At the start of the Climb to the Castle today on New York’s Whiteface Mountain, my body had the same reaction as last year: that I was repeatedly being whacked in the solar plexus with a baseball bat.
Theoretically, I should have been better prepared. Last year, Lyme disease cost me most of the summer’s training. In addition to being Lyme-free, I’ve done way more interval workouts on really steep terrain. Whether I should have tapered for this event, or whether I warmed up properly (which is debatable) was immaterial.
Of course the U.S. Ski Team and other elite athletes pulled away immediately. But even the other masters dropped me as well. All the work I put in this summer was for naught. DFL seemed a real possibility today.
It took me a good mile to reel in the two guys directly ahead of me. They were working together; I could see them taking turns pulling. One looked really gassed as he peeled off, the wind nearly bringing him to a stop. I tucked in behind them. Is there really any draft benefit at a 13 minute per mile pace? After a few minutes, one of them said, “OK, take a turn.”
So I moved to the front, keeping my pace. Two or three minutes in a train did wonders for my outlook. Feeling much better, I relaxed some. Without trying, I gradually pulled away.
For a change, I gave myself positive feedback: this was doable; sections of Meadow Bluff Road were just as steep, and I really felt pretty good. My heart rate was right at lactic threshold, and the pace felt as good as it can when you’re going straight up.
Just after the three-mile marker, I passed a wet spot on the road where someone had left breakfast. Yum.
As we gained altitude, the wind intensified. This was the payment for sunny, dry weather. Any corner or any turnout where tourists could pull over and take in the view was really blustery.
Around the Placid Corner hairpin turn, with its stupendous view of Lake Placid, the headwind turned into a tailwind. Feeling like a hero, I V2’ed a few hundred meters, the wind hurling me ten extra meters with each stride.
The next corner, Wilmington, wasn’t so benign. On the steep, final half mile, the wind gusted 60 or even 70 miles an hour, directly at you. Just planting ice points was difficult. Forward progress? What a quaint notion. Several times I was stopped in my tracks, and I thought I’d have to take the skis off and walk. This section easily cost me two minutes.
But in the last 200 meters, the wind abated enough for me to pick it up and V2 hard to the finish. Maybe I could have pushed the pace harder, but I cut two minutes off last year’s time and I was gassed at the end.