Thursday, April 2, 2015

Start line, camera drone, crazy 70s party, heavy pot cloud and awesome vibe! That doesnt quite sound right... but you know what I mean!
Often, when someone hears I do skimo races, they look puzzled trying to think of something nice to say (instead of, "That sounds like a lot of unnecessary suffering"). Then, they sometimes brighten up and ask if Ive ever been in the one skimo race they might have heard of, the Grand Traverse. When I say "no, havent done that yet" they typically lose interest. After all, how cool could I be if I hadnt done THAT race?

This issue has defied my many attempts and YEARS of therapy to cope. Finally, a few weeks ago, my friend called me up and asked if I wanted to step in for his partner who was out of action. I had kind of mentally wrapped up my season and had a LOT on my plate (hence, no posts here for a while!). Still, how could I say no? My wife gave the nod and I was in. My workouts took on a sense of urgency since I never get to train anywhere near that distance. I put a lot of faith in the fact that you really dont want to prep for a race by emulating the race. I also read a lot on the internet. What could possibly go wrong?

Here is a quick run down of how the race went and some lessons learned. I hope you find it helpful if/when you FINALLY go do this thing!


The whole deal takes a 3 day weekend or close to it. Gear inspections Thursday or Friday which are meticulous, efficiently managed and fair.
An actual gear inspection? This isnt your typical skimo race from the get go!

Then, a great lunch- meat pasta, bread, salad and cookies. MMMMMMM, carbs!!!!!!! Then, the team meeting.

400 racers! NOT like a skimo race at all!
Then trying to rest. My partner had a friend who lived just a stones throw away from the check in area which was very cool. He generously let us crash and watched his NCAA playoffs on mute. Good karma right there!

Looking around CB at this time I saw mixed signals on what the course would be like...
No snow facing SE...

N aspects looking good

Then it was back to pick up a SPOT beacon reltal, do an avy beacon check, drop off a finish line duffel and get ready!

The temps were really warm and when we woke up at 11 pm it was still pretty warm (I was glad I had warm wax on my skis!). I started dressed lighter than I would for any race yet. Crazy. Then we lined up at the start...

And, with the crazy 70s themed party going on and clouds of marijuana wafting over us we got under way. Let me tell you, it was crazy- like 4 times the racers in a skimo race! Up we went over the shoulder of the mountain then down a wicked fast descent that narrowed as you got to the East River.

Off the start line

Looking back after a while
When we got to the river, there was a bridge we had been advised would be there which was a tiny bottle neck but very appreciated when you consider the alternative of getting soaked in slush filled water. Here was the crossing
You can kinda see the bridge out front. Just a little delay

Headlamps off in the distance...
Then it was a ton of side hilling, mostly skis off through dirt. Better than the horror stories of breakable crust Id heard about from previous years. This went on for a long time, even after turning up Brush Creek. After a while, people got all spread out which was nice. Then it got steeper and then flatter and became kind of a skin track.
Looking back after its getting steep at some headlamps
 After the Friends Hut it got colder and steep (felt more like a skimo race here). It had been getting colder for a while- slightly windy. We put on a wind shell and warmer gloves and kept going.

Looking back down the bootpack above Friends Hut
After a 8 min bootpack, we coasted over to Star Pass and dropped off into decent powder. I had commented a few times that things were going so well we were bound to have something really bad happen. Well, it did. My partner lost a ski (tech binding he thought he had in locked position) on the descent near the bottom.

The rules say:
If racers lose their equipment, they cannot rely on other racers or organizers and volunteers to find it. They must find it themselves, or quit the race.

Big kid rules apply. We searched for over an hour to no avail. The sun came up, we kept searching. We ran out of ideas and gave up.

Just before we hobbled our way down the drainage to the check in station below I looked one more place Id searched twice already. There was the ski.

Back in business.

Pretty tired from searching but back in business.

