|Brandon Baker and I pacing each other after|
finishing the first of two laps.
[Photo courtesy Gianina Lindsey]
Henniker, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- It's rare that I wake before an alarm...particularly a 3:00 AM alarm. But on Saturday I had a mountain to climb and an age-group series lead to maintain at WinterWild-Pat's Peak. The third race in the five race series. Brayden and I packed the Explorer the night before. We picked up the Lindsey's around the corner and then Rich at the Concord P&R. Arriving at 5:30 AM we had plenty of time to leisurely change and chat with friends and teammates before the start command was given at 7:00 AM. In some strange twist of fate I had found myself tied for the 40-49 year old series lead with Mark Hecox of Henniker. He and I had traded age group wins in the first two races. WW-Pat's Peak would be the largest race of the winter with over 225 starters. At the start command a group of about 10-15 wide (including skinny plankers) took off on a flat section of mountain and within 25 meters were funnelled into a 15 meter shoot wide enough for 1 or 2 skiers and not much else. I did my best to get off fast, stay to the left edge, and try not to get a pole in the eye. As we made the sharp left hand turn up the mountain most of the top Nordic guys were already a few meters ahead but I had once again found myself running out amongst the front of the open category. Mark must not have had a great start because it was a several hundred meters up the mountain before he pulled alongside. We acknowledged each other and focused on dodging the skiers as we attempted to find a clean line up a relatively easy pitch. The first 2/3 of the climb up Puff (green) was absolutely runnable and Mark and I stayed close to each other. It wasn't until we made the turn onto Twister (black) for the last ascent that things got considerably more difficult and Mark made his one and only move. I tried to quick chop the first few meters but decided very fast that it would be better to power hike this section as it was the first of two trips we'd make here. And walking turned out to be every bit as fast as "running". Mark, on the other hand, had made the decision to go for broke and muscled his way up this 200+ meter climb putting a 20+ meter gap on me in no time. At this point I still felt like there was a lot of racing to do and I was confident that I was improving my descents. I didn't want to risk the entire race to chase him down and figured I'd be able to recover and close on him during lap #2. Mark had other ideas. He stayed in sight up Twister but disappeared as we crested the mountain into the full splendor of a beautiful NH sunrise. As I began the descent of Breeze (green) I could see him slowly increasing his lead as he hammered down the mountain. Hesistant not to blow my legs up trying to close an almost insurmountable gap, I pushed hard but conservatively, working with young gun Brandon Baker to pick our way down the mountain. Passing the START/FINISH Mark was out of sight and my goal quickly changed to staying in the Top 5 open category. Running 5th as we started back up the mountain I felt strong and in control. I ran all of Puff and again power hiked Twister back to the sun splashed summit. I peaked quickly just before setting off down the mountain and didn't see any immediate open threat. Relaxing a little more on the second descent I could feel my turnover increasing and my legs slowly going numb. Luckily Breeze, Zepher, and Blast are all gradually sloping green trails keeping the pounding on my legs at a manageable level. Making the turn around the chairlift at the bottom all that was left was a 100 sprint up a slight incline to the finish. Then it happened...out of nowhere I had someone on my left shoulder. Right away I assumed it was Brandon who had caught me but it was actually another 20-something challenger. We ran stride for stride for five or six steps and then I felt him pulling ahead. With 10 meters to go, in one last "old man" attempt at holding my spot I leaned forward and "accelerated" with everything I had. For 2-3 strides I actually felt like I had pulled ahead but with less than 5 meters to go he just barely pulled ahead and beat me by a nose. It was the first time in recent memory I had to finish with a sprint. Guess I need to work on my explosive foot speed. My unofficial finishing time was 37:50 and good enough for 6th overall open (3rd 40+ open). With Mark's 90+ second win he's now back on top of the 40-49 year old series open category with two races to go. I have fallen back to 2nd. If this is going to go down to the wire, and there's no reason now not to think it will, I need to have a game plan in place for Sunapee. Any move he makes will need to be immediately countered because I've learned he's a great closer.
NEXT UP: WinterWild-Mount Sunapee