Sugar Bowl Academy Nordic Ski Team, Coaches Corner

Below a post from Martin Benes, Head Coach for Sugar Bowl Academy Nordic Ski Team. We at Silver Sage Sports and Fitness Lab sponsor the Sugar Bowl program, lactate threshold testing these talented athletes in summer, fall and winter.

sba-rollerski2I was recently at a USSA Nordic National Under-16 camp in Jackson Hole, WY. We had four athletes from the Far West division, including 2 from Sugar Bowl Academy. We spent two afternoons working on agility courses on rollerskis. During setup I was chatting with a coach from the Norwegian National Sports Academy in Oslo. “We never do agility workouts on rollerskis”, he remarked. I was a little surprised because in the US, we have been spending an increased amount of time working on it. “Our kids just play on rollerskis and sometimes go into the skate park when they are younger,” was the practically the next words he uttered. That made a lot more sense.

I began to wonder what place agility has in our training. It struck me that in Norway they never do specific agility “workouts”.  Rather it is often built into longer workouts as part of the warm up or even as games when kids are on skis younger. It almost seemed to me that US coaches were trying to make for lost time, for those kids who hadn’t grown up skiing to school. The athletes who didn’t drop into their local skate park on rollerskis as a twelve year old. Our cross-country skiers are often good endurance athletes, but still need work on technique. To me it still held a large place in how we train on rollerskis.

Agility training enables skiers to be more comfortable on their skis; improving their balance, building strength, and developing natural speed. It pushes the comfort level and allows skiers to fail. It provides intrinsic motivation as skiers try to master skills in an agility course and set small, personal goals for themselves. In one of the bigger pieces, it also challenges athletes on a mental level. Forcing them to complete new motor skills will, in theory, allow them to be more adaptable to technique work later in the same session. In short, agility training on rollerskis (and on skis) makes us better skiers.

The next piece of this is how to incorporate some of these pieces into your own skiing. There are a couple of ways to do this. One option is to set up a line of eight or ten cones (or articles of clothing, water bottles, etc.). Before you begin your workout, ski through them on one ski only. Alternate legs, and ski on each leg three or four times. This will work on single-leg balance, but also force you into making quick adjustments to your body position and weight shift. Two other drills you can throw into your skis are 180 jumps going both directions, and backwards skiing. There are many options for exercises, and it is important to switch drills up frequently. Channel your inner Norwegian kid and play around on your skis, trying new things, pushing your comfort level, and become a better skier.

Leadville 2014

Leadville 100 mile mtn bike race report by o2fitness long-time athlete, Andy Buckley…

Tahoe July 19– to be totally honest the Tahoe Trail 100k was my mental moment of truth.  That is, it was to be a measure of my preparedness.  With my South African race in April, 2000 miles of dirt training and 180 hours on the bike since April I felt I had paid my dues.  Things don’t always work out though.  I finished TT100 in 5h42m with a 15 minute stop at an accident, but still that was only 0.2mph faster than last time-not enough change!

Preamble – Motivation comes and goes, but commitment is forever-Ken Chlouber . The truth is my motivation took a big hit and I was still going to Leadville, after all I had committed.  I didn’t think it was likely that I would meet my target (or even close), but I settled into commitment.  I said I was going, so I would.  And my perspective would be the joy of the Race Across the Sky and that big high country.

Race day start– I arrived with five minutes to spare.  My tactic of sleeping low in Aspen meant I had a super early morning drive with my friend Zander.  A timing miscalculation (I always use my best past time as the marker) and some tummy issues put us right down to the wire with Zander helping me strap my number to my bike a few blocks from the start line and a fast pedal to a jump over the fence in to the coral.  In a way it was a blessing, not too much time to stew.  I always love the national anthem (this year sung by Dave Wiens’ son), I stripped off my vest and with the blast of the shotgun we were off.  The pace from the silver coral was strong, I was geared out downhill toward St. Kevans, the dirt was fast and so was the climb.  Unusually, the field felt so open, no one falling off in this group as we moved over the hill on the way to Turquoise Lake.  I was pushing but still inside myself, not particularly paying attention to racing, just going.

The low spot-is the turn on the pavement at the tail end of Turquoise Lake, ironically it was also the early point where I questioned what I was doing.  “why am I doing this again”?  “what am I proving”?  I could just get to Pipeline aid and quit.  Well I could couldn’t I?….Sometimes just having the option in one’s mind is enough to get through this block, the danger though is that you slow down.

Going fast-is relative to space, memory and of course others.  Heading up Sugarloaf seemed faster than before, I was passed by a couple of trains on the low gradient dirt, but once we hit the rocky road, I started passing occasionally.  The crest came quickly and soon I was threading my way down Powerline, a human slalom thru the nervous hart tail skidders.   It felt smooth, fast and I am sure I passed forty people, one two, sometimes three at a time.  I wondered if I looked reckless to my peers?

Realization of potential– is for me a direct correlation to confidence, but being overly confident is something I have always down played.  Under promise and deliver a surprise has been my way, then only I am disappointed.  Riding a nine day stage race in April changed my perspective on “hard”, in terms of what hard was anyway.  Tahoe Trail and Leadville didn’t seem as “big”- I didn’t feel the same need to over plan my food, drink, split times et al.  Heading down Powerline I allowed a thought, I am actually good at this, in this pace group I belong.  Jumping on wheels once we hit pavement only doing one turn at the front didn’t feel like cheating, it felt like tactics.  I passed Pipeline just after 8am and all of a sudden I realized that today I was faster, way faster than before.

Friends at Twin Lakes-made all the difference.  “Dude you’re flying” affirmed Andy Tuthill.  A fast change of camelbacks to my light Rogue, told Andy I didn’t need my jacket and asked for help ripping off knee warmers in the now bright morning sun.  It is hard to explain what it feels like to have your friends support you for these brief minutes, I just know it lifts me up and makes my legs spin a little faster.  As you ride through the throngs of people at Twin Lakes, complete strangers cheer, whoop, ring cowbells and offer an experience for an amateur like Alp D’Huez on the Tour.

Twin-Lakes-CrewColumbine– comes quickly from Twin Lakes; I made the bend to the start of the road climb and was greeted with a yell of my name, “Andy”, from Mr. Dave Wiens.  He sounded surprised that I was there at 9:20, but it made me pedal faster for one hundred yards.  The Columbine climb is hard.  The six mile road grade is shallow, but between 10,000 and 11,500ft pushing the pedals feels like a fight.  It is all I have to push up at 5.5mph (Todd Wells @ 9.2mph).  John McCulloch and I take turns leading and we arrive at the hard part of the climb together.  Here I dismount and push for a while on the first steep rocky section above tree-line on the edge of cramps for the first time.  Ken is parked in his usual spot on a quad and I yell “hi Ken”, he reminds me that “you bought that thing to ride didn’t you”, as I pushed up the hill.  So I got a little further up and got on the bike and rode.  I have never had the opportunity to ride so much of this climb before, always too many people walking. In this group there are good gaps and I actually rode about sixty percent, with occasional hiking on the steep stuff.  Maybe it was the cold up here, or riding in oxygen debt, but my arms started to go numb, as if my forearms didn’t have blood and then my vision got a little funny too.  This felt close to the edge-of something, something that I didn’t want to get too close to?  The top always comes, a splash of coke and a chunk on banana and I was heading down (an hour later it would be snowing up here).  On the way down you see your friends still heading to the top-Jeff, Sian, Paul and Andy all said hi and a few others that I didn’t recognize as I focused on the descent.  Running in to your ascending peers would not be acceptable.  The warmth as I reached the valley floor felt great- I was a cold skinny (no jacket).

Friends again– were waiting to greet me at Twin Lakes.  New pack, bottles, potatoes, egg, yogurt, peach, chain lube with a pro team of Andy, Jenny, Zander, Josh & Christine.  In this moment time seemed to slow and I was so struck by how each person’s eyes told me they were invested in my success.  I am lucky to have such good friends in this life.  In past years I have taken my support from Scott for granted, my focus was me, today I had a new perspective.

