Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Ok, so I learned my lesson..or so one hopes! With a long drive to race #2 (of 3) for our nat’l points ranking-8 hours in blizzard conditions-I elected to rely on the course map posted on the internet. Earlier that day I’d decided to cancel my "SportFaith" bible discussion group at the speed skating oval so I could make that meeting. But when I got there to inform my friends, I saw that the world cup team made a quick trip back from Europe and was leaving the very next day to go back over the pond. With 2 jet lag episodes to contend with in less than a week it seemed crazy to me, but I was happy to see the gang. Of course several told me they were coming to the as yet to be cancelled event...soooo how could I abandon them?! That meant skipping the meeting and on race day that proved critical.

Nelson-ROAM Rally:

Th race started well. I used my fast skins, the shorties that are quite bald. I settled into 2nd place behind the "Burner" and was gliding without effort. Next came a short downhill and then a long skate section. Time for this xcskierboy to shine! Actually, I let Stan pull me along after awhile, but I knew I was burning much less energy. At the first transition both Stan & I were stalling as neither of us wanted to break trail in the fresh snow (I made a remark to this & Stano confirmed our shared strategy :).

When I put my "climbers" on though it was like hitting the brakes. I’d waxed my skins, but used a colder wax than the temps called for. For some reason this had the opposite affect and slowed the skins to no glide at all! With no glide I quickly went from 1st to 5th. Yet when we started climbing, those wall to wall skins really paid off and I worked my way back up to 3rd. That was especially true on the 2nd long major climb. I easily reeled in Stan and broke away from 3 other skiers. However, things were about to change.

As I made my 2 major descent in dreamy blower pow, I was clearly in 3rd, but had a hard time seeing the little red seismic flags our Canuck races use. Europe uses nice big wood stakes that are close and clearly visible. Somehow N. American race organizers think that skimo has an orienteering component and we’re responsible to find our own way. At the point I got lost, several others I talked to almost did too, but probably b/c they made that pre-race meeting had an idea of where the course was supposed to go. Unfortunately, I didn’t. I missed the last climb going right, when I should have gone left.

The feeling I had as I skied back was utter demoralization. I can’t describe how deflated I was. 2 weeks prior after coming in 3rd at the Dogtooth, I’d made it a (not so secret goal now) secret goal to end up 3rd in the rankings. I wasn’t so sure that I’d go to World’s next year, but if I could achieve a ranking that high, I’d have to go...and I was getting excited. Nothing like having a difficult goal to shoot for, even if you don’t make it, your life is still energized. Now however, all that energy was sucked out from me.

So here I am a couple days after the event. In time the depression will go away and new goals will be set. The tough thing now is we all have to wait 4 weeks for our next race. I still feel like such a rookie in this sport and if we’re ever going to close the gap between us and the Euros we gotta race more. I looked into going all the way down to the Powder Keg in UT, but it wouldn’t be good for family time. I’ve missed a lot of Anna’s xc races and there’s a big one in 2 weeks just 5 min. from my door at the nordic centre. So I’ll do that (30 km skate) and the nat’l master’s champ the Monday before. I’ve hardly been doing any xc this year and it’ll be fun to fire up the skinny’s again. Gotta keep that race intensity hurt capacity going. Just wish we had more skimo races around here (and better marked courses).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


In mid December I remember sharing with some athletes at a couple of the Sport/Faith Bible studies I lead how I couldn’t remember the last time I had a cold. It’d been at least a couple of years. I wasn’t bragging so much as just being grateful (or so I thought to myself :).

Of course at Christmas time the tingling in the nasal cavity began and I was about as helpless to stop its progression as falling and sliding down a dble black alpine ski slope (in Jan. during a period of snowlessness I fell at the top of the dble black "Lone Pine" run at Norquay and slid almost the entire run to the bottom). Now here I am the week before race #2 (of 3) for our nat’l ranking and once again a cold, complete with super stuffed nose and lung hacking cough has hit me hard.

I remember reading multiple Ironman world champion Mark Allan say that if you get a flat tyre in an Ironman, it doesn’t mean your race is over, it just means there’s a tyre to fix. So too for me, all week I’ve felt absolutely energyless, but it doesn’t mean my race this Sat. is over, it just means I’ve got to do all I can to get that energy back and be able to ski somewhat what I’m capable of.

