And now the season really begins. SISU Ski Fest in Ironwood is the start of the "big race" season for many people. They usually have snow (I'm 2 for 3 in actually getting to race now) and it is typically the first marathon length race of the season. Under new race directorship this year the long race was actually only 31k to "ease" you into marathon racing, and I think it worked out pretty well actually.
After the Winter Warm-up race I got some solid training in. The week between Christmas and New Years there were three REALLY solid training sessions put in down at Hyland Park Reserve. That man made loop is a drag being so far away, but it is really hard to beat at 5k with real terrain and great grooming.
The holiday weekend got a little long with some "immersion" fat biking when I really should have been doing a little more recovery from the high training load. For the moment I'll say I gotta enjoy what I'm doing even if it isn't optimal. My tune may change if I'm 201st at the Birkie.
The week leading into SISU had one solid high intensity workout and then some total recovery with three days off in the super cold and other evening activities to attend to. I figured after the long stretch of workload this was fine. There is always that irrational thought though that you are losing all of your fitness everyday.
The forecast was assuring cold temps for the race. That meant I could start waxing pretty early with the cold wax to get the bases hardened. I opted for my soft flex, cold grind Fishers. After a few coats of wax to clean the crud out of the skis I went 2 x Start Green, 1 x Start Green MF10, 1 x Start Green MF10 + Toko XCold powder. I considered a top coat of Start SFR75, but decided not to. I'm still very much lower on the learning curve when it comes to the top coats so I erred on the side of nothing.
|Replace the SFR75 with Toko XCold and that is what I used. The wax zesting works, but takes forever. I reverted back to dripping the wax on which works OK if you have a nice iron.|
Ugh was the snow slow! Race morning it started snowing well before the race at a decent clip. Anywhere there was fresh snow on the groomed snow it was like having catchy kickwax on. On the well groomed hardpack they were decent. This made for some interesting balance drills as the skis would transition very quickly from sliding out from under you to pitching you over the tips. So overall while I would call my skis slow, I don't think they were dramatically slower than anyone else's. No excuses to be found in the skis this time.
I figured I'd put this in there for this race. Since it was a little below zero (better than the -8 they had predicted) at the start folks might want to know what I wore to stay warm.
Bottom: Two pairs of wind briefs (better safe than sorry... trust me... I know), windstopper long johns, CyclovaXC race suit
Top: Very thin running arm warmers, wind stopper long john top, race suit
Head/Face: Frost tape, dermatone, light hat, CyclovaXC buff, non-flip goggles that totally frosted up on me
Hands: Toko mid-weight gloves, Toko overmitts
Feet: Wool socks, toe warmers, ski boots
My eyeballs froze because my glasses frosted up and I had to keep putting them on my forehead to see where I was going. They weren't fogging up, they just slowly developed ice crystals and eventually I realized I was having a hard time seeing. I probably need to try treating them with Sven Can See (Ben couldn't see anything) or the fluoride toothpaste trick.
I also got a tiny bit of frostbite on my chin because I dribbled water into my buff and I got frostbite on my chin back in highschool and it is extra sensitive.
Everything else was actually really comfortable. My hands were practically hot in those overmitts. Other than making it really hard to get a drink or take food, I highly recommend anyone with cold hands give those a try.
We picked up bibs the morning of and hopped the bus from the Municipal Building to ABR. We hung out in the "VIP" room (that is just what the permanent ABR sign says, not that we were getting special treatment, anyone could have come in) in the back of one of the grooming sheds for 30 minutes and made final preparations (frost tape, dermatone, putting on boots etc). From there it was out onto the course for some "warm-up" and feel how slow the snow was and pretty soon we were dropping warm-ups in the bags for the truck and getting on the start line.
Geeze, I know, about time I get to actually reporting on the race.
Start clean, find Tommy, and hang as long as I can. Then hope to find a good group to ski with and stay out of the wind. Pretty simple.
After dumping my bag and fiddling with my overmitts (the only other downside is they are kind of cumbersome to put on) I got to the start area to find I was going to be starting in the fourth row. That's fine.
The gun went off and we were headed down the trail. Things strung out fairly well to start. I was concerned about bombing down Peltonen Pass Out right at 1k with a huge group. Thankfully no one went down that I saw. One instance where the slow snow may have been a good thing. Just before the descent I was able to slot into the group behind Tommy.
Through Pit Point there were some comings and goings. A few people had less than ideal starts and were a little anxious to get around. Nothing too dramatic but there were a few people expressing some displeasure with a few moves. Somewhere in there Tommy made a move to follow a guy making a pass and a gap opened up. On the way to Bachelors Loop I decided I still wanted to be in that group so I made a push to bridge back up.
I think there was a group of five or six that included Tommy, Tom Meyer, and Phil Rogers. As we climbed over the River Trail climb to head down to the swamp of Sulo's Loop, I was yo-yoing off the back of the group. Since Sulo's is wide open I wanted to hang on so pushed a little more. At this point I was definitely not skiing easy. Aerobically I was working hard. Technically I was all over the place. The glide and catch of the skis was throwing off my balance and I really had to focus to not just scramble.
I was settling in a little bit finally at the back of the group when Phil Rogers suddenly stood up and promptly dropped out the back of the group. I managed to hang with the remaining group for another few km before popping off the back after a particularly step clime in Coyote Canyon around 8k.
