New England’s premier Nordic skiing event took place in Craftsbury today. Day one of the Craftsbury Marathon Ski Festival & Master’s National Championship kicked off with the Classic 50/30/16-kilometer race. People far and wide have been targeting this race, arriving in anxious droves to experience the legendary race. The Center was ready and welcomed participants from all over North America to their little piece of winter.
Commuting to the race was easy. Just a quick two-mile drive with the car loaded with the club's gear. The roads were clear, and the snow was piled high. The grooming on the outer loops looked superb. It was easy to unpack the car and set up. Mysteriously, Perry Bland’s ski bag showed up between trips to the car. It was another good sign. It was not long before skiers showed up and got to work with the serious business of preparing for a long race.
Preparation actually got underway earlier in the week. Starting Tuesday, I began previewing and pondering what Saturday would bring. Previewing got more serious when I began testing wax. Stable weather conditions made it possible to see what we could get away with early on. Testing took place with rising temps and dropping temps, sunlight, moonlight, and overcast. The 16-kilometer loop has it all, and the mixed snow made waxing tricky. Some things that initially seemed great failed later in the ski, and others that seemed the wrong call improved. There were many effective options, but the one that seemed the best was klister covered — warmer klister at that. Guru Extreme 39 Hard Klister (a durable universal klister with a significant below freezing range) covered with blue hard wax (everyone's favorite), with Guru Extreme Hallgeir as a shell (to stop the fresh snow from icing), was a combination that worked well for the long haul. While initially, straight klister seemed faster, it tended to form a glaze that compromised kick. Covered seemed to slow things down, but the shell brought it back freeing up the ski. After I had come up with this concoction, I realized that Craftsbury had not groomed the course during the latter part of my testing period and that it was likely not to be as firm or abrasive. Confidence remained because I tested this on the course, off the course, and even with a little crust skiing in the fields. Most people seemed happy with the testing, and we were good to go.
The course was the same we have used for the last couple of years. Starting in the Lower Stadium, going to the Upper and around Murphy’s field. Exiting Murphy’s, we took a hard left and looped around Duck Pond to Round-a-lot, Round-a-Bit, and into the Upper Stadium. The course then heads out to Six Corners to Upper Bailey Hazen and then descends Eleanor's Hill to Sam's Run. We climbed to the top of Sam's and then continued climbing to the top of Dante's Loop. Then a thrilling downhill to Viviana's, onto Ruthies and back to the center via the cut off to Wilbur's. The course features stride-able rolling terrain, much of it was triple tracked. The snow surface was a mix of packed powder and granular snow of varying degrees. Temps stayed in the mid-twenties with overcast threatening to precipitate. There was no noticeable wind.
The Women lined up first and started — the first trial of the wax. Having personally prepared a few pairs of skis, it is always relieving to watch them take off without face-planting and get up teaching hill without slipping. In all, nearly 100 women started competing in the 50k or 33k event. The field stayed connected for the first few kilometers with Ida Sargent (Craftsbury) leading the charge. Another Craftsbury Skier Audrey Mangan was also at the front of the field, accompanied by Emily Stitt (Mansfield). By the end of Eleanor's Downhill and the first sections of Sam's, the field had accordioned a few times and split into smaller packs. Chasing Emily and Audrey Sheila Kealey (Ottawa) and Jessica Marion (Dirigo) with Sara Graves trying to hang on as best she could. Elissa Bradley (Ford Sayer) was playing it a little conservative and hanging out with Annavitte Rand (Unattached).
Rachel Slimovitch (NWVE) connected with JoAnn Hanowski (Mansfield), whose experience offered excellent guidance as the race spread out. Not far behind was NWVE's Sarah Pribram and Liz Hollenbach, they skied with Putney’s Mary Heller Osgood. Rosemary Shea-Cobb (Mansfield) and Jessica Bolduc (NWVE) skied stride for stride, though Rosemary was in it for 50km. The second of two hard falls caused Jessica to let up while Rosemary pressed on. Ann Burnham (CSU), who offered skiers plenty of encouragement, closed on Jessica as she limped it in. Hannah Barden (NWVE) was in good spirits and company for much of the race. Her wax was working well enough to make it a worthy and fun experience. She skied along with Amie Smith (CSU) and Carol Van Dyke (Stowe Nordic) until the steeper climbs of Dante's separated the small pack.
As the race wore on more of the Men's field caught the women, and after the first few cruised by, some of those chasing were able to change the dynamic of the Women's race as the different paces began to normalize. Sarah Graves started to feel the effects of a stomach bug from earlier in the week. Elissa and Annavitte were able to overtake her continue gaining the rest of the race. Rachel held her own after JoAnn took the right to the finish. Sarah Pribram and Liz stayed close together, but the second time through Dante's loop opened a gap that was not to be closed.
