Another week, another set of polarized training. A little easy skiing and the Wednesday night race at Elm Creek. I was hoping to actually do a few hard intervals at Elm, but the parking was really crazy and since it was a still school night I couldn't do them after the race. Oh well.
There was talk of potentially some new snow over an icy hard pack. I ultimately opted to take my coldish stiff Rossignol skis and put SkiGo LF Graphite, Swix LF7, Swix HF7, and with a top coat of Holmenkol Race Powder Mid. Conditions were actually a lot of wet powder over I'm not sure what because there was so much powder. The tracks were glazing so there was quite a bit of moisture in the snow. It was suggested that if the snow as glazing to add more structure to my skis. I didn't. I probably should have.
The race started with a big downhill, and despite being in the draft with a large group and being in a tuck, I was getting passed left and right. Later in the race on a long gradual downhill following the lead woman I was skating while she was just tucking and I was still losing ground.
Being the furthest race away I plan on doing this year at about a 6.5 hour drive, we wanted to make the most of the weekend. We rented an house right in Marquette for a price that was on par with a hotel room and could sleep 9 people. We didn't end up filling it up, but that would have been fun too.
We got up to Marquette mid afternoon on Friday and were able to hit up the local bike/ski shops, the running shop, The Pasta Shop, and the Noquemanon expo.
A relaxing evening after that back at the house and laying out the clothes for the morning and I was ready to roll.
I was a bit disappointed that the warm weather hit Marquette just as hard as it did the Twin Cities and they couldn't hold the full point to point race from Ishpeming to downtown Marquette. The 31k course that they put together instead was pretty good aside from a little sketchiness at the beginning. The course was a pair of pigtail curls starting at 510 and finishing at the Forestville trailhead. It was described to me as a little descending and then climbing on the first loop, then some flat/rolling, then a little descending and a little climbing on the second loop. I need to work on my climbing apparently because the "little" climbs kicked my butt.
I lined up on the front row this time. There were probably 20 tracks so it wasn't hard to get a front row spot. After a short wait the gun went off and we double poled without carnage to the end of the field and started descending immediately. As I indicated previously, my skis were sub-par and I noticed it immediately as I should have been ripping right along with the group but found myself getting passed on both sides on this first downhill.
Just 0.75 km into the race was probably the only questionable part of the modified course. The first curl in the course had a short stretch right there where you went the opposite direction on the same trail. So we are still in a big pack and are going head on with returning classic skiers on a narrow trail. Yikes.
No crashes that I saw, but it was dicey for a minute. I made the mistake of letting someone back in line in front of me here and they let a big gap open up to the pack in front of us. A minute later I had to make a hard effort to get around the person and then close down the gap. In hindsight, it wasn't worth it, but at the moment I felt like I wanted to be with the big pack.
As we hit the turn to start the climb back up the first cork screw loop, it didn't take me long to realize I was getting in a little too deep. I was hanging onto the back of the pack, but it hurt. Eventually I came off the back. On the second kicker Chris Halverson, who I raced a significant portion of SISU with, came up behind me and I just pulled over to let him pass.
After that I set in to try and find my rhythm again, just as I did at Boulder the week before. As we were descending down again the lead woman, Jenna, came past me. I latched on and skated hard to keep with her. Her skis were really good so it was work for me just to keep up on the gradual downhill. As we hit a few little climbs I was able to pull her back in relatively easily.
After a bit another Duluthian (Jenna is from Duluth) Tim came up with us and we started a nice little group of three. Jenna was hoping to work together to stay ahead of any women coming behind. I told her I would do what I could, but I was just hanging on at that point.
Through the middle 10k of the race or so the three of us skied together with Jenna probably taking about half of the pulls. We did get caught up by a pack of about 10 guys in that stretch. Of that group, ONE guy took a pull at the front.
Right as we crossed the power lines by Forestville and took the big descent down to the start of the second curly que, Tim, Jenna, and I somehow got a gap on the rest of the group. We tried to elevate the effort to make the break stick. We had about 8km to go at this point.
I was on the front and put my head down to make a solid pull. I didn't immediately realize it, but we had our last healthy climb in front of us. I somehow got a little gap on Tim and Jenna and sat up just a bit to let them catch back up. A few of the group from behind was also gaining. I think it was here that Bill Oyler in an LNR kit went by and I decided I needed to try and stick with him.
Things get a little foggy through here, but the course flattened out and with all of the powder on the skate deck, almost everyone was double poling in the classic tracks. My double pole isn't all that strong so I was having trouble hanging with Bill and a couple of other guys that came through in this stretch.
Thankfully I was able to keep Bill within reach and was able to pull him in just as we hit the top of the last big descent before heading into Forestville and the finish. After the primary descent I made a move to go around him and pin it for the last 400m to the finish line. I didn't realize it at the time, but that was the difference between 4th and 3rd in the age group (once the second place overall person was excluded from the age group anyhow).
I hate blaming skis for performances that don't live up to expectations. I know it was slow for everyone on the day, but getting blown out of the water on that first downhill and then having to skate to keep up with Jenna is a good sign that your skis really are less than average in the field.
In hindsight, I wish I hadn't gone out quite so hard. I'm still trying to find that balance between finding a good group up front to ski with, and yet not having to have a mini explosion at about the quarter way mark. I continue to be really happy with my ability to recover a bit and then buckle down again to put out a continued solid effort.
I still don't feel like I've had a break through race yet. No real clunkers, but nothing where I really want to say, yes, I've made it.
The spreadsheet says about the same thing as Boulder. About a 2:40 2016 Birkie. Better than my actual performance, not quite Elite Wave though. Still a few minutes off of the first couple of races' better correlations.
I continue to be less than thrilled with my spreadsheet. It's still a fun gimmick, but there are so many variables on a race by race basis. I've got some things I'm pondering to have a better idea of long term trends that could be fun. It might take a while to develop though.
Off to Minoqua this weekend to check out the Wolf Tracks 42k Skate. The trail conditions sound terrific and the temps look pretty good too. I'm hoping to have a great race with good skis.