I raced the Craftsbury Marathon for the first time on January 28th. Craftsbury is the stuff of legends, the preeminent nordic marathon of the northeast. I’d avoided it for years because of the travel and logistics involved. Craftsbury, a small village in northern Vermont, is only miles from the Canadian border. The race has an early start time and you have to take a shuttle with all your gear from the parking lot to the starting site. And because it’s a classic race, you have the kick wax to figure out which is usually left to the last minute and often done under stress.
We hit snowstorms on the way in the night before which made an already ambiguous waxing situation worse. In the car, I could feel the chest cold that had been running through my family since New Year’s starting to tickle in my lungs and it only got worse over night and into the next morning. At the start, I consulted the wax gurus. There were a number of options that seemed to be working.
With a race distance of 46km on a hilly, icy course, it was really a matter of longevity: whatever worked in test nee
ded to stay on the skis for the duration. I settled on Rode Red klister with a little bit of Toko Silver on top of it. In warm-up, it gave me impressive kick with no drag, so I didn’t mess around with it. I put the skis to the side and went for a warm up run on the snowy roads just outside the nordic center.
I started slipping on the very first uphill, a mere hundred meters into the race. I think it was a combination of poor technique and, while I had the right klister combination, I didn’t put enough on, so I had to drive extra hard to get the wax pocket down. That might work for a short race, but not for marathon. Since I’m relatively new to classic (this is just my second full season of classic) when I get into a race, I start to overdrive the striding and end up “slipping gears”, go over the redline and blow myself up. On the double-pole sections, I was strong and was able to make up ground I had lost on the hills, but that meant putting out extra energy rather than holding position and recovering. On the descents (I’m a notoriously timid descender) I was for once able to hold my position and even make up time. But every transition and uphill section saw me lose time and waste energy.
By the second of 4 laps of the 11.5km course, I was cooked. If I was feeling this bad at half-way, how would I get to the finish? So I went into survival mode and tried to ski cleanly, efficiently and slowly the rest of the way. I got passed. A lot. I had to stop on two or three uphills to catch my breath and let the burning in my upper arms extinguish. A fell down a few times on shaky legs and icy sections. At one point during the third lap, I switched skis from one foot to the other to try to get a little more grip. It didn’t help.
I finally reached the finish after 2 hours and 40 minutes. My last lap was more than 8 minutes slower than my first. But I finished it.
The guys I train with tell me that it takes about 5 years to become proficient in classic, especially if you’re starting late. I’m about half-way there.