Sunday, January 12, 2020

Training Log Analysis Part Two: The Heart Rate

As noted in my first Training Log Analysis post, I do pay attention to my heart rate. In this post, I’m going to digress to a very technical discussion of my easy training and anaerobic threshold heart rates. I apologize to anyone who finds this boring but promise there is a bit of emotion mixed in and more to come in future posts. Largely suffice it to say, this post is for my own benefit but anyone who likes analyzing data or wants to know about my secret workouts might find this interesting.

There are certainly a lot of ways to calculate what “levels” or “% max heart rate” these training zones correspond to so I’ve included a table with the best descriptors I’ve ever found.

This table didn’t include the Levels. I put these in based on my previous understanding of training levels. It should also be noted that “20% slower than marathon” in Level 1 is irrelevant to skiing when snow conditions dictate effort and pace. I don’t agree with the heart rate of Level 1 being 70-78% and other resources cite 60-72% which I think better correlates to an “easy” effort. I will use that lower percentage for my analysis below.

It’s been a few years since I’ve tried to find my maximum heart rate, but it’s a bit lower than predicted models. If using the formula 220-age = max heart rate, and I’m 34 now, that would give me 186. My heart rate has never been that high (since I started using a heart rate monitor almost 10 years ago), hence I’m guessing my max heart rate is closer to the upper 170s. An analysis of why my max heart rate is lower than average is way beyond this blog. For simplicity sake and calculating my Level 1 and 3 heart rate zones, we’ll say my max heart rate is 178.

I’m going to glance over Level 2 because much of the literature recommends training either at Level 1 or at Level 3 or higher. As I’ve been doing more intervals, I tend to either train hard or easy and much less in the“gray zone” that is Level 2.

Level 1

Level 1 training should be 60-72% of max heart rate which works out to be 107-128 for me. So how do I do staying in Level 1 for the easy workouts?

Here’s a variety of training modalities and some “easy” days:

-2.5 hour Afton skate rollerski: average heart rate 124

-1.75 hour neighborhood classic rollerski: average heart rate 109

-1.3 hour easy run: average heart rate 126

-1.5 hour skate ski at Battle Creek w/ 1,283 feet of elevation change: average heart rate 128*

-3 hour ski at Hyland: average heart rate 124

-2 hour classic at Lake Elmo: average heart rate 115

* Note: this is when I know I’ve “made it” when I can ski easy under this terrain on a day following a couple hard 5 km races.

Overall I stay within heart rate targets for Level 1. My neighborhood classic skis often feel quite easy and not at all taxing. But that’s the point, this Level is also called “recovery” and it should feel easy. That’s the goal of these workouts. Even my average heart rate of 128 for my hilly Battle Creek ski felt easy.

An easy street/adventure ski in Bemidji over the holidays when it snowed too much. The skinny boards don't do so well without grooming:) Yes, this snow was up to my knees! Photo: Erik

Level 3

Level 3 is somewhere between 78-92% of max heart rate based on the model above with 85% smack in the middle. This corresponds to heart rates of 139-164 and 151 for me.

Over the past couple years I’ve honed in on the Level 3 workouts. I started doing these for running training and realized their immense value and so began incorporating these into my ski training last year. Yes, I know, pretty crazy that I made it so far without doing dedicated Level 3 workouts as a marathon ski racer!

First, I’m going to analyze the above predicated Level 3 heart rate by looking at some racing data. I’m going to pull data from three different benchmarking races.

The first race is the 2019 skate Birkie. I did well for myself at this race and was definitely “in the zone” for just about exactly 3 hours. For that race my average heart rate was 153. Now, it’s always easy to say in hindsight that I could have gone harder but in brief, I took it slightly conservative to OO, then really began pushing. With 25 km to go or so, I was tired. If I remove that hindsight, I know I gave it everything I had. So around that heart rate, or slightly higher, is a good goal for my anaerobic threshold (Level 3) intervals.

My Birkie 2019 heart rate profile. I like that it progressively goes up towards the very end.

The second race is the 2019 classic Mora Vasaloppet. This race is almost pancake flat and primarily double poling which tends to be an efficient technique for me, at least at cruising speeds. My average heart race for that race, over 2.75 hours, was 149. This is quite similar in terms of time and average heart rate to the Birkie. As I look back on this race, which I skied mostly by myself, it’s easy to think I wasn’t working hard, but my heart rate shows otherwise. So here again is a good target for my Level 3 intervals.

My Mora Vasaloppet 2019 heart rate graph. Here you can see it starts out higher when I was skiing with others. I'm pretty sure at the point it drops off was the last time I was skiing with anyone.

The third race is a 27 km running race around Lake Bemidji. I aced the pacing of this race to the point that the last half mile felt like I was finishing a 5 km. Over 2 hours and 12 minutes my average heart rate was 155. Surely this felt like the absolute max of my aerobic threshold (and about the same time as an elite male marathon runner) and so this should workout to be about 85% of my max heart.

85% of 178 (my presumed max heart rate above) is 151 so either I’m racing above my aerobic threshold (which based on how I felt near the finish and afterwards is quite likely) or my max heart rate is actually higher than I can get it to go (more on that next post).

