My first mini-tour….

… and I’m in love.

I’m also exhausted. We don’t do three races in three days very often, and let me tell you, it really wears you out. I’m pretty much toast.

This weekend a couple of us went up to Orford, Quebec for a NorAm mini-tour and it was tons of fun. If you’re not familiar with the concept of a mini-tour, think of it as kind of like a three-day stage race in biking. The difference is that on the last day, everyone starts in a pursuit format with the time gaps based on your times from the first two races, and the first skier to the finish line wins the whole weekend. NorAms are the Canadian equivalent of SuperTours; they are the highest level of racing in the country. So these races were guaranteed to be good.

I was particularly excited for the pursuit because I haven’t done a mass start all year (well, I did the one at the Eastern Cup, but I dropped out after 2k, so that doesn’t really count does it?) and I was really psyched for some head-to-head competition. I used to love mass starts. Now I almost never get to compete in them.

It was just Ollie, Tim, Matt, Alex and I, and then Ollie got sick and couldn’t join us on Saturday and Sunday, which was a bummer. We were flying solo without Pepa or any sort of wax support, but it worked out totally fine and we all had good skis – even though the boys and I put completely different things on our skis for both of the classic races! On Friday, I went on Swix and they went on Rode. Then on Saturday, I went on Rode and they went on SkiGo. On both days, I raced first and I was done waxing my race skis before most of them had even started testing – Tim was nice and talked to me about the wax on Saturday, which was a bonus. Even if you know what you think, it’s nice to bounce it off someone so you have a little more confidence in what you’re doing. Anyway, I realized that I am grown-up enough to go to a race and do all of the testing and prep work on my own without getting too stressed out or running out of time to warm up, which is cool (more on that later).

Friday and Saturday went okay for me – I was tenth both days, and felt like I skied pretty well on Saturday in particular. But I feel like I’ve kind of been in a rut lately; it took me a long time to get back into racing shape after being sick for a while in December, and while I have been very consistent all season, it’s been consistently mediocre! That isn’t really our goal around here so I’ve been hoping to have a good race that broke the cycle.

On Sunday, I had that race. For the women, it was a 15k pursuit, consisting of three loops on a fast but difficult 5k course. There was a kind of flat rolling section between 0.5k and 1.5k, and then a loooooong multi-pitch climb for about a kilometer, followed by some shorter hills and more rolling terrain back through the lap.

I started in bib 9, six seconds behind Sheila Kealey from XC Ottawa and ten and fifteen seconds ahead of two other skiers. Part of the beauty of racing in Canada is that you really know nothing about most of the people you are competing against, so you have to kind of just ski your race and see how it all shakes out. Anyway, I started off thinking I could catch Sheila; part of the reason I thought this was that she’s only five years younger than my mother. So I took off pretty hard, trying to bridge the gap so I could have someone to ski with.

This turned out to be completely misguided. I never caught her and after a few kilometers of maintaining the gap, she simply skied away from me. It turns out that Sheila is a fast lady- she had the 5th-fastest time on the day! Wow.

At this point, I panicked for a second. I was sure that I was being dropped because I’d gone out too fast, not because she was speeding up. But then I realized that the pack behind me, which had grown to three or four women, was always ten or fifteen seconds behind me and not gaining ground. So I couldn’t be slowing down that much.

By the time I got to the third lap, I was sure I was dying and was about to be enveloped by the pack chasing after me. That first kilometer and a half of rolling stuff was the toughest part of the course for me; I skied it pretty poorly. But when we got to the long climb, I gave it everything I had. Megan McTavish of XC Ottawa was in the chase group and must have done the same thing, because the next time I looked back it had shattered. She was still behind me but the other women had disappeared. I now had two tasks to focus on: one, staying somehow in front of Megan, and two, trying to catch bib 3, Michelle Workun-Hill, who was clearly having a tough race and who I could see up ahead despite the fact that she had started almost two minutes in front of me.

I went for it. I really, really went for it. And Megan didn’t catch me, not even close. I didn’t catch Michelle, either, but as I crossed the finish line I was mostly just relieved to be ahead of Megan.

Anyway, if you’re even still reading this long drawn-out race report, here’s the takeaway message: this was the best skate race I have ever had. I felt great. It was the perfect skate course for me, with manageable climbs that I could really attack. It was so fun to feel like I was going for it after a couple weeks of races where I was definitely not on the offensive as much as you should be. I love racing again.

And at the end of the day, I decided that I want to be as fast as Sheila Kealy when I “grow up.” So it’s a good thing that I felt like I was fairly competent at waxing my own skis and all that good stuff…. I have a lot of racing ahead of me!

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