Having a heart attack (and medically dying) just 9 months ago hasn’t stopped Bad Bob Baker. In training for the 30th annual Sonot Kkaazoot, he’s in Switzerland at the World Masters where he’s raced in the 30 and 10 km classical events and the 45 km freestyle one. He is scheduled to ski in the M2 (age 35 to 39) relays today and do the Engadin Marathon (42 km) on Sunday.
Here are some excerpts from Bad Bob’s account of his 45 km freestyle race, in which he experienced the scary scenarios that keep skiers up at night.
We woke to beautiful blue sunny skies and cooler temperatures, around 28 degrees. I lined up with 59 others my age, but actually, many did not show up…but 59 had signed up to skate.
We started our 3 X 15 km loops with a bang. My skis felt great, but I would not know how I would feel until another 200 meters. Sure enough, at around the 200 meter point, I had pushed too hard and found myself off to the side, allowing all except one other racer to go by. At the top off the first little uphill, at about 1/2 km, I was ready to shoot downward on a straight easy tucking fast section for perhaps 1/4 of a km. By the time we got down that hill and crossed the bridge out of the stadium area, I had moved up at least 6 or 7 places. Ahead was a few kilometers of easy fast flat race trail. I thought I should move up even more. Instead..my physical state just would not allow it. I felt very tired and winded, and found myself dropping most of the positions I had just gotten back. BUT..the weather was spectacular and took my mind off the race a bit and how I was feeling.
Next up was the first big climb. I did not fare well, still dropping in position. By the time I got to the top, I was probably nearly last, and feeling the worse I have felt yet. NO energy and stopping several times to catch my breath. I even felt a little pain in my chest perhaps…So, I just took it easier. As I made my way around that first 15 km lap, it became the same pattern as all the other races, fall behind on the uphills and catch back up on the downhills. By the end of the first lap, I had settled in to my pace, but with much more pain and effort than the previous races. My first lap was one hour and 2 minutes….
My next lap got a little better as far as breathing went, but suddenly my left leg became sort of useless, hard to explain, it was not cramping, more like aching and uncoordinated. I found myself starting to double pole instead of skate, trying to bring my left leg back to usefulness. Somehow I was climbing better/stronger on this lap, and actually caught several other M6’s on the uphills??? AND, I still had my downhills to gain ground. At the end of the 2nd lap, my time was about 2 hours and 5 minutes. I had only lost about a minute from my first lap time, which surprised me, cause I felt like I had overall, slowed much more, even though some of my uphills we going better.
The 3rd and final lap was one spent thinking a lot about how nice it was to be on the final lap, and that I could not wait to finish, as the effort was taking all of my experience to keep moving. I never totally bonked, but I did feel very, very slow, but I was still gaining of my closest competitors. Also, the weather had gone from bright sun, blue skies and fast snow, to cloudy skies, mushy, slower snow and a lot less spectators on the course. I finally made it to the highest point on the course, on the 3rd lap, at the 39 kilometer point. From here it’s mostly downhill, with only 3 notable ups, none of which match the earlier ones. At the top of the last little uphill, I passed by Dave Edic, still out there cheering me on, and asking me if I needed anything. From that point (42 km) on, the last 3 km included a full kilometer of a downhill tuck at 30+ mph followed by a gradual downhill into the finish.
Believe it or not, several times in the last 2 km, I had trouble skating, mostly from fatigue. The final turn into the stadium had turned into 6 inches of sugar snow, but I managed to actually put on a little sprint in across the finish line. My time was 3 hour 9 minutes and 46 seconds. My goal at the top of the hill back at the 42 km mark, was to beat 3 hour 10 min. I knew it would be close, and I would have to push hard… SO…overall, it was my toughest race, and the race I felt the worse, but, it was the most satisfying to finish.
I was over an hour behind the best skiers in my division……that’s hard for me to imagine. They almost lapped me. The winner of the M6, was around 2 hours and 4 minutes.The thing that immediately came into my head was that 45 kilometers is about 28 miles, so I skied a sub 3 hour marathon pace, so if I were running, that sounds pretty fast to me. MOST importantly, I know I can still do this, this racing thing, and I have no doubt, I’m only going to improve.
Fairbanks Sonot Kkaazoot skiers and volunteers, Chris Puchner and Bruce Jamieson, who are M7 skiers, skied 2 laps in their 30 km World Masters freestyle race. They finished in 2:19.31 and 2:19.50 respectively, and will be in the 50 km Sonot Kkaazoot.
So what is keeping you from joining Bad Bob, Chris, and Bruce at the start line of the 30th annual Sonot Kkaazoot?
(For more about Bad Bob’s amazing recovery, listen to part 1 of Robert Hannon’s Northern Soundings interview on KUAC-FM at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, 14 March 2017. Part 2 will air on March 28).