Friday, June 26, 2020

Vakava Updates: Roster and COVID-19 Mitigation

If I’ve counted correctly, this is now my seventh season on Vakava! Time sure goes by fast. There’s a good group of us around my age, and over these seven years we’ve gone from upper twenty-somethings to late thirties! Of course, the whole group has aged with a fair number of members in their fifties and coach Dave has entered his eighth decade of life!

Most of our Vakava members are returning this year. We have a few who have taken a hiatus from Vakava and are rejoining after a year or two. And we have three new members- although one of them has been tagging along for the past few years giving us sage technique and training advice and regaling us with her stories of racing on the World Cup.

With our new additions, the Vakava group is the biggest it’s been in years with around 30 racers!


A group photo following one of our time trials. Photo: Xena

Vakava meets weekly, on Wednesday evenings, for a workout from May through March (or until the snow is gone). We usually do intervals, time trials, or video technique- and sometimes all three. This year, we delayed starting our workouts until the second week in June due to COVID-19. We are starting back cautiously. A few of us got together for a Google meeting to discuss how we should proceed with Vakava. Given our robust membership, we decided to break into 3 groups for the foreseeable future (likely the summer and perhaps into the fall and winter if needed). Our Wednesday groups will thus be smaller and will help decrease our exposure and risk of transmission of COVID-19.

We divided Vakava into groups based on geographic location and speed. The feeling is a bit different, not only because the group size is smaller, but also because we live relatively close together and have a much smaller range of speed. It feels a little more like our own community and a bit less diverse. It’s much more intimate.

I’m currently the fastest woman in our little group and one of the fastest overall. Thus, it kinda feels like Vakava has been turned upside down for me where I’m usually one of the slowest. This must be how the fastest in Vakava usually feel!


Two of the three speedy ladies in this photo are on Vakava- they aren't in my group:) Photo: unknown


Some of us are more hesitant than others about training together during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, we’ve decided to forge ahead. It can be so easy to forget about COVID-19 when we finally get together or when breathing hard during our intervals. We aren’t wearing masks but are trying to keep our 6 feet from each other. We also added something to our waivers about not coming to practice if sick or recently exposed to COVID-19.

It’s hard to know if these measures are enough. My employer, a healthcare organization, considers a “high-risk COVID” exposure if you are closer to someone than 6 feet for more than 15 minutes without both people wearing a surgical mask. So I’m kind of using that as my baseline.

At some point, we will have to get back to normal. After all, germs aren’t new. They’ve been around forever and will continue even after COVID-19 resolves. It’s too hard to live in a bubble, not very practical, and definitely not fun.


Photo from our annual fall camp in 2019- it was a cold year! Photo: Bonnie

And fall camp from a warmer year- 2018?
And it’s quite likely that we will be racing this season. So for now I’m enjoying a bit of a mix-up and my similar-speed teammates pushing me hard in intervals.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

COVID-19: A Diary

4/5/20

Nobody is as up in arms about diabetes as they are about COVID-19. And guess what is going to kill way way way more people????? If people cared half as much about diabetes as they do about COVID-19 no one would be obese.

Overall I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by the kindness of people. Everyone is willing to bend the normal rules. These are unprecedented times.

We hear this term “social distancing” a lot but shouldn’t it really be “physical distancing?” I mean, we can still talk to each other face to face from six feet away wearing a mask, over phone calls, face time, writing letters, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. This is after all, the era of Social Media.

Yikes, I’ve never seen so many people out on the bike/running paths when running home from work and that’s when it’s 42 degrees. Are all these people going to rediscover the outdoors and suspend their gym memberships when this is all over? It’s great to see so many people out, albeit at times it can be a bit congested and I can’t maintain my physical distance.

Minneapolis closed down a lane of traffic along the river road. This is awesome, except they have signs up for peds to use the closed section of road and bikers the bike path. Seems like maybe the road should be for bicyclists? Quite a lot think so and disregard the sign. Sometimes this makes the peds upset.

The stores are out of flour. What are people going to do with just flour? I’m sure stoked about all the flour tortillas and focaccia bread people are going to make!

Stores are also out of rice and toilet paper.

