Wednesday, January 30, 2008

OSCR Race Report

(sorry it's taken me a while to get this up; I came down with a stomach flu on Sunday afternoon and have been pretty worthless the past several days)

The race was a huge success. Our team of folks skied hard, pushed ourselves in terms of speed and endurance, felt the results of our training, and finished feeling strong and proud of ourselves.

In fact, Mamie won first place in the Women’s Classic Ski for the 10k race! Amy and I tied neck-and-neck for the Women’s Classic Ski for the 20k race! And Kevin placed first in the men’s 30-39 age class in the Men’s Classic for the 20k. *

Or at least that’s what we told ourselves to make it seem more victorious than saying that we were all the very last people to finish in each of the races!!!

You see, there are two different styles of cross-country skis. The ones we used, called “classic” skis, are probably what you’re most familiar with. The skis are long and skinny, have scales on the bottom to give them traction, and the movement is a lateral back-and-forth slide—like all the NordicTrack commercials that used to be on tv! (see video-- we might be slightly faster and more coordinated than this guy, but you get the drift...)

The new, hot style of cross-country skis are called “skate” skis. These are long and even skinnier, are scale-less but need to be waxed according to the outside temperature, the boots come up higher on the ankles, and the motion is more similar to speed skating, a more side-to-side motion in which you push yourself forward.

Skate skiing is faster. Much faster, in fact. It’s simply a much more efficient movement. I was trying to quantify this as we were getting passed (which happened a whole lot! the course consisted of two 10k loops; the winners of the 20k race passed us on their way to the finish line when we were just ½ way through our FIRST lap!). Anyhow, it was taking me anywhere from 6-12 strides to compensate for one stride by a skate skier, depending on the terrain, the skier, etc.

So really, we weren’t even in the same race as the rest of the skiers. As Kevin likened it, it was like trying to race a VW bug in a Nascar race. Your bug may be fast and you may be a great driver, but you don’t stand a chance against the high-performance cars. We had heard that there were classic skiers who raced in past years. It must just be too out of style now, as there was only one other person besides us who skied with classic skis.

Anyhow, to describe the race for you: When we drove through the town of Seeley Lake, the marquis read 1 degree. That might sound cold to some of you, but seeing as how it had been -20 the past few mornings, it seemed quite a bit warmer. It was still and quiet, with no wind and no snow. Just cloudy and cool. Great skiing weather, actually. Without the sun, the snow won’t melt and start sticking to your skis. And you warm up plenty quickly skiing, so staying warm enough is only a challenge when you’re getting ready, registering, lining up, and in the first few minutes of the race**.

Mamie did a great job of being honest with herself and realizing the 10k distance was plenty challenging. Because that race started 15 minutes after the 20k, she had to ski the whole thing by herself. That’s a long time to be out in the middle of the woods in the cold by yourself, so we were super proud of her courage and tenacity to do the race solo!

Kevin, Amy, and I skied the first lap of the 20k together. It was Kevin’s first race of that sort, and so he, like most beginners, got all charged up at the start and took off like a banshee. Amy, who has done some running races and knows better, forgot herself and took off with Kevin. I just slow-poked along in the back, and finally hollered at them that they’d better slow it down or else…

After a few minutes, the starting-line adrenaline wore off, and we all slipped into a pace that was comfortably fast. That is, it wasn’t so fast that we knew we could only sustain it for a few minutes. But it wasn’t as slow as we’d go if we were just out for a pleasurable sight-seeing ski. For me, I spent most of my time in the 163-167 beats/minute heart rate (thanks to Dad and Cathy for getting me a super great heart rate monitor for my birthday!)

The terrain was nice and rolly, with lots of challenging uphills that got the heart rate up and made the legs burn a little, followed by downhills in which it was nice to sit back and coast for a few seconds. The woods were beautiful, blanketed in snow, and we saw tracks of deer, coyotes, snowshoe hares, and lots of other skiers!

At the end of the first lap, Kevin decided to break free and do the second on his own. He’s been skiing a lot on his own this winter, and has worked up some more speed (plus his legs are a good 12” longer than mine!) So we said goodbye, and he pushed hard around the second lap, taking a full 15 minutes off of his time without us to hold him back. Way to go, Kev!

Amy was starting to have a hard time at the end of the first lap, and thankfully had the where-withal to realize that she needed some external motivation. She’d been skiing a bit behind me and Kev for a while (we had to ski single-file or else we’d get run over by the speeding skate skiers who kept whooshing by), and couldn’t hear the conversation. So she’d been left with her own headspace for a while, was starting to get tired, and was having a hard time mustering up the motivation to continue on with the second lap. Thankfully, instead of talking herself into bailing out after the first lap, she hollered up to me, “Carly, I need a pep talk.”

“Okay, I know, I’m getting tired, too. Here’s the plan. We’re going to stop up here at the aid station and eat some Hammer Gels and drink a cup of water. We’ll stretch a little, take 5 minutes or so to rest, and then continue on. Then throughout the next lap we can stop for several short breaks. We’ve already done the first lap in 1:30:00, so we have plenty of time (the cut-off was 3:45:00). We’ll eat several times between now and then to keep the blood sugars higher, and then we’ll feel so great about ourselves when we finally finish. Okay?!”

It must’ve worked, because she was in like a champ for the second round. I realized that we probably went a little too long before fueling up for the first time. I’ve read from several sources that when exercising for longer than an hour and a half or so, one should eat at least 100 calories every 45 minutes or so. The body just simply has a hard time finding fuel after long bouts of sustained aerobic activity. And with one and a half hours of moderate-intensity work at below-freezing temperatures, we had used up any calories that were easily available, and our bodies were starting to have to dig deeper to find fuel. Which is great, mind you. That’s what makes those fat reserves really fly off! But, it’s best to supplement with some simple sugars and electrolytes, as found in gels, bars, and sports drinks.

We both felt much better after fueling up, and had a great second lap. We stopped after another 35 minutes and shared a Luna bar, the plunged back in for the final push. Several of the 50k skiers passed us in the last stretches, as they joined back in from their trip to afar. We made sure to cheer them along as they whooshed past, and a few even returned the favor.

We finally crossed the finish line together at 3:06:?? We were the last ones to finish the 20k, and most of the 50k-ers were already back by then. But it was still victorious for us. Team SlowPoke, as we dubbed ourselves, stood our own and finished our races, even against a field in which we had no chance of winning, much less competing. We had several days of skiing together on the weekends prior to the race, in which having the race as a goal increased our motivation to get together and ski longer and harder than we probably would have without the impending race. It gave us all a common experience upon which to look back and laugh. And it earned us the right to go have an awesome après-ski party. (According to my heart rate monitor, I burned 2,805 calories in that time!)

Thanks, Team, for showing up! You’re all winners to me!

* Unfortunately, Scott had some last-minute vehicle traumas and was unable to make it there to meet us. He enjoyed a true cross-country skiing adventure with his dogs through some Forest Service lands back behind his house, then was still a welcoming host for the après ski party.

** I wore a pair of running tights under fleece pants on the bottom, and a light-weight polypro shirt, a light fleece shirt, and a pull-over shell on top. Plus fleece gloves and a hat. Again, I was a little cool to start off, but within 10 minutes was sweating, and was fully drenched by the end!

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