Mullin's Nordic Spirit Race Report


Pre-Race

With family obligations on Saturday I wasn't able to make the trip to do a marathon with the boys.  The next best option looked like a trip to Duluth Sunday morning for the Nordic Spirit 26km Skate race.

About noon on last Tuesday my throat started feeling funny.  By Tuesday night it was definitely sore and I was worried I was getting sick.  Wednesday morning it was still quite sore so I bailed on any hard workout I had planned.  Thankfully by Thursday at noon it was almost gone again and no other symptoms appeared.  My speculation is that it was from hard exertion on Sunday and I just had some inflammation.

With the specter of illness I laid pretty low all week.  Friday I got out and woke things up a little bit with some short marathon pace work and a few short intervals.  Nothing that was going to tire me out too much, but enough to remind my body what was supposed to happen.

After spending the day outside on Saturday with Cub Scouts I spent the rest of the evening waxing skis. After the debacle of last week I was pretty afraid of having bad skis again. With two pairs of raceable skis now I waxed up both of them.  My default race skis are my softish Fisher Carbonlites with a cold universal grind and my new pair are some stiff Rossignol X-Ium with the factory grind I did almost the same thing to both of them. The Fishers got two coats of Fastwax LSF 20 and two coats of HSF 20. The Rossignols only got one coat of each as I didn't anticipate actually racing on them.  Both got a top coat of Holmenkol Mid ironed in with the Fastwax Basesaver.  Finally I used the Toko Structurite tool with the red roller on the Rossis. That was my first time using the structure tool and was surprised at how much structure it added.

Temps leading up to the race were mid twenties and warming rapidly. With the warm temps the day before the snow was pretty icy up on top but the sun and warming temps meant it was going to get soft and wet. I did a little testing about 45 minutes before the race anticipating not much difference. I was actually pretty shocked to find the Rossignols substantially faster. I'm not sure if it was the stiffer ski or the additional structure. Either way I was glad to have a choice. 

Lastly we had the opportunity to carpool up on Sunday morning with Jay Wenner. It is always fun to share stories and learn some new things when visiting.

Race

After ski testing I got in a shorter than the last few times warm-up in.  I cut it short because I saw that the starting area was packed and I hadn't reserved a spot and was looking at being relegated quite a few rows back.  Thankfully Tony Lushanko made a little room for me and I got a spot in about the third row.  Thanks Tony!  After putting my skis down I made a last minute decision to ditch the baselayer on top.  I had originally started the morning in a short sleeve base layer, changed it out for a long sleeve, and then ultimately went ski suit only.  I'm really glad I did because I was cooking at the end.

The course starts with a short straightaway and then does a 400m corkscrew before heading off onto the trails.  The start was clean, but then someone from the front row went down in the first turn.  I managed to mostly clear them but did run a ski over theirs.  Ultimately I cleared the rest of the loop fine and in probably 25th position give or take a few.

Things continued to be pretty fast and frantic for another few k.  The course was pretty dang fast while a little chopped up refrozen snow.  It was lots of transitions and twists and turns and I was hopping all over trying to keep my balance.  Things continued to sort themselves out with a few people going by and catching and passing a few people.

In the sorting out period I ended up just in front of Jay and just behind someone else.  We skied in a group of three for I think 3 or 4 km.  This included the fastest skiing I've done all year long with a wicked fast downhill.  I got a little chicken and checked my speed.

Eventually the guy in front pulled over and I took a pull up to the first aid station.  During this time we were slowly pulling in Zach Beresford.  I tried to grab a cup at the first aidstation, but the worker and I wiffed and I dropped the cup.  I had decided not to carry a water bottle but will probably do it even in a shorter race like this from now on.

1 - Descent of the connector trail, 2 - What felt like the first downhill in FOREVER, 3 - Climbing the connector again, 4 - The whooping downhill mentioned later, 5 - Oops, went a little too early
Shortly after the aid station we took the turn off to the Magney-Snively Connector.  This downhill was also pretty fast and a little lumpy, but I think I held on a little better.  The trail conditions changed pretty drastically in the Magney section going from icy and fast to warm, soft, and slower.

I pulled over to give Jay a chance to lead and he finished pulling in Zach.  After a bit of climbing we came to a few longer downhills and Jay's skis were running pretty good and he pulled ahead of Zach.  My skis weren't terrible, but they weren't as good as Jay's.  I ended up just hanging on to Zach as Jay slowly pulled away in front of us.

I stayed with Zach for several km declining his offer to let me pull through.  Eventually on one of the bigger climbs he pulled over and let (made) me pull.  I had been catching glimpses of Jay up the trail as he was catching and passing the next person and I could tell we were making time too.  During my pull we eventually caught them as well and I tucked in for a little recovery.  Or maybe we passed them and caught someone else, it is a little foggy now.

Anyhow eventually Zach and I caught Anders Evenson from St. Scholastica.  Through an aid station before leaving Magney, Zach gapped us but I jumped around Anders and caught back up to Zach.  Zach lead us back up to Spirit.  I thought we had maybe unhitched Anders but he pulled us back in.

Once back on the Spirit trails it got icy and fast again.  The three of us were picking up the pace and moving along fast.  There was one little stretch with a downhill and some turns that I got to whooping a bit since it was FUN!  I was feeling better than I had earlier and was starting to think about how to drop these guys.

I wasn't quite sure how far out we were, I never really trust the stated distance of the race versus what my watch is telling me.  I was getting a little turned around and thought we must be getting pretty close.  I also caught sight of Phil Rogers up the trail and thought we might pick him off if we stepped on the gas.


Updated 2/2 - Jay uploaded his data to Strava so I've now got a good look into how the race played out between us.  I broke it up into the two halves of the race to take a closer look.  In the first graph you can see that Jay started just ahead of me and then I took the lead through about 8.5km where he pulled ahead and tucked behind.  Then just after about 10km he pretty steadily pulled away from me until about 21km where I started reversing the trend, but much slower.
So over the top of one of the little hills I went to the front and upped the effort.  I felt good and was putting the hurt on.  Unfortunately the stated course distance was accurate and I accelerated with about 3km to go.  While I could have sat in a little longer and then gone and maybe lost the other two, what actually happened is I split our group up into the reverse order.  Anders took over when I faded but we had gapped Zach a bit.

Now would be a terrible time for me to fade so I kept on fighting through the flood.  I really didn't want to have blown the tactics so bad that I finished third out of the group.  Anders was gone up the trail and I actually could see that he passed Phil.  I still had a small gap on Zach so I was fighting for all I was worth.

My last quick look behind was just coming down to do the little corkscrew loop again.  I saw Jay and Rhett heading for the finish only about 500m ahead of me and saw that Zach was further back.  I pushed as hard as I could, but my sprint finish wasn't much and thankfully I didn't need it.  In that last 3km or so Anders put 30 seconds into me and I got Zach by 12 seconds.

Final time of 1:18:36 good for 16th place overall.

Analysis

Qualitatively the race was pretty good.  I was hoping to stick with Jay a little longer than I did.  But only losing 1:22 wasn't too bad.  Despite going hard at the beginning and having to watch him pull away I still kept my effort pretty consistent and was even able to lay down my own surge in the latter part of the race, ill timed as it was.  Only being that far behind Jay and Rhett who were both mid Elite wavers last year is pretty good.  I know I also beat a few other Elite wavers.  Granted we are only talking half the distance here and its dangerous to extrapolate to twice the distance, but I'm taking that as a good sign.


Nordic Spirit finishing times on the x-axis, last years Birkie place on the y-axis.  I'm highlighted in red.  A couple of other significant outliers in Mark Herman and Tardy Weston, but otherwise a fairly tidy trend putting me in good company of Elite wave skiers.
Next up lets compare this race against the past year or so.  Barring the early season races last year that didn't have many people in common, this race was the best of the season and last.

Best of the last 13 months.
Finally, the all important comparison, to the Birkie.  Using every race from this season and last, again as you would expect, this shows up as the best predicted Birkie.  Again, we are on shaky ground here extrapolating 26km into 51km.  Its better than taking a 5k race at Elm Creek, but not as good as say the Pre-Birke next weekend will be.

Best predicted Birkie yet.  Who even needs to ski the race now?
So, yeah, felt good and the numbers look good.

What's Next

Pre-Birkie 42k skate is this coming Saturday.  Last year it was ugly.  I'm counting on a better outcome this year.  This is the major and final "fine tuner" for the Birkie.  42km on the Birkie trail (albiet going the wrong way) will be the best predictor yet for the real deal in just two more weeks.

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