Waterville Valley 9.5km Freestyle
3/17 Masters 45+, 27:03min
A recent change of plans had Brett and I doing the Cross-Trainer's Challenge up at Waterville Valley on Saturday instead of the Nordic 300 relay race at Great Glen on Sunday. The X-Trainers (map) race is aimed towards runners, cyclists, and other non-skier athletes that cross train in the winter months by skiing. A lot of cyclists show up for this one, and a local cycling club helps run the race.
I have been doing more skate skiing this winter than any previous season. I probably have over 50 hours on snow, plus many additional hours on rollerskis. This pales in comparison to athletes that ski only, but I carry over 500 cycling hours of fitness into this winter sport. However, XC skiing is a technique dominated sport. Skill, not fitness, matters most. I am slowly, frustratingly slowly, getting better.
After a recent knee injury that had me off the skis nearly two weeks and then lack of local snow this past week, my skiing hours plummeted over the last three weeks. I did not expect to place well in this race, but I had high expectations of getting an incredible workout.
Brett and I warmed up for about 30 minutes. We did the first climb on the course twice. The descent was sketchy. I spiked my HR pretty good the second time around and felt pretty good on the skis. I waxed with FastWax Tan, a high fluoro for cold temps. Weather and trail conditions were spectacular. Temp in 20's, no wind, glide about 7 out of 10, and control about 9 out of 10. In other words, conditions don't get much better.
The race is wave start by registration order. Only five skiers went off at a time every 30 seconds. Brett was staged 30 seconds behind me, exactly where I did not want him. He said I was a marked man. Either way, being rabbit or greyhound is a good motivator. It's better though when you can see your target in front of you. 30 seconds isn't much with long steep climbs where you might see a minute ahead. I fully expected Brett to pass me on the first climb.
I went off in third wave with two other skiers (other two must have bailed). I was surprised to out-pole them and begin skating first. I immediately red-lined on the first climb. I held off the two I started with. Near the top of the first climb, two other guys staged further back started to gain on me.
The first descent had some very steep drops with abrupt turns at the bottom, including one that plummeted to a bridge with near 90-degree left hand turn. Drop from bridge to rocks and water below was at least 6ft. Fortunately we saw this warming up, but I both scared and surprised myself by how fast I went through here in the race. Still didn't matter. I got passed by the two guys that started 30 or more seconds back. I still cannot step through turns at speed without first scrubbing off some speed. Skilled skiers step through turns without any snow-plow scrubbing. Note in image below, race is interval 1, the block of highest heart rate. The race climbs are small in comparison to Tripoli and Upper Snows skied after the race.
We go into second climb, and I immediately catch the two that passed me on the descent and passed them. It is very difficult to pass while climbing, as the trail is often just wide enough for one skater. They were good about it though and gave me a little room. I put distance on both of them before reaching the top. But I knew what entailed next - a long, wicked fast descent. Sure as $hit, I got passed again. All that hard work dissipated in a couple of ill-placed scrubs around corners.
The two did not get out of sight before going into final and hardest climb. This climb is up back side of Jennings Peak, a one-way trail on which the race was going up the wrong, steep, difficult way. The trail is very narrow. I thought for sure I'd be stuck behind these guys going much slower on the climbs. But I found a window and passed both of them. I was holding a heartrate I thought not possible going up this beast. I put good distance on the two cresting the top. This time I was determined to not get passed again, as it was all downhill for 2km or so to the finish. I took huge risk. I surprised myself again by how much speed I was carrying around some of the turns I've taken many times before in training. Funny how adrenaline works that way. But on one turn, a rut was forming and I caught it. I thought I was going right through a line of spectators but recovered. I came through the finish with one of the two guys about 20sec back, the other no where in sight.
It felt so good to finish. This race hurt more than Ascutney or any number of the anaerobic hill climbs I do. Being a weight bearing, full body workout drives the cardio system into immediate overload. Great training value. After the race, a few of us skied around at a more leisurely pace for a while. One by one we bailed out of what we said we were going to do though. First Keith bailed on Tripoli, then Brett bailed part way up Tripoli, and then my gas tank finally hit bone dry heading up Livermore to Cascade. I barely had enough energy to get over Upper Snows to get back down to Nordic Center. I did about 38.3km in 2:37hrs and 2720ft vertical for the day.
When I got back to see posted results, I was flabbergasted to take 3rd place for men's masters. I guess being the rabbit worked pretty well after all. I finished well ahead of Brett. To be sure, there were no elite masters there, like Rob Bradley for example. Still nice to take a podium spot for first race of the season. Hope it's a sign of things to come this summer. I'll definitely have to do this race again. It nicely quenched that competitive bug, was thoroughly satisfying, and provided great training value.