Thursday, February 28, 2008

2008 Leadville Loppet Race report

You know, I am not the only one that raced. Just sayin... As your punishment, I will not truncate my report at all. Hah!

Anyway, here is the (apparently) long awaited leadville loppet Race report.
On Friday morning Paul and I drove up to the thin air of Leadville for the Loppet.

After a smooth drive and delicious coffee and sammiches at Bongo Billys in Buena Vista, we arrived in Leadville. We first stopped at the course at the Colorado Mountain College. We skated for about an hour through the soft yet pliable trail system and then up the well groomed mineral belt trail. Conditions: great! The sun was out, it was just above freezing. The air, she was clear and the trade winds were blowing.

Me up there on the mineral belt trail

We skated up and down and took pics and enjoyed the crazy downhill on the mineral belt trail followed by the step turn happy woods, a harbinger of things yet to come.

Me and then that Paul guy up at the Leadville overlook

Afterwards we checked into the residually smoky super eight motel just across from the mountain college, got some grub at the Tennessee Pass cafe, and then headed back to the race site to pick up the numbers race numbers.

Also at the hotel were the sled dog teams.

We turned in early and then had what probably should have been a predictably crappy nights sleep at 10,152 feet altitude. Clay and Dina perfidiously stayed in Buena Vista at a more oxygenated 8000ish feet. Fiendishly clever they.

Got up at 7 ish and headed into town for some breakfast at the exquisitely signed Golden Burro cafe. Our lovely moppet of a waitress used her well honed urchin charm to steal Paul's heart. Not me though, she looked like she had done some hard time in juvie and I was wary of getting shanked with a rusty butterknife, but we got our breakfast without incident. I should have ordered the miner's platter. The pancake platter was lacking promised hashbrowns. After breakfast I supplemented the watery burro coffee with a cuppa from the newly opened and quite excellent Proving Ground Cafe. Well caffeinated at last, we departed for the race site.

Best neon sign in leadville, an ominous harbinger of breakfasts to come

Got to the race and strapped on the gear and did the warm up skate about. I was in the 22k skate, Paul, Dina, Clay and Denny all in the 22k classic, Ken and Jessica in the 45k classic and John in the 44k skate. I think that makes 8 club members total all bespeckled with official club gear. Go team!

Your humblest scribe in full on prerace dork mode!

The 44k skate/classic started off at 10am. I skated over to watch and noticed that the old mountain guy standing next to me was holding a big ass rifle. It took me a while to figure out that he was the official starter. I backed off a safe distance away and watched the field set off. John B got an excellent start.

I warmed up a bit and discarded excess layers as the morning was relatively warm and got on the starting line. The race is an out and back, so there is some overlap where we will be skiing back on the racers behind us. I am a bit nervous about this as the return skiers will be heading down hill and the outbound skiers will be going up. I sense trouble. After extensive instruction that Paul missed completely our race started. The race was a combined start for the classic and skate skiers. Deviously, I lined up way on the left behind a couple of women I knew to be very fast skate skiers. I figured that I could skate around all the classic skiers who were stuck in their multiple sets of classic tracks and get a good start ahead of the crowds in the sketchy beginning of the race.

Nope. Mountain man fires the thirty/thirty rifle into the air and in the nanosecond it takes me to get across the start line, I realize half the classic field is up the road and ahead of me. Hot damn. I skate like mad trying to make up some ground and make a bit of progress before the course necks down into a series of downhills of ascending severity. The first two are OK, but I am stuck in the bunch losing ground to the fast people pretty quickly. Then there is a steep downhill with a sharp left turn. As we are in the midst of the hill, I note there are two skiers way off the course neck deep in snow trying to dig out as they completely missed the turn. I start snowplowing hard and manage to make it around the turn without crashing or swinging wide and taking out everyone around me.

We hit the first uphill and I start passing people. The trail is not wide. Classickers on the right in the tracks, skaters on the left and the passing lane seems to be a double pole sprint betwixt. I try it and quickly get maxed out, but I get by a bunch of slower skaters and classickers. The trail goes through some undulations before we hit the lower portion of the mineral belt trail. The Mineral Belt Trail is a nice multiuse paved bike path laid over the grades of a number of old mining railroads. In the winter it is snow covered and well groomed. As it is a rail grade it offers a slow steady climb, but it is one of those sneaky old rail grades that is pretty steep in places.

