Winter Wonder Land

Much has been made of the “tropical” climate in Sochi, and wether or not there would be adequate snow to hold the games.  I am living in the Endurance Village right next to the XC ski venue, which is at 1500 meters of elevation.  I can safely say that there was no reason to worry and that there is adequate snowpack.

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This is my third full day at the Olympics.  Sometimes its hard to know where the time goes.  Everything takes a little longer than you might think and there always seems to be one more thing that must be done.

This morning I tested skis with my coach Zach.  This is a picture of him preparing one of the 9 pairs of skis we evaluated today.

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So far the skiing has been perfect.  Hard fast tracks for classic technique and supple corduroy for skating.  The cloudless blue skies and mountain views haven’t hurt either.

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The XC venue is a 15 to 20 minute walk or a 4 minute snowmobile shuttle ride.

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I opted to walk back to the village after training and took this photo of the village.  The brown building is the main reception area where all the athletes eat and go to the gym for strength training.  There is also a disco, an arcade, pool tables and a spa somewhere in there.  Behind the structure and down a small hill is the dormitory that I am living in.

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I think I will settle into a routine here now, and everything will become a little more relaxed.  There are so many tasks and things to learn when I first arrive at the Olympics that it is sometimes hard to cut through the excitement and gauge how tired I am.  It is time to decompress a little bit and get my mind wrapped around my first race start which is the 30k skiathlon at 2:00 PM this Sunday.

 

Opening and Closing ceremonies

Olympic Processing was a little less chaotic than than my previous three Olympic experiences. Athletes used to be issued shopping carts and funneled down corridors where vendors threw clothes and gear at you. This time around the process was much more calm and there was ample time to actually try things on and make sure they fit. I got pictures of myself in my opening and closing ceremony gear. A few alterations were made later.  One of which was to remove the tag covering part of my face.

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I have now been in the Olympic Village for two nights and everything is going smoothly.  There is a good variety of quality food available at the dining hall and I have had no glucose issues.

I did a set of light intervals this morning and felt good doing them.  The weather and conditions have been perfect and I hope they hold.  Much has been made about how hilly the courses are and how difficult they will be to race on.  However from my experience courses are only as hard as the pace you are skiing.  Sometimes the pace feels easy and sometimes it is unattainable.  On the days when the pace feels calm the course seems to flatten out (although Ida’s GPS said she hit 45mph on the one descent today).

Excited for the Olympics!

The last two weeks have been very busy.  I have been training hard and making preparations to travel back to Europe for a World Cup in Toblach Italy before flying to Sochi on February 3rd.  Yesterday I flew to Munich and then drove to Italy.  This morning I skied to the high point of the Toblach pass and felt great.  I am very excited to compete in the Olympics in only two weeks!

I got a lot of great media coverage.  Here are the most notable stories…

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http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2014/feb/behind-the-scenes-with-skier.html

http://espn.go.com/blog/olympics/post/_/id/3876/kris-freeman-gets-fourth-olympic-nod

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/-olympics/news/20140120/kris-freeman-diabetes-sochi-olympics-cross-country-skiing/

http://www.npr.org/2014/01/20/264050641/u-s-olympic-skier-finds-team-spirit-minus-the-team

 

Tough Racing

First off I have to give a big congratulations to Sylvan Eleffson on his Nationals win in the 30k skate today. He put his head down at 20k and opened up a 10 second gap on me that I was never able to close. It got as big as 23 and finished at 16 seconds. It was a very impressive way to win the race.

The lead up to the National Championships has not been easy for me. The qualification for the Olympics is based on FIS points. FIS is the governing body of all skiing disciplines and FIS points are based on what percentage back of the best in the world you are (lower points are better). The points are based on your five best races in a calendar year. In general the points list is a fair way to rank skiers but it can become a bit skewed sometimes. Because of a bunch of math that I don’t care to explain it is much easier to get good FIS points racing domestically (in the US or Canada) than it is to get good points on the world cup which resides only in Europe and Scandinavia this year. As an example, I was 25th in a world cup last March which was the best US finish of the day and I got 40 FIS points for it. Today I was 3rd at US Nationals and got a 27 point race. I believe that the race at the World Cup level was actually better than today’s race but the there was little reward for it. My goals reside at the world cup level so I chose to ignore the points list earlier this year. Chasing those goals ended up putting more pressure on Nationals than I would have preferred.

