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Archive for March, 2019

Six Days in China

12.Mar.2019 by Liz Guiney

Oh, the places ski racing will take you! Most recently: Beijing, China, for the 2019 edition of the China City Sprint Tour. Ida, Corey, and I decided to make the journey to China for three freestyle city sprints, which are part of China’s plan to hype up winter sports in their country before the 2022 Olympics. We were part of a US contingent which included 13 athletes from all different clubs. The races also included athletes from Sweden, Norway, Italy, Russia, and Germany, and the host country, China. If you really don’t like reading and want the highlights, here they are: dumplings, extreme jet lag, racing next to the Olympic stadium, SMOG, Great Wall of China, more dumplings, ramen, right hand turns. For everyone else, here’s the day by day!

Day Zero

We were only in China for about 3 hours on this day, so it doesn’t count in the official tally. However, travel days are always fun, right? This one starts with a 3 am wake up for Corey and me, then a 6 hour layover in Toronto, a 13 hour flight to Beijing, and 9 pm arrival at our hotel, the night before the race. Oh, and that’s actually over the course of two days, but who’s counting. Ollie and Ida have slightly more civil travel days from Boston and Munich, respectively. We have a team meeting and pass out, completely exhausted from the day.

Day One!

Our first real day on the ground in Beijing, and also, race day number one. Air quality today is…. not good. The kind that hurts your lungs when you step outside, and cuts visibility to around a quarter mile. Our race course for the day is a two lap 1.7k freestyle sprint. It’s in the plaza right next to the Bird’s Nest, the Olympic stadium from the 2008 Games. Most of the race courses we’re used to from SuperTours and World Cups wind through the woods and climb and descend steep hills, so this course is something very different for us! It’s essentially a giant rectangle with one short bridge hill. Lots of right hand turns, and a lot of flat. Speaking of flat, that pretty much describes how we feel! The snow is slow and baking in the 60F sun. Racing in a literal fog from pollution, and a figurative one from jet lag, we push through anyways.

I squeak into the rounds in 29th and finish 29th in the heats. Ida is battling some food poisoning, but still races hard and finishes 16th in the qualifier and 18th in heats. City sprints are interesting because they really limit the amount of time on course for testing and warm-up. Our wax techs get about 20 minutes to test, and we get 25 for ski testing and warm-up. It’s an extra challenge, but the techs overcome it and give us great skis nevertheless. Other fun things from the day include “Chinese style” portapotties (no seat! no toilet paper! minimalism!) and our athlete lunches, which include, of all things, Subways sandwiches, Coke, and Snickers bars. I can tell I’m really tired because somehow I only manage to take two pictures for the whole day.

Arriving at the Bird’s Nest stadium. The race course is in the plaza to the left
Smog masks for the win!

Day Two

Day two on the ground in China also happens to be our second race day! Instead of racing in downtown Beijing, our race venue is in Shougang, which is about an hour drive from our hotel, in the industrial district. It’s also where they plan to put the Olympic village for the 2022 Games, so we’re all really interested to see it. Upon arrival, we can’t decide if we’ve arrived in a run down amusement park or a post apocalyptic scene. Apparently the steel factory there shut down over 15 years ago but the buildings are still intact. They plan to keep many of the original structures in place while building the village. It will be fascinating to see what it looks like in three years!

Unfortunately, we also wake up to an air quality index of over 300. For reference, most major cities in the US hover around 50, anything over 150 is unhealthy, and 300 is deemed “hazardous”, with outdoor activity strongly discouraged. Luckily, after a day on the ground, we all seem to get our bearings and feel better in the race. The course for the day is just one lap, and includes a fast, icy start, as well as a very gradual climb with rollers. Ida qualifies in 10th, and then powers through to the A Final where she places 2nd! Corey also qualifies, and then finishes 3rd in her quarterfinal, for 16th overall. I’m happy to feel good in my qualifier and finish 26th.

The race course on day two in Shougang
The steel factory buildings, with the race course to the left
Warming up in a hazy glow with my smog mask
My quarterfinal heat
Women’s podium with Ida in 2nd!
Finding fun things on a cool-down jog with Corey

Day Three

After two races in two days, we are very happy to have an off day on day three. We’re even more excited because we get to see the Great Wall of China! On our bus ride from Beijing to the Wall, we learn all sorts of fun facts about the wall. For example, it’s 3,000 miles long, and extends from the ocean towards the interior of the country. It was intended to protect the Chinese from attacking nomadic groups from the north, including the Huns. It also has really cool watch towers where guards would light signal fires to communicate. Most of the wall was built by the Ming dynasty, which ruled in the 1300’s to 1600’s. One thing they don’t tell you is that the Great Wall is steep!! We walked from the tour bus stop in both directions had some burning calves and quads as a result.

In the afternoon, a few of us go to the venue in Yanqing to go for a very short ski and to get our bearings. We’re very excited about this particular venue because it includes both left and right turns! They also put in rollers both out of the start and into the finish, so it doesn’t lack for interesting features.

