2022: SISU Ski Fest

After having skied the virtual edition of this event in 2021 (attempts #1 and #2), I signed up for this year’s edition as soon as the organizers opened up registration. Each winter, this event serves as the first of many mini reunions of my nordic skiing family and provides the first real race atmosphere to put to test newly acquired skills. While this year was no different in those aspects, it had a significantly higher value in light of the pandemic-forced separation and limited opportunities to see my family and hang out with them – on and/or off the race course.

The week leading up to the race was pretty calm. Friends in the healthcare system took care of my aches and cough (not COVID) by Wednesday and Toko released their wax recommendation on Thursday afternoon. MikeY kindly shared the rationale underlying the said wax recommendation. Wrapping up the waxing rituals on Thursday night left plenty of time on Friday evening to carefully layout the warmup/racing suite and pack a set of warmer clothes for after the race. Ironwood, MI, being only 2-ish hour drive (and more importantly, in Central Time Zone) helped get a relaxed start to the morning of race day and make it a day trip.

Salomon S/Race Skin 196
Glide zone
Base cleaner Toko Copper Brush
Star Next Glide Cleaner
Base layer Toko Performance SP Black
Wax Toko Performance SP Blue
2x Toko High Performance SP Blue
Structure Toko Blue
Top finish -
Grip zone
Base cleaner Swix Skin Cleaner

A full night of sleep led to a fairly relaxed morning on race day. Kim and I hit the road around 8:15 am. Good roads made the drive uneventful. After a pitstop in Wakefiled, we arrived in Ironwood around 9:15 am (Central Time). Packet pickup, like in previous years, was a breeze. With Christine and Shannon also making the trip, we had planned to forego the communal bus ride and carpool to the start in ABR Trails with plenty time to our respective wave start times.

It only took about a 150-200 meters of walking towards starting area for me to realize that I was underdressed by one good layer for the prevailing chilly and windy conditions. The next 5-7 minutes were a little hectic as I had to jog back to the car to acquire supplies in order to acquire the said good layer. But in hindsight, the jog served as a warm up and got the blood moving. ABR Gift Shop staff and event volunteers helped me take the bib off and put it back on top of the new layer in very little time! I dropped the bag off and made my way to the starting pen with 2:30 to spare. About a minute or so before the starter’s pistol was fired, I had the opportunity to chat with Brett and Nancy Bauer (one of the three kind humans who coached me as part of the CXC clinics in Turkey Birkie), and remind myself once again my goals for the event: use good form (e.g., lean from the ankle, core crunch, arm follow through and recovery, etc.) and the terrain appropriate technique (e.g., double pole, kick double pole, pole plant, knee drive, etc.). 

My wave started on time and I started my Garmin a few seconds earlier to avoid a false/delayed start (or a start line crash). Barring the first few hundred meters of the jitters and scampering that’s common to the start of most races, skiing in a race felt normal. In spite of the groomers’ report reminding skiers to expect softer conditions, the tracks felt good and I had plenty glide. I attributed a handful of slipping back on gradual ascents to the said jitters. In plain sight, I knew that (a) I was using skin skis (so, grip wax wasn’t an issue) and they weren’t too stiff, and (b) the slope wasn’t too steep. In hindsight, I should have attributed it to improper weight transfer OR at least stopped to adjust the adjustable Prolink binding to get a better grip.

15.66 km (9.73 mi), 1:23:56.7, 5:21 min/km (8:38 min/mile), 11.18 kmph (6.95 mph)
Garmin Forerunner 945 and WP GPX Maps Plugin

Weather conditions
hh:mm, temperature (what was and what it felt like), wind, humidity and sky
Start 10:59, 17/5 F, 16 mph S, 73% humidity, Few clouds
Middle 11:42, 19/7 F, 15 mph SSW, 68% humidity, Clear sky
End 12:24, 20/7 F, 17 mph SSW, 68% humidity, Light snow
Air quality 26, O3

Lap by lap analysis
Goal: 15 km in 1:24:55 (5:39 min/km or 9:06 min/mi)
Distance
km
Lap Time
m:ss
Lap Elevation
meters
Total Time
h:mm:ss
Total Elevation
meters
Avg Pace
min/km
Projected
Finish Time

