2016: Noquemanon Ski Marathon

About a week had passed by since my maiden attempt at skiing and dear friend Carrie suggested that I should consider partaking in one of the events at the Noquemanon Ski Marathon (referred to hereafter as just Noque — somewhat for the purposes of brevity but mostly to sound cool). The aforementioned maiden ski attempt had taken over an hour to cover less than one mile on relatively flat trails. More so than skiing, it was a battle between yours truly and formidable laws of gravity and friction that the latter two won in a merciless beatdown. Given the sheer lack of information, expertise and/or experience, the chances of me surviving the wild and presumably treacherous Noque trails let alone making it out alive were very very slim … if not non-existent. So, it didn’t happen in 2014.

Carrie, however, didn’t forget and frequently reminded me about this event throughout 2014 calendar year and into the beginning of 2014-15 ski season. She kept bringing up that it was a downhill course, not as treacherous as I had imagined, and that I was quite capable of doing it. Preparations for the conference surrounding the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon hadn’t necessarily overshadowed running or skiing efforts in January 2015. But working under the wrong assumption that this event was held either in February or March instead of January (read: lack of attention to detail), 2015 edition of Noque had long been wrapped up by the time I decided to sign up for it. So, it didn’t happen in 2015 either.

It didn’t happen in 2016 either … almost. Still working under the same wrong assumption, and figuring I had at least 4-6 weeks to train properly, I looked up the Noque website on January 11. To realize that the event was less than a fortnight away wasn’t a pleasant feeling. Although I had just about 5k of training in 2015-16 ski season till that point, the opportunity to share a chunk of our space-time continuum with some of the elite athletes I had the privilege to watch during the recently concluded 2016 US Cross Country Championship (yes, this is also my lame claim to fame) seemed too good and painful to pass up. And no sooner did I sign up for this event, than I got a note from the Gracis (Kara and Sam Jr.) that I could stay with them the night before!