Looking out from the Wall, which extends way past the far ridge
We had good representation of current and former GRP skiers on the trip! Three out of four of our wax techs (Ollie, Pat, and Bryan) are former GRP athletes
Course preview with Felicia, Heather, and Becca

Day Four

Day four of racing brings a new location with the most exciting course yet! (including aforementioned left hand turns and rollers). It’s nice to get out of the city to Yanqing, a future site for one of the Olympic villages, and also where they will hold the luge, bobsled, and alpine skiing events. The air is also slightly clearer for our third race day, but by that point, most athletes are hacking quite a bit as a result of the other race days.

I don’t have very many photos of the day, but it was a really impressive venue with tons of spectators. The course winds around the circular building in the first photo, which is also the athlete building. Racing goes decently- Ida makes the semi’s and finishes 12th in the heats, which puts her in 9th for the overall sprint tour. I finish 30th, and after racing, the exhaustion of the past couple days really sets in! It’s crazy to think that we raced three times in four days right after flying halfway across the world. Needless to say we are all happy to be done racing, and to enjoy the banquet, which features Chinese opera, traditional dancing, and a sweet raffle.

A bit of course prep on the day before racing in Yanqing. This was looking out from the start. The organization and infrastructure that goes into city sprints is seriously impressive.
Ida cruising to 2nd in her quarterfinal (Photo Forrest Mahlen)

Day Five

With our racing behind us, day five means that we can do some exploring. Unfortunately for us, a few days into our stay, the Chinese government called their annual meeting in Beijing, so the city is pretty much closed down. We can’t go explore the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, or any of the other famous sights. However, we’re still in a pretty cool area, and the pollution is also way down so we can venture out without masks! One group checks out some caves, others use the hotel bikes, and our group goes on a long run into the mountains to see what we can find.

Our run takes us to the backside of the mountains, where we find construction for the bullet train which will go in for the 2022 Games. It will take visitors from Beijing to the mountain venue in under an hour (usually a three hour drive). The concrete pillars are massive and jarring compared to the rugged landscape.
A solid adventure crew!

Day Six

Most of the team flies out on day six, but Corey and I don’t leave Beijing until 7 pm, so we have the whole day to explore the city! After successfully navigating the Chinese subway system, we pop out into a cool shopping district called Nanluoguxiang. It’s a narrow, twisting pedestrian-only alleyway with tons of restaurants and small shops. It’s a perfect way to see a little bit of the city but avoid the craziness of downtown. We eat ramen and rice bowls, drink matcha, and practice our calligraphy then hop on the subway back to the airport for another 13 hour flight back to the States.

We were extra happy to have clean(er) air on our day in Beijing.
Apparently we flew directly over the North Pole on our way back!

Reflecting back on the trip, it was a bit of whirlwind! Usually, when we travel to races, we leave for the venue at least a few days before the first race, even more when it involves a significant time change. It was a huge challenge for me to keep up with the travel, the time change, and the jam-packed race schedule, and all of the other athletes I talked to felt the same way. With the air pollution on top of that, it was definitely one of the more interesting race experiences I’ve ever had. However, I’m really grateful that Swix China paid for all of us to fly over and covered our lodging and transportation while we were there. On the whole, it was such a cool opportunity to see a country that I normally wouldn’t while ski racing, race against some really fast people, and appreciate even more being back in Vermont to breath some clean, fresh air!

The Greenies Reunite Back North

3.Mar.2019 by Wes Vear

Hello GRP followers! Earlier this week the men’s side of the rowing team wrapped up their first training trip down in Peachtree City, Georgia after a week of some very productive training. They’re now back up in the snowy north and back onto skis. The guys did some great work remembering how to move a single, figuring out how to match up with different people in team boats, and setting down a solid base of blisters to heal up and hopefully turn into callouses for the main training trip in a couple weeks. 

From where we left off in our past blog post, last weekend started out with a variety of team boats work with a nice long doubles steady state workout through the fog which provided for some great photo opportunities, as I’m sure you can imagine. The best part about rowing in the fog (as long as you’re vigilant about keeping an eye out for anything ahead) is the dead calm water that you usually get. Steve made sure to take advantage and have the guys focus on some important technical aspects around the release with bringing the bodies over and keeping them perched as we brought the boat towards us with the hamstrings.

Lucas and Wes venturing off into the great unknown in search of matching body prep and speed.

An easy breezy row that Friday afternoon in the quad helped get the guys ready for their first taste of speed for the following morning workout of 2x(5x(1:00 on, 1:00 off)) starting around a 30 and progressing higher and higher. Considering each row in the quad was the first time in each respective lineup, Saturday’s pieces felt surprisingly relaxed and quick. That morning’s lineup consisted of four of the GRPers with Wes in stroke, Lucas sitting in three, Kevin in two seat, and Andy making the calls from up in bow. Things got a bit rushed and forced once the final open rate piece rolled around, but it was nothing to lose sleep over considering it was everyone’s first time above a 38 in a boat since November.

