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Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion
  March 3

The Great Ski Race is a point to point race over a mountain pass which starts in Tahoe City, CA and finishes in Truckee. It is supposedly the largest race in the West, with 800 competitors. As you may remember, last year I came out to the Great Ski Race in Tahoe, CA at the last minute. I had nothing to do between the Birkie and the West Yellowstone Rendezvous and Nordic Equipment offered to pay part of my way to represent the shop at the race. After all was said and done, I left California with a victory under my belt and, quite possibly, a new favorite race. The course, the snow, the weather, and the postrace awards party all made it a truly "Great Race." So this year I marked the Great SKi Race on my calendar way back in October and have been looking forward to it ever since. The one problem, however, is that I think I raved a little too much. After having nothing but local skiers for competition last year, almost all the elite marathon skiers in the country decided to show up this year. Next time I stumble across an undiscovered gem of a race, I'm keeping my mouth shut! Seriously, I doubt I caused the influx of top talent, but it certainly happened. Ben Husaby, Pete Vordenberg, and Pat Weaver are just some of the many skiers who have flown in from around the country for this race. This is a good thing. Sure I want to win again, but I also need to get back into tactical marathon racing mode since I haven't done one since Nationals and I have two more coming up soon. I need to continue racing against the seasoned marathon veterans. This time, in order to win, I will have to beat the big names on the circuit. That's the way it should be. I think I still have a good shot at winning. Pat Weaver is just coming off a bout with pneumonia that had him out for two months, and I have beaten everyone else in the field in a marathon at least once.

March 4

I arrived in Tahoe City late last night and went right to bed. Today's mission is to get reacquainted with the course, wax my skis and rest up for tomorrow. Not a lot on the agenda, so I took advantage of the free time and slept in this morning.

The course is basically uphill for the first 10K, downhill for the next 10K and then rolling, gradual downhill for the last 10K. The finish is ridiculous. It is basically a 200 meter slope that would be "More Difficult" at any downhill ski area, with about 20 meters to stop before you hit a building at the bottom. Since there is no way to outsprint someone to the line, I thought that it was very important to know the last 5K very well in order to possibly make a move prior to the finish. So this morning I went to the finish line to begin my course inspection. At about 11:00, I started skiing the last 5K backwards. While I was out there I met up with my teammates, Tav Streit and Scott Loomis, and Torbjorn. I skied for a total of about an hour, making mental notes of the last few uphills, feed station and anything else that would let me know I was nearing the finish. It was another beautiful, sunny day in Tahoe and I had to resist the urge to ski for too long. After skiing, I did a little stretching and headed out to find some lunch.

For the past year or so, Torbjorn and I have had a minor disagreement on the use of hot tubs before a race. Torbjorn maintains that all the top European skiers are using them to help get ready for a race. I, on the other hand, have always thought that they are a terrific tool for long term muscle recovery, but that they can make you feel a little sluggish the day after using one. There is nothing I like better than a jacuzzi after a hard race, but I never really liked to use them before races. I feel like they relax my muscles too much. This afternoon Torbjorn pointed out a giant public hot tub in the Tahoe town of King's Beach and recommended that we put it to good use that afternoon. Figuring that I should give the coach's advice the benefit of the doubt, I took a twenty minute dip before getting in a good nap.

Before dinner, I went over to Torbjorn's condo to wax my skis. Waxing for this race is always tricky. Because you ski up and over a mountain pass, the conditions at the start can be much different from the conditions at the top and at the finish. I waxed up two pairs of skis with entirely different combinations. Pair one had a fine structure and was waxed with Solda Violet and White (for new snow) and covered with Fluor. Pair two had coarse structure and was waxed with Solda F30 Orange (for old, melting snow) with Fluor over it. The final decision on skis would be made at the start. Then it was dinner time and then, soon afterward, bed time.

March 5

I arrived at the start at 7:30, which gave me plenty of time to test skis and warm up. After a few glide tests, I decided to go with my old snow skis. There had been some new snow in the forecast last night, but it never happened. I knew the snow up top might not be transformed but it would still qualify as old and I thought my old snow wax would be very good down the other side. I got off to a fast start when the race began. Out of the stadium area, I was third behind Colin Mahood and Pat Weaver (where did Weaver get that sprint?) The start was definitely much faster than last year and by the 5K point we had dwindled the lead pack to eight. I was feeling good, my skis were fast and the pace was relatively comfortable. Then, at about 9K, things got ugly. Pat went to the lead and began to push the pace. At about the same time, the clouds let loose and it started snowing. I was already beginning to tire from trying to keep pace with Pat's surge and too make matters worse, my skis got very slow when the snow started. The huge structure in my skis was just too much. I began to drop off the back of the pack. As I looked up ahead, the pace was beginning to take its toll on the others as well. Everyone began to spread out. It was every man for himself from here to the top. At the top, Pat had a 30 second lead on Ben Husaby. About another 30-45 seconds behind him was Scott Loomis, then Tav Streit, Peter Webb, me, and Pete Vordenberg, all within 30 seconds of each other. As we started down the hill, Pete and I tuck skated hard to catch up to Scott and Tav. In the process we passed Peter Webb, who either had very slow skis or just gave up. My skis were still slow, so I was really working the tuck skate technique. We caught Tav and Scott after about 5K, but I had worked so hard to catch up that it was all I could to stay with them. We all took turns pulling our foursome until about 5k from the finish. There, on the last major uphill, Tav took off and Vordy went with him. Loomis tried to go but he soon dropped off like I did. I worked the final Ks hoping I might be able to reel in Loomis but it was not going to happen. I finished 6th.

