LifestyleTrainingThe North American Cup Series

Avatar Kevin BrookerApril 23, 2008

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 training and has now finally gotten up the good part – getting on snow….

The best way to place the level of competition for the NorAm Cup races is to think of it a double A baseball. The athletes in the elite divisions are vying for a spot on national teams competing in the Europa Cup and on the World Cup level. Races are held in the US and Canada beginning in December at the Canmore, AB facility. The next stop is West Yellowstone Montana before heading back to Canada for NorAm Cup 3. Fortunately for me, I live no more then 5 hours drive from series races 4 through 7.

NorAm Cup 4 is held at my home training area, the Ethan Allen Firing Range in Jericho, Vermont. I know the range well and was glad to enter the national races at a venue I am familiar with. This event was combined with the Eastern National Guard Biathlon Championships so the fields were relatively large. There were over 100 athletes in all categories competing for various reasons. Some for their home state, others for a slot on a national team along with a handful of field fillers like myself.

Overall, my races went very well. Both days I grabbed the final NorAm Cup finishing spot awarded points. I had a national rank! The course at the Ethan Allen Firing Range is wonderful to say the least. The track will accommodate two skiers racing side by side with ample room between them. The hills vary in length and steepness. The downhill portions are fast with sweeping curves requiring flat skis but no tap dance footwork to remain upright. Abundant snowfall and fantastic grooming made the skiing straightforward. The range is world class with trails leading up to the entry.

One aspect of the race which was really fun was meeting people who have read bits I’ve written for Fasterskier.com and other sites. Some found my biathlon website 6qbiathlon.com and wrote asking about housing for the races. I also spent a good bit of time talking to the Maine Winter Sports Center who have planned a biathlon club in the Portland, Maine area. This venue will be near a population center (not huge by most standards but big for northern New England) and should continue the tradition of excellence started in Fort Kent. I felt like a celebrity.

Lake Placid, NY was the host for NorAm Cup 5. Saturday’s 10k Sprint was held in marginally legal temps. It was -10 at the start and warmed to -5 or so at the finish. They delayed the start ten minutes to look like they cared but temps remained low. Pressure from the commercial ski area to clear the trails of gun carrying skiers might have contributed to the rush but this is just speculation on my part.

The cold made skiing super hard. The two best analogies I heard about the conditions were “skiing on sandpaper” and “velcro.” The snow on the shaded hillsides was so cold and dry you could almost classic up with parallel skis. It was more efficient to run the hills then try to skate them. The overnight temps were -20 and the snow didn’t warm up at all. My face was so cold feeling the rifle cheek comb was impossible. I have never shot in temps so low and the wind chill on my face going downhill must have been -30 or -40. Trying to find the normal rifle feel I pushed the comb too hard and sent my shots right. I’m a lefty so the pivot around the trigger moves the muzzle right. I didn’t shoot as well as I’d have liked. I’m better then the results show and cold weather aside, I am a bit disappointed in my performance on the range.

To combat the cold and avoid frostbite, I greased the hell out of my earlobes, nose and cheeks so no damage but they were all numb. After the race I had a hard time speaking as my cheeks were stiff and I couldn’t annunciate too well. I finished 5th in age group less then 1 second out of 4th spot. I was about 2 minutes off the podium.

Sunday it was warmer, maybe 15 above but the wind was ripping. Flat calm with 30+ mph gusts and blowing snow on the range made shooting not hard but extremely difficult and frustrating.

Skiing into the wind was like going uphill. The poles swung wildly and one gust grabbed my ski and pushed it into a V-board marking the P-loop almost causing me to crash. I think the wind actually pushed me back up! I was a 50% shooting effort which I was told fantastic considering the conditions.

My zero was set neutral and in an effort to hit as many targets as possible I’d wait for a lull to set it. During a moment of calm I just shoot and don’t have to make adjustments. My prone went well and the first offhand was in a blinding windstorm. It was difficult to hold the rifle remotely steady. Out of a sense of pride I didn’t just “machine gun” the targets to send the lead to save time waiting, get onto the P-loop and get skiing. I couldn’t do it although the last shot I just sent and got out. I spoke with two former Olympians who shot worse than I did! There were only five clean stops from all competitors all day.

Deb, one of the Olympians, mentioned the feeling of not wanting to quit on the range but mentioned it is a race and if the wind is going to hurt you send the lead and get skiing. Maybe next time. I finished 4th in age, 2:30 off the podium.

NorAm Cup race 6 was held in La Patrie, Quebec, a small town just 15 k north of the New Hampshire border. The plan was to pack up the car Friday evening and leave at 4:30 AM for the sprint race on Saturday. While packing I went to look for my passport only to discover it would expire on the Saturday of the race. The new rules for crossing the border back into the U.S. allow citizens to reenter with a driver’s license and a copy of their birth certificate. Unfortunately, my proof of existence and citizenship of the U.S. was at my mother’s in Connecticut and not immediately available. Without documentation I would be allowed into Canada but not granted permission to re-enter my own country.

