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Cheese and Crackers anyone? Six-Hour Michigan Cup Relay Race

Sun, Jan  3, 2016 - By Mike Muha

"Cheese and crackers?"

"Take more - It's going to be a long day."

"Rub that pepper jack on your bases and you'll have hot skis."

It's 11:30am.  I'm targeting any skier who looks like they might be getting ready for another leg of skiing. Every one of them sees right through me.

It's all fun and games at the Six-Hour Michigan Cup Relay Race and potluck...

Start of Six-Hour Michigan Cup cross country ski relay race

Start of the Relays, with snow from the downhill snow making guns in the background. (Photo: Spencer Ruffner)

Doug Cornell, Tony Percha, Charles Moore and I drove up from southeast Michigan early this morning to make the 10:00 am start time at Hanson Hills in Grayling, MI. Doug, Tony and I were on one relay team; Charles teamed up with Spencer and Garret Ruffner. Ken and Karen Dawson skied with Frank Nizio for the third Team NordicSkiRacer relay team, while Allen Sorgenfrei joined a another relay team who needed a third skier.

The weather was unexpectedly awesome. Temperatures were warmer than expected: 26F instead of 20F. The sun popped out during the race and the air warmed to the low thirties. The skate lane was medium firm and pretty fast. Classic tracks were mid-winter deep and firm, perfect for classic skiers and for those of us who discovered the tracks could be faster than the skate lane and used them to our advantage to doublepole or marathon skate.

Mike Muha finishing a leg in the Six-Hour Michigan Cup Relays

That's me on the left, skiing in from a warm-up after spotting Tony (in the background) finishing his leg.  (Photo: Justin Andre)

The race course changed slightly every two hours. We skied the 6.7km Blue Loop with a (cutoff to avoid the M-93 hills) for the first two hours. At noon the course was shortened to 5.5-6km by using the Green Trail to chop off part of the Blue Trail. At 2:00pm, we were put on the 5km Green Trail.

Doug took the first leg so he could compare himself to others in the mass start. Tony was second and I was third. Most skiers had minimal to no on-snow training yet this season. A few skiers had been up to ABR Trails or other places with snow, but they were the exception. Each skier on the course wore a lanyard with their team number. (We were Team Number 1). The lanyard served as the baton that each racer carried as they skied the course. Teams used various strategies: Do we have the strongest ski more or continuous laps? Every skier rotate through one lap at a time? A mix of skiing one lap this leg, two laps the next? All the was required was the each member of a relay team ski at least one lap.

Tony Percha finishes the laynard hand off to Mike Muha

Tony Percha finishes the laynard hand off to Mike Muha (Photo: Justin Andre)

We skied a total of 17 laps, skiing one lap at a time... mostly.

For my second leg, Doug suggested we do two laps at a time. I skied hard that first lap, having a couple rabbits in front of me. Coming down the long gentle down toward the tag zone, skiing felt effortless. Turning around and heading back up what was now an incline, my legs were screaming. Where I V2'd on the first couple laps, I down shifted to a V1. I was pretty much alone on the course until Larry Kanaby passed me halfway around the course. I kept him in sight most of the way although the gap increased. I'm pretty sure that I was slower that second lap.

On another lap, I could see a skier gaining on me about the third of the way into the leg. I pushed myself hard and kept the gap with one K to go but could hear him right on my trail. At that point, I was marathon skating the trail back, and doublepoled the gentle decline leading to the two corners before the finish. I marathon around the first corner, gaining a slight advantage...then ran out of gas. Robin Luce skis by with a smile on his face... ("That was great Mike," Robin said later. "You made me work harder and go faster!")

Doug Cornell, Karen Dawson, Ken Dawson

Doug Cornell, Karen Dawson, Ken Dawson (Photo: Mike Muha)

"I'm toast!" After the last tag from Tony, Doug said he'd do two laps before tagging off to me. I'm sitting nice and cozy in the Hanson Hills lodge, ski boots untied, relaxing as I watch Doug complete his first lap. There won't be a second lap from Doug. He gestures wildly for me to come outside and ski the next leg. I had to laugh to myself.

Mistakes were made... Spencer, in oxygen debt, skied an extra km when he didn't notice the course change at noon. Randy Bladel missed the return turn and found himself on the M-93 hills. Tony misinterpreted some instructions and skied up the wrong trail until he realized his mistake and back tracked.

I skied 34km in total with one lap on the long course, two laps on the medium course, and three laps on the short course. I was next to go off on another loop but Doug returned just seconds after the 4:00pm cutoff.

I feel much better prepared for next weekend's Frosty Freestyle and Krazy Klassic races...

More pictures of the race at