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.

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