Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Blackjack Loppet

Last week was marked by a lot of school and work. Thankfully, in the midst of the seemingly endless routine was carved out a brilliantly protracted day that seemed to erase all the previous week's whinging and low grade "what am I doing with my life" depression. Anyone who knows me that using the term depression is a bit severe, but Aaron can certainly attest to the extent to which the quotidian nature of my February was getting me down. Homework on Valentines Day. Yee Haw. Regardless, after work on Saturday I drove straight up to Colville to meet Aaron at work so we could drive to Rossland the next morning for the Blackjack Loppet. Luckily, Aaron is better at motivating to prep his skis than I, and we spent the better part of the evening attempting to wax our skis in a somewhat tidy fashion in the Mt. Carmel Hospital staff house kitchen.

The day began well before I would have liked with a pre-dawn alarm clock, and there was a bit of apprehension knowing that the day would be very physically grueling, and that I would have a lot of Canadian competition to boot. I am under the impression that cross country skiing takes on a whole new level of religiosity once the border is crossed, and I did my typically brilliant job of psyching myself out at the start line. "Oh my gosh, she's really skinny and her lycra tights have logos all over them. She must be fast."

As much as I would like to maintain skate skiing as a recreational activity and to not focus too much on drills and intervals, I really should work on my double poling. I got caned in the mass start and was immediately blocked in by a bunch of jr.'s and about half of the British Columbian populace. Luckily, the trail for the first km or so was really wide, and the inevitable shuffling of skiiers ultimately worked itself out. I took the lead as soon as I was able to make my way though the crowd and that was it. Atypically, I wasn't thereafter consumed with my usual front-of-the-pack-terror, which normally has me freaked out that someone I previously passed will catch up to me and the Earth will be unleashed from its axis and the world as we know it will end. Because these things are obviously related.

The course was awesome! Three tough 10 km loops with an exhaustingly lengthy climb, a couple of fun, moderately technical descents, and several steepish rollers. My first time up "the climb" was fairly anxiety provoking, as I tried to fathom how the hill would feel the second and third times around. Every time I thought the climb was over I turned a corner and saw the trail continue upwards. More anxiety. There wasn't much of a chance to capitalize on the descents either, as they ended abruptly and painfully in the form of a steep hill. The good part is that each subsequent lap only felt easier than the time before. When I expect the worst, I am always underwhelmed.

It wasn't a big race, but I have to give a big kudos to the Blackjack ski club for putting on such a wonderful event. The course was perfectly groomed, marked, marshalled, and supported. And although the Blackjack folks had no control over it, the weather was spectacular. The morning began in a bit of a cloud that occasionally wafted on to reveal some blue sky. As the race progressed, the sun asserted its dominance and a smattering of light clouds added another level of depth to the atmosphere. There were moments during the race when sunlight filtered through the cedars and illuminated ice crystals suspended in the air. It was like skiing through a tunnel of ultra-fine sparkles!

After the friendly post-race feed and awards ceremony (I got a really neat, locally crafted, mug), Aaron and I headed out for a recovery ski. We were only going to do Aqueduct, but ended up skiing another 20+ km. I was pretty "burny," but my energy levels were still high, the day continued to be brilliant, and I had a wonderful time skiing and chatting with Aaron. It's not often that I don't feel guilty having him ski at my pace, but after a 30 km race, I felt no guilt at all. Even the car ride back was fun, and though the movie we subsequently starved through was not, it was a memorable and welcome day. I should add as a side note that some ringers came over from Canmore for the men's race, but Aaron still managed a 4th place overall and won his master's division.

Monday it was straight back to work, but I felt renewed and cheerful. I can't say that I prefer working to being outside on these sunny February days, but I'll take what I can get :)

Monday, February 11, 2008


After Saturday's competitive disappointment, I was thrilled to drive up Mt. Spokane Sunday morning for my first ever Langlauf 10 km classic ski race. Again, underpreparedness ruled, and I found myself scraping, brushing and base-binding my classic skis at the last minute. The process wasn't made any easier by the severe wax box deficits that resulted from Aaron's trip to Colorado. I can't blame him though, they're his brushes and waxes after all. Regardless, I showed up at the Fitness Fanatics tent and let John and Uli advise me as to what the heck to do in the wax department. I should have realized that the reason all of the good skiiers were being so deliberate is that there is a science to classic ski waxing, but I had had enough of science during the previous week's chemistry classes. So I put on some red, then yellow, and then left a layer of gloppy silver on for good measure. In my limited classic skiing experience, it's better to have too much kick than too little.

