With the Lake Placid Loppet cancelled, the carnage that was this winter’s messed-up race season was complete. Every race I’d planned on entering was cancelled. At the last minute, I registered for the Sugarloaf Marathon. It sounds like a damn fool thing to drive 500 miles – ONE way – to ski 50 km, but I’ve got a streak going: for 26 years, I’ve raced at least one 50 km race every winter .
As I drove north, I had my doubts about whether the race would actually happen. Sugarloaf’s web site assured plenty of snow, but it just pelted down rain as I drove from Massachusetts into Maine. I was beginning to think I’d registered for a roller ski race. Until I arrived at the Farmington Motel on Friday night, I didn’t see any significant snow. And that amounted to patches here and there in farmers’ fields.
Although it was below freezing early Saturday morning, the temperature warmed to 39 by the time I arrived at Sugarloaf. Sunny, bluebird skies. There was good coverage, but the snow had plainly been beaten up by the last week’s weather. A red Swix van was parked by the start-finish area. Beside it was a matching tent, where the rep had a generator going to run his equipment.
I warmed up with an out-and-back on the first three kilometers of the course, and seeded myself towards the back. When the starting gun went off, the first kilometer was tight quarters on an easy cruise as we sorted ourselves out. The pack broke up on a long gradual climb that went from about kilometer two to kilometer three. After the three km feed came a long downhill, wicked fast with frozen granular snow. Not having been able to scope out the whole loop, I played it cautious and cost myself some time.
While the race loop was 12.5 km, done four times for the 50 km distance. Ordinarily I’m not a fan of multiple-loop races. But since I hadn’t been here in 15 years, I was glad to gain some familiarity with the tougher bits of the course. There was one long gradual climb early in the loop, with several more stiff, shorter climbs for good measure. There were plenty of flatter, cruise-y stretches and a couple of long downhills with fast corners. Let’s not forget the assortment of narrow, crankin’ 90-degree corners either. The finale was a stairstep climb up to a bridge with a quick descent and a hard right turn to the stadium.
At the start, a few hardy souls were in t-shirts or shorts or both. I opted for a short-sleeve summer shirt under my lycra top.
The first two laps flew by with even, sub 38 minute splits. If only the temperature had stayed cooler, or if it’d been cloudy, I’d have been on track for a reeeally fast race. But reality and spring reared their ugly head. The sun rose in the sky, the track softened. The lug nuts started loosening on the third lap. I tucked downhills where I’d been circumspect earlier. The wheels totally came off for the fourth lap. In the shade, you still got some glide for your effort. Pushing the pace in the sunny, slushy sections seemed to make you go slower. And it seemed like the last three km were all exposed to the sun.
In the end, I had one of my few sub three-hour finishes. Sounds great until you realize the winner’s time was 2:01. New England races invariably feature deep and talented fields. The organizers did a great job and I had fun. I only wish Sugarloaf was closer so I could ski there more often.