Wind– is hard for me on the flats.  The last thing that Andy reminded me was “get in a group”, the same advice I gave him the year before.  As I ascended to the dirt roads to cross back over toward town- was there a group in site?  Well yes there was, but about one hundred yards ahead and just out of reach for my legs.  I looked around for others to make a new group and there was no one to be seen.  I settled in and pushed the wind myself and ate the last of my egg.  This roll back to Pipeline is deceptive; there are some short kicker climbs that seem to tap everything your legs have left.  I did hook into a couple of guys here and there to share work, but mostly just waited for the aid station where I asked Zander to meet me with chamois cream.

Bad ass– has been a problem this year.  That is my left sit bone has been trouble with saddle sores due to it protruding lower than my right and rubbing the saddle.  I also have a pain starting in my right knee, but this sit bone is as sore as ever, getting old is tough.  Chamois cream seems to help.  A splash of coke and I was off to form a good group to push against the wind to the bottom of Powerline.  Six guys can make good time even if they don’t work very well together.

Powerline– is the last brutal assault on your will to succeed.  Fifteen hundred feet of vertical with twist turns, false flats and loose rocky challenge.  I rode almost the entire climb with occasional push to avoid cramps.  The top actually came remarkably quickly (thanks to the guy with the cold water and coke).  Every bystander on this climb is in your camp.  Food, cheer, maybe a little push, these folks that don’t know me make a lot of difference.  It amazes me how my legs that felt so cooked on the flats can come back to life on this climb, after the first wash of lactic acid moves with the blood, the pain goes away and it’s just riding.

Sugarloaf– mountain crested the bike starts to roll and I flick my shock to float.  I need to get home to Leadville and there are few people spread in front of me.  As the bike comes up to speed I pick off one, two, three and maybe eventually ten people who are riding with care over the rocky descent from Sugarloaf.  Strava tells great tales, I was only a couple of miles an hour slower than Todd Wells, 36th of 1600.  Fast did seem easy here.  Two thirds of the way down I saw my friend Garry (2012 finsiher at 9:30), he had come to meet me to offer encouragement and pace me up the hill to St. Kevans.  Good to see a friendly face.

NZ kicks my butt– was not what I was expecting.  Garry, a soft spoken Kiwi was ready to push me.  He told me that I could catch that next guy, that I looked strong, that I could ride when others were walking, and performed as a perfect coach to take me into the pain cave.  The last pavement ascent has been so tough in the past and his encouragement and company made that climb to St. Kevans very different.  As we crested, he said “now you can rest-you’re good on the downhill”.  We both flew down the other side and I got a little close to the edge on one water bar.  I had visions of Garry explaining to Scott how he was with me when I went off trail at thirty mph, but it didn’t happen.  With storms in the air a tricky downdraft had now created a headwind where there should be tailwind, so the last push to town seemed harder than it should, but soon I was on that last dirt road with the super low grade climb to town.  I had just missed nine hours, but still on track for nine and a quarter.  On this last climb, I passed a couple, got passed by a couple knowing that pavement meant I was within one mile.

finishRed carpet– can be seen way in the distance as you crest 6th street in Leadville.  That last half mile is so easy as you spin toward the warmth of the crowd greeting and into the arms of your friends.  Letting go as the finish line is crossed is relief that is hard to describe.  But coupled with hugs, medals and smiling friends it can be overwhelming.  This day for me is joy!  Real joy, for a good day on the bike, supported by my friends, and coincidentally producing my best result so far.  9h 17m, 340th overall and 40th in my age group is a result I am proud of, 49 minutes faster than 2012.  The lesson being that perseverance and patience will always produce a better result.

Thanks– go to so many.  Julie Young and O2 fitness for my training program and general life coaching, Andy, Jenny, Zander, Josh, Christine and Garry for crewing my journey this day and Scott for tolerating my training regime (I wish you could have been there).  I am so honored and lucky to have such great friends in my life.


Leadville – just the start of the journey


cropped-Twin-LakesThe following post by Sian Turner, o2fitness athlete extraordinaire….