So it was off to the start, and with no real concept of how to seed myself, I settled into the corral behind the "fast" corral. There were some speedy looking 8 year olds in front of me, and I figured they probably had a better grasp of classic skiing than I. It wasn't the most brilliant of plans from a competitive standpoint, but the beauty was that I couldn't have cared less. Seeding myself so badly just gave me the opportunity to pass lots of people. It turns out that when you have gobs of gooey kick wax on, classic skiing is EASY. It's certainly easier than skating cardiovascularly. The conditions were very disorienting though. I had no idea where I was for most of the race. I know the Mt. Spokane trail system extremely well, but we started on the snowmobile road, and it was so foggy that I never noticed when we merged back onto the regular trails. Suddenly, there were cow-bell ringers saying that we were 1/2 done, and I couldn't even remember having been on Shadow Mt. On skate skis, Shadow is a pretty tough climb, but I was able to jog up it easily on my overwaxed classics. I certainly paid the price for my exessive wax on the flats when my skis would stick solidly to the snow, but since I wasn't in the race to compete, it was funny more than anything.

I recommend Langlauf to anyone. Even I (who had only classic skiied 3 times previously) had a great time and was tickled to be a part of so much xc ski enthusiam. The thick fog starkly contrasted with the brilliant sunshine of Mt. Bachelor, and my approaches to the two events couldn't have been more different, but it was undoubtedly one of my most memorable winter weekends of my life.

Winter Nationals

This past weekend felt long. That is a good thing - better than a work/school week feeling long. I finally managed to rope an adventurous friend into my hare-brained plan to drive to Bend, OR, do the winter triathlon national championship and drive back on the same day. I have mixed feelings about the race, but it was certainly a learning experience and a chance to get to know Sasha better.

This next bit will certainly amuse Phaedra, as she is continually berating my pre-race nonchalance, which is a euphamism for un-preparedness. Because I knew we would be cutting it close getting to and from the race, I was careful to Mapquest everything (hotel, race site, etc). So Sasha and I headed out across a treacherous parking lot well before daybreak with mapquest directions in hand ready to be at the Mt. Bachelor nordic center by 7:00 am at the latest, as registration/packet pickup was from 7-8. Naturally, I cruised past the plethora of signs pointing towards Mt. Bachelor, because surely Mapquest was going to take us there most directly. I started to get nervous as the sun came up and we were in the middle of the Deschutes National forest on a seemingly unfrequented road with no obvious mountain in sight. Perhaps the nordic center is just in the middle of this snowy forest, Sasha and I rationalized. When we had been driving for way too much time, I called Aaron in Colorado in a panic. He spent a lot of time in the Bend/Bachelor area during med school and residency, but had no idea where I was. Thankfully he had internet access and called me back with a convoluted route to guide us out of the middle of nowhere. That was just after we had reached the wall of snow and the sign reading "road closed for winter."

Luckily, the race was ridiculously unorganized, and our 8:35 arrival was no big deal. The big news for us, however, was that the race start had been changed to a mass start at 9:00 a.m. (Sasha's wave was originally slated for 10 and mine for 11). Oops. Time to figure out how to set up a winter tri transition and to determine what seat height I should use on Morgan's mt. bike. There were a lot of minor details that I thought I'd be able to negotiate during the 4 hours between our scheduled arrival and my wave start. We managed to get our numbers on, bikes and skis racked, and running shoes tied. Given that the race was a 4km run/10.5 km mt bike/8 km ski, I didn't really have a nutrition plan, since it should have taken about an hour. What I hadn't noticed, however, was that the sun that was so beautifully beating down on the mountain was turning our race course into a thick soup.

