Sunday, January 06, 2008

First Ski Race of the Year

Yesterday was the Tamarack Loppet, my first cross country ski race of the year.  This has been one of my favorite races of recent years, but the race organization and course changed this year. The Idaho Nordic ski club had promoted the race, but this year they focused and applied their series points to a Classic Ski race near Sun Valley scheduled on the same weekend. This left the Tamarack Nordic center to organize the event themselves. While they did a great job with the event, the promotion was weak and the turn out very poor.  There were only 12 skiers racing in the 30km event.  Another 8 people entered the 15k event. This compared to about 100+ last year.  The weather likely played a factor in the low turnout as I will describe later.

I viewed this race as a training event for the much larger Boulder Mountain Tour next month.  I wanted to get in some good hard distance to test my fitness and get my body used to the challenge. In the past a long event 3-4 weeks prior to my big event (Boulder Mountain tour) has worked out very well.

The race was held on Saturday January 5th.  This was the weekend of the largest storm of the year to hit the west coast. High winds and 20+ inches of snow in the few days leading up to the event.  In fact, the power was out at the resort when we arrived at the race. It was snowing heavily and the winds were in the 20-30 mph range out of the South. The race organization was doing everything they could to keep the course groomed and race ready.  They had two snow cats grooming the course.  Right before the start they even took out a snowmobile with a roller right in front of the race. The new snow and the high winds drifting snow across the course made all of this effort near futile.

The course was 7.5km in length, thus we would complete 4 laps for the 30km event. The outward portion of the loop provided some protection with trees and building decreasing the force of the headwind and drifting snow. It was still quite deep and soft making it very difficult to use good skate form. It felt like skiing in mashed potatoes. Near the outward end of the course there was a stretch straight into the wind completely exposed. Groppel was blasting us in the face. This was very difficult until the course slowly turned into a tailwind. The tailwind wasn't all its cracked up to be as the drifting snow made large soft lumps in the trail. Thus one moment I was skiing on hardpacked windblown fast snow, the next I was buried in a foot of soft powder with my skis completely stopped. I spent the whole stretch just fighting the transitions. After this the course entered a beautiful stretch through a nice forest.  Here I only had to fight the 1-2 inches of new powder since the last grooming. Exiting the forest was a 1km stretch perpendicular to the wind. The drifts were up to a foot deep.  The blowing wind made it nearly impossible to see and I had difficulty staying on the trail. Another tailwind stretch, then the worst part of the course, an uphill stretch perpendicular to the wind. The drifts were so deep, this part was unskiable. I basically herring boned up the hill. This brought me back to the start/finish and the completion of the first lap. Ouch.  I finished the first lap in 6th place out of the field of 12 skiers. My first split time was right at 30 minutes.

The misery continued as I was not smart enough to call it and head for the car. Back into the wind.  It was snowing harder now. I started to get a side ache and still couldn't bring my form around.  Skate skiing is a sport that requires very precise form. When your form deteriorates, you work harder to maintain the same speed. This causes fatigue which further degrades your form. It is a downward spiral. I was passed by one skier, but he skied off the course into the deep powder and lost time getting back on course.  I once again finished the lap in 6th place with a split time of 31 minutes. Still not smart enough to quit I started lap 3. A group of three of us were skiing together now.  The man who skied off course caught back up and I was caught by a woman from McCall Idaho. We skied most the next lap together until I crashed on the final climb completing the loop.  I lost about 30 seconds to the two of them and finished the lap in 8th place with my lap time dropping to 34 minutes.

The final lap was more difficult still as I was using many muscles to get through the deep snow that I don't usually use or train. These muscles were screaming under the strain. I was working hard to catch back up with the two in front of me, but I just couldn't reel them in. The visibility had improved so it was easier to see the snow drifts, but they were much deeper than on previous laps. My form was gone and I struggling even more. I finished the race in 8th place with a dismal 37 minute final lap. So much for the reverse splits I prefer to achieve.

My objective to ski a good hard race was clearly successful. I was completely wiped out after the event. The conditions prevented me from truly testing my form over that distance. I was never able to put it all together. I have some work to do before the Boulder Mountain Tour.  I can also say that it was my second worst misery in 10+ years of racing. The story of the worst will have to wait for another day.

The most positive result of the weekend is that the storm brought the critical Idaho snowpack up above normal levels. Hopefully this trend will continue. With warmer Springs it is critical that we exit the winter well above normal snowfall.

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