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 end of the season is always bittersweet. Warm sunshine and soft snow make skiing fun but the desire to â€œtrainâ€ has faded away. A bit of effort was needed to keep motivated and train for the US and North American Biathlon Championships hosted by the Mt. Itasca Biathlon Club in Colerain, MN. There was a two-week hiatus between the NorAm Cup race in Valcartier and the Nationals.
Getting to the Nationals was a nice compromise between family and pure race immersion. We all flew into Minneapolis where Jill and the kids stayed with family friends and I was able to head to the races unencumbered by familial duties.
The first day of competition was the Sprint race. Three ski legs separated by two shooting stops. My race went okay finishing 5th out of six entrants. My ski speed was slow enough so even clean shooting would not have netted any medals. Admittedly, I was hoping for a podium spot.
The pursuit on Friday was a breakout performance. No, I didn’t medal or even move up in the standings. Still 5th place. The breakout was managing the race well. I shot 1,1,4,2 (biathletes count misses). Not great but many pieces of race management fell into place.
What felt annoying about the day but turned to be a hidden gem was having such late starts. I had time to watch races and learn. It was amazing how slow the elite men entered the range compared to their on-course speed. Another interesting aspect was watching the amount of time spent getting setup prior to squeezing the trigger. They futzed with the rifle and made sure everything was just right. I take this same care during practice but tend to forget it during competitions.
During the pursuit, I began slowing down 150 meters earlier than during the sprint. I was right behind another racer and counted seconds (nice thing about releasing the pressure for results is I could spend time learning) from the time I slowed to when we hit the mats. I lost seven seconds. Multiply that by four and it’s the equivalent of one P-loop. Drop one more target by slowing early and it’s a wash; 2-plus and it becomes a fantastic investment in race time.
The early portion of mat time was used getting the rifle perfect, the position the same as during practice, breathing, and shot with a 2 breath rhythm used at home. While it felt I was on the mat forever, my actual range time (poles down to poles up) was within seconds of one minute; my nominal range time.
Before my events I went out on course to be the relay of info person to the athletes from the coach. Standing on the last real hill prior to the range (maybe 1 k out) were a bunch of other coaches giving info/encouragement/corrections. What I saw was amazing and put a few ski pieces into place.
One coach was giving out technique info. “Keep you head up. Look at the top of the hill. Hips forward. Get those hands up. Tempo.” Basic stuff I know. What was fascinating was when the athlete listened they noticeably sped up. During my race I told myself the same things and just flew up (relatively) the hills and also didn’t feel as hammered upon reaching the top. Suddenly I was skiing faster. Not enough to catch the fast guys from Washington but it gave me hope and demonstrated the potential to find speed by not working against myself.
Without late starts I would not have had the opportunity to observe so much. It also was nice that the athletes I was relaying info to during their races went out on course and cheered for me. It felt a lot less lonely and I felt somewhat obligated to perform well as I past.
The morning of the pursuit I received an email from my wife asking when I was coming back to Minneapolis. She was staying with the kids at a friend’s house (the friends are 20+ years of being so) but the kids are wearing her out. It’s her vacation too. I’ve done 51 races this year between summer and winter and the family has been super supportive so I headed to Minni after the pursuit. I could sacrifice 45 minutes of racing for strengthening domestic harmony and appreciation for the support Jill has given me. With such a great race experience I wanted to end the season on a really positive note. Admittedly, I am bummed about missing the race but there is always next year.
The entire biathlon and ski seasons have been a huge success. I might receive credit for the season but it would not have been possible without fantastic support from my family, friends and sponsors.
Jill did more than give me permission to train and race this season. She gave me her support by watching the kids, leaving work early to retrieve them from daycare so I was able to attend training races, and keeping them occupied at races so I was able to warm up and not have to play daddy.
Friends also helped watching the house and feeding the dog while we traveled to events. Others gave coaching and lent knowledge or tools to keep the skis fast.
My sponsors supplied me with fantastic equipment. The GoFaster boots and bindings held up fantastically for over 1,100km of training and racing as did the Ski Trab Aero race skis.
The Fiocchi ammo was absolutely flawless. The consistency made me look a better shot than I am. There were no misfires, feed or ejection problem in temperatures from —10F to 45F.
The Izhmash rifle worked great and the left-handed action provided me with a lot of laughs as it flummoxed many range officials. Russian American Armory gave me excellent support throughout the season.
This season was an incredible learning experience for me. My shooting, skiing and fitness made huge improvements. While I was actively training and racing in biathlons it took an entire season before convincing myself I was a biathlete. The skis are waxed for summer storage and traded for my running shoes. I’ll take a break before starting the cycle of dry land training, summer races and the transformation back onto snow. Thanks for following my season and I hope to see you out on the range.
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.