I've been ski training and racing with the same few guys this winter. We're all pretty close to each other in ability. There's differences in form and fitness, but they kind of even out. It is tough to set pace while skiing. This is true whether you are out for a hard training ski or racing against each other. Leading adds another degree of stress to your effort. You can't see if your nemesis is right there or not. You may hear him if he is close. But you have no idea if you are making him suffer or not, or if you are totally killing yourself by being up front and he's just tooling along. Cycling is similar, except you know the guy sucking your wheel is working way less than you are. Ski drafting is more subtle. Snow resistance is likely higher than wind resistance, at least at my level in most conditions. There's a significant psychological benefit in ski drafting. By trailing someone, you feel in control, like you have the skier in front of you tethered.
So Brett and I hit Weston Tuesday night. Conditions were actually quite good. I expected ice and there was none. My skis ran more sluggish than others in some areas, I suspect where snow was most recently made. Lining up, neither of us wanted to lead out first. I planned to race conservatively with Lake Placid coming up this weekend. I line up a row further back than usual, the 6th row out of about 20 rows. I had one of my cleanest starts ever, probably because I let the group go that I normally try to stay with. Most importantly, I let Brett slip in ahead of me. So now he would have to worry where I was and what I was doing back there. Yeah, I'll be honest, I would have had the same thoughts if he slipped in behind me.
The race goes almost three laps around the 2.5km course for 7.3km. A couple guys between Brett and I either faded or passed him, so that brought me up into Brett's draft before the end of lap one. I thought I'd just hang out there for a while. But rounding the sharp left hander under the bright light near the club house, I think Brett caught a ski on a pole and stacked hard. With a paceline of guys behind me, I thought surely I was going down with10 more on top of me. There was zero time to react, and luckily my skis went over Brett's instead of catching on them. Haven't you ridden over somebody's bike when they crashed in front of you before? Common in MTB or CX. That's three of my four Weston races this season where somebody crashed right in front of me in the first lap.
I spent much of the next lap with nobody to draft, picking a skier off every now and then. Towards the end, Scott Lundquist and I think Brandon Smithwood in a Colby kit and I traded places a lot. I thought I had the edge on them coming into the finish, but they both handily dropped me in the final 200m.
I didn't kill myself in this one, finished respectably, and most importantly, felt I was always in pretty good form. It was another solid 20 minute effort, and my third lap was just as fast as my first one. Doing these things so late in the day makes sleep that night challenging. My metabolism stays in overdrive a good 8-12hrs afterwards. I was awake before my alarm went off, not having slept much.
Spiffy, eh? Oh, and my weight lately has been hanging out lower than my "racing weight" most of last season. Seems maybe there is something to the Tabata method that Alex Combes brought up a while back. Since the holidays, I've been drinking deeply from the intensity well about four times per week. Modest volume, only 45hrs total volume last month, less than half that on the bike. I think bringing intensity back into the mix after a three month hiatus has done a nice job balancing the in take/out take formula.