Pre-Birkie (in Cable/Hayward, WI) and Vasaloppet USA (in Mora, MN) – in one of the prettiest settings I have ever skied in. Making minor adjustments in the aforementioned training plan (i.e., move Sunday’s rest to Friday) made room for this event.
I had skied in the 2019 edition of North End Classic on my way home from Vasaloppet. My nordic waxing logbook showed that I had (incorrectly) guess-waxed the skis on Wednesday before that event. In hindsight, I should have made time to (correctly) re-wax once the appropriate recommendations were released by Toko. I hadn’t done so and so, I had paid pretty dearly for my laziness. What I had for glide wax was no match for the beautifully cold conditions in Mora, MN. Glide was non-existent even before lap #2 began and I had taken longer than intended to finish the 42 km event. The Domino Effect (or in programming terms, propagation error) had ensured I didn’t reach Hayward, WI, before New Moon Ski + Bike Shop closed for the day … to have the skis prepared correctly for the 12.5 km edition of North End Classic. In summary, I had skied a vast majority of two events – 55 km in all – on less than ideally prepared skis.
That experience – of not being to enjoy the festivities in idyllic settings as thoroughly as I could have – has since then served as the required kick in the pants. The pain (of the useful kind) from that kick ensures to this day that I dedicate the necessary and sufficient amount of time to prepare the skis for each event. And maybe even obsess over it … just a little. Thanks be to Mike Young and Mark Mehler for sharing their acumen to make me better at waxing rituals. I won’t lie – eagerly looking forward to a Thursday email from Toko (or continuously refreshing their website around noon like a robot) with weekend wax recommendation has become an integral part of my existence over the past few weeks. This week wasn’t any different but being the first anniversary of the said kick in the pants, it had a bit more value!
|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) Blue
Toko HF (High Performance) Blue:Red 1:1
|Structure||Toko Blue 1x|
|Top finish||Toko HelX Liquid 2.0 Red polished with Toko Thermo Pad|
|Kick zone||Start Skin Grip|
Much of the ski preparation for this event was completed on Thursday evening. After concluding the 13-mile LSD run per the marathon training plan, I took to the road around 1 pm (Eastern Time). The drive included a short pit stop at Chequamegon Food Co-op (in Ashland, WI) to grab a quick bite to eat and another one in Rivers Eatery / Redberry Books (in Cable, WI). Though I expected to see Maureen (of Redberry Books) at some point during the weekend, it was a pleasant surprise (and a feeling of home-coming) to see her as soon as I got out of the car in Cable! Shortly after picking up the race packet, I made my way towards Hayward. To see the Main Street so calm and peaceful – once someone is used to the frenzy of Birkie weekend – felt a bit weird. Exploring Hayward included stopping in New Moon Ski + Bike Shop and Riverbrook Bike and Ski to see the new ski gear (if any) and in Main Street Tacos to try some avocado tacos (I wasn’t hungry at all but they were super delicious).
As I checked into the reserved accommodation and unpacked the backpack, I was in for an unpleasant surprise. I don’t remember being in a hurry to pack but somehow I had left the base layer as well middle layer of ski clothing at home. With New Moon and Riverbrook closed for the day, it led to a bit of scrambling around to find an open store within the 10-15 mile radius that carried some moisture-wicking clothing. Fortunately, L & M Fleet Supply was open till 7 pm and they carried one piece of such clothing in the desired size. While not too proud of forgetting things at home and incurring an unnecessary expense, I was glad it happened now and not two weeks later. After laying out everything I needed for the morning event, I called it a night around 8:30 pm (Wisconsin Time).
I woke up refreshed after a much needed full night of sleep – first of its kind in a few days. With a warm beverage from Backroads Cafe fueled the leisurely drive to Cable and the volunteers of North End Ski Club guided me to a convenient parking spot near the North End Trailhead. Chatting with fellow skiers in the cozy confines of that lovely cabin made the hour go by fairly quickly. As the 10 o’ clock hour approached, it was time to make the kilometer long trek to the starting line and find myself a good spot near the front. Once that task was done, I found a spot near the lovely bonfire to stay warm. As I lined up in the elite wave (I am kidding, there were no waves but I stood next to an elite skier and that was good enough for me) and learned a cool new trick to re-purpose a wearable bib, the cowbells rang indicating the start.
The groomers had done the best they could with the trails given the recent thaw-freeze cycles and unavailability of all their grooming equipment. The trails were fast and skiddish – keeping one ski off the tracks to bank the corners wasn’t necessarily slowing most of us down and at times, took the track ski out of it. I lost balance around a sharp downward turn and wiped out hard once within the first kilometer as a fellow skier cut across. But fortunately I didn’t break my skis or poles OR cause any further wreckage. By the end of 3rd kilometer or so, the speedsters had all gone ahead and I realized there was no need to try as hard as I was trying. Funnily enough, in hindsight, taking it easy resulted in faster splits rest of the way. I did fall once more though – for no apparent reason on a harmless flat portion of the trail about a kilometer from the finish.
The finish time, 0:59:32, was good enough for 36/85 overall, 27/49 in gender and 2/2 in AG. A vast majority of the 35 hearty people that finished ahead of me had done some variation of the Pre-Birkie or the Vasaloppet the day before, and as such, were skiing today on tired body parts. A handful of them, I heard, barely strided while just double-polein their way from start to finish! I was (and still am) grateful for the rolling ascents and descents of this scenic as they provided yet another opportunity to practice the waxing, pole strapping and skiing techniques as well as trail etiquette in a race situation … and to the servings of humble pie.
Post-race activities included making new friends (a group of four lovely people from Minneapolis area) around the wood fire stove in the cabin, sharing the lunch with them at the Rivers Eatery, picking up the age group award, spending a few more minutes at the Redbery Books and a quick trip back to Hayward before starting the homeward journey. It included a brief stop in Ashland and was mostly uneventful – barring a random cow strolling along M26 in the dark … that I barely managed to not hit at 60 mph.
I might sound like a broken record but familiar and friendly faces made for a familial and homecoming-like experience throughout the trip. With each passing week, the race experiences seem to be building and bringing the time spent on improving technique to fruition. Couple of falls during this event clearly show the need to improve the balance and technique if I wish to hang start near the front (of a wave) and not cause damage to anyone else.
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.