2020: Noquemanon Ski Marathon

Currently in week #07 of a 20-week training plan towards 2020 Spring Marathon, this too was an event I had deemed I am not going to participate during 2019-20 winter. Little did I know (or even remember) that I had signed up for the 24 km version loooooong ago – like in April 2019 – to take advantage of the early bird pricing. It’s only when I registered for the 12 km version and tried creating a label in Gmail (you know, to easily search for registration confirmation during packet pickup) that I realized the said label already existed. Fortunately, I had just enough time to cancel the 12 km registration.

A recap of the 2018 edition

Owing to the start of the new semester anxiety and stress, I didn’t sleep nearly enough over the past 10-12 days. Neither did I injest enough nutrition into the body to account for the increased effort. In addition, I probably didn’t use the appropriate form or technique while using the Yooper Scooper to shovel many inches of snow. All this led to quite a noticeable fatigue, body ache and joint stiffness. Prevailing colder temperatures didn’t really help either. Even with an extra day’s rest, I found energy levels to lower than usual.

I have little problem not starting something but can’t stand the thought of not finishing something that I have started … until I am certain that I’ve given it my best effort and a bag of chips on top of it. I was pretty proud of warding off any last minute mind over body urges to participate in this ski event that could have potentially derailed the training for the major event in June.

The weekend trip to Marquette with Kim and Greg Green and Ben Ciavola and Lianna Miller turned into one of rest and recouperation. Some of this down time was also used to re-assess the extra workout idea, necessary nutrition and rest once the training begins on Monday, 4th February 2019.

I still spent quite a bit of time dilly dollying between 24 km and 12 km. I decided to stick with the 24 km for two reasons: one, it made more economic sense (half the price/double the value per kilometer of skiing), and two, race day was predicted to be a real nice one! Findings midway through week #06 of the aforementioned marathon training plan made room in the schedule to sensibly race all 24 km (~15 miles) as a reasonable substitute for the 14-mile LSD run (with few faster miles towards the end) – quite similar to what I had done couple weeks ago during the 2020 SISU Ski Fest.

Watching one of the students I am fortunate enough to serve on the PhD advisory committee defend his dissertation, a hearty home-cooked meal and waxing rituals were Friday’s highlights. When I switched my allegiance Toko a couple years ago to simplify my waxing life, I acquired the Yellow purely to complete Toko’s color spectrum (Blue, Red and Yellow). Given the winter weather conditions in our little universe and the nature/quality of snow that we are blessed to get in abundance, Yellow waxes (good for snow temperature: +21 F through +32 F and air temperature: +25 F through +50 F) had seemed like an unwarranted investment. That is … until Toko released their wax recommendation for this event! Yellow wax blocks had remained in their pristine form until now and I was grateful that they didn’t come with an expiration date. There was a part of me that wished I had acquired Yellow finish waxes/sprays before they went out of stock but a dear friend and coach was kind enough to share theirs with me!!

Ski preparation (source)
Ski Salomon S/Race 201 Medium Classic
Base cleaner Toko Racing Wax Remover
Toko Copper Brush
Glide wax Toko LF (Performance) Black
Toko LF (Performance) Yellow
Toko HF (High Performance) Yellow
Structure Toko Yellow 1x and Toko Red 1x
Top finish Toko HelX Liquid 2.0 Yellow polished with Toko Thermo Pad
Kick zone Start Skin Grip

Though Marquette, MI, was in Eastern Time Zone, the start time of our (Kim, Shawn and myself – all doing the 24 km variety) respective waves was past noon. It helped get a relaxed start to the day and make it a day trip. A pretty full night of sleep led to a fairly relaxed morning even if it came around 5:15 am. With waxing and packing completed ahead of time, we (Kim, Shawn and myself) hit the road shortly 8 am. A leisurely but careful drive along the mostly yucky US41 got us to Marquette just before 10:30 am. Shortly after parking  and picking our race packets, it was time to be on the shuttle to the start. If the highway was yucky, the county road was even more so and as such, the bus ride seemed to take a bit longer than usual. But I got there with just enough time to drop the bag off, chat with a few Noque Nymphs, Nick and Carrie, put the skis on, and get into my wave #3 – back to ground reality after the luxurious wave #1 start in SISU Ski Fest.

