This weekend I entered my second big ski race of the year. I was hoping, and it was indeed, far more successful than my first big race of the year. The season has been a difficult one so far. I had hoped to enter the Boulder Mountain Tour a few weeks ago, but caught a nasty cold which last for 3-4 weeks. With heavy snow and difficult conditions, I canceled a few days before that race. This weekend I was feeling good and the weather was great.
The race is actually the Payette Lakes Ski Marathon, but it is now referred to as "Ski the Bear" as it is held at Little Bear Basin Nordic trail system. The race was held in McCall Idaho
The race organizers encouraged people to wear bear costumes, but there were few takers. One family had bear hats, one of the organizers wore a Smoky the Bear costume, but taking the prize for most creative costume was the local McCall resident who wore his Bare suit. Yes, he showed up to the starting line in his underwear. None of the fancy polypropelyne kind, but instead just a pair if tighty whities. I hope he had some wind front briefs on underneath. If not, burr! He was wearing a pair of see through nylons for extra warmth, but nothing on his upper body. I thought I was dressed a bit too warm for the race, but he definitely took the other end of the spectrum. The temperature was 30 degrees F at the start, making for a great race tempurature for all of the sane participants.
The race is 30 kilometers which consist of two 15 kilometer loops. My goal was to break one hour forty minutes for the event. The turn out was pretty good with about 100 people racing. Some were entered in the 15k event, but everyone started together. Smoky the Bear lead out the start. He was doing quite well for wearing a full bear suit. I didn't pass him until we were about 300 meters into the race.
I wanted to get a reasonable position but not go out too hard. If I dig too deep at the start, it takes way too long to recover. I settled in to a good pace. After about 3 kilometers the crowd started to thin out a little bit. I slipped and crashed in one sharp corner, but quickly came back up to my feet. About 6 kilometers in there is a long gentle climb. This is usually my best terrain as I get into a steady climbing rythm. I was able to pass a number of people on the climb. It was looking like I would have a good race. At seven kilometers the course drops down a steep hill with a sharp left turn at the bottom. I caught an edge on my ski and nearly went over. I stumbled, stepped, and tried to recover my balance. Just when I thought I had pulled it through the corner, I was suddenly on my face. Whiplash! I had an instant raging headache. My glasses had flown up the trail. I tried to scamble to my feet, mainly to get out of the way of the people coming down the hill behind me. My friend Clyde and two others passed, then another friend Carol, skiing with a woman from McCall passed. I tried to figure out which way to go. I wasn't really that delierious, but the headache was making me wonder if I was ok to continue racing. Before anyone else caught me, I started down the trail. I took it easy for a few hundred meters before deteriming that I was probably good to go. In another half kilometer, the headache faded and I was back on race pace. I caught and passed all of those who passed me at the crash. At twelve kilometers the woman who had been skiing with Carol caught and passed me. I increased my tempo to try and stay with her. We pulled in and passed two more groups of skiers ahead of us. The speed on the rolling terrain was having its effect on me. I am not as efficient on this part of the course. The woman ahead of me had slower skis, but was a faster skier. She would drop me on the uphills and my faster skis would allow me to catch her on the downhills. At fourteen kilometers she gapped me and the next downhill wasn't long enough for me to close the gap. I continued the chase. For the next five kilometers I struggled. I had used too much staying with her and was having a difficult time recovering. My legs were killing me and my form degraded. I eased off to try and recover. I was caught by one skier from behind. The long downhill leading into the long uphill provided me what I needed to recover. I went into the long uphill feeling good. I caught and passed the guy who had just caught me. I even caught back up to the woman from McCall just as we crested the top. I successfully navigated the crash hill this time around. Moving into the next rolling part of the course I tried to stay with the woman ahead but she slowly pulled away. She would advance a little bit further on each climb. She would ski into the finish 30 seconds ahead of me. What a great race.
I finished just under 1:37, beating my time goal for the day. The best measure of my performance is that I had equal splits for the two laps indiciating that I didn't fade in the end. To me this is the most important metric of my performance. It was a great day and a great race.