One of the good days . . . .
I didn’t actually blog about the Seeley Classic race but I can sum it up pretty quickly. I started out in the back of the field, worked my way up a little ways, skied at a comfortable pace, took the Jaeger shot at 11k to go, continued to ski comfortably . . . . and then with about 1k to go I realized how comfortably I had been skiing and became obsessed with passing the woman in front of me. Racing for 1k is way more my thing than having to actually race for 22k.
Coming into the Noquemanon race (25k classic) I told myself that I was going to try and treat this more like a race and less like a tour. Not that there’s anything wrong with a nice tour but I wanted to push myself a bit more for a change and I knew I had the fitness to do the distance. Plus I won't lie I thought I could get a top 3 in my age group if I tried a little harder but knew if I skied my usual way that I probably wouldn’t (and the Noque gives away sweet cow bells for prizes and I wanted one).
I was placed in Wave 2 for the 25k Classic race. I, as always, lined up towards the back of the wave. Unlike faster waves our wave is full of a few people who are determined to be at the front and a whole lot of people competing for the back. The usual dance ensued where someone realized that he wasn’t at the back and then invited those of us behind him to move up. We said “no, no we’re good” and refused to move up.
Finally the start goes off and we double pole away. The start is on a downhill so it’s a little bit of chaos but I was impressed with the skill of everyone in our wave as we got off to a clean start with no pile ups or broken poles. There was some chaos as we were starting as the 50k racers were still coming through the half way point (this was more of a problem this year because the snow was slow and the 50k people were coming through later than usual).
It only takes a couple of kilometers for everyone to begin to sort out with the people their speed. There’s the usual confusion at hills as people climb at different speeds and have better kick or worse kick but still we’re settling into groups.
At around 5k I find myself skiing with a group of 2 women and a guy. I’m clearly faster on the uphills but I’m more conservative on the downhills (thanks to being traumatized the last time I raced the Noque). However, I’m also faster on the flats. So what do I do? Nothing, which is my norm. I just sit behind them skiing very comfortably – at times much too comfortably. Every time I ski up on the tails of their skis I just ease up. Of course I do think about passing them but I dismiss the idea. I’m sure that I will just hold them up and/or they will just repass me quickly as I'm always positive they are just better skiers than me.
It’s not that I don’t remember that I was going to try and put a little bit more “race” into ski race but in the heat of a ski race I generally don’t and am really good at talking myself out of it. Do I suffer from a fear of trying and being disappointed or am I just really good at channeling the person who subconsciously seems to think that if I go too hard I might not be able to finish?
On a long climb about 7k or so into the race I’m once again right on the tails of the 2 women and then both jump out of the tracks to herringbone. I’m blessed with excellent kick (story about that later) and so continue striding up the hill and get a significant gap by the time we reach the top. This brings me back into contact with the guy who had been in our group and he’s motoring along. I get on the back of his skis determined to keep pace.
The mental game starts again – I want to keep in front of those women, they might be in my age group so I must keep the gap, this guy’s pace is a little uncomfortable, I don’t think I can do it, you can do it, it’s not that hard a pace, yes it is, no it isn't, just keep going.
Luckily for me the guy I joined with was going at a much better pace and I had some tricks in my bag that he didn’t. What I mean is that he never seemed to utilize kick-double poling which was a huge mistake. The snow was slow enough that many sections that might seem good for just double poling were so much easier to kick-double pole.
After about 10k the race does get a little crazy because you’ve got 50k classic and skate racers mixed in with 25k classic and skate racers all on a trail that is a bit narrow and twisty. I felt bad for all the 50k classic skiers I passed as they had much fresher skiers zooming around them constantly. It wouldn’t have been so bad but most of the race course only has one set of tracks. Basically you would catch someone and then you would have to check and see if you could get around them without impeding a skater coming up from behind you. It wasn’t always easy because the tracks were faster than the skate lane.
Amidst all this chaos I kept telling myself to keep on it. I kept reminding myself how disappointed I would be if the 2 women I passed long before caught me and then both ended up being in my age group and I was denied a cowbell. Now it’s not like I could see them behind me or that I even knew if they were my age but it was my little mental game to not let myself ease up.
At 5k to go I reminded myself that is the same distance as the Elver race I had done earlier in the week (I tried not to remember how much that hurt). At this point in the race I’m double-poling and kick-double poling like there is no tomorrow. The last part of this race has lots of long flats and with not so fast snow it seems like a lot of effort to keep up the effort. It’s made even harder by the need to get out of the tracks to pass and the sections with 2 sets of tracks are a dream come true. I guess the cool part is that I am passing people and not being passed.
Once you get to the area near the NMU campus and the finish at the Dome it seems like forever. You are excited to almost be done but you can’t believe you aren’t there yet. All you can do is enter a zone where you double-pole for as long as you can, kick-double pole as long as you can and hope that it ends soon.
And then you’re done. It’s almost anti-climactic in a way. They announce your name as you reach the finish line, a volunteer removes your chip timer, and you summon the energy to take off your skis. It’s a good feeling though to have given a good effort and even though at times you were not pleased with your technical skiing ability at least you felt like you were trying.
Being the crazy person that I am I waited until I had gone back to where I was staying, eaten, showered and chatted with people before I started thinking about checking the results. I really didn’t want disappointing results to detract from what had been a good day of skiing. However, with a computer sitting on the kitchen counter it was hard to resist checking.
Luckily it just reinforced the success of my day as I had placed 18th out of 68 women and managed 2nd place in my age group. A cow bell was mine!
I’m not 100% sure who the women who were my motivators were but I think they finished 3-4 minutes behind me. They sure did keep me motivated although I don’t think they actually were in my age group but they motivated me to a top 20 finish at a race that I once swore I would never do again (and as mentioned that’s a story with funny photos of really bad technique!).
And now for the story of my wax preparation . . . the “fun” part of doing classic style ski races is worrying about your kick wax. Before the race start I joined all the other people out testing their kick wax. I was struggling to get it right. At some point I asked an older gentleman what he had on and if he liked it. I totally hit the jackpot as he had Swix VR45 on and he claimed it was great. I didn’t have that with me so I asked if he’d loan me some. I put the VR45 on in just under the foot and over the VR40 I already had applied. The funny pat was that the guy’s friend was determined to help me out as well so he corked it in for me. I don’t feel like I seem helpless but possibly I was giving off that vibe. The wax worked great so I’m not complaining!