Sunday, December 20, 2015

Crested Butte Round II

The 5k classic is one of my least favorite events. I am usually a stronger skater and a stronger distance skier.

When you are in your first years of high school racing 5k's are the main distance you do. When I was racing in Alaska most of the season we did 5k's with a couple 10k's mixed in. As you get to your later years of high school 10k's become the norm and 5k's start to feel pretty short. A 15k seems like a massive distance. We did one 15 every year, a bunch of 10s and some 5s. Once you hit college 15k becomes the standard distance, and 10k's start to feel like 5s used to. When I see 20k now I look at it the same way I looked at 15s when I first started doing them. So a 5k at this point feels almost like a sprint.

But that's what they had us doing in Crested Butte. We had some crazy weather for it too. It was dumping snow when we first arrived at the venue, but stopped pretty quick after we got there. Then about 15 minutes before the men went out it started dumping again. There was an inch of powder on the course when we started. When the girls went out it was a full blown blizzard.

I kind of botched the warm up today. I didn't even get on my skis until less than an hour before the race. I also recently ran over my watch with my car and haven't replaced it, and I didn't charge my phone overnight so it was dead this morning. This meant I had no way of telling time besides asking people so I was doing that a lot. The shorter the race, the more crucial the warm up, and warm ups generally require you to ski at various effort levels at a specific amount of time before your race. I like to have a lot more than an hour before a race this short, but I just wasn't on it this morning. I did get a warm up it just wasn't ideal.

Double Pole
I tested my race skis and needed more kick, but didn't get on them after the extra wax was applied until I was in the pen. I started in the third chevron in the far right lane, behind skiers who I thought I was probably faster than. Once again in a 5k getting stuck behind a group can be disastrous.

Because of all the fresh snow everyone knew that the tracks would be fastest, and that whoever skied in front would be essentially breaking trail and thus doing a lot more work than everyone else. When the gun went off I tried to maneuver my way to the front of the group, but not first place, as quick as possible but there was really no getting around everyone so soon. Once the pack thinned a little it strung out into a big single file line, because nobody was willing to get into the other lane and go through the fresh snow. I stayed where I was for that reason. My kick wax was slipping too so I had to be careful when I tried to make a move.

I had the advantage today of knowing the course quite well because we skied the exact same course that we did last February where I won the USCSA RMC race. When we reached a gradual slope about 1.5 km in I decided this was the time to pass some folks. Everyone in front of me began striding so I hit the unoccupied left lane and double poled my way up the climb past a bunch of guys, and made contact with the front group of about 10, who were mostly NCAA racers.

This course is not an easy one, with undulating terrain basically the entire time and one massive climb right at the halfway point. Once I'd caught the front group I immediately began struggling on the short, steep climbs because my wax was slipping. I either herringboned or double poled. Once we hit the big climb in the middle I had just barely lost contact with the front but was within a second or two. I struggled on the big climb but was able to cut the sweeping right corner by hopping out of the tracks. Around 2/3s of the way up my wax suddenly was sticking really well so I was able to keep with the group. But at the top I was super tired and really struggling sustaining my pace.

Through the rest of the race I was fighting for position with a few other guys just off the back of the leaders. At the end of the course there's a steep climb that's longer than the rest (except the really big one at the halfway point), and then it's a long downhill right to the finishing lanes. On this climb I felt strong and got past a UNM guy, and pulled right behind the day's early leader, who for some reason decided that doing the race on skate skis and double poling everything was a good idea. I drafted him on the down but then he fell so I went around him. The UNM guy was gaining on me in the finish but I beat him on the line.

Me vs. UNM at the finish
Despite the fact that I wasn't feeling super today I still had a good result and was just barely behind the NCAA guys, so I'm happy with today and the weekend. Tomorrow I'm off to Alaska to see my family for Christmas, and from there I'll be heading to Houghton, Michigan to rendezvous with the team for US Nationals.

Results from today can be found here.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Season opener

Because this blog sometimes goes weeks at a time without a post and because I really enjoyed blogging my races in Slovakia last year I have decided to take it upon myself to blog all my races this year.

This weekend marks my first two races of the season as I skipped the Holiday Hurrah two weeks ago. We are in Crested Butte, CO competing in Rocky Mountain Nordic’s Junior Nationals Qualifiers (not to be confused with Rocky Mountain Conference, our USCSA division, or Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association, our NCAA division). However, some of our friends in the RMISA from CU, DU, and New Mexico came down for the weekend as well, so that was exciting for us. Otherwise the field is mainly juniors in Colorado trying to qualify for Junior Nationals. The Colorado guys are pretty fast though, so we expected some good competition.

