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Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion

March 30 - Spring Series Begins
Cory Smith's whirlwind eastern tour continues at Spring Series. So far I have been home (in the east) for nine days and today will be my fifth race, with another two in the next three days. Too much? Yeah, probably - espeically since I got sick coming home from the races in Maine. I've actually been sick on and off since the Great Ski Race four weeks ago. I just can't seem to kick the bug which is messing with my sinuses and the rest of my head.

So why continue to run myself into the ground by racing more. Well, the season is almost over,so I don't need to save myself for anything. And since I didn't race much during the heart of the winter, I want to make sure that I get as much in now as I can. So even though I am feeling tired, I put on my game face for today's 10K skate.

Spring Series, for the past three years, has been an Idaho tradition. But when Rick kapala decided not to run the event this year, NENSA stepped in and brought the series to the east. Many people, including myself, were sceptical. Racing in New England in April? I spent too many snowless winters in New Hampshire to believe that there wouldn't be problems. I figured that they would be able to hold races, but that we would be skiing around a 1K loop on an Alpine slope somewhere.

Struggling through the wet, slow snow

But after a lackluster winter, Mother Nature blessed Bolton Valley, Vermont, with over three feet of snow in the last week of March, and the series was on.

Maybe I would have been better off with no snow. Today the temperature rose into the 50s and the snow got really soft and slow. I have been at this sport for over twenty years now, but I still have not figured out how to ski in soft snow. I get bogged down and i just can't move. On top of that, I am a glider, so when I have to muscle my way through slow snow, I don't do so well. So today the conditions were stacked against me, plus I was sick and tired from a lot of racing. That was a recipe for trouble.

I struggled to a less-than-stellar 49th place in a field that only contained about ten skiers ranked in the top 20 in either the US or Canada. I was disappointed with how I skied, but I was shocked to be so far back. 49th place? Ouch.

I got over it pretty quickly by thinking that tomorrow would be a lot more fun. Tomorrow is a pursuit race and there is no way I was going to drop any lower.

March 31 - 10K Classic Pursuit
Today the conditions were more of the same: wet and very slow. But I knew that I could fight through the snow snow much better as a classic skier than as a skater. Ruff Patterson and the Dartmouth team helped me find the magic klister concoction and I went to the start, ready to redeem myself. My goal for the race was to get into the top 40. A modest goal, but considering yesterday's result and my sluggishness, I wasn't having any delusions of grandeur. Granduer is hard to come by when you start 3 and 1/2 minutes back. I thought I had a chance to get into the top 30, but I would need a very good race to do that.

Skiing angry in the classic pursuit

I charged out of the start, intent on making up some places early. Within the first 3K I had moved up to 40th place and was still picking people off. After 5K, I didn't know what place I was in, but I knew I had at least accomplished my goal. I caught a couple more people in the first couple kilomteres of my second lap, but at that point I began to pay for my fast start. I began to slow down. I was still catching people, but not as fast.

With about 3K to go, there was no one in sight ahead of me. I resigned myself to not catching anyone else and I relaxed a little bit as I finished up the race.

I finished 31st. I had passed 18 people. A pretty good day. I had a lot of fun going by people - feeling like I knew what I was doing again. My time for the classic race was only 20th fastest for the day, which was a little disappointing. But I know that if i had been skiing with faster people around me, and if I had pushed hard for the last 3K, I could have been 30 seconds faster. And 30 seconds faster would have put me in 8th place for the day. A pretty good race for me, although it will be well hidden on the results sheet.

April 2 - Sprint
I was a little concerned when I saw the course for today's classic sprint race. It was short (0.8K), fast, and not much climbing. Normally, this would be my ideal sprint course. But today i was worried. I haven't been sprinting much or classic skiing much, and on a course like this, people will be separated by only 10ths of a second. Right now, my body and my technique are not as sharp as they should be on a course like this.

But I put those thoughts aside as I stepped into the gate as the first starter. I hammered for those two minutes on the course as fast as I could, but I was not as quick on the uphills as I wanted, and I slipped a couple times. Plus I knew that my double pole was a little weak on the flat sections. When I finished I thought I skied as well as I could have, but I was worried that my little mistakes would get me.

And I was right. I finished 20th - 0.27 seconds from qualifying. So close, and yet my day was over already. It was a bummer, becuase the best way for me to get faster is to compete in the heats and see exactly how fast the other guys are going. But first I have to get into the heats.

I refuse to believe that I am "just not a sprinter." I have always had good speed and a few years ago I did very well in sprinting events. I think, as I have said many times, that I just got slow by living at an altitude where I can't exercise my fast twitch muscles to their maximum capabilites. If I move down to sea-level anytime soon I am going to go hunting for that speed I used to have.

April 6 - 18K Classic Mass Start
After the sprint, I headed home to Littleton for a few days. i wanted to relax and rest up. I had three days off before today's race, so I wanted to make the most of them. Today is the last race of the season and I want to go out on a more positive note.

Trying to survive the icy corners in the mass start race

The conditions today suited me much better - fast and icy. My goal was simple: start fast hold on to the leaders as long as I can, and if I have to drop off the pace at some point, minimize the damage.

I stayed near the front for most of the first lap. On a long climb at about 5K, the leaders started to pick up the pace. I held tough until we came through the lap at 6K. But at that point I knew I couldn't keep it up for another two laps. I was already too tired. I kept working, but the top six skiers got away from me. On the next lap, I was still skiing fairly well when we reached the big climb. By now, the icy conditions had scraped off most of my wax, and my body was too tired to put a lot of effort into setting the wax on each stride. I lost another few places. On the third lap, I really began to pay for starting so hard. I fought to maintain my position, but I was passed by a few more skiers.

I crossed the line in 14th place. Though this is a ways behind where I usually am, I was happy with it. It was my best race of the week and I felt I had skied well. That was all I could ask for. It was a far cry from 49th place, thats for sure.

So each race this week, I got better and better. Too bad the season is over, maybe in a couple weeks I would be back in form.

Its not too bad the season is over, actually. I think that these last couple weeks have helped me feed my ski racing bug for a good part of the off-season. I am ready for some warm weather. I am looking forward to running, biking, hiking, and maybe even rollerskiing. We'll see. I'm not quite ready to do a season wrap up yet. So much went on this year that I need a week or two to digest it all before I reflect on it. But for now, bring on the sun!



© 2003 Cory Smith. All Rights Reserved.