The rain stopped just long enough for Caitlin Patterson and Jake Brown to savor their wins at the 2021 edition of the Climb to the Castle last Saturday in Wilmington, NY, near Lake Placid.
Craftsbury Green Racing Project (CGRP) swept the women’s podium; Caitlin Patterson edged Margie Freed for the win in 46:48.8, with her teammate just .7 second back in 46:49.5. Tara Geraghty-Moats placed third in 47:35.0.
Brown, skiing for US Biathlon / CGRP, took the men’s win in a time of 38:04:00. CGRP teammate Akeo Maifeld-Carucci came second in 39:34:9, and Junior athlete Tabor Greenberg, a U16 athlete out of the Green Mountain Valley School (GMVS), interrupted CGRP’s command of the podium in third place at 41:24.7.
After taking 2020 off due to the pandemic, the Climb to the Castle returned to the Northeast roller ski calendar, co-hosted by NENSA and NYSEF. The race leads skiers five miles up the Whiteface Veteran’s Memorial Highway at an average eight percent grade. Whiteface is the fifth highest mountain in New York’s Adirondacks; start too hard, and you’ll never recover. This author can attest.
As is often the case, weather made the race…. interesting. Light overnight rain tailed off about an hour before the start. Although the temperature hovered in the low 50s, the humidity made it feel warmer. Clouds and fog obscured vision throughout the day. In some places, one was lucky to see a hundred feet. For a change, there was little wind, even at the infamous Windy Corner and chute, 800 meters or so from the finish.
For COVID safety, organizers started five waves of skiers, each two minutes apart. Competitors wore masks at bib pickup and on the summit after finishing their race.
The women’s race was high drama as Patterson, Freed, and Geraghty-Moats worked together up the road.
“Tara and Margie and I knew we wanted to work together, especially with the way the Climb can be pretty windy at the top. It was just gonna be: ski smooth, work together, and shuffle around the leads, which is what we did. I definitely wanted to make sure not to start too fast. I did that well, though I certainly had some rough moments in the middle.”
From the start, Patterson said that she and Geraghty-Moats took turns in the lead, trading off about every kilometer. “Towards the upper part, Margie was taking some really strong leads. I was suffering a bit,” Patterson added.
With two kilometers left, Freed opened a gap from Patterson and Geraghty-Moats. Patterson said it took a few minutes for her to regain contact. At that point, Patterson and Freed pulled away from Geraghty-Moats, skiing to the finish.
“Maybe 30 seconds out, I passed [Margie],” Patterson said. “It was really strong work by both of them. It was great to ski with people because it was as tough a course as ever.”
Of her finishing kick, Patterson said, “I know that I can tap into a late surge. We were working together for most of it, and as the finish line was drawing near, it was definitely every person for themselves.”
“It went pretty well today,” said Freed of her race. “It was awesome to ski with Tara and Caitlin for so long. I don’t think I could have kept up that pace if I was alone.
“I’ve never done this race before, so it was exciting to have every step be something new for me,” Freed continued. “Even though I didn’t quite know where the finish was, or when it was coming. I couldn’t quite see it because it was so foggy. It was an awesome day out there, and I was glad it wasn’t as windy or rainy or cold as I was thinking it was going to be.”
This past winter, Geraghty-Moats won the first ever crystal globe for FIS Women’s Nordic Combined. She also won the Climb in 2018. After the race, she wrote, “It was really nice to go all out with my teammates. We skied together really well. We all had moments of fading and then climbed back on. I dropped back about half a k after the Lake Placid turn — I just kind of ran out of gas. I’m pretty happy with how I felt and it was a really fun race.”
For Brown, this was his third win at Climb to the Castle, his previous two coming in 2017 and 2018.
“I wanted it to be a good, solid effort,” Brown said. “I knew that I couldn’t sprint too hard off the line, but I wanted to get into that high heart rate zone and stay there as long as I could.”
Asked about race strategy, Brown said, “I was with Akeo [Maifeld-Carucci], my Craftsbury Green Racing Project teammate. He led for the first 3 minutes or so.”