The Butte
This morning was a sprint race. Sprints kick off with everyone skiing an individual start doing one lap around the 1.3ish km loop. The top 30 fastest skiers then go into a bracket. Each heat in the bracket has six skiers, and in the first round the top two skiers in each heat move on to the semifinals, as well as two other skiers called “lucky losers.” These are determined either by fastest quarterfinal times or fastest qualifier times. In the semis the top three in each heat race the “A Final” and the next three in each heat race the “B Final.” The A Final determines 1-6 place and the B Final 7-12.

The course today was a solid sprint course but not a super difficult one. The start is about 200m of flat with a hard left pretty quick, then up a short but steep hill, a quick downhill followed by a longer and less steep hill, a long downhill, and then the last 100 or so meters is a flat finish.

I started the day with bib 18, meaning I was seeded as the 18th fastest skier in the field of 45. This gave me some confidence going into the race because I feel like my USSA points, which determine seeding, tend to lowball me in seeding. So my goal today was to make it through the quarterfinals and into the semis.

I had a good qualifier. I could tell by the time the guy in front of me hit the first climb that I was gaining on him and I pulled pretty close by the top of the second climb. By the finishing lanes I had almost caught him and I just passed him before the finish line. We start at 15 second intervals and 15 seconds is a big margin in a sprint, so I figured I was in the bracket.

For the men, Taylor ended up qualifying in 10th, me less than a second back from him in 12th, Ben in 13th just a few tenths of a second behind me, and Sindre just barely out of the bracket. It was a good showing from us, and we were right there with the NCAA guys. That’s a really good sign going into the season.

Normally in a sprint you are given new bibs after the qualifier based on where you finished. So the fastest qualifier gets bib 1, etc. Today we just hung onto our bibs, I guess for tomorrow, and were given paper bibs instead. Nobody likes paper bibs but we got by.

I was put in the fourth quarterfinal. Generally earlier heats are advantageous because you get a little more rest before the semis, so I was hoping to get into one of the early semis. But you don’t get to pick. I ended up in a heat with bib 2, a Steamboat guy, and bib 9, a New Mexico guy. 2 qualified a little ways in front of me but 9 was only about a second, so I figured I had a real good shot at getting in the top two for the guaranteed semi slot. A last second change from time determining lucky loser to bib number (based on qualifier time) meant a little change in strategy. When the gun went off I quickly moved into third. At the first climb I felt strong enough to move to the front but wasn’t able to get there because I was blocked off. I tried to make a move on the downhill but got cut off. Finally on the second climb I was able to move around the New Mexico guy into second but still couldn’t move my way to first. It was a little frustrating because I felt strong enough to take the lead but couldn’t get around. On the big downhill the UNM guy drafted me all the way down and then shot around me. Realizing second was now out of reach I coasted in to save energy. The three of us had dropped the rest of the heat. I now could only wait and pray that I got the lucky loser.

In second place on the second climb
Ben got second in his heat for the guaranteed spot, while Taylor had a mishap at his start and unfortunately didn’t make it past the quarters.

It took them a while to get the semi bracket up so I had to just continue as if I made it so I would be prepared. In sprints you usually get around an hour and a half after your qualifier but once it gets to the heats they start one every five minutes and go more or less straight from the quarters to the semis to the finals. So you get a ton of time from the qualifier to the quarters but hardly any in between heats. In between heats I just  try to stay moving and throw in a few really short pickups.

I ended up getting the second lucky loser, so I was moving on. The semi looked to be much tougher competition than the quarter was. Everyone was a college racer. When we started I quickly found myself in last. The group strung out, but I never lost contact. I got into fifth on the first climb but couldn’t get up to fourth. As soon as I realized I wasn’t getting top three I shut it off to save energy for the B Final. I got passed in the straight but didn’t fight for it because it really didn’t matter.

Both Ben and I raced the B Final. As soon as the gun went off Ben shot to the front, while I was in fifth. Going up the first climb the order stayed basically the same. I definitely wasn’t feeling the same explosiveness I felt earlier on the climbs, so I was just trying to hang on. But on the second climb I moved to fourth. Ben was still leading. We rounded the corner and headed down the hill, with Ben and second and third in a tight bunch, and me right behind. I gapped the two behind me. The two guys in front went around Ben in the finishing lanes, and I was catching him. I just about pulled even with him in the end and we lunged for the line, and I think he beat me by about an inch.

It was a good day for us. Ben and I got ninth and tenth in a pretty stong field. I am really happy with where my fitness is right now, and sprinting really is not my forte so it was fun to be skiing in the heats with some really fast skiers.

Ben and I in the B Final
Tomorrow we ski a 5k classic mass start. Athletes my age rarely ski 5k’s, and they are much too short for my liking. But a 5k is better for me than a sprint!

Results from today can be found here: