Sunday was the tenth anniversary of the Climb to the Castle (C2C), the forbidding roller ski race up the Whiteface Mountain toll road in Wilmington, NY. It wasn’t my worst race, but it was far from my best.
Those who can’t ski fast, write about those who do.
[N.B. This is how my race played out at the Climb to the Castle. For the story at the front of the race, check out the article I wrote for FasterSkier.]
The temperature was in the mid 60s, but felt much warmer due to high humidity. The sky was still overcast after the previous night’s rain, and the road was wet. After an inadequate warmup, I seeded myself at the back and waited for the starting gun.
At the start, I stuck with a group of junior skiers, keeping Rob Bradlee and Peru Nordic teammate Jim Kobak in sight. Up ahead, you could see the men break into two large groups. I couldn’t see who the leaders were. Within a mile, several skiers fell off the back of the second group.
Rob and Jim gapped me, but gradually, I picked off other skiers and moved up. But it wasn’t easy. Last year at C2C, I’d felt great. The whole way through, I skied smooth and easy, finishing within five seconds of my personal best.
But after last year’s C2C, I had multiple health issues that hobbled my training. I haven’t been able to train the way I’m accustomed to, and it hasn’t been easy getting into shape. This year, it felt like I was right on the limit from the get go.
At the feed station halfway up, I gulped half a cup of water and passed Jim Kobak. He tucked in behind me and we skied together for the next mile. Twice, I threw down some V2, but that didn’t phase him, he stayed right with me.
From here, it was hard going. Where last year was effortless, on Sunday every stride was a struggle.
At the Lake Placid corner – yes, it actually has a sign, and a great view of the lake when the weather is clear – I changed to big V2 strides. This is the classic place to make a move: the grade eases some, and in some years, there’s a tailwind. Jim didn’t follow, and I opened a small gap. But in those few hundred meters I burned all my remaining matches.
In the brutal last mile, I changed back to V1 and focused on a high tempo to keep moving forward against the wind, which gusted up to 30 mph. When the road leveled out at the top, I had nothing left to hammer the last 300 meters as in past years.
Fried, I stumbled in to the finish. Three minutes slower than last year. But I finished, and it was a great day. This race has become as important to me as the Lake Placid Loppet. You have to check it out.