It’s difficult to describe the Leadville 100 mountain bike race to anyone who hasn’t experienced it first hand.  There is something about it that is hard to put a finger on; I guess it has a similar allure for mountain bikers that the Kona Ironman does for triathletes. Yes, it’s a long mountain bike race at high altitude, but a bit like Burning Man (, no I’ve never been) I don’t think you really get it until you have raced it yourself.  Some will do it once and that’s enough, never again, while others will not be able to wait to go back and give it another go. I had no idea which camp I would be in, and at the finish line on saturday I was erring towards never wanting to set wheel on that course again, but, just 3 days later, I’m already thinking about next year.

My preparation for this race was as good as it could have been – more consistent and more specific than any race I had ever approached before; every training session had served a purpose.  I had sacrificed many ‘fun’ and ‘social’ rides to make sure I was following the training plan set out for me by Julie (, and had even raced a road race and a crit (!!).  All of this added up into me being a stronger and more skilled rider and I got to Leadville feeling like I was ready.  Regardless of how the race turned out, I had come to realise how much I had enjoyed the training and how much I had improved as a cyclist.  It took a while until the work I had done earlier in the year started to show in my riding and some of my race results leading into Leadville, but I trusted the plan and had been patient.  I raced a 4hr race at the end of June which I led for 2 laps before my legs ran out of juice, but 3 weeks later at a local XC race my legs and technical skills showed up and I was the first woman across the line.  This 20 mile XC race was preceded with a warm up ride to the race, then a longer ride home making for a 5hour day, backed up by another 5hour day the day after, capping off my biggest training week ever.

The real test of where my fitness was, was the Tahoe Trail 100 Leadville qualifier where I had qualified for Leadville last year.  I had a small taper so had a good chance of riding well, I knew the course better than most people there and I was ready to race a few hours in the heat wave we had been having for the few weeks before.  I had a good day, taking 40minutes off my time from the previous year and finishing 6th female overall behind several world class mountain bikers, despite staving off cramps for some of the second lap.  This gave me a huge confidence boost just 3 weeks out from Leadville – my training was done; time for a smart taper and to get to Leadville healthy and rested.

We drove out to Leadville the weekend before the race with a car packed full of bikes, dogs and cold/wet weather biking gear (the forecast was looking ominous) so I had a few days to acclimate to both the cooler temperatures and altitude (neither of which I seemed to struggle with).  I had ridden most of the course a year ago when I had the opportunity to head out with coach Julie to meet a friend of hers for a personal tour of the course (thanks Jeff!) so I wasn’t concerned about pre-riding anything specific, just enough to keep the legs awake.

I had two friends also racing who had hatched a plan to form a small pace group to all try and crack the 9 hour mark and clinch the Big belt buckle prizes; these guys are both far stronger riders than I, but they wanted company on the course and also to help me.  9 hours was within the realm of possibility for me for sure, but I’d need near perfect race execution, which on a first try of this course, and over such a long period of time was a tough proposition.  I had not seriously thought about or targeted the 9 hour mark the whole year of training; only after my good result in Tahoe had it become an outside thought.  There was no harm giving it a go, but I also knew the dangers of pushing beyond your limits too early in this race; so if my abilities on the day coupled with the help of a small pack to work with on the flatter sections were such that I could push a pace that got me there under 9hours then great, but still my number 1 goal was to ride the best race I could with what I had on the day.



We drove up columbine before the race so Dennis could have some fun with the Jeep!

Of all the high mountain scenery of this race course, my favourite view of the day was from the start line.  Being in the Red starting corral, I did not have too many people in front of me, so over the rows of fidgeting racers, all staring straight ahead down 6th street, I focused my eyes to the 14000ft sunrise-pink mountain peaks. It was quite spectacular, and a fitting setting for this great race.

