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Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion

February 3

I am slowly getting settled back in here in Park City. Slowly. I have yet to unpack and on Friday I leave again to go to the Boulder Mountain Tour in Sun Valley. But for today, Scott Loomis, Erik Stange, and myself went to Mountain Dell golf course to do some on-snow video with Torbjorn. None of us really skated very well in Rumford, so now we are going to the tape to find out what we are doing wrong. Torbjorn filmed us about 10 times each on various uphills. Each take was usually about 20-30 seconds and varied from kind of hard to "your 5 seconds down with 1K to go" hard. This evening we watched the tape. For me, the main error was so obvious, it had me thinking, "How come I've never noticed this before?!" In all skating techniques, and especially in V1, I plant my poles too far back. I do not reach forward enough with my shoulder and elbow and as a result, my pole plants next to my boot rather than in front of it. I think the reason I haven't noticed this until now is that when I am racing, my legs always tire very quickly. Therefore, I assumed it was my leg technique and leg strength that were lacking. While these areas do need improvement, I think working on my poling will go a long way towards improving my technique in general.

February 5
Sun Valley, ID

Today I did the drive from Park City to Sun Valley. Not usually a bad drive, but this time I was travelling alone and the radio in my truck is broken, making it a long five hours. I hadn't planned on travelling alone, but my two teammates found out at the last minute that they did not get their entries in on time. We returned from the east on Monday and sent our entries then. Unfortunately, the seeding for the Elite wave was done on Monday. I got lucky. I sent my entry Overnight and snuck into the elite wave when someone cancelled (thank you number 78, whoever you are!). Then, John Aalberg was nice enough to pull some strings to get me on the front line, where I would have been had I been on the ball in the first place. My teammates were not as lucky. Despite lobbying from coaches, sponsors and others, they were unable to get into the Elite wave and elected to stay home. While I understand that elite skiers should be subject to the same criteria as everyone else, its a shame when someone who finished on the podium at this race last year can't get in. It not only depletes the field, but it also dimishes the race itself when top skiers aren't there. That said, is time to get on with the race.

February 6
Boulder Mountain Tour

Wax of the Day: Solda F-20 Violet and S-30 covered with Solda Fluor

If you know anything about Solda wax, you know that the above combination is bizarre. S-30 is for below zero temps, F-20 Violet is for 14-25 degrees, and Fluor is for 25 degrees +. To top it off, I raced on the skis that I destroyed on the thin cover in Fairbanks earlier this year. We had expected it to be much colder that the 25 degrees it was at race time. Therefore, at the last minute, Torbjorn put the layer of Fluor over the colder wax on my back-up pair of skis. Amazingly it worked great! Right out of the start, you get a good chance to assess your skis. After a slight uphill start, the course does a U-turn and has a nice long downhill. Here you can get a good idea of how your skis stack up against the other skiers around you. In fact, as we headed down the hill, Carl Swenson turned to the person next to him and said, "Glide test." Going down this hill in a tuck I moved up from 8th to 3rd. This told me that my skis were good to go. The first 10K of the course are rolling terrain, with a little more down than up. For the first 2K the entire elite wave was one long pack. Then, just after the road crossing, a Rossignol skier tried to pass Ben Husaby, who was right next to me. There wasn't enough room for 3 of us and Ben and the Rossi skier (I didn't see who it was) got tangled up and went down. This held up the pack and allowed eleven of us to get a small break. We put on a small spurt, leaving the pack to listen to Ben voice his displeasure rather loudly. We each took turns pulling for a while. Just after the 10K point, Carl Swenson and Nathan Shultz made a break. Chris Blanchard went with them and the three of them got away. They went so quickly that I figured that I was now in a race for fourth. But a K or so later, they slowed up and allowed the rest of us to catch up. From hear on, we just cruised. I had never skied so easily in a race before in my life. In fact we were going so easy that the chasing pack almost caught us several times. Fortunately, our pack sped up to sprint for the two Preems, and each time we regained our lead. It made no sense to make a move this early. The last half of the course is almost entirely flat and today it had a strong headwind. Anyone on a solo break would quickly get reeled back in. So we just cruised. I figured Carl or Chris would make a move with four or five K's to go. But no one did. It wasn't until the final two K's that the horses could smell the stable and we all took off. I was in good position with a K to go, I had moved up to fourth and was hammering. Unfortunately, I didn't have quite enough to hold it. Frosty Whitworth, Jon Engen, and two other went by me. I jumped in behind and with 200m to go, I thought I could get Frosty and maybe a couple others. But it didn't happen. Carl Swenson took the win in convincing fashion. Frosty Whitworth, who edged Chris Blanchard by a toenail, took second by passing at least 4 people in the final 200m. I was eighth. It all happened so fast. It was a very fun race, but now I know what Torbjorn meant when he said beforehand, "When you sprint, its ALL OUT, not 95%." I thought I was going very hard for the last two K, but in the back of my mind I think I was saving something for the last 100 meters. By that time it was too late. But it was a good race for me. I was only a few seconds out and with 500m to go I was even with the person who took second. I just need to work on my sprint strategy. BOULDER MOUNTAIN TOUR - 30K FREESTYLE MASS START

