Season in Review: Part 4 – Alley Loop Week

This excerpt is from my personal journal and thus is a bit longer. It details the week leading up to the first race of the season

Week 5 – Alley Loop Race Week

Sunday

AM – 2hr skate ski – short break for church 

Early PM – + 2 hr Classic ski

Monday

AM – 80 min skate

PM – 2 hr CL/DP

Tuesday

AM – 40 minute run

PM – 1 hr 45 skate

Wednesday

AM – 90 min skate

PM – 90 min DP

Thursday

AM – 40 minute run

PM – 2 hr CL

Friday

AM – 52 min run at CMC – 12 minutes with Ajee

It’s the first time that I had been on the mountain bike trails at CMC since …. Well, since I mountain biked on them. I parked up by the CMC lot after dropping off Christie at school. The skiing all week has been fantastic, but we slept in a little too late to get a long enough ski to satisfy, so I decide to just go for a run. Ajee is still pretty much a baby, but I know she will be able to go at least a mile or so. 

We parked the car in the sunny CMC lot and trotted down to the flat road where high school teams put their tents. I see myself coaching the Alamosa team back in 2017 when we ran at the Lake County invite. It’s weird that I don’t remember any of the people that I currently work with then. We head onto Perma Grin. Ajee is trailing me all the while. I can tell she is having fun running alongside me. I’ve taken her for some very short skis. She enjoys the uphills but I can tell she is half panicked on the downhills because she can’t sprint fast enough. Running with me is a more manageable pace. 

Going through the woods on the narrow trails is about as much fun on foot as it is with a bike. I turn around after just a short time and bring Ajee back to the car, and then I head back out on our same trails. I wish I could run for 70 or 80 minutes, the trails are so entrancing. I don’t feel any fatigue or discomfort anywhere. I even forget about school and that I have to somehow abandon my body and my mind from this otherworldly natural heaven and go into a building with people wearing suits and students waiting to be taught from me. It seems hard to believe that they both are so close. 

I finish the run, and 3 minutes later I’m in the parking lot. 3 minutes after that, I’ve changed into my work clothes started tea, and walked into my department meeting at 8 AM. I feel refreshed and rejuvinated. 

PM – 1 hour 45 minute skate at CMC – very fast trails

It was a hard day at work, and mentally I’m drained. I had planned on resting today, just to feel a little better for the race. However, I realize that I haven’t tapered at all coming into the race, and I figure that I need the escape from skating on perfect fast trails more than I care about resting for the race. 

I tell Christie I’ll be gone for at least an hour, but I might just ski until I’m tired. She gives me a look as if to question my judgement on working out that much the night before a race. I understand, and I agree with her as a coach, but as me, the person right now, I don’t care if I’m doing the less than optimal thing. 

I get out on the trails and they are fantastic. I do the exercise loop, a 1.2 km or so loop inside the woods at CMC maybe a dozen times. The uphill portion is fun and the downhill is so fast I don’t have to pole at all. Each uphill pushes my oxygen just enough that the downhill is desired, and the downhill provides plenty of rest so that by the time I reach the bottom, it is almost to tantalizing to start another loop. Just one more, just one more, I whisper to myself, like I’m at a buffet table trying to convince myself I won’t grab another perfect piece of pizza. I can’t stop myself. I’m not even tired after what was probably 17 miles and easily 1500 feet of total climbing. The only reason I decide to come back to the car is because it’s getting cold and I feel better, mentally, about everything that has happened that day. I’ve decompressed. I still want to keep skiing, but I mentally bottle up that desire and save it for tomorrow. 

Crested Butte Weekend

It has felt like a long grind of training, but the start of the relatively short marathon season is finally here. The last race was way back on March 22, 2019 in Norway – the famed 50k Birken race. Since then, the main goal of 2019 was the experimentation of trying to accumulate 1000 training hours, mostly through skiing, biking, and running. This year, I did a much better job of adding in weightlifting as well, and it seems to be showing. My body in the spring was hovering around 155 pounds – now, standing in front of the mirror, I appear to be much more chiseled, weighing in around 145-148. I’m also stronger. More pull-ups, better bench press, dips, squats – everything. 

