Embracing Winter

Authors note: I highly recommend you play the video below and listen to the music while reading today’s post……. 

 

We are in the midst of another cold and snowy winter in the North Country. While my friends in California tease me with pictures of mountain biking in what is pretty close to our North Country summer weather, we are stuck with almost 3 ft of snow on the ground and sub zero temps.

There really isn’t anything you can do by embrace winter and get out to experience it.

Last weekend we “heated up” into the 20’s for daytime highs and so I pulled my mountain bike out for a spin. I decided I was going to ride over to the place I went cross country skiing last weekend to see if the trails were packed down enough that I could get my non-fat tired mountain bike onto them.

I purposely waited till later in the day because I knew it was going to snow and it somehow seamed the proper thing for this expedition. In the 20’s its relatively easy to dress to ride. A base layer, long sleeve jersey and my cold weather coat. A knit hat under my helmet and bootie covers on my shoes.

For gloves. Well I went with my summer weight long fingered gloves. Insane you say. No I reply. I have had lots of trouble with my hands in moderate to cold temps. They get hot, sweat, and then freeze. BUT I had a secret weapon. These:

Let me say this….. Bar Mitts are THE solution. They are like little neoprene igloos for your hands. The neoprene keeps the wind and moisture away from your fingers. Your body heat builds a little warm zone inside. They have openings so it doesn’t get too warm. I am in total love with these.

And so I headed out. The roads were snow covered, but not too bad. And as I rode down the road I had one of my favorite songs from Ride the Divide playing in my head (click on that link on top if you haven’t already!)….

…….and lost myself in my ride. That song is what pops into my mind when I am “journeying” on my bike. It just fits.

I got to the trails and realized that one of the things I like about them is that not a lot of people use them. The bad part of that good thing was that my not-so-fat tired mountain bike wasn’t going to work on those trails due on the deep loose snow.

postwood-1

And so I rewound The Stable Song and headed back home. I went round about. At one point I was so just into my ride that I rode past my road without even noticing. Totally in the moment.

My reward for that missed turn was getting to see some deer and turkeys hanging out on another road. The snow picked up in intensity making for a fantastic winter day.

frenchroad-1

The ride was one long meditation. One long “in the moment”, but without the pain of a serious training ride or a race.

It came to an end. I thanked my bike (and Bar Mitts).

bike_barmitts-1

Then I chipped myself out of my ice cocoon.

iceman-1

Picture of the Day

icebike-1

“Frozen Salsa”

 

Knowing you have a problem is half the battle

When we luge our runs are timed. At the end of the session you get a “time sheet” that has split times and finish times (and your speed :) ). I admit that as a science type person I love data. And so I have a spreadsheet of every run I have ever taken on a sled recorded. Data……yummm………

Despite warnings from the club guru I do look at my times. I mean in the words of Vince Lombardi (the Saint of Wisconsin):

“If it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?”

AND if you ride a bike you know an essential truth to the way the world works….. If two people are doing an activity together…. its a competition.

So yeah, I look at my times, and compare my finish times to myself and others. And on those rare occasions when my run is faster than one of the fast sliders, because they crashed into the walls, well…..

What I have never done is look at the split times compared to other people. I looked at the results from the Empire State Games and something popped out at me. Here is the time sheet. The names have been blacked out to protect the innocent. Well except for mine which is highlighted.

2-8Luge MASTERS RACE

You will notice I highlighted two runs. One is mine and the other one from the guy who eventually finished third in the race. I got onto this line of thinking when I noticed that our start times were just about the same. This was unusual since my start times stink. Then I started looking at the split times. They were just about identical. Yeah I picked up the start difference and became a little bit faster and he very slowly ate into that lead. Then we get to the split time at about 30 seconds. Pretty much dead even. Then we jump to the final split time before the finish and…….

Holy Crow…. I am 0.8 seconds behind. That was my clean run. No walls no skids.

Clearly something went south (Besides the fact that you stink Meat? Hi Yeti, now GO away!)

Yeah something happened.

