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Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion
  March 1
Day 28
I have been training in relative seclusion for four weeks now, only coming out to do the occasional citizen's race. I mentioned Rocky back when I started this training plan and now I really feel like him. While the rest of the skiers are racing in Europe or the Birkie or other glamorous events, I am in the woods of Northern New Hampshire, on my own. I am loving it. The beautiful snow, the quiet trails. I feel like I should go out back and run through the snow and lift trees over my head.

March 2
Day 29
When are they going to vote Jerri off Survivor? I really can't stand her. And how did all three couples on Temptation Island stay together? Please.

March 3
Day 30
Having been at it for over a month, I have a daily routine going right now that I really like. As I mentioned when I laid out the comeback plan, a routine is important. Usually, when I am in training, I have a routine, but it is dictated as much by work and other necessary evils as by my training needs. Here, however, I have the luxury to schedule everything around my training. Now I know how much easier Bjorn Daehlie's life is than mine. My current daily routine:

8:00am -Get Up and eat breakfast. It is so nice to wake up in the morning and not feel rushed. If I am really tired, I can lay there a while longer without worrying about being late for work. I know that this a luxury I will hardly ever have again for this extended period of time, so I am allowing myself to enjoy it.

After the usual wakeup routine, I have time to relax, check email, and read the paper (usually yesterday's). I have also gotten into the habit of watching one of our World Cup Race Videos each morning. I have learned quite a bit by studying these tapes over and over and it helps get me psyched up for the day's workout.

Then it is out the door to ski. It takes half an hour to drive to Bretton Woods, where I usually ski, which is a bit of a drag, but when that is the biggest complaint I have, life must be good.

After skiing, I usually spend the rest of my day in front of my computer, either doing work (if I feel like it) or working on this website (hence the new look), or just catching up on all the surfing I haven't had time to do.

In the evening after dinner, I usually crash in front of the TV for a couple hours before bed. I am usually not a big TV watcher because I don't have the time and 90% of the stuff on it is garbage anyway. But now I am kind of relishing catching up on all the garbage I have been missing. I had no idea that "Norm" was so funny.

I'll admit that this routine is kind of leisurely and that I am even starting to get a little bored. But I am happy to be bored. I just think back to my hectic, miserable work and training schedule last fall and I could not be happier to sit on the couch after a good ski and say, "I have nothing to do."

March 4
Day 31
I had a hard time deciding what race to do this weekend. For a few weeks I toyed with the idea of breaking my self-imposed retreat by flying out to California for the Great Ski Race. I really wanted to make the trip, but after a while I realized that I wanted to go for non-skiing reasons. Among other things, after a month in one place I guess I was itching to go some place. I miss the hectic pace of a skier's midwinter lifestyle. But eventually I decided that training-wise it was not the thing to do. High altitude, long race, lots of travel. Plus it would be very expensive. So instead I resolved to stay here and finish out my 6 week training plan. With this decision made, I then had to decide which local race to do. There was going to be a race weekend up in Rangley, Maine consisting of "Pro Sprints" on Saturday and a 50K Marathon on Sunday. I really wanted to do the sprints, but I had no desire to jump into a 50K right now. My other option was the Jackson Jaunt, a well-attended 15K skate race in Jackson, New Hampshire. Since I am starting to feel a little faster and more confident, I wanted to go wherever the competition was best. The Rangley event is fairly new and the results from last year's Jackson Jaunt showed that both Dave Chamberlain and Marc Gilbertson raced, so I decided against the 50K and went to Jackson. It was a good race for me to do, since I do feel left out by not doing the Great Race this year. The course profile was exactly like the Great Race, only shorter. The course climbed up a mountain for 10K, then upon reaching the pass, dropped dramatically for the last 5K back to the finish. My plan was to start easy and feel out the field, following the stronger skiers until making my move about halfway up the hill. But right off the start line I found myself out in front with no one really challenging me. I thought, "Oh what the heck" and decided to just go with it. For the first 3K, I raced tactically. I maintained a gap of about 100 meters at a fairly moderate pace and if someone sped up to challenge me, I would speed up to keep the gap. I was skiing well, and I was confident that the race was already in hand. Then at about 4K, I noticed someone behind me making a move. I picked up the pace, but they kept coming. Soon the climb steepened and I was working very hard, but I could sense that the skier was still back there, not too far off. I was now very concerned that I had been too cocky and was now going to suffer defeat for it. I hammered up the steepest sections of the course, and finally at about 8K I no longer had the sense that I was being followed. When the course made a U-turn at one point, I could see the trail I had just come up and there was no one within a minute behind me. I relaxed a bit, but now I was tired and it was a chore just to get up the last couple Ks to the top. Once at the top, I was relieved and excited about the downhill. Having never skied the trail before, I had no idea what was coming around each hairpin turn, but I charged forward, under the assumption that it was a citizen's race so the course couldn't be too hard. I almost paid dearly for this assumption on a couple of occasions, but I managed to stand up and I made it down the final 5K in about 8 minutes. I ended up winning by about 1:30, which was less than I had hoped for, but still good considering my dilly-dallying on the first few Ks.

