Target shooting

It wasn’t a charitable thing to say (something my mother used to admonish me about), but I had to do it.

“Hey, thanks for wearing red and white, you guys made a good target,” I said to a pair of my fellow racers at the finish line of the Weston Winter Duathlon in January. They responded with confusion. So of course I had to clarify: “I didn’t have to win, I just wanted to pass you guys.”

The race was probably more than I should have signed up for: a total of 8 miles of running and skate skiing. It was before we got Antarctica’s average snowfall, so the run was on the fringes of the man-made snow at the ski track, which ranged from lumpy frozen ground to ankle-deep granular snowcrap. And, oh yeah, I didn’t bother skate skiing until 2 days before. What a wake-up call.

Meant as an off-season motivator, the race was a lesson in skills that don’t translate. I learned that years of in-line skating, cross-country skiing, and ice skating most definitely did not mean I could zip around the track on the skate skis. In fact, I felt like a moose on ice skates the first hour I tried it. I couldn’t find the edge I needed to push off, my arms were flailing. I’d already registered for the race… so I was aggravated that I hadn’t rented skis and practiced in the weeks between registering and racing. D’oh!

And of course there was a 12-year-old girl zipping past me on the track when I was forcing my body into the unfamiliar spasms that are the skate ski rhythm. “Hi!” she chirped as her pigtails bounced behind her.  The Weston Ski Track is packed all the time with kids who apparently ski instead of playing hockey in winter —  another opportunity for a lesson in humility when you’re trying to learn something that a 10-year-old is better at.

the Weston Ski Track is always busy -- not a place to learn without being embarrassed by 10 year olds

I’d been trail running a lot in the fall, but without snow and definitely when temps were above 20F. That wasn’t the case on race day. I was glad I warmed up with a lap around the course — but worried at the same time that it would sap my energy for the real thing. By the time I got to the starting line, I was my own biggest obstacle to finishing.

What it came down to was attitude. I couldn’t walk away from the race without giving it my all, so I just zeroed in on my targets one at a time and picked them off. First was the doofus who thought he could do the mountain man version of the race with a pack on and hiking boots. The first low-hanging branch kind of ruined his plans when he got pulled backward by the pack. Then I chugged up to a couple who  I would be ashamed to finish behind, so I passed them. There were others, but Mr. Red and Mr. White remained in my sights the whole race. When I finally passed them on the  skate ski portion I was happy. And when I finished I was really happy.

I don’t have to do that again until … two weeks from now, when the triathlon I signed up for includes biking on the snow along with running and skate skiing. I am a glutton for punishment.

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