I only raced in three National level distance races last season. The races were 21, 23, and 27 points. My next two best races were 40 points from the World Cup. Those points put me in 6th place on the olympic qualification list before the two distance races at Nationals. In order to move into second place behind Noah Hoffman (who has already been selected for the Olympics) I had to score below 30 points in both distance races this weak which meant being on the podium twice.

I just managed a 29.5 FIS race in the 15k classic and I scored a 27 point race in the 30k skate today. I have not been feeling good this week so I am relieved to have moved up into such a strong position. As far as I know there are no more FIS races in the US that could affect the Olympic qualification for distance races.

Glucose control has been challenging. In the last two weeks I have had two low episodes that gave me sweats and shakes. One of them came out of absolutely no where. After racing the 15k classic I was eating dinner with my coach, Zach. One minute I was at a glucose of 85, the next I was at 38 with a soaked t-shirt and a coke that I had to push the waiter out of the way to get. The poor control continued that night. After the low I over compensated on glucose. My sugar rose through the night. My Dexcom continuous glucose monitor goes off every half an hour when my sugar is high. Each time I awoke to the alarm I took a small bolus of insulin to lower the glucose. However, I was woken up 4 times with ever rising sugar which peaked at 280 at 4:00 AM. At this point I took yet another bolus and forced myself to get out of bed and do 200 jumping jacks in order to make my muscles more receptive to the insulin I was giving myself. The physical stimulus worked and I slept until 8:00 AM when my low alarm set off at 78. For me, seventy eight is a healthy level but below 70 is not. So I got out of bed, ate breakfast, and everything stabilized. This was not the ideal recovery for a race and I started feeling very down.

I called my sports psychologist, John Hammermeister in the hopes that he could get my head back on my shoulders. I have worked with John since I was 20 years old and he has an amazing knack for helping me out of tough spots. I spent three hours on the phone with him over the last three days. He helped me to let go of the unquantifiable fatigue that the poor sugars caused and to focus on what had to be done in the next race. I have a tendency to be very obsessive so that was easier said than done. I have to thank my family and girlfriend who also got to listen to me whine about not feeling like myself the last few days. There love and encouragement really helped me to get the most out of a less than ideal time and get the points I needed to pursue my Olympic dream in Sochi.

I am very confident that with a little downtime at home that my best Olympic results are in front of me.

Chasing the leader with Matt Liebsch and 2nd place finisher Brian Gregg

Chasing the leader with Matt Liebsch and 2nd place finisher Brian Gregg

I have a great support team

I have a great support team

Stars

When things don’t go your way in a xc race it is hard to determine exactly what the problems are. There are the usual waxing disparities and varying pacing strategies as well as countless different methods of training and preparation. Wading through those variables to find the best way to maximize your body’s potential is a daunting task. Throwing diabetes into the mix can sometimes feel like throwing darts at an ocean. I don’t know why I was able to ski effortlessly for 10k of the 15k race on Saturday only to blow up so badly over the last 5k that I lost a 20 second lead and finished in third place. It could have been pacing, it could have been preparation, it could be something I haven’t thought of, or it could be one of a billion variables caused by being an insulin dependent diabetic. My immediate reaction to the race was to figure out exactly why I wasn’t able to perform as expected and make a change. But quite frankly I haven’t been able to determine what went wrong, so I have no choice but to continue trying my best. I have always been an inconsistent performer. Some days I can ski with the best in the world and some days I struggle just to finish. My doctors and I have been unsuccessful determining what makes the difference on my good and bad days. What we do know is that there would be no good days if I were to give up, so I keep going out and giving my all. When the stars align I am one of the best in the world. Maybe instead of obsessing over insulin protocol I will start studying constellations.  thanks to Ian Harvey at Toko for the great pictures.

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Not my best

Lap 1 split 1st, lap 2 split 1st, lap 3 split 14th = 3rd place at US National 15k classic.

