Craftsbury Marathon Day 1 40km Classic
The 2024 Craftsbury Marathon was held in challenging conditions. The skiing was fantastic, but getting the trails ready took a lot of hard work. Rain and wet snow preceded the race, and temperatures did not drop below freezing in the days leading to the event. The winter has dropped a lot of snow, only to have a lot of rain wash it away. Natural snow conditions at the Outdoor Center are lean, and the freeze-thaw cycles have made for an interesting snow base. The heroes of the day were those who put in the time and effort to ensure the race was the showcase event it was.
The snow condition was soft, wet, granular. On Friday, there was an accumulating snow that got significant rain, followed by another light accumulation of wet snow. The moisture sandwich did not drain overnight; it transformed the snow and stayed wet. The overnight low did not drop to the prediction, and temps warmed above freezing in the early a.m. Grooming took place in the early pre-dawn hours, starting at 3 a.m. Fortunately, the expert groomers were able to work the snow and set a double track around the course. They also cleaned up a couple of wet spots that had formed on Friday. The tracks were good, and had the temp dropped a little below freezing for a little longer, we would have had bomber tracks. But that was not to be. Nonetheless, the course was very skiable and held up to the eager race fields.
The course was the Kirby’s version. Skiers started in the lower stadium, heading out to Murphy’s Field. When exiting the field, skiers took Round-a-Lot to the upper stadium for a loop. They headed to Upper Bailey Hazen and Eleanor’s before getting on the all-time favorites Sam’s Run and Ruthie’s Run. At the end of Ruthie’s, skiers were treated to a fun descent back to the Black River down Hoyt’s Wall and John’s Jaunt. Skiers then climbed Kirby’s bottom to top and turned onto Lemon’s for the return to the Lower Stadium. The loop was skied three times to reach 40km. There was also a 27km option and a youth 13.5km.
Ski testing was not too tricky. Most Universal Klisters were working, and it was more or less a matter of how much you wanted on the ski. NWVE went with Swix KN44 with a bit of Rode KRS3 mixed in. It seemed to provide adequate kick and had excellent release. Swix Universal was also providing a very good kick, and in testing, it was not as free as the aforementioned mix. Some were happy with straight KN44; others had mystery wax from Caldwell Sport. People also tested Zero skis, which were working very well, as were Skin skis. In my initial test, I liked the Klister the best as the skis were free, and I did not think they would stop working with the rising temperatures.
Countdowns were given to the wave starts. The Women started at 9:30 a.m., and the Men followed at 9:45 a.m. This starting order works well as the time gap gives the smaller Women’s Field time to spread out before the Elite Men catch up, and there is plenty of room for maneuverability. The other way around, the Elite Women ski into a more crowded Men’s Field with difficult passing.
The Women lined up and were soon on their way with JoAnn Hanowski (Craftsbury), Katherine Mason (Carleton U.), Emily Drake (Nakkertok), Ida Sargent (GRP), Annika Landis (EWFT), Hallie Grossman (Craftsbury), and Natalie Karlsson (Super Duper Weston Loopers) leading the charge. NWVE skiers Liz Hollenbach, Kasie Enman, Jessica Bolduc, and Ann Burnham were well positioned with the Massey-Bierman sisters, Marika (Williams) and Quincy (Midd), and Rosalie Wilson Ford Sayre. As the Men lined up, the Women looped through the upper field. The NWVE blue looked good a few kilometers into the race.
The Men lined up with the Freeman brothers Kris (Caldwell Sport) and Justin (Unattached) on the line. Joining them were Eli Enman (NWVE), Ben Lustgarten (GRP), and Devon Pegrum (Nakkertok). Skiers filed in behind them. On the far left was a space I took. Seeing me and David Herr (Unattached) behind him, Joe Holland (Putney) opted to move back, and I moved up to the second row. The Men sang Happy Birthday to one of the groomers, Lucas Schultz, who started his special day by making ours special, too. Then it was time to start. Things went fairly well until the top of Teaching Hill, where Frank Feist (Ford Sayre) tripped over another racers pole and went down. People got around him, and soon Frank was picking up the spots he lost.
The Women’s field quickly formed an elite pack with Katherine Mason (Carleton U.), Annika Landis (EWFT), Catlin Patterson (GRP), Ida Sargent (GRP), and Quincy Massey-Bierman (Midd) putting a gap on the rest of the field. A few skiers strung out between the next group that had Liz Hollenbach (NWVE), Kasie Enman (NWVE), Rosalie Wilson (Ford Sayre), and Marika Massey-Bierman (Williams). Jessica Bolduc (NWVE) skied a bit with Anna Milokowski (Onion River) and kept JoAnn Hanowski (Craftsbury) and Gabrielle Wangler (SLU) in sight. Ann Burnham (NWVE) skied the first lap with Elizabeth Ransom (Gunstock) and Trina Hosmer (Stowe Nordic).
The Men’s field split up quickly as well. Kris Freeman (Caldwell Sport), Edward Southward (Ottowa), Ben Lustgarten (GRP), and Devon Pegrum (Nakkertok) established themselves early on. A little further back, reluctant registrant Brook Hodgeman (NWVE) skied up to James Coulton (Unattached), William McGovern (Unattached), and Isaac Fortin (Nakkertok). Brook was having a very good day for someone on the fence about registering on Thursday. Eli Enman (NWVE) and Jimmy Burnham (CSU) could not quite hold the pace of Brook’s group. Watching Eli and Jimmy were Thomas Clayton (NWVE), Will Meehan (SMC), Tom Thurston (NWVE), and Colin Pogue (Mt. Washington). Eli gambled on going with Zero skis; Jimmy had the KN44. Thomas would lose a little company later in the race but kept the remainder of the group within sight of Eli and Jimmy.
