Master Blaster: A term generally associated with the older age group of cross country skiers. I was asked recently to define this word and my initial response was “ anyone who trains with high fluros on!” High fluros cost around US$265 for 30 gm of powder, so at $8.83/gram, you’re better off sticking with your cocaine addiction because at least you’ll get a high off it; with fluros, half the time you pick the other pair of skis with that other $265 powder and just end up with $50 worth of wax sitting on your ski that you then brush off…. Cheap sport. But back to our “Master Blaster” definitions. Another person at the table chimed in with, “that old guy that has all the latest gear and equipment but no idea how to use it!” Perhaps the best was “that guy that’s 55 and still tries to fit into his race suit from when he was 18!” Possibly the only thing worse to a Master Blaster in Lycra is being at an Italian swimming pool during senior club training sessions, so many budgie smugglers…
Ok so why am I talking about Master Blasters, powders and Italians in skimpy bathers? Well last weekend I found myself in the Mecca of American Master Blaster territory for the 41st Annual American Birkibeiner. The largest cross-country race in North America with 10,300 “athletes” competing in it from around 20 nations! A huge event!
After the St. Paul races, Lauren and I upgraded our hire car to a 4WD and picked up Lauren’s teammate and all-around great bloke Lex Treinen from APU and the three of us headed up to Hayward, Wisconsin for the Birkie.
That area of the country is having an extremely cold winter with 67 of the last 81 days being -18C or below. We were super lucky and things had warmed up to around -10C when we got there, so the weather was amazing with great blue bird days as we headed out to check out the infamous Birkie trail.
The size and grooming of the trail was amazing, in the area we skied that Tuesday morning the narrowest the trail got was 2 groomers wide and the for most it was 3 groomers wide, towards the finish it was 4-5 groomers wide which is extremely impressive. An organizer told me that it costs $4500 for one groomer to do one lap of the 50km course. The night before the race there were 5 groomers working for 18 hours straight. Not a cheap event!
So why were they working that much you ask? Why hadn’t they gotten it all organized? Well originally they had. Everything was set up perfectly and the trail was in awesome condition. Then Mother Nature stepped in, dumping 14 inches of snow 24 hours before the start of the race. With the snow came fairly strong winds and mild chaos! With over a foot of fresh snow on the course and knowing they didn’t have enough time to pack it all down, the organizers scraped off all the fresh snow, plowing the course like it was a road and revealing the hard trail underneath. The other big issue was the strong winds and a serious wind chill! That meant the organizers erected huge tents to try and keep the athletes warm. These were no small tents, easily big enough for a circus to use but with the weight of the snow and wind two collapsed leaving athletes to rug up and just keep skiing to stay warm prior to the race.
Race day dawned looking pretty good. The sun was breaking through the clouds but the wind remained. For the first time in my life I raced in two sets of thermals for warmth. The race didn’t start great for me, I was a bit too cold still and wasn’t able to go with the front pack for as long as I would of liked and so settled back with a second chase pack of skiers. As the race progressed I started to feel better and better which was great (but annoying at the same time wishing I was in that front pack) and so I went to the front of the pack and dropped the hammer a bit shrinking the group from around 15 skiers to 8. The packed stayed together for around 37kms as the race went on and then some moves started to be made. Sadly by this stage I’d done a few too many turns at the front and by 43 kilometers I was starting to hurt and fade a little. It still ended up being a fun race but it would have been nice to be a little further up the field. Because I didn’t have any support I carried a drink belt with a water bottle in the back. Most guys could get feeds from their coaches along the way but my system seemed to work fine. On the downs I’d just quickly take sips, that was until Mother Nature played another trick and froze my bottle after 25-30 kilometers into the race leaving me with a block of ice on a belt weighing me down. Talking to others after the race it seemed like anyone who tried to carry a bottle had the same problem. One of the elite racers even tried using a camel-pack for the race but that just froze too and turned into an ice backpack for him.
It was overall a great experience and even though I tease them, Master Blasters make up the backbone of the sport and are generally fun to be around. Not to mention there are certainly some masters that still blast past me!
I’m now back in Anchorage and will be in Alaska for the remainder of the trip. I have the tour of Anchorage, which is another 50km point-to-point race this weekend and then a few weeks off before Spring Nationals here in Alaska.
So for now my Master Blasting friends
Train hard, rest easy, live for the moment!