Saturday, January 29, 2011

King Boreas Skijoring Race

Mellie and I had been working towards this date for quite some time and here it was: the 7.5 km St. Paul Winter Carnival skijoring race. We had been putting in at least 15 km, more often 20 km per week at Highland 9-Hole, our training grounds. The last couple of times, Mellie had started to focus and keep the line tout, or at least out of my way, I took this as a good sign.

The week had been mild and the snow felt sluggish, I had just not gotten around to get some fluoride glider for the conditions but I did as good of a job waxing and prepping the skis as I possibly could. My heart sank when I checked with one of the participants in the 15 km race and he said "fluoride, lots of fluoride." However, when I stepped into the skis, it did not feel bad at all, the glide was much better than what I had expected and what I had experience during the days leading up to the event. 

Mellie was excited to rub noses with lots of her brethren, most were very friendly, a few were a bit antisocial and another few just scared. We warmed up on the trail before the kids came back from their race and scrambled out of the way when they got in sight. During the skijorer's meeting the rules were explained. The main one being to be nice to the dogs and another one not to pass back right after being passed by another team. Easy in practice, at least as the passing was concerned. 

Another few laps on the start/finish area, waiting for the stragglers from the kid's race to come in and it was time to line up. A lot of very excited racing dogs and their owners! At that time I wish I had had a handler, like some of the teams. I later heard that my friend Joel had tried in vain to find out where race was going to be held. I have to agree that the St. Paul Winter Carnival documentation did not make it easy to find out more about the events at Lake Phalen.

Here we were, without a handler, listening to the countdown and off we were. 

We were able to avoid getting tangled with our neighbor's lines and made the sharp left onto the trail with quite some speed. We were quickly passed by some of the faster teams, some dogs like to pull better than others and some owners ski better than me, But wow, was Mellie going. Like last year, we had the issue with the rope going under her midriff, but it did not seem to bother her. this may be a inherent flaw in using the guide harness in a rig: easy to fix during training but not during a race. Maybe also the remedy to Mellie liking to grab the tow in her mouth. 

No worries about her wanting to do this today, though. She--we that is, were moving. Passing the slower ones and being passed by the faster ones. Passing the ones who stop to do their business, on the side of the trail or more frequently on the trail. And passing the ones who simply stopped trailside to investigate some lovely scent. 

The latter was actually quite amazing and funny. Someone passes us, leaving us pale with envy over their athleticism, technique, style and sense of ski fashion only to pass them again a few minutes later when the dogs in the team decided to sniff the roses. 

I was amazed by the speed sustained by Mellie. She obviously did not want to be left behind by the faster dogs. I was worried that she might just tire after a while; we are a fit team and 7.5 km is close to our regular distance but this speed was quite a bit faster than usual. 

After about a third of the race, the field had stretched out enough for us to recognize our true opponents. First, there was #359, with a two-dog team, Weimaraners as far as I could tell. The other team, #357, consisted of a guy my age and a fast-looking hound (Dallas and dog Comet).  Anyway, we seemed to be trading off the lead in our small group, testing the passing rule. At one point, the two-dog team almost took a wrong turn and lost some time and at another moment the hound needed to use the trail-side facilities. but somehow they always managed to catch up with us again. 

Neck and neck with Dallas and Comet. Dallas is calling 
to his dog to keep going and NOT to say hi to his family
(thanks Dallas & Comet, for sharing this clip!)

The decision was made two turns before the finish, when the Weimaraners called trail to my left and hound called trail to the right. in the middle of passing, the two dog team slowed down sharply and Mellie got almost tangled up in their line. we hardly slowed down and kept up slightly behind #357. On the home stretched I pushed ahead and we pulled even while passing the finish line. It seemed to me that I was a step ahead, this was confirmed when the official results were released.

Mellie and I finished 9th of 18 overall, 1st in our age group. Our official time was just over 21:01. The fastest either one of us has ever gone! I think we are ready for next week's City of the Lakes Loppet event. 

