Monday, February 28, 2005

downhill training day #2

I just came in the door after today's downhill training run and I'm waiting for the snow on my tires to melt on the doormat, so I have some time to write about what we've been up to here in Klosters. Where to begin?

Klosters is a resort town near its more famous siblings of Davos and St. Moritz. It's not a cheap place, and it's full of tourists from all over Europe. We're staying in a really nice hotel that charges 9 francs (basically $9 these days) per half hour for internet access. At least I can write these posts offline and then paste them into a browser window. The breakfast spread is fantastic, the pool is large, and there are elevators!

Our dinners are served in a huge circus tent in the park across the street. The dinners are a source of no small amount of grumbling among the athletes because while the race organizers' intentions are good, their elaborate events kind of get in the way of the schedule we're trying to keep. Dinner is served at 8 and involves three courses served very far apart. By the time it's over, most of us would prefer to be in bed so we can get plenty of rest before getting up at 6 a.m. the next day. To be fair, though, it's pretty lavishly catered with gourmet food, a big screen showing disabled ski racing highlights, and live entertainment along the lines of a different theme every night.

Today's training run went as well as yesterday's. I'm not sure exactly what place I finished in, but seven of us monoskiers were all very close, within a second of today's leader, Joe. My run was about four seconds faster than yesterday, due in no small part to the much better visibility today. Tomorrow is going to be a great race. I'll be happy with my performance as long as I ski as well as I have the past two days, no matter what place I end up in.

For those of you who aren't so familiar with ski racing, downhill is the only event where you're allowed (required, in fact) to run the course prior to the actual race. The organizers are required to schedule at least two training runs over the course of one or two days before the race. The course is exactly the same for each training run and for the race run, although of course the weather and snow conditions often change, which can make the course faster or slower. Times are announced for training runs, although some people make a bigger deal about them than others. Most people use the first training run as a chance to familiarize themselves with the course and make sure they know where they're going. (Coming up to a blind knoll at 55 m.p.h. can be unnerving if you don't know where the next gate is going to be.) After each training run, we generally watch our runs on video and discuss with coaches what changes we'd like to make to our "line" for the next run. Downhill is all about finding the fastest line through the course, and often the person who wins will not be the one with the best technique but rather the best sense of how to use the shape of the hill to generate and maintain more speed. This is especially true on this downhill course, which is fairly fast but mostly flat and not very technical. There are only one or two difficult turns in the whole course, which means that even a small mistake can be costly because the winner will probably have a near-perfect run.

Anytime you make it to the finish of a downhill course is a pretty amazing feeling. The speed is such a rush, and when you realize you made it down under your own strength, control, and mental skills, it's hard not to feel good about yourself. (Having fast times doesn't hurt, either.)

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