Friday, February 01, 2013

Arrowhead 2013: Post Mortem

Yesterdays post was me getting my emotions out.  I needed to do that.  Todays is going to be more analytical.  What I did right.  What I did wrong.  Improvements for next year.  Look out, it's a long one.

All of my equipment worked adequately or better this year.  There's very little wrong with my setup.  I was surprised how well I was able to ski in the hills with a backpack on.  Granted, soft snow helped with the ski handling, but I only lost my balance a few times and only had to bail (intentional crash) on one hill.  So the backpack gets a big thumbs up.

I'll use the same skis next year too.  Skating on the classic race skis worked great.  I don't think I was much slower than I would have been on skate skis.  Shorter poles were mixed.  I probably would have been faster on long skate poles, but my arms would have been more tired.  I'll stick with the 155s.

I carried too many clothes and not the right clothes.  The Craft jersey and tights I wore have been great in a lot of conditions, but they weren't right for the temperatures and precipitation we had.  I should have left out the fleece vest and down pants.  I would still have been fine down to -20f without those.  I was geared up for -40 temps again, which is smart I guess, but I didn't have anything waterproof or cool enough.  I think a lightweight wicking base layer and a w/b shell jacket and pants would have been best.  I have this gear, but I use it for spring cycling, not usually for winter skiing.  Bringing that gear up with me next year might be a good call.  I can always leave it out if the forecast is for cold.

I carried too much food.  Not a whole lot too much, but a pound of Mike & Ikes for each half is too much.  Half that would be fine.  I carried trail mix and the candy in cycling waterbottles in the bottle pockets of my pack which worked fine, but I might go with ziplocs next year as they're lighter and no less accessible.  Either way is fine.

For a wax kit I carried a tin each of red, blue, and green grip wax, a tin of paste glidewax, and a combination cork/scraper.  For the conditions the wax choices were correct.  I just used the blue, but I could easily have needed the other two.  Next year I think I'll cut down the tins and just carry a smaller chunk of each wax.  I won't be using an entire tin in 135 miles.  I will also experiment with using my palm instead of a waxing cork.  If it works just as well I can just bring along a scraper and not deal with the bulk of the cork (it weighs practically nothing).

My bindings froze up several times.  Warm fresh snow and the occasional hike-a-ski saw to that.  I was able to use my fingers and occasionally my pole tips to dig out the packed snow and ice, but having a dedicated clearing tool would have been great.  I have a combo screwdriver/scraper/bottle opener that would have worked well.  I'll have it handy next year.

So much for equipment.  How did I do physically?  Pretty well I'd say.  I have a few nagging blisters on my feet, but nothing I didn't expect.  I will always quest for a blister free foot, but I just don't think it's going to happen.  I was evenly sore all around.  Both my upper and lower body got a workout, but not too much for either.  It would have been nice to do a few longer ski workouts before going on a long ski like this, but the weather didn't really permit it.  I will be switching over the bindings on my roller-skis so that I can use my race boots in training.  That may help with both endurance and blisters.

Technique wise I was really happy.  I was able to keep a good pace without getting out of breath.  A big improvement since Tuscobia.  I used a couple of "form focuses" to keep my technique in check.  Two of those that worked particularly well were focusing on lifting my skis and placing them under me (rather than pushing them out) and sighting along the gliding ski for longer glide.  The second was particularly useful a few places on the trail where there was brush threatening to trip me up.  I was better able to avoid a fall. 

Eating and drinking were so so.  I only drank a liter of water in the first 35 miles and ran out with five miles to go in the second 35.  So I really didn't drink enough throughout.  I foolishly thought that two liters would get me by from Gateway to Melgeorge's.  I should have filled up all the way to three liters.  I probably didn't eat as much as I should have either.  I didn't have as easy access to my food in the backpack as I did when I dragged the sled.  I'll either have to take more food breaks or find a better way to carry my food.

Here's the big one: mental.  I was feeling good going in to Melgeorge's, but by the time I left I was ready to quit.  What happened?  A few things: First, I tried to get some sleep, a good idea, but couldn't sleep for a couple of reasons.  I was too wound-up and not really tired enough to sleep.  Also the cabin was too loud and warm for me.  Every time I laid down I would just listen to everything going on, people coming and going, and couldn't get comfortable.  I should either have moved on or brought earplugs.

Second, I listened to a lot of negativity while I was there.  The cyclists coming in were all complaining (with good reason) about the trail conditions and how bad, how impossible it was.  I listened to that and took it too much to heart.  Before now I've never given much credence to the "keep away from negative talkers" line before.  Now I'm a believer.  I should have seen it for what it was and gotten out before it got to me. 

Third, there were a lot of people who I like and like to be around at the checkpoint.  I wanted to be a part of that, being alone for another 20+ hours wasn't as attractive.

Fourth: I had agreed with Mike (another skier) that I'd wake him at 5 AM so we could leave together.  I thought about leaving much earlier when I realized that I couldn't sleep, but elected not to because I didn't want to let him down.  I should have just woken him and told him I was leaving.  He probably wouldn't have minded too much.

So yeah, it was the siren call of Melgeorge's that brought me down.  I will know better next time.  I'll stay away from the negativity and keep moving if that's what I feel like I need to do.  Race your own race, as they say. 

A note about socks:  I started the race with nordic ski socks over compression socks.  This was too much sock for the temperatures.  At Gateway I removed the wool ski socks and just used the compression socks.  That worked pretty well.  I think the compression socks helped with calf and shin soreness that I had experienced in previous skate ski races.  I think I'll use those again next year.


wildknits said...


I was bummed to see that you dropped and interested to hear what had happened. Thanks for sharing, both in the initial post, and here. Good to read your perspective.

The mind is a strong thing - both as a positive and a negative force.

Glad you see you are already planning for next year!

See you on the trail.

MrDaveyGie said...

I found most interesting your review from a mental aspect. I could relate to most and how they all add up, or more accurately how they can subtract from the game plan.

Craig said...

That's a good point on the negativity and makes me wonder how I may have contributed to that at Arrowhead and the other races I've done. A big part of why we do these races is because of the challenge and (at least for me) it seems we like to hype up the difficulties to epic proportions when we can. In the future I'll try to focus on throwing a more positive spin on it when speaking of the challenges. I think that would help my own mentality as well.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Matt, good conclusion. We, too, have quit based on the words and negativity of others. Not to bash them for how they are feeling, but we have had our best event(s) results by staying away from the hub bub of others and waiting for the social aspect until post race. Congrats on the effort! D and L

Steven Steichen said...

Someday we should meet but I too know poisoning of the mind is the venom of quitting. Don't avoid it but learn to empower from it. The harder it is the more meaningful it will be in time. Set a safety limit and quite when you cross it but not before.

mark scotch said...

getting a separate cabin is the bomb. we share it with 3-4 other racers (very seldom are more than 2 in there at the same time. shower, sleep, eat all without the distractions....just like bivying...well, kinda! ;-)

Matt Maxwell said...

I'm not trying to blame anyone else for my mistakes (if anyone thought that). You're all still my friends.

Steven: I think just being aware of it will be a huge help in overcoming it.

Mark: A separate cabin might be worth it. Willing to share one for next year?

Kid Riemer said...

Good effort Matt and good to see you up there and chat a bit. I think the Arrowhead takes a 'certain' amount of physical effort...but about 200% more mental effort. I've been at the place the last couple times where mentally I just gave in...sure, I wasn't exactly fresh as a daisy but I also know that physically I wasn't 'crushed'...but my head certainly wasn't in the game and I pulled the plug. I hope to have my head back in the game for next year. Anyway, good to see you again. Take care.