Tuesday, January 17, 2012

2012 Ski Mountaineering National Championships weekend report

I spent January 7 and 8 chasing really fast people around Jackson and Targhee ski resorts.  It was awesome.  My goals going into the race were:

1) Finish within 20 minutes of the top time at Jackson.
2) Finish in the top 20 in the race division at Jackson.
3) Cross the finish line at both races with nothing left to give physically.

I had two clean races and went 2 for 3 in terms of goals realized.

US Ski Mountaineering National Championships (8,000 vertical feet) 
As is typical, the Jackson race started out as a stupid fast sprint, and it only took about 30 seconds of anaerobic effort to realize that I had better throttle back quick.  Even with a cautious starting pace, I buried myself right out of the gate, and never really recovered for the entire race.  The first climb is long and brutal, and I settled into about 20th place at the top of the initial steep groomer.  I maintained position on the cat track, just behind Jacksonite Zahan and Canadian Andrew.  The first run went smoothly, and I left the transition with Zahan.  The second climb was longer than expected, and I bumped up a position when Andrew had to stop due to skin failure.  I skied the second run recklessly fast, but still got pretty well smoked by Andrew.  The third climb was also longer than expected, but I didn't loose too much time, and managed to pass Z at the transition to the headwall boot pack.  After a short down, I settled back into the pain cave, trying to not loose too much time during the longish skin around the base of Corbets.  The second bootpack went well, and I transitioned with Andrew at the top of the tram.  The top to bottom run went well, and I transitioned for the final climb in relatively good spirits.  The final skin track was the crux of the whole race - steep, poorly established, and long.  I was able to fall back on years of experience following steep skin tracks in the backcountry, and quickly passed Andrew and Stevie, but was not able to reel in Teague from Colorado.  I stayed on my feet for the final run, and crossed the finish line at 3:09:48, in 18th place.  At the finish line, I was psyched to congratulate Leah, who easily took first place in the women's recreational division.  race results here.

The starting line - SPRINT!
Luke Nelson, national champion.  Nice work Luke!
Ripping skins while Andrew McNabb from Canada prepares
to crush me on the downhill at the top of JHMR.  Photo: Nate Brown
Nate Brown trying to squash the tetons at the top of JHMR.
Photo: Nate Brown

Trying not to loose my lunch at the end of the Jackson race.
Also, I made the OR race video, snowplowing like a madmen at 1:24.

Grand Targhee Ski Mountaineering Classic (5,000 vertical feet)
I showed up for Targhee feeling OK.  The first climb is relentless, punching up a steep groomer for over 1,000 vertical feet.  I am not terribly fast on steep skin tracks, and just hung on, trying to not loose too many positions before the first transition.  A freezing mist forced me to remove my glasses at the first transition, so the rest of the race was pretty blurry.  I jockeyed positions back and forth on the second climb, and lost several positions on the second ski down breakable crust on the back side of Mary's Nipple.  I didn't take the time to re-fuel before the last climb, and as a result was unable to reel in Nate, who remained a stubborn minute or so ahead the whole way.  Andrew caught up at the last transition and pretty well put me to shame on the final no-visibility downhill.  I crossed the finish line in 2:01, almost exactly 20 minutes behind Jason Dorais from Salt Lake City.
Three real cool guys on the podium at Targhee.  Nice work Jason!
Photo: Andy Dorais
First off, trash on the race course.  I'm no elitist, but racers were leaving GU packets and miscellaneous litter all over both courses.  Is that really necessary?  These races aren't that serious.  But I digress.  On a positive note, thanks to all the volunteers and race organizers at both resorts for putting on two amazing events.

There are a few constants with skimo racing, which held true this weekend:  1)  Everyone is VERY fast.  2)  The races hurt.  A lot.  3)  Each race is enjoyable and engaging.  I had two clean races, and I had a lot of fun.  Still, it is always interesting to look back on past races for ways to improve.

Things that went well:  No equipment failures, maintained a steady pace, especially at the end of the Jackson race, race gear worked well, mohair skins performed well, home made ski hook worked adequately, fueling during the race helped a lot, no crashes on the downhill.

Still, I was a little disappointed in my performance.  Being slightly sick didn't help.  And at the end of the day, my skiing focus remains on touring in the backcountry, yet I can't escape the desire to shave as much as 10 minutes off my total race times.  That means getting A LOT faster.  Hmmm.  Is that possible?  Realistic?  A goal worth pursuing?  I'm not sure.  At this point, I am not interested in investing significantly more training volume or money (for lighter gear).  So the obvious places to go for speed gains are racing more intelligently and training smarter.  So to those ends:

Racing smarter:  Bring more fuel and force it down.  Transition faster, especially skinning to skiing.  START SLOW and wait until mid way through the first climb to pass.  Buy a few more race-specific gear items like a light helmet and real race poles.

Training smarter:  Do more interval training, and incorporate interval training into regular skimo workouts.  Train for adverse skinning, both flat (work on a fast, efficient stride) and steep (develop arm muscles).

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