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National Masters Report: The Balaclava Classic

Thu, Jan  22, 2004

Yesterday, we drove to the Forestville Trailhead, part of the Noque trail about 10km from the finish, and skied 6 km backwards on the Noque course. It was trying to be sunny, the wind was light, and the trail had an inch or so of new snow over recent grooming. Bill Kaltz, Jamie Green, Steve Smeigel, Chris Weingartz, and I had a nice loosen-the-joints kind of ski. Half way out, we ran into Eric Brooks, our “virtual” Team NordicSkiRacer.com member from Seattle. It was a very pleasant way to spend an hour or so on Wednesday.

That evening was the awards banquet for the races that had been run so far. It’s official: Bill, Ken Dawson, and I took third in the Sprint Relay in our age division! (Applause, please). The food was a salad, roll, and a nice vegetarian pasta dish with a big side of vegetables. I was still hungry, so forced Bill and Jamie into the restaurant after the awards while I ordered a small pizza for carryout. They retaliated by getting Key Lime Pie…

Will the Race be Canceled?

Today. Oh what a day. It was below zero and there was a nasty wind when we awoke. We arrived on site around 10am – about the time the women racers were supposed to do their classic event – and discovered that all the races had been postponed. Worse, there was a threat that the official National Championship races would be cancelled and a shorter citizen fun race held instead. Why? It wasn’t so much that the racers were in danger. It was because the volunteers had been out on the course since 9:30 and THEY were in danger if they stayed out much longer.

I went out for a little ski wearing polypro, race suit, warm-up pants, race vest, race jacket, and downhill ski jacket. And like most people, a balaclava. It was slowwwwww going. Great kick, no glide. I could feel the cold on my legs. I lasted about 15 minutes and heading for the warming shed.

At 10:50, J.D. Downing yelled, “We took another reading from the thermometer and it says it 1 degree above zero. We start racing at 11:30. It’ll be a mass start for everyone. We may change the course to keep you out of the wind.”

I decided I was underdressed for the race. I headed back to the car and added a second pair of Capilene, then raced back to the course to warm up some more. I skied the downhill leading to the lap area and immediately got a head freeze – like I’d eaten ice cream too fast. “I need a warmer hat over my balaclava.”  Into the warming shed for a heavier hat and to strip off warm-up layers. 

The Start

We lined up across 6 or 7 lanes of tracks that quickly narrowed to two a hundred yards down the trail. The right two tracks were reserved for women.

The start area really hadn’t been designed for a big mass start, but for smaller age-group mass starts. Still, a mass start for everyone meant no one had to wait in the cold the extra time between age group starts, and the whole race would be over faster so volunteers could get off the course earlier.

The course had been changed. Instead of 4 km in the woods on the Teal Lake Trail, a kilometer in the open area, a 2.5 km in the woods on the Olympic Trail, then repeated for 15 km, we’re doing three laps on the Teal trail, and only using the open area for the start and finish. I think everyone is pretty happy with the course change.

I was in the second row. Between my track and the track to my right were a row of men. As the 1-minute mark was announced, the third man in the row shuffled up between me and the second man between tracks. At the 30 second to start mark, he shuffled a little further forward. I could tell he was going to cut in at the worst possible time. There was trouble written all over him.

The starting horn sounds and we start striding and doublepoling. In moments, Mr. Trouble, who is now just to my right and just in front of my shoulder, attempts to muscle his way into my tracks literally on top of me. “Hey, hey, HEYYYY!” I back off but he starts to lose his balance. I back off more. His ski takes off to the left while his body starts heading right. He catches his ski on another skier and goes down, taking the other skier with him. I’m just able to get around without joining the fray.

I’ve lost quite a number of places because of this guy’s shenanigans, but it’s very hard to make up time because the two sets of tracks are crowded. I gain a couple places going up the middle and find a place in line. Then it’s down into the woods on the Teal Lake Trail. The tracks are crowded and  relatively fast. I’m able to pass a couple people on a short, easy uphill. I catch up to Jeff Potter. “What’s he doing in front of me? Has his backyard training program gotten him into shape so he might beat me?”

We’re side by side. I pass on an inside corner, then lose my balance and nearly crash. He shoots ahead. On the next downhill corner, he does the exactly the same. “Great recovery, Jeff!” “Thanks, I’m not sure what happened!”

Finally, the trail takes a hard turn to the right and we’re at the bottom of first real uphill. Goodbye to Jeff and to several other skiers. I have great kick and pass several skiers trying to herringbone. In fact, in the next several uphills I pass skiers, usually by running up the hill between tracks to get around them. At the end of the first lap, I seem to be doing pretty good.

Face plant

I come out of the woods and make an immediate hard right to head back into the woods for the second lap. At least I try to. Instead, in front of a large group of spectators, I stick my pole between me legs and face plant. In a second, I’m up and off. (After the race, J.D. said Torbjorn must have taught me that, because he didn’t cover that technique in his race camps that I attended…)

My toes were cold but the rest of me was getting nice a warm. Too warm. The warm air from my chest was steaming up the glasses I was wearing for wind protection over my contacts. The steaming had been getting progressively worse. And then it happened: I caught my ski in a depression I couldn’t see at the bottom of a fast downhill and crashed. I quickly and successfully rolled out of the way of a skier behind me, got up, and started skiing again.

The fall had shaken me up a little and it took me a couple minutes to get my pulse down and get loose again. Finally, I pulled my act together and started passing some of the people who had just passed me after my crash.

There’s Nick Baic on the corner of an uphill. Taking my glasses off and tossing them to him, I yell, “Hey Nick, can you hold these for me?” “Sure!.” Problem solved.

I was very careful at the end of the second lap not to put my pole between my legs as I turned right for the third lap…

The third lap was fairly uneventful. I started losing some of my grip, probably because I wasn’t paying enough attention to my technique. I lose a place, gain a place, lose a place, almost crash again on the same downhill. Out of the woods and heading toward the finish. There’s a small group of us know. I get passed by two people on the flat, then  pass them back on the final uphill, only to have one of them catch me on the downhill to the finish.

Jamie comes in very shortly behind me. So does Bill. We head to the warming area.

We’re eating donut holes when Jeff Potter, Mike Seaman, and Rob Fairman come in. Ah! Victory over Jeff is sweet! Vindication that my planned training has beaten Jeff’s backyard Olympics training!

Jeff had a tough race. Looks like he went out too fast, blew up, and suffered the rest of the race. Mike had no grip and no glide. Rob stayed quiet.

Carol Mueller-Brumbaugh comes over. She didn’t fall, didn’t get cold, but “I broke a nail. Sten Feldheim says has some ski wax he’ll loan me to harden them up next time!”

A couple people have some minor frostbite.

Everyone, however, is glad the race was held and thought it a great finish to a week of racing at the 2004 Suburu National Masters Championships!