Keep the Dream Alive: March and the Death March

Shortly after the Leadville Loppet, I decided that since I was having so much fun in my new sport and desired to visit as many of the nordic centers in my area as possible, to sign up for the Snow Mountain Stampede at YMCA of the Rockies in Granby. I kept my training volume high after Leadville, eyeing a ‘peak’ maybe sometime around April if I really wanted to. At this point, any time I made a trip somewhere to race, the chance to ski each day, as much as possible, was too much to pass up. So I didn’t really rest before or after any of my races, because the main goal was just to get experience and to continue to practice my different techniques.

Wk 10

S – am – 9 mile run

pm – 1.5 hr ski at Wolf Creek

M – am – 9 mile run

pm – off

T – am – 9 mile run

pm – 1.5 hr bike

W – am – off

pm – 10 mile run

Th – am – 9 mile run

pm – 1.5 hr bike

F – 9 mile run

Pm – travel/off

S – am – Snow Mountain Stampede – 4 hrs total

Totals – R – 55 miles/ S – 5.5 hrs/ B = 3 hrs/ Total = 15 hours

Snow Mountain race recap: 

The training leading up to the race wasn’t particularly a lot; I took a couple of mornings and afternoons off. So, I felt like I was feeling relatively fresh going into the race. After school on Friday, I loaded up the car and headed north to Kremmling, Colorado. I would be staying at the Hotel Eastin in the small town of Kremmling, which sets directly west of Granby about 25-30 miles. I would be making this trip by myself – one of the first times I had done so in an athletic venture. I remember once back in college during my redshirt senior year, I drove myself to Bemidji State in the Toyota Previa, ran a mile and a 3k at an indoor meet, and drove myself home in a storm, leaving at about 7:30 PM. It was another one of those surreal, “what am I doing out here moments.” I was probably more proud of the Previa than I was of myself, as my return to my alma mater was only sub-par (I was at the end of a 105 mile week, so I was a little bit heavy legged – I ran 4:35 and then won the 3k in my training shoes, running something like 9:24 I think….this was one of the turning points where I realized I didn’t have much for leg speed and turnover anymore….)

The drive to Kremmling was long, but about 4.5 hours after I left Alamosa, I was checking into the hotel. If you haven’t been to Kremmling (you probably haven’t), I recommend it as a good springboard for trips to Steamboat, Granby, Winter Park, or Estes Park. It is close to those places, and the accomodations are fantastic. My room was 45$ per night, and the hosts were phenomenal. Their dream was to someday run a hotel, and they had slowly but surely renovated this historic building into a unique one which had more of a bed and breakfast feel. The husband gave me a tour of all of the rooms, which are unique in character (my personal favorite is the John Denver room, which had a western theme complete with log cabin siding against the wall and bed frame), before showing me to my room and reminding me that his wife’s homemade cookies are out in the kitchen each night, along with free popcorn. I would be spending the next 3 nights there, since I had decided to ski the race Saturday, ski Frisco Sunday, and then observe an elementary classroom in Granby on Monday morning (skiing again in the late afternoon). Christie wasn’t able to take the day off of work, which is why she didn’t follow me to this one. I could have used her moral support.

The morning of the race was nice, but clouds ominously hung overhead. I woke up in the dark and ate some oatmeal, then started driving to YMCA. The YMCA of the Rockies deserves a review of its own, and at some point, when I revisit it, I will write one. The conditions that were presented on this day sort of ruined any chance of me getting an accurate opinion of the place. 

By the time I pulled into the parking lot, the weather outside reminded me of one of those cold winter days in Moorhead where you just don’t even want to get out of your car to walk across the parking lot to the building you are entering because you know it’s going to hurt the minute the air touches your skin. I stayed in the driver’s seat for a few extra minutes, checking to make sure I had everything I needed. In order to buy more time indoors, I figured I would go and pick up my packet, put my number on my uniform, decide what to wear, and then search through the baggy for other goodies. 

I opened the door and WOOSH! A big gust of wind welcomed me and pushed my skinny frame back into the car a little. I jogged across the lot and into the lodge, which was pretty empty, as I was early. I went in and discovered that the basement floor was actually a store – the check in must have been upstairs. Once again, buying time to stay inside, I wandered around and looked at the equipment and apparel, trying to decide if the ‘great deals’ being advertised were actually great deals. Over the previous weeks, I had spent a fair amount of my downtime searching for skis to buy, in the process getting a pretty solid grip on the overall value of each lines’ top, middle, and lower end skate skis, classic skis, and skin tec skis. 

After about 10 minutes, I went upstairs to check in. “Are you the 50k?” someone asked me. “Yes,” I replied. As I was handed my bag, the lady at the table quietly encouraged me, saying, “You are a brave soul.” I was a little confused – I mean, I wasn’t the only person in this race, right? Had everyone else decided to not show up because of the weather? Or, did I just not look like I could survive the conditions? (That’s probably the right answer). 

