Last year's (blue) and this year's (red) race course.The Rangeley Loppet fell on a weekend with stunning spring air temps on top of deep, clean snow. Night and morning air temps were cold enough to keep the snow temp from rising to quickly, at least for the 25K. The result was moderately fast conditions. Perhaps the 2nd lap would have slowed a bit with temps reaching maybe 40F but unlike last year, I only did the 25K this year. Too much coaching and too little training to do 50K.
The racers were divided into two waves; both 50K and 25K were in each. I was assigned to wave 1, I guess because I had raced last year (and the year before). I seeded my self at the end of my line (there were maybe a dozen starting lines in the mass start). Not surprisingly, the first 1K was really slow. The 2nd K was a little faster but I still wanted to move faster than the pack. Finally, at some point after 2K, I found my little pace group. Actually they found me and snuck into my draft as I pulled them through the flat, open, first few K. When we finally got to the first small climb I was on my own and had a big pack in front of me that occasionally dropped skiers that I would eventually pass. I closed in on the pack by the top of the climb but they gained ground on the following down/flat section. At some point during the roller coaster section (outer limits trail, about 6-8K), two racers from wave 2 passed me, including Riley Eusden, a wicked fast racer from Oxford Hill HS. Then four wave 2 master blasters passed me and I briefly thought about trying to hang onto them. Hah, I could not have sprinted as fast as they were skiing 50K.
On the 2nd climb, a long, straight, but not steep climb headed straight to the alpine trails, I passed a couple of more skiers dropped from the pack in front but then I got passed by Jackson Bloch and Eric Hemphill, two of our (James and I) top Falmouth High School (State Champs!) skiers (wooohoo, they were working together). I hung onto them to the top but then they dropped me in the little transitional section after turning into the woods (note to self. Really need to figure out how to stop loosing time in these sections with lots of transitions).
The rest of the race was pretty typical. A couple of skiers passed me on the long downhill, then I passed them back on the 3rd and final climb, and then they passed me back in the transitional area before the final downhill. The last 3K I skied alone; I couldn't hang onto the skiers that had just passed me (no more climbs!) but no one caught up with me either. On these final 3K, I did pass a few of the 25K classic racers (who had started an hour earlier). I also skied past some very fresh moose droppings and learned that the leader of the Classic race had to shoo three moose of the trail with his pole!
The only steep hill is about 15 feet high and about 50 meters from the finish so I sprinted up this and did my best Petter Northug sprint finish (even though I wasn't racing anyone). Final time: 1:27:25. Not bad but I feel like my progress is stagnating - I'm not any faster than last year. Last year I finished the first lap in about 1:29:30 but last year's course was about 1K more distance so 1:27:25 is actually slower. Given that I did the full 50K last year, I'm a little worried about my ability to get much faster. Falmouth HS and MS skiers had a big presence and cleaned up many gold, silver, and bronze medals. I won my age division for the 25K (M3 40-44) and Neighbor John came in 2nd in our AG! This is mostly because all the fast master blasters ski 50K and leave the 25K to recreational skiers like me. (Note to Jamie du la Nord: Dr. Jamie jumped into the 25K and had a great race, where were you?).
The course had two small changes which you can see in the map above. The major change was the excision of a 1K loop just before the 2nd climb. I'm not sure why this was done. The director of the race (Nat Steele) thought this shortened the lap to 23K but I and others, including Mary Lou Lowrie who also helps with the race, measured it (during the race) at 24K. The shortened race created some confusion for a few racers, including Neighbor John and Falmouth middle schooler Sam Pratico, who saw the "finish right" sign but went left thinking they had another 2K to go. Other than this minor snafu, the race was directed beautifully. There was a huge array of homemade soups, chili, casseroles, etc., brats, and more cookies and brownies than bakery. Plus coffee. Medals went 3 deep in all the age categories (that is a lot of prizes!). And the table of raffle prizes was piled with goodies (everyone wins a raffle prize!). Other race directors could learn alot from Nat and Mary Lou.
On Sunday after the race, Neighbor John and I skied 15K with Nat and Mary Lou. They took us up the long climb to the Alpine trails, then down a trail that rarely gets groomed (Nat had groomed it that morning). Then across the lake back to the start. The picture of me on the lake from last night's post was during this tour. It was about 50F and bluebird skies. After lunch, John and I went out for another 15K so got in 30K total for Sunday and 55K for the weekend.