The Men's race unfolded similarly. Kris Freeman (Caldwell Sport) skied with the lead group for the first few kilometers before skiing away with the win. Behind him, a chase group formed with Jordan Fields (Lyme Elite) Chris Burnham (NWVE), Wes Vear (Craftsbury), and Eli Enman (NWVE). On the climbs of Sam's, Jordan got away, dropping the group. Chris also broke away but noticed he was not gaining much, and knew he was not going to hold the small gap for 38k in the talented field so elected to fall back into the line. Neal Graves (Stowe Nordic) worked with Joel Bradley (Ford Sayre). Behind them, a group vying to crack the top ten formed and stayed together much of the race. Eric Tremble, Tom Thurston, and Tyler Magnan, all of NWVE, organized and worked together, staying close to the leaders. CSU's John Sakalowski and Charlied Cobb (Mansfield) also stayed in with this group.
Eric Darling (NWVE) had a bit of trouble early in the race with a pinched nerve, but after a couple of stops, stretching, and some skiing, the issue worked itself out. He got into a group with Luke Shullenberger (NWVE), and they skied together for a while. Eric eventually latched onto David Herr (Unattached) who likes to move through the field as the race progresses and began ticking off, racers all the way to the finish line. Luke stayed in the group with Pavel Dvorak (NWVE) and Dennis Page (Nansen). Pavel credited his major improvement in the results to having "gone pro" after retiring. He has certainly put in a lot of hours of training. Skiing with Luke and Dennis probably did not hurt too much either.
The heart of the main field had an interesting rotation in it. Two groups generally stayed separated by a few seconds. Occasionally they would merge, and their composition would change. After a few of these re-arrangements, the groups settled out with one decisively faster. The CSU Boys Bob Burnham, Andy Milne, Robert Bradlee, got away, taking Craftsbury's Peter Harris and Nat Lucy (MWN). Pavel Dvorak (NWVE) was also in the mix early on but pulled away from everyone with Dennis. Stephen Wright (NWVE) and I knew we had to settle down if we were going to make it 50k. We had Bryce Wing (Ford Sayer), Kirk Siegel (BOC), and Rick Costanza (Mansfield) along with us. Our group came apart as Stephen was feeling under the weather, and Rick had poor kick with glazed klister. Kirk responded to every move by racers and eventually drew me out. Rick made a move I really like seeing when one is not having a good day. He resolved to help a teammate Lukas Adamowicz (Mansfield) settle and reset for the 50km after going out a little too hard early in the race.
Rick Kelley (NWVE) was back in action. While doing the 33km, he was hanging with some big names. Robert Faltus (CSU), Donovan Freeman (MWN), and Tim Caldwell (Ford Sayre). Rick was thrilled with his race and that the two laps were perfect for him. Emanuel Betz (NWVE) and Leigh Mallory (NWVE) connected for a bit along with John Lazenby (Onion River) and Ernst Linder (MWN). Leigh and John were holding off a hard charge by Putney teammates Bob Gray and Chris Osgood. The newcomer, Jud Hartmann (NWVE), was right in the mix too.
The history here is amazing. There are also some wild tales well worth listening in on. Emanuel pressed onward to adding the third lap for 50km. He was psyched to have had a great experience and was still feeling good at the post-race meal. Perry Bland and Tom Lane represented Westford together. Perry was pleased to be skiing along with a face we have not seen racing in a while, Ford Sayre’s Dave Lindahl. Perry was impressed with the wax. He is always a little skeptical and apprehensive about all this new stuff, which actually raises the game, as he is the guy who will take your skis away if he sees something wrong on them. Tom L. was much like Emanuel, happy to have completed his first 50k in at least
The last lap for the front of the field was telling. Having learned the advantages and disadvantages of those around him, Chris Burnham attacked over the climb on Dante's, knowing he had the fastest skis on the long downhill back to Ruthie's. If he could get a gap, he knew he had a chance of holding it. Chris also knew Wes could quickly overtake him on the double pole sections of Ruthie’s, so he had to go early and convincingly. He did so and took 3rd overall! Neal Graves, in his own words, "bonked hard" but held on for 10th. Tom Thurston was closing fast and would have caught Neal had the finish line been in the Upper Field. Tyler and Eric T stayed together and rounded out the top 15 with Charlie Cobb. Tyler's result is impressive, considering he was going to sit it out due to having a cold.
With Day One in the books, people took to refueling for the rest of the weekend. For some, there was Day Two and others just Super Bowl Sunday. Conditions were excellent, and Craftsbury lived up to its reputation with hosting the Marathon. While many recovered and wondered what they had gotten themselves into, Tom was all ready to go for the skate marathon on Sunday.