Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Long Distance race at Ski WOC

Long distance ski-o races are usually a good thing for me, because they are more physical, require more skiing, less navigating. Unfortunately, my skiing hasn't actually been going that well since February, with each race feeling worse than the last. I was hoping that some rest before WOC would fix things, but for some reason, hoping never gets you too far in a ski race setting...

The Long is a mass start race, with this one having one map change, and various forkings on each map, to ensure that you can't just follow a better navigator. The fun part about this race was that the weather was being pretty nasty all week - after blizzarding all day during the Middle race, it didn't let up, with some pretty serious winds. This meant that all the trails were basically missing when the groomers went to find them in the morning, and they had to completely re-make the small trails. I don't know how many kilometers of trails they had to groom, but I was quite impressed with how smoothly they handled creating a new map and new courses the night before a World Championships race. Kudos.

We had slightly better weather (well, less snow, just as much wind) in the morning. I had a good start from the gun, and at the bridge over the road (about 800m into the race), I was something like 10th, it felt nice and easy, and I avoided all the bottlenecking there. Unfortunately, the entire map is situated on the side of a mountain, so the course had 480m of climb over 19km of skiing (The Lake Placid marathon had 400m of climb per 25km loop, to put things in perspective), and climbing on skate skis has been especially sucky for me this winter. Much of the climbing could be done on wide skate trails, although in retrospect, I might have done better if we had all had to double pole up the narrow trails - right now I think I am relatively better at uphill double poling than uphill skating. Regardless, there was a lot of climb, and on the first 160m climb to the top of the hill, a lot of people passed me; just couldn't go any faster. Ali passed me relatively early, and she was just moving much faster, I could only hang with her for a minute. She ended up having a spectacular race, finishing in 8th place - best ever finish by an American, at any orienteering event! I was thrilled, but of course that leaves me feeling jealous, too - how could I not be? But it's not a bad sort of jealousy, I think, because I am still super excited by how well she did - I just wish I had done so well, too.

This is the first map (might have to click on it to see the whole thing) - this just shows one of the possible forks, but basically everyone goes more or less to these areas. Check out that first leg - just power up that big wide trail for a loooong time.

One of the things that is unique to ski-o compared to skiing is the length of some of the climbs. In skiing, the longest climbs you'll ever see are in the 4-5 minute range. This takes a very different type of power application than a 15 minute climb, like the climb to #1 on this map. I can suffer for 4 minutes, but much longer than that and it becomes even more blatantly clear that I do not have world-class fitness. IOF does not impose FIS's sissy rules about climb lengths and altitude limits. Sometimes, I wish it did...

The second map. Again, up the long slog of death!

So, I waddled up the hill, wheezing and hauling some heavy-feeling legs one step at a time. Not a great feeling, but, the downhill legs were wicked fun, so they almost made up for the long climb. I whooshed past a bunch of girls who'd gotten me on the uphill, and because racing is sort of magic like that, I forgot how much the climb had hurt, so I was almost mentally ready for it again when I exchanged maps and went uphill again. Unfortunately, I did make a minute+ mistake on my #6, which meant I lost the pack of girls I'd been skiing with, and added extra climb to the overall. That pack ended up finishing four minutes up on me, and although I didn't feel like I'd gotten that much slower on the second lap, it is definitely faster when you have others around pushing you. I did catch a Hungarian and a Czech skier near the top of the hill the second time, which felt good, and I used my best kamikaze-downhill-ski-o-through-narrow-trail-mazes technique to drop them on the downhill, which would have worked better if I hadn't crashed quite so hard near the end...

I was zooming down a wide trail, and had my head in my map, and the trail was turning, but I was not turning. Caught my right ski in the fluff, and that yanked my head up pretty quick. I managed to extract the right ski, while keeping the left on the packed trail, but at this point I was basically doing an arabesque on skis. In attempting to bring my right ski back to the trail (easier said than done - there were little trees and stuff sticking up through the fluff), my hamstring decided it was NOT enjoying this non-ski-like movement, and cramped up painfully. So I had to abort operation put-ski-on-trail, and that led to a spectacular crash as my ski caught those little trees on the side of the trail. Luckily, the snow only wedged itself under the mapholder on parts of the map where I'd already been, and no equipment broke.

After that, it was just three controls on the other side of the bridge, but I was pretty flustered after my crash, and I knew the Hungarian girl was just behind me. I could feel the effort of the race in my arms and legs, maybe I should have had another feed, but let's just say I didn't feel any more spry 1.5hrs into the race than I had at the beginning. She made contact with me at #10, and then I missed the quick little left turn onto the big trail, had to take a shortcut, and by then I was 50m back. I tried to catch her, thinking that if I entered the finish with her I could take her in a sprint, but I just couldn't get her - I made up 6 of the 10 seconds, but still finished 4s behind her, in 25th.
Trailing behind - just couldn't get her.Damn. The tiredness hits, always, as you cross the line, and realize you can stop skiing now.

25th is good, and I got good points from the race, but it was disappointing to race at the World Championships feeling like my legs were made of lead. It was still my best-feeling individual race of the week, but none of the three races left me feeling satisfied. I suppose that's why we keep ski racing. Luckily, with Ali finishing so well, the entire team was pumped up, and we went into the relay day with really high spirits.

Some photos from the race organizers:
The start - Both Ali and I were in the 3rd row (Ali on the left, I'm just in front of the girl in the blue headband), but I moved up quickly, to avoid mayhem at the 90 degree right turn and at the bridge across the road, which was really only wide enough for one skier at a time, unless you're at the back of the guys' field, where they apparently tried to fit two abreast, and that didn't work at all. Below, Adrian and Greg are just chilling, reading their maps, waiting for the chaos in front of them to clear out.
Coming around the corner, I'm the little one on the left behind all the tall people.

I coulda swore I was taller than that...

Ali getting interviewed after her awesome race!

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