Monday, April 7, 2008

Spring Cleanup "party" a success

Several intrepid SWNSC members showed up to clean up the fencing, the signs, the wands, the abandoned snowmobile, the grooming equipment, etc., etc. from the trails this past Saturday. A BIG thanks goes out to all of you who turned out to help. It went very smoothly and it was actually fun.

Chilly and windy weather greeted us, but it didn't deter spirits as we all had such good memories of the very active season. After the work was done, we gathered at the end of the parking lot for a tailgate party cookout.

One of our Albuquerque members, Rich Besser, showed up and was a big help. He also brought his camera, which is good because Dina's is broken and my batteries died. So, pending him processing those and sending them along somehow, we may have some pictures from the final club event of the season.

Again, thanks to everyone who helped out!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Master's World Cup part III

This is long...I'm sorry for all of the gory details.

Master’s World Cup, part III

OK, the last post was a long ramble about how bad the first 30km classic was. We just aren’t that wax savvy, but we learned a lot. The next race was the 10km classic for me, and the 10km skate races for Paul and Denny. That was a great improvement for all of us, as the weather was a lot colder and we didn’t have the wax problems, so we were all pretty psyched up about that. We got to watch Denny and Paul race, as their races were in the afternoon, and they were very exciting. The skate races, especially the shorter ones, were very fast…like watching a bike criterium, with all of the fighting for position and such.

Great shot of Denny in the scrum of the M-02 10km freestyle -------------- Paul sprinting in to hold off a Russian guy behind

With my 6th in the classic race, I was the 2nd American, so JD Downing, the head USA delegate gave me the nod to be on the USA relay team for the M-02 (35-39). It must have been a hard decision, as there were about 4 great classical skiers in the M-03s and that meant that two of them were left off of that team and could have been dropped down to be on our team instead of me. But, my 10km classical time was in the same ballpark, so he took a chance, and I’m grateful for that.

USA Team Director, JD Downing & Clay talking strategy

The relay was just fantastic. It was so much fun and the adrenaline was high for everyone. That was probably the most electric day of the whole race week. National pride was at stake, so everyone was going to put in a 110% effort, especially since the legs were only 5km each. That’s not much time to make any mistakes at all. For the top countries, margins of victory (or loss) were small.

The night before, all of the USA skiers picked to be on their respective age-group teams had to attend a mandatory meeting. I realized this was serious business, and these were just the top masters in the USA. I recognized everyone from their pictures in the magazines, their sponsored clothing, and their names at the top of the result lists from the biggest races, etc. I felt a little small, but figured I earned it and would give it 110% too. Dina and Paul were there with me, which helped a lot. They were really interested in the discussion and the instructions and the energy.

After the meeting, we were to meet with our teammates and discuss the strategy and whatever else we needed to prior to race morning. My teammates were Dan Streubel, one of the nation’s best 35-39 classic skiers; Michael Brothers, Colorado’s top masters skier (he won the last two editions of the 90km North Routte Coureur des Bois by over an hour); and Stephen White from Vail, last year’s Colorado Cup champ. This was a good team. And then, there was little ol’ me from New Mexico… where? I thought Mexico was supposed to field their own national team…;-)

M-02 (35-39) relay team l to r: Stephen White, Michael Brothers, Dan Streubel, Clay Moseley

At the meeting, our alternate, a great skier from Idaho, said he thought we, the classical skiers should maybe consider not using grip wax at all and just double-pole the whole race on skate skis! Yikes! There was a big climb on the classic course, and several short, steep ones too. I quickly saw myself out there on the torture rack trying to double-pole that whole course. I reared back and he must have seen that and then suggested that maybe we could use one classical ski with wax, and use a skate ski for the other. Dan Streubel thought that was a good idea and said me may try it. I could feel myself breaking out into a nervous sweat. I wasn’t prepared for that.

I gave it some thought and talked it over with Dina, Denny and Paul, and they all reckoned that I should stick with what I know, so I just did my best with the classic skis and put only a thin layer of the coldest grip wax, which also glides the best.

The next morning dawned cold and crisp, so the grip wasn’t going to be a big issue. I didn’t want very much grip at all, so that it didn’t interfere with the glide. I did a warm-up lap and decided I’d just “stick” with the very thin layer. It held just enough on the big hill while warming up that I figured it would be just fine in an all-out race.

I did two laps of the course for warm-up and some milling around. The races were off right on time and we watched the 30-34 guys go off. It looked fast and I knew we had the fastest classical skier in our age group. I was SO glad not to have to lead off.

When our race got underway, I went into the “on deck” pen and got my stuff ready. I needed to stay loose and calm, so I did some little jogging. I knew it wouldn’t be long, so I quickly got into my stuff and got escorted over to the hand-off zone. This felt official.

Sure enough, not much time passed and the M-01s were coming in. The American, Adam Swank, from Minneapolis (aka “Golden Boy” for his second overall at the American Birkebeiner this year), lead in and gave a perfect hand off to their second leg. The Canadians were second and the Italians not far back. To all of our surprise, the first of our group M-02, the giant Russian Schastlivvy, had already caught and passed most of the M-01 teams and was coming in for their second leg. It was not long, but seemed that way, before my guy, Streubel, came in to hand off for me. My heart raced and soon I was sliding forward getting the tag. I could hear Dina up around the bend cheering very loudly among a solemn group of foreigners. She said she could hear some Norwegians start to cheer for me, but realized I wasn’t their guy and they all said to stop cheering...

