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Sisu 2014 Race Report

Start of the Classical Elite Wave at the Sisu Marathon
What a great day for a ski!  On Saturday January 11th, 2014 we awoke to a morning temp of about 22 degrees, 100% humidity, and it never got warmer than about 27.  If you don't have a good time skiing on a day like that you need to retire from the sport (OK, I don't mean that...never retire!).

Really though after a couple weeks of -22 degrees it was awesome to get outside on a nice day.  It's amazing how much warmer it feels when the temperature rises by 44 degrees!  As always, we had a nice, solid contingent of Cyclova people up there at Sisu, although not as many as we've had in previous years.  I attribute this somewhat to last year's cancellation (which came despite my assurances to a half dozen people that of all the races, Sisu was the one guaranteed NOT to get cancelled...sigh).

That Sisu race is a pretty tough little course, and although we had fast snow on race morning, there was a bit of powder on top for control.  That powder was welcome because there is about a 4k section beginning around km 18 that becomes very windy and hilly out at Sisu.  It's not World Cup technical by any means, but it's technical enough that it concerns me every year.  If there were ever a Sisu marathon with concrete corduroy conditions, I would be scared to race.  I freely admit that I've lost my nerve a bit (having kids takes some of the punch out of a guy...for those of you who didn't know me before I had kids you can only imagine) but Sisu is the only course around that makes me nervous.
Tommy K at the start
Sisu starts at ABR and it's a wonderful venue for a ski race.  There are plenty of buildings to hang around in and stay warm.  In one of the buildings they had several waxing benches set up, and there were a lot of nervous classical skiers hanging around adjusting their kick wax.  I ran into Dale Kicker and we started chatting. I must have seemed calmer than I actually was because after a while he looked at me and said, "you don't get nervous about an event like this do you?"  The question made me reflect for a moment and I replied, "well, it's 22 degrees, when it's that warm you know you're going to survive, I'd be nervous if it were -22."  

The pressure is off me these days.  I just want to go out and go as fast as I can, but it doesn't matter if it turns into a trudge fest.  It wouldn't be the first time, and it won't be the last time.  You can't consistently race without occasionally showing up at an event unprepared, but I felt like I was going to do well.  You never know for sure how your body is going to react until you get that first 42k ski under your belt...but I felt good.
This is clever, somebody had sewn their birkie bibs into a ski bag!
I tell you what though, it's fun hanging out with Duane Lee before a race.  He gets really excited and pumped up!  In the warming hut before the race, I shared my trick of bringing along a couple packets of hand warmers during a race.  The thing is, before a race, you're always second guessing how to dress.  If you over dress you sweat too much and you end up colder than if you under-dressed.  Actually, I don't know if it's possible to under-dress (the only time I've ever gotten cold during a race was the 2010 Birkie when it was -7 at the start...I was nervous that day), but you always psyche yourself into putting on more than you need.  To help me not put on too many layers, I always stick hand warmers in my water bottle pouch.  The thought is that if I get cold on the trail, I can activate those hand warmers and stick them to my stomach.  Knowing that I have a means to warm up out there should I need it puts my mind at ease.

The clock continued to tick and the races began to start.  First off were the classical people.  There were several waves, so I took a couple photos of the elite skiers than ran off to get into my ski boots.  My race started at 9:45.  I was in the 3rd wave of the Skate race so I was able to watch Tommy and Duane take off.  Then it was my time to line up.

The great thing about a marathon ski race is that you don't have to hammer like a mad man right from the line.  42km gives you plenty of time to ski a smart race.  Still, you almost always have a couple jokers who do something stupid in the first 100 meters.  For that reason it's a good idea to get out ahead of the pack.

I lined up in about the 3rd row and waited for the gun.  We were supposed to double pole a 100 meters just to help the pack thin out before we started skating.  The starting area at ABR heads towards the hut, then takes a sharp left hand turn up a hill.

