Stagecoach Classic 2016

Rooftop Cartegena

I returned to Winter Park this past weekend to take in the 3rd annual stagecoach classic. I had attended the 2nd edition after having missed out on the inaugural event because I was in Cartegena with Jason in January 2014 and too busy drinking Club Colombia, sitting beside rooftop pools, and riding bikes up and down giant mountain passes to think about zipping around the nordic trails.

Notable discussion at the finish line about how/why the waxing was apparently slower this time around compared to last year even though the conditions should have been faster with the warm conditions. The tracks were perhaps a little softer than the previous year, but not so soft that they were breaking down as a result of hard kicking. Following the weekend I crunched the numbers to compare finishing times of people who competed both years. On average people were about 3 minutes slower than last year with 31/44 of those competing both years being slower than last.

Also calculated as a percentage of finish time.

The wax probably wasn’t really the contributing factor. Upon review of my GPS data there were some course modifications, in particular one notable one that made the course longer. Mystery seemingly solved. I felt notably better on the long steep climb at km 8 than I did the previous year and felt notably worse in the double-poling sections than I did last year… probably due to having lived at 5000 ft long enough to have made some notable adaptations and also due to weak-ass abs. I served myself some significant double-poling intervals the next day to inflict some damage. Some core-improvement before the Birkie would really be nice, it’s too late to make a huge difference but probably worth trying.

Main Difference
The field near km ~17. Red line shows the longer 2016 route.

Finish descent.
Altered due to new road I think.
After Aid #1.
Different but not longer.

Overall I’m a fan of the changes, made the course closer to 30kms, it was still a bit short. There are some simple loops that could be added around km 7-8 that could add another bit of distance to the front half of the race as well without dramatically altering anything or making things too much more difficult, just padding in some extra distance.

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Birkebeiner 2012

While this story is not going to be anywhere near the entertainment value of my 2009 Birkebeiner Race Report I think I should still describe it… although a bit more briefly.

The morning started 30 minutes later than normal because organizers wanted to give it a bit of extra time to warm up. This was definitely appreciated. Still though, it was a green-wax morning, and I added two layers of V30 on top of the six layers of VR40 I had applied the night before (over a relatively thick KR20 binder). I had done as best a job with LF6 glide wax that I could but the scraping/brush job was still a bit hack because I still haven’t built a ski-form. That half hour delay made the difference in clothing choices for me and I got away with one less than I probably would have worn if we’d started at 9am. I almost certainly would have had to stop and take that extra one off as temperatures reached ~-5oC by the finish. Luckily the difference between start and finish was only to remove my outer mitts and to partly unzip my windbreaker and jacket.

At the advice of my ski coach Emily, I lined up just in front of the 4 hour mark. That meant I was 8th row back. I had also been instructed that due to my fitness and skill level it was basically impossible for me to go too hard at the start. The positioning benefits of a max-effort start were going to be worth it and I could always recover later… when I would be in front of all kinds of slower people and not have to deal with passing them later. I started absolutely as hard as I could when the horn sounded, and was seeded in what I felt like was an appropriate spot. I dealt with just a bit of congestion at the third time the number of lanes reduced and we had to merge but otherwise was able to go full tilt all the way across the lake. I went through the first couple kilometers at sub-3:30/km pace and then I lost a pole. The velcro came undone and because of my enthusiastic polling I pulled my hand right out of the loop. Luckily by the time I had slowed and stepped out of the track someone behind me had picked it up and I didn’t need to shuffle-step backwards through the traffic to go pick it up. It took a bit of time to get the strap re-threaded and I got passed by a few people but I got going again without too much delay. I guess that was what Emily was referring to when she said “You can always recover later”.

I kept the gas going full-tilt until soon after station 1. I believed at this point that I was working really really hard and I should probably try and start to be strategic and get behind a few other skiers for some drafting. This allowed me to back off my effort level temporarily from really really hard to just really hard. After a bit, drafting either suddenly became incredibly easy or the two guys I was following decided to give up. I passed them and pushed on to try and catch the guy in the red jacket. He was about 150 m ahead of us and it took me about 5 kms to catch him. Good motivation to push hard. Somewhere in there I rolled past the 10 km mark and found myself on-pace for a 3:37. I then proceeded to draft him for a kilometer or two before getting dropped on a big uphill. I had just ticked past the first hour at that point and decided I needed to try and get in a few more calories as the first couple aid stations had proved minimally successful, just a cup of gatorade at each. I let myself fall behind a ways and got a gel in. I also decided I would coast the remaining stations and get three cups of gatorade and either a piece of banana or a fig newton at each. It was a smart decision in retrospect and if I’d waited much longer I would have been in trouble getting enough energy down my throat. Things progressed and I went through 20kms on pace for a 3:35 finish.

Just before the Winter station I was passed by the leaders of the 31km race… and witnessed one of them go up a hill in three steps. The same one took me more than 10 steps. The interaction with the leaders of the 31km race was short as we split off to head down to Islet Lake on the long route. I spent another 5kms trying to reel in the guy in the blue jacket who was about 100 m ahead of me when we turned onto Lost Lake. Rolled through the 30km mark on pace for a 3:40 finish. I caught him just as we were approaching the Islet Lake station and was then passed by another pair. I tried to keep up with them in a moment of inspiration but they were flying and even skiing as third person in the train I was outclassed. This meant I skied solo back to Elk-Push having dropped the blue jacket man while trying to pursue the other two guys.

I was passed by teammate Tanner Broadbent like I was standing still on the big hill out of Elk-Push (who was skiing 55 km “Lite”) and was thoroughly humbled as I was starting to get sloppy with my weight transfer and was loosing good kick as a result of fatigue. Wax was good though and I spent the better part of the next long rolling section to Wanisan focussed on good technique. It was a good way to get through this challenging section quickly and I passed a number of people here including Jan Plavec who I didn’t even recognize as I went past.

I rolled through the 40 km mark on pace for a 3:43 finish time and got done the marathon a few seconds over the 2:50 mark. If only I could figure out how to run that fast! The long double-polling sections begin right around Wanisan and I struggled to keep myself motivated to keep double polling even though I knew it was the fastest technique for the terrain. The kilometers kept rolling past and I was really needing to start the self-motivation to keep the effort level rising in an attempt to maintain pace. I dug out a caffinated latte flavour gel with 10 kms to go and it tasted super amazing. I can’t handle them at all on the bike, the flavour doesn’t work for me in the summer, but skiing it was just what I needed. I was starting to pass lots of people at this point, almost all of them not going anywhere quickly and no-one able to keep up. I caught and passed the red-jacket guy here who I’d absolutely killed myself to keep up with from kms 10-15 and was pretty proud of myself. I slid past the 50km sign still on pace for a 3:43 finish and just kept telling myself to hold it together for another 20 minutes.

I think I passed another 5 guys in the closing 5 kms and got to the 1 km to go sign just as I got the first twinges in my hamstrings. My technique was starting to fail even when I was focussed on it and I was very glad that this thing was almost over. With about 200 meters to go I got a crazy cramp in my right thumb and laughed at myself on the last glide in to the finish with a bit of a gimpy polling technique.


Third in my AG and tenth overall in the with-pack division. About 35 minutes faster than last year!

Photo from gallery: Winter 2011

Shout outs to: Keegan for his first Birkebeiner ever, Laura for her first time through with a pack, Danika for starting classic skiing a few weeks ago and managing to get on her AG podium. Emily for an incredible fourth place and Aaron for a fantastic third. Tanner, Jason, Greg and Paul from ERTC. Also to some intrepid 31 km skiers (which we decided would be considered a crazy-far distance to go and race if the 55 km race didn’t exist) Lenka (Fast!) Paul (Fast!), Claire, and Brent and Lianne who won’t make the mistake of arriving late to the start grid ever again. Also Corey, for an incredible performance in the 60+ AG! I’m going to learn how to ski from that man and I’ll be back for Birkie 2013!

