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Lake Placid Loppet Story
By:  Dev Paul   (2006/03/07)


We had a small crew of Ottawa folks at the Lake Placid Loppet held on Saturday March 4th. Steve Parkin, Tom McGee, James, Young and I headed down and we were joined by Veronique Bezair and Stephen Cann.   

The drive down on Friday evening was white knuckle with a snowstorm erupting as soon as we crossed the border and headed towards the hills.  The storm clouds were trapped above the Adirondacks all evening, all nite, and all morning during the race. 


Race morning rolled around, and I had finally beaten off the cold and fever I had been fighting (or so I convinced myself).  The conditions looked horrible, with lots of new snow on the ground.  "This is good", I told myself, "Lots of dudes will mentally cave or blow up...".  I also knew that trudging through a half foot or wet snow would put a premium on endurance and muscle power and minimize the advantage of the finesse skier.  This would work to my advantage.  Add to the fact that I am only 140 lbs and would sink less in the loose stuff and you can see how I was "eating up the conditions".  Overnight the temperature had risen from minus 13 to minus 9.  I had waxed mainly with Toko HF Blue but on race morning , I softened up my wax selection adding in some  Toko HF Diabloc Red (-4 to -10C). 


The course at Mont Vanhovenburg is on the 1980 Olympic course.  It continously climbs and descents.  But the descents are technical, so there is no rest.  With 1100 m of climbing, we would be ascending the equivalent of Alpe d'Huez.  Now I just needed Jan Ullrich on my tail on "Virage Number Deux" to launch a ballistic attack... 


We did a short warmup and entered the stadium. Tom, James and I got into the second row.  The gun went off and the field starts double poling like we are in a 1K sprint at the Olympic Games.  This pace continued for the first few K and I let lots of people pass me. "Tom", I said, "These dudes are going to be skiing backwards on loop 2.  There will be lots of blowups today".  With the conditions, I realized that the race would feel like 65K, not 50K, so I needed to pace accordingly. 

On the first loop, I got to the front of a group and decided to pull them along.  Not the best tactic as I would get no draft, but I preferred to be in the front to set the pace based on my fitness, strategy and perceived exertion, vs someone else.  Moreover, I wanted to lead the descents (or let downhill king McGee lead) so that we were not taken out by any sketchy descenders.  The large group of 10, got pared down to 8 then 4 then just me and Tom coming into the 25K split.  James Young had let us go at 12K. 

Split time, was a "seasons's worst" 1:34 and I was ~25th to 30th at that point. 


Starting the second loop, Tom was unfortunately feeling the effects of a bad cold and wisely packed it in.  James had dropped back at his own comfort zone and was efficienty using his huge engine and muscle power to move up through the field. 

For me this is when the rubber hit the road.  As predicted, lots of guys were literally skiing backwards.  There race had ended around 25K.  Now they were in survival mode.  We have shared some discussion about heart rate monitors, lactate testing and scientific programs over the past few weeks.  I am not sure what programs people use, but if your race is around 3 hours in length, if you are sucking wind or if your legs are on fire, then the pace is likely too hard for what you body can handle on that day.   

Some leg burn on steep hills and some hard breathing is OK if you have been doing interval training, but too much time in the red zone, and you run the risk of turning from a racer to a tourist in a hurry.  Knowing this, early in loop 2, I still held back, eating and drinking and passing people.  Entering the final 9K I had moved up to 15th place. During the final 9K, I collected a group of 4 people, who all “latched onto me”. 

I did waive one of the athletes through who would end up being the top woman in the race. But her pace was slower than mine, so I just decided to go to the front like George Hincapie and pull the train.  Entering the stadium I had the train on my tail, but with a long gradual uphill before the stadium, I knew my only chance of beating the train was to put on a huge uphill surge and use my 140 lbs featherweight status to my advantage.  This was my attempt at a “Attack on Virage Numero Deux…Alpe d’Huez Style”.  It worked.  The bungee chord snapped and the train blew apart.  I ended with what turned out to be a solo sprint as I was worried that some of my competitors were still on my tail.  I was breathing too hard to really know if my tactics had worked.  I guess they did.  In the end I ended up in 13th overall. 


A few minutes back, James Young was picking off blown skiers.  As a 9:15 Ironman stud in his prime, he knows a thing or two about pacing even though he uses no heart rate monitor or lactate testing.  James moved up into 22nd and finished very strong.  On Thursday before the race, he was planning to bail and two days later he was 4th in 40-44!  Amazing what the body can do when you turn the switch on. 


Sometimes, it takes a while before you have success in a sport.  I guess I put a different spin on perseverance.  In my first Gatineau 55 in 1990, I finished way back in around 300th place.  I had never received an award of any kind in an XC ski race, so after 40 years of life, it was cool to actually get a silver medal in this sport.  So if you feel like you are off the back, it is possible that you might eventually be in the front.  Hopefully it won’t have to wait till you are 40 J 

Interesting Reading. . .
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