After the race and awards were over, I went back out skiing. I love skiing at Jackson because they have so many trails that wind all over the picturesque New England Village. When I think of cross country skiing, this is what I think of. Even though I was tired I couldn't pass up the opportunity to explore some more of their trails. After an hour and a half of exploring I had convinced myself that I wanted to live in Jackson. I even picked out my house, right on one of the trails, with a beautiful view of Mt. Washington. Unfortunately, the fact that it is not for sale would only be one of my many obstacles in buying it right now.

March 5
Day 32
Wow, now today was fun day. Around my parent's house in Littleton, and all throughout northern New Hampshire, there is a network of snowmobile trails that are maintained and groomed by local clubs. When I was in high school, I did a large percentage of my training on these trails. They aren't perfect, but if you hit them after they have been groomed and not too many bubbleheads have ripped them up, the skiing can be great. Since they go on almost forever, you never feel like gerbil in a spinning wheel, like sometimes happens when you have been skiing at one place, on one trail, for too long. So today I decided to head out the door, onto the snowmobile trail and see where it took me. Since it is the Monday after a vacation week for the local schools, I figured traffic would be minimal. The traffic was less than minimal - I didn't see a motorized sled all day! I skied for four and a half hours. I wound my way all around the town of Littleton, through the middle of the forest with no signs of civilization for miles, over lakes, across rivers, and even right through the Wal-Mart parking lot. Along the way, I saw two other skiers, tracks from three snowmobiles and that was it. By the four hour mark I was getting very hungry and tired and it was torture to have to ski right behind the McDonalds, but I kept going and staggered home. I was exhausted by the effort, but also thrilled that I could cover so much ground on skis without being confined to a nordic trail system. There are so many snowmobile trails out there, I could ski anywhere. Maybe my next big adventure will be to ski from the Massachusetts border to the Canadian border. Or maybe from Vermont to Maine. The possibilities are endless. I'm not sure if there are trails all the way, but I am willing to bet that you can get almost anywhere in northern New England on snowmobile trails.

March 6
Day 33
Monday is usually my day off, but since I did a super-OD yesterday instead of resting, I was more than ready to take today off. I was more tired today than I have been in months. It felt great to get up and have my muscles be so sore and tired. It let me know that I was really pushing myself. After months of routine training, I was really happy that I had gone out and done something that my body wasn't used to.

March 7
Day 34
This winter has been ridiculous. I simply cannot believe the amount of snow that the east has received this year. Everyone talks about how there was so much more snow when they were younger, but I doubt anyone's memories include greater snowbanks that I am seeing right now. It had already been an above average winter, and then yesterday and today, a Nor'easter blew in and dumped up to two feet of snow in many places. Up north of the White Mountains, where I am, the high peaks blocked the storm coming in off the coast and we only received about six inches, but at this point it doesn't really matter how much we get - the skiing can't get any better. It has gotten to the point where I wish I could say, "OK that's plenty of snow to last until April, let's just save the rest of these storms until November." I was pushing through a lot of new snow and wind when I skied today, but I couldn't complain at all. The New Hampshire winter that I have been waiting for years and years, is finally here and by a crazy chain of events, I am actually here to enjoy it! Plus I hear that the west is almost hurting for snow in many places. Not that I want any place to do without the precious white stuff, I do have this little voice in my head that says, "Finally, for once the tables have turned."

