Sunday, July 14, 2019


Like every endurance athlete, I have not been immune to injuries over the years. Last year I wrote about some patella-femoral pain. A few ski seasons ago, I suffered through 3 weeks of very painful peroneal tendonitis (pain in my outer ankle). Otherwise most of my aches and pains that have subsided relatively quickly.

Racing the Noquemonon circa 2006. It was a crappy snow winter in the UP. Photo: good ol' Bud Hart!
I’ve had recurrent issues with my right shoulder, beginning after a series of falls in the Noquemenon when I was 19. This was fixed with a course of physical therapy. Three years later, again after multiple falls in the Noquemenon, the pain returned. I tried my own physical therapy without much luck and somehow, miraculously, after one session of lat pulls, the pain resolved.

This shoulder pain has briefly crept up now and then but has always been short-lived.

It came back with a vengeance around the beginning of April this year. I’m not exactly sure what set it off. I was fine skiing and canoeing at the end of March and then it started. I fell on ice on my bike but don’t recall the pain starting then. After thinking about this more, maybe it was crossing between a couple ponds on some logs during an Orienteering Meet where I was using a stick for balance and then near the end lost my balance and fell onto the stick kinda hard. That’s the best mechanism of injury I can come up with.

Anyway, the pain was again located in my right anterior shoulder. Unlike previous times, I didn’t have any pain with raising my arm above my head or hanging on my pull-up bar, but as soon as I started lifting myself up to do a pull-up, the pain occurred. I also got the pain when biking- when starting out of the saddle and cranking down on the pedals. I felt it a few other times with internal rotation and pulling force directed away from my body.

Given that I’m a health care professional who frequently sees shoulder pain, I did some self-diagnosis. This was definitely anterior impingement. Physical therapy was in order, but I deferred, hoping it would get better, and did 400 painful pull-ups throughout April. Stupid, I know, but I’m headstrong and too determined for my own good half the time.

When we got that April snowstorm I got pretty down as I realized poling, especially the double pole, really caused pain. I hadn’t had pain skiing with my previous shoulder injuries.

May 1st was time to start rollerskiing. I did, painfully and knew it was time for rehab.

Anterior shoulder impingement is at least partially caused by overworking the “beach muscles.” Now, I don’t intentionally build up my pecs, it just sort of happens with push-ups, pull-ups, and skiing. Upper body strength is one of my natural powers as an athlete. Maybe I shouldn’t be so proud that I can walk into a weight room any day and bench 100 pounds without training. I may never run a sub-six minute mile, but I can hold my own on the bench press. Since my first shoulder injury, I’ve also noted that my shoulders tend to naturally be in a more forward position. This further exacerbates the problem.

My shoulder position. On left, I'm squeezing my scapulas together to try to get my shoulders back. You can see from my chin that I'm consciously thinking about this. On right, my natural relaxed forward shoulder position. Photo: Erik

First, I quit doing pull-ups that were causing me pain. Time to let my pecs atrophy a bit. To maintain some strength, I did keep doing push-ups since they didn’t hurt. Next I started doing pec stretches more diligently and a squeezing the scapulas (shoulder blades) together exercise. Then I added in strength exercises for the posterior shoulder muscles with a Thera-Band.

Finally, I put our Total Gym to good use.

Using the Total Gym like a rowing machine to work on my posterior upper back muscles. Photo: Erik

It took a couple weeks to no longer feel the shoulder pain but boy, I sure did appreciate being able to open doors and bike without the pain. Next up was a trial of rollerskiing. I told myself I had to be able to double pole before I could even attempt pull-ups. I didn’t have pain with rollerskiing but noticed that after an hour of mostly double poling I had slight pain. I continued doing my shoulder physical therapy and after a couple more weeks I didn’t have any pain at all from rollerskiing.

