The Empire State Games are a sanctioned luge race. That means that there are officials there to make sure we don’t cheat. Put the heated steels away. Get all that extra weight out of the sled. It’s time to slide for real.
My Saturday in Lake Placid started by stripping down to my underwear, in a refrigerated room, in front of my competitors and race officials to weigh in. It’s a good opportunity to size up your opponents and see what they are made of. (I saw what they are made of and the images are burned in my mind. What is seen cannot be unseen.)
A legal sled weighs between 21 and 25 kg, with 23 being the weight used to determine your total allowed weight. You are also allotted 4 kg for clothing and equipment. Finally if you are under 90 kg you are allowed to wear ballast weight to get you up to 90 kg. While I am not at my mtb racing weight right now, I am not up to that magic 90 kg level and so I am allowed ballast. All told my legal racing weight is 117 kg. However, I am close enough to my mtb racing weight that even with my full weight vest I am still over 4 kg light. Oh, well. Based on the way I had been sliding the extra 10 lbs wouldn’t matter.
We had a practice session Saturday night. The night before a race usually has a good vibe. People are excited, we like to talk some smack (just because), and well you are after all on a hill with a sled (a really cool hill with a really cool sled). The talk that night went something like this. The reigning club champ and benchmark commented that he wished he could take one run and then leave. This is hard to do because we take trucks to and from the access points on the track and walking back with a 23 kg sled isn’t easy. I mentioned to him that if he crashed in turn 18 (the low spot on the track) he was most of the way back to the shed. The coach (who was also to be a competitor the next day) told me I looked “jerky” on my sled. Yeah pre-race night.
My sliding? The first run was a carbon copy of what was happening last week. Trouble started on the start ramp with me careening into walls. I did manage to do a little better once I got on the track (well except for being “jerky” on one run and having the coach tell a younger slider who was watching with him that one turn I did was “interesting”). My second run, a carbon copy of the first. Deep breath. OK. Time to just put the sled on the track and don’t worry about starting hard. Somehow I pulled it together and had a clean run. The track was slow but I was a second better than my first two. My fourth run was a carbon copy of my third. Time to call it a night.
Race morning has a different vibe than pre-race day. It’s more serious. Oh we still talk smack, but it’s in a more “respectful” way. There were 30 sleds racing (a couple of youth divisions along with the Masters) and so there was a lot of energy in the air. My pre race prep was good. I was focused and relaxed.
The order of the first start is determined by random draw. For some reason fate seams to put me first in the start order just about all the time. (That’s not literally true, it just seams like I get the first spot frequently). ESG was no exception. The first slot is tough because no one has been down the track and so you don’t really have any idea what to expect a good time is. You also do not have any metric on how fast you need to be.
My first run was pretty good. A nice clean start. No walls. 46.8 sec. Best run in several weeks. When the first runs were finished I was in 5th place out of 12 sleds. The sleds in front of me all belonged to people who should be faster than me. All the sleds behind me were people I either should, or could be faster than. I had a nice little gap to the 6th place slider. The club guru was in a surprising 4th spot after having had a rough start in his first run. The club champ, well, we all got some work to do to catch up with him.
The start order for the second run is determined by reverse order of finish in the first run. Slowest to fastest. I’ve had experience being the first person of the second run, but today I was in the top half. One of the sliders behind me threw down a really fast run and moved up several places. But his first run was so slow I wasn’t really concerned about him. The 6th place slider was my friend Jenny. Jenny is better than me on the track. She is quiet and relaxed (were I am “jerky”). But I outweigh her. But Jenny hadn’t slid this winter yet. You get the idea. We tend to be pretty close time wise when we are sliding. She put down a second run that was virtually the same as her first. She was close enough that I needed to slide well to hold my position.
My second run started out really well. I nailed to top section of the track and set up for the lower portion of the track. In the chicanes my sled headed towards the left wall. I counter steered and glanced off of it. Historically this would have been a much much harder impact. So progress. Still it hurts the run time. That momentum brought me over to the right wall (too much steer) but I countered and only glanced off of it there. I realized it was going to be close at the finished. I tried to be relaxed through the last 3 curves and crossed the finish line.
When you complete your second run in a race you want to look up at the clock with your time and see a 1. That means you were currently in first place. As I slid up to the finish ramp I realized that the clock was not working. I listened for the track announcer. Nothing, not a peep. I looked at the officials. They hadn’t heard anything either. I went into the finish house none of the kids were listening to the race (par for the course, their races were finished and their minds were onto other things). I saw Jenny who told me she “thought” I was in first place, but wasn’t 100% sure.
I knew in my mind it wouldn’t matter. There were 4 really good sliders in front of me and it would have required a complete meltdown by 2 of them to move me into a medal. Not going to happen.
Jim the club guru smoked his second run. He has this strange ability to bounce back from a poor first run with a complete kick ass second run. His second run was in fact the fast run of the day by a pretty good margin. Jim ended up in 3rd place. The club champ? Well we all got some work to do to make his life more interesting. He is entirely too comfortable right now.
In the end, my second run was much slower than my first. The wall touches cost me about 0.4 seconds on my total run time. But it was enough to hold my position and I finished 5th out of 12 sliders.
Now its time to set the sights on the US Luge Masters National Championships. March 29. Bring on the Olympians!