The bearings for my BB30 bottom bracket arrived today. That was the main thing preventing me from getting this bike built. I mounted them up and slapped on a few components. I’ll do the cabling this weekend and post final photos of the preliminary build. This is basically what it will look like, plus some white cabling, white cages and white bar tape. I might decide to get my hands on some white HUDZ for the doubletaps, that might be overkill though, I’ll have to see how it looks in black first. I’m still undecided on what to acquire for race wheels, and I’m currently reconsidering whether or not my perceived need to go for a crank-based meter is necessary. I can get a deep-section set of carbon clinchers that are already laced up to a powertap hub that weigh less than my trispoke-disc combo for the same price as a quarq. There is an aero-disadvantage but I could go the route of a disc-cover for long-course triathlon and this is probably comparable. I also get myself out of tubulars which is costly and frustrating for flats. If I’m running an 808 depth wheelset for my powermeter that means I need to be comfortable doing an awful lot of riding on it. That means I might be “the guy who shows up to the Thursday night ride with deep carbon wheels”. Hmmm…. not sure if I want that. Anyways, here’s the bike so far:
I updated the graphics on my disc and TT helmet for the 2011 season (and beyond) with the logo from the Hardcore bike shop in Edmonton.
< rant >
Before you comment telling me that I need to angle my aerobars down a bit more to get my forearms to be level because you think it is more aerodynamic please look here & here & here & here & here & here & here & here & here and observe that my forearms are level which is actually more important than the angle that the aerobars point when you look at them when the bike is standing still. You don’t usually tell someone that their seat is the wrong height when they’re not on their bike so you’d be wise not to make comments about my handlebars when I’m not riding it.
< / rant >
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.
I’m in another research study, this one is testing the acute effects of L-arginine ingestion on exercise. They’re looking at the growth hormone levels in the blood during submaximal exertion in endurance trained athletes and so need to have a good idea where anaerobic threshold is. This means that they need to know quite a bit about my physiology to determine what normal is before they can do the double-blind test on what L-arganine will do to my two one hour riding sessions, which are to be done at 80% of my anaerobic threshold power. All that just to say that I could get a free VO2-max test out of the deal which, if you ask me, is always a good trade!
This also required body composition testing done by underwater weighing and I scored 7.2 % body fat which I think was probably reasonably accurate and also pretty acceptable for the base-season of my year. 7.2% fat means I’ve got about 14 lbs of fat on me which either sounds like a lot, or it doesn’t sound like much, depending on who you are. I take this to mean the following: If I think I can lean up to about 6% fat by race-day I have to loose a whole kilogram of fat. That also means I only have a kilogram of fat to loose. If you’re a calorie counter that’s a matter of coming up short on average 100 calories per day from here until race day, which is silly-easy if you adopt that method of body-composition control. I’ll reference you to a recent pair of blog posts written by my coach Steven Lord entitled “Calorie Counting Futility” and “More on Calorie Counting Futility” which very specifically address the issue of leaning-up as an athlete. I think you can probably tell by their titles what his opinion is! I never have been a long term calorie counter and I don’t intend on being one.
I have previously had both great success and negligible success adopting a simple strategy of shifting towards “lean protein and more salad vegetables” during lead-ups to a couple races in the previous few seasons. The philosophical strategy behind that was to phrase the choices positively so that I am trying to get satiated on those fuel sources and then will naturally reduce the component that processed carbohydrates plays in my diet. I’m currently modifying the method to incorporate a bit of a negative statement which I’m not totally certain about, as I don’t like the idea of not eating things, I think it’s more mentally healthy to phrase this stuff in the positive. For now the strategy is again a shift towards incorporating “lean protein and more salad vegetables” as well as “minimizing consumption of processed carbohydrates outside a window of 2 hours before and 2 hours after exercise”. Interestingly, that means if I’m doing a double workout in the day it doesn’t really apply. I am not monitoring my weight too closely these days and I am certainly not monitoring my body composition frequently even though I have access to a four-point electrical impedance tool which has proven reliable in the past. As I’ve written before in this blog, I found that doing so had me miss the forest for the trees.
Now that I sound like I’ve got an eating disorder I’ll get back to the VO2-max test.
This first figure shows my oxygen consumption with increasing wattage. It shows that I maxed out with one minute at 540 Watts (on an average of 60kms, and strictly less than 100kms, per week on the bike since October – not bad!) and had a peak oxygen uptake of 5.4 L/min which is a pretty good absolute score. I have scored as high as 5.7 L/min previously but that was following the Sea-to-Sea bike tour where I absolutely loaded my body with aerobic work and rode 6 days a week for 9 weeks, a far cry from the point in my season where I’m at right now. My relative score is good but not great. It definitely qualifies me for the study, but it also shows I’m not yet race-ready.
This second chart shows the results of gas-analysis. I crossed over to anaerobic work at 4 L/min with an estimated power output of between 320 and 360 Watts. The corresponding HR to this crossover occurred in the range of 165-170 bpm. Previously, I had been treating my threshold HR on the bike to be around 176 bpm which is a slight overestimate. The results of the test give me an indication that in future I need to down-estimate my cycling threshold HR by a few bpm to the high 160’s rather than the mid 170’s. A more accurate measure is unnecessary (as HR will vary day to day) and unavailable because the step-test protocol goes in 40 Watt increments and lets your HR settle intermittently rather than gradually ramping through all of the different power-outputs. Interestingly I only reached a max-HR of 196 bpm during the test. I have always cracked 200 bpm during previous tests. It’s possible that I am dealing with a tiny bit of residual fatigue from the race this past weekend which could have made a bit of difference.
This figure is the one that I find the most interesting but it’s also the most inaccurate as it’s based on a hack calculation I did of substrate consumption during exercise. I used the table of “Thermal Equivalents of Oxygen for the non-protein respiratory quotient” from “Essentials of exercise physiology, Volume 1 By William D. McArdle, Frank I. Katch, Victor L. Katch” and directly substituted my respiratory exchange ratio (RER) during the test for the respiratory quotient (RQ) quoted from the table. This is a poor assumption and I know it. The testing protocol recording this data was also rather rapid and so it means that I didn’t have the opportunity to settle in to a nice and calm fat burning metabolic state during the early part of the test. This is seen by a low fat consumption in the early stages which is almost certainly false. Then as the test progresses towards anaerobic threshold my fat consumption trails off and so when I hit anaerobic threshold I am by definition exhibiting an exchange ratio of one. This is where the assumption that RER=RQ is obviously problematic. It’s almost guaranteed that I am still metabolizing some fat at this workload but the assumption implies that I cannot be.
RER – the Respiratory Exchange Ratio is the ratio of expired CO2 to the inspired O2 during exercise and it is measured at the mouth by the gas analysis machine.
RQ – the Respiratory Quotient is the ratio of CO2 produced by cellular respiration to the quantity of O2 consumed during cellular respiration. Burning carbohydrates produced 6x CO2 molecules for each 6x O2 molecules consumed giving an RQ of 1.0 Burning lipids which are a more energy dense molecule requires more O2 to metabolize the fuel for the same amount of CO2 produced.
Over a long period of time when the body functions at a constant exertion (or rest) the time average of RER is equal to the time average of RQ.
One other thing that’s interesting to do is calculate my efficiency in converting chemical energy to mechanical energy. If we look at threshold power and say that I was at 340 Watts (estimate) and I was metabolizing 20 calories per minute that means I was consuming 1394 Watts of chemical energy and exhibiting a conversion ratio of 24.4%. OK, for those of you in the know you’re very aware that 24% conversion efficiency is pretty much the gold standard in cycling so I’ll admit I cherry picked my estimate to put me there. If you look at the results over the sub-threshold exertions (below) you’ll see that there is a trend that shows me displaying a false peak in efficiency while the metabolic process RQ is translated through my blood and lungs to display itself as an RER measured at my mouth. Where the gross efficiency settles before the next incremental increase would be the true measure of my conversion ratio. As shown in the little table I do exhibit excellent conversion factors but I’m not a world record breaker.
