Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Fear and Loathing on the 10K Trail

No doubt that was one tough race, and I definitely got my money's worth on the machismo front. Was it fun? I think I was too borderline fatigued throughout and after, not to mention wracked with anxiety beforehand, to enjoy it much. The weather was good, I'll give it that! Moreover, it was great to ski in the same race with my kids as well as several from the team.

With about three inches of fresh snow and temps at 22F what's not to like about that. The course, well we talked about that the other day. We zeroed in on an extra blue wax, and if you wanted some extra kick a bit of Star Tar wax, topped of with more extra blue was the way to go. That's what I used, adding on the layers with about 10 minutes to spare. I had very good kick but just so-so glide so it was a trade-off. But considering the four tough "A" climbs (2X 150 ft, and 2X 100 ft) I did not want a repeat of last week when I waxed too light and paid a high price.

Hit south tower in the middle of the high school's chase pack in about 10th or 11th place. The leaders were not going out hard and were not far ahead by the time we crested South Tower, but after the Descent and Roller Coasters/Medevac and up the sprint hairpin, maybe 2.5K, that was the last I saw of them. My son Mikko and the three or four other high schoolers passed me there and it was all I could do to not lose more ground because it was no man's land after that, with Bad Bob lurking back there. I could hang okay with the kids on the climbs and was content to just stay close.

The second lap was a blur of hypoxia, just trying to maintain form. Mikko pulled ahead of the group and we strung out. I managed to stay about in the middle of that group with Bobby, who used to be on the club's Comp Group back in the day.

I was pretty happy to finish with a sprint at the end, striding seemed better than double poling, to cross the line 12th at 37:21.

Now granted I'm older, more feeble of body and mind than I once was, but I don't recall a tougher 10K - 15K race classic course anywhere. That includes years at high altitude in Colorado, the Utah Winter Games (at 7000 ft) near Park City, US Nationals at Royal Gorge in California, fabled World Cup course in Biwabik, MN, or the 1980 Olympic course at Mt. Vanhovenberg near Lake Placid, NY. The Olympic Course at Lake Placid probably was the most comparable, that had 477  meters of climb (1500 ft) over 15K. Royal Gorge had next toughest. I have heard that the trails in Canmore, Alberta, site of the 1988 Olympics and several World Cups may be even more difficult (especially considering the 5,000 ft elevation there), but when you're comparing a little old citizen's race in the outback of central Alaska with famous Olympic venues it does make you think WTF?!

Again, I get the rationale behind this. Give the top local junior skiers the opportunity to race on the course that they will use for Junior Nationals here this spring. Those who do well at the qualifers next month, as well as the high school regional championsips, will be seasoned/familiar and will have a home course advantage.

Nevertheless, from the perspective of an aging masters citizen racer the course was over the top for 80 or 90% of the participants. Beforehand I was saying that this was it, I'd never do another NSCF Town Series race again. Now that it's over, I'll say while that may not be the case, I would prefer alternative options. For example, the next race is just a 5K freestyle on a course that is just as tough. 5K? How about offering the 20 and over set a rolling 15K on the Gundeloppet course, or some derivative of Outhouse and Tower, or even North 40 (very tough and technical in it's own right, but not in the Gorilla category)?

The kids did well, son Tristan had a big break through in the second half, pulling from 7th to 4th and nearly catching the lead group to finish in 33:54, while older brother Mikko held his own and was 10th in 36:50.

Finally, a really interesting tidbit. Top 3 skiers age 20 and over? Dave (35:00), me, and Bad Bob (38:24). Only 14 or 15 men outside of the junior divisions even raced. For a ski town that's thin, too thin.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Call for Moderation

This rant will not be heeded of course, and what I say can and will likely be used against me. But speak out I will.

I definitely like a challenge with skiing and running and I willingly do tough courses and races. However, we've gone a bit over the top with classic racing here. Maybe it's time to consider a little moderation (and variety!!!) in course design.

Back when we first moved here in 2004 the classic courses varied somewhat, but generally rolling terrain on Relay and Tower Loops with bigger climbs on White Bear and Tower Direct. The tougher course was the "Three Hills" loop, of Blue Loop, Tower Direct, White Bear, and Competition. Those were not easy, but since those days the race courses have only got progressively more difficult.

This year they've more or less gone to the same course over and over again: Relay Start (not the whole loop anymore) for 700 m, then up South Tower, a 150 foot climb over a little over a quarter mile, down White Bear Access and right back up the extended hill (100 foot climb over about 250 or 300 meters), down half of Warm Up, and right back up the hill into the stadium; then you do it all over again.

Here's the course profile.

This course with 350 meters of total climb over 10K is well within the FIS limits that range between 250 and 420 meters (see page 38: http://www.fis-ski.com/data/document/icr-cross-country-2012.pdf). That's all well and good, but what is a little off this year (and last) is that basically most of the local (including high school races) less than 15K are classic mass start events, using this course.

Tour de Ski Fairbanks (7.5K, derivative, but it included all the same hills)
Town Race 3 (tomorrow)
Besh Cup 5
High School Regional Championships
Junior Nationals

Now I can see the advantage of having the young athletes vying for Junior Nationals to learn this course and to race it, but does every race have to be basically the same? I'd prefer to have tomorrow's race (which is dubbed a Citizen's Race) to be on the traditional rolling course that includes all of Relay Loop, Tower Loop (or maybe Tower Direct, which is the same height--actually a little higher from the stadium--as South Tower but not nearly as difficult) and White Bear.

