2014 Pepsi Challenge 48km Freestyle Race Report

 It was a fantasitcally beautiful day at Giants Ridge.  I brought my camera and photographer to capture the race for you…


… of course I left the SD card in my computer at home.  Sorry.


We made this final fling for the year a family affair.  I took my boys and my girlfriend brought her son.  We stayed at the Country Inn in Hoyt Lakes on Friday night.  The place was nice and the boys enjoyed the pool while the adults enjoyed alternating the hot tub and pool.  We hit up the bib pick-up and spaghetti dinner in Biwabik before settling back in for the night with big fluffy flakes falling.

Laying out flat me the night before.  I had a few minutes of panic when I couldn’t find my windbriefs.  Thankfully they were located!

Race Morning

Some instant oatmeal for me along with a cup of coffee, hotel breakfast for everyone else and we were off.  The overnight low was expected to be around zero and clear skies.  We awoke to overcast with a few flakes still and about 10 degrees.

By the time we arrived at Giants Ridge we snagged one of the last parking spots and the skies were clearing and it was looking like a fantastic day.  After watching the start of the classic race from the comfort of the Lodge and taking care of the last few bathroom breaks I told my spectators I thought I would finish in 3 hours plus or minus half an hour, more likely plus and I expected I would be through the lap in about an hour and a half.  Then I went down to “warm up”.

Warm-up should be no more than 0.5% of the race distance right?  I’m sure I read that somewhere.

I don’t take my warm-up very seriously for a marathon.  Do I have all my gear?  Do my skis stay on my feet?  OK?  Good.  My skis felt pretty dang good (on the primarily artificial snow in the stadium which is different than the rest of the course) (Fast Wax HS0, HSF10 x 2, Holmenkol Cold top coat).

I met up with Tommy and Kevin and we filed into the start area.  Tommy picked a spot on the line and Kevin and I picked the second row.  I was a little nervous as this was a mix of 48km and 24km (Kevin in the latter group here) and I wanted a good start, but not too hot.  48km at the Ridge is a long ways to go.

The Race

The banners went up and we shot off the line pretty fast.  I’m fairly familiar with all of the course having skied here a fair bit in high school and a handful of times since then.  The first climb from the stadium up Cedar and back down Gold, around the Laurentian/N. Lights loop before hitting silver is all pretty gentle.  Definitely climbing, but not reach out and touch the hill in front of you steep.

Tommy was off like a rocket and gone before we hit the Laurentian.  After an initial hot start I caught up to Kevin somewhere along the Laurentian section.  I knew we were moving along fast, but after we passed the 5km sign and I saw 15:00 on my watch I thought to myself, well they sure did a crappy job of placing the signs.  Then I saw that my watch actually agreed with the sign for distance.  What?  sub 3:00/km average pace 5km into a 48km race?  Uh oh!  This is way too fast right?

Well, feeling decent and enjoying the tow, I stayed behind Kevin through the first aid station at about 7km.  My skis were a touch faster than his and he offered to let me take the lead after that.  I told him only if he wanted to switch bibs with me.  There was no way I was outskiing Kevin for the first half of my 48km race!  So I happily let Kevin pull me along until about 21km.  I really appreciated the pull and hopefully I only clicked his poles a couple of times.  Thanks Kevin!

Somewhere on Sliver I think, first lap for sure – Race photo courtesy of SkinnySki.com

21km was the last aid station right at the top of the chairlift and before the long downhill to the finish/lap.  Having slightly faster skis I figured now would be an acceptable time to unhitch from the Kevin train.  We had also been passed by a couple of 48km-ers in the last few minutes and while I didn’t want to just jump on them and go faster than I was already going the thought of a whole second lap by myself wasn’t overly appetizing so I thought I might see if I could reel them back in on the down hill.

I couldn’t.  They were HAULING!  I was feeling pretty good through the lap.  I had been eating and drinking more than I had at the Birkie so my energy felt higher.  Also my legs had finally loosened up and instead of feeling tight on every glide, I actually felt relaxed and in control which was wonderful.  On the climb out of the stadium for the second lap I could see four guys ahead.  The two guys who were hauling and two more.  I managed to reel in the two guys on the way back down Gold.