We were now behind a LOT of folks and were too tired to pass that quickly but did the best we could. There was a lot of low angle terrain and rolling stuff. My partner bonked pretty hard at one point and I ended up carrying his pack for a good chunk of the last third of the race to kind of even things out a bit. It is interesting how that stuff just pops out of nowhere. A good lesson to be flexible and work as a team to overcome issues. I was in no shape to tow with some medium sucky blisters thanks to the hard, uneven ski tracks that gave me blisters in places Id never thought of. The hard snow stripped my pink Pomoca skins to almost being "skinless" in some places. Boy are they fast gliding and still grip pretty good!

Rolling terrain

Beautiful views!
 The course ended with some really rolling terrain that my partner thought was best tackled with super skinny skins to maximize glide, never taking skins off. After a while of going back and forth with some guys who just never put skins on and boot packed the short rollers we adopted that strategy and left them behind. In the future I think Ill stick to that- skate/glide and boot pack. Probably faster and quicker transitions. Besides, even with waxing, the snow was getting pretty sticky on the skins. Obviously this is all condition dependent.
Putting skis on yet again...
We finally got to the downhill on Aspen and screamed down the mountain passing about 5 teams before finishing.
Thats right "everyone gets a medal" isnt just for the kids!

The guilty ski! It is always the gear's fault, right?
Then it was time to have a beer and some chili! Yum.


Race strategy

This is totally NOT a traditional skimo race. There is a lot of flats and rollers with very little climbing and lots of distance (7800 ish feet in 40 miles). Pacing is different. I wanted to start off strong and am glad we tempered it a bit.

I still feel that from the start we should have gone faster to get across the bottle neck sooner but my partner disagrees. He has had friends try that and flame out. Maybe the answer is somewhere in the middle?

Once over the East River most of the bootpacking was walked. I think it could be handily jogged and definitely want to try that in similar circumstances.

The winners skated a LOT. That is something I want to try getting better at- it sure can make a big difference speed-wise if you have the reserves to pull it off!

This is especially true on the last third of the course but could be very effectively used other places depending on the conditions.

We never hauled each other but started with all the team gear in my pack and then I carried my partner's pack on top of mine by lengthening the pack straps and throwing it on. This worked out really well and sucked WAY less than towing.

Just an aside but the race staff is super professional. This is an incredibly well run event. 50 or so staff (about a 1/8 staff to racer ratio!).


That advice to test your fuel strategy prior to game day is such good advice. I know I work well on Tailwind mixed as per the instructions (flavorless regular for 8 hours with 3-5 gulps every 15 minutes) and caffeinated Tailwind for the last 4 hours when Im flagging. Additionally, I eat a Honey Stinger Waffle each hour. This gets me in the ballpark of 300 calories per hour which seems to work well and also keeps me hydrated just about right. Way more calories than a skimo race. I took a tip from a few folks and used my daughter's sewing machine to add a marsupial pouch to the front of a synthetic shirt where I kept a 2 liter bladder. It stayed warm and even in colder temps would have done a great job of keeping my bladder hose from freezing! I had 2 bottles (24 and 16 oz) with the caffeinated Tailwind in them. I also had two ziplock bags with a hefty slice or two of deli chicken and a slice of cheese to eat every 4 hours and get some protein. This all worked great except that like usual towards the end all I really wanted was water but a little discipline kept me fueled and feeling strong.

Prior to the race, I had the spaghetti lunch where I ate a good bit but didnt gorge. No dinner, some sleep then a small cup of coffee and some granola before the race. I went about 6 hours without drinking water after hydrating all day. I also was very aware of not using the bathroom until after 1 pm all week to ensure I was on a good cycle there if you know what I mean. That all worked out really well.

I was not dehydrated after the race and not too hungry.

Obviously this has a huge personal component but maybe this is useful to someone as food for thought. Pun totally intended.


