Sunday morning (January 18th) I awoke early, made a to go bowl of oatmeal a couple of sammichis and a thermos of the tarik-patented-french-no-press coffee and hopped in my uncharacteristically packed the night before car and drove up to Chama to race the Chama Chili Classic xc ski race. I did this race two years ago as my first xc-ski race ever and I internalized a few of the lessons learned for this edition. 2007 report here. Due to baby induced dithering we made no motel reservations and decided since Aida hates schedules I would just zip up and do the race and then come on home in one day. I am getting a bit aged for such shenanigans, but lets do it for the children.
Black Mesa on the way to Española at the break of dawn
The racing schedule has expanded to 5 and 10k classic ski races and 5 and 10k snowshoe races as well as a combined King of the Mountain class for the best time in the 10k ski race and 5k snow shoe. Naturally I signed up for that as I am an idiot. The reasoning was that most of the xc ski racing I do are "half marathon" 22 odd kilometer skate races, so I needed to get some longer racing in. I am pretty decent on snowshoes, so there we are.
One of my lessons from the last time I did this race was that I should get some waxable classic race skis so I can actually go faster on the downhill portions. Waxable skiis take some getting used to techniquewise and there are some nasty intricacies with waxing to get on top of, but I watched lots of people zip away from me on long downhills last time and I was determined not to let that happen again. I bought some used classic race skiis from the Dark Lord of Waxing last month and I have been out on them 4 times total including the race. In the non-race practice sessions I can get going classic style pretty well with speed replacing technique. Failing that I just double pole or herringbone. So there was my race plan. A mixture of fitness over technique and a default of poling and running on my skiis. Also coasting real fast on the downhills.
Anyhow, I got up to the race site with some extra time so I could check out the course and see if my wax worked. The race site is 12 miles north of Chama just into colorado in a nice big basin that tends to be a sun dish and get really warm. Warm is hard to wax for. I got a quick lesson from my pal ken on applying klister. The hive mind of experienced skiers decided the magic kick wax was Swix blue klister with swix violet hard over top. I checked in with my buddy Clay and he confirmed the choice. So I applied the tubular glue like klister over my kick zone and then attempted to get the hard wax on top, with limited success. I said, eh, fukkit, and went to warm up. The wax seemed good. The turnout was decent maybe 35 people in the 10k ski race, 45 in the 5k and another 30 plus snowshoers. There were three of us idjits in the combined 10k ski 5k snowshoe competition.
Sort of near the start line, it is purty here
When I did the race 2 years ago, the race started with a huge climb and scary descent. This year the first big hill was dispensed with. The course did roughly the same thing with much more gradual climbs and descent. The loop was a bit over 5k and length and since I did it twice on skis and once on snowshoes, I mentally divided it into 7 parts.
1. Flat start loop with a small climb and a faster twisty descent through some trees and some rollers leading to
2. The long gradual climb on the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad grade with a sharp climb at the end
3. A long fast fun downhill
4. Part one of the long steep stair step climb and then it is done
5. Oh no its not, that was a false flat and then it keeps going and you can't see straight.
6. Another long downhill with a sharp climb exclamation point and then
7. Twisting down back through the trees with a fast downhill to the finish.
Shack near the start line. Why is there a shack here?
So my ski race went a little something like this. Double pole in the tracks in the frenetic start. Ski up on the person in front of me, try to get out of the tracks to go around. Crash. Get up, go up the climb, crash. Go through the fast twisty part in the trees. Nearly crash into trees, but instead crash in snow hard enough to have bruises. Look up to see the next group ski neatly away from me. Get up, ski frantically, crash. Have my teammate Dave, who is probably worse than classic skiing than me, come up upon me and inform me that if I keep crashing that he will beat me. Get up and then crash in front of Dave again. Get through the rollers and then, I am now on part two.
I finally get into my rhythm and end up in the front of a small pack with no one in sight in front of me. And that was pretty much it. I sort of maintained my place ahead of two other people for the rest of the first lap. I was slipping out a bit as I got tired, I had some issues with my already sketchy classic form and the fact that I did not do a great job getting the wax spread evenly did a number on my ability to kick. Stupid xc skiing. I got through the first lap OK with only a few more falls. I do have to say that my skiis were fast, much much faster than my touring skiis. Last time I did this race I was double poling furiously on the downhills in the tracks and still getting dusted. This time I had to step out of the tracks on the downhills as I was far exceeding my ability to stay upright in the soft tracks.
