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2008 Whistler Loppet Report
By:  Tom McCarthy   (2008/02/25)


Warming down after last week’s disastrous 10k classic (the inspiration for that self-pitying athlete diary last week), my friend Vesa said to me: ‘Hey, why don’t you come do the Whistler Loppet next weekend? It should be a pretty relaxed, fun race.’ I had heard about the Loppet – supposed to be a fast course – and decided to do it given the sunny weather forecast.

I prepared for it by doing an awesome backcountry day at Mt. Baker on Saturday, and not really eating or drinking enough throughout that day – I had no food at my house, so all I brought was Clif Bar’s Builders Bars. Then I followed up the evening before the race by going to watch a Canucks game in a suite, and eating dinner there – gross pizza, good spare-ribs, and these awesome little tempura-shrimp appetizers. Oh yeah, and free beer. The only thoughtful prep I did was with respect to my skis – picked a pair with a pretty fresh Q1-3 grind, and threw on some Vauhti Fluor base prep wax, covered with the always-trusty Vauhti Spektra Blue and Vauhti Spektra Silver (-3 to +5).

The wax, at least, was the right call. The race started around 0 degrees, with a hard, crusty, and fast track. It warmed up through the race, and the snow was a bit dirty. The blue held onto the ski despite the abrasiveness, and the silver dealt with the moisture and the dirt really well. The skis were fast.

The Loppet is a 30k skate, on the Lost Lake trail system at Whistler. I had never skied those trails before – they’re nice. Not super-wide, but nice and rolling. We did two 15k loops, with a long 3k uphill section in it, but other than that some easy ups and lots of fast gradual rolling downhills, with some fun corners.

I drove up from Vancouver the morning of the race (again, awesome prep). My quick perusal of the confirmed list had half-convinced me there may be no-one to race against, but the first person I saw was Glenn Bond, who had laid a licking on me in January, so I knew it wasn’t going to be a walk. We started out conservatively, with Glenn leading out and a collection of masters and guys in ugly ski suits behind us. I took the lead after a couple k. I was skiing along relaxed, and a squirrel came out of the bush, saw the pack heading towards it, and froze. It went one way, then the other, then changed its mind again, then turned right into my boot and I smoked it. It was funny – in case you’re wondering, it was unharmed.

Glenn led up the climb on the first lap, and I tried to stay relaxed, and go easy on the legs that were already feeling yesterday’s backcountry session. We ditched everyone except two guys at the top – one of the guys passed me at the top of the climb, and he was wearing a REALLY old ski-suit with holes in the crotch. He fell on the first downhill, and was gone the rest of the day. We gapped the other guy – local legend Olav Stana – on the downhill – and then it was me and Glenn the rest of the way. I stayed very relaxed on the flats and gradual ups, focussing on keeping the shoulders loose and pushing the skis out. I ended up leading most of the second lap, including the big uphill section, because I wanted to set my pace up. The last 6k is fun rolling terrain, some climbs, but all done at pretty high speed. We traded places once, then Glenn passed me on a downhill and started attacking the ups. I was feeling good and stuck to him, but then remembered that the finish line was just part of the trail – no wider than a single lane!!

So as we neared the line (mostly downhill), I was getting nervous and started trying to get around Glenn. He knew and was playing it smart. Then, after the last downhill, we crossed rail tracks with about 400m left. He was being aggressive, got in the back seat a bit on the bumps, lost his balance and hit the ground. I managed to stay upright and cruised in for the victory. Not the most heroic way to win, but these days, beggars definitely can’t be choosers.

It was a great day to race, and a great race to do. Very fast (I think my time was 1:15), very fun course, and a gorgeous day – and, for my current fitness level, good competition. In short, ski racing at its best – when technique feels super-smooth and you’re travelling consistently fast over fun terrain, it doesn’t get much better. And of course, it’s always nice to win a race, especially when it’s followed up by a great lunch buffet and nice award mug. So, one of the best weekends a guy could ask for – a wicked day of ski touring, a great hockey game, and a race win. I’ll take that anytime.

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