I think it's time to face the fact that I can't cross country ski race worth beans anymore. The less of a "real" ski race it is, the better I do. Mass starts are good for me. Ski-O is good for me. Drafting on a flat course at Weston is good for me. And winter triathlon is definitely good for me.
The only drawback to the winter tri is that it requires running. Real running, none of this 6-steps-with-a-bike-and-remount business. In related news, my knee still hurts and it's Wednesday! Hooray!
Last year it was five degrees out and we did the run and bike on the same course. The runners chewed it up and the bike leg was really hard, so this year they split the courses for about 50% of the distance. This bummed me out, because if I had my way we'd drop the run and ski from this event and just make people race bikes through loose snow. And Alec Petro would win by an hour.
But, it turns out that at a race time of 27 degrees, packed snow doesn't hold together at all, and all the major climbs were on the run/bike shared course, so it was SUPER HARD RIDING. Yes!
I lined up at the back because I stink at running, and wanted nothing to do with the actual racers. But then we started off and people around me were jogging, and we were going down a hill. Dudes! It's a race! Like, you have to actively work to run slowly down a hill, gravity WANTS you to let it rip!
This may be related to why my knee hurts.
I "let it run" and started moving up through the field. Sweet. I discovered that if you get close to the edge of the trail, you go busting through the groomed-but-not-compressed corduroy and end up knee-deep in snow in a drainage ditch. Technical!
For some reason I ended up being oddly competitive by my standards on the run. I'm thinking it's because of that one twenty-minute jog I did last week, which is infinitely more run training than I did for this race last year. Plus, the run was shortened a k from last year to 4k (yeah, it sounds like nothing, try it on loose snow and hills), so I "only" lost 4 minutes to the leaders on the run.
Then I switched shoes and went tearing out of T1 in 18th overall, cross-mounted like a pro and went hauling across the stadium because IT'S SNOW BIKING TIME! (Bitches!)
The bike course starts with a little dip and then a little right-hand bend, and you better believe I was in the big ring and totally stoked. The guy in front of me crashed on the corner, and a lesser man might have braked, or at least stopped pedaling. But not me. I just kept cranking and headed for the outside. Can you tell I haven't raced a bike in 6 weeks?
Of course the traction wasn't that good, so I drifted a bit more than I expected, but it's all good, because I'm gonna make it through this turn with about a foot to spare between my tire and the edge of the grooming. Wait, what happened when I tried to run in a spot like that??
And BAM, my front tire dropped straight through the corduroy, hub-deep, stopped dead, and I f-ing launched over the bars. I made it a good five feet in the air before landing on my back, snow down my back, snow in my gloves (which weren't all the way on yet, whoops). AND IT DIDN'T HURT AT ALL! So I ran back to my bike and tried to pretend I didn't just yardsale like an overzealous tool and got the hell out of there before anyone else could see what happened.
Lap one of the bike course was awesome. I rode everything, although some of the hills were climbed with plenty of rear wheel slippage at what would be charitably called "walking pace." Whatever, I'm on the bike! It counts!
I came up behind Paul going into the gnarliest downhill on the lap, it was steep, fast, with a big turn, and torn up from a hundred runners descending it. Paul jackknifed a little bit, corrected, headed off in the ditch, corrected AGAIN, RODE HIS TOP TUBE FOR 20 METERS, and saved it. That's how you win stars-and-stripes jerseys, kids. Always sacrifice the family jewels for speed.
Impressed by his fortitude I redoubled by efforts and pulled ahead as the bike leg drew to a close. With the course now full of "bikers" (many were walking), the hills were unrideable for the non-Alec-Petro crowd, and my calves were LIT UP from running while pushing the bike to stay ahead of Paul. That's ok, I'm sure they'll get a break on the ski. It's not like last year they cramped for the entire hill on lap two.
Ending the bike leg I had moved up to 5th, which was awesome except for the fact that left very few "easy pickins" ahead of me on the ski. If I wanted places I was going to have to work for it. The horror.
The ski leg starts downhill, so I felt great skating down it while putting on my poles. Oh yeah, I'm gonna rock this. Then it was flat for a bit, so I V2'ed and concentrated on my technique. Feelin' good.
Then I hit the first climb, and I think my calf twinged on the first V1 pushoff I did. Seriously, body? I abuse you mercilessly for 50 minutes, doing sports you don't train for, and this is how you repay me? With cramps? That's not even original.
Lap one of the ski leg was pretty ugly. If I skied awkwardly and didn't push off much, I didn't cramp. I tried to cover for my legs with UPPER BODY POWER, but of course I was smoked from the Jackson 30k the day before, so my arms just laughed when I said it was up to them to get us to the finish.
Unlike last year, I definitely didn't "negative split" or "ski into it." By lap two both my calves were shot, but they weren't cramping so much as humming. It was a totally unique malfunction, at least to me. It didn't even feel like my lower leg was part of my body, it was just a bone with a bag of sand attached to it. Well, but the sand kinda moved around with a mind of it own when I pushed off.
After a while I made peace with the situation, despite the bizarre feeling I wasn't actually on the verge of my legs locking up, so I could make solid progress as long as I ignored that my calves had been replaced by squirrels, fighting to escape my ski suit.
If you don't believe that my legs felt weird, leave a comment, maybe I can get Thom P to come up with "better" metaphors to describe it. Shit was whack. But I was almost done, thank god.
At the end I caught Matt Boobar, who was also skiing like a broken man. With a k left I decided that I was probably the less broken man, so I "attacked" to the best of my ability and got in at least 3 or 4 skate strides before cramping. Victory! Well, 4th place. Turns out Kurt Perham was hiding out just 40 seconds up the trail for the entire ski leg, but I never saw him. And Alec Petro and Ryan Kelly (no, not that one) were already back at the finish line eating massive brownies.
But anyway, 4th place! So much better than Jackson. I don't even know why I ski race anymore. My fragile ego needs more winter triathlons. Linnea rebounded even better, by placing 12th, winning the women's race, and beating the entire women's field by ten minutes on the bike leg.
Hopefully the fact that this race was SUPER FUN came through in this race report. If you're reading this blog, you're probably a biker, the run hardly matters (seriously), and I just taught you to skate ski. So I'll see you there next year? You won't regret it.
Uberdorky scatter plot of split times. Notice that the run times are clustered much tighter, and the bike leg is actually the most spread out. If you can snow bike, you will do well here. Hint, hint, averaage-blog-reader!