Sunday, May 17, 2015

Impact

I have had a lot of wonderful people and programs that have impacted my life.  My personal experiences are what have motivated me to pursue having a similar impact on others.  Effect and influence is a difficult thing to measure.  A few things happened this week that make me feel pretty good about the impact of my In The Arena projects.  

Gregory won the prize for running the most miles in Run Club this Spring.  Over the last six weeks he ran 43 miles.
This week marked my final week in Minneapolis for the school year as Caitlin and I are headed out to Park City, UT for her first US Ski Team camp.  Typically this would also mean the final week of Run Club.  New this year though, volunteer Kim has offered to continue running practices for the kids on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays.  Kim called us two weeks ago to see if she could join her child at run club and for the 5 km race.  She has been awesome and a huge motivation to us and the kids.  Our friend Will has also offered to help with Run Club and it makes me so happy to see the program continue while we are away at training camp.

Caitlin and Kim
The second thing that really made me smile were the comments left on my last blog post by the kids in Kaktovik.  Due to some technical issues I am not able to publish the comments in the traditional sense but here they are:

Lydia K:
I had fun skiing with you out by the snow fences. I fell a few times,
but I liked going up and down the hill. It was nice to ski with twins
because I am a twin, too. Ms. Deb and Mr. V took us skiing on
Wednesday. I'm glad we have skis at the school. Are you planning to
come back to Kaktovik next year?

Lenora K.
Thank you for coming to Kaktovik to ski with us. You, Chad and Andrew
are all really good skiers. I miss you. I liked when Chad held my hand
and I was the secret weapon out by the snow fences. We still have snow
by the fences, but the tundra snow has melted behind teacher housing
and the school. I liked it when Officer Ben came and watched us ski.
Will you be coming back to Kaktovik next year? I hope so.

Michael L.
I really like cross-country skiing because you taught us new things
like going down low and through the poles. My favorite thing was going
downhill from side to side. Are you going to come visit again. Ms. Deb
took us out a few days ago and I won the race around the snow fence.
Thanks for teaching me how to ski.

JD T.
Thank you, Brian, Chad, and Andrew for taking us out skiing. It was
super fun and awesome. I hope you can come back again. I really liked
it when you took us almost all the way to the dump. I'm glad you left
skis here for us to use. Ms. Deb took us out the last week of school.

Still skiing in Kaktovik in mid May.
It is great to see the familiar faces of the kids and to see that they are using and enjoying the equipment that SkiKu left for them at the school.  The smiles tell the story and the impact for the kids.

Spring has arrived to Kaktovik
To the kids in Kaktovik: Here is how we "roller ski" so that we can go skiing when there is no snow.  It is fun, but real snow is better!


Monday, May 4, 2015

Polar Bear, Fast Kids, Sleepovers

The last two weeks of April have seen fantastic weather and incredible experiences. I finished up the second half of my SkiKu week teaching skiing in the Alaskan village of Kaktovik.  The community there is just amazing and it was hard to leave.  The kids all told us they hoped the weather would come in and we would be able to fly out.  I am amazed at how well the kids have progressed in our 5 days on snow with them and their second year with the SkiKu program

Final day of teaching skiing in Kaktovik, AK
We had some fun races to cap off a great week. The kids have 25 pairs of skis, boots and poles that will remain at the school for them to use.  We had several of the teachers out skiing this week too and they have promised to take the kids out this Spring.  Keep in mind that ice is out in the Ocean around July 4th.

Traditional MukTuk (Whale Skin and Blubber)
One of the teachers brought some Muk Tuk to the community dinner.  I can't say I am a huge fan, although it was very fascinating to try.  It is quite chewy.  The Boys and Girls Club kids liked Caitlin showing them photos of my Alaska trip.  I brought a small chuck of blubber back with me, but I accidentally left it in Paul's truck.  Sorry buddy, I did double bag it though.
Polar Bear Tracks.  A goal of mine for a long time has been to see a Polar Bear in the wild. Here are his tracks.  He was first spotted 5 houses down from ours, but we only ever saw him from a long distance away on the ice through binoculars. 
Our final morning in town we were awoken with a phone call that the Nanook was just a few houses down from ours.  I don't think I have ever dressed so quickly at 4:30 am in the morning. It was helpful that it was completely light out.  A pretty fun way to celebrate Earth Day.  I am happy to teach skiing anywhere in the world, especially on snow in April, but I had requested Kaktovik knowing there was a small chance of seeing a Polar Bear.  Many of the native villages still hunt and eat polar bear, but they do not kill the bears in Kaktovik.