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New Tele Gear

I escaped Edmonton for an early start to the Family Day weekend on Thursday evening and headed out to the slopes in the Rockies aboard my new Telemarking gear with my brothers. I’ve just acquired some Black-Diamond Seeker boots, and am skiing on a pair of Rossignol S2 with Target Ascent bindings. The skis are 92mm underfoot and 180cm long, that’s shorter than every pair I’ve skied on since the days when I was bombing around on a pair of straight cut K2s back in early Junior High. It’s also wider than I’ve ever skied on before. So, I was undertaking only my third and fourth days of telemarking but also learning to ski on vastly different equipment than I have skied on previously.

I felt like a really good understanding of how snow moved underfoot was one of the things that helped me make the transition from alpine to telemark but then throwing in the curveball of skis that behaved differently was a pretty big challenge. I felt like I had an ace-in-the-hole with my many years of alpine skiing but now it wasn’t all so useful when what I did know well wasn’t directly relevant. My first few runs at Kicking Horse were a serious challenge, those skis just move so much snow it’s outrageous. Cruising through settled powder and soft-pack was tough, there’s a lot of ski to steer with, but there’s also a ton of ski to push back at you when you let your feet forget who is boss. It was another learning curve to climb but I handled it OK. The snow conditions were fantastic in terms of coverage (and accessibility to all sorts of fun terrain) but they weren’t terribly conducive to learning on nice even snow, everything was choppy and so skiing required an immense measure of brute force and some serious strength to push the skis through all sorts of lumps and bumps. I’m a bit lost on whether or not these are great skis or they’re just good skis. Switching to tele-skiing from alpine and then immediately trying to pass judgement on the second pair of skis after only four days of skiing in just two sets of snow conditions each with different equipment doesn’t make me very knowledgeable regarding which factors affect which issues. I think they’re good, they might be great.

The S2 is designed for a combination of powder and park, meaning they’re a reasonably flexy ski. That may contribute a bit to how much I feel like these skis can scoop snow, as they can really smear out choppy snow like a giant spatula if you’re strong and brave enough. I do however find that the extra flex really helps you set a solid corner, especially when you weight them well, creating the requisite reverse camber to carve a turn in softpack comes naturally. One disadvantage of the lower stiffness in these skis arises when you try to set a turn on hardpack, groomer or icy patches, they will give a bit more than you might want and so they aren’t terribly conducive to maintaining even pressure along a long edge while maintaining speed. I can go really fast on these skis but as soon as I start needing to navigate I feel like I have to sacrifice more speed than I normally would to make the changes in direction when compared with my experience on the various Rossignol racing sticks that I spent the last decade+ of my life schussing around on.

The boots are great and I’m happy I increased the amount of support from the Scarpa T2 boots I was trialling back in January. The higher cut combined with the ratchet-wire cinch-system make for a lot more stable and supportive structure and especially when cruising through all sorts of chop and needing to apply loads of force out through your feet this is a really valuable thing to have. I do think that the extra control can make it a bit easier to be a bit sloppy with turning, as the low tele-stance isn’t as required for the average turn. The amount of “walk-mode” in these boots when the forward lean is switched off is amazing. That proved particularly useful for our two bootpacks up into Superbowl at Kicking Horse where we skied from both Terminator Peak and from the T2 ridge. From what I can tell from two days of skiing these boots are really fantastic pieces of equipment. You’ll have to pay a pretty penny for them, but so far they are on their way to making themselves worth the price.

These Ascent bindings have a higher mount than I had trialled before which I don’t really think is problematic, but it’s different, there’s that extra cm of height that you have with your center of gravity so when you’re trying to get down and push hard on that turn it means you have to lunge a cm lower. That adds up pretty quick with a few dozen hard clutch turns being required each run. Stretching that out over a full day of skiing adds up fast as I’m the type of skier who is going to try and ski as much as I can between the moment the lifts open and the moment they close. The extra height in the binding also creates a bit more lever arm meaning more torque is applied to your knees, hips and ankles to apply the same amounts of force to the edges of your skis. When that’s combined with the tough and variable snow, this extra lunging makes for some serious aching and soreness. I haven’t had an opportunity to test out the free pivot mode on these skis as we were just skiing in-bounds. From what I can tell from the tests in the living room, it works great but I’ll not pass complete judgement and make recommendations for or against until I’ve used them out in the wild.

I got a bit of follow-cam footage from Saturday afternoon under blue sky at Lake Louise. It’s not very challenging terrain compared to where we spent most of the day skiing but without a go-pro the filming options for those parts of the day aren’t available.

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Birkebeiner 2011

I signed up for the Birkebeiner back in November knowing that doing so would be good motivation to ski as much as I could over the course of December, January and February. Good intentions, mediocre execution, the writing of a thesis became far more of a consuming activity than I anticipated. The first half of December was almost a complete write-off except for a gradual return to running after my achilles injury. The Christmas break on the contrary was good and I found opportunities to get out and ski quite frequently and work on learning the ’squish the bug’ technique on real classic nordic equipment as opposed to the no-camber skis I had previously be horsing around with. January was relatively consistent and then we suffered from some terrible weather and another rough patch in the laboratory that meant I never did as much long-distance preparation as I would have liked. That’s the way the cookie had crumbled though and on the morning of Feb 12 I was at the start line of a 55km race with my 5.5 kg pack loaded onto my back… and there would be nowhere to hide.

Photo from gallery: Winter 2011

I had an odd concoction of wax on my skis, probably a ways away from ideal but I wasn’t on bad wax. A hard wax base binder with a lot of V45 and then K21n klister over top. I’m a total n00b, so let’s not discuss this further, it worked very well until about 12:30pm at which time the temperature had changed so significantly that no-one seemed to have quite the right wax on. I very quickly added some V55 “special red” which helped a lot on the run in to the finish and I have no doubt that by taking a few minutes to reapply I actually wound up ahead of where I’d have been if I were to just have stuck it out and kept cruising along without any grip to kick against.

Back to the race:
I lined up at the 5 hour mark in the grid with Travis three bodies up one lane over and Dave hopped into the tracks right in front of me as we started to skootch forward in the final 30 seconds before the horn. Emily was line up significantly further forward and Jan was right in the middle of the pack, also about 10 lengths forward. As we schussed off at the 9am start we were all flying of across the lake in the crowd and just trying to jockey a bit for position but not really trying to go off as hard as we could. Before we had reached the 1km marker I watched as a lead group of three had already gapped the field and were exiting the lake nearly an entire kilometer ahead of me. That was mighty impressive.

We cruised along, Dave, Travis and myself who had found our way into a little lineup of three and were trying to take it as easy as we could. We averaged 4:20 kms for the first three while still on the flats at which point we entered the Blackfoot Rec area. Luckily the gate in the Elk fence had been unlocked (unlike last year) and so there was no need to scale the 8 foot fence in ski-boots and pass skis through the holes. It seemed everyone around had a different version of the same joke to make about the unlocked gate. Then the hills began, nothing serious to start, but they really provided an opportunity to identify who had bad wax on their skis as they were either going backwards on the uphills on standing still on the downhills. I did some nifty navigation stunts here as Travis got out of sight way off down the trail in front of me. Dave on the other hand was tracking me like a cougar on a deer and every time I shoulder checked he was still there. Rather quickly we were cruising in around the final corners on the way into Aid-Station #1. I knew the handups would be coming from the left and so had made my way over to the left hand track within the final kilometer (we were all still going two wide in the pack at this point) which meant I was on the outside of the final downhill right-hander into the feed-zone. Then from the inside of the corner comes a wildly out of control lady, leaps out of the tracks just as she begins to fall and then slides across the outer tracks right in front of me, missing the front tips of my skis by a grand total of 5 cm as she slid into the ditch. Woooeee!

