Here is the Strava link if you’re interested in the data https://www.strava.com/activities/3083396688
Since moving to Vermont in Fall 2019 my eyes have been set on Winter. While late summer was fun and I certainly enjoyed the fall foliage, it was the freezing cold and snow that lingered tantalizingly close in the back of my mind. Although I did get in a few days on snow prior to winter break, most of the ground was still green until mid-January. When the snow finally did arrive for real it was a much-needed reprieve from miserable outdoor running. My training for Skimo has consisted of power-hiking on the treadmill with running intervals at grades between 10%-15%, and skinning as much vert as I can squeeze in on the weekends. Prior to Middlebury, I had only gotten in 3 skinning days with ~ 15k feet of skiing vert and 30k feet of total vert over the previous 3 weeks. I signed up for the race at the last minute thanks to finding a ride from a wonderful new friend named Sammie. We both were new to Skimo, and this was both of our first big races on skis.
I woke up on race morning after a less than stellar amount of sleep (7h22 according to Garmin) to my watch buzzing at 5:42 AM. After shaving, getting dressed, getting my gear ready, grabbing as many Clif bars and Costco crepes as I could stuff into my pockets, filling up my bottles, and triple checking I had everything I was finally able to head out the door. Sammie and her wife picked me up around 6:15 and we were off. While it was bitterly cold (3* at 7 AM) and the previous days 15+ inches of snow still littered the road, we were greeted with a gorgeous sunrise over the Adirondack’s. We arrived at Middlebury around 7:30 and headed inside to pick up bibs and for Sammie to set up her new skis. After eating some more breakfast and getting all my race kit laid out, Sammie and I headed out for a warmup skin at 8:42 AM (https://www.strava.com/activities/3082489363). We skinned up 90% of the first climb on some of the most beautiful trails ever and got to have fresh tracks on some massive powder fields. I felt good and shed my windbreaker after only a few minutes. After that I ended up staying in my usual base layer and rabbit quarter zip for the rest of the day. Originally the race was supposed to start at 9:30, but due to some last-minute course remarking Jonathan, the race director, didn’t start the pre-race briefing until 10:00. After walking outside to put our skis back on, Sammie and I did a couple of strides (On skis: https://www.strava.com/activities/3082568661) and got ready for the race to start.
The gun finally went off at 10:22 and we were off in a sprint. Similar to a HSXC race the lead pack went out at sprint pace for the first 400. Yet in comparison to my glory days of racing Varsity 2 VHSL 5ks that were less than 20 minutes long, even the leaders would be taking 2h+ to finish. Realizing 100 meters in that I would not be remotely keeping up with the front pack I dropped back into the 2nd chase pack and settled in for the first 800 foot climb. As we crested out of the first climb onto a flat 600 foot plateau to the first transition I found myself near the back of the pack. The first transition to the descent went fine and I was feeling calm and collected at this point. But, 20 meters later when I saw what we had to descend, and the beginning of everything falling apart began. For some reason, Middlebury had opened the trails we were descending on for the first time all season that morning, and they had gone completely un-groomed for the entirety of the past 3 months. And while I am a competent skier, double blacks on 20 inches of fresh un-groomed snow on top of a season worth of un-groomed snow is pretty much my worst nightmare. While I was able to make it through this first descent without falling, it was exhausting fighting through the moguls and making hop turns in order to stay in control. After finishing the first descent, we started the boot pack section of the course. It was a .2 mile long climb at an average grade of 31% and a max of 63% of fresh snow with footsteps painfully cut out in the morning by Jonathan and his team. I caught up to Sammie halfway through the climb and we forced our way through the deep snow while recreational skiers screamed past us. Finally, after an agonizing climb, we topped out the bootpack only to realize there were another 30 feet of flat trudging to the transition area. Making it through the next descent was nearly as rough as the first one, but I made it to the final climb of lap one without any major issues. Sammie had dropped me hard on the descent but I nearly caught her as she was transitioning to the final descent of lap one. The last descent was easier but much icier than any of the other snow on the course and required a lot of quad energy to hold edges. I made it through the first lap in 1h5 and took 3 minutes to transition and ready myself for the next 2 laps.
Lap two started out strong and I had a decent climb through the first section. The first descent went pretty poorly and I was struggling even more with the snow as it was being continuously skied off as the day went on. I made it through the 2nd boot pack much quicker than the first time and felt like I was regaining a little momentum lost on the 2nd half of lap two. Unfortunately, as I came down the end of the 2nd descent I took a massive crash. Popping out of both skis and smashing every part of my body into the ground at 30 mph thanks to catching a lip hidden by some fluffy snow sent me into panic mode. Quickly grabbing my skis and trying to get myself back in one piece I assessed that I was okay. Nothing seemed broken, I didn’t feel any muscle or ligament tears, and only my shoulder really hurt which isn’t the most important part of the body for skiing. I made it through the rest of the descent without any accident and got to the transition area for the last climb of lap two. Right as I began my climb I could hear the leaders coming down into the transition area already on their last lap. While I gave it my best effort to stay ahead of them, the crash combined with exhaustion from fighting the downhills slowed me down enough that they lapped me going into the last descent. I had a slow transition onto the last descent of lap 2 and accidentally got snow on my left skin which would prove problematic in only a few minutes. I made it through lap 2 in 1h8 and took 5 minutes to transition and try and get some calories in.
