Monday, January 26, 2015

Blanks vs Kick Wax?

If you're an avid follower of the Ski Classics like I am, you know that all the cool kids are doing the long classic marathons on blanks, which is to say, classic skis with no kick wax.  That means you double pole the whole blessed thing.  Seems almost impossible to me, but people are doing it!  People like Rune Harkestad, for example, who did the classic leg of the Methow Pursuit this weekend on blanks.  I can't think of anyone more qualified than Rune to test this out, and he sends us this awesome first-hand report of the benefits and drawbacks.  Thanks, Rune -- nice work!

I have never tried to ski a classic race on blanks.  Having watched a few videos of Vasaloppet and Marcialonga, I thought this is something I have to try and there is no better candidate for a double pole-only classic race than the 30 k leg of the Methow Pursuit.  The course follows the Methow River from Winthrop and is generally VERY flat.  The conditions appeared to be perfect for racing on blanks, upper 20s temps, some freezing rain the night before, and obvious klister conditions. 
 The first 10 k are totally flat and by the time we got to the ridge, an 8 km stretch with various hills, Brad (also on blanks) and I were in the lead with an unknown gap on the next skiers.  The tracks were fast enough that I could double pole with great momentum up the moderate hills and just herringbone up the steepest hills.  Out of the Ridge, with about 12k to go, another 5 k of flat terrain followed.  By now, I was in the lead by myself and settled in a solid double pole tempo and figured this should work out just fine. 
Not so fast.  With 8k to go, I was caught by a skier (David Edic) and we now took turns leading.  I have no doubt that if the course had remained flat to the end, it would have been settled with a sprint finish.  Unfortunately, for me that is, the last 5k have a variety of hills.  The steepest ones in the beginning I was able to herringbone and keep up with David, who was on waxed skies. 
 The problem was the moderate hills.  I no longer was able to keep the double pole momentum due to the combination of quickly warming temps, thus slower snow, and fatigue.  I could only look with envy at David as he was striding away while I was barely inching up moderate hills, one pole plant at a time.  At the finish, I was exactly one minute behind David, and really surprised at how much time can be lost on just a few moderate hills.    
I went away with a couple of hard-earned and very valuable lessons.  For Master skiers to choose blanks, the conditions HAVE to be fast enough that it is possible to double pole up moderate hills with a solid momentum, and that goes for the entire race.  Secondly, racing 30k on arms only will tax your arms much more than I anticipated, which means you have to be prepared.  Now I understand why Martin would double pole up Amabilis in his training!  Both Kent and Brad chose blanks as well and I think their lessons were similar.  Great choice if you can keep it up, but time gets lost in a hurry if not.

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