After an entire month hiatus from pull-ups (it’s been several years since I’ve taken that long off from pull-ups) I gave them a try. Most of my pain during pull-ups occurred in the initial pulling myself up to the 90 degree bend in my elbows. Hence, I tried starting in maximum pull-up position and then lowering myself to 90 degrees. This caused pain so I gave up for a couple weeks. When I tried again I had success with this partial pull-up but wanted to ease myself into it so only did 2 x 5 sets. Well, OK, I did like 6-7 at a time and then gradually used different hand-holds to vary my pull-ups.

After a couple more weeks I was finally able to do complete pull-ups without pain!

This entire experience taught me that I need to be more diligent about mixing up the strength training. I know I wrote about this last year and I’m fairly good at doing a variety of cardio activities in the off-season (rollerskiing, running, biking, canoeing, hiking) but other than abs, I tend to do the same strength routines week in and week out. This made me realize I need to vary my strength workouts and in particular, pay attention to my shoulder muscle stabilizers (like the deltoids) and my posterior shoulder muscles and reminded me of the slow, but immense benefits of physical therapy. I can’t just do push-ups and pull-ups:)

All this made me come up with a new pain scale for athletes. When I’m in pain from injury, here’s my cascading pain scale:

Stage 1: Does it hurt all the time? If yes, then things are pretty terrible. Hopefully this won’t last too long. If no, then things could be a lot worse.

Stage 2: Does it hurt to do normal daily activities? This means no pain with walking, turning, opening doors, and getting around for work, shopping, dishes, etc. If yes, see above. If no, life is good.

Stage 3: Can training be modified or can I do some activities without pain? If no, I’m still in the step above. If yes, then life is really good.

Stage 4: Can I do my normal training without pain? If yes, then life is exceptional and I really shouldn’t complain about anything.

While rehabbing my shoulder, I sustained a crush injury to my left knee. For several hours, I had constant pain. The best thing I could do was to continue with my activity for the day which involved helping cut down a big oak tree. Just before bed, fortunately, the constant pain stopped. I’m a side sleeper though and it was difficult to find a comfortable position as my knee hurt on both sides with even light pressure.

An admittedly bad picture of my knees a few days after the crush injury.

I was able to canoe and started biking two days later but my swollen knee wouldn’t bend and so I had to exclusively ride out of the saddle. On day three I could mostly walk without any significant pain. I started rollerskiing this day and was pretty happy that I could skate rollerski without pain although I had to avoid all the cracks, even the small ones, as going over those caused pain.

After a week I tried running. It hurt badly. I’m not sure what I was thinking since fast walking was still painful. I could jump all I wanted on my toes, but as soon as my heels struck the ground I had the pain.

The Leiderhosenlauf, two weeks after the injury, went comically awful; however, 1.5 weeks after the injury, we did our usual 1 kilometer double pole and legs only time trials as part of our Vakava workout. Somehow, despite this mega crush injury that would keep me from running for over a month, I managed to log my fastest legs only time (skating without poles) over the four years we’ve been doing this. Erik hypothesized that I was so fast because I was essentially tapered from all those track intervals. Maybe the strength work of riding out of the saddle also helped.

I was just happy I could do strength and rollerski and that I was in stage 3 above and could modify my training.

It took three weeks before I could fast walk without pain. I had to constantly remind myself that my knee was getting better- I could rollerski over even the big cracks with no pain. At four weeks I ran a 12 minute mile. If I kept it really really slow, I could run pain free. Although I’m not really sure 12 minutes a mile is running. It’s more of a walk-jog.

All this became a real test of patience for me.

It took five weeks before I could do 2.5 miles at 12 min/mile walk jog pace but even then I noticed the next day my knee was a little sore. Meanwhile, I road biked 28 miles, mostly riding in the saddle, without any setbacks. Despite all this, my knee was still sore enough that if I wore tight pants it caused discomfort!

5.5 weeks and I could manage 10 minute miles running without pain for 2.5 miles. At 6 weeks I was finally able to run in the 9 minute/mile range for 4.7 miles. So it took 6 weeks to get back to running.