Following a quick snack refuel to hit that catabolic window, the guys spent a couple hours with the juniors of Peachtree City Rowing Club to talk about all things sculling. The guys regaled stories and lessons they had learned from rowing in college followed up by advice from what they’ve learned in about sculling in the years since graduating. The guys split the juniors up into a couple groups and had each group spend half the time focusing on technical aspects in the boat while the other half was spent talking hitting the large themes surrounding erging, training, nutrition, and the psychology of racing. Obviously all of those topics, both in the boat and out of it, can be discussed for months on end, so the guys tried to hit a few of the key lessons each of them had learned over the years.

PTCRC Juniors learning all sorts of fun stuff about erging and other aspects of rowing off of the water.

Saturday afternoon after talking to the Juniors was spent with a quick and purposeful row in the singles in order to sharpen the guys up for the following morning fun. Steve lined up a 4,000m open-rate piece the Sunday morning’s practice with no set course. The guys were simply to set their speed coaches for 4,000m, start in one corner of the lake, and see how quickly they could cover. As some back story, the buoyed race course on Lake McIntosh covers 2,500m. An S turn near the start of the course can add an additional ~900m or so. Which means you needed to add another ~600m to the piece in some fashion or another. The assumption was that we would all probably divert from the course where the lake opens up and do a long loop around the rough circumference of the lake (all in the traffic pattern, of course) in order to add the necessary 600m to hit 4,000m on our speed coaches. Steve gave the group a start time of 8:15am for the piece. Everyone launched somewhere around 7:30 and everyone headed straight up to the course towards the start and added a couple short loops on the course to lengthen the warmup and kill time until the start. Everyone, that is except Lucas. For whatever reason (to be realized later by everyone else), Lucas went straight towards the finish line and down a small finger of the lake before turning around and heading to the start line. Not thinking anything of it, everyone gathered around the start location as you can see in the map below in the upper left corner. The usual pre-race banter ensued and then Steve sent everyone off on 45″ intervals based on seniority of birth. John Graves, being the most well aged (like a bottle of fine wine, one might say) of the group, started things off. Lucas, being the young gun of the group, started last. As everyone hooked a sharp turn towards starboard into a brutal headwind running from West to East that had picked up before the start of the piece, people’s splits suffered accordingly. It wasn’t until everyone was on the West side of the lake did we realize why Lucas had started his warmup by heading down the end finger of the lake. As he speeded straight down the course as the lake opened up, it was then that we realized he had been figuring out just how long he could stretch the lake in as straight of a line as possible. Everyone else took the red line in the map below, and Lucas made up gobs of time on most of the field by not having to deal with the wall of a headwind everyone else rowed into. Granted, the rest of the group had a semblance of a tailwind as they headed back east, but it was mostly blocked by the trees and land along the west side of the lake. Lucas demolished most of the field, only falling to the always silky smooth JGraveyboat and US 2018 Single Sculler, Kevin Meador. The only thing Lucas hadn’t foreseen was having to dodge people as they finished in front of him well short of the finger he barreled into with reckless abandon. He also hadn’t accounted for Steve’s wake as Steve sped to catch the finish of everyone else. Yet, Lucas’ ingenious plan payed off.

The red course followed by almost the full group. The blue course followed by the ingenious Lucas Bellows.

Everyone milling around engaging in pre-race banter, completely unaware of Lucas’ plan.

After the 4k, the group talked again to the remainder of the Junior program who hadn’t gotten a chance to listen to the GRPers wax poetic about training and the art of sculling. Both groups of high schoolers were great students and seemed to really enjoy hearing the experiences of the Greenies as they look towards the horizon of collegiate rowing.

Bringing one of the Craftsbury specials down to Georgia: the dock talk.

Sunday afternoon after the 4k, Steve gave the group a quick power lift to… power through, before spending most of the evening relaxing as he made his promised Muddy Buddies (Puppy Chow for us midwesterners) and the guys watched the latest adventures of Newt Scamander and Albus Dumbledoor in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The rest of the trip unfortunately flew by in a blur of one of the windiest rows that the guys had yet experienced followed immediately by some gorgeous conditions for quad rowing and singles drills. We even got to end everything with some excitement as Lucas flipped Monday evening while doing stationary drills followed by Wes flipping Tuesday morning with the continuation of the same stationary drills.

As the guys headed north Tuesday morning, Steve drove even further south towards Trials I which will be hosted in Sarasota, Florida at the end of April. The full GRP Rowing team will be rejoining the trailer in DeLand, FL on March 19th for their long training trip in preparation for Single Trials. Until then, they’ll be taking full advantage of the pristine skiing conditions at the Center and dreaming about warm sunshine.

The final quad row in some gorgeous conditions.

The trailer, all snug and waiting for the GRP’s return south to DeLand, FL.