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.
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.