After the Dogtooth Dash. I identified 6 areas where I could gain time. Kickturns; downhills, transitions; nutrition; skin glide; fitness. Though it seemed at the time I was doing all these at my capacity even an improvement for example of 1.5 seconds over 50 kickturns would give me 2 minutes. As I evaluated each area I believed that with realistic improvement I could have skied 8:40 faster. I still wouldn’t have caught Andrew, but that’s a lot of time!

I found that pre race nerves are really alleviated when you stop focussing on who’s in the race and how you want to do against them and simply dwell on your race. Performing each area the best you possibly can.

Most of this week’s focus has been on what I can do to get over a cold in less than 1 week. Probably totally impossible, but even if I can get back to 90% that’d be great.

Better get to bed. ‘Nite!


4th year for Dogtooth Dash, the Canadian Nat’l skimo championships. Kicking Horse mountain hosts the race, but the moniker for the event comes from one of the mountains we ascend. In the previous 3 episodes each one turned into a "Dogtooth disaster" for me. Broken poles, stickless skins, sprained ankles, etc. etc. Each year it seemed like I found a new way to have a poor race. This year was different...no disaster.

My mindset was, have fun, put together the best race you’re capable of and let the results take care of themselves. Perhaps too in now my 5th year of racing I’m finally figuring this sport out a bit. We started with the traditional run around the restaurant. Funny how the big guns hold off on this part. I think there were 3 women out of the top 4 in the run section.

It was crazy socked in this year. We tried flying as usual down the cat track, but you couldn’t see through the fog, hence it was a bit spooky. One guy was blitzing so fast that he didn’t see the groomed edge and yard saled so far it couldn’t believe it. I heard later that he never did find one of his skis and had to drop out.

I couldn’t believe how high my heart rate was. I was in the top 3 or 4, but knew I better calm down a bit. After our 3rd descent there’s a series of switchbacks that in previous years really slowed me down. I didn’t lose time on them this year, but with about 50 of these kickturns in the race, if you’re just a couple seconds faster, you can pick up a couple minutes.

As the race progressed I fell into 6th place. For awhile I was 3rd male and thought how cool it would be to podium at our natl’s, but I lost a couple places (one to eventual women’s champ- the Burner). This is a tough race and didn’t panic with Peter passing me about 2/3 in and another newer skier just behind me (I later learned he was fresh off the NCAA xc ski circuit-so it didn’t bother me that I couldn’t easily pull away from this unknown newbie). I tried to focus on my race and tend to my nutrition. Sometimes you can get so caught up in the heat of trying not to lose any seconds you don`t fuel your body enough. I downed a couple double caffeine gels and on the final bootpack felt a trend towards cramping, so I pulled out my gel flask of my trusty pickle juice (see my earlier blog entry from Ironman about this miracle cramp cure).

As I climbed I used a new strategy this year. Last year I discovered that in steep terrain and new snow wall to wall skins really allow you to climb and stay relaxed. You don`t get a whole lot of glide, but in so many N. American races (as opposed to Euro races) you don`t get a lot of cross country terrain....it`s mostly going steep up. So as I used my ``wall to walls`` I put my head down, relaxed and really tried to go.

Just before the final climb to the finish I got a couple breaks. Peter, who`s becoming a good friend travelling to the last couple races together, had a slow transition and then fell and sorta died out, so I passed and put 3 minutes or so into him. It seemed like Erich an American skier from Montana, who was just in front of me all day simply dissappeared. At first I reasoned he must have took off, but then I wondered if he`d made a wrong turn at the confusing last intersection. Turns out the latter was the case. I felt bad for him, but then later remembered that at his home town course in Whitefish, I ALWAYS seem to get lost and make wrong turns, including this year where I think I scrubbed about :10 going off course. Erich`s a good guy though so I did feel a little bad. But then on the final bootpack and uphill into the finish Jeff C. Let me know that I was 3rd, but I better get moving `cause Erich was charging hard. It took all the energy I had just to keep moving, but a couple glances backwards made me realize that the male podium was back in my grasp. Yahoo!

In one of the skimo blogs a writer mentioned about this race that a couple of the faster guys (including himself) weren`t there. But when I reviewed last year`s results (where most of the big guns WERE there) I still would have come in 3rd and done so with a 7 minute cushion. Next up is Nelson ROAM rally. There should be plenty of guys gunning for it!!

Racing and Not Racing

Well it’s been almost a month since I raced the North American Champs in Crested Butte Colorado, so I suppose it’s time to do some writing!! With our Canadian nat’l team staying domestic this year, this was the big race. But my "race" turned into not quite a "race".