The results can be viewed on this page, courtesy of Endurance Promotions

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Wolverine Trails Outside Loop

I had to do this, since it is such a beautiful tradition. When we arrived, we found the parking lot nearest to the warming house nearly full, and a couple of pups frolicking in the snow. The corduroy on the trail looked great and the classic tracks were deeply set. Joel took off while I was struggling to get my stiff new pole straps over my cold weather mitts with the thumb brace on the right, but I have to start breaking them in. I forgot my Garmin so I needed to recycle one of my previous maps.

View Wolverine Outside Loop in a larger map

As usual, I started with Cliff Trail and Cliff Hanger. The trail seemed slow in spite of the lack of fresh snow cover and perfectly groomed firm surface. This time it was because the more intense cold and it didn't help that the trail climbed 110m over the first 2km.  I paused to take a picture at the old ski jump on top of Cliff Hanger, my only stop during this outing.
This used to be a working ski jump. Pretty stiff climb
to get there.
I continued down the serpentines off Cliff Hanger, rejoining Cliff and eventually Powderhorn Trail. From there, it was north, towards the ski area, including a couple of good climbs and the eventual downhill on along a stretch of Big Powderhorn Mountain. The most notable on the stretch south towards the hospital parking lot was the fact that I did not have to take of my skis to cross the two roads, there was enough white, clean snow.

After joining up with Wolverine Trail, I caught and passed a group of tree and was closing in on a skier with a black lab, making me regret the absence of Mellie. We arrived at the warming cabin at about the same time. Inside was Joe, already waiting for me. He had had a mishap with his antique 1980s vintage ski boots: the sole on one of them cleanly separated from one of them, probably when he attempted to escape from one of the local wolverines.
25 years and counting. time to replace those boots, Joel!
Without the Garmin it's hard to give an exact data report but I did the 12km in about an hour.

Odd Behavior of Garmin FR 305 Track during Sisu Ski Fest

Unfortunately, the track recorded during the race  by my otherwise trusty Forerunner 305 was off during the second half of the race. I can only guess at the cause: cold weather? During the race, the temps dropped from -8C (18F) to about -13C (9F).
Overlay of Garmin track (in red) and race course map created using Google Earth
Another odd thing is that the track looks longer than the half-marathon distance covered. GC displays the distance accurately (it's short because I didn't start the 305 until I was about 1km into the race). When I imported to SportsTracks, the distance recorded was 26km, which seems to be a better match to the track.

The complete track recording can be viewed at Garmin Connect.

The following is my email exchange with Garmin, over the following couple of weeks: Customer Support Form filled out on Garmin website:

Escalation from KANA On Demand Self Service Subject: Erratic track recorded by Forerunner 305
Message: I posted this issue on the Forerunner 305 Forum about 4 weeks ago and did not get any responses:

The track recorded during an xc ski race by my otherwise trusty Forerunner 305 was way off during the second half of the race. This is not the slight 3-4m inaccuracy common in handheld GPS. I can only guess at the cause: cold weather? During the race the temps dropped from -8C (18F) to about -13C (9F). Using Google Earth I created an overlay of the Garmin track from GC and the race course map. Please see this blog entry to view the overlay:

Another odd thing is that the track looks longer than the half-marathon distance covered. GC displays the distance accurately. When I imported to SportsTracks the distance recorded was 26km which seems to be a better match to the displayed track. The complete track recording can be viewed at Garmin Connect

The area where the erratic track is recorded is pretty open there shouldn't be any issues with tall buildings or tree cover (I never had those anyway even in deep woods or big city downtowns). Have you come across this type of problem any possible cause besides the cold?



--- On Sun, 2/13/11, wrote:

Subject: Re: Erratic track recorded by Forerunner 305
To: "Christian"
Date: Sunday, February 13, 2011, 3:45 PM

Dear Christian,

Thank you for contacting Garmin International and be happy to help. We definitely do not want to rule out that the cold weather causing this unusual behavior in your Forerunner 305. However, it might have been two
issues: (1) corrupted data in your satellite data within the GPS or (2) multipath errors.

Corrupted satellite data can occur as the GPS signal comes through the atmosphere. Therefore, if this corruption gets in your device, then it can cause a number of different issues, such as what you experienced within your Forerunner.

If corrupted data was the cause, then you will want to perform an auto locate. This method will erase all satellite data within the Forerunner. I have included these instructions at the bottom of the email.

A multipath error can occur when the GPS signal bounces off an object, like a tree or building, then travels back once it reaches another object. As a result, when the signal reaches the GPS, then the GPS believes you traveled to that area. The only unfortunate part of this is that this error is a limitation of the GPS system, so nothing is able to fix it. However, it should be a rare occurrence that this happen.

With all this information, I would perform the auto locate. Then, please go and do a workout. How does the watch perform?

To perform this auto, please follow these steps:

1. Turn the GPS off
2. Press the Power and the Down button for 15 seconds
3. Set the device outside for a minimum of 30 minutes

Once the 30 minute time frame is completed, then the device should now function correctly. Please test the watch, and if you have any other discrepancies, then please let us know.
With Best Regards,
Mark R

Product Support Specialist

Original Message Follows: ------------------------
Dear Mark,
Thanks for your reply.

Since you are not ruling out the cold, I think am going to stick to that unless you provide information on (1) and (2) below.

I am rejecting possibility (1), corrupted satellite data because I found three other Garmin users who uploaded data recorded at around the same time. Their recorded tracks stuck closely to the race course. If I understand your explanation correctly, wouldn't I have noticed discrepancies in their data, too?

Possibility (2), the multi-path error seems far-fetched, too, since when I used the 305 the next day, it worked just fine and it has since January 15, using it four times per week. No problem, this is the only ocurrence since I owned the unit. Also, since this is a rare occurence, would you see this zig-zag pattern over about 10km/40minutes?
Do you recommend I do the auto locate anyway?

I am willing to write this off to a one-time fluke but could you also please confirm whether my understanding of (1) and (2) is correct and tell me whether to do the auto locate?

Thank you,
Dear Christian,
Thanks for the response and you make good points. I would recommend doing the auto locate on your Forerunner. It does not hurt and it helps to refresh the satellite data. In fact, it is good to do every couple months and when you move the device more than 150 miles with it turned off.
In any case, if the anything else occurs with your Forerunner, then please let us know.
With Best Regards,

Mark R
Product Support Specialist

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Heikki Lunta Half-Marathon

I was debating on whether or not to carry water and decided against it. For one, the half-marathon distance seemed at the limit of when dehydration would become an issue and I also read about the four aid stations having water and snacks.

Did have some butterflies in my stomach before this event. It didn't help when ten minutes after leaving I realized that I had left my skis behind and getting stuck in deep snow when attempting to turn around. With plenty of time, I did not worry too much, though.

The race was exceedingly well organized, from shuttles for skiers and gear in both directions to aid stations, road closures directions and parking.
Pre-race picture courtesy of Liz and Peggy
The 42k waves had left already and when I tested the waters I found the skating surface soft and deep, even more so than during my last two practice runs at Highland. The organizers combined the elite and first wave for the 21k freestyle and a very short 5 minutes later, the second wave, including me, was sent on its way, too.
21k Classic Start (Photo: Linda Slining at
Because I am new to racing, I like to start at the back of the pack. and I found myself bogged down by others slower than myself, with little room to pass. As expected, the 6km ABR portion of the race held some major physical challenges, including the climb on the Peltonen Pass Out loop. It was followed by a major downhill with many falls. There was a backup with skiers descending one by one in the order of their arrival. I was glad that the folks in front of me did not fall and even gladder that I stayed on my skis. One annoyance was the fogged-up and iced-over glasses, in spite of the CatCrap.

