Snow Mountain Ranch Stampede 50k Classic – March 13
Result: 1st overall (2:38:17)
I almost didn’t go the SMR Stampede. Last year, sleeping in the van for a couple of nights and racing a beautiful skate 50k followed by a tough classic race in falling snow was one of the highlights of the year. Sure, it took about 14 days to recover from, but that’s what it’s all about.
The week leading up to the race was one reason, and the sheer cost was the other. After footing a hefty diesel bill for traveling to Minnesota and back, I was struggling to stomach the idea of getting in the van again and driving it anywhere. Add $95 per race for entry fees and you can see why I nearly spent the weekend in Leadville.
On top of all of that, I felt like I barely had gotten back home. We drove through the night on Wednesday and most of Thursday afternoon. I got out for a couple hours to skate on Thursday, mostly just to give Ajee a chance to stretch her legs. Friday was “pre-race” day and I hadn’t even touched my skis wax-wise. Conditions were shaping up to be incredible on both days, a rarity for this event.
On Friday, I went for a run and did a 90 minute ski in the afternoon, still feeling the travel in my body. I hadn’t really made up my mind about the next day until right before bed. I figured that since skating wasn’t really my thing anyway, and if the field was small, I’d be alone most of the time, I should just do two hours at CMC, where the deck was firm and fun anyway.
The SMR skate field ended up being pretty loaded, which I’m sure made for a fun race. The winner was across the line in 2:30, with two athletes right on his back. 2:35 and 2:40 were the times for places four and five. Since I had a decent idea of the top-five’s abilities as skiers, and since the conditions would be essentially identical the following day, I was somewhat excited to see what I could do on the four-lap course.
The next morning, I woke up and covered Mikaela Shiffrin early in the morning, then loaded up the Buick with my skis and clothes. I sipped my coffee along the route, electing the I-70 trail this time around.
I ended up requiring a restroom right after driving through Winter Park. I pulled into a random, hole-in-the-wall spot, basically destroyed the toilet (sorry for the TMI), and opened the door only to have a former athlete from UMPI waiting in line. The chances of this occurrence rival that of the Vikings and Timberwolves winning championships in the same year – or at all. I asked him where he was headed and he said the Snow Mountain Ranch. My lackadaisical approach to the entire race now seemed unwise. Of all the races where a great performance would be nice, this would be it. I had a strong desire to show my former athlete I had come a long way in the sport in the past 3 years.
This would probably be the race where I performed terribly, no doubt.
After pulling in and scraping the glide wax from my skis, I went to the basement and checked out a course profile map. It indicated 950 feet of climb per lap, a number that frightened me just slightly. To have almost 4k of climb in a race (a friend told me his GPS indicated something closer to 3k, which is still quite a bit) is quite a lot for a citizen’s race. I mean, even the Holmenkollen 50k, the toughest World Cup race on the calendar, has just over 6k.
I figured maybe this was the time to use some grip wax, so I put on a light layer of green and then VR 30. If nothing else, I’d have ok grip for the first lap or two, and it wouldn’t hurt my speed.
Ironically, of all of the courses I went sans grip, that this one is the one I used it is sort of pathetic. It ended up being a course simply tailor-made for double-poling..
Fast, flowy, long and gradual climbs, with a pretty difficult grinder on the farthest reaches of the course, I stayed in the double-pole technique for all but two climbs which would have required anyone to herringbone anyway! They also lasted all of about 12 seconds.
I was alone after about 1.5k, and I couldn’t see anyone by the midway part of the first lap. The skis were fun, the trails were fast, and the poling was firm. Immediately, I was overjoyed that I had plunked down the race fee. To put it simply, this would be the best day of classic skiing in the country, all year. Sunny, clear, no wind, and temps in the upper 20s. Double classic tracks….an insane mountain view on numerous vistas….it was a unbelievable.
Probably the only things worth noting from the race were:
- Saw moose footprints on lap 1….slight panic….(“Now that I’m having the perfect day and perfect race, I’ll get stopped by a moose and let everyone back in”….)
- Four laps meant four times up the far climb at SMR…and that was a different type of challenge mentally. The sun beating down, the heat, the prolonged steepness, and the fact that the longer you climb, the steeper things get (an admirable trait of the Ranch), made this one climb absorb my mind on each lap. That actually helped. I honed in on my energy and pacing by thinking checking myself at various points and really saving emotional and physical energy for that one part of the course. Every time I reached the top, I sort of “checked off” another lap. When I reached it for the last time….I started to celebrate…
- 2:38:17. Really pleased with this performance, even in a small field. Looking at my lap splits brought other joys, too. This was probably my best race, maybe ever.
All in all, the SMR is a great trail system. If you get a chance to ski it on a perfect day, do it. Plan on 4-5 hours and lots of $1 Walmart french bread.
*editor’s note: Walmart’s bread is now $1.10. Ohhhhh boy.
Equinox Challenge – March 19-20
Result: 160k of total distance….out of the top 5!
Excited from the big day at SMR, I eagerly anticipated the following weekend’s Equinox Challenge in Leadville. My goal was to get to 100k first and go from there. More importantly, I wanted to have a fun time mingling with other endurance-sprinter-van-psychos, maybe host a live podcast, and enjoy the Nordic community of crazy people interested in such an event for 24 hours straight.
Things got off to an ok start. I had to be up at 5 to cover some stories, and I didn’t finish until about 7:45. Since that was too early to make my way to the golf course, I had theology time with Novi and Christie, sipping coffee and reading. Around 8:45, we headed down.
