2023: Wolf Tracks Rendezvous

For a variety of self-imposed and healthy reasons, racing opportunities have been limited during 2022-23 winter. This event – Wolf Tracks Rendezvous (WTR) – and I have had a love at first ski kinda relationship since 2020, and over the past few winters, I have grown my love for it for a plethora of reasons: well run by a caring community of organizers and volunteers, well groomed trails at the Minocqua Winter Park that transports skiers to an entirely different world and the drive to (and from) Minocqua lends itself for a day trip with friends. The 2023 edition provided another opportunity to live through those reasons while doubling up as the second racing experience on classic skis (and first one on waxables) of this ongoing winter season.

The 2022 edition of this event was my first time ever racing on fully waxable classics. While I haven’t explored the art (or the rabbit hole) of kick/grip waxing as much as I would like this winter, I opted to stick with them for the 2023 edition – making this the third race. Majority of the waxing ritual was completed by Friday evening – following Toko’s official wax recommendation for the event. While going over the checklist for the weekend on Friday, I noticed that I had missed one of the prescribed layers of glide wax. In the interest of time and faith, I trusted that the two layers I did apply would be enough to get me through. I got to bed reasonably early after a leftover hearty home-cooked meal and making a deal with myself that I’d read all the lines carefully in the wax recommendation for future events and not just between them.

Salomon RC7 196
Glide zone
Cleaner Toko Steel Brush
Wax/Structure Toko GHW High Performance Blue + Toko GPW X-Cold Powder
Toko GHW Base Performance Blue
Toko GHW High Performance Blue + Toko GPW X-Cold Powder
Grip zone
Cleaner Iron with single ply toilet paper and 5-in-1 tool
Toko HC3 Wax Remover
Binder/Wax 150G sandpaper to roughen the base
Toko KBB Green ironed in, corked and cooled
3x Toko KHW X-Cold + 2x Toko KHW Blue (alternating between full length and middle 2/3 region) corked in between layers

Waking up fairly well-rested on Saturday morning gave me sufficient time to carefully pack the car and catch a portion of the FIS Cross Country World Cup event (Women’s 10 km Freestyle Interval Start) from Toblach, Italy. As in previous years, Minocqua is still only 2.5-ish hours away from Houghton and more importantly, it still is in the Central Timezone. Using the luxury of an extra hour, Kim and I left Houghton around 7:30 am local time (i.e., Eastern Time). An unhurried and uneventful drive – in spite of driving under the prescribed speed limit through Watersmeet on account of icy road conditions – brought us to the Winter Park around 9:30 am local time (i.e., Central Time).

Parking and packet pickup were a breeze, and left me with plenty of time to go through the pre-race rituals: a healthy serving of the oat meal from the cafe at the chalet (I had forgotten about breakfast before leaving town and Kim had shared a PBJ sandwich during the drive), applying kick wax in the basement of the chalet (thanks to the ski shop owner for sharing that info), and chatting with friends (Andy, Chandra and Erich, Mike and more) I hadn’t seen in quite some time and other fellow participants.

I once again used the trick that Jenna had taught me a few years ago – re-purposing a wearable bib from a different event (sans the timing chip/strip) and pinning the paper bib on top of it. As it had in previous occasions, the setup made for easy use while providing an additional layer of clothing (and of course, better looking race day pictures). I got to the start line about 5 minutes ahead of time with the following goals in mind: use the correct form (e.g., complete weight transfer, longer glide on each ski and minimal tail slapping) and terrain-appropriate technique (e.g., stride, double pole, kick double pole and step turns at speed), be present in the current kilometer, race my own race with peace, race sustainably hard through the second/final aid station and sustainably harder rest of the way, and learn from good skiers ahead of me.

The event started on time on a beautiful Sun-kissed day and the groomers had done their usual magic of preparing the trails. Well before my Garmin buzzed to indicate the first kilometer, the usual pre-race jitters had given way to a good and peaceful rhythm. Although I have only ever skied here twice before, the little familiarity gained in that process helped me employ terrain-appropriate techniques and in turn, be smart about energy expenditure throughout the course and made the kilometers tick by in a jiffy – while enjoying the trails and the day. So did the recent learnings (and re-learnings) about form and technique from various kind souls, lovely weather and following/mimicking the two gentlemen – belonging to what are respectfully known as the murderers’ row age groups in classic skiing – ahead of me.



