The City of Lakes Loppet was, as usual, fun and tough. I put together a pretty good ski, suffering the whole way but working hard and ultimately enjoying it.
This year’s result can be interpreted in two ways. By time, I did a tiny bit worse this year, finishing in 1:46:16, five seconds slower than last year. By place, though, I did quite a bit better, which is pretty satisfying given that the overall field was 60 racers bigger this year and the men’s field was 25 racers bigger. Last year I finished 72nd among 234 men and 88th out of all 327 skiers; this year I finished 65th among all 261 men and 77th out of 386 racers. (There were lots of fast women skiing this year, I guess.)*
So there’s that. Subjectively, I felt pretty good – meaning, pretty bad, as if I was right on the edge of going too hard. Sitting here on the sofa enjoying an adult beverage, I have an extensive and not wholly unpleasant set of pains and aches pretty much everywhere, literally from the soles of my feet to the front of my head. I look forward to some creaky joints and sore muscles tomorrow.
The race itself was a bit unusual. I started at the very back of wave 1, which was probably not the best place to be: I could easily have started at the middle of the wave, which would have saved a lot of energy in the first half hour as I passed fading frontrunners. (Noted for 2012.) The start was surprisingly slow, and only picked up after the first 2000 meters or so, at which point the race really started in earnest.
Going up and down the short, steep hills of the first half of the course, I felt pretty good, equally able to stride up most slopes, thanks to good wax, and to herringbone well when I couldn’t stride. I also had good glide on the downhills, often catching and even passing racers ahead of me. (For that, thanks to the guy who runs the ski shop in town, who gave me some expensive wax that worked like a charm.) Here I am on the right, catching and passing the “North Star Nerd,” a guy who skis every race with a camera on his head or his back:
Somewhere in this section, I slotted in behind bib #10509, a woman who was going my speed and picking excellent lines through all the corners. She pulled me through quite a bit of traffic on some of the flatter sections of the course, and then I led and pulled her through some hills. We caught a couple people who skied with us before falling off, but mostly hung together until we hit the first lake crossing, at which point classic striding became less useful than double-poling. I had more power than she did there, and dropped her.
Crossing the lakes, I picked out a few people ahead of me and then tried to ski up to them. In most cases, it worked – though many of these people, it turned out, were in the slower, shorter, non-competitive “tour” event. Still, they were targets and they helped me keep up a good pace. I was surprised when I checked my watch and saw that I was aleady at kilometer 22 – 2,000 meters from the finish. (No matter what the CoLL says, the classic race is not 25 kilometers!)
I didn’t have much left at that point, but I held it together to the finish – a nasty, slushy uphill that seems to go for a mile. I was pretty much trashed at the finish line, which is always entertaining because you’re instantly approached by people who ask you questions and need to do stuff with you – take your timing chip off your shaking ankle, find out how many loppets you’ve finished so they can give you the right pin, ask you to clear the area for incoming finishers. I helped them and coughed up a lung, then struggled away, downed about a gallon of energy drink, and went to change out of my soaking wet clothes.
As I sat in the changing room, listening to The Guys trade war stories, I overheard several comments about how slow the course had been, thanks to an inch of new snow overnight and unexpectedly warm temperatures. While I was skiing, I’d thought the trails had been awfully soft, but I’d figured that I was just excusing my own sense of skiing too slowly. I was thus interested to hear other, faster racers saying the same thing. And when I finally had enough fine-motor control to check my finish time on my watch, I wasn’t too disappointed to see that I’d skied through those bad conditions in almost the same speed at last year. Of course, going faster would hav been still better, but there’s always next year. Only 364 days (give or take) until then!
On top of all that, I also had the pleasure at the race of meeting two Twitter/Facebook friends – hi, Kuan! hi, Eric! – and talking skiing with another FB friend whom I’d only ever met once before – hi, Marjie! A nice capper to the day.
* The full accounting: I finished 7th out of 17 men in the men’s 35-39 age group (the top half), 65th out of 261 males (in the fastest 25 percent), and 77th out of 386 racers (in the fastest 20 percent). Last year, I finished 88th out of 327 racers (just outside the top quarter), 72nd of 234 men (just outside the fastest 30%), and 12th among the 22 men in my age group (the bottom half).