I've posted this photo before but I love that my face is in complete agony. I guess this is what happens when you push way into the anaerobic threshold and don't win! Erik, all smiles, said he wants to do this race again because he had more to give. I on the other hand, put it all out there and somewhat doubt I could even repeat this performance, let alone better it. Photo: the mother-in-law:)

The data on my slightly shorter races, such as those that take the duration of a running 10 mile or ½ marathon, in the 1.5 hour range, only reveal slightly average higher heart rates such as 158 in the Hamsterbeiner in 2017 when the Birkie was cancelled.

Given all this, it seems I tend to race longer races with heart rates in the 150s. Hence, I’m targeting the higher range of the 150s for my threshold Level 3 intervals.

In the summer we did a classic rollerski workout of 5 x 6-8 minute intervals. My average heart rates for these intervals were 141, 146, 148, 150, and 150. This is a nice progression of Level 3 build up. When I first looked at these heart rates I wasn’t too impressed. But after comparing them to my average heart rate for last year’s Mora Vasaloppet, I see they are on par.

I was curious to see how this would compare to a similar running workout. The rollerski workout started out quite flat where I often flail and don’t have the technique to go as fast as I’d like and then ends with an uphill so I was interested to see how more even pacing on flatter terrain would be running. So I did 5 x 1 mile (just under 8 min/mile pacing) with average heart rates of 146, 154, 160, 161, and 161. Again this showed a nice progression but these were about 10 beats per minute higher than my classic rollerski workout. This was likely because it was my first running interval workout in 2+ months and therefore I was easily able to push harder running.

Now that I’m on snow I’ve done a couple classic and skate threshold workouts. Given that I’m targeting the Mora Vasaloppet Classic, which is predominantly double poling, I’ve focused my classic thresholds on flatter terrain. The first one was 4 x 15 minutes with average heart rates of 142, 142, 141, and 138. Yikes, well below my target in the 150s. The conditions weren’t ideal but I thought I had overcome that. My second classic threshold went similarly with 5 x 15 minutes. I even decreased my rest from 5 minutes to 3 minutes. Despite this my average heart rates were 132, 136, 136, 136, and 131 (last one lower perhaps because I changed up the course?). Again, way below my target heart rate in the 150s. Not sure why this is other than I’m not pushing hard enough, maybe because I’ve been doing these solo or because it’s not a race. I’m giving myself credit for at least trying these and hoping since last year was my first year doing these, it will give me a step up and at least it got my muscles sore. Now with one more of these before race season begins in February, we’ll see if I can hit my target heart rates.

My heart rate graph from my classic threshold workout at Elm Creek

So far I’ve done two skate threshold workouts (overall I’ve fallen behind on my goal of alternating classic and skate threshold workouts every week). The first one was part of a Vakava practice back on November 20th. This means I had people to push me. We did 3 x 15 minutes and my average heart rates were 149, 149, and 159- a bit low on the first two and then hit the third one well within target. On my second skate threshold workout a month later on December 22nd, I did 4 x 15 minutes with average heart rates of 152, 152, 151, and 148. Obviously not ideal that my last one was lower than the previous ones. These should really build. Not terrible, but based on these heart rates, I could do a tad better.

My heart rate graph from the second skate threshold.

In summary, my goal heart rate for Level 3 should be in the high 150s. I can hit this easily running, greatly struggle with double poling, and am close with skate skiing. In the end, just attempting these workouts is great training and likely to benefit me.

Stay tuned for my next post on Level 4 analysis!

Thursday, January 2, 2020

December 2019 Races Update

And just like that December is over.  Mother Nature decided to remind me that my excitement over natural snow was a whim she could take back and the month closed with a weekend of above freezing temps and rain, followed by some wet and heavy snows and wind.

Vakava did get out and make use of that natural snow while it lasted though with a handful of regular practices at Battle Creek.  The team also started a handful more races to close out 2019.

I'll give a run down of the team racing results as well as give my personal reports.

Team Racing Recap

Fulton Team Night

A bit earlier in the season than usual, Vakava was well represented at the Fulton Team night.  The team category results never got posted, but I know we walked away with a handful of the different category victories as well as the overall team victory.

5k Skate Results:
Paul 1st
Andy 2nd
Abe 3rd
Erik 4th
Ben 7th
Scott 11th
Bonnie 13th, 1st Female
Dave 15th
Laura 16th, 3rd Female
Brock 18th
Elspeth 20th, 5th Female

5k "Classic" Results (a bunch of the team double poled the full Valley Creek and Northern Lights loops):
Abe 1st
Erik 2nd
Ben 5th
Scott 6th
Dave 8th
Bonnie 9th, 1st Female
Elspeth 12th, 2nd Female
Laura 14th, 4th Female

The team is about as good as a herd of cats when it comes to rounding them up for pictures unfortunately.  So this is the best I've got.

Skinny Santa Solstice Ski

After a few year absence due to low snow, the Skinny Santa race was back and actually on the solstice this year.  Conditions were absolutely primo at Woodland Trails in Elk River for a double trip around the 10k loop.