The result was disappointing, but not because I didn't win again. I was disappointed because my race was kind of out of my control. Sure I felt a little sluggish and tired, but I think I could have fought through that if my skis had been comparable to other peoples. It is hard to fight when you know the deck is stacked against you. But as for not feeling all that great, it leads me to wonder even more about the whole hot tub thing. If anyone else has an opinion on pre-race hot tub, massage, or sauna I'd like to hear it.


March 11

Since I have been on the road virtually since October, I relished being home in Park City for most of this week. Of course, I would have relished this more if I actually had a home. But never the less, I did have a room to my self. I was in no hurry to take off again anytime soon. I still planned on racing this weekend, but since the marathon of the week is in West Yellowstone, I decided to make the trip as minimal as possible. Torbjorn and I came up to West yesterday afternoon for this morning's race. We skied a bit in the afternoon and I was excited because I felt great. I kept my ski short - about an hour - to make sure I would still feel good today. I knew that there was going to be a lot of good competition here, many of the same people as last week, but I really felt like I had a chance to win. I had done everything right in the days before the race, from diet to training to mental preparedness. I was ready for a good one.

When the race started, I got to the front without too much effort. In fact, at about the 2K mark, I took the lead. The pace was easy at this point and I had no intentions of picking it up anytime soon. We still had 48Ks to go. So I lead the pack at a relaxed pace for a few minutes, when all of a sudden I realized that there was only one person behind me. Peter Webb and I had somehow managed to get a 100 meter lead without even trying. I knew it was much too early to make a move to win - I would exert too much energy trying to ski on my own and the pack would swallow me up sooner or later. So I cut back on the pace a little more and waited for them to catch up. Now I was moving at a training pace, but I took it as a good sign. After all, if I could get away from the pack without trying, I must be feeling very good. Plus it seemed that my skis were running well compared with most of the other skiers around me. A pack of seven of us picked up the pace slightly at about 10K. Eric Wilbrecht, Ben Husaby, Nathan Schultz, Scott Loomis, Peter Webb, Pat Weaver and I broke away and began to put time on the field. I was still feeling good and was excited about my prospects for this race. As we neared the 20K point, Ben took the lead and began to push the pace. All of a sudden, I felt very tired and struggled to hang with them. Ben, Peter, Scott and Pat got a break and Eric, Nathan and I were falling off the back. At this point, I had finished drinking the waterbottle I had with me and was really looking forward to the bottle I had place on the course at 20K. All the other guys in the lead pack were either members of the Factory Team or the Rossignol team and had at least three people on the course to give them feeds (new bottles, Gu, etc.). Scott and I, being on Team NEI which has a much smaller budget, didn't have that luxury and had to take matters into our own hands. So I had skied out before the race and put a bottle at 20K. I figured that my first bottle would last 20K, then I would get a second that would last the same distance. Then by that time, Torbjorn would have finished his 25K race and could give me a final feed with about 10K to go. So as I came up on 20K I was desperate for my bottle. As I skied by, I slowed a bit and grabbed the bottle with two hands. But my hands were also covered with snow, which made the bottle very slick. As I went to put in my Ultimate belt, it slipped and I lost it. There was no way to go back and get it because I would loose touch with everyone. This was a huge blow mentally, knowing that I would have to ski the next 20K without fuel. (There were a few race-sponsored feed stations, but they just give out water and usually spill half of it on you before you can drink it anyway.) This, combined with the fact that I was getting dropped already, just crushed my motivation. My pace slowed noticeably and I began to wonder whether it was worth continuing. I probably wouldn't have, except that I have never dropped out of a race and that is something I am very proud of. I couldn't let that streak end just because I was a little thirsty. I decided to keep skiing, even if it meant an embarrassing finish. At about 30K, Chad Anderson, another member of Team NEI, caught and passed me. I tried to stay with him, but I was just out of energy. At 40K I finally got my bottle from Torbjorn, and drank about half of it immediately. At this point, I was still in 8th, but I had seen two guys behind me closing in. Feeling a little refreshed from the juice, I picked up the pace a bit, determined not to let anyone else beat me. I finished 8th, though I have no idea what my time was or how far back I was, because after I crossed the line I headed immediately back to the hotel for a shower. It had been wet and snowy for the last half of the race and I was very cold.


