The NENSA Popular Racing Series swooped to Black Mountain, in Rumford, Maine, for the John Roderick Half Marathon and 10km Race. The Chisholm Ski Club was fully prepared to offer the event upholding its reputation for excellence in organization, efficiency, hospitality, and a world-class venue. Volunteers welcomed and immediately supported the athletes letting them know about the race, the course, the location of amenities, and the postrace meal. They also listened to the athlete's requests and were able to make accommodations on the fly while maintaining a seamless event.
The thing on everyone's mind was the temperature. The race was to be the morning after the coldest night of the year. Earlier in the week, a decision to have a two-hour delay, moving the start to 11:00 a.m., had been made and was met with approval as it meant not having to leave so early. Still, on the drive to the race, we saw temps approaching minus 30 in some hollows. The diesel engine even sputtered a few times as the heaters could not keep up with the cold. However, by the time we got to Rumford, temperatures had risen into the positive digits. With bright sun and no wind, it felt balmy!
Skiers went through the motions of preparing for their races. The course was the Rumford Competition Loop with an avoidance of the legendary High School Hill. On or two times up, that climb is enough, but the John Roderick was going to be five laps, and while I am sure it is doable, the section would become the focal point of the loop, and everything else would be skied in preparation for the steep climb. The course was skate groomed, and a nice set of tracks were set for those choosing to classic ski. With the bitter cold and the snow being a mixture of packed powder and semi-transformed snow, classic skiing was a tempting option, and probably the more fun of the techniques. A vast majority opted for the freestyle division, and it was not long that we were encouraged to line up for the start. Racers went off in waves based on distance, technique, and readiness. The volunteer's expertise had any confusion covered, so all would be fair in the results.
With the firing of the starter's pistol, we were off. Aggressive skiing for position through the stadium quickly gave way to a more reasonable pace as skiers stalled out on the creaky snow on the first minor climb about 300m into the course. It was amazing how dramatic the adjustment was. Knowing that even without High School Hill, there was still a lot of climbing on course, and this is a long race, skiers were wise to settle in and conserve energy that would be needed later. Everyone that is except for Nathan Moreau (CSU) who leaped to an early lead on some fast boards. A chase group formed around Tyler Magnan (NWVE) and Dennis Page (Nanson) that stayed together for the long downhill section following the start, but as climbing began, things changed quickly. Tyler pulled away from the group with efficient gliding, Dennis struggled with slower skis. Gregory Harkay (Penobscot) and Tyson Weems (3Levels) dropped back to Steven Moreau (CSU) and I at about 3km. We could still see Dennis, but Nathan and Tyler were out of sight. Around this point, Bill Donahue (Gunstock) and Ed Momm (Gunstock) attacked and broke away from the field. Figuring it was early and that we would see them again, I stayed with Steven, who was pacing well.
Brett Rutledge (Boulder), Brett Deyling (Unattached), and Sean Savignano (Hebron) formed a small pack initially, but as with the leaders, things spread out relatively early on in the race. Behind them, Kurt Gustafsson (MNSC), Christopher Naimie (Bow), Michael Tholen (Hebron), Dan Marchetti (Hebron), and Maren Skacel (Unattached) found good company with the elite women. Molly Siegel (BOC), Charlotte Gross (Agamenticus), and Carole Clermont (QC) were mixed throughout the group using their strong technique to keep it together. This pack, with its size and mix of skiers, was the only one that had much hope of staying together under the conditions and demands of the course. It did so for a lap whereon the second time down the long hill fractured the group, and it never merged again. Molly and Charlotte were separated, and Molly steadily gained ground throughout the race. Thomas Smith (CSU) and Mark Danyla (Unattached) battled for two laps before Mark, who is more familiar with what the features of Black Mountain can do over the long haul pulled away. Thomas stated what most racers were all thinking, “that 25km felt like 50km!”
Up at the front of the race, Tyler took the lead, offering to pull for a bit. After a few hundred meters, he checked over his shoulder to see that Nathan had dropped out of sight. Dennis continued holding third with the two Gunstock skiers, Bill and Ed, working together and finally bridging to him. I had soloed off the front of the pack, hoping to connect before they caught Dennis but had waited too long, and once they were all together, I knew it would get a lot more difficult to catch anyone. Steven held his position until the last lap when Greg and Tyson resurged late in the race.
In the 10km race, Charlie and Amy Gunn (Blackwater Nordic), and Cipperly Good (NWVE) had the course to themselves until they started catching those who started in the 25km wave. It did not take too long for Charlie to overtake a few skiers with his quick tempo. Amy settled in skiing comfortably, as did Cipperly. On lap two, they caught a few more as they were starting their kick just as the reality of skiing up the hills three more times was setting in for the half marathoners. Charlie looked good, sprinting by the Brett's as he wrapped up the 10km. Amy completed the Gunn sweep of the top spot on the podium for the 10km race. Cipperly cruised in close behind and grabbed her classic gear to go back out and cheer the other racers.
After the race, we enjoyed some home cooking at Muriel's Kitchen before heading out for the awards ceremony. There was a lively crowd with athletes appreciating the Grandpa's Maple Syrup awarded to them. After, we went back to the kitchen for another helping and traded stories about the race. Seasoned marathoners talked about the upcoming races with Bruce Katz (Unattached) contemplating if it felt like a Lake Placid year or not. He was happy to have finished and has been enjoying the great winter so far. Skiers slowly trickled out, starting their sun-filled journeys home with another challenging race and a good meal under their belts. A special thanks to all the volunteers at the Chisholm Ski Club and Black Mountain for making this race a fantastic experience yet again!