The start was a little crazy – there are a few miles of downhill paved road before hitting the dirt and what transpired was the most unorganised peloton I have ever seen – there were people zipping everywhere (unnecessarily for the most part), making fairly questionable maneuvers.  I went from my focus being staying on Theo’s wheel, to just making sure I got through the first few miles unscathed!  The dirt slowed the craziness down a bit, but immediately started highlighting some people’s lack of bike handling ability while they were trying to move far faster than they were capable of.  The only crash of the day I witnessed was within 5 miles of the start line with a testosterone-filled clipping of a wheel from behind resulting in a near fist-fight.  I don’t think anyone was badly injured.  We hit St Kevin’s climb and I immediately realised why some people had risked life and limb and ridden in the red-zone for the first 20 minutes – the slow crawl of people up this first climb was never-ending, and near impossible to do any passing.  I definitely was planning to not ride anything other than conservative for the first couple of hours, but the pace up this climb was far slower than I really wanted.  But I stayed patient, settled in and focused on riding a good efficient line to not waste an ounce of energy.  The highlight of this climb was definitely the tandem with some pretty good tunes playing; most of the riders were so serious, but you found the occasional gem who was more than happy to say hi and wish each other good fortune for the day ahead.  Towards the top of the climb, Theo and I finally found some breathing room to open things up a bit on the rolling section along to the blazing fast paved downhill road section before the next climb.  My road riding has definitely improved my ‘fear of speed’ problem I have suffered from in the past and I descended fast and confidently, wishing I temporarily had a few more pounds of weight to help me down the hill!  Starting the next climb up sugarloaf I realised my legs were just in ‘ok’ mode, nothing spectacular so Theo was having to wait for me; maybe I could have afforded to push a bit harder but I wasn’t sure so I played it safe so early in the day.  I wasn’t concerned about the descent of powerline, but I could tell by surrounding chatter, ‘you’d better go ahead of me for the descent’, that plenty of people were.  I tried to get ahead of as many people as I could for a clear descent but it wasn’t happening – there are very few places on the steep rubble-strewn descent that are good for passing without taking unnecessary risk, so we were in a close knit snake of riders hoping no one in front of us crashed, when Theo got a flat tire.  He yelled at me to keep riding which seemed to me to be a sensible idea as he would have no problem fixing the flat quickly then catching me back up.

I got to the bottom of powerline with no further incident, albeit slower than I would have liked, but I was still feeling calm and patient and knew there was still a lot of hours of riding left so a few minutes here and there would really not matter.  I knew that a flat section of road was coming up so I started scouting around me for good candidates for wheels to hang onto – there were plenty of options and I managed to find a group of riders to hide behind for a while – we soon joined with a faster moving group and got some good speed for a few miles before the dirt leading into the pipeline aid station.  One guy in this group was on a singlespeed, he was doing fine for a while until the road tilted downwards every so slightly, at which point even his 120rpm was not going to keep him hanging on.  Having done some singlespeeding now, I think this could quite possibly be the worst course ever for a singlespeed, with extremes in gradient including plenty of frustrating ‘flat’ miles where one gear requires spinning a ridiculous cadence as well as long steep climbs with questionable traction which on a singlespeed would require just super-human strength and control.

Pipeline aid station came and went – I was still not feeling that wonderful, but at the same time not terrible either.  By this point I had realised my plan for eating solid food was not going to be sustainable. I’d managed to get one bar down me but it was quite an effort – my stomach was fine, I just couldn’t really chew and swallow that easily – it required too much energy I think!  So, I was resorting to gels and that was fine – quick and easy and my iron stomach was going to have no problem at all if all I put into it was gel.  Dennis was waiting at the twin lakes aid station and my only instructions to him were to empty my pockets of my bars and replace with gels ‘as many as you have!’ – a quick camelbak switch and I was on my way across the field to the base of columbine.  I actually began to feel decent and settled into a good climbing pace for the 8 vertical miles ahead. The first few miles of the columbine climb are nicely graded and not too steep.  I was making good progress and riding past people constantly.  A few miles up, the leaders of the men’s race started thundering down in the opposite direction.  I could not believe the speed they were descending at and it started making overtaking opportunities few and far between.  The top two miles of columbine are steep, loose, between 11000ft and 12500ft and crowded with people, mostly walking at this point.  I wanted to ride, and managed the first steep section maneuvering around people with a constant stream of others descending towards me, but it soon became harder and harder to ride; walking was almost as fast and possibly less energy at this point.  It was a little frustrating as I was feeling fairly good and not having issues with the high altitude, but again, patience (english conservatism?) won out, and I walked with everyone else until it flattened out a little and I could get back on and ride.  I hit the turnaround point and wanted to just get back down quickly so didn’t stop and tried to find some clear trail to descend on.  I got stuck behind some tentative descenders for a little while but eventually found a way past and could open things up.

