We knew this huge race would be cold. The forecast the whole week had overnight lows in the -20s, and the daytime high was in question. The organizers delayed the start one hour, and shortened the course to 42.5km. It was a beautiful sunny day, so it didn't feel too cold. The snow was pretty slow, but not too bad. I was all ready to go with my balaclava, dermatome on my face and windproof Finnsvala underwear. My feed bottle went in my holder upside down, with heat pack in the bottom, to keep the drink liquid as long as possible. I also had a heat pack on some anti-bonk gels just in case. I was all ready, but not quite. As I headed to the start, I realized I forgot my timing chip. With little time to decide, I chose to go back for the chip, to ensure that I would get a time. My watch was maybe a bit slow, because when I returned, the back of my wave was just moving out of sight, and the B wave had just started.
So, already two minutes down, I had to double pole and use whatever technique possible to get through the B wave. It felt great to finally be able to stretch out, although I was still weaving in and out of trains. Finally, I started to catch bibs from the A wave, but nobody I really recognized except for girls, including my teammate Shayla. I tried to set a steady pace, as it got tougher to catch the next group.
Just over the 10km point, there is a feed station, where I grabbed a drink before commencing the longest climb of the race. Penguin is a long hill with many steep sections. Here I got caught up in traffic, since it was not wide enough to pass. On the flats I would double pole past a few skiers, the line up while skiers diagonal-skated up the pitches. As the terrain leveled, I finally had a clear track to work with, and tried to keep the momentum.
Finally I caught somebody recognizable, Chris Blanchard. He followed me for a while, then gave me a bit of encouragement as I skied away from him up the next climbing section. There I chased down a few more skiers, including David Zybelberg and Cyrus Kangarloo, who I didn't recognize at that moment, although he said "Oh there you are Erik." Next, at around 25km, I got to chase down a Rossi suit and an NST suit, Ed McCarthy. It was quite strange moving with these guys, it would take me a long time to catch them, but once I did they seemed to slow down, and I would pass them easily.
At this time I noticed my skis were not running as well, in the churned up track. They were still decent and I saw in the distance another x-c.com suit, Timo Puiras. I worked hard to catch his group, and did, with a little help from Cyrus, whose skis were flying at this point. As soon as we caught them, they seemed to stop skiing. I tired of this pace, and went to the front. This was the first time I felt a bit weak, and I was leading a train of 5-6 guys. So I pulled over to take a drink. Only Cyrus passed me, but then he stopped at the last feed station at 39k, only a few ks from the end.
We headed up the last uphill with me leading at a snail's pace, I had run out of juice and couldn't move any faster. I wondered why nobody was passing me. Finally 3 of them did, and I couldn't respond. Steve Hart also passed me as we crested the hill, but there wasn't anything I could do about that either. My long solo fight had finally caught up to me, however, the rest of the way to the finish was downhill. I ended up 12th, having been in 8th from 38 to 40km. It was a fun race, and if you take two minutes off my time I would have been 7th. I didn't have my skis marked, but nothing came of it.
I won't ever forget my chip again. It wasn't natural, I took my time getting ready for the cold and for feeding, and had my bib on. At any rate, the whole situation could have been avoided if I had allowed more time. I deliberately cut it close to be as warm as possible before the start of the race. I suppose a chance to ski with the leaders without the traffic is more important. Anyway, I'm looking forward to the 50km skate mass start at Nationals.