Monday, March 30, 2009

The men's 50K race at the US National Cross Country Ski Championships in Fairbanks was expected to be a pack affair for 20 or 30K, followed by domination by Russian turned Canadian, Ivan Babikov. That was half right. A pack of 12 to 15 skiers, including most of the major players, formed over the first laps. Among the early casualties was Leif Zimmerman, who won the US version of the 30K on Friday, but he was out of it from the beginning.

First time's a charm: leaders power up Black Funk on the first lap of the 50K.

The pack stays tight.

And it looked like Glenn Randall of Dartmouth would be out of the picture early as he broke a pole in the first lap and fell way behind. By the 2nd or 3rd lap Randall caught up and even led the group for a while. But things seemed as expected, with Babikov biding his time while teammate Stephan Kuhn did much of the early work, leading the tight pack of skiers through the hilly course.

One anomaly was 19 old Noah Hoffman, always near the front of the lead group. He's on the US ski team and considered a huge talent, but has been erratic. He went out with the leaders last year and faded out of the top 20. This time Hoffman would have none of that. He took the lead by half way and broke up the pack, with only Babikov, Kuhn, and 10K champion James Southam in tow. After a lap, the Olympic veteran Southam dropped off, and young Hoffman kept leading. To the surprise of everyone.

Noah Hoffman (116) skis with World Cup veteran Ivan Babikov (101) in the early going.

He led from the half way through most of the 6th lap, stalked by Kuhn and Babikov, who were content to let the inexperienced USA'er do the work. Finally the US coaches, appearing mildly disgusted, ordered the youngster to relinquish the lead to the Canadians. Hoffman shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “I can't help it if my skis are so fast,” and let up. Southam was 50 seconds arrears with 10K to go.

On the final lap Hoffman began to struggle and hunch over, while the Canadians powered away. Southam was 40 sec back the beginning of the lap and by half way through it was 35 seconds, but by then Hoffman appeared to practically fall on his face with each stride. He must have crawled up South Tower hill (a 200' climb) because when they came back down five minutes later, the Canadians still had their commanding lead, but it was now Southam with an increasing gap on the fading Hoffman.

Despite working hard on the early laps, Kuhn looked more fresh than Babikov with about 5K to go. We were beginning to think Babikov was unbeatable here in Fairbanks. Announcer Adam Verrier who carried a microphone while skating around the course to give up to date splits and coverage, reminded the crowd that it's often not the fastest skier, but the one who has the freshest legs who will win the sprint over the final stretch
Starting to struggle, Hoffman leads Babikov and eventual winner Stephan Kunz up the Black Funk

Kuhn had both the sprint speed (with a top 15 World Cup to his credit this this year) and fresher legs and pulled away to win by 5 seconds. Southam came in a minute and half later, followed by a spent Hoffman who held on to second.

Meanwhile the college kid Glenn Randall had worked his way up to the Bronze medal position for 3rd, picking off Team USA members one by one over the final laps. In addition to Hoffman and Randall, the youth movement is on! Four of the top 13 were 20 and younger, including local favorite David Norris, 18, who was only 6 minutes behind the US winner in 13th place.

US Nationals Women's 30K Classic

Sunday was a perfect day for the final events of the US National Cross Country Ski Championships. For one thing it was the first day here where it actually felt like spring. Mid-teens overnight warming to 20s during the women's race, and it was mid 30s or warmer by the time the men were racing (first time above freezing in months!).

This was no waltz through the park, however. The course is brutal. The women skied four loops, and the men seven. Each lap had two monster hills climbs up South Tower and Black Funk with total elevation gain of (3,300 ft) total for the women and 6,000 ft climbing for the men. This is a as tough as it gets.

Stephen and Arritola tuck down Competition Loop on the final lap

In the women's event, Liz Stephen, undefeated in USA standings this week, lurked in the second pack for half of the race, but only 5 to 10 seconds behind the leaders. Morgan Arritola set the early pace along with Kikkan Randall and Swedish skier Kristina Strandberg. Stephen hung back before moving up to take command on the penultimate lap.

Podium preview: Stephen, Arritola, and Randall make their way up Black Funk.