Heading out of the stadium on my leg of the relay. Italy just around the bend not far behind.

The first bit of the course was pretty flat and headed into the giant Ponderosa trees of the trail system. It was a twisty course, so double-poling was most efficient. It took a lot of strength to do it, but was the fastest way to go. It was short, so it took a big effort and I quickly felt completely loaded up and got a bit nervous about that. I just had to relax mentally and keep it strong and efficient as best as I could. When I hit some of the early little kicker hills, I opted to kick and glide to give my arms some relief. I knew it wasn’t the fastest way to go, but I needed to keep from blowing up. I started catching a couple of the M-01 teams myself and got a second wind. Around a bend, I could hear a lot of yelling and knew the biggest climb was approaching. Once the climb was in sight, the Italians were going nuts, as they knew we were ahead of their team and their guy was making time on me.

The lead-up to the hill was twisty and I had to be patient and not waste my effort. I could hear so much yelling among all of the different teams, in all different languages…this was what it was all about. I got a surge in my stomach and took in a deep breath to lay down an effort I had visualized and waited for.

The Italian was now breathing down my neck, so I started going really hard. My kicking was short and choppy at first, but once I “hit my stride,” I lengthened it out and used my leg strength for all it was worth. Soon, I could tell it was good and I was passing guys from other age groups quickly. The whole way up, various groups of USA coaches were spurring me on and giving me advice: “…this is it…dig deep…keep it steady until the halfway point and then bury yourself…kick it in NOW, NOW, NOW!”…and stuff like that. It was deafening.

At the top, there was a large multi-national crowd and I could hear people actually yelling my name. In that anaerobic state, I thought, “Who knows me?”

Anyway, it gave me that extra boost and I punched over the top for a couple of fast double-poles and then the little reprieve of the only real downhill before the last two short walls that lead into the final stretch to the stadium.

I was really hurting. I don’t remember much, but I do recall feeling numb and almost sick from the effort. I wondered how I was going to make it over the last hills, but it was like a dream and I never had a single slip or anything. I even powered the best step turns around the iciest corner of the whole trail system that I had ever done on my classical skis and boots. It was fantastic and I had actually pulled away from the Italian a little to come into the stadium still holding second place with a bit of a cushion. The last section of double-poling was in a completely anaerobic state, but I felt no pain and tagged Stephen White perfectly for his leg of freestyle.

It turns out that we would need that cushion, and them some. The Italians were fearsome skaters. Their two legs of skating were by far the fastest of the day and we lost our lead on Stephen’s first leg. It was not his fault…he skied a very fast leg, but the Italians were wickedly fast. Even our Ace-in-the-Hole, Michael Brothers (a former USA team biathlete) was not fast enough to match the Italians.

We held our own to place third. We also had one of the fastest relays of the day out of all of the teams…we would have won the M-01s handily too.

The two teams ahead of us, Russia and Italy, had the two fastest relay teams. We lost 1:30 to the Russians, and 40 seconds to the Italians. Although I skied probably the best I ever had, I was the weakest link. I looked at the splits and I was about 10 to 20 seconds off of what the other fast classic skiers were turning. That’s not bad, but I would have liked to have seen my time not stand out as the lame turkey. Oh well, that was still awesome.

One of the really exciting races of the day was the very strong USA M-03 team. They were awesome. They beat us by about 20 seconds, and had a stacked team of former USA team/Olympians. Read Toko guy Ian Harvey’s (much more brief and to the point) account of it here:

I want to really thank Dina, Paul, and Denny for really being there for me and giving me their advice and support. I helped out a lot and it would not have gone so well without them. They were really my friends and teammates that day for sure.


Afterward, we went into town and found the COOLEST bistro, actually called “Bistro 45.” It was a very neat place, with custom gourmet plates of food that were tailored around their vast wine selections and beers. We actually went there twice that same day, once right after the race for a beer and sandwiches, and then again later for wine and desserts. What a fun place. Ken, if you’re reading this, you would have loved it. It had YOU written all over it. We all talked about that, actually.

11:30am: all in a days work! ---------------------- Bistro 45 -- full of Italians...and Denny's head

Later that evening, we finally went to an awards ceremony. We all became very familiar with the Russian national anthem, which sounds a lot like (ok, exactly like) the former Soviet Union national anthem. Dina and I looked at each other and she flipped out. She had to go ask a Russian person why we were playing the USSR national anthem. She was told that the music is the same, but the words have been changed. They are constantly hearing the old one because foreigners don’t know the difference. Isn’t that interesting?

Look at the awards picture. That Russian guy who could double-pole faster than most people can ride a bike, is just freaky.

Double-pole freak machine from Russia!

I promise the final blog about the Master’s World Cup will be brief!
Lots of waxing geeks at MWC...these two were no exception. We call that guy "Solda Man!"