Luge Basics

Today the first portion of the ADK Luge Club’s season comes to a close. Since most of you have probably not been on a luge sled I figured I would take a little time to introduce you all to the equipment we use. OK here we go….

First you need a sled. This is mine you have seen it a lot.

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The important thing to know about a sled is that it needs to weigh between 21 and 25 kg (about 50 lbs). There are a bunch of other spec’s for a sled (width, thickness, etc. actually there is a whole rule book about the sled, but weight is the most important).

The business end of the sled are the steels. Couple of important things here. The sled actually rides on about six inches of the steels, not the whole length. That’s about 1/4 of the distance shown in the picture. The steels have a slight bow in them that causes you to ride on that small portion. The other thing people are usually surprised about is that the steels are not sharp (you will never cut anything with that edge). They are not profiled or sharpened like a skate blade. There is a definite edge which you can make more or less round, but it is definitely not sharp. How sharp the edge is depends on the ice conditions. Sharper for colder harder ice. Rounder for softer warmer ice. If you are like me you have a pro put an edge on, and you never ever mess with it.

I do “polish” my steels. Meaning I used sandpaper to get them as smooth and shiny as possible.

OK the other thing I get a lot is safety equipment. Well, the only official safety equipment you need is a helmet.

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The helmet is controlled by the luge federation. You may not touch or modify it. Yes as many of you have pointed out to me its not very aerodynamic (and yes a smart guy who knows something about aerodynamics could make it better). It’s been done

It’s also illegal. What they found was people were modifying the helmets to the point where they were not safe. Go figure.

The picture shows my face shield on my helmet. That keeps the wind out of your eyes. Sliding in really cold weather and having the wind causes tearing. Been there. The black garb is my speed suit. Its the outer most article of clothing. I usually wear a base layer or two under that (yes its cold, luge is not a comfortable sport).

Luge is a gravity sport and weight is important. If you are under 90 kg you can wear extra weight to get you up to 90 kg. This is my supplemental weight vest. It weights about 10 kg and is about 10kg light of what I am allowed.

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Going through airport security a couple of years ago to go to Park City for a race was quite exciting with that.

Toes and feet?

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The white booties are aerodynamic and force your feet in a nice pointed position. They are regulated and only made by Adidas. The gloves are not regulated in the rules (other than you must have them). My are  mountain bike gloves (of course!). I got these because they have knuckle padding (which was one of the places I used to get really bruised).

When you get good enough you put spikes on your gloves.

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Those are mine, not on my gloves. When you watch luge you will see the athletes paddling after they pull off the handles. The spikes give you traction on the ice so you can actually paddle. I don’t use mine. They were more of a problem (I usually went home with puncture wounds) than they were worth (it didn’t make me any faster). Someday I will put them back on my gloves.

That’s pretty much it. Some people wear elbow pads. I don’t, they are uncomfortable. I do wear arm bands to help protect my speed suit from abrasions (when hitting the wall).

Weight wise it works like this: You get 23 kg for your sled. If you are under 90 kg you get your body weight plus supplemental weight to get you to 90 kg. If you are over 90 kg you get your body weight. And everyone is allowed 4 kg for gear. Controls are strict during a race. Everyone is weighed. If you are “controlled” all of the components are weighed separately.

BTW. If you are bored, there is a live track camera here:

http://www.usaluge.org/cam.php

We are sliding at 5:30-7:00 pm (EST) tonight. I will be in all black.

Picture of the Day

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“Important”

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Thanksgiving

Hey Folks, sorry I disappeared there. I was at a conference. Think 5000 engineer geeks in one place and you pretty much have what I was experiencing. Although the engineer geeks were from all around the world, so it had that interesting twist.

It’s Thanksgiving. The time when we are supposed to reflect on what we are thankful for. I like Thanksgiving. Its one of the least commercialized of the major holidays. Though I hear that the major retailers are open today to get a jump on Christmas. I think that should be illegal. Thanksgiving is a family holiday and people should be allowed to spend it not at work with whatever family they want.

What am I thankful for? I have had a great year. I have an awesome family who gave me the space to experience this last year. I have great friends and a job that I (for the most part) love. (I am also thankful that there is snow on the ground so I don’t have to go outside to do short force intervals!)

Being at university most of us are far away from family. Our tradition is to have friends over. Time to cook the turkey.

I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving with friends and family.

Picture of the Day

snowman

“Time Well Spent”

Duathalon

So I was reading a blog from a new “virtual” friend at The Playful Life and posted a comment. To which she commented by calling me Mr. Multisport (Umm.. Ms. Multisport. Hello pot the kettle is calling. CX, SUP, surfing, etc. etc. etc.). But it got me thinking. I know the sport I can win in. Duathalons!

Not traditional duathalons. Nope. Mountain bike/luge duathalons! It’s perfect.

