Monday, January 12, 2009

Frozen Chosen Do 20K at -20

Skiers and fans at US national cross country ski championships in Anchorage last week experienced and observed unprecedented cancellations and schedule changes due to the cold weather that gripped the city for two weeks. Too bad the cutoff is only -4 F, because if officials had opted to modify that a little bit, allowing racers to compete at -6 or so, they could have held the full schedule of races and the selection for various US travel teams would have been more fair.

Here in Fairbanks most skiers scoff at the -4 rule, which was established by the International Ski Federation (FIS) and adopted by the US some 20 or 25 years ago. We race down to -20 and some take a perverse pride in facing the cold head-on, rather than hiding out indoors. No matter how you cut it, however, -20 is taking it right down to the limit.

On Sunday we raced the Chest Medicine 20K Classic, the second of three in the local club’s “Distance Series.” Fairbanks’ cold snap has been brutal, with two weeks of lows averaging in the -40s, and even at Birch Hills’ inversion-generated banana belt it hasn’t gotten above -15 in that time. Forecasters predicted highs of 0 or maybe in the single digits below for Sunday, but that was just a dream. The official thermometer at the stadium complex at 9 AM was -20.2.

I expected a delayed start, maybe starting at noon instead of 11 AM, figuring that we’d pick up a few degrees once the sun got above the horizon. Not so. The club’s website stated that the race Will Go On at the schedule time. At that point I was ticked, figuring that the decision was an outcome from the frustration of not being able to hold a full schedule of races at Nationals last week. Fine, we're tough in Fairbanks. Maybe even a little stupid for living here. But wouldn’t -12 to -15 be better than -20?

The race itself wasn't too bad. About 40 people competed, mostly geezers in the 50+ age groups. We must lose our sense in middle age. Most skiers were dressed with all sorts of layers, a few in lycra race suits. I was among of the, ahem, lighter dressed. Under my race suit I had extra thick arctic tights, wind briefs, and running-half tights; on top 4 layers of polypro, my top, and I borrowed my wife’s insulated Swix vest. That was a smart move because my core stayed warm, but I didn't build up sweat from skiing in a jacket. I lost track of how many hats I had, ear muffs, balaclava, and I duct-taped my cheeks and nose to prevent frostbite. The attire and duct tape worked great.

I had no problems with asthma during the race or dry coughing afterwards, and today I feel fine. No lingering ill effects. Guess I'm no longer angry about having to race in such cold, but realistically, they could have delayed things and I think everybody involved--volunteers and racers especially--would have appreciated a few extra degrees at the start.

The race itself was more or less fun. Dave Edic powered away from the field by 2 or 3K and never looked back. He took the win in 1:10:58 (which is a really good time for a 51 yr old on that course at 14 to 20 below zero), followed by Max Kaufman (a youngster in his 30s) in 1:13:26, I slogged in with 1:15:31, chased from about 7K on by Bad Bob Baker who timed 1:16:41, with Ken Leary's 1:19 finish, four of the top five were from the local class of '58 (actually Dave's a couple weeks older). More than half the field were men 50-59. Davya Flaharty won the women's with a fine 1:22, and was 6th overall.


Anonymous roger sayre said...

Hey Roger

Sorry to send a message that is unrelated to your blog, but I just wanted to say Hi and couldn't find an email address. I, too, and Roger Sayre, I live in Jersey City NJ and once ran the NYC marathon. I am a college prof and an artist and was born in 1963. From the looks of your blog, you might be around the same age. Drop a line if you feel like it

8:54 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

I have no problem training in -20 but racing seems a little crazy. I would just be to scared of the lungs. You guys are nuts up there in the North.

What races are you planning in the Anchorage area this year???

7:42 PM  
Blogger wilson said...

Evan, hey congrats on your 100 miler. That's simply amazing.

Planning on Tour of Anchorage in March, and maybe a few extra days for US Masters xc ski championships.

7:00 AM  
Blogger Evan said...

Get a hold of me when you come down and we can hit up Mooses Tooth or something. Stay warm up there.

6:21 PM  

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