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Mullin's SISU Ski Fest Race Report

Executive Summary

A pretty good start to the marathon race season complete with good results, good skiing, and good friends.

Race Prep

As I mentioned in my SISU prep post I've been training hard.  This week continued that trend even with the pending race.  Tuesday was my first classic workout with a set of VO2max intervals at Elm Creek.  Thursday was the final tune-up with a pair of marathon pace intervals on natural snow at Como.

Friday was final waxing.  Forecast was for 32 degrees overnight with snow and falling temperatures to around 20 at race time.  I picked my soft flex Fishers and waxed them up with with two coats of Fast Wax HSLF-10, two coats of HSF-20, topped with Holmenkol Speedblock Mid.  Everyone I talked to said they couldn't decide if their skis were good or awful.  I'd have to say the same.  The conditions were very mixed.  I never felt like I was getting blown away by anyone else's skis so I'm going to say they were good enough.

Too much text... a picture of Cory Kending and Ben Jonjak at the start of wave 2 to break things up.
The course was good.  Just a few icy spots and a little uneven and lumpy into town.  Some sections were firm, some kind of soft.  A few of the downhills were sketchy.  Did I mention it snowed the whole time?  Nothing heavy, but natural snowflakes falling from the sky is pretty cool.

I've been pretty bad warming up before ski marathons.  As in non-existent.  Maybe running to make it to the start on time.  This time I got out for a solid 20+ minutes of skiing.  Focused on feeling relaxed and balanced on my skis.  I did three short pick-ups of about a minute each to wake things up in the latter half of the warm-up.  Then it was shucking warm-ups and lining up for wave 1 shortly after the elite wave started.

Dennis Kotcon racing to 7th overall in the 42k Classic
Lastly race strategy.  If you've been following my race novels, you know I spent most of the fall practicing pacing my running races by HR.  Well, I threw that out the window.  I've been training hard and was told to not be afraid to go out hard and then have to recover.  It's never really worked before, but then again I haven't been prepping as hard either.  So I was going to go out with the leaders of my wave and RACE.  I'd rather try something and have it fail spectacularly here than at the Birkie.  I had my watch showing time, HR, and distance.  I was going to look occasionally, but that was about it.


About time right?  Anyhow, wave 1 as I said.  Lots of research, blah, blah, blah, I knew there were people who had better Birkies than I did last year in the wave with me, but no elite wave Birkie skiers.  So, line up at the front and try to stick with the leaders.

Off the gun it was clean and I slotted in to second position.  I was feeling good and everything seemed nice and relaxed for the first 2k or so.  I took a quick peek at my watch and saw a HR of 170+ and realized race adrenaline was making a hard effort seem easy.  But that was just a check, I was going to keep racing.

I stayed in second through about 3.5k where there was the one corner on the course that was a little confusing.  The lead pack got a little shuffled as we took the corner really wide before getting onto River Trail to descend.  A quick check showed the lead pack was still fairly big.  By the time we were climbing Peltonen Passout the first time we were in the 6-10 ballpark.

Not looking too bad at 6.5k after climbing to the to of Peltonen Passout the first time.
After the harrowing descent, off Peltonen as we hit Popple Flats, Mark Rathbun went to the front and put in a pretty solid effort.  I was probably about 6th in line at that point and there was a small gap yo-yoing between 5th and 4th.  I was thinking the effort was kind of high and I was worried about staying on, thinking maybe my time with the lead pack was already at an end.

We managed to stay on and by the time we reached Sulo's Loop our pack was down to 6.  I was tucked safely into the middle and was really appreciating it as we headed into a bit of a headwind.  As we headed out into Hautanen Highlands and down to Coyote Canyon and back up to Hautanen again we were moving along pretty well as a group.  It wasn't seamless pace line rotating.  Some folks went to the front and things slowed down, sometimes we came through an aid station and things got shuffled.  Unintentionally I ended up not taking a pull for probably 10k.

About 15k in Craig Rudd was worried the pace was falling off again.  We had a couple of guys chasing back onto the pack.  He asked firmly to go to the front and the pace definitely lifted.  He opened a bit of a gap on 2nd while I was in 3rd.  While I couldn't quite make it around the guy in second, he thankfully lifted his pace enough to catch back on.

Breaking up the text again with a picture of Tommy Krenz getting it done.
After a good long pull of probably almost 3k, Craig pulled over.  So did second so I took up pace making duties through Bard's Bump and up River Trail to the next aid station at the Warm-up shack.  From there to River Trail again almost another 2k in we were content to let the slowest leader take over.  I'm not sure why he ended up at the front so frequently, but I was content to have the effort drop a little on the climbing.

Craig went to the front again going into Pit Point Loop the second time.  He pulled until the bottom of Peltonen and when he pulled over, the same guy in second did again.  I hadn't wanted to pull up Peltonen and said I wasn't so sure about it.  Craig said he liked when I pulled because I upped the pace.  That certainly wasn't intentional.  Anyhow we climbed, me at the head of the train.  A shuffle through the aid station again where I ditched my bottle for a new one and we were headed downhill again.

Leading the pack into the Hilltop House Aid Station for the second time.
Somewhere on the climb or the descent, the pack of 6 we had been skiing with since the start of the race had dwindled to 4.  Me, Craig, Walter Meanwell, and Scott Golomski.  We also picked up an elite wave skier who found a second wind.

Memory Lane and Jackpine were fun as I realized that this race was working out pretty well.  I was still with the lead few guys from the wave and we were almost 30k into the race.  I wasn't struggling to keep up though it certainly wasn't effortless.  Going forward it was going to be all new trail for me.  I knew from looking at the elevation profile there was still some climbing in a couple of different styles.  A really long grinder of a climb, then some shorter stuff, and then one last big one before going into town.  Duane told me to save something for the end because I was going to need it.  He told me that you'd climb the last hill, see the big indian and it would be all downhill from there.

All these words... how about a picture of Big Steve Edling hamming for the camera as usual.
Well, things were going OK, I continued to take my turn on the front.  Then about half way up the grinding climb as we crossed Range Road our pack finally disintegrated for good.  Craig and Scott got a little gap over the uneven road crossing and I could not quite close the gap down.  What was a 5 meter gap slowly grew to 10, then 20, and eventually I was no longer chasing but starting to worry about who might come by.

Initially I thought that I hadn't really bonked, but looking at the HR data it was falling and the pace was climbing so it would definitely seem like a bonk.  Strava has a pretty cool Flybys feature where you can play back your events along with others who were in or around you at the time.  Recently they've added a time ahead/behind feature.  The image below shows me and Scott skiing within 15 seconds of each other for the majority of the race until about 21 miles (33.5k) where it suddenly started growing until he finally beat me by almost a minute and a half.

Back to my race.  The race got kind of lonely at that point.  There were a few classic skiers to pass and I was in the vicinity of the Elite waver who had hung around for the last 15 k or so.  Eventually I left him behind and descended into the city landfill or whatever that is.  I could see the steep climb out of it and knew I had reached that last climb that Duane had warned me about.  I gutted it out and turned the corner, and was rewarded with the rest of the climb.  Ugh.  That last climb was brutal but I made it and finally found the indian statue Duane promised me was the mark of the "its all downhill from here" point.  A little lumpy bumpy trip down the hill and into town and I was done.


So how did I do?  Subjectively, that was probably the most fun racing I've had since I started skiing again.  The wave start allowed me to have the confidence to go out with the lead pack and my training has provided me with the fitness to be one of the final people to be dropped.  Working with the pack and thinking about my own tactics was cool.  Normally I've been spit out the back early and time trial the rest of the race.

It felt good to push harder than I have before.  The ability to go hot and then recover all while maintaining efficient technique was a nice change.  I had a little stomach discomfort most of the race and I probably could have eaten more which may have delayed the bonk.  I didn't have a solid fueling strategy and post race I calculate I only consumed about 350 calories (1.25 bottles of Tailwind + most of a GU).  A 50% increase would have likely been better assuming it was digesting.

Ben Hugh Jonjackman
Slightly less subjective, I know I beat a number of folks that qualified for the Elite wave of the Birkie this year.  I was also less than 3 minutes off of Tommy Krenz.  Over 42k that isn't too shabby.

Objectively, my spreadsheet tells me it was a solid improvement.  As a reminder I'm using what I believe the City of Lakes does (or did at one time) in taking the results from two races and correlating times based on people who did both races.  This allows you to map one race time to another.  Sort of.  There are lots of caveats and exceptions so it isn't perfect, but taken with the appropriately sized grain of salt it can identify trends.

That shows that surprisingly this wasn't my best race ever.  That is what I would have told you before I ran the numbers.  A number of the short early season races last year were theoretically better and Pepsi Challenge was about the same.  The number I really focus on though is the mapping of this result to the Birkie.  In this case my correlated time is 2:53:51.  That would have been 236 male last year.  So close to Elite wave.

Another way I looked at the results for this race was to map out the finisher place of both races.  It tends to make a decent line as SISU was pretty stacked with a solid field.  In the plot below I'm the red dot well above the line which indicates the SISU race was much better.  I highlighted all of the results of people I finished ahead of that qualified for the Elite wave this year.  All pretty positive and pointing in the right direction.

So I'm still very happy with the results.  I'm not yet satisfied where I'm at though and am really excited to keep on the same track I've been on so far this season with hard workouts and getting the engine in even better shape in just 40 more days.

Steve McCormick enjoyed giving me crap all weekend about my spreadsheets so he gets to go after all the data!
What's Next

This weekend is Seeley Hills Classic.  I'm not quite yet confident enough to try to pull of a classic marathon so I'm signed up for the 22k instead.  I raced it last year and had fun hanging with the main pack for about the first 6k.  This year I'm hoping to go further with the contenders.

Thank you to Starr for all of the awesome photos of the race.

1 comment:

  1. Ben, I always love reading your write-ups. Hats off to you for trying something new and putting in the work (and finding a coach). I'll interested to follow your experiment of 1 data point. See you at Seeley. Jay