NWVE veterans Jon Rodd and Tim Cowan carpooled to the historic Van Hoevenberg Olympic complex on Sunday (12/16/18) for the annual NYSEF Opener. I noticed while signing in that a number of the “usual” local masters, including Peru Nordic’s Bob Maswick, Jim Kobak and Joe Korzinecki, were missing from the start list, but then saw a number of them in the lodge. Sheepishly they confessed why they hadn’t signed up – they had inside knowledge of the day’s course and were going to sit this one out. Instead of an easy 10k “starter” to the season, we would do 2 laps around a mountainous route that would have brought Martin Jonsrud Sundby to his knees! Each lap would include climbs up Main Street, then the brutally steep, long and infamous “Russian Hill”, and finally over the top of the Olympic Ladies 5k course before flying down through the Ladies course downhill with its screaming turns, back to the stadium. Later GPS analysis indicated the course actually totaled 11.45 km.
The modest field of “Open Men”, running the gamut from 17-year-olds to 69-year-old Jack Burke, left the start in 30-second intervals. First out was master Matt Tournianen, whose V-shaped torso quickly disappeared into the woods. He would eventually finish first in the masters class. A minute later I started, with Peru Nordic’s lanky Chris Rose (eventually 2nd master) starting 30 seconds behind me. It felt like I’d been skiing for about 45 seconds when Rose came abreast of me on the Main Street uphill. The only good thing about having Main Street’s long, gentle climb near the start of a race is that there is loads of room to pass. In the course of the 2 laps, it seemed almost everyone in the field took advantage of this benefit to pass me. My team-mate “J-Rod”, yes, that’s his rapper name, started another five minutes behind me, but I would eventually, towards the end, get to see him, too.
Overnight temps in the high teens were warming to about 30 by our 11:45 race time. Though snow cover was very good for mid-December, it was apparent that the grooming wasn’t quite up to Keith Woodward specs. Across the width of a trail, there were often 3 differing textures of snow ranging from frozen boilerplate to a fairly deep corn snow. Multiple parallel ski tracks down the fall line, now frozen hard, were hazardous reminders of the warm temperatures of the day before. A few thin spots showed up on the steepest climbs and descents.
The grueling climb up Russian Hill had a number of curious on-lookers, no doubt amazed by our climbing speeds, or not. The downhill S-turns back toward the stadium sported groups of folks watching for someone to eventually spin-out and crash into the woods. On my second time up the Olympic 5k, about 2.5 k from the finish, I was impressed to see my team-mate J-Rod pull abreast and quickly by me, and this gave me someone to chase for a short while as he channeled his college wrestling days and put a Full Nelson on the series of short, steep uphills in that section. He would finish the day 5th among masters!
In most every race, no matter how humble, there is a time when you can feel a moment of glory, or at least like you are in a race. My chance occurred when a 20-year-old caught me at the very top of the very last uphill. As I followed him down through the nerve-wracking turns, each of us in our textbook “snowplow tuck”, I could see my chance. Taking the final left turn into the stadium I slid past him through the hole-shot and immediately began a free-skate the length of the stadium. Whether he was
startled by my speed, or merely being careful not to be stabbed by one of my flailing poles, he was a bit too slow to begin the chase. Through the end of the stadium and around the horse-shoe 180 I could start to hear him catching up; then it was a mad V2 the last 75 m back to the finish line for sweet victory - as long as I don’t take into account that he started 8-9 minutes behind me!