h:mm:ss
Differential
Goal Time

h:mm:ss
1.00 5:03 11 7 0:05:03 11 7 5:03 1:15:00 0:09:55
2.00 5:21 20 15 0:10:24 31 22 5:12 1:18:00 0:06:55
3.00 4:45 19 25 0:15:09 50 47 5:03 1:15:00 0:09:55
4.00 4:00 5 28 0:19:09 55 75 4:47 1:11:00 0:13:55
5.00 5:13 3 9 0:24:22 58 84 4:52 1:13:00 0:11:55
6.00 5:11 3 2 0:29:33 61 86 4:55 1:13:00 0:11:55
7.00 5:18 2 8 0:34:51 63 94 4:58 1:14:00 0:10:55
8.00 5:35 15 12 0:40:26 78 106 5:03 1:15:00 0:09:55
9.00 5:36 8 0 0:46:02 86 106 5:06 1:16:00 0:08:55
10.00 6:06 20 0 0:52:08 106 106 5:12 1:18:00 0:06:55
11.00 5:17 11 23 0:57:25 117 129 5:13 1:18:00 0:06:55
12.00 4:53 4 16 1:02:18 121 145 5:11 1:17:00 0:07:55
13.00 6:18 22 7 1:08:36 143 152 5:16 1:19:00 0:05:55
14.00 5:51 19 19 1:14:27 162 171 5:19 1:19:00 0:05:55
15.00 6:38 25 18 1:21:05 187 189 5:24 1:21:00 0:03:55
15.66 3:17 3 22 1:24:22 190 211 5:23 1:20:00 0:04:55
The final cumulative time, 1:24:22, may not match the official time (1:23:56.7) 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, 15.66 km, may not match the designated event distance (15 km) owing to idiosyncrasies associated with GPS data collection OR the aforementioned early start/late stop reasons, and in some rare cases, incorrectly measured courses or DNFs. As a result, the cumulative pace and the projected finish time might not match the official values as well.

Against better judgment, I didn’t stop to make any binding adjustments. And for what it’s worth, there seemed to be couple good skiers ahead of me in the tracks. I followed/mimicked their actions for a bit and that got me to about the 3 km mark. The course was predominantly downhill for the next few kilometers. Step turns around the bends and corners came a little easier this time. After stopping briefly for heed at the first aid station (4.5 km from the start), the lone skier I was following wasn’t in sight anymore. Covered as they were at times in windblown snow drifts, I felt privileged to have them all to myself rest of the way. 

From about the aforementioned first aid station around the 4.5 km mark, I fell into a good rhythm. Not having any classic skier in front of me – from 15k or 31k – for as long as I could see made it easier to rely on myself and lessons learned over the past couple years from the community and those from the Turkey Birkie CXC clinic and my good friend, Steph, in the not too distant past. As the course gradually descended to its lowest point and then gradually ascended towards downtown Ironwood, focusing on the form and technique automagically cured the aforementioned slippage. Many known friends and many more that I had never known before gracefully glided past me in the skate deck exchanging pleasantries for a second or two our paths paralleled along the course.

Volunteers at aid stations and road crossings were kind and friendly. And so was Donna and her family at their usual place along the course! As my watch was under three layers of clothing from the very beginning till I crossed the finished line, I had little idea about my pace or the clock. I say little because shortly after the 9 km mark, one of the volunteers/spectators graciously shouted the time of the day at my request. There were more friendly faces and cheers (courtesy of Alison and her little ones) as I approached and crossed the finish line. After a brief chat with Dave (who I later learned had won the 31k Classic at a blistering pace of 3:20 min/km) and Joel, I picked up my backpack and changed into warm clothes.

A message from MikeY was the first indication that I had done well and it took a while for me to look up the preliminary results (SuperiorTiming.com‘s website was expectedly busy with requests from many skiers and their families). Another message indicated that Christine, Kim and Shannon were done with their races and were waiting for me at Contrast Coffee. A warm beverage therefrom felt like someone was hugging me from the inside! We all walked back to the post-race festivities area where the organizers provided a yummy and filling pasty!! While waiting for the preliminary results to become official (because there were multiple waves), I got a chance to catch up with a majority of the Keweenaw contingent (Shawn couldn’t travel to this event and she was missed), and friends – Jenna, Scott and Zach – from the other side of the Cheese Curtain. Once the results were officially official, my finish time of 1:23:56.7 turned out to be good for 15/97 overall, 11/57 in gender and 1/3 in my age group.

We ate our respective pasties, picked up our respective awards and Shannon dropped us off by my car. Kim and I headed back with stops at the ABR Trails as well as Wolverine Nordic Ski Trails to drop off a few posters for the upcoming Great Bear Chase. Clean roads and good weather made for an uneventful drive, and we arrived in Houghton shortly after 6 pm.

The day after

It felt good and grateful to be out with friends and to be a part of a real race under current circumstances. Several other skiers confirmed that classic tracks were a bit softer and slower (and the drifted over segments) but I felt fast. The form didn’t necessarily break down as much as the race progressed and I climbed ascents in the final 20% of the course. Unlike last year, I didn’t have any muscle fatigue or stiffness following the race. One might assume or suggest that I could/should have raced harder. Be that as it may, I will take this as a sign of recovering fitness/endurance following a rather quiet Summer and Fall of 2021. More importantly, the at home COVID-19 test was negative! I am looking forward to how the rest of the cross country skiing racing season will unfold.

Carpe Skiem!

 


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.

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