At the start of Sunday’s Climb to the Castle roller ski race, the weather was sunny. Nearly 50 degrees at the toll gate, but with a wind that gusted constantly. Someone said it hit 50 mph in that chute after you come around the last hairpin, but I can’t be sure. All I know is that it was damn hard any way you slice it.
The big stories were Tim Burke’s and Liz Stephen’s dominating wins. Local hero Burke, from Paul Smiths, was comfortably off the front by kilometer three and V2ing smoothly; I don’t think I’ve seen any C2C video where he does anything but V2. And Stephen, with her fourth consecutive win on Whiteface’s 8% grade, owns the women’s race. ‘Nuff said.
But there were other backstories floating around. One skier pulled out of the race 200 meters past the Whiteface toll gate, throwing his poles aside in disgust. It looked like an equipment malfunction. The skier that I know only by his Twitter handle, who finished with one pole after sticking the other into one of the latticework of cracks featured on sections of the toll road. Gabriella Armstrong, suffering bad. Near the halfway mark, she came to a complete stop. Took a few broken strides and stopped again. Repeat. She gutted it out to finish. Ingrid Hagberg, cramping and stumbling in a cracked, frost-hove section after the Lake Placid Turn, and digging deep to finish strong.
Climb to the Castle, 2013:
Over the summer, I broke down and joined the ranks of wheel dopers, buying a set of Peru Nordic-approved Triumph race wheels and bearings. On Friday before the race, I tested them in at Loantaka. No trip to Lake Denmark, where I’d have to go back down the hill. They were nasty.
But my training was all screwed up from having been sick earlier in the week. Not enough hard work, not enough uphill. And wicked fast boards don’t go uphill by themselves. They need legs and lungs.
Double poling from the start, I felt OK. But 500 meters in, the strong start didn’t matter as I began to hurt. Hey… it’s five miles straight up. You know you’re gonna suffer. They might look like they’re skiing easy, the elite skiers are hurting too.
But suffering was compounded by sinuses still full of cold detritus. I couldn’t breathe. Jim Kobak came up from behind and pulled away. While the back of the pack stayed in sight, I wasn’t getting any closer. This race is hard enough as it is without feeling like your head is in a plastic bag.
After two kilometers, I settled down. A little attitude adjustment works wonders. I didn’t have to drive up here, I coulda crapped out and stayed home. Being sick is the perfect excuse. But you asked for this, nobody’s feeling sorry for you. It’s up to you to go as hard as you can.
Rob Quigley went by, skiing classic. His smooth technique belied his speed as he bridged up to the group ahead of me, then began to pick people off. Feeling better, I caught up with a couple guys who had blasted off ahead of me. Going by, I threw down half a dozen V2 strides. It was too steep to for mere mortals to V2 the whole way, but it was enough to build a gap.
At mile three, one could see the castle, sheathed in mist. Objective in sight.
The Lake Placid Turn, with its welcome tailwind. A 500 meter section where nature helps you push the pace before the pavement gets bad. My calves began to cramp. Then the final windy switchback. I kept it light with high turnover, leaving the sun and entering the world of clouds. Some of the top dogs, warming down, cheered encouragement and gave me a lift. Too early, I went over to V2 for the last segment. Still too much wind. Then Whiteface’s shoulder gave some shelter, and I cranked up the tempo to finish fast.
As I write this, I feel like I’ve been hit by a loaded dump truck. Amazing how a measly five miles can do that. What a great day. I’m gonna go back there till I just can’t do it any more. Thanks to NYSEF and ORDA for organizing this sufferfest. Click on the links below for complete results.