Getting out of ABR, the terrain became much more gentle. However, there was more exposure and consequently more snow, making the going tougher even without the hills. I fell into a routine of making my way up to a slower skier or group and then waiting for a flat stretch to pass double-poling in the classic lane. I took a swig of water at every aid station, barely slowing and didn't miss not having brought my own water. A brisk northerly breeze started to blow and every time I turned into the wind, my hood started crackling with frozen sweat. At one point I passed a guy carrying one of his pole. "Broken pole?" I yelled in passing, the reply was "Wrecked my shoulder." The snow on parts of his ski outfit attested to a spill, possibly at the tricky Peltonen Pass Out.
Hot pursuit. I am in fourth position. (Photo: Linda Slining)
Keeping at the heels of 1644, who passed me earlier and whom I eventually
passed again (Photo: Linda Slining. Thank you for sharing, Linda!)
Only one skier passed me, at a pretty good clip. I was able to match his speed and followed him diligently for 7-8km. After a short uphill I had to pass him because it seemed that he was getting slower. I lost sight of him and he ended up finishing 2 minutes after me.

The soft snow made itself noticed on a long straight line out in the open. It just seemed to take for ever. Fortunately, it was possible to see many skiers ahead which was motivating, and, at this time skiing by myself, I was able to work my way up to the back of the next group.

All of a sudden the end was within reach. At 18km I spotted the first buildings in the outskirts of Ironwood. Within the city limits, with 2km to go, the trail descended into a deep valley, I understood very well that we would have to climb back out before the finish. It was a pretty steep climb, fortunately I did not hit the wall at this wall. I accelerated when passing the tall Indian in fiberglass and--was done.
I was very happy that Lynn showed up within a couple of minutes of my arrival, I would not have liked to wait around for ride after the exertion. On the way to the car, I hit on yet another lightly built mustachioed man, asking "are you Duane?" David had suggested I should try to locate him, a good old friend of his. My attempts at finding him before the race had been unsuccessful, but the one after the race was it, sporting a good-sized icicle hanging from his mustache. I hope I will still be as fit when I am 10+ years older!

I was very happy with my result, 19th of 69 starters in the men's freestyle 21k, 5th out of 19 in my age group. Also, I am always amazed with the low impact nature of this sport. A foot race at only half this distance takes a much bigger toll on me.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Getting Ready For Sisu Ski Fest 21k

Every year, almost as long as I have lived in the US, we have gone Up North on Martin Luther King weekend to enjoy cross country skiing and the company of good friends. The early years we went to Cable, WI, dividing our time pretty much equally between Lakewoods Resort and Valhalla Townhouses at  Telemark Resort. Snow permitting, there were great opportunities for cross country skiing. Telelmark, tying into the ... trails and having its own network of superb trails was a special treat, as was Rock Island SP, literally across the street from Lakewoods. Unfortunately, snow was a rare commodity from the mid-90s into the latter part of the first decade of the new millennium. The tots, who had been always happy to participate in any activity grew into moody teens who had only downhill skiing on their mind. So we moved operations to Big Powderhorn, near Ironwood in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Here, we had it all, downhill for the kids, gorgeous trails at Wolverine and ABR for the adults and no worries about snow for all of us.

On a whim I decided to sign up for the Heikki Lunta Ski Half-Marathon. Last year I missed the activities of the Sisu Ski Fest by a week. This year it happened to fall on MLK weekend. This year I skied significantly more than previous years and had done a couple of longer runs (for me), a couple of 15ks and the 25k on the north shore. After the decision to do the race was made, I added another couple of long workouts, four laps at Highland 9-hole with Mellie and four laps at Come by myself. I also worked on technique and by the week before the race I felt in reasonably good shape.

My concern when planning my last long workout, the four Como laps, I was a little worried about a sore thumb that I had contracted during a fall, but the brace I had bought to protect it worked well.  My last two runs in that week were outings with Mellie and both times I skied in 2-3 inches of fresh snow. Little did I know that these would be close to the conditions I'd encounter.