February 18

Well I'm back after a little break. After doing 10 races in 24 days in January, then rushing back west for the Boulder Mountain Tour, I took a much needed break. Last week I skied for fun more than for training. I also went tele-skiing, snowboarding, and did other various winter activities. I kept busy, but go my mind off racing for a bit. But now I am back in race mode and looking forward to the second half of the season.

February 20

The University of Utah is holding its Invitational races this weekend. They were supposed to be held in January but lacking snow conditions and other tragic circumstances caused the races to be postponed. Though this was an NCAA race, they were willing to let some of us post-grads enter as well. I decided that it would be good to get my butt kicked by a some Norwegian college kids, so I entered. Unfortunately today I got my butt kicked by more than just Norwegians today. I have never had race skis as slow as mine were today. The weather forecast I heard said a low of 12 degrees last night with a high of 35 today. Since we were racing at 9 am, I figured that Solda F-20 Violet (14-25 degrees) would be a good bet. Well, it actually got down to 0 last night and the snow was only 6 degrees at race time. As a general rule, it is much better to use a wax that is too cold for the snow conditions, rather than one that is too warm. All the college teams were frantically re-waxing minutes before the mass start. Since I didn't have a team, I didn't have that luxury. I was screwed and I knew it, but I put on my best game face and went to the start. Because I was a "guest" I had to start behind 5 rows of people. When the gun went off, I skated like mad to get to the front. By the top of the first hill, at 1 km, I was in 15th place, having passed about half the field. But going down the other side of the hill it all fell apart. Eventhough I was in a tuck and trying to draft off the person in front of me, at least six people glided past me. I felt like a child who had worked so hard to build a beautiful sandcastle, only to watch helplessly as the tide wash it away before it is finished. There was nothing I could do to stay with the lead pack. I was crushed mentally and began to drop like a lead weight. It was only the embarrassment of being passed by 10-15 people that motivated me to pick it up again. I skied hard for the rest of the race, but the usual fire was gone and I finished way back. I apoligize for not having results here, but I didn't stick around to see them and I can't find them anywhere on the web. I hadn't planned to race in the 10K classic race tomorrow, but I need to redeem myself so I'll give it a go.