While I was bummed to not run and hence missed out on some training, I’ve also been kinda excited. I haven’t taken a break from running in six years. This means I maintain a baseline level of fitness that many of my Master’s colleagues don’t. Hence, those colleagues benefit from better periodization in their training. Now I’m looking forward to crawling back after this periodization. It’s what I’ll be doing with pull-ups and now what I’ll be doing with running as well.

Finally back to rocking the pull ups:) Photo: Erik

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Lederhosenlauf 5 K

It’s been three years since I attempted a PR 5 K- the Get in Gear back in 2016. I ran 22:29. I’m not a gifted runner. That was a good time for me. But as usual, I want more. A PR 5 K is tough and after targeting a 4 mile race a couple years ago, and a PR mile last summer, I’m back to try again. This year it was the Lederhosenlauf on June 8th.

Erik and I in our 2019 Lederhosenlauf costumes. Photo: random dude
Saying I was training for a 5 K felt a bit ridiculous when I often run twice that distance several times per week. But plowing through a 5 K and running a PR 5 K are about as far removed from each other as the Earth is from Mars.

I set my PR goal at 21:45 which works out to exactly 7:00 min/mile pace.

I followed a weekly track workout plan that I read about in an elite runner’s blog. I figured a speed workout just once per week x 6 weeks wasn’t enough so I started a couple weeks early with some “warm up” intervals and then added a second shorter interval session to each week. These “warm up” intervals were at goal pace for a minute with ample rest. Once I started doing the track workouts, I did one week of sprints and then started doing a weekly hill running session. For this workout I chose a hill that took me about 40 seconds to run up at 7 min/mile pace, recovered on the way back down the hill, and repeated 12 times.

Here’s the weekly track workout in italics below and how I felt/altered them. The trick is to think “I’m running a 5 km, not a 400” when doing the intervals.

Weekly Track Workouts

5 x (5 x 200 m at 5 K pace) w/ 30 seconds rest between reps and 3 minutes rest between sets

[This workout was easy. I took the full rest and shot under my goal pace every time so the last couple I really tried to hit it hard but only ran 45 seconds (6:00 min/mile pace) so apparently the cumulative effect from the whole workout really did catch up to me.]

5 x (400, 400, 200 m at 5 K pace) w/ 45 seconds rest between reps and 3 minutes rest between sets

[The first couple sets I was dead-on with my pacing. I was doing these with Erik and he started increasing the pace and so I ended up hitting 6:30 pace for the 400s and 6:00 pace for the 200s. On the second 400 I always thought “next one is just a 200” which was nice.]

5 x (600, 400 m at 5 K pace) w/ 1 minute rest between reps and 3 minutes rest between sets

[These ones started getting a bit harder. On every 600 I thought “I can’t believe this is the pace I’m trying to maintain for a 5 K.” It seemed too fast. I cut my rest down to 45 seconds to make it harder and better align with Erik who is aiming for 6 min/mile pace. Even though these were hard I was still able to always hit goal pace and mostly ran faster.]

5 x 800 m at 5 K pace w/ 3 minute rests, then 5 x 200 at a little faster than 5 K pace w/ 45-60 seconds rest

[This week was really hard for at least 3 reasons. 1. I had done my uphill interval workout the day before. 2. I decreased the rest to 2 minutes. 3. The weather was wicked. This was the cold rainy weekend back in May. We managed to hit the tail end of the rain but by then had to contend with 30 mph gusts on the backstretch. I still hit my paces and crushed the 200s (averaging 45 seconds) but was breathing so hard at the end of each 200 and even during the 800s. Somehow I’m always able to take a couple deep breaths and start again even though I’m not recovered. At the end of my last 800 I thought “there is no way I can do this for a 5 K!” I told myself to shut up and just finish the interval in slightly under goal pace. On my cool down run home, I noticed really bad pain in my elbows (technically in my distal-lateral triceps insertion point). I’ve had this pain before with running in the winter and my guess is that in the cold and wind, I really tense up in my elbows/triceps and this causes significant pain. It’s really weird to have bad elbow pain and have nothing else hurt after a hard track workout but our bodies can do some odd things! While the weeks previous I was able to hit my goals, this workout was HARD.]

