Monday, March 24, 2008

The Sonot Kkazhoot: Nothing To Sneeze At

Although the name is unique, and the event totally obscure, this rough and tumble cross country ski race is a great local happening, usually coinciding close to the vernal equinox. The race was founded by local skier, Bad Bob Baker, in the late 1980s, and it literally translates to "spring slide" in Athapaskan.

Wow, what a day, Saturday! Temps at race time were about 6 degrees F at the start, and probably warmed up to the mid-teens by afternoon. The race was shortened by 7 k because they eliminated the river section because of a late February thaw that left the river with sketchy ice conditions. Usually skiers have 22k on the river and lowlands, and then 28k on rugged trails at Birch Hill. To accomodate the change the entire 43+ km course was at the Birch Hill ski center, roughly 2.5 loops of the all the trails. Lots of hills to contend with--averaging 100 ft or more of climb per kilometer of distance (i.e., 30+ meters per km, or 160 ft/mile; i.e., i.e., it's all up and down!).

I figured it would be a low key, local affair, what with AK state 30K championships down on the Kenai Peninsula and the US distance nationals here next week. And even entertained visions of a top 5 finish. But we had a couple of Norwegian ringers, including a top 10 skier for the men, fresh off a top 4 at the Under 23 World's last month...not to mention some hungry competition from a couple of Anchorage skiers.

We lined up pretty cramped up at the modified start/finish line (20 skiers within 20 yards). With a kilometer, the leaders (9-10), including a Norwegian woman who went to college here a few years back and netted a couple of NCAA titles along the way, took it out too fast for me, so I settled into the 2nd pack of 6 or so. Our group skied pretty frantically for 7-8km before settling into a rhythm on some of the flatter-rolling (one of two easy sections on the trail system) sections of White Bear Loop. The pack broke up at about 15km, and masters skier Jim Lokken and I were on our own for nearly 20km. We picked up a couple fast starters along toward the end, including Dave Edic, just returning from three top 10s and a bronze for 50-54 AG at World Masters in Idaho (with 3 USA masters medals in the mix). We caught him at about 32 km and before pulling way at 36 on a monster climb half way through White Bear. An added bonus was catching the top woman, Sigrid Aas, just with about 2.5 km to go.

I pushed pretty hard and led through most of that last 17km (maybe 12 or 13 of those clicks), but could never shake Jim, so when it came time to sprint with 200 m to go, the cupboard was bare and he got me by 4 sec. Oh well, it was still a good day. Finished in 2:14:27 for 8th OA.

Norwegian dude, Petter Eliassen went 1:57:55, to win easily over local and AK citizen racers about 6 min back.


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