Best way to avoid worrying for weeks about how you might perform in a race–sign up last minute, which is one reason I agreed to join the Anacortes All Stars Ski to Sea 2018 team only thirteen days before the race. The other: I’d get to run almost entirely downhill. And since the team captain recruited sponsors, my cost to participate was a mere $6 (that is not a typo). Two days after the race, my quads still scream whenever I step or sit down so I walk like a stiff-legged zombie.
“First run in 1973, the Ski to Sea is the original adventure race, a team relay from the Mt Baker Ski Area to Bellingham Bay. The race is held annually on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend…Traditionally, a Ski to Sea team has consisted of eight racers competing in seven different sports: Cross Country Ski, Downhill Ski/Snowboard, Running, Road Bike, Canoe (2 paddlers), Cyclocross Bike, and Sea Kayak…The Race course runs through the towns of Glacier, Maple Falls, Kendall, Everson, Lynden, and Ferndale, finishing at Marine Park in the historic Fairhaven district of Bellingham. Together with the Historic Fairhaven Festival, Ski to Sea is the largest one-day event in Whatcom County and Bellingham, drawing racers, spectators, and tourists from the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, and around the world.”
On the last Sunday in May, eight Anacortians completed the seven-legged race: cross-country ski (Nina), downhill ski (Lisa), running (me), road bike (Mike), canoe (Megan and Eric), cyclocross (Julie) and kayak (Patrick) a grand total of 93.5 miles. We first three arrived at the Mt Baker Ski Area at 6:30 am for a 7:00 pre-race meeting and 7:30 start. Nina, our cross-country skier, kept track of the team’s orange plastic timing chip (attached to a black velcro wrist strap). Teammates pass the chip after placing it near a red and white bulls-eye sensor that registers the time at the limits of each leg.
Six of eight members of last year’s team came back for more, leaving openings for the running and cyclocross legs. The decision to use a lightweight canoe forced the team into the Competetive Division. Last year’s team (Old and In the Way) placed 271/314 teams with a time of 9:29:56. This year’s team goal: to have fun and complete the course faster than last year.
Cross Country Ski: What to do when you’re competing against Olympic gold medalist Kikkan Randall? Your best, of course. And that’s what Nina did, shaving a couple of minutes off of her 2017 time during the four-mile 1,200 feet of climb course, and without a single wipeout, one less than last year.
Downhill Ski/Snowboard: A spectator said it best, “It should be called the Uphill.” The 2.5-mile course requires racers to hike up Lower North to North Face (nearly a 900-foot elevation gain) then to the top of Chair 1 before actually going downhill. Packs aren’t allowed, skiers and snowboarders must carry their gear up. Waiting near the transition, we watched the skiers hike along the edge of the nearest peak. Lisa, who also cut a couple of minutes off of her 2017 time, arrived soon after the announcer called out “Team 165.”
Run: I made my way across the snow to meet Lisa, collected the timing chip, ran past the bullseye and down the Mt Baker Highway. While waiting, I’d wondered how best to carry the chip, how fast to go, and what would happen once I reached the last half mile when the course becomes flat after a steady 6% downhill grade for the first 7.5 miles. Our team’s fastest female runner (Megan) had quizzed me about my prospective pace. She insisted I could do better (and I did). Part of my plan was to lean in, literally. Downhill running experts (and my friend Wanda) say, “Lean forward from the hips, not the shoulders. Gravity naturally pulls you downhill. Avoid the urge to lean back and focus on keeping your body perpendicular to the ground.” As I sped around the first curve I felt like I was flying, until a went by moving so fast it made me look like I wasn’t. I ran as fast as I could, skipped the water stops and hoped to survive the flat section. What turned out to be the speediest 8 miles I’ve ever run was just faster than average but in the bottom half of finishers’ running leg times.
Bike: At the pre-run meeting, a race official informed us–the Good Samaritan Law is in effect: if someone needs help, we should stop and offer aid. I’m glad that I didn’t have to step over a fallen, bloodied runner. Nina said same. Mike, our cyclist, however, followed rule, stopped to make sure a cyclist with a flat had the equipment he needed before continuing. The bike leg covers the longest distance 41 miles, over 40% of the total. Even with the good Samaritan delay, Mike finished within a few minutes of his 2017 time.
Canoe: Husband and wife duo Megan and Eric Schorr traded their slow, heavy canoe from last year for a lightweight competitive one that weighed in at about twenty pounds and paddled their way past 53 teams during the 18.5-mile distance. Because of a difference in wind, weather and river conditions, times were slower than in 2017. But with the aid of a lighter, faster vessel, the Schorr’s performance placed them in the top 25% of Canoe leg finishers.Cyclocross: Julie (a leader of the Anacortes Mountain Bike Team) previewed the course the day before the race by riding its entire half-marathon distance length, no easy feat when you know you’re going to have to get up the next day to do it again. The Cyclocross course requires riders to pedal the entire way.
Kayak: With perfect form (according to our team captain/his girlfriend, Lisa) Patrick’s paddling performance placed him in the top 17% of teams. And after passing nearly 50 paddlers en route to Marine Park, he exited his kayak barefooted onto the pebbly shore and raced one last guy to the finish line. The pair passed the bullseye timer simultaneously (Note: Patrick had paddled the course nearly 25 minutes faster than his opponent) and a tie goes to the earlier-in-the-alphabet team, so Anacortes All Stars finished ahead of Marga-Relay-Ville, “In your face!” I say on behalf of Patrick to his competitor.
Great effort on every leg shaved about 27 minutes off the team’s 2017 time, good enough for 156th place of 353 finishing teams. And everyone had fun, so we met our goals. With the 2018 Sea to Ski relay in the books, I’ve learned to Lean In, that it’s the journey, not the destination, and that camaraderie is the best part of racing…especially once you’ve reached the half-century mark.