I love ski racing! I still suck at it, though. Saturday was the third year in a row that I've skied 5K loops at Great Glen. Two years ago it was the Nordic 300, which was 5 hours (300 minutes) of skiing a 5K loop. That was my first introduction to severe dehydration. Last year and this, I skied the Carl Johnson Memorial Ski-a-thon to raise funds for ALS. The Carl Johnson is a how-many-laps-can-you-ski-in-3-hours skiathon. I was actually planning to ski the Bretton Woods marathon Saturday but the $75 price tag was too much and I opted for another year in the ski-a-thon. It was apparent that a bigger and more elite ski race was happening on the other side of Mt. Washington because at the start, I felt like I was crashing in on a private family reunion. There was a very athletic looking woman on classic skis and a few sub-driving-age folk who were darting around with impeccable skate technique. I guess this would be more of a time trial than a race (at least I hoped it wouldn't turn into a race - I'd hate to lose to a 12 year old girl). After a few photos of the wacky tights, the cannon fired, and I was off and in the lead (pheeeew, I got out in front of the kids!).
My strategy was to negative split, something I've never come close to doing in a ski marathon, so I took off at what I thought was a moderate race pace. I also figured I'd ski 8 x 21 minute laps, which is what I did last year (which was done in very positive splits). The first lap was probably my most eventful lap since I didn't know the course but was told to follow the orange discs with arrows. The disc went missing at one intersection so I stopped to ask a large group of recreational skiers if they knew the "nordic ski meister" course (the Tuesday night race course) and they brought out a map that had the course marked. Sure enough, I needed to take a right turn, which was confirmed by the athletic woman on classic skis that had now caught me. I took off again and stopped one more time because I made a turn without confirming with the orange discs. When I came into the start area, there were no water cups on the feed table and no one manning the table! In short order, the race director rushed over to pour me a cup, which was nice because that would have been hard with my hands inside of gloves inside of pole straps. I clicked "lap" on my watch, crossed the start/finish line, and looked at my watch: 21:06. Right on time except that I had easily 2 minutes of standing around during the lap, so either the pace was not moderate or I was skiing well.
My second lap was the 2nd most eventful lap. During one of the fast downhill sections I had to put on the brakes because the large group of recreational skiers that had helped me the previous lap were now skiing (but mostly talking) toward me. Then on the last little downhill I took my first gel but didn't want to throw the wrapper on the ground since this wasn't a real race. I just held on to the wrapper for the last 1.5K but dropped it twice, each time stopping to turn around and pick it up. I came into the feed station at the start/finish line to get some water to wash down the gel, clicked my watch: 19:58. OK, I thought, maybe I should just do 20 minute laps.
The problem with 20 minute laps is that this just gives you time to get a 9th in before the 3 hour curtain call. Which gave me something to think about for the next 5 laps...would I do a 9th lap? I continued to ski 20 minute (or just under) laps and these were pretty easy. I was practicing taking gels (not easy with gloves inside pole straps attached to poles) but my water stops at the start/finish line always were inefficient (as this wasn't a race, it wasn't set up to be efficient). On one downhill section I tried reaching into a lumbar pack pocket to grab some power/hammer/gu chews (cannot remember the brand) and struggled for about a minute (long after the downhill had run out) before giving up attempting to reach in a small pocket with gloved hands. Note to self - the chews are impossible with ski gloves, stick with gels.
The course itself was in excellent condition given the torrential rain the day before. The infamous Mt. Washington winds helped to dry the snow out and the temperature was about 30F all day instead of the predicted 40F. The steepest downhill turn quickly developed a deep rut that would have had me snowplowing two years ago and falling a couple of times last year. But my many hours working on downhill turns if finally paying off and the deep rut just added to the fun of a fast(ish) turn. My form felt sketchy on the first couple of laps but was feeling better and better with each lap (weird, huh?). At the end of the 7th lap, I had the nice race director help me with the bag of gu/hammer/cliff chews that I couldn't get myself earlier, and I drank some water, clicked lap on my watch, and noticed that I had a needed to average a little under 19:30s on each of the last two laps to get 9 laps in under 3 hours.
Not a problem. I skied the penultimate lap at a little faster pace and went through the start/finish without stopping for water or gu (the first time!). I forgot to press "lap" but I saw that I had about 20 minutes left so that must have been a 18:55 minute lap. I picked up the pace a little more on the final lap and about 1/2 way through caught and passed the athletic woman on classic skis. She was the last skier that I lapped and it took me 9 laps to do it. She said she wouldn't finish her 8th lap and I told her that she would (she did). I hammered the rutted turn and skied pretty hard home and finished the last lap in about 18:20. I felt great and could easily have gone on to do more laps. That was my fastest pace for a 50Kish distance race. I totally negative split, too, which I think was the key to the success. Each lap was about 5.3K so my totals were 47.8K in 2:58:26.
I won the most laps contest and felt a little guilty about taking it away from the 12 year old girl. I won a nice (woman's) headband that I donned at the Granite State Snowshoe race (report upcoming) as it totally matched my ibex striped woolies race shirt. Great Glen (and Snowman) put on some fabulous, low-key races - I hope they keep this one on the calendar for next year.