I have never in my life before done any racing on skis. I have done some running on snow (and ice) but skiing sort of was never on the agenda. So, there’s always a first and this was it.
I had been banding around the idea of doing the 50K, but considering that my form, especially on uphills, is still crap I decided I was better off with the 30K. So 30K it was and I found myself this morning standing in line with around 70 other people, aptly seeded in the back, to set out on this adventure.
As the race was in Whistler it involved a drive into to Whistler Olympic Park, not a biggie, done this pretty much all season long and the roads were clear, so it wasn’t a big deal.
But once there I did made a bit of a timing mistake, I ended up getting my stuff together too late and didn’t really spend enough time to warm up. So knowing this I was a bit concerned about the first few kilometres.
Unlike other mass starts in road and trail running this wasn’t so much a free for all, at least not the first 50m or so as everybody starts in lanes, once you’re out of them though it is indeed a free for all and my main concern was to stay out of people’s way, which probably lead to me being a little bit slower than I could have been. The first climb was a small hill up into the Biathlon stadium which caused a bit of a bunching as some people struggled a bit. This was also the first time that I realized that I had not only waxed right, but that the wax I chose was indeed rather slippery as the ski almost got away from me once or twice…. on the uphill to my surprise.
Through the stadium we turned to the Biathlon connector, the next area coming up was a bit concerning to me as it is a downhill S bend which isn’t overly wide. This was one of the choke points I was a bit afraid of but as I had backed off by the time we did the downhill it was pretty much smooth sailing. From there we descended onto the loop.
Meardy Loop is comparatively flat, definitely flatter than what I trained on for most of the season. There are a few minor climbs in there but nothing overly steep. I do hate the climb up to the first bridge though, it’s in a turn and for some reason I always seem to struggle there a bit…. usually. Today I ended up gliding relatively effortless up there, even passed two people. From there it meandered along for a bit before you hit the second climb. It’s two stages, with the first one short and some flat, then a very short flat, and a second one a bit steeper. Not a big deal to my own surprise. Shortly after the top was the first aid station and from there it was a downhill shot with a semi sharp turn in the end.
Maedows and dogs
I cruised along and seem to have found my pace but started to cramp in the weird spot on the right side of my chest. I tried to moderate my breathing and stretch it out, but this kept bugging me with varying intensity for the next two K or so.
At the dog parking to was the second aid station. Many people pulled over to “refill”, I decided now would be a good time to suck on my hydration pack and…. nothing wanted to come out. I bit a bit more on the piece and kept it in my mouth for a bit, breathing through the nose, until the ice in it finally had melted and released the drink. That was nice if a bit unnerving for a bit.
I continued along and hit the uphill stretch of the dog area, I started to notice that my breathing was a bit harder than I expected it to be and the cramp also came back. I concluded I was slightly overheating. So once I hit the top I pulled over, took my backpack off and removed my running shell I had been wearing. The starting temperature was probably around -4 or so (It was -7 when we got there), but in the sun in the dog area it became clear that I was quickly heating up too much. After I stored the running shell in my back pack and set off on the downhill stretch, feeling almost immediately better as the heat got pulled away from me, the cramp also went away by the time I hit the bottom.
This was another turn I hated during training. It’s almost a complete 180 and to make matter worse, the woman in front of me wiped out and I almost ran into her, barely managing to miss her. The cruise along the inside passage was fine though and next up was “around the world”.
Around the World and back to the start
The next section of around the world had two climbs I am not really too fond off. The first one is right after a 90 degree turnoff and I saw several people struggling on that hill, with one person walking it up. We had a bit of a log jam and was’t really able to pass so I stayed behind the people in front of me, hoping to be able to get past by them on the flatter section. This opportunity though didn’t present itself until the second, equally steep, climb. Once on top I had passed three people who had held me up and started the shallow descent towards the back trail.
After a sharp left hand turn it was “all downhill from there”. Unfortunately there were a few people in front of me. Instead of bombing by them I put the brakes on slightly all the way to the bottom. From there the climb back to the start began.
As we climb up the I was able to pass two more people all the while some 50Ker kept passing me. Which was fine, wasn’t my race and they had way further to go than I did. The first three little climbs were fine, but I did dread the final climb before the ski jump. It’s not really that much harder than most other ones, just longer and also a bit hidden from you as you can’t see it until you come around the corner. I was able to catch two more people on that climb, then went over the bridge and followed another girl back towards the start line. We went through stadium and she pulled over at the aid station while I continued onto my second lap.
