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Season of David - Part XVI
By:  David Zylberberg   (2003/08/13)


The following is part of a series of weekly articles by the "infamous" David Zylberberg, one of the original members of XC Ottawa. He is the writer of numerous amusing and sometimes controversial articles which have been the subject of much discussion within the Canadian cross-country racing community over the last 8 months. While David does not possess an advanced degree in physiology or sports science, hopefully the articles will be the source of much entertainment while you are putting off work, school, or chores. David's articles will be candid and will not be censored by the editors of XC Ottawa. (At least not usually) Please address your comments and questions directly to David.

This week has been an eventful week and I have some interesting comments about skiing's greatest race so prepare yourselves. When I wrote last week's article I was feeling a little burntout (somewhat tired and lacking motivation). I then went on a hard hiking trip in which I felt stronger as I went and regained my love of being outdoors and my motivation to work hard.

Sunday August 10, was a major race for Sudbury, the Beaton Classic. The Beaton is like a triathlon with a section of solo canoing between the bike and run. It is 1.5 km swim, 30 km bike, 4 km paddle, 12 km run. Being from Sudbury and enjoying long races I decided to enter. This race is generally done as a relay but the individual category is the promoted and receives the prize money (this year it got converted from coins to paper currency so the winners did not receive 2000 nickels). Since I have been competitive before I decided to enter the full race and see what condition I am in. Before, I mention the race I would like to mention the effort of race volunteer Will Kershaw. Due to the canoe being moved from Ramsey Lake to Nephawin Lake and Laurentian Beach not being on the road, all canoes had to be in place Saturday evening. Mr. Kershaw then camped next to the boats in order to prevent theft. All of the volunteers worked hard to make this a good event but he deserves special mention.

I haven't swam in a year and a half and even then not very much so I was surprised to take 2 minutes off my previous swim time for the course. Apparently double poling and ski training improve the power of upper body muscles enough to compensate for worsening swim technique. I was second soloist out of the water and held that position until midway in the canoe. After the swim I passed a number of relay teams but was passed by Kerry "Iron Stud" Abols of the Abols family team and lost ground to Lappe Junior Coach Jeff Moustegaard partnered with his wife Amy. I was in third, two minutes off first, as the run began and got stupid. Prior experience had taught me to always start runs slow in triathlons or quadrathlons since the muscles need to readjust to running. I did not and took the lead two km into the run and then put a lot of time into the other individual males. Unfortunately, I faded the second half of the run and my running time was slow, despite a large victory. I guess this means I am in decent shape and am pleased that I was able to race hard since two years ago I was so lacking in speed that I could not give an all-out effort. We will try to make results available soon.

This race reminds me of the greatest event in sport; the 50km ski race (many would insist on my adding the words Classic Individual Start). Personally I find skating an equally valid technique with its own unique challenges so I will not degrade the 50km skate. Individual starts are harder at 50km, pleasing the purists and perhaps making a better race (I have never done a 50 individual start so cannot comment). The Beaton reminds me of a 50km because of its similar length (~2.75-3 hours for Beaton, ~2-2.5 hours for 50km) and its use of all muscles. Also, I use it as preparation for long races in order to remember eating strategies and mentalities around pacing. Since, it is only advised for young seniors to race 1-2 50km races/year, it is difficult to gain experience wiith fuelling for them. Experimenting in a summer race helps, as well as the summer race providing some training benefits.

50km is the greatest event in sport because of its difficulty. Ski racing uses more muscles simultaneously than any other sport, making it more physically demanding and punishing. Also, 50km's are at a unique length in which they are very long (providing a serious endurance and muscular endurance challenge) while being short enough to still be raced hard. Shorter races have fewer possibilities for failure and are not as tiring, while longer races end up being easier because of the lower intensity. 50km Classic races present the added difficulty of having to exert a minimum technical proficiency and power on every stride in order to set the wax so that fatigue can create worse problems. Another difficulty is that 50km's require huge energy consumption, but do not allow the replenishment of significant calories that longer and less intense Ironman's or Bicycle races permit. We take some sport drink and the occasional gel but this is just to maintain fluid and sugar levels to continue the metabolism of fats and stored energy as well as fuelling the brain (helps to keep focus). This is largely why 50km's are the hardest race in sport.

Another great feature of 50km's is the tradition and prestige of the event. They go back to the days when ski races where held point to point without well-groomed trails and in which the toughest person won. Now we race on groomed trails but the demands of the event still resemble the endurance of older days and inpire traditionalists. Also, because 50km's are so respected, they become revered throughout Scandinavia as the best event in skiing, increasing their glory. Sometimes they are seen as the test of the very toughest and a necessity to be considered a real champion. Shorter races still require exceptional toughness but handling high lactates does not inspire the same way as holding a very fast pace for 2 hours. Also, many skiers muscles have difficulty providing the power required for that length of a race, producing cramping and spectacular fades. This adds to the challenge and spectator appeal of the race. Due to these difficulties and prestige, 50 km must be considered the greatest race in our sport and the argument that Martin Koukal or Andrus Veerpalu the current greatest skier receives support.

XCOTTAWA is fortunate to be well suited to 50 km racing. Karl Saidla is very good at long skate races and in 2002 won the Keskinada Marathon and later came 7th in a skating 50km at the National Championships. Lee Churchill is very technically efficient and his long poweful strides are suited to long races. He has been 8th at Keskinada in 2002, 5th in a 50km Classic at the 2001 Canadian Championships and had his best performance of the year in the 50km Classic at last year's Canadian Championships. I seem to do well at long skate races and had my first top ten at Senior Nationals in the 50km in 2002. Arno Turk is best at long races and does very well in long skate races. Tom McCarthy can pull off good 50km Classics when on form and came 11th at the 2001 Canadian Championships as a 20 year old. THe strengths of these male skiers and our love of the distance make 50km the favored distance at XCOTTAWA. I hope you all enjoy these long races as much as us, and that we will see you on March 21, 2004 for the 50km Skate Mass Start at the Canadian Championships.

Interesting Reading. . .
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