After putting my number on my jersey, I went back to the car to grab my skis. On the way, I ran into Adam again. We greeted each other with a similar vein of excitement. Both of us were pretty new to the sport, had a good endurance background, and were excited enough to make the trek to now three different races. It was encouraging having someone who was kind of in the same boat as myself in all of those ways. Skiing, like any sport (or activity) can sort of feel like an exclusive clique. In my life, I have unintentionally attempted to join a bunch of different “cliques” through sports and music, only to leave and search out the next one right as the previous one was accepting me. In middle school, I was sort of an innocent, homeschooled, type-A trumpet nerd who was so over the top into studying trumpet concertos and the physiology of the embouchre that the only person I really related to was my band director. I played sports, but was misunderstood as a runner (too serious), and on the outside of the basketball world (not cool enough, not long enough arm-pit hair). Transitioning into high school, the people in band probably thought too highly of me, the cross country runners probably thought too low of me, my fellow type-A honors and AP classmates were annoyed by me, and the basketball world was being forced to accept me, as I finally became good enough, cool enough, and had long enough armpit hair. Then right at the peak of my entrance into the basketball clique, when I finally understood how to be the whitest ‘baller’/ganster of all time, even rocking the South Pole jeans, I was forced to abandon ship and go full fledged into the running/endurance clique, which I had pretty much discounted as a viable social or athletic option after my final cross country meet (St. Cloud Tech invitational baby — outsprinted this guy somewhow, granted, he was an 8th grader at the time…..

As a result of doing my time and rising up in the ranks of the distance running world, I had fallen out of favor with the music clique, though I was still a part of it. And onward it went….

So, at this point, when I show up at a bike race/event, even though I know I haven’t “done my time” as a “true” cyclist, I know that I know enough….and I know that it doesn’t really matter. Same thing at cross country ski events. I don’t let it affect my performance. I stay confident in who I am and in my strengths, and I don’t let other’s knowledge or experience intimidate me. 

Nevertheless, it is still an encouragement to bounce off “noob” thoughts with another ….noob. Especially one who is intense and competitive, despite being inexperienced. Adam definitely fit that bill. He had beaten me in our first two races, and he would get me again in this one, even though he was racing in a pair of hand me down skate boots – which were actually a women’s model. To be fair, they probably were better for him than my combi model from 2014, which had been so overused the plastic support on the right was completely shattered (that was probably less an overuse thing and more a ‘epic rollerski crash’ thing). 

Anyway, on to the race: 

Despite the windy conditions, the forecasted snow fall had not made an appearance, and the immaculately groomed course seemed really fast. I did a quick no pole skate warm-up, then went inside and stretched by a fire (why hadn’t I discovered this before!). There were some other athletes who were talking about the NCAA championships going on in Steamboat, how someone they knew had done, and referencing the Snow Mountain Stampede and past Stampedes in the same way I would maybe talk about previous church services I had attended with my family at the Chapel of the Good Creation at Bad Medicine Lake (remember that time when CAsey Jones stood up in the middle of a sermon). Their familiarity with the event once again reminded me of how much of a noob I was. The young girl stretching next to me must have been a collegiate racer as well, or a former collegiate athlete. She mentioned how she was only going to be doing the 10k today, kind of in the same way an experience collegiate runner might just show up at an alumni track meet and run the 5k even though they haven’t done more speedwork than a strider since they graduated. 

Inside, I wandered if maybe I would rather be doing the 10k. 

The call for the 50k start sounded, and a group of ‘brave souls’ wound their way away from the lodge to the middle of a long straightaway. Intensity was on the eyes of all of the athletes as they did their final ski-outs. Everyone had a speedsuit on (which, I don’t totally feel is the best call. As someone who gets cold easily, I’ve been totally fine wearing my thin/fall running tights and a basic, skin tight upper. I feel like wearing a cottony long underwear layer underneath a speed suit would be too much. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. The more I learn about the sport, the more I disagree with some of the crossover of techniques and training principles that involve running – why for example does a female collegiate skier who runs 20-40 miles per week go on 3.5 hour long runs? Eliud Kipchoge doesn’t even do that, and he is the best male marathon runner in the world….enough venting)

I skied out away from the start and did my final nervous pee, tightened my pants, and slowly skated back. I noticed at the start that there were only about 45 or 50 of us – it was a small group. The starter, gave some instructions, I made small talk with a guy who was from Minneapolis who looked really intense (and I awkwardly mentioned that I was from Minnesota….and that was all….which made for one of those dumb moments where you almost wish you hadn’t said anything. After all, just because we are both from Minnesota doesn’t mean this complete stranger is going to tie a skijoring rope to you and drag you to first place if you are dying, right?). 

