2018: Noquemanon 24k XC Classic Ski

In all honesty and fairness, participating in this event was a very distant thought when the year started. Unlike 2017, I have been making a decent amount of progress towards the upcoming Kortelopet as part of the Birkie festivities. Progress, to be fair and honest, has so far been only about improving the technique – especially having to make a right turn while going down a slope.  To be fair and honest, I did want to improve the distance (per session or attempt) as well but just hadn’t made enough time (or had made time for excuses, as my lovely Lombardian friends would say).

The longest I had skied so far was in the neighborhood of 10 km (the skiing purists remind me often that kilometer is the unit of measurement and not miles). I fully understand that the chance of Mother Nature bailing out my lack of preparation again is very very slim. And I hope and pray to the powers that be that Birkie festivities won’t suffer the same fate as of last year. The plan was to use this and next couple weekends to ski at least 20-25 km per session. Should the planned training go well, I’d have decent chance of completing the Kortelopet within a decent amount of time.

The originally planned activity for this weekend, in line with this plan, was to head up to the Swedetown Trail System and ski the loops my friends – Andi and Greg – had shown me around in recent times. But with warmer weather predicted for the weekend and with a little nudge from Carrie, I figured I should be able to successfully complete the 24 kilometers of Noquemanon Ski Marathon – not as a race race but more as a benchmark (for minimum time or effort) for Birkie. The possibility of exploring food and beverages and meeting good ole friends just made it a little easier to pay the increased registration fee and make the trip.

Summary of training activities since the last event (or the beginning of current year)
# Date and time Activity details
Distance, Time, Pace, Speed, Heart Rate (% of Max), kCal, and Weather
01 2018-01-01 14:59 Houghton XCC Ski L1
3.50 mi, 0:46:42, 13:20 min/mile, 4.50 mph, 160 bpm (78.05%), 536 kCal
9 F/-10 F, 18 mph W, 72% humidity; partly cloudy and cold
02 2018-01-02 08:43 Houghton iRide L1
10.06 mi, 0:41:31, 4:07 min/mile, 14.57 mph, 157 bpm (76.59%), 230 kCal
70 F/70 F, 0 mph 35% humidity
03 2018-01-03 18:01 KRG Weekly Run 2018 #01/52
4.51 mi, 0:47:45, 10:35 min/mile, 5.67 mph, 162 bpm (79.02%), 556 kCal
3 F/-9 F, 7 mph NNW, 71% humidity; cloudy, cold and semi-comfortable
04 2018-01-04 11:26 Calumet XCC Ski L1
4.08 mi, 0:56:51, 13:56 min/mile, 4.31 mph, 163 bpm (79.51%), 666 kCal
3 F/-10 F, 9 mph N, 65% humidity; cloudy, snowy but comfortable
05 2018-01-05 17:22 Houghton iRide L1
10.51 mi, 0:44:31, 4:14 min/mile, 14.17 mph, 145 bpm (70.73%), 217 kCal
70 F/70 F, 0 mph 32% humidity
06 2018-01-07 15:56 Calumet XCC Ski L1
4.17 mi, 0:47:44, 11:26 min/mile, 5.25 mph, 157 bpm (76.59%), 534 kCal
23 F/16 F, 6 mph WSW, 58% humidity; cloudy, warm and comfortable
07 2018-01-09 13:36 Houghton XCC Ski L1
3.80 mi, 0:47:58, 12:37 min/mile, 4.76 mph, 162 bpm (79.02%), 562 kCal
25 F/16 F, 8 mph SSE, 58% humidity; sunny, warm and comfortable
08 2018-01-10 12:08 Calumet XCC Ski L1
6.30 mi, 1:24:38, 13:26 min/mile, 4.47 mph, 159 bpm (77.56%), 926 kCal
37 F/31 F, 8 mph SW, 70% humidity; cloudy, warm and comfortable
09 2018-01-10 17:46 KRG Weekly Run 2018 #02/52
3.86 mi, 0:49:23, 12:47 min/mile, 4.69 mph, 157 bpm (76.59%), 541 kCal
37 F/37 F, 3 mph WSW, 70% humidity; cloudy, warm and comfortable
10 2018-01-11 16:09 Houghton XCC Ski L1
2.78 mi, 0:41:48, 15:02 min/mile, 3.99 mph, 153 bpm (74.63%), 456 kCal
16 F/2 F, 13 mph NNW, 73% humidity; cloudy, snowy, cold and semi-comfortable
11 2018-01-16 18:02 Houghton XCC Ski L1
1.76 mi, 0:20:41, 11:45 min/mile, 5.11 mph, 174 bpm (84.88%), 264 kCal
17 F/7 F, 9 mph W, 73% humidity; cloudy, snowy but comfortable
12 2018-01-17 14:18 Calumet XCC Ski L1
6.26 mi, 1:15:22, 12:02 min/mile, 4.99 mph, 163 bpm (79.51%), 894 kCal
28 F/17 F, 15 mph W, 39% humidity; sunny, windy and comfortable
13 2018-01-17 17:49 KRG Weekly Run 2018 #03/52
2.14 mi, 0:23:25, 10:56 min/mile, 5.49 mph, 148 bpm (72.20%), 212 kCal
30 F/18 F, 18 mph W, 47% humidity; clear, warm-ish and comfortable
14 2018-01-24 18:03 KRG Weekly Run 2018 #04/52
4.46 mi, 0:47:44, 10:42 min/mile, 5.61 mph, 167 bpm (81.46%), 573 kCal
18 F/18 F, 0 mph, 62% humidity; cloudy and pleasant


So, I did sign up for the event just before online registration ended on Wednesday. Thanks to Emily, I attended the TOKO XC Ski Wax Clinic in Down Wind Sports led by Mike on Thursday. Carrie kindly offered to pick up my race packet from the Expo (saving me a lot of hassle) and Sue, representing the event, kindly offered to vouch for my existence.  I implemented some of the learnings from this clinic as well as the wax recommendations for the event (both were done by the same person. How cool is that?!?) Friday evening. And as much as I tried to convince myself that this wasn’t a race race, pre-race jitters made their way and made sleep the night before a luxury.

