Our athlete Holly Davis runs in the summer, and skis in the winter. She won our Loup Loup race (pictured above), and went on to two more victories. I'll let her take it from here.
The nervous anticipation for Alpental Vertfest was a little unbearable this year. Probably because I have been training with Alison (Cascade Endurance) since like last July, right after I plunked down way too much money for a full skimo racing set up. It was meant to be- skis, boots and bindings all in my size on steep and cheap for 50% off - I couldn’t not afford them! Vertfest would be the true test to see if I really was in better shape, because I have raced the same exact course several times before and would have something to compare to. I trained and ran all Fall, including my first 25K. This training regime of running very slowly, with no intervals until right before a race, had me quite skeptical that I was truly improving my fitness by any noticeable margins. I had meltdowns over feeling guilty for training too much and not spending enough time with my six year old son, Eli. Was this worth it? The week before the race I bought skimo race pants, new gloves, and a water bottle with a straw. If I was into it this far, might as well go all the way.
I did a pre-run of the course the day before the race. The Alpental course is made up of two climbs and two descents, with a combined total vertical gain of about 4,100 feet over 5 miles. It is primarily in-bounds, and includes International, the infamous double-black diamond that can be quite heinous at times (which is favorable for me). You would think that skimo racing is all about the vertical and who can climb the fastest with the biggest lungs, but transitions from climb-to-ski and vice versa, as well as your ability to descend (fast) while your legs are fried after a climb, plus descending on flimsy, lightweight race gear, can be the difference between 1st and 2nd. I have always had the ability to descend fast, but have needed some improvement in aerobic capacity on the climbs, as well as more efficient transitions. Lightweight race gear also makes a big difference. I don’t know how much time it shaves off, but I estimate my new gear is 3-4 lbs lighter than the set up I used in the past. Then there’s the transitions. This is the switch from climbing to skiing, and vice versa. My routine from climb to ski goes something like this: about 30 seconds before I reach the spot where I will transition, I pull both hands out of my pole straps and put both poles in my left hand. Get to my spot, bend down, and after placing poles on ground, switch both my boots to ski mode. While still in crouched position, switch right binding to ski mode, then left binding. Then, very careful to not let either of my boots lock down into my bindings yet, grab left skin from tip of ski and rip off (preferably in one fell swoop). Lock left heel into binding. Stuff left skin into jacket. Bend back down and rip right skin off, throw into jacket. Grab poles, put goggles down (which are on the helmet, to prevent fogging on the climb up). Take off down the mountain. The pros can do all this in about 10 seconds, but I am closer to 30-40 seconds.
I get to the day of the race and lined up at the start with some of my closest friends and best skimo pals - Heather, Anne Marie and Andrea. Tim from Snow Troopers was out with his video camera doing interviews. People talking to me….eek!……I’m nervous! Gun goes off, I start running up the hill. As we get up to the first steep pitch under the chair, I wait for myself to blow up, as always happens because I start off too fast. Waiting. Breathing hard. Get to the front of the pack, first 10 to 15 folks out of 150 or so. Still waiting for the anaerobic blow up. Made it to the top of the first pitch, holding strong. There are a few strong guys around me in heavy gear, who I would eventually pass for good by 15 minutes in. Still feeling good. I notice there is one girl ahead of me - Katarina Kuba from the Canadian National Skimo team. If I can just keep her in my sights, treat her as my carrot. Make it to the first bootpack, still have her in my sights. Get past the second bootpack and see that she is 1 to 2 minutes ahead of me and close to the top of the first climb at the top of chair 2 (International). I get to the top and have a smooth transition. Pete one of the ski patrol tells me that Seth (my husband) is just a couple minutes ahead of me. That’s my man! I take off. Dive into International and go for the middle line like I had pre-skiied the day before. Hop into Snake Dance, fly through the cat track, then can see Katarina making her way down through the icy gut just above the old Poma lift. I blow by her. Yes!! Then fly down the groomer on chair 3 to the bottom for the next transition, hearing Anne Marie’s kids yelling for me. Then I see Tim, who videos my ski to climb transition, also smooth (see video). No time for water, must get a bigger gap on Katarina. Skins are on, boots in bindings, and I take off. Now up through the trees for the 2nd and final climb. At one point I try to take a sip of my Perpetuem water and just about pass out from gasping for air (I set a new heart rate threshold during this race - average 177, max 186). I look back every couple minutes, and by half way up this final climb I do not see her at all. Get 3/4 of the way up and pass four Patrol - they are so amazing in their cheers and keep my spirits high for the last 15 minutes of climbing. Get close to the Knoll 1 turn around (top of the final climb) and can hear tons of women yelling for me from the checkpoint gate. I am grinning ear to ear, knowing I’ve got this barring any major mechanicals. A 3rd and final great transition, then I’m off to ski through some powder, back into International and then Snake Dance, down chair 3 groomer, and across the finish line. Seth is there to greet me. I am elated. My time was 1 hour 43 minutes, a full 11 minutes faster than my previous best time in 2014 of 1 hour 54 minutes. OMG!!! 3 years older and 11 minutes faster. This was exactly the proof I needed that all that training really was worth it, along with the investment in my racing gear. Looking forward to help grow this sport in the Pacific Northwest! Here is a link to Tim’s video from the race:
Thanks for the write up, Holly, and congrats on a great race!