Five degrees Fahrenheit didn’t feel too cold in the sun and without the wind. I was more worried about the race distance, my wax and Yolo. It was third time doing the White Mountain 30 km Classic — the NENSA club team championships. I had been making good progress on my classic technique and was looking forward to a long race to see how much I had improved.
I felt sluggish and tired during warm up. I usually do and I’m getting used to it, even though it seems to take a little longer each year to work through it. I can almost convince myself that the sluggishness I feel is calm and confidence. I’ve been racing for so many years now that there should be nothing exciting about it.
I skied out to Yodel and to test my wax. With the temperatures consistently in teen and single digits all week, I had planned to use the same formula as the Geschmossel earlier in the week: Swix VR30. I had made my wax call and applied it two days in advance, leaving little room to do any last minute tweaking or panic waxing. On the flats and short uphills over the golf course, the wax tested amazingly well. On Yodel, it slipped on the icy spots but otherwise felt good. So I put a little extra on top and that was it.
On the start line, I found a sunny spot and hopped and danced to stay warm. Waiting there in the cold, the five minutes standing there felt like an hour. The gun went off and Kris Freeman took off. A few brave souls went with him and the front end of the race was strung out in the first few hundred meters. Despite my sluggish warm up, I immediately felt better once the race started. I got into a chase group with teammates Frank and Andy and settled in for the long race. The first few minutes would have no bearing on the 30 km race.
On Yodel,I felt quick but kept skiing up on Frank’s skis and screwing up my rhythm — not to mention annoying Frank — until enough of a gap opened up. Those few interruptions, however, threw me off and I immediately went into survival mode, which caused more slipping and slowing. Still, I was able to stay in contact with the group but had used up a lot of energy to do so. On the flats before Eagle, I felt strong double-poling. For a moment, I considered going to the front and increasing the tempo but with 3 laps of Eagle and Wave coming, I thought better of it.
When we hit the foot of Eagle, I started slipping right away. I was able to find a rhythm, and alhough I had given up a few positions on the way up, I was able to reconnect on the descent. The Wave went a little better, with the same sort of yo-yoing off the back and making up ground on the flats.
The second time up Eagle, I lost contact for good. With all the slipping, I had tweaked my back, making it all the more difficult to get my feet and hips into the proper position. On the way down from the high point at Eagle House, I stepped out of the track to set up for the sharp right hander and caught my ski edge. My left ski pulled hard to the side and put me in a split and I went down. When I hit the ground I started sliding. I had been going fast enough that I kept sliding for a while — long enough to start to wonder when I was going to stop and even to start thinking about what I was going to have for lunch.
I got back up and kept going.
I had lost time but was holding my position. It was a minor interruption.
Because of the crash, Andy had started to catch up with me. When I saw him, I eased up so we could ski together and maybe take turns setting the pace. But as I came around a tight right-hander, my ski caught a rock, I stumbled and all of a sudden I was going off the trail, off the bridge and into a drainage ditch. On the way down, my pole got pinned underneath me and when it snapped back, it whacked me right in the head. I sat there dazed for a few seconds. I felt like I had hurt or broken something. My skis were pinned in the snow. Fortunately, I hadn’t broken through the ice so I stayed dry.
It took at least a minute to get going again. I had to take off my skis and climb back up to the trail. I had to check my gear to see if anything had broken. I was pretty pissed at this point. I was angry at the race course, at the rock, at my own lack of skill. And my head was really starting to hurt. I felt like my race was over at this point. I even considered stopping. No matter how shitty a bad race feels, quitting feels worse. So, I kept going.
I skied the final lap of Eagle and Wave. I was slipping a lot now in some areas, but I kept a steady tempo and stayed calm. I was relieved when I made the turn back to Yodel and the final stretch. I didn’t feel very tired but my back and head were sore. I kept the pressure on. But I wasn’t finished with my falls for the day. I would go down one more time in the chunky chewed up snow at the foot of Yodel. I got up and kept going.
I would finish 17th overall and win my age group, which would help Cambridge Sports Union to win its 5th men’s title in a row, and would be an improvement over last year. Still, I wasn’t happy about the race — in particular with the damage done to my brand new Zach Caldwell hand-picked Fischer race skis. There was a big chunk out of the edge/side of the ski, down the wood. It looked like the ski was ruined. And this was only my second time racing on them.
The bitterness of a bad race faded faster than the bump on my head. Each time I told the story, it got funnier and I felt better for at least having a memorable experience. Some day, I’ll connect all the pieces and have a beautiful race. Until then, I’ll keep trying.