Despite the lack of snow, Highlands Nordic was able to pull together a great Nationals and it sure was a good thing for me because I had definitely found my stride. Racing at the start of the season was always a struggle, but now it felt almost effortless to ski fast. Sunday, March 15th the 2009 Nationals commenced with the team sprints. I paired up with Werner Schwar and we finished a respectable 13th place. It was a fun race to kick off Nationals and warm up the body for the rest of the week. The rest of the week was like a dream come true for me. I felt stronger every race I did.
Doing it up in the sprint relay. Photo Cred. Paul Inkila.
Skate 10km Individual Start – 11th Open Men (9th Canadian)
Classic 15km Individual Start – 14th Open Men (13th Canadian)
Classic Sprints – 15th Senior Men (12th Canadian)
Skate 50km Mass Start – 16th Senior Men (12th Canadian)
Canadian Aggregate Total – 6th place Senior Men
The skate 10km has always been a strength of mine, but this may have been the best one I have ever done. I attacked it right from the start…maybe a little too much as I was sitting in 7th after the first 5km. I definitely faded towards the end of the race, but I was able to dig deep in the final km and pick the pace up enough to beat the top Junior Men.
Attacking the 10km skate. Photo Cred. Paul Inkila.
The classic 15km was an interesting day. The younger category races were postponed due to hurricane winds, however the open categories were declared tough enough to handle the conditions. I’ll give you an example of just how strong the winds were: I placed my poles against our wax trailer while I went inside to grab my skis…bad idea! When I came back one pole had apparently been blown against a telephone pole and snapped clean in half. I guess those World Cup Excel poles are pretty light. Anyway, Eric and Lisa did a great job waxing our skis today, using an aggressive binder so our wax didn’t wear off the first time sliding around the hair-pin corner on the icy course. I didn’t have any difficulty kicking the boards today. Unfortunately I was lacking some of the grit I displayed in the skate 10km. Either way I was happy to wind up in 14th place. My focus on skiing efficiently and starting conservatively seemed to help me persevere in the challenging conditions.
Skiing smooth in the 15km classic. Photo Cred. Paul Inkila.
I’m super pumped about my classic sprint result. I have never had a good classic sprint in my life, and the Ontario Cup race doesn’t count because we used skate skis and double poled it. I was really focused and determined to have a good day in these sprints. My qualifier was solid, I had one part where I strayed from my race plan which cost me some time, but overall it was good. I was happy just to get a chance to move onto the heats. I felt unreal in my quarter-final heat. My start was a little slow, but I caught up quickly and had no trouble sticking with the leaders. Looking back, I should have been more aggressive and tried to move up from 4th to 3rd or 2nd earlier in the race rather than waiting until the final climb. I ended up flying up the final climb and passing Skeets Morel early in the finishing stretch, but came up just short of catching Lenny Valjas. I finished 3rd in my heat and with a 17th place qualifier did not get a lucky loser spot to move on. Although I was disappointed I didn’t get a chance to race more when I was feeling so good, I’m extremely happy I was competitive in a classic sprint and am confident my quarter-final heat was one of, if not, the fastest heat of all the quarters. The top four in my heat were neck to neck the entire way so no one could let up and ski to the finish slow.
A look at part of the course before the 50km started. The trails were looking good today after the snowfall on Wednesday compared to earlier in the week.
And they're off!
Finally the highly anticipated 50km! This was my first 50km race ever and boy was it a good first one to do; the trails were icy and super fast, the sun was out, the temperature was hovering around 0 degrees and bound to warm up with the rising sun. I couldn’t ask for more perfect conditions. On top of all this, I was feeling exceptional. The race started off slow and mostly everyone stayed together for the first two laps. I found myself getting pushed back in the pack and losing places…but I wasn’t worried, it was a 50km race. We were just getting started right? Wrong. One minute I could see the leaders and the next they were gone. There was nothing I could immediately do because there were about 10 guys in my way.
After maneuvering through these skiers I made an attempt at catching up and came within about 15 seconds, but it was too much of a gap to overcome so early in the race. I didn’t want to risk burning myself out with another 35km to go. So a chase pack formed of about 8 guys and I chilled here for a while. Halfway into the 5th lap Eric shouted at me to mix it up…I was feeling good and was getting bored relaxing in the pack so I took the lead and picked the pace up a bit. Then for some reason I found myself attacking hard up a steep hill and creating a gap between myself and the group. Oops. I got too excited. In my excitement I thought I only had 1.5 laps to go so I kept hammering trying to put as much time between myself and the pack as possible. Next lap I passed Eric and he informed me I had 2 laps to go, not 1. “Just keep the pace up Mike, you can do it!” he shouted as I took my feed. “Yeah, right” I thought.
I fought damn hard to stay ahead of the chase pack, but I was fading fast on my last lap and they were closing quickly. I took two coke feeds which helped considerably, but it still wasn’t enough. Skeets Morel and Tim Reynolds caught me with about 2km to go and I didn’t have the energy to stay with them. I pushed as hard as I could to the finish and just barely held off two more of the chase group guys, Kit Richmond and Karl Saidla (Kit finished just 5 seconds behind me followed by Karl…that was a close call!). I am proud of my first 50km result, it was fun to try an attack and mix it up with the guys out there. Hopefully in the future I’ll remember which lap I’m on though.
The chase pack.
Chilling in the chase pack.
Navigating the hair-pin corner.
All by myself a few km after my attack. Britt cheering me on in the background.
So Nationals was a resounding success for me. My consistent racing earned me a 6th place standing in the Senior Men’s Canadian aggregate points total after the week of racing. I want to thank my coach, Eric Bailey and assistant coach, Lisa Patterson, for giving me awesome skis all week. Thank you to Nancy Viljakainen for fueling our team for success at Nationals. And a big thank you to all my sponsors and supporters for helping me out along my skiing journey. It feels so great when everything comes together and all the hard work reaps the results you’re looking for.
My mom and I after finishing the 50km.