Craftsbury Marathon Day Two
Day Two of the Craftsbury Marathon featured the 33/16-kilometer Freestyle Mass Start. Many athletes returned to toe the line for the second day in a row. Some desired to improve on a flat experience the day prior, others were excited for the Skate Marathon, while most were questioning the wisdom of doubling up and if they were going to be able to do something respectable out there.
Conditions were similar to Saturdays. Temps were in the low to mid-twenties, it was overcast with a very fine and light snow that barely left a trace. The racecourse was the reverse of Saturday's, the more difficult direction, in my opinion. The snow groomed perfectly with the same mixture of packed powder and fine granular. As on Saturday, there was no noticeable wind.
Craftsbury has gone Fluoro-Free, seemingly simplifying wax decision making. This is an area that may need some new research as the wax companies are producing a lot of new options, price points, and applications. The standbys that stood up to the fluoros over the years are still the standbys, but perhaps there are some new properties in the new formulations being released. The primary thing to figure out on a day like Sunday is durability.
Racers warmed up and worked out the kinks from Saturday. There was an apparent disparity between those who had fresh legs and those who had raced the day before. Having to single stick Teaching Hill on the warm-up was not a good omen. The vibe was more relaxed, and soon racers were lining up to start.
On Sunday, the Men started first. We lined up and listened to a little housekeeping about the previous day's litter on the course and got down to business. Whatever aches and pains that were felt during the warm-up disappeared as fresh skiers challenged fatigued skiers in a rowdy start. The beginning of this course has a lot of technical features that favor the quick and skilled in a field this size. More thought than usual should go into this start. Do you want to be ahead of the fray? On the side? In the middle? Seeded to your likely finish? Are all considerations running through the minds of the racers. Many of the veterans seem to opt to start ahead of where they would generally seed themselves in hopes of staying ahead of the most aggressive racers until the race settles down a little. Considering the field of 180 skiers starting on a course with four tight turns and a blind downhill in the first mile, things started relatively clean. There was a lot of noise, some broken poles, lost skis, broken bindings, and a demolished boot, but no big pileups. In the first half-kilometer, NWVE's Luke Shullenberger's pole was stepped on, snapping off the bottom six inches of the shaft and the basket.
The conditions were fast enough to make drafting critical, and most skiers knew that as they scrambled for position. Once a group got a few seconds, it would take a tremendous amount of work to close. It did not take long for the top four racers to distinguish themselves. The elite pack consisted of Saturday's winner and runner up, Kris Freeman (Caldwell Sport), and Jordan Fields (Lyme Elite) and two Green Racing Project skiers with fresh legs. Behind the leaders was a large chase group of 10 skiers. This group would hold together for much of the race and included NWVE's Eli Enman, Cooper Wilsey, and other masters' favorites Neal Graves (Stowe Nordic) and Joel Bradley (Ford Sayre). A smaller group was right on their tails, hanging in to overtake anyone who fell off the pace. They were led by Jake Hollenbach (NWVE), Tom Thurston (NWVE), Chris Burnham (NWVE), Charlie Cobb (MNC), and the Manhattan duo Tim Donahue and Sproule Love (Manhattan Nordic). These guys set up a rotation like in a road cycling team time trial. Tom was impressed with how Charlie quickly picked up on the importance of even pacing and smooth transitions to optimize the shared work among the members of the group.
Around this point in the field is where the well-organized packs gave way to the main field, which was subject to much more aggressive moves than cooperation. Eric Darling (NWVE) and Michael Millar (MNC) were caught between a couple of groups early in the race but were consumed by the pack late in the first lap. While their effort was valiant, the two skiers were no match for those who had more in reserves from periodic breaks up to that point. They blended in, but many with fresh not only from protection in a large pack but also from not having raced 50km the day before had the advantage. It was from about this point that I began my precipitous plummet through the rankings. I was just unable to get it going with my hip flexors seized from the previous day's race. Jeremy Huckins (Stowe Nordic) was able to get around an early crash of one, possibly Rick Powell (Ford Sayre), whose boot soul was 75% torn off early on when someone stepped on his ski, and move up in the field. Jeremy is very fit but was a little intimidated by the commotion of the mass start. Once things settled, he found his groove and was on the move. Others like Jeremy were also moving up. David Herr (Unattached) stuck with his usual strategy, Andy Bishop (MNC) was strong on the second half of the loop, and Adrian Owens (Sterling College) was strong on the climbs pulling away from those who had to be more cautious on the hills.