Upon arrival, I was thrilled to see that Enoch would have company. Several sprinters, rooftop tents, and even a motorhome were parked already. The party was real. Dan Batwinas has worked so hard to build the Leadville Ski Council, maintain the golf course as a dependable place with reliable grooming, and injected enthusiasm over events like this, and it is starting to show.
I scraped my skis and barely made it to the start, where a group of a dozen or more athletes were ready to go. Dan rung the bell when the toll struck 10, and off we went. Almost immediately, I could tell that the snow was that styrofoam slow stuff. Two years ago, we had icy fast crystals for about 2 hours, enabling the first 56k to literally fly by. I quickly realized this would not be the case, but I skied relaxed and fast anyway.
I could tell after one-and-a-half laps that something was off. It wasn’t an energy thing…it was like a chemical thing. I fought through it, getting some water and body armour from Christie every 6-12k. By 32k, I had built a large lead, but I figured I might need to switch to classic earlier than I had hoped. The snow wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t great, and my skis, already kind of pathetic, were starting to seem less and less effective. The biggest issue, though, was the sun. It was just draining me.
At 40k, I stopped. I was hoping to get a drink from Christie and ask her to grab my classic skis so I could switch out on the next lap. She wasn’t there.
I took off for another half lap. When I got back to the clubhouse, she still was gone. I needed to act, quickly. I took off my boots and ran over to the van. She wasn’t there either. My skis were in the Buick, which was locked. I didn’t know where fluids and food was, and I didn’t know where Christie was. At that point, I had about a 20 minute lead on second, but that wasn’t going to matter if I couldn’t get some food.
It was then I realized what I really needed: pickles.
We forgot pickles.
My weird feeling was certainly a sodium balance issue. I wasn’t really “thirsty,” and I had been drinking sports drinks. I had a banana, but nothing was helping. I needed salt, straight-up.
I took off my boots and waited for Christie to return. She sped down to the table I was waiting at with a huge smile on her face.
She had just pulled Novi in the Thule all the way around the Links-to-Lake Loop, no small feat. She was happy to see me, but I was in a sour mood, and made things worse when I explained the situation. After a brief snack, I watched a skier get a lead on me as I changed into running shorts and an Oregon singlet.
I ripped through two laps, catching up and passing the skier, and now assuming to be back in first. I didn’t feel great, but the skis were working a little better, and the change of technique brought a change of pace.
At 72k, however, I had had enough. I came through the lap and even Christie said I looked terrible, which she wouldn’t say if it weren’t true.
I drove home, ate about 14 pickles, bread, cottage cheese, porridge, yogurt, and had about 50 ounces more of EmergenC, water, and body armour, and took an Epsom Salt bath.
It’s hard to describe how I felt. This was probably the first time in a while that I truly felt like a complete failure after a race. I had the feeling of quitting. It was an awful taste in my mouth. As the minutes ticked by, I imagined the other skiers reaching the 100k mark. I looked down at myself in my bathtub, feeling ever more pathetic. I needed to do something.
For the next six hours, I eschewed my original plans of sleeping, and instead mulled over my emotions with my wife, which I’m sure she loved addressing every 20 minutes, and tried to read.
At 7:45 P.M., I decided to go back to the golf course.
A cup of coffee, injected with a healthy dose of cocoa mix, did the job. Then, a little bit of T.I. on the Spotify playlist….watch out world.
I pulled into the golf course parking lot at about 8:10, got my double pole skis out, and jogged to the start. What immediately struck me was the faces of the skiers I saw completing laps. They had been going all day, and you could tell. Absolutely ragged. I was so impressed by their toughness. I knew immediately that this whole 24 hr thing just wasn’t me….I couldn’t have done what they did and suffered in the heat of the day….But…I could rip some fast double pole laps after a brief break, and that’s what I intended on doing.
With my huge headphones blasting a KFAN podcast, I went 90-minutes and covered a little over 32k. Each lap felt better than the last. I couldn’t believe that I felt this good after the earlier part of the day.
I put on a 45 minute sermon during a brief bathroom break and headed back out. I was going to see what I could do before midnight. At about 45k, my sermon was done, but I was in a rhythm, so I wasn’t going to find something new. Instead, I just let it play on repeat…..probably not such a bad idea, I figured. I’ll catch the three main points again.
At about 11:45, I was done with 64k. I clipped out, satisfied that I had made amends with the morning. Then, I drove home, ate some more food, and went to bed.
The next morning, I dilly-dallied a little bit too long with Christie before finally deciding to go back to the golf course for a few laps.
I ended up sneaking in another 25k in the 90 minutes I had left, totalling 160k in 24 hours on 9.5 hours of ski time. I was destroyed by the winner, who got to 272k – a simply amazing feat – as well as a couple of high school kids, who deservedly got an interview from me after hitting 232k and 224k, respectively.
All in all, this was a fantastic event put on by the Batwinas boys…they deserve a lot of credit for prepping the trails, keeping snacks stocked, and running the lap tallies through the night. They have provided the community with trails, enthusiasm, and gear for newbies and veterans alike. Whether this event is at Mount Massive or somewhere else, you can count on it being hardcore.
Personally, I still have a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth from my performance, but I think I probably have to recognize that the type of athlete that excels at 30k-70k distances might not be able to hold his own in a 24-hour event. My day basically turned into three hard efforts with 8-hour ‘breaks’ in-between. Maybe if I go after 200 or 300 or any 24-hour best, I should just go on a 400-meter track like Teemu did.
Keep on striving. Keep on skiing.