MARQUETTE - The times weren't as fast as in 2012 but the end result was the same as Santiago Ocariz of Spooner, Wis., defended his 50-kilometer Classic marathon title at the Noquemanon Ski Marathon on Saturday.
After starting at Al Quaal Recreation Area in Ishpeming, Ocariz crossed the finish line at the Superior Dome in Marquette in 3 hours, 3 minutes and 50 seconds. That was more than half an hour slower than last year's winning time of 2:31:20.9.
Though Ocariz finished more than two minutes ahead of runner-up Eli Brown (3:05:55.3), only five seconds separated seven skiers with 12 kilometers left.
Robert Smith (25) of downstate Roscommon and Christopher Steele (54) of Ishpeming are among the Elite Wave of starters in the men’s 50-kilometer Classic at the 15th annual Noquemanon Ski Marathon on Saturday morning at Al Quaal Recreation Area in Ishpeming. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
"We just stayed together as a group because there was so much snow," Ocariz said. "You just couldn't break away because you would work so hard and you would've just died out there."
Along with battling five inches of fresh powder that Mother Nature dumped on the course overnight, the winner was also getting being ill earlier in the week. He said both factors altered his strategy, and it wasn't until late in the race that he saw his opportunity to break free.
"I was waiting until the trail got packed down, I was just kind of waiting to make sure I felt good and wouldn't cramp," Ocariz said. "That last aid station, I looked back, everyone was taking feeds; I was like 'Okay, I know it's almost all downhill from here, it's time to go.'
"So I pushed it and separated myself."
He said the $1,150 first-place prize was a good source of motivation.
"The paycheck is awesome, that helps out a lot," Ocariz said.
"I like this race, it's a great venue. They do a really good job.
"It was awesome we got a little more snow. It was patchy here at the end but they did a good job shoveling and it was really nice."
Marquette resident Stephen Kuhl finished in seventh place, crossing the finish the line in 3:09:46.4.
In the women's 50K Classic, seventh-year Noque participant Kim Rudd of Plymouth, Minn., capturing the top spot in 3:25:34.6.
"It was awesome; it was the best classic race ever," she said. "It was just perfect. The beauty of it, the snow on the trees, I just love this course. Reaching the high point looking over Teal Lake is just gorgeous."
The group mentality that helped pace Ocariz and Brown in the men's 50K was a common theme throughout the day as Rudd and her closest competition, Maria Stuber, applied similar strategies. Stuber finished about 15 seconds back in 3:25:49.9.
"Me and Maria Stuber were in this long chain of guys who were trading off leading in the last 10K and this guy pulled us the whole way," Rudd said.
For Rudd and Stuber, it was a refreshing change of pace to race on fresh snow, which both agreed makes for a better race.
"It was gorgeous, all year we've been racing on little man-made gerbil loops, so it was pretty fun to be on real snow for a 50K," Stuber said.
Coming in third place in the women's 50K classic was Ellen Wiitala of Marquette, who breezed through the finishing chute about 24 minutes behind the leaders in 3:49:27.2.