There was a point in my life where I swore I’d never do another day like this, never do the crack-of-dawn departure, the 3-hour drive each way for a half-hour race, the stumble through the door, exhausted at the end of the day, with a duffle full of dirty gear. There was a point in my life where I would be able to sleep in and relax my way through the day. Drink some beer. Watch some TV. Maybe get a little fat.
But I’ve never able to stick to that program. So instead, I did the Geschmossel at Bretton Woods.
I woke up at 5:15 AM. Had breakfast and a pot of coffee. Prepared my bottles. Put on my race suit. Worse, I dragged my 10-year old son out of bed so he could watch me suffer through my race…then do one of his own.
We were on the road by 6:15. Driving up with Robert (pronounced RobEHR in the French Quebecois manner) who took full advantage of the superchargers in his S4 , we made good time until we hit snow in Franconia Notch and slowed to a crawl behind a pair of plows. When we arrived at the Bretton Woods Nordic Center, it was sunny. It was calm. It was cold. The temperature was 2 degrees Farenheit.
We discussed the wax situation. The day before had been warm and slushy. The cold front overnight had frozen everything up, then a few inches of snow had fall on top of it. Some were talking klister because of the ice, which was no good because I had left my klister skis at home. Since the race was short, we settled on hard wax and a sandwich of base binder and race wax. I put on 6 or 7 layers, alternating between Swix VG35 and VR30. It worked perfectly.
After skiing a recon of the course, where the hills all looked shorter and less steep than last year, I froze my ass off waiting for the start. My hands were numb. My toes were cold. I could see my breath in the air. I was hopping up and down and windmilling my arms to keep the blood flowing. Once underway, I knew I would be warm within a few minutes.
The race started with nearly 100 skiers fighting for position as the trail narrowed from 6 starts lanes to two tracks. The pace was reasonable but there were a couple guys already hammering at the front, eaking out a small lead on the double-pole stretch. I wasn’t ready to turn on the juice. I was waiting until I started to feel warm. As we hit the first subtle hills, a lead group formed and I could see them pulling away. I was watching them go. I was wondering why the skiers around me, the guys just in front of me in particular, were letting them go without even trying to close the gap. I was starting to get nervous. I was skiing up on the tails of the guys in front of me and trying to find a way around them. Eventually I got through and proceeded to crank up my pace and try to close on the lead group. But I went out a little too hot and had to back off. I had missed my chance. Maybe I would have been able to hang with the lead group if I had stayed there with them from the start. But I wasn’t going to close them up so I settled into a rhythm and tried to ski a smart race.
There were a lot of double-pole stretches and I felt strong through them. On the hills, I was striding smoothly, if a little on the slow side. While my technique had improved immensely, I was still having a confidence problem with the striding. If you believe you’ll have good kick, you’ll commit to the ski and drive all your power into it, propel yourself forward and set up perfectly for the next stride. But slip once or twice and the rhythm is gone and you’ve dumped a lot of energy for nothing. Worse, you fear it will happen again and again, so you back off.
But I was doing all right with the striding so far. I cleared the short steep climb, avoided the skier who had fallen in front of me, and flew down the fast descent. I thought I had setup for the sharp right-hander, but then I was heading into the woods. The year before, I had crashed on this same turn and I wasn’t going to let that happen again. I stayed up, but I lost some time and was gapped by the skiers in front of me. Damn, I thought, we don’t have stuff like this at Weston.
Coming through for the second lap, I still felt fresh. My son was on the side of the trail cheering for me and that gave me some extra boost. I hammered through the double-pole stretch, but started to slip on the hills. I was starting to get tired and was losing focus, failing to get my hips foward far enough and losing traction. I lost a good amount of energy from that, energy I could have used to catch and pass the two guys in front of me. Instead, I saved what I had for the finish stretch, but again lost ground on the downhill and couldn’t come around them.
I had targeted a top 10 finish, but finished 11th, just 2 or 3 seconds out of 9th place. There were any number of places I could have made up time and when I went back to look at my heart rate monitor log, it was clear I could have gone a little harder over the course. Still, I was satisfied wit the race and the result.
Later, I told my son that every race is a chance to improve. The more you race, the better you’ll get. But just because you critique your race doesn’t mean you’re unhappy with it. He finished 5th in his race, double-poling most of the 3km, and putting in a surge to the finish. And he felt great about it.