|Gross cycling efficiency at subthreshold exertion|
|160 W||200 W||240 W||280 W||320 W|
OK, one final calculation for the nerds who read all the way to the end:
I know that the result is going to turn out poorly because as I already discussed there’s lots of evidence to believe that fat burning has been underestimated by the testing protocol and my lack of comprehensive skills in doing the calculations. But, I figure I should run the calculation anyways. I finished at 240 Watts with a HR that was settled right around my Ironman HR last year when all prepped up for the race in Penticton. I was significantly more aerobically fit at that point than I am now so I should have tested with a higher fat burning capacity at that HR than I did during the test, but let’s presume I’m the same. Over all of the records at 240 Watts I averaged a caloric expenditure of 14.3 calories per minute. The average percentage of that that came from fat was 21% or 3.0 calories per minute. That means I burned 858 calories per hour while riding the bike at Ironman, which totals a caloric burn of 4476 calories (5:13 bike split) and I will have been able to process 939 calories of my fat reserves on the bike. I have already well documented my nutrition strategy for Ironman on the blog so I won’t reiterate all the points here except to say that I ingested 2500 calories while on the bike. This calculation means I could have had a bike-leg caloric deficit of 1037 calories. Considering that I can EASILY burn 1000 calories per hour swimming (I’ll tell you right now I swam way harder than I biked) then I should have reached T2 having burned through more than 2000 calories of stored glycogen… (average adult’s stored glycogen is 2000 calories) and while I may be able to load myself up on a bit more than that because I’m a big person and because I employed some caloric storage training and because I did pre-race carbo fueling and the pre-race banana that entered my bloodstream during the swim for ~100 calories) these estimates show that I would have been starting the marathon with nothing in the tank, or at least with less than ~20% of my glycogen reserves.
Like I said, the calculation wasn’t going to work. I was burning more fat than this estimate leaves us to believe. I’m pretty sure that I did the bike glycogen neutral or perhaps even glycogen positive to restore some reserves lost on the swim. The deficit by these estimates would have required me to have burned 6.3 calories per minute of fat on the bike. That estimate is probably a lot closer to the truth and it’s not unreasonable to believe that I could have done that, it only amounts to 44% of my calories from fat at that workload. Considering I was riding a mix of easy and steady, that’s not an unreasonable thing to expect of my body. I’ve seen metabolic testing profiles elsewhere online with ironman exertion fat consumption ratios both at and above this 45% range.
I’ll conclude this post with one final thought. Going faster at Ironman doesn’t require that you burn as much fat as you can on the bike. Going faster at Ironman requires you doing the bike split as quickly as you can and still deliver yourself to the beginning of the run capable of running your best marathon. That probably doesn’t mean that you need to have your glycogen stores full if you’re reasonably capable of consuming calories while running and run with any sort of reasonable efficiency. If we look at how much professional ironman athletes eat (or Kona qualifying AG athletes in the M25-39 AGs) during the run portion of the event compared to athletes who are running standalone marathons in comparable times (2:40-3:00) we see a big discrepancy. Clearly the professional ironman athletes are not arriving in T2 with full glycogen stores or they wouldn’t have to eat like that. I know it’s dangerous to compare yourself to the pros to learn how to go faster (Scott Molina on IMTalk last week had excellent stuff to say on this topic – listen if you’re interested) but I think it is indicative of the fastest strategy on the bike leg NOT being anywhere close to 100% conservative.