As we get into the steady climb I feel I am among my racing peers. There are a number of classic and skate skiers ahead of me. I note that the classic skiers, including clay up in the distance are kick-poling up the grade. The skaters around me are V2'ing. I try this and quickly hit my limit. I go back to a managable V1 and get into a groove. Things seem to be going well, or so I tell myself, until I try to pole to the right and do that amusing plant-the-pole-on-the-inside-of-the-ski-and-faceplant-hard thing that the girls find so cute. As I dig myself out of the crater I have created (crated?), a train of four skaters zoom by me. I get back up and my heart rate is pegged. The front of the race is out of sight up the road and I get my rhythm back. I note that the pesky little skaters ahead of me are still V2ing up the grade. Damn them and their little 150 lb bodies. I plow onward keeping them in sight.

John B with an excellent 44k skate

At some point which I can't remember, we get into the woods and do an insanely fast downhill section through tight twisty little turns, all alike. I manage to use my superior gravitational attraction to the earth and catch back on to the train. Two fellows fall off the pace and I follow a woman in pink who can descend like a demon. This part of the course is really quick. There is barely a chance for V2 alternate mostly just skating and step turning and powering out of turns. Whee. Anyone still reading? Uh oh, maybe another picture.

Clay pacing Dina toward the end of her 22k classic race

At some point the fun ends and we go up. And up and up, and then rolling hills with sharp downhills and sharp up hills. I am losing my focus. My group of skaters have left me behind a bit. But then, salvation, a 10k sign, that means I have 12k to go and only 1k to the turn around. Or so I thought...

We hit the mineral belt trail again and climb a steady grade for a bit, and then awhile, and then longer. I sort of catch up to the woman in pink and off in the distance, but getting a bit closer I see Clay skiing along. I get some momentum from that. Maybe, just maybe I can catch Clay?

As we skate along up what seemed like an easy grade the day before I am getting really tired and slightly unnerved that we have not hit the turnaround point yet. How long is 1k? We ski over a peak into a little valley and then begin to climb more on an endless railroad grade. I am starting to fade again, I feel the bonk coming on slowly and I am regretting the fact that I did not eat during the race. I feel around wildly for the ClifShot I stashed sticking out of my water pack but I can't find it. Damn. Why am I still climbing. Why are none of the faster skiers doubling back yet. Woe woe is me....

At this woeful point we are skiing past neat historical mining stuff like these trailside hopper cars

At this point a synapse fires in my oxygenless brain and I realize that perhaps the out is longer than the back, and maybe since we are climbing so much, the back could be mostly downhill? As if in answer to my febrile ruminations a purple cow tight clad skier is streaking down the hill. Directly at me. Uh oh. I move out of the track as the race leader whizzes by me. A short time later we ski around a turn and ahead of me is a long gentle slope followed by a little groomed cul-de-sac with skiers heading every which way. I am renewed. I V2 madly to the turning point.

As i arrive at the not mipoint turning point, coming out of the turn around is Clay. I'm like, "sup". And he is all, "nothin" and then he's like,"I am only skiing this slow as I was a bit over my max for a while, now I intend to hammer down and catch that guy way way in front of me just before the finish line" And I am all, "whatever" and he is like, "Oh and this will be the last time you see me until the finish line" and I am like, "whatever! be that way loser!" and he is like, "Oh yeahs, I am classicking and I am still torquing your slow skating monkey buttocks" and I just make the W symbol with my skis and poles and make that cool "cha" sound and skate on through the roundabout.

And sure enough, I get through the turnaround and Clay has vanished. Sneaky fast people. But the lady in pink is still there just ahead of me. We ski up and down the trail a bit passing the people behind us coming the other way. I am pleased to note that there is no one really that close behind me who is skating. We get to the last high point on the course and start the fast descent. Just as we are picking up speed, pink lady does that cool faceplant thing and I ski on by her. Now the tables have turned and gravity is on my side.

I use my skating prowess to power through the downhills at speed with explosive poling and strides coming out of turns. Despite my near bonked state I am having fun. The only issue is all the people behind me in the race who are going the other way up the course. Some are in the tracks classicking, some are classicking not in the tracks, some are skating in the lane, some are skating on the tracks. I am going really fast and most people are nice and yielding the lane to me. Except a few minutes down the hill, one skater will not move. He has his head down and is taking the entire skating lane. I yell "heads up" and he sort of moves over and says, "you are on the wrong side". I did not realize the idiots who don't yield the trail to you even though you were lapping them in a mountain bike race also ski. It is simple people. If someone much faster than you is passing you, get the hell out of the way. I am 10 minutes up on this guy and he gets all semantic on me. I hope one of the 30 skiers between him and me demonstrated the result of failing to yield to downhill traffic.

