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).

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