The lifting started last spring with simple rehab exercises for my shoulder. Right away, the tightness and scar tissue in my left arm prevented me from doing pull-ups and dips. I used the lat pull down machine, and also did short sets of pushups to build strength and mobility. Quickly, the strength came back, but during my entire time in Maine, I couldn’t do dips at all. Now, I don’t feel my shoulder doing any motions – though I have yet to try straight arm hanging ab raises yet. 

This week has consisted of me being mostly fearful of getting sick at school. It seems like it would be my luck to go a full year without even a cold, and then, after making the downpayment on a race fee, to get sick! This morning (Friday), Christie and I slept in until 6:45 – the first time in the entire school year we’ve slept in passed 6:20. I woke up and felt something weird in my throat, almost like I was catching a cold. Everything else fet pretty good, though, so I don’t think I’m actually getting sick. I started the day with a 51 minute run on the trails at CMC. I did the first 15 minutes with Ajee, who seemed to love tracking me through the winding single track. It was perfect running conditions – grippy but soft – and it felt like it was fall again as I ran through the winding loops of Perma Grin, Swoop, and Boulders. My senses were thrust back to October days when I had been spending 2-3 hours each day after school riding on the easy trails on my bike, listening to my podcasts. 

Friday was a rough day. Students were really hard on me, seemed to even be bullying me. Even though I trained and skied a zillion hours this week, I just knew that after school I would need to get out and ski to relieve my mind. I’m really glad that I did. 

The CMC trails were incredibly fast. The courderoy was rippling out, firm but not icy. I did 8 or 9 laps of the “exercise” loop, on each climb feeling big as I kept my hands on high in a relaxed V2. Every couple of laps, I’d turn off to add an extra ascent to the Mineral Belt or descent all the way down to the soccer fields. I didn’t even have a podcast playing, but I didn’t need to in order to escape. I felt like a pro racer winding through the loops in the 1989 World Championships at Giants Ridge in Minnesota. I imagined being a racer back in the days before the championship courses were massive interstates of perfectly groomed snow, but rather, narrow trails through thick forests, up and down realistically approachable hills. Even in my fantasty, however, I realized that what I was skiing on was different. This was modern age grooming in old school forests. The skiers of the 70’s and 80’s had it harder than I did at CMC tonight. My ski was more akin to Sjoseson, Norway, the endless kilometers of trails that wind through the forests above Lillehammer. That is where even the most famous Norwegian Olympic skier can go to find an escape from the adoring fans and publicity. They can go out and train in anayonmity, like I was today, and still feel fast – rekindle the joy and passion inside for the sport while they whisteled by pines, dogs, and the occaisonal 80 year man on wood skis, or father with three year old daughter out getting fresh air. 

Because the skiing was so good on the college trails, I stayed off of my home turf, the Mineral Belt, figuring that those trails would “always be there,” whereas this was like a lucky break. Plus, to be truthful, when the CMC trails are good, nothing is better for skating. They are far more interesting, intimate, and variable in their terrain. The minera belt feels more like a Visma Classic marathon race – the 4% average grade just perfect for a great double pole rhythm. But for skating, it is a true lungbuster, the never ending climb only serving to continually push the skier into furthe rand further oxygen debt. 

I was in heaven for an hour and 45 minutes that evening, skiing until I felt more hunger in my stomach for food than hunger in my soul for skiing. I did one more climb up to where the CMC trails merge with the Mineral Belt, which is right at the 9 mile mark. From there, it is 2.6 miles of descent down to the Dutch HEnry parking lot. I enjoy finishing my skis that way because it is a nice cool down and earns me some extra time in training. It also means Christie and I can leave for home from just a bit closer vantage point. Plus, I enjoy saying hi to any other skiers who might be heading out or heading home, and the parking lot is sort of the “homebase” for all of the trails. If someone is out skiing, they most likely parked down there. 

I got down to the bottom of the trail and spotted Christie in her long, blue swix jacket, standing next to the Cloud City ski club building, Ajee playing in the snow nearby. They were doing their usual routine of getting some final fresh air right before the assumed arrival of ‘daddy,’ aka, me. Once I got close enough, I could hear Christie’s high voice attempt to excite Ajee. “There’s daddy!”

Her ears perked up at attention. 

“Go get him!”

It was dusk, but I didn’t have to get too close for Ajee to recognize me, drop her ears in excitement, lower her body, and simultaneously wag her tail and sprint as fast as she could towards me. I lowerd myself to her level as she crashed her whole body into my boots and shins, trying to somehow absorb everything from me and give of as much doggy love in return as was possible. 

“I must have skied 18 miles just now,” I said to Christie, who was probably worried about me skiing so much the day before a race. She gave me a doubtful look, the one that she gives when I know she is concerned. The one that seems to say, “are you sure that was a good idea?” It’s been a staple ever since I trained myself down to 4% body fat 5 years ago … adrenal fatigue set in, my testorone was at 34, an insanely low figure … I think Christie actually thought I might literally keel over and die. I’ve gradually earned her trust back when I’m at the training table … or in training …. And she knows what to look for as early signs if I’m every seeming to slip that way again. 

“It was just so fast and glorious,” I said, trying to proactively prevent any further worry from her. 

“Plus, I just needed it today. Work was hard.”

With that, we loaded up into the car and drove down the highway to the valley, then across, then up the 5 mile Beaver Lakes estate gravel road to our mountain home. It was dark and cold outside, but warm and cozy as we traversed home. 

When I got home, my day was not done. This is one of the hard things about being in the Shovel Lake nordic team. Here I was, at the end of a 23 hour week and 3.5 hour training day (plus a full day of work teaching), and I was hungry and tired. I still needed to eat, pack, and get skis ready. Plus, we would be leaving at 5 AM in order to drive to Crested Butte and get there in time to register and be ready to race. Unsure of if or where there would be a chance for me to do the final scraping and brushing of my glide wax, I figured I needed to complete that tonight, plus at least put on a layer of binder wax, since that required an iron. So, after eating, I spent some time in the garage, prepping my skis as Ajee paced back and forth, went outside, played with Pigachu, her yellow, quirky, squeaky, rubber pig toy. 

I was surprised, actually, with the ability inside of me to muster up the energy to go downstairs and do the waxing and scraping I needed to do. Prepping skis isn’t exactly mile repeats, but it also isn’t reading a book – in other words, it isn’t the ideal post dinner activity if you are trying to wind down. Especially now that I’ve realized just how important it is to brush out the skis thoroughly. In Norway, where everyone single person is handed a rotobrush at their 1st birthday, I witnessed firstand just how important having great tools is to making cleeaning a breeze and fast skis a reality. I brought that home to my limited budget, where I was fortunate enough to “acquire” some Red Creek brushes – two to be exact. I had their ong steel brush and their black horse hair brush. Both run for about 100 dollars. If I had my choice, I’d prefer the roto brush version of the two.

Saturday

AM – Alley Loop (42K Classic) Race. Results: I win in 2 hours and 22 minutes. Ahead of second place by almost 10 minutes. Journal notes: Wore Madshus Supra C3 (borrowed skis from Cloud City Ski Club). 14-20 degrees and sunny at start. First lap was super fast. DP 95% of course; no KDP at all – not a lot of striding – a little herringbone at the very top of hills. Warmed up to 30’s by the 2nd and 3rd lap. Ran into 5kers and came to a dead stop after 1st lap. Felt good and strong – enjoyed the ski. REgret putting on purple kick wax – probably just slowed me down. Won a ton of crap – 200$ Fischer gift card and S-Lab Carnpm [p;es (winner of first lap premium in the classic race). 

