2020: Great Bear Chase

Being a hometown event and the last officially timed nordic skiing race for the 2019-20 winter, this was an event that I could ill afford to miss. Given that it’s week #13 of a 20-week training plan towards a Spring Marathon called for a 20-mile LSD run, the only decision was the distance combination pending weather conditions: 25 km skiing + 10 km running OR 10 km skiing + 25 km running. In light of the 2020 American Birkebeiner experience and a tentative plan for its 2021 edition, I chose to stick with the 25 km skiing (race effort) + 10 km running (easy/recovery jog) combination irrespective of prevailing weather conditions.

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2020: American Birkebeiner

Currently in week #11 of a 20-week training plan towards 2020 Spring Marathon, this was never an event I planned on skipping. If anything, I had ambitions of skiing the full one – 55 km Classic – and powered by the CXC Academy training plan, I had even signed up for it. Only after designing the aforementioned marathon training plan and analyzing the timing of Birkie did I realize that my current skill/fitness level would not yet permit the Birkie … at least not without jeopardizing the activities in weeks #10 through #12. So, a hard-ish decision was made to forego the named bib for the 55 km and switch down to the 29 km Kortelopet before the deadline.

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2020: North End Classic

Currently in week #09 of a 20-week training plan towards 2020 Spring Marathon, this too was an event I had deemed I am not going to participate during 2019-20 winter. But it is held on Sunday – the day after 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.

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2020: Wolf Tracks Rendezvous

Currently in week #08 of a 20-week training plan towards 2020 Spring Marathon, this was an event I didn’t even know existed. If not for a nudge/inquiry from Kim Green during the 2020 SISU Ski Fest, I would have likely never learned about it. Minocqua being only 2-ish hours away and in Wisconsin (i.e., Central Time Zone) made it a candidate for day trip adventure and thus, made it easier to sign up! Once registered for the 24 km edition, it made sense to sensibly race this event as a reasonable substitute for a 14-mile LSD run (with few faster miles towards the end) prescribed by the aforementioned marathon training plan – quite similar to what I had done during the 2020 Noquemanon Ski Marathon.

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2020: Noquemanon Ski Marathon

Currently in week #07 of a 20-week training plan towards 2020 Spring Marathon, this too was an event I had deemed I am not going to participate during 2019-20 winter. Little did I know (or even remember) that I had signed up for the 24 km version loooooong ago – like in April 2019 – to take advantage of the early bird pricing. It’s only when I registered for the 12 km version and tried creating a label in Gmail (you know, to easily search for registration confirmation during packet pickup) that I realized the said label already existed. Fortunately, I had just enough time to cancel the 12 km registration.

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2020: SISU Ski Fest

Currently in week #05 of a 20-week training plan towards 2020 Spring Marathon, this was an event I had deemed I am not going to participate during 2019-20 winter. I was sticking with my claim until a handful of hours before the registration closed. Inquiries/Nudging by good friends and all the inspiration derived from watching world-class skiers during the recently concluded 2020 US Cross Country Ski National Championships should take the credit for changing my mind.

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2019: Great Bear Chase

This too was an event I had deemed I am not going to race during 2018-19 winter but much like Birkie two weekends ago, things changed and changed in a hurry. The last of the officially timed ski event for 2018-19 winter season, being held in our very own backyard in the good company many of my wonderful friends, sufficient knowledge of the Swedetown Trail System and its terrain gathered over the past 3-4 seasons with help from many said friends – to an extent that I feel at home on every loop and not just when I see the final stretch to the finish line, an opportunity rub shoulders with the elites, and a peroration for Pat Szubielak as he embarks on retirement a second time … drove the said change.

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2019: American Birkebeiner

140 km base training [for a ~30 km event] seems low … remarked Jan in the aftermath of 2018 Birkie festivities. Consciously work on your downhills and turns … suggested another Jan a month or so later in Washington, DC, during the 2018 Spring Meeting of CASC. How much base training would have been sufficient? … I inquired the encyclopediac minds in and around our community. Deciphering their collective answer, though it led me down an entirely new rabbit hole of time-based training, hinted towards a training plan that included some long/long-ish outings. Coupling that with the sneak peak I got into Jessie Diggins‘ annual training plan, courtesy of Team USA’s Olympic Coach of the Games, I settled on putting in at least 300 km of base training ahead of the 2019 Birkie weekend.

