Four degrees doesn't sound like a lot, but it made a difference. The forecast was a nice 30F for the start of the Wintersonnewende xc ski race at Michaywe in Gaylord, MI on Saturday, December 15. But it was 34F instead. The snow was softening - good thing the race started at 9:30am instead of later. Those of us who were on the road by 5:00am appreciated driving from no snow to a course with just enough snow for a race.
Originally a 17k race that included some very hilly and technical terrain, race director Chris Dandeneau shortened the race to 11k over a two-lap course because of low snow conditions. Frankly, most racers were very happy with the decision, dreading long ascents and tricky descents at the first real race of the season.
Although rock skis were recommended, it was pretty much grass and only the occasional stick under the inch of packed snow, and good racing skis would have survived just fine. The golf cart paths were well covered and fast. As the race went on, the course softened into mash potatoes. There was a strong headwind in some directions, and just when you thought it was going to be at your back, it would be in your face again. There were a few "easy" hills to keep people honest, but as a mostly flat race, racers were red-lined the entire way. No hills, no place to rest.
Last season the inaugural race was canceled for lack of snow.
The men started first, the women following two minutes later. A small pack of men led the field, with a couple Alex Vanias (Team Priority Health/Cross County Ski Headquarters) and Daniel Yankus (Team Priority Health/Team NordicSkiRacer) pushing the pace and alternately surging to break up the pack. Before long, only three skiers were in the lead: Vanias, Yankus, and perennial favorite Milan Baic (Team Priority Health/Vasa Ski Club).
Alex Vanias leads Daniel Yankus and Milan Biac
Yankus and Vanias finally dropped Baic and headed for home. The final sprint was long. Yankus commented, "Man, I was exhausted and so was Alex. We reached the top of a little hill just before the finish and we just coasted down. When we got to the bottom, we continued our sprint."
Yankus held off Vanias to take the win 30:16 to 30:22. Milan Baic was third in 30:52.
Diminutive and fast, Amy Powell (Team Priority Health/Vasa Ski Team) finished 14th overall, beating most of the men and all of the women. Skiing the course in 35:21, she was over a minute ahead of Kaityln Patterson (Cross Country Ski Headquarters, 36:27). Brenda Carlson (Hanson Hills/Cross Country Ski Shop) took third in 37:36.
Third overall - Brenda Carlson
You may have noticed a lot of Team Priority Health members in these last paragraphs. Members race for Team Priority Health in other sports (especially bike racing), but are also members of local Michigan Cup teams, who get the Michigan Cup points.
"Team Priority Health cleaning up some podium spots at today's Michigan Cup nordic ski race #2! Jon Morgan 3rd, Dan Yankus 1st, John O'Hearn 1st, Pete Skellenger 2nd, and Amy Powell 1st in their age groups, with Dan and Amy winning the overall! So fun to get out on snow!" - Pete Skellenger
For many skiers, it was their first or second day on snow, and they were feeling it. "I skied like a peg legged pirate," said Michael Seaman who has spent most of the fall racing cyclocross.
Said Ann Wagar, "I thought was only going to help with race registration and timing, but ended up racing also and I discovered two things. 1. I was not ready to race! 2. I have to start doing speedwork! Glad I raced though, it was a great workout. Thanks Chris Dandeneau, for putting on the first ski race of the season, nice job."
"Thank you for all who supported and skied," says Chris Dandeneau. "The shortened and modified course provided for a satisfactory first time out race. My apology's for the entry fee confusion, we are working out the kinks for next year and will be on the list of improvements. 67% of all entry fees went toward supporting Team Winter and Nordic Grooming at Michaywe' Also Thank you to our groomer Jim Ollie, as well as Jamie Green, Frank Nizzio, Bill Kaltz, Ann Wagar and Glenn Oliver for providing valuable input, and support in helping pull this off. See you in 2013."
Me? Although totally out of shape and the first time on snow since October's Vasa Ski Club Ski Fest, I had a plan: ski negative splits and try to beat Amy Powell. Seriously, work and home responsibilities have taken their toll, and my training has been hit or miss, and mostly miss.
I tried to stay relatively calm through the first couple kilometers, skiing behind Bill Kaltz. Bill seemed to slow and I went around. It was short lived - Bill came back and dropped be a few hundred meters later. I noticed I was at 94% of my max heart rate! I backed off slightly. I was 17:52 for the first lap.
On the second lap, I caught and passed one of the Cross Country Ski Headquarters skiers. Which one? I don't know - I was too focused on staying in control of my technique.
Because the trail looped up and down fairways, you could see skiers ahead and behind. I looked behind...and saw Amy Powell. I attempted to pick up the pace. I was going to at least try to hold her off at the finish line! Immediate spike in heart rate, getting up to 98% of my max. I kept looking back and she was slowing pulling me in. (I take credit for giving her a rabbit to chase and increasing her gap over Kaitlyn Patterson...)
Mike Muha's heart rate graph for the race
Well, I held Amy off at the finish (Yea!) but since she started two minutes behind me, she actually beat me by 45 seconds.
Negative splits? Nope. 17:52 for the first lap, 18:12 for the second. Close, oh so close.
Great race and fun for all.