Arritola kept close and finished 14 few seconds back, followed 30 seconds by Kikkan Randall, a sprint specialist. Local product Becca Rorabaugh, 19, put on a fine race as a junior to take 7th overall. Youth is on the move, as Stephen and Arritola are only 21 or 22 years old.

Fast women climb big, Stephen and and Randall emerge from Black Funk.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

US Nationals Sprint Relays: Awesome and Intriuging

I took my son to the US Nationals on Wednesday, after working with the split timing crew on Tuesday. I'm not a huge fan of sprinting (but I still enjoy it!), but this is like sprint-endurance.

Talk about a rugged interval session, try doing 3X 1.5K, mostly all out, 3 times over, during a 2 hour period. We watched the men's semi-final, and both men's and women's finals. By the time the finals rolled around you could see that most of the athletes were tired, and all but a few (top two or three in each final) were rigged up with lactic acid and such by the last two legs.

In the women's final, five teams established an early break, with a pair of US Ski Team combos and the Swedes exchanging the lead, and the all-Alaskan teams of Kikkan Randall and Katie Ronsse dropping back and catching up, while local homegrown favorites Kate Pearson Arduser and Becca Rorabaugh stayed in contact until the final two or three laps before falling off the pace.

Diminutive Liz Stephen, more of distance skier, put the hurt on the entire field the 4th and 6th laps and managed to force sprint star Randall to work extra hard in a game of catch-up. Randall had 60 meters to make up on the final loop, which was too much after she had pushed hard in the 4th lap. So Stephen held off the CXC team and Swedes to win.

The men's race was tighter, with eight or nine teams still in the hunt until the last couple of laps. The team of Chris Cook and Torin Koos put the hammer down and powered to a conving win, followed the team of Garrot Kuzzy and Leif Zimmerman, just a couple ticks back. In third, a smooth sprinting Lars Flora was looking good to hold off the Canadians until the final turn; he rigged bad but held on to take third with Anders Haugen, less than half a second ahead of the Canadians.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Oosik Was a Classic!

Downtown Talkeetna

Talkeetna, the host town for the past 5 years or so, has the reputation as a “drinking town with a climbing problem” and is famous for its funky ambiance and rustic appeal as a gateway to millions of acres of Alaskan wilderness. Talkeetna is a perfect venue for the Oosik, which has been described by the race directors, the Mannix brothers, as a Big Party--preceded by a little ski race.

The course has been different every year, often tracks are set just days before the race, mostly on snow machine trails or the Susitna River. They claim 50K and 25K races, but there is huge variation. The race website promised ‘substantially longer than 50K’ for the long race, and the rumor was 54K. Moments before we started, however, race founder and 1992 Olympian Adam Verrier hollered out that we’d actually be skiing 43K.

I guess that piqued Dave’s interest, because when Verrier said GO! Dave went right with the leaders. As I suspected all that whining about being over-tired and undertrained was verbal Rope-a-Dope; he didn’t have me fooled for a second. Nevertheless, I was surprised because the guys up front were no slouches.

In addition to the likes of Verrier, that group included last year’s NCAA champion, this year’s runner up, and two top 5 finishers from NCAAs, the runner up of this year’s Tour of Anchorage, plus a national champion or two was in the mix.

I poled like mad by the time we hit the river, but by the first kilometer the 15 or 16 skiers up front were steadily pulling away like a cycling peleton in pursuit of a prime. They had 20-30 seconds on me so I took a quick glance back to see that I was leading a single file group of a dozen or more skiers! Rather than pull them along at my expense I stepped aside to let them by. Local skier/runners Mike Kramer and Harald Aas—both recent Equinox Marathon winners strode by. Oops! Guess who’d been hammering early?

Mike kindly let me into the line, about 7th or 8th into the group and we continued to double pole, north and up the river. Jesse, a 20-something former state champ and NCAA All-American picked up our group after he fell off the lead pack. He was casually taking a pee off the side of the trail. He was wearing his “Only in Alaska” race suit, which seemed rather fitting.

