2024: Noquemanon Ski Marathon

To say that the 2023-24 Winter has been subpar (a result of El Niño) and has negatively impacted snow-dependent communities in the upper midwest is an understatement. SISU Ski Fest (scheduled for the first weekend of January) and Wolf Tracks Rendezvous (scheduled for the first weekend of February) had already been cancelled. A blizzard and accompanying treacherous driving conditions had ensured I stayed home to skip the Seeley Hills Classic in mid January. With mercury in retrograde (not the planet but the regional temperatures) in the days leading up to this event, I was (and still am, and pretty sure a vast majority of the participants were/are too) very grateful to have had it go off without a hitch!

da 2023-24 Winter

Over the last couple Winters, I had committed to learning the art of kick waxing in greater detail. But for any number of reasons excuses, I almost always had trained on skinnies (or the skin skis) and raced on waxies (or waxable skis). Given the ratio of racing days to training days during this period, it wasn’t hard to explain why I hadn’t gotten any better at this art. I had travelled as far as ABR Ski Trails near the Eastern Cheddar Curtain, and Theodore Wirth Regional Park on the other side of the Western Cheddar Curtain to find snow in the early days of the 2023-24 Winter. Wanting to make the most of my time away from home, I had used skinnies for those 70-ish kilometers.

Binary scenarios have almost always, within reason, helped me avoid decision fatigue and temptations. So, for good or bad or anything in between, I put the skinnies away for the season. The next 90-ish classic kilometers leading up to the Noquemanon Ski Marathon were spent exclusively on waxies exploring the rabbit hole, and gaining some confidence and experience along the way.

da Race Week

The regional temperatures headed the wrong way in the nordic midwest from about Monday/Tuesday of the race week. I don’t believe one needs to be on a race organizing committee of a cross country ski race/event to feel the pain and frustrations of dealing with low snow situation. I am quite positive that a fair number of participants had their own fair share of suspicions about the feasibility of the event in spite of modified course and distance, and I was one of them. A message from the Greggs family ensured I’d make the trip to Maquette even if I didn’t partake in the event … I didn’t want to miss meeting my little friend! By Thursday, I was convinced I could complete the modified distance – 23 kilometers (from the original 24 kilometers) – safely as a training outing. As usual, Toko released the official wax recommendation on Thursday, and over dinner, MikeY helped explain aspects of the recommendation I hadn’t clearly understood.

Just like the 2020 edition of this event  … When I switched my allegiance to 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!! … the same dear friend and mentor and coach, MikeY, graciously supplied the High Performance Solid Paraffin Wax in Yellow flavor for the 2024 edition.

I completed the ski preparation – all but applying and corking the final Toko Red Hard Wax layer – by Friday early evening. MikeY, who had been at the Al Quaal Recreation Area for the Junior Noque with Copper Country Ski Tigers on Friday afternoon, had further tested the wax and had shared his findings – Toko Yellow Klister was a better fit than the aforementioned Toko Red Hard Wax – with racers at the Noque expo. Although I wasn’t at the expo, I too was a grateful recipient of this valuable information. Coupling that with a Summer lesson from Bjorn and Kris of Out There Nordic in Rice Lake, WI, the ski preparation was completed well before bed time on Friday.

Salomon RC7 196
Glide zone
Cleaner Toko Racing Wax Remover
Toko Steel Brush
Wax/Structure Toko GHW P Blue
Toko GHW HP 1:1 Red:Yellow
Toko ST1 Yellow
Toko GLW HP Yellow
Grip zone
Cleaner Toko HC3 Wax Remover
Binder/Wax Klister zone roughened with 100G sandpaper
Toko KKP Green (binder) ironed, brushed and cooled (missed it; details in In hindsight section)
Toko KBB Green crayoned, ironed in, corked and cooled (mistake; details in In hindsight section)
Toko KKP Red heated, brushed and cooled (not mixed with the underlyng base binder)
Toko KHW Red crayoned and lightly corked (not mixed with the underlying layer)
Toko KKP Yellow heated, brushed and cooled (not mixed with the underlying layer)
Prolink binding set to 0

da Race Day

Though Marquette, MI, was in Eastern Time Zone, the start time of the 23 km edition was around noon and made it easier to make a day trip. A pretty decent and full night of sleep led to a fairly relaxed morning around 4:45 am. A leisurely and careful drive along the mostly dry (as in non-snowy and non-icy) US41 brought me to Marquette by 9:00 am. I got a bite to eat at Third Street Bagel with three new friends, and then picked up my race packet inside the Superior Dome by 9:45 am.

