Monday, March 3, 2008

Rangeley Lakes Loppet Report

Saturday, March 1
50km, ~1000m of climbing
3:40:00 finish, 7/9 Men 45-49 (results)

I felt quite good about my training base going into this freestyle (skate technique) ski race. It has been a while since I did a ski marathon. Weather initially looked highly favorable, but as the weekend drew near, heavy snow warnings were in place the eve of the race. The race organizers said no fear, we'll have two groomers running 'round the clock.

Dave, Brett and I beat the snow to Rangeley, ME, about a 4.5hr drive from Nashua, NH Friday night. Several inches of snow fell by breakfast the next morning. If that were it, things would have been fine. But it snowed all day, and winds were gusting at 30mph. Arriving at the venue, the course had indeed been groomed earlier, but it was filling in again. The race was delayed one hour to make sure folks made it there in time on bad roads.

Now these conditions are challenging for any skier. I dread these conditions, as I'm all legs and no upper body. Cyclists on skate skis tend to be this way. When Brett first started skiing many years ago, he tore the wheels off his rollerskis in just a couple weeks (5th paragraph). This was mostly due to poor technique, using all lower body with poor balance and not bringing enough upper body into the power equation. I think I'm where Brett was in the mid-90's.

There were about 200 skaters pre-reg'd for this race plus tourist and classic racers. They broke the skaters up into two waves. Having placed well at the 10k race a couple weeks ago, I was disappointed to be placed in the second wave. You needed points or prior placing in this race to make first wave. I fretted even more, as surely the first wave would churn the soft course into minced meat.

After a cursory warmup, Brett, Dave and I lined up for our 10:50am start. The start was clean, no pile ups, not too much tripping over poles going into the trail. The trails were groomed quite wide. My heart rate immediately red lined. I was dying to stay with the front half of my field. Brett was in front of me and took a header around a corner. He stuck a ski tip into the deep bank. I passed, trying to stay with the group. There is drafting benefit in a ski race, primarily on flat and especially downhill sections. This group slowed a little too much on the small hills for my liking, and I passed many of them. But I'd get passed again on the flats. This went on for a while. Brett was behind me again and told me to keep the gap closed. I couldn't. I was on verge of popping, and this was only 5k into a 50k race. We hadn't even reached the first of three big climbs yet. I let Brett pass and he was gone with the pack.

When I reached the top of the first big climb around the 9k mark, my triceps and lower back where toast. I knew at this point my race was essentially over. Dave was now hanging out just behind me. He stopped at first water station, but in no time was right behind me again. Dang. The second climb was a ball buster. Long straight-aways right into the wind, course chopped up into mashed potatoes consistency, with blinding snow bouncing off your eyeballs. I even had my glasses on. I now realized even finishing this race was going to be a challenge. The third climb hurt almost as bad, then a nice descent back to start/finish area. I contemplated bailing, but encouraged Dave to go after Brett. The thought of going around that whole course a second time was more than I could bear, but I plodded on anyway.

My back and triceps were utterly trashed and I had no upper body to contribute to motive force. But that's what was precisely needed in these soft conditions. I tend to mash, as my leg strength is over developed for skiing, and I do nothing to develop my upper body. Brett and Dave both do upper body work all year, and it was serving them well in this race. I was just pushing snow around with my legs and going nowhere.

The emotional low point of the race was when a few college girls where trailing me. I was killing myself to stay ahead of them, yet there were chatting the whole time like they weren't even working! Eventually they one by one dropped me. After that, I spent a good hour without seeing another competitor. I figured I was DFL by this point. But tail ends of races like this tend to get very spread out. The second time over the middle climb about did me in, my triceps badly cramping. I still had one more big climb after this one.

When I crossed the finish, there were about two people left, and they were the ones recording times. The awards ceremony was about over too, as the contenders finished an hour earlier! Competition is chocked full of humbling experiences, and this was certainly a biggie. On the positive side, this was the first marathon I did not crash in despite very challenging conditions. I think I also got the nutrition aspect right. Maybe ate a little too big of a breakfast, but I did not bonk. I carried a Camelbak with about 60oz of Gatorade mix, perhaps bogging me down further. Contenders carry no or only one bottle of water. But they were serving evil HEED on the course, something my lower GI does not tolerate at all. In terms of percent difference, 8 minutes is the closest I've finished behind Brett in a Marathon. Dave had an awesome race, his first 50k, finishing just a minute behind Brett. Racing on skis for 3.5+ hours in mushy snow is incredibly hard.

Technique is everything when it comes to this sport. There were guys in their 60's that beat me good. I doubt they're much more fit than I. They are vastly more skilled. Had the conditions been more in my favor, like crispy granular where I could lay power down with reckless abandon, I would have placed much higher overall. I've learned in training I fair the worst when conditions are soft.

After the race, I was in a pretty foul mood. I could barely change clothes with my back totally destroyed. I was in a major carb deficit too, and that by itself makes most athletes cranky. It took ibuprofen, coffee, a couple of huge oatmeal cookies that were out of this world, and a vanilla shake to bring my attitude around.

Another race to look forward to (or fear) next weekend. This one is dubbed toughest 10k in America. Could be. The last 6km goes up Mt Washington Auto Road at 12% average grade. Race will essentially be a one hour time trial sufferfest in good conditions. I don't even want to think about repeat conditions...

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