March 8
Day 35
Today was my weekly trip to the weight room. Now that I have been back on the weights for a few weeks, I find that I usually feel better the day after weights. As I have mentioned before, it is almost a kind of active recovery because I am working the muscles but in a different way than they are used to.

March 9
Day 36
Pretty easy day of skiing. I plan on doing two races this weekend, so an hour was plenty for me to loosen up and get ready. My legs felt very springy and energized and the skiing was perfect so it was hard to stop, but I managed to tear myself away.

March 10
Day 37
This just in: Bill Koch was right: skating is faster than classical.
Because I am doing a skate race in Craftsbury tomorrow, I really wanted to do a classic race today. But there were none on the NENSA schedule. So I decided that I would do a local skate race, but do it classical. This race would be against the same competition that I had beaten the past few weeks by a couple minutes, so I thought it would make for a pretty level playing field. Well, I may be a good classic skier, but I am not THAT good. I got beaten by two minutes. It was a flat course and I had no tracks, but I felt good. I felt like I had a quick tempo and a strong double pole. So even though I got beaten soundly, it was a good day.

March 11
Day 38
Today was the Craftsbury Spring FLing race. It is a mass start even and I hoped to have some good competition. There was a 15K and a 30K race (starting together). I knew that since I raced yesterday, I should probably do the 15. But if someone good, such as Jesse Gallagher or Marc Gilbertson, showed up to do the 30, I would enter that one. But no one showed, so I entered the 15. I did not know the whole course, so for my warm up I tried to ski the parts of the course I was unfamiliar with. Unfortunately, due to an error, either by the person who labeled the maps at the trail intersections or by me reading said maps (I am SURE it was the map...), I ended up at the far point of the 15K course with only 12 minutes to go before start. When I realized my mistake, I began hightailing it back. I was sure I was going to miss the start. I was going race pace for about 4K just to get to the start. I arrived at the start at 11:02, but fortunately they were three minutes behind schedule. I had just enough time to grab my race skis, tear off my warm-ups and take my place on the line. I was out of breath and when the race started it showed. I was in about 10th place for the first K. I felt like we were going so hard and I could barely keep up. Plus all the masters skiers and junior were being recklessly aggressive and I wanted no part of that so I hung back until I regained some breath and all the other skiers had either calmed down or taken themselves, and others, down. After the first K I noticed two skiers inching away from the front of the pack. I figured that I had better catch them now, because if I waited until they got away, it would be much harder. I moved around the pack on an uphill and began to reel them in. They were moving fast and I was still tired from my pre-race race, so it took some effort, but by 3K I was with them and we had left the rest of the field behind. At 6K, I was feeling better and had regained my breath. I was unsure of wether the two guys I was with were doing the 15 or the 30. The way they started, I would have guessed 15, but our pace now would have suggested 30. Rather than ask, I decided that I was feeling good enough to make my move. As soon as I saw one drop a little and the other start looking over his shoulder, I took off. I was able to get away and I did it fast enough that they didn't really try to pursue. For the rest of the lap, I maintained my lead and skied home for the victory. As it turned out, they were both doing 30K, but they also thought that'w what I was doing, so I think they were happy to come through the lap and see me standing on the side of the trail. They were back in the lead! So it was a good day for me. I won convincingly despite a race yesterday and a very hard warmup. I think this is a good sign for the future.

March 12
Day 39
Day off. As I enter the last few days of my comeback plan, I want to be well rested for the races ahead. Starting this coming Saturday, I will do 10 races in 22 days. I need to do them all so that I can get in at least 4 good points races to salvage my national ranking. That's a lot of racing by any standard and I don't want to be too tired before I even start.

