Sunday, March 9, 2014
Sometimes We Slog
"Coming last is not great, but not taking part is worse." Juliet Elliott
You know that feeling of being in the zone, in the flow? When you feel fit and strong and light and smooth; when your heart and your muscles and your equipment and the trail are one hot fluid movement? You dance on the course, every part of your being in tune. Martin described that feeling in last week's Vasaloppet report. Russell had that feeling when he won the cyclocross world championships. Caitlin Gregg felt the same way when she won the US Nationals 30k by over two minutes. Even I, with my mediocre racing resume, have felt it: once when I won my age group at the Spokane Langlauf, once when I took second in my age group in the Cariboo Marathon, and once when I finished Vasaloppet in a little over nine hours. It is sublime; it is to strive for.
Today was not that day. Today was the Ozbaldy 50k at Cabin Creek. I had no business trying a 50k, what with the lackluster training season I've had this winter, but I couldn't not try, not when I've been so disappointed with the winter and this was the last local race and the weather was just the way I like it, all soft and gray and damp, like a kitten in the rain. I consider the Ozbaldy a friendly 50k; it's my home turf, it's five loops of trails that I know intimately well, there are multiple places to drop out if you need to, and the race volunteers are all my friends, so I know they won't make fun of me if I fail.
So I signed up, and told myself I'd do 30k and take the DNF, just happy to be skiing with my friends. But once I started the race, the stubborn Swedish part of my reptilian brain whispered, "Don't stop. Keep going. It's a 50k, not 30 or 40." So I did, slowly, painfully slowly, pacing myself, not getting too winded on the many uphills, stretching out my stiffening back on the downhills. Around and around I went, one lap, two laps, three laps, four.
The karmic low point came on the fifth lap, after I came up the road for the last time and was ready to turn onto the Viking loop for the last time. Everyone else in the race was long done and probably on their way home, I hadn't seen another person for more than an hour, and I was tired and lonely and forlorn. Just then, like a smile from a friend, I saw on the side of the trail a sweet little miniature snowman and, in front of it, a brimming full cup of Nuun with my name written on it in black marker. I know Phillip made the snowman (thanks, Phillip!), but I don't know who left the cup. Whoever it was, you can't imagine how that lifted my spirits! And right then, as I was draining the last drop of Nuun, Gunnar skied up. I gave him a big weary sigh and said, "Oh, Gunnar." And he said, in his calm, low-key, Norwegian matter-of-fact way, "Now you know you can finish." And I stood up a little straighter and said, firmly, "Yes, I know I can."
And I did, every single kilometer, every uphill, every downhill, every long stretch of flat boring road. If I even needed a push to get my sorry self back on the training wagon, this was it: I don't ever again want to do something so hard with so little preparation. Being in shape for a long race is a joy; not being in shape is not.
And yet ... almost seven hours of deliciously soft spring skiing is a very fine way to spend a Sunday!