Lap three started as a mess. The leaders had just finished and were celebrating that they were done, a number of spectators were crowding the transition area, and my left skin would not stick to my ski under any circumstance. I, fortunately, was able to swap it out for a spare and start moving, but the crazy of everything cost me several minutes. The first climb up lap 3 was the first time in a number of months that I had to force myself forward and keep reminding myself that it would all be worth it. My legs were shutting down and my brain, starved of glucose and running on only whatever my adrenal gland was drip-feeding it to keep me conscience, was ready to be done for the day. But, I kept pushing up the last of the hard skinning for the day and was able to pass someone and move out of the last position! This was a much-needed morale boost and brought a nice bit of energy back to my body. I pushed hard to the transition area for the first descent and took the it nice and easy. Knowing another crash could very well end my race, if not my whole season. I was able to make it down to the boot pack without issue and even was cheered on my a couple of recreational skiers who were out on the course. The last boot pack went moderately fine. I was able to pick my way up easier thanks to the steps being more prominent now, but each time I had to take a step that required me to pull myself up with one leg I had to take a few seconds to recover. Cresting the top of the boot pack there was a course marshal with a cowbell cheering on and I even got a shout from someone on the lift telling me to “Go get it, girl!”. This was more than enough to get me moving quickly up and onto the last transition area. I made it down the 2nd to last descent without a problem and thankfully avoided the spot where I crashed the previous lap. On the last transition, I was able to get in and out in under 2 minutes and begin the final 750-foot skin. The climb was exhausting and I was redlining to try and secure my not last position. I was able to make it to the final transition before collapsing and did one of the worst sins in Skimo, not folding your skins, in order to get down and be done. I shot through the last descent at a reckless pass that was far too fast given what had happened earlier in the day, but I was lucky and made it through the icy snow without issue. Coming down back on the groomer I did my best aero tuck and flew into the finish area. I stopped my watch at 3h30:34. Thankfully I was able to lean on my poles instead of falling down in order to spare my body the pain of getting more snow on myself. I skated over to the lodge and dragged myself inside to find a seat which I promptly plopped down into.
The recovery from this race felt equivalent to a short ultra. My legs did not want to function for a couple of days and it took until Wednesday for everything to feel normal again. Thanks to the previous day’s snowstorm I had been unable to eat dinner, and because we left before the dining halls opened I was unable to have a real breakfast on race morning. These two events combined with my appetite gone post-race led to what was probably a 3,000+ calorie deficit over two days. Thanks to this Sunday consisted nearly of only sleeping and eating as I tried to heal my body. Thankfully within only a few days, my body bounced right back and I was right back into training by Tuesday.
Overall Middlebury was an amazing experience and a fantastic way to finally get back into a race environment and fight tough conditions. Over the weeks following the race I have been putting in massive volume weeks in an attempt to get ready for Bromley Skimo on March 14th. I have high hopes for the race and in bizarre twist am hoping for no new snow and only the most groomer of groomer descents! During this season I have really fallen in love with Skimo and cannot wait to continue to improve my skills at this odd sport. The community has been so welcoming and it’s been wonderful to find a way to work hard in the mountains during the winter.
My kit is pretty much a hodgepodge of running, cycling, and XC skiing gear all smushed together. Fortunately that seems to be the norm for this sport so I guess I fit right in.
Skis: I’m currently skiing on a pair of Hagen X-Race with Hagan ZR toe pieces and Ski Trab race heels. They are proper race skis (63mm underfoot and 163cm length) and weigh in at 860 grams per ski.
Boots: I’m using Dynafit TLT6 Boots (The green wider model) which are very comfy.
Skins: La Sportiva and Ski Trab yellow race skins.
Pack: The pack that I wear is a Dynafit DNA 16L race pack which has functioned wonderfully throughout all of my skiing adventures thus far.
Poles: For the race I was able to borrow a pair of Sammies 135cm Swix poles, which I have now acquired my own pair. During the race I used loop straps but I know have swapped to using the hand straps.
Bottoms: For the race I wore a pair of Compress-sport half calves with Dynafit Mercury Pants. Although a pain to have to move my pants around in order to transition my boots between ski and walk, it was great to have a waterproof bottom layer with all of the snow.
Tops: I wore a base layer with rabbit quarter zip over top, a pair of Swix XC gloves, a heavy neck gaiter, and a thin buff on my head to protect my ears.
Helmet: I borrowed a friends Petzl Meteor climbing helmet.
Throughout the race I took in 3 Gu octane and around 800-100ml of water. I feel that for next time I need to take in liquid calories and less overall fluid to ease the burden on my kidneys.