March 13
Day 40
Woah. Where did time go? I cannot believe that the season is almost over. Because I am still in training, looking forward to big races, it seems more like December than March. The weather has also contributed to my sense of midwinter. The east has been getting so much snow, and it keeps coming, that I cannot fathom that usually by this time of the year, it is warm and sunny and the snow has started to melt. Today as I was skiing, I was a little upset the trails were not groomed and that my extra blue hard wax was slipping a little. I cheered up after an hour or so when I realized that it was mid-March and I was skiing through an inch of fresh powder on hard wax. I think it has been good for my focus to not think about what time of year it is. I am better off thinking that I am preparing for the winter than preparing for spring.

March 14
Day 41
Day off. I had wanted to do a long ski tour up Mt. Moosilauke today and take tomorrow off, but yet another snowstorm meant that the tour I wanted to do would be snowed in. So instead I decided to take today off and do the tour tomorrow, hoping for better weather.

March 15
Day 42
Today was an incredible day. Since I have been home I have wanted to ski up Mt. Moosilauke, a mountain owned, in large part, by Dartmouth. I have run up it many times in training, but I had never skied up to the top on the Carriage Road, which was the site of some of the first downhill ski races in this country. Now the trail is frequented by backcountry skiers and, on the lower sections, snowmobiles. I had been waiting for a nice day so that I could take some pictures at the top, but with all the snow that has been falling here, clear days have been hard to come by. Finally today, my last opportunity to do it before leaving Littleton, it was sunny and the trail was coated with a fresh two inches of snow. I had my day. The trail climbs 3000 feet in five miles on the way to the top. I skied up in just under two hours on a pair of old waxless racing skis, passing two snowshoers along the way (why anyone would snowshoe rather than ski is beyond me - it's slower and more work). I knew that backcountry gear would be better for the descent, but since I am racing in two days, I didn't want to lug all that extra weight and get really tired. When I got about 10 minutes from the summit the wind was howling about 40-50 miles an hour and had blown all the snow off the peak, leaving only a solid layer of rime ice. I could barely stand up, never mind ski, so I took off my skis and hike the rest of the way, using my poles to keep me upright. I took a bunch of pictures at the top, then did the screaming descent. The trail is only about ten feet wide and about the grade of a "More Difficult" alpine slope for the upper 2-3 miles. The snow was now very heavy from the sun and my flimsy classic boots and skis were no match for it. Turning was hopeless. My only way to descend was to go straight, and hope I could make the corners. If it looked like I wouldn't make the turn, I had to drop and throw my hip into the snow and skid to a stop. In addition to turns I also had to dodge a few other skiers and the snowshoers still on their way up (I saw five people total). I had a couple close calls but fortunately I only hit tree branches and not tree trunks and made it to the bottom relatively unscathed in just under half an hour. It was a wild ride and an excellent way to cap off my 6 week training program. That's right today is the last day. Tomorrow, I begin the second phase of my race season.

March 16
The comeback plan is complete. Six weeks ago, I sat down and realized that I had two months of racing left. I also knew that the most important races in the rest of the season were all in the last two weeks. Therefore, taking a cue from the ground hog, who on the day I was figuring this all out saw his shadow, I started on a six week program to turn my season around and to be ready to roll in those last two weeks. Through that time, I varied my training, worked on technique, watched what I ate a little closer, studied World Cup skiers and focused mentally. I am always pretty good at those things, but during this time I stopped working and went home to New Hampshire so that I could focus on solely on skiing and doing things right. Six weeks are now history and all has gone, for the most part, according to plan. Only one thing remains: To see if the plan actually worked. Since I have been focusing on training, technique, and feeling good, I have purposely avoided any races that would put me in elite competition and possibly derail my progress. Thus, I have no idea where I am at. Sure I have won a lot of races recently, but not against my usual competition. So today I embarked on the first leg of my "Back in Action" tour. Rumford, Maine plays host this weekend to the Eastern High School Championships and a couple of Eastern Cup USSA Points races for us older folks. In my high school career, I went to two Eastern High School Championships and won both the individual race and the relay in both of them, so by hope was to recature some of my old glory by returning to the scene of some of my most memorable victories. I knew that Chris Klein, Jesse Gallagher, and Pat Cote would be racing, so it would be a perfect field for me to test myself against before hitting the FIS circuit again.

March 17
Today's race was a 12K classic race. I didn't feel all that good before the race. I am staying with the New Hampshire Eastern High School team because my dad is a coach for them and being on their meal and race schedule has not been great for me. Greasy pizza for dinner, sleeping on a futon, bagels for breakfast and arriving at the race site at 7:30 am for my noon race was not what I had in mind when I envisioned my return to the race scene. But I stayed positive through it all and focused on the race. I really wanted this one. A fairly short classic race - just what I wanted to start off with. A good race here could get me on a roll. The snow was warm and slushy by the time we raced, but waxing was pretty straightforward. Most people went with a mix of red and silver klister. I went with all red (Rode Rossa) figuring any slight loss of speed on the downhills would be compensated for with better kick. Out of the start I felt pretty good. Pat Cote started 30 seconds behind me and I could sense that he was staying close for the first few K's. I was running scared from him a little bit, which got me moving early. At 3K I got a split that I was in second, 4 seconds down to Klein. This was good. I knew my skis were not fast on the first few downhills, but at least they still keeping me in the race. I was tiring a bit by now, but I wanted to hang with Klein so when I started to fatigue and slow, I turned it up a notch. I was kind of afraid I might be going too hard to fast, but I wanted to stay near the lead as long as I could. After one lap, I had a feeling I had put some time on Chris. I could see him at one point where the course loops back on itself and I didn't think he was 3 and a half minutes a head of me, which was where he started. At the 9K mark I found out I was right. I received a split there telling me that I was now leading by 20 seconds! You know the part of Star Wars, Episode I where Annakin finally gets his pod racer to start after months of working on it? Well, as the engine roars to life he lets out a yell- "Its working!! Its wooorrrking!!" That was all I could think of. I was fired up. I was back in a real race against real competition and I was winning! My comeback was working just as I had envisioned it for six weeks. I tried to hammer through the last 3K because I knew that 20 seconds was not a lot of time and besides, tomorrow is a pursuit race so the more I win by the bigger my cushion tomorrow. As I neared the finish I saw Jesse Gallagher just ahead of me. He had started 2:30 ahead of me and had not expected to see him. But now I really wanted to catch him before the finish. He and I had a frantic double pole sprint to the finish in which I got him by less than a ski length. In the end, I won by 22 seconds over Klein and Cote finished third, 1:14 back. I tried to remain calm after finishing. After all, it was not a huge field and I didn't win by much. But I could not deny that I was very happy. I knew that today would tell me a lot about where I am performance-wise, and what it told me is that, at the very least, I am closer to my old form than I have been all season. It was my best race of the season. There is still hope.

March 18
Today I think there was a little letdown after yesterday's emotional win. My goal coming into this weekend was to prove to myself that I am on my way back up the ladder. I really wanted yesterday's race and it took a lot out of me physically and emotionally. I was relieved and finding it hard to motivate myself for today's pursuit. So now that I have rattled off a bunch of excuses, you have probably figured out what happened in the race. Klein and I raced all out for the first 6K. Iwanted to hold him off and he wanted to close the gap. The key in pursuit racing is to make your move early. If you can destroy your competition's confidence early on, it make the rest of the race easy. Unfortunately for me, Klein caught up to me at about 6K. Once we were skiing together, I had two choices - continue to lead or let him pull for a while. If I continued to lead I could dictate the pace, but it would be easier for him to rest behind me. If I let him by, I wasn't sure I would be able to keep up and he might just ski away. I decided to slow to a comfortable pace and wait for him to make a move. For the next 5K we skied fairly easily, even talking back and forth a bit. I was feeling better and I thought I might have enough left to pull it out in a sprint. However, with one kilometer to go, Chris made his move around me and I had no counterattack. I hammered, but he got a gap and carried it to the finish for a 9 second victory. This was disappointing, especially in front of a large crowd that was partial to me.All was not lost however. It turned out that even though Chris and I let up on the second lap, we still had the two fastest skate times of the day. So I was bummed that I didn't hold on for the win, but if you had told me six weeks ago that the weekend would go like this, I would have been pretty happy. Now it is on to Quebec for Canadian Nationals. My first taste of international competition in over two months. I am skiing better that I have been recently, but I won't really know how well until I get in a few races up north.