Andy 7th
Ben 24th
Dave 43rd
Zena 58th

Andy - Photo Credit: Bruce Adelsman,
Ben - Photo Credit: Bruce Adelsman,
Dave - Photo Credit: Bruce Adelsman,
Xena - Photo Credit: Bruce Adelsman,

Winter Warm-up

I know Paul at a minimum was on the road to the race... and turned around when it was obvious the roads were an ice skating rink.  The same decision the race organizers made and cancelled the race.

Wednesday Night Races (December 26th Edition)

With no Vakava practice on Wednesday as it was Christmas Day, and the normal Wednesday evening races at Elm Creek bumped back a day for the same reason, a couple of us decided to make it one of the hard workouts of the week.

Conditions were SCREAMING fast with a very hard trail.  Four skiers went under 11 minutes for two loops of the man made Valley Creek which is definitely the fastest results of the last two years.

5k Skate:
Ben 4th
Paul 8th

5k "Classic" (again double poled):
Ben 5th

Ben's Race Reports

Fulton Team Night

My second race with the team and team pride was on the line!  Scott and I teamed up to do the Male-Male Classic-Classic division.  Yes, your math is correct, there were 9 divisions.  That said, we were both skiing both events.

5k skate first.  And for like the 3rd time in probably 15 of these Wednesday night races I've done over the last few years, we were doing the full lit loop of Valley Creek and Northern Lights.  I started on the front row with a good crew of Vakava skiers.  As we rounded the Whale Tail I was sitting somewhere around 8-10.  I'm not very good at holding my position in a dynamic pack and had gotten shuffled back on the trip down.  When we hit the wall I was able to slip to the outside and I was 4th or 5th at the top as we went double file up towards the parking lot.

As we passed under the bridge I saw Paul look over his shoulder and clearly decided it was time to break up the pack.  He surged, Andy went with him, and I slotted in behind Craig Stolen as the other two got a little gap.

Artie Huber came around either right before or right after Cowabunga and hung himself out in no-mans land between Paul and Andy and me and Craig.  As we rounded the far north end of the loop Erik and Laslo Alberti decided it was time to move up.  After the race Erik said he felt like he wasn't working hard enough at that point.  That started to break things up and string us out.  A little further up the hard packed and somewhat uneven course took its toll on Artie and he barely saved himself from skiing off into the woods and fell back.

With probably 3/4 of a km to go, Abe went by me, then Craig, then Laslo, then Erik finishing in a flurry.  I was definitely feeling gassed at the end so I'm not sure if everyone else turned it up a bit or if I faded.  Overall I was pretty happy with my race though finishing 7th in a pretty strong field.

Strava Flyby showing where Artie stumbled and Laslo came by and eased away from me.

Originally I had planned to actually use classic skis with kick wax for the classic race.  Dave "convinced" me that I should just double pole it like most of the other guys were doing.  Again, we did the full lit loop which may have been a first for me in the classic race.

It was a fun start falling into a train of Vakava on the front of the race around the Whale Tail with Abe, Erik, Scott and myself towing the rest of the field.

Somewhat of a surprise to me, I was actually making the best time on the steep uphills.  The Wall and Cowabunga were particularly good for me.  Where I had more trouble was keeping pace on the flats and gradual stuff.

Artie and Jonathon Sanborn were able to pull away from me on Northern Lights and I ended up soloing in for 5th.  Again, pretty pleased with how the race went.

Skinny Santa Solstice Ski

My first time skiing at Woodland Trails in a couple of years.  I had a vague memory of the trails, but I didn't really get to see them and get a solid reminder until in the race.  Hoping for another solid result to start the season I went out hot hanging with Artie Huber, Ben Creagh, and Josh Doebbert.  By the time we hit Top of the World I was already feeling worked.  Ben and Artie made a move and took off, while I stuck behind Josh for another k or two.

After gliding up alongside Josh on a downhill I took the lead on the next uphill.  My legs were definitely feeling "loaded", and I just felt like I had poor balance and drive.  This resulted in pulling a 180 right in the middle of the trail on a sharp downhill corner a ways up the trail.  Thankfully I was skiing all alone at that point and no one came barreling around the corner into me.  It took a bit of the fight out of me mentally for a bit though.

As I was lapping through the start/finish I could see that Josh wasn't that far behind me and Jon Sanborn not too far behind him.  I figured with the way I felt they would eventually catch me, but I resolved myself to not make it easy.  I made it to Top of the World again without them catching me.  And suddenly felt better?

I'm not sure what the deal was exactly, but my legs felt less on fire and I felt like I had some balance back and was actually crunching and driving instead of just floundering between my skis.  I started amping the effort up thinking I could get away from Josh and company.  I'd glance back occasionally and Josh would still be there, maybe closing slightly, but maybe not.

I was pretty pleased that I was able to really put the effort in over the last 6 or 7 km.

Wednesday Night Races on Thursday

Last year the Wednesday night races made up a consistent portion of my intensity training.  Since we didn't have Vakava this week I decided to fall back to last year's schedule and do both the skate race and classic race.

The skate deck was almost a sheet of ice.  I think most people were finding a hard time getting an edge.  For some reason my skis were actually doing quite well so I was expecting a blazing fast race for two loops around the man made.  With a small field just about everyone was on the start line.  We took off and just about flew all the way down to the Whale Tale.  I was slotted somewhere around 6th or 7th I think.

