Tuesday, March 30, 2010
It was a saturday so I wanted an early start to avoid the crowds. Starting out low the freeze/melt cycle had set up a bit of an icy course but I was surprised how quickly it gave way to untransformed powder. I used all my best race gear, mohair skins included. I find that icy conditions really eat up the mohair skins, so in the spring I switch to synthetic. Today though I could see the mohair was the right choice.
My format is to ski easy for 15 min., then give 'er. I don't know if it was the short night of sleep or the 3 hour easy ski I'd done the night before, but I was tired and I just couldn't get my heart rate up very high. O well, I thought, just go hard, see what the intermediate time is at the main lodge and see what happens.
As I started cranking. My first thought was, "I gotta shorten these race poles." I've already cut 'em down 3 times....any more and they can double as sledge hockey poles. But I'm finding that for climbing the shorter poles are the way to go. 125 cm for me, otherwise they just get in the way...in the ups and the downs.
I made the lodge in 47 minutes, a pb by almost 3 minutes. Even though the heart wasn't getting very high, I must have been moving pretty good. As I continued to climb I could see the area had really been getting a lot of spring pow. If fact that day it was wind blown in. It kinda slowed me down. As I reached the "Bye-Bye Bowl" the steeper sections were challenging as the new windblown was slipping away over the ice. I had to make several extra switchbacks to keep the angle lower. This obviously was going to cost me time, but reasoned I needed to practice my switchbacks anyway. With each one I ranked it for its speed and efficiency.
As the top of the mountain lift station came into view I could see from my watch that a new record was in reach. I'd tell myself, "13 minutes to get to the top." Then, "7 minutes to get to the top." With each glance at the watch I could also see my heart rate also begin to climb. Maybe I'd just needed some motivation to get it high, which now seemed to be the case.
Final time: 1:28:02
My previous best was 1:32:00. A PB by 4 minutes. I was stoked. I guess I am in ok shape after all. How will this compare to the other guys next week? I couldn't tell ya (probably be in my next blog). But in the end it's not about beating anyone or placing at any position. It's about doing the absolute best that YOU can do. That's where you have to focus your energy. A lot of people really have big time race nerves, but I've found that if you just concentrate on you- your race and doing all you can to be the best you can be, it really helps the pre-race nerves. Go as hard as you can, maximize every opportunity to pick up time and let the results take care of themselves. In this way you can walk away from any race at peace with yourself.
After posting that time I must admit I was stoked! Though my legs were shaking I teamed up with someone and dropped into Delirium Dive. On my light 160cm race skis the powder mank was a challenge, but I was up to it. The ski out saw this skier with a big smile on his face as I contemplated how cool it is to live here, do a (shortish) 2 hour workout in this manner, in this environment.
Monday, March 22, 2010
With all the nat’l team guys in Europe I figured ‘d better win this one. It had only been a week since my very hard effort at the US Birky, but I’d babied my body as best I could within that week in preparation. In retrospect I think I was tired and burnt from being away at the Olympics for 3 weeks plus the travel. I’d never been so exhausted after a race and took so long to recover.
In any case, at the start line I did the usual check out the skis to see who would be competitive. It didn’t look too threatening. It was almost comical at the start as several dudes with heavy gear really charged up the first incline. I was redlining it and still wasn’t in the lead with my lighter gear. Finally, after about 400m they all died off and I was off to the races. After the first small climb and very short somewhat gnar mogully downhill there was a nice 1.5 km cat track downhill. I was planning on skating away from the pack and skating up the first incline before the climb up into the woods. I’d even scoped it out the day before. It’s kinda funny though that the only part of the course I checked out was the one I took the wrong turn on...duh. The course took a Y to the right, but my speed was so high I went blowing right by it. After awhile sensing something might not be right I looked back and saw no one behind me.....so I stopped....a big hi speed hockey stop....still no one there. Shoot!! I realized what I’d done. Now I had to skate ski up the downhill I’d just torn down. By the time I was back on course at least ½ the field were in front of me. So much for my blazing skate ski speed and confidence after last week’s Birky.
Climbing up the wooded trail was tough. There had been several freeze thaw cycles and in the morning the south facing track was quite icy. Those with big skis and big synthetic skins actually had an easier time. However, I kept hacking my way up and by the time I got to the top of the climb (almost an hour later), the snow had turned untransformed and I’d caught everyone but the top 2.
It was here that I did something right. Along the ridge top it was a gradual up, down and flat. I brought my very short skins....the well broken in ones, and had waxed them with a hi flouro wax. I also put a hi flouro wax on the tails of my ski. On this section of the trail and later in the race a 1.5 traverse to the final bowl, I really made some time. There were even some downhill sections where we kept our skins on....I flew.
After navigating Ymir bowl’s death cookies, we climbed up to the top on the other side of the valley. It was here that I saw 1st and 2nd place. Time to move!! I reeled in 2nd no problem, but the lead guy was pretty far up there. In the end I ran out of real estate. At the top of the mountain they said that "Spider Man" had 2 minutes on me. Spider Man!! I know him! I skied with him in Whitefish (he beat me).
