Piney Relays.

someone else.

Women's nordic team at the ski banquet last spring. Note my awesome bike-jersey tan; it's perfect for formal occasions. Photo credit: someone else.

Monday was our only practice of the year with both nordic and alpine athletes. It was part relay race, part teambuilding. I assumed that meant “easy,” because even the best of the alpine skiers, the All-Americans who can lift twice as much weight as we can, aren’t the quickest runners.

At 2:45, we “nordies” ran out to Oak Hill. After doing weekly intervals there all fall, the jog out is getting a little too familiar. The “pineys” took a bus out instead of running, and I was jealous.

When we arrived, we toured the three race loops. We would have to run each one twice.

The first loop curved up the hill leading out of the stadium, crossed the parking lot, and dropped down to Storrs Pond. Another was an out-and-back on the first hill of the 10k loop. The last was “tree slalom,” winding up and down small, steep hills and narrowly avoiding the big white pines.

We divided into teams of three, with a nordic and an alpine boy and one female skier. My teammates were also seniors, making our team unusual. After all, we were supposed to be making connections with skiers we didn’t know. Sean is a nordie and Michal (pronounced MEE-how) was in my freshman dorm, so we had a head start and could get down to the serious business of racing.

We decided that I would lead off the relay, which consisted of each of us running the first leg, one after the other, and then the second, and so on. I felt like I was back in my high school cross country days as I lined up in the start box.

It was a mad dash up the hill, with runners of us slipping in the mud grass as we tried to get traction. Entering a section of thorny bushes, one of the piney girls darted in front of me to get on the single-track path. I was dismayed. How could I let a piney beat me at my own game?

Along the flat of the parking lot and the access road leading to Area One, I stretched out my stride. It felt good.  Despite the fact that I quit the Dartmouth cross country team after two worse-than-mediocre seasons, I’m in the best shape of my life and that ironically means I’m running faster than I ever did when I raced.

I dropped Corinne Rotter and caught one of the straggling boys, pushing to beat him to the tag zone. When Sean took off, we were solidly in the middle of the pack.

I leaned over to catch my breath and remembered I had five more loops to go. The uphill had not felt good. I chatted with Hannah Dressigacker, who agreed that her legs felt heavy, and had experienced a piney scare of her own. We agreed: we weren’t as fast as usual!

The week before had been a “special intensity week,” with the Moosilauke time trial Sunday, 4 x 4 minute intervals Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and a 5 kilometer rollerski time trial on Friday.

Despite time off and easy distance over the weekend, we hadn’t fully recovered. Training plans depend on having a different focus from week to week, varying the stresses on a skier’s body and forcing it to adapt. Sometimes, you are going to feel tired and slow, but that’s part of the plan.

The teams were in a different order when I started my second leg. I chased down the piney girl who had started in front of me, even though I sometimes felt like I might as well be walking up the hill. Boys who started behind me flew by almost as if I was standing still.

The race wore on and everyone tired. Michal thought he would throw up after every loop he finished; luckily, he didn’t.

When I wasn’t racing, I enjoyed watching the other skiers tackle the tree slalom course. The boys tried to cut the corners as close as possible. A few fell while trying to make quick turns, and they loved to cut each other off and pass on the inside.

It was especially entertaining to watch Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess, who gets quite competitive, attempt to pass 5-foot-1 Alice Bradley, who tried sabotage to hold him off.

The peanut gallery kept track of what was going on. Coaches, injured athletes who had come to spectate, and resting competitors laughed at slips and falls and cheered their teammates as they came into the tag zone.

At the end of the day, Sean, Michal and I finished in the middle of the pack. The race was won by a team of eager freshmen who had somehow amassed a huge lead. I was exhausted; the workout had been far more difficult than expected.

The pineys got back into their buses, and we started jogging back to campus in the gathering dark and cold.

I think the relays achieved their goal of teambuilding. Maybe I can’t remember the names of all of those freshmen boys on the alpine team, but at least I can recognize their faces when I see them on campus.

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