February 21

I was determined not to have another waxing fiasco today, so I waited until this morning to wax my skis. It was about 32 degrees, snowing, and very windy. While this made the glide waxing very easy (Solda F-20 White), it was a nightmare for kick waxing. To make matters worse, I was not on the start list for some reason, so I had to convince the race organisers that I really wasn't an imposter. Then I had to make my own race bib with a magic marker and an old used bib. This left me with no time for a warm up and little time to wax. Even the college teams, with 12 people to test waxes, were having trouble finding "the" wax. I did my best to eavesdrop on their wax discussions, but I ended up just putting on about 5 waxes and hoping one of them would work. That combination didn't work great, so at the last minute (literally a minute before I started) I slapped on a layer of Toko Dibloc Yellow. I knew it would be slow, but I'd rather have kick that glide. I was the 4th person out of the gate and I quickly caught the three in front of me. I was very surprised to catch them so soon. My skis were not good by any means, but they appeared to be as good as the other people around me. The wind-blown snow made the tracks very slow and I had to muscle my way around the course. Since all the good skiers started at the end, I had no idea how I was doing. I was the first person to finish by over a minute and then had to stand around and wait to see how many people would better my time. As it turned out, only three people did - all foreigners. In fact, there was only one other American in the top ten after a strong American showing yesterday (two of the top three). I was only six seconds from second after having bad skis and no warm-up. I think I redeemed myself just fine. I don't have to be embarrassed to go out in public. Again, sorry I don't have results. I saw them posted after the race, but I didn't write them down. I'll try to hunt them down. If anyone know a place to find western college results, please let me know!

February 25 - A Mild Case of Birkie Fever

Off to the Birkie! I left Salt Lake City at 10:00 am this morning on a flight to Minneapolis. I counted at least eight people on my flight alone who were on their way to the race. In many ways, the Birkie cracks me up. How did this race in the middle of Nowhere, Wisconsin get to be so much bigger than any other in North America? Hardly any other races have more than 1000 participants, and the Birkie has over 7000! This is over 3 times the population of Hayward, WI where the race finishes! What makes it so special? Well, it is extremely well organized and no other locale goes all out to produce a race the way the Cable/Hayward WI area does (live coverage on the radio?!?). And it has a whole week of activities leading up to the race. But it also has its drawbacks. For instance, you are considered a nobody by the race organizers until you have done the Birkie. Despite top finishes in other marathons two years ago, I was not allowed to start any higher than the 2nd wave that year because I was a Birkie rookie. This meant that I had to essentially double pole the first half of the course, passing thousands of skiers, before it thinned out and I had room to skate. I ended up finishing 64th. Beating no only everyone in the first and second waves, but most of the "elite" as well. Good thing they wouldn't let me start in the elite wave. But this year I have paid my dues and I am in the elite wave. To me this is honestly just another marathon. Another chance to improve my skating and my long distance racing. But it is a BIG deal for sponsors and virutally every other skier out there, so I can't help getting both excited and nervous.
I arrived at the Minneapolis airport at 1:30 this afternoon. As I was picking my skis up from the "Oversized Baggage" door a woman on her way into the airport remarked, "You came here to ski? But there is no snow! You should go to Utah, that's where we're going." Having just stepped off the plane from Salt Lake City, this was not what I wanted to hear. But I had heard recent reports of good snow on the course, so I disregarded her comment. My dad and a friend of ours are coming out from New Hampshire to do their first Birkies this year, so I waited for them to arrive a couple hours after I did. Then it was off to Cable, WI. We are staying at Garmisch USA which is a little taste of Germany nestled by a small lake, and only 10 minutes from the start! It is a very nice place and I began to enjoy it immediately upon arrival, since I know I would never be able to stay in a place like this on my income. After a late dinner, we called it a night. Big weekend ahead of us.

