With the U.S. Ski Team using this as part of their annual training camp in Lake Placid, I have no illusions about ever winning here. And with an average eight percent grade over five miles, it’s brutal. But in what other sport can you toe the same start line as your heroes?
Conditions for the Climb to the Castle were unfavorable, but at least they didn’t suck. Overnight, it rained and remained above freezing. Saturday’s forecast called for clearing skies and seasonably warm temperatures. But with an 8 AM start, the temperature doesn’t rise unless the sun is shining.
At the toll gate, the temperature was about the same as down in Wilmington: 50 degrees. Friday night’s rain left the road wet, and for good measure, it sprinkled some as we warmed up. It was an evil day to run fast plastic wheels. Joe Korzenecki overcame the spotty grip with a high tempo. At least one skier abandoned the race because his fast plastic wheels didn’t grip the wet pavement.
At the start, I went out too hard. Rob Bradlee and Joe Korzenecki passed me within the first mile and I never saw them again. I spent most of the race chasing Saint Lawrence University’s Evan Smith, even passing him early. But he got me back and pulled away, and I couldn’t quite close the gap. At the same time Gary Miller was breathing down my neck for most of the race in a huge effort, as he was skiing classic technique!
Usually I ski conservatively here, but today I had trouble keeping my heart rate down. Then around two miles in, I realized that I wasn’t skiing smoothly. What happened to the smooth, long glide I had here last year, or even at Lake Denmark four days previous? The crappy weather should not have been an issue, as I’ve only skied here once when conditions were really good.
But while I was working harder than last year, I wasn’t going particularly fast. For sure the weather was a factor, but I was around six minutes slower than last year. At least I had even splits.
Last year was clear as glass with no wind, but today we seemed to fight for every step. The wind blew steadily all the way up, with occasional gusts to 30 or 40 mph. Visibility was maybe 100 feet. In previous years, I’ve been able to V2 the section after the Lake Placid turn (from about mile 3.75 to 4.25), it’s maybe 3% or 4% grade. But the headwind precluded that this year. At the next turn, where the wind barrels through a tunnel-like rock formation, I focused on short steps to keep forward momentum. In the last 100 meters, I threw down what passed for a sprint on shattered legs. Two and a half minutes slower than last year? In this weather, I’ll take it.
When the smoke cleared, 18 seconds separated the top three men in the race. Tad Elliott won in 39:28, followed by Pat O’Brien and Julian Dorais. Liz Stephen smoked the women’s field, winning from Jessie Diggins by over five minutes. Despite the conditions, she also beat her winning time from last year by over a minute. Ida Sargent came third.
Complete men’s results, courtesy of NYSEF.
Complete women’s results, again thanks to NYSEF.