Monday, January 7, 2013

A weekend of Rando Racing

This weekend I went up to the US “Skimo” or “Randonee Racing” national championships.  I realized that even though I feel like I’m all experienced and all, I’ve actually never raced outside of the 10 sq mi radius of Brighton and Alta!  So I took the opportunity of moderate fitness and good timing to head up to tackle the notoriously-difficult course in Jackson, with the bonus of a second race on Sunday at nearby Grand Targhee resort. 

Andy Dorais has a great blow-by-blow of the front of the race here: (and I poached a couple of pics from his site for effect) so I won’t go into that, and talk about the perspective more from the middle of the pack. 

The last couple of races I’ve had tough starts.  At our local Tue night race a few weeks ago I got a pole yanked out of my hand (lesson  one:  put hands through pole straps!) and when brother Paul said it looked like I was going backward he wasn’t kidding.  In Jackson on Saturday as they said “GO!” and the crowd sprinted off the line I promptly stepped into one of my bindings in ski mode.  I literally kept going for a few steps, disbelieving that this actually happened and that maybe I could yank my heel free, until my (very small) voice of reason said “your heel is locked, you must unlock it” so I popped my ski off, changed the binding to walk mode, and clicked back in. (lesson two – check your bindings before the start!   But at least somehow in the melee my other boot totally popped open, and I had to tighten that down or I may have been in danger of pulling out of my boot.  So I was literally DFL coming off the line, and went even more hypoxic than usual in the early sprint trying to regain position, but at least that came right before we were skinning straight up a 35 degree groomer! 

Here I am most definitely NOT at the start; I’m off to the far right (ie off the photo):

Soon enough, however, I had settled into a good pace and things were going along well.  The first climb is something like 2500 feet, which is quite long, and not having skied Jackson since one blower powder day with Trig in nineteen hundred and ninety something the course directions didn’t really mean much to me so I just kept chugging along.  After the first transition I followed the flags to a gap and a quite impressively-steep shot with pretty dang hard pack powder and quite large moguls.  My competitive mogul days of the nineteen hundred and early eighties long-forgotten, I just hung on and tried not to go for a long bumpy slide-for-life, though the latter would likely have been much faster!

After the first booter section of about 10 minutes I got to the top and to my chagrin realized that my little ski attachment system was too tight and I couldn’t get my skis off my pack.  If Bruce and Jared are reading this they are slapping their foreheads because they watched me dunder around with this very same issue a few years ago in the Powder Keg.  After finally yanking my pack off and decoupling I was on my way, but lost some of the valuable time that I had put into some folks behind me. 

The next booter was up the famous Corbett’s Couloir:

and though I had tried to attach the skis mo bettah I again had the same issue, and inexplicably insisted on trying to get the skis off for too long before giving up and yanking the pack off again.  Guys were streaming past me like I was standing still, because I actually was standing still!   (Lesson 3 – when anticipating diddling with diddly gear, actually DO “try this at home”!). 

A full 4000’ of quad-burning descent later put us down near the base for the last climb.  As I charged out of the transition ready to throw it all down on the last "short" climb local SkiMo promoter/enthusiast Chad Bracklesberg kindly yelled after me “Tom, this climb is 1300 feet!” Ah, ok.  Maybe not charge quite so hard. 

I had predicted to my bunkmate Lane the night before that I would be 16th, and as it turned out I went from 15th to 17th in the last few hundred meters as SLC-er Teague Holmes blew by me  - again, like I was standing still, only this time I wasn’t! - in the last mogul field and Chad nicely asked if I was ok as he charged past me after I crashed in the weedy moguls. 

The next day was a slightly-shorter, but still plenty challenging course.  I used to do well at back-to-back bike races so I thought I should be able to climb with the folks I had been with the day prior and with fewer transitions and an enhanced ski attachment “system” maybe do a bit better.  But as I warmed up I immediately realized that this would not be the case; my legs were dead.  After the initial frenzy and everyone settled in I simply watched in vain as the guys I was ahead of the day before (literally) walked away from me.  Of course, everyone else’s legs were dead too, but I think only mostly dead; mine were very definitely dead!  But there was only one thing to do; just keep plugging along knowing that no one cares if I’m 17th or 21st or 42nd or 112th; we are all out there chugging as hard as we can up skin tracks and surviving descents.  And I must say, the 2nd descent rivaled any challenging descent I’ve done.  After flying off an unseen cat track and landing on my ass and then carrying on down nearly 2000 feet of a foot of cut-up crust I was literally letting out bellows like a shotputter due to the pain in my quads!  But at least there was a steep, crushing climb back out of there with nordic pole basket-sucking snow on the sides of the skin track…..

I’m not sure why I was slower the 2nd day. I could say it was due to a bit of back soreness the whole week prior that almost precluded my trip completely, maybe due to some stomach cramps after the Sat race, I didn't have a skinsuit, my pole baskets were 14% smaller than they should have been, my beard was too heavy or too non-aerodynamic, or….perhaps it was due to the fact that I was simply going slower.  And though I’d never admit it, it’s possible my recovery time at the ripe young age of 47 is a bit longer than it was at 27……but it certainly wasn't due to my new get up; it was the first time that I’ve been really able to use my new Hagan skis, Trab bindings, and Scarpa Alien boots, and I gotta say it’s a whole new dimension of going uphill, and the system skis quite well (at least, I think they do once the conditions and my quads aren’t both desperate!).  And I was able to meet Michael Hagen at the race, who’s the US distributor for Hagan skis and a strong competitor.  I’ll do a post later on that stuff. 

In any case, a fun weekend, with a great representation by Wasatchers, with multiple podiums and – if I counted right – 18 Utards firing it up, with both Jason Dorais and Tom Goth qualifying for the team to go to the Worlds (quite a bit more of the deal than the US national champs!  It’s quite popular in EU, not surprisingly) despite the field being deeper and faster than it’s ever been.  Kudos to the Deans of the local SkiMo community – Andy and Chad – for continuing to promote this niche sport here by providing opportunities for us to race (Chad’s perspective on the weekend is here:  


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