This past weekend brought the biggest cross country ski race of the year. At least, the biggest that I participate in. The Boulder Mountain Tour is a 32km skate ski race that draw about 900 competitors. I have entered the race many times and I generally suffer. I have always suffered more in this race than other more difficult courses. Part of the reason is the start. With so many people starting the race, there is great incentive to go out hard to ensure a good position when the course narrows (about 2km in). Last year I decided I was not going to do that. I would start out relaxed and slowly increase my intensity. It worked well allowing me to finish hard with a good finish time.
This year, my strategy was the same. Due to my result from last year, I was placed in the third starting wave, up from the 4th wave last year. The snow was firm and very fast. Just before the start I was introduced to a new friend in my wave. Bill had ridden a bike tour with a number of my friends. He flew out from Chicago for this race. 2km into the race, I crashed right in front of him. A few kilometers later, I passed him only to crash right in front of him again. Hoping not to repeat a third time, I passed him again but this time stayed on my skis!
I felt good in the middle part of the race. I was able to ski hard and keep the intensity up. The small group I was in continued to pull in other skiers. At about 5km to go, I was really starting to tire. I caught and passed one small group of skiers with 4km to go. From here, I had to keep the intensity up. I lead the group I was in all the way to the finish. Realizing the group would sprint the finish, I had to work out my strategy. I am not the fastest sprinter, so I decided to ramp up my speed from 500 meters. As the lead skier it was my choice which lane to pick for the sprint. I picked the fastest lane (one where most of the previous skiers had used, it was firmer and faster). I gave it all I had. At about 100 meters to go, I was way over my red line. I was able to hold on to the lead through the finish. I finished 167th with a time of 1:27:29. This was 9 minutes faster than my previous fast time, although I did drop 41 places from last year.
In all it was a great race. I felt good, I finished strong, I finished ahead of the people I generally calibrate myself against, and I had a fun sprint finish. I could have done without the two crashes!