Eric Tremble (NWVE) skied with Dennis Page (Nansen), unable to hang onto Thomas’s group. Dennis has been having a great season and has been moving up in the results. Frank Feist (Ford Sayre) would be caught and passed by David Herr (Unattached). Stephen Wright (NWVE) connected with Eric Darling (NWVE). Stephen had a great pace going and skied the whole race between groups. Eric had to cut his race short due to an eye injury acquired earlier in the week. Trying to pace off Stephen, I skied a bit with Neal Graves (NWVE). Neal would keep company with others during the race, but I dropped off after the first lap. Ed Hamilton (NWVE) cruised by and pushed Neal for some time. Ed continued on with an excellent result. Craig Pepin (MNC) would go by, as did Bob Burnham (EMXC) and Wes Denering (CSU). Wes has been moving up the results page this season, much like Dennis.
Scott Magnan (NWVE) let a few people by but was on a different plan. Not so happy with his previous classic results, he previewed the conditions at Sleepy Hollow by classic skiing in the rain at Wednesday Night Worlds with Craig Pepin (MNC). Scott skied steadily and was moving up through the field at the end of the race, trying to catch Nick Mahood (Woodstock), who was having a similar experience to mine. Jud Hartman (NWVE) skied at the tail end of the main field. He raced to the line, closing on Todd Taska (NWVE), who had skied the first lap with Chase Weaver (TSS) but struggled the second lap.
During the race, light rain fell, softening the tracks in addition to the skiers grinding them up. The tracks began deteriorating, and ski selection had more of an impact on things. Some skis bogged down while others improved with the change. The rain turned to snow, and eventually, the sun came out. The technique of the skier also played a big role. Those who maintained form late in the race faired better than those who fell apart with fatigue. Some big changes are not unusual in the final stages of the Craftsbury Marathon, but this year’s conditions had no forgiveness.
Liz Hollenbach (NWVE) wrapped up her race, taking 4th in the 27km. She left Sadie Bell (Putney), who had to finish the third lap alone. Ann Burnham (NWVE) pulled away from the group she was skiing with and looked strong to the end of her race, closing on Margie Prevot (Craftsbury). Kasie Enman skied to the top ten in the Women’s 40km. She threw her foot across the line to better my impending time by 0.2 seconds! Jessica Bolduc (NWVE) started the second lap with me. Race Director Ollie Burruss shouted, “If we worked together, dinner would be more pleasant tonight!” While I did ski away from Jessica, her final surge up Teaching Hill was much more impressive than mine. On the last lap, Jessica was holding off an impressive negative split from Annie Rowell (Craftsbury).
In the Men’s race, Tom Thurston held on to take 6th in the 27km. He lost one spot to Edward Harvey (1923 Nordic). Stephen Wright (NWVE) cruised comfortably with no one around him for minutes. Ed Hamilton (NWVE) also continued having a great race to the finish line. Ed was trying to stay with Robert Knapp (EMXC) and Craig Pepin, who were moving through the field.
In the 40km race, Brook Hodgeman (NWVE) held his position, taking 5th place decisively. Eli Enman (NWVE) and Jimmy Burnham (CSU) kept each other honest with several place changes. Eli would take the sprint at the line for 10th. Thomas Clayton’s (NWVE) group stayed intact through the second lap but spread out over the third. Thomas ended up in the middle of the group in 14th place. Eric Tremble (NWVE) skied the final lap alone, holding off David Herr (Unattached) and Frank Feist (Ford Sayre). Neal Graves (NWVE) built confidence as the race continued, having only finished one last year. He set out to retake everyone who passed him in the first two laps who were still on course. He achieved his mission easily, taking down Craig Pepin (MNC). Wes DeNering (CSU) caught long-time rival Bob Burnham (EMXC) for the first time in many years. He kept the heat on Bob until the final climbs when Bob finally got a 10-second gap for the finish. Scott Magnan (NWVE) knew he had me going into the last lap. He set his sights on Nick Mahood, who was one place up. Scott kept chipping away, but Nick had a solid finish, making ground Scott could not overcome. I finished in survival mode. Joe Holland (Putney) broke away from Tom Strasser (Harwood) and Jon Floyd (Harwood). Joe had one of the fastest last laps of anyone around him but ran out of course before he could catch me.
After the race, people slowly made their way to the food truck as their stomachs returned to them. The line at the food truck was moving steadily, so by the time the food was ready, the post-race appetite was craving nourishment. Participants shared stories, and the sun warmed the afternoon. Many speculated about what tomorrow would bring. All were happy with their accomplishments, and many agreed with Eric Darling's (NWVE) sentiment: “I had one great lap!”
Mother Nature reminded us that not every ski race will be easy or perfect. Craftsbury’s staff and army of volunteers made a challenging race enjoyable and took care of every athlete, ensuring a positive experience. It is days like these we will remember. We are all excited to see the magic they will work for tomorrow!