I’ll admit being frustrated with, as I see it, the knee-jerk over reaction of the U.S. government’s plan to keep our borders safe. I’m all for security but not the shortsightedness of the ideas and poor execution of the plan makes me think we are just cowering and becoming paranoid as a nation. The idea of a piece of paper, a birth certificate, which has no standardization coupled with a picture I.D. guarantees I am a U.S. citizen is just absurd. Give me a half dozen motivated high school kids, a decent photocopier and Photoshop and see how many undetectable forgeries can be produced.

Even with the absurd rules not getting to the race falls squarely onto my shoulders. I should not have waited until the last minute to see if my paperwork was in order.

The week off from biathlon was frustrating but did allow me to enter the Ford Sayre Silver Foxtrot 10 k ski race held at Oak Hill in Hanover, NH. I had a late start and most of those behind me were much faster and soon I was skiing alone. I was a bit depressed and found it difficult to stay at race levels of effort seeing I had no one to chase or remain ahead of. I was down on myself and not having too much fun.

I crashed in a fast downhill sweeper 400 meters from the finish. The calf on my right leg cramped pretty hard and it took a minute or so to work out. I limped into the finish demoralized. Turns out, even with the crash and subsequent delay it was only thirty seconds off my fastest 10 k ever. The snow was variable, the racecourse hilly and I was on pace to set a new PR. My depression transformed to elation.

The next and final NorAm of the ’08 season was held in Valcartier, Quebec. My paperwork was in order and the family was coming along. We would stay in the old city of Quebec where Jill and the kids were able to walk to attractions while I took the car to the race.

Saturday’s race was super fun. Darrell, the guy starting :30 behind me had a better prone shoot than I did and moved into the lead. 2 k later he was shooting offhand when I arrived at the range and I slotted in the next point to his right. He shoots right handed and I’m a lefty so we were looking right at each other. He was 3 shots in when I arrived and also 3 misses and I dropped the first two targets. I was hoping my arrival might pressure him into mistakes and soon I’m back in it. I go two better then him and leave the P-loop 10 seconds ahead but he is still 20 ahead on race time since he started behind me. It’s now a ski race to the finish. I shot my way back into contention. I ski like mad with the intent of winning or blowing up big and losing. Uphill I suffer and going down I try to recover and not puke.

I cross the finish line first. Darrell arrives but I was too shot to look at the clock and see what happened. When the results are posted turns out he got me by 5 seconds! I was so bummed but the race was really fun. Due to some rule quirk we were scored as 2 and 3. The guy who won was in our age group but shooting an air rifle so he didn’t have to carry it (not a big handicap for us) but his P-loop was 50 meters per lap shorter so he skied about 300 total meters less then the rest of the field. Darrell was :01 back and I was :06 off the win. Filing a protest would have been whining but I feel we both were ripped off.

Sunday’s race was fun too but not the nail biter of yesterday. Darrell won and I was second. I had one bad shoot and that was the race. I’m faster on skis but not enough to make up for the error. Good day though. Getting back across the border with the rifle was a piece of
cake. I have been told it can be a nightmare. Maybe sleeping kids in the back seat helps.

I raced well this weekend. I wish I had shot better but this will always be true. Saturday’s race made the training, money and effort worth it. The only way to have made it better was to have won.
Traveling to races with the family is interesting and somewhat frustrating. When I asked them to come along it seemed like a good idea at the time. The kids really enjoyed Lake Placid during the summer and Quebec is a fantastic place to visit. While I race, there is something for the kids to do. Should be a win/win situation, right?

Not always. On race days I have my own routine from awakening through leaving the venue. Upset this routine and I start getting tense. Arriving ninety minutes before the first start is minimal and allows for warming up, zeroing the rifle, previewing the course, and accommodating any unexpected headaches or gear fixes. I’m not too concerned about eating a proper breakfast as nerves and pre-race jitters keep me from putting down a normal amount of food. I don’t worry about it as the races are usually under forty-five minutes duration and I have the energy for that almost right out of bed.

The kids don’t adapt so well. Keeping them in their routine requires getting up earlier to drive to a food outlet, eat and get ready to go about the day. Now their out of synch setting up a new series of problems to deal with.

If the family attends the race its better if I am dropped off and they arrive sometime near my projected start. This worked in Lake Placid. They eat while I prepare for the race unencumbered by untied boots; bathroom breaks (they both don’t need to go at the same time), being hungry, or wandering off. After the event I like to ski a bit to cool down and relive the race with other competitors while standing around swapping stories and telling lies. The family wants to leave almost as soon as I cross the finish line.

Why are they invited? Is it to do something together or does having them along allow me to attend the race? I’m not really sure and such narcissistic thinking bothers me. Racing and training is difficult enough without the additional worries of family. As with all things I must learn to strike a balance between selfish and generous expenditures of my time with the family. Learning about life after the arrival of kids not being all about me is more difficult than the toughest climbs in rotten snow on poorly waxed and prepped skis. I can fail while skiing but to fail as a dad is unacceptable. Ultimately they are more important so the warm-up interruptions to take a five year old to the bathroom are okay with me.

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.

Sponsors:

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

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Kevin Brooker

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.

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