The alarm woke us up at 5:00 AM. A piece of me feels like if you get up before 5 am, you are terribly close to the line of getting up “in the night.” Anything between 3 and 4 is certainly “the night before,” but 4-5 is close, too. So, we set it for 5, if for no other reason that it would give us the confidence that we had slept a full night. I stumbled around the kitchen, starting the hot water for the french press, then gathering my food, clothes, and miscellaneous items as it boiled. I had the timing for this routine down from every of training during school. 

We packed the car up and left just after 5:15 for Gunnison. Luckily, there was no weather for the drive. I actually let Christie drive the first portion. I figured I would shut my eyes for as long as I could, and then drive the rest of the way. It was dark everywhere, which probably helped her as she turned up the switchbacks on Monarch Pass. I could sense every turn, even the ones from Leadville to BV. Going up Monarch, I tried to just relax and not think about the fact that my life was in someone else’s hands. I don’t sleep well in cars anymore, unless I’m totally destroyed physically, and especially on mountain drives. I’d rather be driving, to be honest. Either I get dizzy from the turns or I just worry everytime I feel a bump or the torque from a turn (that’s more on school buses). Plus, driving passes is fun. I suppress that urge though, and try to recapture every minute of lost sleep that surely all of my competitors who stayed in Crested Butte, did not lose last night. 

I decide to lift my body up from the passanger chair right at the top of Monarch Pass, and I observe the entrance to the Monarch Crest trail, pointing it out to Christie and mentioning again how we just “have” to bike/hike the trail this summer. It will be another adventure, even as we are presently enjoying a new adventure. 

I feel happy and excited and we start to chatter in happy tones about the official start of the Shovel Lake Nordic Club race season. As we go down the pass, I mention that I have to pee, and we start to look for pull-offs to switch. There isn’t much traffic, but niether one of us has driven this side of the pass, so in addition to the excitement of the new views and new road, we also don’t know where to slow down and pull off. I decide to just wait until things flatten out, and just as they do, a rest stop comes into view. 

We stop at the rest stop, which has a single truck parked in front of it. It appears to be a gas station, but also a sort of ‘lodge’ for a summer camp, as summer cabins and a sign that reads “There’s always room for ice cream,” remains up and in view from the quaint parking lot. It turned out that the truck belonged to the owner. He offers to fire up the coffee machines for Christie and I – we must be the first people coming over the pass this morning. We decline, since we packed our own. 

I’m excited to start drinking my coffee and hop in the driver’s seat. At this point, theoretically, I should hop into my normal routine. I’m used to drinking coffee, driving to ski, and talking to Christie, every morning. Nothing different now, right?

Our chatter is lively all the way to Gunnison, where we look for Western’s campus and discuss whether or not we could actually live there. I had thought, back when I lived in Alamosa, that a dream gig would be to teach exercise science or coach at Western, since the city was basically Alamosa + nordic skiing. Actually, they are a little ways out of Crested Butte, and now, I’m so spoiled by Leadville, that Gunnison doesn’t seem all that great. Christie pretty much agrees. 

We trail the Wyoming Nordic bus up to Crested Butte, figuring they must have lodged in Gunnison, which is a lot cheaper. 50$  a night versus over 120.  

The school comes into view, and we remark about what it would be like to teach here. 

Coming into the church, I calmly change into my clothes and collect my uniform. I tack on the bib number and give the freebies to Christie to bring back out into the car. I’m not really nervous in a performance sense about this race. With nordic, my nerves center around making sure I make it to the start in time and without feeling like I could poop, and making sure my kick wax, in this case, is reasonably close or at least barbarically effective. Also, that I’m wearing the right amount of clothing. Pretty much all of that is complete guesswork on my part, which is probably pretty sad on many fronts, at least the poop front. 