Look, I am not likely to win many mountain bike races. The men’s 40-49 age class is just way too strong. Luge, well solid “B” group slider. BUT how many mountain biking lugers do you know? Huh? Yeah, I thought so.

So I am starting a new federation. The International Luge/MTB Duathalon Association. I can take that field.

Wait. The number 1 US men’s luger is a good mtb’er and a really good athlete……

Crap. Sigh.

Fall Double

There are two months of the year that something special can happen. Those months are November and March. Any ideas why those months are special?

I can double up on my crazy sports. I can luge and ride on the SAME DAY!

My plan for last Saturday was the leave home early enough that I could get a trail ride in before luge practice. The weather was going to be a gift (well for mtb’ing, not for sliding). Low 50’s, sunny. When I drove into the mountains I saw there was a lot of snow on the ground. A lot more than we had at my house 10 miles away. What could I ride? I wanted to do a particular trail in the Hardy trails. Its a steep semi-technical climb/descent (stuff I need to work on). But if it was snowed in, well that one was out.

When I got to the trail head there was no snow (the “big” snow was localized even in the mountains) and the trails were pretty dry. I kitted up and jumped on my bike. Pretty quickly it was made clear that I probably should have warmed up before going up the climb. Its steep. See???

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The upper portion of the trail has a loop on it, so I did that section twice, then back down the initial section of the trail.

Here is a picture down the trail:

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And one up the trail:

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The up section of this trail is a pretty constant 10-15% grade with some steep short kickers and some rough technical sections thrown in for good measure. When you finally get to the top the views are fantastic.

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And of course you are rewarded with a long sustained down hill. Alright, assume attack position. Heavy feet, light hands. Brake when the traction is good, roll over obstacles.

The trail has really nice flow. The corners are mostly burmed and in some sections you get quick left/right/left combinations. Edge the tires, back and forth. It felt a lot like skiing when I got into that nice back and forth rhythm. There are some tight switchbacks and in some cases you switch back and quickly transition into a steep downhill section.

All in all, its a really nice flowy, steep, moderately technical descent. Perfect for working on some skills.

Then it was time to strip out of the bike kit, put on some base layers and a speed suit, and jump on my sled.

Yup, November and March can be two of the best months (well when the weather is JUST right).

Picture of the Day

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“Whiteface, Late Fall”

Monday Morning Slider: ADK Icebreaker 2013

For the past 5 years the ADK Luge Club has held a race early in the season we call the “Icebreaker” (I still want to call this a regatta. It’s the sailor in me.) It’s a way to cap off the early season and to get the kids in the club experience in race situations. And well honestly it’s also a lot of fun to add a little pressure of “racing” to sliding.

The schedule this weekend was practice on Saturday night and the race first thing Sunday morning.

There was a lot of energy in the air Saturday night. The kids were all amped up. The adults, well we were amped up too. Race time give us a time to talk smack to each other. In fact the smack started even before we got to the track. The B&B I was staying at was hosting 3 other sliders. And they kindly left me a note when I checked in. I heard they were at the kitchen table. In I went. Let the games begin.

The track makes its money from running tourists down the track in bobsleds on the weekends. And we learned that the track had run over 300 bob’s down the track before we got there. Usually that means the track is going to be a bumpy adventure, but it looked good. The only real problem was the start ramp which was covered in dirt. But we got our runs in. After we were done sliding the club guru asked how my runs were. “Not great, and not crap. Solidly mediocre.” My times were right about were I was last week. With the exception of my last run where I found wall for the first time this year. Not hard and I did a good job of not carrying that down the track with me.

Time to go out for some dinner, some more smack talk, and then off to bed for sleep.

Sunday morning it was warm. Not just warm, but almost hot for us up here right now. 50F. That may sound like a comfortable temp (which it is, I only wore 1 base layer under my speed suit) but it is hell on the track. While the track is refrigerated the combination of high temps and high humidity made for a frosty slow track. The first sliders went off and everybody’s times were slow. When my time came for my first run I got myself to the line, steels sinking into the ice as I waited for my turn. My first run? Well it felt OK. No major problems. Up the finish ramp. 50.3 seconds. WTF? 50.3 seconds? Yup, the track was 2 seconds slower than normal (for everyone, don’t be mad meat!). It is really disheartening to slide a pretty solid run and come up 2 seconds slower than your normal time. Even if you know its not you, its the track.

Time to refocus. Second run. Well more of the same. 50.4 seconds. Sigh.

Our little group of “B” sliders has actually gotten quite good this year. We are all sliding consistent runs (which is one sign you are ready to make a leap in sliding ability). Where it used to be a crap shoot to see who could put together 2 clean runs, now you can expect people will slide 2 clean runs. It makes the game better. I ended up 6 out of 8 (right where I deserved to be).

The best part of the weekend was sliding with the kids. They have a great energy. They slide with big smiles on their faces. They help me remember to have fun.

