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Frosty Freestyle - My first ski race

Wed, Jan  19, 2011 - By Emily Hill

As we all know by now, I'm never one to write a short race report. Always have to start with the back-story, yada yada. Today's no different - there's even a moral to this story.

But for those who don't want to read, short version: 5k cross-country ski race, classic technique. Final time 36:18, first in age group, 4th woman, 10th overall. Pint glass trophy. Beaten by someone in a snowman costume.

Long version:

When we moved to Michigan, I was determined to love winter. I had a new set of downhill skis that I'd won in a raffle and I was set to just be on them all the time. Well - downhill skiing is expensive, even when you have all the gear. Cross-country skiing, on the other hand, is pretty cheap (once you have the gear). Doug had done a lot of Nordic skiing in the past (both skate and classic styles) and owned a pair of skate skis. He was always talking it up and finally I really wanted to try. As a bonus, he can get really great deals on equipment through work. I wound up buying a closeout pair of skis online for $60 and getting bindings, boots, and poles all for less than $100 through his work. He wound up getting a pair of classic skis with Christmas money, so we were both all set.

That first year we skied when we had the opportunity and I thought it was great fun, but never looked at it as more than just fun cross training. Last year, a combination of things happened. First, I started getting better and we started making a better effort to get out and ski. Second, the Winter Olympics started. I watched So Much Skiing. I got all wrapped up in the performances of Kikkan Randall and Chandra Crawford, started looking into other stuff they do (hello Fast and Female!) and really excited about the whole culture in general. Also - this is silly - we got a Wii and a super fun biathlon game called Ski and Shoot. This somehow convinced me that I could race. :laugh:

Last winter I started talking about getting serious and trying my hand (or legs, as it may be) at racing this winter. Through his total awesomeness, Doug was able to get me a pair of racing skis at the end of the season. He got them after our snow had melted, so I never got to try them out. By the time he did that, I was committed. The moral is - watch what you commit yourself too - someone's always listening! This fall he also managed to convince me that I had outgrown my $60 closeout skis (Karhu Piqtu - "little snow") and should sell them to a friend. I did, and his mom got me the waxless version of my waxable racing skis for Christmas. So now I have two sets of skis, nearly identical to each other, and they're both fast. Fast fast fast. However, there was a learning curve. I still haven't been out on the waxable skis because a) I have to learn to wax, and b) we haven't had much snow.

There's a park about halfway between here and Detroit that is groomed for both skate and classic skiing whenever there's enough snow to do so. They do a great job and a lot of local skiers essentially live there in the winter. There's also a race, the Frosty Freestyle, held in the middle of January. This year they were holding both a 5k and 15k, with classic and skate divisions in each. It's by far the closest race to us and while I was worried about it being so early in the year (and thus not getting much practice), this is the one I set my sights on.

Emily HillsBecause those Southern states have been stealing our snow, I wasn't even sure the race would happen. The website said that if there wasn't snow on race day they would postpone the race. If there still wasn't snow, they would hold a running race instead. That struck me as a reasonably good idea (and I felt much more confident about the potential running race!). A week and a half before the race, we didn't have any snow. Then, the groomers at the park had a brilliant idea. They took a golf course aerator to the ice on the lake at the park. The aerator was used to "pulverize" the top 2.5 inches of ice and make snow on a 24ft. wide, 1km long path loop on the lake. They then groomed that path and called it an alternate racecourse. Gulp.

We went down to ski it the weekend before the race (photo at right). At that point I wasn't sure I wanted to race. I had been nervous and felt unprepared to begin with - adding the potential of falling into the lake on top of it was almost too much for me. But we tried it and it wasn't so bad. I was still hesitant for two reasons, though. First, prior to that day I really had no idea how long it would take me to ski 5k. Funnily, I had even been considering doing the 15k. Well...that day it took me 8 minutes to ski 1km and I wasn't sure I'd even be able to keep it up for 5 laps. I was worried. Second, it was windy down there...and that was a relatively still day. If we had our usual Michigan wind on race day that course was going to be damn cold and even slower (for me - everyone else I heard talking seemed to think it was very fast). So, I considered not doing the race at all.

Doug thought I was being silly and should just get out and get it over with. I knew he was right but I'm really so good at worrying. I knew that I'd feel better about it if it would just snow and they could have the race on the course. Finally, Tuesday and Wednesday, it did...and I registered for the 5k. Wednesday afternoon we headed out to a local park to ski and I felt much better about it than I had on Saturday. Once I knew we would be on trails and I wasn't likely to be lapped a billion times, the worry melted away to excitement. We also got out to ski on Friday night and by then I was pumped (and still nervous, of course).

The race started at 10:30 so we didn't have to stress too much about getting up early and all that on race day. It had snowed a couple inches over night, though, so the drive was a little hairy at times. We got to the park around 9:30 with plenty of time to get checked in, figure out exactly what I wanted to wear (of course I had taken many options!) and be intimidated by the very serious looking racers. It seemed like nearly everyone was wearing a race suit representing some Michigan Cup team. Where were all the beginners the site had advertised? Finally I started seeing some who didn't look quite as serious. I skied about a mile to warm-up and fretted over my outfit. I had chosen fleece-lined (but not very heavy or wind-resistant) tights, a light long-sleeved baselayer top, mid-weight fleece layer, and windproof jacket. It was windy, cloudy, and still snowing. I had to wear sunglasses to keep the snow out of my eyes - fortunately the brown lenses were ok for the low light.

Just before we all went to line up, the "international guest star" advertised on the race website was announced - a skier dressed as Frosty the Snowman. Great - not only could I come in dead last, I could lose to a snowman. Oh well, there's a first time for everything.

They did a wave start and the women's 5k was the last to start, so I got to stand there in the wind getting more and more nervous. Frosty also started in my wave, so I made it my main goal to get away from "him" as quickly as possible. The race started up a little hill - not steep enough to need to switch to a herringbone motion but enough to trip people up a little. A few people fell there so I was focused on how I was going to get around them when I heard D yell "Frosty's right behind you!!" I picked it up to get away and once we were off the hill, started to get into a groove. I passed a trailing man - who had started 3 min ahead of me - within the first 1/4-1/2 mile and was steadily passing women who had gotten out ahead of me on that hill.

My skis are super fast on downhills and I was able to take advantage of that within the first mile. After that it seemed like we did a whole lot of climbing without any compensatory downhill - it all must have been on that first steep descent. Most of the race I felt like I was moving right along. I've spent some time the past week or so practicing skiing without my poles, forcing myself to find my kick zone and actually get power from my legs more than my arms - it's helping a ton. The thing I struggled with during the whole race was having no idea how far we'd gone. I'm not familiar with the trail, everything was blindingly white (even with glasses on), and the course wound around so much I didn't even know which direction I was facing. Eventually I could hear cheers and cowbells so I knew we had to be getting close. Right about then, Frosty passed me. I kept that white suit in my sight the rest of the race, but never caught back up. I think I could have, once we got out of the woods, but by then I really just wanted to finish and didn't care about beating the mascot. I finished probably less than 25yds behind Frosty.

D came over when I finished and said he thought I'd probably won my age group. We tracked Frosty down for a picture and went back to the car to deposit my skis and get my dry clothes. Lunch was served after the race so we hung around for that and then the awards.

Sure enough, I DID win my age group! My final time was 36:18 (almost 5 min ahead of 2nd), good for first in the women's 5k classic 20-29 division, 4th woman, and 10th overall (men and women). Not bad for the first time out!

So that's it! I had a ton of fun and am really excited to do this again. I do need to work on my technique though...might see if I can take some lessons if I can find a coach around here.

Thanks for reading!