Perhaps I wasn’t in over my head to be in with this group, but it was close. I just settled in through the first aid station (8.5K), where fortunately no one tried to break away. In fact everyone paused long enough to grab a drink or two. We circled back to the south and east and hit 10K in 36 minutes, so this wouldn’t be a rocket fast day, but at 15 degrees the snow was perfect, and in spite of the pesky north wind, the cloudless day was perfect.

By the time we hit the first of the wooded sections, a K or two later, our train whittled down to seven skiers including myself. Young Harald (a Norwegian still in his 20s) took up most of the lead work. Also in the group was Jens, another 50 year old skier from Homer by way of Sweden. I beat him handily, by 4-5 minutes, at the Besh Cup 10Ks last month in Fairbanks and by 11 minutes at the Tour of Anchorage just two weeks ago. But here he was, looking strong and determined. Those races were past on vastly different types of terrain, and I could tell that Jens would be a force on this day.

Staying with them wasn’t taxing, but at the same time they weren’t slowing me down; it was moderate to high-end steady. A solid marathon pace. Dropping off was not an option, nor was trying to break away. These guys were my new best friends.

The course was flat and it was almost all double poling or kick-double poling. Every few minutes I’d break into a stride for 20 or 30 second just to give my arms and shoulders a break. At the next aid station we all stopped again took some drinks. No one wanted to lead, so we waited a couple seconds. Seven gentlemen. So polite.

Finally, Harald shook his head and took charge again, instantly we all followed in his wake as he scrambled up a short steep hill and back into the woods. Suddenly it was my turn to lead for a bit, so I took us for 4-5 minutes before dropping back to the back of the group.

The third aid station came up quick, only 20 minutes after the second one. Again, we took our time getting a drink or some food. Again, no one wanted to take off. And we waited. For a good 10 seconds we shuffled our feet, not looking at anyone directly. Once again, it was Harald who took off and we jumped right in line. I was third in the group behind a retro-looking guy who was wearing a t-neck and slightly baggy pants with wools socks half way up to his knees, while the rest of us were wearing lycra ski suits. He took a long pull of 6 or 7 minutes, and it was my turn.

View of Denali from the Oosik trail

Just then we skied into a vast open boggy area interspersed with scattered little spruce trees. Although the wind was in our face, averaging 10-15 miles an hour, the thing that took our breath away wasn’t that, or my attempt at holding a good pace, it was the vista. With Mt McKinley (20,300), Foraker (17,000) and Hunter (14,000) looming to our north—giant mounds of granite, snow covered and in full view. From its base just above sea level to its top in the realm of jet streams, McKinley is the tallest mountain in the world. But we don’t get full views all that often. Words like awesome or spectacular cannot do that view any justice.

What an sublime moment to be skiing hard through that bog. To borrow from REM singing about seven Chinese brothers, We were seven Alaskan brothers, double poling away, swallowing up the trail and view of the big mountains. You can’t top that. It was one of those rare, fleeting and magical moments in life where you just want a freeze frame, to enjoy it a little longer. Energized, I pulled for an extra K and dropped back. Everyone said, good pull! We were more than half way through and all was good.

Soon we turned around and started our 20K trek back to the river and Talkeetna. We came upon an aid station, and the band broke up. Mr. Big Butt (whom we later named) a somewhat paunchy skier who had done no pulling, skipped the aid station and skied away while the rest of us stopped. Heading down the river valley with a slight decline and with the wind at our back the pace picked up immediately. The racing was beginning and we strung out. Wool Socks dropped off, and Harald powered off in pursuit of Big Butt.

Fissures were showing as Jens and Jesse started pulling away too, about 20 or 30 meters ahead of Kramer and myself. I was feeling the burn, but with 18K or so to go didn’t want to push too hard. I let Kramer pass but tried to keep in contact. We were now back-tracking and passing some of the slower 50K skiers on their way out. The trail was winding through the woods and it took a lot of concentration to keep close.

In hindsight I should have grabbed a Gu before the next aid station but was so focused on keeping contact with the group. We dropped down the same short hill we had climbed a half hour earlier and the aid station was right there. For some reason they had no sport drink, only water. If I’d been thinking, I’d have grabbed a water and my Gu, some water and been gone, to make a little break from the group—to get ahead a bit and to let them catch me.

