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Marathon presents distance challenge to hardy speed skaters

February 13, 2019
By CHRISTIE SAUSA - Correspondent , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - After three cancellations last year due to weather and poor ice quality, the inaugural Lake Placid North American Challenge Marathon took place Feb. 9-10 on the James B. Sheffield Olympic Speed Skating Oval.

Approximately 40 skaters completed the 5-kilometer (13 laps) and 21-kilometer (54 laps) distances on Saturday, Feb. 9, followed the next day by the 42k race, a brutal 108 laps around the 400-meter oval. Temperatures were in the single digits at the start of the races, with strong wind during the beginning of Saturday's races, but the sun warmed the pelotons of skaters both days as they glided around the track.

Like modern day metric speed skating, marathon skating has its roots in the Netherlands. The event is defined as a style of skating in which at least five skaters skate long distances together in formation. The longest marathon distance is 200 kilometers.

Article Photos

Skaters take off at the start of the Lake Placid North American Challenge 42-kilometer race Sunday, Feb. 10 at the James B. Sheffield Olympic Speed Skating Oval.
Provided photo — Christie Sausa

Marathon skating usually takes place on natural ice surfaces like canals or rivers, or as in this case, on a 400-meter long track oval. The most famous skating marathon is the Elfstedentocht (Eleven Cities), which is 200 kilometers on frozen canals in The Netherlands. Several who competed in this famous race also competed at the Lake Placid North American Challenge.

The overall male winner of the event in Lake Placid was Sergio Almarella, of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Originally from Mexico, Almarella started marathon skating in 2004, and regularly competes in Lake Placid speed skating marathons for the camaraderie and the skating workout.

"I enjoy the feeling of skating, being able to work out the legs, and skating with different packs is always a nice opportunity to say hello to the other skaters," he said. "I also like the view of the mountains and Main Street that you can see from both sides of the Oval. Sunday's sunny weather and the event was special for the community and friends that we see in the marathons."

The overall women's winner was Jen Benediktson, of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. She has been marathon skating for eight years, and also appreciates the opportunity to skate with other marathoners in one of her favorite venues.

"I love being out on the ice, getting in a rhythm and pushing myself to do my best," Benediktson said. "It's really fun to be out on the ice with all the other skaters. There are some really inspiring people that come to these events. I hope to continue to come here as long as I can.

"I did my first skating marathon ever in Lake Placid. I love coming here. The oval at Lake Placid is just such a beautiful place to skate. I'm really thankful for all of the people who help to organize the race and put this on for us. I'm also thankful for the Waterloo women who got me into this sport."

This spirit of encouragement and fellowship is a strong theme in marathon skating, which is encouraging to first-time marathon skaters. Kendrin McKenzie of the Flushing Meadows Speed Skating Club in Queens was one of those participants, impressively skating a 21-kilometer and 42-kilometer race in this, her first marathon. She also won the Jake Maarse Marathon Skating Award, which is named after marathon skating legend Jake Maarse, who also competed in Lake Placid, and is given to a skater who personifies the spirit of marathon skating. McKenzie was moved by the award and the experience of skating in the event.

"Those last 10 laps were solo laps after everyone else had finished. I knew the officials had to stay with me, and felt bad for them," McKenzie said. "I wanted to be done, but I didn't want to quit. At one point, there was a mom and her two kids cheering me on, which was lovely, and then to get the big cheer when I had finally finished and got back to the warming house was incredibly special. I really want to thank those who stuck around."

Of course, she also enjoyed competing at such a historic and scenic venue.

"I remember watching (the Olympics) in 1980, so I am very aware of the history here, and I have long wanted to skate this particular oval for that reason alone. But what I hadn't really considered is that it's really beautiful, especially on the back stretch, with the mountains in sight. A few times during the race, I kept reminding myself to look at the mountains."

McKenzie is determined to compete in more marathons in the future.

"I'd like to improve my time," she said. "I think you do these things to test yourself - and everyone has a different challenge. Mine will never be to win. I'm just not that athletically gifted, but even with those limitations you can still be active. This year's goal was to finish. Next time: to finish ahead of this year's time."

Other than the usual aims of promoting the sport of marathon speed skating by providing one of only a handful of marathons in the United States, the Lake Placid North American Challenge was hosted for another purpose: to memorialize avid marathon skater and cyclist Billy Bauer, who was a consistent presence on the marathon skating and cycling scenes and especially enjoyed racing in Lake Placid. Friends and fellow skaters/cyclists Carole Moore and Dave Phillips sponsored the event, which was hosted, sanctioned, and organized by the Lake Placid Speed Skating Club, and felt the marathon would have been a fitting tribute.

"We were honored to sponsor the marathon in memory of Billy and happy to celebrate marathon skating alongside many of his skating friends who also competed in this marathon," Moore said. "Lake Placid was Billy's favorite marathon venue, so we are sure he would have been happy to see his skating friends enjoying the event and new skaters being introduced to the fun, camaraderie, and adventure of marathon skating in Lake Placid."

The last meet of the season is the inaugural Heiden Challenge Febr. 16-17, in which skaters can take the challenge of skating all of the distances Eric Heiden skated to win his five Olympic gold medals in the 1980 Games. Overall winners will skate away with a special commemorative medal and a special edition winner's jacket. For more information on the event, including registration, visit



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