Wednesday, March 14, 2012

2012 Nat'l XC Masters Championships

So I finally competed in my first Nat’l masters xc championship race. I could have started a long time ago (xc ski masters starts at age 30), but at first I viewed myself as a fast Sr men/open category, but the last several years I think I’ve just been living in denial....not wanting to admit that age group competition is as good as it’s going to get in xc skiing for me.

For 2012, the competition was close by-Golden, BC, and with 4 weeks between skimo races I needed to get my competitive mojo going. But the race turned into somewhat of a gong show (funny how younger folks these days use this term-"gong show", but have no idea where it came from. I wonder if youtube has any old Gong show episodes?). The grooming for the race was the worst I’ve ever seen in 30 years of racing. It had rained the day before, then froze up. Challenging conditions, but they had a Piston Bulley, and some hi tech looking grooming equipment. The end result was frozen ice balls everywhere the size of baseballs and softballs. They were frozen into the hard track, so when you hit them, with our skinny skis, we just crashed.

For my category the race was looking good. There were 4 of us that have gone head to head over many years and we’re all about the same ability. Actually there was a 5th. He didn’t look as good technically, but looks can be deceiving as he not only beat us all but had the fastest time of the day.

So here we were, pack of 5. All the guys I expected. I tucked in behind Peter, who’s like 6' 3". A super nice draft domestique. Next to him was my perennial partner and race foe John Groeneveld. John and I have been racing head to head for 17 years. Actually even more. One day we were skiing together and comparing notes and realized that we’d raced against each other in a world cup. Jon for Canada and me (at that time) for USA. I don’t think either of us did that great that day. One of the greatest skiers of history, Gunde Svan, won. I later met Gunde and his family when they vacationed in Canmore & stayed 4 doors down from me.

Back to the here we were, the pack I assumed would hammer and draft the entire 20km until the last long uphill wasn’t meant to be. I hadn’t pre-skied the entire course and a few km into it came the death hairpin. I was flying up to that point, cruising right by my nemisi, utilizing all my newly gained skimo downhill prowess....that is until I decided to check my speed by throwing in a small snowplow. Immediately I hit one of the softball deathcookies that we were skiing over like giant ball bearings and BAM!!! I hit the snow hard. Actually, of our pack of 5 only 2 didn’t fall. Keep in mind each one of us have been racing at a very high level for decades. We hardly ever fall! But 3 out of 5! And each one was a classic. After the race Peter had a swollen lip and a lot of "road rash" on his face from this crash. Actually, I saw several skiers that looked just like him. Almost like a war zone, or extremely rough hockey game!!

One of the things that kinda bugged me was the fact that there were a few people at that corner. I think they may have been official volunteers, but they simply stood there and did absolutely nothing productive. In most races people with rakes would be keeping an icy corner like this one a little sane after so many skiers slide by. Not here at this national championship (kind of a joke). I think their self appointed role was to just watch the carnage and enjoy themselves.

Besides injuring my pride, rotator cuff and rib, I lost one of my double caffeine Power bar gels. Not good! Actually on the second lap (of 2) I looked for it. I really needed a boost at this time and remembered that I’d dropped the precious elixer right in the middle of the trail just after the hairpin disaster zone. Slowing down I lunged for it, but was rewarded with just a leaf in the trail. My next attempt scored the magic potion. I was surprised it was still intact (& surprised I was actually able to snag it on the downhill on my first try!). There it laid, right in the middle of the trail. A ski could have easily popped it open and spurted the sticky gel all over the track. So while skiing down the hill I squirted that double caffeine wonder into my mouth. I was hoping it would pick me up, but probably it just saved me from a bonk.

There was a long uphill at the end of the lap and it seemed to go on forever. My time ended up being 62 minutes. Super slow for a 20km race under these fast conditions, so a few of us surmised that the course was a tad long.

Soon after the race I realized I’d done some damage to my rotator cuff and ribs. The shoulder had just started to hurt a bit and in the past if I did shoulder strengthening exercises the pain would go away. Now however it really hurts! I can hardly raise my arm. I’m going to be icing, strengthening and stretching for a few days. Oh, I should mention that I came in 4th. Just under 2 minutes behind John. I guess I should be happy, I haven’t been xc skiing all that much, but on the other hand I’ve been hammering the skimo training, probably harder than I ever did in my xc days. I thought maybe it would transfer to xc, but perhaps the tricky conditions.... I’m really not sure.

My plan was to do the rocky mountain ski marathon this weekend, but we’ll see how the healing comes along. Priority #1 is Lake Louise skimo race. Gotta do all I can to ski as fast as I can!

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