Day one (Sat.) Was the sprint, a handy little course that should only take 6-8 minutes. The skin to the start was about :45 and started in -30C temps. The guy next to me quickly developed frostbite on his nose, so I clued him in. Once at the race zone, it was a cool course. But let me say this, the base elevation was 9400'. Just skinning easily left me out of breath (heck, just walking from the parking lot did that!). When you race at this altitude it feels like you’re having an asthma attack- not that I’ve ever had one, but if I did I’m sure this is what if feels like).

I started fast, died 2 minutes into it and staggered to the finish. I also crashed, hitting a rock on the first downhill. It threw me off so much that racing into the transition zone I did a slow motion fall over that I was hoping that no one witnessed. By the time I got to the final bootpack my legs were so full of high altitude lactic acid that they felt like concrete blocks.

Ok, so day 1 was over. It took me over 2 weeks to finally check the results. I wasn’t last, but I was about as far back as I thought.

Day 2....the main race:

the night before as they described the course I began to get really, really nervous. They described this incredible rock climb bootpack that would be over ½ the race. It was a 5.6 degree climb with fixed ropes the whole way with each racer being hooked in by via ferrata and an ascender. They tested us out on the stairway, to make sure we knew what we were doing. I’m sure I’m not the only guy that was totally bluffing my way through the test, but I’m sure I gave myself away when I asked the assigned guide how much exposure there would be. He must have sensed my trepidation because he asked me if I really wanted to know. Sheepishly I said yes and the answer was "a lot, with sections of 1000+ feet of nothing on either side." Great.

Hopefully learning from day 1 not to go out too fast I still did. Still felt like I was having an asthma attack with legs the weight of concrete. This time though it seemed like almost everyone was in front of me. I picked it up a bit on the 100 kick turn section. Big acclimatised motors that weren’t as dialed in on skimo technique had to be passed. When I finally did get to the big rock climb section I tried racing through, but quickly realized the whole idea of a "race day" was disappearing and turning into an adventure.

The course was so bottlenecked that we spent a lot of time waiting. Like maybe a total of :40 to an hour. I was prepared with a down sweater, warm gloves with heater packs. The climbing stuff is kinda new to me and I’m glad I had some tutors on either side of me. I was almost glad I didn’t have to go at race pace, because with this serious rock climbing I think I was incapable of really moving very fast anyway. In times like this it’s best not to dwell too much on results, how much you trained to get ready, etc. Go with the flow. It was a new and life expanding experience. I truly was glad to have been there-done that.

Again, it took me weeks to finally check the results. I couldn’t believe how few people I actually beat. I heard that with the back log on the rock they had to pull several people off the course as they would have taken too long to complete the race.

Day 3:

The next day, Monday, there was a CO cup race at Winter Park as part of the Denver ski show. I was pretty bagged, but what the heck, I’d travelled a long way for some racing and racing is what I was gonna do.

We started the race with this cool promenade through the vast city of trade show ski booths, then it was let ‘er rip up the hill. Asthma attack #3. Sometimes you just can’t believe who is passing you. We went up a downhill run, then funnelled into the woods for a series of switchbacks. I got trapped behind 3 kick turn challenged dweebs. I was happy for the rest though so didn’t make much of a fuss. Maybe my previous days adventure took the race spirit out of me, but one by one I politely asked them if I could go by and when I finally did I realized how much they were slowing me down.

The first downhill was a nice mogul steep face, but not nearly as steep as Norquay where I do my downhill training, so I let ‘er rip. At the bottom a cute 30 something gal skied up behind me at the transition and said something like, "Dude, you were flying!!" I was so pumped it propelled me up a couple places on the next downhill. I could see teammate Ian ahead, not too far ahead, but couldn’t reel him in. Kinda made me wish I’d not lolly-gagged so much earlier.

Flying home I reflected on how wonderful this experience was. It made me glad I’m not an asthmatic, but more significantly I got to see some really good friends. I have 2 friends, both named Phil that live 4 miles from each other in Monument CO. 2 days before I left an old friend I hadn’t talked to in 23 years contacted me by email. Turns out he lives in Crested Butte. We had a tremendous reunion. We were hosted by a really cool guy named Sean that opened up his home to a couple of strangers. We couldn’t stop talking. It was really fun. Finally, Janelle Smiley (who won the women’s race) gave me and my friends a generous welcome. Hope to see her and husband Mark again this summer in Canmore. I realized it was the friends, not the racing that made the trip so unbelievably special.