An overnight back country ski tour with Chad and Paul
Back at the Club on Monday after the red eye flight.  Pretty wild the contrast between Alaska and Minnesota
Wednesday Run Club Practice
Wednesday LNR Junior Practice
Thursday Fast Kids Practice
Sharing the same training hills, trails, and exercises with a World Championship Medalist
Passing out numbers pre-race
Boys and Girls Club on the start line of the Endurance United: Go Spring 5/10k Race





Sunday, April 19, 2015

Kaktovik, AK: Polar Bears and 8 Months of Winter

SkiKu Coaches: Me, Chad and Andrew at the Anchorage Airport
After a nice two weeks at home I am back on the road again searching for snow.  I am currently sitting in the school in Kaktovik, AK.  The sun is still high in the sky at 8 pm and the snow is still accumulating with temperatures about 12 degrees. It is awesome!  Conditions for skiing are great and the kids are super excited for their second year of SkiKu here in the village.  About 30 pairs of skis stay here in the village and we have an additional 30 pairs that we flew in with.

Andrew challenging the group on day one with some balance exercises before heading outside.
Skiku’s mission is to create a sustainable Nordic ski program in communities throughout Alaska.  Currently the program provides equipment to schools and a week of instruction each year.  The kids have been looking forward to SkiKu's return to Kaktovid and ran up to greet us as we entered the schools.  Giving us big hugs despite having never met this particular trio of coaches.  Last years group of coaches: Rosie, Lars and Jonas did a great job.

Polar Bear tag, watch out for the twins
We are in Polar Bear country here in Kaktovik, AK.  Polar Bears are my favorite animals and it is cool to see their natural habitat.  The kids are well educated in Polar Bear or 'Nanuk' awareness.  Today during practice we even had Officer Ben come out to be on bear watch.

Fresh powder on day 1 made for magical fresh tracks


I love working with kids and the opportunity to do so with skiing is great.  Even better is the fact that I am out of competition season so I can put 100% of my energy in to the kids.  I fell asleep last night at 9 am and slept 10 hours.

Despite being the weekend we still have over 30 kids meet us at the school to ski each day!
The kids in Kaktovik are unbelievable.  Perhaps the best behaved kids I have ever worked with.  They are so excited to ski and so supportive of each other.  I love the sense of community in the village.   We have a huge spectrum of abilities and yet the more advanced kids help the beginners.  I cant help but smile all day long.

Chad the Penguin heading down the hill as a trio

Chad and Andrew out for a morning 'coaches' ski

Checking out the whale bone pole at the end of the airport runway

Not the 80 degrees of Minneapolis, but I prefer this weather!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Final Race, Home Sweet Home and Run Club

50km US National Championship American Podium (Noah Hoffman 1st, Erik Bjornsen 2nd, Me 3rd)
My 2014/2015 ski racing season concluded last week with the 50 km Freestyle National Championship.  This is one of my favorite races and one that I have been focusing on for the second half of my ski season.  I finished on the podium as the third american, but I actually finished 8th overall in the race with the foreigners mixed in.  I am content with the result but was looking for a stronger finish.  I had a better result two weeks earlier at the Holmenkollen World Cup 50km that I was looking to match at the US National Championship.

One of my favorite things about racing the circuit together with Caitlin is getting to help her with her race preparation and watch her race.  She was still on the fence about racing the 30 km after hitting her head and having headaches for the prior week but she had two days headache free and went ahead with her original plan of racing.  The snow had transformed more than we predicted the day before so we introduced a new pair of skis to test before the race.  They felt great in the transforming snow and she decided to race on them.  Thankfully Fredrick and the University of New Mexico had an Iron and he was able to burn in some JetStream Yellow 2.0.  I still wasn't sure that Caitlin was going to race until the gun went off.

She took the lead a few hundred meters in and I was happy to see that she looked relaxed and confidant.  Her skis looked competitive on the downhill too which is a great testament to Fredrick as he is a one man show competing against teams with a greater ability to test multiple waxes, skis and structures.  I couldn't believe it when they came back into view in the field 4 km into the race that she had a 30 second lead.  Her lead extended to 40 seconds at the 5 km mark.  It is a gutsy move to make a break so early in a race and I spent the next 25 km skiing from point to point cheering Caitlin on and giving her back splits.  It was really fun to ski her ski so well and cap off such a strong season. Only on the last lap did I finally relax as she had a 2:41 second lead.  I know that the 30 km freestyle is perhaps her strongest race and I was really sad that she wasn't selected to the Olympic Team in Sochi for it despite winning the 2014 20 km Freestyle National Championship by 3:36.  