I go twice in the church, and then we drive up to the nordic center. The course is different from the abbreviated version I raced 2 years ago in a low snow year, so everything looks different. That year, this place was packed, and, since it housed the finish line, served as the definite epicenter of the event. I didn’t realize that all of that usually takes place on main street, so even though I was happy I had a lane to test out my skis to myself, and relatively short bathroom lines, a piece of nerves built around the uncertainty of where I needed to be prepared to sprint to in order to not miss the start, was escalating. We decided to have Christie drop me off. I wore my big blue Olympic jacket over my actual race uniform, and stuck my different kick waxes, should I need them, and a cork, as well as a scraper, in the pockets. I had a warm pair of gloves on, but my racing black Toko’s in another pocket. I had everything I needed, theoretically, in case Christie and I didn’t connect. I did a few strides with the wax I had on, which was straight blue, VR 40. It worked ok, but, I couldn’t remember if I would need more grip on some of the climbs. I did a small loop, then put on another layer of purple on top. Rode TLine is fast, even if it is too grippy, I figured. Plus, even though it was a blue day today, it always warms up on the second too laps, and that was forecasted today as well. 

I went into the nordic lodge and went to the bathroom. Now there was a line. Shoot. It was about 20 minutes to race time, I knew I needed to go, and I also didn’t actually know how far I was from the start. I bounced around in line, starting to panic and think I was cutting it close. I got into a stall, went fast, and then left. On the way out, I asked directions to get to the start, and another racer said it was close, to just take a right going out of the building. Technically, I guess he was right, but I’m glad I saw other people going there, namely Christie, otherwise, I might have been a little helpless. I ditched my coat and everything else with her, right at the same spot she dropped me off, and jogged on top of the ridiculously icy road towards the start. 

I wasn’t too late. Some had lined up, but not all. It was an electric atmosphere, even with the small field for the Classic. I did a few DP striders out and up the hill, peed one more time in a spot that is way too public, and then went back to line up. 

Someone asked if they thought I would get top 5, and I said I really hoped, and he placed me in the front of one of the tracks. I looked around at the field and didn’t recognize anyone except for Clay Moseley, from Sante Fe. I think he had finished 2nd or third at least once or twice. There were a couple of other younger guys about my age right next to me. I had no way of knowing how to assess the field. 

The gun went off, and most people got in front of me. When I got to the tracks, I was in 4th, behind, Clay and the two other guys. I could have easily double poled up the hill, but they went into a slow stride, so I was forced to go with them. I started to think this might be a DP course for me, so I settled down, knowing this might be literally the only time that day where I could relish in some striding. We got near the top of the hill, and I bolted out of the tracks and DP’d into second. We approached a screaming downhill, and I’m happy they were in front of me, as I popped out of the tracks to take a turn. At this point, it was just the three of us. Clay had dropped. We probably were almost going 30 MPH. “That is the only time we do that hill,” the racer I’d find out was named Andy told me. I commented back that it was a relief, since I’m not a big downhill guy. 

I let them take the lead, but then felt like I could go faster and DP’d past them. Another downhill came, and their skis lead them past me. I noticed one had the new Madshus 2.0’s, and Andy had Speedmaxs. They definitely outclassed me. I wander what they thought when they looked down at my skis? 

“You guys might have to get used to passing me on the downhills,” I said up ahead to them, already realizing I was not satisfied with their pace, but maybe I’d enjoy the camaraderie anyway. As long as I was top 3 right? That’s all I had really cared about. We chatted and asked each other questions. Where we were from, what we did. It’s crazy how much we talked in that first 3k. I told them I was a band director and hadn’t done much skiing, but also had coached at an NCAA school in Maine, a paradox that deserves explaining – again, looking back, I can’t believe how much was exchanged verbally. And at such high speeds. 