The different stuff (compared to a skimo race) was a CAMP X3 600 pack which easily fit everything I needed (plus all the team gear) and with the big mesh outside pockets made swapping gloves, grabbing the wind breaker etc super efficient. Totally a fan.

CAMP USA X3 600 Backpack
I also used my x country ski poles as in way long for all the skating. A totally great call. Id do that again in a heart beat for this race. Especially as Id skate even more next time.

The synthetic shirt with marsupial pouch was great and Id do that again too.


Partners can be a weird variable. I had interesting experiences in 5 Peaks and this race with just plain bad luck type stuff related to partners and I think it could definitely turn a race into something you never want to repeat. It is important to go in with a good attitude and be ready to help out or admit you need help or just roll with whatever happens. You never know when you will be the one sucking so build up the good karma when you are the stronger one. Life is more than a race and any sucky situation can be a great opportunity for growth. POSITIVE MENTAL ATTITUDE!!!!


My partner trained with routine long days (like 12 hours- basically distancing the event) as well as uphill ski training a few times per week and some running.  Still, he hit a real wall in the race. I think this may have had more to do with fueling than fitness but the difference in training approaches is interesting to think about (and kinda a relief to people without huge amounts of time I think!).

In contrast, I barely felt tired once- ascending Star Pass which might have had something to do with just being up all night! I Was out crushing on runs Monday after the race which tells me I didnt really push it anywhere near my limit. After 30 mile runs for instance, I might slack off for a week and feel totally justified. So, I think my training regimen served me well.

As Ive said in the past, I dont have the time in my life to put in more than about 9 hours of training per week, a few more if the family hits our local ski area for a day (I get to call that training now that my son claims he is going to "leave me in the dust" in a few years!). That equates to about 1 hour per day during the week and 3-4 hours on the weekend. This number of hours is totally not hit every week though! Sometimes 4-5 is all I get. Ive remained focused on the basic concept I mentioned in my previous posts, a few long slow runs with two speed sessions per week. Sometimes the weekend routine is one of the speed sessions, sometimes a longer distance slow workout. The weekend routine is always on skis while the week is almost exclusively running (just because Im not able to get to good snow after work and still pick my kids up from sports- finding the balance...).

Everything Ive read on training echos the idea that you get the most out of training if you train the capabilities necessary for your event but dont train by emulating the event. I think that for traditional skimo races, this regimen, maybe with weight training starting really soon for summer and possibly a reduction in speed work for a few months is the ticket. I feel like Im faster and stronger than I was last year and even more so than the year before. It all takes time but I think its working. For something like the GT I think Id want to keep doing the same thing but add in routine skating, probably using my skimo gear to be able to skate efficiently in it. That seems like a skill that comes in very handy in this type of very "flat" race. Skating in a flat skin track, over snow mobile tracks, etc would all be good to do more of. Totally doesnt sound like fun on one level but very pragmatic so time to make a paradigm shift and get psyched about it!

I was encouraged to train with a heavier pack too but if you build an efficient kit Im not sure this is a big deal.

I would practice with the pack you will use to ensure you have a quick access plan for all your supplies. Ideally, you would never actually open the pack during the race.


Overall, this was a great race- different but fun. Id definitely recommend it as a great experience if you like to see how far you can push yourself. It is barely a skimo race so you need to shift your thinking and strategy a little but a skimo background can make for a solid base in this race! Also, the level of support, staffing, fanfare and all is pretty cool. A real fun experience.

One interesting to reflect on is the race topography and if you like making up your own adventures in the backcountry, Id think this is race demonstrates a few things to keep in mind. First, any more flat/rolling stuff would get really tedious. However, if you have to, it is totally doable on skimo gear. However, much more vert relief would be preferable even though that means you cover less ground in a given amount of time. Having a route that runs from South to North means you get to ski down the best snow. Planning to start early (maybe VERY early) means you avoid as much slushy snow as possible. If you have to deal with it, remember wet avalanches are a legit planning hazard to think through.


Post a Comment