Masters Luge Day 1

Back to the hotel with time for a quick update….

Sliding today had, well, a little bit of everything. My first run was my worst run, time wise, of the season. My second run was my first crash of the season. My last run was my fastest time EVER.

You are just going to have to wait for the why’s and hows 🙂

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Prelude: Masters Luge Championship 2012-2013

I am all packed and ready to go. My sled is in the RAV. My gear is inside (very bad idea to leave that out in the car overnight. Burr!) Feels like I packed a lot of stuff (a 20 lb weight vest by default feels heavy). My regular work out gear is also packed. Planning on an outdoor run on Saturday in Lake Placid. Hope its not too cold or snowy!

I’ve had a long week and so I am ready to get away for a little while. Ready to spend a couple of days with my luge friends. Ready to race some Olympians. Its an honor to share a track with them. The stories will come. If I have a chance I will post an update over the weekend. Otherwise, the drama will have to wait until Monday.

Progress?

The next 9 days are pretty much luge focused. Its a 9 day span with 5 days of sliding and two races.

Today was the ADK Luge Club Icebreaker Race. Its a race that the club puts on to start the year. It gets the adults going, and gives some young kids a chance to race, maybe for the first time. Next weekend is the US National Masters Luge Competition. The premier event for the over the hill sliding gang. More on that one in a minute.

Bailey and I spent the weekend in Lake Placid. Saturday night we had a practice session. Sunday morning we had the race.

Practice was good. Well it started a little sketchy for me. I tried to drive myself into a wall. Actually I did a little more than try. Luckily I drove myself out of it before I did any real damage. My other three runs got progressively better, with my last being probably the best run I have taken this year. Maybe ever. It felt good. Bailey continued to crank out consistent runs. Trying to break into the 46 second range, not quite getting there. We were both looking forward to the race.

In a funny twist of fate Bailey was placed in my group, Adult “B” (the slow adults) for the race. Bailey is in a strange situation. He is too big to race a fair race with the little kids. He is not on one of the development teams (like the other kids his age) so he is slower just because he doesn’t get as much track time. We needed a slider in my group and so Bailey slid against me in my group.

Since last week winter has descended upon the North Country. Look more snow than we got all last winter!

The mountains are awesome in the winter……But I digress.

OK onto the race. A luge race consists of two runs for which the times are added. Lowest total time wins. The order for the first run is determined by draw. The second run is reverse order (slowest to fastest) based on the first run. There were three sliders in my group. Bailey, me and my friend Jen (I have a lot of Jen friends).

Bailey was first and promptly threw down a 46.5 (personal best). Jen went second and threw down a 48.5 (personal best). I went last. The track was cleared. I pulled off, started down the track, and hit a wall on the start ramp. Good news/bad news on that. Good news is that on the start ramp you are going pretty slow. So physical damage is small. The bad news is that going slow on the start ramp translates into a slow time. The rest of my run was pretty clean and I was down with a 48.8. Not a personal best. Solidly in 3rd (last place).

Back up to the top for the second run. Now I get to go first in our little group of 3. There is no way I am going to win. Bailey would have to crash, and he just doesn’t do that. Best case is to pull a fast run out and move into 2nd. Ready for the second run. Onto the handles. Pull off (not into the wall ;)) but not my best start. I really tried to lay back and stay low on my sled on this run. My run felt really good and fast. Through the Labyrinth, through Benham’s Bend, hole shot through the Chicane (all of the Team kids lined the wall in chicane to watch us old folks) into the Heart. I over steered 17 (the first corner in the Heart), which put me into turn 18 on a real bad line. In fact it was a pretty close to the line I took on my crash/concussion run last year. I realized what was happening, put on a hard (very hard) steer to get through the corner. The sled crossed hard (as expected given my crappy line) into the final corner. Steer through that and through the finish.

Jen slide her second run and was just a little faster than her first run (another PB). Bailey also threw down a second personal best on his second run.

How’d we finish? Well Bailey was first, by almost 3 seconds (that’s a huge amount). Jen was second. She was faster than me on her second run as well and ended up beating me by half a second total. My third run?

It was faster than my first: 48.7. The time was better than I thought it was going to be. I looked at my splits. It was a really fast run (for me) right until the last split where I had my problem. I would have been very close to 48.0. And so I left a ton of time on the track. Kim the track announcer said (while I was sliding, over the PA, to everybody at the track) that my line through 18 was not a preferred racing line but since I am a rocket scientist, I must have a plan. That’s all the bad news.

The good news. I would have crashed this run last year. When I got out of 17 I realized what was going on (said something bad in my head) and committed to full survival mode just to finish (the only way I wasn’t going to get a medal today was to not finish).

So I give myself a C+ for today. Today was actually my lowest combined time in a two heat race ever. Even lower than the in the race I won last spring. BUT I am dissapointed. I pulled one out just to get to the finish, but I left a lot of time on the track.

I want to say something about Bailey. He has this amazing ability to change gears on race day. No matter how training goes (good or bad) he always slides his fastest, or faster, on race day. He focuses, concentrates and gets it done. He has a real internal strength. He impresses me.

Next weekend I race against the usual gang plus a number of former Olympians. Within the “not professional” club gang, I am one of the newest athletes competing. I am going to get crushed. I have a decent chance of finishing last. That’s fine………….. if I bring my A game. If I can walk away and say I slid my best.

Thankful

This post has been harder than I thought to write. I have started and stopped and deleted and restarted a couple of times. It just didn’t sound right. So I am just going to lay this out. This year my special “I am Thankful” thought goes to the uniformed men and women who serve to defend and protect us.

Yeah, that one is easy right? We are all thankful for them…..burp….pass the turkey.

But stop and think for a little bit. Really think about what this means this year. I have a friend who’s son was deployed this year to Afghanistan. He is living in a world where people are trying to kill him, and his job is to kill other people. That’s a whole different set of rules than most of us have to deal with.

A bad day for me? Grading exams or bouncing off walls on a luge sled. A bad day in Afghanistan? A whole different ball game.

I have a great life. My family (for all its quirks) is awesome. I have great friends. I have a good job that allows me to do things I love professionally. It pays me enough that I can do the things I want to (for the most part). I worked hard, and continue to work hard, to be where I am, but I am thankful for all that I have.

This holiday remember to enjoy your friends and family. Experience them, be with them, love them. Along the way keep the people in mind who are away from their families, the people who are out there protecting us. Take at least a moment to really consider what they are doing and how important it is. Then I challenge you to do something tangible to support them.

Seth, Thank You for putting your butt on the line for us. Stay safe…….

Opening Day

04:35 the alarm sounds. Holy Crap its early. Out of bed, light the fire. Grab a banana get Bailey up and off to the car. Two hours to Lake Placid.

Yup, its Luge Sunday.

Yesterday was the opening day of the luge season. And as I said last week, I was decidedly in the wrong space to slide. After the two hour drive we arrived at the track. It was a perfect morning to slide. “Cool” (about 20 degrees), clear and about to be sunny. The sliders meet at the “sled shed” to gear up, check in, and talk smack. I felt quiet. I didn’t have that real quezzy feeling, but I was definitely quiet. I was nervous. Then my friends from the club came and we started talking smack. Things started to fall into place.

Most of the sliders there today had slide Saturday night and so they had already gotten past their first run nerves. The case of first day nerves was left for Bailey and I.

