This year's race was scheduled on the same day as an Eastern Cup Sprint, which meant that every single person under 21 would be off sprinting -- and every single person over 30 would be at this race. I'd launch into a rant about NENSA segregating masters skiers and juniors and how it's ultimately bad for the sport... but I can't get that worked up about it. Let's just agree that having your main winter distance series conflict with your main winter short distance/sprint series is really stupid when there are weekends, not just days, with neither and be done with it.
The course itself was a lot harder than last year because Jackson had enough snow to run us up to the Eagle Mountain Golf Course and also the Wave. This did require 3 separate road crossings and 5 total trips across them, but that's what you get for building a ski center in town, surrounded by roads. The tracks were solid and the wax was easy, so there was no excuse not to have fun.
Of course you can't have fun without lining up, so at 10 o'clock the typical self-seeded lineup happened and as always I missed it. I ended up back in the fourth row (12 lanes across) wondering how badly I was going to get trapped on the first turn, where the course narrowed to four tracks.
Then we waited. In the 20 degree weather, with the 20 mile per hour wind, while the race organizer attempted to ask us something and then wandered off. It was cold. While I was praying for the race to start I invented some laws:
Colin's Laws of Frostbite:
1) The length of time you must stand around in a race suit before the race is proportionate to the wind speed.
2) The odds of you remembering windbriefs are proportionate to the air temperature.
3) The odds of you not hearing the 30-second warning is proportionate to the number of non-racing (jackets, windpants) items you are wearing.
Before anything really bad could happen to my "extremities" we were off. I survived the first corner and was ideally boxed in, so the actual fast guys got off the front and I was powerless to go with them. Since I hadn't raced more than a 5k all year this was actually part of the plan.
It always amazed me how quickly long distance races go from "ski smart" to "hang on" for me. After 10k, I was still in the "ski smart" zone -- drafting on the golf course, focusing on technique on the climbs, I would've told you I could keep that method of skiing up for another 40k. But soon we were coming back down the Yodel trail -- where the Garmin clocked me at a very error-prone 32 mph -- and the masters skier in front of me speed checked.
As someone who values style over success (apparently) I tried to pass him on the outside of the corner, making a sick move, darting back and forth across the track without scrubbing any speed at all.
Had you been watching -- and had I succeeded -- you would have said to yourself, "wow, that was gnarly, that guy is the sexiest nordic athlete alive!" But no one was watching, and instead of impressing the woodland creatures with my totally tubular shredding skillz I caught a ski in the track and laid it down, sliding a good 30 yards and halfway into the ditch before coming to a stop. My more mature opponent left me, and with that I entered the "just hang on" zone.
What was left to hang on to was 20k of generally flat skiing up the Ellis River trail. Lots of double-pole, or kick double-pole if you're weak. You won't believe this, but I fell into the latter category. It turns out that "upper body endurance" and "cyclocross racing" are mutually exclusive.
So I suffered like a dog. Like a weak, tiny dog, the kind that Paris Hilton would use as an accessory. I double-poled like a chihuahua.
For another 10k or so, this worked surprisingly well. No one caught me, although I caught no one. At the turnaround at the top of the Ellis River Trail, I found out that I was in 12th, which was invigorating enough to get me to pick it up for the long, gradual descent to the finish. I looked back on one of the open sections -- no one in sight! I'm gonna make it!
Suddenly, going by the 27k marker, there was breathing behind me, and then a Dartmouth development team guy sliced past. He was much larger than me. I thought I had dropped him long ago, on one of the early climbs, and he was back to return the favor. There were no hills left. I was in big trouble.
I hung on his tails for two more k, giving the pain face to every spectator. As we ducked under route 16, I thought I had enough to make it to the finish with him, but I didn't know that there was an extra 0.5k loop added from last year's course. Exiting the tunnel, they sent us right, onto another fairway, instead of left to the finish. I cracked like the egg I am and lost the draft, and that was the end of 12th place.
In the end I was only 3 seconds down to him in 13th, which is better than I was expecting. Since I hadn't taken a classic stride in quite a while, I was unable to walk down stairs without excessive thrashing about for the next half hour. And now that I check -- yep, I'm still sore.