It's Tuesday night and I'm not racing. It's been seven days since my last post. Generally these would be signs that my world is falling apart, but in this case it just means there was a three-day weekend with a Monday race. Fear not! Collapse from overtraining and/or overblogging is still weeks away.
This three-day weekend started with a trip to watch the Eastern Cup sprints in Rumford on Saturday, which were cold and less exciting than I had been envisioning. I briefly (very briefly) had considered racing, but $55 just to miss the heats seemed like a stupid idea. Apparently this was the consensus among people old enough to pay their own entry fees, as a grand total of 3 people over the age of 23 raced. You might think this means that nordic skiing is going to be huge in a few years (omg so much youth!!), but it's really just the odd age/seriousness segregation the sport exhibits. I ended up racing Monday and being the fourth-youngest participant.
Sandwiched in between the young people race and the old people race I managed to fit in four hours of classic skiing in falling snow at The Balsams with Linnea and my dad. This place used to be New England's best kept secret for nordic skiing, but with the uber-rich clientele in decline (it's a "Grand Hotel" that just happens to have its own alpine and nordic centers), it could disappear soon. If you're a nordic skier in New England, you owe it yourself to check it out -- they have the biggest trail system and the most consistent snow this side of Mont Sainte Anne. That's not exaggeration -- they were skiable the entire 05-06 winter (aka "The Winter That Wasn't") and could probably run a one-lap 50k marathon on their trail system. GO THERE BEFORE IT'S GONE.
So four hours of breaking trail in fresh snow isn't exactly what coach would recommend, but we're still waaay early in the season by my standards, so a 15k classic the next day is still a good idea, apart from the fact that my arms didn't really work. The astute reader should ask, "do they ever work?" which is precisely why I wasn't too concerned.
As mentioned it was a nice, relaxed group of masters racers in attendance so it was going to be a good day for my "percent beaten" graph. Despite their alleged chill-ness, they somehow managed to get to the line five deep well before I was expecting. I lined up well back and decided this would be another one of those start-slow-and-ramp-up races out of pure necessity.
We quickly funneled down onto a double-tracked trail and traffic was dense. I passed the time by working on matching strides with the person in front of me so I could ski closer without banging skis together. Hopefully I'm not the only person who considers this a valuable skill.
Right about the time we were thinning out enough that I could start hopping tracks and moving up, we hit the first big hill and two lanes of striding became one lane of herringbone. Back to playing the waiting game.
Over the top of that it was officially cleared out, time to stride it out and move forward. The course was a "rough double-lollipop" (that's a technical term) with a major climb on each lollipop, so I had kick-waxed a bit aggressively. It was absolutely the right decision, and let me take monster strides on the long climbs. I may have been well back in the field but I felt like a goddamn rock star, which is actually a lot more important to a having a good classic race than you might think.
Near the top of lollipop #1 I caught up with a group of four that contained my nemesis from last years skate marathons, Dave Roberts. Based on that, I considered skiing with them for a bit, but I had that whole rockstar-kick thing going on so I went flying by over the top of the climb and set out after the next group down a tricky descent.
Everyone knows that once someone's in the rear view they disappear from the race, so I was shocked to have two guys (including Dave) glide past me not a minute later when the descent flattened out. Rockstar kick is not without its price.
However -- time lost on the downhill dwarfs time (that can be) gained climbing, so I was back to the front trying to stride it out up the second long climb. There were another four or five guys visible on the long sections so I kept telling myself "the race is in front of you," and very gradually skied away from my companions, and into what turned out to be the hurtbox. Not because I was cracking more than usual, just because skiing really hurts. "Having a good race" just means every muscle is hurting at the same high level, instead of one muscle group exploding.
But, I was having a good race, because I was steadily catching a group of four, which became a group of three, thanks to an awesome header on the final descent. We still had three kilometers of rolling terrain left, so I willed my arms into knocking out enough quality double-pole to close the gap.
My three opponents were two masters and a junior. It turned out that both of the masters were 45+ (one was 55!) and the junior was 13 (I didn't know this until afterward!!), so that's a nice illustration of where my ski career is at right now -- a "good race" means I can hang with the fastest guys who are half my age and double my age.
Seriously, that 13-year-old was ridiculous. I'm going to remember his name, so when he's at Junior Olympics in a few years I can feel a tad better about the extreme difficulty I had going with this kid when he upped the pace on one of the last climbs. The two masters guys got gapped and I had been using my "cyclocross experience" to ski at the back of the group, and then I got to "burn some matches" when I realized the kid was skiing away.
But I did get back to him, and based on the way he cracked in the next K I think he might have thought it was the final hill (it wasn't). I stood up while "drafting" his tiny frame and took some deep breaths and assessed the situation. The masters guys had closed the gap back down, and we had just reached the last hill, so I was all like THRASH THRASH into the other track and then THRASH ATTACK THRASH up the hill as hard as I could, and thanks to my ROCKSTAR KICK I was able to make some pretty killer progress despite all the thrashing. This was very important because once over the top I had to make it to the finish line using just my arms, which were not rockstar at all. Luckily the finish straight wasn't too long, so I hung on for what ended up being seventh place by a few seconds.
All this rockstar business made me really tired, so I decided to skip the Tuesday night throwdown to try to preserve my unusually good morale. On tap this weekend are two events that are going to be wicked fun -- White Mountain 30k on Saturday and the Gunstock Winter Triathlon on Sunday. That's right, running that doesn't involve carrying a bike, I am looking forward to some extreme soreness next Monday. If you're a tri guy who can ski... please don't crush me too hard. If you're a tri guy who can't ski... hope to see you up there!
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