As I stood in the shower, I was numb, both physically and mentally. My toes were swollen and had lost all feeling. Mentally, I was in disbelief that a race that had started so well could have gone so wrong. Am I just not in shape for long races? Am I sick? Am I not trying hard enough? I was pretty sure that the answer to each of my questions was NO, but I couldn't come up with a better answer, either. A year ago I was right up front at these races. I should be even faster now, but I am not. I wish there was a simple answer that could put me back on track for the Gold Rush next weekend, but I doubt there is one. I just have to keep going back out there with knowledge that I can ski with these guys, even if it doesn't always happen. As I said during Nationals, sometime you have accept that you aren't in top form, but you still need to just put your head down and grunt it out. That's what I have to do now.

March 17

When I started this website, I thought that it would have three main benefits. First of all, it would allow me to share my experiences with other skiers around the world. I know that I am very lucky to be pursuing my dreams and I figured that there would be other people out there who hope to do, or wish they had done, the same thing themselves. Second, it would give me a way of logging all of my adventures so that years from now I could look back and say, "Wow, I did some really cool stuff." Thirdly, I also thought that it might possibly be a way of raising a little money for my ski career. But over the past two seasons, and especially the last couple of weeks, I have experienced another benefit that I hadn't expected. The encouragement I have received, particularly lately when I have not been skiing very well, has been overwhelming. Last year, when I was skiing very well, I really enjoyed putting up the website postings. A race win here, won a little money there, it was all very fun to share and I enjoyed all the congratulatory emails I received. But in the back of my mind I wondered, "What if I wasn't skiing well?" Obviously it would not be as much fun to write about. Would this cause people to tune out? Well, as you know the past few months have given me the opportunity to find out. At times recently it has been depressing, and sometimes even embarrassing, to recount yet another bad race. But the reaction from all of you has been nothing like I expected. My site has been getting more hits than ever. And the out pouring of supportive emails has helped keep me positive in a very trying period. I never expected that , in sharing my stories, I would get so much back in return. Thank you to everyone who has sent me a few words of encouragement, and also to all of you who just read the site. It always makes me try just a little bit harder, knowing that I have a small army behind me. And at some point I will turn this ship around and start racing fast again and you will be a big part of the reason why.

On a related note: I was also surprised at the number of responses I received to my question about pre-race hot tub use. I received anecdotes and opinions from elite cyclists and runners, coaches and many other skiers. The response was a landslide. About 90% of you said "No Way" you would use a hot tub or sauna the day before a race and 10% said "Usually not but it depends on the individual and the race." But no one came out in favor of hot tubs. That answers any lingering doubts I had about my personal aversion to them before races. I really enjoyed the feedback I received and I think I might have a few more polls in the future. Got something you want feedback on? Let me know and I might post it.

March 18

This weekend I am in Royal Gorge, CA for the California Gold Rush. The 50K marathon is tomorrow, but today was a Lexus Sprint Tour event, the same one that I won last year. As seems to be the case with most races this year, the level of competition was much that it was last year. Participating in the sprints were, among others: Marcus Nash, Justin Wadsworth, John Bauer, Pat Weaver, Nathan Schultz, Dave Chamberlain, Andrew Johnson, Scott Loomis, Marc Gilbertson, Eli Brown, Pete Vordenberg, and the list goes on. Except for the top skiers who are still in school, everyone was here. For the first time at any Lexus sprint I have been to, they had to turn people away because there are only 28 start positions available. The course was as wild as last year. Right out of the start it climbed a hill for 15-20 seconds. Then a U-turn and right back down the hill. After gathering a lot of speed, there was a jump (not a speed bump but a real jump with a nice lip on it) followed by a hard right hand turn. Then a flat section into another U-turn which shot you into the gradual uphill to the finish line. The course probably took about a minute to race. It was going to be mayhem, no doubt about it. In my first heat, I had a bad start lane, but by the top of the hill I was in third behind Dave Chamberlain and Andrew Johnson. Since three would move on, out of the seven in the heat, I did just enough to stay ahead of Pete Vordenberg and the rest of the pursuers for the rest of the loop and moved into the second round. In the second round, Dave, Andrew and I went up against Justin Wadsworth, Tav Streit, and one other skier. Right off the line, Dave skied over the top of my skis and I got spun around. I didn't fall, but I did lose precious seconds. I quickly began playing catch-up and as we approached the top of the hill, Tav and I were side-by-side jockeying for fourth position. Then, before Tav and I knew what had happened, we were both on the ground. My Exel QLS poles had unsnapped from my straps and both of Tav's poles were broken. It wasn't really anyone's fault, just two people and only one spot. We were both eliminated and sent into the consolation bracket. From this bracket, one person would advance to the final, but it would mean beating all but three of the people I listed above in order to do it. It was a tall order and I debated calling it quits and saving my energy for tomorrow. Eventually, I decided to give it one more shot. In the first consolation heat, Tav and I both moved on, along with Pete Vordenberg. In the next heat in the winner's bracket, Marcus, Dave and Andrew beat out Scott, Justin, and Colin Mahood to advance to the final. In the consolation final, I was up against Tav, Nathan Schultz, Pat, Marc Gilberson, and Pete for a shot at the final. This consolation round had a better field than most finals! I got off the line clean and had a lead by the top of the hill. I cruised the rest of the course and into the finals. In the finals, since there were only four of us, I expected fewer mishaps. I drew the outside lane, which was a bit of a disadvantage. Off the line, Marcus and Dave got out quick, while Andrew and I were fighting for third. Again, two people and only one spot. We got tangled, but this time only I went down. As the other tree skied off, I was left on the ground with both poles popped off. I got up and got my poles and skied the rest of the loop. As I looked ahead I saw Marcus take the win, followed by Dave, then Andrew. It was a little disappointing to lose in the finals before i could even put up a fight. But when you look at how strong the field was, I felt like it was quite an achievement just to make the finals and earn a $100 for fourth place. It is not too often you can crash twice and still make $100. But in a "One of Those Days" postscript, I put my fourth place check in my Nordic Equipment vest pocket on our wax box while we took some team pictures after the race. When I returned, my vest was gone. I looked all over but could not find it. I figure I can probably get the check replaced, but it sure took the wind out of my good performance.

