Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Race to the Top of VT

This Sunday, August 25th, is the Race to the Top of VT in Stowe, VT.  It's a running, biking, or hiking race up the toll road on Mt. Mansfield with 2564 feet of climbing over 4.3 miles.  There isn't a much better fitness test out there than a constant sustained uphill grind.  I've done it the last two years with my Craftsbury teammates and saw my heart rate max out at over 200 beats per minute both times while I coaxed my legs along to push just a bit harder.  After the finish we hit the Long Trail and run to the summit of Mt. Mansfield for the gorgeous views before descending for a post race BBQ.

Near the finish in 2011
This year due to a foot injury which is bothered by uphill running, I'm disappointed to say that I might have to skip the race.  But whether or not I can climb the mountain, I will be at the race supporting my GRP teammates as well as Liz Stephen, another fellow Vermonter and US Ski Team teammate.  This year, the Race to the Top of VT, is a fundraiser for the VT Winter Olympic hopefuls in biathlon and XC Skiing. Vermont has a long tradition of success in skiing and currently has six Vermont natives who are members of XC and biathlon National Teams.  This list includes Susan Dunklee and Hannah Dreissigacker for biathlon and Liz Stephen, Andy Newell, Sophie Caldwell, and myself in Nordic.  All six of us are training hard this summer with goals of qualifying for the Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia and then racing for the medals there in February.  Our VT roots are helping us along the way and providing the toughness and strength for these final months of preparation.

Please join the journey and support our Olympic dreams at  http://www.crowdrise.com/vt2014winterolympichopefuls/fundraiser/idasargent

And for more information on the Race to the Top of VT visit this race website

We hope to see you there!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

August Garden Tour

The gardens in Craftsbury are exploding with fresh produce!  Every day there are more veggies to pick and the Outdoor Center kitchen staff has done an amazing job creatively using all the ingredients into different dishes.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, snap peas, beans, beets, peppers, and some greens are in the salad bar every day.  Pizza day features lots of new toppings featuring handmade pesto.  We're freezing chard, kale, and more to have local greens this winter.  We're up to our ears in zucchini and summer squash.  There is fresh mint at our house for refreshing summer drinks.  Blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are weighing down the bushes and can be picked by the handful.  The cider press is set up next to the pizza oven.

My parents are avid gardeners and I was spoiled growing up with an abundance of fresh produce all summer long.  I like to think I've inherited their green thumbs as I've come to appreciate the process of gardening. When you plant a little seed in the spring it's hard to imagine how it will germinate and grow into blossoming plant.  It's a challenge to try to improve the harvests from year to year and experiment with new crops.  Last year our carrots were short fat stubs lacking their normal length so I tried tilling the soil more than normal making it easier for the young roots to reach into the dirt.  Only a few beets came up in each row last summer but those survivors were giant monster beets which likely stole all the nutrients from their neighbors so we increased the spacing this year hoping to give all the seeds enough nutrients.  I still have lots to learn but I've come a long way from my five year old self who accidentally pulled up all the onions when asked to weed in those rows.

This is the exciting time of year in the gardens, when the baskets are brimming with a colorful bouquet of vegetables.  It's the rewarding time when the fights with the black flies of May, the rain in June, and the hot sun in July become worthwhile.  A lot of energy and time in the dirt is required to nurture productive plots of earth.  It's truly a labor of love!  When I grown up I hope to have large gardens of my own but at this stage of my life it would be next to impossible.  The weeds will take control if you leave for a few weeks for a ski camp somewhere and sometimes the veggies won't wait an extra day for their harvest while you try to rest between sessions.  For this reason, I feel very lucky to be in Craftsbury during the summers and working together with many of the athletes in a cooperative garden crew.  Pam and Amy took control of the gardens last year and have done wonders turning the old jungle into a beautiful and productive farm.  New land has opened up room for expansion and every year we are able to provide more and more of our own produce for the kitchen, aligning with the sustainable mission of the Center.  Here's a photo tour of the Craftsbury gardens.