Then it was off to solitary for the next 13km or so other than passing the occasional classic racer.  I was still feeling pretty good on the stretch of Laurentian/Summit that goes through the swamp.  I wasn’t able to V2 all of it the second time but most of it and the V1’s weren’t the death V1 which might be typical for this point in a marathon from past experience.

I hit the second to last aid station which is just before Summit starts climbing in earnest before switching over to Gold.  Uh oh.  I hit that first climb and bonkola.  It was amazing how fast I went from feeling pretty good to being dizzy and a little crazy eyed.  I knew the end was coming though so I kept skiing.  It wasn’t pretty, but unlike previous bonks I actually kept my technique together somewhat.  On the southern most loop of Gold before the last climb I came upon someone bonking harder than me.  Chris Sacks skied for White Bear Lake at the same time I was skiing for Forest Lake.  He always was better than I was and never took the big step backwards like I did after high school.  In fact last year he was second in this race.  Passing him was a bit of a surprise.

The falling HR at the end is a telltale sign of a bonk.  Yes, part of that is the big downhill to the finish which you can see matched at around 23/24km, but part of that was decidedly not downhill.

There was also one other person just in front of me that just wanted me to pass.  They were bonking hard too.  I could tell based on the shuffle skate and the way they were stumbling.  I couldn’t do it though.  In fact, just before the last aid station I stopped for 10 seconds to hang on my poles.  150m to the aid station and the big downhill and I couldn’t go anymore.

Eventually I did pull myself over the top and recovered somewhat on the descent into the stadium.  Enough to give a good sprint for the finish, but it wasn’t quite enough.  Still, a sprint finish was better than the stumbling I did two weeks ago down Main Street Hayward.

So my prediction of going through the lap at 1:30?  Uh, how about 1:16.  And a finish in 3:00 +/- 0:30?  I guess I got that right, 2:36.  27th overall.  Not too shabby.

In case you thought it was flat at Giants Ridge.

Post Race

We went skiing some more of course!  The day was absolutely beautiful.  Mid 20’s, blue skies, great snow, great grooming.  How could you not ski more?  We rented stuff for the kids and I threw on my classic gear and skied with them while my girlfriend took off and get her ski fix in.  My boys and I practiced our finishes in the stadium.  Stretching for the line and then collapsing in a heap afterwards.  We had a great time.

My girlfriend decided to go disappear for a while and when she finally came back she was coming from the other direction.  Previously her longest ski had been 16km.  She did 22km that afternoon including going up Summit, over the top and coming down Bronze.  Damn!  She was also asking about registering for the 24km at the spaghetti dinner the night before.  I think she is hooked!


OK, last race of the year.  Did I end it on a high note?  The analysis is good.

Analysis spreadsheet predicting race times based on the 2014 Pepsi Challenge

Again, my spreadsheet looks for people who did both races, creates a trend line correlating the two races based upon the common times and then extrapolates the “predicted” time based on an example race.  In the above image I have times predicted based upon the Pepsi Challenge.  The more correlated racers (# corr column) the “better” the prediction.  Two just makes a line and doesn’t do anything for you so since only two people were correlated between my other “best race yet”, the North End Classic, one of them being me, no conclusions can be drawn.

In summary though you can see that all of the predicted times are faster than the actual with the exception of the one second slower at the 2013 TC Champs classic race.  In particular you can look at the 2014 Birkie with 38 correlated racers and a predicted finish time of 3:14:29.  I’d say that would have been pretty solid.  So, yeah, I think the race was pretty darn good and a great way to finish the season.

What’s Next

Enjoying the spring ski weather until the snow is gone.  But I should probably run too.  50km trail run in 6 weeks.  Oh, and the Mammoth Gravel Classic.  And Almanzo…

I’m sad to see the ski season come to an end, just as I seem to be rounding into ski shape and we are actually getting some nice weather.  Then again, as the snow disappears and the weather really warms up, I’m sure I’ll be getting the itch to ride my bike and run outside.

Only 348 days until Birkie 2015.

One thought on “2014 Pepsi Challenge 48km Freestyle Race Report

  • February 24, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    How would you compare the Birkie course to the Giants Ridge, as far as level of difficulty/technical rating?

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