Enjoying the climb up the wall as I usually do I jump skated a few spots ahead and fell in behind Paul for 5th.  As we descended into the Donut, Paul was letting a gap open up to the trio of whippersnappers ahead of us.  I was feeling comfortable getting a draft at ripping along at 2:15/km on the hard pack so I didn't want to lose the group in front of us.  I made a move and pushed up the hill to the parking lot just catching on as we went below the bridge.

Thankfully they didn't step on the gas there as I might have popped off the back again.  Instead I caught the draft I was hopping for and we flew down to the Whale Tale again.  It felt "easy" again at the back of the pack and I was positive the rest of the field was gaining on us.  Instead it turned out it was only one of them, and they popped off the back again as we headed for the wall.

I made it to about the bridge the second lap before the youngins dropped it down another gear I didn't quite have and I ended up tailing in at 10:58 for fourth place.  I beat a handful of pretty fast guys so I'm happy with that.  Helps to be able to stand on your skis.  Maybe the Birkie can be just like that... on second thought, I hope not.  Those downhills would be frightening with the skate deck that hard.

Super short classic race report.  I double poled.  I almost held on for one lap, then the four guys who beat me pulled away 30 seconds on the second lap.

Where To Find Vakava Next

Coming up in the first few weekends of January you'll spot a few folks at the First Chance Race and/or the Pre-Loppet, a larger contingent at the Rennet, and then a solid crew up at Seeley Hills.

Monday, December 16, 2019

2019/2020 Race Season Underway

We are already two weekends into this race season.  Both races have been on man made snow loops, but believe it or not, we are all skiing on the natural snow trails too!

Historically my race reporting has been rather long and in depth including pre-race info, play by play, and post race analysis.  I'm going to try something a little different for the Vakava Blog.  My initial proposal is a little team results recap, a much shorter personal race account, and then possibly a look forward to where you might spot the Vakava suits in the coming week.

Team Racing Recap

Skadi's Chase

Racing kicked off with first running of Skadi's Chase as a part of the Three Rivers Park District Nordic Opener at Elm Creek.  Paul and Brock debuted Vakava's new racing suits while Andy was still rocking the previous suit (apparently antique is more than 100 years old, vintage is 20-100 years old, and retro is 1980's or 1990's so none of those apply).

Andy 5th Overall, 1st Age Group
Paul 7th Overall, 2nd Age Group (to some guy named Matt Liebsch)
Brock 18th Overall, 4th Age Group

Andy - Photo Credit: Bruce Adelsman,

Paul - Photo Credit: Bruce Adelsman,

Brock - Photo Credit: Bruce Adelsman,

Hoigaard's/Breadsmith Relays

This past weekend a larger contingent of Vakava skiers headed out again to Elm Creek for the Olympic team sprint format racing.  Among the various teams and categories Vakava had nine folks out racing.  I must say the new suits are rather eye catching.

5 new Vakava suits and 1 old Vakava suit starting the race - Photo Credit: Bruce Adelsman,
Vakava had skiers on the 1st, 2nd, 8th, and 10th men's teams and the 3rd, 4th, and 6th mixed gender teams.

Post race the team did some classic video analysis and took a nice long ski the outer loops at Elm.

Photo Credit: Alex Reich and Ian Wright

Ben's Race Report

Brock and I teamed up to be the Vakava B Team.  Get it?  Ben and Brock, B Team... OK, maybe it wasn't that clever.  By virtue of the registration table handing me the bib I pulled the anchor leg duty.  Brock and I skied around for 20 or so minutes before the race.  I was a little nervous, not for the results, but for the pain I knew I was about to inflict upon myself.  Since I was going second, I did miss out on the mass start nerves a little bit.

Brock tagged off to me in a little group that included Dennis C and Clayton K.  Both of whom have historically kicked my butt in anything exceeding 5k.  Time to see how repeated 1.5k efforts and a summer of training looked.  I slotted in behind Clayton, and then when Dennis went around just past the Bottineau House I slipped in behind him.  We held a pretty sharp pace all the way to the next hand off.

A little looping around slowly trying to catch my breath while also cheering on team mates and other skiers and about 5 minutes later I was getting ready to go again.  Another lap, this time holding off Dennis who I had about a 8 second head start on.

5 more minutes... just hoping my legs would clear a little bit of the fatigue they were feeling.  One more lap, digging deep.  Both because Dennis was closing in on me, and I knew Dave was out taking video and I didn't want to look terrible.

Approximate splits of 4:50, 4:59, and 4:59 for just under 15 minutes of hard efforts.  It's a good start for the season.
Color chart of the increasing pain over the course of each lap.

Where To Find Vakava Next

Fulton Team Race this coming Wednesday at Elm Creek.  Wednesday's are normally practice nights, so we should see a pretty solid contingent.  Plus they said something about free beer.

Then it is the Skinny Santa Solstice race out at Woodland Trails.  You should see at least one of us out there.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Training Log Analysis: Part One

Since wrapping up my Crossroads series, I’m about to start another one of, you guessed it, not yet determined length:) This one is dedicated to analyzing my training log because although I’ve been keeping a training log, I don’t exactly do much of anything with the data. Here some of you may be saying “What, she doesn’t do anything with her data? If she analyzed it all better she would have won the Birkie by now!” I suspect most of you may be in the second camp though: “Phew, I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t analyze my training!”

