The Dawn of a New Season

I officially started the road season last Sunday.

It coincided perfectly with two late-season Nor’easters that dumped nearly two and half feet of snow on the ground.

Following Rangeley, I had taken the week off.

The entire week.

Completely off.

No transitional workouts. No colds or sicknesses that were double-counted as recovery. No crazy projects. No “fun” efforts that were merely disguised training sessions.  It had been several years since I had taken that much time off and I expected my body to rebound almost immediately and my outlook to improve day-for-day.

Instead, by the end of the week, I was irritable, crawling out of my own skin, and itching for any workout, no matter how meager or minimal.

Sunday was an hour and half. I had fitted my cyclocross with full fenders and cycled the wet roads,  the snow piled high up on the sides, through Weston and Wellesley. I wanted to keep going but it was the first day back and I was pacing myself, riding deliberatly slow and short.

On Monday, I squeezed in an easy hour in the late afternoon after work. The storm was coming and the skies turned cold and gray and the temperature dropped over the course of the ride.

On Tuesday it snowed. All day. I rode tempo intervals on the trainer and shoveled out.

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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.

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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Snow Day

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Photo by Katie Busick

The plan was always to ride in the snow.

My mother would have never let me leave the house if the snow were already falling, so I promised to “squeeze” the ride in before the storm.

Beneath leaden skies and not a single flurry, I bundled up and headed out, covered north-to-south with balaclava, Oakely Factory Pilots (with yellow lenses), heavy gloves, Biemme thermal jacket, plastic rain jacket stuffed in the pocket of the thermal jacket, along with a banana, spares and tools, Giordana full-bib thermal tights, and bright blue Brancale booties to cover the Dettos.

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