster. So I conceded my leadership position on the second one and they took off. I was left behind. For the next two or three intervals I kept telling myself that it was OK that I was getting dusted because as long as I was going level III I was getting the most out of my workout. This was true, but the competitor in me was still angry and embarrassed to be so far behind. On the last two, I couldn't take it anymore. I decided that enough was enough and I was going to do whatever was necessary to stay with the other two. I was clearly well into level IV, but so were they and I hung on. I made it through the workout and was happy that I could keep up if necessary even when I felt so horrible.

July 23

For most of this week I have only been doing one session a day. In an easy week, the idea is to get a reasonable number of hours in, but more importantly, to recover and get ready for another two week period of high volume and/or high intensity. That is the cycle that my training usually follows during the summer months: two weeks of fairly hard training followed by a recovery week of easy training. I have fully recovered from last week and now I have one hard session today, then a day off, then a fairly easy distance workout on Sunday, before starting the next hard period on Monday. Today's hard session is on the track. The workout consists of 5 1000m runs each followed by a 400m sprint. The idea for the 1000 meters is to run each one at a pace you could hold for 3000m. You want to go slightly faster on the 400's. I started out a bit slow. My best 3000m time is 9:35, so when I ran my first 1000 in 3:20, I was a bit surprised. I was working kind of hard just to post that time and I doubted that could run that fast for five of them. I did 200m of recovery jog, then did my first 400. This was also slow, but it was at a good 1000 pace. I tried to run my next 1000 at that pace. To my frustration, I finished in 3:25. But then I started to realize the purpose of running the 400's in between. On my next 400 I cranked it up a notch and it was like blasting through a brick wall. I ran faster, but felt a little better. The key, I found, was to get out of the blocks fast and just maintain - like a motorboat getting up on a plane. From there on, the times kept falling. My final three 1000 times were: 3:18, 3:16, 3:11 and my final 400 was sixty seconds - a full 10 seconds faster than any other I had run that day. Granted, my legs were screaming and my eyes were popping out of my head, but at least I kept getting faster. This told me that I probably could have started a little harder and been less worried about being able to finish all of the intervals. Still, it is always a great feeling to feel better at the end of a workout than you did at the beginning. A very good day for me.

July 24

The NORBA National Mountain Bike Series is in town this week. They are holding a series of races at Deer Valley, including Downhill, Slalom and, of course, cross country. A college teammate of mine, and current dominator of the American Ski Marathon Series, Carl Swenson, is a member of the Catera Mountain Bike Team and will be racing in the short track cross country race today. Also racing is Carl's brother Pete, and Nathan Shultz, a member of the Fischer/Salomon Facotry Team during the winter. They all raced in the standard XC race yesterday - with Carl finishing an impressive 9th after causing a huge pile-up at the start. The course they raced yesterday was incredible. They basically hammer straight up the mountain for 20 minutes, come screaming back down to the bottom, hammer up the other side of the mountain for 10 minutes then scream back down and do it all again three more times. It puts any cross country ski course to shame. Today;s course was a little different. It was a three minute loop with a much more reasonable hill. They would race for twenty five minutes and then three more laps after that. Any racers who got lapped would be pulled off the course. Carl had guaranteed us a podium finish sometime this weekend and since it didn't happen yesterday, it would have to be today. His fans were out in force to help him along. With so many nordic skiers in Park City, Carl and Nathan had more fans than anyone else. In fact, four US Ski Team employees - Luke Bodensteiner, Chris Grover, Jesse Lassely and Christer Skog each painted a letter on their chest with black shoe polish to spell "C-A-R-L." They also had an infamous device called the "Shot Ski" that they put to good use on every lap as Carl went by. All these efforts were well worth it as Carl steadily moved up throughout the race, finishing 4th, almost overtaking Tinker Juarez for third at the line. In biking, top 5 is considered podium, so he had come through on his promise in typical Carl fashion. Look for pictures of Carl and his dedicated fans in upcoming issues of all the major mountain bike magazines.

July 25

The races yesterday inspired me to go out and do a little riding of my own today. I guess I should have taken a few more notes when watching the Pro racers because I was a riding disaster today. Some days I get in a zone and I can ride almost anything. Other days I am out of sync and can barely keep the rubber side down (as they say). Today was the latter. About an hour into my ride, I came down a slight downhill and hit a protruding root that flipped my front wheel sideways and sent me flying over the handlebars. I whacked my knee on my shift lever on my way over and then landed off the trail in the bushes. There was a group of riders not far behind me, so I quickly got up, walked off the pain in my knee, and jumped back on the bike. I did not want anyone else to know what I had just done. As I pedaled away, still in pain, I noticed that my shift lever was bent enough so that I could not get out of the smallest front chain-ring. This was a solid metal lever that I had bent way out of whack with my knee. No wonder my knee hurt. I resigned myself to using only my lowest gears for the rest of the ride and continued. Soon I was in a tree slalom downhill, starting to get my rhythmn back. But being one of those days, the rhythmn didn't last long. Going around a tight corner I cut too close to the inside and left a good portion of the skin from my upper arm hanging from a broken tree branch. I didn't get knocked off the bike though, so I continued on, inspecting the nice flow of blood as I went. I should have been more concerned with the trail than my arm because a couple of switchbacks later, I again cut too close. But this time I gave the tree a solid hip-check. This stopped all my momentum and I fell off the bike towards the outside of the trail. By now I realized that if I stayed out much longer, I would not make it home in one piece. So I took the quickest way to the road and headed home.

July 30

The past two days have been very hard. I haven't felt like training at all. I am not extremely tired physically, but mentally I have just not been able to convince myself to go out the door. Everybody knows that when you start to feel really tired for a few days, it is time to take a day off. But I think that fewer people take the same kind of mental breaks. Your body is very good at telling you what it needs, both physically and mentally. If you REALLY don't feel like training, you are probably better off bagging the workout. It is easy to forget this and become over-ridden wit guilt when you skip a workout. That's how I felt yesterday, but I talked to a good friend of mine last night who reminded me that it is ok to rest. Realizing that this was true, I decided to take a couple days off to rejuvenate myself before the race this Saturday.

© 2003 Cory Smith. All Rights Reserved.