Note: A good primer for the next few days is to read my December Journal. Rather than repeat many of the basics of Valcartier living and racing, it would be easier if you read the old stuff.

March 19
Today was a travel day from New Hampshire to wonderful, friendly, and organized Valcartier, Quebec. For a few weeks I have been seriously worried that I would be heading into the lion's den by coming back up here. After all the things I wrote back in December (which I still stand by), I was sure that they would have it in for me. But I guess it shows how clueless they are - they were oblivious to who I was or why they should care. When Chris Klein and I arrived, we immediately went to race headquarters to check in. We needed to verify that they had us on the registration list and get the keys to our room on the military base. When we arrived, there was one coach in the registration room with two ladies helping him. Chris and I were first in line. An hour later, we were STILL first in line. Welcome back to Valcartier. Apparently, a few of the coach's athlete's registrations could not be found. Why it took two women over an hour to fix the problem and why someone else couldn't help us in the meantime are questions for someone far less jaded than I to answer. When we finally got into the room to register, they claimed I had not paid my registration fee. They said that they received my entry, but had never received a check. I tried to explain that I had sent my check with my entry, so if they had the entry form, the check had to be around somewhere. Indeed, after a (short) five minute search, my entry form was found, with the check attached to it. Then they explained to us that all US athletes had ben assigned to one wax room. There are about 30 US skiers here, and we are all supposed to use a wax room designed The one good thing that happened was that since Chris and I are not affiliated with teams, they could not decide which bunk room to house us in, so instead they gave us single rooms in the officer's quarters. It was not all that luxurious - the only difference from the bunk rooms is that the officers' rooms are smaller, with one bed, and carpeted - but still a step up. After moving it, we headed to the cafeteria for a flavorless meal of overcooked pasta and greasy red sauce.

March 20
Today was the sprint event. For the first time in my life, I got to do a classic sprint. I have always thought it was unfair that all sprints are skating, and it is good to see more classic sprints on the schedule this year. In the morning qualifying round, I thought I had skied pretty well. Classic sprints are much more technical that skating because, you have to choose a lane, decide when to switch lanes, and change techniques without missing a pole plant. I learned a lot in just my two minutes on the course. Even though I made some mistakes, I thought I was skiing fast, which is why I was disappointed to see the preliminary results and find myself back in 15th spot. Not a big deal because 32 advanced to the elimination heats, but now my job would be tougher. The organizing committee had promised that results would be posted one minute after the last finisher in each age group, and available on the web, five minutes later. Well, true to form, an hour later, not all the results had been figured out. The 11:30 start for the heats was moved back to noon, then to 12:30, then finally they pushed it all the way back to 2:30, promising to have it all straightened out by then. A morning race was now a full day ordeal. By the time my race finally came around, I had lost all motivation and desire to race. In my heat I was up against Guido Visser, one of Canada's toughest sprinters, and Andy Newell, one of the best junior sprinters in the world. Also in the heat was another junior - Ryan Foster. Two would advance. I knew I was up against tough competition, so I was determined to get out of the blocks quickly. I did get out quickly and I was leading going around the first turn. About halfway through the course I realized that I didn't want to lead anymore. I was not about to pull those two around the course so they could sprint by at the end.I eased up, hoping to let one by and then jump into second. Andy went by, but Guido was right on his tails and I couldn't get in. I dropped back into third. Then starting up the next hill, I stumbled once and it was all over. That was all they needed to get a small gap on me and I couldn't close back up. At the line I was third by about two seconds, and eliminated. It was disappointing because I thought I could do well today. Guido advanced to the semifinals and Andy advanced to the finals (and came in 3rd) and I was closer to them than anyone else in the next few heats, so I know I could have beaten most of the guys out there. But not today.