Things were strung out after this point, especially on the second lap as the one lap racers peeled off to finish. Nat Lucy (MWN) paced himself consistently throughout the race. James Donegan (NWVE) took the first lap as a learning experience before pacing better for the second. Being unfamiliar with the long hill from the bottom of Ruthie's to the top of Dante's was a bit of a shock; also, a poorly timed feed before the long downhills of Sam's cost James places on the first lap. Corrective action proved an advantage for James. Jamie Willsey's (NWVE) ski racing experience primarily consists of Wednesday Night Worlds was gauging off James. Jamie climbed to the top of Dante's on the second lap with James but could not generate as much momentum on the descents. Pavel Dvorak (NWVE) was back at it on day two. He started conservatively but let it all out on the second lap. He offered words of encouragement to Lukas Adamowicz (MNC) and I, who were clearly struggling for the second day in a row.
Patrick Cafferky (NWVE) and Jonathan Rodd (NWVE) connected with Leigh Mallory (NWVE) and Keith Woodward (Craftsbury). Keith navigated the start from the outside lanes and was quite far up in the field for the first few kilometers. He settled in when the NWVE pack absorbed him. CSU's marathon maniac Robert Faltus was also in the mix, sticking his toe out at the line to get Leigh by half a second in the 16km. Patrick continued on for the second lap skiing with Sam Schwebach (CSU). Jonathan fell back a bit on the last 10km of the race but would not stand for an attack by Steve Messier (Unattached). Jonathan held his position and gained some time on Steve as they approached the line. Jud Hartmann was mostly on his own for the race. He skied evenly trading places with Jim Adkisson (MNC). Perry Bland (NWVE) is always the coach. Perry found himself guiding Nathan Lenzini (SJA) throughout the race. I wonder if either knew of each other's running background? Nathan would put in a late surge to overtake Luke Rein (Craftsbury GRP) in the final meters. Perry's M9 status has caught up with him as far as the final kick goes, but he still has it to hang with GRP athletes over the long-distance!
The women's race started a few minutes after the calamity of the men's race cleared out. Ida Sargent (GRP) wasted no time establishing herself as the leader. Liz Guiney (GRP) and Kaitlyn Miller raced together while Emily Stitt (MNC) slowly stalked them. Emily eventually reeled them in and overtook them with about 10km to go. Emily went on to take an impressive second place by 30 seconds. Sara Graves (Stowe Nordic) was having a much better day. She played a little cat-and-mouse with Shawn Tremblay (Ski Farts) for the first lap before taking a decisive lead going into lap two.
Zoe Snow (Lyme Elite) skied at the helm of the first significant pack. She paced the 16km winner, Emma Duffany (Unattached), as well as Sheila Kealey (Ottawa) for the first lap. Upon delivering Emma to the win in the 16km Zoe and Sheila went about chasing down Julia Harrison (Ford Sayre) on the second lap. Together they advanced picking up the spot before the finish line.
NWVE had three women competing, and they all stayed together for the first lap. Sarah Pribram, Melissa Manning, and Jessica Bolduc raced in close proximity with each other chasing JoAnn Hanowski (Mansfield) in the women's field. Sarah, Melissa, and Jessica each had their individual strengths on the course, which would occasionally separate them, but they would come back together sharing the work.
In the pack with them was Heidi Underwood (HURT). In lap one, Sarah and Melissa got a bit of a gap on Jessica at the end of Sam's. Jessica persevered, and by the time she hit Duck Pond, she was back with the group and took a pull at the front of the paceline. Jessica did not realize that she had opened up a bit on them and thought perhaps they were doing the two-lap race. Jessica turned in to finish, and when the dust settled, she realized she had taken 3rd overall in the 16km event! Sarah finished right behind her, holding off a GRP racer as well as high school phenom Greta Kilburn (MNC)! Melissa and Heidi continued racing together for the second lap of the 33km race. Upon sensing the finish, Melissa picked it up to which Heidi had no energy to respond and pulled away to take a top 20 finish!
The Craftsbury Marathon Ski Festival and Masters' Nationals weekend was undoubtedly a test of skiers' capacity. Both days offered challenging races and nearly perfect conditions. Participants had plenty to reflect on as they contemplate not only the rest of the season but next year. Thank you to all the volunteers and staff at Craftsbury Outdoor Center who welcomed competitive skiers for major events four weekends in a row! It is an incredible amount of stressful work that they somehow pass off as just another day at the center. Congratulations to all who participated in making these fun and competitive races!