Monday, February 2, 2009

Souper Bowl Sunday

It's no secret that I'm not the world's most prolific blogger, but after a major triathlon I try to write up a race report within the month. Or two. Minor triathlons ("B" and "C" races) occasionally get a mention and cross country ski races almost never make the grade. Skiing is meant to be my antidote to competition. Occasionally while skiing, Aaron will tell me to practice my weak side V1 or suggest doing overspeed drills or intervals, and without much hesitation, I politely decline. I do want to become a better skier both technically and fitness-wise, but I don't want to treat going to the mountain like a training session. I want to feel smooth and fluid, go fast, see snow on trees, have fun winding down descents and enjoy a hot bowl of lentil soup at the end of the day. That might explain why I haven't improved a lot since I started skate skiing 2 years ago.

I'm also the kid who used to cry when my mom would beat me at Sorry or my brother at ping-pong, so I seek out competition even in the sport that I vow to treat non-competitively. "Souperbowl Sunday" is a benefit event for the Women's and Children's Free Restaurant at Mt Spokane that includes an a women's only 10km freestyle ski race. It was my first race 2 years ago, and I shocked myself by going out way too fast, crashing several times, but being so terrified of being caught while crashing or bonking that I went on to win the thing. And thus began the flow of competitive juices. The next year involved a bit more confidence, a few more races, and after winning every race I entered (no, these were not big Birkebeiner type events), I thought that was just the way it was going to be for me on skis. I didn't even have to do overspeed drills, and I could win.

For the race, I showed up at the Selkirk Lodge on Mt. Spokane in typically late fashion, was the 2nd to last person to register for the race (thanks Jayne for being more delinquent than I), and did a brief warm up. As I eyed up the start line I realized that my days of Souperbowl surpremacy were no longer secure. Deb Bauer, a local skiing legend who has raced in Leavenworth the past few years on Superbowl weekend was there, along with Allison Scott, who has been training really well and was testing several pairs of skis to find the fastest ones. Also in attendance were several members of the Jr. Nordic Racing Team. As is the standard, race director Robin announced that we would be required to double pole the 1st 20 meters or so - not my strength. Maybe I should have listened to Aaron's drill suggestions . . .

Naturally, I ended up behind the lead pack after the start and watched Deb pull away on the long, gradual climb that starts the race. I eased into the hill and gradually picked my way around a couple of people and set my sights on Deb. It required more focus than any skiing I've ever done before, but it worked and by the end of the first km I was sitting right on her tail scheming about when the best time would be to pass. I figured I'd take it easy for a few minutes and surge at some point on the back of Shadow Mtn. No matter, when Deb found out I was there, she put the hurt on and surged up the steeper part of Shadow, putting a gap in between us again. So much for my original plan. Onto Raven's Glide, a pretty, gradually rolling trail I tucked back in behind Deb, trying to pass, but could never find a place wide enough to get around. I was so close to getting around her on Hemlock, but Deb was savvy and knew how to hold the front position. My only option was to pass on the outside of a curve but being forced to take the longer route meant that I didn't have enough relative speed to pass. The only trail wide enough was Alpine and, knowing this, Deb hit it hard, and it took an amazing effort to stick with her. We cruised down the other side and past the finish to Brian's Hill. With less than 1 km remaining we had to go up and down a short, brutal hill. I decided to give it my all and just complete the pass to the outside, but ended up slipping in my frantic state. In that second, Deb put what I determined to be an insurmountable gap in between us.

I'm really frustrated with myself now for letting the race go in those final seconds when my legs and lungs were screaming "enough already." I shouldn't have listened to them. Around my head rattled a variety of stupid little thoughts "you don't need to hurt any more. . . you're an ironman triathlete, not a 10km ski racer . . . there's no way you can catch her in the last 100 meters . . . 2nd place is fine. . . Deb is more experienced and a stronger competitor. . . "
When it comes down to it, I'm not an xc ski racer, but I am a competitor and I lost that race because I wasn't willing to hurt when things hurt. Obviously, I completely respect Deb and know that she has and will accomplished way more than I ever will on skis, but I'm disappointed in my own chutzpah. I just need to make sure that the result is different if I'm faced with a similarly close finish in a triathlon.

After the race, I met up with Brian Southworth, one of our xc ski instructors through Fitness Fanatics, who had agreed to give me some classic ski pointers before next weekend's Langlauf 10 km classic race. In addition to being a phenomenal ski instructor, Brian can run with the best of them, and we spent about as much time talking race psychology as classic ski technique. It was a lot of fun! I don't expect huge things from next weekend, but I won't start with the kids in the back of the pack, so I should at least lop some time off from last year. Ultimately, I'm just looking to have fun :)

p.s. My Spokane Swifts teammate Jayne McLaughlin returned to xc skiing after two children and several years' hiatus to claim the title in the classic race. You'd be more impressed if you could see the outdated gear she was using. Nice job Jayne!