Ouch! Grinding to Crash at USSA Distance Nationals
I came into the USA distance nationals 20 years older than the next entrant, but bouyed by two recent solid finishes at the Tour of Anchorage (26th overall, 3rd masters) and Sonot Kkazhoot last weekend (8th overall and 2nd masters by just a few secs). In my races against top NCAA or USST level skiers I'd been in the 18% to 20% back range, which seemed be good enough to at least line up and not feel too bad about it.
The plan for Friday's 30 K pursuit to hang near some of the 20 and under skiers in the 15 K classic and maybe pick off a few of them on the skate leg. The course was tough, with about 100 ft of uphill per kilometer, but conditions were perfect with temps in the 20s at the start and firm but slightly icy snow.
My race was a disaster from the start. I had globbed on too much klister (a thin binder would have probably been sufficient) but it was too late to change anything. Within 500 m I was falling behind even the back of the pack, and up the steep 150 ft climb on South Tower I was both slow and having difficulty keeping a rhythm. It got worse with each lap; and by the 2nd lap my calves were cramping each time up South Tower. Guess that 6 days from a 43 K race was not enough recovery time.
Most people at this point would have dropped out, but I have never dropped out of a race and so as long as my body could move I kept going. Perhaps this was foolish (as was signing up in the first place). Anyway, even though I was having the worst of worst days, 13 minutes behind the leaders and several minutes behind the next to last skier, the Fairbanks faithful (and one Coloradoan!) were screaming their lungs out every time I came through the stadium. If the leaders and other skiers got half as much noise, they should be happy about crowd support.
After a slow and wobbly transition where I drank about 12 oz of sport drink, I made my way through the stadium and proceeded to skate. That was at least somewhat better than the classic portion. But I was bleary and by the 7th lap my triceps started cramping. Kept it going, with a lot of help from those willing to watch and cheer during my disasterous race--felt a bit lonely and exposed out there.
The numbers aren't pretty. 1:46:40, nearly 25 minutes out from the awesome Ivan Babikov. Based on comparative performances with some of these top skiers through the year I was a good 7 minutes off pace. Instead of 18 to 20% back it was 28 or 29%. Like I said, OUCH!
What can I say, but Thanks Fairbanks for the encouragement. I'm glad I didn't drop out or give up.
Will take an easy few weeks of rest, do some fun skiing, and then it's off to running.