TRAVERSE CITY — Paula Dreeszen and Connie Zoutendyk finally had a moment to relax and sip some warm tomato soup.
Their break was well deserved; both women were fresh from a five-hour stint in below-freezing temperatures after participating in the Vasa 50K classic ski race.
“It’s a good goal for the whole season to get out and ski and stay fit,” said Dreeszen, of Interlochen. “You burn lots of calories so you can eat whatever you want when you finish.”
Not everyone can place first in a ski competition, but for those who took part in either of the 50K races that began in the cold, early morning and continued for hours, it’s hard not to feel like a winner.
Dreeszen and Zoutendyk ski together about five days a week in the winter, and all the practice pays off. Dreeszen said she beat her time from last year by five minutes.
“The first two times I was a little conservative because I wanted to make sure I would finish,” Dreeszen said. “Now I know I can ski 50K, so I tried to push a little more.”
The race isn’t just about fitness for Zoutendyk, of Traverse City.
“It makes the winter go by faster, and it’s a nice social outlet,” she said.
For Karen Kirt of Lake Leelanau, the 50K is another way for her to participate in an endurance sport while enjoying the outdoors.
“I feel refueled, refreshed, re-energized,” Kirt said after the race.
Kirt found this year’s race particularly challenging because skiers had to loop around the course two times.
“There’s this series of hills, the first time you do it, it feels pretty good, but in the back of your mind you know you’re going to have to do it twice,” she said.
The task isn’t so daunting for Ellis Boal, 69 of Charlevoix. Boal, who was in the oldest age group of participants, is a former marathon runner. He skis daily.
“You can’t stop. This is what I do; this is my life,” Boal said.
Nick Murray of Suttons Bay has raced for 12 years. The morning was cold, bitterly so, but he said he felt good at the end.
“It’s fun. I want to support the community and keep challenging myself,” he said.