Tour of Anchorage "50K" and I was supposed to Retire after this
This year's Tour of Anchorage (TOA) was part of the National Masters Championships, so I signed up for th 50K--typically my favorite event and usually my best. Whereas in running I'm sort of a jack of all trades, in skiing I'm a distance/marathon skate specialist. Not good for much else, if that.
However, in the weeks and days preceeding there was some doubt as to whether they'd even have the races. In early-mid February there was practically no snow on the trails, or so we heard. But by late month they got some snow and were able to pull it off. Barely.
We drpve down Friday afternoon/evening and I got up Saturday morning, only to find that the 50K was shortened to 26K because there were standing puddles and bare spots on the lower portions of the course. This was disappointing because on this course, good things don't usually start happening to me until 35K along the Coastal Trail. That's where my early pacing pays off and I sometimes catch 10 or 15 skiers.
With a narrow trail (single lane mosty) for the first half of the course, I knew tactics would become very important. I'd have to ski fairly agressive, but it was also very icy underneath and the last thing I needed was a fall or broken equipment.
Temps were high teens to low 20s, with an icy hardpack for snow. The start was fast (wave start, 50 per wave), and I managed to stay on my feet through the rolling-winding 5K Service-Hillside trail section with its short ups and fast hairpin turns. The climb up the Spencer Loop is always frustrating because, I'm generally strongest at the hills, but the trail is too narrow to pass many skiers, so I generally just tuck in and wait. I was with a group of five others, when four of them put on a little gap (5-6 seconds) while I was stuck behind this rather tall (6'2" or 6' 3") guy who was just off the pace--I stayed there until the final pitch before getting around. That hesitation and those few seconds would cost up to 45 seconds by the end of the race.
Once down the screaming fast downhills by Hillside and onto the gentle Campbell Creek bike path those skiers were just ahead 5-10 seconds at 10-12K. Not quite close enough to draft off. So I skied almost as hard as I could to keep in contact, but never closed that gap. By 15K they were 30 sec up. So I from about 8K to 21 or 22K it was alone, no rest, no drafting. Just forge ahead keep pushing.
We also had slow snow at about 15-18K and I fell into a funk, was kind of flailing, just hoping to hang on. My skis kept wanting me to do the splits--couldn't hold my edges on the icy trails, or what's left of them.
Finally, between 21 and 22K a group of three, including two who had started in Wave 2, plus local masters skier Jim L, and the woman who would end up 2nd overall, caught me. So I hung onto their fast tempo but also was able to regroup. With 1.5K to go the trail widened for a bit, so I decided to move and skated around them. I was pulling away, with them about 30 m back. I kept digging, but then my lungs just seized. I've never had this sensation. It wasn't quite hypoxia, like running a fast 5K or 3K, and not at bonking like in a marathon. Maybe a bit like an asthma attack, but I wasn't wheezing and my lungs were not congested. It just felt like my lungs were being squished like a sponge and I couldn't breathe properly. I held it off for about a minute but with 1K, I slowed down, for 10 seconds and let the three skiers go by, before settling into a drafting again. We wound through the woods and had couple short climbs before the final There were no results when we left the race venue yesterday morning, but they did not post anything online until this morning, almost 24 hours after we had crossed the line.
26K, 1:14:17 49th place, 1st in age class by just 9 seconds ahead of Dave Edic, fresh off his two month European and North American tour! My second Masters Nationals win (also 2009 in a true 50K also at TOA).
It was not a pretty race for me, but it's over.
Now about that retirement. I don't know. In the weeks preceeding this weekend I wasn't exactly enjoying things and I figured this might be it for competitive 50Ks. Hang it up and leave it to the experts here who really know what they're doing--not some out of state poser, non-Alaskan, or any other pejorative you care to throw in there--unlike me.
But, now that the race was shortened in half, what do I do (or not) for next year? Who knows. I have 9 or 10 monts to figure it out.