Frozen Chosen Do 20K at -20
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.