Stage two (out of only two, thankfully) of the don't-embarrass-yourself Marathon Tour took me to Bretton Woods on Saturday for a 50km classic. I prepared for this event by classic skiing exactly once between the Flying Moose and race day. I can't even say "whoops," like I didn't mean to, because it was all part of the plan to ride briskly at an undefined point in the future. Sacrifice your hip flexors in March, pedal fast in April, that's how it goes?
The event had an 8:30 AM start time, which could be interpreted in a few ways; either they were trying to do us a favor by ensuring the race ended before the hottest part of the day, or they were trying to push as many people as possible into having to stay locally the night before, stimulating the ole economy and whatnot. I foiled them by staying 1.5 hours away at my parents' house, which seemed clever, until I did the math and realized the alarm would be set for 5am. Turns out that 5AM March 14 is about as dark at 4AM on March 7th was, and both are dark enough to make you think "surely there is some mistake here." But there was not, so off I went, spilling jelly all over my car while trying to eat in the dark.
There were lots of questions about waxing after an overnight low of 5 and a predicted high of 43 -- but they were not the kind of questions that could be answered by wax testing at 7am. I didn't really think about this until I was there at wax testing at 7am -- I had KR50 over a KR20 binder and it worked. Hmm. Now what do I do for ninety minutes? I got as sophisticated as throwing a KR60 in my belt as a safety net, and then spent the rest of time wishing I had slept in more.
Finally it was time for the big show, and the reduction from last week in college kids meant I actually deserved my second row (ten tracks wide) start. We went down to two tracks after 100 yards (the golf course conditions kind of dictated this...) and I was expecting pole-snapping chaos, but I was utterly disappointed as we fit together quite civilly.
For a k it was really, really chill, like everyone could see the front and we had 49k to go, or something. Unfortunately the guy ahead of me had gone with fish scales that were completely dysfunctional on the rock-hard ice track, so when the striding started he bottlenecked things really hard. I got around, crested the hill, and it was a total jailbreak, everyone was skiing away from me really quickly and that was the end of THAT!
Well, not really, getting detached from the lead group is generally a good thing for me. I settled in with a random mix of masters and got down to knocking off the k's. Unlike a skate marathon, drafting is much less of an issue in classic, so the "group" was far more fluid, until it ceased being a group entirely, and became just me skiing along with some guys up the trail and some other guys behind. This was about the 7k mark, so it looked like some good old lonely suffering was in my future.
Luckily it was an f-ing great day to be out skiing, to the point where even a guy like me, who sees the world in zeros and ones, could appreciate kicking up hills in a bomber track with bomber kick, in beautiful sun, at the base of the tallest mountain in the northeast.
Before I could introspect too deeply I crested "Coronary Hill" and started a 25-30 mph descent of its backside, and the bomber tracks became considerably more exciting than they were on the way up. One of my opponents who had previously disappeared up the trail was totally freaked by this and I went screaming past as he was hanging a ski out of the track to brake.
Shockingly, we started climbing shortly thereafter and he went blowing right back past me again. I assume we were both fairly displeased with this yo-yo-ing, as I don't like realizing how slow I must climb and no one likes getting smoked on the downhill. I assumed his clear aerobic superiority would eventually win out, but soon I rounded a corner to find him stopped entirely at a feed station, drinking heartily. If there's anything getting schooled by Ida taught me it's that losing time feeding is really demoralizing, so I skipped the feed entirely and went cranking by in a full-on assault against his morale.
He came back, of course, but this time was content to shadow me instead of flying right past, so I'll claim it worked. Eventually the steady climbing topped out and we headed into more transition-y type trails, up/turn/down/turn/up/etc, which is the closest anything in a 50k gets to being "good for me." So I did my thing for a while, and then next time I looked back he was gone. With more fast descending to end the first lap, I was definitely onto my solo adventure now.
The funny thing was that it didn't even feel like it had been very long. I guess that's how I know I'm getting to be a real master blaster, when you hit the 25k mark of a 50 and think to yourself, "that was easy." Or maybe it was just because I didn't get tricked into chasing someone too fast? In any case, at the halfway mark I was like "gosh, this is going well," until my dad skied up next to me and reported that "a big group of guys is about fifteen minutes ahead of you." That's the great thing about 50k "race pace," spectators can stride along next to you while having a conversation, especially when the focus of that conversation is how you're losing over 30 seconds a kilometer to the leaders.
So maybe that's why the first lap seemed easy.
But no one was anywhere near me -- the lap 1 split shows that I had a two-minute gap to 13th place ahead of me a 1:30 gap to 15th place behind me. Nothing to do but ski efficiently and hope my lack of classic-specific training doesn't sabotage me.
And of course, everything was going so well, until it wasn't. My arms were doing the predictable fade, so I was striding a lot of flat stuff, so my hamstrings were starting to fatigue, so my kick was getting worse, and then I missed a kick and my calf cramped and OKAY THIS CAN END NOW.
Still though, I made it to nearly the 40k mark before wishing for it to end, that's a new record for me.
There were only 3 really tough hills on the whole course and two of them came with about 3k to go. I was slipping and cramping and whinging my way up the last one when I decided to do a cursory check in the rear view, and who do I find but the poor descender/aerobic animal I'd last seen 90 minutes ago. A great way to really hammer home the "I want this to be done" feeling.
Luckily though, the lap ends with some pretty serious descending, which is how I'd gotten away from him in the first place, so I did a lot of unnecessary panicking and all-out hill running from there to the finish line. Don't look back, don't look back, just go, go go go, then I crossed the line and nearly did the Northug flop, expecting to see him hot on my heels. But no -- the gap was healthy. Should've looked back. I'd be at least 2% less sore today without going berserk for that last ten minutes.
Despite my 7 minute positive split for lap two, I ended up "only" 24 minute behind the race winner, that's a scant 16% back and also my best marathon finish ever. Let's not talk about the relatively weak competition or faster conditions, that makes me two for two on the don't-do-worse chart for the year and I'LL TAKE IT.
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