Life, work and luge

I don’t really talk a lot or in detail here about ALL that I do with luge. Really people just want to hear about the scary aspects (Oh and the bruising. Never forget the bruising!). But my relationship with the luge is really many faceted. Parent, athlete, official (yeah I officiate races), and engineer……

While the Olympics were going on I was back home wearing a different hat. Well technically I was wearing a luge helmet for part of it…. but I was also wearing my engineers hat. Through my day job I have gotten involved in designing luge sleds. We are helping US Luge to develop a better sled. It’s a lot of fun because I get to put things in the wind tunnel and do simulations and think about luge (while being paid for it 😉 ). I cannot share a lot of details here. Looking at my site stats during the Olympics I had a number of European visitors (guten Morgen!). While we are all friends, they are our competitors. And so the specifics of what we are doing is super secret! (Ha, international intrigue…..)

The Olympic cycle is 4 years. And while the athletes were off finishing up their 4 year cycle, the engineers were already at work aiming towards 2018. We have a couple of projects going on and will hopefully be seeing those on the track in the next couple of weeks. It’s an exciting time.

Last week I did an interview with the local NPR station. They broadcast the story this morning. I think it turned out pretty good. Enjoy.

This by the way was a very weird experience. Have you ever met a “radio personality” in person? I had this guy come to my office and all of a sudden Todd Moe’s voice boomed (if you know Todd’s voice it is very strong and distinctive) out of a person, rather than a radio. Odd.

(Sliding resumes this Saturday. So worry not, war stories to follow. Chasing the new bar… a sub 45 second run. That would move me to the really good category.)

Picture of the Day

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“Work?”

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The great make up

February. Lots of snow on the ground (with lots of ice underneath). Right now its raining, but it looks like we are going to get at least one more shot at the dreaded “Polar Vortex” before this is all done. Hardly time to think about summer mountain biking. It was a strange week. I was working on my luge sled for the final push of the season and got my MTB racing tires in the mail on the same day. (I cannot wait to mount those suckers on and go for a ride.)

But it was time. This week it was time to make up with Coach Drew.

So four months after the Drew and I broke up, we talked on the phone this week and got things going. Back together for another season of fun. Time to put the Sufferfest away and do some more focused training and work. Time to get skinny and hard for the summer! Time to finish prepping my sled for the club race and a shot at a 45 second run!

March is going to be fun 🙂

Game on.

Winter Wonderland

I know that my friends along the Atlantic coast are tired of winter. Every storm that has come East this winter has tracked right up the coast and dumped on them.

Up here in the North Country we are tired of winter too. But we are tired because it has been cold. Just plain cold. Brutally cold in fact. We have had ice and but very little snow. My thought has always been that if it is going to be brutally cold it should at least be snowy so that you can do something outside. But we have pretty much just gotten the cold.

Last week the Atlantic coast got their, what, 125th snow storm of the winter. This time it tracked a little inland and we got some actual snow out of the deal, about 9″. And on the spur of the moment the kids and I decided to go skiing. We knew that it was going to be busy (Saturday + Holiday + snow = lots of skiers), but we couldn’t resist.

Talk about perfect. Temps around 30F, no wind, and fresh powder. Bailey dumped Noah and me pretty quickly (again) and headed out on his own for the day. Noah and I enjoyed the day together.

We skied and skied and skied.

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It snowed a little bit during the day. Just enough to give a little ambiance.

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A perfect day to spend with my guys. Even if one of them didn’t spend a lot of time with me 😉 (And just what we needed to start feeling good about the winter again.)

Picture of the Day

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“Selfie”

Monday Morning Slider: 2014 ESG (The Race)

Author’s Note: Sorry for the delay in the race report, but I just got the tears cleared from my eyes! 😀

OK. Where was I….. Oh yeah. Training for the ESG last weekend was well awesome. Like I mentioned, we have lots of young kids who are starting to slide this year. After the practice was finished Saturday night I was talking with them to see how they were doing. I asked one how her training session went and her mom chimed in that she had a difficult time. “Don’t worry. I have found that how you slide the night before a race has very little to do with how you end up finishing the next day.”

