Saturday, January 24, 2009

Governor's Cup report

It was cold.

Jakob and I headed up to the Gov Cup, which was already postponed an hour due to cold. I was on the fence between the striding and skate race, but upon discovering bombproof tracks there I decided, aw, hell, I might not have many other options to stride, so I took my skis, with no new wax from the week before, and decided to hit the tracks. The race was pushed back another half hour, and I finally readied to go after a short warm-up, where I skied out and then back, with the last 500m of the race coming uphill in sandpaper in to a thick wind.

It was about -6 when the race finally started, and a couple dozen of us hearty souls headed out along the beautiful, white Mississippi (I don't know if there is a more beautiful start to a race out there). Then it was out through Camp Ripley (yes, an active National Guard base). With the small field, I wound up leading the race from about 2-5k. I will now expound that leading a race is a whole lot of fun. You look ahead and see no skate tracks (the skaters went later and no one went for a long warm up down the trail) or pole plants, and know that you are winning, it's pretty damn cool. I've done it once before, in a race on April Fools Day in Maine, and relinquished the lead when a) my klister dragged—I had found out that it was a classic race about 25 minutes before start and thrown on, uh, something, thin, and then sprayed on 70%-off HelX, so my skis were fast—and b) I decided not to ski across a melted-off wooden bridge, going below and losing a few seconds.

A group of us (the lead pack) stayed together as we headed up in to the range, with several quick, steep and fun hills. The group was at four until about 8k, and then dropped to three, and as I hit the race course around 10k, I lost touch with the guys in front of me. Still, I was in podium position.

These hills were often rather steep, and my strategy of using my longer poles came back once in a while to bite me, when I had to herring bone. Still, it wasn't a major issue at any point. I stayed solidly in third, and once in a while would see the skier behind me, but generally I was all alone. When I passed back to the trail back to the start, I saw many of the skaters coming through, but was otherwise alone; it was kind of fun to take feeds with no competition.

The trail rejoined itself with about 5k to go, with few or any markings, us striders had to go through a couple of cones and use intuition as our guide. Did I mention it was below zero, so brain power was limited? I strided along the road—the track was in rough shape so I use the skated-in track (less sand-papery) and saw my shadow a bit behind me. I poured it on—as much as I could—and the trail again split to the right. Since no one really knows the trails—they are usually closed or far from civilisation (other than Little Falls, which barely counts) I was double-poling like mad without much left in me, and with the bright sun and frozen eyes I could barely see where it led. Finally, when I barely had any gas left in the tank, the trail hit a field and seemed to curve to the right and—oh!—I saw the finish. With no one to beat (I had most of a minute on the guy behind me) I strode in as fast as I could muster, and barely could stand at the finish, mostly due to the cold.

I stood there, helplessly, as the volunteers untied my bib and took off my skis—my hands were not about to do that. I put my skis in a snowbank and went inside to warm up. A few minutes later—and wearing a down parka—I went out to watch the end of the skate race and cool down. I had a nice, easy classic ski along the start trail along the river and contemplated skiing out on to it. It looked solid—it had been below zero most of the past month—but it seemed like a bad idea. I'd podiumed, albeit in a small race, and didn't want the headline to read "third place finisher dies in river."

Jakob and I hoseyed a couple of prizes for our finishes and left before awards. Which really should start earlier. At least he feed was indoors—and warm.


Yes, I raced in a fleece. It was smart.

Do these people look cold? They are.

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