Lake Placid Loppet: Return to Forever

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In repose, the goddess awaited.

Cresting the height of land on Mount van Hoevenberg’s Porter Mountain trail, I led a train of skiers past the abandoned timing hut left over from the 1980 Winter Olympics.  Swathed in snow, the graven image of the Goddess of Anaerobic Threshold, a deity sacred to Peru Nordic, faced us on the window sill.

“All hail the GOAT!” I gasped.  Just about at the end of my rope, I tucked for a welcome downhill.


Climbing to the Temple of the GOAT


When I clipped in to my skis at the start of this year’s Lake Placid Loppet, I didn’t know what to expect.  Hernia surgery in November derailed my training year with an enforced layoff.  It’s amazing how 30-plus years of consistent work evaporates when you can’t do anything but walk for six weeks.

At Christmas, I was allowed to gradually ease back into it.  My body’s early feedback wasn’t promising.  In January, I skied the HURTathon classic race at the Queensbury, NY High School trail system.  The first race-pace effort since surgery, it was three laps on a flat course with two short climbs.  So the race was a double pole derby, except that it’s not a good idea to double pole for 13 km 10 weeks after hernia surgery.  The HURTathon was a wake-up call.  Even though I was wearing a number, I wasn’t really racing: I just couldn’t get my body to go fast.

Fast forward to the first Sunday in March.  After  my non-performance in Queensbury, I switched from 50 km to the 25 km Loppet: I didn’t think I had the fitness to finish 50 km.  In the starting pen, I clipped in to my skis, but I really didn’t know what to expect.  While I’d re-gained some fitness and had a few more hard workouts under my belt, but nothing like ideal preparation.  This winter, every interval session felt hard.

The scene before the freestyle start

The scene before the freestyle start

The 25 km field was way bigger than what I’m used to here for the full 50 km sufferfest.  In the nervous minutes immediately after the start, I focused on relaxing and staying out of trouble.  Heading towards Porter, I snuck past a few people.  Leaving the first feed, the field began sorting itself out.

One of the SLU carnival races.

One of the SLU carnival races. You think I’m brining a camera during a race?

I was pleased to find that my skis were wicked fast – faster than anyone else around me.  Trouble was, even though I could drop people going downhill, I still didn’t have the motor to make it stick on the next climb, and other skiers would catch back up with me.  No one offered to take a turn leading on the flats and climbs, so I just told myself, “Suck it up, cupcake” and kept going.

As we approached Russian Hill, some young guy who’d been riding the tails of my skis finally made a move.  Awful technique, and wearing a GoPro camera to increase wind resistance going downhill.  But he was strong, and I wasn’t catching him.


Over Ladies’ 5 and through the stadium.  If I still have decent legs, I know I can ski the biathlon side well.  But I was suffering bad on the hills.  By this point, the grupetto was down to two women and me. We traded back and forth, and one of them pulled away to the finish.

In the end, I skied 25 km in 1:46, surprised to finish fourth in my age group.  After the training layoff and massive stress in my life the last six months, it was a gratifying result.

This year, the race organizers folded the Lake Placid Loppet into a “Nordic Festival” with the Saint Lawrence Winter Carnival and two shorter citizens’ races.  Every day this weekend, the lodge and the trails were more crowded than I’ve seen in awhile.  The vibe and the energy was great, but the downside was running the Loppet on Sunday. This means having to pack up and go home, and no time to catch up with one’s friends to see how their races went.  Hopefully the Loppet will be rescheduled to it’s rightful day on a Saturday next winter.

Here are the full results.