I have kind of a love-hate relationship with cross country skiing on groomed trails. On one hand, it just seems horribly, horribly contrived. The sport falls flat on it's face without extensively groomed trails and once you put that much effort into eliminating a couple of variables, well- why not try to tackle them all? Thus you end up with a sport built on eliminating and controlling as many variables as possible, essentially sucking all the fun out of it for me.
On the other hand, there is no better exercise than skate skiing PERIOD. I love the benefits of it. And well, when you get out of work and it's dark already and those skate trails just minutes from your office are lit and groomed- join 'em if you can't beat 'em or however the saying goes.
So, inevitably I'll sign up for a few races here and there just to keep myself honest. Gives me some goals to focus on and a standard to measure my progress by. Sometimes there's an innate epic appeal to some of the events like the 50k Noquemanon, and sometimes it's just a local ass kicking I subject myself to. Like this weekend in the Paradise Pursuit.
I knew I was in trouble right from the get go when I found myself surrounded by spandex clad dorks choosing from quivers of seemingly identical skis. While I can usually identify with some subset of spandex clad dorks, this was definitely not my crowd. Well, except for maybe the nice lady complaining of a hangover who took the back row of the start with me.
I'm not even remotely experienced enough in XC ski racing to pay attention to any race dynamics other than my own survival. Besides, with a rather small entry field, it wasn't long before I was pretty much by myself and just trying to stay out of the way of the fast 26k racers catching up with me. I figured I'd be doing pretty good if I could complete one 13k lap before any of the 26k racers could complete two.
The Tech Trails where the Saturday race was hosted can be very tough. Lots of rolling terrain always has you going up or down without much chance for recovery. I was definitely feeling it by the end, but I have enough experience with pushing my boundaries now that I knew a nice 5k recovery was all I really needed to get my strength back. Too bad there wasn't any to be had here, so I pressed on to finish dead frickin' last in the Men's category for the day. Honestly, there was maybe one guy in the race I might have had a shot at beating, so this wasn't necessarily anything to be ashamed of. I also managed to avoid getting lapped by any of the 26K racers.
Ah, but my weekend wasn't over yet- I signed up for the pursuit which had me in a 10K classic race on Sunday out on the Chassel trails. Generally, I find groomed trails a necessary compromise of being on office drone- I ski them out of convenience. The Chassel trails, I ski because they're awesome. Always impeccably groomed through nice, scenic terrain. It manages to hold on to a lot of the things I really enjoy about skiing and remains one of my favorite pre-work ski destinations.
I've never actually done a race on classic skis, and I'm not even remotely equipped for it. Nonetheless, it sounded like fun, so I grabbed my lightest weight backcountry skis, and donned my gaiters (there's just something kind of comforting about them and I also can't resist getting a few turns in when on these skis). If I was out of place at Saturday's race, I was definitely out of place here. Nonetheless, the Copper Island Classic has a "guess your time" category that attracts a few more skiers of my caliber.
I willingly gave up my front of the pack start my entry in the paradise pursuit earned me, and took a seat in the back, not expecting much. We started and, holy shit... I seemed to be going faster than everybody. Since this was my first classic race I sort of sat back for a second before trying to pass people and figure out if maybe I was pushing too hard or something. Nope, I definitely had an edge on some of these folks. My Fischer Inbound Crowns were kickin' ass on the uphill nature of the first part of the course.
Once things leveled out, well- I learned why not everybody races on 189cm long skis that are 68mm wide. They're kind of slow on the flats and really slow on the downhills. There wasn't much I could really do. I felt strong the whole race, but even doubling my effort would only get me maybe 10% more speed- no way I could keep that up. Watching the folks at the front of the pack when I could see them through the trees, I could see I also had a lot to learn about race classic technique. Nonetheless, I managed to fend off quite a few of the "guess your time" folks for another dead frickin' last finish.
So yes, that was two days of finishing dead last. Sure, on some level I recognize that most of the people I was racing against train at an entirely different level than me and certainly have me beat in equipment and experience. However, this sort of thing does prompt one to reconsider their lifestyle and training plans- and honestly, I've got some room for improvement right now.
I'm happy to say that I did feel pretty strong. If I can keep on the straight and narrow for the next two weeks and the weather holds out, I'm looking forward to the possibility of a sub 4 hour Noquemanon.