In addition, there’s this whole idea we shouldn’t get together. It has everyone on edge and I find it helpful to not panic, maintain as much of a routine as possible (like go to work as an “essential” worker, exercise, and write this blog), control what we can (cooking food), and take time to slow down and enjoy life a bit (storage wax the race skis, get some house projects done, read some books).

Favorite things about COVID-19 so far:

-seeing so many people outside walking, hiking, biking, and just being outside

-seeing neighbors TALK to each other, albeit from 6 feet or more away

-the quiet of few cars

-having time to do house projects!

-long talks on the phone with my mom


4/12/20

As I look out on my backward, snow clinging to trees and the chain link fence and covering the yard, it’s a common sight for April. But this April is different than every April I’ve lived through before.

Easter snowstorm!


The day happens to be Easter. For the past seven years we’ve celebrated this holiday with Erik’s parents, aunts and uncles, and cousins. We’ve been charged with the egg hunt the past several years.

This year, to maintain physical distancing, we didn’t get together. Erik and I celebrated the holiday by ourselves. Fortunately, we had the plastic Easter eggs and still did an Easter egg hunt for each other, although instead of the eggs being filled with candy, there was a strength exercise that we did upon finding the egg. It was fun, or as fun as two minute planks can be, and took like 2 hours!

Basement strength workout with bunny ears. Photo: Erik

Can you find the egg in this photo?

How about this one?
And what will be the strength exercise?


Typically, I don’t watch or read the news. I like to joke that if it isn’t on skinnyski.com, it’s not important. Well, COVID-19 is all over skinnyski.com, which means it’s the real deal. I’m technically a scientist, or as Erik would like to point out, a junior scientist. I’m also a healthcare provider. Every day I do look at the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at my institution, the numbers on the Minnesota Department of Health website, and the CDC website. These numbers are merely representative. There are estimates that for every one person confirmed positive, there are another 10-50 that aren’t tested who are also positive. We continue to have limited ability to test people and also have to weigh the pros and cons of mildly ill people going somewhere to be tested. Most of these people will have mild cases but since it seems likely almost everyone will get COVID-19, even with a relatively low mortality rate, this still adds up to more death than my generation has ever experienced.

Yes, we may succeed in social distancing and therefore flattening the curve. Yes, this may allow us to find better treatments for those who fall severely ill. Yes, this may allow time for a vaccine. But everything is speculative. The future is suddenly incredibly wide open and we now think in two week intervals. Although those of us in healthcare are thinking more in 24 hour intervals.

Throughout all this, I realize I am incredibly fortunate. We are healthy and financially stable. We have more projects to keep us busy at our house than we can ever accomplish in this century. Erik’s work is deemed essential and other than some encouragement to work from home, his work has continued close to normal. This allows him purpose, socialization, and a paycheck. I’m still going to my work. Instead of face to face encounters, I’m largely connecting with patients over the phone. We can accomplish almost the same material as in person. Thus I also have maintained purpose, socialization, and a paycheck.

On March 12th, the day the Minneapolis World Cup got cancelled, I began feeling an overwhelming social media message that social distancing was the thing to do. This is despite only having a presence on Instagram and a paltry 50 followers at that. It’s interesting how something can be so unsaid and yet so palpable.

It’s been a month now. I knew at the onset this would be way longer than two weeks or even a month and I told myself that then. But even us introverts are social beings. And especially when told we “can’t” do something that's all we want to do.

Erik and I have been physical distancing since March 12th. This means we haven’t had any house parties or gatherings with any friends or family since then.

I’m a hardy Minnesotan, so when this first began, there is definitely a part of me that wonders if it is necessary, if it will change the end outcome, and why I should care. Somehow I just subconsciously made the decision to physical distance. Sure, maybe some of it was peer pressure, but some of it also came from hearing the situation in Italy, and figuring, knowing math and exponential increase, it’s better to start early, and it’s unlikely to hurt.

I’m so glad us hardy Minnesotans took this situation seriously. We were fortunate to be closing down things (universities, schools, restaurants) at the same time as Europe and the rest of the United States. We did this before there were even 10 confirmed cases in Minnesota, hence we have fared better than many places. I’m actually quite proud of us Minnesotans.

Every time I break the physical distancing it bothers me. Suddenly going to the grocery store brought on a wave of anxiety- should I wear a mask? Will I encounter others who are sick? What if I’m a carrier and don’t know it? Will there be milk, vegetables, flour, etc? I heard all the stores were running out of toilet paper and we bought one extra pack on March 11th. I haven’t seen any toilet paper in the store since.

And then there was skiing. We went skiing on the man-made loops on March 14th, 15th, 17th, 21st, and 22nd. Every time we ran into people we knew and chatted on the trail. Were we maintaining six feet? Certainly not at times. I joked I needed to ski with a wide stance like a beginner- poles out to the side, to maintain physical distancing. The people I ski with are just too good and often we can comfortably maintain three feet, even on sketchy downhill corners. And was six feet enough anyway? And then I helped at the scene of a cardiac arrest and mega failed at physical distancing.

Should we even have been out skiing on the man made trails?

Because if I can’t ski, I might as well be dead. Wow, I can just hear my dad saying that.

OK, that isn’t entirely true. There are other important things in my life and other things I really like doing, but there isn’t much I’d rather do than ski on the man-made loops with a bunch of friends on a sunny day.

Now that skiing is over, life is more dull. I’ve had a number of phone calls with my friends instead of getting together in person. I’ve talked with my mom way more in the past month over the phone than I had in the past six months. But it’s getting lonely.

This may be the first snow bunny I've ever seen.

When it snows on Easter during a pandemic! Someone, quick, adjust this snow bunny's mask!!!

4/23/20

When faced with two one week furloughs I’m suddenly at a loss. Usually I would relish this extra unexpected time off. I have so many ideas for how to use the time: visit my mom, brother, and niece in Bemidji, paddle some rivers or lakes in the state or elsewhere (oh, the list is infinite- Wabakimi and Woodland Caribou in Ontario, kayak the Apostle Islands, etc) or head west for backpacking.

But I am incredibly limited in that so long as I do my job to flatten the curve I can do these adventures with no one (except my husband who is inconveniently working), visit no one, and go nowhere:)

In other news, ALDI now has Jasmine rice again!!!


4/26/20: Ball fields

We drive by a complex of empty baseball fields on the way to go canoe. I can’t help but think that if these weren’t ball fields, they could be a forested park with trails. People would surely be enjoying them on this day. Sure, lots of kids doing organized sports enjoy these fields many days of the year. It’s a field of dreams where kids can imagine that one day they will make the big leagues.

This same field of dreams will most likely become a field of shattered dreams at some point as these kids realize they will never make the major or even minor leagues, D1 ranks, or sadly, for some, even high school varsity or JV. Such is life.

If this ball field was woods, a more wild park, would it contain such aspiration and pain simultaneously to us humans? Would there be excitement AND disappointment? Or would it simply be nature which offers exploration, peace, solitude, the harshness of the elements.

Parents drive their kids here for practice and games. Always driving here or there. What about biking somewhere or just biking, neglecting the car?

Or what about a less structured life like we are facing now where there are no organized sports? Many have speculated about how life may or may not change after the COVID-19 pandemic resolves. Will people relish the more relaxed lifestyle and commit to less or will we go back to our crazy, drive everyone, always in a hurried existence?

I suppose the same can all be said about cross-country skiing.


4/27/20:

Some say the start to the next training begins on May 1st and others say it begins the week of May 1st. I say this latter group is short-changing themselves some much needed mental rest. The ski season is long enough as it is- don’t make it longer. The older I get the more I’m about training smarter, not more!


5/1/20

Today marks the official start to training for the 2020-2021 cross country ski season. Winter feels a long way off with the early spring we’ve been having. It always seems like the April break is a bit short. I wouldn’t mind if it lasted a few more months:) I haven’t done any interval training since mid-March.

Birkie registration opened today. They said “we’ve launched a new tiered pricing structure allowing you to register when the time is right for you.” I took this to mean a new COVID-19 deal. Maybe something that looks like this:

-if you’ve already gotten COVID-19, special discount price of only $80 (must show positive test result)

-if you think you’ll get COVID-19 between now and Birkie 2021, normal price of $120

-if you believe you are superhuman and won’t ever get COVID-19, supernormal rate of $150 for your invincibility!


