Hello again from Tabernash Colorado. As I write this, it is two in the afternoon on Monday, and temperatures in the Fraser Valley are pushing into the mid 50's F. Don't worry, there is more than enough snow to get through the last race on Saturday, even if the fresh stuff predicted for tonight and tomorrow does not materialize. I am much more concerned about the racers that I saw basking in the sun when I left Devil's Thumb after the races this morning. Those guys sure can go fast on skis, but they really don't look like they will tan well.
Today was the Team Sprint Relay. I won't bother you with recap of official results. Nathan Schultz has been doing a great job of that, and you can always find both results and information at www.springseries.com. Instead, I have taken it upon myself to tell you a little about how this all looks through the eyes of a citizen skier. I can also relate what hurts.
The course today was a roughly 1.25k loop in a mostly flat meadow. I say mostly flat, because there is actually a pond in this meadow (when the snow melts), complete with a dam to hold the water in. Today's race was classic style, and the course crew was tasked with making the most challenging course possible (in front of the Nordic Center), without growing the loop any larger than about 1.5k. Devil's Thumb groomers Scott and Mike ingeniously incorporated some serpentine loops up and over the dam to add three hills to the course. These hills presented just the right amount of elevation change to make for some very tough equipment decisions for racers this morning.
Here was my dilemma: Do I ski a 90% double pole course with classic skis and wax, just so that I can stride up these three short (but steep) hills, or do I go for broke with the skate gear and muscle up the hills? If I do wax for kick, can I hit the wax well enough to be able to stride up the hills, or will I be slipping anyway as the race time temps look like they are headed above freezing in a hurry? I am glad that I did not hear about a third brain overloading option until after the race: Some of the top skiers applied a short strip of klister under their skate skis.
I did not talk to anyone at the race today who seemed bothered by the “classic pureness” issue in terms of how this race played out. I personally enjoyed the drama and challenge of trying to figure out what to do. In the end, I went along with majority of the men and opted for skate gear. I only saw one woman, Sigrid Aas, who was obviously committed to double poling from the get go, but there were many that seemed to have less than adequate kick and resorted to double pole or kick double pole as the race progressed.
I was happy with my decision, especially after seeing the women race. There is no way that I have the ability to go from full on double pole (anaerobic) into smooth diagonal for perhaps four good strides like those top women did so gracefully. I know from experience doing intervals that this is really tough for me to do with any efficiency, and I would thrash my way to the top before I got into any sort of rhythm. Does anyone else notice how much the lactic seems to accumulate in your legs in very hard double poling even though you are primarily using the upper body?
My partner, Shawn Scholl (the Big Shooter) is about 6'-3″ and weighs maybe a tad over 200 lbs. For the past three years he has been distracted from ski racing as he pursued a dream in Olympic caliber rowing. Now he and his family are back home here in Grand County, and, as an aging homer, I could not possibly have scored a better teammate for a mass start double pole sprint race. When he is not throwing cattle around on the family ranch, he peels logs for house builders, which is exactly what he is doing right now as recovery exercise before tomorrow's race. Naturally, I nominated him for the start.
As I watched the field take off and come by the rest of us in the tag zone, I was struck by the amount of up and down that the front group of skiers were using. They had more “squat” at the low point than I anticipated, and you could see light under skis at the high point. Hands did not go much past the thighs, and frequency was incredible, but most impressive was the fact that this was not a 200 meter effort at the start just to get good position, this was the norm around each of the entire 2 minute plus loops, even going up the hills. It is definitly a “collapse” or crunch with a pretty severe forward lean, and there is no question in my mind that the trunk or core is the engine and the arms and shoulders are acting mostly as linkage to the poles.
The tag zone was a bit crowded on the first lap, but I managed to avoid both getting in anyone's way, as well as the embarrassing novice relay mistake of taking off too fast before your partner can tag. My goal was to stay ahead of my friend Mike Innes and his partner Mike Savoie (Subaru factory team support) who was dressed as a burrito, wrapped in aluminum foil from head to toe. As any aging citizen athlete recognizes, retraining the ego for ever diminishing expectations is part of life, but I have not “grown” enough yet to accept defeat by burrito. Each lap hurt a little more than the previous, and each of the nine hills put me closer and closer to “stalling” as I double poled up, reminding me of summer double pole sessions on roller skis. I was well marinated in lactate by the finish, but we managed to hold off burrito boy, and my ego is still intact, ready to be fully deflated in tomorrow's individual skate sprints.
I can not adequately describe how enjoyable this experience has been so far, both as a participant and a spectator. These are very serious skiers at the top of their game, and for many, the outcome of these races will effect both their financial well being as well as future opportunities. Yet, this morning I was standing nearby as Daria Gaizova, wearing the mountain leader jersey from Saturday's duathlon and today's eventual winner, approached her coach and casually reported that she did not “quite have enough” kick. This was exactly 45 seconds before the gun went off and her teammate Sigrid Aas sprinted off the line. As her coach applied some wax, she joked that “if it is not enough, oh well”. As a father of three budding young athletes and very impressionable sports fans, it is pretty darn refreshing to see these guys simply go out and show the world what they can do on the snow, without the antics that we get from many of the sports stars we watch on ESPN.
See you tomorrow.