50k the hard way!

28.Mar.2011 by Patrick O'Brien

The GRP crew kicked off our racing here in Sun Valley with the 50k at US Distance Nationals this last Saturday. The weather here in Idaho has been a mix of fresh snow overnight and sun and clouds during the day making for some great mid-winter conditions. The morning of the 50k we were greeted by falling snow and high humidity, which in a classic race can make for tricky “zeros” conditions. Luckily Nick and Pepa found a hard wax that provided both the speed and kick we were looking for and we were able to avoid having to stop mid race and re-wax like several other teams. Being US Distance Nationals, the course planners didn’t hold back in their design. The result was a 7 lap course (4 laps for the girls racing the 30k the next day) that featured a great combination of fast double poling, gradual striding uphills, as well as an extremely long and steep “A” climb to really separate the field before the fast decent into the finish area. Of the previous 50k races that I have done, this one certainly featured some of the most vertical at over 4800 ft of climbing in 50k (for comparison Mt Mansfield is 4395 ft above sea level and is only around 3600 vertical of climbing) yet the course was still very skiable for having that much climbing.

A 50k is a very interesting distance to race because it is so different pace wise than a 10 or 15k race. Yes you breathe hard, and your muscles burn on the hills, but everything is much more drawn out than the shorter races. Instead of racing for 30 or 45 minutes you’re going hard for 2.5+ hours, and during that time some funky stuff can happen. The weather can change a lot (it did), you run out of glycogen which is your primary fuel source when racing (I did), your muscles can cramp up from over use (they did), and then you might not be going as fast as when you started. Somewhere between the feed station and long hill going out on my 6th lap I knew I was done. I went from skiing pretty easily with the main pack on earlier laps to survival mode in the span of just a few kilometers. Judging from the number of people I passed pulling off bibs or taking off skis trying to stretch and loosen cramped muscles I wasn’t the only one hurting during the second half of the race. The last two laps I was skiing to finish.

A 50k is one of my favorite race distances because it is so much about the right mindset. You really don’t know how the race is going to go until you have a bib on skiing down the trail. There might be times when you feel great, and there are certainly going to times when you feel terrible and want to stop but few things feel better than crossing the finish line exhausted knowing your done and you raced a long long way in the process.

Ida cheering on Kikkan (USST) and Maria (Utah) in the 30k

Ida cheering on Kikkan (USST) and Maria (Utah) race leaders in the 30k

Han skiing away from a chase pack on the last climb

Han skiing away from a chase pack on the last climb

Apologies for the lack of photos so far. Super Tour Finals starts tomorrow with the freestyle prologue followed by a classic mass start the next day. Should be a blast!