We woke up to a beautiful Marquette morning – if you call 6 degrees and a blustery wind beautiful. There was very little new snow on our cars.
By the time we got to the Suburu National Masters Championships Sprint Relays, the weather hadn’t improved at all. The event was held in Al Quaal Recreation Area in Ishpeming in an open area. The course was a 700 meter course. The original plans had called for a slightly longer course (750 meters), but the race organizers decided to shorten the one hill on the course, given the wind chills and a group of racers who were tired from a long hard race the day before.
Relay teams were divided into four waves: Two men’s waves, a women’s wave, and a coed wave. Age groups were computed by the sum of the relay team’s ages. For example, the NordicSkiRacer Relay team of Bill Kaltz, Ken Dawson, and me had a combined age of 155 (I won’t tell you who was what age…). The first men’s wave was for teams with a combined age under 150; the second wave for teams with a combined age of 150 and older. We were in the second, older wave.
I’m not really sure how they scored the relays, whether within waves or within age groups in the waves – the results were not yet posted when I wrote this article.
The course itself was great: well groomed, very wide (as in 4 or 5 skiers skiing side-by-side for parts, and at least two people wide at it’s narrowest), fairly hard-packed trail with a tiny bit of drifting. Although it was windy, most of the trail was protected by trees or the wind was at your back. The only really windy portion of the track was the downhill leading to the tag zone and finish line.
The course started on a short straight and slightly uphill section leading to a right turn. The course then undulated for a long, straight section, before turning 180 degrees to the right, followed by a very slightly downhill and 90 degree turn to the left. The trail then led up the only real hill on the course before turning right and heading down to the tag zone. The hill was probably only 30 feet high and of relatively moderate incline. It was just enough of a hill to keep you honest.
The format of the relay was unique: three team members do one lap at a time until nine laps are completed - each team member does three laps. Essentially, this was a hard interval session.
I was our starter. I lined up with 13 other starters, wearing the number 13 bib. I had a great start – I was fourth to the first corner and V2’d past two other skiers in the next few meters. I was in the number two position until half way up the hill, when another skier passed to my right. I tagged Bill Kaltz, our number two skier and he headed out while I tried to recover. Bill came into the tag zone just out of third place, and tagged off to Ken Dawson.
That first lap for each of us was pure adrenaline – we were excited, motivated, and in good position. The second lap hurt. The legs burned. The legs were ready to explode. But we made up a place and were now in third place.
For the most part, we stayed warm enough between laps. I skied around the finish area try to stay loose and in a not too successful attempt to clear the lactic acid from legs. Other skiers through a coat over the shoulders and hid from the wind.
The third set of laps for the finish laps and we were motivated to push hard. When Ken skied across the finish line, we had a solid, take-no-prisoners third place finish. We had lapped several teams.
I think we won a medal!
After the race, several groups went out to explore the Al Quaal ski area, since all of our remaining races will be there. I headed off Chris Weingartz and Steve Smeigel to the Teal Lake Trail, a 4 km loop that will be used in the classic portion of the Duathlon on Wednesday. There was 4-6 inches of new snow on that trail. Fortunately, it was a nicely protected from the wind, winding through the woods on a side hill leading down to Teal Lake. We took it very easy – We done enough hard skiing in the previous 24 hours.
Other groups headed over to the Olympic Trail – the skate portion of the Duathlon – which had even deeper snow and much bigger hills. After I finished my ski, I headed back to the warming area to wait for everyone else to come back.
Lunch was a trip to the Ralph’s Deli for a Cudighi sandwich – a local specialty. It’s a spicy Italian sausage on a bun that tasted just great after our ski!
Alas, the National Masters now gets smaller. Many people left town to head back to home and jobs. Hotel-mates Ron Sexton, Mike Seaman and Todd Dell left for home, as did teammate Ken Dawson. Mike Heidinger is still here with his wife and kids, but he’s not planning on doing any more races.
Our hotel feels empty.
Registration remains open for the remaining races, so if you’re on the fence, get up here!