The gun went off and I double poled at a moderate pace.  Double poling is a good stroke for me and I don't have a hard time keeping up with people.  We had a smooth start and were just transitioning into a skate when the guy immediately in front of me skied off the trail with his left ski and got bogged down in the deep snow.  His technique was a little awkward (he took up a bit more space than he needed to), and rather than take the time to properly correct and get himself out of the deep snow, he tried to correct on the fly.  This resulted in him taking about three strokes where his left tip kept plunging into the deep snow, throwing him off balance and killing his momentum again and again.

I sat behind him patiently waiting for him to stop flailing about in the snow, but eventually I got sick of it and saw an opportunity to pass.  I slid to my right, getting around the guy as he flopped around like a hooked fish.  I'd just gotten past him, when he made one final forward leap and landed squarely on my pole.  Fortunately he landed on the basket and not the shaft so he didn't break the pole.

Now, when I was a 165 lb skier, such a thing would have knocked me down.  However, at 210 pounds, chances are I'm going to win the battle of mass against most other skiers in the event.  I've had a couple skiers step on my basket in races over the last couple years, and lately the result has always been the same.  I just pull my arms forward in a normal stroke and it sends the offending skier spiraling off in a spectacular crash of curses and snow.

I felt a little bit bad about the tangle up, but it was entirely that guy's fault.  Look folks, just don't step on people's poles, and if you get bogged down in the deep snow because you ski off the trail, pull off and wait for the group to go by.  You're the one who made a mistake, so now you have to wait and not interfere with other people's race.  The guy eventually did catch up with me at about km 8, so good for him.  At that point in the race, the start was but a distant memory, and I didn't harbor any ill-will (hopefully he felt the same).

I have to say that skiing this race felt good!  My wax was fast and the course had powder on the top but it was firm beneath.  It was possible to really ski, and I went along at a respectable pace.  My finishing pace ended up being 4:10 per KM (or 4:11 can't remember) which I was very happy with.

There are some BRUTAL climbs out there at ABR, but there are also a couple flat sections where you can gain some time.  I was skiing a lot of V2 in the flat sections, which I'm usually too undisciplined for.  V2 is a faster stroke, but your body goes through it a little more slowly so psychologically you don't think you're going as fast.  I kept glancing at my GPS though, and when I was in V1 my speed was something like a 6:05 minute mile (my GPS is in MPH) and when I was in V2 it would drop down to 5:45.  V2 feels like a recovery stroke (for me anyway), so to be able to recover while gaining speed is awesome.

This was the first race in a long time that actually felt like a complete race for me.  I conserved my energy on the uphills and hit it hard on the flats and moderate rises.  Where possible, I skied with groups to get out of the occasional headwind.  I didn't hammer to the point where I was sick, but I kept myself at a good pace throughout the event, stopping at every aid station for water and bananas.

Throughout the last 5 k or so, I skied with a group of three guys.  I stopped at the final aid station for a cookie and lost them, but I caught back up with one of them before the finish line (always eat) and passed him about 300 yards from the finish.  In the end, I finished in 2:55, which was a whole hour faster than the last time I did this event.  Mike Colaizy's push-up challenge has made a noticeable difference in my upper body strength, thanks Mike!
The finish area fire
This was a real "proof of concept" race for me.  Over the last year I've been doing a lot of events but not necessarily racing them.  You might remember the Birkie Trail Marathon adventure we had.  I just went out there and did that one without racing it and finished in over 6 hours.  I figured that such a thing would still provide fitness even if I didn't kill myself trying to have a fast time, and I think my result at Sisu proves that's true.  Sure, trail conditions can be part of the reason I was faster this year than in 2012, but the winner in 2012 was only 3 minutes slower, so I think it was fairly comparable.  

I tell you what, it's a lot more fun when you start getting to that level of fitness where you're not suffering at the end of a 42k event.  It's good to finish and have enough left over to get dressed and find your car without having to take a nap first.  Also, having a good result inspires you to make that extra effort to drop another pound or two.  I have over a month to the Birkie and I'm really excited about it this year!  See all of you at the upcoming races!

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