At the finish there he was. 2 minutes ahead. I figured I’d lost at least 5-6 minutes on my wayward tour off course. He looked kinda sheepishly at me and said he’d yelled out to me when he saw me go awry, but to be honest I’m guessing the yell wasn’t too loud. He was getting the interview and picture taken for the local paper. They weren’t interested in 2nd place. I was a little ticked at myself for letting this one get away...but get this...
First place award was a nice pair of Dynafit Vertical bindings. 2nd place was a really nice Arcyterx pack. I’d secretly been hoping to win such a prize (the pack). I’d just purchased those very same bindings just the week before to put on the G3 Tonics I’d won from Backcountry magazine. Everything works out in the end!!
Thursday, March 4, 2010
My goal here was to continue to be in the elite wave, but now qualifying at age 50. In the 25+ years that they've had the elite wave, I've always qualified. Mind you, it's getting a bit tougher. The days where you would go out hard and fast but bonk midway, yet still hold on for a top 200 position are over. You falter even for 5 minutes and you're out. But still you have to go for it. The race is fast and when you start with the elites they suck you right in to a pace that most likely is over your head.
Such was the case this year. The first 15 km has a lot of climbing and as I kept an occaisional eye on my HR monitor I tried not to panic. "Can I really go this hard?" after 9 km my per km time was 2:44. I barely ski around 3min when I race in Canmore for 10 Km! But I hadn't raced this year...what? Yes this was my first skate race of the year! Maybe my only one too! That seems strange to me as the Birky usually is the cap of a season of long racing. Racing prepares you mentally and physically and I'd only done a couple of low key classic races (bombing in both) and 3 skimo races.
At the 10km mark I really felt a bonk coming on. I'd been going too hard trying to keep up with the group. I only brought 3 gels, even then thinking it was 1 too many. So I began to nurse that bonk flirting on the edge for the next 40km. I was able to pick up a couple of gels at aid stations and get drink feeds. Somehow I never fell over the glycogen depletion precipise and hung on and even kept the pace up.
I latched on to 2 other guys. One of whom was "Rocket" Rod Raymond of Duluth (I didn't know it was him until I checked the results). From OO on we had a nice pack of 3-4 except for when the lead women passed us at 30km. We hung on for 10 km, but then they started challenging each other for the win-trying various breakaways in the hilly section. Usually the the gals (who start 2min back) don't catch me until the lake, so I suspected maybe I wasn't going as fast as I thought I was.
It's always a huge relief to hit the lake knowing there's only a few km's left. You can hear the crowds, see the water tower and taste the finish line at the end of main street. Most years though the lake can be a long slog and usually I get passed by packs. This year the packs weren't around and though I couldn't quite keep up with my OO pack, I reeled in several stragglers...those drifting in bonk land just trying to make it in. My right tricept muscle began to cramp with every stroke of the pole. My legs had been on the verge of cramping for 20km and I knew that if the race was even 2km longer I'd be in big trouble!
It's hard to describe the feeling of coming down the spectator lined main street. Later on when there's streams and streams of racers the cheering may ebb downward a bit, but when you're still kind of up there and only dozens v. thousands of skiers have passed by, the crowds are still going pretty berserk. It's a lot of fun, but mostly because you know the end is just right there.
Finishing is such a good feeling. Not only can you finally rest after almost 2 and 1/2 hours, but there truly is joy in completing the journey. I know I had the biggest smile on my face. I'd raced with absolutely everything I had in me. When I felt bonkish at 10km I continued on pace for another 40km. Through the battle I felt I had skied at the top end of my capabilities the entire way. For the effort it seemed to me that I'd for sure be top 100, maybe even top 80. But it didn't matter because the real victory was in the effort. I'd known I'd given the best effort I was entirely capable of. I was a little surprised to learn later of my 160th place, but that didn't diminish the joy and satisfaction of racing my best.
My per km time averaged out to 2:48. For me really good!! I met my overall goal of top 200. It used to be that you'd be really happy with top 50. Then it was top 100. If you didn't meet the goal at least qualify for next year's elite top 200 wave so you could have another shot. Now though I think the goal is just stay elite! And to give an idea how competitive it is if I'd skied 31/2 minutes faster I would have placed in my age group (I was 5th-my best a.g. ever) and been in the top 100....if I'd have skied 4 minutes slower I would have been out of the top 200.
My head is still Birky buzzing 4 days later. But really my focus for the year has been on skimo racing. Somehow I've got to get it together mentally and physically because we have a nat'l points race in Nelson BC this weekend. I've never been so tired for so many days after a race. It's thursday today and the first day I felt like I actually had some energy (non-caffeine fueled).
I guess going to WI and racing my 23rd Birky gave me Birky fever. I've heard about it and for many years of my life lived, skied and trained under its clouding influence. Funny though....I don't really mind!