De-Rangeley

The Rangeley Loppet was my last race of the ski season. A thoroughly forgettable affair that I can’t stop thinking about and is still haunting me three days later.

I had a good start. I went out with the fast college boys like I had planned. I was going to bury myself in this last race if that’s what it took. I felt up to the challenge.

My warm-up skis had been dragging in the fresh, wet snow.  My race skis, with high fluoro wax and a Jetstream topcoat were running much better.

So far.

But these skis hadn’t done well in warm, wet weather this season. They were a colder grind, but already a few seasons old, and I had my suspicions about them.

Well founded.

I could feel the wax wearing off. The skis starting to drag. And only after a kilometer and half.

Then they simply stopped working.

I was off the back of the college group.

I stepped into the tracks to reconsider my plan.

I waited while the second group caught up. I tried to ski at the front but drifted back, one skier at a time. The harder I pushed, the slower the skis went. Then I was off the back of that group. I tried to latch onto the next group and that went no better. Then I tried to just enjoy the ski and that wasn’t in the cards either.

By half-way through the lap, I was dangling off the back of the Dartmouth-Colby women’s pack, out for an easy over-distance effort, and pushing my limits to keep pace with them.

So when we came through the start/finish for the next lap, I packed it in.

I wasn’t interested in a death march.

The only upside was that I got the food table before everybody else and put a pretty sizable dent in the cookies.

After the race, everybody had the same story of slow, sticky skis. It’s a tough calculus. Ski selection, grind, wax, topcoat, rill. The really serious guys might test a dozen different combinations. I had one pair. Live or die by them.

I’ll get them re-ground in the off-season. Maybe finally get a good pair of dedicated warm skis. Or maybe just stop caring so much about the performance and try to enjoy it.

The rest week — a real rest week with days off — started on Sunday.

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Bretton Woods Marathon or Waxing Quixotic

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Bretton Woods was the very first ski marathon I did, back in 2009 . Coming from cycling, I thought ‘classic’ meant it was a race that had been around for a while. I signed up only to find out that it meant classic technique. I didn’t ski classic at the time, much less own the gear. Rather than back out and forfeit the entry fee, I went to Bikeway Source and bought some classic gear and set about learning to ski classic in the 2 or 3 weeks before the event. The race took me over three and half hours and I barely walk for the next week.

Flash forward to 2018 and Bretton Woods is on my calendar once again, after being cancelled due to lack of the snow that last two editions, and conflicting with the Bill Koch Festival and work-releated travel since 2013. With over a foot of snow in the week leading up to the race, it is all on, and by now, I have mastered classic technique.

Alas, with classic, technique is only half the battle. The forecast predicts temperatures warming  from -2ºC to 2ºC  over the course of the race, the worse possible wax conditions. The escape clause is a permitted ski change at half-way.

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The Solemn Brotherhood of Craftsbury

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Craftsbury.

The big one.

Of epic proportions in every dimension: The longest distance. The most varied terrain. The longest drive. The most complex waxing.

We members of the Brotherhood — Frank, Andy and I — had decided to arrive the day before to preview the new 16km loop and to test waxes. We had started calling our little group ‘the Brotherhood’ a few years ago in Mont-Saint-Anne, where we followed a psuedo-monastic daily regimen of eat-ski-eat-sleep-ski-eat-beer. We’d taken vows of hypoxia and carbo loading, prayed to snow gods and bent prostrate subsequent to all-out efforts in Tuesday Night races. We were reverant, if not fanatical.

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Crossed Off

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It’s the First of the year, snow is on the ground and it’s less than zero degrees outside, so time to reminisce about the ‘cross season — even while I skied over 200km over the Christmas break. I went all-in this year on cyclocross. I went to camp. I did base preparation. I bought cross tubulars for racing and extra set specific for mud. I got a spare bike (used), and set it up identical to my first one.  I’m still not sure I got the return on investments and efforts I was expecting, but that goes with this somewhat uncharted territory of trying to get better while I get older.

0. Cycle-Smart Cross Camp

A great program run by one of my oldest cycling friends (and competitors), Adam Myerson, in the hill towns of western Mass. We were blessed with torrential rain and mud on day one and drilled wet, sloppy corners, built one hell of a rut, and got tips from the likes of national cyclocross champion Stephen Hyde. I was already pretty familiar on the basics — I started racing cross in 1987 — but learned a lot of little things, the glue that holds everything else together. Things I no longer have time to learn the hard way.  The pros: running through drills and techniques in a “safe” environment was invaluable. The cons: I had to rebuild my bike after the wet, muddy day and I tweaked my back practicing dismounts, and that would hamper the first half of my season.