March 22
I felt horrible when I woke up this morning before our 50K classic, mass start, race. I think it was a combination of the bad food, not-so-great water, and my overall disdain for this place. I went to breakfast and struggled to put down a big bowl of oatmeal, knowing that I would need it later on. For the last couple days, I had been thinking about skipping the 50K and I was closer than ever to bagging right after breakfast. I haven't done a fifty all year, and it would be my 4th race six days. But I thought to myself, "I am a ski racer. I race. So what if the food is bad, you feel tired or the weather is poor. It's the same for everyone else, I don't train full-time so that I can bag on races because I don't think I am going to do well." So I raced. The weather was a mess. It was your typical thawed and refrozen and now thawing again spring skiing until about an hour before the race when it started snowing. And it was coming down hard. Waxing would have been a nightmare, except that since we were sharing a wax room with the Stratton Mountain School and their coach, Sverre Caldwell, had come up with a good race wax: A thin layer of Skare (Rode Blue klister), covered with a 60/40 mix of Rode Violet and Star Orange klisters, covered with a layer of Swix XF 50 hard wax. It seemed very good in warm up so I went with it.The course for today's race was extremely hard, probably the hardest 50K I have ever done except for at last year's Nationals at Soldier Hollow. As a result, the pace was pretty conservative on the first of our 5 10K loops. The pack was big and we were skiing more than racing, but I could tell that my skis were very good. They seemed fast and I had plenty of kick. A few others were not so lucky and had to stop and rewax along the way. On our second lap, the pack slowly broke apart. Eventually I found myself in the lead pack with about 10 Canadians. As we went up and down hill after hill, the pack thinned some more and at 18K it was about six of us. From there, it is about a 2K downhill then flat back to the stadium. I took the lead over the top of the hill and down the other side. I wasn't trying to make a break for it , but my skis were good and the only person who stayed with me was Robin McKeever, Canada's best skier this season. I assumed that eventually the rest would catch back up, but as Robin and I skied together, we noticed that the gap was getting bigger, not smaller. Maybe we could get away! We picked up the pace slightly. He and I were working together. He didn't mind me being there because I was no threat for a Canadian National Championship title and I didn't mind him there because I was just happy to be having a good race! By the end of the third lap, we had built our lead to about a minute over third place. But now I was beginning to tired. Robin began to creep away and soon he was about 30 seconds ahead of me. I fought hard and managed to keep the gap at 30 seconds for the whole lap. "Only one lap to go, hang in there," I thought to myself as I passed through the stadium the fourth and final time. But now I was exhausted. The slow conditions and the tough course had taken its toll. Soon Robin's lead was a minute and I began to worry more about hanging on to second. On the longest climb I was, at one point, reduced to walking. I simply did not have the energy left to bound up the steep pitch. Third place was indeed closing in. I needed to fight with everything I had left. For the last 5K, I was dead tired and a bit shaky. But with 2K to go, someone told me that I had put more time on third place - I was now two minutes up. Damn they must have really been hurting! I coasted down the long hill and across the flats and into the finish. I finished second! Canada has some very good skiers and I managed to beat all but one of them! I was almost stunned. I really didn't think I had the stamina to do that right now. After the way I have felt for the past few months, it was like I was out there in somebody else's body, or my body from two years ago. It felt great. I was so happy. Now I had proven myself in a national level race. Sure, it wasn't US Nationals, but it was the next best thing. This was a huge monkey off my back and helped me erase any lingering doubts about my fitness going into spring series. Yeehaw!!

March 23
I was so happy with my race yesterday, that I thought no one could take the joy out of my 2nd place finish. Then I was cruelly reminded that I am in Valcartier, where there is no joy to be had by any racer, any time. Tonight was the Awards Banquet for all the races so far and it took place in the old city of Quebec. I was excited. I'd get off the military base for a while, get a real dinner, and pick up my award check as well. If only it had been so. . .

