Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Winter Fun!

Whew, I can't believe it's been over a month since my last post! Lots of things have been going on. I took some down time after the Vegas marathon and did a stint of basic drill work in the pool and shoulder rehab exercises for the collarbone... and played around with cross-country skiing! The snow hasn't been that great yet this year but there's enough to groom a ski course. We’ve been going to Round Valley near Park City to escape the lovely inversion air quality in the valley (people here call it fog but I’m not fooled---it’s really smog). In addition to having cleaner air, the Park City folk are a little more laidback about dogs off leash and so Sherman gets to come along and enjoy the fun. He’s become my regular x-c skiing and trail running companion and is getting into pretty darned good shape! We’ve spotted several moose but thankfully have no charging incidents to report so far this year.

Skate skiing is a lot like swimming in that it’s very technical and takes a lot of focused patient practice to get good. This is the third winter that I’ve dabbled in x-c skiing but a lot of the subtleties didn’t really begin to click until this past month when I was able to get out consistently. I actually got to the point where I felt I wouldn't completely embarrass myself in an organized event, so I signed up for the Battle at Soldier Hollow Winter Triathlon as something fun to work towards. Incidentally, it happened to be the US National Championship event and the ITU Winter Triathlon World Championships qualifier this year. First winter triathlon ever? No worries! Why not go big early?!

The event was held at Soldier Hollow, sight of the 2002 Winter Olympics Cross-Country ski course and a stone’s throw away from Salt Lake. Wasatch Area Race Productions (WARP, also known for the Battle at Midway Triathlon) put on the race and did a great job as per usual. The Championship event consisted of a 5K run, 10K mountain bike, and an 8K ski, all on beautifully groomed cross country ski trails. Race morning was cold and FOGGY---real fog, not the soupy brown stuff that hovers over Salt Lake frequently at this time of the year. The cold actually made the fog freeze on people’s hair which was a comically magical sight. Albert (he did the race too---his first individual triathlon of any kind!) and I warmed up by doing one loop on the bike course, which honestly made me more nervous than anything else. It was tricky! The snow was softer than I had anticipated and it was a lot like riding a bike in sand. I’m a bit leery of mountain bikes anyway since the 2008 crash and my ninny instincts were kicking in. But there was really no time to dwell on it because we finished our warm-up just in time to do last-minute gear checks in transition and then BANG---we were off!

It was a mass start, with everyone starting at the same time regardless of race distance. I decided the best thing was to start conservatively then ramp it up if I felt good, but not to go crazy on the run because I would need my legs for the bike and even more so for the ski. It ended up being a wise plan because I learned an extremely valuable lesson within the first 400 meters: DO NOT RUN ON THE EDGES OF THE GROOMED TRACK!!! I saw two people get too close to the edge and KERFLOP! They sank into the soft snow up to their knees and fell right over! It was pretty funny, and I don’t think I’m the only one who laughed…but I took care to run towards the center of the track after that.

I haven’t been running much since the marathon, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that ski fitness translates pretty well to running and I was able to work my way up and finish the run near the top of the women’s field. The next order of business was tackling T1. Normally I’m really good at fast transitions, but with unfamiliar gear (not to mention frozen fingers!) I was a little slower than usual. The first part of the bike was slightly uphill over a bridge and very mushy (especially since the run also went that way), so I ran the bike to the crest of the hill before mounting. Right as I took off someone yelled to me the best piece of advice and Valuable Lesson Number Two: PICK A TIRE TRACK AND FOLLOW IT! It made a world of a difference in being able to handle the bike! Granted, there was definitely the occasional fishtail going on, and the one HILARIOUS moment when I looked at where I DIDN’T want to go and ended up riding right off the course into the deep snow (harkening back to the flailing runners earlier)…but by the second loop I’d figured it out, relaxed, and (dare I say it?) started having an absolute blast! The bike ended up being the most fun part of the whole race for me, and it was a huge mental boost in getting over the lingering fears from the broken arm crash. I’m pretty sure I was grinning from ear to ear by the end of the second loop.

The final leg was the ski and I knew that this was going to be the most physically challenging for me because I’m still not a natural skier. The course was pretty demanding, especially when your legs are already feeling worked from the run and bike. I knew the best thing for me to do was to focus on my form and not worry about anyone else. It definitely helped that I had practiced a couple of times on the course prior to the race, and the fact that it was a two-loop route also helped to mentally break it up. It wasn’t the best-feeling ski I’ve ever had but I paced myself and saw it through. The experienced skiers definitely had an advantage in this race and it’s something to aspire to. And even though I was plodding along rather than swooshing and gliding like the very best, it was still pretty exhilarating to be out on a world-class ski course on what turned out to be a gorgeous sunny blue-sky day!

The really amusing thing is that I ended up placing 9th overall and winning my age-group…which technically qualifies me for the ITU Winter Triathlon World Championships in Norway next month! HILARIOUS!!! It would be a really cool experience, but there’s no way I’m going because 1) it’s not in my budget and 2) I’d be WAY out of my league…those Europeans are SERIOUS about winter triathlon while here in the States it’s still a “growing” sport. But maybe next year if I work hard and feel I’ve really earned it…

Unfortunately, Albert did not have as good of a day out there. He experienced equipment malfunctions on every single leg of the race. What is the likelihood of that?! :( On the run his yak traks were too big and kept slipping around, then his bike wouldn't shift and he was stuck riding the whole course in a big gear...and to top it off he broke one of his skis! He was able to finish one lap of the ski but bailed after that. Despite all that he had a good time and wants to do it again next year.

Until next time.