Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Master's World Cup Blog Report #2

I've been debating whether or not to write a report for this for several reasons, but I
figured those of you who are interested will enjoy, and everyone else can just ignore it.
I thought getting everything arranged so that we could get there and do the event was
difficult, but getting back on track "post-race" has been even more

It's been a tough season. With ski club activities/duties, promoting a race, getting sick
(twice! >=( and preparing for being a parent, well, it's been different. I kept
telling myself that it's worth it and it's about the process, not the end result, and now
that it's pretty much over, I can look back and say it was a lot of fun. Things just
won't be the same next year, nor ever.

The last time this roving championship was in North America was 1998, when it was held at the Olympic ski trails in Lake Placid. This year's event called McCall, Idaho home, specifically at the Ponderosa State Park on the largest of the Payette Lakes just north of McCall. The event has grown in world-wide popularity every year and this year was certainly no exception. Over 1200 athletes from something like 20 different countries, and of ages ranging from the minimum of 30 yrs old to the oldest competitor who was 93 yrs young.

Day 0 - very warm. Cool banners for all of the represented countries

Yep, some 93 yr old guy called Yves Girard from Quebec was there. I think he only skied one 5km event and had to walk with a cane, but he was there -- he made even Sven Wiik look young! The funniest memory I have of this guy was at the very festive closing banquet, where there was a long line for the men's restroom (a lot of old prostates there!), and he just went right to the front and got to be next in line for the urinal. I guess if you are 93 and still competing, no one makes you wait in line for the toilet!

The MWC events were spread out over a week, give or take. The format was that there was a "middle distance" race of 30km, then a "short distance" race of 10km, then a 4x5km (2 x classic; 2 x skate) relay if you were chosen by your country's MWC delegate, then a "long distance" race of 45km. You had to choose which style you wanted to ski each race, either classic or skate...but you couldn't do both. For example, you could ski the 30km as classic, then ski the 10 and 45 as skate, or whatever combination you wanted. The races were on separate days too, with the exception of the 10km, which had the classic races early in the morning, and the skate races in the afternoon.

SWNSC members that made the trip were myself (Clay), Denny Newell, Paul Graham, and Dina Pesenson (who is expecting and didn't race, but tirelessly supported us, cheered, and took photos).

Our first day there, we went for training and it was very warm. It was over 50 degrees and the snow was all wet and heavy. We went for a training classical ski that required serious klister and warm hard wax in a complicated series of applications. It worked well and we thought we had figured out what we needed to for the following day's 30km classical race (Paul, Denny and I had all elected to ski the 30km as classical). Well, the weather did not stay that way and I'll just point you to my post from that day and just say that that was THE most frustrating day of racing I've ever had. I was very strong and energetic, but it was just not to be. I perservered and finished for my own stubborn reasons, but I was not happy about that experience. Still, I ended up 8th place in my division (M-02 for 35-39 men). Many others had similar experiences. The new generation of waxless "Zero" skis or "hairies" were the call for the day.
Denny before the start of the 30km classic day: 34 degrees w/5" of new, goopy, wet snow...not our finest moment.

The agony of defeat. Afterward, Paul and Denny went back and burned their classic skies

That night, I went to pick up Dina in Boise and we drove back late again and got up the next morning to beautiful sunshine and perfect ski conditions. The McCall area has like 6 Nordic areas, so we chose one that looked nearby and with some easy terrain. It was called "Jug Mountain Ranch." We all went out there together and just skied easy and had a great time. Afterward, the golf course clubhouse that doubled as the winter Nordic center was serving a nice breakfast brunch, so we drank a cold beer and ate breakfast! It helped us all forget the bad race from the day before, that's for sure.
Typical trails at Jug Mountain Ranch...not too shabby. Trails at Ponderosa State Park on the lake were not like these. The lake humidity caused the snow to be a lot different than here, where it was drier and more like Rocky Mtn. snow.

With a great day of fun skiing behind us, I had a more positive attitude for Monday's 10km classical race. Denny and Paul had elected to do the rest of the races as skating, so I was alone on having to figure out the waxing in those tricky snow conditions. Denny and Paul had pretty much burned their classic skies in a disgusted drunken stupor as an offering to the Norse god of snow, Ullr.

I was also on a mission to find some honor in these events. I had the feeling that I had no business being there and wanted to disprove that notion. Things were different on race morning. Amazingly, I wasn't at all nervous, had a great warm-up and felt ready to lay down a much better race.

Clay lining up for the start of the 10km classic -- start positions were assignedThe big Russian guy (German Schastlivvy) who just crushed everyone in the classic races is on the far left

It was much colder too, which is great for classical skiing, but I missed the wax a bit as the weather report called for a low of about 10 - 12 degrees F, and it was more like 3 degrees F. Oh well. I didn't go nuts with the waxing and multiple pairs of skis like everyone else. I focused on the race and just having a good time, which I think helped a lot. I'm pretty happy and confident in the FastWax brand of wax. Being one range above or below has never seemed to be a disaster, so it's hard to really "miss" the wax.

The race started off at ballistic pace. The same Russians who destroyed everyone in the 30km were determined to "break" all of us again, but this time more of us stuck with them for a much longer time. It was very aggressive and I held my ground without breaking my poles (a common occurence in mass-start classical races). I am not a great double-poler, and these races really required you to be strong and good at it...even uphill! I would start striding when the guys I was with were still able to double-pole. I felt really out of place, but stuck by it. Eventually, things broke up and I found myself in the second group, which shattered into fragments, as did the first group. We were all onesies and twosies by the end. By the time were on the biggest hill of the course I was so loaded up from the incredible pace that my legs felt like rubber. We strided up so quickly, however, that I can hardly remember it. It was just too much and over the top, I got dropped from the two Italians I was hanging onto by a thread and had to ski alone until I heard three local hotshots from Idaho catching up to me. They all had huge cheering sections and I knew exactly who they were. I was sure they were going to blow past, but they were hurting when they pulled up to me, so I kept the pressure on over the short, steep hills (walls) near the finish. I got over those hills on wobbly legs and the adrenaline of the certain sprint was hitting me and I felt no pain in the last 500 meters. When we rounded the corner out of the woods into the stadium, I could hear Dina cheering for me louder than anyone and I really wanted to impress her. I entered the final sprint lanes behind a big guy who had a good double-pole and had a little ground to make up. I really went nuts in that sprint and the adrenaline got me to the line ahead of those three guys, good enough for 6th in the M-02s. I was so psyched up about that, but first had to keep myself from throwing up from that effort.
Coming into the stadium for the sprint

All amped up on adrenaline going for 6th overall and 2nd American

Clay and Wilhelm Northrop (Idaho) reliving the sprint

OK...this is gonna get long with the way I ramble on and write. I'll post the other bits in subsequent reports. Look for them over the next few weeks.

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