Just when I thought I was getting all Zen about sports, that I’d cultivated total inner satisfaction in my sporting life, the competitive bug bit me right in the rear.
The bite occurred Saturday, in the middle of ski orienteering.
In orienteering, competitors are given a topo map at the starting line of a foot race — usually through the woods, over hill and dale — with control points to find. As fast as possible. For a ski-o, you skate ski to control points on a Nordic area’s trails.
This is my first season skate skiing, and I’ve only orienteered once. I rarely do races of any kind, being that supposed Zen-ish inner-satisfaction seeker. On Saturday I registered and thought, “Oh, this will get me onto trails I’ve never done, and on a lovely day at Devil’s Thumb Ranch, yay.” The short course was to go to any eight control points; the medium was 12. I figured I’d go short. Keep it chill.
I walked down to the starting control to electronically begin my mellow tour of the ranch’s rolling meadows. Map in hand, I plotted out eight controls, punched in to start my clock and then headed to the first control I’d chosen, which was close by.
I skied right past it. When I realized this, I said to myself, “You have to do better,” not realizing this thought was the first indication of the bite.
I punched in. Beep. That’s when I took off like a bat out of ski-o hell.
Something got into me. Every beep made me go faster. At my fourth, atop a rise, I was blowing up. I yanked my hat off, and, in this anaerobic state, decided the short course would be wimpy of me. I plotted out a new course to 12 control points. (You can change mid-race.)
I counted to 12 three times just to make sure I’d counted right, because my brain wasn’t working well, being oxygen deprived and lacking Zen and all.
My wonderful instructor at Eldora, Peter, once told me: “You will forget everything I’ve taught you when you race.”
This turned out to be half-true. As I flew around to my controls, my heart trying to squeeze out of my ribcage, I’d realize my form had fallen apart, remember what Peter taught me and pull myself back together. And then do it all over again.
At my seventh control, I realized I’d chosen poorly — I’d forgotten to check the map’s contours. My route went over a hill. My ribcage wouldn’t have that. So I re-plotted, and again counted my 12 points several times due to anaerobic stupidity. Anaerobic stupidity caused other problems, too. I’d check the map, tell myself, “Left at the Y around this corner, then right the next intersection.” OK, got it.
I’d forget everything a few feet down the trail.
After 58 minutes, I punched the final control. What a blast! But I was convinced someone would beat my time by half, or some equally humiliating amount. The next day, I learned that I came in second for the medium course, nine minutes behind the next guy. (Did he ski insanely like me or just cruise it?)
The competitive part of me felt OK with this result. Then I noticed that the guy who won the longest course, all 20 control points, finished in 1:04. Eight extra controls, scattered far and wide, in only six minutes more than me.
Wow. Humility. Time to apply a little Zen cream to that competitive bug bite.