I did not approach Saturday’s race as 'the race of the season' because it was mainly meant as preparation for the 50km classic race at the Nationals. I have to admit I would greatly have preferred to do the skate race as classic is my weak technique by a long shot. Fortunately this year has given me the forced opportunity to work a tremendous amount on my classic. In fact I have only raced 2 distance skate events so far. Every other race was either pursuit, classic or skate sprint.
I was very relaxed at the start as I was seeded in the A wave and there were plenty of decent skiers around me. This meant no one would be overly antsy or try to win the race in the first kilometer and snap any poles between him and his goal. My impression was good as the start was very civilized and a calm, fast pack was taking on the course.
Once on the parkway, tons of people attempted to double pole their way to victory. A small lead pack quickly took off but they were all 50km racers with the exception of Matthias Purdon. Aidan Lennie and I had basically agreed to race this together like Easterns and so we either led or stayed in the front of the chase pack.
We both knew the hills would decide who cut it and who didn’t. When we entered the trail #15 both of us made our way to the front. I was starting to cramp after taking a gel and too little water when Aidan crashed after being caught of guard in a 180° turn. I ended up in front and gladly kept a relaxed pace to try and recuperate from my cramp. He eventually caught up and we started skiing together.
I only noticed we had dropped everyone, no one was skiing on my tails, when coming out of double poling section on the parkway. We caught two 50km skiers including XC Ottawa alumni Brian Suke and eventually caught Matthias again too.
We then proceeded to ski together for awhile and entered trail #15 for the second time. I noticed at this point that my skis were very hard to kick properly in the near herringbone hills. My cold skis require 11 layers of wax - they were picked a bit too stiff for me. I must have forgotten 2 or 3 base layers the night before and you never notice this on moderate hills. Matthias and Aidan then skied away over every crest which kept adding up on this portion of the course.
Eventually I lost them and could see no one in front or behind me. I found a way to dynamize my kick once I got on the trail #7 and so limited the damage. Once I got on the parkway it was obvious that I would not pick up 1 minute on the double pole back when Aidan and Matthias were similar or stronger double polers. I then chose to make my way to the finish in third place. This would allow me to recuperate better and race properly in the next two weekends and at Nationals.
So I puttered around until about 3 km to the end were I saw Samuel Ménard, an old training partner of mine with Skinouk, double poling like mad to catch me. He is pretty strong in this aspect of skiing so I went back in race mode until the end to safely grab my third place. Overall I would say this race was fairly frustrating as I had the fitness and capacity to fight for first and second (which was decided on the sprint to the finish). The chosen wax was excellent but still led to difficult skis to kick on a significant portion of the course. Fortunately I was able to limit the impact on my body by keeping technique together. It did not feel like a 30 km race and I think it taught me how to do with what you’ve got and lose as little time as possible. In that sense it turned out to be a race in which the actual result means little compared to what has been learnt. Kind of like an exhausting physics lab if you want.