Today the Northfield High School nordic ski team held its annual fundraiser race in the Carleton Arboretum. I think I’ve raced this event four years in a row now, and I’ve always had fun – a 5 or 6 kilometer run through the Upper Arb, hitting pretty much every hill and skiing past groups of high-school skiers who dance, sing, clang cowbells, and generally root for you – including, this year, by standing on their heads. Naturally, the fields are a bit small, since the race only draws skiers from town: about a dozen men raced in the freestyle race which went off first, and nine of us lined up for the classic race that started five minutes later.
Whether the field included nine, nineteen, or ninety racers, I was mostly concerned with getting a hard workout, my last before next weekend’s City of Lakes Loppet race. That goal was achieved: I finished the 5.76k course in 23:09 and kept my heart rate around 80% or 90% of my maximum. (I was amused to see, on my heart-rate monitor, that my HR was already 110 as I stood on the start line: my standing HR at rest is usually about half that.)
For whatever it’s worth, my effort was good enough to take first place, by a minute or two. This is the second or third time I’ve finished first in this race, so I wasn’t totally surprised, but it is still nice to be first over the line. In the start area, a couple of the other racers looked serious, but I was able to get to the front (again: there were only eight others!) pretty much right away and then use the first long hill, about 500 meters in, to establish a solid gap.
Being able to ski at pace up the hills was awfully nice, but skiing alone, whether off the front or in the middle of the field, isn’t as much fun (or as fast) as skiing with someone or many someones. I occupied myself by concentrating on maintaining decent technique, by trying to go hard on the tough sections, especially the hills, and by crashing twice. The first was a slow, awkward sit-down caused by catching a ski in ruts that the earlier freestyle skiers had made on a downhill corner. This was a silly mistake, but the second crash was even sillier: I was descending a hill, at the bottom of which was a right-angle left-hand turn and four HS girls doing a chorus-line style dance. I put my head down for a second, gulping air, and when I looked up, I was much further down the hill than I expected. I tried to start a good outside-in turn to the left, but instead I somehow wound up skidding on my stomach right up to the four girls, who scattered quite satisfyingly. After both crashes, I managed to get myself up and skiing again pretty quickly, which was a small but important victory. (Nothing’s worse than crashing so hard you have to lie there recovering for a while.)
An hour or two after the race’s end, my legs, arms, and core were all pleasingly fatigued, and I had that post-exertion cough that usually means I was up at the edge for a while. I hope that I also pushed the edge out just a little bit: the City of Lakes Loppet is just 181 hours away!