Monday, April 30, 2012

North American Biathlon Invitational, Jericho, VT

January 13-18

Rik Eckert

“Ethan Allen was a Bad-Ass”, my buddy Bill Allen was telling me as he drove me out to the patriot’s namesake Biathlon range east of Burlington, Vermont. “He was a Tavern hell raiser and a backwoods fighter… He and his Green Mountain Boys didn’t know quit!” So… knowing there is no straight road in the Vermont mountains, this is a story about motivations and understanding them and that letting go of something when you’re damned if you do isn’t quitting – it’s just knowing when to wait for a better fight...

I flew across the country feeling I might be in for a tough go - like it or not, an old injury - part of who I am - was flaring. I had done a pretty rugged three dryland days a week and a half before, with hill bounding, plyos, and an uphill distance roll – stuff I probably wouldn’t have delved into if our Sierra had snow! My lower back and right hip were irritated, and I knew I’d over-done it…

Just like our home range, Vermont suffered a lack of snow. Although the National Guard crew had done a fantastic job making snow and preparing a really nice 3 or 4 km of track, USA Biathlon had decided during the week that the venue couldn’t comply with International Biathlon Union course rules. This series was supposed to be the North American Championships, but given the conditions, that would have to be moved to another date on the schedule.

The wind flags were whipping in a light rain at Zero time for Friday’s Sprint competition. Tough shooting conditions… I actually shot a couple of really nice groups in Zero, and with a couple of sight adjustments, I was feeling pretty confident about hitting some targets. I skied the course – wet and wicked fast. My ski setup seemed just right – Ultra Tune I-5 grind, Toko Jetstream Red with just a little Blue to harden it, and an aggressive Finite structure.

I kicked from the start gate in the Sprint, hurting some, but still full of hope… I was surprised to finish 5th of 14 in Masters Men, despite a crash on a chewed-up technical corner and some less than ideal shooting with 3 & 5 penalties in the Prone & Standing stages in 34:24. Keith Woodward of Vermont Biathlon took the Masters Sprint in 27:48. Far West’s Phill Violett finished 7th in Senior Men in 32:41 with 5 misses. Mark Johnson of Mount Itasca Biathlon won Senior Men & overall in 28:34, and would go on to qualify to represent the US in the U-26 European Championships in Brezno-Osrblie, Slovakia.

Friday evening just dumped snow. Phill and I walked up the hill in the storm to our waxing cabin after dinner to prep skis. I really tried to enjoy the serenity of the hike through the falling flakes, but I was in tough shape! I wasn’t in much pain, but my right quad felt weak from the day’s effort. In denial, I finished my skis with a coat of Jet Blue and no structure. I slept, but woke often, my leg tingling. Saturday morning’s calm was well below zero. Athletes hovered around the woodstove in the cafeteria until it was time to hit their start gate.

My Pursuit was bizarre. I Started 5th and finished 7th of 14 in Masters. I felt like my ski skills had been set back a couple decades! My right quad just wouldn’t fire! The morning was frigid, but shooting conditions were good… My zero was as good as it gets! Still, I only hit 7 shots out of 20, and all those penalties took a toll. I skate-hopped the hills as best I could, and finished in 1:00:57, way behind Keith, who won in 45:21 with 10 penalties. Wynn Roberts of USBA won Senior Men & overall in 40:16.

I sat out Sunday’s Mass Start. I’m grateful for the counsel of Mark Johnson on Saturday night – he reminded me that sport is ultimately something we do for joy, and that, for me, there would be plenty more ski races – I just needed to focus on recovering from an injury. I stood in the coaches’ box with Glenn Jobe, helping Phill zero and tracking his range times. This was my first ever front-row seat at an IBU sanctioned race, and I could go on for days on what I learned. Let it suffice to say that in a little more than an hour, I saw elation and heartbreak and everything in between – Every Biathlete’s race is a story in its own right, and watching the blur of stories in front of me began to temper some pretty hard ‘what ifs’…

On the plane ride back out to Reno, the weekend started to take a different shape: Hurt, yet so close to a podium, I thought of old Ethan and how maybe the path to what we want is more like a winding Green Mountain trail than the path of a bullet…

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