So like I sez before, Elena and I headed up to the far reaches of northern New Mexico last weekend so I could go try to blow my heart up using skis as opposed to the usual biking or running based explosion. The race is one of the longer running xc ski races in the known universe. Well at least it is the ONLY xc ski race in NM and has been going on for 34 odd years, so it is an oldy. Classic race, 10 and 5k options, I did the 10k. It was my first xc ski race ever.
We got up there saturday afternoon, checked in the motel, grabbed some greezy eats in a smokey saloon and then headed up to the course to check it out. Turns out the race was actually just over the border in Conejos County Colorado. As we arrived we saw our friends Clay and Dina finishing the grooming of the course. The race site was up in a big meadow in the top of the mountain and had never been groomed. So Clay spent ten hours or so getting the 5k loop packed in and a classic track set, while Dina ran around on snow shoes shoveling holes in where the trackster done buried itself in the soft snow. Clay's race/grooming report is here. The race would not have happened without Clay and Dina's epic efforts so Thanks Pals.
Anyhow, Elena and I strapped on the skis and skid about for a bit as the sun went down. It was a really beautiful area.
Elena and I preskiing:
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We only skied around for an hour, but it was nice to see some of the course, but it reinforced my decision to run touring skis. The conditions were soft turning to icy and the hills were alot steeper than anything I have skied before.
I made the decision to run my touring skis as I have never been on waxable classic skis and did not have a pair nor the time to get through the learning curve on using em. I am was pretty glad to have the control and surety of grip afforded by the wider skiis at the expense of some (ok a shit ton, read on) of speed. For the viewing pleasure of those of you with fast internet connections. I also crashed once on film coming down the climb, a harbinger of the race the next day.
After the pre-ski, Elena and I headed to dinner at the High Country Restaurant with Dina, Clay, the race promoters and two fast pro women skiers, Kristina and Martina. The food was really good for dinner. It was loud and a tad smoky there too, but thats what you get on the northern frontier I guess. Maybe we will have a statewide smoking ban by next year. All I could hear was clay talking in my ear, so I lost all the subtleties of other conversation, other than Kristina telling someone in Swedish accented english, "If there are rocks, I will just send my skis to get reground". Ah, the pro life...
Anyhoo, after a night in the motel watching too much tv (I finally convinced Elena to watch WWE wrestling with me. It is hard to explain how bad it used to be which was good and how much worse it is now, which is good I guess, but in a much different way), we got up a sane hour and headed back to the High country restaurant for race sign in and the $4 prerace pancake breakfast. I downed some pancakes, beans, eggs and green chili skipping the extensive breakfast meat part of the pancake breakfast. I signed in and then we drove up to the race site.
The race is traditionally a free for all, with people of all abilities and all equipment showing up. Ranging from pro and collegiate racers to kids and grandparents on back country skis. The race had a hotly contested wooden ski class as well.
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As well as people in all sorts of different skiing outfits.
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So I warmed up a bit, watched some of the fast people warm up. Figured out how to kick double pole while watching which I used to good effect in the start.
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The course was as follows:
A nice wide flat start followed by a BIG stair stepped uphill and then a big scary stair step downhill and then some rolling stuff and then a nice long steady climb on a railroad grade (steep for a railroad grade, the narrow gauge Cumbres and Toltec Scenic railway), followed by some sketchy short downhill, a looooong smooth downhill and then rolling stuff back to the start.
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The start was chaotic, just like a mountain bike race, but with pokey poles flying everywhere. 75 or so people were on the start line. I lined up a bit behind the fast folks, but the line was pretty wide and there were a pile of slower folks on the far reaches of the front. I ended up double poling my way around lots and lots of slow people and got I a pretty decent position by the climb. I did that happy little classic ski v-run up the hill, passing a few more people and then getting very stuck behind a guy who was ineffectively skate skiing up the hill. As I got held up I looked across the meadow and saw the first group bombing down the hill on the other side. I pushed my way by skate skiing guy and V-ran up the last bit of the hill and saw I had a wicked huge gap on the people behind me.
Snaking up the big climb after the start:
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I skied through the false flat speedily and then started at the top of the hill and half snowplowed my way down the terrifying hill. As I reached the bottom of the last bit, I could see a runout so I let the skis ride and then promptly crashed hard face forward as got all akimbo on the rough transition between hill and no hill. I hit decently hard on my chest and knocked my sunglasses off. I spent a humorous 30 seconds that seemed like 5 minutes on my hands and knees attempting to pick up my glasses with my hands which were inhibited by having the ski poles strapped to them. When I finally put my glasses on I looked up to see three or four barely in control people barreling down the hill toward me. I kind of tucked and rolled out of the way and let them pass, and then struggled to my feet as a bunch more people passed by.
I got going pretty quickly, but it took me awhile to get back into my lame classic rhythm as my breathing was a bit out of whack. I caught and passed a few people (mostly on backcountry skis) and started slowly closing in on the group in front that contained my friend Paul, annoying skate ski guy and a couple others. I made good headway on the long climb up the railroad grade and got within 30 seconds of the tail end of the group in front. On the short steep hill at the top of the long downhill I kind of snowplowed a bit too much and then looked up and the group ahead of me was gone. They all zipped down the steep hill and rocketed across the meadow. I was reduced to poling hard to keep my speed up. And that was my race. 2k into a 10k race everyone ahead of me used their fast skis and downhill skills to crush me and I was stuck in a no mans land for the rest of the race.
It was really similar to my first mountainbike race. Lousy start-did well on the long fire road climb-got smoked on the singletrack downhill and that was it.
The rest of the race, I worked on maintaining my technique and I lapped a bunch of the slower folk on the second laps. I was a big wimp on the downhills as I was not really racing near anyone and did not want to crash hard again. I had a few mild spills trying to pass lappee's on the softer part of the course, but overall it went pretty well. I got a great workout and had a good time. I finished the 10k in 1:10, 17th out of 25 in the 10k. Race results here.
Some lessons for next race:
1. I was overdressed by one layer on top. I wore a wool tank, a long sleeve light wicky shirt and then a long sleeve cycling jersey. I also wore a light wool cycling cap. I got hot enough that I bailed on the hat and stuffed it my jersey pocket (no mean feat, see two below). Then I got a bit too much sun due to the wide open 10,000 foot meadow. I should have just gone with the jersey and tank and a visor instead of the hat.
2. In addition to not being able to pick up my glasses I found it impossible to retrieve my water bottle from my jersey pocket while strapped to my poles. I will get one of those oh-so stylee fanny water bottle holders all the cool skiers have. I only drank once during the race and given the overdressing, I was pretty darn dehydrated by the end.
3. I guess I probably need to get some skinny waxable classic skis, I am pretty sure they were good for at least 5 minutes over the two laps, maybe more. I also need to not crash or wimp out as much, but no biggy. I think with different skis and a bit more practice with classic skiing I could break an hour pretty easily. Something to shoot for next year.
A pretty great race if you live in NM or southern Colorado. The new race directors seem pretty dedicated to getting the race to the 100-200 participant level and maybe getting it to be a part of the colorado cup race series next year. Chama is a pretty neat little village, and the narrow gauge railroad looks like it should be a blast to take up into colorado later this year. More train pictures this week.
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