On a short uphill I got out of the tracks and double poled past them. I tried to separate, and did, but not by much. There was a longer stretch of gradual uphill, and I double poled sort of hard. I got into a zone for about 2 minutes, and then we approached a spot where there is a steep uphill and then a sharp turn, allowing racers to view the field behind them. I sprinted as hard as I could up the hill – I knew I can pretty much always do that in a nordic ski race because I will recover aerobically – unlike in running, where you sometimes can redline. That was a huge advantage I had over most, and I knew that and wanted to take advantage of that on this first lap. When I made the turn, I could see Clay way off in the distance. Third place was a lock. The other two were striding up a hill I had just double poled. They were farther back than I thought. I started to think that maybe I could win this. I wondered about how important it would be to ski efficiently on the downhills, and how much they would gain back. 

Those thoughts drove me to ski strongly for the next 5-7k, all the way to the top of the course from an elevation standpoint. UP there, I careened around the corner and started going downhill. This was the site of the hilarious fall I had in my first ever race, the 2018 skate 42k alley loop. Gosh that was embarrasing. I couldn’t take the turn … at all. And I flew into the snow bank, disappearing completely like a cartoon character in a 1950’s christmas special. It probably looked so funny to those behind me. 

Today, I was cautious, but pretty quickly I could tell that that turn was really not that bad and I would be fine. Even just that realization made me feel great about the growth I’d made as a skier. I remember after the 2018 race feeling dumbfounded and completely helpless – there was no way I could get around that turn….how did anyone else? Now. Piece of cake. 

Stay on your feet – that was my mantra as I gained speed. I teetered between trying to go as fast as I could and worrying about a fall hurting my chances even more. I imagined the Madshus 2.0’s catching up to me at any moment. I hadn’t heard anyone forever, but I knew that didn’t matter. I rushed through the rest of the lap. I felt great and I was skiing fast. I got towards the big hill we came up to start, and I snowplowed down it a little. You had to do that – the turn at the bottom was crazy sharp. 

When I got to the bottom, I saw a wall of fans lined up, blocking the track to the start. I was a little confused. Where do I go. I actually yelled that, and fan in the blockade turned around and just pointed down the street, to my right. I didn’t waste a second, and started down right away. I wove through the town and then looped back to the starting line. The announcer said my name, and also mentioned that I was the winner of some carbon poles. I was jolted with a mild touch of excitement – i didn’t expect that. I knew they gave awards in the skate race, but I didn’t think they did in the classic race. Nice. I knew now that if I beat the field in one lap, it was in my control whether or not I won the whole thing. 

I started my second lap and immediately ran into a sea of 5kers. People in costumes, little kids, drunk people, the whole gamut. I came to a complete stop and panic set in. I yelled for people to move out of the way. “Leader, Leader!” I exclaimed. I probably sounded pretty desperate, like a child looking for their parents at Disneyworld. Almost everyone was late to move, and many people were preturbed when I flew by them .. which was frustrating. I was taking my race as seriously as you took your costume … the point is actually to race. I’m fine jsut coming for fun, too, but if I guy is trying to get through, he has a right to be urgent. I was urgent as I spent the next 5 minutes weaving through crowds. I did finally get to a larger portion of track, and even though I was forced to walk or stop in some of the narrower alleys, could, even though I had to work a lot harder than I should, weave around others and get on my way. 

One thought I had was that I must have taken a wrong turn. The feelings of certain vicotry – like things were in my control from now on – that I had as I passed the first lap had completey vanished. I felt totally the opposite now. Now I felt like I had been ripped off. I deserved to be freely going as fast as I could handle, and here I was, having to go at the pace of the three minions … three drunk minions in front of me. Plus, had I gone the wrong way. I tried to block out that thought as much as possible. There was literally nothing I could do about that now. Plus, this clearly was ‘a’ race course – it would bring me to where I need to be eventually. I was already preparing my speech for when I would eventually catch back up to Andy and the other guy, who presumably, in my magination, had probably avoided this whole traffic jam or had been syphened along the correct route and now were leading me by 2k. Luckily, that never materialized. I popped out onto the second lap and was able to get back into my double poling rhythm. 

