Friday, December 31, 2010

Par for the Course: XC Ski Race Part 1

Coming from the world of road racing, I always figured the winter was for watching the diet and recuperating.

Then I moved to Central Oregon.

If you don't get used to the cold, you're losing a couple of months each year. Not that I mind harsh weather; last year, I did a run at 0530 one morning with the mercury reading minus 20F. Had a great run except for a couple of problems:

1) My feet. Two pair of socks weren't enough.

2) My eyes: I forgot to wear my contacts that morning.

Was smart enough to wrap a scarf around my head, so all skin was covered. But every exhaled breath condensed on my glasses. Functionally blind! And since I'm beyond 20/400 on a normal day, I'm not exactly seeing the fine print. Or any print. But it was pretty cool to be running down the middle of Wall Street without any traffic to get in my way.

The Mount Bachelor Sports Education Foundation has a great menu of winter events, both Nordic and Downhill. And with my rapid advancement into GeezerHood, I'm thinking that Alpine is the quickest path to a shortened outdoor season (torn ligaments and the like).

Now, I've always read that cross country skiing is probably the hardest aerobic activity out there. Being a hard headed long distance runner/plodder, every other cardio sport has always been a second class sport. But then I began swimming. And then I tried XC skiing.

Classic technique is tough enough. Problem is, it's also slow if you're clueless like me. But it's not nearly as taxing as skate/freestyle. Back at the Pole Pedal Paddle, I went classic so I wouldn't crater too soon. Good advice, but man was I sloth-like. So this year, I committed to learning how to skate effectively.

Then my pal Scott tells me he can't ski with me on Dec. 11th because he's doing a race. "You should try it," he says. "It's only 10k. Piece of cake."

Scott's a guy who recently ran from Bend (elevation 3400') to the base of Mt Bachelor (elevation 6300'), 22 miles uphill. THEN he ran from the Sunrise Lodge to the Summit. Lunatic.

Anyhow, I looked into the race. It's a two-part event, with the second part in late February. And the overall winner is the person with the most improved time.

Now I'm interested.

So my second day on skate skis, I'm sliding up to the starting line. Just glad to be there; for the 20 mile drive, I left home 45 minutes before registration closed. And of course, the road uphill is clogged with people driving 20 mph. I finally make the parking lot and sprint into the Nordic Center with a cool 45 seconds to spare.

As a result, I'm the third-last skier to start. 6.2 miles over two laps, with racers starting every 30 seconds. And it's been raining 38F all morning. So I'm standing in soup on the starting line.

Skis are very slow in soup.

Good thing I work with some great skiers. The day before, friend Veronica gave me a 30 second crash course; glide on one ski with all weight on that ski, then push sideways with the abductors. And she showed my the timing for poling with V-1 technique, which she called 'the small ring.' As in a bicycle's small chainring, as in the fallback gear.

After 5k, I'm all alone. Heck, after 300 yards, I was all alone.

The last kilometer of the first lap was mostly uphill, just brutal. I got to the starting line, coughing up my toenails, and told the timers that I wouldn't be upset if they wanted to close it down. "No, you're doing great!" they said.

"Make you a deal," says I. "I'll keep going as long as you find someone to do a cool down lap. I might need a little help." They laughed.

But they also didn't send any help. I was serious, guys.

Oh well. I slogged through, got back to the line, and somehow it was still daylight. Dead last by a country mile or 3.

Turns out my poles were way short. Yeah, that was the problem, all right; bad equipment. The next week, I took a lesson.

I'm gonna win this sucker. The final segment is on 27 February.

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