Monday Morning Slider: Sometimes you beat the track and sometimes the track beats you….

Sunday morning 7 am. I’m gearing up for the 2016 Luge Masters Race. I check the starting order and notice that I drew the first spot which meant that not only was I the first slider of my group, but since my group went first, I was the first slider of the day. Since the second run start order is reverse order of finish (meaning slowest first run goes first, fastest goes last) I realized that my day could be over very quickly.

The great part of having zero expectations of winning (or placing or showing for that matter) is that it doesn’t matter how well you do, the competition is all internal. I got myself ready to race and found I was having a lot of fun. I didn’t sleep a lot the night before because my neck was sore from my whiplash run the day before and I couldn’t get comfortable. But the aches melted away. I was with my friends.

I presented my sled, weighed in (the one place that my zombie apocalypse energy reserves were a good thing) and got ready to get onto the track. The track workers did a fantastic job of prepping the track and it looked shiny and smooth. They called my name and off I went. How did it go? It was my 2nd fastest run ever. I made it through my “crux section” the upper labrynth and flew into the chicanes

remaining calm on the bumpy gnarly track. I cam close to the wall but made it through clean. Into the lower “Heart” section and into the final corner. There are 2 lines through the final curve. One takes you smoothly through the other takes you high and ejects you into the wall, but after the timing eye. The second line is fast, but sub optimal for the slider. I let it go flew across the finish line and tagged the far wall. But it didn’t matter I was super happy.

The first sled of the day showed the track was fast. And the first slider of the day showed a year of rust was no obstacle.

Now luge races usually show big gaps between groups of sliders. The four fastest sliders are about 1-1.5 seconds faster than I am. The second slider of the day was a guest slider from Park City Utah. He is super fast. Once I came down off my cloud I listened to the second half of his run and watched his split times. THIS COULD NOT BE HAPPENING! It was a total stinker of a run. Mr. Superfast dude came down (after leaving some marks on the walls) and was about 1.2 seconds BEHIND ME! Woot!

The other 3 fast guys (from my local club) came down and had fast runs. But seriously? I was in 4th place.

OK time for run #2. Mr. Superfast went before me and threw down a smoking fast run (it was in fact the fastest run of the day that anyone had). I went to the start line and prepared to enter the record books. My second run was fantastic. See, I kind of even look like I know what I am doing…

The splits will show I was faster on the upper portion of the course and entered into the chicane at 85 km/h (53 mph). Then just as I was about the leave the chicane I hit a rut and tagged a wall. Game over. OK, I finished, and my time wasn’t “horrible”, but 4th place slipped out of my gloved hands. Actually I would have needed to slide about 0.5 seconds faster than my previous personal best to keep 4th place, and I wan’t going THAT fast. Still.

OK, so what was different between the runs? Me, myself, and I. How focused was I on the first run? When I entered the chicane (right before that video) I head a loud metalic ping. My brain registered it and then left it in my wake. The ping actually came from a bolt that came off my sled while I was sliding. On my second run I entered the chicane and was immediately uncomfortable. If I had been more relaxed the rut wouldn’t have resulted in me finding wall.

Yeah, sometimes the track beats you.

In the end I ended the race in 5th place over all. Right about where I would have predicted before the race. Coreen said that I really should slide more next winter. Yeah. Yeah.

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Monday Morning Slider: A Unique Way to Prepare for a National Championship

In January I got a couple of emails from friends telling me they missed luging. Which was really funny seeing as how they have never actually been on a track luging. They asked when I would share the stories of my winter escapades. Apparently by “missing luging” what they really meant was they missed hearing about me beating and bruising myself on a sled. I told them that the stories this winter went something like this: I wasn’t sliding and I didn’t know if I would be sliding this year. For a number of reasons, none of which are important to share, luging had become something that was not fun and so my sled sat dusty in my basement.

Somewhere around February I started to feel like I wanted to get back on the track. And so I circled the US Luge Masters National Championship on my calendar. If you do a quick search on this blog for Luge Masters you are going to find a lot of entries. Things like this. Masters is my favorite time of the year in the luge world. What better weekend to get back on the ice? What better way to prepare for a National Championship than to not prepare or practice at all? Yeah baby!

We had two days of practice before the race. My first practice run was “exciting”. It felt fast. By fast I mean, it felt like my brain was just a little bit behind my sled on the track. That my friends is the very definition of an exciting run. But I made it to the bottom. Rust knocked off, most of my skin still on. I called it a win. My second run was my 3rd fastest run ever (ha and you thought my plan was foolish!). My 3rd was again a little bit all over the place, but I got down.

OK. Onto Saturday and the second day of practice. Saturday morning was when the universe laughed at my little training plan. It started with g forces causing me to “loose my head” (you head flies back and you get to look up instead of forward) in the last corner. I finished but wasn’t super happy. My second run was again really good. Then my third run happened…..

The track has taken a beating this winter. While it is a refrigerated track, the winter of non-winter, has been hard on it. It was a bumpy mess. The chicanes (a track description is here for those of you who have forgotten) in particular were bad.