The second lap was pretty decent. I stayed focused and determined to not stop for feeds. I hadn’t been going for even an hour yet. I was confident that I would be fine, even as the sun was rising. I figured the third lap would be a death march for many, but at the rate I was going, I wasn’t going to be on the course long enough to feel the suffering. Just don’t bonk – from a dehydration standpoint – that’s all I cared about. I knew from a fueling standpoint I would be totally fine, but I was nervous that, even though I didn’t feel sweat, that I was losing water and electorlytes. 

I went by the feed station that serves racers twice – it is about ⅔ of the way through the lap. I whizzed by and just smiled at the workers. When I came back the second time, I could tell they thought I might need something, but I waved them off. “This guy is a machine,” one of the aid workers belted in astonishment as I continued to double pole up towards the highest hill on the course. I felt my confidence gaining. I kept my focused self talk going but also absorbed the enjoyment of a perfect day of skiing and of what was transpiring, namely me winning. I kept my head cool, knowing that a lot could still happen. I didn’t start to celebrate. Instaad, I just kept my joy centered on the fact that again, it was a beautiful day, not a blizzard, and I was moving well and enjoying a beautiful, scenic course. I let the officialness of our season sink in, too. This was a real race! Actually, it felt more like a training ride. I wasn’t in a panic state of Level 5 skiing at all. I would later realize that pretty much all of my training days consist of level 2, level 3, and level 4 efforts. Whenever I slap on skis, I’m almost going marathon race pace, maybe slightly lower. This was how I felt today. If someone was on me, I could have gone harder, but since I was by myself, I was just going at a conservative ‘hard.” Again, I won’t downplay and say I was chilling or taking it easy, but I actually was making a calculated decision that at this point, my main desire was to win, and the biggest risk to that not happening was something regarding hydration status. Pushing too hard was something I knew I could do if I needed to – if someone came on my back – but playing it smart meant just going at the pace I was most comfortable with. I think my training, though not recommended (going hard and skiing as much and as long as possible every single day), had truly conditioned me to the point where this 42k just felt like any other day. 

Entering the third lap, I had already mentally blocked off different sections of the course. I chunked them subconciously, a good sports psych strategy, and I double poled around stragglers from other racers. Approaching the flats where you can gauge other racers, Rosie Frankowski passed me on her skate skis. The Olympian was the eventual winner of the skate race. I felt good to have held her off this long. I had been passed by Kyle Bratrud going up the steepest hill on the course. Looking back, that was a cool moment, since the two of us were alone – the farthest possible point away from anyone else or the start. He looked back at me, I think probably stunned that I was double poling. Or maybe that was just my imagination. I only saw his SMST2 gear and thought, “wow, why is SMS here? That is a long way for them!” I remember the guy wearing the DU uniform passing me later on that lap – it might have been the 2nd lap – must have been. He was with someone else – I figured later that was Josh Smullin. He had an unfortunate day, really. He finished the course in under 2 hours and missed out on a bunch of money because the National champion (Bratrud) happened to show up). 

I remember thinking now that I just needed to get out of the sun. The flat section was the most exposed section. Once I got by this part, I figured I’d be fine. Well, really I needed to get up that last climb, but in my head, this was one of the danger zones as far as hydration. If something happened, I was kind of stranded. I passed the feed station with the guy who gave me the compliment on the last lap. I thought about getting something to drink, just to play it safe. I passed, figuring I’d be back in about 9 minutes if I really regretted it. 

