Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Masters World Cup

Last summer, Kathy mentioned to Rob and me that the World Masters were going to be in Minneapolis, and thus we should go race there. Hey, why not? It's an easy trip, no time changes, and lots of support available from all the various people we know in this skiing world. Important to go on a skiing adventure every once in a while, even if it's a tame one.

Rob's connections with the Toko Tech Talk Team led us to Jerry Slater's house, in a comfortable suburb of Minneapolis with a garage dedicated to waxing. Perfect! Those Toko guys just like to hang out and tell stories about waxing, leading Kathy renaming them to the Toko Talk Team. To be fair, the classic waxing wasn't super straightforward, and conditions were likely to change on race day anyway, so there was much speculation to be done.
Candlelit dinner at Jerry and Kathlyn's house, courtesy of the Toko Talk Team's blowtorch.

The night before the first race, I wasn't remotely nervous, because I had no idea how I would fare. The younger classes at World Masters are generally sparsely attended, but I didn't know any of the names on the start list. It actually made things easy; I went into the race with the vague idea that I'd like to podium, and a slew of process goals mostly centered around getting my skis right.

Day 1: 15k classic
They combined the M1/M2 wave for women, to make a larger starting field (and, I imagine, to compress the start window). Some guys were lapping as we started, but it mostly wasn't too much of an issue. We started off at a reasonable pace, and soon an M2 (Josie Nelson) was moving at a slightly higher tempo, starting to pull ahead. The first 2.5k loop was pretty flat, some rollers but a lot of transitions and no long hills, so I decided to go with her and see what would happen. I quickly discovered that my skis were killer on the downhills, just flying past people. I closed the gap to Josie as we dropped back into the stadium, staying in a tuck for a looooong time. That always feels so good!

The second part of the course was hillier - basically one hill with a couple fingers that went down and back up. Josie's skis were kicking much better, and I think she's fitter, so she would drop me up the hills and I'd close it on the downhills. I thought maybe she'd got away for good on the final climb, which was also the most psychologically difficult, but I closed the gap back down and passed her on the downhill to the lap. I love courses that finish with a downhill.

The second lap we were passing many more M9 men, and then we started to run into the back of some of the older women. I led most of the first 2.5k, and thought Josie would come back around me, but she stayed behind, getting close on the uphills and then dropping back a bit on the flats. It started to warm up significantly at this point, and my skis weren't kicking as well, but they were also a little slower, probably picking up some of the gunk in the tracks. Uh oh.

Up the hill into the second part of the lap and Josie caught up and passed me. She was super friendly and talkative, and very encouraging, which actually ends up being discouraging, because when you're tired and out of breath the last thing you want is a friendly person vocally cheering. You want them to be hurting, too. I suppose we weren't technically racing each other, but I've never been an extroverted racer (unless it's to yell at people in my way. Then I get loud). I came back around on the first-finger downhill, and then she opened much more of a gap on the steeper climb back to the middle hill, striding to my herringbone. I was questioning whether I'd catch back up at that point - these hills just kept coming!

I forced myself to stay in the tracks and make it work up the final hills. Yes, it takes more oomph, but the speed pay-off is worthwhile, and I knew that if I could keep Josie in sight up the final long hill, I could take the race. I managed to close the gap on the downhill, skiing the corner efficiently and then double poling past a bunch of ladies herringboning up the next little hill. I could only hope that Josie was caught a little behind them, but I also didn't want to risk slipping anymore, so just double poled like hell up the gradual roller before the final down. I had confidence in my double pole, and it was well-placed. I crushed the downhill, nearly took out an M9, and double poled hard to the finish to keep my advantage. Not that it mattered, because different classes, but I like to beat people. I ended up winning my class by 4 minutes! That was cool.

Day 2: 15k skate
That course skis better as a skate race, with really fun transitions, and exhilaratingly fast downhills. They combined the M1/2/3 categories again, and this time, I knew that I wanted to win. No struggles with wax, and I knew I'd have good skis, since both Brad Bates and Rob had told us during their races how good their skis were. This was going to be fun.

Short double pole start, and then I sort of looked around like "where'd everyone go?" because my skis were actually that fast. Guess I'll lead for a bit and see what happens! I figured I may as well take advantage of the HelX while it lasted (the stuff both wears off and gums up with dirt, so I expected the second lap to be a little slower), stringing out the field a bit and keeping out of trouble. I had maybe a 15s lead after the first flatter loop, and figured, if I'm already winning, why go too hard? So, I sort of chilled up the hills, whipped down them, and the pack slowly closed on me on the long finger hills by the wax test hill. But this was fine; I was only going fast out front because it was easy for me thanks to the fast skis.

The pack had just about closed at the lap, "pack" being a loose term for Sarah Peters (M3) and an M1 behind her. I stretched it out on the flat bit heading into the second lap, and Sarah made the jump without pulling the M1 with her. She came around to lead, and I was ready to cover the move, still feeling pretty fresh. I didn't want that other M1 to catch up, so Sarah and I were trading leads for a bit, me in front on some of the downhills and she'd lead the uphills. She was gapping me a bit on the uphills, which wasn't good, because my skis had slowed back down to human speeds at this point so we were well matched, and I had to do a little work over the crests.

