Gundeloppet 15K, slow but not a death march
Our trails had been fast following the November ice storm, but that came to an abrupt end on Saturday morning when about an inch of fine powder fell through the dark icy skies. It was -4 at the start and the snow was slow, so slow that a lot of people chose to classic ski instead of skate.
Unless you're totally into classic (or must do so because of knees or something, as I've been for most of the past season and a half), that was probably a tactical error.
The 90 racers included most of the UAF team, a smattering of high schoolers, and several of the old dogs like me who keep racing/don't know when to quit.
Within the first km, the pack of 10 or so (mostly UAF) had pulled away already, and I was almost alone chasing a 2nd pack, including 3 classic skiers: high schooler Stefan Hajdukovich, sub masters Dave Arvey, and age group rival Dave Edic. They were flyin! And I thought there was no way I'd be able to keep up for 15K, let alone for the first 5.
Distraction and focus came from UAF's two top women, Germans Raphaela Sieber and Theresia Schnurr, who skied up from behind on Relay loop at about 1K. Seiber pulled steadily away and by 3K was leading a pack of 4 or 5 men. I tried to settle in, skiing with Schnurr through the climb on Tower about 30 sec behind the "train" of about 5 skiers who were drafting off Sieber. Just before the top of Tower, at the highest point on the course I passed Schnurr, and headed to White Bear now sort of in no man's land. Somewhere through there I had passed Arvey and Edic, but young Stefan was kicking and gliding very strong up ahead, mostly outside of the tracks--which hadn't been re-groomed following the snowfall.
UAF's Dave Apperson pulled up on me by the Sonot Cutoff and we took off in pursuit of the group ahead.
We caught Raphaela's train on White Bear Hill, a 5 minute grinder, at about 10K. I just hung on, at the back of the 7 skier pack. Jim Button and Wyatt Mayo busted out about 2/3 of the way up the hill, and I was thinking that few years ago I might have tried the same move, or at least gone with them, but this time I just continued at the back of the pack.
With about 2K to go, coming out on the hill in Moilanen's Meadow, I passed Raphaela and Max Kaufman--can't count the times Max and I have met on White Bear hill and in Moilanen's. That surge hurt, and it continued hurting all the way up the last hill on White Bear Access, a 1.5 min climb followed by some techincal up and down S-turns. Although this is my favorite stretch at Birch Hill, I was in a fog and slowed. Raphaela caught me in the stadium, and I hung on, barely.
We rounded the final turn toward the finish and with 100 m to go, I gave it all and outkicked her by a couple of seconds. 16th overall, 1st in age group, and 2nd 40 and over (about a minute behind master's skier Jim Button who I think actually raced in that 1980s World Cup race with Svan, and about 9 minutes behind UAF's David Norris--hopefully Norris will have some World Cup starts in the next year or two.
So a good showing for FAST, former and current. David, now a Nanook, won for the 2nd year in a row. Logan won the high school division, Kuba took the high school 7K with a stellar perfomance, while Sam took the middle school crown. And now as the oldest and grumpiest FAST skier, I skated away the old man's title.
Next time won't be so easy as Edic will think twice about doing classic in a freestyle race, and Lokken on a comeback of his own is only going to get stronger!
A lot to be thankful for. Completing a tough skate race with slow conditions, the knee held up throughout, it was only a little sore after the race, and the overall finish was fairly close to where I had left off in winter 2008-2009.
On to Besh Cups, where I'll be coaching more than skiing.