Saturday, July 26, 2014

Flashback: Vasaloppet 2011


What a wonderful day!  My time was not as fast as I hoped, but everything else went so well, it's pretty hard to feel bad.
The day before the race, Martin and his girlfriend's father Hakon and I went to the course to test wax.  It was blisteringly cold, with a fierce arctic wind, and the tracks were hard and super fast.  You could almost get into a tuck and let the wind blow you all the way to Mora!  Alas, Martin warned me that it would likely be very different tomorrow, when 15,000 skiers had processed it, and he was right.  It was hard to believe conditions could change so dramatically in 24 hours, but on race day, in the back where I was, the tracks were still pretty firm, but the area between the tracks, where you put your poles, had turned into deep deep gullies full of soft sugary snow, and 15,000 people herringboning up the hills had turned those into deep morasses of ankle-deep sugar.  Amazing!
But never mind all that.  My skis were perfect; my wax was perfect, even with temperatures fluctuating between -16C at the start, -1 in the sun in the afternoon, and -6 when I finished, after dark.  I had taken my skis to be waxed at the local ski shop, where I've gone the last two years, and Martin fine-tuned them the day before the race, and they were perfect all day long.  My clothes were perfect, neither too hot nor too cold, and I did a great job of eating and drinking, so my energy level stayed high and steady all day long.  Fewster had loaned me a gorgeous pair of super lightweight Madshus poles that practically did the skiing for me; combined with my excellent skis, they made me feel like I was skiing smoothly and effortlessly all day -- a little too effortlessly, I guess, because my time was so slow, but it is what it is.  I finished with a big smile on my face, happy to be allowed to spend the whole day doing the sport I love the most, in the country where it was born, with 15,000 other people who feel just the same as I do!
In the Kindness of Strangers department, part 1: two days before the race, I took the bus to a wide spot in the road near Salen to meet Hakon and go to the cabin where Martin's group was staying.  There was a mix-up, the bus to transfer to was not where it should be, other bus passengers were asking heated questions, the bus driver was yelling into his phone ... with only two sentences of Swedish in my knowledge bank, I was clueless in what was clearly a near-disaster.  As it turned out, the guy sitting behind me on the bus was going to the very same wide spot in the road, and he made sure we both got where we needed to go.  I asked him if he would dial a number for me, so I could warn Martin I was going to be late, and when he saw my little slip of paper with Martin's name and phone number, his eyes got wide and he said, almost reverently, "You know Martin Rosvall?"  It turns out he's a student at the university in Umea, and is well aware of Martin's achievements, both academically and in the ski racing world.  We talked about the difficulty of combining the demands of a real job with ski racing, and when I said Martin is my hero, he said, "He is everyone's hero."  That was cool.
Kindness of Strangers, part 2: on the day after the race, on the train from Mora back to Stockholm, another communications black hole.  Much discussion over the announcement system, much talking back and forth among passengers, and again, the man sitting across the aisle from me took care of me, explaining the problem with the station, making sure I made the right connection, and helping me get to the right train.  We talked about our different race experiences, and when he got off in Uppsala, he said he would look for me on the same train, same day, next year!
Kindness of Strangers, part 3: of course, Therese and Christer are hardly strangers any more.  Friends of Martin's parents, they have kindly welcomed me to their warm and beautiful home in Mora for the gala post-race dinner for three years now, and it is a highlight of the whole trip.  Delicious traditional Saami soup for dinner, with bread baked by their Norwegian friend (who also did the race) from flour he ground in his own mill from heritage wheat he grows himself on his farm near Lillehammer.  What a treat!  The wonderful food, the friendly company, the laughter and story-telling, and finally the delicious sleep in their old farmhouse ... there is no better way to spend this day.
So every race I did this winter was slower than I hoped for.  Coach Martin suggested that a lack of consistency in my training is the culprit, and he is right.  I have had a lot of great individual workouts, but the day in and day out of steady training has been hard to come by.  That will be my goal for the next year.  Someday I WILL get below nine hours in this crazy race, but not this year.
Doesn't matter.  It was a purely wonderful day.

[here’s the part I didn’t include in my original report, but I want to remember]
I did do a really good job of eating and drinking.  The two days before the race, each day I drank a full bottle of Nuun, and on race morning I had another half bottle, along with a good breakfast.  I was thinking about my big bonk last year, so this time, I brought Nuun in my drink belt and some extra GUs, and in two places, where it takes me more than an hour to get to the next feed station, I pulled over for a minute halfway throughand drank some Nuun and had a GU.  The other feed stations, I alternated water and GU at one, blueberry soup and GU at the next (Martin said blueberry soup is good because it provides sugar, calories, and vitamins).  In the second half, I had bouillion every time it was offered, as well as GU and water (no more Nuun).  I felt good and even all day, but I was slow.  Part of it was the conditions – the really soft snow didn’t let me play to the strengths I had worked on, doing a lot of double poling and a lot of bounding.  Part of it was lack of consistent training.  But there was also something else going on.  This time, I didn’t bonk, but I also didn’t pee from 7:30 on race morning, half an hour before the race, until 1:00 the next morning!  I was wondering if I would ever pee again!  Later, Kyle said I was seriously dehydrated and that’s why I wasn’t going very fast, but someone else, I’ve forgotten who but it was someone else whose opinion I also respect, said I would have been cramping if I was that dehydrated, so it was something else.  Still a mystery!
Also, I lost the advantage of being in the eighth wave before I even got to the big hill.  I stuck to the far left track, where I feel like I have less chance of breaking something, but in the eighth wave I noticed something I haven’t noticed when I’ve been farther back: lots of people stay to the sides, and it’s very slow there, but a substantial number of people fly up the middle, where there is far less traffic until you get to the hill, when everyone stops.  But by then, you’re much farther up in the pack.  It was amazing; I was standing still, watching hundreds, probably thousands, of people zooming ahead and getting to the hill far ahead of me.  When I got to the hill, I looked back, and sure enough, I was almost in the very back again.  Eighth wave advantage, gone before I even started.  Wow.

But here’s something else cool.  I looked at the results after I got home.  I was way far back in the pack overall, and probably in the last quarter for women.  There were three American women; one finished in about 9:14, which was the time I wanted to have, and one finished about 30 minutes after me.  The one who finished ahead of me is my age, a woman from Minneapolis, a fast runner and fast ski racer. I compared our times at each feed station, and had quite an eye-opening experience.  She got to the top of the hill (or the first feed station) at exactly the same time as me, and then from then onward, each feed station she got farther and farther ahead of me and ended up finishing 1:20 ahead of me, at the time I was aiming for.  So BIG LESSON here!  The big hill DOESN’T MATTER.  Just get up the best you can (maybe try going up the middle next time – live large!) and then ski your brains out the rest of the day.  And train.  Train hard.  I wish she was my training partner.

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