But I just waited my turn, got a drink and tucked in behind them. A couple Ks later, however, I could feel the blood sugar dropping, with 35-40 minutes of skiing ahead. I was only 10 to 15 m behind Jesse and Jens, and another 70 m behind Harald and Mike who were really making a push. Tough decision, but I took the Gu. Fumbling around my seams, I had to slow and dig one out. By the time I got going they were 100 meters up, and the competition was effectively over for me.

I kept a steady pace through the final aid station, with 8.5 K to go, took a last drink, when I dropped onto the river I was momentarily buoyed by the fact that they had congealed back into a group of four, some 30 to 40 seconds up. I was hoping that maybe one or two would drop off and I could muster the reserves to catch up—I also knew Dave was up there and couldn’t be holding that blistering pace forever—and thought that if I could rein in these guys I might get close to Dave.

I was right about that, but alas, it was not to be.

The final stretch

Within a K or two down the river, I could see that Jesse was pulling far out of sight; and that Harald, Mike, and Jens were now a minute ahead. I wasn’t quite bonking, but the energy was waning and my arms were getting weary from all the double poling. Passing the 25K skiers was getting more difficult. The river section was double tracked, with one track somewhat washed out. The other set was in better shape, but the sides were soft and my poles kept punching through, so I took the lesser tracks.

I did pick up a couple bonking skiers in the stretch and no one got me from behind, including the lead women who weren’t far back.

More excitement was up ahead. Last year’s NCAA champ Marius Korthauer won in 2:07:14, followed by Black Forest countryman Raphael Wunderle and American Dylan Watts--who remarkably had missed the start by several minutes, made up the gap by half-way, and stayed with the leaders until the final push. In the nine year history of the race, Korthauer is the only non-Norwegian to win.

I skied weakly off the river and onto the airstrip, and saw Dave check his watch. It looked like he’d been in for 10 or 15 minutes. Actually it was less than 3. Harald and Kramer had passed him with 1/2K to go, and Jens was right on his tail, just 4 seconds back at the finish. So us 50 yr olds took places 20, 21, and 22 with 2:34:54, 2:34:58, and 2:37:44 for me. A solid day for some old men.

No age group triple crown for me, but I’m happy with the effort. I raced as hard and was in a good position for most of the race but just didn’t have quite enough in tank to bring it home. My only (mild) disappointment is that I couldn’t stay with that group till the end. I’d have given big bucks, well maybe my rock skis, to be near where Jens was, and to see the look on Dave’s face!

The party is why I came and that alone was worth the trip. The old Sheldon Hangar (named for a famous Bush pilot) has been converted to a community/performing arts center. They served us beer and brats and pizza while old and new ski videos played on the giant screen. Then Verrier, a natural showman with a booming dude voice (he has more of that surfer look and demeanor than your average Nordic nerd), whipped through the entire awards (acknowledgments, top 3 overall for the two races, and 100 or so door prizes) rather entertainingly I might add, in less than a half hour.

Then he said let’s rip it up, roll up the tables, put away the chairs and strike up the band for rockin’ and dancing. Dave, Kramer, and I even got dragged out to the dance floor for a half an hour or so. Meanwhile, we just milled about, socialized with other skiers, or watched the continuous stream of videos from Olympics past, World Cup, or technique demos from the Norwegian team. At 11 we finally pulled ourselves away from the fun and found our lodging at Latitude 62. We were exhausted on the return, but Wow, that was one of the best road trips ever!

The Oosik Preamble: Getting There

Alaska range sunset

After completing two tough marathons on the previous two weekends, I wasn’t even planning on the skiing Oosik Classic in Talkeetna on Saturday March 21. But the sub zero weather wasn’t leaving the Interior, and I had been thinking it would be fun to go for an unofficial Alaskan marathon triple crown with the Tour or Anchorage, Sonot, and Oosik in succession. Also, my wife Tamara kept bugging me because several people had been asking her if I would be going. So finally on Tuesday I started sending out some inquiries to friends.

Local racer and age group ace Dave Edic, was interested, Bad Bob was going to his cabin a few miles off of the Parks highway and wouldn’t race. But he said we were welcome to stay at his place if we were willing to ski in. The adventure was on.

