Monday, November 24, 2008

Ski tracks: from promise to misery

Sometimes an off day can teach you a little humility, which really isn’t such a bad thing. But there can be a big gap between humility and abject humiliation. On Sunday I probably bridged that gap, and then some. As a skier I’ve had a good-solid run for about three years now, especially in the longer races. Nevertheless, out of a dozen or so races last winter, three stood out as pretty bad: 10K USSA classic (same event/course as yesterday), Town Series Sprint, and USSA Nationals 30K pursuit. Just bombed those races, so I’ve really worked on my classic technique, which at one time was my strongest.

Fast forward to this year, we had our first outing last week at the Salcha Sprints (freestyle). At only 5K, not my strongest distance, I was pleasantly surprised to feel decent and actually came fairly close (12 seconds) to winning the open division, which was topped by fellow 50 yr old Dave Edic who has been more than tough on the circuit in recent years (beating most of the high schoolers at local and JO qualifiers, in addition to gathering some Masters World Cup medals and top 10 finishes in 2006 and 2008). Just a week after running a 3:26 marathon, the infamous Bad Bob Baker (50), was a minute behind Edic, and smooth striding Ken Leary (also 50) just under 30 sec behind. We may be old, but taking 4 out of the top 7 wasn’t a bad day at all. [more about the Class of 58 soon]

Anyway, all was good heading into Sunday. I’ve been skiing classic 60-65% this season, and had done all my recent interval workouts using classic, and I’d been feeling stronger and more technically efficient each week.

Sunday dawned cold (-10) and late (about 10 AM this time of year), so they delayed the start by an hour. With 85% humidity, I decided on a high-flouro wax, which in retrospect was a mistake. Should have stuck with the low flouro which I used last week. For kick I corked on 2 thin layers of Rode Special Green—set with a fairly long, almost 3 feet I bet, wax pocket. My skis are semi-stiff for my weight, because softer skis feel like noodles. I topped the Special Green with a shorter layer (1 ft maybe) of Rode Multi Grade Blue under my boot and a little ahead. Things felt a little draggy on the warm up, but not too bad. I shortened the pocket about an inch under my heels and just a hair toward the tip.

I was the 2nd one out of the gate for the interval start in the senior-open race, and felt good. Took the steep downhill on Blue Loop at a tuck and set to work hoping to hold off as many for as long as I could, but woe onto me, barely a kilometer into the race, I could see that Bad Bob had already made up more than 15 seconds. I put in my best effort for the next 1.5 km to hold him off, but Bob reeled me in on the long Tower Direct uphill, and he was quickly followed by a high school skier who had started a minute back. I was done. I simply walked up the steep pitch on Tower Direct, until Dave caught me. I tucked in behind on the transition and downhill, hoping to draft, but then trains of college skiers started to barrel through every 15 to 20 seconds and I was forced to step out the tracks to let them by, losing precious seconds each time.

Not only were the wheels off, they were tumbling and cartwheeling all the way down to Salcha, no doubt suck in the mud somewhere on a bank of the Tanana River. So, the entire field passed me, and as I struggled in over the final meters into the stadium, the announcer said something like, “here’s Roger. His first sport is running,” (i.e., take a hint buddy and stick to a sport that you only half way suck at…)

Here’s the damage report: The race was won by UAF skier fresh out of Norway, Oyvid Watterdahl, in 28:30. It was a day to celebrate youth as us old guys took the bottom 4 places: Dave 33:01, Bob 34:27, Me 37:27 (2nd to last). That wasn’t just a thrashing, it was total mutilation on my part!

There will be betters days (I hope). I had a several solid classic races last year, but was inconsistent. So over the next month or two, I’ll try to make some adjustments with the wax pocket; not get fancy with high tech waxes; and most importantly figure out what’s going on with my technique—I’m not getting the power and glide that should on those climbs, and my threshold to hold off oxygen debt is low, low, low. At 50 I can still hold a strong effort for an extended period say heart rate at 150-165 bpm for an hour or more, great for endurance. But I probably max out at about 170 bpm and can't hold that for more than a few minutes before blowing to smithereens.

Next up: Turkey Day Relays on Friday. Dave, Bob, and I lay down the hatchet for a day and team up for a 3X5 km relay. We'll be "Still Got the Mojo", and here's hoping that it's still there.

As a postscript, how's this for Mojo: as part of this weekends races, the UAF Nanooks took on the UAA Seawolves for the 5th Alaska Classic. On day one UAA stomped the 'Nooks 15 to 27 and it looked to be over, but UAF roared back on Sunday for a surprise win, 40 to 44.

That's a great comeback and it shows how quickly things can turn around in skiing.


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