As a small business owner, I have certain advantages. I don’t have to ask the boss for time off to go hunting, hiking, or skiing. I decided to use this advantage & once again train for the Tour of Anchorage. With the cancellation of the Birkebeiner, this became the largest Nordic ski race in the country. I would again train for the 25 kilometer classic style. I was able to train during the bright time of our dark Alaska winters, around 2 in the afternoon.
I skied almost every day from early December up to the race on 3/5/17. I trained mostly at the Beach Lake Trails in Chugiak, about a 10-minute drive. I generally skied distances between 5-15 km. Some days I would skate ski to relieve muscle groups. I do most of my own field work, so this falls into my philosophy of being in shape. I developed positive mental images along with phrases in sync with my stride. The mantra would go “kick-glide” or “fun-in-the-sun” or “eas-y-pace”. If I needed power to pole up a hill it was “pow-er-pow-er”; also during bench-presses in the gym. These mantras seemed to work. I did not have a coach or training partner, so I relied on past experience.
My Dad Bill, was my 1st coach. I strapped on his alpine skis for my 1st downhill cruise. He used to take me down to the YMCA with him when I was a little kid. Bill was a former Mr. Minnesota competitor & state champ in the dead-lift. One impression etched in my memory is my Dad & a red-faced bodybuilder contending for the same apparatus in the weight room. As a teenager I remember asking my Dad for some cross-country skis; he pointed out that I had a pair of downhill skis that would adapt if I was resourceful. I skied to the local lake & discovered skate-skiing, using downhill skis. I later found squats to be useful training for alpine skiing at the USAF Invitational Ski Meet. I figured I better give up the 315-pound squats for a month before the Tour of Anchorage.
With my Dad no longer around, I decided to call up my Mom for some training tips. Joan is a retired Registered Nurse, specializing in nutrition. Upon hearing of my intention to ski the Tour of Anchorage, she waxed eloquently of some wanna-be athletes collapsing from cardiac-arrest during their short sporting careers. I attempted to calm her down by saying that I have been skiing every day. I reminded her that I had never smoked or taken drugs. Realizing that I was going through with this foolhardy plan, Joan gave me a valuable training tip. She described a clinical study using rats (metaphor?). The rats were fed a variety of foods & then thrown into a tub of water. Most of the rats drowned in 20 minutes, save one group. The rats that had been fed liver were still swimming after 2 hours. This could be Providential- the time of the race is about 2 hours. I bolted to my freezer for some caribou & deer liver. On Saturday before the race I feasted on my garden Yukon Gold potatoes with Kodiak Blacktail Deer liver. Race morning I had the same, with eggs. Joan suggested figs before/during the race.
I decided to pull out all the stops- emailed my church Pastor & told him I would not be playing piano for church on Sunday, but instead would be competing in a ski race. The race time Sunday morning would coincide directly with open prayer time during church- I requested a prayer for “Godspeed”.
Sunday dawned clear & below zero. I spotted my nemesis at the start line. A big guy, about 6’3″; he wore a green/yellow racing suit. I had finished behind him 15 & 5 years ago; he won the bronze medal both times. It was a fast start with everyone double-poling for position. My nemesis slipped in ahead of me. My plan was to take it easy until I warmed up. I was surprised to be on pace with the big guy. I skied at an easy pace, slowly passing others in the 1st wave- the liver was working. The 1st food station appeared. A cup of warm Gatorade was thrust at me; I downed it without missing stride. I spied some fig newtons but did not want to slow down to grab one. There was some congestion ahead, so I executed a double-pole sprint around the group. The big guy got caught in the melee. I started thinking I had a chance for a medal. I heard a skier approaching behind me; he was drafting on me & staying directly behind me. He was so close that he clipped the back of my skis. I chanced a look- it was him. I yelled for him to pass, but he preferred to draft on me. We were approaching Westchester Lagoon & he went for the pass; his lead began to increase. I craved a fig newton. Volunteers were pushing water & Gatorade at the looming food station. I screamed “fig newton!” & opened my mouth- someone jammed a fig newton into my mouth. I slammed down a cup of warm Gatorade, throwing the cup. I was moving into my cruising speed, being totally warmed up. We were now gaining elevation along the coast, heading up toward Point Woronzof. I spotted the big guy up ahead. He seemed to be getting larger. I was closing. Big guys are good to draft behind. I pulled up behind him & called out his name. “Do I know you?” he hollered. I replied, “I know you, you edged me out in a couple races”. My plan was to draft & then perhaps pass on some steep uphills, just ahead. I noticed that he was double-poling to stay in front of me, while I was using a less tiring kick & glide. We started up a hill & he noticeably slowed. The time was right. I easily passed. I started chanting “pow-er-pow-er”.
I was in my power climb, desperate to establish a lead. I was approaching the downhill section, making the sweeping turn at Point Woronzof. This I said to myself, is where my downhill ski racing form gives me an advantage. I promptly caught an edge & wiped out, losing all my momentum. DANG!! How stupid. If that rat skate skier had not been passing, I could have taken the inside curve. OK, back in rhythm, heading toward Kincaid Park. I blew through the last food station. Nordic skiers are so pleasant; several skate skiers passed & complimented me on my technique. The world would be a better place if everyone cross-country skied, I postulated.
Stop day-dreaming! Time to self-analyze my form. I am attempting to relax, saving energy for the big climb ahead. “Pac-ing, pac-ing, hav-ing-fun-in-the-sun”. I am over the last bridge, pulling the 120 degree turn toward the final elevation gain & finish line. I cast a furtive glance over my shoulder. I see a big guy in a green/yellow racing suit starting across the bridge. How could that be? I should have built a lead. Time for my power climb technique; “pow-er, pow-er”. I hear a skier approaching behind me. The skier is passing. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a green/yellow racing suit. It’s a skate skier. What a relief! A few big hills, I approach the finish line. I hear some congratulations from those friendly Nordic skiers. I later learn that I took the bronze; 3rd out of a group of 20 skiers in my age bracket. My 1st medal in the Tour of Anchorage. Yeah!!