It was zero and the wind was blowing as we left Fairbanks after work on Friday. As we approached Denali National Park and Cantwell, it only got colder and windier, like -5 and 30-35 mph gusts. The sun was setting behind the Alaska Range by the time we got our gear ready and the car parked.

Dave sets out on the trail

The bluff and Alaska Range

We had navigated some 5K of snow machine trail that included a 200’ climb straight up a steep bluff, so steep that we had to take off our skis and flounder in the snow.

Dave at the top of the bluff

The cabin was a welcome sight, as it was getting dark and below zero with a howling wind. I ate a late dinner of Ramen, and Dave scarfed what must have been his 5th bagel sandwhich. At 10, when we should have been heading for the loft, Bob returned from an errand to bring some building supplies and Dave brought out the Guinness, so we swapped stories and lies with Bob and his wife, Sharon, and their son Danny. We were up until midnight.

Alaska Range

Sleep was fitful and by morning there was no way I wanted to crawl out of those covers because the temp in the cabin and dropped into the 30s. But we got rolling and after warming up with some hot tea and Tang, set out for the highway and Dave’s car at a little after 8.

Bob took off before I got my poles on, and I took off after him only to take one step before falling flat on my face. Got going again and caught up just in time to see him sit back on his skis and slide straight down that 200’ chute on his butt. No way, Dave and I took our skis off and walk-slid down.

Then on the last pitch with a hair pin, Bob used the old school trick of snow plowing while using his poles, braced between his legs as a brake. The guy is nuts.

Again Dave and I walked.

We bid Bob goodbye as he attended to his pile of plywood that he was tryihng to haul up to the cabin with a snowmachine, and got we to the highway at about 8:45. Then we had another mile to walk, along the highway. It was after 9 by the time we arrived at the car, and so had hour warm-up for a 50K.

Dave hadn’t trained much since Masters World Cup in France last month (where he took a couple of 14th places for the 50-54 age group, a bit off from top 10s from last year, but impressive). He was claiming poor fitness and said he was overtired, and would probably just tour the course.

I just hoped he’d get us there without falling asleep at the wheel, but I also didn’t believe that he was so run down. He was playing verbal Rope-a-Dope.

Finally we arrived at the parking lot in Talkeetna at 11, and I waxed my skis, sorted through my junk, and tried to figure what to take on the trail. Normally I just have a drink bottle and Gu’s stapled to the seam of my ski pants, but since this was a “wilderness race” without much support and potentially windy conditions out on the trail and Susitna River, I stuffed a fanny pack with a windbreaker, an extra set of gloves, a cliff bar, and some waxes, cork, and scraper. So I was loaded up, but ended up using none of that stuff except for two Gu's!

Getting it all together over the last half hour was the typical scramble; I always need an additional 20-30 minutes.

But with 5 minutes to go before the start, I realized I hadn’t gone pee. I didn’t think I’d make it to the loo and back in time to get a decent start position, so I thought I’d just take a few steps off the airport runway/start area and go out by some trees. I took a step off the runway thinking the soft snow might be a foot or two deep and promptly sunk up to my waist in snow. That wasn’t going to work. Finally, no pride here, I found a place out in the open, some 30 yards past the start line and got lined up with just a minute to spare.

After that audacious preamble, I was not sure what would be in store in the hours ahead. Nevertheless, there was solace in the thought that I'd wanted to do this race ever since moving here to Alaska and now I'd get the chance!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Frozen Solid on the Sonot Trail (race report)

The race itself was just a frigid blur, but the time seemed to go by fast even though I was 25 min slower than last year and was miserable almost every stride of the way,

Tyson Flaharty took off like a rocket and was gone up the first hill. Game set match. Race over. Apparently Davya Flaharty, did the same thing in the women’s race.

In our race, a pack of 5 or 6 skiers congealed and I tucked in behind them for less than 1K, before settling into my own pace. Then I played a game of cat & mouse with Bruce Miller who was skiing classic. Through most of the first 12K we see-sawed back and forth, staying within 100 meters or so. But he pulled way at about 14K, and I was resigned to 8th place, with Max Kaufman and an Anchorage skier about a minute or two ahead, respectively.

