Wow, what a week! This is my third world Masters championship, all taking place in North America. I knew that I would be battling the best US and Canadian skiers, but the question was who was going to show up from Europe. I was glad to see that Tommy Gustafson, the undisputed champion from the last two years, was on the start list.
To double pole or not, that seems to be the big topic in classic skiing these days and this week sure has provided some great eye-openers in that regard. The 30k was a no-brainer kick wax day as far as I was concerned. Just below freezing temps, great glide and kick. I fully expected Tommy to blast out of the gate, which he did. However, right on Tommy’s skis was a Norwegian skier by the name of Truls, having no problem keeping up with a blistering pace. Personally, I was hell-bent on getting a good start position and avoid getting tangled with any of the 40 skiers on the start line. I started out as quickly as I could and after about 500 meters, there was a gap to the two skiers in front and a gap behind me, and that’s the way the race ended up, skiing entirely by myself. The first 3k are fairly flat terrain and with both Tommy and Truls double poling, I thought I may be able to gain on them when we got into the hillier terrain. Not a chance; at best I seemed to keep about the same pace striding up the hills as they double poled, just monster double polers. Once I realized there was no chance of keeping up with Tommy and Truls and the gap behind was plenty comfortable, I settled into a steady pace and secured my first medal of the week. In retrospect, I believe I chose correctly by going with kick wax, but my curiosity about pure double poling was definitively increased, partly as a result of skiing almost three of my laps together with number 1 and 2 in the 40 – 44 category, a Swiss and a Russian who were starting out on their 2nd lap as we started on our first. I noticed that the Swiss would stride just about every little hill, while I found that, playing around with switching between double pole and stride, I could double pole just as fast up hills I normally would choose to stride. Hmm, time to get serious about double poling!
I can’t commend Zach Caldwell enough for the wax and ski service provided for us this week. Zach limited the number of skiers to 10 to ensure the best service possible, and what a service it was. To show up an hour and a half before the race, have two or three test pairs prepared, give Zach some feedback, some final tuning on the race pair and off to the start on just outstanding skis. That guy knows his stuff like no one I have ever been around! The morning of the 7.5k, I found the kick wax to be difficult; no wonder given that the snow storm was coming in with just below freezing temps, wind and heavy snow. The risk of icing was too big to choose kick wax and blanks (glide wax only) were still fast, so time to venture into the double pole era! Again, Tommy and Truls were way out first, then me in the middle and a gap to the rest. With 140 meters of climb in 6.5 k, it is a pretty hilly course, but I was surprised that I got through the hills in much better fashion than I thought. Next behind me was a German skier who also double poled, so that definitively seemed to be the right call for the day.
With newfound confidence in my ability to double pole, the relay was a no-brainer. A 5k loop that eliminated the 3 steepest hills on the 7.5k loop, I told Zach beforehand to only prepare blanks. Again, after testing 3 pairs of blanks, Kent’s skate skis proved to be fastest and Kent was kind enough to let me borrow his skate skis. Kind of crazy that I brought 7 pairs of classic skis to Minneapolis and ended up skiing on Kent’s skate skis. My age group started together with the group below, 45-49, and I ended up leading the pack with a French and a German skier from that group. The Frenchman gave me a really good lesson in uphill double poling and spanked me pretty good up the lone long climb. Zach watched and told me afterwards, “Rune, you have a beautiful old school double pole”, so now I knew a couple of things to improve upon. In the end, our team ended up winning our age class by almost 3 minutes and a gold medal to add to the collection!
Before the 45k, I was pretty happy with how things had turned out and really wasn’t too worried about taking some chances for the race; hence, I told Zach that, for the right conditions, I would consider double poling the 45k. The 45k was going to be 3 loops of 15k, same loops as we had been skiing, but an added 5k or so per loop which was mostly flat. Since I knew I could double pole all the hills at least 1 loop, why not venture for 3, figuring I could recover on the added flats? The waxing conditions were such that, to get proper kick, it would take a bit out of the glide and discussing with Zach, he thought the advantage in glide with blanks would more than make up what I would lose on the hills. Besides, Zach assured me that arms recover from lactate much faster than legs, so even if my arms are burning on top of the hills, no worries; I will quickly recover. Again, Kent’s skate skis were the fastest testing so off I go to the start on blanks, feeling pretty good about going to double pole more than I have ever done in a single training session, let alone in a race.
Then came the shocker; at first I didn’t think the starter was serious, but as the words were sinking in, I didn’t really know if I was about to panic or what to make of it. A train was parked where the trail crosses so that the 5k easy terrain I was looking forward to…..eliminated from the course and replaced with, oh, another lap of hills. This information was shared with us 3 minutes before the start, with no time to change skis; oh well, it is an experiment alright. This time, Truls was on kick wax and Tommy, as usual, was double poling. Right out of the start, this race was no different than the other ones, Tommy and Truls taking off and myself with a gap to the rest right out of the gate. 4 laps to go, 10k each, 212M of climb per lap. I got through the first two laps feeling surprisingly fresh. Zach was right; as much as the arms would hurt at the top of the hill, 20 seconds of rest and I was ready to go again! Well, that was until the end of the 3rd lap. By now, I had just about had it crawling up the steepest hills, arms and shoulders hurting more and more for each hill. The 4th lap was pure torture but I was still in third, and with a comfortable distance to the next skier, I was for sure going to make it to the finish, which, btw, couldn’t come soon enough.
In the end, I came away with medals in every race and newfound knowledge both about double poling in general and my own capacity to double pole. It was very interesting to see the results between Tommy and Truls in my age group. They both double poled the 30 and the 7.5k, winning one each and staying fairly close to each other. Then Truls beat Tommy by almost 5 minutes on the 40k using kick wax, clearly the best strategy given the course and conditions of the day. I am still convinced that double pole would have been the better choice had the course been as intended, 3 laps with a fair amount of flats. 850 M of climb in 40k (actually, my gps said 36k) was out of my double pole range but I am still really glad I did it; having pushed way beyond what I thought I could do, and surviving in style, that is priceless!