Trudging Through the Sludge
It had been cold, with sub zero temperatures all week, culminating with three or four inches early on Sunday morning. They did a good job grooming, but there was not enough time for the tracks to set. So not only was the glide painfully slow, the snow sheared with each stride as you pushed off.
In addition, my attitude isn’t so great anymore. I’m just not so into ski racing this year.
Nevertheless, I was sort of looking forward to do an actual endurance race (anything over an hour fits that category), but also dreading what completing 30K under those conditions would entail.
We were off just after 11, at -1. My plan was to hang back and then move up midway. But I threw that out immediately and tucked into 6th. Maybe over my head, but the alternative would be to ski 99% of the race in no man’s land. Up ahead the leaders bolted out. The field strung out by 1K, but we had a nice little group of three and the pace wasn’t too daunting although I did feel like I was in over my head. Max pushed the pace most of the way, but I took over on Tower Loop for a couple Ks, before Bruce blasted by us on the downhills. He always has fast skis.
Felt okay at the end of Lap 1 (6K), but with three 8K laps ahead could tell it would be a long day. Lap 2 was much the same, and the challenge was to hold on, try to stay light on my feet, and not break through the weak layer of snow. They dusted me on the downhill again, but I caught up by the stadium and Warm-Up loop. Then something funny happened. They fell off and I kept going.
Laps 3 and 4 were just a lonely trudge on the hills and switchbacks. Stadium, Blue Loop, Outhouse, Relay, Tower. A lot of time to think and reflect and dwell on the fact that this course featured a lot of climbing! From the bottom of Warm Up to the top of Tower (probably about 24 minutes of skiing on this day) you are climbing about 80% of the time with a few 1 or 1.5 minute breaks. Knowing how long it usually takes to compete a 30K here (I’ve been at 1:30+/- usually) and how long I’d been out on the trail I kept reminding myself that I still had another lap to go! No no no!
I wasn’t having a good day. Slow, numb, and old I guess, but had nothing to do but onward. And did I say it was cold? My face and other body parts were feeling it.
Going up Tower Loop the last time I saw one of the early leaders coming back. He’s a big strong guy and this soft snow must be torture. I brought it home the last few Ks, getting a little delirious on the last hill so I single sticked half way up. Heresy!
Crossed the line and then the fun began, first I tried to open my frozen water bottle to get some warm Gatorade from the insulated dispensers, but that failed and all I got was a cramp in my diaphragm. Once inside my body started to thaw out, and I ended up lying on the bench in the men’s changing room for 10 or 15 minutes. Agony.
In the end, 3rd place, but there is no glory in that, just another frozen also-ran a good 15 minutes back from the winnner.
Couldn’t eat anything for about 90 minutes, so much for recovery refueling, and after I got home I doubled over with intestinal cramps for another 10 minutes. Finally got into the shower and then some food, just in time to see the amazing men’s 4 X 10 km relay in the Olympics! That was the highlight of the day.