I was probably in the thickest part of the pack at this point so it’s no wonder that the people at the blackfoot feed zone were scrambling… but it was a wonder at how poorly organized their scrambling was. I was embarrased on their behalf and after stepping out of the tracks an realizing that instead of filling up a jug with water there was a lady proceeding to spill the entire contents of a 50 liter tank all over the table. I shook my head in disbelief and then turned to forget about getting a drink here and decided to head off to Round-up before getting in my first food and drink. Unfortunately that would mean I’d consume nothing in the first hour of the race, not a wise choice, but I really didn’t have any other options.

As I was turning around to hop into the track Dave was having his day really turn for the worse. His binding had torn out of his ski leaving him absolutely nothing that he could do. It was a super sad moment realizing that there was absolutely no way that you could fix something like that. I offered him my cell phone and then after rooting around in my pack for a moment, realized that I didn’t bring it with me. Not being of much use I figured I was best off to just get skiing again and so set off down the trail.

The eventfulness of the racing slowed down dramatically through this section as I made my way through Round-up, Wapiti and Winter aid stations before getting in towards the real hills. I was finding myself coming up on a few groups of people and having to hop out of my track and really push hard to get past them before being able to settle back down to my steady racing pace (165 bpm or thereabouts). Passing took a lot of energy and when I’m racing next time I figure I’m going to have to start faster (and plan to just blast past the Blackfoot feed-zone and not consider slowing there) so that I can latch on to faster groups rather than having to pass them. This may sound obvious, but what wasn’t so obvious to me was that the people who are going out at a 4:15-4:20 pace from the start are going to settle in and do 5:00/km pace for the rest of the race which is slower than what I would wind up doing. If I want to be amongst the right group from the beginning I probably need to start at a pace that’s an entire minute faster per kilometer than I will end up doing for the rest of the day. Doing that in the grid and the beginning is a total crapshoot though without practice. Maybe I need to do a couple recreational loppets as well to learn the tricks of the trade. (Want to race better? Race more!)

By the time the full length group had split from the shorter course the track had thinned out so much that it was simple and straightforward to ski the pace you wanted to ski. I pushed on here trying to stay conservative on my surges when I needed to get past someone but also trying to keep the gas on. I was already halfway and after racing Ironman and learning that if you’re really fit it can be tempting to pace yourself at “forever pace” instead of “use yourself up by the finish pace” I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to make that mistake. In some sense 55km is actually kind of short if you’re prepared for it, it’s something like a half ironman. You are going to be going way too slow if you’re not trying to burn off some extra energy along the way when you think you can pick up some speed by doing so.

So, as I cruised through islet lake I was really in a great mood and had pretty much passed all of the people who were obstacles in my way. Now I was beginning to think about the people around me as competition and was gauging my pace against them and pushing my way along. After leaving Elk-Push for the second time there’s a really huge hill and as I got to the top of it I was passed for the first time in probably 10 kms. I was within 20 km of the finish at this point and decided that I needed to roll the dice a little bit and see if I could keep up with this guy. A huge part of me felt like I should just let him go and keep trucking along at my pace, but fortunately the little part of my brain that said “go!” was louder and so I pressed on the accelerator and started to follow. It wasn’t uncomfortably hard but it definitely wasn’t comfortable and he reminded me of Ernst – a huge upper body shaped like a big triangle. I was really drilling it along the flats to keep up with him as we double poled along for long stretches at a time near the fence. Suddenly he pulled up and I don’t know if he thought it was my turn to lead or if he had totally run out of blood sugar but he slowed up and I went past. Then within 200 meters he dropped back and I never saw him again.

Then I saw Travis. First it was just a glimpse and I wasn’t quite certain that it was for sure him but eventually I had reeled him in so that by the time we got up to the Boundary aid station I had closed the gap. I was stopping here with about 40 minutes left to race to apply some V55 to my bases and offered him some. His comment was telling of his state of mind, “I’m just going to finish this thing” and so he was off. I glommed some special red onto my bases and smeared it down with my hand, and was off as quickly as I could. Travis had put down a gap of a bit more than 200 meters which I could see while we were along the fence-line but he was definitely out of sight when we entered the woods again. I was having great success with the wax-reapplication and after mentally reaching a low just prior and starting to get frustrated this was exactly the change that I needed. I was starting to really hurt in my shoulders and back (thanks to chasing Schwarzenegger) and was starting to get really sore in my ankles and feet and so getting a temporary return to good technique was a lifesaver. I passed boatloads of people in the final stages of the race and by about km 52 I had made up the minute or so that I had lost to Travis when I re-waxed. The last stretch around Neon lake was a total nightmare with the snow. My red wax may have already disappeared or it may have heated up so significantly that it was even loosing it’s effectiveness. I was resorting to herringbone on inclines I could normally just bound my way up and trying to double pole everything that I could.

I crossed the finish line in 4 hours 25 minutes and change which was a massive 1 hour and 45 minute improvement on my PR. I was 8th out of 21 in my age category and 47 out of 166 overall. Not bad. As I alluded to early on when discussing wax this was a pretty fast year and so I’ll attribute a portion of my improved time to that, I’ll also attribute a fair bit of it to getting skis that actually have camber in them which helps gloriously with glide but also enables a proper classic technique. Then I’m also going to claim some credit, I put in a solid effort of learning the associated skills this year because good skis still won’t do the skiing by themselves. I also am in better shape for mid February than I was two winters ago. I hope this bodes well for a fast marathon on May 1. There are 76 days to go until my first crack at qualifying for Boston, once I get the incredible pain throughout my body to subside I’ll be back to training. A few more weeks dedicated to aerobic development and then it’s time for a period dedicated to lactate threshold.

Split Time Pace Speed Elevation
[Click to Enlarge]
0 – 5 km 21:57 4:23/km 13.65 kph Photo from gallery: Winter 2011
5 – 10 km 23:03 4:36/km 13.01 kph
10 – 15 km 23:25 4:41/km 12.81 kph
15 – 20 km 23:00 4:36/km 13.04 kph
20 – 25 km 24:38 4:55/km 12.17 kph
25 – 30 km 24:15 4:51/km 12.36 kph
30 – 35 km 24:05 4:49/km 12.45 kph
35 – 40 km 24:54 4:58/km 12.04 kph
40 – 45 km 24:18 4:51/km 12.34 kph
45 – 50 km 24:39* 4:55/km* 12.17 kph*
50 – 55 km 24:18 4:51/km 12.33 kph
*skiing pace not including wax-break
Total 55 km: 4:25:37 4:49/km 12.42 kph

I also have to say huge congratulations to a few friends who had totally impressive performances. My favorite ski coach Emily Lynes wound up 4th female overall in the Birkie-Lite with a personal record time and Jan “The Czech Racehorse” Plavec finished 8th overall in the with-pack Birkebeiner (two seconds behind her after drafting and pacing off of her almost all day). Both recorded a stunning sub 4:00/km pace for the full duration. Something to aspire to indeed. Laura and Travis also completed their first attempts at the distance.

