Sunday, February 27, 2011

Par for the Course: XC Ski Race Part 2

It's nice to know people who are good teachers.

Before Par Part I, I had one day's experience on skate skis. A friend at work gave me a 30 second lesson and it helped me get through the toughest 10 kilometers of my life the next day. After the first lap, I told the organizers that I'd understand if they had to close down before I finished (about a  day and a half later...).

Anyhow, I took a lesson shortly after that, and vowed to get on the skis twice a week until the second part of the race. The appeal for this event was that the winner would be the one who improves the most.

Nowhere to go but up.

3 months later, it's show time. Again.

My daughter, as much a skate ski novice as I was, bravely took on the kids' 1k race and finished somewhere other than last. Great job, Spanky!

Skate skiing is brutal without solid technique, and the effort to learn scares a lot of people away. She did a super job, even though it was exhausting. Meanwhile, Kristen took her first lesson in classic technique and loved it.

Then I left the starter's gate. 15 degrees and snowy, but all I needed was a t-shirt, a long sleeve over that, and a headband. And pants, of course. Game plan for the two laps was to conserve for the first 3 miles, then double down and put the cards on the table.

And that is exactly what happened.

Last time, I was one of the last to start. This time, one of the first. I figured the ones behind would be blowing my doors in after a short while.

But they didn't. At least not too fast. The ones who passed me didn't have a huge speed advantage. Stay smooth. Glide, Clyde.

Second lap, feeling tired but ok. I look at my watch; if I keep this up, I'll be almost 30 minutes faster than last time.  Let's go. Time to empty the tank.

More of the same; stay focused, cut the tangents as much as possible, use the core. And keep relaxed.

A guy comes past with a quarter mile to go. I stick on him and we pick it up. Into the last straight and over the line, I'm right behind him.

When I was a kid, I would run 10k in 42 minutes without too much trouble. Today, I was going much faster, or thought I was. The clock said differently and showed the same time: age has the ability to distort reality.

Whatever. I ended up 27:30 quicker than last time. The next best improvement was 10 minutes. And my second lap was 10 seconds faster than the first. Happiness is a negative split.

Sweet. First race 'won' since third grade.

On the drive home, all I could think of was, "how come I didn't get past that guy at the end? I could have pushed a little more." Words of the truly committed (or at least one who should be).

I figured out what I like about swimming and nordic skiing; they are so utterly dependent on good technique. When you get older and the wheels aren't quite as fast, you look for anything to improve upon. And since my brain works better than body at this point, it's easier to learn the right way.

So why the big difference between first and second in improved time? Easy. It wasn't the better wax, the improved form, the snow conditions.

No, it's simpler than that. No one else 45 yrs old is stupid enough to start trying brutal and unfamiliar endurance sports. And improving is easy when you start at the bottom.

If that's all it takes, count me in. I have no pride (anymore).

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Houston, we have a problem...

Getting pretty disciplined with the nordic skiing, and I'm nervously psyched to get through Part II of the race.

But today was a little ridiculous.

Got ahead of my work schedule a bit so I could leave at 2pm and get some work done on the snow. FWIW, I'm starting to get sick of the drive up the mountain. 23 miles or so, and the asphalt is horrendous. Hey ODOT, can you put Century Drive on the repaving schedule, pretty please?

I usually keep all seasonal gear including boots and skis in the car at all times; helpful for when I get a wild hair. Works great for swimming and running, too; always have clothes and such on hand, and it will cut down on excuses. Harder to keep a bike on the rack around the clock, especially with a garage. But you get the point.

Anyhoo, I arrive at the Nordic Lodge only to remember that I had taken my gloves out of the car. Crap. But every Lodge is going to have a huge box of stuff that others have left behind. So I ask to borrow a pair. Decent thickness, good dexterity, and cool-looking. Very important when it's mid-afternoon and there's about three people scattered among 56k of trails.

Feeling not so good as I move out. Kind of sluggish and heavy. Might be the snow conditions in combination with the wrong ski wax; that's a topic I need to learn about. For now, though, let's get some work done.

About 3k out from base camp, my hands begin to get numb. Fought it off as long as I could until the fun factor disappeared. I can handle muscle/lung pain better than the average bear, but cold extremities make a boy miserable. Fast.

Trying to get back as quickly as possible, I had to stop multiple times and shove my hands under my arms, between my legs, anyplace warm. Note: hands down pants is a hard way to ski uphill.

Yeah, the downhill plunge away from the lodge didn't help the windchill factor. Now I have to slog against gravity. And remember, I'm a lousy (ie slow) skier to begin with. The extra exertion keeps my torso warm but does nothing for my fingers.

Finally back in the lodge and damn near hugging the enormous wood stove. Carol at the desk tells me the temperature has dropped to 10 degrees. Meanwhile, I'm sweating and freezing at the same time.

Then it gets worse.

I doubt that I've entered the frostbite zone, since I wasn't outside for very long. But man o man, now my hands hurt.


Thawing out all right, and too fast. Hard to describe the sensation; aching, compression, just a worse than  lousy feeling. Like having a really bad flu. And a bit scary since I've never been sick from cold before: I don't know what's going to happen next. This is bizarre.

Including the nausea. That's the part that got me concerned. I figured my hands would eventually come around, but now I literally feel sick. Carol kept an eye on me until the color returned to normal (incidentally, thanks for the coffee, CM). Then I shuffled off to the car and the coast downhill.

Probably a close call, and it could have been much worse.

  • Forgetting the gloves at home. Not really a big deal; if I would have skied without any gloves at all, that would have been really stupid. I knew I could get a loaner pair
  • Not checking the weather forecast right before I hit the trails. Things can change quickly at elevation.
  • Taking a 5-fingered set of racing gloves instead of industrial strength one or even mittens
  • Maybe a bad idea skiing alone at my skill level on a very cold day with few others around.

I'm ready for springtime and rain running. All that happens there is I get wet.