1. Vermont Overland

Not exactly a cyclocross race, this mixed terrain, road, gravel, mud, rock, ski slope race in central Vermont was the first sustained effort on the cyclocross bike.

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Song of the Witches Cup

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Photo credit: Katie Busick

Last year’s Salem Witches Cup race report was an homage to Hawthorne. This year, I picked up the spirit of Shakespeare’s witches, from Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 1.

Song of the Witches Cup

Round the Salem green we go:
Into corners we must not slow.
Fighting hard for position
Laps and laps to fifty-one.
Sweating, turn, to brake or not,
Sprint again to have a shot.

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Lungs will burn and Red Bull bubble.

Scrape of pedal, squeal of brake,
In the corners, risks to take;
Eye of tiger, shift of cog,
Lap plus lap becomes a slog.
Lungs alight and legs a’sting,
Elbows flick and prime bell rings.
All for a prize not worth the trouble,
Pushed too hard, now on the bubble.

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Lungs to burn and Red Bull bubble.

Squeal of brake, scrape of pedal,
Do I even have the mettle?
Click of shift and whir of chain,
Round the corner once again.
Ever faster, tires grip;
Next time round I’m sure to slip.
Elbows bump and rub and grind,
Tires cross, no doors to find.
Ten laps remain in the race,
Two riders flee o’er the pace.
Chase them down to no avail,
Drop in speed, we start to flail.
Into the sprint, a turn of speed,
Stuffed again, I cannot fulfill the deed.

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Lungs to burn and Red Bull bubble.

Across the line, I’m out-spun,
Bottle’s empty, the race is run.

 

 

Beverly Dreams

The night before the Grand Prix of Beverly I dreamt I was flying. I had gone over the edge of a cliff during a mountain bike race and was plummeting to an inevitable death thousands of feet in the valley below when I realized there was another option: to fly.

I summoned up the willpower and, instead of the typical weak, anemic response, I was suddenly rocketing skyward. I shot past the edge of the cliff, turned a loop, and landed gently on my feet to the astonishment of onlookers.

In the car ride to Beverly, I told my wife about the dream and she said that it meant I was “unblocked” and I was ready do something special.

I had been patiently building cycling fitness, having skipped the Boston Marathon and gone straight onto the bike after the ski season. But my form seemed slow in coming. I had done a few Masters races with little to show, apart from finishing. I had abandoned the longer Pro/1/2 road races due to insufficient mileage in my legs. I had survived New England Crit week with solid bottom-of-the-top-25 finishes. But no stand-out performances thus far.

My best years were growing evermore hazy and mythical. I was beginning to doubt I had ever been a “real” bike racer.

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A Perfect Loaf

The Sugarloaf Nordic Marathon had been looming like a white whale over the end of the 2017 ski season.   Good conditions in late March can be as elusive as a giant fish in the south Pacific. Form and fitness can be fickle. And once the first signs of spring arrive, the doldrums aren’t far behind.

It takes an extra effort to close the final leagues, to have that prey in sight, to be ready to hurl the harpoon.

So it was not unexpected to find myself pondering why I persist in this sport, or any sport, year upon year. Why endure all the training, logistics and travel? Why deal with the equipment and expense? Why suffer needlessly and endlessly in deleterious conditions? If only for a few fleeting moments of brilliance when all the time and effort sunk becomes its own reward for rising above it? If only to prove that I was once a good athlete and could perhaps be one again, if only time weren’t against me?

This year’s edition of Sugarloaf already had a different feel to it. The mid-week Nor’easter had dumped 20 inches of fine, fresh powder on the course. Temps would remain cold, meaning no slow, sloppy snow. Waxing for cold, skate conditions was a simple, straightforward affair.

I was far from exhausted despite racing nearly every week and weekend since late December. Gone were the insomnia inducing fears of how I would cover the distance without cracking in the final kilometers. Confidence in my body and mental fortitude had grown.

Thus, as I lined up for the start of Sugarloaf beneath crystal blue skies and warm sun, I was calmed. I had eaten well and had a belly full of good coffee. Daresay, I was even looking forward to a 50km skate marathon (knowing full well the actual distance would be something shy of that number).

The race exploded from the gun.

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