Vasa / Nat'l Masters / JOQ's 2012: Team OYB Report
So I dropped in on the XC ski racing world this past weekend. It was for the Vasa and the National Masters.
What with our dry winter, it was amazing they were going to hold the races at all. But they'd done a great job of conserving their snowpack, and had a volunteers-day of shoveling snow onto the course beforehand. But then, miracle of miracles, the day before the race a snowstorm hit, bringing a delightful 3" of fresh stuff. Overnight the race went from what was going to be a sketchy rocketblast and padded trees to a somewhat soft but pristine course that totally took the jittery edge off.
I had received permission to set up a display table at the awards ceremony -- as the only vendor -- to show off Andy Liebner's new ski racing memoir book, "Wild Shot," and Dale Niggemann's CAT-Ski offroad trainers and massage tools, and a giveaway stack of "Silent Sport" magazines -- a great fresh-air sport mag that isn't seen much in Michigan despite it being a Midwest mag -- it's centered more in WI and MN -- but, sheesh, whatever they do over there is a lot like what we do here.
I also decided to give the races a try. Whew! They kicked my butt. I did the 27km Skating event on Sat then the 16km Classic event on Sun.
I'm so glad my brother Tim came along. He helped carry boxes for my display and was a great on-course photographer during the races. He hadn't been to a ski race in decades and had a great time getting reacquainted with how it goes.
Here's a link to his Facebook album of photos of these events:
A really neat thing is that Youth and Junior events were played up more than usual this time. In fact, Junior Olympic Qualifiers were featured. But kids from maybe age 5 to 18 were out in force in events to fit their skills. We hung around some highschoolers at the chili feed afterward and they were friendly and energetic. It was neat to see so many sizes and shapes in all these kids. Many did have full racing gear, but some were in sweaters and simple rigs -- and did just fine. Some were fast, some little and churning like a sewing machine, some were slow and just learning. All seemed happy to be there. Kids are the future!
My impression is that Eli Brown -- the winner of both days main events -- and a new indie coach in the area -- is the driving force behind the kids events up there at present.
HOW IT WENT DOWN...
My friend Brian is (still) young and learning how to skate-ski and ski race. He's done a few events now and is steadily moving up. He's taking lessons. He had his best race yet!
So in the contest between old and moderately fit and skilled versus young and flat-abs and learning -- youth kicked butt!
(And I was even sore for a couple days after! Heck, one knee even swelled up, but that only happened after I was kneeling on it to take video of the kids race. Funny how that goes.)
Of course, I hadn't yet skate-skied this year, but that's no excuse.
Brian looked pretty good out there, but with more coaching and technique wrinkles ironed out he'll hop up quite a bit further if he cares to. It would be neat to here what he says that Eli is having him do to get dialed in. I can *see* that he has a few quirks still but it's hard to put a finger on them. He's getting close! It's interesting to think about how one would go about fixing them. A real coach probably has tricks that resolve such things pronto.
I skied with Brian for the first third of the event and most of the hills and then I overdid it on a big uphill and got wobbly and he and a few others churned and glided away, never to be seen again. Soon after that a group of 3 ladies "chicked" me good. Basically anyone near me put a quick few minutes on me then and there. After I regrouped the flat second half kicked in and I was able to not lose much more ground. In the end I finished just those few minutes behind those folks who I was near.
The next day I did the Classic race and seemed to have great skis as I warmed up. However, I hadn't skied with Classic race skis yet this year, either, and I was dubious about my kick. Racing skis -- at least mine -- have a precise kick zone, unlike my touring skis which grip if you just kinda push anywhere. I typically need to ski a few times, a few hours, on my Classics to relax into the precision they require. To offset my jitters I added a dab of warmer wax -- and promptly slowed them down. Ugh! Even so, I found that I really couldn't stride the hills for beans. It was more like pussyfooting. It was half a problem of fitness, half of unfamiliarity.
I did do a lot of Striding Doublepole (or Cat-1'iing). I found that I could get a good kick and good jump forward from the weak side of the SDP out onto the poles. I had wondered if SDP would be useful for racing and I found out that IT SURE IS -- at least for weakish racing!
Again, the course was hilly in the first part, flat for the second. I found I had very little doublepoling gumption for the 2nd. I could get a little zip going, though. It kinda seemed like longer poles woulda been handy.
I got beat by a couple 50-yr-old ladies, I think. And by a 70-yr-old dude. Lots of 60-yr-old dudes got me.
I wore TWO Go-Pro cameras in each race. And they both failed both times. Ugh. On the 2nd day they turned on halfway thru the race. Crazy. We did get some footage just out skiing after all the racing.
I suppose I was in the 60th percentile of both races. Not bad for a casual ski tourer. I was really only 5 minutes back of my peers who aren't winners but who are good ski racers. But I was actually only there to be there. Someone has to uphold the dignity of the back of the pack!
Heck, it really is something if you just show up and do it. It's a challenge. How you finish doesn't affect how much fun it is to visit with fellow skiers afterward. Racing really is relative! It really should be about the people you're with and the culture you're part of and creating. Where you finish is something to strive for but it can't be the main priority. Because...everyone tends to finish very similarly from one race to another. The results just aren't the exciting thing. It's nice to improve. But I think other things just might be as nice or nicer.
And it's always fun to go on a cruising ski later on. In fact, that's probably the way to do it: do a nice long warm-up ski beforehand, like 10k even. And then go out afterward for another 10, why not.
I don't really want to get sucked into the "gotta move up" vibe again. But it sure is tempting! I sorted out what I'd have to do. It's not that tricky.
HOW TO GET FASTER...
I already know how to ski. If I didn't know so well, then that's what I would do first: take lessons. But apart from skills, what would I do next if I wanted to go faster?
#1: BIGGEST THING: Lose 10 Pounds. (Our dry winter has me 10 over, so that's naturally a big fix right there. I've often found that basic weight matters more than fitness, to a big extent.)
#2: Do More Ski Training. (Start rollerskiing and CAT-skiing in Sept. Include some intervals and sprints.)
#3: Easy Trick: Make sure to spend time at the new desired pace. I was only 3-5% off a "respectable" pace. So I would time my current skiing or rollerskiing pace for my training situations then do occasional sessions at the faster pace until that became the new comfortable level. Speedwork is sometimes done at unsustainable levels but it should also be done at a race-winning pace, for instance, to let you see what it feels like. That would probably still be unsustainable but probably not an all-out sprint. ...And someday one might figure out how to do it in a relaxing way and sustain it. Don't aim for the stars. Aim for a real, desired pace, or two, and see how they feel.
#4: Get Snow Time on Race Skis. (If it's not good for race-type skiing down here, go up north a few times before racing.)
#5: Keep up the baseline fitness stuff. (Do fitness paddling and biking -- maybe bump it up a bit. Keep doing calisthenics, backyard weights and resistance year-round.)
IT'S NOT ABOUT THE SKIS
NOTE: I like to complain about how technical skiing has become. But one can race at the upper-middle level while still keeping it completely simple. I don't think my old equipment held me back at all. Heck, my skate skis even have a collapsing soft spot in the base about 1" x 12" -- until they actually collapse or break in two I'm thinking they'll be OK.