A dedicated group of skiers competed in the John Roderick Marathon today at Black Mountain. The dedication was matched and exceeded by the host, the Chisholm Ski Club. They are a "small club that does big things." There were multiple Nordic events associated with the Marathon as well as a sizeable Alpine event at the mountain.
Everything ran smoothly with the experienced staff handling more than a few curveballs. It is always good when the participants are not aware of all the decisions that need to be made on the fly.
The biggest challenge of the day was the wind. A 25mph steady wind was present throughout the day with gusts of up to 45 mph. Due to this, the course was shortened, but one lap was added to the race. Skiers did not have to loop through the exposed stadium and stayed on the more protected trails for the race. The course was a rolling loop with primarily downhills for the first half and uphills for the return. At the pre-race meeting, the TD gave participants the option to race down in distance. Nansen's Dennis Page was firm in keeping it the full length and most others agreed with a little more reluctance. Only one racer moved down. The distance was settled, and the TD gave instructions on the course, the feeds and the volunteers available, including medical.
The course was a 4km loop on the Homologated trails. These feature some fun technical sections, blind turns, and a couple of steep climbs. It flows beautifully, and skiers have the thrill of feeling the g-force on some of the corners. The surface was a firm granular with few runouts where the groomer left an icy glaze on one side for those who wanted to take advantage of carrying some extra speed. These also served as good feeding spots for those that went self-supported. Much thought had gone into the grooming improving the speed and ski-ability of the course. Some sections were left quite firm, others, where skiers needed more bite, were tilled a little deeper. On one of the sweeping downhill turns an "ice rail" was left in place that you could set your ski in and ride well into the next climb, launching you over some stomach twisting rollers. Overall, it was not crazy fast, but skiers could get moving in some areas, especially where there was a tailwind.
The start crept up on a few racers. The organizers did not want people freezing on the starting line, so they started on time after giving fair warning to those not quite ready to join the vast majority of the field. Racing got underway, and packs quickly formed. Multiple races were going on simultaneously, and fields were somewhat categorized by number. We were wearing the Chevy Trucks numbers, which were used at what I believe to be my first introduction to Black Mountain many years ago when I went to see Scott Magnan (NWVE) race in the Super Tour. Those that have not been to Black Mountain in 25 years were impressed with the improvements, especially the removal of the road crossing on course!
From the whistle, a lead pack formed that was composed of Collegiate athletes racing the shorter distances. Behind them, Dennis Page (Nansen), Eric Darling (NWVE) Justin Fereshetian, (OSI) and others joined up. Gregory Harkay (Unattached) worked his way up after a slow start as well. The next pack had the Elite Women skiing the 16km race. College athletes Julia Lazzaroni, and Rachel Zafren led the group with a very even pace. Sarah Pribram (NWVE), Roger Prevot (Craftsbury) and I hung in. Near the end of lap 1, David Herr (Unattached) cruised by with August Posh (Collegiate). This drew Roger out, and he chased and connected with David and August. I had was in a dilemma, stick with my plan or bridge up? I know I am not fit enough to stay with David, and I knew that ten laps on this course would be difficult. I did not want to cramp up with 2 or 3 laps to go, so I opted to continue skiing with the women.
Behind these groups the field trickled out. There were a few pairings, but with different distances, techniques and abilities combined with the nature of the course, things separated easily. Brett Deyling (Unattached) and Mark Danyla (Unattached) represented Central Maine. It was nice to catch up with Mark, keeping it brief due to the wind. While he has not been racing too much this season, he is still keeping up with everything that is going on. Carrie Nourjian represented Stowe Nordic racing in the 25km event. She was happy with the course change and not having to contend with the wind. Brett Rutledge and David Holmander represented CSU in the 25km and 10km races respectively.
Eric, Sarah and I stayed in our respective packs for the first three laps of the race. Eric and Sarah were competing in the Zak Series portion of the event while I was in the Marathon Series. All were scored for the Club Series. Eric would end up 4th but picked up a Zak overall win! Sarah was 3rd and got the win as well. As we raced, we thought the pace was on the easy, side but finishing proved difficult. I offered a lead-out for Sarah, which she was planning on doing but found the race had taken its toll on the last few grinds. Eric finished out his race pacing the 50km leaders.
Carrie Nourjian carried the Stowe Nordic team for the day. She won the 25km women’s race. She skied close to Brett Deyling (Unattached) for most of the race. Carrie was a little apprehensive about the windy conditions but upon completing the race was grateful that she had competed and was happy taking the W and bringing a little hardware home!
After the Zak Racers finished, the Marathoners were on their own. Fortunately, the loop was short with several intersections and switchbacks where we could see each other, so you were never too lonely. On my fourth lap, I passed Brett Rutledge (CSU) and worked my way through the 25km racers overtaking the winner Kyle Rancourt (Rancourt & Co.). Upon starting the fifth lap, I caught Roger Prevot, who David Herr dropped. I figured Roger would be an easy target as he had to be skiing fairly hard with David, and my skis were gaining on the downhills. That would not be the case.
Roger was hopping up the hills well and pulling away from me. He also had some race support with his wife, Margi, handing him feeds in an optimal spot on the course. I was taking mine on one of the icy runouts. We accordioned for four laps. On the 10th lap, we caught August Posch (Collegiate) who was struggling up the hills at the bottom of the course. Roger waited a bit for the right moment and went by. Surprisingly August latched on and sling-shotted by on the next uphill. It was on! Roger was not going to stand for that and made a move. I was hurting and thought it was too early to go. I started letting thoughts get into my head. Finally, I determined that I did not come all this way to get beat in the last half lap of 10, especially with the fastest skis of the bunch. I waited patiently and made the move that had worked so well for Julia Lazzaroni, the winner of the Women’s 15km race. I moved to the far left of the trail, and V2'd up the final sustained climb in the race, taking advantage of some fast crust on the edge of the trail. I made the pass and kept hammering. Cresting the top of the hill, some more powerful V2 and then I let the skis do the rest. It worked, giving me 5th overall!
At the front of the marathon field, we could see the leaders had about a half lap on us. Justin Fereshetian (OSI) led most of the race, but Dennis Page (Nansen) was skiing strong. Gregory Harkay (Penobscot Valley Ski Club) was also motoring along. These three had a visual on one another for most of the race after starting together for a couple of laps. David Herr, came close but never made contact and began fading a bit on the laps later in the race. Going into the final lap Dennis passed Justin, turning it up for his last lap. He did not know his place in the race and when he finished was surprised to find out he had won. He was glad for his effort to get the win! Justin stayed steady, while Gregory closed a bit but was unable to catch up.
Other racers in the 50km event had great results too. Mark Pitts (Holderness Nordic) had a lonely race as he kept a unique pace in the small field. He looked determined on his last two laps perhaps just to get it over with. Mark Danyla (Unattached) also had a solid race cheering those that lapped him with some words of encouragement. You could tell that even though he was tired, he was happy to be conquering the challenging course and enjoying the skiing. Bruce Katz (Unattached) was also supportive of the other racers giving a cheer as they went by. Usually not one to say much, he knew which lap everyone was on and gave an optimistic three more to go!
Even though the field was small and dwindled as the racers in the shorter events finished you were never alone long on the course. Everyone enjoyed the race and was happy to be skiing on a challenging day. The Chisholm Ski Club played a big part by welcoming everyone, making the right calls, and grooming out the track in such a way that enhanced the experience. At the finish, the race volunteers congratulated the skiers and were genuinely interested in how things went for each person. When I responded that I was glad that I had not chickened out and dropped in the distance they gave a hearty laugh replying were "delighted that you didn't as well!" Podiums were completed promptly with some nice merchandise prizes and skiers went into the lodge for their hard earned meal.
Day One of the Maine Weekend was a fun success, and hopefully, the race continues to grow. The Chisholm Ski Club added events to the marathon improving numbers slightly. Hopefully, word gets out that this is an incredible event and more have the opportunity to enjoy the great skiing and hospitality at Black Mountain!