This is the latest installment of Kevin Brooker’s journey into the land of Biathlon. Kevin has documented his experience over the course of his first summer of trinaing and has now finally gotten up the good part – getting on snow….
The summer biathlon season was over right at the end of September. Rollerskiing was the next transition or transformation in my yearly training schedule. Athletic activity in Vermont during September and October is magical. The temperature swings from a high of 80 with clear skies and light breezes to the initial frost and occasional flurries. An hour before dusk, during the height of foliage, the mountains take on a purple hue offset by the reddish sunlight intensifying the color of autumn leaves. The fuzzy jacket takes its spot on the most easily grabbed coat peg in the mudroom, and the fingers of lightweight gloves poke out from pockets. The smell of wood smoke lingers in the valleys, and the sound of wind in the trees becomes raspy as the hard leaves brush together before falling to the earth. When the sun disappears below the horizon, the chilliness of the air feels sharp in your nose and invigorates athletic endeavors.
All in all, rollerskiing went well and the pre-snow season had me put in almost 650 km. On several occasions the aforementioned leaves became caught between the fork and the wheel destroying the serenity of the workout. Worse yet, wet leaves reduced the lateral friction of the rollerski wheel to zero and only luck and quick footwork kept me off the asphalt; most of the time. There were a fair share of crashes resulting in nothing more then bruised ego and small tears in already worn clothes. My 4-year-old son made a habit of asking if I had crashed seeming disappointed when I had not and sympathetic to my wounds when I had. Rollerskiing was enjoyable but the ability to see how and if the training was going to pay off was the bigger draw for making the effort. The first snowfall requiring sanded roads effectively killed off the rollerskiing and my fingers were crossed for an early snow season.
Besides the direct training benefit, rollerskiing was a great transition from the out-the-door immediate gratification of running to the additional headaches of having to travel for proper conditions. A half hour run took thirty minutes door to door. A half hour rollerski required sixty. The round trip drive and time needed to gear up once the training venue was reached was tough. Suddenly the schedule was much tighter and fitting in a workout much more difficult. Groomed skiing was further still so relearning to train efficiently was going to be important if this biathlon fantasy was going to work.
The first skiable snow arrived in Vermont sometime around Thanksgiving. Four inches of fluff supported by green grass and unfrozen ground. The crash potential was high and so was the probability of trashing the bases of my new race skis. The local airport is a kilometer long grass strip without any dirt patches or P-tex eating rocks. The first glide of the 07-08 season was 100 meters of double poling before light skating to propel me down the runway. Too hard a push drove the ski into the grass which grabbed the base and caused me to stumble. The over exuberance of the first day on snow did bring a few crashes. Sliding on snow sure beat the hell out of grinding my skin on the asphalt during the previous eight weeks of rollerskiing. The first day out put 10 k into the training diary and wet my desire for more.
The early snowfall was a blessing and I picked the right year to get back into ski sport. Just as the training diet was getting a bit stale the weather changed and brought in the ability to transition and build on my activity. More snow fell and I had the feeling I went to sleep after Thanksgiving dinner and awoke with mid February snow.
The extra time traveling to ski added an hour to the requisite time for a workout. As my fitness improved so did the time I needed/wanted to work out. The longest race on the schedule was 15 km so the decision was made to become comfortable skiing 20 km on consecutive days. The weekly goal was set at 100 k which I figured should take eight to ten hours of â€œon-snowâ€ time to complete. Couple this with the hour round trip drive time to the groomed skiing, optimistically five days per week, and my training just for skiing would eat thirteen to fifteen hours. Fortunately, marksmanship training can be done at the house by dry firing which is using the rifle without releasing any bullets. For live firing, the local range is a little over a mile from the house. Two hours of dry firing and an hour of live per week should suffice to get started. My training would optimistically occupy twenty hours each week. My hobby was turning into a part-time job where I poured money and time into it and took nothing but satisfaction out.
Fortunately, both my family and employment situation allows me to fit in the training. My wife Jill and I have always put a priority on physical activity. She also noticed my mood was elevated when some sort of physical activity is part of out lifestyle. My workday can vary from very long to rather quick so keeping the skis and workout gear (not the rifle) in the truck in order to be opportunistic became the standard operating procedure. Fortunately, it works and on days where 45 minutes was available to ski, the time was grabbed.
December 9th brought my daughter’s 7th birthday and also the Craftsbury Opener 10k freestyle race. Liv was gracious enough to let the old man race on her birthday and the family headed out before 7:00 AM for the 90 minute drive to the event. We stopped at the local diner to pick up the take-out order of scrambled egg, sausage and cheddar cheese on English muffin sandwiches, home fries, juice and hot chocolate for consumption in the car. The multitasking made the trip an adventure for the kids and saved a bit of time making breakfast. The adventure was more for Jill than me since I was driving and unable to deal directly with the chaos of having two kids (aged 4 and 7) eating messy and dripping sandwiches in the car.
The race went well and overall I was pleased. My goal was to break the hour for 10k. Not very ambitious but achievable. My finish was 48:17 almost twenty minutes off the winning time. I had to figure out how to close the gap by examining the race. Where did I leave seconds (in my case minutes) along the course? Smart race management and confidence can pick up valuable time regardless of fitness.
One area worth minutes is proper dressing. The temps were in the mid twenties with moderate sunshine and very little wind. I made the mistake of forgetting my wind briefs. Half way through the second lap a sharp pain developed in my nether region. Yes, the nightmarish c**kicle (rhymes with clock-cicle) distracted me from skiing. Uphill I was going slow, and generating enough heat things weren’t too bad. On the flats and downhills the poly pro underwear covered by the lycra racing suit offered no resistance to the heat stealing wind. On moderate downhills a full tuck was not needed but used to shield the wind. I skied with one hand firmly clamped to my groin trying to push already cold shrunken genitalia into my thigh looking for heat. While slow, this tuck offered some protection. On the flats where I needed to pole I had just enough speed to send a breeze through the clothing removing any previous caloric gains. The pain was similar to that of a paper cut. Sharp and defined. The only benefit to the hurt was knowing pain signified no long-term damage to my flesh. I am now the owner of three pairs of wind block undergarments.
Several hundred kilometers after the Opener was the first biathlon of the season hosted by the Saratoga Biathlon Club (SBC) in Day, NY. The Schreiner family has a wonderful facility and works hard to put on a great event. The race was a two-day combination of a 10 k Sprint (ski, shoot prone, ski, shoot offhand, ski) on Saturday and a 12.5k Pursuit (ski, prone, ski, prone, ski, offhand, ski, offhand, ski) on Sunday. The rain and warm temps which devastated the early snow had little effect on the trails at SBC. Temps were predicted to be a high of 5F both days so I grabbed another pair of wind shorts and made the three-hour drive to the race. Between the Opener and the SBC event, I had been selected as a Team Shooter for Fiocchi Ammunition. I had a new sponsor and was eager get photos in a race setting.
The sprint went well. I finished 6th in the Masters division six minutes off the pace in age group and eight from the overall winner. My shooting was okay with two penalties in prone and three in offhand. I was thrilled with the result but tired hoping there was enough energy left for Sunday’s Pursuit. In addition to skiing well I also learned plenty about dressing for the cold at a biathlon. The wind pants were awesome and all body parts were fine. It was my fingers which took the beating not during the race but loading bullets into the magazines during zero and warm-ups.
I cannot load ammo into the mags with gloves on. The tiny .22 cal. bullets usually slip from my gloved fingers so loading is done bare handed. With all of the equipment sitting in the cold eventually attaining ambient temperature, handling it quickly transfers heat from the hands to the gear making for numb fingers. I also made the mistake of spending too much time changing coats and gloves. There had to be a better way.
The next morning I decided to load mags at the hotel where it was warm. Fortunately, the Russian American Armory Company sent extra mags so 40 bullets were available before I needed to reload at the race.
There were two slight adjustments to the rifle which I made in the comfort and warmth of the hotel room. The scene was very James Bond with the open rifle case set onto the bed, boxes of ammo lined up along the bedside table with my spotting scope and tri-pod leaning on the mini refrigerator by the door. Sitting on the bed wearing my race bottoms, socks and no top I began loading mags before finalizing my dress for the day.
A staccato series of knocks on the door and call of â€œHouskeeping, can I come in?â€ caught my attention. With a handful of bullets and three loaded mags on my knee the click of the door lock and slight squeak of the hinges broke the serenity of the room.
â€œSorry. I thought you had checked out,â€ said the cleaning lady before she caught sight of the rifle, ammo and me bare-chested wearing green tights staring at her almost dumbfounded.
â€œIt’s okay. I was just getting ready to leave. Give me ten minutes.â€ I replied
Her eyes widened a bit as she grasped the door handle with conviction and started backing out of the room. â€œI’ll be back ….later.â€
Five minutes after the door closed I was dressed, had loaded the truck and was heading for the race. There were no roadblocks along the drive so I figured the housekeeper had one more item to add to the list of weird stuff she saw in a hotel room. Number 127: An elf wanna-be sitting in her room loading a weapon and about to go postal.
The pre-loaded mags were a blessing as was the down sweater I had stashed in the truck for emergencies. I also used over mitts so I didn’t have to keep swapping into my race gloves when I wanted the dexterity for shooting. Before the start I was warm and comfortable.
The race itself went okay. Five laps of a 2.5k loop filled with twisting down hills transitioning to short uphills favoring skiers with explosive power. Soon after the start I was passed by former Olympic biathlon team member Curt Schreiner and made a huge effort to remain with him. I was steadily losing ground but managed to learn many tidbits about skiing the difficult twisting nature of the trails. Curt seemed very relaxed in contrast to my tense posture. At one point he lost his footing when a ski slid on some ice. He stood up, flailed a bit and seemed pleased to have found a 1/10 km/h speed increase, built on it and kept on applying the power. Contrast this to me who hits the same spot, stands up and flails just like Curt but then needs ten meters to recover and another ten to begin to relax and then only skis at 95% until I calm down and relax. I was fortunate enough to be passed by skiers much better than me in areas where I was able to learn something. My shooting was okay and finished nine minutes behind the class winner and sixteen down on the overall. For my third on-snow biathlon race I was extremely pleased with the weekend results. I had three weeks until the first NorAm Cup race being held at the Ethan Allen Biathlon Club. The rollerskiing had paid off.
About the author: Kevin is 42 years old, married with two children and living in Post Mills, Vermont. He began racing bicycles at sixteen and continued pursuing individual sports. After a six-year layoff, Kevin is returning to athletics racing in biathlon events and will write about the pitfalls and triumphs of mounting a comeback to competition. You can read more about Kevin at www.6qbiathlon.com.
Izhmash Rifle: Russian American Armory www.raacfirearms.com
Skis: Ski Trab www.chi-townsports.com
Boots and bindings: GoFaster www.chi-townsports.com
Clothing: Reliefwear: www.reliefwear.com
Cobble Mountain Hammock: www.cobblemountain.com
Plant Furniture Company: www.theplantfurniturecompany.com/
New England Radon Control: www.neradon.com
Fiocchi Ammunition: www.fiocchiusa.com
Infinity Ski Poles: www.nordicskipoles.com
Kevin is 42 years old, married with two children and living in Post Mills, Vermont. He began racing bicycles at sixteen and continued pursuing individual sports. After a six-year layoff, Kevin has returned to athletics racing in biathlon events. He has written numerous articles for FasterSkier, including a series on his return to racing and his current "How It's Made" series.