A fun photo from last month backpacking in a much warmer place (Superstition Mountains in Arizona). Photo: Erik

In this first post, I’ll provide a synopsis of my current training logs and provide the analysis that I’ve done so far and then comment on some of my goals for training log analysis. 

Yikes! They have some big spiders in Arizona! Photo: Erik

My training log:


Not unlike many of you, I’ve been keeping a training log since I started endurance sports, sometime in the latter half of high school. My training log has evolved over the years. It began as a detailed paper journal with my actual training buried within a paragraph or paragraphs. Then it became very short entries with mostly only my activity and rarely what I was thinking. In 2008 I began an Excel Spreadsheet that has now morphed into a Google Sheet with over 10 years of data now.

I also keep my online Garmin log. I have both because I don’t always use my Garmin and like that the Google Sheet has better capacity for analysis than Garmin (note, Garmin has evolved over the years and it might actually be better but I’m not super talented in the tech world so have kept my Google Sheet). Hence, all my training goes into the Google Sheet but only the workouts in which I use my Garmin (which is over half) go into the Garmin log.

Here’s a snippet of what my Google Sheet looks like.

So the question is, what do I actually do with all this data? I’ve been pretty bad at really doing any analysis so have decided to use this blog as motivation to interpret my data.

First, let me describe my Google Sheet with some rules for how I input my data:

-I round to the nearest 0.05 hours (or 3 minutes); i.e. 0.30 = 18 minutes of activity
-if I have used my Garmin for the workout, I’ll include Moving Time only
-over the years I report less in distance and more in hours (this encourages me to train at the appropriate level)

Looking back on Superstition Mountain and the long ridgewalk/bouldering route we did on our first full day in Arizona. Photo: Erik

I’m obviously really good at inputting my data. Here’s the “analysis” that I’ve been doing so far:

-I do look at my weekly totals. This column is close to my data input and so I know that typically I train around 12 hours per week. This is a quick way for me to know if I’m training more or less than usual. 

-Usually I look at my heart rate data in my Garmin Log

-And that’s about the extent of things other than back a few years ago my bro (who has a Master’s in Stats), helped me come up with some annual data.

The really nice graph my data scientist bro made for me with my annual training volumes. 2008-2009 and 2015-2016 are both very low because these were partial years and 2012-2013 was low because I spent like 8 weeks canoeing and hiking that I didn't count and then buying a house!
And the yearly total hours by activities. Um, I'm not sure why the rollerski column is blank. That's a snafu in my analysis that I'll need to fix. Now if only I can learn to use Google Sheets well enough that I can add in the years since 2017 by myself!

In my upcoming posts, here’s some analysis I plan to do:

-assess my heart rate and training levels
-see what Garmin can do!
-manipulate my data better to see trends in strength, intervals, and different types of training
-figure out if I can actually glean anything from this data

And since no trip is complete without doing something a little crazy, we hit up Picacho Peak! Photo: Erik

Sunday, December 1, 2019


New guy here.  I have heard that a lot of people enjoy Elspeth's blogging, but they would like to see more perspectives.  I've been known to write a long winded race report or two in the past so I figured I could ramble for a bit here as well.

For my first post as a member of Vakava, I thought I would attempt to give a "Why Vakava" of sorts.


A brief biography to start.  Way back in the 90's as a scrawny little seventh grader I rode the bus from the junior high to the high school and managed to find my way to the health room for the informational meeting on the "ski club".  Turns out it was the nordic ski team and this was the inaugural season for Forest Lake.

I'm the little kid in the center in front of Brent, the guy with the goofy hat.

I spent the next six years as a founding member of that team.  I made friends, learned a little about training, learned how to suffer, and generally really enjoyed myself.

Junior year.  Front row with the letter jacket on.
If we skip the next ten years where I got horribly out of shape, probably stepped on a pair of skis twice, and forgot what it was like to be an endurance athlete, we will find me running and losing a little weight, eventually thinking that maybe I wasn't so out of shape I could try skiing again.

Right around that time a ski and bike shop opened up nearby.  Over the next five years or so I met most of the people I call friends today engaging in one crazy adventure or another.  3 day bike adventures on the North Shore, ski trips to ABR, 42k of loops at Troll when SISU got cancelled and we needed a qualifying race for our first Birkie, 8 hour running races, etc.  Good times with good people.

I bought my first shop bike kit because I was told I "had to have one".  It really didn't take too long before I came to proudly wear all the shop kit and always enjoyed finding people at events in the same gear.  It wasn't so much a "team" as a "community".

Flashing gang signs with some of my team at the Marine O'Brien race a few years ago.
As they say, nothing stays the same.  Over the last couple of years the community was evolving and just recently the shop closed.  My primary ski training partners all retired and now do things like train at 10am on Tuesday, or head up to ABR on a Thursday.

The Search

Part way through the ski season last year I was pretty certain I was going to be looking for a new home for this year.  Sure plenty of people, most in fact, ski independently.  You certainly don't need a team.