I cleaned up some issues on the upper portion of the track and entered into the chicanes with a good bit of speed whereupon which I bounced my way through this “straight” section of track. When I got into the long fast 3 corner combination (the Heart) to end my run my head snapped back (lost again). This is a really interesting place to be looking at the roof of the track. There is a mural, similar to that from the Sistine Chapel, painted on the ceiling. It’s a spectacular view. OK, not so much. Its a BAD place to be looking at the roof. You cannot see your steering marks PLUS its a spot on the track where you can get hurt if you don’t hit your marks.

I managed to cop a quick peak at some point and saw I was “OK” line wise and finished. My neck was sore (whiplash from bouncing through the chicane and stress from fighting g’s with my “fresh” neck muscles). I’m getting better and listening to what my body says and my body was saying that a couple of more training runs had NO upside. I decided to call it quits and get ready for the race the next morning……

 

Wilmington Whiteface 100k: First Impressions

As we walked to the waiting room I asked the physical therapist, “So is the kind of pain that indicate you are doing damage or the kind of pain that indicates that something is wrong and you won’t hurt yourself any further?”

PT: “Well I cannot tell you you won’t hurt anything by racing Sunday. Common sense would say….”

And there was a chortle from a young women in the PT waiting room.

PT: “She (indicating the laughing young woman) has a problem with common sense (which made her laugh harder) just like I suspect you do to (clearly 60 minutes was enough time for her to form a solid first impression). Common sense would say don’t race. Even if you don’t hurt anything more, the length and difficulty is going to aggravate your leg.”

ME: “That’s kind of what I was thinking too.” (Big sigh).

Back up 60 minutes to when I first met my PT. We talked for awhile about what I do and what the problem was. What do you mean by you bike “a lot”? 10 hours a week. How long is this race? 70 miles. (Eyes pop) etc. Then we did some testing. And in the end we think that the problem is coming from my mechanics.

When you pedal your knees should describe a roughly circular plane. My right knee does what they call “chopping”. When I pedal the knee comes in. I have gotten a bike fit twice and the guy who did it has never been able to fix that problem. Usually you add wedges into your bike shoes and poof it goes away. But we never have been able to fix the chopping motion with wedges. The working theory is that the bad mechanics are stressing my hip and hamstring. All bike related problems start with the knees. Add to that the fact that I am, as most bikers are, quad dominant, and the problem is exacerbated.

Our plan of action is some stretching, muscle strengthening, massage and a tape job. The tape runs from the inside of my right knee across the top of my leg and then around my waste to my lower back. This is a tape method for runners who collapse their knees and restricts the inward motion of my knee. The idea is to re-train my leg to be more stable and have better mechanics.

I left the PT’s office pretty well decided that I would not race on Sunday. But I had my mtb at work and took it onto the trails behind my office. It was the best, hardest, and first real pain free ride I have had in a while. I call it the “adding insult to injury” ride.

 

Monday Morning Slider: 2015 US Masters National Championship (A Weekend in Pictures)

Two people to thank for today’s post. Laura Murphy whom you all have seen work from in the last 2 posts. And Cynthia Hausman who also took some fabulous photos. You can see  a lot more of her pictures at the US Luge Facebook Page.

The people make Masters a exceptionally fun event. Here are some of my favorite pictures from the weekend.

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“In”

 

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“Up”

 

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“Prepare”

 

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“Focus”

 

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“Down”

 

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“Jen”

 

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“Mom”

 

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“Young”

 

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“Serious?”

 

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“Ummmm”

 

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“Oops”

 

CS_and_EW

“Jedi”

 

doug_and_jen

“Padowan”

 

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“Best”

 

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“0.003”

 

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“Slider”

 

Monday Morning Slider: 2015 US Masters National Championship Part 2 (Race Day)

Author’s Note: The pictures in today’s post are again courtesy of Laura Murphy, who suffered a sub zero race morning (it is almost spring right???) to get some more awesome shots.

OK, so for my last run the night before the biggest race of the year, the race where I get to slide with Olympians, where some of the competitors have been sliding as long as I have been alive, I tagged walls. But I was calm and centered in the morning. And in a very non-Fat Cyclist way, I have been calm recently before luge races. It was race day, and well, I wasn’t going to win. So there was no real pressure (except what I heap on myself). I did, however, bring my game face

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and my race suit. No sense giving up even before the race starts. You never know. There had been a lot of crashes during practice. And well it was possible that two of the good sliders could crash and I could sneak into 3rd. (And maybe I would hit a moose on the way to the track. The odds were about even, considering the only moose I have ever seen in the Adirondacks is on a sign.)

I also opted for my Leadville Tech-T as my base base layer.

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The quotes help me to put what I am going to do in perspective.

It was cold when I got up. Like below zero cold. (Just a couple of days before April. Hey Spring WTF?) But it was dry, and we were hoping the track workers had prepped to give us a fast track. Ladies and Gentlemen when we got there it was a fast track. The track workers had worked on the start ramp and had sprayed a light layer of water on top of the ice. Instead of the hazy ice we had been seeing the past few weeks, we saw a glassy track. The anticipation built.

