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Racing Stories
JP's Vasa and Grand Travers Adventure!
February 15, 2003- By Jeff Potter

Well, I did the 27k half marathon VASA skate this past weekend. Then Sunday I did the 16k full Gran Travers classic race. I got 35th overall, 5th age group in VASA. 25th overall, 10th age group in GT.

Hi, Jim Farrell and Dell Todd! : ) Nice to meet you guys! ---The knickers were a giveaway, eh? It was nice running into quite a few Netizens and hearing good things about Pete's book from people.

Due to events beyond my control, I got to the race very late. We hit the parking lot and I had gotten totally prepped in the car. As soon as the car was parked I said "Good race, ya'll!" and jumped out and clipped skis on and jammed toward the start. I heard a cannon go off and a cheer. I jammed up to the rear of the waves area and saw spaciousness in the center so I just whipped up thru everyone, ducking under banners thru each wave. Smoothly and with a touch of panache, I thought. As I hit the start line with my first big skate a guy snatched the tag off my bib and I was off. No sweat. Well, a totally botched start is stupid but I made the best of it and didn't over do anything. I told ya I'd start slow! I hit the tail of Wave 1 at the first big, steep 2k-long hill. Calm first 15 minutes. Then I picked it up. Everyone polite and friendly. No problems passing. My skis were rockets again as in the week before. Oh, I'd rewaxed earlier that morning. My travel cohorts are very particular about waxing, but I think my rewax both impressed and chagrined them. My skis were much faster as a result. (Note that the race lady of the group skied all the recent races on the same Rex Blue wax job, in 3 different conditions and had very fast skis every time, basically better than any of ours. Magic skis. She's 120 lbs and even with me on them glide testing uphill and down they smoked all of us.) In any event, in all my 3 races my skis were faster than anyone around me on flats and downs.

Man, the Traverse City, Mich., VASA trail IS HILLY! They just keep coming atcha. Some long grinds. Lots of steep shorties. I'm just not ready for hills. Ugh. Miserable. I tanked it on all the hills. But I didn't go under.

Final HR average: 179 instead of 182 from the White Pine. Max of 189 instead of 193 (or 201?). I had significantly terrible misery very often, but the course is tons hillier, so I did the best I could. I didn't overheat the start and gave myself my best odds for pleasing result.

Man, I go so hard in these things that I never can think straight. I use the thinking energy for more forward speed. So I was skiing with 2 guys who I thought were 2nd lap 50k'ers. I hadn't seen or understood my own bib number yet. One guy was my old role model, Swimmer. I thought he did every VASA, and this is true, but I thought he did them all as the full 50k. I guess he does them as 27k mostly these years. So I caught him and another guy and thought I'd joined 50'ers. There were indeed some other slower skiers from events like the 10k that we'd pass. I looked down and saw my bib started with the number 2. I couldn't see the rest, but didn't even think about it again. Not with a clear brain anyway. I suppose it was mostly a side effect from not having a darn proper start. Anyway, both guys were in my race. They hooked onto my tails as we hit a long flats. Man, they were breathing hard. It was alarming to hear. I freely told Swimmer that I was just terrible on the ups. We passed some aid stations and people complimented us. He yelled "I thought him everything he knows!" That was cute.

I was just milking those flats for all they were worth. I rented some new Rossi's this time that were cambered for me instead of being 50 lbs too soft like my own skis. I could V2 quite nicely now. Good ski flex is vital!

I was getting a good "C" shape with eyes down at pole level. I was working the technique both according to official rules and according to my own rules, alternately. I used a lot of marathon again out of the tracks, in an upright position. That was noticeably fast. No poleless skiing though. Slower day for wax.

After the flats we hit the deadly, terrible Jack Pine side-loop. 3k of hell. For those who have hill trouble. I just said "There ya go! Go Swimmer!" And he took off. Later he told me he knew that dropping me in the hills was his only hope. It was a great gambit! Very savvy! Swimmer was an MSU swim dude in the 70's and raced against Mark Spitz. He's a dog who lives a mile from the trail and skis it daily. Pure gristle. But the next section of flat came up and 15 minutes later I'd reeled him in and off the back he went.