This is where the reality of what has been happening this season and my blissful/purposeful ignoring of the situation came crashing together. This is where I acknowledge that while I have come a long way with my sliding, I knew even before I saw these splits why I have not gotten the much chased 45 second run.

Right after the 30 second split is the chicanes. They are kind of a strange section of the track. The look straight but hide two little curves. The track goes uphill just a little bit before cresting and going into the bottom section of the track. Its not a really hard section, but its an easy section to loose time on, if….

If you are not relaxed and quiet on your sled. I know that I get tense in that section and that I anticipate bad things happening before they happen. I just never realized how badly unrelaxed I was and how much that affected my finish times.

For full disclosure, I am sure that the lower section of the track that comes after the chicanes are also places that I am loosing time, but still.

My goal for this year is to become fast enough that if I throw down a really good run, and if one of the good sliders throws down a real stinker I can be in the mix. We have about a month of sliding left before the US National Masters Race in March.

Its time to be mindful and relaxed.

Authors note: If you look at the splits for my second run they were a cc of my first until the same spot. That’s good. It means I am consistent on top. The second run I steered myself in the chicanes into more significant trouble. Hence the additional 0.4 seconds on my second time. If you take off the 2 seconds (accumulated over the two runs) then I am right where I want to be.

Monday Morning Slider: Empire State Games Part 2 “The Race”

The Empire State Games are a sanctioned luge race. That means that there are officials there to make sure we don’t cheat. Put the heated steels away. Get all that extra weight out of the sled. It’s time to slide for real.

My Saturday in Lake Placid started by stripping down to my underwear, in a refrigerated room, in front of my competitors and race officials to weigh in. It’s a good opportunity to size up your opponents and see what they are made of. (I saw what they are made of and the images are burned in my mind. What is seen cannot be unseen.)

A legal sled weighs between 21 and 25 kg, with 23 being the weight used to determine your total allowed weight. You are also allotted 4 kg for clothing and equipment. Finally if you are under 90 kg you are allowed to wear ballast weight to get you up to 90 kg. While I am not at my mtb racing weight right now, I am not up to that magic 90 kg level and so I am allowed ballast. All told my legal racing weight is 117 kg. However, I am close enough to my mtb racing weight that even with my full weight vest I am still over 4 kg light. Oh, well. Based on the way I had been sliding the extra 10 lbs wouldn’t matter.

We had a practice session Saturday night. The night before a race usually has a good vibe. People are excited, we like to talk some smack (just because), and well you are after all on a hill with a sled (a really cool hill with a really cool sled). The talk that night went something like this. The reigning club champ and benchmark commented that he wished he could take one run and then leave. This is hard to do because we take trucks to and from the access points on the track and walking back with a 23 kg sled isn’t easy. I mentioned to him that if he crashed in turn 18 (the low spot on the track) he was most of the way back to the shed.  The coach (who was also to be a competitor the next day) told me I looked “jerky” on my sled. Yeah pre-race night.

My sliding? The first run was a carbon copy of what was happening last week. Trouble started on the start ramp with me careening into walls. I did manage to do a little better once I got on the track (well except for being “jerky” on one run and having the coach tell a younger slider who was watching with him that one turn I did was “interesting”). My second run, a carbon copy of the first. Deep breath. OK. Time to just put the sled on the track and don’t worry about starting hard. Somehow I pulled it together and had a clean run. The track was slow but I was a second better than my first two. My fourth run was a carbon copy of my third. Time to call it a night.

Race morning has a different vibe than pre-race day. It’s more serious. Oh we still talk smack, but it’s in a more “respectful” way. There were 30 sleds racing (a couple of youth divisions along with the Masters) and so there was a lot of energy in the air. My pre race prep was good. I was focused and relaxed.

The order of the first start is determined by random draw. For some reason fate seams to put me first in the start order just about all the time. (That’s not literally true, it just seams like I get the first spot frequently). ESG was no exception. The first slot is tough because no one has been down the track and so you don’t really have any idea what to expect a good time is. You also do not have any metric on how fast you need to be.

