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Mullin's 2018 SISU Ski Fest Race Report

It is finally time.  That time when you get to waste several thousand words of your daily reading allotment on a long winded ski race report.

As the first report of the season I'll ramble for a paragraph or two about season prep and plans, but then I'll dive into the usual format.  The usual being race specific prep, the race itself, and finally some analysis and a what's next.

Season Prep

You may have heard, last year was the "Year of the Bike".  And bike I did.  My training log is a bit disheveled at the moment since I've been in a bit of a transition of platforms so I can't say exactly how many miles or hours I rode, but it was a lot.  For me anyway.  Pretty much from the day after the sad Birkie Fest until October I was exclusively bike.

This fall, as the "Year of the Bike" came to a close, I slowly transitioned into ski season prep trading the mountain bike rides for dark roller ski intervals up Ravine Road in Dresser.  I did throw in a few final rides including the Beat the Dark Century in cold and crappy conditions as well as a pair of cyclocross races.  But biking has become a recovery tool instead of the key training tool.

My original recollection of last year's fall training was that I was really nailing it with consistent workouts.  Upon actual inspection of the training log... I was good for about two weeks before I got very inconsistent.  This year, I've made a reasonable high level plan, and have actually been scheduling and hitting weekly workouts very consistently.  As of today, just 48 days to go...

That is 48 days until the Birkie if you weren't sure.  That is the big one obviously.  Between SISU and then my goal is to race less this year than past years.  Previously I've raced pretty much every weekend except the one immediately prior to the Birkie.  And been pretty spent by the Birkie.  This year I'm going to trade some traveling race days for local workout days.  Right now I'm only committed to the Noque and the Birkie, though I'm certain I'll add probably two more races in there somewhere.

Race Prep


On to the usual programming.  This past week just happened to be a "recovery" week on the master calendar.  That meant lower volume and shorter intensity work.  It wasn't intentional with the first big race, it just happened.  I wasn't complaining though.


It has been stinking cold here for a few weeks, and about the same in Ironwood.  The difference though is that they have, and kept getting, a bunch of lake effect snow.  So while we are confined to the man made glaciers here, the full 31k course was in prime condition.  Just with crazy cold snow.

That meant Start Green on the skis.  I actually waxed up two pairs of skis.  My soft flex cold grind Fischers, and my stiffer flex uni grind Rossignols.  They both got brushed out good, a cleaning waxing with some blue wax, then they both got hardened up with several coats for SG10 and a top coat of MF10.  I was originally going to do a base graphite layer, but it completely slipped my mind until I was almost done and I wasn't about to start over.

Overnight the area got another inch or two of snow, but the majority of the course was groomed again after it stopped snowing and was pretty firm corduroy.  When testing skis on that it wasn't even a contest.  The Rossignols were substantially faster.  Another fine example of the ski flex being more important than just the wax du jour.


The forecast was calling for a race start temp of about -8, so they pushed the start back 90 minutes.  And then it didn't get as cold as the forecast said.  I'm not sure what the exact temp ended up being at race start, but it was probably around zero.  The blazing bright sunshine and lack of wind made it feel ten times warmer than last year though.

The picture from last year actually.
My gear was almost identical to last year.

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 Flip goggles that only fogged up a little when climbing a few hills, but when flipped up cleared up right away.

Hands: Toko mid-weight gloves, Toko overmitts Toko Artic gloves, these are the next step up from the mid-weight gloves before you get to the mittens or lobsters.  For my relatively hot hands these were more than enough and left me with the dexterity to get feeds that the overmitts from last year didn't.

Feet: Wool socks, toe warmers, ski boots

I was toasty all day long.  I wouldn't change a thing given the chance.


With skis tested I got a super short five minute warm-up in and then threw my skis down on the inside lane front row moments after the elite classic wave started.  I then dumped my warm-ups and drop bag and got ready to race.

Heck yeah.  Happy to be out in the sunshine and snow getting ready to race!


Only 900 words and I'm to the race.  I must be getting lazy.


I didn't have a firm strategy in mind.  I wanted to start clean, go hard, find a good group, settle in, and then push my limits.  See where my training has been leading me.

Actual Race

As I said, I took a spot on the front row.  That may have been a little too far up.  The gun went off and I got to double poling.  The start has about 100 yards of double poling before you hit the skate zone and start a sweeping right hander and off onto the course.  I was 4th at the corner... not bad.  I was about 9th at 1k and held that position until probably 2k.

