Sunday, February 8, 2009


Of the big races around, the only ones I hadn't skied up to this year were Seeley, Pepsi and the Mora (and the Noque, but that is not really "around" since it is seven hours away). And I guess the Finlandia, but that's not a "big" race. When I'd been in college we generally headed up to the Pre-Birkie/North End in Birkieland this weekend and since college I was in Maine (2007) and indoors (2008, when the temperature was -10 and the wind chill pushing -40). But this year, we'd make the Mora.

Like the Seeley Classic, the undertaking of the Mora only set in a day or two before the race. Sure it's notoriously flat (two not-even-major, uh, noticeable climbs), but it is 58k long. It's just like the Swedish version except it starts in Warman, not Salen, is skate, not classic, is 2/3 the distance and has, oh, 1/15th the participants. But I ate well and was ready to go on Sunday morning.

Saturday evening, with my skis waxed, I left the ski team to finish their waxing (This was after telling them that, when waxing, you don't need to hold [the wax on the iron], you just need to touch [the wax to the iron]. Or as it came out, "you don't need to hold it, just touch it. See, you don't need to hold it, just touch it." Which was followed by the obligatory "that's what she said.") and they were promptly kicked out of the athletic facility and finished waxing in dorm rooms. I made the 6:45 van call and we headed up the lonely highway to Mora.

We rolled in to Mora, and through Mora, and then realised that, uh, we had rolled through Mora, so we rolled back to Mora, and all was well. It would have been nice to have, you know, some signs, but at least, after passing the wide spot in the road that is Mora, we figured it out quickly. We checked in at the high school, complete with pictures of their graduating classes from the 50s (full of -sens, -sons and -nens) and boarded the buses to the start.

The Mora start is a big field. Luckily it was 25 above—I can't imagine what the year before was like with the wind howling up the start with temperatures way below zero. They had these nice fires built which were probably a godsend last year and this year were not really necessary. (Last year's start pictures, and other pictures, look a lot like this year's, except in last year's you can't see any exposed skin on people's faces.) I skied out the start—there was a little dirt but it was very wide—picked a lane, realised that I hadn't taken off my pants, put them in the bag, and ran back to my skis on the front line on the left. I'd take a wider turn outside but hopefully with fewer people.

The anthem was sung and at the "home of the brave" we were off. The leaders went out pretty fast, and we rounded the corner, making a 180 to another field. The lead pack was getting away but as I was about to let them do so Zach Handler skied by. I said hi to him, and he passed me, and then I said to him, "I'm skiing with you" and we started pounding. We were at the front of the second group, busted up to jump on to the tail end of the lead pack, got in to a draft and settled in.

And then, everything slowed down. John Swain at one point took a spill on a kind of nasty downhill, but was able to get up and ski right back in to the pack. Everyone was having conversations. From about 2k to 14k, no one went hard. At one point, the top two women skied in to the back of the pack yelling "elite women, elite women" as if the red sea should part for them, and then saw that they were maybe 50m behind Liebsch, Giese and others and just settled in. Collin, in his Mac pants, took the lead for a couple kilometers. No one was pushing anything. We skied 1/4 of the race at a relaxed pace, with about 20 of us just V2ing along, doing out best not to draft in to each other on the downhills.

Here's the lead pack about 10k in. About one skier is out of the shot. Note that the train just keeps on going. And no one looks tired.

And then at the 14k, someone decided that this was actually a ski race. Someone made a move, someone responded, and the pack disintegrated. Actually, it sounds like some guys (Liebsch) took it really fast for about 10k, until they'd shaken the pack down to about a half dozen, and then Matt attacked, and kept thinking people were behind him, and kept skiing faster and faster, and won by four minutes or something.

I, on the other hand, fell in to the second group of skiers, who (big surprise) were right behind us. With some breeze, it was important to be in a pack. So for, oh, 30k, we all skied together. I was in front and me and about three other folks took turns leading, and there were definitely some freeloaders. I'd rather be an honest racer than freeload and win, although it probably sapped some energy I could have used later. The course is really quite nice. Some of the road crossings were iffy, but most of it was in nice, flat, beautiful hardwood forests, with sections out on the Knife River, across marshes, and maybe two hills of note.

Feeds were imperative, but whilst I knew there was blueberry soup at the end, I did not know there was blueberry soup at feeds. Maybe it works for folks doing a more of a tour, but I didn't want to experiment with blueberry soup 20k in to a 60k race. I grabbed one feed of luke-warm blueberry soup feed, poured it in my mouth, realised what it was, swallowed a little and spit most of it out. All over my number. Which is actually appropriate; most of the finishers had blueberry soup stains on their bibs at the end.

Also, because the Mora crosses a ton of roads, I kept seeing the same people at each crossing (using their fancy ICEs to get to the next road faster than us on our skis). Hey look there's Diana Trembley's support dude. Again. There's John Swain's dad taking pictures. Again. I did not have a support team, for what it's worth, and made do with feed-food.

We skied on. All the kilometers are marked with weathered, yellow signs, and when we crossed a road at 29k I realised that we were half way. I was feeling pretty good, but we still had 29k to go. That's a pretty good distance. Around 40k, maybe a bit further along, we saw some skiers way beyond us. In the Bear Chase last year, I had started off pretty slow and led my (small) pack on the final sprints to catch (and pass) several folks, but this would not be. It was probably several hundred meters, and I'd take my turn pulling, but we never got going too fast.

I was pretty thirsty between food stops and kept wondering if it would be bad manners to ask someone who had a drink belt for a drink. My decision was that it was. However, going down a hill a guy in front of me took a drink and dropped his water bottle, and cursed. That's why I don't bring a bottle—ski with it for 40k, try to take a drink, drop the thing, and get angry. Not worth the trouble. However, in this case, I reached down and snagged it, and yelled "I got it, I got it!" I skied up next to him and as I did I said "hey do you mind if I take a drink?" I assumed the answer was no—I'm pretty sure it was—when he got it back it was going to still have infinitely more liquid than if it had rolled to the side of the trail for all eternity. I assume he was grateful.

Finally, around 52k (6k to go) someone decided to attack the group. My first thought was to jump on to the attack—I was sitting about third out of nine so I just had to jump on their tail. It took me about four hard V2 strokes to realise that I was done. A shame, too, I was sitting in about 17th and must have bonked pretty hard. I don't remember much about the last five k—crossing a frozen river was cool, going through some folks' backyards was fun as well, the lake was nice, the climb off the lake wasn't bad and I finished all alone. In 26th place.

Still, it was a good race. I finished 14% back of Matt Liebsch, and since he is insane and won by four of five minutes, 10% off of anyone else. Oh, and I have his boots (I bought classic boots off him a couple years back, and no I am not winning classic races). I skied a strong race with a bunch of elite wave types, and was less than two minutes out of 17th. Which means I lost two minutes in the last six or seven k—that's pretty awful. Oh, well.

The feed at the end was rather large and very welcome. I ate a bunch of oreos, drank a bunch of gatorade and blueberry soup, ate more food, drank more, and then, with everyone else done (Collin had finished five minutes ahead of me, and a tenth of a second beyond John Swain, and the girls had skied the 35k). Next time I will be bringing some goo along, so I don't bonk again.


I guess I was happy. Then I lost to pretty much everyone in this pack.

John and Collin sprint to the finish. Sprints are fun.

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