February 26

We headed out to ski after breakfast today. A teammate of mine from college who lives in the area recommended we try the Seely Hills ski trails, since the Birkebeiner course is not open before the race. While we were out there, I attempted to glide test the four pairs of skate skis I brought along, to see which ones I should wax for the race tomorrow. Testing ended up being an hour-long ordeal. The sun was beating down on the snow and it was softening quickly. The short glide track I laid out got faster and faster each run, meaning that I had to do at least 10 trial runs to break in the track before I could actually test any skis. Invariably, just as the track was ready for testing, the groomer would come by and wipe it out or a skier would snowplow down the hill and do the same. Or, worse yet, I would get halfway through my tests and someone skiing by would see the ski ties I had left in the snow as glide markers and think they had found the mother lode. I stopped them as they picked up the markers and put them in their pockets, but the damage was done and the test would have to restart yet again. It took over an hour to do a fifteen minute test. Because of that, I only had time to ski for 20 minutes afterwards. While I had hoped to ski for 45 minutes, I think I managed to shake out any sluggishness from yesterday's day off and I felt rested and ready for the race. After skiing, we headed to Hayward to watch the citizen sprints on main street. For those unfamiliar with the American Birkebeiner, the finish of the race is main street in Hayward, which they cover with snow for the week. In addition to the race finish they also hold ski sprints and other events on the strip during the week. It is quite a spectacle. After watching numerous skiers from ages 5 on up race the 200m out and back loop, we headed over to the LOC Center for registration and to watch all the ski reps hawk their respective products. That place was a zoo. All the major ski, pole, and boot manufacturers were there, as well as countless other companies. There were hundreds of masters skiers checking out the latest equipment, hording the free samples, checking out the wax recommendations, and talking shop about tomorrow. Honestly, it is quite a funny scene. I said hi to my sponsor's reps (SHAMELESS SPONSOR PLUG: Atomic, Exel, Salomon) and headed next door to the casino. Well, not really, but it makes a better story. . . Before dinner I waxed my skis. The glide test today told me next to nothing, except that my new Beta skis were slow. This was extremely disappointing because I really wanted to race on them. As I examined my ski bases as I waxed, I noticed that the Betas had much less structure than the two fastest pairs had. So I decided to add some more structure to the base with the Swix rill bar and then waxed them along with the two faster pairs. The weather today was very warm and humid. It is expected to stay above freezing tonight and possibly rain a little bit. This is perfect conditions for Solda F-30 Ivory covered with Solda Fluor. I put this combination on two pairs of skis and waxed the third pair a little colder (F-30 Orange and Fluor) just in case. I didn't need a repeat of last weekend tomorrow. After waxing, I continued to fuel up for the race with bananas and bagels and went to bed at 9:30.

