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Mullin's Winter Warm-up 10k Race Report

Pioneer Midwest Winter Warm-up Logo
And so it begins.  The nordic skiing race season and thus "Mullin's Race Reports".  If you are new around here check out the "Mullin's Ski Race Report" label and cure your insomnia (don't forget to click "Older Posts" when you get to the bottom... there is more).  Some are short and sweet, some are a novel.  It depends on the race and my inspiration to write.  They generally follow the following format though:  Intro/Preamble (optional), Pre-Race, Race, Analysis with numbers/spreadsheets/graphs, What's Next.

This time around we will get a little longer Preamble to start the season and then since this is the first report of the year it may tend to be on the wordy side.  I promise they won't all be novels.


The season came to a pretty abrupt close last year.  I had a good Birkie, but not the one I was hoping for.  Then a too warm Pepsi, and then the season closed with another spectacular blow-up at the Great Bear Chase that I never even wrote about.  We skied on the Birkie trail the following day, and then I wasn't on snow again until just two weeks ago.

Summer was spent riding a lot of bike.  I broke out the roller skis a couple of times in late July and then promptly busted my collar bone mountain biking at the beginning of August.  That meant all upper body and roller skiing was put on hold for 6+ weeks.  It is a good excuse anyhow.

This fall kicked into high gear hanging with Coach K, DLee, DLes, and the occasional appearance of Big E and TW.  We were pounding the pavement regularly out on The Rock and the Lushanko Loop.  It started a little rough but it came into form pretty well through October and the beginning of November.  It got a little rocky late November and early December with poor scheduling and poor road conditions.  Things are coming around again though with some snow on the ground finally (even if it might only be the man made loops after this weekend).

The season goal of course is what any self respecting Wave 1 Birkie skier's goal is... to make the Elite Wave.  Will I make it this year?  Am I fitter than last year?  Smarter?  Only time will tell.  I'm optimistic, but as usual, I know I could have done more.


On to the first race of the year!  Excited to get out and put a benchmark effort down and get a few of the nerves of going hard and racing out of my system I decided the Christmas Eve race at Elm Creek, the Winter Warm-up 10k put on by Pioneer Midwest would be the ticket.

They were originally optimistic that it would be on the mythical trails that aren't the man made loop.  I say mythical because I have over 1500km of skiing at Elm Creek the last couple of years and I think maybe 20km of that ISN'T on the 2.4k man made loop.  Sadly, the stupid warm weather and rain instead of snow on Friday relegated us to stock car racing on the loop.

What spent the summer as a bike workbench has been returned to a ski wax station.
I got a late start to waxing on Friday night and I wanted to wax two pairs to try so I grabbed my stiff, but colder flex Xiums and my warm Xiums and put Swix CH7 followed by Fast Wax HSLF20 on.  Good enough for a 10k training race.  The forecast was for the temps to drop to the lower 20's over night with a race time temp of 24.  I woke up to 32F at 6am....  Turns out the course was still nice and firm and the man made stuff tends to ski colder than the air anyhow.  Both pairs felt decent, but the stiffer skis felt a little freer underfoot so they got the call.

Lining up at the start of the race is always a bit of a guess.  I'm getting to know a lot of the skiers and can self seed OKish.  There were quite a few college and high school racers though so I guessed back a little bit further than usual.  I picked the third row right next to Dave Christopherson.  At about 15 people per row based on my ultimate finishing position that was about right.  The early weaving in the race maybe says I could have started better, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

The start of the 10k race about 200m in.  You can see that we were going to be elbow to elbow.  Photo Credit: Skinny Ski
With the blow of a horn we were off.  The start was relatively clean, though I may have stepped on someones pole and had it get stripped clean from their hand.    Snug straps and good glue are a must for mass starts.  Not that I feel good about stipping someones pole, but its pretty hard to avoid some contact in a start like that.  At about 500m someone went down just a little bit ahead of me.  A couple more people piled up over them, but I had enough clearance to make it around.

For some reason the groomers decided to set the track in about 3-5' from the edge of the trail.  This was NOT helpful as it compressed the trail even more.  I had numerous instances where I was skating between the track and the edge of the trail.  Up on top by the parking lot there was maybe only room for 1.5 skaters between the tracks.  With 250+ skiers out there and traffic going both ways that stretch was terrifying with oncoming traffic.

I spent the majority of the first lap trying to find my place in the pack.  There were quite a few skiers coming and going.  I'm not quite sure how many I passed but it was quite a few in big groups at first.  Nearing the end of the first loop things were starting to sort themselves out.  I was near the back of a train of guys.  Gaps would open up though and I was feeling OK so I kept hopping up the group to close down gaps.

Somewhere early into the second lap, the same lap/race traffic was pretty steady.  I latched on behind Scott Ellertson and Craig Stolen.  Craig had taken a little detour off trail early in the first lap.  In fact I'm pretty sure you can see him on the far left of the picture above in the black suit and white hat with one ski off trail.

For the next lap and a half I stuck to those guys like glue.  There were short stretches where I'd have to work hard to keep up, or as we passed through 5k  racers and lapped traffic.  Agility, balance, and focus were absolute requirements for the race.  Traffic was everywhere and you didn't often just get to ski.  This made pacing and forming a solid paceline challenging.  I know I had to put a few extra digs in to catch back up to Scott and Craig after we went separate ways around other races.

Only about 1km into the race.  Trying to find a spot to settle in.  Photo Credit: Skinny Ski
Climbing out of the donut on the third lap the fatigue was building.  Craig and Scott got a little gap on me and I just couldn't quite close it down.  I knew that with the long slow descent down to the Valley it would be hugely beneficial to be on, but I couldn't do it.  I spent the next half a lap trying to avoid a major blow-up and being passed by the masses.  I did finally get caught under the bridge by a young kid and I tried to hold onto him.  He got a little gap up the donut the final time, but I was closing in on him as we approached the practice field and the finish.

Unfortunately there was 5k finishing traffic and the hard left I got pinched out of the inside line and unfortunately tangled with a kid and took us both down.  No equipment broken, but it was a bummer for both of us.  I lost about 10 seconds and got passed by 4 guys.  Ah well.  Such is racing sometimes.

Post race was another easy 10k chatting with various folks and waiting for the taste of pennies in my mouth to subside.


To the spreadsheet!

First a link to the results I suppose.  And maybe my subjective analysis.  I'm pretty happy with the race. Craig and Scott have been decidedly ahead of me in previous years so having a chance to hang onto them for 70% of the race was good.  Andy Schakel and Tyler Olson are also solid guys and they were less than a minute ahead.  Also, despite falling off that last lap I never felt out of control or felt like my technique went to total garbage.  Historically that happens in those first few shorter races.  I expect that to only get better too as I do more of the high intensity intervals over the coming weeks.

OK, now to the spreadsheet.  As a reminder, this is a magical spreadsheet that will convert one race to another.  OK, maybe not magic, and it doesn't really convert.  It contains the results from a bunch of races and it will pick out the common racers between races and do a linear trendline to let you roughly compare results between races.  Its far from perfect, and it contains all sorts of caveats.  But it is a useful tool for me to put some objective measures on race performance.

In this case I've taken the results from the last two years and "predicted" my 2016 Birkie.  The interesting thing here is that pretty much across the board my actual 2016 Birkie is much worse than the predictions.  Rather than an argument against the spreadsheet though I think this is more reflective of not skiing to my potential at the Birkie.  As far as predictions of the potential, this latest race produced one of the better predictions.

Going the other way and predicting the results of the last two years  shows a general trend towards improvement.

Both ways aren't huge outstanding improvements though.  That is OK though given what that race was and where we are at in the season.  Besides, nothing is a better predictor than the race itself.

What's Next

Probably a few weeks skiing at Elm Creek.  I picked up my season pass before the race.  Originally I was optimistic I wouldn't have to ski there at all this year and wouldn't need to buy a pass.  In hindsight, I should have bought one anyhow even if we had fantastic snow.  This is a vote of support for everything that Three Rivers does for the nordic community with my wallet.  At $75 it's worth making that vote to ensure we have this for the future.

After that, we are off to SISU for the first marathon of the season on Jan 7.  The course is shorter this year at only 31k.  I think its going to be good though as a first longer race.  I am seeded in the elite wave of the race this year so I'm looking forward to finding a good ride all the way to Ironwood.  Riding Coach K's draft?  If I can!

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