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Coaching Update #2

The weekly updates:

2010-11-29 to 2010-12-05

Sport Total Distance Total Time Min Pace Ave Pace Max Pace Pace Units
Bike 120 km 4:00:00 30 30 30 kph
Run 32.29 km 2:48:00 5:31 5:12 5:02 min per km
Swim 3200 m 1:20:00 2:30 2:30 2:30 min per 100 meters
Weights 0 mi 0:30:00 na na na no pace units
Yoga 0 mi 0:20:00 na na na no pace units
Total Time 8 hrs 58min Two Days Off

2010-12-06 to 2010-12-12

Sport Total Distance Total Time Min Pace Ave Pace Max Pace Pace Units
Bike 120 km 4:00:00 30 30 30 kph
Run 24.67 km 2:12:30 5:43 5:22 5:18 min per km
Weights 3.11 mi 0:55:00 na na na no pace units
Total Time 7 hrs 7min Three Days Off

2010-12-13 to 2010-12-19

Sport Total Distance Total Time Min Pace Ave Pace Max Pace Pace Units
Bike 80 km 2:40:00 30 30 30 kph
Run 24.12 km 2:02:39 5:08 5:05 4:58 min per km
XC 16.43 km 1:43:57 9.13 9.48 9.76 kph
Total Time 6 hrs 26min Two Days Off

2010-12-20 to 2010-12-26

Sport Total Distance Total Time Min Pace Ave Pace Max Pace Pace Units
Run 41.68 km 3:29:10 5:04 5:01 3:45 min per km
XC 50.77 km 6:33:31 5.05 7.74 12.09 kph
Total Time 10 hrs 2min One Day Off

2010-12-27 to 2011-01-02

Sport Total Distance Total Time Min Pace Ave Pace Max Pace Pace Units
Downhill 202 km 20:20:00 na na na no pace units
Run 23.12 km 2:03:47 5:31 5:21 4:54 min per km
XC 24.25 km 4:05:00 5.31 5.94 6.35 kph
Total Time 26 hrs 28min One Day Off

2011-01-03 to 2011-01-09

Sport Total Distance Total Time Min Pace Ave Pace Max Pace Pace Units
Bike 60 km 2:00:00 30 30 30 kph
Run 40.08 km 3:31:35 5:31 5:17 5:00 min per km
Swim 2600 m 1:10:00 2:42 2:42 2:42 min per 100 meters
XC 14.2 km 1:25:00 10.02 10.02 10.02 kph
Total Time 8 hrs 6min Two Days Off

I did a mediocre job of following my schedule in the few weeks leading up to the Christmas break. I did find bits and pieces of time to train but I was also doing stupid amounts of time in the lab turning the crank and churning out page after page of my MSc thesis. The thesis was considered relatively complete until my supervisor chucked it back at me with major revisions. It wasn’t a very nice realization, I’m not so much cut out for the world of academia, and I’m trying not to think about it too much. In fact I’m not going to write much about it either as that would require me thinking about it. In short, I hope accepting this new job starting March 1 isn’t a huge mistake. Then over Christmas break I just tried to run frequently, I wanted to hit 25 miles per week a couple times and I was successful for two out of the three, I would have been on track to hit it on the week between Christmas and New Years but I found myself in Fernie skiing my fool face off (and loving it!) and so I’ll take a mulligan. These next two charts show my progress up until Christmas and then my progress over the Christmas break.

’till Christmas

through Christmas

Photo from gallery: Performance Management Charts Photo from gallery: Performance Management Charts
Photo from gallery: Performance Management Charts

The PMCs above show that over the Christmas break when I went totally off program and gave up on trying to schedule anything for myself I still did get in lots of general aerobic work as I had wanted to during that period. The little chart at the left here with the two overlays compares the planned training effect with the one that was actually completed over that break, it lines up just fine. I’m still on track in terms of developing basic fitness and despite not trying very hard at planning my instincts for how much, and how soon, were just about appropriate.

I am due for a MAF Test on the run soon but with the forecast at or below -20o for this whole coming week I might have to wait a bit. There isn’t a whole lot of purpose in measuring MAF pace while running with tights, fleece pants, shell pants and a fleece jacket, the measurement isn’t going to be very accurate anyhow. I do have an estimate of MAFHR from some recent treadmill running that puts it around 7.6-7.7 miles per hour which is slightly sub 5 min/km or a bit better than 8 min miles. That’s alright progression if you ask me, about 25 seconds/km pace improvement over the course of a bit less than two months. Slow and steady wins the race. As I mentioned previously I think it would be good to get to 4min/km at MAFHR in time for the Vancouver Marathon (a bit less than four months) which necessitates me being keeping up this kind of progression in MAF pace. I don’t really have a great indication from previous tracking of these metrics of how fast I can hope to improve, my testing last year started at around 4:20 pace and progressed to around 4:04 pace while I really developed a ton of durability to run at that effort while maintaining volume in the training program. Recently I’ve been able to do a lot of my running rather close to MAFHR and haven’t felt like I’m straining myself much to do it. That’s an alright sign, it indicates I’m in need of conditioning my cardiovascular system and that I’m not straining the muscular/joints as much as I did last year while developing my ability to run.

I was out of the pool for a LONG time and my first time back was tough work but I enjoyed myself, I don’t anticipate that it’ll be easy to swim a ton this winter but I am hopeful that I can do a decent job of it.

The planned training is a bit dubious, I don’t know how everything will work out with the weather looking so outrageously poor. I also don’t really know how the skiing works out as I typically will want to go with other people and just don’t have the interest to go and do three hours of skiing by myself in the woods. We’ll see how things stack up. I’ll have to be flexible here. The key workouts of the week are the runs. I want to put in a good solid effort at getting the frequency up to 5 times per week here or close to that for the next stretch. It’s mostly a matter of getting dressed up and out the door. That’s all it took yesterday and once I was trundling along I quite enjoyed myself, but when getting dressed takes forever because I have to dig up a dozen pieces of clothing instead of just shorts, socks and a shirt, it’s no wonder that it takes a bit more coercion than usual to get going.

Fingers crossed that a cold January makes for an early spring so I can get in the uninterrupted running when it will be the most frustrating to do it inside. I also wouldn’t mind the opportunity to sneak in a couple weekends of skiing in March if possible. Anyhow, here’s the training plan through until the Birkebeiner. Things might require some serious adjusting, but the running framework looks like it’s flexible enough to stick.

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Kickstart to the NewYear

I was tempted to just post some photos and let them tell the story, but that made me feel like I was shortchanging such a fantastic trip, so I’ll have to tell the stories as well.

The first is the mid-night arrival of part of our skiing crew. My cell phone rang a few minutes before 4 am and I was up out of bed to let in a Lesley and Pat who had spent the night driving Highway 2 in less than ideal conditions to accommodate a late night flight into Edmonton International. I was excited to get out of the house and go right then instead of heading back to bed, but sleep definitely was on the menu for the wearied travelers. Waking up at what would normally be a very lazy hour the next morning we loaded up and set out for the trailhead after a dose of caffeine and a few bites of breakfast. I can’t speak from personal experience but it seemed like enough sleep was had during those short hours by my skiing comrades to recharge adequately for a day in the mountains. Either that, or there was significant horsepower being absorbed by osmosis from the beautiful surroundings that we were skiing through. Considering the number of disclaimers placed that they had few skills and little prior experience they were quick on the uptake. Pat started out as a rather shaky kneed skier but gathered his wits about him quite quickly. Luckily though, I was the one carrying a dozen eggs.

Photo from gallery: Backcountry Skiing 2009-2010
Photo from gallery: Backcountry Skiing 2009-2010

We made good time along the trail, not because we were traveling exceedingly fast but mostly just due to the fact that we weren’t taking very long of breaks. That and a little bit of not wanting to be going “too slow” while leading the group meant that whoever was up front was huffing along and then the others didn’t want to let them get out of our sights. Then whomever else took over felt the need to keep up the pace, the problematic pattern perpetuated itself and subsequently some solid skiing ensued. We’d made a good choice with the waxes and no-one struggled much which was a huge bonus for the morale. Additionally we were left some encouragement in the snowbanks along the way by our friends who were up the trail by a few hours.