I was back at twin lakes, the 60mile mark before I knew it;  Theo had not re-caught me – I’d spied him trudging up columbine in a long line of people as I was descending.  I switched camelbaks again with Dennis, grabbed more gels which seemed to be working, mumbled something about ‘I could still break 9′ and off I went.  The chances of 9 hours were slim but still possible, and at this point I felt confident risking pushing a little harder than I had on the way out.  On the paved climb out of twin lakes I spied a friend I had not seen since he moved back east – he’s a strong rider and I was happy to be pacing with him for a bit.  We had a short conversation then formed a small train with a couple of other riders for the flat fast section back to the one piece of singletrack on the whole course.  I was hoping I wouldn’t feel obliged to take my turn pulling but I did my part and was feeling pretty good.  I couldn’t quite hang with the guys for the climb up the singletrack but I was glad of their company for the road.  I was on my own again, but pedaling well.  I passed a couple of people I didn’t expect to just before the pipline aid station, indicating I was indeed riding quite strong at this point – a quick stop to grab a cup of coke to top of my sugar and caffeine levels and I hit the dirt downhill to the road, all the time scouting for wheels – I did not want to be left alone into a headwind.  I successfully found a good wheel and we were joined by a couple of others.  We took our turns into the stiff headwind and made good time to the short paved hill before powerline.  I left the guys on the hill (Dennis was around at this point and apparently they were not too pleased that I rode away from them!) and got my head into what was to come with the powerline climb at mile 80.

Powerline is a beast, no question.  Very few ride the bottom pitches but I was game to try – walking was nearly as much energy as riding at this point.  I rode the first pitch but something in my head forced me off the bike to hike up the rest of the 25% or so grade – I just wasn’t willing to hurt enough to try and carry on riding.  No one was moving any better than anyone else at this point so we trudged on; slow progress but the top was getting closer.  Cresting the top you get a brief respite to spin the legs out before embarking on the rest of the powerline climb – still granny gear steep but ride-able, and I could ride it…just.  The real top (lots of false summits on this) was a welcome sight and I was looking forward to letting loose on the downhill – this felt like the home stretch now, and while I was far from miserable I was definitely looking forward to the finish!  The last climb up the paved hill was my toughest patch all day – it’s over 4 miles up and I was one gel short of energy.  Dennis had managed to get to the small aid station at the top of the climb and had gels for me and a bottle I filled with coke at the aid station to get me home.  A bit more (steep!) climbing, a fun blast down the hill and you’re almost back to town.  I’d started feeling stronger again so the climb up the boulevard was nowhere near as bad as I feared and I rode past a few more people, smiling all the way to the finish.

9:18 – a strong time and ride for my first time out on this course, 14th overall female, up from about 25th at the halfway point.  Immediately after crossing the line I was pretty convinced I was in the ‘one and done’ camp, but before I’d even got back to take a shower I was ready to commit to tackling it again next year.

The actual race is only part of the experience; the people really made the week for me.  I rode with the Ride 2 Recovery team on the Wednesday before the race; getting to know them a bit and then seeing a lot of them out there on the race course brought a smile to my face every time and was hugely inspiring and motivating.  Some of the times they put down were quite incredible and I hope to ride with them more in the future.

Sitting with a friend drinking coffee discussing the upcoming race turned into a chance meeting with Jeff who had been our tour guide round the course the previous year.  I hadn’t realised until then quite how valuable that scouting trip was and how at ease it now had me during race week in terms of what to expect on the course.  I knew that each individual part of the course was ride-able and had some stored-up tips and advice from Jeff which had a huge impact on how calmly and methodically I was able to approach the day.  I thanked Jeff and wished him a good ride – he was going for his 10th consecutive Leadville finish, which he got, with an impressive time somewhere around 8:30.

