The Craftsbury Outdoor Center delivered a perfect weekend of skiing with their Marathon and Ski Festival. Eager skiers lined up out the door at bib pick-up beaming with anticipation for what the weekend would hold. Competitors traded jabs on how they would prep their skis for the ultimate advantage and bragged about their conditioning for the event. The energy was high and positive!
Race morning the energy was kicked up a notch as racers scurried about testing wax, warmed-up or just tried to stay warm. The NWVE Bench was a popular spot. People were interested in what we were using. I was sticking to the predicted wax Guru Green, and many were pleased with it in testing. Athletes pondered the impending warm-up and eminent snow as they put on the final touches. All were in good spirits and ready to race.
The course was the same as last years, featuring Murphy’s Field, Duck Pond, Eleanor’s, Sam’s, Dante’s and Ruthie’s. Three laps for the 50km, two for the 33km race. The rolling course has great classic skiing with a nice mix of rolling hills, woods, fields twists and turns. The snow was fresh, cold and abundant. The weather leading up to the race created the ideal classic skiing conditions, and the crew at Craftsbury capitalized making the perfect tracks. The local expert Track-ologist declared them to be “Super Hero Tracks” which is off the spectrum. They were solid packed powder and quality that you rarely see or ski. They were also impeccably set for the enjoyment of the racers. Temps remained cold, in the single digits for the start and warming to a chilly high of 14. There was some mild wind with overcast skies.
Racing got underway at 9:30 a.m. with the women’s wave. They left the stadium with a big cheer. The men then set their skis in the tracks, stripped to their race duds, and tried to stay warm. It was not long before the command was given to start the men’s race. As with the women, people got on course without much for mishaps. Craftsbury has done a great job with perfecting the trails for the start of the Marathon, widening them a little, shaving some corners and relocating a guy wire. Murphy’s Field has just the right flow to spread skiers out before entering the woods on the Duck Pond Loop.
The women quickly organized with an elite pack gradually widening a lead on the rest of the field. At the front, teammates and coaches, Audrey Mangan and Anna Schulz represented Craftsbury on their home course. They were joined by Annavitte Rand (Team Rand), Julia Lazzaroni (Colby) and Sheila Kealey (Ottawa Nordiq), Emily Stitt (MNC), Jessie Donavan (Unattached) Lindley van der Linde (Burke Hollow Farm) and Alex Jospe (CSU). This large pack would stay within contact for much of the race however with some doing 33k and others in the 50k; strategy began to take hold. Mostly, the conserve energy strategy.
Heading up the chase group were teammates Sarah Pribram and Kasie Enman (NWVE). These two had a pre-race conference contemplating their compatibility on the course at Craftsbury. It was decided that with the terrain and the fact that Sarah was doing the short course and Kasie the long, that they could stick together for a while. Skiing with them was fellow Master Skier JoAnn Hanowski, and to make things interesting Junior Skiers, Rebecca Feist (CSU) and Liza Bell (Putney).
Behind this group, the field started to string out, but many kept a little company with at least one other person. Rosemary Shea-Cobb (MNC) was skiing between groups with Heidi Underwood (HURT). Jessica Bolduc (NWVE), and Jessica Snyder (Unattached) keyed off of veteran Trina Hosmer (Stowe Nordic) early in the race. Hannah Barden (NWVE) was skiing well with Lisa Bernardin (Frost Mountain), and Jody Newton (CSU).
As skiers wrapped up their first lap, the field had spread out a lot. An anticipated occurrence because the men's field was starting to close the gap and overtake the women. The 15-minute differential gives the fields the necessary time to establish themselves and create the space required for a zipper effect as the fields merge and racing intensifies. From my perspective, this works well with skiers being courteous to each other. Having the larger men's field overtake the women's also seems advantageous as the men do not run into a wall of skiers as happens when the smaller field catches a larger.
In the men’s race things shaped up as we are used to seeing. Kris Freeman took a little time enjoying the company of the elite pack leading the way around Murphy’s and Duck Pond before cranking it up and running away with the race. An elite pack formed followed by a chase group and then the main field steamed along steadily. There was a sizeable first pack this weekend composed of many familiar names, and NWVE was well represented here as well as peppered throughout the field. NWVE's Eli Enman, Tyler Magnan, Chris Burnham, Tom Thurston and Thomas Clayton were all part of the large group that included Colin Rodgers (GMVS), Seth Downs (OIA), Wes Vear (GRP – Rowing), Evan Wetzel (Unattached), Joel Bradley (Ford Sayre), Liam John (MNC), and Neal Graves (Stowe Nordic). This was a large force that stayed together for much of the first lap as they felt out how things were going to proceed. Some early surges shook off a few who knew that they could not maintain the pace needing to leave a little in the reserves for later in the race. A is always a tough decision to go it alone and hope that others would soon drop back and give you company for a while.
The elite pack was primarily 50km skiers and a smaller mixed distance group formed about a minute back. This group was also formidable with Eric Tremble, Luke Shullenberger, Eric Darling of NWVE rolling with CSU’s John Sakalowsky, Jim Burnham, and Frank Feist, as well as Craftsbury's Jack Young, and Nick Brown. Another skier that has been moving up the ranks hung in with steadily growing confidence, and improved endurance, Nansen's Dennis Page, who stayed in for a lap.
The race dynamic in the field changed a bit throughout the day.
Stephen Wright (NWVE), Bryce Wing (Ford Sayre), Robert Underwood (HURT), Rick Costanza (MNC), Kyle Darling (NWVE) and I set the pace early on. As things sorted out Bob Burnham's (CSU) fast skis flew by us but were quickly tamed and sent back to the ranks when climbing resumed. In the early sections of the race, the grade of the course determined place, but soon gaps opened and began to stick with the field as well.
Some of these were short-lived as racers that overestimated themselves faded while others burned off whatever was left in the tank. On the second lap as the 33km racers locked in their finish strategies opportunities presented themselves for the 50km racers to take advantage of. Some of the two lappers hit the wall giving motivation to those with another lap to go. As I crested Dante's, I saw Eric Darling uncharacteristically fatigued. I knew I could catch him and in Viviana's Field, I was just about to make contact when a Gel packet exploded under my ski. The event was a significant setback for a kilometer or two while the sugary supplement wore off my base. Thank God it is not as durable as silver klister. Others had a similar experience in different places on the course. Eric got a second wind and finished the race closing in on Luke Shullenberger to round out the top ten. Kyle Darling stayed with Rick Costanza keeping a gap on Bryce and Peter Harris.
Rick Kelley and Tim Cowan (NWVE) had a lot of good racing as the field changed around them. Jim Fredericks (MNC) was chasing fellow M8 Peter Harris (Craftsbury) as he gradually increased his lead, however, Rob Bradlee of CSU was fading after a tough week feeling under the weather, presenting yet another carrot to chase. Rick and Jim would go back and forth, but a strong second lap helped Rick prevail in the 33km race. Donavan Freeman (Mt. Washington Nordic) and Gordon Scannell (Schussverein Ski Club) kept things hopping as they infiltrated the group. Perry Bland (NWVE) was marked by MNC’s Kort Longenbach and NWVE's Brendan Barden. Brendan hoped to ski more with Perry, figuring that he should do whatever Perry did. On the second lap, Perry's consistency served him well as he broke free from Kort, joining Mark Lena (Maine Nordic) as he passed by. John Brodhead (Craftsbury) set his race mentality to “chase” as he worked his way through the field. In the final 10km, he turned up the heat passing people right and left as he threw down a three-minute negative split. The effort put lifelong rival David Hosmer (Stowe Nordic) in a tailspin with only a couple of kilometers to go. Manny Betz (NWVE) new it was time to call it quits after two laps. He dropped out before becoming a potential liability on the third lap.
It was around the height of Sam’s that Sarah Pribram made a move breaking away from her group with Kasie, JoAnn, and Liza. The increase in speed dropped the youngest of the bunch, but JoAnn stayed composed, reacted accordingly and patiently worked her way back up nearly closing the gap as Rebecca countered but then faded. Sarah held her position, taking 5th in the 33km Classic race. Jessica Bolduc stayed remarkably consistent throughout the race. Her "just finish" strategy worked well paired with some fast skis. She worked her way up through the field as others around her faded. Rosemary Shea-Cobb stuck it out with Heidi Underwood but faded in the final kilometers. Jessica nearly caught her as she was closing fast at the finish line. Trina fared well, holding her position with a strong second lap. Hannah Barden overtook Lisa Bernardin as the extra syllable proved to be too much to carry over the long course. Hannah was delighted to have competed and enjoyed the time in the excellent conditions.
Things in the 50km women's race blew up after the 33km racers began finishing. This happens typically, making the final lap a lonely one. Sheila Kealey pressed on to take the win by over a minute pulling away on the last lap. Emily Stitt stayed tough and skied it in solo. Sara Graves and Alex Jospe worked together until the final climb up Dante's, and then Sarah capitalized on a small advantage holding Alex off until the finish. Kasie Enman cruised along alone for the final lap, cheering some of the men as they went by. Mary Heller Osgood (Putney) made her way up to 12th after a conservative start. Ellie Bouffard (MNC) was in great spirits closing out a great ski in under 5 hours.
The driving pace in the men’s race was starting to have an effect on things. Kris Freeman continued cranking out splits minutes faster than the rest of the field. Collin Rodgers and Seth Downs made a move with a lap to go dropping Eli who hung onto the pace a lap longer than many others. Wes Vear also chugged along carrying his chiseled frame giving Kris a challenge in the muscle envy department. It was the final lap that made the race for many. In the fields on Sam's, described as false summits by Brendan Barden, is where Tyler, who had dropped off the elite pack early saw a mirage in the distance. A Ford Sayre suit and an opportunity to make something unlikely happen.
Ahead Joel Bradley had been popped off. Tyler thought to himself, "I might as well go for it." Brendan who was getting lapped was impressed Tyler was in 8th and looking like he was going to take 7th. Tyler carefully calculated and eventually overtook Joel. Joel had nothing in the reserves to counter, and Tyler went by uncontested. Tyler thought it was weird, but just went with it and skied on. Another skier came into view giving Tyler a new target. He worked toward the objective and had a race going to the finish line. Tyler advanced to 6th overall edging Evan Wetzel (Unattached) at the line. Tyler's last lap was 25 seconds faster than Eli's to put things in perspective, and only the top 3 skiers were faster. A well-played hand by Tyler making tough but sound decisions early in the race.
Liam John (MNC) was out to set things right from a costly spill he took on Yodel the week before at White Mountain. He stayed with the Neal, but conserved just enough for redemption at the finish, however, Tyler was long gone. On the final half lap, he broke away putting a few seconds on Neal. Chris Burnham struggled a bit with his skis but stayed strong holding off his fellow teammates Tom Thurston and Thomas Clayton. The third lap in the cold and changing conditions did mess with a few skiers. The daylight changed as snow started to fall and skiers froze a little more with the added moisture of the falling snow. Eric Tremble was one who hit a wall early and finished in survival mode.
As I started my third lap, I was very cold, and the changing light was messing with my head. Was I going too hypothermic? What would the responsible thing be? I was skiing with Alex Smith (Unattached) and Steve Mangan (Dairy Free Moving Co) who both stopped at the aid station in the Upper Field. I was not sure why, perhaps to re-wax. My wax was holding up, as was my mojo with having picked up two spots right there. "Ski anywhere, anytime, no matter what" crept into my head and I pressed on. Heading onto Duck Pond, I saw I had a full Murphy's on Brad Clarke (Bethel Outing). This continued to boost me. When I looped through the Upper Field again, I noted that Brad had closed significantly, and I only had an Upper Field on him. This was going to be difficult. Semi delirious I pressed on with the club’s mantra and my own simple one for the day, "ski good, you can do it." I finished the race, and only Steve Mangan passed me on the last lap. My fatigue turned out to be par for the day.
Stephen Wright cruised along weaving his way through those that were fading and lapping others. He skied evenly in view, but too far ahead to make contact with for Andy Milne (CSU), Andy Bishop (MNC), and the wild man Nat Lucy (Unattached). It was a significant feat for Stephen to hold off this group of experienced racers, especially with a former TDF rider commanding the paceline! Actually, Andy Bishop claims it was his first Classic race and first 50km ski. What better mentors in Doug Armstrong's (MWN) absence are Milne, Lucy, and Wright? Ego, Grit, Tenacity, Talent, Scheming, Strategy and Knowing Oneself all right there as the race unfolded. Not to mention the type of skiing that gets it done!
Craftsbury drew out many who participate in the Marathon Series, including Rober Faltus (CSU), Jud Hartman (Grafton), Bruce Katz (Unattached), and right in the middle of it all, returning to competition this season, Brendan Barden (NWVE). Brendan’s new employment situation is providing him more time to train and race. Nordic is a humbling sport, but Brendan’s stamina is strong, and he knows that if he keeps racing, he will eventually return to the form he desires. Brendan did show a bit of wisdom many could have used on Saturday. He started the race wearing layers thinking he could shed as needed. He finished the 50km wearing what he started with, and warm.
It was an incredible day to race. As skiers finished, the snow started falling. At the post-race feed, they exchanged stories, commented on how tired each other looked, and thought about what they had signed up for with the skate event the following day. Brief podiums recognized the overall winners and age group winners retrieved their hardware. In the end, after a freezing experience, friends warmed your core completing the experience of enduring the Craftsbury Marathon.