I did a little warm up lap along the Dome’s concourse and boarded the bust to the start by 10:20 am. The short and uneventful communal bus drive – spent chatting about waxing and other race stories with fellow travelers – brought me the start area (County Road 510 x Noquemanon Trail intersection) by 10:50 am … leaving me nearly an hour to get ready. Some of this time was spent chatting with fellow participants, the Noque Nymphs and event volunteers, and the rest going through my warm up routine. I didn’t bother testing the ski/wax for a handful of reasons:

  1. MikeY’s frequent reminders over the past many seasons … that what’s on top of the skis matters more than the skis or what’s underneath,
  2. I had no reason to not trust the wax recommendation or my ability to follow the recommendation,
  3. Not starting the event was not an option, and
  4. If the wax didn’t work for some inexplicable reason, I knew the modified course would bring me very close to the finish area around the 14 kilometer mark and that I could either get some help from the aid station OR duck walk my way till I reached Animoosh (approximately 19 km mark) OR in the worst case scenario, drop out at 14 km.

As much as I knew the course (except for the Bagwaji Trail) and as much as I wanted to race, race hard and win a big (not BIG) gold-tinted cowbell for my efforts, I felt racing the course under prevailing conditions was probably not a smart idea. Implementing Señor Tervo’s words of wisdom, I figured it was in my best interest (and that of everyone else) to keep it Safe, Fair and Fun. So, I started mid-pack in my assigned wave #1 but let almost all fellow wavers go by very soon. It wasn’t until the 12.5 kilometer mark that a couple skiers from wave #2 briefly shared the trails with me before passing ahead … which meant I had plenty of room in every direction to safely navigate my way through some downhills, some turns and some downhills with turns.



Weather conditions
hh:mm, temperature (what was, what it felt like and dew point), wind, humidity, pressure, air density, visibility, sky and UV index
Start 11:44, 36/31/33 F, 6 mph W, 89%, 963.9 mbar, 1.2164, 0, Light rain, UVI 1
Middle 12:49, 39/36/35 F, 4 mph W, 84%, 982.3 mbar, 1.232, 1, Overcast clouds, UVI 1
End 13:54, 38/34/34 F, 5 mph NW, 88%, 984.1 mbar, 1.2367, 2, Overcast clouds, UVI 1
Air quality NA, NA

Goal vs Reality
Goal: 23 km in 1:45:00 (4:33 min/km)
Reality: 23.88 km in 2:09:41.6 (5:25 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 3:56 15 32 0:03:56 15 32 3:55 1:30:00 0:15:00
2.00 5:03 26 34 0:08:59 41 66 4:29 1:43:00 0:02:00
3.00 3:35 3 51 0:12:34 44 117 4:11 1:36:00 0:09:00
4.00 6:45 31 1 0:19:19 75 118 4:49 1:50:00 0:05:00
5.00 4:05 3 53 0:23:24 78 171 4:40 1:47:00 0:02:00
6.00 5:04 11 17 0:28:28 89 188 4:44 1:48:00 0:03:00
7.00 5:31 6 6 0:33:59 95 194 4:51 1:51:00 0:06:00
8.00 4:53 2 3 0:38:52 97 197 4:51 1:51:00 0:06:00
9.00 4:25 7 25 0:43:17 104 222 4:48 1:50:00 0:05:00
10.00 5:01 11 25 0:48:18 115 247 4:49 1:50:00 0:05:00
11.00 8:16 52 19 0:56:34 167 266 5:08 1:58:00 0:13:00
12.00 5:37 13 27 1:02:11 180 293 5:10 1:58:00 0:13:00
13.00 6:23 24 41 1:08:34 204 334 5:16 2:01:00 0:16:00
14.00 4:40 12 32 1:13:14 216 366 5:13 1:59:00 0:14:00
15.00 7:36 27 0 1:20:50 243 366 5:23 2:03:00 0:18:00
16.00 7:36 37 16 1:28:26 280 382 5:31 2:06:00 0:21:00
17.00 5:42 6 1 1:34:08 286 383 5:32 2:07:00 0:22:00
18.00 5:31 1 1 1:39:39 287 384 5:32 2:07:00 0:22:00
19.00 5:40 7 1 1:45:19 294 385 5:32 2:07:00 0:22:00
20.00 5:37 2 5 1:50:56 296 390 5:32 2:07:00 0:22:00
21.00 5:07 4 6 1:56:03 300 396 5:31 2:06:00 0:21:00
22.00 5:24 0 8 2:01:27 300 404 5:31 2:06:00 0:21:00
23.00 4:44 3 19 2:06:11 303 423 5:29 2:06:00 0:21:00
23.92 3:45 0 30 2:09:56 303 453 5:25 2:04:00 0:19:00
The final cumulative time, 2:09:56, may not match the official time (2:09:41.6) 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, 23.88 km, may not match the designated (or certified) event distance (23 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.

