Monday, March 13, 2017

13th Place, 3rd Place, and Life Lessons on Attitude and Racing Mentality; Part 1

Five years. That’s how long it’s been since I skied in a Tour of Anchorage or a Kachemak Nordic Marathon. The 50KM race from Anchorage’s Hillside, up Spencer Loop, back down, and across town to Kincaid, was for a few years, my pinnacle athletic event of the year. I thought about that race in every month, maybe every week. The Homer Tour, which followed the next weekend, was by far, my favorite course of any kind (it still is), and any skier that would listen, or even proffer an interest, I’d tell them it was a must do. Then, in February 2013, going full steam toward what I hoped to be my best performances yet in either race, I went too far, strained my MCL, and between that and a series of lousy winters, that was kind of it for me and serious skate skiing for a few years.

This year though, winter in town has been great, and the Tour of Anchorage was back on, in its full glory.

Anchorage has hardly climbed above freezing for more than a few hours since late November, and the snowpack in town has been great for Nordic.

In the end though, my Nordic skiing motives have changed, a lot. I just do it because I love it. The Tour wasn’t even on my radar, and might not ever been, were it not for Meredith’s enthusiasm for skiing it.

Meredith, who really only started skate skiing over Christmas, quickly latched onto the sport (notice a trend?), and set her sights on the TOA.

I’m grateful both for her enthusiasm in skate skiing, and also for giving me a reason to sign up.

Meredith celebrates finishing her first Tour.
Nonetheless, I didn’t “train” for it.

I’ve been skiing plenty, a 25-30km skate and a 15km classic ski a week, sometimes with a bonus shorter skate of classic ski thrown in over the weekend; but hey, I’ve also been riding my snow bike too, doing interval sessions on the trainer, and of course, split boarding every weekend.

Comparatively, 5 years ago, I’d log 75-100km on skinny skis a week, sometimes skiing 40-50km in a night – as I said, I went too far.

Times and motives have changed.

I signed on for the 40km and promised myself to have fun and ski no harder than I absolutely wanted to.

The short
Final placement: 2:07:55; 13/131 overall; 2/24 in age bracket.

The long
Despite temps forecasted to be 0 or colder on the start line, I was probably more relaxed than I have ever been the night before a Tour.
Having not skied in a qualifying race since 2012, I was seeded to start in the last wave of the 40km.

The upshot, my wave was smaller (only 30 or so people) compared to a normal 50-person wave. Also, I would have a great idea of how I was doing in the big picture compared to others. If you start in the first wave, you could have a great pace, but so could someone a wave or two behind you, and you’ll never know that they’re skiing 30 seconds faster than you until the final results are published. On the other hand, if you start in the back, anyone you pass, you are beating. The more 40k bibs I saw, the better I would know I was doing.

The obvious down side to this is endless passing, and man, it was something this year.

When I raced the 50km, I usually got in the first, or at worst, the second of the non-elite waves, and I pinned it hard to build my gaps on the long initial climb.

The 40km skips out on the climb that helps to string racers out, and instead sends them bunched up into the narrow Tour trail pretty quick.

I blasted my wave easily save a few high schoolers, and was shocked as I hit the first mass of skiers from the next wave within only a km.

Let’s just say, form amongst those I passed in the first 5km was not great. Fortunately, courtesy was outstanding.

Most skiers were content to stay right, and I was generally able pass cleanly on the left until we got into the Tour Trail. Even on the descent, with a long line running as far as I could see, I was able to stay far to the right, sometimes squeezing by 3-wide.

I kept my V extremely narrow on short climbs and bolted gaps on the hills.

There were a couple instances where I had to pass skiers on a flat that had spooky wide stances or splayed poles. In a couple instances, where “on your left” didn’t seem to have much effect, I used my right pole, and when the timing was right, gently guided the skier’s left pole inward using my right pole, and made my pass in two fast power steps, keeping my right skier parallel to theirs. In only one instance did this cause any kind of reaction, who was a bit non-plussed, but, we don’t need to talk about what they might of thought if we’d tangled instead.

Mostly, I just found it entertaining, I’ve done this move before on the trails with Junior Nordic kids, but this was the only time I’ve ever had to do it in a race with adults.

Despite cold temps, I had my wax DIALED! Running side-by-side with others, my skis were out gliding everyone it seemed, so all I had to do in most cases was keep it smooth and steady and apply power where needed and I could speed by.

About the time we hit the Campbell Airstrip trail head, the conga line was thinning out, and passing was getting easier. I also noticed I was trailing a high schooler in a Fairbanks kit, Jack C. He was in my wave, and was pulling at nearly the same pace I was, I couldn’t really pass him at his pace, and the two of us were cruising through the remaining bunches, so I latched on. Jack had awesome form, and I was getting a free lesson just holding his pace and copying his technique as we crushed the rest of Bicentennial and headed out over Tudor Road.

We started to trade off a bit going around U-Lake, and passed where the 25K course merges.

I was expecting a potential cluster of 25k skiers as has been the case in the past, but the new start format this year meant only classic skiers were on course, and they were all to the right in the track.

Somewhere in here, Adrian, who was in the next wave from Jack and I, but had clipped onto our pace line, began to take pulls.

Heading down Chester Creek there was one congested section, and Jack decided to make a pass to the right, getting cut off. I could tell he was tiring out, and glancing back and seeing he was fading, I dialed back for a few seconds and let him catch back on. The kid had pulled me a long way, so I was happy to return the favor.

Through the race, I had an ear bud in. I had two things: one, tunes playing and keeping me grooving; and every two minutes I got an update on my distance, pace, and time. Now that I was getting into the mat of the race, I started to pay attention to the data.

We were cruising, pushing a 5:20 minute/mile pace, closing in half way, and not even an hour in.

There was another data point not on the phone, just on my face. A big smile. I was so stoked. I’d never felt this good in this race ever, I was just enjoying it so much. It sounds hokey, but really, I was just having such a good time, nothing mattered to me.

The three of us continued to pace line through to Point Woronzof.

Then the grind began. Incessant winds in the weeks prior had driven debris and sand over the snow, and while it was tilled in, the climbing separated the men from the boys. Jack fell off the train here and never made it back on.

Truthfully, the climb felt good to me, and I gave it some gas. I shed Adrian briefly, but not by much, and in the rolling run to Kincaid, surface conditions improved and he clipped back on, and we traded a few more pulls until the turn off to Kincaid. I think a 50km skier got in on the mix too.

As noted from early on, I could tell I’d passed a huge number of 40km skiers, and was passing fewer and fewer. I couldn’t have wagered how I would fare, but certainly good enough.

The course did some loops through the gravel pits below Kincaid. The head winds were off and on as the route changed direction. I felt good. My phone told me to keep digging and pay for it later. I was 5km out, and just about to pass the 2 hour mark. The closer I was to two hours at the finish, the better I’d feel about this effort in the future.

Finally, the last climb came. Everyone will tell you how much it sucks, and it does, but, compared to years past, it wasn’t that bad, at least as far as surface conditions go, it was firm. I’ve seen it where it’s so chewed up it’s not even possible to skate.

I wouldn’t have said that to anyone on course though, including myself. I hurt, but I kept going, which was more than I could say for a tragic 50km skier, bent over near the top, clutching his quads.

“So close man, keep going.”

The finish line was different this year: a gradual climb above the soccer fields to finish right in front of the Chalet. It felt mean, to end with a climb, but the location was an improvement, as it meant the finish stayed a little closer to where everyone was hanging out, making it feel a little more sociable.

No comments: