Riding has been anything but normal lately. For someone who detests the trainer, I have to roll with Mother Nature's punches. Today certainly looked intimidating. If I didn't ride today, I would have gone three days with zero spinning. Can't have that. I didn't need an aerobic fix. Got that Tuesday night. More on that shortly. I needed to flex the cycling muscles.
There must have been two inches of sleet in the parking lot rolling out on my lunch break. My 2" Nokians were neither skinny enough to punch through it nor fat enough to stay on top of it. It was in that dreaded in between. Fortunately, the roads were in varying degrees of plowedness. Also fortunately, there were very few people stupid enough to drive in the stuff. That left the roads for even stupider cyclists to ride on.
I did intervals. No, not the breathing hard kind, but the mashing hard kind. If you shift to a big enough gear and go up a modest hill, you can develop considerable resistance. Resistance is what I need right now with diminished riding time. Need to maintain muscle mass and neurological connections to stimulate it. My legs hurt after doing about seven one minute mash sessions. Mission accomplished.
Tuesday night I competed in my first race of 2009. I hit the Weston Tuesday Night Sprints, a training race series. Conditions were reasonably fast, and CSU had a nice 1.5km circuit set up with thee hill blips per lap. While warming up, multiple bus loads of serious looking college teams unloaded before the 7pm race. I thought surely none of them will be racing. I was wrong. At least three quarters of them lined up.
We self seeded, which amazingly sort of worked. I had no idea where to seed myself with so many fast looking skiers less than half my age. I was about 6 or 7 rows back out of 20+ rows, four per row. I was surrounded by Harvard girls. We go, and I immediately realize I can't even double pole as fast as the Harvard gals. Then the skating started. I was certain I was going to get schooled by every 20 year old female there. To my surprise, there were no crashes as things slowly thinned out in the first lap. Then I began reeling skiers back in. Only a few passed me during the start, and I was pretty sure by the end of the second lap I had a net gain relative to my starting position. My seeding position was spot on.
I settled into a groove and continued to pick people off. By the fourth full lap, I was picking people off more rapidly. I was not fading at all, yet those around me seemed to begin dropping like flies. Around the last hairpin to the finish, two skiers tangled and went down right in front of me. That cost me a spot as a cluster of us were looking at a bunch sprint on the wide straight away to the finishing chute. I finished 23/68 men, 24/88 finishers overall. This was an all-time record number of skiers for a Tuesday night The race was about 7km long and took me 20:45 minutes to finish (results).
The course consisted of essentially three out-and-backs with hairpin turns at the ends where we had to ski around a barrel or cones. Not much different than a 'cross race really. You start in a massive bunch, everybody near the front wants the hole shot, then things near the back pretty much grind to a halt around the first several corners. Instead of locking handlebars, you are tripping over poles and other skis.
You gotta love short efforts like these. 60 seconds into it, you are on the verge of puking. Then you have to maintain that for 20 minutes, punching it up even harder as the finish nears. Nothing will get you a better endorphin buzz than a ski race. Nothing will push your heart rate higher. The only downside to these sprint races is they are in the evening. When I push myself that hard late in the day, then having to eat something afterwards, my metabolism stays in overdrive most of the night. My HR remains at least 50% higher than resting rate and pounds so hard I can feel it making the bed shake. And my mind stays 100% wide awake. I can't sleep. I get the same thing doing Wednesday night Exeter training rides too. It's the intensity that does it, not so much the total training stress.
So if Tuesday night on snow wasn't enough, I went back to Weston tonight for a skate clinic with Andy Milne. All that sleet that fell in Merrimack today, it fell in Weston too. The course was lightning fast, possibly the fastest I've ever been on. At least as fast as rolling on ball bearings. Most of the clinic took place indoors, covering stance, angles, timing, all sorts of things. I reaffirmed that I am a complete klutz. Then we went outside for a while to do some drills without poles. There really isn't much with my technique that is right. What I suck least at is V1 climbing. But Andy points out I have the typical cyclist faults. I want to use my glutes and quads and maintain a stance as if on a bike. That is all wrong on skis. Plus you don't push off with the front of your foot. Pedal cleats go under the ball of your foot, right? Indoors, we did bounding exercises where we watched each other to make sure we maintained heel contact when pushing off. I found it exceedingly difficult to do. Throw in all my timing deficiencies, it is amazing I can ski at all, let alone finish in the top third of a mostly young field. So much to work on. The cool thing about skiing is I could quite possibly spend the rest of my life pefecting the technique, always improving, maybe getting faster for many years to come. Prospects for cycling aren't as cheery. Eventually, maybe soon, I will start getting slower.