At the same time I was heading into the Warm-Up Loop at 15K, Mike Kramer, Dave Arvey and the Norwegian ringer, Tore Olsen were in a tight pack cresting the hill and entering the stadium area. That was the last I saw of them, but former World Cup skier (who boasts a top 20 finish, some 7-8 years ago) Olsen pulled away to finish in 2:29 to Arvey’s 2:31 and Kramer’s 2:32.

Coming into the stadium for my own lap, I shifted into a V2, a rare treat for this cold-slow day where almost everything was V1 (I did some marathon skating, with one ski in the track). At the lap, Bruce inexplicably pulled out of the race—he had been doing so well with the classic too!

Into the Black Loops, the hardest 10K of the course, where it’s dark, shady, and the snow was beyond slow—more like miserable sandpaper—and the hills are numerous and steep. The cognoscenti say that under no circumstances should a skier single stick stake (granny skate) at Birch Hill. Normally I don’t need to, but on Saturday up the steep climbs on Black Cross and Competition that’s what I did. Call me a wimp if you will, but it seemed more energy efficient than grinding up with a V1.

Caught Mr. Anchorage on Black Cross and we dueled it out for the next 8-10K, while slowly reeling Max into contact. But on Rollercoasters and White Bear, with about 12 K to go, he picked it up with some great transition-downhill skiing and caught Max at the Biathlon Range. At the far end of White Bear, just before the big hill a 200’ grinder, I caught also Max and started pulling away, hoping per chance that Mr. Anchorage, about 40 seconds up, would bonk.

Well, it was me who bonked half way up the hill at 36K. The rest of the race was a just a slow, wintery, and wobbly death march to the finish. By the top of the hill I had a good 30-40 sec on Max, after that but he whittled it down. I could barely stand going up the last hill on Warm Up. Into the stadium with 200 m to go Max was less than 20 m back and I was sure he’d take me down. We were punch drunk and frozen. But somehow I mustered enough energy to finish in 2:39:59, 12 seconds up.

I bent over and about collapsed. Race director Bad Bob, taking the day off from racing to keep things going well (which they did except for the weather), pinched my butt—Hey aren’t there laws against that kind of stuff!—and asked how’d it go?

IT SUCKED! Was all I could muster.
“Oh then, it must have been a good day out there,” he glibly replied.

Overall, it was probably as good as could be expected—maybe even better for me than the Tour, but it was not fun. I did not enjoy this year’s Sonot very much. Nevertheless, sometimes you just have to suck it up.

So let’s conclude with a list of those who, “sucked it up” and raced the two marathons, 6 days apart. Congrats to all of you!
Name Tour, Sonot, (Combined)
Tyson Flaharty 2:15:16, 2:15:06, (4:30:22)
Dave Arvey 2:23:53, 2:31:11, (4:55:04)
Chet Fehrmann 2:23:31, 2:35:15, (4:58:46)
Roger Sayre 2:34:37, 2:39:59, (5:14:36)
Max Kaufman 2:35:54, 2:40:12, (5:16:06)
Bill Pearson 2:31:17, 2:45:36, (5:16:53)
Ken Leary 2:40:47, 2:50:51, (5:31:38)
Rick Johnson 2:51:02, 3:11:06, (6:02:08)
Chris Puchner 3:29:37, 3:43:07, (7:12:44)
Tim Mowry 3:40:16, 4:40:34, (8:20:50)

Davya Flaharty 2:51:29 3:06:40, (5:58:09)
Jane Leblond 3:01:44 3:20:30, (6:22:14)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sonot 2009 Not So Fun

Sonot Kkazoot in Athabaskan means sliding on the snow in sping. It was anything but that this year. Normally this race is held on the weekend of the spring equinox, but due to some scheduling conflicts with dog mushing (Alaska’s number one sport) and the USSA Senior/Distance Nationals to be held here later this month, the race was pushed up a week. I balked when I saw the schedule, way back in November, because the race would be only 6 days after the Tour of Anchorage 50K. The club’s competition director, who is pretty much the Nordic decider here just said, “suck it up.”

Indeed, Mr. CD, I did suck it up and finished 6th, my highest placing for this race. I knew that the double would be tough. But it was not fun. That’s neither here nor there because the biggest detractor was beyond anyone’s control. It was cold.

How cold? So cold that:

• My wax test was a joke—glide, what glide? I needed a push to even start sliding down stadium hill, and it turned out that each run netted less glide than the previous. (I went with TOKO LF Blue with cold powder).

• Our thermometer was only -12 an hour and a half before the start; by race time at Birch hill it was about -5.

• Not only did the snow crunch and squeak like Styrofoam, sending those chills down your spine, the sound echoed from the trail surface to the ground and back. A hollow scraping sound with every stride.

• I covered my cheeks and nose with Duct tape to avoid frostbite. I still ended up with frostbite on my face.

• My sport drink froze within an hour (but I did get an exchange right then from my lovely wife).

• Even though I had Gu packets stapled to the seam of my racing suit, the honey like substance froze up and I had to actually bite and chew little bits at time rather than gulp it down in one lap of the tongue.

• Meanwhile, because I couldn’t get all the Gu out and had to carry the packet for a half K, the residual portions stuck to my gloves, which stuck to my poles.

It was that cold, and more. But I finished. (part II a blow by blow account follows)

Monday, March 09, 2009

TOA and Masters Nationals 50K

In spite of a crazy hectic schedule leading right up to the start (little things like packing, driving 7 hrs, and waxing skis for the junior racers as well as my own), and some wild weather late in the week which delayed our arrival by a day, the Tour of Anchorage was great. We had perfect weather--maybe 14 or 15 degrees--and superb snow. I also liked the new format where faster skiers go out at 8:30 while other waves hit the trail at 10 and after. This eliminated the congestion, human slalom, and some major stress out there on the trail from about 10K through 35K.

Was in perfect position through 9K, about 35th to 40th place wise at the end of a big train of 15 or 20 skiers, but I got dropped bad on the last downhills of Spencer Loop and never saw most of them again. Skied the mid Ks with another skier or two and we exchanged the work, but you really need 5 or 6 to make the drafting work.

Anyway, never bonked and just kept a steady-somewhat conservative pace throughout to finish 36th overall, 1st 50-54 (and 1st in US Masters Nationals!).

Monday, March 02, 2009

Alaska State Championship Relays: Rest of the Story

You can get the official -in print- account here:

but I don't think you'll get this POV anywhere.

Both relay races for the boys and girls at the AK high school state championships were close and exciting, and not really decided until the end. The last leg of boys race was particularly intruiging. Andrew Dougherty of Anchorage South, who had finished 2nd in the freestyle, had a solid 7 second lead over Donald Haering of West Anchorage at the exchange. Considering he had a minute on Haering in the Ski Meister competition you'd think that he could hold that lead and maybe increase it a little. But by 2K into the leg 5K, they were skiing side by side through the puffy newly fallen snow.

Coming off of Tower Loop and Roller Coaster Cuttoff, at 3K, the leaders were practically walking, with Haering skating easily, glancing back at Dougherty every 10-15 m. Just before entering the stadium Haering motioned for Dougherty to lead. Dougherty hung back and the skiers almost came to a stop in front of the 100 or so spectators at the corner.

Dougherty eased around Haering, staring into his eyes as they rounded the turn, and suddenly he turned it on from Level 1 to Mach 5, and the skiers rocketed down the backstretch with just under 2K to go. Fast skiers usually take only 3.5 to 4 min on Warm Up Loop, but the games apparently continued, with some slogging and sprinting and I bet their circuit took 30 seconds to a minute longer than they could have done.

The skiers came out of the final hill on Warm Up, and Haering had a slight lead with 120 m to go. But Dougherty turned on the afterburners once again and blazed to a 1.6 second victory. These were two of the four best skiers who skied at State, but their splits were more than a minute behind Lathrop's Jordan Buetow, and only 7th and 8th splits for the anchor leg.

I wondered if they'd throw fists, glare, or just ignore each other afater crossing the line. However, even though they'd had a heated battle out on the course, they patted each other on the back and shook hands. All in good competition.