Photo from gallery: Backcountry Skiing 2009-2010
Photo from gallery: Backcountry Skiing 2009-2010

Our arrival at the cabin was earlier than anticipated and we had nearly caught the other 7 members of our group who were just taking off their boots when we pulled up. It was about this time that we unloaded food onto the table from our respective bags and realized the magnitude of the task at hand. It was going to be quite a feat to even eat half of the food we’d brought in.

Photo from gallery: BlackBetty Photostream

The menu for the trip wasn’t meager pickings for (at least) seven reasons.

  1. Carrying good food makes it easier to rationalize why you have a heavy pack. If it’s full of stuff you only marginally want to eat it could lead to complaining. If it’s all gourmet, there is less opportunity to bemoan sore shoulders and an aching back.
  2. No-one has ever developed scurvy in two days but we certainly didn’t want to risk it. Better bring some fresh vegetables for our omellettes to ensure we don’t develop anything like that. We were bringing along a med-student but not a real doctor to diagnose and treat big problems like scurvy, better to rather play it safe than sorry!
  3. Pat needed to be fed, and everyone knows that he can really pack it away when he decides to.
  4. Olives, figs and wine were good enough for all those Roman emperors so they’re good enough for us too. And if Marcus Aurelius would have known to have stuffed his olives with Camembert I’m sure he would have been all over that too.
  5. I’d heard concerns about Oatmeal being too boring, so the obvious solution would be to bring it up a notch with cranberries and orange zest.
  6. Good chocolate keeps the ladies happy – fact!
  7. This was New Years and we were supposed to be celebrating!

Our stay was two nights and our intermediary day was spent on a day-excursion from the hut up towards Assiniboine Pass. The attempt would end at 2:30 when we had to make the prudent choice to turn around instead of pushing onwards to see what we may or may not be able to see from the pass proper. The day ski had us enjoying a fine balance of gently falling snowflakes and sufficient visibility to enjoy the surrounding vistas. If it had been any more clear, the beauty and vastness of the entire valley at once could have been too overwhelming for us; and like I said, we only had a med-student along and not a doctor to perform a potentially necessary resuscitation. There was also a moose spotted along the trail, it had a beard but was definitely still female.

Photo from gallery: Backcountry Skiing 2009-2010
Photo from gallery: Backcountry Skiing 2009-2010

Following our excursion we cooked up some fine tomato lentil curry on rice with a side of garlic butter mashed potatoes and gravy for dinner. After giving our stomachs a lengthy 4 minutes to digest the meal we pulled out the figs, olives, chocolate, crackers & Camembert, cookies and pistachios and got into the port. There was a short debate as to which time zone we planned to celebrate new years in. A long and tiring day of skiing by some parties had them voting to even celebrate on a half hour increment representative of Newfoundland. The suggestion was quickly overruled and Dave set an emergency alarm in case we all somehow managed to fall asleep before midnight, to wake us up at ten to twelve. A few games of speed scrabble ensued, amazingly everyone was able to win a round, some Garden Beans were grown, traded and harvested. There were some stories recounted and then, sooner than anyone would have guessed, there was an alarm going off and the countdown had begun towards the beginning of 2010.

Photo from gallery: BlackBetty Photostream

The masses bundled up in multi-coloured down jackets, fleece pants, mitts, toquies and hut booties and then headed outdoors to ring in the New Year from the boundless serenity of the creekbed instead of the cramped quarters of the cabin. Predictably some hilarity ensued, and upon return to the cabin we headed out to kick off the new year with a short ski through the night under a full moon.

Photo from gallery: BlackBetty Photostream
Photo from gallery: BlackBetty Photostream

The next morning we were treated to a few patches of blue sky, an excellent breakfast of cheese and chive eggs on english muffins with cranberry orange oatmeal, and we were off. Once rolling we were rather quiet as a group. I’m not certain on the reasons why. Perhaps people were exhausted from a few long days in the outdoors without much sleep, maybe they were mad about someone absentmindedly dripping paraffin on the red bean crop, perchance they were concentrating too hard on not falling over to have a conversation, or possibly they were just sick of being with one another. My guess is that is was none of these: we were too captivated by the beams of sunshine coming down through the forest, too busy relishing the glimpses of mountaintops peaking through the gaps amongst the trees, and finding ourselves entranced by the swishing sound of our skis along the tracks pressed into the snow. It was a contented silence. In the week since, that’s one bit of the trip that I’ve been consistently revisting in my mind. The closest thing to contented silence I’ve had since being back in the city was scrubbing the kitchen floor with my head in front of a dishwasher that was loud enough to drown out the rest of the sounds in the house. Obviously it’s almost time to get out of town again!

Photo from gallery: Backcountry Skiing 2009-2010

The ski out was fantastically exciting and we made good time down much of the descent towards the cars. The mile-long-hill was almost as much fun on the way up as it was on the way down two days earlier and soon enough we were standing in the parking lot making comments about not really wanting to be done yet.

Photo from gallery: BlackBetty Photostream

By day 3 the shaky kneed Pat was still a rather shaky kneed skier but he was a heck of a lot more confident and quick as evidenced by the following video footage of the weekend. (Lesley’s out front in Pink, Pat’s just in front of me). Clip 1 is from the tail end of Day 2 and Clip 2 is from early on Day 3.

My full gallery of my backcountry trips over the Christmas break is here and Dave’s Flickr set of the trip is here.

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Egypt Lake Backcountry ski trip

Skied in to Egypt Lake Cabin on Feb 20 this year starting from the parking lot of Sunshine Ski resort. The first day was about 13 kms over Healy Pass, a tough uphill for a good stretch and then some really spectacular skiing above treeline over the pass before descending back into the trees through a maze down to the cabin.

Egypt Lake Trip
Egypt Lake Trip
Egypt Lake Trip

Saturday we spent the day in the valley exploring the lake and then doing a few short descents along the side of Redearth creek to test out or tele skiing skills. The ultimatum is that we don’t really have any tele skills. That didn’t stop people from jumping off cliffs though!

Egypt Lake Trip
Egypt Lake Trip
Egypt Lake Trip
Egypt Lake Trip
Egypt Lake Trip

The highlights of the trip were obviously the great weather as well as a pretty great crew of people who ended up coming along. It was a bit of a mish-mash of all sorts of people I know from whereever but ‘the common cause’ is nortoriously efficient for drawing people together so by the time we headed out on Sunday it wasn’t a van load of strangers any more.

Egypt Lake Trip
Egypt Lake Trip

The ski out was 20.1 kms via the redearth creek drainage which is a fantastic quick descent on an old fire road for at least part of it. The crew for the 2010 trip hopefully isn’t quite as hard to recruit… No news yet on where I’m planning to plan a trip to but we’ll definitely be doing one. Definitely going to do at least a two night trip, it’s far superior to the quick in and out. By the end of one day it doesn’t quite feel like we’d escaped civilization but the second night certainly changed that, one watch and no electricity had us tired out enough to head for bed soon after 9 pm.

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The Birkebeiner is a 55 km ski race that happens annually just east of Edmonton at Blackfoot recreation area. It’s a Norwegian themed event in commemoration of a story of way back along time ago when some Norse guys saved the baby prince of Norway by carrying him 55 km on their backs to safety… eventually he would grow up and reconquer some other part of the country and re-establish his rightful role as monarch… it’s supposed to be a good story that makes you feel all nice…

Well the way it’s celebrated doesn’t exactly feel so nice. Or at least the last stretch of it for myself was a really serious challenge. I don’t think I’d say that is is definitively the most difficult thing I’d ever done in the world of sports. It was however the longest stretch of time that I put out a good solid effort without really stopping to take a break. Total time: 6:10:44. I’ve ridden my bike more more than 6 hours on numerous occasions but they all either included good breaks or periods where I didn’t exactly feel like I was asking a lot of myself. Skiing yesterday on the other hand, I spent almost the entire time asking a bit more out of myself as I skied.

