Wednesday, January 29, 2014
With seasonable temps, light wind and the dang snow guns finally silent, a near record number of skiers showed up at Weston Tuesday night to race. The course was expanded from about 1.5km to 1.8km, with two additional hairpin turns added. In addition to a longer course, the night's race would also increase from three to four laps, making for a 7.1km race. I was digging it.
I had heard the course was ice in the morning. The Weston Ski Track team worked hard to churn up a wonderful sugar granular surface that was FAST. I warmed up on my beat up Atomic rock skis with cheap green Fast Wax that I skied 50km on last weekend. They seemed quite quick, and I was eager to find out how much faster my Salomon race skis were going to be with expensive Toko HF red wax.
A few minutes before the race start, I swapped skis. I almost face planted. My race skis were slow! I had just enough time to do one lap. They were clearly slower almost everywhere on the course. That sucked. My rock skis have no edges left on them and don't corner well at all in scraped off areas. But they were going to have to come back out of the ski bag.
Lining up, I somehow found myself getting pushed too close to the front. That's odd, as usually the opposite happens, especially with such a huge group. I might have been in fourth row, with three per row. There were too many fast guys behind me, but all rows were filled, so I was stuck there. Before I knew it, we were moving.
The first bit is NASCAR start, neutral until we round a turn and pass a barrel. Then speed triples. That first rise is always a CF, poles getting stepped on, catching your skis on other poles, etc. I was more bold this time, not giving up turf. When things sorted out, I was with some pretty fast company. My friend and nemesis Brett was somewhere right behind me.
Things settle down a bit after the first lap. Over the next two laps, there was a bit of jockeying for positions on climbs and around the numerous 180 degree turns. I got cut off a couple times coming around the outside. Another Weston nemesis Marv got cut off a couple times on the inside by the same guy. I was starting to worry a bit, as our pack of six had about a 10 second lead on the group Brett was skiing with. There were strong guys in his group too, and I didn't want that group to catch us. Marv and I could have come to the front to pick the pace up, but we couldn't get there.
I think it was near the end of the second lap, I poorly timed a pass along the outside when things bunched up. I had nowhere to go and caught one of Marv's poles with my ski. When your hauling ass on a fast golf course with 2" of ball bearing snow over ice, you go down hard. F-bomb. I got up so quick that the chase group with Brett in it just behind us didn't have a chance to catch me. But now I was in no-man's land chasing to get back on the group I was skiing with. Drafting is a big deal when conditions are fast at Weston.
I was back with the group in the third lap and recovering. Brett was still 10 seconds back. Gotta remedy that, I thought So when we came through the start/finish for the fourth and final lap, I drilled it with all I had up the wide climb. I was not going to get cut off again. I didn't care so much if I got dropped in the finishing sprint, I just wanted to keep the pace of our group high and empty the tank during the last five minutes.
I came around to the front of our group and prayed I wouldn't botch one of the turns. I still suck at them but I'm getting better. Amazingly, nobody attacked me on the next two rises. I figured they were recovering for the final sprint (or my attach to the front, he-he). I thought about capitulating the lead half way around, as I was dying, and I probably grew the gap to Brett's group by a safe margin. But what fun would there be in that? I was going the take this one all the way in. I tucked briefly on the final dip before the rise to the finish. I've seen guys take themselves out in the sprint. I didn't want to be that guy tonight. I managed to hold off the others.
I had no idea what position we were coming in at. I thought maybe 20th. But no, 12th place with a time of 20:28, and 12% back from the winning time two weeks in a row now and in very different conditions. This is a pretty big improvement from last year. That's what I like about the sport. Your fitness may stay constant or even decline, but you can continue to get faster as your technique improves. Turns out my starting position probably wasn't optimistic after all. I skied a bunch more laps with Arvid afterwards, getting in 26km for the night.
I suspect increased focus on core work is helping me here. I'm doing push-ups and sit-ups 2-3x per week now. I also have been using a balance board, although I haven't been spending as much time on it as I planned. Thinking of doing the Gatineau Loppet in a couple weeks, a world loppet that can be used as a qualifier for the American Birkie next year.