The rest of the day was not any better. By the time we went to dinner that night, I was sneezing and had an awful stomach ache. I managed to eat a normal dinner, but not nearly enough for a 50K the next day. I also kept drinking water constantly, but I still felt dehydrated. I went to bed wondering if I would be able to race the next day. . .

March 19

And I woke up without a definitive answer. I still had stomach pains and I was barely able to choke down my oatmeal. When we arrived at the start, it was all I could do to not display my breakfast all over the parking lot. I really wanted to race, but I felt awful. I kept going through the preparation routine, but I really felt like I should go home and go to bed instead. With about fifteen minutes before the start, I did my last bit of warm-up skiing. I felt a little better and decided that I might as well try the race. I reluctantly took off my warm-ups and went to the line. Then, the "Star Wars" theme came over the PA system. I took this as a sign that it was going to be a good day and my spirits started to lift.

The start of the race was insane. There were about 30 of us in the lead pack for the first few K's and even though it was a 50K race, everyone insisted on being right at the front immediately. After a few entanglements and close calls over the first 3K, people began to settle down. After all, the race wasn't going to be won for quite a while. Or was it? At about 4K, Ben Husaby took off, with Pat Cote on his heels. There were a number of people in the chase pack who asked out loud, "Who is that with Ben?" The two of them built a substantial lead and were almost out of sight. Eventually, Ben dropped Pat and at about 12K, the pack passed Pat who was dropping fast. After the first of three 16.7K loops, Ben had a 45 second lead. It was a concern, but the pack hadn't been skiing that fast and I think the other skiers who hoped to win were pretty confident that they would close the gap soon. About 5K into the second lap, Weaver took the lead and picked up the pace. He had done the exact same thing in the exact same spot last year and put the race away. This time around, others went with him. Chamberlain, Schultz, Vordenberg, Ian Skinner, and Tav Streit all took chase, while Andrew Johnson, Loomis, Mike White, Jon Engen, Marc Gilberson and me were all left trailing off the end, one by one. We tried to keep up, but by the halfway point, we were all by ourselves with about 10-15 seconds between each of us. I really wanted to hang on, but I was tiring and it didn't help that my pole baskets were starting to punch through the soft, melting snow. (I had brought bigger baskets with me this weekend for that reason, but they were in my vest that disappeared!) The last thing I saw before the lead pack disappeared was Ben being reeled back in. If he was going to win, the move would have to come later. At this point, I was just happy to have stayed in the race until halfway, considering how bad I felt earlier. It was also about here that I remembered that, because of my consolation route to yesterday's finals, I had done more sprints than anyone. I resigned myself to just skiing hard for the rest of the race without totally bonking. I could see Loomis, Engen and Johnson up ahead starting to work together, but I just couldn't close the 30 second gap. Instead, Marc Gilberson and I traded leads for most of the final lap. With about 7K to go, I glided away on a downhill and decided to try and maintain it. I picked up the pace just enough to put Marc out of sight, but it nearly killed me. On the last few hills, I was really struggling. I knew I was in tough shape when Pat Cote, who had bonked at about 8K, came flying by me on his second wind. I really wanted to stay with him but I couldn't do it. I just skied the last couple K's trying to stay upright and put one ski in front of the other. I did manage to pick off Ian Skinner, who was dropping like a lead weight, and probably would have caught Jon Engen with a couple more Ks. In the end, it was a less than impressive result, but I was fairly upbeat. I finished despite feeling horrible, and I was around other good skiers like Gilbertson, Loomis, and Johnson.