The morning started Uuber-early as I caught a ride with a couple friends (Ben and Lindsay) who were volunteering as medical staff at one of the stations along the route. This meant that they were supposed to check in at their site at 7 am and needed to drop me off on the way… Leaving some time just in case we got lost it meant that I was up, dressed, packed and had fried 4 eggs for breakfast by 5:30 in the morning. I was the first skier there by more than 20 minutes and took my time looking around and then just sitting my bum in a chair to wait it out. I learned a few things watching people arrive. The early people are all old. The early people almost all know eachother (or at least they know some people). The early people like to discuss waxing techniques with words and phrases that are all totally over my head. The early people all have very practiced routines. I could tell because they often paused, looked at something and made a mental checkmark. I learned an interesting way to carry energy gels: They are slipped into the sleeve of your shirt at the wrist inside the outer layer (which is tight… all early people wear tight clothes) and one goes above and one below the wrist, an elastic band (that is red so it matches the shirt being worn… early people all have color-coordinated racing gear) is wrapped around the gels and the shirt. To remove a gel from this location while skiing along and holding a pole you just bring your wrist to your mouth and pull the gel out by your teeth. Then it’s only a one handed affair to grab, rip, spit, suck, squeeze and throw the empty gel to the ground without loosing any speed. Early people are intimidating to people wearing relatively loose clothing that wasn’t color co-ordinated. Had no race morning routines, knew none of the other early risers, and I planned on carrying the bit of food that I did have in my backpack and relying mostly on the aid stations for my nourishment. I switched somewhere in there from the generic to the personal. Let me be specific then… I was unprepared.

I made up my morning routine as I went along, put my ski boots on and sauntered down to the start with my skis and bag. I tossed my skis in a snowbank and weighed my pack… rules required it to be 12 lbs or heavier. Mine was more than 12 kg before I emptied it, most of my stuff went into the dry gear bag but the things I figured I would want or might need during the day stayed on my back. I cut it down to 15 lbs. I was using my backpacking backpack because it has my preferred shoulder straps and waistbelt. It meant thought that I needed to keep my sleeping bag in the bottom to maintain it’s shape so the waistbelt is actually good… Another rookie mistake… carry more than you absolutely need to.

I saw a few people I knew, my supervisor from school and his wife along with one of the other guys (Graham) from our lab. I tested out the wax job I had done for my skis and it was acceptable. I had done something correctly! I chugged a liter of water, ate a muffin and made a washroom pitstop and soon enough it was time to line up. The start is 12 skiing lanes wide and heads out across a lake where the lanes eventually disappear and people have to merge. There are a few signs along the side telling you how to seed yourself in the back and I choose to stand by the slowest sign. The countdown begins with a 15 minute warning. A ten minute warning, seven minute warning someone sings O Canada with a voice that either has decided it is too cold or too early in the morning… A five minute warning. I comment to one of the guys standing near me that calling them warnings isn’t the most encouraging of choices of vocabulary. He laughs and agrees, it’s his first time too and we’re both happy to know we’re not alone in the sea of people who are starting to hop up and down with their skis on and doing arm circles to loosen up. I take off my fleece jacket and put on a windbreaker when we hear the three minute warning. The one minute to start isn’t a warning, just a notice, and both me and my new friend glance at eachother with smiles on.

The horn sounds and we’re off. During the final three minutes there have been about 8 rows of people accumulating behind me and the pressure is on to ski and not hold them back too much, everyone skis at the pace of the person in front of them even though that’s a terrible strategy for spreading out and merging together. I pass a few people who are standing up between the lanes shuffling backwards trying to retrieve a dropped pole or a missing toque. I’m not a total screw-up thus far and keep on trucking along way faster than I’ve pretty much ever skied before. After a couple merges the clump I’m in is really getting bunched up and I glance at my watch… oops I forgot to start it. That sucks. Before we know it the lake has come to and end and we’re narrowed down to 3 lanes. The race leaders are tiny ants on the horizon and we just passed the 2 km mark.

I ski the first 7 kms or so in the midst of some pretty big groups. It’s going good, I feel the permission to ski at my own pace. I see Graham ahead of me and slowly reel him in… he’s going about my pace but his stride is funny compared with mine and it’s distracting to ski behind him. I realize I need to find someone to follow who is mentally relaxing to ski behind and going my pace. The problem is that now there isn’t a huge selection of people to choose from. I’m skiing in a little group. One guy goes by and I like the look of his feet so I want to follow him. Problem is someone else is on his tail so I can’t switch lanes. Maybe it takes a whole kilometer to get behind him… oh well something to think about. I latch on behind the orange coat guy who I notice is on rental skis… I wonder what his story is. We pass a sign giving us a 1 km warning to the first station. We pass an outhouse and my orange coat pulls off the track but I’m not stopping to wait for someone to follow and continue on to the aid station. I pull off the track and have someone right in my face with a tray of gatorade. It’s steaming and warm, another new experience, but this one is great. I drink two cups. Eat two pieces of banana and a cookie. I realize I’d better get skiing as no-one else seems to be taking this long at the stop. I shoulder check and step back out into the track and then finally look on up the hill ahead. There is not a soul in sight. I only stopped for 1:06, what happened to my group?

I ski along largely alone and pass one person who is going so slow I can hardly imagine how she was still ahead of me. I start to look around and take note of all the hoar frost on the trees. I hadn’t really noticed until now, it doesn’t really show up sparkling until the sun shines on it which it was starting to do. Soon enough the trail merges with the 31 km route and there are people all around again. They started 1/2 hour later than the 55 km skiers but took a shortcut so they’ve traveled less distance than us but are on the same track. None of them have packs and the timing of their start and distance mismatch puts me amongst slightly faster people than I had been skiing with alone. That’s okay with me as long as there are some people around and I pick a small group to follow. We come into the next station and I find myself having skied past all of the drinks and need to do the awkward backwards shuffle for a while before someone notices what I’m trying to do and brings me two cups of warm gatorade. I drink them, take a cookie and a piece of banana. I shoulder check and wave to my friend Scott who comes past in the 31 km race. I can’t step into the track quite yet and have to wait for a bit. I’m skiing along in a clump again and prefer it at least for now. We come down around a corner and the hill suddenly gets steeper. I’m standing bolt upright and suddenly my balance is off. I’m balancing on one foot and then am sliding on my side. Quickly I’m back upright before I get run over but managed to force an older lady to hop out of the tracks in the left lane to dodge my skis. She isn’t pleased with me and tells me not to fall, that I should try to balance better and then maybe I wouldn’t fall. I apologize and continue along. The route is getting a bit hillier, or at least the hills are longer each time than they were earlier in the game. The wax is still holding up great and I’m pretty proud of myself. Another aid station warning and before I know it we’re at the next stop. Another two cups of gatorade. They also have ‘cup of noodles’ soup but I don’t want to take the time to eat it. A few pieces of banana, some cookies and see that there is blocks of cheddar cheese. I think back to the summer bike riding and always having some cheese strings while on the bike… yep I can eat that I’ve done that before. It seems like other skiers are avoiding taking the cheese like a plague. Is this a bad choice? I wonder as I pop a whole handful into my mouth and ski off down the hill and on towards the next aid station. It’s protein I tell myself and put the questions out of my head.

I’m now skiing behind some really funny guys. They’re on the short course and making jokes, I stick behind them for a bit. Their km markers are different than mine because of their shortcut detour. Theirs are a bit closer together than 1 km it seems to the guy. The difference between the 55 km markers is longer than the distance between the 31 km markers and joke about the implications not knowing that I’m listening. When they get two markers within a single one of my km markers I pipe up… we all laugh and continue on.