2 x (1 K, 800 m, 600 m, 400 m at 5 K pace) w/ 2 minutes rest between reps and 4-5 minutes rest between sets

[Did this one on a quiet city street because we were visiting my mom in Bemidji and it was more convenient than running to the track. I programmed my Garmin with the above workout except I decreased the last rest to 1:45 and the rest to 3 minutes between sets. This one was hard again. Now I didn’t have the 200 markers on the track to know if I was on pace or not. I also had gotten some really bad back pain a couple days prior to this workout. The second 1 K was so hard- that kind of hard where I felt like I needed to have explosive diarrhea and I felt nauseous even though I was doing these in the morning and hadn’t had anything to eat before running. I was so glad when these were over. I did manage to mostly hit my paces (slightly over in the 1 Ks but otherwise mostly under).]

Less than two hours later, while cutting down a tree, I sustained a crush injury (no broken bones, no tendon, ligament, or meniscus tears- just considerable soft tissue damage) on my left knee. “Good thing I already did my intervals for the week” I thought when this happened. I hoped to be back to running soon but I still had considerable pain when running a week out so I missed the next weekly interval workout:

5 x 1 K w/ 3 minute rests; start at slower than 5 K pace and progress to running goal pace for the last 3 repeats

My new hope became that I could just run pain free at an easy 8 minute per mile pace for the race. As the days drew closer to the race, this hope turned to the realization that if I was about to do this 5 K, it would be walking, in other words, as noted above, I would be plowing through it. How quickly I could go from attempting a PR to not being sure I could even go 5 K! My only consolation was that the course was changed from the streets of Summit Hill in Saint Paul to a three lap course around the lawn of the State Capital with lots of turns- not a very good PR course.

The 2019 Lederhosenlauf 5 K course from my Garmin.

 While I wasn’t too sad to miss the last track workout and attempting to run a PR 5 K, because those things are really hard, it was a bit of a bummer that I had to give up so late in my training cycle. It would have been a much bigger bummer had I been training for a marathon.

I tried to capture my swollen left knee in this photo but didn't do a very good job. It was minamally swollen but still was causing me quite a bit of difficulty. I couldn't even speed walk. My socks are pretty awesome though! Will definitely rock these again.

The starting line with Erik on the far left. He went on to get 5th place. Photo: Lederhosenlauf
The only runner wearing lederhosen. Photo: Lederhosenlauf

This guy was at least wearing a shirt that made it look like he was wearing ledershosen. Photo: Lederhosenlauf
Taking up the very rear as I try to job a bit on my toes. I haven't been last off the starting line of a running race since never. I only ever expected this if I jumped into some pro race. Photo: Lederhosenlauf.

Now, most people wouldn’t have even bothered with doing the 5 K but I’m often too stubborn for my own good. Erik was racing to be competitive. I was trying to limit the pain in my still swollen knee. I was a bit afraid that my competitive nature would kick in and I’d run against my better judgement and just forget about the pain but when I took some running strides in the race, they were too painful to keep going. Unfortunately, there weren’t many walkers in this 5 K and so I was just about last place, yo-yoing with a group of 3 girls who alternated running and walking. The whole thing just seemed stupid; however, I was going slow enough to really appreciate the gardens on the capital lawn.

Casually strolling the 5 K with the biggest smile you will ever see me having during a 5 K! Photo: Lederhosenlauf

I took a DNF on the 5 K after two laps, although technically I went 5 K total as I had done a loop before the start as we got to the venue early. This was the farthest I had gone on foot (I had been rollerskiing and biking) since my knee injury and my knee wasn’t too happy afterwards as it swelled more.

