Monday, March 26, 2012

World Cup finals: Boden, Sweden

Believe it or not, life has been kinda crazy for pretty much all of March. Weekends were packed, and so were weeks, and I was reaaaallly looking forward to spring break. Except, instead of a break, I went to Sweden, leaving on a redeye sunday night of EHS. Let's just say I slept really well on that flight.

After some good results in California at the first round of World Cups, I was excited to do it again. I guess I hadn't really considered how much of a drain all the coaching and not-training and driving stupid amounts every week would actually take on me. I came into this week under-trained and under-rested, racing on fumes and dreams. It meant that reality was a bit hard to stomach. Both Ali and I had equipment hardships, but that didn't change the fact that I did some poor navigating and some worse ski racing. I did have a good time while here, but I really would have liked to have had a good race. Oh well, take the downs with the ups.

Wednesday was the first race, a sprint distance. I felt like a total spazz. I made some errors early on, and never felt comfortable either on my skis or with the navigation. I don't really want to talk about that one too much.

The following day was a relay, and because you need three to score, and we only had two women and one man, Ali and I joined Greg in the men's relay so that we'd have a scoring team. This took the pressure off, since we knew that we'd probably be out of it; those World Cup men are fast! So this was a good day to practice being out in the terrain and using my map intelligently. Not that I necessarily did that, but still, practice is good.

Boden has tons of bridges and tunnels and stuff in their ski stadium (Pagla ski stadium), this is the lead men flying over the first bridge.

The Swedes won wire to wire, although my mad action-photo skillz certainly leave something to be desired in this shot...

Ali coming in to the map exchange in the relay.

The following day was a rest day, so we did a quick ski in the morning, and then went on the cultural tour offered by the organizers. It was a bus tour around Boden, which is a pretty small city, 27000 people all told. The guide was sort of reaching for things to talk about, although maybe Max Hamburgers really are so good that they're worthy of mention on a bus tour - we didn't try any. Probably should have! One thing we definitely should have done was checked out the awesome indoor-outdoor waterslide at Nordpoolen. Looks so cool!

Saturday was a middle distance race, and this went marginally better, from the navigation standpoint. Unfortunately, I did a rookie move, and changed my pole baskets the night before. Naturally, I lost a pole basket, and early on, on the way to #2. I turned around and picked it up, but then lost it again shortly thereafter. This made for slow skiing, because navigating those narrow trails with one pole is not easy. There was an equipment/coaching control at #8, so I basically limped along until there, losing a few minutes. MINUTES. ouch. I got to the equipment control, and I'd missed the cut-off to put out any of my equipment, so I was begging people for poles. The Norwegian coach had an extra, so I strapped it on and set off to finish the course as fast as possible! A few more little mistakes, but overall, things were good after re-acquiring a pole. Alas and alack, that could have been a good one.

The ultra-long was on Sunday. Ski-o marathon, wooo! Women were doing 24.7km straight-line, which turned out to be 33km shortest-skiable distance. This was where my lack of fitness really showed - my arms were dead meat by the third loop, and I just couldn't go that fast. It didn't help that I'd waxed according to the weather forecast, which didn't actually predict 5 inches of new snow. My skis were dogs. I don't do well with slow skis, because I don't have the fitness to put out extra effort, but that was a factor out of my control, so I tried not to obsess about it. Nothing you can do.

The first loop went really well for me, right up until I reached the stadium. There was a maze of narrow trails basically within sight of the finish, and I'd messed that up pretty badly in the sprint and middle, so was really trying to get it straight this time. But each time I got there, instead of being logical, I would ski around like a chicken with its head cut off, and check out every control until I could find mine. This is NOT an effective technique. So, I went from the front of my group to the back, as I lost 30 seconds in there bumbling around. I figured that was ok, I could make it up, and now I could see them going in to controls. But then I made another gaffe, and took my map #4 instead of my map #2. It took me way too long to figure this out, and 2:45 later, I was back in the stadium shoving my map into its #4 hole and pulling out the map #2. D'oh! Now I'd truly lost that group.

I set off on the second loop, telling myself it was a long race and I had time to make it up. By about 2/3 of the way through loop 2, I was seeing a Russian and a Norwegian ahead of me, so I knew things were looking up. We caught up to a Finn, who was going pretty slowly, and I was starting to think that I could do this - the pace wasn't bad, and I was in control and feeling good. Then we got back to the stadium, and I totally messed up that maze, again checking out every control before eventually finding mine. WTF, Alex, you have a map to show you where to go! Use it.

Now I'd lost that group, too, but coming in to the map exchange, I could see Ali. Cool! Going up that ski slope a third time was painful, though. I was really feeling my lack of training over the winter, and wishing my arms worked a little better on the narrow trails. Third lap went pretty well, but I was mostly alone for all of it, which is kind of boring in a long race. I again messed up the stadium, but not so badly this time, only 30 seconds. Still, pretty unacceptable - I've been there how many times now?!? I picked up the fourth and final map, and I knew I was tired. The slow skis didn't help, and my triceps were cramping; a problem when you have to climb on narrow trails, since that is mostly double poling. But leaving #3, who should I run into but the slow Finn! Wahoo! Back in the game! I was feeling victorious as I took a better route to #4, but then, leaving 4, I managed to get myself completely turned around. I stood there for nearly a minute trying to figure things out, and when I finally got moving again, slow Finn was long gone. The other mistakes were bad, but this one just crushed my soul. I spiked the rest of the controls, but still felt like poop coming in to the finish. There were so many good parts of that race, but then there were so many disasters.

The ski season is definitely over now. Although 40 hours of traveling, from the arctic circle all the way back to Boston, does allow you much time for work, I am really looking forward to a couple weekends with no travel, and a chance to just stay in one place and get stuff done!

The ski-o season, despite its ups and downs, went quite well this year. I'd never before competed in two rounds (out of four) of World Cups, and that showed in the points - I'm now ranked 35th in the world for WRE points, and 21st for World Cup points. I've always known it's crazy to try and compete against professional athletes when you're a working stiff, but I think I may give this lifestyle another few years... nothing like competition to whet the appetite for more!

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