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 2015-11-25 6:02 pm KRG Weekly Run 2015 #44
4.51 mi, 0:42:34, 9:26 min/mile, 6.36 mph, 562
41 F, 10 mph SSW, felt like 35 F, 81% humidity; cloudy, not too cold and pleasant
02 2015-11-26 9:08 am Hancock Quick Run/UP Health Turkey Trot 5k
3.12 mi, 0:26:41, 8:33 min/mile, 7.02 mph, 388
34 F, 11 mph NNE, felt like 25 F, 86% humidity; cloudy, windy but not too cold
03 2015-12-09 6:03 pm KRG Weekly Run 2015 #45
4.12 mi, 0:41:26, 10:03 min/mile, 5.97 mph, 168 bpm, 539
36 F, 6 mph WNW, felt like 31 F, 87% humidity; clear, very comfortable
04 2015-12-16 4:35 pm KRG Weekly Run 2015 #46
6.26 mi, 0:56:13, 8:59 min/mile, 6.68 mph, 172 bpm, 716
37 F, 9 mph E, felt like 31 F, 93% humidity; cloudy, rainy and cold
05 2015-12-18 6:10 am Strength Training
0:45:00, 264
06 2015-12-20 10:01 am Houghton Quick Ski XC Classic
3.10 mi, 0:49:51, 16:05 min/mile, 3.73 mph, 272
25 F, 6 mph S, felt like 18 F, 68% humidity; cloudy but comfortable
07 2015-12-22 11:19 am Houghton Quick Run
3.33 mi, 0:32:29, 9:45 min/mile, 6.15 mph, 416
27 F, 3 mph ESE, felt like 27 F, 80% humidity; cloudy but very pleasant
08 2015-12-23 5:15 pm Strength Training
0:45:00, 264
09 2015-12-25 8:23 am Houghton Short Run
6.54 mi, 1:06:52, 10:13 min/mile, 5.87 mph, 158 bpm, 759
25 F, 10 mph WSW, felt like 27 F, 80% humidity; cloudy but pleasant
10 2015-12-29 6:23 am Houghton Quick Run
3.17 mi, 0:29:02, 9:10 min/mile, 6.55 mph, 164 bpm, 351
21 F, 10 mph ENE, felt like 10 F, 79% humidity; cloudy, brisk but pleasant
11 2015-12-30 5:30 am Houghton Short Run
6.53 mi, 1:01:52, 9:28 min/mile, 6.34 mph, 162 bpm, 723
23 F, 3 mph NE, felt like 23 F, 79% humidity; cloudy and pleasant
12 2015-12-30 6:50 am Houghton Quick Ride
6.39 mi, 0:30:00, 4:42 min/mile, 12.77 mph, 117 bpm, 281
60 F, 0 mph, felt like 60 F, 60% humidity
13 2015-12-30 6:01 pm KRG Weekly Run 2015 #47
2.42 mi, 0:30:22, 12:33 min/mile, 4.78 mph, 159 bpm, 352
23 F, 7 mph WNW, felt like 15 F, 79% humidity; cloudy and pleasant
14 2015-12-31 7:03 am Houghton Short Run
6.64 mi, 1:07:48, 10:13 min/mile, 5.87 mph, 156 bpm, 722
23 F, 10 mph WSW, felt like 13 F, 79% humidity; cloudy, a hint of breeze but pleasant
15 2016-01-06 6:18 am Houghton Quick Run
3.21 mi, 0:32:24, 10:06 min/mile, 5.94 mph, 162 bpm, 376
28 F, 9 mph SW, felt like 20 F, 69% humidity; cloudy but very pleasant
16 2016-01-06 4:15 pm Strength Training 2016 #01
0:30:00, 176
17 2016-01-06 4:45 pm Quick Swim: Michigan Tech Indoor Pool
0.34 mi, 0:30:00, 88:14 min/mile, 0.68 mph, 352
60 F, 0 mph, felt like 60 F, 60% humidity
18 2016-01-06 6:01 pm KRG Weekly Run 2016 #01/52
3.24 mi, 0:31:11, 9:37 min/mile, 6.24 mph, 169 bpm, 377
28 F, 5 mph WSW, felt like 23 F, 80% humidity; cloudy but very pleasant
19 2016-01-10 12:45 pm Quick Swim: Michigan Tech Indoor Pool
0.28 mi, 0:45:00, 160:43 min/mile, 0.37 mph, 527
60 F, 0 mph, felt like 60 F, 60% humidity
20 2016-01-11 11:45 am Houghton Quick Ride
6.20 mi, 0:30:00, 4:50 min/mile, 12.41 mph, 130 bpm, 281
60 F, 0 mph, felt like 60 F, 60% humidity
21 2016-01-11 12:15 pm Strength Training 2016 #02
0:30:00, 176
22 2016-01-12 12:05 pm Houghton Short Ride
16.00 mi, 0:45:00, 2:49 min/mile, 21.30 mph, 633
60 F, 0 mph, felt like 60 F, 60% humidity
23 2016-01-12 6:29 pm Speed Workout 2016 #01
2.24 mi, 0:27:07, 12:06 min/mile, 4.96 mph, 243
60 F, 0 mph, felt like 60 F, 60% humidity
24 2016-01-13 6:10 am Strength Training 2016 #03
0:45:00, 264
25 2016-01-13 4:30 pm Quick Swim: Michigan Tech Indoor Pool
0.34 mi, 0:25:00, 73:32 min/mile, 0.82 mph, 293
60 F, 0 mph, felt like 60 F, 60% humidity
26 2016-01-13 6:03 pm KRG Weekly Run 2016 #02/52
4.50 mi, 0:44:29, 9:53 min/mile, 6.07 mph, 168 bpm, 526
10 F, 7 mph NW, felt like -1 F, 78% humidity; cloudy but pleasant
27 2016-01-14 6:45 pm Houghton Quick Ski XC Classic
4.17 mi, 1:00:58, 14:37 min/mile, 4.10 mph, 378
18 F, 8 mph E, felt like 7 F, 79% humidity; cloudy, light snow but comfortable
28 2016-01-15 4:09 pm Houghton Quick Ski XC Classic
4.20 mi, 1:01:35, 14:40 min/mile, 4.09 mph, 424
25 F, 12 mph NNE, felt like 14 F, 80% humidity; cloudy but comfortable
29 2016-01-16 1:08 pm Houghton Quick Run
3.40 mi, 0:36:06, 10:37 min/mile, 5.65 mph, 148 bpm, 321
60 F, 0 mph, felt like 60 F, 60% humidity
30 2016-01-16 3:03 pm Houghton Quick Ski XC Classic
2.25 mi, 0:38:48, 17:15 min/mile, 3.48 mph, 186
12 F, 13 mph W, felt like -3 F, 78% humidity; cloudy, heavy snow but comfortable
31 2016-01-17 9:33 am Houghton Quick Run
3.12 mi, 0:33:46, 10:49 min/mile, 5.55 mph, 396
7 F, 12 mph WNW, felt like -9 F, 78% humidity
32 2016-01-17 11:00 am Strength Training 2016 #04 (Yoga)
0:50:00, 293
33 2016-01-19 11:56 am Houghton Short Ride
18.70 mi, 0:51:40, 2:46 min/mile, 21.69 mph, 535
60 F, 0 mph, felt like 60 F, 60% humidity
34 2016-01-19 5:48 pm Houghton Short Ski XC Classic
8.38 mi, 1:59:21, 14:15 min/mile, 4.21 mph, 845
14 F, 7 mph WSW, felt like 4 F, 79% humidity; cloudy, light snow and very comfortable
35 2016-01-20 1:56 pm Houghton Short Ski XC Classic
10.07 mi, 2:21:12, 14:01 min/mile, 4.28 mph, 978
19 F, 6 mph S, felt like 11 F, 67% humidity; sunny, beautiful and very comfortable
36 2016-01-20 6:03 pm KRG Weekly Run 2016 #03/52
4.51 mi, 0:46:26, 10:18 min/mile, 5.83 mph, 567
19 F, 3 mph S, felt like 19 F, 62% humidity; cloudy but very pleasant
37 2016-01-22 6:50 am Strength Training 2016 #05
1:00:00, 352

Despite the prognostications of doom — powered primarily by near-zero training and near-zero finer information about the terrain — looming quite large, it took three additional days to make my way to the trails. Next eight days, however, saw my skis ski about 50k (yes, fifty kilometers) — some of short distance and some of distance comparable to the race; some for getting the legs moving and some for time; some of it with dear friends (Amanda, Anika, Henriette and Kurt during evenings and weekends) and some solo. One such solo attempt, the last one leading up to the event, was my longest distance ever — completed mid-day on a weekday, thanks to my bossman. And oh, there was an episode — about a week before the event — of forgetting the skis by trailhead, one of them getting buried under a foot of snow (the other ski and both poles were graciously rescued by the student employees of Michigan Tech’s Nordic Ski Club), and quite literally having to dig it out and being one dig away from completely giving up on the excavation.

The drive to Marquette was very smooth and uneventful. First stop was the Forestville Trailhead, just outside the Marquette city limits, to watch the kids (of Sarah and Stephen, and Robyn and Adam) some of the Junior Noque festivities. And watching those kids fly by with grace, and chatting with some of the race officials to get a sneak peak of the amount of work that goes into making something of this magnitude successful fed me the first two (giant) slices of humble pie.

A quick pit stop at the Gander Mountain to acquire some of the much awaited winter necessities was followed by a visit to the Superior Dome. I picked up more than just my bib at the pre-race expo but that’ll be the material for some other story … for some other day. I didn’t stay awake much longer after the tasty and filling dinner at The Pasta Shop (pasta primavera with a colorful array of vegetables) with Kara, and called it a night a few ticks before 10 pm.

I woke very well rested and feeling refreshed after eight hours of full sleep — first of its kind in many a recent moons. After getting a quick bite to eat at the Third Street Bagel, I headed towards the Superior Dome. Finding a spot to park the car didn’t take much time and neither did finding the bus (#5) for the Forestville Trailhead — both thanks to Kara’s timely tips. The bus ride started on time and was uneventful was as well. As the minutes counted down to the start, the mercury steadily raised to the point of being warm, cozy and extremely comfortable — an icing on the spectacular day with sunshine and blue skies!

7.46 mi, 1:44:23, 14:00 min/mile, 4.29 mph
Splits: (1) 12:15, (2) 12:60, (3) 20:24, (4) 16:05, (5) 12:58, (6) 13:60, (7) 11:52, (8) 0:37
Garmin Forerunner 620 and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress

When I got the skies clasped and attempted a few warm up glides and strides, however, that sunny feeling sank a little as the feet slid a bit too much and I felt like it was my first time ever all over again. There wasn’t much time to contemplate on my misery as the horn went off and I found myself where I belong — at the very end of the pack. Assumption/Understanding at that time, in spite of the goal to not be the last one to finish, was that I would start slow for the first half and eventually gain enough ground over the latter parts.