Her win in the 30 km should put her in the top 30 distance FIS points ranking too, which is one of the objective criteria for the National Team.  We won't know this for sure until the FIS list closes on April 26th.  We had hoped that a medal at the World Championships would be part of the objective criteria but that is only the case for World Junior Championships or U23 World Championships.  For now the National Team coaches have told us that it will be discussed when they meet in several weeks.


30km National Championship Podium: Caitlin Gregg (1st), Liz Stephen (2nd), Sadie Bjornsen (3rd)

Caitlin and I stayed out in Sun Valley for a few days for a photo shoot with Madshus and for a school visit on Monday.  It sure is great to back home in Minneapolis.  The weather greeted us with a high of 82F our first day back.

Caitlin sharing her World Championship bronze medal with the Boys and Girls Club kids


It is Boys and Girls Club Week this week since it is Spring Break for Minneapolis schools.  We had Run Club practice each day.


Destinee, Azaria and Kayla


Charting our miles run in the Club.  The kids are off to a great start on day 2.  You need to run 3 miles to get in to Run Club and make the board.  The board is a source of a lot of pride at the Club.

While in Sun Valley, Caitlin found the perfect running race to kick off Run Club.  The Timberwolf 5km and 1/2 mile with Crunch, the Timberwolves NBA team's mascot.  In addition to a fun run, each racer receives a ticket to the Timberwolves game on April 15th.  It will be the first NBA game for many of us.  Plus as an added bonus I received a basketball signed by all the Timberwolves for winning the 5 km race.  The Timberwolves signed ball will be the prize for the runner who runs the farthest in Run Club this Spring.  

Jerry Gamble Boys and Girls Club kids for the Timberwolves Fun Run

Monday, March 23, 2015

Holmenkollen Opportunity

"Lose Yourself"
Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted. one moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?
Yo

His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti
He's nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready to drop bombs,
But he keeps on forgetting what he wrote down,
The whole crowd goes so loud
He opens his mouth, but the words won't come out
He's choking how, everybody's joking now
The clock's run out, time's up, over, bloah!
Snap back to reality, Oh there goes gravity
Oh, there goes Rabbit, he choked
He's so mad, but he won't give up that
Easy, no
He won't have it, he knows his whole back's to these ropes
It don't matter, he's dope
He knows that but he's broke
He's so stagnant, he knows
When he goes back to his mobile home, that's when it's
Back to the lab again, yo
This whole rhapsody
He better go capture this moment and hope it don't pass him...

-Eminem


One of my favorite songs over the last two years has been  'Lose Yourself" by Eminem.  Caitlin put it on my phone a few days before the 2014 National Championship 30 km.  I had a great race, finishing 2nd just a few seconds off of the win.  The race essentially put me on the Olympic team. I then flew over to Europe a few hours after the completion of the race to race the period 2 World Cups.   They were my first World Cup starts since 2010 and I knew that if I was going to the Olympics in Sochi and I needed the additional experience.  I took the opportunity, however my first race was terrible and then I caught a cold.  Still, looking back I don't regret taking the opportunity.  

Caitlin and Me at the Holmenkollen World Cup.  Note: A special thanks to the National Nodic Foundation (NNF) and Bjorn Daehlie who helped fund and support the Holmenkollen World Cup weekend.

Opportunities are out there.  They may simply be an invitation to a training camp, a specific workout, a chance to meet a specific person, an entry in to a race, finding yourself in the break at a race or any countless variations. The key is to be in a position to capitalize on the opportunities that come your way.  My focus over in Europe has been supporting Caitlin and racing the Engadin Ski Marathon. After a strong race at the Engadin I was given the opportunity to start the Holmenkollen 50 km freestyle World Cup. The course is hard with a lot of climbing and in my opinion is perfect for me.  My focus the second half of the ski season has been on long distance skate races and the Holmenkollen fit right in with the focuses of my training.


Gear all set up the night before, although I should have had my boots set out too as
I had to double back to get them on race day
My goal going in to the race was to finish in the World Cup points which is the top 30.  Unfortunately the USA men have struggled in distance this year and Simi Hamilton is the only one who has scored any World Cup points with a top 30 in a prologue during the Tour de Ski.   The mass start is seeded based on FIS points and I started 64th of 65 men.  At least the only direction to go was up.