Heading up towards the Hilltop House about 1k in.  The lead pack is cresting the hill.  I've just been passed on my left by eventual 3rd place finisher Adam Swank (white hat) and about to be passed on the right by eventual winner and Olympian John Bauer (orange suit).  Photo Credit: ABR Ski
I lead the big chase pack for a kilometer or so into the Pit Point Loop before letting folks pass in small groups.  The first k had plenty of room for passing as can be seen in the picture above.  After that it is really just one skater wide.  I'm pretty sure I did an acceptable job of stepping aside and letting people by at reasonable times.  No one jumped on my poles or ski tails.

I was looking for the group to hang onto as they went past.  This was instead of trying to bridge up to the right group like I did last year.  A different strategy that had its own source of pain.  This came from the initial hard effort as opposed to the intense bursts from last year.

First 20km of the course all on the ABR trails.

It felt like the entire field had probably gone by me before I finally found a group.  That wasn't true of course, but it always feels that way when you are working really hard and can't find a group you feel like you can hang with.  Coach K finally passed me around the four k mark which was quite a bit longer than I figured.  But he kept going and I couldn't hang.

As we hit the Hautanen Highlands around the 7k mark I was finally skiing in a group.  I'm not sure who I was with but as we made our way up that first climb I settled in.  There were still a few people that went streaming by in the next couple of k including Brent Kann, Dennis Curran, Rhett Bonner, and Chris Halverson.  Brent seems to always pass me somewhere around the last 1/4 of a race so it was a little surprising to see him go by so early.  He was looking good though.  None of them made the pass super fast, but eventually a little gap would open and they would work away.

I should also note that while most of the course was groomed to hard pack corduroy perfection, the Highlands had 1-2" of fresh snow on them.  My skis were definitely better on the hard pack.

Eventually I was settled in behind I think it was Ethan Kennedy.  Who incidentally I believe is my main competition for the "best of both" Noque/Marquette Trail 50 competition, but I didn't know that at the time.  As we were nearing the end of the Highlands I was feeling better, just like last year.  I also noticed that the group that had Rhett and Chris in it was only about 20 seconds up the trail and not getting any further away.

Knowing that we had a nice long downhill out of the Highlands back to the swamp and there would be an aid station right there I decided to get prepared to try and pull that gap back down.  I took a nice drink out of my still not yet frozen bottle of Green Tea Buzz Tailwind and prepared to blow through the aid station.

The move worked to perfection.  As I rounded the corner onto Bards Bump the gap to Rhett, Chris, and Garret Ping was only about 10 seconds.  Being back on the hard pack my skis were running better and I put in a good push to close the gap down quickly knowing I'd be able to sit in and recover.

I really like looking at the Strava Flyby feature to see how a race develops.  This is my time back to Rhett through the Highlands.  Time back is red, and elevation is in gray.  The sharp decline is where they hit the aid station and I skipped it followed by a hard push to close the gap down over the next km or so.
I recovered on the back of the group for a few km until I found myself on the front as we climbed Blueberry Bluffs back towards the start area.  I took my turn on the front and before I knew it we were already at the top of the hill turning down onto Meadow Ridge.

The course from ABR to Ironwood is a very gradual climb for the first 8km or so and then there are a handful of pretty punchy hills in the last few kilometers.

It was at this point that this group decided no one was really interested in pulling.  I think we all spent a fair bit of time double poling softly in the tracks waiting for someone else to pull through.  I was feeling OK at this point, but I was having flashbacks to last year.  Last year I was feeling good through here and up through Norrie Park and was taking turns on the front.  Only I was taking about half of the pulls out of a group of 3.  I ended up bonking the last few km and didn't want to over do it this time.  Eventually we all did our share of the work, but it was a bit like pulling teeth each time we rotated.

Coming into the River House aid station.  Garrett had just taken a feed and a small gap had opened up to Chris.  The gap got closed shortly after.  (Photo Credit: Linda Kangas Slining)
This pattern continued for the next 12km up until about the last 2km of the race.  I was feeling pretty dang good again.  I mean, I had already raced 20km, some of which I had felt pretty bad during, but I wasn't struggling.  In my mind I was saving up some energy to make a push at the finish rather than bonking like is my normal MO.

HR of the whole race with the group ski section highlighted.  During that stretch I averaged 168 compared with the overall average of 171.
Post race analysis shows that I was definitely going easier than I had been the rest of the race.  I will note that I didn't actually look at my watch during the race for a change.  I raced by feel and course markings.