The next aid station arrives and it’s the one where Ben and Lindsay are volunteering. I down another two cups of gatorade a few pieces of banana and a cookie. We take a picture together but it has to be on Lindsay’s camera because mine is frozen solid and says it needs a new battery. It’s easy to be over 12 lbs when you carry dead weight like that. I stop here for a bit and dig through my bag so I can change which gloves I’ve got on. My gloves have turned into big wet bags on my hands with all the sweat and are in need of a change. Wet gloves into the backpack and dry ones out. That adds weight to the pack I thought to myself… oh well.

Leaving station four is straight up a hill and it’s a long one too. There are still lots of 31 km people around who all seem to be happy with the fact that they’ve only got about 10 kms left. I’ve got more than 30. I realize as we climb one of the hills, maybe it was the first one, maybe it was the next that my groin was starting to be pretty tired. I keep trucking along and the uphills are all pretty long, after having realized I was starting to get sore (I’ve been a bit tired for quite a while already) that this was going to be a long 30 kms. Someone pulls up next to me and says “Hey, are you Josh?”. I have no idea what the connection is and he explains that he’s the husband of another grad student and had been with Graham when we saw eachother before the race. He gives me a bit of encouragement as the two routes split and John goes the way of the 31 km tour. I turn left and continue uphill. I’m in behind a familiar person, the girl in the purple jacket. I think the guy in the orange jacket was following her just before we got to the first aid station. I tuck in there and am pleased with that situation. I pass her going down a hill and she never re-passes me. When I shoulder check I can’t tell who is behind unless they’re in the other lane so I have no idea if she is still skiing with me or not. A few more exciting downhills with corners at the bottom and I pull into the next station. I’ve got the pattern down now… Pull in drink a cup of warm gatorade and chow down a few bananas and a cookie. The bananas are starting to be frozen bananas because the time gap between the first people and me must be getting longer. I drink the second cup of gatorade afterwards so I don’t have a cold mouth and hop back in the tracks. As I’m leaving the station I’m passed another bit of banana, this one is peeled for me so I take it. I’m barely finished chewing and a lady is trying to put a cookie in my mouth. I take it between the teeth and keep skiing. I wonder if they’re trying to fill me up because they’re starting to think of us people at the back of the pack as in need of care and attention. That frustrates me as I feel okay and keep skiing. I’m happy to be fed cookies but what about their motivation for feeding me?

Off we go into a tough stretch. I’m in behind an old guy in a puffy red down jacket. He has a bit of a stoop and doesn’t hold his head up straight but I can’t ski any faster than him. I stick in behind a guy who is likely close to 50 years older than me and barely can hang on. My wax starts to fail me just as I’m being humbled by an old guy. It’s getting warmer and warmer and I’m probably wearing off quite a bit of wax with all of my weight and the crystals in the snow, it’s pretty abrasive stuff in these conditions. I tough it out starting to slip now and again as I cruise towards the 6th station. I’m super pleased when I see the 1 km to the station sign and manage to stay with the old guy all the way there. Not being able to pass a 70 year old is one thing but to have been dropped by him would have been another story.

I’m focussed on getting some wax on my skis as I come through the station and am looking for somewhere out of the way. I only grab one cup of gatorade and pull over. Skis off and get the wax out. Failing to have grabbed any food I pull out a fudge and protein bar as well and chow half of that down. I look at the little thermometer hanging off the back of my pack and it says minus 8. I can’t believe that, it’s supposed to be minus 15 right now I think to myself. I ask the others who also have stopped to wax if I should be using blue. They all say that’s what they’re putting on so I do two coats of it the first one thin and I make sure to spread it evenly the second one my hands are starting to get cold so I spread it a bit thicker and don’t so such a good job with the cork. Forget it I tell myself, I’m going to be bleeding from the knuckles if I don’t get my gloves back on. My body apparently is starting to direct it’s attention towards locomotion and not doing such a good job with the peripheral roles. I wonder if I’m digesting anything that I’m eating. The protein bar was probably not the best choice, sugar would have been better. A quick pee while the outhouses are convenient and I’m back on the skis.

I bomb down a great hill onto a lake and head out across the lake. It’s spectacular and the sky is mostly blue. I can see skiers up on top of a hill along the lake ahead and realize I’d better savour the flat lake while I can. I get off the lake at the same time as a girl in blue splash pants. I think back to the morning and think that she doesn’t qualify among the early crowd with baggy pants like those. Off we go up a hill and approach a guy decked out in a matching dark green outfit. He qualifies for the early crew I think to myself and we pass the 35 km sign. Only 20 kms left. As we’re passing Mr. Green I realize that he’s probably only 23 or 25 and gets the boot from the early-risers list, not old enough. I tell him that I noticed he was checking his watch at the 35 km mark and ask him if he thinks we’re on track for a 6 hour finish. He says that he hopes so. I’m encouraged and get back to work and chase down the girl in blue pants. 6 hours would be great. I calculate my finishing time based on that estimate… it’s three o’clock pm. I then realize that I felt like that was a whole calculation, adding 6 hours to 9am! That’s not a good sign, maybe I’m getting a bit stupid as well. No time to think though, I’m on track for six hours and I’ve got to ski. We cruise through some hills and have some really exciting downhill stretches. There’s been yellow signs that say caution on top of lots of these hills, just a notification that you’re going to be going down a hill. One of them actually means caution here though, sharp left midway, then the pitch gets steeper so you can gain some speed just in time for the sharp right at the bottom. I’m having fun and feel like I’m really cruising along. Into the next aid station I tell myself that I can’t stop too long. I down two cups of gatorade. A few bits of banana and a cookie. My mouth is frozen from the bananas and I drink another gatorade to warm it up.

The people at the aid station tell me that the next 5 kms is the hardest part. I look at the course profile which is taped to my ski pole and it looks hilly, no worse that the section where I was trying to keep up with the old man though and now I had good wax. I motivate myself to give it a solid effort as I can make it to the finish in 6 hours and huff out of there and up a big hill. I’m doing more herringbone with my skis than I have been doing for most of the day. It’s been about 15 kms since I decided my groin was tired and it’s now categorized as totally worn out. My hip flexors are tired and pulling each ski through is taking quite a bit of work. I feel like my strides are getting shorter and tell myself that if my strides are getting shorter then they’d better be getting faster. I don’t know if it helps me increase the cadence. I meet up with a guy who has a timex GPS unit on his backpack and I ski next to him for a while. We debate the merits of the Garmin unit that I’m using versus the timex one that he has. He’s a mountain biker and just bought XC skis at Christmas. He’s also totally out of his league and thinks that all of his friends are probably done by now. He’s efficient on the uphills though and pulls away from me even though he says his wax isn’t quite right. I think that means I’m getting tired.

The next station warning happens at the bottom of a short hill and as soon as I’m at the top I can see it down the other side. That was the shortest kilometer of my day for sure, it’s making up for that longer one earlier I think to myself and am happy that the long one wasn’t second, I don’t know how well I’d deal with a long kilometer at this point in the game. This aid station is all about efficiency they don’t want us to stop here, just ski slowly and they’ll keep feeding us. I think it’s because they know if we stop we might not start again. The guy hands me a gatorade as I slide along and just as I do my pole jabs in in front of me and my arm goes shooting up. That cup is on the ground. Efficiency is not the order of the day right now, survival is. I step out of the track and eat my requisite two pieces of banana and drink two cups of gatorade without spilling any more of them. I take a cookie as I leave, chew on the way I tell myself. I can still make it in six hours.