I felt strong throughout the race, pacing off of my teammate Noah Hoffman the first 16 km of the race.  Although I did drop from the main pack I felt that I paced the race well.  I am most happy about skiing the final 10 km well and catching a number of other racers.  I didn't know what place I was in, but I just put in my head that if I passed the next skier or group of skiers up the trail that I would be top 30.  I ended up finishing in 35th, one minute out of top 30.  Although a minute seems like a lot of time, in a 50 km it is just over a second per kilometer.  This was a strong result for me and improves on my 39th finish from the last time I raced Holmenkollen in 2010.  Plus it is one of the stronger distance results of the US men this season.


Caitlin signing autographs for kids after her 30 km Holmenkollen
After my race, the focus went back to supporting Caitlin for her race.  It is pretty fun to be a part of what she has accomplished these last few weeks.  She raced much of the 30 km in the top 10, although faded a bit in the final 10 km to finish a still impressive 19th.  Her scoring of World Cup points also gives the US Ski Team an additional distance World Cup start for next year.


Several ticket changes but great to have our European Race block extended to include the Holmenkollen World Cup
Caitlin and I are now in Sun Valley, Idaho for the final week of ski racing of the season.  This week hasn't been the best for us with Caitlin suffering from a concussion that materialized after a feeding incident at the Holmnekollen.  I have felt good but did not classic ski or sprint well.  We are regrouping and focusing on our marquee events the 50 km and 30 km freestyle National Championships on Thursday.  The last two years has all been about being prepared to capitalize on the opportunities.  A huge thanks to everyone who has come together to help make year two of Team Gregg even better than the first.

Caitlin and the New Mexico ladies.  Fredrick and the University of New Mexico crew has played a key role in the success of Team Gregg.  Always fun to be around them.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

World Championship Bronze



Historic Team USA performance at the 2015 FIS World Championships in Falun, SWE
Two weeks ago I watched live one of the most impressive athletic performances ever as Caitlin Gregg and Jessie Diggins skied against the best in the world to historic World Championship Bronze and Silver medals.  The first ever Women’s distance podium at a World Championship in cross country skiing. I am so impressed with both of these women. 

Caitlin in the leader's chair at World Championships! (with me in the background) 
As Caitlin’s husband I perhaps know better than anyone how special her performance really is and what she has had to overcome.  At some point I feel her story may need to be turned in to a book or even a movie.  

“I am so proud of Caitlin and what she has achieved, but I am even more proud of how she has achieved it” –Brian Gregg

Proud World Championship Bronze Medalist
Several of the world’s best cross country skiers are millionaires or even multimillionaires supported by national teams with budgets of millions of dollars.  I believe our national team, the US Ski Team, has a budget of roughly $700,000.  It is a testament to the hardworking Team USA staff and techs that we are able to compete with the top ski nations such as Norway and their budget of perhaps $7 million. 

One of my favorite movies is the film Money Ball based on the true story of the Oakland As 2002 season and their innovative approach to competing with the top teams on a significantly smaller budget.   They decided that they can’t use the same approach as their competitor’s, so they focus on developing their own approach through math and statistics.  In the end they ended up winning the same number of games as the New York Yankees, but the Yankees spend 1.4 million per win and the A's spend 236,000. 

In the 15 years since Caitlin’s first World Junior Championship she has never received direct financial support from the US Ski Team.  8 years ago after competing at the 2007 World Championships Caitlin was told she was too old for the US Ski Team and their pipeline. Caitlin lives, trains and competes on a yearly budget of less than $30,000.  How is that possible? well for one we live in a house that cost $25,500 in an area with one of the lowest cost of living in the country, she cooks almost every meal from scratch, we spend a lot of time researching every purchase and expense, and a ton of families have hosted us through home stays and loaner cars throughout our travels.  Honestly we still feel that we lead a very luxurious life despite sharing a single car and training on bikes with down tube shifters.  I believe Caitlin is the first cross country skier ever to win a World Championship medal without ever having been a member of the National Team.  Although we hope that credential may be added next year.  We are very proud of Caitlin's success as a bit of an outsider and the inspiration we hope it gives others who may be just outside the traditional pipeline to success.