So I got to thinking why I wanted a team and what I wanted from the team.  This is the short list I came up with.
  • Skiers who are faster than me
  • Hard workouts with a group
  • Overall training program guidance
  • Technique review and coaching
  • Camaraderie

Early Verdict

Since I'm writing on the Vakava blog, hopefully it is going well.

Skiers faster than me.  Yeah, just about the whole team.  Rather than just saying faster, a better objective would have been skiers who have strengths in different areas than me.  Each teammate has something I can look to for inspiration.  There are a few beautiful technical skiers.  A couple of folks who I know to follow double poling.  Or another teammate for kick double pole.  I know who to try to match when free skating.  I'm pretty sure the entire team is stronger than I am.  That was eye opening.

Hard workouts.  Weekly.  I've been sore on any given Thursday.  Or bonked on the side of the trail near the end of a workout.  I even occasionally feel really good.  The great part though is there is always someone there encouraging you.

Training Program Guidance.  While there isn't a specific Vakava training plan, there is definitely a guiding principle.  And there are always people to bounce ideas off of.

Technique review.  Sadly there is no "use this one weird trick to ski the Birkie 20% faster".  Ahvo hasn't told me we need to start all over so that is something.  Mark and Dave did tell me I clearly had no idea how to ski walk.  So I'm working on subtle things.  The good thing is that without the dedicated eye, the subtle things I'm working on would probably go missed.  So while I might not be 20% faster, maybe I can be 5% more efficient.

Camaraderie.  It has been great having a team so far.  Connecting with the same people every week, coordinating a few workouts outside of normal practice, and making plans for the race season.

Race Season Approaches

Race season is fast approaching.  In fact, there is a race this coming Saturday.  I won't be there, but maybe you'll spot a Vakava skier or two.  We are going to be hard to miss this year.  And that has nothing to do with our results or technique.  When you see us, you'll know.

Odds of spotting us will increase at these races:
  • Hoigaards Relay's
  • Fulton Team Race
  • Rennet
  • Seeley Hills Classic
  • Marine O'Brien
  • City of Lakes Freestyle
  • Vasaloppet
  • Birkie

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Crossroads: The End???

This post has been a long time in the making. I’ve been jotting down ideas for about a year. Yet for several months I’ve struggled with the organization of this post and what exactly I want to say. I’ve had writer’s block, sat dumbfounded in front of a bunch of words, and rearranged and rearranged and then rearranged again. In some respects, I feel I’ve been skirting the real issue(s) in my previous Crossroads posts. I guess this is the one where “this shit gets real.”

As long as I remain a competitive person, which is likely to be forever, given that competitiveness is an enduring personality trait, I will always be at a Crossroads- always wanting to be perfect while simultaneously wishing to be a bit more Type B. Hence, this blog series could go on and on but for now I’m going to write the last in this series and next year will probably write something to the effect of Checking Back In or A Year Later.

Have I mentioned I'm always trying to attain perfectionism with everything in my life including decorating my house?
It took a few tries but I found the "perfect" yellow to paint my kitchen:)

Over my 18 year tenure in the world of endurance racing, I’ve seen many people quit. Especially in my early days, whenever someone quit I knew it was because they were weak in their mind. I vowed to not be that weak and have stuck in there for the long haul. But as I’ve stuck with it for the long haul I’ve inevitably had my own mental weaknesses throughout my racing career.

Because let’s face it, racing is HARD.

As I’ve struggled with my own mental limitations throughout the years, I’ve noticed most days I have the fight in me but some days I just don’t. This fight is what I’ve previously referred to as my “mojo.” I’ve noticed that the more I race, the less mojo I can produce for each individual race. It’s like I have a finite amount of mojo that has to get me through. This is why I’ve been trying to race less.

While crafting this series over the past couple years there have been a couple quotes that have really jumped out at me that get at the mental toll of racing.

The first quote is from Tina Muir, a professional runner.

“We are always going to have the what ifs.
We are always going to have parts we could have done better.
We are always going to be hard on ourselves.
But the reality is, you ran the best you could at that point in time, and you are never going to have the perfect race.”

This made me think that maybe I should stop separating my physical stamina from my mental stamina. I’m so much harder on myself if I think I didn’t give it my all than when pain or simply being unable (like in the case of pull-ups) to push any harder get in my way. Instead I need to change this to “my mental game just wasn’t there today. Maybe I’ve been pushing it too hard lately. Maybe it needed a rest. How can I make my mental game sharper? Maybe I need to feel more confident with my training or it’s been too long since my last race or I haven’t spaced out my races enough.”

The need for mental toughness is why a good number of professional athletes have a sports psychologist.

At this point, I’m just not that interested in getting a sports psychologist. I think the best thing for me is to race less given my finite amount of mojo. I’m a “less is more” person. The less I race, the more I can focus on specific races and tap into that mojo.

This is hard for me. It can make me feel weak. But I’m giving myself permission to race less. Giving myself permission to be a bit weak sometimes so I can be stronger overall.

And while, as I’ve previously noted in a number of the Crossroads posts, there are many other factors that make me think about continuing my life as a cross country ski racer, I think ultimately it is because I don’t want to be mentally weak that I keep racing.

