Winter’s Last Stand, Pt. 1

xc graphicSince mother nature has quelled ambitions of being outdoors (and relatively comfortable), we’re publishing the first part of our own Dr. Mike Shaefer’s cross country skiing exploits over the last month or so.

His first entry comes from Cote Dame Marie Loppet, a rolling 26km course:

 

First XC ski race of the year! I started very slowly as I was worried about my lack of preseason training. Had a great mid-race surge and caught a group of guys I often race with,so my slow start did seem to hurt me much. I was just settling in to a nice draft when someone stepped on my pole and yanked the shaft right out of the handle! It took me 30 sec or so to ski back and slam it together, but unfortunately lost my pace group during the flattest and fastest pat of the course. I reeled them in slowly over the next 2k, but then we hit the one HUGE climb of the day – literally right up and over the local downhill ski area! Fortunately I was able to stay with all but one guy and recovered nicely on the downhill on the back side. With 10k still to go, I made up my mind to catch the guys who escaped the group, as he is an old rival who often beat me handily when we were in our 20s. Fortunately my slow start must have paid off, as I caught him 4ks later and then caught 2 more guys after him!

It was SO nice to ski in excellent conditions again, and I really enjoyed the “easier” race strategy, even though it probably cost me a few places. The best part of the day though, was the 5Ks I got to ski with Jill and the girls after the race!

Next up was the Ohio State Cross Country Skiing Championships, on Cleveland’s east side at Lake Metroparks’ Girdled Road Reservation:

Petty good skiing with all of the new snow, but the races were challenging as usual. It was 4 deg, snowing like crazy and windy — Some of the most difficult conditions I’ve ever raced in. I won both races, so earned the combined “pursuit” title. I’m really psyched about this, as it’s my first ever (overall) state championship!! (I had won the classical style event three times and the skating event once, but never both in the same year!). Cornwell had solid races and showed some real toughness, finishing with a strong skate race. We both decided that it was a good thing that no other teammates attempted this as their first ski race, though. The weather was really nasty!

Next up was the back to back Vasa Loppet and Grand Traverse XC races back up in the state up north:

Day 1: After missing the PA championships due to bronchitis, I was excited to race, but apparently NOT recovered! I’ve been close to podium OA here, so I decided to go out hard. I settled in with the lead pack and felt great for 8k then somehow the wheels fell off! I got dropped HARD on a series of steep climbs. Barely recovered when the 2nd pack caught me, and it was all I could do to stay with them. I hung on for 15 more Ks. Finally got dropped again with 3k to go so I just cruised in. All in all still not too bad – 10th overall, and about what I should expect given my lack of preseason training ( and it was only -2 deg at the start and -12 deg in the valley on the course!). At least I’ll be used to the suffering for the Birkie in two weeks!

Day 2: I rebounded from yesterday’s suffer-fest to have my best OA finish ever in this longstanding classical-style event. I was 14th OA but 1st in AG, and beat some guys who usually beat me. The cold and new snow made it much slower than previous years. At 14deg with no wind, it still felt significantly warmer than yesterday! I paced it well and found some motivation late in the race as I dropped a guy that I skied with from 5-14k.

I’m still not in great physical shape, but my mental focus was strong and my technique continues to improve! And technique means so much in this sport!! If you take the time to look up results, you’ll see an amazing number of top-twenty skiers in their 50s (and even some in their 60s!!). This is a testimony to the complexity of this sport – it takes a LONG time to master, especially with such a short season. But it is also exceptional for competitive longevity and very forgiving for aging joints. Also, I’ve never met a more supportive nor collegial group of competitors! ( no offense to our excellent team and the multisport community). Similar to multisport racing, adversity breeds alliances and misery loves company!!
Next stop: the “Birkie” to re-unite with over 10,000 of my “brethren!” It will just be a “tour” for me this year, but it will be an up-tempo tour!

Awesome job Mike!

Tune in tomorrow as Mike tells the tale of this year’s Grande Vitrine, American Birkebeiner!

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One Response

  1. Way to go Mike! This was fun to read – it makes me want to ski more 🙂

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