Rangeley Lakes Loppet Race Report

After an entirely ski-free weekend, I headed up to Rangeley to see what kind of fitness 10 days away from skate striding had left me with. I've had a secret goal (or did I forget about the secret part and mention it here? I can't remember) for the XC ski season that was "don't do worse in the marathons than you did last year," the reasoning being that if I can ride more without getting slower on skis then I must be getting faster all-around. That, or I've entered the magical master skier "lifetime of base" state of fitness where you can just bust out respectable 50ks regardless of training. Either way it sounds like a win to me.

Things got off completely on the wrong foot when I ran into Blazar in the parking lot and he was like, "wait, you're here?? I didn't see you on the prereg list." I came back with "of course I registered, don't be stupid," but then I started thinking about it some more and realized I probably never registered for this race. Bretton Woods and Stowe Derby had incentives for reg'ing early so I both did them long ago, online, and I guess I assumed I must've registered for Rangeley as well. But no such luck, and it was prereg only, so I headed into the yurt ready to bust a sob story of epic proportions on the poor ladies working registration. Luckily my excess of charm got me a bib before I had to start crying, either that or there was secret day-of registration. You know how these things go...

Now with a bib I headed to the start line, only to discover that I had taken two righty poles from the basement when I went to borrow Linnea's poles for the race. Disaster #2! For some reason I had decided to also throw my poles in the car at the last second, so this was nowhere as devastating as it should have been.

Anyway, eventually I was able to take my proclivity for race-day stupidity to the start line and get rolling. My new and questionably effective, always painful marathon strategy of "go out a bit fast" worked great because the first 3k are mostly downhill. I got into line around 30th place used my Weston skills to do absolutely no work until the first hill, where I found I was still just 15 seconds behind the leaders, and arguably part of the "lead pack." Awesome.

Obviously I had no business anywhere near something that could be termed a "lead pack" so I was happy to see it get broken in half on the first climb, with me in the wrong half. On the first descent I cruised up next to Luke just before a sharp turn. I helpfully pointed it out ("yo, sharp left") seconds before we got there and Luke rewarded me by trying to edge with his face about halfway around it. I barely escaped a similar fate while avoiding his wreckage and OH CRAP WE ARE DROPPED.

As an avid Westonite/bike racer, I recognized that the race was leaving me fast, so I'd better hit the jets and get back into the group. If it works at the 4k mark of a 7k Weston race, it should work at the 4k mark of a 50k, right?

Right. I gunned it for a few minutes and glided onto the back of a train of 5 or 6 college kids. The one on the back looked at me quizzically, and then said "are you Colin Reuter?" Turned out it was sensationalist blogger and alleged "huge baller" Nat Herz. We had a quick chat about being e-celebrities and then he went back to the front to take a pull, which is not something I would be doing under any circumstances.

Everyone knows that college skiers only do four things: sleep, skip class, drink beers, and kick my ass. It being a Saturday there's no way these guys were skipping class, and much to my chagrin no one was packing a PBR in their water bottle carrier, so that could only mean one thing: I was about to get my ass kicked.

It didn't take long -- we started climbing gradually, the draft started weakening and my heart rate started going up. We were still skiing at "only" my 20k pace so it seemed okay for quite a while, I started rationalizing about how my legs weren't really burning that bad, I got a little break when we hit a feed station. But I'm not as dumb as forgetting to register would suggest, so eventually I heeded the writing on the wall and dropped off the back.

Cresting the top, though, I got passed by a master who had no business being behind me and was workin it on the downhill. Like a true rouleur, I was able to chase back onto the peloton on the descent and we made contact with the collegiate party train just in time to come past my one and only fan, Blazar. Seeing me comfortably drafting five college guys, he declared that I was a "college kid dream killer," an awesomely wrong analysis of the situation. To be sure, someone's dreams were going to be killed the next time the trail pitched upward.

So I drifted off into no-man's-land once more, where I stayed until around 20k when Ida Sargeant caught me while I was eating a gel in an extremely clumsy fashion. I realized that hanging with the women's leader be a major step toward "not doing worse than last year" so I immediately got behind her and prepared to hang on as long as possible.

Sadly, part of being fast enough to get 12th at World Juniors means being smart enough not to tow random guys around for 50k, so after about a k she drifted to the side and looked over her shoulder expectantly. Given the choice between being a total dick and pretending to be as fast as an elite (female) collegiate skier, I wisely chose the latter.

So along we went, trading pulls for the next ten kilometers, while I tried to figure out which of us would get tired first: the person who trains year-round and races at a national level, or the person who has barely done 60 ski-specific hours this year. Yes, determining which of these individuals would have better endurance is truly a puzzler.

Around 30k I stopped pulling, and around 35k I waved goodbye to Ida's back and got down to sufferring through the last hour, in the rapidly slowing conditions with my rapidly failing muscles. I wasn't bonking or anything else that could be addressed, it's just that my brilliant plan of doing a ton of pullups didn't actually impact my muscular endurance one bit. So while I can do 12 pullups now, my arms were merely along for the ride, just like last year.

The good news was that working with Ida had opened up a big gap behind me, so I only lost one place in the last hour, despite checking over my shoulder several hundred times. I finished up 23rd overall and even crushed a few collegiate dreams (sorry, Luke), so I'm claiming I made my goal of "not worse than last year" and moving on.

I left before awards because I had 4.5 hours to drive, so I missed finding out that they had my time 10 minutes too fast (it was actually 2:36) and I had somehow won the senior class (ha, college kids are YOUNG!), and I probably missed a cool prize like maple syrup or something. But on the plus side, I got back to the tropics of Boston in time to say "hell yeah, let's go adapt some capillaries!" when Thom was organizing 70-mile-Sunday.

Proof that I took a pull! (Photo from Nat Steele)