Tuesday, February 25, 2014

When In Doubt Go North

As Scott Jurek once said 'When in doubt...go North' 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


Reach for what you cannot-

A strange thing happened over the weekend...according to the final results of the City of Lakes Loppet 42K classic ski race, I didn't finish.  First time I've started a race but technically not made it to the finish line.
The race began at Theodore Wirth Park, a crisp, overcast morning with a light snow falling.  Last year when I did this event (it was only 25K at the time) I was with my buddy Matt and his wife, we took our time, stopping to take pictures and relax at aid stations and ended up in the final three spots.  We didn't care we were just out for a full day of skiing through some of the most beautiful urban areas.
This year things were a little different, the Loppet was enforcing cut-off times, you had to be through certain areas by a certain time or they would pull you off the course because other races were starting.  Makes sense from a safety standpoint.
The gun sounded and we were off, double poling towards the grooves that we would follow for the next 26 miles.  I was towards the back of the pack as I am not a strong skier, I work really hard but I just don't seem to glide the way many other people on skis do, feel like it takes me three times the energy to go as far as they do with one little push.
But so far so good, the kilometers were ticking off and there were still people around me, some behind some in front.  I had skied more this winter than in years past and felt like my endurance was at a point where if I just kept plowing ahead I would be fine.
Around 5K the sun came out, warming up my face and making the snow covered course shimmer like we were skiing through a field of diamonds.
Up and down the hills of the golf course we went before finally crossing over towards Wirth Lake.  The first major cut-off was the beach, it was around 15K and had to be done in two hours, I made it with about 20 minutes to spare.  Grabbed some water and a banana and off I went hoping to stay on point.
The next section I had never done before, massive hills up and down, energy slowly being sapped from my legs, shoulders and back.  Poling up the hills, praying I would get some relief with a long downhill on the other side to bring my heart rate back down sometimes I got it, other times it was just a flat, slog to the next uphill.
Finally I crossed over the street to quaking bog, an area I run all the time during the summer, there were still a few people behind me and I wasn't far from the big clump of skiers ahead of me.  Smile on my face, sun warm on my back I just kept moving forward, passing a few people on the uphills, and for some reason getting passed on the downhills.  I knew every inch of this section and really enjoyed skiing through the woods, finally coming out by 394 to an Aid station with Pizza Luce.  I hadn't eaten much all day, banana and a Clif bar so far after 24K worth of skiing.  I crushed a slice of cheese as a reward for making the second cut off in time. 

Crossed 394 and headed to the Chain of Lakes, again an area I know well and finally some flat terrain to ski on.  Rounded Brownie, through the tunnel to Cedar, into the woods, big loop back out to Hidden Beach, across the lake to Point Beach, wrap around the south end, wind starting to pick up from the north, just keep moving, just keep moving, into the channel between Cedar and Isles, guy behind me lets out a painful sounding groan.  I ask him if he's alright 'Fine just...we've got 9 freaking miles left'
I leave his negativity in the channel, my only goal, get to the finish and enjoy a full day of skiing before I head into work.
Looping Isles, focus starting to narrow, I knew it was going to be close, I had slowed down as the Kilometers took their toll on my body.  Into Calhoun, chatting with a guy about the cut-off time, he seemed certain that if we made it this far they would let us finish.
South side of Calhoun, wind whipping hard from the north, sun reflecting off the snow starting to annoy me through my sunglasses, knew I was slowing down even more.
Hit the aid station that leads to the final obstacle, another golf course, which meant more hills.  Took a moment to recalibrate my attitude, smile back on my face, I knew I was close.  Sure enough first thing I come to once I am out of the woods and onto the course, a massive hill.  Slowly made my way to the top, pausing to look back and just rest, first time really I had paused except to grab water at the aid stations.
Still a long way to go, keep moving, up and down, follow the yellow flags, there was one guy in front of me I could see him when I got to the top of a hill, and behind me a few more, we were gonna do it.
Out of the golf course, just 2K left to the finish line, almost to Calhoun when a worker walks alongside of me.
"I am supposed to let you know that the course is closed for your race, you can take off your skis and walk to the finish line if you want."  Wait you have to be kidding me...you send me through that really tough golf course spot just to tell me I can't finish?
"Well, I don't think its right to pull people off the course so if you want to keep skiing you can but you have to watch out for the other races that are going on because they'll be coming right at you."
So that's what I did, one slow ski stride after the other, three of us snuck on to the final part of the course, plodding along in front of spectators there for the next round of Sprint races, having no idea that were still trying to finish.
We searched for the route, found it, crossed the street, two more hills and finally into the finishers chute, people confusedly cheering 'wasn't the classic race over?' not yet.  Finally we made it across the line right before the Sprinters did.
A worked gave me a pin for making it all 42K, but we won't show up in the final results as technically the course was closed, missed the cut-off by 7 minutes, finishing in 5:22, but still finishing. 

Up next, the Vassaloppet 35K Sunday in Mora, MN.