My first run was pretty good. A nice clean start. No walls. 46.8 sec. Best run in several weeks. When the first runs were finished I was in 5th place out of 12 sleds. The sleds in front of me all belonged to people who should be faster than me. All the sleds behind me were people I either should, or could be faster than. I had a nice little gap to the 6th place slider. The club guru was in a surprising 4th spot after having had a rough start in his first run. The club champ, well, we all got some work to do to catch up with him.

The start order for the second run is determined by reverse order of finish in the first run. Slowest to fastest. I’ve had experience being the first person of the second run, but today I was in the top half. One of the sliders behind me threw down a really fast run and moved up several places. But his first run was so slow I wasn’t really concerned about him. The 6th place slider was my friend Jenny. Jenny is better than me on the track. She is quiet and relaxed (were I am “jerky”). But I outweigh her. But Jenny hadn’t slid this winter yet. You get the idea. We tend to be pretty close time wise when we are sliding. She put down a second run that was virtually the same as her first. She was close enough that I needed to slide well to hold my position.

My second run started out really well. I nailed to top section of the track and set up for the lower portion of the track. In the chicanes my sled headed towards the left wall. I counter steered and glanced off of it. Historically this would have been a much much harder impact. So progress. Still it hurts the run time. That momentum brought me over to the right wall (too much steer) but I countered and only glanced off of it there. I realized it was going to be close at the finished. I tried to be relaxed through the last 3 curves and crossed the finish line.

When you complete your second run in a race you want to look up at the clock with your time and see a 1. That means you were currently in first place. As I slid up to the finish ramp I realized that the clock was not working. I listened for the track announcer. Nothing, not a peep. I looked at the officials. They hadn’t heard anything either. I went into the finish house none of the kids were listening to the race (par for the course, their races were finished and their minds were onto other things). I saw Jenny who told me she “thought” I was in first place, but wasn’t 100% sure.

I knew in my mind it wouldn’t matter. There were 4 really good sliders in front of me and it would have required a complete meltdown by 2 of them to move me into a medal. Not going to happen.

Jim the club guru smoked his second run. He has this strange ability to bounce back from a poor first run with a complete kick ass second run. His second run was in fact the fast run of the day by a pretty good margin. Jim ended up in 3rd place. The club champ? Well we all got some work to do to make his life more interesting. He is entirely too comfortable right now.

In the end, my second run was much slower than my first. The wall touches cost me about 0.4 seconds on my total run time. But it was enough to hold my position and I finished 5th out of 12 sliders.

Now its time to set the sights on the US Luge Masters National Championships. March 29. Bring on the Olympians!

Monday Morning Slider: Empire State Games Part 1 “Big boy spandex and that little voice”

Author’s Note: “Adult” lugers have two big events each year. Races where we have officials making sure that we are not cheating. Races where friends and family come to watch us. Races where the smack talk really comes out. Empire State Games and USA Masters Nationals. Masters is the clear “A” race, but ESG is a lot of fun as well.

We have had all kinds of ice this winter since January. Soft, slow extra frosty ice. Meh, OK ice that was normal fast. Ice with snow on it. The one kind of ice we have not had yet this winter is brutal hard ice. Ice that comes when you do not get above 0F for a bit. The sub zero temps that accompany that kind of ice give you the double whammy of ice that is hard to drive on and white numb toes and fingers. It’s “lovely”.

The drive to the Empire State Games started two weekends ago. I was in Lake Placid for a Saturday night and Sunday morning slide. It was below zero and the ice was hard.

Hard ice is like riding a mountain bike on roots and rocks in the rain. It possible to do it. You just have to have really good technique and you have to pick your lines right. Oh, and you have to expect that odds are good that you are going to eat some dirt. Hard ice is like that. You can do it. You just have to have really good technique and you have to pick your lines right. Oh, and you have to expect that odds are good that you are going to find some wall. You gotta put your “big boy” spandex on on ice like that.

