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.
I settled into the second group, skiing just behind Frank. We kept a steady pace over the rest of the lap, along the beautifully twisting trails, up and down the gradual climbs. I was fighting a tight right hip, twisting and grinding against the direction my ski wanted to take, until I finally relaxed and let the ski run free and my hip settled down. I was having trouble on the descents — per usual — until Frank told me to get a little lower. I remember some simple tricks, like fast stepping and looking through the turns rather than at the obstacles I didn’t want to hit.
Coming through the start/finish, a few skiers caught up with us, including Robyn Anderson and Lea Davison — two strong women from VTXC. They were the head of the women’s race, skiing smoothly and causing the pace to race. I was feeling good. I was getting tired, but more and more relaxed, but hungry, too. I sucked down a Gu. It was my only one.
Then, on a downhill about 35 km in, I went a little wide. I thought I had cleaned it but the tip of my ski caught a branch on the side of the trail…and the branch got stuck in the hole at the tip fo the ski and pulled on it, just enough to spin me around and send me sprawling. I got back up quickly enough, wasted a little energy getting pissed off about it. Wasted a little more trying to catch back up, fighting my way up through a slower group.
“Don’t worry,” Rob advised. “Frank won’t pass the girls.”
But I could see Frank’s group pulling away little by little, until I finally got clear and skied back up to them, catching on as we hit the hills again. Despite the chase back, I was feeling really good at this point. I was starting to think of where and how I could make a move and get clear of our little group.
But then it started. First a little twinge in my right triceps. Then a real cramp. I small one at first. I was able to adjust my poling and avoid a total lockup. Then my energy started fading fast. There were still 11 km left in the race. I came unglued from the group. I had backed off just a little at first, tried to conserve the little energy I had left. If I blew up there, it would be a long ski back. If I could hold a slower pace, I might make it to the finish and still hold my position.
I settled into the character buidling zone. Maybe if I hadn’t fallen. Or chased so hard to come back on. Or if I had an extra Gu…
With 2 km to go, the soles of my feet started to cramp up and it was agony from there to the finish. I was having a hard time balancing. It hurt to put pressure on my skis. I kept glancing nervously behind me. I could see another skier back there, just coming around the twist in the trail. He kept the pressure on me so I couldn’t ease up. I could tell he was catching me. It was just a matter of time. He caught and passed me with 500 meters to go, and would go on to take 3rd in our age group.
I finished with a time of 2:27:37. I was 4th for the 40-50 year olds, about 22nd overall. I would burn over 2500 calories during the race warm-up, and cool-down. Immediately after, I would eat 2 sausages sandwiches, a bowl of soup, 7 oatmeal cookies, 2 cups of coffee and half a cup of half-and-half.
It was a good race. The course was perfect. The organization was smooth. I had skied a beautiful race.
It could have been better.
Most races go that way.
And it would be days before my feet felt good again.