CSU Sprints Race Report

Despite four days of 60 degree weather, Weston Ski Track still had over a foot of ice, err, packed snow, so the CSU Sprints were still on for Sunday. Unfortunately, watching all the snow around my house melt had cured me of much motivation to ski race, so Linnea and I went mountain biking down at Otis Air Force Base (the best winter riding location in Massachusetts) and then up to the legendary Zank party.

This was notable for a few reasons.

First of all, it's a great set of excuses for not skiing very fast on Sunday. Long mountain bike ride followed by coffee followed by beer followed by getting home at 1 AM? You can't expect a guy to ski fast after that, right?

Secondly, I met a lot of people who I only previously knew as e-quaintances. After about 20 minutes I just started introducing myself as the crossresults.com guy, which spared folks the trouble of having to act like they knew who I was.

Third, Zank is very upset that I didn't link him on my blogroll, and knows the best way to fix this was the get toasted and complain loudly about it in front of a large crowd. I kind of assumed that since he was Mr. "New Belgium" he was already known to everyone and thus linking him makes as much sense as linking you to google. But if you're one of the 3 people racing New England cross that don't already know all about Zank, well, click his new link in the sidebar. He makes bikes, too.

So, flimsy excuses aside, I did make it to Weston with a whole 45 minutes to spare before the sprint qualifier. Since XC skiing in Eastern Massachusetts is a bit...unique... the sprint qualifier was actually a 5k race starting at 12:30. And there was a High School boys race starting at 10:30, and the fastest 30 times from those two races combined would make the heats. Like I said, unique.

The only real flaw in this plan was that it was 40 degrees out after freezing overnight. The course was A LOT faster at 10:30 than 12:30, so the open qualifiers were working against the growing slush while the early kids had mostly ice, as if they needed the help.

Don't worry though, this post isn't going to end with me not making the top 30 because of high schoolers. I managed 17th fastest overall and a few of them left early, ranking me 12th in the sprint. But I'm sure whoever finished 31st or so from the open race got screwed.



A gratuitous picture of me qualifying, "borrowed" from CSU's Picasa page.

After the qualifier there was the required standing around and getting cold that every sprint race is known for. It was during this intermission that the DJing went from questionable (George Harrison) to horrifying (Celine Dion).

So not only was I wet and getting cold, I couldn't escape the world-renowned pump-you-up sounds of Celine f-ing Dion as I warmed up on postage stamp of snow we were racing on. OH YEAH!!

Eventually the sprint brackets went up and I had drawn a tough quaterfinal, I had to beat either the #2 High Schooler (Chris Stock) or recent Dartmouth grad Paul Salinpante to advance. I had this funny idea that Eastern Mass High School skiing was terribly noncompetitive, but I think it's really changed since I raced in High School in Maine -- the only other explanation is that I'm a lot slower than I used to be. And clearly that's not the case, I've been on skis like, 10 times this year. And I rollerskied once a month this fall, whether I needed it or not!

So the sprints became an epic battle between Guys Who Are Fast High Schoolers (GWAFHS) and Guys Who Were Fast High Schoolers (GWWFHS). There was a third contingent present, Guys Who Are Surprisingly Fast For Their Age, but since it was a sprint being one of the GWASFFTAs still meant you were getting eliminated early by some quick-twitching punk who was one third your age.

We lined up for our quarter with me and Paul on either side of Chris. I was really keyed up and very concerned about joining the older guys in getting eliminated in round one, so I killed it off the start, and had the holeshot after 150 m. Fueled by adrenaline and terror, I didn't really feel any pain until about 400m in, on the flats before Mt Weston. I looked back and found out that I had not, in fact, dropped everyone like a badass but instead Paul and Chris were happily drafting me. Whoops.

I was flagging a bit but still leading hitting the hill, but some rapid flailing gave me a firm grip on the lead over the top. I heard footsteps so I kept going all out for quite a while, but when I finally checked behind me there was now only one drafter: Chris. Mission accomplished, I stood up and came in second.

Next up were the semifinals. Gone was the chaff, were were down to the ten fastest guys. My semi final pitted myself and Adam Masterman from "Team Used to be Fast" against 3 high school kids. After killing myself in the quarters by leading out, I decided to be craftier (aka "lazier" (aka "stupider")) in the semis and draft on the first half, and then try to make a move later.

This wasn't a good plan. I ended up 4th out of 5 in the start and the back 3 guys started getting gapped before Mt Weston -- so yeah, I was drafting a bit, but any energy I saved there I had to burn by going to full afterburners on the hill and over the top to try to get back to the top 2 before the finish straight.

I did it, but it hurt like hell and I ultimately ran out of mental toughness when it mattered. I got back into the draft in third, all I needed was a few more hard skates into the downhill to overrun 2nd at the bottom and open the sprint side-by-side. But I was tired. I didn't do a few hard skates, I just tucked, and when we started sprinting I was two ski lengths back. Adam Masterman's technique is damn solid so I wasn't closing that gap in 60 m. Third place, and onto the small final for me.

At this point I was pretty cooked and my decision to not eat lunch (races at 12:30 and 2) was starting to seem really stupid, almost as bad as my decision not to bring pure flouros. Basically, I was getting my butt kicked for entirely preventable reasons.

Going into the small final my growling stomach and slowing skis had my spirits pretty low, but Luke from the tiny nordic blogosphere was also in the small final so there was no avoiding one more round of extreme pain. Plus I was the sole member of Team Old Guy in the race(although we did have two in the finals) so I needed to represent.

Everyone was feeling kind of gassed, I think, because I got the holeshot with considerably less trouble than before. Cresting the first hill things looked like this:


Learning from the quarterfinal mistakes, this time I eased off a bit, so even though I was leading I wasn't burying myself to pull everyone else along. I lazily, er, cleverly, let one kid get past on the backstretch before Mt Weston, but held the inside line so anyone else would have to go the long way around.

This time around I didn't have to kill myself to get back to the front so I was all over the leader, I kept having to hold off on skating to stay off his poles, I was ready to pounce on this dude like a sparrow hawk on a baby sparrow when we hit the downhill...

And like an idiot, I tucked, while he (and his Cera F) kept skating. Just like last time, I suddenly needed to make up two ski lengths on the finish straight, and just like last time I failed miserably. So I got served by a high schooler, nevermind the two who made the finals, which is far less surprising than I'd like it to be.

I ended up 6th overall and 3rd among people who are old enough to vote, so it was still a decent result on a fun day, plus I got a sweet little backpack as a prize that more than compensates my entry fee.

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