I learned several things over the weekend:
I am not as tough as I thought I was.
There’s a reason I exercise with music.
My Garmin will run 9+ hours on a charge.
Ski traffic does funny things to my heart rate.
Quick recap: I’ve taken up skate skiing to help keep my cardio base this winter.
And yesterday, I entered my second race. I think I’ve been on the skis about 18 times now.
Conditions today were rather sporty. It wasn’t all that cold, but the wind was up and there was a fair bit of fresh snow. Based on the unplowed last six miles or so I’m going to guess snowfall was between 4 and 6 inches with some drifting.
The important take aways from that section are: Fresh snow and wind.
Did I mention wind?
The race directors made a last minute decision to turn the 17k loop into a 5k loop in order to keep everyone closer to the lodge and avoid things like… death from exposure. They also gave everyone the option to do as many or as few laps as they desired. I’m guessing about half the skiers took that option.
When I signed up for the event I signed up for the 34K race. My plan was to ski the 17k loop, and then get far enough into the second lap that I would have little to no choice but to finish the 34k. So, based on the course changes my strategy was shot.
At the firing gun, (No kidding, a real live 12GA shotgun!) I was still hoping to complete the 34k. I kept that dream alive for about a mile. That first mile was mostly up hill. The snow, while groomed, was soft and deep. Every now and then a pole would simply rip out of the snow while putting pressure on it. And sometimes a ski would bury itself a bit in the softer spots. Conditions and the climb were slow, but really no big deal. The opening hills were steep, but not all that long and pretty doable if you could keep moving enough to get a glide. (This is where my technique needs work.)
About the end of that mile the course crested a hill, turned out of the trees and into the open. Open. As in nothing to block the wind. This middle mile was supposed to be the fast section. It was either down hill, flat, or a very gentle grade up. The problem is the wind. As we crested the hill and turned down the slope the wind nailed us square in the chest and face. The wind was strong enough to remove any momentum we might have carried. I have never worked that hard to ski down a hill before.
And the wind was so much more than fast air. It was a medium to carry little pieces of ice and try to embed them in your face. If your pulse was hammering, and your breath rate was high (as mine was) your mouth was probably open a little to make it easier to breathe. Well, that just exposed your tongue to the flying shards of ice.
Flying shards of ice in your tongue. And throat.
Finally! Another turn and a climb through the trees. That’s right. I said “Finally, more climbing.” Because the climbing was sheltered. This next section was mostly up with two short down hill sections. The down hills were steep and fast, but oh so short. The first down section had a nice sharp right hand turn at the bottom that lead to yet more climbing. Remember where I mentioned soft snow? Skis sinking into the deeper spots? Drifting? Well, this sharp right turn was a combination of all those things. Since I was near the back of the pack the leading skiers did a great job of beating up that corner and making it really soft. After my first lap through the snow in that corner had an imprint roughly the shape of my body. Thank god it was soft.
The second up and down was no big deal. The down was steep and fast, but short, and lead into another steep climb. This last mile finished with rolling hills leading to a somewhat exposed climb into the wind to the aid station.
Warm gatorade never tasted so good.
And that was the course. Roughly two miles of climbing through soft snow and wind, and about a mile of exposed downhill, flat, and gentle up that was in the wind and no real relief from the effort of climbing.
Three miles of up. In a loop.
And I was set to do about six loops.
Cresting the first climb into the mile section that felt like Antarctica (Never been there, but that’s how I imagine it.) on the second lap I felt my resolve weakening. The second lap I managed to avoid a face plant in the soft corner. I did manage to bury myself in the rolling hills leading up to the last climb to the aid station.
As I got well into the first climb for the third time I realized something.
When I exercise with music I can’t hear my breathing. My breathing sounds kind of scary when I’m pushing it hard. I purposefully left the music in my bag. I didn’t like the way they made an air channel near my ears under my hat.
Hearing my breathing is when I started to really get into my own head. Seriously, is that what I sound like? Why do more people not look at me funny when I’m running and making that sound? That can’t be right? Oh why did I not bring the iPod? Oh right. The wind. My ear buds make a gap in my hat that tunnels the wind past my ears. Did I mention the wind? No iPod was the right choice since I like having ears more than I like having frostbite.
And then the wind. More wind. If it wasn’t for the constant pushing forward I would have been miserable. The effort to keep moving had my pulse racing. My breath rate was pushing faster than I remember noticing before. My core temp was perfect for the weather. But how long could I keep it up?
For the third time, that sheltered second climbing section was a welcome relief. And that soft corner? Well, if they made a “Snow Angel” award it would have been mine. I sank myself deeper and harder than the first time. Without a doubt, that was a human outline in the middle of the trail.
(I heard after the fact that several racers had been asking who bit it. I apologized to everyone I could. If I missed you, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry for destroying that corner.)
As I entered the rolling hills leading to the finishing climb I was on the fence. Was I going to keep going? Was I going to quit? One last turn, up hill, into the wind. The wind stole any momentum I may have had. And my mind was made up. I was done. There would be no fourth lap. I dug deep. I pushed hard. I tried for a strong finish. I knew I was working hard. I also knew I wasn’t getting anywhere because of the wind. And I slowly and painfully crossed the finish and noted my time.
After a brief talk with the lady running the clock I hung my head and trudged back to the day lodge to get changed. We would all get an official time. The race director was giving us all an official race regardless of what we signed up for and what we finished.
Just moments after finishing and I was disappointed with myself. Why didn’t I push for lap four? The though haunted me all the way back to the lodge (with the wind) and while I was changing. As I stepped outside to go to the lunch I was reminded. The wind hit hard and cold. Again it ripped the air from my lungs and sent a chill through me.
Thanks to the wonderfully managed colorado ski traffic I had a four hour drive home to think things over. (Garmin, 9 hours, heart rate in traffic…) In my head, I knew I did the right thing. But in my heart loomed those three letters every competitor dreads
Did not finish.
I have an official time. An official race result. But I said I was going to ski 34k. And I only did 15. (I would have been doing only 30 with the shortened course.) I had committed to something and I under-delivered. I cheated. The only one that got cheated was me. I cheated myself. And I have to learn to live with it. I have reasons. I have excuses. But when it comes down to it, I shorted myself. I let my mind and heart give out before my body gave out.
Though here I am the day after, and I am not ashamed to say that I am really, really sore. I feel worse than after the last race. I think that is due to the multiple impacts with the snow at 30MPH.
I’m beating myself up over this. This is failure. My official place has me at 5 out of 7 for the men who completed the 15k. But that’s not what I signed up for. Based on my pace I would have finished last in the 30k. Very, very last. Like well over an hour behind the guy that actually finished last.
I was lamenting this whole situation on Facebook. And a coworker mentioned something:
DNF is still better than DNS.
I still toed the line. I was there when the gun went off. I started. I left home 5 hours before the race started. I piloted my truck in four wheel drive across most of the state. (And back.)
And I’ll do it all again.
Until next time, don’t let the fat man catch you.