Considering all the things stacked against me this weekend, I think I performed pretty well, both in the sprints and the marathon. As a bonus, my vest turned up after the race, with my baskets and $100 check in the pockets. Now on to Spring Series and (Finally!) some shorter races.

March 24

Ah yes . . . Spring Series. The final race series of the season. Spring series is notorious for being more laid-back than the rest of the season. The season is just about over, the important races are behind us, the weather is warmer, and everyone can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone loosens up a little bit. It's like a combination of US Nationals and MTV's Spring Break. Almost as a side note, the competition is usually pretty good. For instance, this year the Smigun sisters, from Estonia, are here. Kristina Smigun was second in the World Cup this season and Katrin is a former World Junior Champion. On the men's side, there is a group of Swedish National Team members and a Czech skier named Martin Koukal, who has been had numerous top 25 finishes on the World Cup.

This year, however, I am trying hard not to get drawn in to the laid-back mentality too early. I could use a couple good races. To calculate the year-end National Rankings, USSA uses a person's five best FIS results. So far, by my count, I have had 4 good races: two in Silver Star in November, my classic pursuit at Nationals, and my classic race at the Continental Cup . So I could really benefit from just one good race. Therefore, I am trying to do everything right to pop one final good one before the week is out. It is a bit hard to focus when everyone else is so lackadaisical, but I'm trying.

March 25

10K Classic - McCall, ID

Last year, when I reported about the first race of spring series, I remember writing about how I had done no classic skiing and no short races in over a month. I thought that my Spring Series result suffered because of it and I was determines not to let it happen this year. Well, here I am a year later and the exact same thing has happened. It wasn't for lack of trying. My plan for mid-March was to skip the 50Ks (Yellowstone Rendezvous and Gold Rush) and go instead to Thunder Bay, Canada for Canadian Nationals where I could do a week of short races. I had my plane ticket all booked and a place to stay all lined up. Unfortunately, this plan got shot down with the lack of snow in the midwest this year. Canadian Nationals had to be moved to Canmore and delayed a week. This meant that the trip would overlap with Spring Series. Not worth the effort to get there. So despite my best efforts, I still ended up spending the month of March doing marathon skate races. As much as I enjoyed the two trips to Tahoe, it wasn't ideal from a racing point of view.

So there I was this morning at the start line, knowing that my last race shorter than 30Ks was on February 20th, which was also the last time I did a classic race. I was still fairly confident because a lot of my competition was in the same boat and I am a good classic skier. Maybe I would just be well-rested. Right after I started, I knew that this wasn't the case. My arms were already tired from the double-pole out of the stadium. Then, up the first hill, I felt like I was in slow motion. I just wasn't used to moving this way, my technique wasn't clicking. Then on the next hill, which was short and very steep, things got worse. I was determined to fly up this hill, even though I had to herringbone. As I broke out of my diagonal stride into a V to run up the hill, I took a huge bound forward, trying to get he most out of each step. I had momentarily forgotten that my herringbone might be a little rusty. Instead of flying up the hill, I stumbled a bit, got my pole stuck between my legs, and step down on my pole, breaking it right in half. As I made my way up the rest of the hill, I was yelling, "Pole! Pole!" Fortunately, a man who was standing there taking video dropped his camera, ran to the top of the hill with me and handed me his poles. I grabbed both, and as I headed down the hill, I figured out which one I needed (the right-hand one), adjusted the strap, and put it on. Fortunately, it was the exact same length as my pole. I was off and running again, but I figured that I had lost 10-15 seconds and since I was feeling sluggish, I couldn't afford to lose that time. I kept going hard, but I had kind of given up hope of having my good race today. Then, at 3.5K, Chris Grover gave me a split that I was in 3rd. This surprised me, even though most of the best skiers started behind me and hadn't come through yet. Maybe I could do OK after all. I kept fighting, but now with a more upbeat attitude. On the second lap, my arms were tired and I was still feeling slow, but I kept clinging to the hope that I was doing well.

After I finished, I watched most of the top skiers come in. Judging from the time between me and them, I figured my race had been pretty good, all things considered. I also decided that, even though the results wouldn't show it, I could subtract about 15 seconds from my time for the pole mishap and the fact that the replacement pole was noticeably heavier than mine. When the results were posted, I had finished 12th , 0.2 seconds behind Scott Loomis, who was eleventh. If I subtract 15 seconds from my time, I would have been 7th, ahead of good skiers like Rob Whitney and Andrew Johnson. I also noticed that everyone ahead of me on the results, besides Scott, had NOT been skiing marathons for the past month. So even though 11th place was lower than I had hoped for, I still consider it a good race. More than anything else, it gets me psyched for the 15K classic in Sun Valley on Wednesday.