But that wasn’t the new price tiering at all. Instead it was a slap in the face. I’m furloughed and they have increased their price by 20%. WOW! After my 2020 Birkie I had thoughts about not doing the Birkie. I had resolved to switch techniques again and still do it but now this is making me re-think. It puts a bitter taste in my mouth. It makes me want to stop skiing.

Is skiing all about making money? Franchises? A monopoly? Is that why I ski???

Will, or can, any other race impose a 20% price-hike in the COVID-19 era and expect to have the same number or even more participants? I’m quite sure the answer is NO. The other races seem to be able to reign in their expenses. Numbers have dwindled so much they merely try to put on a race and can’t even think of expanding. Soon we will have Birkie Land and no where else to ski if we only dump money there.

I’ll do other races and so will many of my readers. But most people ski one race a year and that’s the Birkie. I know some people are on a budget for race entries and the Birkie might just suck that up. The Birkie is capitalizing at the expense of smaller races. They have a monopoly. How arrogant of them to jack up their price and assume the masses will follow.

The Birkie is God. If you don’t ski the Birkie, you aren’t a skier. You can race 10 other marathons, but if you don’t do the Birkie, those don’t count.

OK, this might be a bit exaggerated, but to a large extent, this is how I feel and the impression I have about skiing in general.

This is wrong. Skiing is not synonymous with the Birkie. I want to sever my association between skiing and the Birkie. Between success at the Birkie as a Master’s athlete and success at other races. Logically then it makes sense for me to boycott the Birkie. I toyed with this decision for a few days. Fortunately I had work and my gardens to occupy most of my thoughts. I troubled Erik with this.

“How can you not ski the Birkie? How will you feel Birkie weekend? What will you tell other skiers?” He asked.

Well, between Mora and Finlandia and The Sleeping Giant Loppet and the Great Bear Chase I might really really welcome the reprieve-not only from travel and the physical toll, but especially from the mental pressure. I might even rejoice.

Erik recommended I do it. I continued to debate. I registered Erik. They asked for more money at least five times during  the registration process. And then I registered myself. I’m not excited. Part of me hates myself for caving in to the monopoly.

On the up, toilet paper and flour, albeit with limits on how many you can buy, have returned in plenty to ALDI!!!


5/7/20:

First rollerski of the season. Used the skate rollerskis. Holy crap, the rolling resistance is high. A couple times I felt like my upper body was overpowering my legs- a good reminder to transfer that power through my core into my legs. And maybe I should do some leg strength:)


5/15/20:

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from COVID-19 it’s about the crazy 18 way intersection that might as well look like the Arc de Triomphe roundabout!

Shoulds, Rules, Orders, Desires, Needs, Regrets, Essentials, Internal and External Pressures all coming together making me just want to stand atop the Arc de Triomphe and watch it all…….

But at some point, with furlough we got off that roundabout and seized the opportunity to do this canoe trip that had been on the radar. Because when the world gives you lemons, make lemonade! Not saying it was legal given COVID-19 executive orders, but going to label it as essential since that’s an entirely arbitrary concept.


It was easy to completely forget about COVID-19 out here.

My partner in crime!

I justified our trip because we weren't going somewhere "desirable." I mean, most people don't want to paddle upstream for 4 days, going up numerous rapids (note, here was a flatwater section, I was working too hard in the rapids to even think about taking a photo)
when it's so cold the olive oil freezes
and then do a 22.5 mile road portage all in one day
to finally paddle downstream 90 miles in 2 days (photo: Erik)

the whole time sitting on just one toilet once! Photo: Erik


Needless to say, it was a good adventure. Hard. Perhaps too hard the day we portaged and my whole body hurt to the point I was able to go into that meditative state.

5/20/20

We’re all stuck between a rock and a hard place. We want to get together with others. We want to spend quality time with loved ones. But we risk getting COVID-19, or perhaps worse, spreading it to others. In the interim we miss little ones growing up and precious moments with others when none of us know how long we have.