But the other guy was now with me. I asked him if he knew which section of trail we were taking to finish. He didn't. We passed the 50k cutoff and he stayed with me and I said You going the right way? No answer. Hmmm. I jam along. He's back there. We hit some final big hills and he says Is it OK if I come around? I say Fine, you got the uphills man. But I hooked on. At the top we had a long down and he stepped aside saying OK, you got the downs. I bombed em like no tomorrow. 2k to finish. 1k stairstep uphill finish. He catches back on and goes by. Gap. I reel in. Cling on. Many false flats before this darn finish. Am I going to crack? It's a very good finish for cracking. I've been on zero with great misery for the whole race. Just a hair under disaster. I'm cramping now. He sprints. I'm clean, tight and just pop it on by. He cracks and gives up 10 yds before the line. Dang, not bad! I hit the finish first.

I got 5th age group, 35th overall. 1:41. Slow day! 50k Fischer winners took 2:29! It looks like my gap behind the usual Mich Cup suspects stayed about the same. So the hills didn't kill me too bad results-wise. I was about 5 minutes behind the top local guys. HR avg of 1

Many people bonked that day. My shop dude who generally rules classic was with the top guys for most of the 50k, then cracked. Ugly. He lost a half hour. I had to take his skis off and he had a hard time walking.

Scott Loomis won, Nathan got second. Nathan seemed a little down but only due to the fact that they were getting in the car to drive to Minnesota immediately after winning. I said Hi as they were loading. I didn't put face to name with Scott right away. I wish I had because I would've liked to tell him that I liked his book! I don't recall all the details of his portion, but I'm guessing that maybe this VASA win is his biggest win so far. Very good! I heard that Nathan stepped on a Gu in the race and hurt his wax. And Scott crashed at the start, which was replayed on the big screen a lot. Man, there were many minutes after 1-2 to 3rd then many more between most of the top finishers and everyone looked like they were working more than they were gliding. Milan broke a pole in midrace before biggest hills. Disaster, but still got 9th. He breaks a LOT of poles which impacts quite a few races, but most often he comes back to win anyway.

My travel host had a great 50k and worked well with a big train of top dogs then had the pleasure of busting it in half with big pulls near the end. An older guy in that bunch uses ALL the tricks and had his wife give him feeds at several places. The gang was amazed at how often she showed up along the trail. One time she said "Love you, honey!" and the 6 others shouted back to her "We love you, too!" That was cute and made her quiet husband get red.

The next day was the big classic event for the Michigan Cup. I had been trash-talking with several pals who are hardcore dogs. Mike Muha and Rob Fairman. "I'm going to kick your butt!" "No way!" We got to the start late again. But I took it easy. Darn, Rob was wearing a warm-up when I saw him so at the line I briefly wondered what he was wearing. But really these guys are out of my league, top 10 often. I was just teasing them. In my knickers. At the start I see Mike is taking a savvy position behind me a bit. Very tricky! A couple k in I wonder where they are. Mike goes blasting past after awhile. "I'm going to kick your butt!" he yells. Ha! I yell back. Then he's gone. I pace my first 15 minutes, then turn it on. I notice my HR is 10 beats lower and I don't have much to give. Oh well! I work on relaxing and not missing kicks. I miss some. I'm not relaxed. No swing. Rats.

Oh, it was 10deg and I had on VR20 and it seemed to work on my one gradual warm up uphill, but at last minute I slap on VR30 and boy am I glad I did!

My skis again rocket on the downs and I'm fiddling with technique everywhere else. I try an Anikin style (in my view). Not bad. Then I try a more bent-arm, bent leg style and it's faster. I get my position into a deep "C" with eyes near poles and that seems to help on moderate uphills. Steeps are best if more upright, I gradually discover. I use the JD method in DP and KDP and really pop the poleplants with much C posture and little hand followthru. Just sharp impulses. I rocket along. I leave all the groups I'm in sight of.

From a long ways back I start to catch this tall old guy in black. I'm a delirious locomotive and don't look at him thru my drool. He says My back is killing me! I say Good luck! and go on by. It's Rob! He's not tall and he's hardly older than me, but he has some grey hair at nape of neck. I never ski with him, so how am I to know. He later says that my "Good luck" sounded like "See ya!" to him. Nice friend I am, huh? : ) Then we hit the biggest wall-like uphill. There aren't many around us now and I'm not worrying about this older guy back there. I'm skiing my own race. The hell I'm going under on this thing, so I start walking it. Moments later, the man in black goes scampering past me. Darn. Well, he's a smart guy. Man, look at him go. I think I bet he didn't like seeing those knickers go by him at all. Now he's got new life. This walking sure looks like the time to put in the killer move. Smart guy. I scamper up. He's popping it over the top bigtime. He gets 150 yds on me pronto.

