Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Razor's Edge at 8km

Over the past two weekends I raced in two 8 kilometer races. A week ago Sunday it was an 8k snowshoe race and last weekend we had an 8k cross country ski race, using the classical technique. Both were under what anyone but the most tough and hardcore would deem as near brutal conditions, with temps about 12 below zero--give or take.

Although I won my age group both times, the experiences and outcomes were quite different.

I don't even train as a snowshoe runner, other than a casual jog for 40-50 minutes once every week or two, and I only run about 15-20 miles a week total during the winter. Meanwhile, I train 7-8 hrs a week on skis, in addition to coaching. So you can throw out the principle of specificity. Nevertheless, I'm starting to develop a feel for what it takes at this diverticula of the sport of running.

We have a full schedule of ski and snowshoe races this winter and I'm doing most of them--just because they're there. However, I've been trying to compete/participate with a measured effort usually, especially with the snowshoe running. So at the first race I just paced myself, planning on mainting an effort which I could hold for about an hour, known in physiological and training circles as your lactate threshold. The effort seemed successful: the two leaders (top 20 overall in last year's US championships, and medalists in the 35-39 age group) took it out pretty hard and I just hung back with an up and coming high school runner on my heels. They had a good 30 to 40 seconds on us at about 3k, when I subtly put in a surge. By half way, a spruce bog where the inverted temperature was probably no more than -25, I could see that I was gaining on 2nd place. Rather than picking it up, I just kept it even. With some big climbs he started coming back, and at about 6k I passed him. NO Way! Here's a guy still running in the 33s for 10k, albeit coming off an injury now. What was more surpising was that I was catching the leader too. He usually beats me by a minute or two over these distances. I got to within 20 seconds, and crossed the line 24 seconds back at the finish. Go figure.

So this last weekend in the ski race, all the big shots were hunkered down or resting or elsewhere, so it was more of a JV/B team race, except for 3 of us aging masters skiers and one of the local high schools who was using the race as their final selector for Regionals and State coming up this month. A pack of 6 took it out pretty hard, but I was close enough, through about 2k, to reel them in if needed. I was in 8th following behind one of the high school skiers. At 2.5k, I got a little impatient and decided to go around him to stay within striking distance of my masters rival, vying for medals at World Masters this month, still about 15 or 20 seconds up.

That was a tactical error because by the 4k lap I was spent and just hanging on. Fighting off frostbite on my cheek, and in heavy oxygen debt I did hold on to 8th place, but finished the 2nd lap a good 20 seconds slower than the first, if not more.

At 50, even at top shape (I've averaged 10 hours aerobic training a week for about 10 weeks now), the ceiling, like the hit song is low low low. And if you hit that ceiling, maybe 170 beats/min for more than maybe 50 or 60 seconds, you'll hit the flo' and slap your own bootie in disgust. With steep hills and some intense competition in skiing, it can be difficult to find zone just below oxygen debt, especially in the short races. Meanwhile, these kids (and some masters skiers) thrive at heart rates of 170 - 190 bpm.

I'm looking forward to putting these short ski races (10k and under) behind me after this weekend. Coming up over the next 8 weeks or so are 30k, 50k, 20k, 50k, and 30k. Plus I'll mix in two snowshoe races, a 9k and a 10k.

Aerobics or bust, just bring it on!


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