Results will probably be posted on the Official Spring Series Web Site.

March 26

15K Pursuit - McCall, ID

I wasn't all that fired up to race today. I was pretty tired and sore from yesterday and I was also already looking forward to the next classic race after what happened yesterday. But once the race started, all that changed. I was in attack mode from the word "go." Scott and I started together and we were trying to chase down Rob Whitney, Andrew Johnson and the others who were only a few seconds ahead of us. Scott took the lead out of the stadium and I followed. We were moving pretty fast, but I knew that if we wanted to catch up, we would need to go all out. Rob always starts fast and he would take everyone else with him. I took the lead from Scott and sprinted up the first hill. At this point I decided that I would catch the pack ahead or blow up trying. I lead Scott and a University of Alaska-Anchorage skier for the first 3K, moving as fast as I could. At this point I was redlining, on the verge of exploding. I pulled over, letting Scott lead for a while. We were still moving very fast, but I could tell that we weren't closing the gap. On a long hill at 5K, we started to slow and Pat Weaver came flying by us, pulling Nathan Schultz in tow. Loomis took off with those two, while I resigned myself to settle in with the following pack of three other skiers. Magnus Eriksson of CU, Joern Frohs of DU, and Tobias Scwoerer of UAA. For the next lap, we each took turns pulling, just trying to stay ahead of Justin Freeman and Stephen Donahue who were 15-20 seconds back. I was starting to feel better and at about 11K, I noticed that we were catching Scott and Nathan, who had paid the price for chasing Weaver, who ended up moving all the way up from 18th to 4th! We passed Scott and set our sights on Nathan. On the long hill, I noticed that our pack was beginning to slow and Justin Freeman was still within striking distance behind us. I was feeling really good now, so I decided to pull the pack along trying to get us closer to Nathan. But when I took the lead, I realized that I was pulling away. It was earlier than I wanted to make my move, but I knew I had fast skis and a downhill coming up, so I dropped the hammer and took off. I passed Nathan with about 2K to go and then caught a Swede with a K to go. I had moved up from 15th to 10th in the last 3K. I began looking ahead for others to catch, but there wasn't enough race left to catch Rob Whitney, who was next ahead of me. I crossed the line 10th, 6th American, two places ahead of yesterday. I am very psyched to have finally had a good race. It wasn't outstanding, but I did move up and once again, the only people ahead of me have been doing shorter races recently. I dare say that I might be coming on, just in time for the season to end. If nothing else, it gives me something to look forward to going into next year. But we've still got races left here. . .

March 28

Lexus Sprints- Sun Valley, ID

The series has now moved on to Sun Valley. We drove down from McCall yesterday and today was our first event, the Lexus Sprint Tour Finals. For the first time ever, they had to limit the field size. Only 40 men and 20 women were allowed to take part, and there were probably at least that many who were denied entry. Because I finished in the top twenty overall in McCall, I had a reserved spot in the sprints. I was excited to race because it was, by far, the best field for one of these events, but on the other hand, I still had one eye looking forward to tomorrow's classic race. I didn't want to exhaust myself today. So I came up with a strategy: I would race as long as I stayed in the winner's bracket, but I would quit as soon as I lost. Though one person would advance to the finals from the consolation bracket, it would mean racing 6 times on a pretty hard 1K course. And with so many outstanding skiers, the chances of making it all the way through were not that great. So I would stop and save for tomorrow rather than race in the consolation bracket.

