Craftsbury Marathon 2014

pisten bully 400 at Craftsbury Nordic Center

Coming off of Jackson, I was looking forward to the Craftsbury Marathon, despite the week-long chatter and consternation about the weather report, trail conditions and wax call. I had prepped my skis with Swix KR 20 klister binder, ironed in, followed by Swix vG20, ironed in. I was ready to go if the call was for klister or hard wax for race day.

The morning of the race, it was clear and upper-20’s. The temperatures would go up, but not too much. I put on 2 layers of Swix VR 50, followed by 3 layers of VR 45. With the klister base, I was sure the wax job would last the full 50km, but I still squirreled away some emergency wax in case things got bad.

Similar to Jackson, I started out conservatively. I found the same group of guys from last week, and settled in for a long race. I was taking feeds every chance, grabbing drink and gels. I wasn’t going to bonk this year. By half-way, I had been running hot and had to back off. The third lap was tough. I fell coming down Elinor’s Hill, tweaked my right tricep which then started to twitch and show signs of cramping.

I took a big feed coming through with one lap to go. I made it down the hills without incident. I was feeling okay with just 10 km to go. Coming up Sam’s Run the final time, I could see a commotion at the top of the hill. It looked like a skier had gone down and wasn’t getting up. There were other skiers standing around him. I looked like he had injured a leg, which seemed strange to me because it’s rare to fall and injure yourself on an uphill like that.

But as we approached, I could see it was much worse. The skiers were doing chest compressions and CPR. I knew some of those skiers who were also doctors. I stopped on the side of the trail. I wasn’t sure what to do. I just stood there in shock. I could see what was happening. The skier had turned dark purple. It didn’t look good. I lost all motivation to race.

Then my race partner snapped me out of it. “We have to go,” he said. “There’s nothing we can do. I’m a school teacher. I can’t watch this. We have to go.”

We started skiing again. Slow. The race gone out of me. But after a few hundred yards, the magnitude of what was happening caught up with me. I doubled over, sobbing uncontrollably. I always have a hard time at this point in a long race, when the embedded grief of my lost boy Romeo comes up. But this was much worse. I yelled. I swore. I cried. I drove the poles hard into the ground. And I kept going. Because there was nothing else I could do.

I finished strong. But the results didn’t matter. I sat on the ground and cried for awhile afterward. A short time later, it was confirmed that the skier had passed away.

His name was Torin Tucker. He was a junior at Dartmouth and had finished second in Jackson the week before. I had stood next to him on the starting line. I didn’t see much of him. He had skied clear with the leaders and was skiing in 3rd place when he collapsed. The skiers around him stopped immediately and tried to resuscitate him. And many others stopped too, as they skied by, and then continued on when it was clear there was nothing else to do.

An event like this defies explanation. Even if, at some point, somebody will be able to describe what occurred biologically to cause a young guy in his prime to collapse and die on the side of the trail, it won’t be good enough for his family and friends.

Godspeed, Torin.

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