This year's Jackson 30k was, for the first time in a while, not my first real race of the year. I'd already raced 28k TOTAL of classic skiing, definitely a record for mid January. Accordingly, I tried a new strategy called "line up where you should be" instead of "line up so you'll get blocked and have to start slow." This led to the obvious result of being "in the mix" and getting an honest 1:40 of racing in. As for how it went...
The start was a pretty "interesting" setup, with about 15 start lanes going straight for 50 yards and then hitting five lanes crossing them at a 45 degree angle. This meant that if everyone jumped in the first track they saw, 200 skiers would go into one track after 10 seconds of racing. Since everyone is in full-stupid mode at the start, you can guess how that worked. Yeeeeehaw! I didn't even have a choice in the matter since the track was already occupied when I got there, I just busted across some guy's ski tips to the far side without so much as a "sorry." Hey man, you know how 30th place in a citizen's race is contested.
I'm joking but the eventual winner (Eli Enman) managed to get his pole broken in the start, so there WAS a reason I wanted to get the hell outta there.
I settled in around 25th-30th or so on the opening loop, refreshingly close to the front, but my arms were surprisingly tired given that this was an "easy week." Must be the steady diet of manly pull-ups I am on. Anyway, I was happy to hit the steep climb off the golf course and put my bomber kick to work.
At the top we crossed a road onto the second golf course (they like their golf up there) and went back into a decent breeze. I had settled into a group of 3 or 4 and immediately got my draft on while double-poling, acutely aware that my arms were hurting a lot more than I'd like them to at the 3rd kilometer of a 30k race. But, I gamely hung on for drafting purposes, until we hit the climb to the (New) Wave trail. There's no drafting at 3mph, so I was swiftly dropped by two masters and a UMaine-Presque Isle kid.
The steepest part of the Wave is the first couple climbs and I was HOT, despite the 15-degree temps. My prerace fueling/hydrating had already been questionable, and I knew that sweating a lot would almost guarantee a dehydration-driven explosion. I was worried, until I remember that I had God's air conditioner (baldness) hiding under my hat -- I stuffed the hat into my suit and it was AHHHHHHH SO COOL.
Plus, we were past the steep hill and into the striding climbs. Me and my bomber kick got our big strides back on, just like the Geschmossel, and by the time we hit the high point I was back with my group and actually had passed some other, more exploding racers. This led into a long and fast downhill, which I made about 100 times more sketchy than it had to be by trying to put my hat on while descending. While wearing lobster mitts... and forgetting to take my glasses off first.
Near the bottom of the downhill I made a little push to get past the UMPI kid, and then right as we hit the windy field he glided back past me... score. I happily double-poled behind him for a while, and then when we hit a climb and I put in some big strides to pull away because I was feelin' GOOD. It probably helped that Dobie was there, he took this cool picture of me, but not before heckling me for getting beat by Rob Bradlee, which makes as much sense as me heckling him for getting beat by Jonny Bold.
The good feeling strides continued all the way to the descent back to the start area (finishing up the first 15k "lollipop," if that lollipop was a factory second), where I passed two more masters and clocked 32 mph on the descent. Back down on golf course #1 I realized that the masters guys were Nat Lucy and Andy Milne, which meant (1) I'm having a good race and (2) I'm in for a world of hurt, since the major striding sections have just ended.
So we headed out for the second 15k and I went directly to the hurtbox, do not pass go, do not collect $200, there were a few striding sections on the looooong stretch along the river, but for the most part they were just double-poling for minutes at a time. I kept pace by kick-double poling behind them and liberal use of the pain face.
I was consistently skiing a "gear" below them (striding when they kick double-poled, kick double-pole when they just double-poled) all the way up the river and I was starting to think this could maybe just work -- but then we turned around at the other high point and started coming back down. I was quickly spun out kicking on the gradual downhill (to continue the metaphor) and had to go to double-pole only. With no way to cover for the overcooked rigatoni I was apparently packing instead of triceps, I cracked HARD and FAST.
The return leg on the river was about as ugly as ski racing gets for me -- at first I kept them in sight, albeit steadily pulling away, but with about 4k left the wheels really started coming off, somehow my left shin started cramping up even though I'd hardly used it in the last half hour. As you might imagine, discovering a cramp in your leg while step-turning is curse-worthy.
I was in complete bonksplosion survival mode after that, I have no explanation for it except that I burned a lot more calories driving up at 5:30 AM than I realized. My legs were DONE and my arms had been DONE for quite some time. With a K of golf-course double poling left, I had just lost a place and could see the UMPI kid I had long since written off closing as well. I dug as deep as I could to keep it together down the last fairway, with a steady tailwind -- and of course the finish was 100 meters past a turn back into that wind. Fueled purely by the terror of getting beated at the line I squeezed 30 more seconds of flailing out of my arms to get to the line for 20th place.
Ever the other-people's-pain connoisseur, Dobie took another picture just after I crossed the line:
Considerably less picturesque than the last one, I know.
I was totally wrecked, but it's ok, I had at least 20 hours to recover before doing a winter triathlon! Luckily classic skiing was NOT one of the three legs, and I'm sure none of the muscles I use to ride, run or skate are involved with classic technique, so it's all good.