I've done this race twice before, and both times, I forgot how to wax my skis, or something along those lines, and I did NOT have fun. In fact, the race in 2008, I really would have shot myself if I'd found a loaded pistol by the side of the trail, it was that miserable. So, I had a couple goals going into the race this year: Wax my skis so that they'll work for 50km, have fun, and don't be a grouch afterwards even if I don't manage to have fun. Notice how none of those are results-related... this race seems to be beyond results, for me. Its survival.
Anyway, Craftsbury got the same rain that we did last week, and then it froze up nice and hard, so I (and everyone else) was a little worried about things being super icy and the race being unable to go off. Luckily, because Craftsbury and their hordes of volunteers are amazing, the course was in superb shape, with rock solid tracks and no dirt showing through. I was thoroughly impressed, no way would Weston have been able to do that. Because of the previous weather, the course was four 12.5km loops, on the relatively flat bits of the outdoor center, for which I was definitely grateful. Its nice having a classic race where you can ski the hills, herringboning just messes up your rhythm.
Standing on some good stiff skis with a chola binder and a couple layers of extra blue, I wormed my way into the front of the women's pack - somebody was peeing in the woods when they were calling folks to line up. Whoops. All of the men's waves (including the slower men) had gone off, and we got a 5-minute break before we followed, which meant that we were quickly catching men from the back of wave 3. It was nice having a constant stream of people around, but some of them were rather obnoxiously in the way. I guess thats what you get for doing four laps, but it is race etiquette to cede the track to the faster racer - not to stand over the track in a herringbone so that nobody can get by and watch people approach over your shoulder. Anyway, the first 1.5km or so were nice and relaxed, and I was thinking to myself, hey, I can do marathons. This ain't bad at all! And then I heard Anna behind me saying "Alex, can I get by? I think I want to set a slightly different pace". Dammit.
So, Anna took off, and we strung out the pack a bit, so that by the first feed station there was a solid group of six, and then a small gap. Anna, Hannah D, Susan D, Dorcas W, Lauren J, and me. We started into some of the rollers heading out on the course again, and on a downhill, that was quite crowded with snowplowing, slow, old men, I got boxed in between two snowplowers and behind Anna, and with nowhere to go, I tried to grab Anna's poles to push her forwards, except that she had her poles up because she was running into a slow old man in front of her. So, I grabbed her butt instead, and that didn't work, we went down, with Anna on top, but luckily there was no broken equipment, just a sprained thumb on her part. Whoops. She got up and caught the front group but a gap had opened between the top four and the next three, so going up Ruthie's run (a 1.5km uphill), I just followed Dorcas as she pulled us up there. It felt fast, but not unsustainable. By the bottom of the hill, we'd caught the lead group, dropped the other woman who'd been skiing with us, and shortly thereafter, dropped Lauren.
The second lap was similarly-paced, but going up Ruthie's run I decided to go a little slower. This actually kept me within sight (~15s) of the top four, and I'd caught back up by the bottom of the downhill. Then the course climbs a bit into the finish, and a master guy jumped into our group (small rant - if a pack of girls is passing you, THEY'VE ALREADY GIRLED YOU. Don't jump into their pack. Ski behind them. Please), and I was behind him. And he got gapped. And I didn't want to burn matches to close the gap, and told myself I'd catch up on the flat bits. Well, you can guess how well that worked. Dorcas was a little off the back of the lead three going through the start/finish, so I could see her for most of lap 3, but I just couldn't seem to catch back up to her. At this point, I was remembering two things I'd forgotten - four lap races give you three golden opportunities to drop out, and, marathons are hard. My arms and shoulders were starting to get a little tired, so the flatter parts involved a bit more kicking than they had before, and constantly passing old slow men meant that you got the illusion of moving fast even if you weren't.
I kept telling myself to push hard, because I would rather ski alone than get caught from behind, so I kept skiing as best I could. I was noticing that my heart rate was dropping, compared to the first two laps, which probably just meant that I was getting tired - it was hard to push through some of the hills. By the end of the third lap, I could no longer see Dorcas, and I'd pretty much gone into survival mode. On the loop around the field, I saw Hannah, and tried to speed up, but realized that I'd found one speed, and that one speed was what I was going to do for the rest of the course. Hopefully she'd just crack a little more... I was definitely running and herringboning a lot more of the hills, not because my wax was slipping, but because I was just too tired to stride. My arms felt tired, which meant that forcing something to work was not an option. By the top of Ruthie's run, I knew I was almost done, and despite an unfortunate tangle with a master after an icy corner, I made it back to the finish without seeing another girl. Woot! Fifth, second in my age class, and no bonks, no lost wax, really, no bad things at all! Hannah was only 1.5 minutes ahead of me, which was too bad, but I don't think I could have sped up by that much on the last lap. Stupid marathons. But it was a beautiful day to be skiing, with great tracks and great skis, so overall, life was pretty good. (Although it was pretty cold, -2F on the start!)
Of course, now I'm left wondering if I should ever do that marathon again, now that I've conquered my wax demons. It can only go downhill. We'll see what happens next year. Now I'm just hoping that I forget how much that hurt before the Birkie.
I leave for Lake Tahoe today, for the Sierra Ski Orienteering festival. Gotta love getting on a plane two days after a marathon... I'm a wee bit sore. Nothing that a bunch of skiing won't fix!