I went into recovery mode there. I was pretty concerned I had blown up already and the rest of the race was going to be a total drag. I focused on skiing as efficiently as possible and waited for the field to start passing me. About 2km later a group of three that included Chris Halverson and Jason Schisler came by. The leader asked if there was another group ahead and if we could catch them. I said there was a group, but I wasn't going to catch them and stepped aside to let him try.
I tagged onto the back of the group and soon found myself feeling better. After a decent pull the leader pulled over and I let him slot in ahead of me. Shortly after that a gap formed between the guy ahead of me and the other two. I was feeling better, but not really ready to make a push to close any gaps I thought so sat in for a bit longer.
Somewhere around 13km I offered to take my turn at the front to see if I could close the other guys down again. The gap was shrinking and then right after a particularly nasty downhill corner I looked up and saw that we were about to catch Tommy. I also noticed that he had a bunch of snow on his back and knew he took a digger. As we passed I asked if he was OK. He said he thought so, but he went down pretty hard and had the wind knocked out of him.
Through the aid station at about 15km the gap to Chris and Jason opened up again. Tommy slotted in behind me and I went to work trying to smartly bring them back in again. They split up a little bit and I finally pulled Chris in about the top of Blueberry Bluffs and Meadow Ridge. He offered me the lead but I declined saying I wasn't ready yet. As we started the descent down the River Trail I was feeling pretty good and said I would take the lead and try to close the gap.
Shortly before the River House aid station we caught Jason and he also offered to let me lead just as Chris had. Having just given a good effort to catch him I declined. Shortly after the aid station he was definitely hurting though and I took the lead. At that point I took a good long pull through Norrie Park. Chris and Jason were both hanging on still, but I spotted Andy Schakel and Scott Ellertson across Norrie Park so I wanted to keep pressing.
Eventually Chris offered to take a pull so I let him through. From about 23k through 25k there was some good rotation with shorter and shorter pulls between the three of us. Unfortunately, and I knew it at the time, I somehow seemed to be doing about half the pulls. That stretch is just an awful long, straight, and just gradual climb that it is completely without rest. The whole time we were gaining on Andy and Scott. Not long before we would have caught them Scott pulled away and we only caught Andy. He said he was tired... and I didn't say it at the time, but he looked it. Sorry Andy.
We finally got some relief with a change in terrain. I blew through the final aid station figuring we only had 5k to go and thinking it might be time to make a break. I also caught sight of Scott just ahead having taken on some fluids at the aid station. I gave it a solid go at catching him for a km or two, but couldn't quite do it. The fatigue was really adding up at this point and started to go into survival mode a little.
This was also the point where I was starting to get concerned about my eye. I had tried to clear the ice a little bit and thought I maybe couldn't feel my eyelid and started thinking about what happens if you frostbite an eyelid. Somewhere in that stretch Chris went by along with someone else I hadn't even notice coming up behind us. Then a few moments later I thought I saw Tommy again coming up behind me. Turns out it was actually Brent Kann. It seems like he does this every race where he eventually comes flying by me. Either I'm starting too fast or he starts slow or some combination.
The last two km have a couple of ugly climbs and there were a couple of near whiteout conditions in a few small fields we had to pass through. The final charge into the finish I felt less than spritely but gave it what little I had left. The race had AWESOME volunteers at the finish. I think I had three people helping me get my skis off, carrying them and my poles across the street to the building, basically holding my arm to walk me to the building. Which was nice because I could barely see through my frosty eyelashes.
I was pretty happy with my race. Learning to find the fast guys, hang on, and be smart about taking my pulls is still kind of new. I spent a few years lost in no mans land skiing alone. I probably could have skied a little smarter, but I'm not sure it would have made a huge difference in the result. Maybe a minute or so which is what Chris put into me the last 5km.
The almighty spreadsheet says...
Comparison against the all mighty Birkie. Above the trend line implies this race was better than the correlated race. So, what's new, Most of my races last year said I should have done better.
OK, this time lets predict the 2016 Birkie based on all of the races starting at last year's SISU. 2:48:28 was the actual (as predicted by the Birkie very accurately... hint, actually racing is the best predictor of actual performance... spreadsheets don't mean anything).
So, another very solid performance for the 2016/2017 season. 2:35:58 is the tail end of the elite wave, but still the elite wave. 173 to be precise. Just over 2 minutes ahead of the last qualifier. Again, I had lots of predictions from last year that said similar things, so big deal.
Aside from my own variable performance, the NS2016 line shows how foolish this whole prediction thing is. That 2:34:16 number was bugging me. Yeah, it was a good race, but I didn't think it was that good. Looking closer at the results I could see they were hugely skewed. For whatever reason, Nikolai and Kai, and to a lesser degree Drew all had very subpar results on the day. This substantially threw off the trendline. If I scratch them from the results the new line predicts 2:35:42. Still the best race of the season but not quite so outstanding.
Back to training! And maybe racing. I'd love to do the 22km Seeley Classic this coming Saturday, but the weather... man, I am having a hard time getting excited about racing sub zero again. Overnight lows predicted to be close to -20, but the high for the day is about 10. We shall see.