That’s true. I have had great nights training and rough days racing. Rough days training, and great races. Good training and good races. There doesn’t seam to be a lot of correlation in how I do based on how I slide the night before. That makes race day very very interesting indeed. Which Doug would show up?

The field for the Masters race had 11 sleds. Three of the “A” sliders from the club, the current US Masters Champion (he came from Utah to slide with us), six of the “B” sliders (me one of those), and a world champion street luger who found his way to the ice this winter. A couple of the club “B” sliders have not slid a lot this winter, but are usually a little faster than I am. Of the other “B” sliders I had been slower than two of them this season and faster than one of them. The street luger? He has a lot of experience sliding, just not on ice. The time we saw him in the fall he was pretty good (faster than me). Realistically going into the weekend I was looking at a 9th (out of 11) place finish going into the weekend.

When Sunday morning came around I was extremely calm. I had had a good night’s sleep. We got geared up and headed to the start. The start house was total chaos. There were 30 sliders (the old guys plus a bunch of 10-13 year old kids) trying to fit in a 15’x20′ shack. Hard to find a little space to get ready,  and hard to find a quiet place to find a zone. Since the Masters sliders were last I knew it would clear out and I would get a little quiet time to focus so I tried to just go with the flow. Jim (the club guru) came up to me and gave me a fist bump (luge equivalent of a hand shake or high five since we have spikes on our fingers) and said “You are sliding awesome. I want two good ones out of you this morning.” (The race was best of two runs.)

The order for the first run of the race was by random draw, and I drew the first spot. Time to set the bar. One of the officials was a friend who I have slid with before. He told me he watched the sliding the night before on the webcast and was impressed with how I was sliding. My sled and I were checked in (weight and steel temps are controlled, they have to be in spec) and I approached the line.

One of the national team coaches was there supervising the kids. I had been teasing him about wiping my booties before I raced (the coaches do that in big races for their athletes, gotta keep everything aerodynamic!). I approached the line. The coach came up to me and wiped my booties with a big grin. I put down my face shield and pulled off. My run was pretty darn good. When I got to the finish I anticipated my higher speed after crossing the finish line and started to brake so I could look up at the board. 46.6 seconds. My slowest time of the weekend, but still WAY faster than I had slide before, ever.

At the finish of an official race a certain number of sleds are selected at random to be measured. No one wants to be controlled. Of course I was. That meant that my sled was checked. Then I had to strip down to my undies so they could weight me, my equipment, and then my sled. The result was I did not hear the times from most of the other sliders on their first runs. I did catch that Jim slide a run in the 47 second range which was hugely unusual for him (he is normally a low 45 second slider). Jim was controlled too. We call this the “insult to injury” control. Seams like a bad run in a race is ALWAYS followed by being controlled. By the time it was all sorted out I was in 4th place after the first run. I was a little bit back from the first 3, but close enough that if one of them messed up the second run I could sneak in for a medal. Holy hell. The “B” group had all slide runs that were in the 47 second range. I was well ahead of that pack.

Back up to the top for the second run. We went in reverse order for the second run, which put me in the position to be the last slider of the group. Jim was early and laid down a blistering run (he had to make a point to our guest from Utah that this was OUR track not his) which ended up being the fastest run of the day by about half a second. The other “A” sliders all had good runs. A medal was out of my reach, but I could make a statement of my own to the “B” group.

I remember being at the line and having the voice in my head start to wonder when I was going to lay down a crap run. Yeti: “Been a while since you had a real stinker…..” Doug: “No worries, I am going to nail this one.” Off I went.

When I got to the finish line I looked up: The board said: 46.42  (5). Fifth place. Another new personal best, and my fastest two heat race time ever!

I knew going into my run that Jim’s second run was fast enough that I would have had to be close to a 45 second run to get him for 4th. I had that run going. I had to make two corrections in the chicane to keep off the wall. (Coreen was watching my run from the lodge on the video feed. She asked if I actually hit the wall in the chicane. I was that close. Nope, but I had to steer, and lost time). I steered just a wee bit to hard in the last two corners. That cost me a time that would have put me closer to a 45 second and in the hunt for a 4th place finish.

Here is how you know you are “getting it” on a luge. And by this I mean when you get past the stage of being happy about NOT regularly hitting walls! I slide a PB in that last run, and I know a) that I left time on the track and b) I know where I left that time. I am starting to see and feel the little things.

Going in to the weekend I wanted to beat my personal best and race well. In the end I obliterated my PB. I hit a top end speed of 87.17 kph (over 54 mph!) for the first time in Lake Placid. Those speeds are right in line with the guys sliding 45 second runs.  It was my best race to date and a great weekend of sliding.

We have one more month on the track. 5 weeks of sliding in March with the annual spring race on March 15.

My luge goals? Short term to continue to slide 46 second runs and improve my PB (there is a 45 second run in me I KNOW it). The spikes are going onto my gloves for the spring. It’s time to seriously work on get my start times down, and really really do a luge run. I’ve been delaying that because it was a distraction I didn’t need while learning how to slide properly. Oh, and I want to dominate the spring race “B” group (sorry Jenni and Jim Waterhouse 🙂 ).

Longer term? I want to earn my place in the “A” group and I want to be competitive in my next “open” race against all comers… 2015 Masters!

Picture of the Day

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“Hack no more!”

(Thanks for the picture Amber….)

Just a little plug. Today is the doubles race at the Olympics. Tomorrow is the Team Relay. The Team Relay is a really cool event where one man, one woman and one doubles team for each country races. The sliders go in that order and when one finishes a gate opens and the next slider goes. It’s a really really exciting event. Lots of fun to watch. The US has a really good shot at a medal in that race. It takes place tomorrow (Thursday). I highly recommend watching it.

Luge

Luge is a sport that gets very little press or air time in the US. Most people are exposed to it once every 4 years, and even then its only briefly. (NBC you better expose people to it tonight…. in prime time!)

The athletes don’t get endorsements. They don’t make a lot of money. Heck they have to bar tend at night just to pay the bills.

It’s a cold sport. Sliders were training this winter in sub zero weather. And from personal experience, I can tell you that spandex is not very warm even when the temps are close to freezing. Those crazy little booties they wear? Lucky to get a semi thick pair of socks on with them.

It’s a sport in which we compete with nations where luge is THE sport in the winter. Countries where there are leagues like we have with baseball or football or even hockey.

It’s a hard and unforgiving sport. The smallest mistakes can at best loose you a race or at worst do much much more.

Today Erin Hamlin won the bronze medal in Sochi. She became the first US singles slider, man or woman, to win an Olympic medal. It was a long road.

You don’t see the time she puts in training. Weights, starts, track. You don’t see the fact that she has to tell the USOC where she is so she can be drug tested, randomly at any time. You don’t see the time she spent in the wind tunnels perfecting her form, or working with me and my team to improve the sleds. You don’t see that.

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You don’t see the sacrifices they and their families make. Those are not small.

I am lucky. I get to work with these athletes and their coaches to give them better equipment in my professional life. I get to work with the little kids who want to be in the Olympics as the president of the ADK Luge club. Those little kids who all have a new hero as of this morning. I get to slide with those athletes, and be coached by them. Yeah, I am lucky.

They are fun, hard working people to be around. They value the help and support a small community of people give them. And I value the time I get to spend with them.

Alez Erin! Well done.

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Luge Fan

Lots of luge to write about this week. You’ll have to excuse me, but it high time with the Olympics on.

These Olympics are special in my house because of the connection we have with USLA. But more than that I think everyone associated with US Luge is holding their breath right now. We are waiting for tomorrow. Waiting to see what will happen. Why?

I want to make an analogy for a minute. Being a fan of luge and an American, is a lot like being a fan of the Boston Red Sox. Well like it used to be anyway. Bear with me for a minute while I explain.

The Red Sox went a long long time without winning a World Series. They had some pretty good teams during that span, but something always seamed to happen (Google Bill Buckner Red Sox if you are not familiar with the Red Sox). And then of course there were the Yankees who always seemed to be winning.

The US has never won a singles medal in the Olympics. Dating back to something like 1964 when Luge became an Olympic sport. We have had some good sliders and some chances, but something always seemed to happen. And then there is the German team who always seams to be winning everything. So there is a little bit of a complex in the US luge fan, a little hesitancy to trust. I little bit of fear to have hope when something is going well.