Just as the brief exchange of pleasantries with fellow wave mates came to an end, and Kim and Shawn wished me well, the clock showed 12:05 pm and my wave got the start. I was part of the front line of my wave – something I didn’t have the skills (or the courage that comes as a result) to do so a year ago. Initially, it didn’t seem to mean or matter much but the rewards were pretty evident after a couple kilometers: I had several long stretches of snow-clad trees and nearly pristine trails all to myself. The only sounds were that of the susurrous of my striding skis, planting poles and yeah … occasional labored breathing of my own.

14.55 mi (23.41 km), 2:07:32, 8:46 min/mile (5:26 min/km), 6.84 mph (11.01 kmph)
Garmin Forerunner 945 and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress

Groomers (and volunteers) had done an amazing job of getting the trails ready – especially with the prevailing weather conditions. They were blazingly fast and the wax (including the magical top finish) were doing more than their job. As a result, I found myself flying through the descents. Noticing some lack of ease/reliable grip on ascents, I stopped shortly after the 3 km mark to adjust the Turnamic bindings on my skis (i.e., move from -3 to -1 to increase the traction in kick zone). This was also a good opportunity to tighten up the pole strap around my palm (thanks, Abby, for this tip). The next several kilometers went by in a scenic blur. There was still a bit of unease/slippage on ascents and knowing that some narrower ascents lay ahead, I stopped once more at the Forestville aid-station to re-adjust the bindings (i.e., move from -1 to 0).

If the first half was blazingly fast (for skis) and sticky (for poles), portions of the second half were mushy (or mashed potatoes). More than once did my ski pole sink a little too deep into the banks. The slim serpentine nature of the trails after the Forestville aid-station hadn’t been kind to be me in previous outings. This time around, however, they showed mercy and let me get by just fine. It certainly helped that I had the company of Shawn, Kim and Lianna in this stretch!

I finished with a time of 2:07:32 – good for 84/201 overall, 64/130 in gender and 4/7 in AG. I missed the AG podium by about 90 seconds but to dwell on the brighter side of things, the finish time was 1:01:53 better than the last time I did this (2018). Bonus was that it came at a considerably more enjoyable (and less painful) effort falling only once. After crossing the finish line, I spent a few minutes chatting with Jim Tervo, Dr. Bob, Ben, Adam and the Zieglers before heading into the Superior Dome. After a brief chat with Lori and Kelly, I changed into warmer clothes and got a 20-minute massage to kickstart the recovery process. Shortly after Shawn and Kim picked up their AG awards (lovely cowbells), we started our uneventful journey back with two pit stops: once in Contrast Coffee for a caffeinated beverage and once in Marquette Food Co-op for a healthy meal. 

This event provided a fantastic opportunity to test the improvements in skiing, waxing and pole strapping techniques (courtesy of my friends). Without them and without Jan’s self-fulfilling prophecy (that this would be a more fun and less painful experience), I would have wiped out one too many times to count. Without the said improvements, I wouldn’t have had the courage to start near the front of the wave and in turn, wouldn’t have had a chance to enjoy the scenery as much as I did. Skiing past the spots where I had fallen in previous editions and inadvertently invented a new style skiing (only to have my friend, Sam, educate me that it was already in prevalence and that it had a name – Telemark) helped be more grateful to the lessons that have come my way.

 

Courtesy of FloLine Media

Similar to 2020 SISU Ski Fest, familiar and friendly faces made for a familial and homecoming-like experience throughout the day. Compared to that event, I believe I did considerably better in terms of starting slow and picking up the pace (though the splits won’t show it as a result of terrain). Unlike the day after of that event, I didn’t have any stiffness or soreness or pain in the hip flexors. A mini/side goal to work alongside marathon training this winter would be to improve the skiing technique … to an extent that I can ski as fast I can run, if not faster … for I am told that good technique is free speed.


Thanks be to

the rejections and opportunities life has brought my way, event folks (organizers, sponsors, volunteers, timing folks, 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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