COVID-19), this was an event neither I nor the organizing body was sure would take place. But the North End Ski Club, the parent organization, did a fantastic job of complying with guidelines from health departments, reducing the field size, and put on a successfully safe event for parties involved. Once registered (courtesy of a timely tip from Maureen), traveling to be a part of this event – that I have come to love because of the people associated with it and the idyllic setting of its course – was a no brainer.
Third time was indeed the charm! This lovely event had to be postponed twice – once by a week from 7th February to 14th, and again by a few weeks from 14th February to 7th March – to protect all parties from the dangerously cold weather. The earliest date that would work for most, March 7th, came a week after the 2021 American Birkebeiner. To be honest, I thought the event would be postponed (or worse, cancelled) owing to rising temperatures and associated loss of snow on trails. I was happy to be wrong and I was sure I wasn’t alone in that department!
Having made and remade the housing arrangements a handful of times, it was finally time to prepare the skis, pack the bags and make the drive. None of them took longer than expected nor were there any unexpected road bumps along the way. Reaching Hayward a bit sooner than anticipated had its benefits. Warmer temperatures and softer trails meant that I’d be less than inclined to ski (who wants to leave deep ruts and make unnecessarily more work for the groomers?). A quick stop at New Moon Ski & Bike Shop proved that a pair of demo skate skis I acquired towards the end of 2019-20 winter from Pioneer Midwest were a good fit for me after all, and any/all sluggishness I was experiencing had
more to do with the skier and not the skis. Another quick stop at the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation office resulted in picking up the 2021 Birkie gear bag. Yet another quick stop at Main Street Tacos got me … well, tacos!
The day before
If Winter-like conditions had prevailed, my plans for Saturday included skiing a vast majority of North End Ski Club trails. But conditions were akin to Spring and that limited the outing to a good portion of the aforementioned trail system – turning into a race course recon mission. The organizers of and volunteers associated with the event had already put up the kilometer markers. Coupled with the very recreational pace associated with this outing helped make a better mental map of the elevation terrain. Saturday also included exploring local eateries (Backroads Cafe in Hayward, and Velo Cafe and Rivers Eatery in Cable), catching up with Maureen in Redbery Books, getting the fully waxable classic skis professionally prepared by the kind folks at New Moon Ski & Bike Shop, and picking up the race packet.
Waking up after a very restful night of sleep, I stopped in Backroads Cafe for their hot off the oven goodies as in previous years. A similarly leisurely drive got me to Cable and the volunteers helped find a parking spot fairly close to the North End Trailhead. Given the limited real racing opportunities during this pandemic, given my unfamiliarity with racing on fully waxable classic skis (especially with Kilster) and given the plenty of windblown debris that’d be easily attracted to the said Kilster, I decided to race the event with skin skis instead of the ones prepared by New Moon Ski & Bike Shop.
|Toko Copper Brush
Star Next Glide Wax Remover
|Toko Performance SP Blue
Toko ST1 Red
Toko HP LP Red polished with a dedicated brush
|Start Skin Grip
Given the pandemic, there was little opportunity to gather around in the cozy confines of that lovely cabin by the trailhead to pass time. Using the cool new trick Jenna taught me last year at this event, I re-purposed a wearable bib from a different event (sans the timing chip/strip) and pinned the paper bib on top of it. The setup made for easy use while providing an additional layer of clothing … and let’s not kid ourselves – for better looking race day pictures!. As the game time approached, I made the km-long trek to the start line with few fellow skiers.
To comply with guidelines from health departments at various levels, the organizers split the 100-person field into 3 waves. The first two were for the 25 km edition (two laps of the course) and the final wave, the one I was was in, for the 12.5 km edition. Being in the final wave and having about 15 minutes between the start of each wave gave plenty time to enjoy the warmth of the bonfire, make new friends and get the Garmin ready. While on the topic of Garmin, I must note that I fully intended to avoid the false start (button) snafu and to accomplish that, I had changed the settings to lock the buttons at all times. After two strikes in back to back weekends, I believe I have learned what will work (locking the buttons during the activity) and what doesn’t (not locking them at all OR locking them at all times).
Similar to the 2020 version, the groomers had done the best they could with the trails given the recent thaw-freeze cycles. The trails were fast but also had fair amount of debris – so much so that the organizers/volunteers brought out leaf blowers to keep the starting area as clean as possible. Winds brought enough dry maple leaves on to the tracks that it looked like volunteers had done nothing at all. I think surrounding myself with mature skiers in the start area helped – while no one wanted to wait longer than necessary to start, everyone was cautious and careful to get through the leaf-covered lanes.
Goal vs Reality
Goal: 12.50 km in 0:59:31 (4:45 min/km)
Reality: 12.3 km in 0:53:47.0 (4:22 min/km)
|The final cumulative time, 0:53:48, may not match the official time (0:53:47.0) owing to rounding errors. Starting my watch a few seconds before the start and stopping it a few seconds after crossing the finish line can be an additional reason for this discrepancy. The overall distance, 12.3 km, may not match the designated (or certified) event distance (12.50 km) owing to idiosyncrasies associated with GPS data collection OR my inability to take the tangents OR the aforementioned early start/late stop reasons, and in some rare cases, incorrectly measured (or advertised) courses or DNFs. As a result, the cumulative pace and the projected finish time might not match the official values as well.
By that time in the race, I was in very small pack of four skiers. Within the next kilometer or so, I noticed that the other three skiers were way too efficient and graceful for me continue skiing in their wake. So, the pack shrank again to make rest of the race a mostly solo outing.
If I didn’t know the terrain as well as I did, then being a pack of one might have seemed boring or made the race longer (or harder) than it actually was. Instead, it was a really good opportunity to focus my attention inward – Did I review the course well yesterday? Am I doing what I planned on doing in this segment? If not, am I forcing the issue to get back to doing what I planned on doing in this segment? Am I succumbing to the (un)conscious temptations to skate ski a few strides to gain momentum – since no one is watching? and so on. The finish time, 0:53:47, was good for 9/31 overall, 8/19 in gender and 1/2 in AG. Owing to the pandemic and following the organizers’ guidelines, there wasn’t too much time to spend with fellow skiers or volunteers – in or around the cabin by the finish line. Post-race activities included a nutritional pitstop in Velo Cafe before heading home.
|10 F/1 F, 7 mph ENE, 72% humidity; cloudy and flurries
|16 F/16 F, 0 mph, 57% humidity; cloudy and coldish
|36 F/27 F, 15 mph SSE, 47% humidity; sunny, warm and windy at times
While it was great to race in one more organized and timed ski race, I missed seeing many more friendly faces, hanging out with them during the awards ceremony in Rivers Eatery and such. At the expense of sounding like a broken record, here’s to hoping that it’s the last one such, and that the sense of normalcy we all know and love returns to North End weekend in 2022!
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 kindness and constant encouragement as well as offerings of constructive criticism to improve myself as a human and an athlete. I am eternally grateful to all those who let me train with them, who shared their invaluable experiences 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.