Weather conditions
hh:mm, temperature (what was and what it felt like), wind, humidity, sky and UV index
Start 10:39, 11/1 F, 6 mph S, 61% humidity, Clear sky
Middle 11:33, 16/4 F, 9 mph S, 57% humidity, Clear sky
End 12:26, 20/11 F, 7 mph SSW, 53% humidity, Clear sky
Air quality NA, NA

Goal vs Reality
Goal: 24 km in 1:44:59 (4:22 min/km)
Reality: 24.96 km in 1:45:59.0 (4:14 min/km)
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 4:28 17 10 0:04:28 17 10 4:28 1:47:00 0:02:01
2.00 3:59 21 20 0:08:27 38 30 4:13 1:41:00 0:03:59
3.00 4:20 25 25 0:12:47 63 55 4:15 1:42:00 0:02:59
4.00 4:05 15 21 0:16:52 78 76 4:13 1:41:00 0:03:59
5.00 4:08 22 22 0:21:00 100 98 4:12 1:40:00 0:04:59
6.00 4:11 16 17 0:25:11 116 115 4:11 1:40:00 0:04:59
7.00 4:05 9 9 0:29:16 125 124 4:10 1:40:00 0:04:59
8.00 4:12 10 7 0:33:28 135 131 4:11 1:40:00 0:04:59
9.00 4:15 14 11 0:37:43 149 142 4:11 1:40:00 0:04:59
10.00 4:19 5 8 0:42:02 154 150 4:12 1:40:00 0:04:59
11.00 4:11 12 9 0:46:13 166 159 4:12 1:40:00 0:04:59
12.00 3:57 5 9 0:50:10 171 168 4:10 1:40:00 0:04:59
13.00 4:22 5 3 0:54:32 176 171 4:11 1:40:00 0:04:59
14.00 3:50 0 8 0:58:22 176 179 4:10 1:40:00 0:04:59
15.00 4:14 10 7 1:02:36 186 186 4:10 1:40:00 0:04:59
16.00 4:06 15 15 1:06:42 201 201 4:10 1:40:00 0:04:59
17.00 4:04 16 16 1:10:46 217 217 4:09 1:39:00 0:05:59
18.00 4:44 20 16 1:15:30 237 233 4:11 1:40:00 0:04:59
19.00 4:50 17 8 1:20:20 254 241 4:13 1:41:00 0:03:59
20.00 4:35 6 12 1:24:55 260 253 4:14 1:41:00 0:03:59
21.00 4:27 17 24 1:29:22 277 277 4:15 1:42:00 0:02:59
22.00 4:18 5 4 1:33:40 282 281 4:15 1:42:00 0:02:59
23.00 4:13 6 8 1:37:53 288 289 4:15 1:42:00 0:02:59
24.00 4:29 16 12 1:42:22 304 301 4:15 1:42:00 0:02:59
25.00 4:06 5 12 1:46:28 309 313 4:15 1:42:00 0:02:59
The final cumulative time, 1:46:28, may not match the official time (1:45:59.0) 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, 24.96 km, may not match the designated (or certified) event distance (24 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.

I don’t believe that I am at a point where several seconds I save by skipping an aid station will make a noticeable difference in my final finish time. On the other hand, I fully believe that the aid – in liquid or (semi) solid form – helps me sustain the desired effort level through the finish and in some (increasingly noticeable) cases, easily makes up for that lost time. So, I took my time at every aid station staffed by lovely volunteers – consuming a couple servings of gatorade at ~9 km and ~19.5 km – before moving on.

Much of these 25 kilometers were skied solo: After the initial mass start, I followed and mimicked the technique of two gentlemen – belonging to what are respectfully known as the murderers’ row age groups in classic skiing – through ~5 km before passing them. One of them passed me while I took a second sip at the first aid station never to be seen again until well after the race. The other passed me with about 2 km from the finish line. Try as I might, I couldn’t match his seemingly effortless grace – double poling up gradual (and not so gradual) ascents and seemingly widening the gap with every stride. I didn’t register what the finish line clock (or my Garmin hiding under the race suite) read when I crossed the line but I was quite content and pleased with the effort.

After consuming a hearty serving of veggie chili and World’s Best Grilled Cheese from the cafe in the chalet with the Keweenaw contingent (Craig, Kim, Melissa, Shawn, Stephen and Tom) and changing into warmer clothes, I checked the official results posted outside the chalet (and later verified online) and found that my finish time was 1:45:59.9 – good for 7/47 overall, 7/36 amongst males and 1/3 in my age group. While the 2022 and 2023 courses were the same, the weather and snow conditions were quite different. As such, I understand that it’s a moot point to compare the times from one year to another. But that moot point – my time in 2023 being about 24 minutes better than in 2022 – also serves as one measure of quantifying the help from my friends, mentors and coaches over the last 12 months (or more). Allison, Kim, Stephen and I stopped at the Oakfire Pizza (the Island Cafe was closed) for more nutrition before Kim, Stephen and I headed safely back to da Yoop.

 

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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