A nice meadow that is surrounded by the course that you can't see, see?
Here is a brief grooming interlude. The course as it stands is untouched snow most of the winter. My fellow SWNski club teammates Clay and the aforementioned Dave spent two full days grooming a course and setting classic track for this race. They do a spectacular job. I would estimate there was at least 6-8 feet of untracked snow on the course that they hack into a course with two set classic lanes. Spectacular grooming fellows. I swear I will be better at skiing next year and I will not have to use soft tracks as an excuse...
One of the SWNski club snowmobiles with its cover off presumably cooling off after two days of grooming
Anyhow. I get through the first lap and no one is anywhere ahead of me, there are two other skiers that are sort of close behind me. Unfortunately I was so off pace in my race that they started the 5k race in between the group ahead of me and me. I started wending my way through the tail end of the 5k race. I get to the railroad grade with a minimum of falling through the woods. As I ski up the railroad grade I loose alot of my grip, so I alternate between a weak kick ski, a weakening double pole and occasional falling. One of the skiers behind me passes me after a particularly good fall. The only good news is that I pass one of skier ahead of me who is sking with a broken pole. Coincidentally it is one of the other skiers in the ski-snowshoe KOM competition. Sweet I think, at least I have not broken a pole! I feel buoyed as I pass him, but this is fleeting as I more or less fall completely apart on all the uphills remaining. I get passed on the long up hill by the only other skier near me and then finish in 55 minutes. Not without wiping out hard again on the final descent to the finish line. This was good race as it was 15 minutes faster than two years ago, but bad as I kind of had a disaster of ski, lots of crashes and form issues and no grip in the second lap. Bah.
Now I had to go and run a lap of the course on snowshoes. I figured that I had crashed so often and so violently that I probably needed to get the snowshoes on ASAP and start running before the soreness kicked in. I was perturbed to see that I lost my sunblock chapstick from my pocket during a crash. With the snow bowl reflector effect, I was worried that I would fry. But the race must go on. They had already had the main snowshoe race start, so for the KOM competition they had us start whenever we wanted after the race time trial style. I did a relatively quick turnaround and strapped on the snow shoes and started running. The first part of the race was slow as my body was not completely on board with the idea of continuing racing. As I got through the woods I felt more into it, and despite the lack of anyone near me, I focused on keeping the pace high and close to my limit rather than just jogging it. As I ran up the railroad grade I was pleasantly suprised to see a purple tube smack in the middle of the trail. It was my sunblock. I scooped it up and then continued on my merry way. I played mental games to keep myself motivated, this is where I divvied up the course into sections and tallied completed sections while I pushed myself harder. I really ran hard on the course parts 4 and 5 up the big hill and then powered on to the finish. The thing I like about snowshoe racing is that you can sort of glide down hills by skating on your heel tips with exaggerated long heelstrike strides.
I finished up the race, sort of enjoyed a beer (stupid overly hoppy beer not so good after racing) post race with the rest of the club racers and felt the soreness kick in. I ate a sammich, changed and talked to some more people before heading back down the hill. I took some photos of trains in the railyard and headed back to the High Country for the post race chili feed and award ceremony. I ate a heaping bowl of chili and realized I would never stay awake for the drive home if I waited much longer. So I decided to booger off back home and had an uneventful if scenic drive home.
Choo choo like trains in the Cumbres and Toltec Railyard
Turns out that I won the King of the Mountain decisively. Broken pole George was about 5 minutes in back of me in the run and a minute back in the ski. If he had not broken a pole, it would have been closer, but that's racing, I am surprised I did not break a pole myself given all my crashing escapades. I won a nice chile ristra and some other goodies. Yay me. I was very sore the next week but it was probably worth it. The ski was, as I said, rough, but all in all a good day.
The University of NM team showed up and dominated the race, but they graciously declined to include themselves in the awards. Thus Los Alamos skiers had a great day with most of the skiers placing somewhere in the age groups. Good job everyone.
This is a great low key short race that is well worth doing if you live in the general area.
Black Mesa on the way home, you see, it bookends the story for everyone who is still reading.
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