What's more. Why is it every single year the high school Regional Championship 10K here a classic race? Hello? Does anyone believe in alternating with freestyle? Apparently not.

Once again, this demonstrates the need to break out of having the same people (or one person) make all the decisions when it comes to racing. We need some diversification of ideas and opportunities in Fairbanks.

Monday, January 07, 2013

20K Classic: More Drama Thanna Wanna

Well it wasn't too bad, but my issues with classic skiing continue. It seems I'm alloted about one decent classic race a year, but actually it's been about two years now because all my four or five races last year were a disaster. This one was a mixed bag, it had some disasterous elements but a lot of silver linings too.

It was my first classic race in about a year. Hard to believe, but after last year's January cold snap in which I barely raced (maybe once in Homer and that was freestyle) I don't think I did any classic races in February or March. I bought a pair of Fischer Carbon Lites last year and have been getting used to them, while working in the glide wax since we got the new snow last month. So far so good.

My goal was to keep Dave in sight through the first lap, which means be in the stadium at the same time (roughly 60 seconds back). Got off to a good start in a thin field. Mostly just us geezers out there and not many at that! Youngster Sean took off fast but he was doing only 10K so I settled in comfortably 5 to 10 sec behind Dave through the Tower Loop's rolling switchbacks.

(photo Sam Harrel, Fairbanks Daily News Miner)

Was surprised to see us cut down before the Tower "wall" and head out onto White Bear: I thought the course map published last week had said otherwise!

We were crusing along well, not much over 3 min/KM by the time we hit the biathlon range and I felt that my wax choice (Rode Multigrade Blue on top of a thin layer of Swix VR45) was just about right. But Dave pulled away in the range and on the climb out, and as far as keeping in contact that was all she wrote for me. The tracks seemed more icy on White Bear (verfied by a couple other skiers after the race), and my kick was  no longer working. Past the Sonot Cutoff I could only kick double pole and do a very quick short stride, which took a lot of energy, so I went from feeling great at 4 or 5 KM to semi-panic by 6 or 7.

I thought we'd turn at the 4.5 KM cutoff but kept going to the 6.5. The long downhill and flats helped to recover and I was relieved we'd be skipping the hills and technical skiing on Moilainen's Meadow. WRONG! The trail turned right onto the Meadows.

I made it up on the first of the four climbs (each about 25 to 45 sec) just fine and in the tracks, but then my wheels fell off and I had to more or less walk--increasingly slowly--with baby steps up the others to avoid slipping out. Dave and Sean were way out of sight, and I noticed other skiers who had been back by about about 30 sec, to a minute or more were gaining.

We hit 10K well before the long climb out of White Bear, so I knew the course would be long. I met Tamara in the stadium and she had my wax bag ready and it was all I could do to make into the lap lane in time to slip off my skis to add some VR45. The guy in 3rd had been gaining for the past 3K or 4K and passed me within seconds of stopping. I put two layers on each ski. In hindsight that was too much, because I could have gotten by with one probably and saved 30 sec. Plus my skis were a little draggy after that.

The pit stop took about 90 sec give or take a few.

4th place just passed me as I started the 2nd lap after only a sec to grab a 3 oz drink. I passed him again on Stadium Hill and never had to look back. I seemed to be gaining on the guy in 2nd and was about 1:15 behind on Tower and was confident that I was gaining. Bomber Kick! And I love those new skis.

But going around the U turn on Tower I noticed my boot was becoming unzipped (a chronic problem and duct tape didn't hold this time) and my ski slipped out around the dowhnill turn at full speed and I did a season's worst full-on head plant (make that two seasons). That Hurt.

I felt something in my head/neck sort of crack saw a flash and thought momentarily did I just give myself a concussion? However, by the time I was exiting Tower into the stadium area I had regrouped and decided to press on. Second place was out of sight in the biathlon range and White Bear heading out, but I did see him one last time on the long climb heading to Moilainen's. He was just about 1 minute ahead. He'd have to fold pretty big for me to catch him over about 3.5K, but it gave some hope. I poured it on, although coming out of the first climb on Moilainen's I crossed my pole over my ski and went down again. Untangling took longer than I wanted, and by that point my legs were locking up, so finishing the last two climbs was tough!

After all those histrionics over 22KM (course was 22.4KM), not much left at the end. I was spent.

Dave 1:14:28 just blasted the course, 2nd was 1:19:37, and I was 1:21:12.
Now for the silver linings. I'm still happy to get 3rd overall, and in spite of the problems the speed rate was good (3:37/KM including pit stop) and 3:33 if you separate the laps. Moreover, I think my lap splits were very close to even, about 39:50 each excluding the stop. And finally, although I didn't catch the guy up ahead (our final lap was probably almost exactly the same), no one else from behind caught me, and in fact I was able to pull away comfortably, as they were entering the stadium at by the time I got rolling again but were several minutes more back by the end.

Not a big fan of mass start classic races (unless they are small distance races like Saturday's) but I guess I'll sign up for this week's 10K classic.