The downhills by the wax test hill were just criminally fast, and I whipped by Sarah on the corner. I started to dig pretty deep on the final long climb, managing to just about stay with Sarah over the crest. Even though she worked the downhill harder, I made contact again across the flats before the final descent. At this point I was envisioning a sprint finish scenario, but definitely keeping all options open. Into the final descent, there's a gentle left-hander, with some icier stuff in the middle. Sarah went down in the icy part, and then skidded a bit, and I saw my opening. Stepped the corner in the lowest tuck I could muster, wove very efficiently through some M9s, and took the lead with some hard V2 over the final rise. I managed to stay on my feet around the final corner into the finish, and then didn't let up. I ended up with a good 2-second lead over Sarah, and 30 seconds over the second place M1. Woo! That was a fun one. I ended up with the third-fastest time of the day for the women, but it doesn't seem fair to compare the M1 times to the older skiers, since the whole point of the thing is to race people your own age.

Day 3: 7.5k skate
At this point, I was starting to feel a little tired. I was also a little apprehensive of the incoming weather - 6-8 inches of fresh warm snow falling between 10am and 5pm, with my race starting at 3pm. It was going to be a heavy snow slog out there, not the perfect thing for tired legs. But, I was looking forward to the bad weather. I get excited about stuff like that, and they were calling for 30mph wind gusts. I know how to pack ski, thanks to Tuesday Night Worlds, and I intended to use all my mad master-blasting skillz.

I decided that given the wind and driving snow, I didn't want to lead too much. But, it would be hard to pass, since there was basically one trampled-down lane, and the rest was pretty deep fresh powder. I made a crucial adjustment before the race of moving my bindings forward one click, which made the skis feel much freer in the deep snow. Toko red all the way up the line again, on the soft Madshus Redlines.

The start was all M1/2/3s, and there was an enthusiastic M2 who took the lead. She was pretty flail-y, not doing well with putting her skis in the ruts, and I was using half the tempo to stay behind, so eventually I gave up on that and moved around to stretch things out. Nobody caught up immediately, I think because it was just hard to pass, but I did my trademark "I'm winning, so why should I go hard?" thing on the hills in km 2, and the pack caught up. Another few minutes of pulling them, but it was windy, so after slowing down more and more and more and still nobody making any moves to pass, I outright double poled for a bit and then slotted into second behind Dalvia, yesterday's silver medalist.

I followed her lead up the hill out of the stadium, and it didn't feel all that hard. We weren't outright gapping the rest of the pack, but there was daylight between us now. I recovered well on the first finger from the top of the hill, and scooted around her on the downhill corner. Stretched out my stride just a bit, keeping the tempo low and skis in existing ruts, and while I could still hear her behind me, the rubberband was stretching.

I couldn't see a damn thing down the wax test hill. My glasses had gotten too icy (and I hadn't brought my dork shield), and the snow was really sharp and hurt my eyeballs. I managed to make it around the corner and stay on the trail, but because I'd stood up a little to try and shield my face, Dalvia and one other were right behind me up the next hill. Pushed the glasses back down for the next descent, which helped, and I got a small gap, maybe a second. Stretching the rubberband.

I V2ed into the final hill as far as I could, and kept the effort higher. Snap went the rubberband. Woo! Then I skied off the trail, because I couldn't actually see where I was going because of all the blowing snow. D'oh. I extricated my ski from the soft powder and backed up back onto the course, and they hadn't quite made contact yet. Ok, let's try this again. I'm fit enough to make it happen. I put some real oomph into the crest of the hill and worked the downhill, managing to stay on the trail this time. Really I couldn't see a damn thing down the final hill, just the fact that I've skied it enough in the last few days kept me going the right way, with a little bit of a hope and a prayer, too, feeling the skis plowing through the snow. I punched the final ascent as much as was possible in this much soft snow, and then tried to find the right ruts for the finish. I held off second place (who was an M2 anyway; what was I worried about?) by 4 seconds, which feels like a nice long gap, actually.

So, not the fastest race, because of all the cat and mouse shenanigans, really felt like a TNW situation, but a lot of fun, and that pace kept me feeling pretty fresh.

I'm totally pumped to be a 3x gold medalist. Way above any expectations, but a big thanks to Toko and Madshus for speedy skis, because I certainly didn't do that on fitness alone. It was also cool to have Kathy and Rob performing well, because when everyone rocks the vibe is great. Kathy took a bronze and a gold, and Rob took a 10th and a bronze. I coach with some speedy skiers!

Sharing medals with Kathy and Trina Hosmer, a many-time Olympian in her day. Pretty proud to be standing with those two! 

CSU coaches looking pretty pumped with three podiums!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is what happens when you follow your dreams! You can really be proud about yourself. Congratulations! Sadly my whole life I was very anxious and never found the courage to risk something to follow my dreams. I want to change this now. Even in my horoscope for 2018 on https://www.astrosofa.com/Year2018 was written, that it is a great year to take my chances. Your story really encouraged me to believe in myself. Thank you so much!