Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sisu Ski Fest Marathon

I had signed up early to participate again in the Heikki Lunta Half Marathon in Ironwood, MI and planned to do the Birkie this year when I realized in September that the Birkie has 9000 participants. Since I am not one for big crowds, I switched from the half to the full distance when I got a re-confirmation email from the race organizer. As the date approached I became a little worried of having committed to the longer distance. On on side, the lack of snow and consequent missed opportunity to have long distance training sessions worried me, but on the other I had participated in one of Sisu Skier's Year-Round groups and also trained some on the Twin Cities' various man-made snow trails (Theodore Wirth, Green Acres and Elm Creek Park Reserve). On the last weekend prior to the race I had a couple of fast and long (25+ km) sessions at Elm Creek, and the only reason this did not cemented my confidence was the fact that there were no hills.

I had come across the Sisu Ski Fest because it coincides with our traditional ski weekend together with four families of the Lexau clan, which has been going on for more than 20 years at one location or another, the past half dozen years or so, when we escaped the multi-year snow drought in the Cable, WI area. When I arrived in Ironwood, I heard that the trail conditions were soft again, due to the 18" of snow the area received in the past couple of days. However, it was still much better than the previous year.

Joel kindly gave me a ride to ABR and took the "before" picture. I did a few warm-up lengths and immediately noticed that the base felt soft and the skis felt slow. I wondered whether the Rex LF Black plus  RCF White had been the right combination. I spent some time in the warming house, waiting for the departure of the freestyle 42K. It came quickly enough, as I walked out, the Elites were sent on their way with the blast of a shotgun. Ten minutes later it was my turn. I started farther back in the pack, not wanting to get into some sort of a pile up. But no worries, there weren't that many in the second wave and the field stretched out quickly.
Fairly early in the game, no ice in the whiskers yet. (Photo: Linda Slining)
I did not have very good glide but I was hanging in there. Soon, we were doing the Peltonen Pass Out outside loop for the first time and the steep uphills were testing my cardiovascular system. The soft snow was rather helpful during the equally steep downhills, providing good control in the sharp turns. I heeded coach Ben's warning "Snowplows will be shot on sight" and quick-stepped on the outside of the turns. Overall it seemed that I was doing generally better during the downhills, open field and gradual climbs while I was really struggling during the steep climbs. I am generally a strong climber and wonder whether everyone else had better hill training or better glide wax.

I took one small tumble on the Coyote Canyon loop, near km 13 or so, a moment of inattention. I was back up quickly enough and unscathed, but the incident left me winded. I took a moment at he km 14 aid station to suck my first gel pack and drink a couple of cups of water.
Beginning to pass the classic skiers who started 30 minutes before us in Coyote
Canyon. Told #115 that he must be my Doppelgänger because of the orange top.
(Photos: Linda Slining)

The climbs were moderate, until we returned for a second round of Peltonen Pass Out. Boy, those were hard and I was glad when we moved onto the easier portions at the north end of ABR and then into Norrie Park and the long stretch connecting to the east side of Ironwood. I started also to notice a soreness on the outside portion of my right deltoid muscle, which stayed with me for the remainder of the race.

I was mostly skiing by myself now, only occasionally catching up to another skier or being caught by a pursuer. A couple of the elite classic skiers from the 21K event caught up with me, and as I reached the outskirts of town, some of the skaters passed. I did quite alright and I passed one of the skiers with whom I had been playing tag when he took a breather at the bottom of a hill. Feeling rather cocky and knowing that I only had about 3 km left, I kicked it up a notch. Maybe I shouldn't have, as all of a sudden I felt the start of a cramp on my right inner thigh. I immediately slowed down and a group of four skiers including the guy I had just passed zipped by. This was the last serious uphill of the race and I was cautious not to aggravate the cramp. By the time I made it to the top, the cramp had subsided but the group was too far away for me to catch them. So I did my best to make an effort on the last 1000 m through the city of Ironwood.
Passing the "Finnish" line. Must have left my form behind where I started to
cramp up. (Photo: Joel Alter)
 I was glad to pass the "Finnish" line, glad for the helpful volunteers undoing my skis and for Joel's friendly face and camera work. I was tired and sore but had no trouble walking to the place were our gear packs awaited our arrival. I quickly changed into a dry top, impressed with the good organization which included ministrations to an exhausted skier who looked who was shaking and looked rather grey in the face.
As evidenced by the frost I kept my cool throughout the race. Thank you for
operating my camera, Joel!
I was rather behind on my expectations for myself and I am not sure where I was lacking. The snow was a lot better than during the previous year, even doubling the distance, I improved my pace by 15 seconds from 4:56 min/km to 4:41 min/km (4:34 min/km for the first half, which was much hillier than the actual half marathon distance).  Of course, the snow conditions were quite a bit better than last year but I do hope that part of the improvement is due to my Sisu Year-Round group's relentless work on technique and specific strength and endurance training.

Another disappointment was that I finished farther down in the field as I expected. (see the results, here, Individual and Full) My expectations must have been way too high, all I had for comparison was my one other race, last year's Heikki Lunta Half Marathon, an altogether different distance and a much smaller group of competitors. Based on the first half of my race I would have finished in the middle of the pack of my age group and closer to the top tier in the men's division. So this is a learning experience and I do have to work on improving my long distance performance.

Sadly, I am not sure whether I will make the Sisu Ski Fest next year, as it is held on January 12, on the weekend before Martin Luther King Holiday, which falls on the 21st in 2013.

This was a success, after all, I am not doing this to do better than others but to improve myself. I finished the race, was able to walk away from it and put in a nice 11 km loop with quite a few good climbs in the Wolverine Nordic Ski Area the very next morning. I do have to say that the glide was much better ...

No comments: