by Hannah (Friday) and Jacob (Sunday)
Our second Eastern Cup weekend began as usual, milling around in the Centerra parking lot, glad to be free of school (and exams) for a few days. At about 3:40, we were ready to go and piled into our two vans, the season van with an overflowing box on top, and Gertrude, who we were briefly reunited with for this weekend. Gertrude greeted us in style as the passenger door handle immediately broke, making it impossible to exit except when opened from the outside. We then set off for Waterville ME, stopping briefly in New London to pick up our southern comrades.
After a very long (and cold for those near the doors in Gertrude) drive, we arrived at the eagerly anticipated destination of the evening: Whole Foods. Upon entering, our famished horde of skiers wandered around contemplating salads, tofu, lasagna, soups, and a multitude of other delicious looking food, made our selections, and proceeded (slowly) to checkout. The discovery of a extremely rare serve yourself 8 varieties of mochi machine was a high point of the expedition. Satisfied, we continued on to the two houses in Waterville, where we promptly went to bed.
Sunday morning arrived early, when I awoke at 6:35am to the insistent beeping of my watch. At that point, I promptly turned off my alarm, sat up, stretched … and fell back asleep. I started back awake at 7:05, and rushed downstairs to grab some oatmeal and get prepared for the day. After breakfast, the u16s gathered their gear and departed to prepare for their early races, and the u18/u20s had some down time for studying and relaxation. I filled out my warmup plan for the day and finished packing, and then it was off to the venue at 10:20.
For the 15k classic on Sunday, we were lucky to have Jørgen racing with us. He spent the morning up until the race walking us through his pre-race and warmup routine, which was a great learning experience for all of us. One of the things he stressed was the importance of conserving energy before the race. Spending time before warmup time walking around and cheering out in the elements can be quite taxing, and and so he advised us to avoid draining ourselves in this way. Instead, when we arrived at Quarry Road, we spent almost an hour in the van, playing Trivia Crack on Erik’s phone and discussing the race ahead.
At 11:15, an hour and 15 minutes before start, we exited the van to wax our training skis. One ruptured and one empty tube of Swix Universal later, we threw gloves on our sticky fingers and went to warm up. I spent the majority of my warmup alone, thinking about the race ahead. Most of my warmup was relatively easy, and I spent a lot of time with no poles, because I wanted to feel comfortable in my technique over the long distance of the 15k. After testing my race skis and getting more klister applied for better kick, it was off to the start. (In fact, the start was delayed 15 minutes, because a skier in a previous race had been injured while navigating the fast, icy downhill turns on the course.)
This was my first large-scale mass start race, and I was excited. Waiting while the race officials gave instructions, I listened to the sound of 127 pairs of skis shuffling back and forth across the granular snow, and settled my poles into a starting position. After the gun went off, I double-poled up the initial stretch and skated around the first sharp left turn. At this point, I found myself hemmed in by many other racers, and I had to ski the first downhill out of the tracks on the side of the course, forcing spectators to step back and trying to maintain my speed.
After the field spread out a bit, I found myself skiing nearby Andy, John, Malcolm, Grant, and two of my friends from Holderness School. This was my favorite part about the mass start format; skiing with teammates and friends enables you to push each other and ski faster. During the two laps, I focused on keeping Andy in my sights for as long as possible, because he is a much stronger classic skier than me and I knew that I would have a good race as long as I kept chasing him. While I could only catch sight of Andy on the long uphill stretches of the course, I got to ski next to John for most of the race. Racing with him was really helpful, because we could push each other on the sections we were better at; I would gain a lead on the downhills, John would get ahead on the flat double-pole sections, and we would ski together on the climbs.
The downhills were a crucial piece to a good race; after many, many skis had skidded around the steep, sharp turns, they had been reduced to ice and loose, chopped up snow in numerous places. One corner, a sharp left turn directly above the stadium, was particularly troubling. According to my grandfather, who stood there watching, 35 racers crashed coming around the turn during the first lap of the 15k. The conditions made navigating the downhills a sort of balancing act: on the one hand, it was important to maintain as much speed as possible through the turns to save effort and time on the immediately following terrain, but on the other hand, it was important to keep safety in mind, as demonstrated by the crash that necessitated the delayed start.
Another interesting note was that I skied most of the race slightly in front of a CSU skier named Jacob. Conveniently, as all of the CSU skiers out on the course urged him on, I took all of their cries of “Go, Jacob!” as cheering for me, too. It definitely felt great to have two teams of cheerleaders encouraging me during the race!
Coming into the stadium on my final lap, I glided in my tuck for a bit of extra time to recover for the double-pole-heavy final section of the course. Frustratingly, during this section, I was passed by the other Jacob and I was unable to match his pace in the final few minutes of the race. We both caught up with another racer, though, and after rounding the last turn, I outsprinted this skier for a satisfying finish.
After hydrating and eating after the taxing race, it was time to pack up and depart. The van ride home was restful, and John and I sat together and took a nap. After dropping off the “southerners” at the New London rest stop, and spending the better part of half an hour refilling Gertrude’s tank at a very slow diesel pump, we arrived back at Centerra and went home to rest and enjoy the rest of the MLK holiday. Thanks to the coaches for supporting us in a very fun and constructive weekend of racing.
Thanks to Gary Solow for the photos in this slideshow: