Mad props to Tobias Angerer for leading the World Cup and also listing "Internet" as one of his hobbies. I can only assume he frequents some kind of hardcore German internet where every website is about goatees. And his keyboard is probably laden with umlauts.
Meanwhile, I keep ski racing. I like to think I'm walking the fine line between the most aggressive way to get in shape and just breaking my body down by doing too much with too little. So far, no sickness or injury, and I'm gradually getting faster, so I'm going to keep it up.
Saturday was 30k of a flat classical mass start in Jackson, NH. I was so confident in my legendary double poling ability that I decided to get to the start as late as possible so that I could line up behind people in windpants. I'm just that cocky. My poles weren't even on when the race started. Also part of the plan. If I had been up front, I might have settled in with all the guys I want to beat and then I would have had to suffer for an hour and a half. But instead I had a hilariously bad start, ended up waiting in line to cross the covered bridge... and the road... so about 1.5k in the race was already just for fun. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
So I'm slowly picking by way through a hundred people going up the Ellis River trail. I catch up to Alex. I strike up a typical mid-race conversation with her, that is, completely empty but still amusing because we're talking during a race. Ha, ha.
We get to a feed station. I decided I wanted some Powerade, so I took my pole off. Because obviously sacrificing propulsion for a better grip on a paper cup is how pros would do it. The Powerade goes mostly in my mouth, and I lose like 5 places. Alex passes me and makes fun of me.
Now laden with sugar water I pick up the pace and go hunting for masters skiers. I pass lots of people, none of whom I know. At the 8k turn I get some more tasty Powerade. This time it has been warmed up for me (is this a good thing?). I fall in with a group of 3 guys for a while as we go over the biggest climb. I start convincing myself that maybe I'm doing ok -- after all I've probably passed 80 people since the start of this thing. I start thinking about hanging around with these 3 guys for the next 20k -- they seem to be my speed. This is why you shouldn't start at the back, every time you catch a group you debate staying with them (easy) or hurting yourself to ski ahead of them (hard).
Once we hit a break in the double poling, however, I quickly open up a gap on them on one of the few hills on the way back down the Ellis River trail. So it's off to find some other company with 15k left to go.
At the 15k turn there are a lot of people watching, so I make my best (pointless) tele turn around it. Does anyone cheer and yell "WOO STYLE POINTS!!!" at me? No. My genius is lost on these people.
Going back up the river for a second time, I'm really starting to get sick of double poling. My arms are weak and pathetic. I did not strength train this fall. Worst of all there's a group of 6 or 7 guys that I can see on the long straightaways with still over 10k to go, so I'm gonna hate myself if I don't try to catch them.
It takes 3 or 4k but I finally get to the back of a large group of masters skiers. They are taking turns leading and occasionally saying stuff to each other. I feel like an outsider. If they only knew how fast my hair was falling out, they might accept me, but alas I am wearing a hat. So I am a young punk, and it only takes about 1k for me to "somehow" end up at the front of the group. With 6 guys drafting me.
I'm a team player so I do my time at the front, but after 2 or 3 minute I step out into the other track. This is a paceline, right? We're all friends now, right? The guy behind me stands up and steps over with me. Guess not. I slow down a bunch and finally someone comes through on the main track. There's a big gap behind him so I step in, meaning I rotated all the way back to second in the "paceline." Thanks guys.
Anyway, there's nothing really wrong with this, it's not really like I expect us to work together. It's not like cycling where the draft advantage is so great... if I was half the skier I want to be I'd dust these guys from the front without any problems. But instead I am a scared little man, and I don't want to do the work. Can't I just sit in and then try to win the sprint? My triceps are doing a good job convincing my brain of this.
But! Just when 8k of boring pack skiing looms, I end up at the front again at the 22k turn. Everyone behind me yells "Powerade" (feeding with 25 minutes left? Bah) so I pick it up while they have their drinks. The first time I look back I have 20 yards, so I keep it up. 8k of panicked suffering loom instead... a far more exciting proposition.
So I flail up the steepest hill, double pole like I mean it, and generally ski pretty seriously for 15 minutes back down the Ellis River trail. The gap goes up to 30 seconds, and I'm home free and feeling good. I can see someone else far ahead on the straightaways, but I'm seeing them more often as we get near the finish. Coming back out of the woods onto the windswept golf course, the gap ahead of me is down to 10 or fewer seconds, so it's time to hurt just a little longer. My lungs feel great. My arms are jello. Curse you, flat classic race.
In the end I get into my foe's draft with half a K to go and then win a slow motion, double pole sprint into a 25 mph wind with relative ease. When I finish people are quite excited, although it turns out it's because my opponent was the first woman to finish. Which means, for the first time all season, I didn't get girled. These means one of two things -- either I am getting faster, or the college season has started. Unfortunately it's the latter.
Oh well. I blame my internet hobby.
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