Rebounding from a weekend in Florida at the USATF Junior Olympic Cross-Country Running Championship we turned our attention to the point of origin of US Route 1 in Fort Kent, Maine, for the Eastern Cup Opener. The journey started a little earlier with registering for the event. In purchasing a USSA License for the first race of the season, I discovered that skiing begins in June and I was late to the party. I thought better of getting too worked up about a $25.00 late fee for a Masters Competition License, (a general license does not to have a penalty) and did my penance for my procrastination. At the race, I found others had to pay a whole family's worth of penalties. Ouch!
On the drive to Fort Kent, there was a continuous blanket of snow, a good measure of winter being off to a great start. The storm earlier in the week left an abundance of snow at the venue and the course expertly prepared and ready for the competitors. NENSA's new Competitive Program Director, Justin Beckwith welcomed members with an enthusiastic, warm smile as they hustled in the cold to preview the course Friday afternoon. The powder was firm and the courses were well marked.
An Arctic blast kept the temperature consistent in the single digits for the weekend. Saturday was the warmer of the two days, due to not having much for wind. The Sprint Course was an intermediate Loop that started with a sweeping downhill turn out of the stadium, then some very gradually rising terrain to the halfway point. Skiers then hit a significant climb as the loop wound its way back to the stadium. On the back side of the stadium was a series of waves that challenged the athlete's balance, technique and focus before dropping into the stadium on another sweeping turn into the final sprint to the line.
The Eastern Cup drew its usual crowd of the regions elite skiers, but I am focused on Master’s Racing. For the Men’s sprint only one Master dared to toe the line. CSU’s Rob Bradlee looked much younger than his stated age of M7. The only guy who was cutting his teeth when Elvis purchased Graceland, and starred in Jailhouse Rock or witnessed Sputnik pinging across the sky threw it down against a strong field of people less than 1/3 of his age. Rob pushed through and tuck skated into the downhills where other stood up with fatigue. After the race, Rob exclaimed it was "a great exercise in mental fortitude pushing yourself that hard for four minutes. It is amazing how hard it is to stay focused and keeping distracting thoughts out of your head when you are hurting like that." Rob was a little disappointed not to make the top 100 but satisfied with the effort and experience.
On the Women's side, CSU's FM1 Alexandra Jospe raced right in step with the younger field. Alexandra had a strong qualifier and returned to action in the quarterfinal heats where she picked up another place ending up 15th on the day. Her experience was evident in her discipline to use the whole course to race. Where others faded, Alexandra pushed through all the way to the finish line.
Later, Frank Feist and I explored some of the trails off-course skiing to the bottom of the alpine hill and back. It was a nice tour and seeing how light Frank was on his skis in the soft conditions was a good reminder that finesse will carry you a lot further than thrashing. He also offered some appreciated Feist advice as we took a break on the long climb back to the Nordic center.
On the second day of the weekend, the number of masters's doubled! Four would venture on course for the 5/10km classic mass start. Temps remained cold, and a breeze set the chill in. The tracks were bomber and triple wide for most of the course. The 5km loop was more challenging and technical than expected, a long climb in the first kilometer started to put things in order. There were some thrilling downhills that were skiable; however, pack racing adds another element that must be factored in. Everything was working for wax, the interesting thing was to watch and listen to the coaches on the last major climb as their, and other athletes went by. It was revealing to hear one coach express their comments about another teams athletes. Compiling this data CSU had the advantage as they received the most “wows!” from the other coaches. Perhaps masters entering the race gave the wax techs some useful feedback. I find there is a difference between what you test and what you actually put on your ski, and while not stealing podiums, CSU’s skiers were delivering top results.
The master’s women had another outstanding day with CSU’s Kathy Maddock joining Alexandra for the mass start distance race. Both women raced well with Kathy placing 16th and Alexandra 23rd in the field of top contenders. On the Men's side, Ruel Vincent of Skibec got a top 50, and I placed as seeded, 83rd. Both the men and women had exciting races with some volatility as expected with mass starts. The course held up well and considering its technicality, and it being the first race of the season, racing was rather smooth. Both fields did have some mishaps, but nothing like what we have seen in other venues with this type of race.
While we did not see too many masters faces in the EC, the NENSA community rallied behind them as they had a strong presence in competition. Hopefully, as the season kicks in, we will see a stronger master’s presence. The trip to Fort Kent was worth the journey. The facility was excellent, and the whole community supported the race.