2016: Great Bear Chase

In all seriousness and retrospect, this should have been my only ski race of the 2015-16 season. For, in all the same seriousness and retrospect, Great Bear Chase has become the final test of my skiing talents each season — cumulative (since January 2014) and newly acquired (with each passing season/session) alike. And it’s a test — a long running and well established, managed and reputed one at that — in my home area that comes with the added benefits of near-zero traveling, sleeping in my own bed couch the night before, and being with dear friends and community members before, during and afterwards.

I did contemplate upgrading the distance to 25k this time around but having been served a fair share of humble pie in recent times on and off the trails, I stayed put at 10k to see how well I remembered lessons of the past and how well I could integrate the recently imparted ones, and if all went well and according to the plan, how fewer times I could fall and how much I could improve the time to completion. Physical fatigue/pain following the American Birkebeiner Prince Haakon 12k XC Classic Ski two weeks ago didn’t linger on nearly as long as I had imagined. This made way, in turn, to spend more time on the trails than I had imagined to practice the snow plough technique (courtesy of Kim and Greg Green), and focus on regaining balance and maintaining form/posture (courtesy of Doug Oppliger, Michael Young and Dr. Bob) in the second half.

Although 2016 would be the third attempt in Great Bear Chase and overall fifth ski race (not counting the 2014 edition of Book Across The Bay — which is more of a ski party than a race), this turned out to be the first time I made a conscious effort to ski through the course ahead of time, twice. These two conscious efforts were facilitated by Greg and Kim Green graciously taking time out of their schedule, and went a long way in helping me re-familiarize with the terrain. This, along with learning to read the cues on trees (thanks, Greg), would go on to help decide when to pace and when to push.

Rewinding a little … all the way back to the penultimate weekend of January 2016. My beloved New England Patriots had been humbled by the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game earlier in the afternoon, and the Carolina Panthers were stealing the Arizona Cardinals‘ lunch (or dinner, given the time of the day) in the NFC Championship Game. While I was with the Handlers (Christine, Rob, Shannon and Stephen) and Ontls (Kelly and Todd) at Shannon-Rob residence watching the latter, Christine and Shannon were busy sewing away spectacular outfits for this event. Glamor and fun aside, it was yet another friendly reminder that neither the Rome nor the Pyramid was built in a day — that nothing good rarely, if ever, happens overnight and that such good things take plenty of time, planning and conscious execution of the said plan to become a reality.

The collective suggestion from the Handlers and the Ontls was that I too should pick a fancier outfit. It didn’t take too long to decide that I’d be proudly representing my Mexcian origin and heritage. And should I be able to find 4 way stretch fabric, Shannon offered to stitch me a pair of ski pants! Rob thought, in true research-sque fashion, that we ought to look for pre-made stuff for an economical price and time, and he did — on etsy.com from a seller based in Seoul, South Korea! Since the Great Bear Chase was the only scheduled ski race for the season at that time (and I had no knowledge of snow plough or regaining balance or maintaining good posture), I figured I might as well have some fun, join the glamor party, and at least look good — though not nearly as good as the model showcasing it does — even if my skiing talents didn’t necessarily match up. So, an exchange of few emails with the promptly responsive seller and ten days later, the said ski pants took on a transcontinental voyage and arrived in Houghton.