When we arrived at the banquet hall, we were informed that there was a mandatory coat check with a $1 charge. It was a fund raiser for the girl scouts. This was all well and good, except that there were 5 girls trying to check coats for 500 people. I waited in a long line for twenty minutes to drop my coat. Then I waited in another long line to get into the dinner hall. And while it took forever to get to my seat, I still cannot figure out why the line. The sole purpose of the line was so that the doormen could take our banquet tickets, and give us a new ticket with which to get our dinner. Huh? Then we took our seats at a table designated Etats-Unis. Then an annoying french MC started going around to random tables, making people sing stupid songs and dance around in order to get in another line for dinner. At first I was insulted that I was going to have to sing for my supper, but after 20 of the 25 tables had been chosen and all three USA tables were among the five tables left (and annoying MC man had walked by us about a dozen times), we had had enough and just got up and got in line. After a tiny dinner, where we were allowed a measly six ounces of juice and were verbally abused for trying to get a pitcher of water, they did the awards. By now I was annoyed. Three hours into a line-fest and all I had was a piece of dry chicken and some rice to show for it. But my annoyance turned to rage when they made no mention of the Americans in the race. No mention of me, or Andy Newell, or Ethan Foster, or any of the Americans who made the podiums is their respective races. No prize money, no thanks for coming, no nothing. Sure, this is the CANADIAN National Championships, but it should be pointed out that Beckie Scott always makes a small mint when she comes to US Nationals, because USSA gives money (a lot more I might add too) to the top three, no matter what country they are from. It would only seem right that the Canadians return the favor. When they completely blew us off, I and some other US skiers had had enough and we got up and left the banquet. Of course, the organizers probably paid no attention to us then either and at least we didn't have to wait in a line to get our coats back.

To be fair, I should point out that it is this decision to ignore foreigners was made by Skibec, the race organizers, not Cross COuntry Canada and not the Canadian athletes. In fact before the banquet, many Canadians were telling me how much money they thought I had won ($200 Canadian) and after the banquet even more of them came up and apologized for the "ignorant and insulting" actions of the race organizers. It was also mentioned to me that in the past, Canadian Nationals has given money to foreigners. I was upset about the snub, but then again, I should have expected nothing less from the worst race organizers on the continent.

March 25
Today was the final race, a fifteen kilometer skate, and whether or not Skibec cared, I was racing. I was still feeling the after-affect from the 50K three days ago, but I remained optimistic. Out of the start, I felt good, but not great. I thought I was skiing well, but then at 2K I found out I was already 20 seconds down. Oh no. From then on, I tried mightily to go faster but I was fighting it the whole way. After the race in Rumford last week, Chris Klein, who followed me for 4K in the skate race gave me some tips on improving my V2, which has been pathetic this year. He mentioned trying to bend my leg at the ankle, rather than the knee and staying lower before the push off. It all made sense and I worked on it all week, and even worked on it in today's race, but nothing seemed to click. I still felt useless when i tried to get power from my V2. I worked had right to the finish, but without success. I finished 24th. How could I ski so badly after coming in second just days ago? Part of it was my wax. It was a perfect Solda Cold Fluor day (20 degrees, a little new, windblown snow), but I could not find my vial of the stuff. Instead I tried a mix of warm fluor and S-20, hoping for the same effect, but it didn't work. My skis were slower than everyone else's that I saw on the course. Another part of it was that I was still tired from the 50K. When I looked at the results from today, no one who did well in the 50 had done very well today (except for the third place guy in the 50 who had the race week of his life). The 50 was just too hard to recover in that short time. And finally it was partially because I am messing with my technique right now, which always requires some adjustment time. So it was a very disappointing day, but I know I can do better and I have two more weeks to prove it.

March 26
After the race yesterday, Chris and I bolted from Valcartier as soon as humanly possible. We had both had more than enough of Skibec and couldn't wait to return to a land where common sense and customer service are foreign concepts. I returned to New Hampshire and spent today packing and preparing to head back out west for Spring Series. I fly to Utah tomorrow and after living here for two months, I have a lot of packing to do. I did manage to get in one final ski at Bretton Woods and the whole time I was shaking my head. It seemed like such a shame to leave all this snow to go to Idaho, where they have had to move some of our races because of no snow. It is almost April, but if I didn't know better I would think it was early February. Today when I explained the rest of my race season to my mom, she asked, "So you don't have any spring races after that?" I said, "Mom, it already is spring." It's easy to forget when you have three feet of snow in your backyard.

© 2003 Cory Smith. All Rights Reserved.