Welcome to the garden
The rhubarb bush sill looks huge but if you look closely some of the leaves are dying and it's getting past its prime.  Earlier in summer is the best time to hit up the rhubarb.
Walking onions
Bunch onions
Here's a big row of parsley.  There are lots of other herbs as well including basil, thyme, dill, and cilantro located close to the kitchen so the kitchen staff can easily pick fresh handfuls to season the wonderful meals
Echinacea is great for the immune system and also blooms into this pretty flower  
Here is one of the garlic beds.  Garlic is planted in the fall and harvested in August once its shoots begin to turn yellow.  We harvested all the garlic last week and are drying it in the garage before we braid it for storage
The Elinor's house garlic haul for the year
The overall quantity of the garlic harvest is very high but there is lots of variety in the size of the bulbs.  This diversity is likely caused by all the rain at the beginning of the summer as garlic prefers drier soil.  Luckily some of the garlic stillgrew into big white heads.  
Pickled beets are my favorite part of the salad bar
Kale is a prominent crop in the COC gardens.  It's a great vegetable to grow in northern climates as its hearty leaves are very frost resistant so these plants will likely keep producing for another couple months.  And although the nights have started getting a little cooler this past week, we're luckily not quite to the frost stage yet! 
Purple kale
Dino kale
The rainbow chard isn't looking very impressive in this picture but that's because it was very recently harvested for the dining hall.  We pick several big boxes of chard and kale for the kitchen each week, enough to see it pop up in the meals every couple days.
We've had a bumper basil crop again and Caitlin and Liz have been very busy making pesto and freezing it for later use.
Tomatillos in the front and peas in the back. 
Caitlin picking beans in the bean arch.  I think this design for the beans was another one of Amy and Pam's great ideas.  The beans are easy to pick and it looks really cool too.
The apple trees are all weighed down with fruit and it looks like its going to be a great year for apple picking.  I tried one yesterday and it was still a bit tart but getting close to ready.  Here's an apple tree which is probably extra productive with rich soil since it is next to the compost bins.
New this year is the Edible Pizza Garden which features pizza toppings only feet away from our outdoor oven
It used to be just a rocky ledge but Amy and Pam initiated the project of turning the space into productive grounds that look much nicer too with some flowers planted among the pizza toppings.
Here are a few different kinds of basil for fresh toppings on Margarita and other pizzas
Some spicy peppers
New this year as well are the green houses in Wilbur's field where there are lots of tomatoes and peppers growing
The tomatoes are just ripening and there is nothing better than a fresh juicy tomato.
We planted more tomatoes and peppers this year so I think we will have to have a salsa party soon

Spicy peppers
We have lots of different tomatoes like these purple ones and sometimes the baskets of tomatoes after picking are a rainbow of reds, yellows, oranges, purples, and greens.
It's almost like eating candy to pop a handful of these in your mouth!
Next to the tomatoes and peppers are the zucchini, summer squash, and cucumber patches.  We often pick over 100 cucumbers at a time!
The zucchini and squash are growing so quickly and explode to over baseball bat size if they aren't picked at least every other day.  Luckily we have hungry pigs who are more than willing to gobble up any that get a little too big.
Here's one of the winter squash patches with Elinor's house in the background.  These will not be harvested until the fall but its exciting to see lots of flowers and healthy leaves.
We have a few rows of carrots in the garden at Elinor's.  They're not quite ready yet but the baby ones which we picked while thinning were great and much longer than last year's harvest
Our experimental crop is cantaloupe this year.  They had a slow start and we don't have any melons yet but there are flowers so my fingers are still crossed.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Alaskan Adventures

Any trip to Alaska is sure to provide lots of stories and adventures and the NAWTA (North American Women's Training Alliance) camp was not an exception.  We were treated to amazing weather, lots of delicious seafood, a few mosquitoes, tons of moose sightings (I think the final tally got too high to count), and awesome training both in Anchorage and on the Eagle Glacier.  It was the perfect mid summer break to mix up the routine and prevent any staleness in the mind or body with the day to day scene.  I feel lucky to live such a special lifestyle but its still necessary to add some pizzazz every day to keep even remarkable from feeling too familiar.  This trip was the perfect way to rediscover that passion at this point in the summer.

The first week we spent in Anchorage staying on the Alaska Pacific University (APU) campus and getting a tour of lots of Anchorage's training opportunities.  

One of my favorite parts of this camp is being part of the huge women's training group working together every day.  Here is a finishing sprint during our skate speed workout which was great practice for skiing in a group.
Astrid Jacobsen from the Norwegian National Team came to the camp to mix up her training and add some new adventures to the yearly grind of ski training.  It was an awesome experience to ski with her and learn from the incredibly successful Norwegian ski program.  Astrid is a former World Champion and World Jr Champion in the sprint and has a very professional but also open and fun attitude towards her training.  Here we are following her in an L3 interval.
And while following fast skiers is great experience, it's also fun to be the rabbit and get chased yourself.  Here are Kikkan and I during a speed.  
Our adventures were not just training related either.  We had a very delicious dinner at the home of the Knapp family and played Alaskan survival games which involved folding tarps, finding the toilet, using duct tape, killing mosquitoes and handling fish.  Here are Jessie, Holly, and Norma, our wonderful massage therapist for the week, who were the champions in the fish toss.  
Kikkan is sponsored by the Alaskan Seafood Company and Holly's husband Rob had just returned from a successful dip netting trip on the Kenai Peninsula and they spoiled us with copious amounts of wild salmon.  We feasted on grilled salmon, smoked salmon, salmon eggs, halibut, and king crab.   
Astrid manning a grill full of King Crab
We ended our dryland week with an OD at Hatcher's Pass with the Alaskan REG group.  A lot of our group went on a really cool OD run/hike up to the Bomber Glacier.  Unfortunately with my Achilles still bothering a bit I had to opt out of that adventure but luckily we had a gimp group who were all nursing some different sore tendons and ligaments and we went on a run/roll combo instead.  This workout also turned out to be exciting especially when my rollerski unexpectedly fell off on a downhill.  Luckily I was able to run it out on one ski and avoid the pavement but it sure got my heart racing.  After the OD we had lunch and did a short Q&A with the REG campers which was more just us talking since the juniors only came up with one question.  The next day was a rest day but we drove 40 minutes to Girdwood and loaded up the helicopters for the short 2 minute flight up to the Eagle Glacier.  It's really amazing how close the glacier skiing is to the city of Anchorage.

A helicopter taking off from Alpine Air with daredevil Jessie underneath.  
Welcome home for the week!  This is the hut on the side of the cliff where we eat and sleep and hang out.  It's powered by a generator which is higher up on the rocks. Usually there is a pond in the rocks which is filtered for our water source but with a very warm summer in AK this year the pond had dried up forcing them to find another source farther from the hut and reminding us to conserve water!  
The view from the hut... mountains upon mountains!  My brother Eben is moving to AK and I had fun envisioning all the adventures he will be taking in this wilderness.  
And the view to the other side looking out over the Eagle Glacier, our training grounds for the week.  Erik Flora and his APU staff of Mikey Matteson and Don Haering worked incredibly hard all week maintaining the facility and grooming fantastic tracks for us.  They have probed a safe 6.6km loop on the glacier which they designed to match some of the Sochi courses so it included a lot of climbing.  It was inspiring to ski in July envisioning the Olympic trails of next winter.
The trail was groomed twice a day for us.  We skated in the morning and it usually froze up enough for a couple fast laps.  Then it was usually pretty soft and slow for the rest of the workout but those conditions are a weakness of mine in skating so I was excited for the opportunity to train in them.  Then before we skied in the afternoon, Erik and Mikey laid down classic tracks for some awesome klister skiing.  The weather could not have been more perfect and all but one day was sunny so we were skiing in shorts and sports bras all the time and hammering through a ton of sunscreen.  
We skied a lot of laps together in this beautiful scenery.  Most people skied four or more hours a day for six days straight as part of the volume camp.  

We also did a few intensity sessions including a L3 skate intervals, L4 classic intervals and a really fun team sprint relay with a jump in the middle of the course.  Doing some hard and fast workouts amid lots of easy distance training keeps the body alert.  
We had classic intervals on our non-sunny day but it still wasn't anywhere near as miserable as it can get on the glacier and I kind of liked the change of pace.  You couldn't see the top of the hills so you just had to put your head down and hammer and it made a lot of the hills feel shorter.  Here are Liz, Holly, Sadie and I skiing together during an interval.
Here is Astrid manning the grill again this time on the glacier.  We split up into teams and took turns cooking and baking but it was fun to get a Norwegian twist with the bread, waffles, and bulle buns Astrid baked for the group even though she is gluten intolerant and couldn't even eat them.
Supporting the Red White and Blue in the foot bath.  Contrast baths of hot and cold after workouts is a great way to increase blood flow to the Achilles for a faster recovery and having a buddy in the buckets made it that much more enjoyable.  We were very lucky to have amazing PT support on the glacier which allowed us to train a lot while still recovering.  Zuzana Rogers took vacation time to come to the glacier for the entire week and was incredibly helpful.  Michael, a massage therapist that works with the APU team and also came to a few World Cups last year, flew up for a few days as well towards the end of camp which was the perfect time to get some deep tissue massage on sore muscles.  Thanks Zuzana and Michael! 
The whole NAWTA crew on the glacier this year.  Thanks to all the coaches, support staff, PTs, and all the girls for making it a wonderful camp!
On the last evening, a pilot friend of Don Haering's tried to fly ice cream and wine up to us on the glacier.  They knew exactly what girls camp wanted!  Unfortunately a thick cloud bank settled in just as he was taking off and landing became too dangerous.  He circled for quite awhile hoping to find an opening and eventually had to settle for dropping the wine and ice cream from high above the glacier.  The wine exploded into a big red spot on the glacier and the ice cream disappeared into this crack near the edge of the rock, away from our hungry bellies.  The gesture was still so nice and the next day we flew off the glacier and went to a great ice cream shop in Girdwood.
After the glacier camp everyone settled into a recovery mode.  Holly and her husband Rob are building a cabin in Hope, AK which is about 1.5 hours from Anchorage across Turnagain Arm so all the USST women along with Astrid went there for an overnight and some non-training related Alaskan adventuring.

Cooking caribou sausages and corn over the campfire, swimming in the brook with the salmon, and sleeping together in the cozy bunk room loft was the perfect way to end the hard training camp.  Thanks Holly for sharing your wonderful spot!
I'm home now in Craftsbury and feeling re-energized and ready to hit the training hard for the rest of the summer.  The new experiences and training partners have inspired me for this next block of hard work with different ideas to keep the training exciting, productive, and fun.  Thanks for reading!