Seeing a friend I had forgotten was racing and who I hadn’t seen in years was another highlight of my race day and being able to ride along and have a conversation for just a few minutes of the day before getting back to racing was really cool.  Then, going back and forth with a local Truckee friend who has encouraged and supported me all year in my Leadville quest was fun for me as well, although he had no idea I had passed him on the way back through pipeline only for him to then blow past me again on the last descent without realising it.  I guess I’m quite observant on the race course, or maybe I should be focusing more on what I’m doing?!

Rebecca Rusch took a different approach to her Leadville week this year, combining her book launch (I devoured the entire book on our drive home and am tempted to read it a second time!) with several rides and clinics to provide support and advice for us regular folk.  Her race day was dedicated to pacing a friend of hers to break 9 hours (they smashed it!).  I was lucky enough to speak with Rebecca a couple of times leading up to the race and her two pieces of advice, ‘don’t go too hard on adrenalin for the first 2 hours’ and most of all ‘enjoy the journey’ stuck with me for a lot of race day and beyond.  I hope she knows how many other people I am sure she had an impact on during the week by being so accessible and open with professional advice, support and encouragement.

I thought after Leadville was over, it would feel like the end of something, but actually it feels like the start.  I have a couple more big races this season back in the Xterra arena, so for now I am re-focusing on trying to remember how to swim and run.  However, I can feel the draw of more long mountain bike races in my future and feel like I have just started on the endurance mountain biking path.  I have a lot still to learn but know I am capable and motivated to continue to improve, so I think you will find me on the Leadville start line again next year to continue my journey.


Adopting the Will of Whillans

Whillans450x370Brad Rassler’s regular post, continued…

After re-reading my last post I became so depressed I had to go out and have a breakthrough week. So I did.

I’ve been on the mountain bike more than the road bike these days, reasoning the extra oomph required to pedal through dirt would translate well into the fall whoop-de-doo, which rather than a circum-Tahoe adventure, will be some sort of endurance High Sierra backcountry climb. I mean, after a summer of working at Alpinist Magazine, why shouldn’t it be so? I miss my beloved Sierra.

To climb a peak I’ll have to approach it, so I substituted road bike riding with roller skiing, double poling the flats and skating the uphills. That’s me in the photo appearing somewhat surprised to have returned to weight-bearing exercise. What looks like a beard is actually a grimace.

Feeling no pain from my gammy heel after skating, I ventured out with trekking poles to stroll a few thousand feet up a local ski hill (I promised to turn tail at the slightest pull of the Achilles). Three hours later I was back home, pain free. I think I’ve turned a corner on that damnable injury. I’ll not run until 2015, though – and that’s a promise.

Meanwhile, I psyched myself up by thinking about Don Whillans, the late plumber from Lancashire, and one of Great Britain’s best gritstone climbers. Whillans was a brute of a man, all 5’4”, of him, stout as a fire hydrant. He climbed hard and partied harder; he lived much of his life well into his cups, and had the beer belly and scarred knuckles to prove it.

Whillans was a staple of Sir Chris Bonington’s high altitude expedition teams; few were as strong and tenacious. But he’d arrive in Kathmandu prior to an expedition several stone too thick and wheezy from too much tobacco, droll humor flying and flaying the unfortunates in its path.

By the time Whillans had trekked to the mountain’s base camp, however – say, Annapurna or Everest – he had whittled himself down to near fighting trim. On the actual climb, few could match his pace and tenacity.

He was filmed by a BBC crew as he returned to Camp I after making the first ascent of Annapurna’s treacherous South Face. A reporter asked about the thin provender on which he and his partner Dougal Haston had subsisted during the final push to the summit. With beer in hand, cigarette jutting from his lower lip, and nose grown too big for his broad face due to the weight he had dropped on the climb, he intoned in his nasal Lanky tenor, “I had two days on cigars and snow water.”

Whillans had freakish strength and a redoubtable vim, and I’m no Whillans. But I figured I have enough left in me to pull a Whillans-like maneuver, showing up on the assigned day in less than optimal form, but gaining strength as I move up the mountain.

This Saturday I light out from Vermont and begin the long drive home. The next post will likely be from Nevada.