Photo courtesy of NENSA
I had high hopes for my first time skiing Rangeley. I had been skating well all season. I had found new levels of fitness and suffering. But I was still relatively untested at marathon skate distances. I had done Sugarloaf last season. Or — in more correct terms —Sugarloaf had done me. I didn’t want a repeat.
Rangeley was covered with snow. It was piled high on the roadsides. It coated the trees and houses. The day promised more snow and made the waxing situation a little tricky. It could get a little colder or windy. Or it could warm up or get sunny. I kept it simple. Because I had only waxed one pair of skis for the race: my Fischer Carbonlites with an HF Red/Yellow mix, Jetstream yellow, and a coarse linear rill.
I spent the entire day before feeling like I was getting sick. Nothing developed overnight but during warm-up, I still didn’t feel too good. My heart rate was high. My joints felt stiff. We did a 3 minute effort to get the blood flowing. My heart rate shot up to 175. I had 50 km to settle in, for things to get better. Or to get worse.
The group of skiers collected on the start line seemed sparse, or would have if half of them weren’t college skiers from Dartmouth, Colby or Harvard — skiers who had just missed out on a spot in the NCAA championships and perhaps had something to prove. That didn’t bode well for an old guy like me.
The gun was fired and there was the usual scramble for position. Fifty meters of intense double-poling, then the mêlée of skis and poles and flying elbows, until the skiers strung out on the narrow, twisting trails. The early rhythm was easy. I could easily imagine skiing 50 km at this pace. But I knew it wouldn’t last. After 7 km, the pace picked up a bit. The field strung out. Gaps opened up but I was able to get around slower skiers and close back up. After 11 km and the first climbs of consequence, I backed off and let the gap open up between me and the front group. There was still a long ways to go and I knew I wouldn’t enjoy it at that pace.