50K, 4000 ft of climbing, a broken pole and a Great Weekend in Lake Placid
By: Dev Paul (2008/02/12)
This is a bit of a product review, a bit of a race review and a bit of a "good sportsmanship review".
The Lake Placid Loppet is one of the toughest 50K courses in North America, with 34K of the course on the 1980 Olympic Cross Country ski loop and the other 16K on the 1980 biathlon circuit, totaling over 4000 ft of vertical climbing over 50K.
As a point of reference, this is more vertical climbing and descending than the famed Alpe d'Huez hill climb of cycling fame. Closer to home, the vertical exceeds the entire amount of climbing on Whiteface Mountain outside Lake Placid, and pretty well equals the sum of ascending Tremblant+Mont Saint Anne. Anyway, this gives you an idea for level of difficulty of the course.
With 25K and 50K classic and skate options, there is great racing for everyone and none of the races are congested. In fact, I skied 40K out of the 50K solo this year either catching or passing people. There is always a small contingent of Ottawa based athletes at this event, and perhaps the contingent would be greater, but it seems that Ottawa folks are doing the various local events, like the Winterlude Tri, Eastern Canadian Championships, Keski or CSM and have limited legs, time or travel budget for an out of town event. Nevertheless, put this event on your calendar for 2009!
But back to the product review for a second. I bought a pair of Infinity Poles from Craig Storey at XC Ottawa a few weeks ago and was shocked by how stiff and how light they were compared to my previous "all carbon" (but inexpensive poles). On long skis, I'd always be struggling to get my arms back up or when sprinting I always felt that my recovery (throwing my body forward) was limiting my tempo….I got these poles and they are so light that both of these problems went away (well, close as possible given my own technique or lack thereof).
The poles were $289, but frankly much better money spent than $1000 on race wheels for a bike. The poles are rotating weight and they change your ability to ski with good technique, something you cannot do well with cheaper poles. When you watch world cup skiers, it looks like their arms are "weightless" when they sprint….well, its cause their poles are so light (and they have superb technique…). Plus these poles are stiff…they don't bend like noodles. For the amount that masters skiers spend on expensive waxes, it is amazing that many of use keep using heavy "noodle" poles. Anyway, I used them at the Tremblent Loppet 3 weeks ago and they worked great. I did not used them in the Winterlude tri, because the snow was going to be knee deep and I did not want to risk falling and breaking my new beauties, so I reluctantly took out the old noodles. For Lake Placid, I was pretty pumped to use them, and I liked them so much, I convinced my friend Yves Fortin to go buy a pair (this is where we flip to the sportsmanship story…).
Yves Fortin, Christian Otto and I headed to Lake Placid last Friday nite. Race morning rolled around and the temp was minus 7 but was quickly rising to above zero. Just before the race, Yves tells us that if we break a pole, he was leaving his ski box open with his backup poles! The race starts and I said, I am not hammering like I was shot out of a cannon. Christian said the same. Both of us have too much experience and have raced on this course enough times to know that you have to pace this race like a marathon and not a bike race (like the Keski where drafting is king). I reluctantly watch my 40-44 competitors shoot out like they are racing Chandra Crawford in a sprint, and hang back to ease into the race.
Just behind me, leaving the stadium, entering the trail, Yves is squeezed by the crowd, falls, and of all people, lands square on Christian's $500 Exel poles!!!! This is where the good sportsmanship comes in. Yves removes his brand new Infinity poles and hands them over to Christian and tells him to GO GO GO!!! Then Yves skis back to his car, grabs his backup poles and away he goes, now almost 15 minutes behind the "pack". Christian is meanwhile hammering to catch the rest of his competition and soon realizes that he better settle in and pace it through to finish strong!!!
Further ahead, I was having to make a decision to go with the pack or do my own solo race. I chose the latter, coming through 25K in 1:26, a bit slow, but with lots of juice in the tank. Meanwhile the other guys in my age group were through at 1:19, but I realized that I still had some lingering soreness from the Winterlude tri 7 days ago and that it was better to respect the course and the fact that I was not 100% rested than blow up later. Into the second loop the uphills were really chewed up and slow (due to recent new snow) and with the warmer temps the snow was quickly transforming and getting slow. Although I had more energy to give in the second loop, I was slower, covering it in 1:29 for a final time of 2:55, still ~ 4 min off the 40-44 podium. Frankly even if I did the use the good conditions on loop 1 to cover group quickly, there was no way I was going much faster as I would have paid on loop 2. The good news was that my arms that normally get tired towards the end of a 50K were strong due to lifting light poles….it was just my legs!!!
Meanwhile Christian was motoring his way from the back with his Infinity replacement pole and moved his way up to 2nd in the 35-39 age group. Yves made the best of a bad start and his good sportsmanship and plugged through the course and would have certainly finished sub 3 hours.
You can see the full results here:
Anyway, the poles worked well, Lake Placid beat us up, they had a great banquet with an awesome buffet and all you can eat desserts, free wine and beer all for $45, and most importantly a safe drive home and relaxed bodies to fight next weekend in the Keski! Put this great race on your calendar for 2009!