Caitlin coached me to the 2014 Olympic Team.  Unfortunately she was not selected to the team.  Instead of becoming discouraged and quitting she came home, shared my story with our kids at the Boys and Girls Club and set her goal on making the 2015 World Championship Team. 
Over the seven years Caitlin and I have been with In The Arena we have worked over 2,000 hours with a lot of kids.  Most of them coming from lower-income families.  I am so happy for the hope that I know Caitlin's bronze medal will bring in to these kids lives encouraging them to dream big, work hard and believe.

Caitlin sharing her Dala Horse and World Championships with a group of Swiss kids

Thehigh of the World Championships Bronze medal in the 10 km Freestyle was met the next morning with the blow of not being selected for the freestyle 5km leg in the 4 x 5km relay.  We have a very strong group of USA Women and I don’t envy the coaches who makes the decision of who starts and who cheers on the course.  We turned the day in to a positive with one of the coolest training sessions I have ever had as an athlete.  With the World Championship course open one hour before the race we skied together and execute Caitlin’s interval session in front of over 40,000 yelling fans.  The fans in Falun are serious and many recognized Caitlin and cheered her by name around the course.  We were absolutely flying and it was incredible to share in that experience together.  

The Swedish Fans are amazing.
After cheering Team USA on to a strong 4th place finish we packed up and traveled down to St. Moritz, Switzerland for the Engadin Ski Marathon.  

Caitlin Back in Bronze in the Engadin Ski Marathon
Caitlin had another historic race  with a bronze medal in the Engadin Ski Marathon with the best ever American womens' finish in a three way sprint tor the top woman within a huge pack of men.   Anouk Faivre (5th in the 10 km Freestyle at World Championships) won the sprint over Ritta-Liisa Roponen who (18th in the 10 km Freestyle and 8th in the 15km Skiathalon at World Championships).   

In case you haven't figured it out yet, I am one very proud husband.  The last three years, my training has been the focus of our relationship and this year has been Caitlin's year. Unfortunately she had shingles this Fall so wasn't able to capitalize on her World Cup start opportunities as last years Super Tour winner.   She amazed me with how positive she stayed, she set up a plan that involved taking three weeks off from racing in mid winter to just train.  She wrote our her training plan, made minor adjustments based on her feelings during workouts and got the job done.  Coach of the Year?

While Caitlin has been the primary focus, I am also feeling great.  After a great start to the season, but a poor US Nationals we decided to put the US National 50km as my next focus event. I finished in the lead men's group in my first Engadin.  Next up we have both been granted discretionary starts by the US Ski Team for the Hollmenkollen World Cup 30/50km in Oslo, Norway.  We are ready to capitalize on the opportunity.  A huge thank you to all the supporters and members of Team Gregg, although we are only two racers we have one of the biggest and best team of people behind us.

Follow and support the journey at Facebook.com/GoTeamGregg or www.xcSkiLife.com








Sunday, February 22, 2015

Owl Creek Chase and American Birkebeiner

I have had a little mid-season break from racing after a planned training block and an unfortunate race cancellation.  Thankfully I was able to add in a race to my schedule in preparation for the Birkie and that is one of my favorite races, the Owl Creek Chase.  The Owl Creek used to be a regular stop on the Super Tour as well as the college race circuit.  The race has become smaller and less competitive in the last few years but it always a fun event.  I am super impressed with Steamboat Winter Sports Club Coach Josh Smulin who waxed and coached his juniors for over three hours in the morning before hopping in the race.
1st Place Owl Creek Chase
Double Win for Team Gregg and a Madshus Sweep on the women's field.
The Owl Creek served as a great tune up race and a cap to our altitude block.  We were met with some pretty awful traffic and weather on our drive to the Denver Airport but were able to get Caitlin on her flight to Sweden.  The Alpine World Championships at Beaver Creek had just concluded and every team seemed to be on either Caitlin's Iceland flight or the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt which checked in right next to it.  This group of skiers don't travel light and the airport crews were slightly overwhelmed.

I was happy to have Caitlin aboard her flight to Europe and for myself to head home to Minneapolis and then to the American Birkebiener.
Love these smiles

Unfortunately I came home to a 28F house.  A guest had accidentally turned the heat off and the AC on.   Usually I can control the temperature wirelessly through my phone, but a squirrel had eaten the internet connection.

Thankfully everything worked out just fine.  The house eventually heated back up and the water starting flowing and draining.  I did have one pipe burst at 4 am on Tuesday but it couldn't have been in a better place and I was able to fix it for under $5.  A big potential disaster avoided.

Here are some photos from the Birkie.  Text will be coming after I arrive in Sweden.

Thanks, Brian


Birkie Expo