Noque Weekend: Jim Nowak

This past weekend I travelled up to the U.P. for the Noquemanon ski marathon race. This is a point to point race (much like the American Birkebeiner aka Birkie) that starts in Ishpeming and finishes on the U. of N. MI campus in Marquette, a total of 51K. This year the race was shortend to 45K due to snow conditions in Marquette, but we definately were not cheated.

For those of you who do not know a nordic ski nut; besides worrying about training, the two other things most commonly on their mind are weather and waxing. With the ever changing weather conditions in Marquette, checking the NOAA website and trying to determine what wax to use on my skis, much less which pair of skis to use was a bit stressful. After gathering all the necessary info, I finally settled on a certain pair of skis as well as the wax I would use. Thurs. night was spent waxing two pairs of skis that I would get a chance to try out on Fri. afternoon once we got up there.

Fri. was spent driving the 6-7 hours to Marquette, getting out for a 1 hour ski to loosen up, and then having dinner and a early bedtime.

When we woke up Sat. the temp. was about 16 degrees with 1-2 inches of fresh snow. The forecast for the was to be temps in the low 20's with off and on snow in the morning, getting heavier as the day went on with a possible 8-12 inches falling. If the snow held off, it would be fast, if it snowed like the dickens, it would be a death march. My start time was 10:05 am, in wave 1. The classic skiers and elite men and women were in front of me, so hopefully they would pack down any new snow, and the track would be fast.

I had two goals for this race; 1. minimize the number of falls as there are some very trecherous downhills, but if taken carefully should be easy. 2. Don't break any ski poles as I have a streak going where I have broken at least one pole each of the last 4 years. Outside of those I figured if I was successful with these goals I would have a good race.

After a bus ride to the start, got ready in the school that is right next to the start line. At about 9:50 I ventured out to a good starting place in my wave. I ended up right in the middle of the pack about 3 guys back. The gun went off and away we went. The craziest part of any ski race is about the 1st 1k, as everyone is fighting for position, and trying to get to the front. I held my position and got through ok. There was a fall by someone to my right which probably helped me. Going into the woods, I was about 20 back out of about 150 in my wave. Great start, now the next 5K would be up and down with some nice little climbs and downhills. I stayed with the group and slowly a gap formed behind me. Now the next 30K are pretty much a blur other than climbing some nasty hills. I did end up falling (more like sitting down) twice to avoid others who fell in front of me, but nothing broken, and in both cases I was able to get up quickly and maintain my rhythm.

On Friday night when we picked up our race packets, we talked to one of the race organizers to get an idea of what the new finish area was like. His comments were "make sure you leave something in the tank.". I am glad that I took his advice, because the last 10K were probably the hardest 10K of the race. Typically the trail follows along the top of a ridge and does climb up, but to add the necessary distance in this area, the race organizers had us go down the ridge, take a 180 degree turn and then climb for about 1.5K with some very wall-like sections. At this point I was trying to chase down a guy that I train with so it was all out. Once up and over the top of the ridge, it was back down the other side and another 1K climb up. Up the climbs I was really going well, just hurting all over, but my prey was just ahead. Over the ridge again, and then back down and up. At this point it was about 2K to go, and he was only about 50 meters ahead. I put in a HUGE effort to close the gap some more... 10 meters, 200 meters to go... 5 meters to him. We came into the ski stadium, and I was thinking that the finish area would be groomed nicely and that I would be able to find a nice lane, and sprint him for the line. 150 meters to the line, into the stadium... ONLY ONE LANE!!! I tried to go around in the ungroomed snow only to get bogged down and he beat me by 1 second. Time of 2 hour, 49 minutes and 50-some-odd seconds.

Definately my best Noque to date. Overall I was in the top 100 (83) I believe. Everything went to plan except for the finish.

Next up will probably be the Birkie the last weekend of Feb. I hope to get another race in before then, but with several different commitment right now, getting away on a Sat. to race is tough.

Thanks for reading,