What a weekend to be outside! This year's Rangeley Lakes Loppet was in stark contrast to when I last did this race in 2008. It was near blizzard conditions in '08, and this year you could see a hundred miles in brilliant sun. Course conditions were as dramatically different too.
The forecasts were all over the place for Saturday. Overnight lows ranged from 11 to 21, highs from 30's to 40's. One thing was common: the temperature would rise dramatically during the morning. I had prepared my skis with Toko HF Moly and HF Red. I feared how warm it was going to get, especially since much of the course is exposed to sun. On a whim Friday, I stopped at Zimmerman's in Nashua. They still had some Cera F left, on "sale." Even on sale, that stuff still costs more than crack. They only had FC10, and since it was the really warm conditions I was worrying about, I decided to try it. I wasn't going to re-wax the with warmer base layers, so I was truly going to end up with a bastardized wax job. I applied the FC10 over HF Red. I used one pass of the iron, then brushed.
Dave P and I headed up the night before, staying at the Rangeley Inn. I got distracted when I packed my stuff and realized en route I forgot to pack windbriefs. Skiing in frigid temps without wind protection down there is a mistake a man makes only once. I was planning to wear just my race lycra, so the wind briefs were essential equipment. So now what? I've read reports where people cover their face with duct tape to ward off frostbite. That wasn't going to happen! But I thought duct tape could turn ordinary briefs into fine wind briefs. Fortunately there was an open Auto Zone store in the last major town we were passing through. They had 99 cent rolls of duct tape. Perfect.
The Rangeley Inn must be over 100yrs old. It was all that was available within our price range. Our room had bright lights right outside the window, and the window blind dimmed the room to about half daylight it seemed. I could not sleep. At all. I doubt I got more than 30 minutes all night despite going to bed early. I "woke up" groggy as hell with a headache. I think not sleeping the night before an important race is worse than not tapering for it. I should have done a couple hammer rides mid week. Maybe I would have slept better.
What do you get when you put ecologically friendly toilets in 100yr old buildings with ancient plumbing? Disaster. Hill Junkie super stool stool struck again! One gallon flush toilets are worthless. They plug with even the most miniscule of deposits. One gallon flush toilets that plug and don't shut off because they're broken cause ecological disasters. I couldn't get to the shut-off valve in time to prevent a flood in our bathroom. Then I had to wander around the premises to find a plunger. We weren't the only ones. Checking in the night before, somebody at the front desk was asking for a plunger. Glad we were checking out soon.
Not sure how cold it got overnight, but the snow was squeaky when we got to the venue. Not good. I waxed about 30F warmer than cold squeaky snow. I planned for negligible warmup. Putting skis on, I nearly wiped out! I never had slipperier skis! Even though the snow was still very cold, my skis were rocket fast. I guess even if you miss the temperature, pure fluorocarbon works. I skied about 1km, shed warmup layers, and lined up in second wave of 50km skiers. Since I didn't do the race last year, I got stuck there. I figured if we were the back 40%, I could line up front row. At the line, they announced the course was not 25km. It was more like 22km. I was bummed. I really wanted to ski a full 50k and break 3hrs here today.
The gun goes off, and I lose ground double poling. Doesn't matter that my skis are fast. I have the ab strength of a three year old. I settled in around 20th place as things got narrow. We were flying. The course was firmly packed sugary granular. When we got mostly rain down here a week ago, Rangeley got four feet of wet snow. It made a superb base. In fact, these was the best snow conditions I skied on all season, and easily the best Loppet conditions I've raced.
I carried a water bottle with me. Glad I did. The feed stations were weak. Very weak. No gels. Just dry cookies that went mostly into your lungs and tiny cups of HEED that were good for one gulp. That 28oz strong Gatorade mix saved my butt in this race.
The first lap went by blazingly fast. I passed so many people, mostly from the wave that went off five minutes ahead of me. The temp had risen to above freezing too. I was still feeling great coming through the start/finish for my second lap. Wish they had a visible clock there. It would have been nice to see my lap time.
Interestingly, when I hit parts that were becoming saturated with water from solar heating, my skis didn't stick at all. In some cases, they actually felt faster on the warmer, wetter parts. Crack wax at work. I continued to pick off skiers in lap two, still mostly from first wave. I had no idea how I was doing other than I felt great and maybe I should be pushing a little harder. After bonking and cramping hard at almost all prior marathons, I didn't want to risk it here. I did keep looking over my shoulder for Dave P though. He beat me here by several minutes in '08.
I finished, still going strong, but there was no clock or anybody at the line to give me my time. The race was about 45km based on signage. I felt like I skied at a 50km pace and should have pushed just a little harder for a shorter race with less climbing and fast conditions. I had way too much gas left in the tank. No hint of bonking or cramping coming into the finish.
When results were posted, I finished in 2:44:46, which initially was good for third place in my age group. Later when results were posted on the web, I ended up in 5th place. There were some issues with results. I believe my time was correct, I remembered a couple numbers of people finishing just ahead and behind me for reference. I beat a couple guys that beat me by good margin in 2008 and was a much smaller percentage back from CSU guys like Andy and Frank. So progress is still being made. My pace would have put me just over 3hrs had the race been 50km though. I finally finished a ski marathon without crashing. And the home made wind briefs worked perfectly for the cold start.
Dave finished about 10 minutes behind me. He had a mishap with other skiers about 2km in and ended up with a broken pole. A kilometer later, a non-racing skier sees him with one pole and yells "do you need a pole?" The guy was wicked tall, but a long pole is better than no pole. How cool is that? Total stranger out skiing gives up a pole to racer. Dave said this trail angel restored his faith in humanity. Dave returned the angel's pole after finishing.
If the nutritionals were lacking on the course, the buffet afterwards made up for it. Chili, brats, soups, and every kind of cookie imaginable. Coffee even. Nobody left hungry.
You don't think about sunburn during cross country ski races, but burned I got. I have a nice stripe across my forehead where my CSU hat didn't cover. This was easily my most satisfying ski race to date. Perfect weather, perfect course conditions, finished strong. This will probably be my last ski race of the season. I'd love to do Sugarloaf in two weeks, but hopefully I'll be enjoying more sun in Tucson on two wheels.