The gun went off and the whole group absolutely tore down the straightaway. We had the wind at our backs, going slightly downhill, and the snow was hard packed and the perfect match for blue wax. We came through the 1k mark before I even blinked, and before I blinked again it was 3k. We were ripping – ‘this is going to be fun,’ I thought – and then, at 5k, it all changed. The heavens opened up and snow started dumping on us. At first, it was these massive flakes, and we were all still going really fast, so it sort of seemed like it might just be a quick, ‘false’ storm. But it wasn’t. After covering the first 5k in probably 14 minutes, the next one took probably 20. Then, we were heading towards the back of the course. Evidently, the snow had been falling out there for a longer time. Everyone in the group was very stretched out – I was by myself and it looked like no one except for maybe the top three had anyone else even within sight. Part of that was due  to the increasingly low visibility. By the time we got to the 15k mark, which was an aid station, it was an all out blizzard. The course looped back around this point as well, and when I saw the leader and then my Minnesota compadre come through, all I could think of was how in the world they were actually still ‘racing’ this. I had been in survival mode for the last 40 minutes, knowing full well that we still had 35K to go!! An extremely steep hill was right after the aid station, and I was forced to walk up at the top. There had been no glide, even in the downhills since the 6k mark. Even going straight downhill, my skis were buried, and I was forced to double pole or skate ferociously, just to move at all. And the skating was becoming much more difficult to do, as the powder was deep and many random ruts had formed. Not only were my legs tired from their ineffectiveness, my ankles and feet were tired from constantly trying to balance….I would have taken the women’s skate boots at this point, trust me. My arms were going to have to pretty much take me to the finish line, and they were my weakest link. The course had many loops back and forth, but the trees made it so you never really could realize how close together they were. At any point in time, you were pretty close to the start line, and there were dozens of points at which you could take a trail and go back to the center. Obviously, the race course would take a loop back out. This made hundreds of very easy places to decide to pack it in and call it a day. Around the 20k mark, I had started seriously considering what I would do when I approached the halfway and the start of the second lap. Was I really going to do this again? This wasn’t even skiing. This was just pure suffering. And it would take so long. For 5k, which probably took about 30 minutes, I contemplated. There was a norwegian skier that I had been keeping within my sights for a long time – of course, on every downhill, it seemed as if he could just lope along, gliding and skating over the thick snow and uneven ruts, without any problem. Maybe it was because he was Norwegian. 

I guess I should say that I wasn’t sure right away that he was Norwegian, until I came through the checkpoint and decided, thanks to that nice downhill at the start (it tricked me into thinking things would be ok), that I would continue my next lap. The man in front of me had taken a wrong turn and then come back to me. I made a comment about how crazy the weather was, and he replied in a different language and a thick accent. Then, he took off and I didn’t come within arms reach of him again (though I think we only finished like 2-3 minutes apart). 

As you can probably guess, the next lap was a miserable, slow death march. I knew there was a female competitor behind me, and for the first 10k of the next lap, I stayed focus and determined to make sure I stayed in front of her. If I was suffering, I figured, others were hurting a lot, too. I broke up the course into small chunks, and it was working to make things seem more manageable. But, the conditions were so harsh – it had continued to snow, and snow, and snow, and the wind was blowing as well – I was forced to walk in many sections. Never in my life had I been in a race situation and been so entrenched in simply surviving that walking was all I could do. It felt awkward, hopeless, and wrong. Still, the person behind me was not coming, and every once in awhile, I could see the Norwegian on a part of the loop back. When I got to about 42k, we passed by the finish turn area. I saw the winner come across. I wasn’t sure what to make of his performance, especially in comparison to mine. I mean, I was practically 5 miles back! That is a long ways. But, in nordic skiing, in a 50k, where there is 6 inches of snow – maybe he had a soft snow ski and switched into it on the second lap – who knows. 

I trudged along, feeling hopeful that I at least would finish. And finally, I was within 3k of the finish, passing by the lodges and signs for the dog friendly trails. It made me think of Joanie and Zato and how much fun they would be having on a day like today. It made me think of how this place was really awesome, and maybe Christie and I should take a weekend and rent one of the little cabins. 

I pulled around the final turn. At the finish, there was one person standing next to the line. At every aid station, the workers reminded us competitors that the only people suffering more than us was probably them. It was freezing and windy and snowing, and they were just standing there! It seemed like the moment I finished, the few souls outside were quickly shutting things down, as if they had been picking stuff up while others were coming in. I would later find out that this wasn’t far off. I was in fact the final male finisher – last place – the lady who was fighting behind me never gave up though, and she crossed in first place for the women! The results showed that only 8 men finished and 3 women finished. That means a lot of people did in fact drop out. 

