We kicked off our weekend of racing with a 1.25 kilometre skate ski race. This would be considered a sprint event. We arrived nearly 2 hours before our race which I felt was a bit much, but it did allow me to get a sense of what an actual ski racing venue was like on race day. The sun was out and the temperatures were the mildest I have experienced this winter; perfect skate ski temperatures. We skied the race course once so that both Coach T and I had an idea of what we were doing. The warm-up was, quite frankly, a disaster. There was a lot going on and it was difficult to concentrate-I think both of us struggled a bit. At one point Coach T stopped talking so that he could figure out what direction to go and I skied off the course into some V-boards or a fence. I'm not quite sure what it was. All I know is that I went down on one knee. When I get into situations like that I panic a bit and blurted out,
"that is why we never stop talking!" I didn't mean to be so rude, but it was reactionary. Something for me to work on. I fell on nearly every single hill during warm-up as well even though they really weren't that challenging. But, that is why you do warm-up, right? Since it was about my fifth time out on skate skis I didn't expect any miracles, but I did actually go a lot faster than I have in the past. All it took was one other skier passing me and my competitiveness kicked in. Of course I knew realistically there was no way I was going to be even close to winning, but if I was going to be last, I was at least going to work hard at it. We joked later that I threw off Coach T's race plan as I kept pushing him from behind and shouting, "hurry," "go, go go," or "aaaahhh, look out" when hurtling down a hill. I don't know what our time was, but we crossed the finish lines with no falls and, as I said above, faster skate skiing than I have ever done. I was really happy with the race.
After crossing the finish line we were offered warmed up Gatoraid and I gratefully accepted. Our photo was taken and then one of the Ontario coaches approached us with a concern.
"How long have you been skate skiing?!" She exclaimed.
To be honest, I was taken aback by the question. I thought a coach would give me trouble for using short skate ski poles. I was using my classic poles instead of skate poles because as of right now, that is what I feel comfortable with. I kind of spluttered a bit and then expalined that it hadn't been that long. It turns out that she was concerned about whether I was comfortable skate skiing or not and that the national coaches had said to teach one technique a year to ensure athletes didn't get frustrated. I really appreciated her concern, but I actually like skate skiing. It terrifies me a bit, but when I do it right and my whole body is cooperating with my brain, it feels so good. I joked with Coach T later in the van that I was always causing trouble.
Unlike yesterday's event which started around 2 PM, today's race was bright and early. Para Nordic athletes were the first athletes out. I had gone to bed excited about the morning's race, but when I woke up I was a bit worried. One of my ears was completely plugged. Plugged to the point that I could hear myself breathing in my own head. I had had an outer ear infection in this ear about a week back and although the pain was gone it had remained partially plugged. But this was a whole new meaning to plugged. In order to follow my guide I need to be able to hear. Having one ear plugged changed my centre of gravity as well as made my guide's voice sound off centred. I sought out the first aid people at the race venue to see if there was anything they could do, but they said there wasn't. I considered not racing, but we had driven so far. I asked Coach T to talk to the coaches from Para Nordic Ontario and see what they had to say. I had two concerns:
1. Not being able to follow Coach T and getting into the way of another racer and potentially inuring me or others.
2. Finishing so slowly because I was being careful that other races couldn't continue.
The coaches said that if I felt that I could be safe that my time didn't matter. So, I decided to race. I found a fellow Para Nordic skier who wasn't racing today and asked him to keep Nala while we were racing and we were off.
Tday's temperatues were much colder than yesterday's, by about ten degrees and I opted to leave extra layers on. Part way threw the race I fought the urge to rip my hat off my head because my head was so warm, but toehrwise I was happy about keeping extra clothes on. Our race consisted of two laps around a 2.5 kilometre route which added up to the 5 K that we needed. I would say that the first lap went okay. I was struggling to re-adjust my perception of where Coach T's voice should be in order for me to follow right behind him. There were a lot of skiers passing us and at one point I panicked and skied myself too close to the edge. My ski went off the track and into some fluffy snow and bush where I stayed hung up for a minute or two. I was a little hesitant on some of the downhills knowing that they had turns and my perception of Coach T's voice location was off. I think it takes time for Coach T to get warmed up too because he kept using vague directions like "a little bit left" and then stopped talking when he is supposed to say "left" repatedly until around the turn. There were also a few times where he just said, "a tiny bit" or "a little bit" and my panic took over again and I shouted,
"a little bit what? I don't care how much, just tell me which way!"
However, as we finished off our first lap I started feeling better and found a groove. The hill transitions went much better and I made turns easily. There were even a few times when I yelled "hurry" or "coming through" to Coach T as I let the speed of the hills carry me through. I think the second lap went much better. We ha da small fall on the first one when we past the loud speaker and the announcer decided to take the opportunity to blast me out with some announcement. I lost Coach T's voice for long enough that I swerved left, away from the booming loud speaker, and my left ski dropped into a classic ski track: I went down for a split second. But, that was the only fall. I'm still learning the actual technique of skate skiing and on the second lap there were times when my feet and skis were going too fast for my arms. So, instead of slowing down, I just let my legs do the work and caught my arms up once I had re-established my rhythm. So where did I get into trouble?
Somehow, Coach T got mixed up on where the course turned within the stadium and on both laps we missed the actual turn by 20 metres. This meant we didn't ski 40 metres of the course and we were disqualified. Woops. Honestly, we really didn't lose anything from the disqualification. I was dead last anyway and we got to race, so I'm not too upset about it. It's all a part of the learning process. Besides, no point on dwelling on it when we have another race tomorrow which a 7.5 kilometre classic race. The official who told me I was disqualified made sure to point out the correct turning point for tomorrow's race. We weren't the only athlete to have difficulties there and be disqualified. I think he wanted to make sure everyone had successful races tomorrow. I wonder what kind of trouble I can get into tomorrow.