Wednesday, April 25, 2012

2012 USASA National Championships #2

This post chronicles our practice day experience from Nationals earlier this month.  There has been a ton of video to edit so it’s taken me a while to get things prepared for web publishing, but now that all the prep work is done, I’ll have a few new posts up in quick succession.

Ready for Practice

Both SBX practice days followed a similar schedule - course inspection for a set period, then the 'open' practice session.  We had about 45 min. for course inspection and 3 hours for practice.  Each day had it’s own focus areas for training:

Practice Day #1
#1 – Learn the course
#2 – Practice line
#3 – Get comfortable/confident with the start section
#4 – Start to practice race plan/strategy

Practice Day #2
#1 – Stick to the line/plan every run
#2 – Continue to improve start section riding
#3 – Progression (speed/times)

The Nationals SBX Course was designed to be the most challenging track of the year - the ultimate test for all competitors – and besides all that it was really fun too.  There are a few elements to the design and environment at Nationals that we don’t normally experience in our Regional Races.  First, the altitude is slightly different – about 2 miles higher than our area.  Second, the course was at least twice as long as any we’d been on locally.  Third, some of the features were bigger and more technical than anything we’d seen in regional competitions.  Fourth, this is the most important race of the year and it’s a fun adventure in Colorado, so there’s some excitement and nerves to deal with.  It was vital to adapt to the new race environment as quickly as possible so we could focus solely on our training tasks.  

Since Day #1 was actually my second day on the course, I had already made a drawing of the track, diagramed the features and took a phone video of my course inspection run (not the best camera, but it’s all I had at that point).  Ale (see Athlete Bio Page: here) studied the info and asked a ton of questions the night before practice.  Doing this homework allowed us to move more quickly through the course inspection period as there was less initial effect from the dramatic difference in race environment. 
We had used some of my Seasonal Nutrition Series adjustments for our diets to prepare for the high alpine conditions.  Also our ‘off’ and ‘on’ season practice and physical training was specifically geared toward being mentally and physically ready for the event.

My main focus during the sessions was coaching Ale and helping her accomplish the training task goals for the day.  I also tried out a different board/boot set-up (softer boots and slightly more forward stance angles) on Day #1 to see if the combination was more appropriate for the course conditions – I’ll save you the suspense, it wasn’t anywhere near ideal.  One other new addition was the GoPro camera that had arrived the night before.  As you’ll see in the video, some of the camera angles, exposure settings, etc. are less than stellar (but they were a lot better than holding a phone for video!).  I didn’t have time to practice with the camera and didn’t want to take away from Ale's coaching to fiddle with minute adjustments on the hill.  Each day did show some improvements with the camera use.  The good news is next year that aspect will be dialed in and I’ll have some awesome video to share all season long.

After a few runs on the entire course we focused on the start section.  It was clear that depending on how you handled this section had a dramatic impact on your chances to do well in the race.  One little slip-up and it could mean the difference between a great run and last place. 
View from the gate
First "Wu"
Dig Team at work
Once a certain level of skill and confidence was gained with the start, we went back to full-course runs.  Ale did a great job clearing the start section, following the line through the course and starting to progress her speed.    

Over dinner we discussed the day’s effort, watched video and determined if there was a need to change our plan for Practice Day #2.  The consensus was to do a little more practice with the start and really focus on progression for the full-course runs. 

I went back to my original board/boot set-up (stiffer boots, a little less forward stance angles) and there was a significant improvement.  Ale continued to progress with speed in her full-course runs and confidence over the start section.  She was also doing a good job following her course plan and line.  I started to time more of our full-course runs and Ale was consistently around 1:39 and I was in the 1:18 range.  We didn’t have a real full-speed full-course run though as there are multiple skill levels on the course at the same time, so sometimes you have to slow down for a fallen rider, wait for a chance to pass a slower rider, etc.  The timing wasn’t precision by any means either (started the timer before leaving the gate and stopped just after the finish) but it gave us a reasonable idea of our progress in practice.  We were ok with the times and set goals to beat for our time trial and race days.  Ale wanted to finish under 1:30 and I felt like under 1:10 would be acceptable for me.

We had a lot of fun during the practice sessions and also worked extremely hard on getting dialed in for the races.  All in all we were both feeling confident and looking forward to our race events.

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