I took off my skis and walked them to the car. I had been out there for 3 hours and 50 minutes. The winner had finished in 3 hours and 11 minutes, and second was 3:18. Hearing that made me feel quite a bit better – everyone had suffered, a lot. I changed into something dry and made my way to the upstairs of the lodge, where I was supposedly going to get a free meal. The awards had started, and about 75 people were sitting at tables with finished plates, eyeing both the emcee and the strange man who just wandered in – was he still racing (in Jim Gaffigan voice) – ….me. 

Oh man, I thought. They actually started doing awards while I was still racing! It was a humbling moment, but not in a super negative way. Had this been a road running race, my value as a person may have dropped, but the fact that they had started the awards as people were still finishing almost made the fact that I stayed out there and finished more B.A. than just b.a.d. 

I found the lunchline area, loaded up with a nice big burger and cookie, and filled up my cup with some hot cocoa, cappucino, and coffee. I deserved it. I sat down right as Adam made his way into the room. We greeted each other with smiles, laughing about how crazy the race was. He was even more confused than I was as far as the awards and where they were at and how to get food. I showed him what was up and invited him to sit with me. 

As the awards went on – which were for the juniors and 5k and 10k races – we ate and talked about a ton of stuff, from cycling and his upcoming races to nordic ski equipment to eating disorders in male athletes. After sitting there for a long time, they started to do the raffle prizes, and to my shock, I heard my number called out from the other room. I quickly rose from the table and pronounced that I was the winner, and was invited up to the front. There before me were a ton of hats and gloves to choose from. I had already received a very cool Swix hat as part of my registration fee, but, being that it was so cool, I knew that there was no chance it would stay in my possession for longer than a couple of weeks (I always lose hats….especially unique, special ones). So, I chose a dark, Fischer hat and walked back. Unfortunately, the very next person they called up was privy to new prizes (I’m not sure why) a couple of which included sweet bags and a backpack. Oh well – I had won for the day, at least a little. 

After packing up and leaving, I headed right to the city market in town to grab some snacks for the evening….or just for that moment. Even though I had just eaten a full meal, I was pretty much starving again. I called Christie, telling her all about the day, the hotel, the epic race, my conversations with Adam, and the fact that I still made out somewhat on top, with my free stuff. Then I went back to the hotel, laid in my bed, and read Momentum, Peter Vordenberg’s training diary leading up to his two Olympic appearances. 

Wk 11

S – am – 9 mile trail run in Kremmling

pm – 2.5 hr skate @ Frisco – great conditions / downhill skied at Copper Mtn for a couple of hours afterwards

M – 9 mile run in Granby

pm – 2 hr ski at Frisco

T – am – off

pm – 14-15 mile run

W – am – 9 mile easy run

pm – 1.5 hr bike

Th – totally off – first day of complete rest of the year

F – am – 9 mile run

pm – 2 hr bike

S – am – 4x3H/2E, 2H/2E, 2x1H/1E

pm – 70 min skate ski @ Wolf Creek – terrible conditions; tough to do.

Totals: r – 60 miles/bike – 3.5/ski – 5.5/ Total = 16 hours

Wk 12

S – ?

M – ?

T – ?

W – 9 miles

pm – 1hr, 45 min skate ski @ Mineral Belt Trail

Th – am – 3 hrs ski @ Breck

pm – off

F – 9 mile run

pm – downhill ski @ Copper

S – 9 mile run leadville

pm – ski @ Copper

Totals – 16 hours total

wk 13

S – am – 2.5 hr skate ski @ Breck/ 1 hr break/ 1.5 classic ski @ Breck

M – am – off

pm – 9 miles

T – am – 9 miles

pm – 60 min rollerski

W – am – 5 miles

pm – 9 miles + 45 min rollerski

Th – am – 9 miles

pm – 1 hr rollerski

F – am – 9 miles

pm – 1.5 hr ski @ Wolf Creek

S – am – 3 hrs xc ski @ Wolf Creek

pm – off

Totals: r – 55 miles/ ski – 8.5 hrs / rollerski – 2.75 hrs/ Total – 17.25 hrs.

March totals

wk 10 =15

wk 11 =16

wk 12 =16

wk 13 = 17.25

month total = 64.25 hrs

Jan – 76 (5wks)

Feb – 66.5 (4wks)

Mar – 64.25 (4wks)

Year to date (13 weeks) – 206.75 – on pace for 827 hours

 

One thought on “Keep the Dream Alive: March and the Death March

  1. Great story and kudos for sticking it to the end. It’s very depressing when you get dropped or lapped so early. I once did a 15km rollerski race ( on a 1.5km cycle track ). In my naivete I was using training skis when the serious guys were on fast racing skis and I got lapped just after I’d finished my first lap!

    Like

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