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2019: Vasaloppet USA

If not for friends in high places (or as in this case, the highest of places), there was little chance that I’d even know about this event – let alone be a participant. Dear friend Alice had not only won the 58 km freestyle edition in 2017 Vasaloppet USA in Mora, MN, but had gone on to be the first US female to complete the 90 km edition in 2018 Vasaloppet in Mora, Sweden. She believed that I was good enough to complete the 42 km Classic. So, I believed in her belief and signed up for the 2019 edition.

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2018: American Birkebeiner

Even after a year, it still feels very unfair that Mother Nature chose to reward my utter unpreparedness and punish thousands more that had very diligently trained for nearly a year with unseasonably warmer temperatures (and even rain) in days/weeks leading up to the 2017 Birkie weekend. In hindsight, we (the collective phrase to represent all of us and not just the Royal plural) are quite fortunate that this lack of snow thing happened in 2017 and not in 1206 in Scandinavia. Should that have been the case, as one unknown racer put it in 2017, the Prince couldn’t have been saved, and we wouldn’t have the event in 2017 … or in any other year.

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2018: Noquemanon Ski Marathon

In all honesty and fairness, participating in this event was a very distant thought when the year started. Unlike 2017, I have been making a decent amount of progress towards the upcoming Kortelopet as part of the Birkie festivities. Progress, to be fair and honest, has so far been only about improving the technique – especially having to make a right turn while going down a slope. To be fair and honest, I did want to improve the distance (per session or attempt) as well but just hadn’t made enough time (or had made time for excuses, as my lovely Lombardian friends would say).

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2017: Great Bear Chase

In all seriousness and retrospect, this should have been my fourth ski race/event of the 2016-17 season. But owing to many reasons beyond the scope of this journal entry (read: excuses for not making time to train consistently in any way, shape or form) and with the cancellation of the 2017 American Birkebeiner (I wasn’t prepared for that either), Great Bear Chase became the final and only test of my skiing this season — cumulative (since January 2014) and newly acquired (with each passing season/session — as I said, there wasn’t much of it this season) alike. And the event is a a long-running and well established, managed and reputed one with usual perks — near-zero traveling, sleeping in my own bed couch the night before, and being with dear friends and community members before, during and afterwards.

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2016: Great Bear Chase

In all seriousness and retrospect, this should have been my only ski race of the 2015-16 season. For, in all the same seriousness and retrospect, Great Bear Chase has become the final test of my skiing talents each season — cumulative (since January 2014) and newly acquired (with each passing season/session) alike. And it’s a test — a long running and well established, managed and reputed one at that — in my home area that comes with the added benefits of near-zero traveling, sleeping in my own bed couch the night before, and being with dear friends and community members before, during and afterwards.

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2016: American Birkebeiner

Until about two years or so ago, Birkie was something I couldn’t care less about. So much so that I thought and truly believed that Birkie was a real physical town somewhere in Wisconsin. And I even tried looking for a sign to this town on my way to Red Wing, Minnesota, to participate in the 2014 Ragnar Relay Great River, and I don’t remember being disappointed at my inability to find it.

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2016: Noquemanon Ski Marathon

About a week had passed by since my maiden attempt at skiing and dear friend Carrie suggested that I should consider partaking in one of the events at the Noquemanon Ski Marathon (referred to hereafter as just Noque — somewhat for the purposes of brevity but mostly to sound cool). The aforementioned maiden ski attempt had taken over an hour to cover less than one mile on relatively flat trails. More so than skiing, it was a battle between yours truly and formidable laws of gravity and friction that the latter two won in a merciless beatdown. Given the sheer lack of information, expertise and/or experience, the chances of me surviving the wild and presumably treacherous Noque trails let alone making it out alive were very very slim … if not non-existent. So, it didn’t happen in 2014.

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2015: Great Bear Chase

The past year since the last edition of this home area event, except for the month of December 2014, has seen me ski at least a few kilometers every month we have had moderate to really good or excellent trail conditions. While signing up for this year’s edition didn’t cost me any brain cell at all, I had neither really put in enough quality base miles simulating the Great Bear Chase course conditions nor had I skied longer than 8k in the weeks/months leading up to retain my initial registration for 25k classic. The decision to drop down to 10k classic still didn’t cost any brain cell nor extra work either — thanks to the handy/magic work of dear friends, Cynthia and Angela.

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2014: Book Across The Bay

Courtesy of all my blabberings in social media outlets, Bryant Weathers got the wind of me acquiring a new pair of skis and shot off this email on a balmy fine Friday in January. I tried ignoring it for a while but it seemed to have some serious haunting features and just wouldn’t go away. With nearly every skiing mile in my life ahead of me, it wasn’t easy to make the decision — to take my skiing talents to Ashland, Wisconsin, let alone on to the frozen Lake Superior for a 10k.

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