Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Power of Four

The Power of Four is now being touted as North America's "best" skimo race;   Powder Mag compares it to the classic Patrouille de Glacier.  Certainly, it is the longest at 27.5 miles and 12,800 vertical feet ascended.  My partner Brian Harder summed it up well, calling it "one of the hardest physical tests many of us have faced on skis."  Here are a few of my thoughts:

An Odd Pair
Aspen has seen many odd pairs looking for adventure
The Power of Four is a teams race, meaning that racers must race in teams of two.  As Brian and I rolled into Aspen, I laughed as I thought of the Dumb and Dumber scene depicted to the right (take special note of the snot and the facial expressions).  I was comforted to know that we  weren't the first odd pair looking for adventure in Aspen.

On paper, we are unlikely teammates.  Brian is tall, I am not.  Brian is 10 years older than I am.  I like to start fast, he does not.  His diesel engine is indefatigable; my rice burner? not so much.  Nevertheless, we were joined together by one common objective: to race as fast as we could against and on Aspen's best.

The Power of Two
In an individualistic sport, the team dynamic is interesting.  One of the more satisfying things I discovered at the Power of Four was the power of two.  I think that as a team we ended up being faster than either of us would have been individually.  We both had strong moments and we both had weak moments.  And with each other's help, we made up for one another's deficiencies, harnessing one another's energy, enabling us to push faster to the end.

Highlands Peak and the Bowl
One of the key moments in the race occurred as we were on our second major climb, a 4400 foot climb from the bottom of Aspen Highlands resort to the top of Highland Peak (12,392).  I was excited because we had acquired a decent gap on the teams of  Brown/Koles and Hagen/Schilling.  We were in third place, and second place was within striking distance.  But Brian started vomiting.  The sounds were a bit disconcerting, so I didn't look back at first.  When I finally did, he was standing there, leaning on his poles, and looking a bit worried.  I pulled out the bungee cord and offered it to him, and to his credit, he took it, and we proceeded "on tow."  By the time we hit the bootpack, he had recovered.  By the time we had reached the top, we had pulled into second place.

Photo Credit: Pierre Wille
The second key moment in the race occurred at the beginning of the demoralizing 6 mile final climb to Aspen Mountain.  With 10,000 feet and over 20 miles in my legs, and not enough food, I was fading.  At the start of the climb, I gulped down an energy bar that I grabbed at an aid station.  As soon as I did so, however, blood went to my stomach to digest, and I lost some power in my legs.  I was struggling to match Brian's pace and I could see the team of Brown/Koles closing in on us.  I took the tow rope out and said, "Brian, I need to go on tow."  He nodded, and I clipped in.

I was relieved that the pace-setting burden was squarely on his shoulders, literally and figuratively.  I gritted my teeth and did my best to keep some slack in the line.  The tow line works a bit of magic.  Mentally, it forces the leader to set the pace and try to keep some tension on the line, and it forces the follower to keep pace to try to keep tension off the line.  It's a little game that makes a team go faster.  Further, when the follower begins to drag, the line gives him a tug, urging him forward, again making the team a bit faster.

Booting up Highlands Peak
Photo Credit: Kevin Krill
Because I am a bit proud (or so my wife says), I was slightly sheepish about going "on tow."  I think that was probably the case for Brian too.  But in a teams race, you have to be honest and humble enough to know when you need help.  You have to know when it's time to be the leader and when it's time to be the follower.  It would be unusual not to play both roles during a long race.  One of the more satisfying aspects of the race was that we were able to rely on each other.

The Battle
The Final Climb      Photo Credit: Kevin Krill
After the first climb, the leaders (Wickenhauser and Smith) were out of sight and out of mind.  But after 10,000 feet of climbing and nearly 5 hours into the race, three teams were within one or two minutes of another, gunning for second place.  The final positions would be decided on the 6 mile climb ahead of us.  40 minutes into the climb, the team of Koles/Brown overtook us.  We exchanged encouragement as they passed, but inside, I was disappointed. I wanted second.  The problem was, I could only go so fast--I could barely match Brian's pace on tow.  Even worse, Kroger/Taam were visibly closing in on us.  Brian said, "I guess 4th would be ok too."  As if I had control over the matter, I said, "no way."

For the next hour, we gutted it out.  We needed food, but we didn't have any.  Every step was difficult.  I began making some weird growling/grunting noise with each step.  The gap between us in 3rd and Kroger/Taam in 4th seemed to hold as did the gap between Koles/Brown in 2nd.  All of us were suffering, but none of us would let up.  It was a moment of pure competition.  It was also a moment of self discovery.  Would we, could we push through?

In the end, we did.  About 25 meters from the top of the climb, we overtook the Koles/Brown team.  With snot all over Brian's face and me screaming bloody murder, we topped out, ripped skins and secured our 2nd place finish.  Didn't I tell you to take note of the snot and expressions?
Dumb and Dumber?

Brian Harder and Jared Inouye finishing at the Power of Four  Photo Credit: B Wick


noah said...

Great race man! That is an AWESOME write up. Feeling inspired and nauseous!

Ski Bike Junkie said...

Great race--congrats on the result. Well done on the writeup as well. Kept me on the edge of my seat.

Alex Wigley said...

Nice work! Can't wait to race that race next year!

brian p. harder said...

My wife says my snot goatee makes me look like Val Kilmer. Sweet! But I think he is a big fat dude now. Hopefully she's referring to his "sexy time".

jun said...

Wow, seriously impressive man.
Can you post a list of possible trail races/ultras you'll be doing this summer? I want to make sure I don't show up, saving myself the embarrassment of what would inevitably be you kicking my butt.