Bretton Woods Marathon or Waxing Quixotic

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Bretton Woods was the very first ski marathon I did, back in 2009 . Coming from cycling, I thought ‘classic’ meant it was a race that had been around for a while. I signed up only to find out that it meant classic technique. I didn’t ski classic at the time, much less own the gear. Rather than back out and forfeit the entry fee, I went to Bikeway Source and bought some classic gear and set about learning to ski classic in the 2 or 3 weeks before the event. The race took me over three and half hours and I barely walk for the next week.

Flash forward to 2018 and Bretton Woods is on my calendar once again, after being cancelled due to lack of the snow that last two editions, and conflicting with the Bill Koch Festival and work-releated travel since 2013. With over a foot of snow in the week leading up to the race, it is all on, and by now, I have mastered classic technique.

Alas, with classic, technique is only half the battle. The forecast predicts temperatures warming  from -2ºC to 2ºC  over the course of the race, the worse possible wax conditions. The escape clause is a permitted ski change at half-way.

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The Solemn Brotherhood of Craftsbury

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Craftsbury.

The big one.

Of epic proportions in every dimension: The longest distance. The most varied terrain. The longest drive. The most complex waxing.

We members of the Brotherhood — Frank, Andy and I — had decided to arrive the day before to preview the new 16km loop and to test waxes. We had started calling our little group ‘the Brotherhood’ a few years ago in Mont-Saint-Anne, where we followed a psuedo-monastic daily regimen of eat-ski-eat-sleep-ski-eat-beer. We’d taken vows of hypoxia and carbo loading, prayed to snow gods and bent prostrate subsequent to all-out efforts in Tuesday Night races. We were reverant, if not fanatical.

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Crossed Off

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It’s the First of the year, snow is on the ground and it’s less than zero degrees outside, so time to reminisce about the ‘cross season — even while I skied over 200km over the Christmas break. I went all-in this year on cyclocross. I went to camp. I did base preparation. I bought cross tubulars for racing and extra set specific for mud. I got a spare bike (used), and set it up identical to my first one.  I’m still not sure I got the return on investments and efforts I was expecting, but that goes with this somewhat uncharted territory of trying to get better while I get older.

0. Cycle-Smart Cross Camp

A great program run by one of my oldest cycling friends (and competitors), Adam Myerson, in the hill towns of western Mass. We were blessed with torrential rain and mud on day one and drilled wet, sloppy corners, built one hell of a rut, and got tips from the likes of national cyclocross champion Stephen Hyde. I was already pretty familiar on the basics — I started racing cross in 1987 — but learned a lot of little things, the glue that holds everything else together. Things I no longer have time to learn the hard way.  The pros: running through drills and techniques in a “safe” environment was invaluable. The cons: I had to rebuild my bike after the wet, muddy day and I tweaked my back practicing dismounts, and that would hamper the first half of my season.

1. Vermont Overland

Not exactly a cyclocross race, this mixed terrain, road, gravel, mud, rock, ski slope race in central Vermont was the first sustained effort on the cyclocross bike.

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Snow Day

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Photo by Katie Busick

The plan was always to ride in the snow.

My mother would have never let me leave the house if the snow were already falling, so I promised to “squeeze” the ride in before the storm.

Beneath leaden skies and not a single flurry, I bundled up and headed out, covered north-to-south with balaclava, Oakely Factory Pilots (with yellow lenses), heavy gloves, Biemme thermal jacket, plastic rain jacket stuffed in the pocket of the thermal jacket, along with a banana, spares and tools, Giordana full-bib thermal tights, and bright blue Brancale booties to cover the Dettos.

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Song of the Witches Cup

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Photo credit: Katie Busick

Last year’s Salem Witches Cup race report was an homage to Hawthorne. This year, I picked up the spirit of Shakespeare’s witches, from Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 1.

Song of the Witches Cup

Round the Salem green we go:
Into corners we must not slow.
Fighting hard for position
Laps and laps to fifty-one.
Sweating, turn, to brake or not,
Sprint again to have a shot.

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Lungs will burn and Red Bull bubble.

Scrape of pedal, squeal of brake,
In the corners, risks to take;
Eye of tiger, shift of cog,
Lap plus lap becomes a slog.
Lungs alight and legs a’sting,
Elbows flick and prime bell rings.
All for a prize not worth the trouble,
Pushed too hard, now on the bubble.

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Lungs to burn and Red Bull bubble.

Squeal of brake, scrape of pedal,
Do I even have the mettle?
Click of shift and whir of chain,
Round the corner once again.
Ever faster, tires grip;
Next time round I’m sure to slip.
Elbows bump and rub and grind,
Tires cross, no doors to find.
Ten laps remain in the race,
Two riders flee o’er the pace.
Chase them down to no avail,
Drop in speed, we start to flail.
Into the sprint, a turn of speed,
Stuffed again, I cannot fulfill the deed.

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Lungs to burn and Red Bull bubble.

Across the line, I’m out-spun,
Bottle’s empty, the race is run.

 

 

Beverly Dreams

The night before the Grand Prix of Beverly I dreamt I was flying. I had gone over the edge of a cliff during a mountain bike race and was plummeting to an inevitable death thousands of feet in the valley below when I realized there was another option: to fly.

I summoned up the willpower and, instead of the typical weak, anemic response, I was suddenly rocketing skyward. I shot past the edge of the cliff, turned a loop, and landed gently on my feet to the astonishment of onlookers.

In the car ride to Beverly, I told my wife about the dream and she said that it meant I was “unblocked” and I was ready do something special.

I had been patiently building cycling fitness, having skipped the Boston Marathon and gone straight onto the bike after the ski season. But my form seemed slow in coming. I had done a few Masters races with little to show, apart from finishing. I had abandoned the longer Pro/1/2 road races due to insufficient mileage in my legs. I had survived New England Crit week with solid bottom-of-the-top-25 finishes. But no stand-out performances thus far.

My best years were growing evermore hazy and mythical. I was beginning to doubt I had ever been a “real” bike racer.

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