Saturday night was a comedy of errors. (In a non-family setting I would call it a sh!t fest.) They started on the start ramp. Pulling off and going right into the wall of the start ramp. The errors occurred at every possible location on the track. And never in the same place twice. One run my face shield wasn’t on right and I had a jet of cold air hitting my face the entire run. On the last run of the night my sled went into a big fast corner on what felt like a pretty good line. I went to set my line so that I would follow the profile of the curve when my sled grabbed and climbed up the profile. I started to worry that I would actually get to the top of the curve when the back end started to skid out (backwards down a curve in luge is never a good idea, in this part of the track it is really dangerous). I executed the fail move (super hard steel to bring the front of the sled back into line). It was a long night.

Sunday morning was more of the same. I never really put a clean run together. It was a wack-a-mole session. Fix one spot and another would pop up and become a problem. I was getting frustrated and angry. Frustrated and angry is the polar opposite of lose and relaxed in luge. 4 runs, nothing that I would call clean. There was time for a 5th run. The little voice started.

“Don’t do it. Nothing good can come from it. You are frustrated.” (The helpful voice you should listen too.)

“You gotta learn to put bad runs behind you. Put the big boy spandex on and go on up for one more.” (The Yetti voice which you should sometimes listen too and sometimes NOT listen too.)

Yetti won and I went back up for a 5th run. On that 5th run I finished taking the paint off the left side of my sled. And I turned parts of my left arm purple.

Monday Morning Slider: You’ve Come a Long Way

Yeah, Monday Morning Slider is coming to you on Wednesday. But it is sponsored by Subaru. Love, it’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru. There I said it. Actually my semester of crazy continued this week. Monday I was in Burlington, and when I got home, well, I needed to pick up my new “Love” so no time for writing.

car-1

My recurring theme this year in my sliding is that somehow things are clicking for me in my sliding. This is a little strange for me, but also means that sliding has been a lot of fun this winter.

Saturday night I slid 3 runs. The track was a little bit slow and so my times were down a little bit. But let me tell you, my first two runs were super clean, and under the proper track conditions would have challenged my personal best times and maybe even the magic 45 second barrier I am look at right now. Who knows, they were what they were. Clean runs I was really happy with.

While they were fun, my best run on the night was my last. It was also my slowest and “least clean” of the evening.

It started with some advice from the club guru. “Crank the steer hard at the bottom of the start ramp so you are pointing down the track when you get onto that first curve.” It’s good advice because you don’t have enough speed to actually get on the curve and lining the sled down the curve means you don’t skid, and so you don’t loose time. So I did that.

BUT, you can over crank (which I did) and drive yourself into the exit wall of the start ramp (which I did). Gold medal run gone. I laid back and decided to leave that behind and see what there was to see in the run. Historically my run would have gone to crap in my brain at this point, so progress.

The top portion of my run was just a little off, I was just a little behind or ahead of myself. But all in all it wasn’t bad. Till I got into the big corner that sets up the chicane. Well actually until I approached the big corner that approached the chicane. I realized I was going into it early, and I started to laugh in my head. It was funny because I realized that I realized what was going to happen.

“You are just a little off on this run dude. Get ready, the exit of this corner is going to be interesting.” And it was. I had to put a steer on to arrest my motion into the wall after that corner. Then I steered through the chicanes, just enough, to keep from the walls. Set up late into the lower section and had to continue correcting, just a little bit. I approached the second to last corner really early and my brain worked through the outcome of where I was and realized I would be early into the final corner and I adjusted accordingly. The transition to the final corner was off but I understood what was going to happen and kept it under control. Across the finish line. Slowest run of the night. Best run of the night.

We have coaches who watch us on the track and we talk with them after each run.

Laughing. “Hi its Doug. Let’s just call that run a throw away.”

“What happened?”

“I took some advice from the guru, and well it didn’t work.”

“THAT was your first mistake.” And we talked through the run.

Why was it my best run? Well in the past I would have been along for the ride rather than working with the ride. I likely would have tagged some walls in the chicane. In the final corner I probably would have skidded the back end of my sled and had to execute a fail, rather than just working with what I had. In other words, the run would have gone to crap, and I would have been bruised.