Stadium and Loop
I decided I would benefit from eating a gel, unfortunately I had them in the side pocket of my backpack. So I had to stop, pull the backpack off, grab the gel and then eat it. I got passed by a few people while I did that, it also took longer than it should have because it was semi-frozen. Once I had the gel in me I continued following the route.
The S bend that had worried me on the first lap proofed to be a bit tricky as all the people having gone over it had carved some furrows into it and as it now lay in shade in sections, it had gotten icy, I almost lost the ski on the final turn but was able to recover.
The path down to the loop and around was more or less uneventful. By the time I hit the climb to the bridge I could feel the gel hitting and found myself climbing quite well. I had a bit of a close call on one of the downhill sections as someone cut me off right at the bottom of the decent. He noticed at the last second and made way, but that was not really what I had been looking for.
Back in the Meadows and with the doggies
By now all the non-racing skiers had showed up and I started to run into some groups of them. It was mostly not a big deal, though there were a few sections where they created narrow passages I could have down without.
By the time I hit the dog area I started feeling some pinching in the legs, as expected, but managed to catch up to a bunch of people after skiing for the better part of 20 minutes pretty much by myself.
Inside passage and Around the World
Remember the weekend skiers I had mentioned? They were fully in the Inside Passage and making it hard to get around them. I picked off two more people going through there, but it wasn’t really at a blistering speed.
The two climbs on Around the World def. did hurt more than they had on the first lap, but I did seem to be doing decent enough. The only people passing me where the 50Ker, none of the people I had passed caught up to me.
Downhill, final climb and to the finish
This time the downhill section was completely open and “let it rip” as they say, almost. Towards the bottom I saw a guy in front of me and I slowed down a bit to prevent hitting him. Bit annoying as I had hoped to carry more momentum into the first climb. I did pass him on the first flat section though and picked off three more during the next two smaller climbs.
Then we hit the final, big climb and…. well, some people from the 15K were struggling on it, at least I presume they were from the 15K, and it was a bit of a challenge to get around them. Looking back I saw some other 50Ker coming up behind me, so I did my best to try and keep the speed up to get to the top and into a wider area. I succeeded.
The Home Stretch
After I was over the bridge there was only one minor climb left before the finish area and man, I did feel that in my legs for sure. I did keep the people behind me off and even caught up to a guy in front. We hit the final turnaround to the finish, I tried to make it over in style and…..
I tripped over my own skis five metres in front of the finish line, spilling my gels over the snow and had to pick myself up rather embarrassed.
I did finish according to Strava in 1:56:52
My goal was to beat 2:30 and I would be over the moon if I beat 2 hours. I seem to have accomplished this (waiting for official results, including age group. Will update once they are out), but as impressive as it sounds, I did finish towards the end of my field, that does not make me happy.
Lessons to take away
I didn’t really do anything horribly wrong during the race, but there are a few lessons I can take away from it.
- I need to make sure I warm up. I am sure I could have shaved off a bunch of minutes if I had properly warmed up. I would probably have dropped the jacket before the start instead of waiting until later in the race. I can’t say how much time I lost due to wearing the jacket, but let’s say this whole thing was at least worth two minutes.
- My technique needs serious improvements. I looked at other people and I have a lot I can focus on, espcially climbing.
- My downhill needs improving. Other people who tracked themselves in Strava showed a top speed of 47kph, I managed 40.5kph. It’s not the end of the world, but I have the suspicion that they were also faster in turns as this comes down to ski control and confidence as well.
So what’s going to happen now? Well, there will be a 2018 for me, I think it’s a nice way to “cap off the season”.
Having said that, I probably have another month of skiing left I can do and I plan on concentrating on form. This will be frustrating to me I am sure but the long term payoffs will be there for sure.
I will also take a few of these things along with me for my trail races I have on the agenda for later this year, namely the warming up my nutrition approach.
Overall I am happy. I am happy I hit the two hour mark, but not considering how fast the field was in general. Someone mentioned that a 2 hour finish would have meant a 2:20 finish last year. I believe that. The winner last year in the 30K did it in 1:24, so I would have been around an hour slower than the fastest guy on the course. That leaves whole lot of room for improvement. The fastest guy in my age group did it in 1:29, so even there I can see room for improvement.
If anything, that’s motivation and I will definitely approach next season with a different outlook.