Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Loppet

This was one of the best days of the winter. Backcountry skiing Bolton to Trapps on the Catamount Trail. 

This past weekend I competed in my first world loppet up in Ottawa, Canada.  It was one of the hardest efforts I have ever done.  This is saying a lot because I have done a lot of hard efforts, but this one was probably especially tough since I'm not officially a nordic ski racer.  These bike racer arms are not meant to work for three hours straight.  It was such a different experience, and, because of this, it was so much fun.

Jojo and I made the trek up north the day before the race.  We thought that Gatineau, Canada was going to be a quaint little town so we were more than a little bit surprised to roll into a big, bustling city.  I literally didn't even map directions to the hotel because I thought it would be obvious where it was.  Through the marvels of modern technology, we were able to locate the hotel and then immediately book it out to the venue.  We skied for half an hour in the setting sun and it was gorgeous.  There are trails everywhere.  After the shake down ski, it was mission poutine.  Even though this restaurant was lit with blue lights, surprisingly, it was the perfect spot to complete this mission.  This brewery made amazing food and the best poutine we have ever had.  Then, I got my fancy new race suit from the VTXC team, and I was ready to go.

Poutine.  In all its glory. 

My sister, Sabe, is the nordic marathon queen notching up wins on the majority of the new england race circuit.  She taught me how to nordic ski after she made the transition herself from downhill ski racing at Middlebury to the skinny skis.  This was a great move for an endurance queen like herself, and I'm so glad she made the transition.  Sadly, she is not able to race or train this season because she is recovering from a concussion so I was determined to do the absolute best I could in her honor.  In short, I was very motivated to throttle myself.  I, however, didn't know the depths I would have to reach during this race.  The temperatures were wavering well below ten degrees during the course of this entire marathon.  My set up for this marathon was a water belt with a bottle filled with pineapple Skratch mix (yum!), four caffeinated Clif Shots stapled to my belt, and Swix pants instead of the fancy new race suit to keep the legs warm in cold temperatures.  The double pole start went well considering most of these women have arms the size of my legs.  Robyn Anderson, VTXC teammate, was two packs ahead of me, and I spent the first 10 km trying to bridge up to her group.  It turns out it's much harder to bridge up to a group on skate skis than on a bicycle.  Then, I spent the next 10 km trying to bridge up to the pack right in front of me so I could draft and recover in the windy conditions.  I caught a couple of rides, but I was suffering.  I couldn't get a deep breath in because of the cold air.  I felt like I was having an asthma attack, and this was definitely a new experience.  I'm used to being able to breath all the warm air I want.  Because of the shortness of breath, my legs have never felt so heavy.  Then I was all alone on a skiing super highway, poled between my legs, and face planted myself.  I lost my bottle and a Clif shot without even taking a sip.
Finishing the Gatineau Loppet

Thankfully there was a feed zone close by.  I took a Clif Shot and practically dumped hot water all over my face at the feed zone, and things started to look up.  I had a bit more energy, and I caught a ride with a pack of men for about 10km.  This was the best twisty section of the entire course.  I believe I may have even smiled but I'm unsure since my face was numb.  One women passed me, and the pack of men split up.  I really tried to focus and push myself for the last 15 km.  I was so incredibly happy when I passed the 50 km sign with 1 km to go.  I had no idea where I was the entire race.  I thought I was possibly in the top 10.  I had passed one woman and one woman passed me.  This was all I knew.  I was just happy to cross the finish line, and, as I did, they announced I was in third place.  I was in absolute shock.  I had no idea.  Jojo and I celebrated by going to Ottawa's winter festival, and jojo got to try one of my favorites, sugar on snow, for the first time.  It did not disappoint.  We saw incredible ice sculptures and ate some more poutine.

I will definitely take fitness away from this loppet and my Vermont ski block, but I will take away something more.  I think I found a new level of suffering out there, and this may come in handy during the upcoming season.  I also learned that fifty kilometer ski races take an extraordinary amount of mental toughness, and my sister is a suffer queen.  I'm so impressed that she does these efforts weekend after weekend.  I didn't think it was possible but, I have garnered even more respect.  Next up, I am competing in the Rangeley Loppet in Maine next weekend and then I head west to get on my bike in warmer weather.  I'm first going to a USA Cycling board meeting and USAC mountain bike skills camp in Colorado and then it's off to Santa Cruz, California for the bike training block.  With snow and surf happening in the next two weeks, life is great.  I am so incredibly lucky.

Thanks for reading,

 Thanks to Drew (red coat) from Swix for making my Atomic Skis FAST

 I'm on a nordic ski podium!

 This was our awesome crew to ski from Bolton to Trapps.  Daria Bishop, Brodie, Sister Sabe, me, Jojo, Summer Bishop, Andy Bishop (coach!), and our good friend Karl who was visiting from California
 Sabe and I are so pumped to be enjoying the freshies together in the backcountry
Jojo and Summer.  This was jojo's first time skiing and she did amazing

My family went to our old stomping ground, Middlebury Carnival, to watch our cousin, Destrey, compete in the slalom for Colby College.  It was so great to dip back into the ski world, to see Destrey, and to visit Middlebury