After skin difficulties and some hard-won lessons at Alpental last week, I was both nervous and excited to get back on snow this weekend for the Subaru Vertfest Mt Bachelor race. The weather was amazing, with blue skies and a light breeze, and around 60 people turned out to race in the recreational and elite divisions.
The course was modified at the last minute to avoid travel to the top of Mt Bachelor, which had yet to open. Rather than climb all the way to the top of the mountain, the elite division instead completed two laps of the second and longer climb before booting the cinder cone and descending to the finish.
On the start line, it was not difficult to pick out the competition. I lined up on the left side behind two gents in Dynafit speed suits, and another two speed suits took the right side of the line. Feeling well-rested and fueled, I set the personal goals of finishing in the top 5 and focusing on my technique to avoid dropping a skin like I did the week prior.
After the gun, the race started with the usual running pace for 30 strides before a lead pack settled in for a drag race up the first steep groomer. Speed suits 1 and 2 settled into a fast rhythm, with suit 3 and I chugging away ten feet behind. A few other eager starters in the pack quickly dropped off as the climb stretched on and the lead pack rolled into the first transition largely together.
Suits 1 & 2 left first, and I followed quickly behind, sliding into 3rd on a faster transition. Into the first descent we found the course intermingled with a junior slalom event, and I lost a bit of time trying to figure out where I was supposed to go. After spotting the flagging leading away off-piste, I was able to unwind more down a pitch of piled crud before peeling out down a groomer to the second transition.
Leaving the second transition marked the beginning of a pair of identical climbs. Starting these in 3rd with suits 1/2 30s ahead of me, it felt like the time to make a gap ahead of suit 3. I pulled a good cadence through the climb, which alternated between groomer drag-racing and off-piste climbs through the trees. I tried to race smart, repeating “relaxed is smooth, smooth is strong, strong is fast” over and over in my head. It felt like I was taking a risk with the pace, pushing faster than I usually climb and wondering if I would explode on the second lap up the climb.
The descent was fast, with burning legs, and I had the luxury of a solo transition into the last long climb. I tried to keep the lead suits in view, though they stretched out their lead a bit as I struggled through hamstring cramps near the top of the climb. The volunteers at the top of the climb cheered me on as the only non-speed suit racer in the contest for the podium, and descending for the second time, I straight-lined down the groom to try to build my gap.
The booter up the cone was painful and felt slow. At the top, cheering from friends and volunteers pushed me into the final ski down the cone. I turned down a beer at the transition before hacking quad-burning turns through the heavy snow and peeling across the finish line, followed a minute or so later by suits 3 and 4.
I am very happy with this race and with the effort that I put out. While I didn’t hit 100% effort, or run out of gas at the finish line, it did feel like I was red-lining my aerobic capacity through both climbs, and I pushed the suffer-meter pretty high to hold onto a podium slot. I earned the goofy-grinned elation that grows out of the choice to accept significant suffering. It feels perfect to work hard and know that you’ve earned your success.
Crucial to that success was improving my skinning technique by remaining relaxed and putting more upper-body power into the steeper pitches. Also, though the thought of the podium kept trying to creep into my mind during the race, I repeatedly pushed it out to try to focus on racing the best race that I could, regardless of position. It would have been a moment’s failure or another cramp and I could have dropped my podium slot, but I wanted to finish feeling like I had made the best effort that I could, regardless of place.
Overall, I finished the 6.6 mi, 4200′, 7-transition course in 1:17:09. The two long climbs each accounted for 27 minutes, and despite feeling like a fish gasping out of water, the second trip up the climb went negative-split by 22 seconds. I’m fairly content with the skiing as well, and better visibility/goggle system definitely contributed to faster skiing (a max of 46.8 mph feels pretty darn fast on 160 cm race skis.)
At the finish, I was also really happy to hear that Taylor, who had also felt sub-par about her performance at Alpental, had managed a 4th place finish in the women’s elite category, no doubt aided by finally getting on some race skis, testing next-year’s Voile Wasatch Speed Project (more on that later). It was a big turn-around from the week prior to stand with her on the podium, and to be pleasantly surprised by the cash prizes for 1st-4th position.
Up next: Vertfest Brighton, aka the Wasatch Powderkeg, aka the ISMF North American Championships. I’m looking forward to racing all three days, including my first sprint race (should be a junk show) and first technical teams race with Ethan Linck. It should be an eye opener racing with North America’s best– don’t count on a podium there, just some solid ass-kicking.
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