Summary of training activities since the last race
# Date and time Activity details
Device, Distance, Time, Pace, Speed, Heart Rate, kCal, and Weather Notes (when applicable)
01 2016-02-21 11:00 am Strength Training 2016 #09 (Yoga)
0:50:00, 293
02 2016-02-23 3:12 pm Houghton Short Ski XC Classic
6.43 mi, 1:10:19, 10:56 min/mile, 5.49 mph, 703
36 F, 7 mph SW, felt like 30 F, 60% humidity; clear skies, then partly cloudy and comfortable
03 2016-02-24 6:02 pm KRG Weekly Run 2016 #08/52
4.51 mi, 0:42:05, 9:20 min/mile, 6.43 mph, 560
28 F, 10 mph NNE, felt like 19 F, 74% humidity; clear skies and comfortable
04 2016-02-26 6:00 am Strength Training 2016 #10
0:45:00, 264
05 2016-02-26 3:59 pm Houghton Quick Ski XC Classic
3.54 mi, 0:45:10, 12:46 min/mile, 4.70 mph, 436
30 F, 9 mph WSW, felt like 22 F, 59% humidity; clear skies and comfortable
06 2016-02-27 8:34 am Houghton Quick Run
2.53 mi, 0:25:02, 9:54 min/mile, 6.06 mph, 155 bpm, 246
37 F, 24 mph W, felt like 26 F, 65% humidity
07 2016-02-27 12:12 pm Hancock Quick Ski XC Classic
4.11 mi, 1:47:26, 26:08 min/mile, 2.30 mph, 364
39 F, 22 mph WNW, felt like 29 F, 65% humidity; clear skies, warm and comfortable
08 2016-02-28 3:02 pm Calumet Short Ski XC Classic
6.14 mi, 1:32:11, 15:01 min/mile, 4.00 mph, 633
25 F, 12 mph N, felt like 14 F, 74% humidity; fluffy snow, warm and comfortable
09 2016-03-02 3:00 pm Strength Training 2016 #11
1:00:00, 352
10 2016-03-02 6:03 pm KRG Weekly Run 2016 #09/52
3.27 mi, 0:32:48, 10:02 min/mile, 5.98 mph, 162 bpm, 321
19 F, 8 mph NNW, felt like 10 F, 57% humidity; clear skies, gentle breeze and comfortable
11 2016-03-03 5:45 am Strength Training 2016 #12
0:30:00, 176
12 2016-03-03 3:57 pm Houghton Quick Ski XC Classic
3.68 mi, 1:11:09, 19:20 min/mile, 3.10 mph, 307
27 F, 8 mph W, felt like 18 F, 46% humidity; blue skies, warm and comfortable
13 2016-03-03 5:45 pm Strength Training 2016 #13
0:30:00, 176
14 2016-03-04 4:00 pm Strength Training 2016 #14
0:30:00, 176
15 2016-03-05 7:00 am Strength Training 2016 #15
0:30:00, 176

The usual trip up north to pick up my race packet at the pre-race expo and check out the Junior Bear Chase were uneventful but did include a listen to your body chat and estimating the chances of a podium finish (there were only three registered in my age group; so, the plan was to push for at least a second place finish) with Kelsae, drink enough water reminders from Arni, the Nature and value of student-teacher relationships with Bruce McDonald and ringing cowbell as the youngsters skied past and up a hill with effortless grace. Keeping with the last year’s routine, an hour or two were spent at the Christine-Stephen Handler residence eating more food, and getting schooled on waxing lessons from Boyd (Christine’s dad), Rob and Shannon.

A good and a full night’s sleep, a luxury as well as a privilege in many a recent days, made way for a calm race day morning. Traffic up north was non-existent and smooth, and finding a spot to park my car didn’t take much effort either. An exchange of pleasantries with friends, an inquiry about the legendary Mexican Olympic skier from a fellow racer, and an impromptu interview for the Daily Mining Gazette with friendly Mexicans (Elizabeth Martin and Dan Wiersgalla — sombreros atop their heads made them far more authentic than I was) were the highlights prior to the gun going off at about 9:50 am.

6.20 mi, 1:07:28, 10:53 min/mile, 5.51 mph, 177 bpm
Splits: (1) 8:58, (2) 10:18, (3) 10:38, (4) 11:32, (5) 12:40, (6) 11:56, (7) 1:28
Garmin Forerunner 620 and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress

Groomers and Swedetown trail system crew had done a remarkable job setting the trails — especially in light of recent warmer weather and lack of fresh snow. The value of good waxing became very apparent very quickly: except a few strides to get past the initial hill and into the Len’s loop off the Valley Trail, double polling was all that I needed to get through the first couple kilometers! It wasn’t until shortly after the mile mark #2 that a skier in the 10k skate category passed me. This was a sign of considerable progress compared to previous two years: in 2014, I hadn’t even passed the very first hill past the end of double polling line and all the skate skiers had gone by; 2015, I had barely made it to the first aid station by the chalet when most skate skiers started passing me.

  Time (mm:ss) and speed (miles/hour) over each mile
Year 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Total  
2014 19:22 (3.1) 24:24 (2.5) 25:59 (2.3) 22:48 (2.6) 21:36 (2.8) 19:15 (2.9) 2:13:26 (2.70)
2015 12:51 (4.7) 13:32 (4.4) 12:23 (4.8) 12:50 (4.7) 13:54 (4.3) 13:34 (4.4) 03:21 (5.7) 1:22:18 (4.60)
2016 08:58 (6.7) 10:18 (5.8) 10:38 (5.6) 11:32 (5.2) 12:40 (4.7) 11:56 (5.0) 01:28 (8.1) 1:07:28 (5.51)

Thanks to many lessons from dear friends, taking corners and going down the slopes came with very little pain. Consuming plenty of water over the past 24 hours ensured I didn’t have any shin splints or cramps. I still managed to fall a few times — a few times too many to my liking: once, it was due to not knowing how much to dig in during a snow plough attempt while one other time, it was due to digging in too much and falling face first. Once I fell standing still at an aid station, and one other time, I stepped a little too much to the side and found myself on any icy surface. And rest of them were going down a slope of some kind while having to make a right turn. If only the course was entirely uphill or if it only had left turns down all its slopes (you know, NASSki — like NASCAR), I would have a much better time in these events. But then again, I wouldn’t learn much. So, I don’t mind the right turns and downhills in the name of learning, and learning new things.

