Monday, February 16, 2009

Tortoise and Hare, Through the Rabbit Warren We Go

Here's the official eyewitness account from FAST's blog.
http://blogs.fasterskier.com/fast/2009/02/16/the-three-not-so-wise-men/

Here's my story.

At the end of a long training week, following two full months of cold, I needed a long, sustained workout to get ready for the upcoming marathons in March. When I found out that some of the skiers from Team FAST (Fairbanks Alaska Ski Team) would have a 20K time trial, a pursuit with 10K classic an 10K skate, I inquired if they'd let an over-the-hill masters skier join the young hares, who happen to be among the top junior-level cross country skiers in the US.

Um okay. Sanity check anyone? Three top junior racers, with a combined age that still fits into my age group. Okay? Knock knock, nope nobody there, in my head

Nevertheless, I was looking forward to the effort and after waxing up on Sunday morning, just before heading out the door, I tried on my pursuit boots for the first time this year. All seemed good, but then I tried them on with an arch support and rippp! went the zipper.

Swearing under my breath in Finnish (that's when you know I'm mad), perkele! satana! umalouta!, I grabbed a roll of duct tape and headed to Birch Hill with damaged boots. In the wax room I swatched up my boots with the duct tape and slapped on a thick layer of Swix VR45 onto my skis and covered it with two layers of VR40 and headed out. The boot held together and the waxes worked.

FAST coach Bill McDonnell pondered the course and we agreed on a 2X classic loop (I'm convinced it was closer to 6.3 or 6.4K) and the Besh Cup skate 10K which also happens to be a killer course.

Got it?

The Birch Hill Trails are like a rabbit warren, some 30Ks are packed onto 200 acres of land, most seem to be switch-back loops and loops within loops along with intersections every 100 meters. Memorizing a race course on that patch of land is about like locking into algebra permutations in your head while rubbing your belly and chewing gum.

Yeah, right! Got it!

I had a 5 min stagger on Werner, who had 3 min on Reese, and David was another 45-60 sec back.

What a great morning. Tracks were perfect, the sun was out, and for once the snow wasn't sandpaper slow. I chugged along at a solid effort, but not taxing, taking a few splits at course landmarks, and came through the first loop at 21:42. I tried to push harder on the 2nd circuit, but my splits were exactly the same. All was good. Werner was closing the gap and seemed about a minute back by the end of the classic.
Didn't get my overall split for the classic, but my 2nd loop had to be within a few seconds of the 1st, so about 43:25 or 30.

Took a slug of sport drink and skated without poles half-way up Stadium Hill before getting those straps back on. At 1K the skate course takes an anomalous turn (only used a couple times a year) where it dips onto the last leg of the Outhouse Loop before hooking onto the grueling Russell's Revenge/South Tower hill. Off in la-la land, I kept going on the parallel Relay Loop, which is what we always do, but 50 meters in, I remembered the correct route and did a quick about-face and got back on course.

Half way up South Tower I heard something and sure enough Werner was closing in, no more than 100 m behind. I skated hard over the top and vowed to hold him and the FAST-closing hares off for as long as I could. By the time we got to the stadium(about 4K into the skate), he was still a minute or so back (or was it David?).

Down into the wild turns on Competition and Black Cross that parallel and resemble the abandoned bobsled course, I managed to keep on my feet before the toughest climb of the day, Black Funk. The Mother of all Headwalls. It’s about 165 feet of climbing over less than 400 meters, resulting 2-3 minutes of Nordic Hell.

Werner was closing some as I approached the top, just where several side trails intersect--which way to go?

Competition split off to the right...so I slowed, turned around, and pointed my poles and shrugged my shoulder. Werner looked up and hollered LEFT! So left I went. A couple hundred meters later another trail, Competition Return, took off to the right. I stopped this time and waited for Werner whose head was down in concentration.

LEFT! He hollered again.

Left I went.

Back into the stadium area, I was totally out of gas and confused. Now do we do West Ramp, or the Stadium Hill? Didn't even ask this time and went by instinct. Stadium Hill it was.

Got to the top, and Ah, hell! There went Werner (I thought), speeding around the turn on West Ramp and onto the dive that takes you onto Blue Loop. I skated like mad to catch up. He had 40-50 m on me, but I think I actually gained or held my ground through the down and rolling part, until the steep climb out of the hole, but he flew into high gear on the climb and I fell way back. I waited for Reese and David to go blowing by.

A half K later, at the end of Relay loop, a skier caught up and it was....Werner! So who was that in front!?? It was David, already 30 sec up and pulling away.
Nothing left to do but try to stick with Werner for as long as possible and make him work for it. Up Tower Direct I was able to stick close, and then we had 1K of downhill. He was quicker on the transition, but my skis were running pretty well so by the time we got to the biathlon range cutoff on White Bear he was still just a couple seconds ahead. But then he looked back once and put down the hammer, leaving me 12-15 seconds back over the last K.

My elapsed time was 1:17:53, roughly 43:25 for the classic, maybe 45 sec for transition, which makes about 33:43 for the skate. That split was almost the same as for the full 10K race last week--somewhat faster snow no doubt—but still a good day.

So David took at least one wrong turn, Reese apparently was all over the course and took in some sights on extra loops. Werner got it right and kept me on course. Although I made it through with only one wrong turn, I was clueless at times on the skate loop. Oxygen debt can do some funny things to your compass and clarity of thought.

Great conditions for skiing, and the trails were in better shape than I’d seen all year. The 20K (make that 22) pursuit time trial was all in good fun and it was a stellar workout!

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