Kendall Memorial Race Report
The Kendall Memorial 10km was held on Sunday in Craftsbury. The day's concern was whether the weather would hold off for the event. An ominous forecast coincided with the timing of the event, and rain totals threatened the thin early snow. Craftsbury did a phenomenal job bolstering the course with artificial snow and was confident that skiers would enjoy the 5km Race Loop on an early December day.
Skiers arrived at the center with overcast skies and warming temperatures. The air was thick, but no precipitation kept people hopeful that the snow would not melt away under their skis. Volunteers and athletes went about their business getting ready for the race. Many were catching up from not seeing each other since the end of the season last spring. People were ready to clean out the cobwebs with the stacked field.
The course was the Craftsbury North 5km loop. It is nicely skiable but noted for a series of climbs in the second half of the loop that are spaced just right to cause your heart rate to spike over threshold and into the red if your legs don't scream Mimi first. Skiers head out on the rollerski loop to Six Corners and turn onto Lemon's Haunt. At Coaches Corner, they turn down Dennis's Demise and then up Moss's. They make their way to Kirby's downhill via The Pines, where the long descent gives a bit of respite from the action of the start. At Ruthie's Run, the course bottoms out at the river, and the climbing begins. First is the extended John's Jaunt, followed by Hoyt's Wall. Heartrates top out, but there is a flat to give a false sense of recovery before a little kicker onto The North End. This trail leads into Screamin Mimi with its deceiving turn onto a steeper pitch that never gets easy. Skiers continue on Lemon's around the snow pit and up Wilbur's back to the stadium. I have raced this loop dozens of times, and it never gets easier.
Snow conditions were good. The trail had good cover with some dirty and thin spots. It was semi-transformed and was shedding moisture well, as it did not feel boggy on the skis. Conditions remained the same throughout the morning, with occasional light rain showers.
The race format was a freestyle mass start, with skate lanes for participants, allowing the organizers to forego the tracked double pole zone. It was a new and welcomed concept with little carnage compared with people trying to pass between the double pole lanes. The start of the race was clean, aside from a self-inflicted faceplant of a young skier that Scott Magnan (NWVE) expertly avoided. The race spread out quickly, with warm-ski speed playing a significant role. It was apparent who did not have the quickest skis within the first kilometer. Notably, Mark Isslehardt (Craftsbury) was not keeping up on the downhills. Nine NWVE athletes were spread throughout the field of 76. It was an interesting mix of abilities, with national contenders, rising stars, and weekend warriors getting some early-season intensity.
Gaelen Boyle-Wight (NWVE), a recent St. Michael's graduate, was the club's top finisher. He had a great race among some familiar collegiate competition, but the nature of the course caused packs to drift apart slowly. Gaelen held on for a solid 26th place. Chris Burnham (NWVE) was our next finisher. Chris was feeling Saturday's sprints but found himself battling with some of the same skiers as the day prior. He had a solid finish, holding Edouard Drolet (Mt. St. Anne) off at the line. Jake Hollenbach (NWVE-Fischer) was on course with Harvard's Cyrus Hamlin and a couple of rival U18 skiers, Joseph Sluka (Ford Sayre) and Lincoln Miller (GMVS). The group kept the pace, with no one giving an inch in the race. Tom Thurston (NWVE) had another great day skiing with Sam Quintal (Putney) and Frank Feist (Ford Sayre). Tom was happy to put a little distance on recently relocated Frank (formerly CSU) in the second lap to win the M6 division.
Robert Bradlee (Freedom Trail Nordic) and Robert Burnham (EMXC) worked together the whole race, with Robert having the edge in the final kilometer. Throughout the race, I worked with Tyler Magnan (NWVE) and Steve Crafts (MNC). Steve tucked in for most of the first lap and slowly pulled away; Tyler and I drafted a bit until 2km to go, where I could tempo up the steep climbs while Tyler still felt the lingering effects of an illness a week ago. Scott Magnan (NWVE) was happy to be showing his stuff. The veteran BFA Nordic ski coach was under pressure from fellow coach Harwood coach Tom Strasser, who knew exactly where to be when the going got tough. I guess you have to meet expectations with what you say to your athletes when a guy with the same job is yelling the same things to you in the same places. I wonder if Scott will ever yell to his athletes, "This is a good place to let up and catch your breath!" on Screamin Mimi, or "Go slower if your legs are on fire!" in the future. Another BFA Coach, Michael Mashtare, put a ski bib on for the first time in decades. Mike's goal was not to get caught by the hotshots on the first lap. He was clear of that by a good six minutes. Hopefully, we will see Coach back in action in more citizen-oriented races later in the season. The racing never stopped, and seasoned biathletes John Witmer (NWVE) and Brian Dooley (EABC) skied toe to toe throughout the whole race. They looked a little uncomfortable without their rifles, perhaps pondering if they would be this close if penalty laps were involved.
While the men raced, the women cheered and watched the elation early in the race turn to agony on the demanding course. Meredith Mashtare (NWVE) enjoyed the ability to ski from Six Corners to Coaches Corners and see the racers pass by twice. Jessica Bolduc (NWVE) and Sara Graves (NWVE) worked in some cheering as they warmed up.
The women's field had 51 competitors. The UVM Team and Middlebury's Shea Brams set a high pace for the first lap. This caused the field to blow up, and most skiers raced just out of contact with each other. The leaders hammered until the end, with a few able to shake up the top ten after the aggressive first lap. Haley Brewster (UVM) took the overall by a comfortable margin.
In the Masters Field, the story was the same, with Jaqueline Mourao (CBDN) distancing the field by a comfortable margin. Sara Graves (NWVE) was the second Masters woman keeping company with few college and high school contenders. Evelyn Hudrlik (St. Michael's) played cat and mouse with Sara right to the finish line, where she took the tie-break. Jessica Bolduc (NWVE) was feeling the sprints in her shoulders and legs and spent the race chasing Gigi Gunderson (Unattached). Gigi was quicker off the starting line, but Jessica kept the distance about even the whole race. Jessica had a bit of excitement as the crowd roared as she entered the stadium. She wondered who would catch her that late in the race and put in a solid V2 to hold them off. It was good that Jessica made the final push as the U16 Boys swarmed her at the finish of their 5km event. Jessica won the sprint! Ellie Bouffard (MNC) and Sarah Katz represented Mansfield. Skating is not Ellie's preferred technique, but she glided around the course gracefully with a sense of humor and a smile that could not be beat.
The weather held off, providing for another great day of racing. Some stuck around to take advantage of the fabulous conditions in Craftsbury, while others wanted to get on the road while the going was good. The weekend was a great way to kick off the season for many. A few realized they had some work to do, and others were happy with the dividends of their training. All were psyched for Mother Nature's great early-season racing conditions and looking forward to the season ahead.