This week was about polarized training. Partially because I want to be sure to get my high intensity workouts in. Partially because life got in the way the other days. In other words I raced Wednesday night, complete rest Thursday, did 15k of over/under work Friday, and complete rest again on Saturday. I'd really prefer to get more active recovery in on the non-workout days, but it has been challenging the last few weeks.
With all of the warm weather I was pretty concerned about the trail conditions. Despite the organizers claims that the snow depth was holding up well I still didn't want to wreck a good pair of skis. The drawback is that my B skis really aren't that good in warm/wet conditions and it was definitely going to be that. I've got a pair of skis I got after the Birkie last year specifically for those conditions, but I'd have been sad if I took a big gouge out of them. As it turned out I probably could have used the good skis. There were a few thin spots, it was very soft, and there was maybe a stump in one place, but I could have made it without damage.
So I ended up putting a mishmash of stuff on my B skis. Swix CH8, Swix LF7, Fast Wax HSF-30 (Salmon), and Swix FC8X. After the top coat I ran the Toko Structurite Yellow roller on the skis twice. During the race it felt like I had two different pairs of skis. Warming up I thought they felt OK. After the first aid station we hit some really fresh and white looking snow. And I just about fell on my face my skis slowed down so much. As we looped back around the skis sped up again only to slow down again on the second lap, only not quite as much. The more skied in the snow as the better they were, but that first lap was BRUTAL.
The race is a quick hop across the bay and then three laps around a roughly 10km loop. I lined up on the front line, but towards the left hand side which was going to go through the worst of the slushy puddle. My hope was to get a decent start and slide right before getting soaked. You can see the slushy start in the video below.
I manged to get a decent start on the lake. I was on the tail end of the lead group as we hit the trails on the far side of the lake. By about 1 km in I was starting to tail off the back end trying to hang with Rhett Bonner. I was working hard and losing ground. Instead of burying myself right away I tried to find a steady effort and wait to be caught up by the next group eventually and find someone to work with.
Somewhere before the first aid station Rod Raymond came cruising up behind me. He took a superman dive on the lake (2 out of 3 races I've done with Rod he's done that... I think I'll be sure I don't line up next to him :)) so he was crushing it back up through the field.
Not long after that a solid group including Tom Krenz, Dennis Curran, and Phil Rogers come by. I hopped on the back end of that group in hopes of now finding a good place to sit in and recover. Unfortunately this is where we hit the outer half of the loop and my skis were utter garbage. It didn't take too long and the group gapped me and I was out into no man's land again.
I spent the rest of the first lap trying to find my rhythm again. This is where being mentally tough can be a challenge. At the start of the race you are hoping to hang with the big dogs and they've just kicked you to the curb and you are left disappointed and worried about all of your training.
After a few minutes of self doubt, I focused on technique and efficiency and my mental attitude turned around a bit. During that time I think I got passed a couple more times. For sure I looked over my shoulder towards the end of the lap and saw a few folks gaining on me.
The last time I got passed I tagged on and started to feel better. The western half of the lap felt much better on my skis. Eventually I took my turn on the front and pulled in the next person ahead. And then the next one.
By the end of the second lap I had accumulated a little group of people I had caught and had hung on and one more person that had caught up to us. We had a nice little group of four going through the start of lap three. I was second or third in line
At that point I was going slower than I would have been if I was left to set my own pace. I didn't necessarily want to be on the front towing the group around the lap though so I was biding my time. As we went through the second to last aid station around 24 km, Ryan (#89) said that he would take his turn at the front. He promptly dropped the hammer. I was able to just barely hang on, but the other Ryan (#87) and Brad went out the back in a hurry.
Somewhere around 29 km Ryan offered me the lead just as we spotted another skier up ahead. That other skier happened to be Tommy who I had figured was long gone by this point. That really lit a fire under me. I put in a solid pull catching up to Tommy with probably about 1 km to go. I thought he might catch on and try to give it a go, but he was spent. He raced to fifth place in the classic race at the Rennet the day before so he wasn't running on full reserves.
I kept the pace as high as I could until we hit the lake and gave it all that I had left. Somewhere in that stretch we had another hard charging person come up behind us. As we slopped across the lake I gave my best sprint impression. Ryan was able to do a better one and edged me out by a few ski lengths. I was able to hold off the other racer to the line though.
Subjectively this is a mixed bag. Off the line I was really hoping to hang with the likes of Rhett Bonner, Phil Rogers, Rod Raymond, and Tommy. Even though Phil was complaining about his skis too during the race, I wasn't able to hang with them for very long. Those guys are all studs and elite wave Birkie skiers. If I want to join the ranks of the elite wave I need to be able to hang with them.
Was it my skis that kept me from hanging? Maybe. Was it the trail condition? Maybe. The more I think about it, the more I think a well manicured course suits me. That allows me to use my balance and technique to be more efficient. A sloppy course with slow skis is a little bit of an equalizer perhaps from a technique/efficiency standpoint and gives the bigger engines or stronger skiers a better edge. Or that sounds good to me anyhow. Bottom line though I need to ski faster.
What I did think was good was my mental edge and pacing. After those few minutes in the middle of the first lap where I got dropped and my attitude was less than stellar, I was able to refocus and perform the best I could on the day I think. I dialed it back enough that I did not blow up. I could have stayed on the gas a little bit more towards the end of the second lap/start of the third, but I was able to finish strong.
Objectively, the spreadsheet is on a different computer. I did finally run it, and not surprisingly, it is the "worst" race of the season so far. But not by a huge margin. It did not equate to an elite wave time at last years Birkie, but it was still better than my actual results last year.
At the time of actually finishing this report I have already done another Wednesday night Elm Creek race and I'm now looking forward to the Noquemanon this weekend. Sadly they've had to shorten the race and it won't be the full point to point race. It will still be 31 km and I get to go to Marquette for the weekend so it isn't all bad. I was hoping to get my first full 50 km race of the year in though. They might be hard to come by before the Birkie if we don't get some more snow so the Vasaloppet can run full length.