Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sonot 50K: On the Short Side of Epic in the 50+

I had a feeling that we might have a tight race Jim L, Dave E, and myself for the grizzled crown (50+) at this year's Sonot. In the past several years (well I missed last year due to having a cold) I've been able to pull away early, keep on hammering the hills, to win the "Old Guys" division fairly comfortably. But those two have upped their game in the past year, while mine hasn't quite been where it was in 2011-2013. Heading in I envisioned a possible tight pack through 25K and then climbing out of Black Gold and pulling away. Certainly, I didn't want a long slog 10K on the river--out there anything can happen, and it often comes down to a sprint and I don't have much of one of those in my racing tool kit. Better to have strong lead going onto the river with enough in the tank to hold on.

The lead group of eight or skiers jumped out quickly (well under 2:30 for the first km) and we congealed into a second, behind Bill P, originally a local now living in Anchorage, who was caught in no-man's land. Surprisingly Chris G-S was the one pushing the pace. By 2 or 3K we caught Bill and had a train of five. And so it would be.

After we caught Bill just tucked in and tried to relax, we went through 10K quick at under 27 minutes. Onto Fort Wainwright and firm ground I hung behind until the first turn on the hill. We slowed so decided to push it up a bit to see what we were all about. I pushed moderately hard and could not shake them over the next kilometer--so I knew I'd have my limits. On to White Bear I dropped back 10 or 15 sec on to get some Gu, but caught up by the top of the big hill (15K). They jockeyed some and I hung at the tail end of the group through 20K, and 30K. Finally onto Relay Loop after a caffeinated Gu and a little Coke out on the trail, courtesy of UAF asst. coach Christina, I felt energized and recovered and start. Bill, who's in his 30s, muttered something about us Old Guys a little as I passed. I was hoping to drop the other two Old Guys on Tower, a tactic which has worked in the past, well usually it's a matter of attrition, rather than any brilliant skiing on my part.

Meanwhile, I could see up and comer Shalane on the loops, maybe only a minute behind us. So I didn't want our pace to lag. We strung out, Dave seemed to be falling off some, but they all stayed in contact. So I tucked in on the downhills and cruised for a few more ks. Pace really flagged on the steep off-center hill by the biathlon range, so I jumped and tried to make one more push.

On the downhill switchbacks onto the Fort Wainrwright connector (2 kms of fun!), Bill and Chris went down on an icy turn. Then near the bottom of the ski slope Jim fell, but popped up quickly. So I had the lead of our little group. I pushed all the way to the river and to the 41K marker before turning over to Jim for a pull. However, the other guys came right back within a couple hundred meters. So were back to five. We passed through the final aid station at 43K, and I was feeling strong, tucked in right behind Chris who was doing the work, and Jim. However, I could see Shalane coming up from behind--hadn't been girled at the Sonot since 2007 when Bill's sister Kate won. However, that was a moot point, because Becca was up with the lead group and she wasn't coming back! All was good, I felt like I could hang and maybe latch onto Shalane if she passed us.

Then it happened. So quickly, and decisively. Jim went down (caught a tip in soft snow he said) right in front of me and I had no time to react, so I somersaulted over him--might have been a full blown flip--and landed on my back. Then then the pain set in. Massive cramps. My calves just seized up and I felt paralyzed from the knees down. I screamed in agony. AAAAGGGGGGGGGGGAAGGGGGGHHHHH! Clutched at my legs.

Jim got up and asked if I was OK. I just screamed some more. AAAAGGGGGGGGGGGAAGGGGGGHHHHH! A few seconds later Dave skied by and asked "Did you break your leg or was that just a cramp?"


Dave took off. Then Jim.

At some point Shalane skied by all of us. I don't remember, that was all a blur.

I was just a heap on the snow, with any semblance of a strong finish rapidly fading. I got up an started off slowly. Shalane had passed Chris and Bill who had avoided the mess. They looked to be 30 seconds up already, Dave was maybe 20 seconds ahead, Jim 15. It took another minute or two to get my wits and a rhythm back, but at least I was on my feet and moving. I set to work to cut the gap. My calves were tight, but no more cramping ensued. Running a bit low on energy but not bonking.

With 2K to go, I was only down by about 10 seconds to Dave, who was trying to keep in contact with Jim. Chris and Bill were another 8 or 10 seconds up on them. Shalane was gone gone gone. With 1K to go, by the bridge I kept pushing--weakly. Half K to go, the finish line in sight, bam, down went Jim. Again!

Dave hammered past, Jim got up looking wobbly. I gained and caught him with about 100 m to go. Passed him momentarily but he had just enough push to finish a half ski length ahead.

What a day!

I was exhausted and wanted to puke the blue juice they had been serving us out on the trail. It took a few minutes to gather my composure, physically and mentally. I could not believe that the race had ended that way.

Yes, I was disappointed, but this was also the most exciting of my seven Sonot finishes. Those guys put on a good race effort for the entire way. They never let me break away. Sometimes weird, unpredictable things happen out there on the trail, especially over that last 10K on the river. Yes, I do wish we'd have all stayed on our feet down that last stretch to see who had the most at the end, but nobody is at fault here.

Here are some closing quotations from the racers.

Chris (8th place male) had the race of his life. "I just wanted go hard from the beginning and see what I had."

Bill (9th), remarked "I've been trying to drop you old geezers and it isn't working!"

Dave (10th), "I thought you might really be hurt there, but when you said it was just a cramp, Boom! I had to go!"

Jim (11th), "Sorry about the fall out there. I almost never fall."

Me (12th) kudos all to your good races!

Just like what I said after Tour of Anchorage, will I be back next year? I don't know. I was thinking of dropping down to the 40K or doing something else entirely. We'll see.


Blogger Bill Pearson said...

I believe I said "I've been trying to drop you old geezers and it isn't working." Nice job on recovering from that hard crash.

10:33 PM  
Blogger Bill Pearson said...

I believe I said "I've been trying to drop you old geezers and it isn't working." Nice job on recovering from that hard crash.

10:34 PM  
Blogger Roger said...

Hi Bill, got it. Nice job, and good to see you out there. You and Chris did a lot of the work! Yes it was a tough group to shake.

1:13 PM  

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