Liz Stephen and Tim Burke repeated their 2013 performances, winning Saturday’s Climb to the Castle. OK, you know about that.
The weather looked sketchy: 60% chance of showers in the morning, and thunderstorms in the afternoon. I brought the [slow] rubber wheels with me, but decided to chance it running inline skate race wheels. At the toll gate, it was cloudy, with a temperature in the 50s and dry.
The designated warmup area is from the toll gate down to and out County Road 72. The county road goes gradually up for about a kilometer, before volunteers turn you back. So it’s uphill going out and downhill coming back to the intersection. It’s not a terrible grade, maybe three per cent. But you inexorably pick up speed. I never liked it when I ran slower boards, and I wasn’t about to use doped roller skis there. So I ran my pre-race warmup.
As I finished warming up, Jessie Diggins blew past me, rolling into the intersection at speed. She made a big, looping right turn, towards the toll gate. She veered left, and the volunteer at the corner reached out, trying to slow her down. But she crashed hard. By the time I ran over to her, the volunteer was there. Diggins got up, took a couple of deep breaths, said, I’m OK, and headed off to the starting line. What an example of resilience and focus.
After taking a photo of the women’s start, I got back to the car, put on a dry top and my roller skis, and rolled towards the toll gate. One hundred feet from the starting line, I realized I’d forgotten my bib. With less than four minutes to the start, it’s one of the more boneheaded moves I’ve made. I unclipped from The Wings of Skitan and ran back down to my car. Struggled into my bib, and I maxed out my heart rate getting back to my boards. All for naught: I missed the start, and the back of pack was at least a minute up the road ahead of me.
In the first two miles,I blew myself out catching up to the back markers. After that I relaxed some.
It wasn’t raining, but at mile three, clouds covered the mountain and the pavement became wet. The plastic wheels on the Wings of Skitan slipped here and there. In the exposed sections, the wind was blowing. Nothing like last year’s balmy conditions.
The road construction wasn’t an issue. There were patches of smooth pavement here and there, and the worst frost heaves were gone, but you were still mainly on old pavement.
You just grind it out, one foot in front of the other, and try not to go out too hard. On the lower reaches of the mountain, I V2’ed where I never had before. Conversely, on the flattish stretch between the Lake Placid turn and Windy corner, usually a section where I can hammer, I ran out of gas a bit. The final kilometer, the wind wasn’t as bad as it’s been in some years, but you could barely see 20 feet in front of you.
I’m never gonna do great here, but the climb doesn’t intimidate me. At the finish, and for the rest of the day, the endorphin rush is tremendous. And in what other sport can you toe the line with your heroes?