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Race Stories
Chestnut Valley: It Only Got Better

January 5, 2004 - By Mike Muha

Am I sick?

I was a bit worried when I woke up Friday morning with a sore throat. Flu? Cold? Am I going to be well for the Chestnut Valley race? I can't NOT do the race like last year...

I’d taken Friday off from work to prep skis and drive north. The weather was well above freezing up north and was going to remain above freezing all night. I expected the snow conditions to be damp to wet and maybe a bit dirty from dust and dirt precipitating out of the melting snow, with temps in the mid 30’s. 

In the basement, I rilled my skis then ironed in JetStream pure flouro over High Flouro Yellow over High Flouro Molybdenum. Early in the afternoon, my wife and I start our trip north. She was only going as far as Carson City – she was visiting friends north of there for the night and getting a ride home from them the next day. I continued driving up to my Mom’s in Ellsworth, my throat getting more worrisome with every mile. Once at Mom’s – I arrived about 7:30pm – I of course had to entertain her, all the while just wanting to hit the sack and get lots of rest. When I did turn in around 10:30, I tossed and turned and generally had a pretty restless night.


The alarm went off a 7:00, I was out the door by 7:30, and at the take out window at McDonald’s in Charlevoix by 7:50. Hot cakes and sausage – the breakfast of champions! Put the sausage between two pancakes (no butter or syrup) and eat like a sandwich!

Still have a sore throat.

Arrived at Chestnut Valley right at 8:30. Got great parking and was the first one into the bathroom to…um…reduce weight…before a line could form. The registration line was short, I talked to a few people, then changed into my boots and headed out to the course...

...Only to be yelled at by Vojin Baic, the race director’s dad and fixture on the Michigan racing scene for decades: “Stay off the course! Save the snow for the race!” Vojin was right, and I tried my best to stay off the course, but I kept doing face plants whenever the snow got too deep and my ski tips submarined under the heavy cover. I found a few areas that had been groomed but were not going to be used for the race, so I skied back and forth and back and forth and…very boring. I ski back on the course and hid among all the other skiers warming up.

Unfortunately, I never really did feel warmed up, even after 30 minutes of skiing. It was about 5 minutes to the start when I arrived back near the lodge, but there didn’t seem to be any movement to the start line. Over the next 10 or 15 minutes, I just got colder and stiffer as the herd moseyed over to the start line.

The Race

Nick Baic gave us final words of warning (“Don’t skate over the black snow , just doublepole – we don’t know what’s underneath it – could be a golf cart path.”), then simply yelled “GO!”

And we did. Or at least everyone else did. I felt out of whack but held my own to the first corner, narrowly avoided a crash between Steve Kuhl and one or two other skiers, and started climbing the first hill. Then I started losing ground. The pack started gapping and people started passing me. I looked at my heart rate monitor and saw that I was only hitting 152 – I should be at 156-158 early in the race. Downhills, I stayed even or gained. Uphills I fell back. I followed Bruce Barton for a kilometer or two, passed him, then was passed back a kilometer or two later, and he pulled away.

After the first lap, I started feeling better. At least no one was passing me anymore. My heart rate was up to 160 or above, and I had slowed down my tempo in a valiant attempt to keep my technique together. I even started doing little V2 as I took control, and my V1 started feeling more powerful.

By lap three, I was feeling great! I saw Steven Vreeken ahead of me, and Bruce just ahead of him. A few V2’s on the flat and I easily caught them! I figured if I passed, I’d blowup, or they’d just draft me to the finish. I decided to just hang loose and let them set the pace – it didn’t appear anyone behind us was a threat.

Steve kept running up on Bruce’s skis or poles (“Oops, sorry Bruce”) and finally passed. Bruce passed back a little later. I just focused on maintaining my technique on the uphills so I wouldn’t lose them, and gave them a little distance on the downhills in case one should face plant. I was still in control of my race.

The Finish

We came to the last, long, tricky downhill. Deep ski tracks had been left in the snow from the previous two laps and it was obvious that several skiers had fallen in the grabby conditions. Bruce went down first, then Steve, then me. At the end of the hill, it flattens, curved to the left and down. I V2’d up to Steve and skated by him on the inside of the turn. I got to the bottom of the last uphill just behind Bruce. The grooming on this uphill was wide – three skiers could ski side-by-side. A slower skier on lap two was halfway up the hill in the dead center. I sprinted up the right – “Passing on your right” – making sure I was to the skier before Bruce was. At the top of the hill, the trail turned right and down. There were two skiers just starting to go around the corner. I had to get there first, to get around the skiers – and if I blocked Bruce a bit, so much the better!. A few hard skates, tuck a couple seconds, skate without poles down the hill, V2 the flat before the finish, Bruce is on my tail, I take the left path to the finish, Bruce takes the right, V2 up the hill, and…

...I take Bruce by a second.

Good Race! It just took a few laps to go from feeling miserable to feeling great!

For results and pictures from this race, click here.

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