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Intensity

After taking some easy days at home I ramped up the intensity in my training and cut the volume way down. I have had very good short term improvement in my performance using this method in the past. With a little over a month to the Olympics it is time to start getting the most out of my body.
I planned a low key race at the Craftsbury Vermont Opener last weekend but it was canceled due to the ice storm. I am not one to be deterred by weather so I recruited Pat O’brien from the Green team to help me clear debris from the race course so we could do intervals together with my coach Zach. We did 5 times 2.2kms at above race pace with a one minute recovery between intervals. We thought we were done after the 5th, but Zach made us do a surprise 6th interval after taking five minutes of recovery. The last rep was my fastest. I have never done intervals while ducking to dodge heavy ice coated branches and swerving to skid around fallen trees. It was pretty fun.
Two days later I followed up the session with another max effort intensity and felt better than I have all year.

Take the hits in stride

I have been doing this sport long enough now to know that things don’t always go your way.  I was expecting better results over the last month but I had not real goals but to get stronger throughout period one.  My racing sensations have improved.  I am not skiing at the level that I know I need to in order reach my goals at the Olympics but I still have 50 or so days to come to peak form.  For a decade and a half I have been striding and striving year round to perform at my best in Sochi.  I am glad that I have not come into the season too hot but now it is time for the nerves to come in and kick me into gear.

 

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Europa Cup

Yesterday I raced a 15k classic in Lillehammer Norway. I had high hopes for the race as the event and this particular course played to my strengths. I made a poor choice on skis though. I went on a pair that has always been extremely easy to kick on because of its uniquely low pocket. I underestimated the abrasiveness of the fresh snow however and I lost all of my kick wax but a trace amount of binder. The skis literally needed nothing more than a spritz of wax remover and a wipe with a paper towel and they were clean. Its hard to believe that I still make such rookie mistakes at this stage in the game.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I was going to change my insulin dosing strategy as the one I had been relying on for 15ks for several years was now driving me too low while I raced. The old dose was a several unit bolus taken as a half hour extended bolus thirty minutes before race time. The new dose is a 50% increase to my basal insulin one and a half hours prior to the race. Using this strategy my glucose was 130 before yesterday’s race and 160 at the finish. The sugar was perfect but the race was compromised by poor skis so I do not consider it a good test of the theory.
My focus of the year is on the 15k classic at the Olympics. If I continued on the original racing plan of following the world cup to Davos and then returning home for Nationals I would only have two 15k races between now and the Olympics. Since I was blindsided with insulin dose problems I have decided to abandon the World Cup next weekend and race two Europa cups in Austria instead. There is a 10k skate on Saturday and a 15k classic mass start on Sunday. Making this Change has been pretty last minute and a bit stressful but the logistics are taken care of now and I feel good about giving myself two good practice races to get myself and my season on track.

Breaking out of the loop

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Well, after my arduous travel from Finland to Norway I was tempted to take my last post down. I don’t like to appear vulnerable but the trip I wrote about clearly illustrated my liabilities. My diabetes can throw me a curve ball at any time. I either have to roll with the punches or fall flat. In my last draft I even mentioned giving up which is a thought that I only have when under the influence of what I call “short term diabetic depression.” The cause for me is simple. I get depressed when there is not enough sugar in my brain to think straight. The fact that I am low is also depressing as I know that it is a massive and damaging stress to my body. The combination forms a loop that leaves me irritable and sad until I stabilize my glucose for several hours. Once I level off, I look back on the time I was depressed as though I was different person.
Having gone low two days ago was unfortunate. I can’t help but wonder if it may take a critical spring from my step this weekend but I have no choice but to continue my race preparation as I otherwise would. Yesterday I went for a very slow two and half hour skate on the Birke trail with Noah and Andy. It was easily the best ski of the year so far. To give you an idea of the pace, my average heart rate was 95 and Noah’s was 102. In the afternoon I ran around the Lillehammer neighborhood for a few miles and then did a Podcast yoga class with Liz and Matt.
I woke up this morning feeling very positive and my body felt good. I skied 2 hours on the ridiculously windy new 5k race course. I did one lap at L3 and was satisfied with how my body responded to the effort. It snowed almost four inches during my ski which made for tricky and changing wax. Will stayed on top of it though and I was happy with how my skis were running.
This afternoon I will take another yoga class as I try to live in the moment. Focusing on the past will not get me anywhere. When I am thinking clearly that is easy to see.