The hills are tamer in the next stretch but they’re not getting any easier. I ski next to a guy from “out east” for a while. He’s also having a tough time, 55 kms is a long way. Slowly though we drift apart. It’s now less important to try and ski alongside someone else or tuck in behind someone whose stride is not distracting. I could care less as I’m now giving things a really serious effort. The six hour goal is motivating me and I have that little bit of hope that the course is getting easier the closer we get to the finish.

One kilometer to the next station seems to be a long kilometer and it finished with a big uphill. As I get to the top I can really feel my heart racing. I am having a tough time and I think the people who are feeding can tell. One guy is peeling my piece of banana for me and when I protest he just does it anyways. “That’s what we’re here for” he says. I get some gatorade in me and this station has definitely taken advantage of the fact that sugar solubility in water increases with temperature. They sure were able to dissolve a lot of gatorade I think to myself… it was about 10 kms ago that I couldn’t add six hours to 9 am and now I am having no trouble thinking about chemistry. Some things are weird that way. I feel like my heart rate is not getting under control and check my monitor. It’s not recovering as quickly as it should. I feel like my body is making the decision about the six hour goal on my behalf and with about 8 kms remaining I had better not be to intent on that for my first go round.

The difficulty of the course was leaning towards my favour but I wasn’t really intent on taking advantage of it. My friend with the timex GPS unit who had stopped at the “highly efficient” station to rewax came by like I was standing still. The route was mostly straight and we could see where we were going. I thought back to the road into Snowville Utah that I rode this past summer on my bike. It was one of my favorite days, endless pedalling in a straight line. I think part of it was realization that the sense of progress is somewhat arbitrary. I was cycling about 38 kph for a long stretch that day and it felt like we were going nowhere.

The diversion to thinking about riding a bike was appreciated and soon enough the straight bit had come to an end. Another station, this was the last one. Remembering Paula Newby Fraser falling apart in the 1995 Hawaii ironman due to skipping some of the last aid stations and being passed by Karen Smyers for the win I pulled in and drank my two cups of gatorade. Another bit of banana and a cookie. I had 5 kms to go and the 6 hour goal was out of reach. Out onto the trail again we soon joined up with some of the other events in progress. No 31 km skiers were to be seen but the 13 km skiers were plentiful. They all had lots of energy and were moving all of their body parts with full ranges of motion. That was certainly something I hadn’t seen in a while out on the 55 km course. Everyone moving my pace had developed their survival skiing mode and was implementing it in fine form. These skiers were doing another fine form and it wasn’t particularly uplifting.

We got to split off of the trail of the quick skiers after a short stretch and got back onto our own route. The snow was quite grainy and in places where herringbone was necessary to ascend a hill the track was chewed up into a sand pit. Pushing against mooshed snow suddenly became incredibly demoralizing and even though these hills were tiny compared to the long ones earlier the challenge seemed enormous. Slow progress down the trail. I switched to the left lane because it was slightly less chewed up as I was all alone. No-one could complain about not being able to pass me as I had been alone for the better part of three kilometers. The one km to go marker came and went and then I heard someone coming from behind me. I planned that I was going to try and race him if he was carrying a pack. I was not about to be passed by someone this late in the game. The mental preparation for the sprint finish was building and building. I felt already like I was going as fast as I could but I was pretty sure that if this guy actually passed me I could just tell my body to go a bit faster and it would have to find another gear. Slowly the sounds were closer and I checked over my right shoulder. This guy had a green bib and wasn’t carrying a pack. What a relief! I wouldn’t have to race to the finish after all. I slowed it right down having passed the final 100 m marker and skied in to the finish. All by myself.

After having my timing chip removed I slid over to the guy weighing packs and he hung mine on the scale. 9.5 kgs. My pack had gained about 5 lbs since being weighed. The pad on the back was saturated with water, I hadn’t weighed in the fleece jacket that I had ended up carrying the whole way and swapped mitts. I was congratulated on having weighed in with the heaviest backpack of the day thus far. No-one else skied the Birkebeiner 2009 with a backpack heavier than mine any faster than I did. That’s a record I don’t think I’m going to try and keep for next year. I don’t know if that means I should switch backpacks to one with less comfortable straps and waistbelt or I should figure out a lighter way to pack this one with everything I need.

I’ve never eaten a hotdog that tasted so good in my entire life before.

I tabulated a few stats based on data from my Garmin:

Station Rest Time HR recovery
1 1:06 0:20
2 2:53 0:36
3 3:11 1:07
4 11:00* 1:01
5 2:45 1:06
6 12:40** 0:59
7 2:46 0:58
8 1:41 1:34!
9 3:16 2:16!
10 1:31 1:11
Finish N/A 5:14!
Total: 39:49
* Picture with Ben and Lindsay and mitts
** Waxing and washroom break

A few graphs from the garmin: Heart rate – Elevation – Speed


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Triathlon Club ski trip

Triathlon club made its annual ski trip to the mountains last weekend. Panorama was the destination and even though there hadn’t been snow in about two and a half weeks the combination of excellent weather (blue skies), good company and ski equipment I don’t mind skiing over gravel and bushes with made for a very fun weekend. The temperatures were well above zero both afternoons and the snow conditions were nice and soft, unfortunately this meant that early morning skiing and some of the groomed trails were icy disaster zones but for the most part we still had a good time. I skied mostly the top half of the mountain, running some of the same runs repeatedly once they were discovered by our group to capitalize on skiing where the snow was and keeping a positive attitude by not worrying about the patches between here and there that were a bit bare.


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Christmas Break

Christmas break was spent in Calgary for the most part. It resulted in an awful lot less running than I hoped initially due to absolutely outrageous temperatures and then a lot of other activity. The hopes of getting out running frequently over the break weren’t met but when it’s because I wound up doing quite a bit of skiing the trade off isn’t quite as tough to take.

The skiing trips worth noting were a day’s ski from Sunshine parking lot up to the summit of Healy Pass. This was in anticipation of skiing into Egypt Lake shelter in February and I wanted to gain an idea of the layout of the valley and gauge the equipment needs on the trail before going in with a dozen or so people. Dad and I were on the trail soon before 9 am and made it to the top of the pass around noon. The wind was really howling up top so we didn’t spend much time there, just skied off the far side for a few hundred meters and then returned down the hill before taking lunch in the shelter of the trees.

The next week I skied up to Burstall Pass with both my Mom and my Dad on a new(ish) set of skis that I pillaged from the garage and had some new binding mounted on. This resulted in me having skins for the climb up to the top of the pass and I was really quite grateful for them. The ski in was nice, the climb was tough and the assault on the actual pass was I suppose unsuccessful. When we popped out above the treeline we were probably a half kilometer north of where we probably should have been. This resulted in us deciding that we’d done enough elevation and turned around to beeline it down the hill.

The very next day we skied in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and skied up to Elk Pass before summitting Blueberry hill. The ski was fun and flying back down after all the work to get up seems to be more rewarding each time I do it. I think it’s a matter of me winding up heavier and heavier each time I’ve gone as I’ve grown up from being a little kid.

The following day I headed out with the whole family for two days skiing at Revelstoke Mountain Resort. The hill opened in 2007 and currently has the longest vertical drop of any ski hill in North America. We quite enjoyed the hill even though snow conditions on the bottom half were a bit sparse here and there. The weather was different at each different spot on the way up the mountain. The first day skiing in clouds up top and clear skies down below and the second skiing in blue skies and a bone chilling wind at -25oC at the summit with a snowstorm happening in the valley below. The hill is quite steep and I quite enjoyed it, it’s obviously built to have a few more expansions added in coming years as currently there are a few more traversing requirements than would be ideal but for the time being that’s alright. Apparently every room in the whole town is basically booked every day of the year so some parts of the development there need to hurry along to make this place catch on in a big way.

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