So it's come to this. It seems that I can no longer hang with the train in the elite wave. And it is very apparent that on the Chester Creek Trail in particular, and Coastal Trail, the success of your race is very dependent on savvy drafting and keeping in contact. I just couldn't get the job done, and yesterday's effort was much like 2009 and 2011. Not that I'm complaining too much.
Here's how it went down. Started in row 3, we cruised through the first K without mishap, which is always good, and settled into a pace. A nice train of 20 skiers was just up 20 or 30 meters of but I settled in behind a masters skier who usually does well because I was already working hard didn't want go under too early.
By Spencer Loop (between 5 and 6K) that group was about 15 sec up, and I was in chase group of about 7 skiers. I made my way up to the front by the arduous 500 foot climb and set out to catch a couple of stragglers. Was right in contact at the top, then a youngster from UAA biffed on an S turn and crashed big time. Squirted around him barely and had Dave Arvey and #33, wearing an old UAF uniform, right there. Onto the Chester Creek path, I tried hard to maintain contact. Was just less 3 sec back at 15K (roughly 48:50) but was fighting it. Had to come to decision, keep fighting to stay with these guys--breathing hard--or feed and hope to catch up in the middle somewhere. I took a Gu and drank a bit of sport drink and was suddenly 12 to 15 sec back. It's such a maddening trade off! There goes train 2.
Skied by myself through about 20k, when I heard two guys coming up from behind. The UAA guy who had fallen and #97 from wave 2 and they were FLYING! So latched on and enjoyed 4 or 5K of great drafting. Using no more energy than before but instead of 3 min Ks, we were doing 2:50 or so. Then it happened, my one quick lapse of the race. Just before APU we made a sharp left, and my left ski tracked a little too far and it dove into the deep snow on the trail side. I didn't fall, but it threw me momentarily, and suddenly I was 3 or 4 seconds behind. I fought hard to get back but could feel HR racing and again didn't want to go under just half way into the race. Soon we started weaving through waves of classic skiers who had just started. Six seconds became 10 and there was no catching back onto Train #3.
At this point there was nothing left to do but return to my bottom feeding ways--steady effort, keeping it strong but within myself, and hoping to catch drop offs, as we approached the Coastal Trail at 35K. In years past I've been able to pick off 6 to 10 skiers this way. But not this year. Caught #26 at about 30K and we jockeyed back and forth through 40K. I took one last Gu at about 42K and he passed me; that got me charged up and I put it down. A top elite, wearing bib 003 was fading badly and I caught him. With about 4 or 5 to go I saw Max up ahead--not again! I thought!
Max and I after the Tour 2012 (photo by Bruce Guard)
In my latest two Tours and on of the recent Sonots (2009 I think), Max skied strongly the entire way but somehow I've been able to catch him on the last hill. Sure enough, powere up the long dreadful climb into Kincaid I reeled in Max. I was wobbly, but could keep the tempo. Sorry Max. 2:34:03. 36th, but 1st in age group. I think the 30K the other week was a little better, as the guys I hung with there (a minute or so behind) were several (5 to 10) minutes ahead. But at 54, I'm not complaining either. It was another good day at the Tour, my favorite race in Alaska.