Instead, I was laughing at the end. I remained calm and in control of what I was doing. While I was off, I managed my “offness” and ended up with a slow, but not horrible run. Not what you would want in a race, but then again, it wasn’t a race. It was training. And if it had been a race, well it wouldn’t have been a disaster. And I wouldn’t have needed this.

2013_USLA_Masters_LP_259

Picture of the Day

track-1

“The track, from the top of Whiteface Mountain.”

Monday Morning Slider: Lowering the Bar

Author’s Note: Sorry I was absent the past two weeks. Sabbatical Part 2 has started and I am again finding myself in a position where I need to get my life organized in a new city. This time the big metropolis know as “Syracuse”.  Anything compared to Potsdam is a metropolis. Hopefully life will settle down and I can get back into some regular writing.

Three weeks ago I had my first luge session of the year. And well it could be described in one word. Slow. Track conditions were poor and so it was slow. I was supposed to slide two weekends ago but, as per the Author’s note above, I have been busy getting my life together. So I skipped the session. This week was cooler, no, it was down right cold and so I new the track would be more typical maybe bordering on hard. Regardless it was going to be faster.

One of the fun things about the club is having kids slide who are hoping to become Olympians and new “civilians” trying just to see what the sport is like. They add a excited nervous energy to the sessions that is fun to be around. Well, except when you are the only adult in charge of a bunch of kids and newbies. Then distraction changes pre-slide prep. And so I found myself Saturday night in the start house, running a little behind, and being scheduled to be first off the handles. Not the space I wanted to be in.

The start house had 3 pre-teen boys being 3 pre-teen boys (with all that energy), a very cool 17 year old young woman who I love to slide with, a new young woman who had been sliding for a couple of weeks, and a parent of one of the pre-teen boys. As the pre-teens whipped themselves into a pre-teen frenzy I asked them to quiet down a little bit and focus. Then the dad, who was just being friendly started to talking to me, a lot. 5 minutes to sliding. I made a command decision and went outside of the warm start house to get some quiet in the cold. I got myself centered, sorta and prepared for my first run.

ESG start4

They called my name and I pulled off the handles and had a pretty good run going through the top portion of the course. Clean through the area where I typically have trouble and into the not really straight straight away. At the end of the chicane I tapped the left wall which pushed me into the right wall just before the entrance to a big curve. Historically my response to hitting a wall in the chicane would have been to tense up and sit up a little bit on my sled. This is a bad idea because it leads to the following dynamics:

2013_USLA_Masters_LP_183

 

The correct response is to stay calm, stay back on the sled, relax, and get ready to deal with things.

I really have come a long way in my sliding. My brain stayed calm allowing me to absorb the collision. I quickly realized that I was aimed wrong into the corner and that I needed to steer a little bit more than normal in the corner to prevent really bad things from happening. And that’s what I did finishing with a 48.150 s run. Once that time would have made me really happy. Not any more. But I was really happy that I did the right things and managed the badness. I also realized that the track was fast because the ice was hard, but very driveable.

My next run started sideways on the start ramp. But I kept it together and had a clean run 47.312 s. There was a time when I would have been ecstatic with that time. Not any more. Now I was feeling it. I knew that there were better runs in me.

Third run, a little more effort at the start. Clean on the ramp, and clean on the run. Still too much steering in the chicane when I didn’t need to, but clean none the less. When I got up to the finish house I was going fast, the track workers jumped out of the track and I had to apply the breaks. A little smile broke out on my face. 46.873 s.

The track workers said we had time for one more run and so I went back up for one more run and got ready.

My goal for Saturday night was to really commit to laying back on my sled, staying calm and being aerodynamic. Good sliding form was my goal. As I prepared for my last run on the night I reminded myself to commit to good form.