Race day in the start house is different. There is a seriousness in it. Even if this isn’t our job, even if our future doesn’t depend on how we do in this race, well, who doesn’t want to be the fastest person in a sport in the ENTIRE COUNTRY. (Even if it is a niche sport like Luge. How many of you can say you were National Champions????)

I was in a good place, focused.

Here’s was the deal. There were 7 of us in our division (the “Not Yet in AARP” Men’s Division). 4 of the sliders were much faster than me. My sole hope of getting onto the podium was to: 1. Slide two heats better than I have ever done before. Way better. 2. To hope that two of them slid at least one really bad run, preferable two really bad runs. It was a long shot. In the “slow” sliders group there was me, my friend Jim, and a guest who is pretty good considering he only really slides with us during races. Jim has the ability to slide faster than me, but he has been suffering the dreaded inconsistency problems. You may remember Jim from this picture:

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My line, while not perfect, was faster by virtue of the fact that I was ON my sled:

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I was the 6th slider and Jim was the 7th.

I didn’t pay much attention to the times of the first 5 sliders, but I did hear that one of my friends broke 45 seconds (this is THE metric for a really fast run on this track, from this start location) so I knew the track was fast. I pulled off, didn’t paddle and went straight down the start ramp.

I had a really nice run. Not a personal best, but it was one of my best most relaxed runs ever.

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I made it through the Labyrinth (the first 1/3 of the track) cleanly. I got onto the chicane cleanly and even managed to relax there. Then into the heart. I felt the turns and did what was needed. And then I flew across the finish line up the out ramp and past the clock. I missed seeing my time, but the results would show that my time was 46.487 seconds (just over 1.5 seconds behind the race leader). It’s a lot of fun to carry so much speed into the finish that you go past the clock without being about to see it. Jim, slid a fantastic 1st run and had a personal best at 46.178 (he OBLITERATED his PB by half a second). I was in 6th place.

My people sent out a social media blast informing my fans of my good run.

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Time to get ready for the second run.

The Adirondack Mountains are a beautiful place. Even if you get cold and snow in spring.

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And one of the nice things about spring is that the sun in intense and warms things nicely. The cold -5 F temps climbed and kept climbing. Not to the point where the fast track was in danger of slowing, but to the point where you really did appreciate having a chance to be outside (even in spandex).

Run 2 was in reverse order of finish, which meant I was second off the handles. My second run was a carbon copy of the first. Nice, clean, relaxed. Just a hint of a bobble at the end. 0.08 seconds slower, but enough to be in first place after 2 sliders.

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My day and my season, finished.

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It was time to wait and see.

Jim came down next and had a slightly rough run. I moved ahead of him in the standings. Today’s finish is brought to you by the letter “C”(onsistency). It was time to see if any of the fast dudes would choke under the pressure.

The sport of Luge is timed to the 1/1000th of a second. And here is why.

3-29_Master's_Men

 

 

3rd and 4th place were separated by 0.003 seconds. After two runs, which took just over 1 minute and 30 seconds of total time, they were separated by 0.003 seconds. 1st and 2nd were separated by 0.020 seconds. So the short answer is no, none of the top 4 sliders blinked and I ended up in 5th place.

Neither of my 2 runs were personal best times. They were close, but not quite there. BUT, but, my combined time made this this fastest two run race of my career. I found my groove and ended the season sliding fast and confident.

 Picture of the Day

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“To the Victor….”

Monday Morning Slider: It total does and does not matter (all at the same time)

I didn’t get to write last week. It was an incredibly difficult week with more bad family health news. I spent the week processing and going about trying to find some normalcy. Writing took a back seat. This sabbatical year has been difficult from that perspective. While its not my sabbaticals “fault” it certainly isn’t making this year be what it was supposed to be.

I went sliding on Sunday. It was strange to be at the start line. What a silly little way to spend my time. Riding a sled down a hill. Given the recent news and all that happened this last fall with my family, sliding is unimportant. It doesn’t change any of that reality. It really doesn’t matter.

And yet it really does. It’s a diversion. It gives me a chance to just be for a little while. To put things aside. It’s a chance to spend time with friends and laugh and tease. And so it really does matter, a lot.

I slid well. Four solid runs. A couple where I really felt good on my sled. My times were not stellar, but be warned of luge friends, my runs were better than my times showed. And my sled is with the best sled guy in the country being tuned up. The 5th run? Well I should have listened to the little voice that said you have had enough. Eh, that’s neither here nor there. I left the track smiling, and that, as always, is my metric for a good day.

 Picture of the Day

Well today’s picture is really a story. It is being told by a very talented story teller, and well sometimes that makes for the best picture. Being close to Canada we are exposed to some things (most of them good). There is a CBC radio show called the Vinyl Cafe. On that show Stuart McClain tells stories. Some are real, and some of fiction. The fictional ones are about a family in Canada. The best part of those stories is how Stuart can weave essential truths into the narrative. This story is in one of the books he has written and I first read it there. Yesterday I heard Stuart tell it for the first time. This story is about people and relationships and living. It is one of my favorite stories, and is about 20 minutes long. You may need kleenex. I did when I first read it and then again when I heard it.

 

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.

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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.