Ken skis like a tired tired man at the end of his race.

Anyway, I zip down the Mineral Belt Trail in quick order and enter the woods with its tight twisty little turns, all alike. I am feeling pretty good at this point. Poling hard in V2 alternate, V2ing the flats and having a blast. Then we hit a couple of short hills and I realize I am getting sucked back into the bonk with every uphill effort. I come off the uphill and in short order I am feeling OK and powering along. My quads are starting to really feel the effort of the V2 and I am concerned about cramping, but I can do well and I keep the hammer down worrying that the pink lady will catch me in the technical sections.

Paul G all casual at the finish

Finally I emerged from the woods and past the start line with a short 1km loop to go. I can see one skater and one classiker just ahead so I try to chase them down. The last loop has one mean nasty hill and a demoralizing uphill finish stretch. On the big hill I can see the two guys ahead of me at the top and I try to sprint up it. As I do so, I can feel my vision starting to tunnel and my quads twitch. I back off a bit and then boom, I am on the last hill watching the two in front of me finish just ahead.

As I cross the finish line I see clay cheering me on and I am all like whatever dude, fast and a good teammate too, who do you think you are Clay? this is a ski team, not the girl guides. Sheesh. It turns out I finish in 1:35 for an 11 minute half marathon PR. Although it could have been an even faster average time as the last half I did was a "21k" and this one was a "22k". I suspect some sort of rounding error.

I finished 15th overall in the 22k, 8th among skaters and 2nd in my age group. Unlike previous races my skis were appropriately waxed and the trail was really well groomed so I eschewed controversial skating techniques like drunk monkey and duckbutt and somehow managed to skate pretty smoothly and appropriately all the time. Take that drunkmonkeyduckbutt.

It was a banner day for the SWnordicski team as well. Clay took a hard fought 4th in the 22k classic, sure as his words, pipping another skier at the last bit. He won his age group. Dina took second in her age group. Paul took second in his as well. Denny missed third in his loaded age group by a handful of seconds. In the 44km classic, Jessica and Ken both won their age groups and finished very well overall, with Jessica in 4th among classic skiers closing fast on a fading Ken in third. Finally, John B. had an excellent 44km skate finishing 7th overall and third in his age group. Go team!

Dina, way too spry at the finish

After the race ended, we headed to the loyal order of water buffalo lodge for an excellent stew and soup feed and awards ceremony. There may have been 30 different crockpots of sweet nourishing stews donated by kindly miner folk. Delicious. There were nice prizes for the top three in each age group. I got a nice Mineral Belt Trail shirt with a map of leadville and the trail on it. Pesky nice fast guy Clay got a cool bowl for winning his age group. Then there was a raffle with really nice prizes. Pretty much everyone who stuck around won something, ranging from ski hats and waxes to ski passes for the local alpine and nordic areas. Good job organizers!
All in all it was a fun day up there in the ionosphere. The course was well groomed, the race well organized. The prizes and feed was great. I recommend the event.

After the awards we head back to the still excellent Proving Grounds cafe and caffinate for the long drive home. The drive is pretty uneventful. We saw some mountain goats, lots of elk and just outside of salida we saw a woman blow by us in a minivan get pulled over almost immediately by a cop. Well done cop sweeper.

Arch nemesis San Antonio mountain. Why? Damn you! Why?

When we hit Antonito we stopped at the dirty Shamrock gas station for some water and snacks for the last stretch home. As we get out of the cars a couple of NM staties pull up behind us. One of them asks me if we are heading down to NM on 285. I say yes. He warns us to be careful as the road conditions are bad. I think his exact words were, "its bad... bad bad bad bad bad". Apparently its blowing around San Antonio mountain and the roads are whited out, and he was right. It was bad. Bad bad bad bad bad. We were crawling along at 10-25mph for 15 miles almost all the way from the mountain to tres piedras. Why does the mountian hate me so. Last trip we hit white out drifting on the way up and 12 inches of unplowed snow amidst a blizzard on the way back.

Despite San Antonio mountains best efforts we made it home safely. The end.

The rest of my pictures and the race results here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Best race report EVER! Totally worth the wait!