The other cool thing about this weekend was sliding with a world champion. We were joined by David Dean. David is a wold champion street luger. He decided to try his hand at the ice game. And, well he was good. We raced him in the “B” group and he did well. 4th out of 8.

My sliding? Honestly I was dissapointed. I had hoped to do better. BUT I am really consistent right now. Which is good, really good. I felt confident enough in my sliding that I pulled out my real race suit. (The one I have not slid in because I didn’t want to tear it up crashing into walls.) I feel close to making a leap. I need to continue to work on the fundamental of laying on my sled. I also need to work at being more “quiet” on my sled. Every time you steer (or move for that matter) you slow the sled down. My ankle is bruised (which is a sure sign I was over driving, pushing too hard on my runners). The track is going well for me right now. I have to learn to be quiet and trust. I slide next on November 30.

Picture of the Day

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“Another ‘pro’ to compete against”

David will be back. I have seen the look in his eyes before, many many times. He has found ice. A little more experience and he will be very very good.

NICA Leadership Summit Pt.2

Last week I wrote about my personal experience of learning to ride my mtb at the NICA Leadership summit. The purpose of the skills clinic was really much more involved. The leadership summit was put on to train people how to be mountain bike coaches for high school mountain bike teams.

NICA is an organization that started in California. It was started to give kids a chance to learn and compete in a sport that they might not otherwise get involved in. It is dedicated to developing healthy, athletic kids who might otherwise not be involved in sport. Kids who don’t fit into traditional scholastic sports. I wish that when I was the chubby unathletic kid that something like NICA existed. I would have been totally in.

Fast forward thirt…fort…(ish) years, to the point where I discovered my inner animal waiting to get out and you have a totally “in” grown-up who doesn’t realize he is a grown up. There is a place for me in NICA….. starting and coaching a high school mountain bike team.

I saw Single Track High for the first time in March.

A seed was planted in my mind. We have mountain bike trails. We have kids….. Humm.

On the Thursday before Leadville NICA did a showing of Single Track High. New York had just organized a league through NICA and had had its first racing season. I was pretty much finished at that point. Being a NICA coach combines two passions in my life: biking and teaching kids. And so I started down a road trail.

Now after the leadership summit, the mountain bike team is being organized. One LBS is totally in. The owner started a local mountain bike club, St. Lawrence Mountain Bike Association (SLMBA) a couple of years ago. It is ready to become something real (rather than a group of guys who ride and talk to each other twice a year). We are getting a president and incorporating as a not for profit. The group has made great progress in developing mtb trails in the area. Like I say its becoming real.

The new club president is excited about the prospect of a high school team and so we are going to fit that team under SLMBA (that allows us to take kids from surrounding schools, rather than just from the local school). The wife of the owner has agreed to become an assistant coach (Hi Shannon!) I want young ladies! Shannon is passionate about getting girls to ride. She is also one heck of a good rider. The local school principal is totally in and will support us through the school. I have a high school teacher, and fellow mountain bike “nut” (technically he is a “nut” and I am “stupid”), on the line. Hoping to reel him in. He is helping me to organize a meeting for kids, and to identify some target kids.

We are going to have an after school meeting in a couple of weeks. Then a parents meeting shortly after. I have permission to show Single Track High, which I will do then. Then I have to register me as a coach, the team as a team, get CPR WFA certification, take my coaches test…….

Right now I am in this funny space. Will there be any kids who want to do this? Will there be too many kids who want to do this? I would be really really happy to have something like 5 kids for the first year and build from there. My nightmare is 0 kids or 50 kids. 5. 5 is the perfect number to start with and grow from.

If I look at the list of people I have sucked into this we all have some things in common. We love riding (duh). We are also extremely busy, involved people. God I hope this works……. (It’ll be fine Doug. Have faith…….Thanks Yeti, that’s the nicest thing you have ever said to me…..Don’t get used to it Meat. You still have ORAMM to look forward to……Buzzkill).

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“Coaches”

Monday Morning Slider: The Return of Luge

Last weekend I was learning how to ride a bike (and more importantly how to coach a high school mountain bike team). I missed the opening weekend of the 2013-14 luge season. And so Sunday was my opening day.

The first day of the season is always preceded by tension for me. How is it going to go? Will I remember (what little I know about) how to slide? How many bruises will I go home with????

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I ended the season last year on a good note. I was sliding pretty good. I ran a couple of personal best times in the last race of the season and then put my sled away so that I could focus on my training for my mtb race in Leadville.

One of the big picture things that I learned last week a the mountain bike skills clinic is the importance of fundamentals in a sport. In mountain biking the “attack” position is the fundamental position. Off the saddle, knees over balls of feet, bending at the waist, tail high, hips back, heavy feet, light hands. That’s where it all starts. That’s the most defensible position on a bike. It’s the place you want to be when all heck breaks loose.

The fundamental position in luge is stupidly simple: Laying on the sled, with your shoulders back touching the sled (really laying, not sitting at all). It all starts at this point. Laying on the sled. When you do that your sled is balanced at the right spot. When you do that you can drive the sled.  It’s the most defensible position. It’s the most drivable position. It’s the fastest position.

Except that its not so stupidly simple to do. Luge is a counter intuitive sport. Chances are what your brain tells you to do it probably the wrong thing. When things go badly your mind wants you to sit up on the sled and see what’s happening, what’s coming next. (Heck even when things are going well you want to sit up and see what is coming.) But that’s the wrong thing to do. When you sit up you move the balance point and remove your ability to drive the sled. Bad becomes worse.

I’m a sitter. I’m a looker on a sled.

When I started to get those butterflies Sunday before my first run I decided that I would concentrate on having good form. On laying on my sled. (Usually when I do that I miraculously find that my sliding is better. Go figure.)

The weather was great. Middle 30’s which makes for a really nice drivable track. Not an incredibly fast track, but an incredibly drivable track.

 

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The start ramp was really frosty (meaning it would be slow).

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First run. Track cleared. Onto the handles. Onto the track. When I got off the start ramp and onto the track I did a quick position check. Feel the sled on the shoulders. Good. I’m laying back. Into the first two turns (turn 10 and 11, we start in the middle of the track, not the top) and running well. Transition from 11-12-13 shoulders creep up (thats a tough spot on the track and one place where it is easy to run into a wall). Put them back down meat! Some counter steers in the chicane. Little bobbles in the last three turns. Over the finish line safely. 49.152 seconds. Not very fast. But safe. No damage.

I talked with the coach.

“You looked good out of 11. You got into 12 on a good line, but you sat up and made it harder than it needed to be.”

“Yup I know. That’s my focus. First run of the season. Next one will be better.”

Second run. Shoulders down. Commit. Top half clean. Chicane clean. Little bobbles in the last corners but nothing bad. 48.457 seconds. From the coach:

“Great line in the chicane. As good a position as I have ever seen on you. You were drifting left. Your head was turned. It should be straight. Look up and watch the lights above the track they will guide you so you don’t have to look forward.”

“The head turn is a legacy of running into the right wall. Will work on it.”

Third run. More comfortable. I looked up in the chicane and saw the lights. Still bobbling on the last curves. 48.394 seconds.

Last run. Smoking top of the track. Little bobble in the chicane lead to difficult entry into the last section of the track. Which got exciting…..

In a luge corner, especially a high speed corner, the g forces can be large. Your neck is holding your head up. Your neck is week and sometimes the g’s overcome the strength of your neck and your head goes back. We call this “loosing your head”. When that happens you have the joy of sliding blind (you can no longer look forward because your head cannot be aimed that way anymore). I’ve never experienced that before. Mostly because I had been sitting up on my sled just a little bit which allowed me to use shoulders to keep my head up (instead of using them for what they are for, driving). I got into the last corner of the track and my head snapped back. Blind through the end of the track.

The last timed corner on the track (turn 19) is also the most dangerous. It is the spot on the track that if things go badly you can really get hurt. Not the spot to not be able to see. I didn’t panic, but readied myself for a hard impact into the far wall coming out of the corner. When my head came back up I was into the finish shoot safely through. 48.690 seconds. Heart pumping but safe.

My best time every is 47.449 seconds. (Blind squirrel finding a nut I think). My last three runs were better than that…. on the top half of the track. I made some driver errors in the final curves of the track that cost me that second. The last two turns are up hill (to slow you down for the finish) and when you bobble those you pay a big price.

For the past couple of years the adult luge club “guru” has been telling me not to worry about times, but to worry about body position. “The times will come.” That’s wicked hard to do. How do you judge how you are doing without looking at the times? Seriously?

I understood that advice this weekend. I felt more comfortable on my sled than I ever have. I made some errors driving the end section of the course, but I felt good on my sled. The bobbles felt like “details” (track details) not “fundamentals” (sliding skills). Details that can be worked on. Yesterday I felt like I deserved to be on a sled. The times will come.

Luging has a steep (and sometimes painful) learning curve. But I tell you what. When you get to the point where you are in control of the sled, when you can fix problems, when you can leave the problems behind you, when it FLOWS (just like with a mtb)….. It’s a hell of a lot of fun. I know that there will be days. I know there will be contact with the wall. But those days are spreading out. I feel like I am starting to get it.

My goal for this season is to be sliding consistent 46 second runs. That would put me on top of the “B” slider group and knocking on the door of the “A” group. I know that’s a time goal, but I feel like I can get to the point where I am fundamentally solid on my sled and worrying about little details to get the time down.

Picture of the Day

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“Mine……. finally”