In the first round, all the heats were tough. There were ten people fighting for three spots to move on. In my heat was: Colin Mahood, Scott Loomis, Lars Flora, Stephen Donahue, two Swedes and three other top skiers ( can't remember everyone). I had a decent start, but not great. The first half of the lap was flat and I held my own, staying in fifth. There is one good little climb about two-thirds of the way through, and there I made my move. I sprinted by one person and jumped in behind Loomis who was in 3rd. I figured that I could tuck in behind him, draft on the downhill and glide by at the finish. This was a good plan, except that Loomis had the same idea about getting by the Swede in front of him. So now I had move up further than expected. Fortunately, I had fast skis and a good tuck skate, and Loomis and I were both able to get by the Swede before the finish to move on. In the next round, there were only six skiers. Colin, Scott, me, Dave Chamberlain, Martin Koukal, and Pat Casey. I had a quick start this time and as we approached the first corner, I was side by side with Dave fighting for second spot behind Martin. But, as I have had a habit of doing recently, Dave and I got tangled a bit. He skied over my ski and I almost went down. I recovered, but by then the others had gone by and I was in last. I hammered to catch up, but it was too late. I could only watch from behind as Colin, Martin and Dave advanced to the semifinals. My day was over. I had no desire to keep racing in the consolation round and I became happier and happier with my decision as I watched more and more very good skiers get eliminated. In the end, Justin Wadsworth ended up being the one from the consolation heat to go to the finals. I think it was a smart move on my part to quit early. In the winner's bracket, Martin Koukal, Jorgen Brink, and Dave Chamberlain made the final. The final was thrilling. Off the line, Martin and Jorgen took control, with Dave a stride or two behind. Justin was clearly tired from having done an extra race, and was dropping off the back. Going up the steep hill, Martin and Jorgen dueled for the lead by putting on an amazing display of tempo and power. But still, just a stride behind was CHamberlain. On the flat section at the top, just before the downhill, Chamberlain went for it. He got by Martin and was right next to Jorgen as they headed down the hill. It was amazing to see about 100 people in the stadium, all cheering for the young American who was trying to put the World Cup Scandinavians in their place. "He's got it! He's going to pull it off!" People were yelling everywhere. But then at the base of the hill, it all went wrong. Dave lost his edge and crashed hard. Jorgen cruised in for the win ahead of Martin. Justin came by just in time to take third before Dave could get up. It was a very exciting race, and even though Jorgen won, the day belonged to Dave Chamberlain.

March 29

10K Classic- Sun Valley, ID

This was it. This was the race I had been looking towards for a week. Maybe a little too much. All three races in Sun Valley this week are being held at 4:00pm. This was because, during the week, the only time they could recruit volunteers was in the afternoon. But from a racer's viewpoint, this was horrible. Not only do you end up wasting a whole day just sitting and waiting to race, but it also screws up your whole race preparation. When do you eat? Can you take a nap? And psychologically, it is hard to motivate to race as the sun is getting ready to set. I struggled with all of this. except the motivation thing today. I wanted nothing more than to go out there and rip through the course so fast that it would scream in pain. And when the race started, I did just that. I was the next to last out of the gate. The course was 3 laps of a 3.5K loop. After the first lap, I got a split from Chris Grover that I was tied for third place, higher than I expected to be. But now I wonder if I would have been better off not knowing that. As soon as I heard how fast I was going, I began wondering if I had started too fast. I kept pushing hard, but I felt myself tiring. At that point I figured that it was because I started too fast. I struggled through my second lap, trying to recover a bit. On the third lap, I fired up all the jets again and had a strong finish, but by this time it was snowing and I knew that the course was getting slower than it had been for most of the elite skiers. It was a handicap, but I tried to fight through it. I ended up finishing 11th, less than a second from 9th, and 6th American. I had really been hoping for top 10, so I was a little disappointed, but it was still pretty good. It should be a good points race for me, which is the most important thing. But still I can't help but think about how fast I started, and how I faded. My fast start was encouraging because I felt in control the whole time, but I was skiing very fast. But then why did I fade? Was I tired or was I just scared by my very good split? Did I really start too fast or was I just expecting to fade because I didn't think I belonged up that high? I'm not sure. It is something to think about. I try to always be positive and expect the best from myself, but do I really believe I can ski with the best? It is a heavy question, for sure. And what it boils down to is, that I won't ski with them if I don't truly believe I can ski with them. Even when I am now skiing my best, I need to believe that I can beat anyone and everyone, and on a certain level, I know I do. But I need to make sure that, deep down, I honestly believe. It is something to think about in my mental training.

March 30

National Relay Championships- Sun Valley, ID

This year, the format for the National Relay Championship was changed to a 2-man sprint. One person sprints a 1K loop (essentially the same course as the Lexus Sprint), then tags off to his teammate, who does the same loop and tags off to the first person. Each person skis five loops. This is an extremely hard race because you go all out for 2 minutes, then rest for only two minutes, then do it again - four more times. Stop-Go-Stop-Go. It is also a very exciting, spectator-friendly format.

