Monday, February 20, 2006

Double Trouble Pursuit Weekend

This weekend was a Nordic fest--perfect for the ongoing Olympics and my upcoming birthday this week.

Due to the cold weather a few weeks ago, an 8k "pursuit" race was rescheduled for Saturday, the day before Sunday's 30k pursuit. If you watched the opening day of Olympic competition you saw the pursuit race, where the skiers do half the course classic, switch to new skis and poles, and then do second half of the course freestyle.

First up, on Saturday, however, my kids raced. Tristan at 8, held his own against 9 and 10 year olds to take 5th in the 3rd and 4th grade race. Then Mikko, 10, entered the 5th and 6th grade race and showed good form throughout--in spite of having to ski with his brother's short poles for the first half (he'd forgotten the longer ones at home, so whe had to make a switch at about the 1k point).

Pursuit racing in it's modern format is hectic but exciting in its own way. Ten or 15 years ago, they had two-day format, where skiers would ski a given distance on the first day and then their start time on the second day was based on the first day's time. So on day two the leader went out first and the stagger for remaining races was based on how many seconds or minutes behind the others were. First to the finish would win the race.

Now the pursuit is instantaneous. Skiers start classic, and they have their skate skis set out in an exchange area, so after their leg, they hop onto the skate skis and head out for the second half. They now even make "pursuit boots," which accomodate both techniques. Otherwise you have to compromise. Classic skiing on skate boots is awkward, stating in classic boots is not a bad way to go, but, you don't have quite the level of control. The final option is to switch boots--not ideal but if you have different boot-binding systems then that's your only choice. That's what I had to do for the two weekend races and it cost me.

An 8k is a sprint. I wanted to ski decent but also planned on avoiding excessive oxygen debt and lactic acid buildup for Sunday's race. Over the 2nd kilometer, I was somewhat surprised to be in 2nd place for a bit, and so backed down and settled into 4th. The 4k was over quickly! And I came into the stadium in 3rd place feeling good. Changing my boots was a disaster. Got cramps and fumbled with boots, poles, and gloves. Everyone else used the same boots, and I was in 8th place by the time I got out of there (after about a minute and a half or two minute layover). Passed two guys on the skate leg, and was closing in on another, but ran out of hills and real-estate. Turns out I had the 3rd best classic leg, and 3rd best skate, but took only 6th overall (1st AG) due to the extended time changing boots. That could cost me in points standings at the end of the season.

A 30k is much more to my liking, but it's been a while. This would be my longest ski race in nine years and the course at Birch Hill is unrelentingly hilly. Although it had snowed at our house, just a few miles away, the precipitaiton had been rain at the ski center. I had barely enough time to slap on some klister over my kick wax and again no time to test--talk about speak now or forever hold your peace. Luckily I got it right although the glide was a tad slow, but the grip was good.

Usually the distanc races are a little more low key, but this one had an atmosphere of excitement, and several good racers were there, including Tyson Flaharty, who just returned from the Under 23 World Nordic Championships. He and local top dog Mike Kramer disappeared in a kilometer or two, and I was in a pack of three. We duked it out hard for 10k, then on a steep climb one dropped back, and it was me and Jim Lokken, a master's skier duking it out like a couple of old fighters. My kick wasn't quite good enough to pull away on the hills, but neither was his. We came into the statdium only seconds appart. He changed over within 20 seconds. My son timed me in 1:36. And that was the race. Lokken caught and passed former UAF coach Bill McDonnell for 3rd place. I stayed in no man's land for the skate leg. Felt great, after getting my legs back (it takes 2-3 km to start feeling decent after going hard classic). Covered the 30 k in 1:46 for 5th overall (2nd AG). Not bad for 48.

End result was very good:
1. Flaharty 1:33
2. Kramer 1:38
3. Lokken 1:43
4. McDonnell 1:43:30
5. Meself 1:46:30

Really my best showing against Kramer and Flaharty all year, despite losing more than a minute to them in the exchange.This, has been a surprisingly good season for an old geezer who 10 years ago was getting pretty much over the hill.


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