It took me 50 years to find it, but I found it.
The worst athletic experience of my life happened Saturday at the Cote Dame Marie Loppet, a 30k xc ski race.
This story actually begins a week in advance of the event when I started my annual winter weight loss program. With no intention of racing on Saturday, I cut my caloric intake by a fair amount. Not an unhealthy amount, just a fair amount. Then, on Thursday, my friend, Bonnie, strong-armed me into registering for the CDML. I've been skiing pretty well this year, so I decided to do it. Unfortunately, I didn't really notice that it was a 30k event. It didn't even register in my feeble little brain.
The weekend comes. The thermometer bottoms out. It was 9 degrees on Friday as I was in my basement frantically putting on the right wax. Tomorrow's race would be held on the kind of snow that squeaks when you walk on it. The ice crystals are very sharp and unfriendly. They make a special wax for this. You just have to be on top of things and prepare yourself. You see, half of your success in ski racing comes from matching the right ski wax with the current snow temperature. The other 90% is technique. Another 147% is in strength and endurance. That adds up to 287%. According to my public school math, 287% is about right. If you choose the wrong wax, you're sunk.
I was in a hurry because, like the character in my upcoming book, I procrastinate wildly. I had just enough time to put ONE coat of wax on my skis. One very thin layer of wax for very cold ski conditions. File that info away. It'll come into play later.
It was a balmy 6 degrees with a brisk wind when I arrived at the race site. I registered, got dressed, and skied a few kilometers for a warm up. Uneventful, so far. I was properly dressed for the weather. No problem.
I arrived at the start line with plenty of time to spare: almost a full ten seconds. Yes, I was late. As such, I found myself at the back of the 120-man field. So that's 120 people who timed their warm-up correctly. And me.
Moments later, we were launched onto the trail system. Moments later, I was in deep oxygen debt. I managed to pass a few slow starters quickly. Perhaps they were frozen to the ground. It's possible.
I'm at about 1:26 into that video. I'm the guy who appears to be carrying an invisible piano.
Everything was fine for the first few miles. I was passing some skiers and getting passed by superheroes, or people dressed as superheroes. (Ski outfits are hilariously more hideous than cycling uniforms. That's quite an accomplishment.)
We reached the first big hill, and that's when my muscles informed me that they were A. underfed, and B. under-prepared.
I muscled up the hill and pressed on only to find bigger hills. That's funny; when I ski this trail any other day, it seems a lot flatter.
We would be doing two 15k loops. I would see these hills again later, and they would somehow grow and become steeper between now and then.
My world came crashing down at the 13k mark. My nutrition caught up to me, and all of my wax had been scraped off. One thin coat of wax doesn't last long when skiing on razor blades.
Good news: I still have eleven miles to go.
Moments before the race started, I sucked down a PowerGel with 2x caffeine thinking it would help me. All it really did was left me awake enough to be aware of what hell I was living.
I had the presence of mind to wear a belt pack with a water bottle filled with Gatorade. When I tried to drink from it, I discovered that it was now a worthless block of ice in the shape of a water bottle. Dead weight at this point, but I'm not going to throw away a perfectly good bottle. I'm awake enough to know better.
I also wore an iPod in this race which is now working against me. I programmed the wrong music altogether. For some reason, I had Ravel's Bolero in the mix. Those of you who know the piece will find humor in the fact that I did NOT crescendo as the piece progressed. Instead, I decrescendo'd rapidly.
One ski in front of the other, man. Ignore the music:
Beatles: I Feel Fine - bullshit. No I don't.
Coldplay: Cemeteries of London - sounds inviting.
Jean-Yves Thibaudet: Your Hands Are Cold - No shit they're cold. Every part of me is cold!
Queen: Don't Stop Me Now - Oh, please. Stop me now.
Arcade Fire: No Cars Go - great song, but I was changing the lyrics to "no skis go"
It was a slog (noun [usu. in sing. ] a spell of difficult, tiring work or traveling), and that was just the first lap.
At some point, I was passed quite quickly by a younger skier. Now I was cursing my age. this is obviously a sport for younger people. Who am I fooling? When am I going to learn?? Who in their right mind does this at age 50?? When can I retire from sport? ( Please make note of this comment. It's related to the punchline of this story. )
With no wax left on my skis, I was unable to coast or glide down the hills. Ponder that thought for a moment? I have ten more miles to go.
And then I bonked.
So that's the story of my worst athletic day. Plenty of lessons learned. Plenty of new depths discovered.
I quickly packed the car and drove away feeling old, tired, and out of shape. I drove home in a state of disgust and self-loathing. I drove home on heated leather seats which helped only slightly.
The next day, I checked the race results. Much to my surprise, I wasn't the last person to finish. In fact, I finished two places better than I was in the video above. My time wasn't far off my 15k time x2.
And here's the punchline: the winner's age is... 51.
I'm sucked back in.