At that point, Brown said, he took a turn pulling and developed a gap. “I was hoping we could work together a little bit more, but we ended up with an awkward 20-meter gap between us that we held for maybe half the race. Then I slowly pulled away and was by myself.”
Asked if he could use this as a fitness benchmark, Brown said, “This was my fourth time doing the race. This was a bit of a slower year; I’m hoping it was just because of the weather. Maybe a little later in the year and a little colder pavement. It was kind of warm today, but maybe the pavement was a little colder. Maybe my fitness isn’t where it was. We’ll find out when the winter comes — that’s what matters.”
For Maifeld-Carucci, “It was a sweet day. I wanted to do this race for a long time, since early in college. So it was great to actually be here and do it. The weather was way better than we expected. It was a little wet and a little cloudy at the top, but there were moments when it opened up and it was super pretty. Constant great climb, hard skiing — it was definitely a hard race and a really good effort.”
Commenting on the men’s pacing and tactics, Maifeld-Carucci echoed Brown’s explanation of the duo’s ability to collaborate.
“Jake and I were hoping to ski together and trade leads,” Maifeld-Carucci explained. “He was feeling a little stronger than I was so I fell off early and we were dangling 20 meters apart for a long time. Then he started to open it up.”
In addition to Greenberg nabbing third place overall, the GMVS boys swept the junior podium.
Responding to an email, GMVS head coach Colin Rodgers said that his skiers didn’t taper for the race. “Tabor actually trained a lot in the past week including a 120 mile bike ride to raise money for the Kelly Brush Foundation.”
Commenting on the preparation for this event, and how it fits into the season preparation, Rodgers explained:
“We spent some time recently working on climbing technique. When we were recently on snow on the Stelvio glacier we were working on standing well (balanced and forward) on our skis. We did not discuss any mass start race tactics for today — I really just wanted the crew to focus on pacing the effort properly and being consistent throughout the duration of the climb. [Having] a dialed warm up and trying to keep good form when tired were also a few other things we were honed in on today.”
Did Rodgers have an inkling that Greenberg might podium?
“We were not focused on the podium, we were just focused on executing a solid race effort. We are primarily focused on competitions in March, so all of this is just trying to build momentum towards the end of the race season.”
Although COVID border closures prevented Canadian clubs from driving across the border, many clubs and colleges still showed up to throw down.
According to Sara Falconer, a coach at Mansfield Nordic (MNC) in Vermont, “It’s a good opportunity for [MNC junior athletes] to race other high school athletes and college athletes that are here. It’s also a chance for them to compare their times to last year and see the results of all the work they put in over the summer. They can see a lot of dramatic improvement. It’s a really motivating thing for them. And it’s also a good workout.”
Ethan Townsend, Saint Lawrence University’s (SLU) head nordic ski coach, planned a training weekend for his team. SLU athletes also roller skied the new loop at Mount van Hoevenberg on Friday.
“Saturday morning, we got up early and did a run/hike” said Townsend. “They had the option of going up Algonquin or Wright or Marcy. A lot of them took the option of going up Marcy. A few of them went up Phelps and Tabletop. Probably an average of five hours.”
Mount Marcy is the highest Adirondack mountain at 5,344 feet and Algonquin, the second highest, stands at 5,114 feet. The remaining peaks named are also among the 46 Adirondack High Peaks, which are all above 4000 feet.
After coming out of the woods, the SLU team reconvened for an afternoon double pole roller ski session.
“We weren’t concerned about performance, necessarily, in this race,” Townsend said. “It’s a training race. Something to do as a group. I told them, ‘Don’t worry about the results so much. It’s great that we can come here and do this. If you just stay in level three the whole time and you’re not feeling it to go super hard, I think that alone would be worthwhile.’”
You can find more footage of the 2021 Climb to the Castle on NENSA’s YouTube channel.
Peter Minde is a FasterSkier contributor and personal trainer specializing in functional strength and corrective exercise. Whether skiing, trail running, or cycling, he’s always looking to see what’s at the top of the next hill. From the wilds of north N.J., he skis for Peru Nordic. On Twitter @PeteMinde or at www.oxygenfedsport.com.