Saturday, February 15, 2014

Beet Juice, Baby!

With a ton of new snow on the ground and an interval start Eastern Cup race nearby at Waterville Valley, I decided last minute to jump into the fray. These races attract mostly elite collegiate skiers. This particular race in the series was interval start, a skier going off every 15 seconds. Kind of like a cycling individual time trial. Not as intimidating for a old master skier. To be sure, we were seeded toward the very back, as we finish toward the very bottom.

The 10km course consisted of two 5k laps with modest climbing. I was not too excited about heading into the course getting passed by wicked fast elites completing their second lap, particularly on the downhills, where I suck. We went off after noon, and races went on all morning. The copious new snow hadn't yet had time to firm up, so surely the course was going to be rutted out on the descents and chewed up into mashed potatoes on the climbs.

Brett, Isaac and I headed out on Swan's Way trail to warm up. I started on my Atomic rock skis with Toko HF Blue wax. They are pretty much polished smooth now, no structure left, so I thought these would be a good cold ski if conditions seemed to favor them. They actually felt fairly fast. The snow had a coarse, sugary texture to it.  Brett was raving about how fast his skis felt, and he waxed them with Toko HF Red with Star F1 Fluoro top coat, exactly how I prep'd my Salomon race skis. My rock skis seemed to be way faster than Isaac's skis, so I couldn't imagine my race skis being much faster.  Was I going to be disappointed with my race skis again, as I was the last two times at Weston?

Twenty minutes out, I switched over to my race skis. Yep. In two seconds I could tell they were faster, but not by a lot. Isaac went off 2-3 minutes before Brett and I, with me 30 seconds behind Brett. Perfect. Brett and I have been skiing consistently close to one another the last couple years. This 10k could go either way between us. I don't think we've been much more than 1% apart in everything from a Weston 5k sprint to a Rangeley 50k marathon over the last two years. I tend to edge Brett out in sprint distances while Brett takes me in marathon distance events.

It was disheartening to see how fast the college kids took off. Perfect form. I suspect many of them have received professional coaching nearly their whole life. I took up skiing in my 40's. I'm told "Go!" All I could think about was what a doofus I must look like.

The initial climb felt much harder and longer than what I thought it would be by looking at the course map. Pretty chopped up too. Really needed to put upper body into it. Cyclist like delivering power to the snow through their legs. Doing that in these conditions, all you end up doing is moving snow, not your body. I must have been passed by 10 kids at 2x speed differential on this climb as they finished their second lap.

Photo credit: Jamie Doucett

The descent was a bit treacherous. Not rutted up like Lake Placid gets, but enough that my fear forced speed scrubbing. Lots of it a couple times. If I got passed at 2x speed differential on the climb, I got passed at 3x speed differential on the descent. No sign of Brett, not even on the long straight-aways.

I thought there'd be no chance of catching Brett on this course. His superior form lets him carry more speed through terrain like this. This would more than make up for any cardio advantage I had on the climb.

Coming through for lap two, there would be no more yielding track to faster kids.  On the long grind up, I caught a brief glimpse of Brett. Oh man, that had to be more than 30 seconds up, our staging separation. I proceeded to bury myself, passing a young kid that had previously blown by me on a descent. Even if I could make up 10-15 seconds, Brett would surely erase it on the descent. Seemed like a lost cause.  As you can see here, in my head there were only two racers on the course.

I had a little more confidence going down the chicanes a second time, but so would had Brett. I very nearly crashed myself twice, catching skis in the deep ruts where skis were punching through the soft, deep base. Then we come to climb #2 in the lap. It is much shorter. I saw Brett again, this time picking a landmark next to him and glancing at my Garmin time. When I reached the landmark, 25 seconds elapsed. So I did make up a little time since the beginning of lap two. I was surprised my oxygen deprived brain could compute this. But five seconds with a couple kilometers to go is nothing. There was some flat turny stuff in there too, and Brett can V2 really well through that.

On the second descent, I came stupid close to crashing. I was in an anaerobic stupor and caught an edge. Just like that my left ski went behind me. I think the tail almost hit me in the back of the head. How I recovered from that one is beyond me, but I stayed upright. There were too many turns to see my nemesis.

Rounding out onto the finishing field, I saw Brett across the field and he saw me. It was 50/50 whether I was less than 30 seconds back, and we both knew it. Just as Brett and I were closing in on the finish, we caught Isaac too. Pretty freaky that we'd be coming in so close to one another when we started at different times. I saw Brett look at his Garmin as he crossed and he started counting down. 20 seconds elapsed, which meant I was 10 seconds faster with a time of 35:03.2. That is less than 0.5% difference! It's great having a ski training partner so closely matched.

Three hours before the race I drank a bottle of beet juice. I've commented here before about the merits of beet juice. No idea if this really does anything for me or not. Worst case, it is a healthy but expensive way to hydrate for a race. But if beet juice proponents are correct, the juice could easily have made greater than a 0.5% difference in such a short, intense race. This will no doubt bug Brett, as he didn't "go on the juice." I'm pretty sure if we had been staged the other way around, with me first, Brett would have come out on top. Having that carrot out in front of you is a huge psychological advantage.

Afterward, Brett skied a course cool-down lap while Isaac and I headed to the North End. Isaac and I briefly swapped skis so I could see how slow his were and he could see what fluoro top-coat feels like. What a difference in glide. Additionally, I couldn't keep the tails of Isaac's skis off the snow. They dragged badly. When swapping skis back, I looked at his bindings. He uses Salomon Pilot bindings like I do. On both bindings, the second pin hooks were broken off! Pilot bindings only work if that spring return mechanism is working. So not only did Isaac have slow skis, he had two broken bindings. He surmised they might have broken in a crash at Windblown last weekend.  I'm sure Isaac would have beaten Brett and I had he not had these issues.

Isaac and I both felt like poo heading out to the north end and the next snow storm was starting to move in. We cut things short, but not before I skied over Cascade. The descent is finally open, and it skied quite well. My skis still had seriously good glide coming down Livermore, scaring myself and maybe recreational skiers a few times. Ended up with 37km for the day, inadvertently two tracks on the Garmin for warmup/race and post race. Skiing right now is as good as it gets. Not so much for cycling. Great complimentary sports.

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