Backyard Comeback! The Black (and Blue) Mountain 30k Classic of 2004
This is a report and photo from a couple years ago but it's a good one... : )
Good quote regarding the Backyard Fitness Challenge:
"This photo indicates that backyard training methods are able to keep you ahead of a former Russian National Biathalon Team member." --Ernie Brumbaugh, pres. Mich. Cup XC Assoc.
Photo Caption: Retro Dude followed by Leo Tikh, former Russian Nat'l Team skier at 8km of the Black Mt Classic. He finished one place ahead of me. Photo by E. Brumbaugh.
Well, we had the one of last big races of the season for Michigan on 3/6/04. The inaugural Black Mt Classic 30k: New race, new course, new challenge.
The event is located near Cheboygan and was hosted by local top racer Dennis Paul who worked his butt off. This is Denny's home turf and one of the highest regarded classic trails---with rolling medium but challenging hills.
The conditions before the race were snowy then warm and rainy then FROZEN. Denny told the DNR groomers to pull-up the tracks on the steep downhills and corners, but he ended up getting something a little different. They groomed the downhills smooth...and most of the uphills as well. Both of these surfaces turned into ice-skating rinks. Getting interesting? That was only the half of it. Whenever the machine was laying track, it threw up ICEBERGS everywhere, from 2"-12" in size, which froze into the trail everywhere but in the tracks, and sometimes there as well. Getting out of the tracks was scary. Staying in the tracks was tough. Quite often the tracks were what Mike Seaman called "gutters"---just a half-cylinder shape. Oh yeah!
About 75 racers showed up. But over a dozen didn't start after they saw the trail. ...The rest of the crazies were ready for anything. Or naive.
The race was a rocket rollercoaster with danger everywhere.
Don Camp described it perfectly: It was like the old days. Mayhem. A challenge to stay upright and on course. A technical skier's delight, perhaps.
The start was wild. Bob Smith, a true mayhem kind of skier, did a buttplant in a big iced-over, but not quite, water puddle just as we entered the course from the start area (which was the road and parking lot). Splash.
First big downhill saw guys tumbling like bowling pins. But I kept my superspeed rolling. Then came another wild highspeed descent and a trail-split. I was going so fast on the big bend to the left that I could not have taken the lefthand trail and flew wide onto the righthand trail. Thankfully I saw a little "Race this way" sign flash by pointing the way I went. Half of the lead group, which was just ahead of me, sadly, oh so sadly, went the wrong way. And oh so sadly this group included one oh-so-observant high-tech skier whose name starts with Mike. : ) I yelled at them and they turned around. I was with another guy and yelled, laughing "Let's go man! We got a gap!" ... "Uh, I hope we're not the ones who are lost..." Finally we saw another race sign and put the hammer down. Now that's a Backyard advantage for ya! NAVIGATION pays!
After awhile we all regroup and Mike and I ski together, and for the next half hour I was on the heels of the leaders. But Mike had better grip for the hills and got away. Sheesh. It was a hellacious thing that first half. The hills were quite big and slick and hard as a skating rink.
Dell Todd reported coming over the CREST of a hill and being thrown on his butt on the flat part then sliding down the whole next downhill that way. Yet he still reported a good race in the end.
Our eager new NSR team racer wild guy, Ryan Robinson (NCAA track), really had his hands full. Reports came in of him crashing on a hill, getting up then getting creamed time and time again before he could get out of there. I hope he's not discouraged. He talked before the race about how he thought skiing and running would be more similar but it was amazing how different they were. Viva la difference! : )
I had grip in a track but on those slick uphills I had NOTHING. I slid out a few times on the ups. I finally left the trail on one hill and tried skiing on the natural crust alongside. Still sucked. Man, I was SO READY for charging the hills. It woulda been REAL EASY to give up on this course, I tell ya! But I got determined to not have a bad day and to get some kick. I figured out that if I was real gentle and relaxed and put one ski in a tiny depression that part of the groomer left that I could get a little purchase. I hate boning and don't do it quick. The others looked far more comfy with it. I need to learn to do this! I did it nicely years ago and I know it can be fast and relaxed. But I bombed every downhill on full mayhem mode. As usual, my old (backyard) skis were VERY fast. There were two fast sweeping left turns in the middle of downhills, followed by bigger drops. I survived the first crazy left by riding up on the righthand wall of ice. I slid out on the second and put a knee down. I had two knee-downs that day. I didn't hear of anyone skiing clean. Most had many falls. I worked on breathing deep and low in diaphragm and trying to relax. There were quite a few interesting obstacles along the way: a nice long jump on the fastest downhill, several large skewering limbs embedded in the trail, gentle pine boughs waisthigh over the tracks. Great fun! : )
I skied with two distinct diagonal styles. One long, low and deep with lots of heel plant. Then I finally realized that to really handle the steeper uphills I needed to do the new Pete style, more upright on balls of feet. It was hard to breath deep that way but I got grip and kept velocity up. I stayed on the tails of the leaders for the first crazy uber-ice 10km, then they were gone and no one passed me. I kept seeing a few people not too far ahead of me. ---One was doing a nice V1 with a strider right on his tails.
I heard of a good half dozen racers who skated quite a bit. A few of them told me about it. No one did any self-DQ and no DQs. I would not have let someone V1 in front of me. I saw one herringboner getting some glide but that didn't bug me as much. Seeing the V1 marks in the moderate uphills bugged me. We need to reform the scene a bit, so the skilled skiers are rewarded. I think that pre-race announcements and encouraging a cheerful approach to self-DQ (bib off) will do it. We don't need cops.
The race was about a third DP with plenty of KDP. I did that at first with textbook forward lean, but then I realized that if I stood up that I could just keep popping it and glide better and really scoot along. I did whatever it took to keep the breeze feeling fast. The top dudes do have better DP for sure, but I still think my uphill diag is superior. I just love doing it and would LOVE to get a chance to really lay some true Backyard Action on these guys for once, that's all.
I noticed that I didn't ski very well when I was with others. I'd tense up and start slipping those ultra-tricky uphills.
So, I had the good fortune to finish 8th overall and 3rd agegroup, 1hr:59min. That's 4 min/km. 6 min/mi -- in the hilly woods on pure ice. Crazy!
So I think that Backyard made a pretty nice REMATCH after all! Yet, again, Mike beat me by a good bit and had a great race himself, with 6th overall. Winner was 1:52? Anyway, I closed the gap %-wise by a hefty chunk. I didn't blow up. I had a 180 ave HR: good redline. We both moved up on the leaders, I think. The Backyard approach of training in crappy conditions, with lots of ducking and weaving of obstacles, came thru with flying colors in this event. A whole buncha people who'd been whuppin me didn't do so this time. And I heard some good noise made at the awards ceremony for "go backyard" and "go retro!" Some fast Germans liked my retro outfit.
The winner used no-wax skis! Oh, and it was DENNY PAUL! How about that? Run your first race and win it. Good job, Denny! It was one for the books. : )
I did screw up with the eyewear: make sure your eyewear is suitable for skiing. The darn topframe of the shop-glasses I grabbed on the way out of the house obscured my view so I had to crane my head up a bit the whole time and this was killing me and starting a terrible snowball of neck and upper shoulder stress.
I had all my wax when I finished. I ironed in green klister binder. Anything like purple klister on a binder worked. Anything else FAILED. Except for waxless. Crazy again!
Oh, and I've finally lost my 10 pounds. So: score it MISSION ACCOMPLISHED for the Backyard Method! --Train in your own neighborhood, eat normal food (just not like a pig) and you should be cool. That's about it! Who needs the fancy stuff? Not the Backyarders!