Monday, December 29, 2008

Boxing Day was also Ski Your Age in Kilometers Day in Fairbanks. This new tradition, which began in 2004, has gained in popularity each year and it's something people look forward to as the year winds down.

Or maybe we're just so demented by isolation, lack of light, and months of cold that it doesn't take much to amuse us. There were over 200 participants this year, up from about 140 last year. More than 2/3 of the participants were over 50 or under 20. Some over 60 skiers skied their age, and a couple of younger ones went 80+. They must have been out there 7 or 8, or eveb 9 hours. Here are some other links describing the event, which is now a fundraiser for FXC.

Faster Skier Article

Nordic Ski Club Faribanks write up

My family also participated and we racked 123K, with youngest son going 18K (he skied his age in miles), the older one doing a surprise 22K, and Tamara skied an amazing 32K. Keeping up with the Bakers was an impossibility. Bad Bob set out to do 100K on his own: his goal was 50K classic in the AM and 50K skate PM. He didn't make it but still skied 83K, one less than John Shook. Nevertheless Bob's daughter did 3X her age, 69K and his wife did 50K.

The day was a challenge as we had 3-4 inches of fresh snow over the previous two days, and temps hovered around zero, while dropping through the day. My goal was to skate the whole thing within the "sunrise to sunset" challenge. I started with the new 184 cm Atomic World Cup Skate skis, which worked quite well. They are incredibly light. Thirty or forty minutes into the ski (maybe 7.5 or 8K) I met up with local runner/skiers Mike Kramer and Harald Aas (1st and 3rd at this year's Equinox Marathon), and we skied about 10K together. They were going a little faster than I had wanted, and I knew that I wouldn't hold that pace the whole way, but I was also pleased to at least be keeping up with them on the downhills. This was the first time I'd skied with cold wax (Star LA8) on the new skis.

Per my plan, I switched out after 19K (the original plan was to do 4 loops of 13) and tried a second pair of Atomic World Cup Skates, these 190 cm, but with a softer flex. These were more like old school skis. They were okay--I used the exact same wax--but the glide wasn't as good and it just took more work to keep going. I skied this loop with local skier Max Kaufman--we are often closely matched in races--who was doing classic. I was keeping up, but was working harder than him, and surpsingly he was pulling away on the downhill stretches. The 2nd loop was only 13K, and my quads were getting tighter with every K.

After 2 plus hours on the trail, I was chilled from sweat and a bit hungry, and had left my classic skis and boots in the car. I tried to be efficient, but changing shirts and jacket, warming up the boots with a bathroom hand dryer, and snarfing some soup and energy bars took 25 minutes. By the time I got going with Max again, we had less than an hour to ski 19K. 50K sunrise to sundown wasn't going to happen this year. Classic was definitely much less of a fight than skating, however. Even though I was feeling punchy by the last few Ks, I never bonked.

Ski your age is a fun community event and I especially enjoyed having the family involved. I'm not sure about ever doing mega Ks like some do, and to tell the truth I don't ever plan to do more than 55 or so. Nobody met the sunrise to sunset challenge, but apparently Kramer and Aas were close. Next time, I'll have classic skis and boots on hand for a quick exchange, and I'll figure a way to refuel better without going back inside.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Waxing in Fairbanks

Ski waxing here in Fairbanks has some interesting nuance. First a caveat however, I may be about the worst (adult) wax technician out there. Nevertheless, this is what I know about waxing.

Glide wax rule of thumb: Wax cold and stay cold. Most of the cold weather waxes seem to work fairly well here. I've had success with Start Green, Swix CH4, Toko LF Blue, and Star LA8 and Star HA8. Of those, Toko LF Blue and Star LA8 have usually been the best. Even under higher humiditities the low flouro waxes seem to work pretty well. As we know here, once it gets down to 5 F or colder, adding some cold powder helps those staticky skis helps keep the glide a bit.

One nuance that I've found is that you're pretty safe with the cold waxes up to 20 F degrees or more, even though the label might say the range is below 12 or 14 F. Our snow stays cold for longer, even when air temp warms up to well above 20, and it is fine grained. This is especially true if the snow is relatively fresh (i.e., not transformed by warmer weather).

Kick wax rule of thumb: Wax warm. I'm still learning, often the hard way, about kick waxing around here but unless it's way way cold (below zero) you are better off waxing a level or two warmer than what is recommended on your tube. It can be 5 or 10, and you'd think that a cold weather wax would work fine, but actually a mid-range (recommended for mid-high 20s) will work best. For example, at last week's classic race in Salcha the guys who had the best kick were using VR40, which is for mid-upper 20s. It was about zero out there, maybe 5 above by the time we finished.

For very cold weather, I like Rode Special Green. I've had some success with Rode Multigrade Blue as well this year, but in the classic race at Birch Hill a couple weeks ago it was very slow. A combination of Swix VR30 and VR40 can be effective. Last year I was using Star Top Blue to cover layers of wax (sometimes greens and sometimes blues). This worked to varying success.

Klisters: well it's not klister time of year so I won't go there for now. Many people here are deathly afraid of klisters. After spending several years in New York and Minnesota I learned a lot about klisters and how to ski with icy conditions and I usually prefer klister conditions to hard wax.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Turkey Days Race Fest, looking for Mojo

Turkey Day Relay (Friday November 28)
We may be old (combined age of 150) but our team “Still Got the Mojo” held on for a respectable 4th out of 80 teams at the 3X5K Turkey Day Relay here in Fairbanks. Other than some strange temperature fluctuations, conditions were near perfect. I waxed up with Star LA 8 after dinner, expecting 5-6 degrees on Friday, but woke up in the morning with temps at 18 and climbing. So I dripped in some Toko HF Red. This combo has worked well in mid temp conditions, say 12 to 22 degrees. However this time the addition may have been a mistake, because by race time the temp had dropped back down to 6 or 8 degrees.

Meanwhile, to our chagrin, our team name had been vandalized to “Still Got the Mojo (NOT!)”. We have our suspects and will get back at them. Dave Edic, who has been skiing very well to brilliantly this year, got a fast first leg. The top three teams (open, high school, and college) broke away early but Dave held off two other strong high school teams to bring us in a solid 4th place in 14:13, with the announcer (obviously a conspirator) emphasizing the NOT! in our name.

Bad Bob, as usual clad in blaze orange, took the hand-off and skated out of the stadium with a half dozen teams within 20-30 seconds behind. Could he hold it? It was a chilly wait. Bob, still hacking from a recent cold looked strong despite the announcer’s exclamation that he was “struggling”. A solid in 15:09 and we remained in good position at 5th.

Those high school teams were not far back but I focused on form and tempo, with the plan of skiing within myself for the initial third of the race, before trying to ski hard once I got onto the rolling switchbacks Tower Loop. Caught the 4th place team at 1.6K and V2’d up East Ramp, up to Tower Loop. The high schoolers were only 20 sec back. Half way through Tower I started lapping gaggles of other teams still on their second leg. Hoping to catch just one more skier at the top of Tower (3.6 km), I was thinking about the steps ahead, when suddenly I found myself in the air and landing hard on my left hip. I got up quickly and jumped back into the track, only losing a few seconds. The fall left me with a grapefruit sized welt-bruise on my thigh and a very sore elbow (hopefully not cracked!).

Felt mildly wobbly on Rollercoasters and humped it into the stadium with a 15:08, to keep us in 4th overall in 44:28—4.5 min behind the winners (the Old Schoolers), and 3 min behind the college team (Testosterone Avengers) and first high school team (Three H’s). Still, we were 40 seconds up on the 2nd group of high schoolers (Something Crazy).

Overall, we did show some Mojo out there. But then again, I’m biased. I am not jumping up down excited about my own race (seem to have dropped a notch compared to recent years), but know that except for the fall, I skied as hard as I could. And it certainly went better than last week’s disaster at 10K.

Turkey Day Individuals (Saturday, November 29)
On Saturday Dave and I piled into Bob's Prius for the 50+ miles to Salcha, AK for the Turkey Day Individuals. I was very tired, but wanted some redemption at classic 10K before our annual mid-winter 6 week racing hiatus. Conditions were as perfect as they could be for Salcha. It was about 0, no wind, and the snow was soft. It was old man’s day, as the youngest amongst the men was mid 40s.

I fretted with wax until the last minute and did not want a repeat of last week. I went with alternating layers of Swix VR 40 and VR 30, making the 40 about half the length as the 30. This time I might have gone a little too short in the wax pocket. Things felt a little draggy while warming up and testing, so with just a few minutes before the start, I shortened the wax pocket about an inch under the heel and again toward the tip.

We had 30 sec interval starts and I was 4th out of the gate. Had a great start and by 2.5K had caught local 50+ racer Ken Leary who has also been skiing well this year. I’d mostly been double poling and kick double poling on the that portion of the course. But we both started spinning our wheels once we hit the steeper climbs on the Pick Axe Loop. The down hills were a wild ride! Fast accelerators, inevitably with a sweeping turn at the bottom. Staying on my feet was a challenge, especially since Ken is better at the downhill sections. I’m okay to decent at down hills, but Ken and Bob can just fly.

Between 6 and 7K, Dave and Bob, who had started 2.5 and 1.5 minutes back, came barreling through. We hung on skied as a fairly tight pack for a few Ks before they gapped us and blew ahead on the final climb on Grizzly. I faded over the last K but was able to hold of Ken, barely by 7 sec, to finish in 36:40. Dave was almost 3.5 min up in 33:15 and Bob was over 2 min ahead in 34:22. Better than last week, for sure, but still not where I’d like to be.

Next up, the Gundeloppet 15K freestyle on December 14. Now we’re getting into the distances where I usually feel more confident. Nevertheless, those guys ARE in good shape this year and I’ll have to ski to my top level just to stay close.