Thanks to 12" of snow on Thursday night, lukewarm temperatures in the mid-twenties overnight, and Rangeley Lakes' obsession with grooming the course that morning, conditions were soft and slow, as expected. Knowing it would warm up to the upper thirties and probably start raining, I chose a pair of skis that runs well in soft wet snow, and was very glad of this decision about 20km into the race. I can't succeed in races anymore if I don't have the best skis out there...
I made it to the start line with just a minute or two to spare, but had no trouble slipping up near the front, next to some speedy-looking college gals. I sucked down a gel, put on my poles, and then off we went, about eighty people all told. By about 5km into the race, I found myself in a pack that included the top 5 women, with a couple master blasters for good measure. Sabra Davison, last year's winner, was out front, probably trying to ski away from us all like she did last year, but this time, Stephi Crocker and Isabel Caldwell could actually see her, and they weren't going to let her get away. I knew I wanted to ski with those Dartmouth ladies, as they are smooth skiers and set a nice pace, so we worked together for the first 15km or so, dropping stragglers behind us but keeping things relaxed. And fun! Fancy that.
As we came through the stadium, the snow had turned to sleet, and that was where I started to notice my old 1998 Fischers began to pick up speed. Wheee! These babies aren't ready for retirement just yet! I pulled for a couple klicks, but as we headed out on lap 2, I started to notice that my arms were getting tired. Uh oh. This is what happens when you don't do any real "skiing" all winter - all you do is putter around on man-made loops of snow on golf courses, and your arms forget what it's like to ski for longer than 90 minutes. Oops. Well, nothing to do now except shift more work to my legs, but in soft snow, that's not always a good strategy.
Stephi took the lead around 30km, and I noticed that the pace was starting to feel like work, now. Sabra got dropped on an uphill, and then caught back on with the help of one of the master blasters, and I knew for her it was just a matter of time until the yo-yo string snapped. So when I took my next pull, I went harder than I probably should have, starting to really push, now, hoping to drop her for good. Except my brain had clearly forgotten what my body had not - I haven't done a distance workout since December, and this was a lot of work to ski for this long without stopping to lean on my poles!
When I finally slipped back into the draft, I knew I was soon to be a goner. No cramping, but my limbs felt heavy, and skiing was now a lot of work. Oh, well. It happens. I held on to about 40km, and then Izzy and Stephi dropped me going up the wind-tunnel hill of death, and there was just nothing I could do to go faster. In marathons I guess I just have a speed I can go, and that day, that speed didn't want to last the full 50km. But I certainly couldn't just give up and die - Sabra had been dropped earlier, and I really didn't want her to catch back up, so I was skiing hard. The last 10km of Rangeley's course aren't easy kilometers - you hit the FIS-certified trails, with long winding uphills and plenty of wind thanks to the wide trails. I was alone now, and it was an excruciatingly painful final push, but I got to the line without seeing anyone else; a relief actually when you're in that situation. The Dartmouth girls had put three minutes on me, but I'd put another two on Sabra, and finally finished on the podium at the Rangeley marathon! Wahoo!
The part I was truly excited about, however, was that I actually had a positive attitude in this race. I'd say the demons were excised. For now.