Friday, April 12, 2013

24hrs at Lappe

As I drove out with my sister and a friend (Tristan), to Thunder Bay I started to get pretty pumped for the 24hr race. Let me tell you that in the long distance races the mental attitude is far more important than anything else. That is why this pump up is so important. There are a lot of little voices in your head that tell you not to do it, but on the day before I mentally felt ready. The conditions were looking great in the weather forcast (1-3cm of snow high of -1 and low of -5). Sounds almost ideal. The last time I had done this race it started off at +5 and dropped down to -20 over night, which was hard to stay warm when your body had been going for so long. After much hydrating during the drive and big pasta feast at night and cozied into bed only to be thinking about the race. I went into the race hoping to ski for the entire 24hrs this year and attempt 300km. The last time I had done it I had gotten in 278km and that was my first 24hr experience. Since 2011 I have competed in many endurance races that have lasted that long, so I felt that I had a little more experience under my belt and felt a little stronger this year than the past. However things may not have gone as planned it was still a great race. The start of the race happened at 11am with temps around 0 and fresh snow on the ground. The course also added another loop which consisted of an extra down hill, which also means an extra climb and totaled 5.3km in length. Conditions started off great and I knew the track would get faster as people skied on it. Now exact times are a bit of a blur to me after skiing it, but this is how the race went down in my head. Start of the race you can see I had a good smile and looked positive. The first lap was great and in the past I had found the hardest (usually your mind telling you why are you going around a 5km loop for 24hrs, are you nuts?), but this year I found it quite pleasant. There was a good wind, which made it feel quite cool, actually made it feel a lot cooler than it was. There was still a slight snow coming down. First few hours. Still felt great, the slight snow that was coming down, was almost a mist or rain, so I was getting a little wet, but the track was getting glazed and the down hills were speeding up. Yes. This was looking perfect for my game plan. The temps were only going to cool over night which would make the track even faster. And yes the misting did stop and things were looking better and better into the not so long future of the night ski Hour 4-12. Well things changed quite quickly. It had started to snow. Actually it just kept snowing. At this point I started thinking about what I would write in the blog and how I could relate the trail conditions to people who do not cross country skiing. Imagine ride your bike on a gravel road. Now add a bunch of twist and turns, a few downhills, and a few up hills. Quite enjoyable right? That is what I thought, but by adding snow it was like someone started dumping sand along this gravel road you are riding your bike on. And at every point there is more and more sand being added. Yes for those of you who have biked in sand it seems to suck energy from your legs and this is exactly what the snow was doing for me. The up hills were quickly turning into mash potatoes, which is not fun at all. I think there has only been a handful of races with more snow than this for me and they were typically only 10km long, not 24hrs. It also got quite hard mentally as a number of racers doing the 12hr event started dropping out around 6hrs. If they couldn't last another 6 hours, how am I going to last another 18 in these conditions. At one point I was thinking of throwing in the towel. Why not go back sit in the sauna and watch some tv with a cold one in my hand. Sounds great perfect. However the battle of me pushing on won and I continued. It was around the 7-8hr mark that they decided to pull out the groomer and try and pack the trail amongst the skiers. I was thinking this is a great idea, and hopefully help these legs of my that were starting to fail and cramp. However, the grooming did not help. After half a lap one could not even tell the groomer had gone on the trail as it continued to snow and feel like you were biking in more and more sand. It was finally at the 11hr mark that the snow stopped. I continued to ski until the 12hr mark and decided there was no way my legs could handle much more. I figured with a short 2hr nap I would reassess the conditions and continue on. It was also at this point I started questioning my overall fitness. I started playing out how I should have trained more for this, how I should have been stronger, but in the end I told myself it was about living a balanced life and there was nothing I could do at the moment anyway. So off to sleep I went. I awoke with heart burn, which is not a great motivator to get you skiing again, but soon I was out skiing some laps in the dark. Most of the night is quite a blur to me. I remember trying to do 3-4 laps and then coming inside for a short break. And it wasn't until just before dawn that I got renewed strength and probably skied three of my favorite laps as the sun started to rise. Not sure what it was, but I was in the zone. I was hoping this feeling would last the remaining 4 hrs, but it did not. My last 3 hrs I was one step in front of the other. The hills felt even bigger than they had during the night, and the my skis started to feel slow as well (could have been due to the warming temps melting the snow). I remember finishing my last complete lap and saw that I still had time remaining, it was enough time to complete about another 3km, which seems like a great idea, however in those 3kms are the 2 largest hills on the whole course. I manage to climb them both before the time ran out and the bear banger went off. In total I skied 243.3km. This was good enough for 2nd place out of a field of 7. I had talked to the winner (who has skied it for more than a decade) and he mentioned this was the toughest conditions he had experienced. Some ask why I do these long events. For me, I find peace. It is probably one of the quietest places I know. You can truly listen to your body and hear everything. While I am racing, I am able to turn everything off as far as what is going on in my life, the city, the world, and just see the next 5 feet in front of me. And that is all I have to worry about is those 5 feet. I think that is an important part to life. Have a goal (this case 24hr ski race), but to get to the goal you have to take baby steps and focus on those few feet in front of you. If you only look at the end or finish, it seems almost impossible and you might not make it. Cheers Tim