For weekend number two for the USCSA season we headed down to Crested Butte for two days of USCSA action. Crested Butte is an awesome town with great trails and a ski community to match. The first day of racing was the annual Alley Loop. This is a big ski marathon that attracts racers from all over the area, and we score it as one of our USCSA qualifiers. Day two was a 5k classic race, a RMC USCSA race.
The Alley Loop is one of my favorite races, and it ranks among the best ski marathons in the country. Every year they move tons of snow into the streets of Crested Butte for the race. It begins on 2nd Street, the main drag downtown, and then heads up a big climb out of town onto the cross country trails. It descends down into the meadows, full of undulating terrain, until at the end of the loop you pass these ruins of an old mine. From there the trail heads up a long climb and descends back into town. It goes down one street, hangs a right into the alley for two blocks, and back onto the wide street for 100 yards of straight, and 90 degree turn onto 2nd Street to lap. Through the lap the way out of town is different from the first. Rather than heading up the trail heads off into a little alley and across a footpath, and out into a flat meadow which eventually meets up with the first lap. The reason for the difference in the laps is that the alleys are far too narrow for a mass start with 100 racers to go through at once without massive carnage.
For the first time since I joined the team we stayed in Crested Butte for the Crested Butte races. In the past we have always stayed in Gunnison, which is a 40 minute drive from the trails. This year we found a sweet vacation rental in Crested Butte just five minutes from the Nordic center. It’s a massive house with two living rooms, a hot tub, steam room, and a huge kitchen that accommodated the whole team at once. We were really blessed to have such an awesome place so close to the venue.
Unfortunately not everything else was so perfect. We had problems with the van on Saturday morning, forcing us to get everyone to the start in Suburban loads. I got in the first trip, but when we got to the start line we had trouble finding the bib pickup, which turned out to be several blocks from the start. When we did find it I discovered the arch strap on my right boot had broken off in transit. Furthermore, we now only had about an hour to the start. I got my boot on and covered the severed strap with masking tape, which actually worked pretty well. It doesn’t get as tight as the strap lets it get, but it’s skiable.
|My Salomon boot with masking tape on the right. This is from the start line|
Because of all the delays my warm up got a little messed up, so I basically just shortened every step to compensate. At these races skiers hoping to be in the front rank at the start line have to arrive early to secure a spot. They operate on a first come first serve basis. So that meant even less time. Fortunately I got through my abbreviated warm up and nabbed a spot in the front without trouble.
Here’s a quick summary of my ideal warmup for a 21k.
T minus 1:30 – Arrive at the venue
T minus 1:00 – Get on skis, ski the course (dependent on the course length), super easy
T minus :30 – Two minutes of level 2
T minus :28 – Easy ski
T minus ~:22 – Two minutes of level 3
T minus :20 – Easy ski
T minus :15 – 10-15 seconds level 4, on skis or on foot, repeats
T minus :05 – Shed clothes, get to the pen
For other race lengths I do variations of this. The shorter the race the longer the level 2 and 3. In between the level 2 and level 3 speeds I do a full moving recovery. I find two minutes is about as short as you can do and still get fully in the target zone. Two minutes is pretty short but it works for a long race. The level 4 at the end is as hard as possible. Doing it on foot gets your heart rate up faster than on skis, and if you incorporate poles then you still get your arms warm. In a 21k I usually reason that I will do some warming up in the first couple k. It’s a long enough race where you can get away with that. Also, arriving at the pen with only five minutes to go is often not possible, for instance, the Alley Loop. This is my ideal warm up, I rarely actually get it right. This can be adjusted to personal taste, race distance, and other extraordinary circumstances. The important thing is that you hit every gear in order before the start.