The theoretical construct of skiing the entire course standing upright lasted less than one half a mile in practice. In an attempt to stand up after the first fall, my ski poles almost tripped up another seasoned skier probably going after a podium finish and I was at the receiving end of her frustration. I probably deserved the f-bomb she dropped as she side-stepped her way out of the tracks, at full speed, never to be seen again. The next fall came when the texture of the snow changed quite drastically (snow brought in from elsewhere to patch the road) and the one after didn’t take too long going down the first of many sharp slopes. One after that was quite a wipeout going down the very same slope.

And that became the theme for the next couple miles as the trail snaked through the wilderness. And so did the messages/gentle screams from the skiers passing by: wait for the faster skiers to pass you before going down the next hill, stay down, don’t get up, skier on your left, skier on your right, wipe the snow off your butt so that it doesn’t look like you fell … and so on. If each fall symbolized a slice of the aforementioned humble pie and each wipeout a pie in the face, then I had all the pie I could handle for one day well before the halfway point of the course. And as to how my iPhone remained intact in my unzipped pocket in spite of these tumbles will forever remain a mystery. It’ll be one of those mysteries I am happy to not care one way or the other.

Personal goals for the event (in order of importance)
## Goal Result
01 Improve current PR for 10k over the first 10k:
1:22:18 (13:03 min/mile, 4.60 mph)
No, 1:33:40 (15:06 min/mile, 3.97 mph)
02 Complete the 12k under 1:22:18 (11:02 min/mile, 5.44 mph) No, 1:44:23 (14:00 min/mile, 4.29 mph)
03 Don’t be the last one to finish Yes, yes, no (54/66 overall; 25/30 division; 3/3 age group)

After a few more tumbles and couple more wipeouts, an attempt to stand up led me to an accidental discovery: I could just use the right ski for controlling direction by bending it inwards or outwards, and double poling and digging the left knee into the snow to control the speed of descent. I employed this technique in the open and didn’t ruin the tracks for those behind me. Though it saved me at least 30 minutes, if not more, in the overall time to complete the event, the new found technique wasn’t without perils: I dug the left knee a bit too much on at least on couple occasions and fell face first just off the trail, and once my face landed within 6-8 inches of a moderately sized boulder.

The terrain/course was certainly wild (and pretty). Lack of information about the finer portions of the trail (having never skied this course before) and my general lack of experience (I am quite bad at going down the slopes even when there are tracks; I am worse when the descent doesn’t have any tracks; and, I am quite hopeless when the descent includes turns, with or without tracks) made some portions of the course seem/feel quite treacherous. The falls and wipeouts could have been far more painful and dangerous had the temperature not been as high as it was, and I would have had a very hard time skiing through the icy segments. All said and done, the clock showed a few ticks shy of 1:45:00 when a beat up and humbled version of yours truly crossed the finish line. In spite of all the falls and wipeouts, I was happy to have done it, and fairly fortunate to be still standing upright.

A stop in the timing RV (yes, an RV) by the finish line to chat with Kara and Sam Jr. led to a very unexpected yet pleasant news that I’d get a cowbell for placing in the age group — something more materialistic than just short lived pain and long lived memories to show for my day’s efforts! Post-race activities included a pint of North Third Stout in the Superior Dome, lunch at The Pasta Shop (pesto genovese with an extra serving of vegetables), chatting with fellow participants and organizers and volunteers, (accidentally) serving at the Great Bear Chase Ski Marathon booth for a while and picking up the cowbell before embarking on an uneventful drive back to Houghton.

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.

4 Replies to “2016: Noquemanon Ski Marathon”

  1. You did it! Your elevation chart does show that it is a downhill course … but it doesn’t include the turns, which are much more frequent, the closer you get to the dome. I am so glad you got that cowbell! Maybe someday, I will too.

    1. Thank you! The cowbell was made possible by most men in my age group (except three) opting to either stay at home or pick a different distance.

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