I put my toes on the line for the start, figuring that I had a pretty good shot at leading the run. The first few steps were a shock. Ankle deep snow and the odd plunge through to my knees. It got marginally better as we heading down into a shadier, forested area, but it was a tough run! 2 laps with a 1 km descent and a 1 km lung-burning ascent (the altitude was a minor shock). Still, I managed to be the first lady into T1 with all of a 25 second lead. T1 didn't go so well with gloved hands, but only started the bike a couple of seconds behind the eventual race winner. This is when my race when to s*!?. I couldn't get on my bike. Every time I tried to mount the front wheel would spin and lurch to the side. So I would run 20 meters and try again, with the same result. The few seconds that I did ride were absolutely chaotic. In addition, with my iced up cleats and pedals, there wasn't a chance of clipping into my pedals. I watched, bewildered as people streamed by on their mt. bikes. I'm not the worlds best mt. biker, but I'm not completely incompetent either. I had read about deflating your tires for riding on snow to 15-20 psi, and I had kept mine around 20, and assumed this might be part of my problem. With schrader valves, however, I couldn't reach the pin to deflate my tires any further (the nail-biting finally comes around to bite me back!). So I plugged on with my bike-jogging method until I started getting lapped by the top men. Finally, I took a safety pin off of my number and got to the valve pin that way. Immediate relief. I was able to finish the 1st lap mostly on my bike and catch 2 of the 6 women who had passed me while I floundered on the side of the race course. The next two laps were a return to bike/jog tactic for everyone, as the well trodden race course was at least 12 inches deep in sludge and impossible riding for even the most experienced winter triathletes. I gained a little more ground, as I was probably one of the better trained athletes when it comes to slow, slogging runs.

The ski was fast and fun. It started with an awesomely fun descent and despite having no time to fine tune my wax before the race, my skis were fast. Thanks for the HF Toko Robin! The only problem was that I was completely poked by that time. I had certainly not paced myself energetically and nutritionally for a 1:15 minute bike (snow jog with bike). Regardless, I was just happy to be using equipment that is actually designed for snow and actually finished the day with the 2nd fastest ski split. I was really happy about that, given that I've only been skiing for a year and the majority of the elite women's field was composed of elite XC Oregon skiiers. I'll definitely stick with triathlon for the forseeable future, but do wish I'd been exposed to XC skiing sooner.

So I finished 5th in the women's field. It would be lying to say that I wasn't disappointed, but I can't change what happened, so it was what it was. I suppose I am most bummed by the fact that my limiter should have been my skiing, but I was so ridiculoulsy underprepared for the mt. biking, and that is my own fault. If I had been better about finding directions to the race, perhaps I would have experimented on the bike course and figured out how to ride it and maybe even switched over to pedals with baskets, but who knows. Perhaps I would have remained as underprepared as ever and hung out in the warm lodge until my race start. Even though it was one of the harder things I have ever done, I will definitely do another because I know I am better than 5th. And it was fun in its own inane way.

The best part was feeling a genuinely warm sun on my body. It was t-shirt weather while milling around after the race, and the mountains were exquisitely beautiful. The return to Spokane's meltdown is dreary but welcome. I'll have my cross bike out on the roads SOON. I also owe a HUGE amount of gratitude to Sasha for her perpetually upbeat attitude, even as we sped towards a wall of snow Saturday morning, and endured a long post-race drive back to Spokane just so I could be at Langlauf the next morning. She was a complete champ!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Tired Shoulders

My inaugural blog. It's relatively late, and I have snow to shovel, homework to do, a car to clean out before this weekend's road trip and 3 pairs of skis to wax. Nevertheless, I am happy. Yesterday got off to a brilliant start with a 12 mile run along the country roads at my dad's house and an afternoon/evening ski with Aaron (whose ski session started at 9:00 am and finished at 5:30!). I had a few fleeting moments of feeling remotely coordinated on the classic skis before switching over to the oh-so-familiar skates. The beauty of the past several weeks' excessive snow is that all the slogging through ungroomed snow makes even the cold, abrasive, and semi-soft conditions of yesterday seem fast. It's also a treat to have Aaron tired enough to ski my pace and give me helpful technique advice. It was a beautiful, peaceful, and cold evening at Mt. Spokane.

In unrelated news, I got really excited about organic chemistry today. I thought that I hated chemistry, but I really only hate it when I don't understand it. In contrast, I love being able to genuinely conceptualize the molecules that we are learning about. I am continually amazed by the geniuses who not only comprehend such material, but actually come up with it. Science has come so far in the past 200 years, I can only imagine what is in store.

Otherwise, my shoulders are tired. After yesterday's intense double poling on my slow classic skis, two days in a row of hard skating, and a big swim this evening, my arms are certainly feeling the hard work. In keeping with the theme of the blog, however, it's a happy soreness. I am so lucky to be able to be able to play and get stronger. I just have to remember that it will pay off in the form of faster swim times this season. Thanks for reading.