Last year I was registered for the Vasaloppet and then when it became a shortened lake race I bailed and did the Pre-Birkie instead. I just couldn't swallow another lap race after all of the Elm Creek racing I had done.
I held off registering again this year waiting to see what the snow fairies had in store. I ended up signing up on Tuesday after they published the proposed lake + nordic center trails course. I was pretty pumped about the proposed course. There wasn't going to be much rest and I liked the winding and slightly rolling nature of the nordic center trails.
|Proposed trail, starting and finishing in Mora.|
My only other reservation was the temperatures. It was looking like a cold start and kept getting colder. After Seeley though I was pretty confident I could dress appropriately.
Waxing ended up pretty straightforward with the temps. I also was counting on a very firm course and used my stiff Rossignols. My goto strategy for cold temps is Fastwax HSLF-10, HSF-10+Toko Xcold powder. This time I topped it with Flite Arctic. My skis seemed to run pretty well. Then again, so did everyone's on the lake. In the woods where it was shady and fairly dirty they didn't feel as great. Hard to say if they were better or worse than anyone elses because there weren't any hills to test on.
I kept up the intensity this week with intervals on Wednesday again. I turned the number and length down though and felt pretty fresh on Saturday.
I'll break the race down into the laps
I started on the front line. There wasn't nearly as much of a rush to the front as there was last weekend at the Pre-Birkie. Across the front was Phil Rogers, Henrick Velle, myself, Nate Porath, Tony Lushanko, Paul Olson, Hans Harlane, and maybe one or two others I missed. I felt in pretty good company and wanted to gauge myself off of these guys.
We started clean racing down Main Street for the 90 degree left hander followed by a right hander and then another right down Bell Tower Hill onto the lake. Tony went flying by on the downhill onto the lake with some super fast skis.
I was sitting in probably about 10th as we hit the lake and then things came rushing to a slowdown. It definitely seemed like no one wanted to go to the front and lead the race. I knew I didn't stand a chance at being in the front at the finish so I didn't belong there now.
Eventually we started to formulate a pack and make our way around the lake. The trail narrowed considerable coming off the lake with a sharp uphill and a couple of corners. This was a bit of a mess coming off the lake the first time with everyone so bunched up.
In the process there was a group of three that got away. Nate Porath, Paul Olson initially got off the front and then Isaac Miller bridged up to join them. I stayed in the chase pack with Henrick, Phil, Hans, Jon Sanborn, and a couple of others. I tried to keep it clean and towards the back. There was some pole kicking and a little bit of rubbing all around. I don't think anything too bad happened and I certainly didn't try if there was.
As we entered the Nordic Center trails Nate and Paul had let Isaac go to the front and their pace slowed down a bit without any sharing of pulls. Ultimately the chase group pulled them back in and we skied as a pack of 10 or so for the remainder of the first lap.
Starting lap two on the lake again the pace was still fairly moderate. I was easily able to get a drink from my bottle without losing my place in the pack.
Jon ultimately took the lead over as Isaac slipped quickly to the back of the pack after leading the entire first lap. This time as we hit the exit to the lake we were getting into some lapped traffic and it was a bit more of a mess. The pack was able to stay together though ultimately.
|Jon leading us somewhere on lap two. Me holding ground near the back of the pack. Photo credit: Skinny Ski|
Jon led the lap all the way until the Nordic Center aid station shortly before we got back onto the lake. Through that aid station the Vakava boys (Nate, Paul, and Hans) all ended up on the front and the pace definitely quickened.
The rest of the pack took up the chase and we did ultimately keep in touch getting back on the lake.
Hitting lap 3 I was pretty excited to still be skiing with the leaders. The Vakava engine was doing a big effort up front though and just staying on the train was a challenge. Those guys were rotating a quick paceline and it was hot.
As we came off the lake again we definitely got broken up in the traffic. By the time I hit clear trail again I think we were in three groups. I think Nate went off the front, then a chase group of four, then Phil, Jon, and myself.
I was skiing hard just trying to hang with Phil. As we started weaving in the Nordic Center Phil pulled over and let me lead. I took my turn at the front and got us to the pond at about 23k (just shy of 4k into the final lap). I pulled over to let Jon take a lead and he put in a big effort. I wasn't able to hold onto him and when Phil asked if I was going to hang I pulled over to let him try to bridge. I tried to hang with Phil and couldn't quite do that either.
This was unfortunate for me as the pacelining on the longer straight stretches was definitely an advantage. At this point not knowing how far back to the next competitor I just struck out to hold a steady and strong pace. This involved staying focused on being strong and relaxed with good technique.
As we started to work our way back towards the lake for the final time I thought I was making up ground on Phil again. Despite giving it a strong effort, including some jump skating with near cramps up Bell Tower, I ultimately couldn't pull him back in.
|Strong finish. Photo credit: Skinny Ski|
I finished in 1:19:47 and 8th place overall.
We'll start subjectively as usual. This was so much fun! I got to hang with the lead pack of a race for 20k of a 30k race. If anyone had wanted to push the pace I'm sure I wouldn't have been hanging that long but I'll take it. I got to execute some pack racing skills and was able to conserve energy and get a ride for a lot of the race.
I finished in generally pretty good company amongst front of wave 1 Birkie skiers and elite wave skiers. This is my first top 10 result in any race since high school. And I got one of the sweetest age group awards around.
|3rd place in the 35-44 age group. The top guys were 2nd and 4th overall.|
Moving to objective data... its kind of meaningless. There is no clear trend in the data so I can't say if it was good or not based on that data. I guess we will just have to rely on subjective data.
What I can pick out from this though is that there are a few other front of wave one guys I can watch for this weekend and be in good company. I'm looking at you Paul, Hans, and Jon...
Do you have to ask?
Time to ponder weather, wax, avoid sick people, stoke the fire, and rest.