The 5km classic is a race Andrea and I have been targeting for about a year now so we've really been emphasizing training on classic technique over skate so today was the day to lay it all on the line and see how things would turn out.
When we arrived on-site and went to get our skis, we realized that the wax techs had actually done the wrong skis for us. They did my warm and cold classic skis so I could warm up on my cold ones and race on my warm ones, which were better suited for the conditions, but for Andrea, they did her warm ones and an old pair of mine as her warm ups. Luckily, they were just for warm up, so no big deal!
I have to say that I was really nervous for this race, much more than for the biathlon pursuit especially because when Andrea and I did a quick check of the course, it was icy. Really icy! On the first downhill, I underestimated just how icy it was and slid right into the snow fence meant to keep skiers from going off course. Better still, because things were so icy, we had klister on our skis and for you non-skiers out there, it pretty much is like having honey on your skis, only stickier and I got my skis tangled up in the ski fence and needed a volunteer to come and rescue me! We carried on though to the longest uphill climb on the course and came rocketing down. I didn't bother checking my speed because at the bottom, there is a slight rise that I have always had to pole up, no matter how good my glide. That is, until today. I tucked the whole way down expecting to slow down at the rise, but it was so fast that Andrea had to get out of my way halfway down and I shot over the rise and instead of making the sharp right hand turn just after the rise, I sailed right between the v-boards (those blue pyramid-looking things that mark the course) and wiped out on the race course going the other direction! Oh yes, getting good glide wasn't going to be an issue today! Making the sharp turns on the course though.......
At that point, I headed back to the stadium to give feedback to our wax techs about how well our grip was working while Andrea headed out to do a quick check of the rest of the course. When she came back, she greeted me with "Well, I have good news and I have bad news." The good news was the course was in good shape and was fast the whole way. The bad news was that because it was so fast, we had to change our race plan. Andrea's suggestion was that we maximize our glide as much as possible, but that before each corner, we do a short snow plow to kill just enough speed to allow us to actually get around the corner. That sounded like a good tactic to me, but we both also knew that doing that could leave us with no grip for the latter part of the race because every time you snow plow, the abrasive condition of the icy snow would scrape some of the klister off our skis. But really, we didn't have an option because if we didn't do any speed checks, it was likely one or both of us would end up somewhere deep in the woods and way off course.
We put on our race skis and went out to test our grip wax only to find it was grabbing a little. Not good. The grip was so good that we could have climbed a wall, but the trade-off was that it was grippy when we needed the skis to be gliding, especially around corners! Grabby skis can actually cause significant injury if you are going fast and they suddenly grab, basically launching you forward as if you had hit a curb. Pulled muscles would not be out of the question, or worse. So we ran back to the wax hut and switched back to our warm up skis, which were actually getting just as good of grip without the grab. And the mistake the wax techs had made with waxing my old classic skis turned out to be a real blessing in that they are 5cm shorter than my race skis, making them easier to turn. The only thing the warm-up skis didn't have was the race glide wax, but with conditions already screamin' fast, that really wasn't an issue. In fact, slightly slower skis were what everyone was looking for!
We ran down to the start area and got ready to go and really, that is the worst part of racing! All I wanted to do was get out there. My favourite part of racing, other than the feeling of euphoria just after I finish a great race, is just after the start when all the butterflies just disappear and all I am thinking about is our race plan. The 5km classic went exactly to plan, with only a few minor hiccups and I was thrilled with that! At the finish line, I told Andrea I didn't care what our time was, we had done the best job possible! Turns out, it was the fastest time we've ever skied that course - 20:12 - and finished 11th overall. We both thought with how we raced, our time would have ranked us higher, but still, we did the best we could and can't be disappointed in that. I was so happy! Now, the sprints on Sunday!