Today was a fantastic day for the US women, and for one athlete in particular. Two runs are in the books for the women in Sochi. Erin Hamlin of the US is in 3rd place. 3rd place! Erin is really close to second place, and she has a pretty good gap to 4th place. She is in prime position to win a medal.

And I think US Luge Nation is waiting, and hoping……..and waiting.

Go Erin! Be strong and slide fast!

(9:30 am EST BTW if you want to watch)

Monday Morning Slider: 2014 Empire State Games (Training)

Jenni got off the track Saturday night after her first run and looked at me. “What was your run all about…..”

OK. Back up about 5 minutes. This weekend we had 66 sleds competing and 22 of us were getting some training in before the race Sunday mornings. I was first off the handles and was sitting there looking down the track. It was frosty and there was visible snow on the parts I could see. Not really conducive to a fast track. I had no idea what the track was going to be like.

“No PB’s tonight. That’s OK, the track will be better tomorrow morning.”

I remember two things about that run clearly.

It sounded different. I remember thinking this is kind of a strange sound whistling past me.

When I got to the finish I looked up to see my time. It was at that point that I realized I was still going really fast and so I had to put on some serious breaks to stop myself. I missed seeing my time because I had to focus on stopping myself.

One of the parents was at the finish dock. “Did you hear my time? I missed it.” “I think he said 46 something.” Really? I went over into the timing booth. “What was my time? I missed it.” “46.493” “Really?” “Yup.”

OK. My previous best time was 47.449. That is just shy of a 1 second improvement.

What does that mean? How hard is that to do?

There is clearly a learning curve in luge. And when you are starting out the jumps in time are really big. The first one is 10 to 20 seconds just by not breaking at the start. But as you get closer to what is possible on the track, the jumps in time get smaller. A really good run is in the low 45 second range. A super fast run is in the upper 44’s (we do not get that very often, the ice has to be just right.) When you start to get close to the 45-46 second range the steps become smaller.

A 1 second step is a leap at my point on the learning curve is huge. I would have been stoked with something right around 47.0 46.9. I felt like I could get into the 46’s. I was stunned that I went as low as I did.

Jenni got off the track Saturday night after her first run and looked at me. “What was your run all about??????” I just got a goofy grin on my face “I don’t know, but I was going fast!” And things just blurted out.

What happened? Well the track was pretty good. Not great but pretty good. The good club sliders were putting down times that were slightly higher than what they would normally slide, but within their good range. I did some work on my sled before going to Lake Placid. I taped up some gaps between my steels and the kufens and around the spot where the bridges go through the pod shell. Both of these help lower the drag on the sled a little bit. I was wearing my racing booties which are better shaped and help to keep your feet pointed, also reducing the drag.

AND I have been sliding pretty good. As good as I have ever been sliding. I feel like my form has gotten a lot better in the past month. I am definitely more comfortable on my sled. Laying farther back. Keeping my head farther back. I don’t feel like I need to see everything on the track. I am trusting my brain to know what is coming more. I am trusting my sled. That all means I am feeling confident on my sled.

We see stuff like this when people are learning to slide. You will kind of plateau out for a while, then something will click and you move up a level. I’ve been on a plateau for a while. Sliding really consistently but a little frustrated because I have not seen that promised leap in times. I’ve been chipping away at it. Because I have been chipping away at it, this was really unexpected.

My second run? The club guru came up to me between runs. “Let’s see another one.””I heard the wind whistling.” “That’s good. It means your brain is processing things and has time to notice what is going on around you.”

The second run was virtually a carbon copy of the first run (that’s the consistency thing coming through). My time was a little slower 46.524. (3/100 slower than my first run if you do the math.) When I look at the split times for the two runs my seconds was actually faster (about 3/100 in fact) right up until the end. That difference was a little bit too heavy of a steer in the last corner of the track.

I was the 4th fastest slider Saturday night on both of my runs. That’s one bobble (by the good sliders) from the podium on race day. A podium in an open race.

Was I stoked? Uh yeah. No wait, change that. HELL YES!

Picture of the Day

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“Prepping”