Earlier this month, I competed in the Rangeley marathon, a 50 kilometer skate race in Maine.
Thing #1 which can happen in a marathon: you realize you hate them. At about 16k, I turned to Courtney Robinson and told her that I remembered I hated marathons. “Well, I like skiing marathons with you,” she said in attempt to cheer me up. Then she skied away.
Despite this realization, I decided to ski another marathon this weekend. At Sugarloaf, I took the 30k option instead of the 50k offering, mostly because of a bad head cold. After about a kilometer, I was struggling to breathe at a pace far below normal, and knew I was probably ruining my health for at least the next week. Thing #2 which can happen in marathons: you are sick.
As I put my jacket on at the finish, I listened to the announcer speculate on who would win the women’s 50k. “Sarah Wright of UNH had a sizeable lead entering the third lap. But anything can happen in a marathon, so stay tuned.”
Can anything really happen in a marathon? Yes. My teammate Pat O’Brien says that in a good marathon, you have to go through at least five phases of feeling completely miserable. Here is a short compilation of ways this can be accomplished.
#3: You can fall once. Example: me at each of the races.
#4: You can fall more than once. Sam Evans-Brown of Bates joked at Sugarloaf, “I think I get the prize for 1:1 ratio of falling to finish place.” Sam finished seventh.
#5: You can fall and get tangled up with your teammates. At Sugarloaf, Natalie Ruppertsberger of Plainfield was skiing with two of her Bates teammates, Abby Samuelson and Megan McClelland. Natalie fell. Abby ran into her. Wildcats down all over the trail.
#6: You can really, really fall. At Rangeley, my teammate Katie Bono hurt herself in a bad crash. I saw her finish: she was crying, she wasn’t using her poles because of the pain in her shoulders, and her legs hurt, too, so she was having trouble skating.
#7: You can break a pole. As I skied through the lap this weekend just ahead of Sam (who was in the 50k with an earlier start time), the announcer said, “It looks like Sam Evans-Brown of Bates is just off the pace of the leaders, and it looks like he broke a pole. If you have a left pole, please give it to Sam. Does anyone have a pole? No?” Sam, who is a tall guy, skied about 15 kilometers with one normal pole and one “midget pole” before he found someone his own height who could donate one.
#8: You can break a binding. One of the most exciting storylines going into the Rangeley marathon was the rivalry between two of my teammates, many-time carnival winner Ida Sargent and her boyfriend John Gerstenberger, mostly known as a sprint specialist. The competition was, as the Manning brothers would say, “on like Donkey Kong.” Then, at 30k, John broke a binding and couldn’t finish. Ida won by default, and John has repeatedly accused her of somehow sabotaging his binding.
#9: You can break yourself. See #6. I am sure you could break a ski, too, but I don’t know anyone this has happened to.
#10: Your skis can be slower than the rest. Our development team usually doesn’t have the resources to pour 50 kilometers worth of expensive fluourocarbon wax into our skis. At Rangeley, Dartmouth freshman Eric Packer found himself skating down the hills while two Colby skiers coasted. Figuring that the uphills were the only place he could break them, he put in a huge effort on a 5 kilometer hill and gained a total distance of about 20 meters. On the next downhill, they caught him.
#11: Everyone’s skis can be slow. In the last fifteen minutes or so of my race at Sugarloaf, it started snowing. Shortly after, my skis started sticking. Maybe I had skied through Hammer Gel that someone had discarded in the trail? I assumed that the guy behind me would catch up. But he didn’t. It turned out that every pair of skis in the field had iced. In a skate race. Nobody had ever heard of this happening before.
#12: You can remember you hate gels, that staple of mid-race nutrition. At Rangeley, I almost threw up when I tried to give myself some energy from a vanilla-flavored Power Gel, which tasted like rotten yogurt.
#13: You can bonk, as is legendary in marathons of any discipline. This might involve hallucinating, stopping on the side of the trail, or even sitting down and eating snow. You might be unable to ski much at all, which happened to Ida in the last few kilometers of her win at Rangeley. “I tried to coach’s skate up the last hill,” she said, implying that regular skating was too difficult, “but I couldn’t!”
#14: You can lose a sprint finish. Even after 50 kilometers, sometimes it comes down to a sprint. Granted, it may be not be fast. It may be, as Pat says, a “slow motion sprint.” Regardless, it’s hard. Eric’s aforementioned slow skis did him no favors at Rangeley; he managed to stick with the Colby kids to the finish, but couldn’t get going fast enough to get them in the end.
#15: You can win! Fresh off of an All-American finish at NCAA’s, Pat won the Sugarloaf marathon this weekend, ahead of Pat Weaver, Olympian and UVM assistant coach. A battle of the Pats: Weaver tried to break O’Brien on a hill a few kilometers before the finish, but O’Brien hung on and passed him. They skied in more or less together; the two sprinted but the finish was never in question.
So why do we keep doing marathons? It’s the possibility of #15, the camaraderie in the lodge after the finish, and just the feeling of having completed the darn thing. Endurance athletes: sometimes not the smartest bunch….