On the starting line of last Saturday’s Lake Placid Loppet, I didn’t have great hopes. At the time of year when I needed it most, I’d trained inconsistently. My problematic left knee hasn’t allowed me to run far or run fast. Running is as essential to my training program as roller skiing.
In addition, for the last two weeks, I’d been feeling…. not sick exactly, but not right either. A cough with phlegm here; a sniffle there. I kept waiting to get deathly ill, but it wasn’t happening. I just felt blah. At least I was reasonably confident that I hadn’t messed up the kick wax.
Five minutes before the start, it was fabulous bluebird skies, zero Fahrenheit, no wind. I was actually psyched about the forecast: the called-for high, 15-18, is a comfortable temperature for me.
As I have for the last few years, I lined up for the start of the classic 50 km. When the starting gun went off, I double poled hard away from the line, tucking in behind Brian Delaney.
For the first few kilometers, I skied in a paceline with Brian and a few other skiers. Hmmm, this wasn’t bad, I may be able to stick with this pace for 50 km. But climbing to the height of land on East Mountain before you zoom down to the junction with Porter, Brian picked up his pace, and I couldn’t mark him. My body wasn’t interested in going much harder than it was going.
That was the story for the day. I skied semi fast, but I couldn’t bury myself. I had great skis, both gliding and kicking. Perhaps I’ve exorcised the demons of grip wax-o-phobia. But the sections that I needed to herringbone… forget about it. There was no running uphill. At best I managed a fast walk. From the descent off Porter, I skied in no man’s land. Still, it seemed like I could get a top 15 result with intelligent skiing.
On the second lap, I stopped at the beginning of Porter Mountain to touch up the grip wax. So much for intelligent skiing: Inside two minutes, three guys passed me, gliding of sight. I clipped back into my skis and got moving. Although I still had decent kick but I’d stopped to rewax. For what? Force of habit, insecurity? Whatever prompted my bonehead decision, I was back in a race instead of skiing by myself.
On the first hors categorie climb on Porter, I caught and passed Andrzej Wojton. Speaking to him later, at the banquet, he was also skiing through knee problems and having a tough time.
By the time I reeled in Mike Sheridan on Porter’s second big climb, I felt like I was skiing in wet cement. Then I got tired. Big time. I made up ground on Wes Lampman, the third guy who’d passed me, on the uphills, but he skied the downhills super smooth. No fuss, no muss. After five or eight km, I snuck past him as we passed the timing hut on Ladies’ 5.
At this point, I was gassed. I don’t know how I managed to stay upright on the Ladies 5 descents. The only thing that kept me going was the lure of a good finish. I kept telling myself, “Top 15, top 15.”
Leaving the stadium, eventual winner Duncan Douglas flew by me, tucked low and skating without poles. Jason Hettenbaugh was right behind. Rocketing down through the tunnel, up the next little hill and down Brookside’s chute. On the rollers further out, Mike Sheridan caught up with me. He skied smoothly away, and second wind or not, I couldn’t stay with him. No point in getting upset, just dig in and go.
I double poled much of the flats – you’re double poling on roller skis in the summer, aren’t you? – and labored up Birch Hill, and then Brookside. Through the tunnel, I gunned it on the gradual climb to the finish.
The weather didn’t quite pan out, it never reached 10 degrees. But it was still a beautiful day for a race. At the end, I was 13th overall and second in my age group. On a day when I felt like I had nothing, I’ll take it!