In tonight's race, Scott Loomis and I made up Team TUNA, since TUNA is our official ski club. We were up against teams from XC Oregon (Justin Wadsworth & Pat Weaver), "Putney" (Andrew Johnson & Kris Freeman [aside: I'm mistified as to how these two can legally race for Putney. I challenge them to be able to name any member of the Putney Ski Club -Besides a Caldwell.]), Utah (Pat Casey & Rob Whitney), Factory Team (Nathan Schultz & Dave Chamberlain), Canada, Sweden, a hybrid team of Martin Koukal & Lars Carlsson, and nearly twenty other teams. For our team, I went first, on the scramble leg. Before the race today, I was talking on the phone with a friend of mine, and she gave me this advice: Take someone else out. Don't let anyone else ski over my skis, and don't let them break my equipment. In other words, get them before they get you. I didn't really plan on going after anyone, but I was sure going to hold my own. No more sprint crashes for me. The start was wild. Twenty-five people all trying to get to the first corner before everyone else. I got a decent start and was in 5th after about 100 meters, then the Canadian team started to creep in on me. I held my ground, and lo and behold, I skied over his ski (it was unintentional, I swear!) and he stumbled and dropped back. When we got to the hill, I was in 7th. This was a good place to be, except that I knew the tag-off would be mayhem. 25 people all trying to find their teammate. I knew the best place to be for a clean tag was at the front. I absolutely flew up the hill, passing three people. Then, on the downhill, my skis were superfast and I went by one more. At the bottom of the hill I was side by side with a Swede when all of a sudden I felt a very strong blow to my left temple with what I assumed was a ski pole. I have no idea whose it was, how it happened, or how it got moving so fast, but it threw me off my stride for a split second. Luckily, I recovered and maintained position. I got into the tag zone in third, and tagged off cleanly to Loomis. He stayed in the middle of the front pack, which was now 6 skiers. This is just where we wanted to be - with the leaders, but with others doing all the work. When Loomis tagged off to me for my second lap, we were in third, but it was still wild. Pat Weaver had the led, followed by Pat Casey, me, Kris Freeman, Lars Carlsson, and the Swedish junior team. On this lap I just maintained position, which was not easy to do with three skiers behind me all looking to move up. I was so close on Casey's heels that at on point I took his pole in my face. Fortunately, it deflected off my sunglasses. But speaking off poles as we came into the stadium, I saw half of a broken Swix Star pole right next to where I had been hit on the first lap. I had broken someone's pole with my head! Unbelievable! How many people can say that? Again, I tagged off to Scott in third, where we stayed until my fourth lap. At this point I was feeling good and I sensed that we might be able to do something big. But how do I tell Scott since I only fly by him for a split second? I decided to send a message with my skiing. As we headed up the hill the fourth time, I cut to the outside and put it into over drive. I passed Casey and jumped on Weaver's tail. Then, as we approached the stadium, I passed Weaver. I figured that if I could come into the stadium in the lead. Loomis would know I was feeling good. But the reaction I got from Scott was not what I had hoped for. He started in the lead, but soon was passed by Justin Wadsworth, Martin Koukal, Andrew Johnson, and Rob Whitney. Going up the hill, they dropped him. By the time they got to the stadium, Scott was about 6-8 seconds back. He was still moving very fast, but the other guys had just upped the ante, like I tried to do on the previous lap. I was determined to get us back into the race on my fifth and final lap, but I was skiing by myself and was not able to bridge up to the pack that was drafting each other for greater speed. I closed to within 3 seconds of Kris Freeman and Pat Casey, but Pat Weaver and Lars Carlsson were too far ahead at this point. After tagging off to Loomis, I scurried over to the finish to see the battle for first. Scott was pretty secure in his fifth place, with Rob Whitney (Utah) and Andrew Johnson (Putney) just ahead. Andrew started to die on the last lap, but not enough for us to move up. Out in front, Martin Koukal and Justin Wadsworth were having an epic battle for the win. Going up the hill, they were beside each other, matching each other stride for furious stride. On the flat at the top, it appeared that Martin had the advantage. But Justin tucked in behind him, knowing that his Betas were running very well (FYI - both men were on Betas). Down the hill, Justin build up speed and as they entered the stadium, he pulled out to make his move. He tuck skated right up next to Martin, who countered by pulling out of his tuck skate into V2 alternate to keep pace. They were side by side coming down the stretch. As they crossed the line, both men shot their right leg forward, a la Thomas Alsgaard in the Olympic relay. It was too close to call, so the officials literally had to go to the video tape. Five minutes later, it was announced that Justin had won by about 8 inches. Eight inches in a 10K race! It was an amazing and proper end to the season for me. Scott and I finished just out of the money, but we had skied well. I was particularly happy to be able to take control on the fourth lap like I did. I was confident and knew I could outski anyone in my heat. Which, thinking back to yesterday, makes me think that I really do believe I can ski with anyone. Now I just have to spent the next eight months getting ready to prove just that next winter.

March 31

Officially there is still one more race of spring series, a criterium in Boise on Saturday. But I've had enough. I think the relay was a good way to end the season, and since there is no real prize money or points at the criterium, not to mention that I have no money to afford to go there anyway, I have decided to head home. Scott Loomis, Nathan Schultz, and Chris Klein all made the same decision, so this morning we packed up all our stuff and headed back to Park City. I am glad to be done for the season and ready for a lot of rest and relaxation. But at the same time, I am already getting the itch to start training for next year. Since this year was less than stellar, I really have something to prove in the next 12 months. Stay tuned though - I'll be posting a "year-in-review" in a week or so.

© 2003 Cory Smith. All Rights Reserved.