Monday, March 3, 2014

The weather was a good bit worse than this picture makes it look. All photos are links to the site. Go there and buy a photo if you see yourself!
The Breck 5 Peaks was the first long(ish) format team race I've participated in and it taught me a few things that I figured I'd put down in writing in case others might learn from them for their own first team races or just for any type of race in some cases as long races for me tend to suss out the details Ive neglected and gotten away with in shorter endeavors. Also, maybe Ive gotten it wrong so if someone else has any insight- post up!

The lessons fall into three categories: partner race topics, weather/gear and training.

Partner Considerations

Racing with a partner can be tricky if you are not mentally prepared. One of you is going to be faster than the other. Most skimo racers are men. Men have egos. That can lead to expectation management issues, especially under duress like this article on so candidly lays out. My partner and I are both adults with multiple jobs, wives we love and kids so we dont have much to prove to anyone. We also have a significant amount of previous experience in suffering thanks to our mutual association with the military. Most importantly, we talked about our expectations. We were unable to train together except for one very fun long day in the Perfect Trees area near Monarch (shh, its a local secret). It became apparent that I was a little bit stronger and so I felt it was important to put my partner's mind at ease and set the right expectation. We talked about that someone had to be slower and that we would use a tow line so that we wouldnt just be racing his race with me tagging along. It was going to be a team effort.
You get the idea
We never got the chance to practice towing so figured it out the night prior to the race. We have some CAMP Rapid 260 packs with tow strap systems so we used that. There is a little stretch to them but not much. I ended up towing my partner most of the course and that near rigid tow was problematic when he slipped, jerking me backwards.  I think there were times he got yanked good too. Im surprised I didnt have a skin failure on one or two of those! I think Im going to cut out the middle 3 feet and add 3 feet of 1/4 inch bungee to make it more forgiving. Also, I think the tow cord is supposed to be clipped in to the waist belt of the towee but with gloves on this seemed problematic so I added a small carabiner to the tether. That worked very well. Then I just wrapped the tow strap around my waist, clipping the biner to a pack strap on downhills, boot packs, etc. It was easy to deploy and stow that way.

The great thing about the tow system is that you are not racing the slower teamate's race but splitting the difference between your abilities to some extent. It was also kinda cool suffering with someone the whole time!

The other thing that we experienced was my buddy showed up with the flue and broke a pole and started puking 30 minutes into the race. I suppose a more mature team would have thrown in the towel but I left the call up to my buddy and he said we should keep going. It was an impressive show of intestinal fortitude (in many ways..) on his part and while I think we took about 1/2 an hour longer than we would have, it was a great experience encouraging him along and working as a team to finish. I will fondly remember holding his frozen puke encrusted skis in place while he clipped in on top of Peak 8 in gale force winds for years to come.

This brings up another point. With his condition, I was kind of making all the calls as he was just trying to hang in there. One thing I totally missed as I was trying to avoid cold weather injuries in the sub zero windy conditions, was how he was doing. He ended up getting affected by the cold a lot more than me but was too exhausted to realize it at the time.


The temperature was in the teens above tree line with winds gusting into something like the 30-40 mph range. It was sub zero bitterly cold skiing. Stupid me, I was worried about overheating as usual. I had on a race suit, light poly bottoms and a tee shirt. At the start, while warming up I felt my ears getting really cold. Still worried about overheating, I didnt put on my hat but rolled my buff into a headband under my helmet. I was then too tired or cold to reconfigure that during the race so my face was left exposed to some pretty brutal wind. There was a mandatory place on the course where you had to don a wind shell and we put ours on well before that but I still didnt address the headwear issue. Live and learn to some extent.

The main thing I learned though was that since I dont train in my race suit I don't know what to expect of it in all conditions so I was guessing going into the race. Its kind of frustrating that the suit is expensive, makes you look funny, and while very well made, not burly enough to stand up to a lot of abuse Im guessing. Ive resolved to try and wear it more just to get a better feel for configurations in races.
The really cold weather and possibly the wind was its effects on some folks skin glue. I saw 3 skin failures on the same set of switchbacks. Maybe some of it was technique and some could have been from lack of care on previous transitions but in one case I knew the guy and he had brand new Dynafit skins (grey colored ones). I had on the black Dynafit branded Pomoca ones. He claimed to have had no trouble at transitions and his whole skin failed. Mine, which are nearing the two year mark without having been re-glued but are showing me its about that time, did fine. Weird but thankfully my buddy had a second set of skins and could keep going. His partner was there to help so they got going fairly quickly and his partner warmed up the offending skin and it was back in action later in the race.
Finally, once again, I was kind of envious of those with Dynafit bottle holders compared to my CAMP one. The Dynafit ones provide full coverage of the bottle and I bet they didnt have their energy drink as a slushie once 2/3s of it were gone. In the past Id just drop the offending bottle into the skin pocket on my race suit and it warmed back up. In the weather we had, this just didnt help, even with a wind breaker on over the suit. Stowing the bottle in the crampon compartment on the pack kept it close to my body and protected from the wind which did the trick.


Going into the race I had upped my training volume as much as I could since I knew Id have few if any opportunities to overdistance the race. A few things surprised me. First, both me and my partner felt pretty good on the Monday after the race. We were going slow due to his flu and broken pole but had plenty of reserves that were not tapped. We finished a little under 5 hours and feel we could have finished in the 4:20 or so range if we were feeling fine. Just a guess but the main point is that getting in 3 one hour or so sessions per week, one long 4-5 hour session on the weekend and some downhill skiing then as well was actually pretty good training. There was a definite grouping of teams on the long course that finished from the 2:35 to 3:55 or so timeframe and another wave came across starting at about 4:15 and went to 5:45 or so. I am amazed so many teams can make it in the sub 4 hour timeframe- years of training? Too much time on their hands with nothing to do but train? Who knows. Either way, consider me impressed! For the rest of us who populate the second group, I for one know how much effort it takes just to get there and am psyched to be in that group with the potential to finish near the forefront next year if we dont experience similar setbacks!

You can see the big break in groups in the 239-260 minute range.

Here is to next year! Hope to see you there.


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