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Little to win but nothing to lose

February 28, 2009


surprised that I posted so soon? this guy sure is surprised!

I wasn’t going to post until I was back training and racing, but I entered a race today and there’s a good story behind it… no it wasn’t a running race (I’m still a few months from that)…

The Ontario University track champs were this weekend at the University of York indoor facility (aka Fort Knox).  Friday night races and Saturday afternoon races.  Since York is halfway to Barrie for me I might as well make my first trip to a real XC resort and ski at Hardwood Hills.   Seeing as there is no more snow in Hamilton (except a small pile in my backyard) it was a good time to break up the pool, bike and elliptical training a bit.  Just so happens that there was a 20km XC skate race on Saturday morning at Hardwood, so I faxed in my entry on Friday a couple of hours before the deadline…

“I didn’t even know you cross country skied?” was a typical reaction from friends yesterday when I mentioned that I did a 20km ski race that morning.  It’s not like they should have known I XC ski as I’ve skied less than 20 times in my whole life.

I got to Hardwood Hills about an hour before the race and it seemed just like a local road race as there were skiers of all ages milling about.  You had your guys all decked out in the newest gear, a bunch of kids with the same club uniform, the old guy with the long beard, a bunch of weekend warriors, and some slapper wearing a bunch of running gear…oh, that was me. 

There was a 40km race that went off 15 minute before the 20km so I went and watched how they started.  For the first 50 meters you can’t skate you have to double pole plant… got it.  Other than that rule it seemed pretty straight forward. 

I had to figure out where I should start in the pack of about 80.  I decided to take the second row as I didn’t want to get in any one’s way and I figured I’d beat most of these people, right???  The gun, errr the guy says “GO” and we’re off.  After 100m we’re into the two person wide trail and I’m in about 20th.  After a few minutes I decide I’m not working too hard and I should forge my way up to the lead pack of about 7.  A couple of minutes later I’m at the back of that pack and passing one guy… then whoom, I fall down.  Get back up and catch the pack again. 

When we finished the first of two unequal loops I grabbed a gatorade and my thumb went into the styrofoam cup. I ended up with one sip of gatorade and a really wet thumb… did I mention that it’s -12C out? A little later I planted my pole in front of my ski and went down again (fall #2).  I managed to stay with this lead pack that kept losing a guy every few kilometers.

I could tell the guy doing most of the leading looked really comfortable and could of gone much quicker if he had too.  The “Canada” on the back of his suit also offered a little clue that he might be on the national team.  I fall again (fall #3) another pole plant in front of my ski, rookie.  Shortly later, the guy with the Canada suit drops off and there is just two of us left?  I could feel the pace slowing down without the fearless leader so I decided to take the lead and push it a bit since it still hasn’t felt like I’ve been pushing hard.  A minute later I’ve gapped the second place guy and the gap keeps widening.  I keep pushing and it’s finally feeling like race effort and my legs and arms are beginning to tire.  I also start laughing and getting a little excited at the thought of winning my first XC ski race.

I looked back every once in a while and there continued to be no one around.  All of a sudden Captain Canada is back a couple hundred meters and he is gaining, FAST.  This guy went past me like a I was standing still, and showed me that I truly am a beginner. It turns out there were only a few minutes left and it was mostly downhill so I just cruised it in for second place in 1:05:21, 35 seconds arrear of first (I’m sure if he wanted to that 35 second margin could have been more than 10 minutes).  It turns out the guy who won, Lenny Valjas, is a really good skier on the national team, check out his blog

Cross Country Ski Nationals are next weekend in Duntroon, Ontario and I humoured the idea of taking part.  I don’t mind getting my ass kicked and it would be a fun change to line up at a national championships without any expectations.  The problem is that the way they run XC ski races I could get in the way of other skiers and I really don’t want to get in the way of guys taking this serious when I’m out there for one of my daily workouts.

As for my running.  After the ski race and then after watching OUA’s on Saturday afternoon I took to the York outdoor track for 8km.  Longest run back so far, foot felt good and I pushed the pace a little.

A couple observations from the weekend:

I was getting hammered on the downhills, my skis were quite slower than the rest of the guys.  A look around the ski shop later in the day showed me that my whole kit (skis, bindings, boot, poles) cost less than the skis alone that my competitors were on (569.99).  Not to mention that my bulk wax doesn’t hold a torch to the low-fluorocarbon waxes these guys are using.

