Monday, February 23, 2009

Old Boy Gets Girled

Sunday was another birthday, and guess who’s not getting any younger at 51. Now we're into the best part of the ski season, with longer races, as well as warmer days with more light. What's not to like about the last five or six weeks of winter?

The February Frolic was a 30K "pursuit" where skiers do 15K classic technique and then switch skis and poles and do the same course skating. I've been looking forward to this one for weeks and have been encouraged by some good recent training and racing. That turned out to be a mixed blessing of sorts, because looking back at my log from February 5-18 I had done two 3 hr skis and a 2.5 hr, plus three hard fought race efforts, including last weekend's 23K time trial. After Wednesday's 3 hr ski, I have just felt very tired and flat, but at least not sick. Many folks, including my entire family, have been waylaid by the crud this month. Continuous hacking and congestion that doesn’t let go for weeks.

Race day was a perfect 15 degrees and sunny. The tracks were a little slow after several inches of new snow during the week and cold nighttime temperatures. I put on a binder and two layers of VR40 and was happy with a preliminary test about an hour ahead of the start. Should have left it.

But I went and put on two more layers and went out again about 25 minutes later and aggg, I wasn't getting much glide. I shorted the kick zone under my foot, which improved things some, but it was still dragging. Just a few minutes before the start I put on a thin layer of Start Top Blue. That seemed to make things run a little better. Not great, but it would have to do. (In hindsight I should have just scraped off the first attempt and gone with a couple layers of VR40, or some sort of blue wax).

Within the first km I could tell that my skis were dragging while I was leading a chase group of four or five, including Bad Bob, and Aurelia Korthauer, an NCCA All-American via Germany on redshirt status this year, and David a UAF skier. The going wasn't too bad, but I was having to work hard to keep up on the flats and downhills. After falling back 10 sec or so to get a drink at 5K, I had to work very hard over the next 4-5K just to keep contact.

Everything quickly fell apart over the steep final 300 meters of the big hill on White Bear. I started slipping out, which sent a cascade of Nordic badness: I felt fatigued and stepped out of the track and started to herringbone. David hollered for me to keep going, but once out of the tracks it's almost impossible to get that rhythm back, so I just ran-shuffled up the hill while Bob and Aurelia pulled away. They had 20 sec by the time I got to the top and I knew that I wouldn't be reeling them in over the last 4-5K of classic.

The race was slipping into damage control mode and the rest of the classic leg was misery. My technique and confidence on the climbs had gone to hell. It was frustrating because the things had gone well over the past weeks.

Meanwhile, I also felt like I was overheating, wearing the heavily insulated 'lobster claw mitts' (a must when it's zero). I asked my wife Tamara if she could retrieve my gloves, in my bag inside the building. I was 55:46 at the exchange, 1:20 behind Bob and Aurelia had 1:20 and 30 seconds back from David.

It was looking like disaster, because I was beat, but fortunately things got better in the skate. I had a very quick exchange and was only 10-15 sec behind David. At about 17K, Tamara was there with the gloves and I whipped off the mitts and ear muffs and set out in pursuit of Bad Bob who was now about a minute ahead.

I passed David while switching my gloves, thinking I can’t lose to Bad Bob--as tough as he is--on my birthday. On Tower Loop we had several switchbacks where I could gage whether I was gaining or not. By 19K he was ahead by 48 seconds, and at 21K it was 35. I finally caught him at 24K, again just before the big hill on White Bear. Aurelia was out of sight, and I wondered if she had stopped at 15K. But no, Bob said she had dropped him and was somewhere ahead.

Up the hill I caught Max, who had skied the classic in no man’s land, only to bonk in the skate. Three guys down, one girl to go. At this point, I was semi-staggering. I skied as hard as I could over the last 5-6K, and by the end Aurelia was back in sight here and there, but there would be no miracle catch up.
Finished in 1:50:36 7th overall for men, 2nd in age group (pounded again by the redoubtable Dave Edic who was 4 minutes up), 1:13 behind Aurelia but a solid 2+ min ahead of the guys I had passed.

Glad to have held it together in the skate leg. The classic leg, however, was a near disaster. I need to wax better, adapt more quickly when it’s not quite working, and more importantly keep the faith and technique going when it gets tough on those long and steep climbs. Aurelia and Bob were keeping a reasonable pace and I could-should stay with them, even when other things are not working 100%.

Girling happens a couple times each year. Usually at Tour of Anchorage sometimes at the Sonot. You just have to keep your chin up and acknowledge that they happen to be very good skiers.


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