My last start was the best of the night. I had a pretty good pull and then two pretty good paddles. (I stink at starts, partially because I haven’t really focused on them, because I have been focusing on what comes after the start.) I relaxed back onto my sled, put my head back to minimize wind resistance and went for it. Clean through the top section. Into the chicane. I applied a steer that I didn’t need and a correction steer that I did need to fix the steer I didn’t need, still not all bad. Through the last three corners clean and across the finish line. Lots of speed up to the finish house, track workers out of the way! Brakes applied, smile on face. 46.482 s. This turned out to be my second fastest time ever, on what was really my 4th run of the season.

There are two trends on a given night that make me feel good about my sliding. One is when I slide nearly the same time for all of my runs. That show’s consistency and is an indication you are sliding well. (Primarily because if you are not sliding well, then you cannot repeat runs.) The other kind of night that makes me feel good about my sliding is when each run gets faster than the last. That means you are putting things together. Saturday I put slide well and put things together.

My magic number right now is 45. I am hunting for a run that has “45” as the first two digits. It’s coming…….. Bar considered yourself lowered.

The icing on the cake was that the new people sliding, well they had a great time.

Monday Morning Slider: The 2015 Campaign Begins

Author’s note: For those of you who are new. Hey welcome. You might not know it, but in the winter my competitive sport switch from mtb biking to well luge. Luge is that crazy sport most people see for 30 minutes every 4 years during the winter Olympics. The feet first on your back one. Not the head first on your stomach thing, or the NASCAR on ice thingy. Nope, Luge.

doug_2014esg_practice

There are two ways to have a slow run in luge. One would be pilot error.  I am well versed in that particular version of the slow run. (For example…..)

Or for those of you who are more visually oriented…..

The second way to have a slow run is because of weather. The luge track in Lake Placid is refrigerated. (They can keep ice on it to about 65F.) It is also outside, which is key. Ice conditions are highly variable depending on the temperature and maybe even more importantly the humidity. Think about what happens when you open your freezer and the humidity is high. Water condenses on the cold things in the freezer and freezes forming frost. The track is just like that. When the humidity is high the track forms a layer of frost on it. The frost is soft and your sled plows rather than glides, making for a slow day.

It’s been cold, but the forecast for Saturday night was snow changing to sleet changing to ice changing to rain with temps rising into the 40’s.

I got to the track Yadda Yadda Yadda (Yadda yadda yadda here ignores the fact that 1 mile from my house I had my first deer on car contact ever. Stupid deer ran into the back of my moving car. No damage. It also ignores the ice on the road. But I digress) and got geared up. It was nice. It was familiar. I had missed the fall sliding sessions because I was in Michigan. So it was also about time!

When we got up to the start house I went to look at the start ramp and the track. The ice was a matte white color. The color of frost.

I was placed somewhere in the middle of the start order. Jim, the club guru was first. He pulled off and started his run. The track announcer talked through his run. And when it was finished he announced his time…… 51.something. All the people in the start house shook their heads.

Let me put this in perspective. Jim usually completes a run in 45.something seconds. Yeah, periodically he throws in a stinker, but that was really more than a stinker. It was a frost run.

Now there is one very very good thing about a frosty, slow track. It’s incredibly grippy. Your sled steers almost by itself. You really just need to think about where you need to go and the sled goes where you will it. It’s super forgiving. It is even forgiving of bad technique. So that means its a great time to practice technique. Because if things go badly, well you can recover pretty easily.

When it was my turn I got to the start handles there were no nerves. It was a perfect morning to remember how to get back onto a sled and get those first runs out of the way. I finished my first run. It was clean and it was 5+ seconds off my personal best. I got off my sled and walked up to the finish dock (another sure sign of a slow run). The guru was waiting.

Jim: “I got my coffee in turn 14.”

Me: “And drank it in the chicane I bet.” We laughed.

I took 4 runs. Pretty identical. Pretty slow. I didn’t want to take my 5th because I didn’t want my brain to lock these conditions into my short term muscle memory.  And while its fun to post fast times, it was a nice morning getting back onto the track. Sorry no exciting tales of near misses and epic saves. But……..

……….The forecast for this week is very cold. The track will NOT be like this next weekend.