During this stretch I was pondering how to ski the rest of the race.  It seemed to me like Rhett and Garrett were struggling and Chris was feeling OK.  I was pondering either taking a little harder pull to see if the group would break up or just keeping my pulls short and saving some energy for the end/not bonk.

Approaching the crossing of Range Rd.  Chris, me, Rhett, and Garrett all still cruising along as a pack.  This is the long grinding straight away that can be a real drag if you aren't feeling it.  (Photo Credit: Linda Kangas Slining)
At one point I did a short harder pull, but I didn't shed anyone one from the group.  I decided at that point to position myself to lead the last few climbs out of Miners Heritage Park and then rotate off the front as we skied down into the dump through the open.

After that there are two real butt kicker hills.  If you aren't ready for them they really just punch you in the face and you wonder if you are going to make it to the finish which is all of three and a half km away.

As we rounded the short field stretch before the last big climb I decided it was time to go.  I was sitting third ski at that point.  I hopped into the track, double poled hard and jumped in front of Rhett and hopped on the last short downhill and hit the climb hard.

The descent into the dump followed by the first short climb at 28km.  Then the final big climb just before 30km where I made my move.
Of all of the grooming that hill probably had the worst.  I'm guessing that the hill has a big rut down the middle even in the summer.  The grooming had flattened out the outer thirds, but the middle was still a big snowy rut.  You had to pick a side and do an off-camber V1.

It hurt bad by the time I got to the top of the hill.  I didn't look back, but just kept the gas down as best I could.  It is pretty much downhill from there, but that doesn't mean it is easy.  A couple of bumpy road crossings and a highspeed turn all with flooded legs keeps it entertaining.  I was also closing in on a skier I hadn't seen before.

In the end I couldn't quite pull in the skier ahead of me, but I held of Chris, Rhett, and Garrett.

More Strava Flyby showing the time I took back with the final push.  Rhett is in red at the bottom where I got about 10 seconds on him.  Dennis Curran and Laszlo Alberti in orange and blue respectively.



I was happy with my race for sure.  If you've read enough of my race reports you'll know I have a theme of bonking hard at the end.  Last year's report doesn't read a big bonk, but the "fatigue was adding up" was code for that.  And the fact that I lost about 2 minutes to Chris Halverson in the last 5k speak to that.

This time I took off hot and faded back to my spot in the pack, but then maybe took it a little too easy towards the middle stretch.  I think I really could have pushed the middle stretch harder and still not blown up.  Maybe.

This was a good opportunity to see where my training is at, learn a little bit about riding that line between going hard and blowing up.  As Ben Jonjak likes to quote Bjorn Daehlie, to paraphrase, "It isn't the going out to hard that is the problem, it is the blowing up".  Something like that anyhow.


The spread sheet is dead.  Sad I know.

But wait, it got way better.  The spreadsheet entered the internet era and is now online.  And you can use it yourself.

Steve said I can do a write-up on it, but I'll do that another time.  For this report I'll just focus on my race analysis.

Same as before, the tool looks at racers who did both races and builds a mathematical model to translate one race to another.  With the assumption that everyone else is the same fitness as last year and executed the same, and had the same ski quality, etc... yeah, lots of caveats... you can get an impression of how you did relative to everyone else.  On the average it seems to work pretty well despite all of the exceptions.

In this case, I'm selecting the 2018 SISU Ski Fest 31k Freestyle and the 2016 Birkie 51k Freestyle (remember, the 2017 Birkie was cancelled, yeah, I'm sure you needed a reminder of that, sorry).

So, 2:38:12 is my predicted Birkie finish time.  Seems close to the Elite Wave.

There is actually another tool over there though, the Birkie Predictor.  Just select your skier of interest and it will use all of the results from the last two years to predict a Birkie finish complete with Wave and place identification.

Ok, yeah, talk about squeaking in by the skin of your teeth.


That isn't quite all Cyclova peeps in that picture, but the majority of them are.  All getting our recovery on at Cold Iron in Ironwood after the race.

SISU Sweet Stout from Cold Iron in Ironwood.

What's Next

As said earlier, I'm planning to race less this year.  To that end I had originally planned to train through this coming weekend and maybe hit the Rennet next weekend.  Unfortunately a work trip is looming for the day before the Rennet so I'm back to thinking about Seeley this weekend and training through the following weekend.

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