Back to the Alley Loop. A lot of people wanted to be in that front row so we were packed in like sardines. This dictated my tactics early on. Basically I wanted to cover the 120m double pole faster than everybody and hammer up the opening climb. This would hopefully break the field enough by the top that everyone would have some freedom of maneuver. I was pretty nervous about breaking a pole in the double pole because we were so close together.
|Us at the start. Mason is on the far left, the three of us on the right are Sam, myself, and Ben|
When the gun went off I executed my plan. I hit the end of the double pole in second, and had already created some space so I could move around. Free from the risk of broken equipment. I hit the hill and took the lead. I pushed the pace all the way up the hill, then slowed down a little on the rolling section after the climb. After that there’s a fast downhill with two switchbacks to make things interesting. When I rounded the switchbacks I looked back and was pleased to see that the field was already really strung out and that UW had places 1,2,3, and 4. I slowed down a little more because I knew I couldn’t sustain that pace for another 19k. Sam and Mason pulled in behind me and we had a little train going. In the meadows we began to pass the back part of the 42k race, which had started 15 minutes before us. We were cruising at a reasonable pace but we also had to dodge 42k skiers. Sam and I switched who was leading a couple times.
As we hit the turnaround point on the lap we were joined by the four NCAA skiers in our race and a couple other guys. On the big climb back towards town one of the CU skiers moved to the front and lifted the pace significantly. By the top of the climb there were seven of us in the lead group: Ian Boucher, Max Scrimgeour, and Jackson Hill from CU, Lars Hannah from DU, and Mason, Sam, and myself. We shuffled back in forth for placement in the group down the hill into town and through the alleys. When we took off down the narrowest of the alleys past the lap marker we were forced to double pole due to the narrowness and the sugariness of the hauled snow.
Once we got out of the alley it’s a lot of flat. Lars Hannah moved from 7th in the line around all of us to the front and lifted the pace. This put me way out of my comfort zone. We were zipping by masters really fast and I was working to hold on.
|Sam, me, and Mason on the second lap|
On some of the little climbs in the meadows whoever was dictating the pace at the front would slow way down, almost to a walk on the bottom and then accelerate over the top to try and drop us. At this point Mason was a little ways back and I was losing connection. Every time I clawed my way back but the changes in pace were really affecting me. The group slowly pulled away from me but I didn’t lose sight.
When we hit the big climb I was really suffering. I could see the group pulling away from Sam up ahead. I pushed up the steep part to where it was a little more gradual. Sam had somewhere around 15 seconds on me at this point. I realized it was still possible for me to catch him so I lifted my pace here and could quickly tell I was closing the gap.
I hit the downhill and caught Sam at the bottom. We hung the right into the alley and there really wasn’t room to pass so I was content to sit behind him. When we swung left onto the road I went around on his left. I then had the inside on the 90 degree left hander to the finish. I sprinted hard and just beat him in. My last effort had really destroyed me and I basically collapsed on the ground and vomited out all the Gatorade I had taken as feed. This is how I want to feel after every race.
Sam and I ended up just under a minute behind the NCAA guys who won. They came in more or less together.
In the USCSA, the UW men got the first podium sweep of the season, with Sam, Mason, and me. It was fun mixing it up with the NCAA boys and racing together with teammates.
Ben was 10th and Taylor was 13th.
On Sunday we raced a 5k classic, on the same course that we did in December and before that last February. Everything went smoothly that morning, and we had beautiful conditions with warm temperatures and cold snow. This made waxing really easy.
I definitely woke up on Sunday still feeling tired from the race the day before. Though I had done my best to recover, it can take more than 24 hours to get back to 100% after an effort like mine the day before.
I was the third starter. Because it’s a 5k I went out really hard. Essentially the first half of the course is all double pole, while the second half is very difficult, starting with a massive climb right in the middle. I wanted to make some time on the double pole where I am usually stronger. I caught the guy in front of me pretty quickly and set my sights on the next guy. It was Nate Maddox, a fast skier from CMU. I had gotten close to him by the top of the big climb, but didn’t gain much over the latter half of the course. I was in a lot of pain, feeling the previous day’s effort. I struggled throughout the rest of the course and never got around Nate. Not my best race.
|The podium. L-R: Mason, me, Nate, Elise, Bob from WSCU, Meghan|
Still, when the results came in I was second, eight seconds behind Mason. Nate was third. Trevor came in 9th, Ben 11th, and Taylor 12th. Sam took the day off.
Results are here.
This weekend is our home race! The Cowboy Chase is always a great weekend. This year we have a 5k classic team start on Saturday and then another 21k on Sunday. It’s going to be fun. Both days have citizen races as well so everyone can come out for it!
Cowboy Chase info here.