Bailey went before I did in the sliding order. His first run was 47.8 seconds (From our starting location the course the record for singles is about a 44.3, though I seem to have ignited a debate on the official record time this point. Regardless anything from 45.5 down is really fast. 45.5-47 is fast. 47-50 is good. Above 50 is needs work range.) A really good first run of the year for Bailey. Then it was my turn. Here is a track map to orient you:

On the start handles. Surprisingly I didn’t feel sick at that point. Maybe I was just beyond it and resigned. Maybe I was focused. You make the call. Face shield on. I didn’t pull off hard on the first start (It’s Ok to “Live Dangerously”, but there is no reason to be stupid about it). Onto the track (start 4), settle down onto the sled. Get my bearings. Check my position on the sled. Into the first couple of turns. Its pretty flat in the first section, but at the end of the first real turn you are on (the big sweeping right just after the start) the course drops off and speeds up. The first challenge in the course is the Labyrinth. Its a 3 turn (left, right, left) combination. I ended last year struggling with this section. Into the first turn well positioned. Into the second turn a little “loop” (up the turn, down in the middle, up at the end) not a great way to go through the corner. But I knew what was going on and so a little correction to keep myself off the wall before the 3rd turn ( :-D). Out of the Labyrinth. Into Benham’s Bend, a big right hand corner that empties into the Chicane (another spot where you can find the wall, as I did in my YouTube video. BTW. My problem in that video actually began in the first turn of the Labyrinth. The troubles cascaded. Luge is a sport where you need to leave your troubles behind you!)  If you have done the Labyrinth well then Benham’s sets up well; And if you do Benham’s well, you get a hole shot into the Chicane. As the video shows that is another spot that I have had trouble. (Not just my own personal place for trouble though. I cannot claim sole rights to “ping ponging” down the chicane.) When I came out of Benham’s Bend I tensed and anticipated having trouble so corrected to stay off the right wall when I didn’t really need to. That resulted in me having to correct a couple of more times, but no contact with the wall. The final challenge in the course is “The Heart” another 3 curve combination. This part of the course is fast and tricky. If you do it wrong, you can get hurt. That’s where I had my crash and concussion last year….. one turn from the finish line. I over steered the first corner in the combination but corrected and got through mostly cleanly. Up hill to the finish. Down in 49.1. Not my fastest time by far, but mostly clean. I felt totally relieved.

Back to the top for three more runs. I ended up sliding two more good runs, and one sketchy run. I kept my sled off the wall and slide a couple of 48.5’s. My best time ever is 47.9 so I was really happy with my day.

Bailey? Well he rocked it. He slide a couple of 47.8’s. Then a 47.5 Then he proclaimed he was going to break the 47 second mark (i.e. 46.???). He proceeded to slide a 47.000. He missed it by 1/1000’s of a second. (Can you even imagine how fast 1/1000’s is?) Bailey had a 5th run (I only took 4 runs, I get sloppy after 4. Again its OK to live dangerously but not stupidly). Down he came: 47.003. Off by 3/1000’s of a second. I was at the finish watching. He took off his face shield and proclaimed “I quit” with a smile on his face. A good day for him as well. Bailey has come a long way in his sliding. I remember the scared 11 year old who used to be so sick he looked like he would throw up before sliding. Now he has found his mojo and just loves the sport. He’s sliding for himself, not to make any team, and is having fun with it. Its turned internal to him. Along the way he has grown and found an inner strength. I think both of those are great.

Props go to my friends Jim Waterhouse and Luke “Baby Face” Franco who both slide their personal best times today.

Couple of notes for me from today.

1. Stop anticipating bad things are going to happen, Doug. When you are well set up, trust it and let the sled run.

2. Better form will give faster times. (This is my real problem and what I need to concentrate on. Lots of room for improvement here.)

3. It was fun to slide today. I am glad I got that out of the way and am looking forward to the rest of the season. Next week is a club race. And then the following week is the US National Masters Championship. Told the guys I have been sand bagging for the last 3 years and I am coming for glory in two weeks ;).