Unlike the 2015 edition, I didn’t promise anyone that I’d ski the course stride for stride with them, keep them in my sight and ensure their safety until they successfully completed the race — though I wouldn’t flinch to do something like that to a worthy friend again. It was for the first time in a long LONG time that my mind was circus free and was able to race the mile (or the kilometer) I was currently in, look forward to the next one, keep the focus primarily on me and an eye for the safety of fellow racers. And it felt good wonderfully delightful.

Personal goals for the event (in order of importance)
## Goal Result
01 Keep the number of falls under 3 No; 6-8
03 Finish in the top 50% No, no, no (28/52 overall; 15/28 division; 3/5 age group)
03 Complete it under 1:05:00 (10:29 min/mile, 5.72 mph) No, 1:07:28, (10:53 min/mile, 5.51 mph)
04 Improve current PR for 10k: 1:22:18 (13:03 min/mile, 4.60 mph) Yes, 1:07:28, (10:53 min/mile, 5.51 mph)

The temperature rose with every passing mile (or kilometer) and the cowboy hat provided the much needed shade from the blasting sunshine over the last couple kilometers. And when all was said and done, the clock showed a few ticks past 67 minutes as I crossed the finish line — about 2-3 minutes slower than what I had hoped but nothing I would lose sleep over. I left the finish area a few minutes too soon and as such missed out on being a part of the team photo. As I was walking towards my car, a gentleman started speaking to me in Spanish. He was a bit disappointed to learn that I didn’t speak any of it — or at least to know that the extent of Spanish was uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, ocho, casa, hola, amiga, amigo, gracias, salsa, guacamole, and para espanol, oprima numero dos. His significant other later explained that he was thrilled to see someone from his home country up in this part of the world. As happy as I was to have found the Mexican in me, I felt embarrassed to have let someone down.

As much as I take pride in the process and delayed gratification, the process of waxing the skis the night before and see it bear fruits the very next morning was not only a very rewarding but also quite a therapeutic experience — a case quite literally of getting out what’s put in. I am now a staunch believer in waxing the skis, even if they are waxless, before every upcoming race, and plan to set aside a portion of the basement in my future home for this purpose.

The post-race festivities activities included picking up the official race time slip, enjoying a hearty pasty lunch with the Richards (Carrie and Dr. Bob), enjoying another bowl of yummy lentil soup, cheering on my friends as they went up to receive their medals/prizes, receiving a medal for the third place in my age group, and a sushi party at the Shannon-Rob residence later in the evening.

Knowing that there were only three racers in my age group, I didn’t make much of the third place medal during the awards ceremony. It wasn’t until I got home and checked Superior Timing website that I realized there were actually five registered racers in my age group, and what I had earned was indeed a very legitimate placing — for the first time ever in my short racing career in any sport. Since, unlike in 2015, I didn’t lie to anyone with the intent of helping them get their time/goal (and in turn, cost a potential podium finish of their own), I won’t be giving away this piece of bling to anyone anytime soon.

Should the predicted weather over the next few days hold true, this might be the very tail end (if not the end) of 2015-16 skiing season. Or at least until winter makes a return and brings us some fresh white stuff. If this indeed is the end, it has been quite the memorable season in many ways than one, and I am very grateful to all the lessons, tricks and tips taught and shard by my dear friends. For now, off to explore a rabbit hole called the waxing technique.

Thanks be to

the rejections and opportunities life has brought my way, event folks (organizers, sponsors, volunteers, timers, law enforcement officials, photographers, fellow participants and spectators), and the family of good friends in and outside of my community for all the unexpected, undeserved and unrewarded acts of constant encouragement as well as offerings of constructive criticism to improve myself as an athlete and a person. I am eternally grateful to all those who let me train with them, who shared their invaluable tips with me, who helped keep my mind, body and soul in good health, who helped me stay the course during the training cycle, who continued to teach me the value of work-life balance, and who cheered me on from home or along the course.

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