Is it possible to craft the perfect dessert? This Baked Alaska we made for Erik's birthday a few years ago certainly came close!

That and because it’s so hard to quit. Recently I was doing an orienteering race that was beyond my ability. I was running out of time and after having gotten miserably lost (so much so that I realized I might have to go into survival mode!), I debated just calling it quits and going back to the finish. But I was so close to a couple of controls and still had some time left so I couldn’t quit. At least not yet. I nabbed a couple more controls and then really didn’t have any more time left than it would take me to get to the finish so I did have to take the DNF.

If I view my mental toughness as something to work on as much as making my muscles strong and efficient, then I think I can be less hard on myself and maybe even enjoy racing more.

It's not too hard to enjoy racing when wearing this race suit. Even if my results weren't perfect, my race suit certainly was. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

The second quote is from Knute Johnsgaard, Canadian National Skier who retired at age 25:

“The world of sport is cruel in that I was always left wanting more. When you believe anything is possible, then everything less than perfect is not good enough. I always found myself striving for the next step that I could only hope would bring satisfaction. Instead, it brought only desire for greater success, which only got exponentially harder to achieve as I climbed the ladder. The final step was hard for me, and near the end of my career I began to struggle with anxiety and depression. It took so much energy that I didn’t have anything left over for ski races anymore, and I wasn’t happy.”

This Crossroads series for me boils down to this simple statement: I want to enjoy life more. I didn't come up with this phrase on my own and I forget where I read it or heard it but over the past couple years this has been resonating with me. Clearly Knute found that he wasn’t enjoying life very much as a cross country ski racer.

So over the past couple years I’ve been thinking about this more.

If I want to enjoy life more, then this entails doing more things that I enjoy and less things I don’t enjoy.

In my last Crossroads post, I noted that “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.”

There are aspects of racing I like, but there are also lots of things I don’t like.

I don’t want to dread things, I want to be excited! Too often I dread races or even hard workouts. I started getting really nervous before some of my last interval sessions leading up to my sub 6 minute mile attempt and on the day of the attempt. At the same time, I enjoy goal setting and chasing goals.

So that’s where I’m at with racing but Knute’s quote gets at more for me and that’s exactly why a few months ago I was crying on the side of a mountain. For me, my racing/athletic/competitive life is so intertwined with everything that I do like looking at maps and planning routes for adventures. I go on these crazy self propelled adventures that just keep getting crazier and more intense until I run into a cliff. This goes back to that Type A overachieving personality. As I’m planning our upcoming vacations, I have these route choices that include to summit a mountain or not. I find myself trying to get out of planning the mountain top route because, similar to racing, if I don’t achieve the success I will be so disappointed and my preoccupation with my attempt will detract from the overall vacation and I won’t enjoy the vacation as much because I’ll be fixated on this goal.

Wow, that’s crazy. This is really making me rethink everything. It’s very similar to my racing goals.

At what point will I just be OK with where I am? Will I stop striving for something I can’t achieve?

When my vacations become so stressful because I’m trying to achieve something so difficult, that’s when I know I need to re-evaluate things.

Over the past couple years I’ve done this more with my racing. I’m not as concerned about perfect training. I only do the races I really want to do. Now I need to put my vacations into perspective. Because vacations aren’t something to retire from, but rather to retire to. As much as I dread and fret about pushing myself hard, I also love pushing myself hard. This all becomes a balancing act. Last winter in a Crossroads post I noted that Erik and I have never failed at summiting a mountain we’ve attempted. We’re bound to fail at some point, and I think the trick in this is not to see it as a failure. To realize that all this is a process. That success isn’t the opposite of failure. Success is improvement, it’s enjoyment, it’s finding that limit, and it’s being satisfied. It’s enjoying life more. It’s a process, not a defining moment. Sometimes failure is success, because you don’t know if you don’t try.

Erik and I, circa 2008, with New York's Mt. Marcy, our first state high point, in the background. Photo: Blake Hillerson

I thought this post was complete but then I finally watched Free Solo. For months I had been avoiding this literal cliff hanging movie. Instead of finding the movie repulsive, I had quite the opposite reaction. I wasn’t on edge until the final scenes (this obviously wasn’t the first climbing movie I’ve seen). More surprisingly, while this may be the general public's first introduction to Alex Honnold and they deemed him completely crazy after seeing Free Solo, I’d heard of him before and as the movie progressed it was a bit shocking how much I could identify with him. Does this make me truly crazy?

He lays out goal setting, perfectionism, and this drive to accomplish something because it is there so well. When he fails to free solo El Cap in the first season his obsession and sense of failure are so palpable. I’ve previously told Erik I can’t go to Seattle until we first summit Rainier because I don’t want that giant massif taunting over me.

Which brings me to two last quotes for this post from Alex: “It’s nice to be perfect, at least for the moment” until the next challenge presents itself and “You face your fear because the goal demands it.” Yeah, that’s why I repeatedly dive face forward over my rollerskis, hoping my arms will catch me every time. Yeah, that’s why I went up that super sketchy rope on Granite and made a couple crux bouldering moves free solo.