BTW. When you set up this course well, its a lot of fun. This is what I feel like when I set up Benham’s Bend and get the hole shot into the Chicane. There is a moment of doubt when you get into the corner, but if you stay calm and relaxed (and if your line was right) you do nothing and shoot out the other side, fast and true. Its awesome……….maybe the most awesome part of the track.

Warning Signs

That little voice in your head that whispers things is sometimes helpful. We all know that it sometimes tells us when we are getting into trouble.

This weekend is the opening weekend of the luge season for the club. Bailey and I are going to Lake Placid to slide on Sunday. This week the little voice has been whispering.

That whispering has been leading to some unhelpful self talk. That’s pretty typical for me anyway. I usually get nervous before I slide. It’s kind of like that nervous you get on a mountain bike before you try a move that has a decent chance in ending with you on the ground. But once you get going things usually settle down a little bit. But some events have helped to ramp that up a little bit this week.

First, there was the talk with my mtb coach about life, fast sports, and crashing. We got onto luge and had the typical conversation. Fast, scary, exciting….can’t you get hurt? So I shared my infamous video of one of my runs last year. Drew shared a video of a mtb crash he had in a race. (BTW. I talked with Drew about that crash. It looked like he was run over. He was. His comment was that it was OK because able to protect his bike. Clearly he has the same problem that some of us have.)

Then there was the Luge National Team that went to Sochi Russia to train for the first time on the track for next years Olympics. They were kind enough to post a video of some of the more interesting runs over the past 10 days. Here take a look. I’ve had some of those runs. Not on that track, and not at those speeds, but I have had them.

The little voice is going right now.

And that’s a bad thing if you are getting ready to slide.

You absolutely need to feel confident and positive when you slide. You have to. If you don’t, well you get tense, you sneak a peak when you are sliding, and bad things can happen.

Luckily I have about 48 hours to get myself together. I just need to remember that I was actually doing much better at the end of last year. I need to remember that I am simplifying a couple of things about my sliding. I need to remember the basics: head and shoulders back on the sled; body relaxed; smooth motions to drive the sled. (And I need to remember that it OK to struggle with this stupid, silly, difficult sport. That’s part of the fun.)

So its time to visualize some good runs. Here like this one. That’s Bailey. He’s better than I am. Bailey was already asking if I think the ice is going to be fast Sunday morning. (It IS going to be fast ice this weekend, BTW.)

Adjusting

Back to the gym today for more weight training. And it was….well….better. I felt good. Today when I finished I felt tired but not sore. Yeah! Seems like I may be adjusting. The little aches and pains are going away and I was left with just feeling tired when I was done.

Lesson learned: Sometimes its good to take things slow and ease into them.

When I talked with my coach last week about the first week of training he asked how it went and what I thought of the intensity, time etc. I said the biking and aerobic stuff was easy. Less intensity and time (which they call “volume” in the training world) than I would normally do. Drew commented that he always starts out his new clients easy until he figures out where they are at. Then he worked on my schedule and posted my next two months of workouts on my calendar. Worry not, the volume is noticeably higher this week, and next and next.

We are in what is called a base period. In this period we work on building baseline fitness so that we can be ready for the warm weather to return (or at least for the ice to get off the roads). Once that happens we get into more bike specific endurance and strength building. That’s when things get really interesting (and hard).

Training for something long like Leadville is kind of tricky. Normally if you are doing something shorter you would have training sessions longer than what you are going to compete in. That makes you confident that you can do the distance, and you can go hard for the shorter distance. With Leadville, that is simply not possible. Its not practical to think that I can do 12 or 14 or 16 hours of riding in a single session. So we are doing something called High Intensity Training (HIT). They key is to get the training volume correct. Remember volume is effort*time.  Here you work very very hard for progressively longer times.You work harder than you would race at, but for shorter times. The training will build so that I am working up to, then over, the anaerobic threshold for longer periods of time.You stress the body, hard, then let it rest and repair itself so that it becomes stronger.

On race day, its simple, you just need to set a proper (easy ;)) pace.