Each racer received a copy of a XC ski mag in the race packet.  I saw a picture of a guy releasing his pole grip (strap still attached) at the end of the push motion and wondered, is that what you’re supposed to do?  I did in fact notice from other racers that letting your grip go loose at the end of the pole push is what you’re supposed to do.  I learned a lot on Saturday morning.

1 576 Lenny Valjas     1:04:51.3   19.24 km/h      
2 579 Reid Coolsaet     1:05:26.3   19.07 km/h      
  1. Mike permalink
    March 1, 2009 9:15 am

    I already checked the results. Nicely done. I had no idea that you were such an accomplished nordic skier. Perhaps you should move to North Bay and train for 2014? I’ve got an extra room….

  2. March 1, 2009 8:40 pm

    x-c skiing is seriously not that easy, if it comes that easy to you – i think you’ve found a new sport!!

  3. Brendon permalink
    March 2, 2009 2:05 pm

    haha, so funny, and good job on the finish, props!

  4. Catts permalink
    March 2, 2009 5:04 pm

    I could’ve told you that you had to let go of the pole as you pushed off. I learned that in my Nordic Walking certification . . .

  5. Nevin permalink
    March 2, 2009 6:35 pm

    Reider, were you not a veteran of Westdale Nordic? Ah, my legacy at Westdale.
    This is an awesome results, although thanks to the wonders of Hardwood I can’t find the results anywhere, was Tarno there?

    The ski strap is really important because it’s your power-transfer onto the pole. Dudes pay big bucks for their straps.

    You should race Nationals, but get up to Duntroon first and ski the course a bit.

    If you’d like help finding someone to wax your skis there, drop me a line and I’ll hook you up with some dudes.

  6. Dave K permalink
    March 2, 2009 11:52 pm

    Fort Knox indeed, there definitely should have been a mass jail break…

    Great, great work in the nordic race. If you have any pics, send them my way. They would look sweet in an NB PPT. Keep on!

  7. Martin permalink
    March 3, 2009 8:14 am

    Mike Dyon has done/is doing some sick x-c skiing since he had to stop running. He still looks fit and he must be around 55.

  8. Jan permalink
    March 3, 2009 9:54 am

    First blog I read after wakeup from sleep today!

    Are you tension? panic?

  9. Bruce permalink
    March 3, 2009 2:27 pm

    Go for it…do the nationals. This could be your big break.

  10. Skuj permalink
    March 4, 2009 3:05 pm

    Do it!!! 🙂

    Good for you, Reid. (The 8k too.)

  11. Tony Hoffman permalink
    March 9, 2009 9:08 pm

    Funny to come across this — I did a Google search to see how Lenny Valjas did at what I thought were supposed to be Canadian Nationals this weekend and instead found your race report from Hardwood.

    I finished next behind you in the race, and we talked briefly afterward about skiing in Western New York (you mentioned you skiied at Holiday Valley sometimes, etc.) I told you a little more balance on skis and you’d be able to focus all that energy into a lot more speed, etc.

    It’s funny to read your race report. I remember thinking that I hated the way you climbed (kind of late starting but then scratchy and faster as you found some stride) so I wanted you 20 or 40 feet ahead of me so I wouldn’t lose momentum. I started applying more and more work thinking I would close the gap but you kept leaking away. I thought your kind-of-poor technique would make you easy to close on, but I didn’t know about your motor. That’s the funny thing about these (seemingly) shabby ski races — you start with a bunch of schmo’s like me, a (no lie) couple pulling their kid on a ski trailer, and a smattering of real athletes or, in Lenny’s case, the real deal. You just never know what’s in store.

    If you want to ski again next year (in Western New York), give me a head’s up — I mentioned that place Byrncliff (about 40 minutes from the Peace Bridge) and they have good grooming equipment and sometimes the conditions are worth the trip.

    By the way, your skis are probably heavy, but they glided fine — you moved as fast going downhill in the last 10k as I did. You’d probably go downhill a lot faster, though, if you didn’t weigh about 135 pounds, or fall down so much. That, my friend, is my tip to you.

    Tony Hoffman

  12. Martin permalink
    March 10, 2009 7:26 pm

    Story reminds me of the one of Craig Virgin getting his head handed to him by McCloy while he was wondering how someone who almost looked mentally challenged while running could possibly be on the same track as him.

  13. Lenny Valjas permalink
    April 2, 2009 7:42 pm

    I still cant believe that this was your first ski race ever! You raced very well. Hopefully you will enter more races next season.
    Have a good summer and hopefully i’ll see you at some races next year.
    Lenny Valjas


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