I woke up from the non-continuous sleep at a reasonable time on Saturday morning and drove down to Marquette. The drive, owing to unseasonably warmer conditions, was uneventful and on summer-isque roads. A quick stop at the Third Street Bagel to pick up a pre-race meal (my wave was scheduled to start at 12:05 pm) along the way, I got to Superior Dome with plenty time to spare. After chatting with Sue for a short while, I had my pre-race meal and chatted with racers from out of town. While chatting with Liana and Ben, Carrie came along with Dr. Bob and Sue with my race packet. And soon enough, it was time and we (Liana, Ben and I) were off to the starting location via the 11 am shuttle.

It was really kind of the organizers to have two warming buses to take shelter in and head out to the starting chute when it was time. There were more than enough porta-Johns as well.  With about 7 or so minutes left to start my wave, I was fortunate to have found Sue and Carrie, and for them to have noticed the discrepancy I didn’t even know existed: Carrie’s and my bibs were swapped, and we needed to meet one of the event staff to have it all straightened out.

My wave started on time and any hopes of keeping the number of falls/wipeouts to under 8 disappeared within the first couple ks. Though one of the reasons I signed up was the predicted warmer weather (and in turn, slow-ish trails), I hadn’t accounted for the overnight freezing (and in turn, crusty and fast conditions). I fell a handful of times before stabilizing and feeling comfortable gaining confidence. With no prior knowledge of the course, I was a little cautious and chose to focus more on improving the technique rather than going for time. 

I did pick up the speed after the first aid station though and that was largely due to familiarity with the trail – the Handlers (Christine, Rob, Shannon and Stephen) had taken me there a couple years ago, and I had explored a few kilometers upstream from the Forestville. This portion of the trail was remarkably similar to Valley and Green Stone Trails in Swedetown (thanks, Andi!). A few more wipeouts later, I arrived at the second aid station in Forestville. Apart from the usual heed and a shot block, I consumed a couple of Advils as Liana had recommended I do around the 2-hour mark.  

14.79 mi, 3:08:25, 12:44 min/mile, 4.71 mph
(1) 9:52 (2) 10:55 (3) 11:25 (4) 16:26 (5) 10:19 (6) 11:59 (7) 11:59 (8) 11:26 (9) 11:27 (10) 10:32 (11) 13:14 (12) 16:24 (13) 17:01 (14) 14:41 (15) 10:45
Garmin Forerunner 935 and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress

Until this point, I had average a few ticks under 12 min/mile mark and was feeling fairly confident about keeping that pace for the final 7 km. After all, I had skied this portion a couple years ago and knew the trail. Relatively narrower trails, snaking their way amidst hearty and sturdy trees, chopped up and glazed over by a plethora of skiers ahead of me and my poor technique made this last 7 km go on forever. I fell more than a dozen times and some times, for very silly reasons. Several other experienced skiers fell (and fell harder) too, and quite a few had to take their skis off to go up/down a hill. When it was done, I was quite happy to be done with the race and to be seeing friendly faces – Erich, Carrie, Jim, Sammy and Sue.

The race wasn’t without its lessons: I skied alongside an elderly gentleman (#221, John Thompson from Madison, WI) for a while and learned that he races on water. I skied behind another elderly lady (#1331, Joyce Ziegler from Crystal Falls, MI) – she had very consistent strides and taught me how to just take one foot off the tracks while banking corners. I did cause one lady to fall with improper pole placement while going up a hill and I should learn to keep others from getting injured for no fault of their own. Sam and Alice, while chatting in Superior Dome after the race, taught me that skin can be saturated and in turn, can lead to near-zero traction/kick under conditions we had today. Unlike my last time at this event, I didn’t make the podium – looking at the results, I needed much better skiing skills and take at least an hour less to even earn a third place.

 Post-ski festivities included a bus ride back to the Superior Dome, chatting with Dr. Bob, Kara, Walker, Sam and Alice, consuming two bowls of vegetable soup on either side of a quick massage, a hearty meal in The Pasta Shop and a beverage in Blackrocks Brewery, and calling it a night by 7:15 pm. The drive back to Houghton started after a quick stop each in Contrast Coffee and Third Street Bagel, and was uneventful. Though I didn’t stick to the original plan of not treating this as a race race, I have a good estimate of the minimum effort required to complete the Kortelopet in about three weeks. And though the soreness in all parts of my body might claim otherwise, I am told by more than one reliable source that the latter one is doable. Powered by the confidence of my friends and that gained from skiing the longest ski of my life yet, and in the words of the most-media-friendly head coach the NFL has ever seen …

I am on to Birkie (with my friends)!

Praise be to the Good Lord and life's blessings, and thanks be to

the opportunities, organizers, sponsors, volunteers, timing folks, law enforcement/border patrol/immigration officials, photographers, fellow racers, spectators, technologists with their creative electronic gadgets and tools, and my good friends in and outside of my community for the often unexpected, undeserved, unrewarded acts of constant encouragement, and offerings of constructive criticism, tested tips and tricks to improve myself as an athlete.

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