Here is the story of my participation in the National 50K Champs on Wednesday March 24:
Well, I finished. Given my lack of fitness, that’s saying something. For the final 5K I looked like a severely inebriated man who in his drunken haze decided it was time to learn to ski. I flopped up the final V1 uphills with every muscle aching. But, I finished. Yes, I was the last finisher. Considering that 7 guys dropped out though I don’t consider it a DFL (Dead Last). If you toe the line with me and quit then I win. (Newell is listed as a DNF, but was a DNS (did not start – he wasn’t supposed to be on the start list at all). I ended up 30th and finished in 2:29. I was very pleased with my time. And I was NOT lapped even though we did five 9.6K laps (after a starting 2K “promenade” lap to get our missing Ks and make a full 50). The announcer was telling the crowd that the winners were coming in two minutes as I went through the stadium to start my last lap, but I was gone before they arrived. Whew.
There had been a few bad surprises in the morning. After scraping last night’s snow, sleet, and freezing rain off my car I drove the sloppy roads to the venue worrying that I was too late to get a good parking spot. Imagine my surprise when the parking lot was almost empty. I saw a friend who told me that the Men’s start had been moved to 11 AM so the Women could race without having to ski through the slower men (i.e. me). Too bad, I had been planning to get a good draft from Kikkan Randall when she sailed by. But kids, if you want to be a ski racer you have to be mentally prepared to handle unexpected changes and roll with it. I chilled in the lodge and watched the start of the Women’s race. Only 30 gals started, but what a field. Several Olympians and many who were close. My other surprise was when I was running over to see the finish and I slipped and fell pretty hard. I never like to be falling on my face before a race.
The Men lined up at 11 in a seeded start of 45 guys (I was bib 40). Some of them were juniors who would be skiing 30K (so far they don’t appear on the results. What’s up with that?). I was the last guy out of the stadium, but with this field there was no need to fight for a good position. I wasn’t going to be stuck behind a slow skier because there weren’t any slow skiers. And on the first uphill the field accordianed and we came to a stop, so I was glad I hadn’t hammered off the start line. I found myself in a little pack of 5 skiers including Matt Zak who was the only other true Master race (although he’s only 36). We let 2 juniors pull us along for the first 30K. The powder snow packed down into a glazed and slippery surface. I focused on being as relaxed as possible, but also alert and balanced. The secret was to not waste energy balancing on the squirrelly surface, but also not to let it pull a ski out from under you and throw you on your face. I was letting the other skiers pull away on the uphills and used my fast skis and better technical skills to catch up on the downhills. I scoffed at those ahead of me for snowplowing on one tricky downhill. On my 4th lap the snowplowers were gone and I had my chance to do it right. With the increased speed things were a little different and I promptly caught a tip and literally face-planted. Oops. Serves me right for being critical and ignoring the warning omen of my pre-race fall. The course was one of those wonderful courses that seemed to have more downhill than uphill with twists and turns that really rewarded good technique and kept the course interesting even with five trips around it. Being such an old-timer just about everyone knows me so I had lots of cheering when I came by the lodge. And I got good feeds from John Dixon, a junior that I had coached at JO’s two weeks ago and to whom I’d been giving feeds in his race. What a great sport when a coach and athlete from different generations can switch roles and experience the other’s perspective.
Here’s the wax story for those who want to know (others may skip this paragraph): I used LF Moly, HF Red and Yellow mixed, ironed on some old Jet Moly Powder, then roto-corked on Jet Yellow. After testing some structure I rolled on a coarse linear rill with the Toko Blue riller blade. My skis were better than a couple of the people I skied with and the same as the others. They seemed a little slow on the climbs, but that was probably just my lack of fitness.
After changing, eating some snacks, and hanging out at the lodge I headed back to Madawaska and a hot shower at my hotel. I then went for one of my very rare trip to McDonalds. After 50K I need fat and salt. Yum. The sign on the door says “On parlez francais ici” and sure enough there was a table of retired people parlezing en francais. And the gas station lists its prices in dollars per gallon AND dollars per liter. Here in the “Most Northeastern town in the U.S.” you are aware of the mélange of American, Canadian, English, and French cultures. As I write this it is snowing hard outside and the temperature is 32 F (0 Celsius). I’m in a different world for sure.