It was indeed stupid and obviously not the ending I had in mind when I signed up for this race. But the post-race cookies somewhat made up for this:)

Winning women's time was 22:10, 25 seconds slower than what I was going for, but as noted, it would have been a tough PR course. I think I could have at least finished second had I not been injured. Maybe next year:) It would be so fun to lap people!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Crossroads #6: In Hindsight

Sometimes, I reflect back on the most pivotal decisions I’ve made in my life. These are the ones with the biggest downstream effects:

  • Taking AP classes in high school
  • Joining track my sophomore year of high school
  • Going to the U of M (here the point isn’t whether I went to college, because I always knew I was going to college, it was a matter of where; because the college I went to would determine the people I met and my future hobbies; in my case, I found my cross country skiing community)
  • Deciding to become a nurse practitioner
  • Getting married

This is a relatively short list; however, where I am in life today has everything to do with the above five decisions- the first two of which I made when I was just 15.

Solidifying my fate with a temporary tattoo. My bro, 7 years my junior, ended up at the U of M Morris so I guess his fate was decided then, too. Photo: Mom

In this post I’m going to focus on the second decision because it definitely impacted the third and is the main focus of this blog.

Once I joined track, I became a distance runner. Prior to this I could barely run a mile. But I was determined and soon I was running six miles routinely. This gave me the confidence to join cross country skiing my junior year of high school where it was rumored dryland practice consisted of a lot of running. The rest is history. I’ve cross country ski raced every winter since then (over half my life now) and have been getting back into running racing the past few years.

I can’t help but wonder how my life would be different and whether it would be better or worse had I not found competitive running and cross country skiing?

Also, had I not started these in high school would I have found them later in life?

I’m going to attempt to answer the second question first.

My dad was a huge skier. He loved to ski. But he didn’t like to race. He did a few of the big ski marathons in the early 80s and then quit racing. He wasn’t very good at racing and he didn’t care about technique or equipment or speed. He just liked to be outside, moving, working his body. He was a ski enthusiast. He lived to ski. Through my dad I knew about these big races like the Finlandia, Vasaloppet, and Birkebeiner. He showed me his medals and even as a little kid there was a spark in me that I might do these events one day, too.

Dad skiing down a big hill at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park with my youngest brother on his back. Photo: Mom

Skiing at age 8. Photo: Mom

So, I knew about skiing, I knew how to ski well enough, and I had some interest in doing what dad had done and maybe that would have been enough to sign up for and train for one of the legendary midwest ski marathons.

Our relay team for Finlandia Family Fun Day circa 2002: Dad (wearing his typical sweatshirt and corduroy pants ski outfit), me, our friend Anna Tibstra, and my bro, Leif. Photo: Mom

Dad racing at the Snowjourn. Photo: Bill Grundy?

But would I have began running? That question is more difficult to answer. Prior to joining track I had started doing some running for soccer. But this wasn’t “real” running- this wasn’t running for running, this was running to train for soccer. I didn’t enjoy the running. I never found my groove. I didn’t know how to run easy enough to let the thoughts flow.

My hunch is, given that I liked being outside and was becoming more athletic as high school went on, that I would have done some running, but it’s impossible to predict if I would have started running longer distances. I always liked walking and hiking, so perhaps I would have just been a walker/hiker:)

It’s also hard to know if I would have become competitive. Would I have read about proper training to get fast and started doing the interval training? This training is hard but I know I’m competitive by nature, so maybe. It’s just really hard to know.

My musings on whether I would have eventually found running and/or skiing are null given that I obviously did. Then the first question returns: how would my life be different and would it be better or worse had I not found competitive running and skiing?

And here, let me add that this has segued into some competitive biking, orienteering, canoeing, and mountain climbing (the last of which I’m at least competitive with myself).

Canoe Racing in the Chippewa Triathlon. Photo: Bill Grundy?

I think about this on those weekend mornings when I’m setting an alarm and getting up way before dawn to drive to some race.

I think about this when I’m doing intervals on the track on Saturday mornings and rollerski intervals and intervals on skis on snow. When I’m breathing hard and no matter how hard I try, I can’t push my body any harder.

I think about this before most 3 hour training sessions.