February 27

1999 Dyno American Birkebeiner

The alarm pierced my sound sleep at 5:15 this morning. The elite wave of male racers starts at 8:20, so routine dictates that I needed to get up three hours earlier. Ouch. I was a zombie all through breakfast, forcing down two bowls of oatmeal, eventhough I was still full from last night. After breakfast I slowly started to wake up and get nervous. I figured that if I was at the start at 7:30 I would have plenty of time to test skis, warm up, and be ready to race at 8:20. What I forgot, however, is the nightmare of getting to the start. With a race of 7000 people everyone must be bused to the start from outlying parking lots. This took forever and I didn't get to the start until 8:00. With no time for a warm-up, I quickly tested two pairs of skis. I couldn't tell any difference between the two pairs, so I decided to go with the Betas and hope for the best. I barely had time to throw my warm-ups in the shuttle to the finish line and get to the start before the cannon went off. I was not very quick off the line and had to dig myself out of a hole right from the start. There were about three hundred people in my wave and I was behind almost half of them. I did my best to double pole up the side of the trail and squeeze by. By the end of the stadium I was probably 40th or so. At this point I was right beside Frosty Whitworth and I thought to myself, "OK if I can stay with Frosty, I'll have a good race." Then a few seconds later, I thought,"No, I feel pretty good, I'm going to move up." So I put on a burst and caught up to a pack that included Justin Freeman. Then I thought,"This is good. If I stay with Justin I'll really be doing well." That lasted about two minutes and then I got antsy and took off again. A kilometer or so later I caught Factory Team member Dave Chamberlain. He was leading the second group of skiers who were about 20 seconds down to the lead group. I then began to wonder if I could actually catch the lead group of 11 skiers. Normally, it is extremely hard to bridge a gap like that alone, but the track was very fast and so were my skis so I quickly decided to try it and just hope that someone would follow me so we could work together to catch up. I went immediately, but no one came with me. I was now skiing in oblivion by myself (yes that's where the website title comes from). I was hammering really hard up a series of good climbs, but no making much progress towards the lead group. I began to get concerned that I was wasting all my energy too early and would blow up very soon. After a kilometer or two of skiing by myself, I knew I had to make a decision. Either lay it all on the line and go flat out to catch the leaders or let up and latch on to the chase group. I was still feeling strong so I went for it. With the help of my very fast skis on the downhills, I finally bridged the gap at about 9 or 10K. It is much easier to ski in a pack, because of drafting, so I had a chance to recover from my effort over the next 5 K, even though this was probably the toughest part of the course. The further we went, the stronger I felt. I was energized just to be in what I thought was the lead pack. However, as we approached the halfway point a few spectators yelled, "You're about 3 minutes behind." My first thought was, "Behind who??" Then I noticed the solitary set of ski tracks in the course ahead of us. I soon realized that someone, definitely a foreigner [Johann Muelegg of Germany], had made a break very early on and were now in a race for second. This was a bit depressing, but I became excited again when we passed the halfway point and I was in 4th place. I was in 4th place halfway through the Birkie! I had a huge smile on my face and soaked in the atmosphere as much as I could when we sped by. As I found out later, the halfway standings were announced over the radio and my dad, who didn't start until 2 hours after me, heard it while getting some last minute things from the car. While this psyched him up, he also skied his whole race thinking I had a chance to win. While I appreciate his confidence in me, I knew I was kind of an imposter in this group and just wanted to hang on as long as possible. Everyone else in our pack had a huge support team out on the course to give them sports drinks, energy gels, etc. As an Atomic skier, I was the only one in the group without that help. I tried to get XL-1 drink at the feed stations, but I was not always successful. I continued to feel strong through the 35K mark, but I knew my lack of calorie intake would catch up sooner or later. At about 38K, Carl Swenson, Ben Husaby, and a frenchman made a break. The rest of us tried to go, but we were begining to tire and they got away. A couple K's later, Ben began to die and we reeled him back in. Without Ben to pull for them, the other two stayed in sight, though we couldn't close the gap. At about 44K people started moving. Marc Gilbertson and Jean Piquet made a move to chase Carl and that broke up our train. Nathan Schultz tried to pursue, while Ben, Pete Vordenberg, myself and two other foreigners struggled to maintain technique and push through the last part of the race. At this point, my legs were exhausted. To make matters worse, with about 4K to go we had to cross an open field that had very dirty, slow snow and then cross a lake that had very soggy, slow snow. I felt like I was skiing through cement. The only thing that kept me going was the fact that I had dropped Ben and one other Rossignol skier and was all by myself in 10th place. Before the race my goal had been a top 25 finish. Now, the thought of a top ten was begining to look possible and I wanted it badly. As I came off the lake and onto the streets of downtown Hayward, I knew I couldn't catch Pete, but I knew I could hold 10th. As I rounded the turn and headed down main street, the cheers were deafening. It was so overwhelming that I had goosebumps and a huge smile on my face, despite the fact I could barely put one foot in front of the other. If it hadn't been for Big Ben right behind me, I would have stopped to absorb the moment just a little longer. But instead, I kept pushing to the finish, the only energy I had being supplied by the thousands of spectators. I know I said a few days ago that I don't really understand what all the fuss is about the Birkie. I take it all back. Sure, I finished 10th overall and first in my age group which was an excellent race for me, but by the fans welcome at the finish, you'd have thought I'd just won a gold medal. After changing clothes, getting some food, and exchanging war stories with fellow elite wave racers, I headed back out to the course to cheer on my dad and our friend. They both finished strong and ahead of most people in their respective waves. And the crowd was still cheering even though it had been hours since the winner crossed the line. That is what the Birkie is all about.
You can get the results in all shapes and sizes at The Official Birkie Web Site

© 2003 Cory Smith. All Rights Reserved.