When I came back around, I was fine, and I pushed on up to the top. Even though the snow had slowed considerably, I was still cruising fine and enjoying the day. I was visualizing myself in a bigger race than even this was. Every turn I was accelerating out of now. I was opening it up. The threshold I talked about earlier about playing it safe with pace had swung in the other direction. Now, it was fine, maybe even better to just get to the finish line. I hadn’t seen anyone in my race for a long time. I think at some point on the 2nd lap I did catch a glimpse of Andy and 3rd place, and seeing that they were far off, and having an inner confidence that I was fitter than them and would be able to handle the punishment of any “too ‘fast” pacing decisions made earlier better than they could, made me feel less stressed about my positioning. 

I came down the last big hill, and when I took the sharp right turn on my feet, I knew this was my day. I finally let my guard down and just enjoyed the fact that I knew I was going to win. I poled hard as I went through the alleys. I had to avoid one slower skier, and when I went around her, I hit a patch of what must have been dirt. One of my skis sort of caught it and I almost fell. I laughed to myself, thinking about how I had checked off safely on each of the downhills and now, in the flats 200 meters from victory, I almost couldn’t heed the commands of my self talk to “stay on my feet.” 

The Alley Loop organizers do a great job of creating an energetic finish line and post race atmosphere. It feels fun to stand on a podium, even though it isn’t the Olympics!

I made a 90 degree turn and was going by the crowds. It reminded me of my experience in the Fargo Marathon 10k back in 2014. The moment of glory was fun, but short lived. I saw Christie, who hollered at me. She had cheered for me after the 2nd lap at that spot, too. It was the end of the 2nd lap. She told me later that she thought by looking at me that I was uncomfortable and hurting. She had no idea that I was in the lead at the time. In reality, I was doing great – I remember almost thinking then that I should have said, “Hey, I’m winning!” but thought later that could be a bad omen. 

I made another 90 degree left turn down main street. The music and announcer were loud, and I heard my name. “And here comes the winner of the 42k classic, Ryan Sederquist from Leadville!” He had said my hometown on every lap, which made me feel proud and like I belonged somewhere. I didn’t do anything showy – just double poled at the same pace I had the whole race, right through the line. 

I could tell the people at the finish were impressed with my time. It had been much faster than previous years. Then again, the skate times were also faster. It was hard for me to tell if that was due, however, to just the elevated talent in the field. Smullin’s time was 1:55 I believe, which wasn’t untouchable. Previous year’s had gone below 2, and typically the winner was a Colorado stalwart like Smullin. This year, the winner was 1:46, but that was Kyle Bratrud. Take him out, and it was more normal year. My time of 2:22 was considerably faster – an outlier – compared to past classic years. Winners had been between 2:50 and 3:05 normally. Second place was 2:30, so it was faster than normal, but I think they had some reason to be impressed….I humbly hoped. 

At the finish line, Christie and Ajee greeted me, full of smiles. Christie was shocked. She had reason to be, since she didn’t realize until the announcer said it in the homestretch that I was the winner. That shocked her, and it also probably shocked her that I came across smiling and seemingly hardly affected. As she hugged me and Ajee wiggled below,  a camera guy got in our faces. I picked up Ajee and stuck the two of us in his lense and told him to take apicture of us, which he replied was a great idea. The photo got put on the Alley Loop event facebook page, and it is a classic. Ajee is licking my mouth, I’m smiling, and Christie is next to me with her mouth open in laughter. 

I felt happy and proud, and I was excited to be there with Christie and Ajee. I knew that the whole day was going to be so full. The drive down had been fun, the race had been great, and now we could mill around at the expos, downtown, show off Ajee, find a place to eat, and collect ourselves back for the awards and giveaways in the afternoon. Then, on the way home, I could stop and get something to drink (city market stop!!!), and we could enjoy the views and more conversation. And that is just what we did!

The first weekend of the race season was in the books, and it was a dramatic success. 

 Training Hours – Skiing = 18 hours and 45 minutes; Run – 2 hours and 15 minutes = Total = 21 hours

seconds after finishing. Christie didn’t even know I was in the lead until about 15 seconds before this picture was taken!

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