The rest of the race I do my best. I gradually close the gap. I'm a bit miffed that there are no distance signs. In fact, they're all the WRONG distance signs, from the VASA. I'm glad I'm at least a LITTLE familiar with the trail. Oh well.

Also, I'm miffed by the tracksetting. The left lane is very fast. The right was just put in, way too far to the right. It's soft and I hit shrubs with my head. Morons. Also, they pull up the tracksetter for the lower half of downhills and 3/4's of the steeper uphills. What's up with that? Morons!

I catch some guys. Then in the last few k's it's mellow-hilly and I see I'm reeling in my guy again, very slowly. I'm pulling out all the stops. At the same time I wonder why. He's not coming back fast and it's just one place. I keep thinking "it's just one place." But I'm just eating up the hills anyway. And the downhills and corners. The first half of the race I was uptight and hurried and missing kicks and not getting good uphill glide. Now I'm going up like I'm skating. I'm thinking This is massive skiing. It's the gradual uphill stairstep finish km. I see blacky catches a guy. I'm catching them both, but now it's only 200 yds to the finish and I'm still 100 ft back. Wouldn't that be funny, I think. Should I sprint. I'm feeling good despite not really having power. I do jam it nicely on home. My mood was almost to the point that closing 100 ft on very fast guys in last 200 yds seemed doable. I love to sprint and I like a disadvantage. But who cares.

At the finish I see that it's Rob. YOU DOG YOU! You didn't know it was me? Ha! I said "Now, that was a fair, unbiased race! I wish it was less fair!" A little ahead of him was Mike. Darn! So Mike got me by 40 secs and Rob got me by 20 secs. I had no idea I'd be so close. I'm kinda glad I didn't know it was Rob. He's a top bike racer dog. It would've been VERY UGLY. I woulda killed myself hammering him. And he would've kept coming back. But we both might've caught Mike! I sure would NOT have walked that darn hill! : ) My time was 1:01. HR ave 168, max 190. The top Mich dogs were :57-59. Best LP Mich guy was :53. Winner from Marquette was :50. I'm very happy to only be a few minutes back of the dogs. And less than a minute back from MY dogs! So the ending was suitable. The better skiers won, as always, but not by TOO MUCH! ...Close enough for discomfort. : )

Some of us go to nice little party I got invited to after the VASA awards, into the wee hours. Some, tho, doubt the reality of the event and are skeptical about the 'all day' timing, and miss out. I'd never been before and I say that with new people and events there's always a risk. Nice mansion, nice single malts flowing freely. See, a little risking pays off! : ) We sadly leave at midnight to avoid harming our classic event.

My racing lesson is that to ski a hilly course like that you simply can't be overweight and go fast. Also, to do any VASA trail event, you simply have to warm up bigtime. The first half is very hilly. Anyway: I won't ski the VASA again until I lose 15-20 lbs. And I won't race a hilly course like that again until I've trained for hills.

The classic race was lots easier on me. However, I had very little 'go get-um.' I think I still recover well, but without the fitness and lightness you can't just charge hills with glee. And probably the flats sneak up on you and give you misery, too.

Man, I just could NOT skate those uphills. Especially the steeper ones. Pure misery. I popped a very few. Very often though on the steep longer ones I'd hardly be angling the darn skis uphill at all. Silliness.

Oh, and one needs to ski a lot more than I have been. I have maybe 60k on snow. For crazy citizen hacks I say you probably can't have real fun until you get 200k on snow and 100k in conditions like you'll race in. Especially for classic.

But here's my other big lesson: this racing and technique and waxing stuff is for the birds. I'm going touring. No more racing. If I happen to lose weight and find some hills and be race ready someday, I'll do one or two events for fun. If not, no problem. The money, the haste: bah. Touring is a wonderful art that requires competence, wax, fitness, technique as well. It's just in a better, healthier scale, I think. I want to dial in my touring. Get a nice set-up for skiing all day and for enjoying the scenery. Bring the right clothes, dry stuff, shell, groundcloth maybe. Wine, cheese, bread, chocolate. I think I'm talking some racer pals around to partaking. : ) Next goals: Shinglemill Pathway. Jordan River Pathway. Ahhh, that's more like it. Ski along a gorgeous blue green rippling river. The family can be there all the way sometimes even. Maybe even camp out. I'm totally fit enough and game for that kind of challenge. In fact, there's probably few who aren't. Everyone's a winner, baby. Well, it does take plenty of its own kind of competence. But that's my new scene.


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