The weekly updates:
2011-01-10 to 2011-01-16
|Sport||Total Distance||Total Time||Min Pace||Ave Pace||Max Pace||Pace Units|
|Run||10.68||km||1:37:00||13:00||9:05||5:38||min per km|
|Swim||3300||m||1:30:00||2:44||2:44||2:44||min per 100 meters|
|Total Time||10 hrs 22min||Two Days Off|
2011-01-17 to 2011-01-23
|Sport||Total Distance||Total Time||Min Pace||Ave Pace||Max Pace||Pace Units|
|Run||5.3||km||0:24:40||4:39||4:39||4:39||min per km|
|Swim||4000||m||1:27:00||2:24||2:11||1:48||min per 100 meters|
|Total Time||17 hrs 35min||Zero Days Off|
2011-01-24 to 2011-01-30
|Sport||Total Distance||Total Time||Min Pace||Ave Pace||Max Pace||Pace Units|
|Run||55.87||km||5:09:08||6:22||5:32||5:12||min per km|
|Swim||3200||m||1:00:00||1:52||1:52||1:52||min per 100 meters|
|Yoga||0||mi||1:00:00||na||na||na||no pace units|
|Total Time||11 hrs 13min||One Day Off|
2011-01-31 to 2011-02-06
|Sport||Total Distance||Total Time||Min Pace||Ave Pace||Max Pace||Pace Units|
|Run||38.15||km||3:32:30||7:08||5:34||5:00||min per km|
|Swim||6500||m||2:25:00||2:14||2:14||2:13||min per 100 meters|
|Total Time||7 hrs 57min||Three Days Off|
2011-02-07 to 2011-02-13
|Sport||Total Distance||Total Time||Min Pace||Ave Pace||Max Pace||Pace Units|
|Run||29.43||km||2:28:56||5:21||5:04||4:49||min per km|
|Swim||2800||m||1:00:00||2:09||2:09||2:09||min per 100 meters|
|Total Time||10 hrs 54min||One Day Off|
I did at best an acceptable job with sticking on a training plan during the past period of time. I’m not exactly proud to be posting these stats as it makes it evident that I haven’t been out running nearly as much as I said I was going to be running. I’ve had a few periods of good success, and one week of perfect execution on the run which occurred at the expense of one swim and a day of skiing. It was followed up by a good week of running which then crumbled on the weekend with a total of zero hours logged and coming up significantly short on my mileage target. The causes have been largely due to commitments surrounding the completion of my degree, with a few long weeks of work and relatively high levels of stress that were making it necessary to dedicate 10 hours of sleep per night to be able to function during the day. The result of that is time rapidly disappearing from training. I’ll also take a bit of personal responsibility for not treating these issues with significant enough urgency to solve the problems before they arose. Militantly defending little bits of training time throughout the week has a pretty poor return on investment and so when push came to shove I dismissed the necessity of training in adverse conditions as well as unfortunately trying to save time by making relatively poor dietary choices.
There have been periods of great success sprinkled amongst these frustrations. I marked an improvement of another 15 seconds per kilometer on my MAF run pace later in January (to the 4:40-4:45/km range). Since putting in the period of 11 days of fantastic consistency I saw an improvement of my default pace from around 5:20/km to about 5:00/km which is nice. I was seeing a default pace (~140bpm HR) of about this speed during my 40 runs in 40 days challenge in May last year. At that point my MAF pace was around 4:15/km. I don’t believe that I’m going to test at that pace this coming week with a MAF run test so that means an interesting thing. I’ve somehow narrowed the gap between my MAF pace and my default run pace. The only thing I think I can attribute this to is my transition into a slightly different style of stride with much more of a midfoot strike. This may not contribute to me going a lot faster when running at a MAF limit but interestingly it is making me faster a very submaximal paces. I think this is good because it likely contributes to improved efficiency at those faster paces at a more rapid rate than if I have a large discrepancy between the two sets of paces. Maybe this isn’t happening, I haven’t tested my MAF pace in three weeks, it could be that I’m already at the aerobic fitness required for the 4:15/km pace which would be nice because that would be goal marathon pace already, nearly 70 days prior to the start!
