The 28th annual Lake Placid Loppet is now in the books. This was my third time skiing this course, which pretty much follows the 1980 Olympic course. Driving out to Lake Placid on Friday, Brett, Dave and I were dismayed by the lack of snow. Just a few miles from the Mt Van Hoevenberg Nordic Center, Marcy Field was completely barren of snow. We feared the worst course conditions. But a thousand feet higher and a few miles away can make a big difference. At bib pick-up, we found the ski center had ample snow cover, not a lot, just enough. I suspect the trails were constructed with a big budget way back, so it doesn't take a huge base to cover everything up. They had received some recent new snow.
That was a relief. Now the concern was temperature. It was already bitter cold at 6pm and expected to get much colder by morning. At breakfast, it was 0F. The new snow hadn't yet been worked over enough to become transformed. I feared wicked slow skating conditions. I also wasn't sure how to dress, as I had never raced when it was this cold. I planned to wear my new CSU race suit but didn't know what to put under it.
We stayed at the Wellkommen Hof B&B. It's a mighty fine place to stay when visiting the Whiteface/Lake Placid region. I've stayed there multiple times in the past. Breakfast is great. The proprietors Bert and Heike run the Whiteface hillclimb race and sponsored the BUMPS challenge last year with a two nights stay for the winner.
I did a miniscule warm-up on my rock skis. They had old medium temp fluoro from Weston and were wicked slow. I was bumming, as one of my goals for the ski season is to break 3hrs in a 50k marathon. Came very close twice last year, doing 3:06 at Lake Placid. That was on blazingly fast snow in temps that rose above freezing during the race. A few minutes before race start, I switched over to my race skis with Toko HF Blue and a much finer grind structure. They were much faster, but the snow was still very squeaky and slow. It was +7F at 10am when we went off.
I started mid field. Double poling, I could still feel my tweaked abs from over a week earlier when I did that gym workout at Dynamic Strength and Conditioning. I did a few measly crunch attempts, and more than a week later I'm still not 100% recovered. I still don't think I could do a sit-up with extreme residual pain. Pretty pathetic. I really have no business doing 50k ski races in that kind of shape, and sub-3hrs is pure lunacy.
50k races don't start anything like Weston. You're out there a long time and things get sorted out soon enough anyway. The Lake Placid course goes right into climbing mode. For the first time in about 1.5 years, I felt a hint of asthma coming on. I've never raced in this cold of air. I backed down slightly, thinking back how badly I imploded in the second lap last year. What bummed me out is it felt like the other half of the field came blasting by even though I let up only slightly.
I decided to try a single water bottle this time instead of wearing a Camelbak. My plan was to supplement a large bottle with hand-ups. I skipped the first feed at 5km. A few minutes later on a descent, I reached for a drink. My friggin bottle was already frozen up solid! I was BS to say the least. That would never have happened with a Camelbak. I even kept it under my jacket warming up. This meant I would be taking 100% of my feeds from the course, new territory for me for sure.
I cruised up Russian Hill and the other mean monster that comes after it without to much difficulty. I did keep thinking about having to go over all that stuff again. Once you come through the stadium the opposite way, you get a reprieve from the climbing for a while. I had no idea what my pace would be coming through for my second lap. To break three hours, I would have to be 1:25 or better. The snow was way slower than last year, and I did 1:30 on my first lap then. Just as I approached the start/finish, the two guys leading the 25k race came blasting by. They started 15 minutes behind me. Last year nobody from the 25k race passed me. My first lap time wasn't too bad though at 1:33. I still felt pretty good. I was by myself most of the time and really wasn't in race mode anymore, just steady hard tempo mode.
Coming up Russian Hill the second time, I caught up to three guys decisively. I passed two of them. One of them passed me back on the descent even more decisively. I managed to catch him briefly on the next big climb, but then there is lots of very technical descending. He railed the scraped-off-to-ice descents. I never saw him again until just before the finish. What sucks is I could take a minute out of this guy's lead on a single climb, but then he put that minute back on me in just seconds down these descents. He went at least twice as fast as I could. I had no opportunities to train on stuff like this since racing at Sugarloaf last year. To carry speed, you had only one choice, to rail the berm that had built up. I think fear of going into the trees at 30-40mph more than anything prevents me from trying. Had I been able to descend as fast as this other guy, I would have put 5-10 minutes on him in the second lap. Instead, he had time on me in the end.
I come through the stadium with 40k behind me. I was deep into hallucinogenic bonking at this point last year. Cramping too. This year, none of that, and I was taking in minimal calories and fluids from the feed stations. I don't think I was pushing myself quite as hard though. I did see some orange bibs popping up behind me, racers from my field. I would try to preserve what ever meager position I was in.
About 48km into the race, I was feeling quite smug that I hadn't crashed. I thought to myself that the one good thing I can salvage from this race would be my first crash free 50k. You can always tell where the nasty sections are on this course. You see the medics in the red coats with radios just before you get to them. I knew there would be this ugly little chicane deal at the 48k mark, but I figured I could just stop at the top and snowplow my way down it. Well, I started to execute that plan, but dang if it wasn't trees to trees ice. I still still went down. That poor girl had to put up with my verbal tirade. So now I had nothing left to salvage from this race. Frozen water, crappy finish and I still crashed.
I passed exactly one person in the second lap and nobody passed me. I did trade places a few times with that guy that could out descend me. I finished in 3:12, six minutes slower than last year. Comparing other people's times between the two years, I really didn't do too badly. Seems most were slower on average. Brett was over four minutes slower in his 25k race, finishing just under 1:30. Dave finished about five minutes behind me in the 50k. It was his first time here. Now he knows why this course scares me.
I didn't realize it at the time, but I tweaked my thumb again, the one a trashed at Sugarloaf last year. In 11 months, I still had limited range of motion. Saturday's crash just set me back 10 months. Really sucks. Why is it when you fall backwards, your thumb never fails to get jambed backwards?
Guess I have to admit a few good things came out of this race. I now know I can ski a 50k race using only feed support. Stopping at most feeds to grab water costs only a few seconds each time at most, and carrying several pounds of water might cost even more time. I probably won't carry water at Rangeley. I did not bonk or cramp up during the race. This really surprised me. I haven't really trained differently than last year. I probably didn't go out as hard though. There's a lesson in there somewhere. I got the clothing perfect. I wore PI Thermafleece tights under the CSU bottom (and wind briefs of course). I wore a medium weight Pearl Izumi wind blocking jersey under the top. That's it, just two light layers top and bottom with single digit temps at the start. My lightest lobster mitts kept the hands warm with a light balaclava and CSU hat for the noggin.
This skiing business is humbling. I'll have one more shot at a sub-3hr marathon a month from now at Rangeley.