“You face your fear because the goal demands it.” Photo: Erik

For now, it’s over and out. I’m going to contemplate this idea of success and enjoying life more and roll it around in my head and at some point, hopefully I’ll have a revelation and I’ll write a follow up post.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Fall 2019 Training Updates

My training this year feels a bit erratic. First, there were a couple injuries. Then there was an almost 3 week trip to Europe. Not that I didn’t train during both of these times, it just looked different than previous years. As I head into fall I’ll reflect on some of my training consistencies, “curve balls,” and my major time suck of the year.


Biking: I’ve still been doing my bike commuting to and from work and for errands on my retro super heavy road bike. This can hardly be considered training but at a 5+ mile commute it’s also not nothing.

My old bike with a big load after a Target shopping trip.
 Running: Since my awesome come back run in Ulm, Germany on July 31st, I’ve been running just about 4 times per week, averaging 20 something miles per week. I’ve even done a couple threshold runs, an L4 workout, and some fast 200s. In other words, my running training looks pretty similar to previous years.

Always running. Photo: Erik
Wednesday night Vakava practice: This has been consistent for me outside of our Europe trip. I think this is because I know I need to do some rollerski training and so I make it a point to go to practice where I can be pushed by my teammates during our intervals.

Strength training: I’m still regularly doing this 3 days per week. After my shoulder injury, I substituted one day of pull-ups for rows and other shoulder stabilization exercises. So I’m down to like 60 pulls up per week instead of 100. I’ve also gotten in a new routine with my leg strength. One workout focuses more on balance whereby I do all of my exercises one-legged. A second workout emphasizes one-legged squats and stair steps and a third workout is all about squats with weights. It’s been a good routine- now if I could just add to that! And of course I do an ab workout as part of each strength session.

Curve balls

This is perhaps too strong of a word to use to describe these curve balls but it was the word that most readily came to mind. Maybe because this training is on track. Sort of.

Saint Paul Classic Bike Tour: Somehow, when this flyer arrived in our mailbox in July, I decided we should do the Saint Paul Classic. Note, this is a tour; however, we planned to do the 45 mile course and since I prefer to ride my mountain bike, I decided a bit of training was in order. I found that I was substituting rollerskiing for biking. The tour was mostly fun, minus the rain near the end. I had trained well and since it was a “tour,” I felt like a pretty fast biker:) which I’m definitely not. Unfortunately, the pavement on my favorite rollerski loop in Saint Paul (you may have heard that the Saint Paul streets are terrible) has too many bad areas of pavement and it takes all the joy out of the loop so I found biking to be a good alternative.

Bike training! Photo: Erik

A training bike ride with Erik and my bro. Photo: Erik
Paddling: It hasn’t really been my intention to do paddling, but it just sort of happens. OK, I guess this has just happened twice, but both times we substituted rollerskiing for paddling. One time we were out in the Shakopee area and since we need to canoe that part of the Minnesota River, we decided to just do that. And it was fabulous. The second time, my coworker got married up by Willow River, MN. Given that we’ve been getting so much rain lately, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to paddle a river in the area. Well, you know me, I’d actually been planning this for months since I got the Save the Date. Especially because our autumns seem to be rainy and river levels have been high. The day after the wedding, on a nice fall Sunday, Erik and I packrafted 26.5 miles down the upper Snake River. It was amazing. Yeah, we could have gone rollerskiing but it just wouldn’t have been as magical.

A perfect fall day on the upper Snake River. That's our gear bag attached to the front of the packraft that's obstructing a bunch of the view.

Erik and some of the fast water in the Lower Snake Falls part. We put in just to the right of the pillow rock to Erik's right to ferry across to shoot the rapid below.

Orienteering race: I tried to do an orienteering race at Wisconsin’s Interstate State Park. The plan was to race and get in a threshold run. But the terrain dictated otherwise. Scampering around boulders wearing spikes isn’t exactly conducive to fast running. I was doing the hardest course, where all the controls are well off trails, it was cloudy and I didn’t have a compass and the “trails” marked on the map were deer trails at best. After worrying I was possibly actually lost and going into survival mode, I had to DNF as I was out of time. My only consolation was that Erik also took the DNF and we did the same number of controls.

Hiking at Interstate State Park after the rainstorm and orienteering meet. Photo: Erik

Watching the cruise boat on the St. Croix. Photo: Erik

Time suck

Here’s my confession: I’ve become completely addicted to ridding my yard of ivy. The problem with this, of course, is that this is impossible. I’ve spent hours and hours digging up the roots, trying to meticulously trace them back to their origin to try and get out every last piece of ivy. It’s overwhelming. And it’s kind of a workout. I mean, my back and hamstrings get really sore and with all the digging and pulling down deep, my upper body is getting at least some kind of workout in. There’s been more than a couple times I’ve passed up a rollerski in favor of this new obsession. Yes, I’m definitely a type A perfectionist. I’ve had dreams about this ivy. It’s kind of taken over my life, just like how it had taken over the garage and raspberries until I intervened.

Ivy on the house (and Erik replacing some woodwork last year) must go which means digging down deep to pull out all the roots.

Each week, as an entire week passes between Wednesday Vakava practices, I vow to do more rollerskiing. But then those curve balls come my way- so, here’s to next week!