The PMCs at the left show that I have been able to keep building fitness over the past period of time (ATL is ahead of CTL all the way) and so despite really mentally feeling like I wasn’t giving my attention to training the same way that I wanted to I was still progressing. This is a comforting sign and it’s a reminder to me that I need to keep taking stock of where I’m at numerically and in testing rather than just how I feel. It’s fine that I’m not able to be throwing down a bunch of 18-20 hour weeks the same way I did last February, because my fitness is in a different spot and I’m progressing it from there. That said, my training stress balance is not as negative as I know I can handle at this period of the season and so I could be training a bit harder. That’s also OK for this period of time. The snapshot shows that I keep pressing onward with my general fitness for the next period of time until the second week of March which is a bit of a breather (my training stress balance should “come up for air” at that point) before getting into a period of 3 week “Lactate Threshold Phase” and then moving in to what the Pfitzinger plan calls the “Specific Prep Phase” which continues on with the Lactate Threshold work but is directed to helping me dial in the marathon pace. That leaves me with a two week taper into the race. This is on the shorter side as far as tapers could go but I believe that because I am not trying to dig a huge hole it shouldn’t take so long to climb out. I’m training with the focus of getting fast during the final period of time, not trying to get outrageously fit by loading up on volume so a gigantic taper should be unnecessary.
At right is an indication of my planned run fitness which shows a progression in training stress from -1 unit to -3 units. I know that this is reasonable to expect of myself, but it’s important to note that I plan to maintain a training stress balance of overall fitness hovering right around zero the entire time while I do this. This is done by paring back my commitments to other sports (skiing is no longer scheduled at all past mid-March for example).
Wrapping up this post
I began writing this post on Monday but didn’t have the focus to keep writing so I put it on hold. Then I got distracted by the very interesting statistics from the VO2 test on Tuesday and writing up a blog post on that. At which point I needed to buckle down and focus for a successful thesis defense on Thursday. That little delay enables me to conclude this post by answering my question posed a few paragraphs higher up about what my MAF pace is at the moment. I tested today indoors (because it was -22oC outside) and stupidly calculated which lane I needed to run in on the track doing 1 minute laps to get me running at 4:15 pace (Lane 6 on a 200m track in case you were wondering). So, needless to say this caused a bit of strife because I set out to test my HR at 4:15 pace instead of following the normal MAF testing protocol which is for me to run at 161 bpm and then measure the resulting pace. After warming up I ran 1500m at that pace at which point I had received enough feedback from my HRM and my breathing rate that I was not in the kind of shape required for 4:15/km at MAFHR fitness. I wouldn’t call it a botched test, it was interesting to follow that kind of testing design and I think I learned a few things from it about pacing (I think this kind of testing protocol would actually be pretty useful on the bike riding in rolling terrain with a powermeter) but I was also able to then dial back the intensity on the run and still salvage a better estimate of MAF pace which scored me around 4:25-4:28 per km. That’s alright, it’s a good progression in the past few weeks so I’m satisfied.
To wrap up I’ll post two tentative schedules. The first is for the next three weeks (well, this week is more than half over already) and is the final three weeks dedicated to aerobic development. I know already that I am going to come up way short this week on running mileage which is frustrating but I’m going to go skiing anyways for two days and enjoy it, I’ll be just fine for hours as a result! I am also posting a tentative look ahead to the following three weeks which the Pfitzinger “Advanced Marathoning” book describes as a Lactate Threshold phase. I currently have this set out according to the second “level” of mileage targets in the plan design and before I start into the next phase of training I’m going to assess whether or not I’ve been successful enough during the current aerobic phase to tackle that or if I need to scale back my expectations for myself (basically determined by if I can put together good consistency for the next two weeks). I’ll post again in three weeks on the subject of doing that mid-build self-assessment.
If the pattern I’ve been monitoring with my MAF testing continues as it has been going I will have a MAF pace that is very closely correlated with goal marathon pace by the point in time that I begin Lactate Threshold focus. That would be ideal. The result would be that my race-pace work is going to be right on the edge of being aerobic so it should be manageable. It also means that all of my lactate threshold work will be above race pace instead of (say, if I switched into that phase of training at the moment) being at around race pace and so will be training my mind to think of marathon pace as the relatively manageable. That’s a big coup. I know that when I was running lots of my shorter aerobic runs at around 4:45-4:50 pace during June and July in 2010 and staying completely aerobic throughout their entire durations I was really developing a strong belief in my ability to take on the 5:00/km goal pace at Ironman. Training that perception in advance of the marathon in Vancouver is important to me as I know it will make a difference in how well I am able to stay focussed in the race-situation.
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.
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.
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.