I think about this when it’s dark, when it’s well below zero, when it’s well above 80, and when it’s raining. Sometimes these can be my best workouts or races, but it’s especially hard to get out the door in the extreme weather. There’s no rest for the wicked.

I thought about this last fall when we had a wet 3 hour rollerski in Afton forcing perfect weight transfer on the slippery leaves when V2ing.

“Even the pros train in these adverse conditions,” I told my teammates. We promptly saw Jessie as we climbed the next hill.

I thought about this last summer a lot when I was preparing to try to break a 6 minute mile, especially in the couple weeks before my attempt when I never sleep quite as well as if I wasn’t about to find my physical limit.

There’s an easier way to go through life.

This is my choice.

Or is it?

On the flip side, I think about everything competitive running and cross country skiing have given me: something to do (structure and purpose in my life, a hobby), great friends, amazing fitness, better body image, time in the outdoors, thought process while exercising easy, goal setting and chasing. Self-efficacy. Strength. Confidence.

Representing the U of M Nordic Ski club. City of Lakes Loppet 2006. Photo: Bruce Adelsman
But here is where the word “competitive” becomes of utmost importance. If I take that word out of the above paragraph would recreational running and skiing still give me the same positives?

I suspect I would bike and run and maybe even ski so this would give me something to do but I’m not sure I’d chase it as much as a hobby which means I would likely read less about these sports and not talk about them so technically (pillow talk about gear ratios, breakfast discussions about track intervals, and post race discussions about ski flex and grind, cause you know, wax is less important than the above two). My friends would probably be farther down the results list:) My fitness wouldn’t be as good without the intervals. I’d still have time in the outdoors and the mindfulness. I think recreational exercise would benefit the body image, self-efficacy, and strength but the confidence really comes from the goal setting and achieving. From pushing through all those barriers.

This is getting at the essence of what this Crossroads series is about: what if I stop doing these activities competitively?

I can’t imagine not doing these activities recreationaly, but will I always be so competitive, do I still want to be so competitive, and is this making me happy and my life better?

Above I wrote “This is my choice. Or is it?” If I’m competitive by nature, then can I stop being competitive?

Previously when I’ve thought about quitting racing, I didn’t want to be that mentally weak. In more recent years, I’ve recognized a more finite ability to push myself. A couple years ago after running a hard race, I noticed that I just felt done. I needed a break. I was so satisfied from finding my limit that I didn’t need to do it again for awhile. And last summer, after I failed to achieve my six minute mile barrier, I had some thoughts of trying again, but I needed to regroup. Instead I did a couple inaugural races with minimal self expectations.

Slowly, I’m allowing myself to do less racing. I’ve realized mental weakness can come from doing too much. I’m much more focused for the races I do and happier when I have fewer races. I’ll still get out and train, but it’s a little less specific and hard. I’m always motivated to train by even a far-out goal so that’s not a problem.

I have zero regrets about joining track my sophomore year of high school, as long as you don’t ask me during the latter half of an interval or the last 10 kilometers of a marathon! But given I’ve weighted this decision on par with getting married, it’s clearly very fundamental in my life. This obviously says a lot about my perseverance, commitment, obsession...addiction:)

Canoeing into my wedding ceremony in a solo...

...and canoeing away together. Photos: Doug Kern???

Overall the benefits of being competitive seem to slightly outweigh those versus if I was merely a recreational athlete, but not by a large margin, hence cutting back on the competitive elements some seems to make sense. In the meantime, I’m still goal setting, but some of these now are about gardening, reading more, and sewing(!!!).

My new front yard garden although I should add the original plantings are all credit to my mom. Now it's just up to me to maintain!
If I keep up with my goal of reading one book per month for this year I still have to complete this many books before 12/31/19. Yikes!

