I wanted to share my experience from Sunday's marathon because against all odds, and unbeknownst to anyone watching the race, it was a very positive experience for me.
I signed up for this race on a bit of a whim, thinking there was less than a 50% chance I'd actually show up. There was some intense internal deliberation in the week leading up to the event. There were a hundred reasons to not show up on the start line, and most of them good ones. The field was almost entirely made up of skiers with Olympic dreams, my race form has not been great this year, and most of the winter, my legs have been shot after only 10 miles. Two factors played a crucial role in my decision to show up. First and foremost was knowing that Damian would be next to me on the starting line. Secondly, this race would put me over the top on my goal to ski 500 miles this winter after an abysmal 190 last winter, and what better way to do that than ski a marathon.
Even after that decision, there were two more late reasons to bail out. Saturday's beautiful fast skate conditions were not going to repeat themselves on Sunday. New, wet snow was on the horizon for Sunday, promising for a tough day of waxing and skiing, especially for an amatuer with limited ski options, limited waxing help, and a propensity to show up late. Then I couldn't fall asleep until 1 am, but the alarm went off, I dragged myself out of bed, left the house (20 minutes later than planned), grabbed a couple breakfast sandwiches at Maplefields, and headed to the race.
I had no real plan when I showed up. I tried my skin skis, which worked pretty well, but at the time that I bought them, I was a little overweight and didn't know it, so I don't really trust them anymore unless the tracks are solid and flat, which would not be the case. I found a kick wax that was working well. At that time, the tracks were forming an icy glaze, which I thought would continue to develop and my wax would hold up. I had better ideas, but no time to test them.
I was seeded dead last in the mass start, which was fine my me. Rick Costanza was working the start area and offering to clean out boots for the athletes. I couldn't resist taking up the offer and feeling like a pro for a couple seconds. I've always been jealous that the pros get that service and that in itself almost made it all worth it.
As the start gun went off, a significant gap formed in front of me before I even crossed the start line. I didn't want to get dropped in the stadium, so I made an effort to close the gap before heading into the woods where I could ease off. On the first lap of four, Damian and I were quickly by ourselves, but still ahead of some other masters racers. I slowed up a little to ski with Damian, but when we hit the flats on Ruthie's, my double pole felt good, and I was on a mission to not get lapped, so I left him behind, and was now on my own.
Upon starting the 2nd lap, it became apparent that the tracks were not going to be an icy glaze, but were going to be a wet glaze, and that didn't bode well for my wax choice. Climbing was going to be tough. I was able to stride and glide in some places, but I spent most of the remaining three laps shuffling up the hills out of the tracks. But the skis were gliding well, so I kept hammering on the double pole as best I could. I figured my chances of not getting lapped were dashed with my lack of kick, but I kept on fighting. My race was three laps, and the 4th didn't matter.
Halfway through the 3rd lap, I started looking back, wondering where the leaders were. I knew there would be no warning, no chance to stay ahead once I saw them, so I just kept pushing and counting down the Ks until I returned to the stadium. 5k to go, 4k to go, 3k to go. I pass Matt Boobar on the climb out of Ruthie's and ask him if he thinks I have a chance to not get lapped. He's skeptical, but gives me encouragement saying "There's always a chance." 2k to go. I just have to get over Screaming Mimi and around Wilbur's. Upon reaching the top of Screaming Mimi, I took a peek down the hill and couldn't see anyone, and thought I had it, but didn't get too overconfident. I reached the top of Wilbur's where Sarah was giving us feeds. Right at that moment, I heard someone say "they're right behind you." I considered skipping the feed, but decided I just couldn't, so I gulped some down, and sprinted into the lower stadium. As I took the right turn towards teaching hill, I looked back as the leaders were bearing down on me. There was no chance as they were sprinting for the finish, so I pulled over at the bottom of teaching hill and let them go by. I was 30 meters short of the lap turn off. It was a disappointment, but there was only one thing left to do. Finish the race, and that I did. Nobody told me that I was catching Rob Riley and less than a minute behind him at the start of the 4th lap, but perhaps that was for the best.
Before the race started, I mentioned to Molly Peters that I had a hundred reasons to not show up today and she responded "but you never regret it." I don't think that's 100% true, but it's definitely true more often than not. There have been a lot of days in my past where I've been waxing skis the night before, getting up in the middle of the night to drive to Jackson or Rumford, or showing up to race a marathon when it's 2 degrees out and thinking "oh my god, why am I doing this." But when it's all over, I almost always feel like it was worth it, and I'm grateful I overcame the excuses.
This race was perhaps my greatest ever in terms of mental fortitude. Perhaps it was because I was on my own or the stakes were low, but I never got discouraged. As I was struggling up the climbs, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and doing the best I could. The thought of dropping out never crossed my mind. The thought that I shouldn't be in this race at all never crossed my mind. I can't recall a single negative thought entering my head, not even when I fell 30 meters short of my goal. I just kept trucking. On a day when the odds were stacked against me, I left with a really positive feeling, and a big boost of motivation to be in great shape for next winter. This is a race I won't forget, and definitely one I don't regret.