BOZEMAN, Mont. -- The track for the men's 10K freestyle race at Bohart Ranch was firm and conditions were favorable, but Northern Michigan's Erik Soderman still found himself 17 seconds behind the leader at the first time split in the course. Although his usual race plan is not to have a plan, he identified a potential weakness in his competition.

“At the first splits I was eighth or ninth. I had a steady, consistent pace, and I noticed other people were getting tired,” Soderman said. “At the 7K mark, I heard I was leading by five seconds. So I was really just going for it in the last 3K. I just wanted to stay consistent”

That consistency worked equally well for the tortoise in Aesop's fable and Soderman at the national championships. His steady performance rocketed him into the win with a time of 25:20.2 and a 25-second margin against the next fastest skier.

Men's 10K Freestyle Results
1 Erik Soderman 25:20.2
2 Miles Havlick 25:45.2
3 Sam Tarling 25:53.6
4 Michael Schallinger 25:53.8
5 Rune Oedegaard 25:57.6
Complete Day One Results

The same kind of late surging effort paid off for him in regional championships where he claimed victory in both the freestyle and classic races by relying on energy reserves his competition seemed to burn too early on. But this national title was no foregone conclusion for Soderman.

"I was surprised because I thought I could be top-10. I still think there’s good competition here, I just had a really good day. The wax people did a great job, and my skis felt good," Soderman added.

It appears Soderman has timed his peak to near perfection, and he feels strong heading into Friday's classic race as well. Although he believes his skate technique is slightly better, he acknowledges that the mass start format of the classic race means anything can happen, including another win by this time-savvy tortoise.

Soderman's victory was the first individual national championship for Northern Michigan in five years. But he was modest after the win and insisted upon deflecting credit elsewhere.

"I want to thank my coaches and teammates who make skiing so much fun and also productive,” Soderman said.