My most recent sewing project. Obviously far from perfect but it's a start.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

2018-2019 Season Recap

Every year I like to write a season recap, but similar to when to put storage wax on my skis, it’s hard to know when the “season” is officially over because I’m always waiting for those April skis. Often when I’m racing and nearing the end but still hope to catch a few people the phrase blares in my head: “It’s not over until the fat lady sings.” Now, why I think of this proverb over and over again in ski racing is beyond me, but it’s applicable to the end of the ski season as well. And I think it’s a good attitude to have: never give up until it’s really over.

Erik landing a jump during our crust ski on April 14th

Anyway, given that I’ve never seen ski-able snow in the Twin Cities in May, I think it’s safe to say the season is officially over April 30th, and good thing since the new season arbitrarily begins May 1st:)

As ski-able snow is becoming increasingly less likely, and my skis are getting storage waxed in order of their likeliness to be used between now and May (A skis first, then B skis, then rock skis- maybe we should call them C skis:)), it’s time to publish this post.

We only got one crust ski this year but it was amazing! Crust skiing is simply the best. Photo: Erik
We still found plenty of snow that we never needed to take off our skis. Photo: Erik

If not already evident enough with my Crossroads Series, the 2018-2019 ski season for me was marked by ambivalence juxtaposed by all-in training and races.

This past year I’ve taken a more type B approach to ski training. I’ve made some subtle differences- not doing many half hour rollerskis after work, not focusing on rollerskiing so much, and racing less (partly because World Masters wasn’t in Minneapolis this year). I’ve also been struggling with this notion of getting stuff from races. I’m over the prizes and shwag. My house is too full of this stuff already. Once I get them they become too sentimental to me and I can’t box them up and send them to Goodwill. Besides, who wants some plaque that says “Top Female 32 km Classic?”

Erik and I came home from Birkie 2019 and immediately put our new hats in the Goodwill pile before they became too treasured.

During the winter I find it really difficult to get skiing after work. By the time I get skiing it’s dark and often quite cold. The driving takes forever and it’s difficult to get home at 8 pm on a work night. So this year Erik and I used more biking/running to and from work in lieu of one of our usual ski days some weeks. It’s just so “easy” to run the 5 miles home from work in the light for my exercise and be home by 6 pm rather than driving somewhere to ski in the dark. That’s just not efficient and I’m an efficient person. We did this during the polar vortex because somehow, it seemed nicer to run rather than ski at -17 ℉. Besides, on that coldest day I got to run with the wind on the way home from work and that’s something no ski trail would afford.

And so what have I been doing instead of training quite so much? Well, I've entered into my "project phase" of life. Here's a nightstand I made with Erik's help. You may notice a few different awards as structural features:)

Sometimes, to save time and spend less on bus money, I started biking and running to go skiing after work. This had me running from downtown Minneapolis to Wirth a few times and biking part way to Hyland. This activity was in addition to my usual ski time so it worked to improve my fitness. I figure if it’s faster to run somewhere than take the bus that I should run. A couple times I also ran to Hiawatha Golf Course and those times I substituted some run time for ski time.

Despite being at a crossroads with skiing and the man-made loops we skied before we managed the snowiest February on record, I actually liked being out skiing the vast majority of the time. It made me savor my ski time.

Most frustrating for me over the winter was repeatedly failing at keeping my hands warm in December and January. I’m not sure if this is a new phenomenon or an old one that I forgot about during the months of 80 degree weather. Either way, I’ve developed a zero tolerance policy for frost nipping my fingers. It seems I often fail to factor in the wind and other times it was colder than predicted or snow conditions were so fast that I wasn’t dressed appropriately. I shouldn’t be making this Rookie Mistake.

A typical April skier's workout. Yup, that's a two man saw we used to cut down this tree! Photo: Steve Pieh
Erik arguably got the better workout on the day.

