It was one incredibly awesome day of skiing. I was part way through the 2nd lap when I looked very briefly around at some scenery, the sun was bright, the snow was perfect, the tracks were awesome and my wax had killer kick and I just had to stand up for a brief, smell the roses moment, and say to myself that this was a great day to be alive and what better way than to test yourself in a ski race in Vermont!
But back to the race....I spent most of it chasing the mirages of Ron Newbury and Peter Harris. They passed me somewhere early on section 2 of the 1st lap and slowly, every so slowly, inch by inch, disappeared, only to reappear on straight-aways or longer uphills, or out on the lakes, but ever so close and yet ever so far away. Then on lap 2 Chris Osgood floated by and so I hooked on to that smooth striding train but again, ever so slowly the elastic band that connects you to the guy you are chasing stretched until it snapped and he was gone too. A bit frustrating perhaps, but it was a good sign of my fitness and skiing that I remained ever hopeful that one of those guys was going to bonk and I would haul them back in like landing a giant fish after giving it some time to run. I had company for all of lap 2, a guy hanging behind me, sometimes clipping my skis but mostly just there, but making noises, talking, grunting on nearly every hard section......it was annoying! I mean, I spit and blow my nose, but this guy had a cacophony of noises and that drives me nuts! Plus, I was doing all the work and he was just sitting back there grunting. Finally, coming down Sam's Run I moved over and said it was his turn and I tucked in on the downhills for a nice draft into the strengthening wind and a brief respite. I now started focusing on when I'd lose this guy or would he stick like glue for the last 5km. I passed on the switchback uphills in Elinor's Field but he got back on my tail. I grapped a last feed quickly and pulled out, but he was there. We caught up to a couple people heading back to town (and I deftly dodged a tourer down in the middle of the last S turn) and he was there. We started up through the pine trees on the last, brutal climb.....I was now seeing stars and my legs didn't have much left on those little herringbone sections.....and he was still there. We passed a bonked kid and nearly caught up to Dave Roberts......and he was hanging tight. We headed out across the open fields, the cold wind knifing through my sweaty clothes, causing the stars I was seeing to now glow....and he was still there. We rounded the parking lot and I was asking myself when he'd make a move.....he sat back. At the road crossing I went, but there wasn't much left in the tank, the gears were slipping and the stars were getting brighter.....he stuck like glue. Onto the Common, in the best Weston tradition, I grabbed the inside track for the last turn, controlling the corner....and finally it started....double pole frenzy for the last 100 meters and I even gave a shot at shooting my foot forward.....I'd kept him at bay just barely.
It was a good day. Not as fast as I'd have liked, but it was too good to care much about that. For the first time in many years I had not bonked or had some kind of waxing disaster and the conditions were unbelievably good.
I stood there at the finish line, the stars now swirling around and as they slowly subsided I looked down at this little girl standing with her mom and asked her if she could undo my bindings and she happily obliged. It was a good day.....
I didn't have much time to wax. But, thanks to conditions, it wasn't hard and time consuming. I applied couple layers of VR40, checked - it worked alright. Then saw Frank who told me, that he used VR30 "with some VR40" (what does it mean? - I guessed at that time). Puzzled, I decided not to experiment, added more VR40 and, to pacify my mind, covered with thin layer of VR30. Rushed to start, some nice man let me squeeze into the middle of the crowd and, in few second, we started.
Remembering my previous years problems in this race, I decided to ski at a relaxed manner - no rushes, no staying with somebody next to me at any cost, just listen to my body, work hard enough but not over 3000 rpm. Slowly, I was able to pass few people, I usually ski close to - mostly on downhills and on flats, trying to squeeze reasonable maximum from double/kick-double poling. At the end of the 1-st loop I met Jamie Doucett and Bob Burnham starting their 2-d one. I was not too far behind, what pacified me that my pace is OK and I have to proceed in such manner. Most of the 2-d loop I was trying to stay with #98 (Jason Urckfitz). We skied pretty even, but he was able to keep always some distance. He was slipping a bit and switching to herring-boning on occasional steep parts, but glided well on flats and did well on gradual up-hills with diagonal stride. By the end of Sam's leg and before up-hill on the field, he slowed a bit, maybe been annoyed by me staying behind. And, as a man of honor, I had to go forward to pull both of us. Remembering that he's good on up-hills, I was pretty sure, he'll pass me back. But, again, I was pacifying myself - no panic, no rush, don't exhaust yourself. He stayed behind. On the final hill to Craftsbury Common, I finally realized, how tired am I. The thought, not to loose those small achievements I had, pushed me step-by-step to finish.
I have to confirm once more - the day and skiing conditions were excellent. Maybe the first time in few years of doing this race, it was not like a disastrous thing I have to pass through but rather, though not easy, a normal race. I had kick till the finish. I felt pretty well in the race. And, it was a surprise for myself, I was not hungry or thirsty. I started initially drink after each lap (4-5 km), but realized that I feel like overstuffed. So I switched to once per 10 km pattern. And I didn't feel any need to eat (in previous years, I started to consume gel after 30-35 km).
That's it, in brief. Beautiful lyrics about shining sun at the beginning of the race and swirling stars in head by the end one can find in the essay by James Doucett.