Vince O’Connell Wins Mountain State Marathon at Whitegrass

 [On 25 January, Andrey Revyakin raced the Mountain State Marathon at Whitegrass, West Virginia’s premier cross-country ski center.  Northeastern skiers may remember Vince O’Connell, the founder of VOMax and a fearsome skier with multiple age group wins at the Lake Placid Loppet and elsewhere.  Below is Andrey’s account of the race.  – Ed.]
– by Andrey Revyakin
I drove to the Alleghenies the night before in snow blowing sideways and 10 F temps. The plan was to snow-camp in Dolly Sods at 4000 feet.  But seeing what was going on at 3000 ft in relatively protected terrain, and that even major highways were not plowed, I decided not to risk being stuck with my Outback in the middle of nowhere and miss the race. So I went up a back road as far as the Outback would go (with snow chains), and tent-camped by the side of the road. Hotels are overrated.
Got up with first light, and drove to Whitegrass. It was still 0 F at 9 am, and they had just got 6 fresh inches of finest powder. Waxed with a mix of blue and red, the usual whole nine yards followed by vitamin F [fluoro powder – Ed.]. By the race start (1 pm) it warmed up to ~20F, but I decided to stick with the cold wax because of the fresh soft snow.
I presumed I had a good chance of winning. However, at the start line I saw Vince O’Connell, and knew immediately it was going to get interesting. He was wearing his signature VOmax suit, and recognized me in  my 3M mask (the accent, I presume — I need to get a real-time voice synthesizer). Funny, last time we spoke was in Greylock around 2001. There were several skiers from Pittsburg and State College.
The course was probably the toughest one I’ve ever done — for a 25K anyway. It’s 4 laps, you climb three km from 3200 to 3600 feet, then scream down for the other 3K. Then you repeat this 3 more times.
For my asthma, I had a bag of 3M masks at the start/finish line prepared in advance in a bag. These masks warm up and  filter the air, but get soaked with sweat etc, and get totally suffocating in about 30 min of use.  So I figured I would put a new mask at every lap.
At the start, the snow was blowing sideways, and Vince has set a pace like there was no tomorrow. He was also pretty “stompy” in his skating, so I decided to stick with him anyway hoping he would get tired. After five minutes, there was no one behind us. My skis flew, which helped me keep up with Vince.
The track was soft and narrow which I am used to skiing at Whitegrass, while Vince kept getting his tips caught in the snow and swore like a sailor. I would pass him when he stumbled, but he would always catch up and overtake me again.
The screaming 400 ft downhill was mostly in an open field, with random foot-deep drifts here and there, sharp turns, and blowing snow and wind. Although I overtook Vince on the downhill (knowing the course helped), I took a spectacular spill at a sharp right turn, and almost missed a bridge over a creek, at which point Vince opened a 15-30 sec gap between us.
 I spent an hour catching up, but every time had to stop and change to a new mask I would lose 10 seconds (the exchange was on an uphill — doh!).  I caught Vince right before the last 400 feet climb, but there was no sign of him getting tired. The gap widened back to 30 sec by the end of the climb, and I did not risk going all out on the downhill/
At the last 200 yard stretch before the finish Vince took a wrong turn and went on an additional 1.5K loop in the open fields. I first had a temptation to get to the finish following the correct course, but decided to stick with the leader, and do the additional 1.5K. Most people behind us ended up doing the same thing, out of good sportsmanship. The 3d guy from the State College team who looked like a grad student finished ~10 min later, as I could tell.
The usual followed — beer, chili, moonshine, music, and general festive insanity White Grass style.
I was happy with my 1:30 time, ~30 sec behind Vince, knowing that I lost time to each mask exchange, and that I get less air (I feel a bit altitude-sick right now).  With some technical improvements I could do the Birkie in under 3 hrs  — something I’ve long wanted to do.
[Full race results can be found on Whitegrass’s web site.]