After getting beat down on at the Eastern Cup on Saturday I headed north, back to the safe confines of citizen's racing for the Flying Moose up in Bethel. With an Eastern Cup being run at Holderness that day, it was a good chance to try to reassemble some ski-esteem with the Birkie looming.
Due to low snow (although a lot more snow than Holderness, I heard) the race was run exclusively on the Gould Academy trail system. Usually the race loops through there before ultimately continuing to the Bethel Inn for the latter half. Every time I've done this in the past, I've lost places after leaving the Gould trails, so I wasn't gonna complain about the change.
The feel-good-about-yourself plan was in full effect so I took it out s-l-o-w. With only about 60 people in the mass start it wasn't like I needed to throw elbows, and I certainly didn't need to stake out a spot at the front just to blow up after 5k. So everyone who wanted to race immediately went up the trail, while I hung out about 50 yards behind them.
Since I grew up four miles from the course, I had some serious home course advantage on the downhills, namely that you can actually run almost all of them without scrubbing speed. So while the front group started stringing out, I weaseled my way into the stragglers with some fast descending, and hey, now it's racin' time!
Catching people is always more fun than being caught, so morale was high. There's lots of stride-able climbing on the course, and my kick was great, so lots of fun was being had. I spent the first half of the race thinking about how fun the trails were and how awesome I felt, while steadily chewing through the field.
About the 12k mark, though, the inevitable transition from "hammer" to "nail" happened. I caught a guy at the top of a hill, dropped him on the descent, and he had the audacity to come back and pass me not three minutes later. Uhoh. Fun time is over.
I was instantly unable to stay with him, as he passed me on the only extended flat part of the course and apparently I had left my triceps back at Gunstock. I chased back on on the next descent, but only to get dropped climbing again. Crap.
The course finished with an extended climb, so I knew I wasn't going to beat him, but even worse, every time we hit a downhill I'd close the gap back down to a few seconds. That worse, because it meant mailing it in was also off the table.
Am I clairvoyant, or was it just a self-fulfilling prophecy? Probably the latter. We got to the bottom of the last climb, and I had just closed a hefty gap down to a few seconds on the preceding descent. I tried to use my mad suffering skills to get up to his "draft," but with 2 minutes of legitimate work left my brain and legs weren't having it. So instead I dangled at a frustrating five seconds, all the way to the finish line. Bah.
Still, good for 9th overall and about a jillion times more fun than the previous day. A solid finish to the "Birkie block" -- now all I gotta do is get my flight to actually take off in tomorrow's storm, and I'm set for the biggest ski race in North America.
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