If rollerskiing is, at best, a necessary evil of the dryland season, then what on earth is a rollerski race? The sight of a bunch of skinny guys and gals clad in lycra rolling through Andover Sunday morning must have turned some heads. I suppose if global warming continues, we’ll be skiing black powder in all but the remotest regions of the globe. With temperatures in the 40’s, winter felt like it was just around the corner, so it was as good a time as any to test my fitness and competitive edge. The only problem was that I felt pretty tired from the time change and not in a very competitive mood, especially on the drive up. I had been wallowing in the recollection of my 1996 cycling season — I spent most of it on the rivet, exhausted — so I was feeling worse that I really was.
Once out on the course for a warm up, I felt much better. I shook out the cobwebs, adjusted to the cold and was ready to go. The start was fast. Harvard’s Chris Stock took off immediately and was quickly in a race of his own. I was in a chase group with a Frank, Max, Andy and some Harvard guys. We were working hard, but the pace was smooth…until we hit the long hill on the back stretch. Then it shattered a bit, but came back together on the flats and descent. Coming through the start/finish for the second lap, I was feeling the effort. We made the hard right onto Johnson Street, and the group blew apart again. I could see Frank and the two Harvard skiers going up the road and I knew I needed to be with them. I dug deep and found an extra gear in my kick-double-pole. I closed up the gap by the top of the hill, hitting a max heart rate of 184 in doing so. I’d never seen a max that high in nordic. At least, not one that was recorded.
The last time up the back stretch, I was hanging with the group until I stepped on my own pole. A gap opened up and there wasn’t enough hill left for me to close it. I chased Frank and the Harvard skiers but, out in the wind on my own, I couldn’t close the gap. I spent several minutes above 172 bpm, chasing hard, not giving it, digging as deep as I could. I was surprised by the strength in my upper body and how much of my anaerobic capacity I was able to use. But I was starting tear at the seems. A stitch in my side, burning in my right shoulder, tightness in my back. I refused to ease up. My vision was getting blurry. My eyes were starting to cross. I cleaned the descent and sprinted into the finish and a respectable 5th place.
I did this race for the first time last year. It was brutal. I suffered the whole time in a way that felt like I was doing real damage to my body. This year, I suffered in a different manner, the kind of suffering I can embrace, into which I can immerse myself. It hurts and requires concentration to put up with it, but I feel stronger and stronger because of it. The worst is when you hit the wall, your body fails you and you have no choice but to back off. That didn’t happen to me this time. It is a good sign for the season to come.