There were plenty of debris, thin spots, and sections where roots, rocks, grass and dirt were visibly peeking through from underneath (just an observation for the sake of completeness of this report and not a comment or a criticism of any kind). But the trail – the skate deck and the classic tracks – held its shape surprisingly well. My skis took a kilometer or so before what was underneath (i.e., the wax) started doing its magic. There was no shortage of kick and glide was in abundance. There were also a handful of times – sprinkled throughout the first 15-18 kilometers – when the kick wasn’t there. The past me might have misplaced the cause of such slippage on skis or wax or trail conditions … basically, anything but myself. But the present me was a beneficiary of a Kris-Bjorn pearl of wisdom – it’s poor form/technique, often in the later parts of a race, that results in lack of kick – that they had shared during one of my visits to Rice Lake, WI. Reminding myself of that and fixing the form/technique quite immediately remedied the situation. On two or three such occasions, it required stopping to take a few good breaths and letting the body relax but a few lost seconds were easily made up.

Because of the course/trail familiarity gained by repeated outings over the last few Winters, rationing the remaining resources over the final 10-ish kilometers felt very second nature. So did picking and implementing the terrain-appropriate technique. I finished with an official time of 2:09:41.6 – about 25 minutes (or about a minute per kilometer) slower than my plan/goal. But I didn’t fall or break anything (or better yet, didn’t cause anyone else to fall or break something) and I thought I skied my plan about as well and technically sound as possible. Those victories easily outweighed the minute per kilometer slowness on this day.

Courtesy of FloLine Media

After briefly catching up with friends near the finish line, the bus ride back to the Superior Dome was a quick one. Once within the cozy confines of the said dome, I picked up my bag with warmer clothes and the timing slip from Superior Timing. Turned out that my finish time was good for 44/151 overall, 28/84 in my gender and to my utter surprise, 1/2 in my age group … earning me that big (not BIG) gold-tinted cowbell!!

I hung around in the Dome through the awards ceremony, and getting to see and spend time with friends from Minnesota was certainly a bonus! And so was just getting to be a part of this organized event in a Winter where most races are already cancelled or on the verge of being cancelled. The drive back to Houghton, though through what felt like whiteout winter (yes, there was snow!), was safe and uneventful.

In hindsight

A week later (on Saturday, 3rd February 2024), I was attending the Waxing Clinic conducted by Bjorn and Kris at Out There Nordic in Rice Lake, WI. When the topic of discussion shifted to kick waxing and specifically to using klister, one of my questions was: what circumstances warrant a hard wax as a binder with klister going on top (i.e., what I had done for the Noque) vs klister as a binder with hard wax going on top (i.e., what the Toko recommendation said I should do for the Noque)?

Their collective answer was that the latter was almost always the case and rarely, if not never, anyone used the hard wax as the binder with klister going on top. I was initially adamant that the former scenario had indeed been a part of the Toko recommendation. So, I opened the said recommendation and re-read the grip wax portion of it with Kris.

Low and behold, it was the case of klister (Toko Nordic Green Klister Binder) being the base layer. I am not really sure why but I had not paid enough attention while reading the recommendation. Equally, I am not really sure why the hard wax (Toko Nordic Green Hard Wax Binder) had worked as well as it did for me during the event. Maybe it was implementing MikeY’s sustained preaching (i.e., what’s on top of the skis matters more than the skis or what’s underneath) or Kris-Bjorn teaching (i.e., believe in the wax job) or a combination of both that got me through.

I will promise do a better job of paying attention (or in short form and systems administrative lingo, RTFM) moving forward!

 

 

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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