At the beginning of the season I stated my intention to do more threshold workouts prior to the racing season. I can happily report that I executed these marvelously. The first one occurred on Onion River Road near Lutsen. It was one of those rare times when everything came together perfectly. For me to do intervals, I need decent snow conditions. There wasn’t much snow on the North Shore in early December when Erik and I were on a trip for the State Park Challenge but we did manage to get in one ski and I was really hoping to do a double pole threshold session to get ready for Mora. Every year Mora leaves my lower back incredibly sore and so this year I attempted to be better prepared with long threshold sessions. I double poled 4 x 15 minutes on Onion River Road- on the flats, up the gradual hills and even down the gradual hills and a few hours later as a stiffness settled into my lower back it was mission accomplished!

I did a few more threshold sessions each weekend in January when I wasn’t racing: a couple 4 x 15 minutes skate skiing at Hyland and Wirth and then did 30-30s (30 seconds on at marathon race pace followed by 30 seconds skiing easy for an hour total) at Wirth. I finished up with 4 x 15 minutes classic at Elm Creek. Most of these sessions I did as part of 3 hour skis. I warmed up for an hour, did an hour of threshold, and then skied easy for an hour. Doing this really made those sessions fly by and made me feel ready for my upcoming marathons.

My heart rate from skate 4 x 15 minute thresholds at Hyland.

Despite a more type B approach, I’ve been doing my intervals and races with a fervor that has even surprised me.

Every Wednesday night at Vakava we do hard intervals and in particular, two Wednesday nights in a row, we did classic skiing at Wirth going twice up the hill to coach’s corner. Some of these we even did double pole only! I pushed these so hard it made me realize that I still have that fight 100%.

Heart rate from hard intervals at Wirth with Vakva

In early January, Vakava participated in the Wednesday night Elm Creek team race sponsored by the Fulton Team. This year’s categories ended up being different than previous years and was a bit confusing but in the end I ended up racing the 10 km classic against Kathleen. In terms of performance, this was one of the standout races for me in the past few years. Kathleen gapped me a decent bit on the gradual downhill from the start but I attacked like no other on the two steep uphills on each loop- running them with mad turnover. I didn’t give up and tried my hardest on the fast double pole sections as well and by midway through the third lap I caught up to Kathleen! I passed her and she tucked in behind me. I did everything I could to put some time on her on those short quick uphills but she stayed with me and pulled in front of me as we neared the finishing stretch. I didn’t let her get too far in front of me and we finished within a couple seconds of each other. Mission accomplished again: phenomenal training race AND it was extra fun to come home and watch the women’s Tour de Ski Classic 10 km which was also 4 x 2.5 km loops and see that I had a similar time! (OK, so their course was hillier).

We've been paddling a fair bit this spring, including on March 31st, the day the river crested in St. Paul. Here we're about to canoe into the building on the grounds where we got married almost 11 years ago. It's been quite the adventure paddling on flooded roads, bike trails, and parking lots this spring, into buildings, and over bridges! Photo: Erik

In terms of racing … in summary, I was left wanting more.

I wanted a longer City of Lakes Loppet but was grateful to get to ski on excellent snow conditions at the man-made loop.

I wanted to ski faster at Mora where I ended up 4th for the fourth consecutive year. Despite my training, I don’t feel my double pole has improved. Meanwhile, my fellow competitor, Chris, made up almost 30 minutes on me in a year’s time. Maybe it’s not possible to get 10% faster.

At the Finlandia I managed to enter into the most competitive race and was denied an axe for the first time in seven tries. Wow, I had quite a streak going. Here I found myself wanting there to be no prizes, maybe even wanting no placings. Just wanting to ski hard and not actually know how I stack up against others:)

Things went well in the Birkie with my highest place ever in the skate race and that 337th overall...the wanting more is wanting to stay there and knowing it will take a lot to improve upon that performance.

And finally, at the Great Bear Chase, I got my first and only win of the season but know I could have pushed harder. I wanted to double pole faster. My double pole is good, but not as good as Ingvild Østberg’s and instead of accepting the obvious- that I will never be top 5 in the world- I’m going to keep working on it.

The crazy thing is, despite being in the Crossroads last year, I’ve emerged wanting more than ever to get better at skiing. Because. I’m. Always. In. Pursuit. Of. Perfection.