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