I’m trying to be gentle with myself knowing we don’t really have right or wrong answers. I’m trying not to judge others for their decisions. We’re all trying to do the best we can.

P.S. I saw hand sanitizer at ALDI!!!



5/25/20

I cut Erik’s hair in the backyard. I’ve been cutting his hair for 13 years now. I don’t like doing it outdoors where the neighbors can see. It just isn’t cool. Oh wait, the barber shops are all closed. This is finally cool! I don’t care if the neighbors see:)

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Meaning, Melancholy, and Moving On (not necessarily in that order): A Look Back on the 2019-2020 Season

Around the Birkie this year things seemed to take a deep dive. I was deeply disappointed to not requalify for Elite Wave. Then I had really bad back pain after The Great Bear Chase that made it difficult to roll over in bed and to work at my desk job. This made me wonder why I was so upset over the Birkie, but mental pain is real, too.

And then COVID-19 cancelled the Minneapolis World Cup. This was perhaps the biggest bummer of all. It seemed akin to the Birkie getting cancelled in 2017. In other words, it felt like the world was ending. The MInneapolis World Cup had been 1.5 years of anticipation, my brother coming, taking the day off from work, and then nothing. NOTHING.

Well, except I still took the day off from work, Erik worked from home, we put on some glitter, and went off to Wirth to ski. Jessie was out there and I skied behind her for a bit and Erik showed her his glitter. So maybe it wasn’t nothing. And after that cardiac arrest a couple days prior, well, it actually felt like SOMETHING had happened.


Getting the GLITTER ON!


It’s all about perspective. The numbers showed New York City blowing up bad with COVID-19 cases. The Minneapolis World Cup did the right thing. But it still hurt.


An admittedly terrible photo of Delta planes grounded due to COVID-19 as we drove to Hyland for man-made skiing

In terms of skiing, this year started and ended a bit strange. With knee and shoulder injuries, I took two-ish months off from running and doing pull-ups in May through July. Despite this, I trained fairly consistently and relatively hard from August to the end of the season. Except I somehow managed to do my hardest intervals of the year in June.

Training hardcore with Vakava at our fall camp where we did a couple long rollerskis in the snow! Photo: Erik

Owing to a heavy February race schedule, I didn’t race in January and that suited me well. As a result, I did lots of threshold work on my own in January. By this I mean every single weekend to get ready for my February races. I wasn’t feeling so motivated to do 3 hours skis this year but certainly did a number of 2 hour skis and of course eeked out a few 3 hours skis.


Some Sauna-Swim on the St. Croix with the Vakava team in January!

Despite all the threshold work on the weekends and shorter intervals at Vakava on Wednesdays, I still didn’t feel as prepared as I would have liked for the race season. But then again, I had to remind myself I never feel as prepared as I want. It’s better to be undertrained than overtrained.

Especially in December and January, the darkest months of the year, I often found myself running to and from work rather than figuring out how to get skiing. It’s ridiculously efficient: driving wastes so much time, requires extra packing, and when the snow isn’t good, the man-made trails can get heavily rutted or a mix of ice-suck snow in the evening.

It’s 5 miles one way to work. I’d usually take the bus in on Monday, run home, and then run both ways on Tuesdays and Fridays for 25 miles per week. This is a lot of running for me. But the thing is, with a 5 mile run, it’s such a short distance it doesn’t make me feel like I’ve done anything. So by splitting my 10 mile runs in half, I kinda felt like I wasn’t training at all.


Substituting some bowling with my coworkers for a running workout- this photo is for Mom who always told us to just go bowling:) Turns out I've done this twice now in adulthood. Photo: Kyle Constalie

I made a big gear change and have some thoughts about new gear for next year.

I got new classic boots. These were my first NNN classic boots ever. Not only were my old boots completely falling apart, but they felt too big. I stuck with Salomon, but instead of going with the women’s version as I had for my previous pair, I went with the men’s version which has a bigger toe box. As a result I was able to go down two sizes and got a snugger fit. I’m not sure if it’s the snugger fit or the binding change, but I feel more connected to my classic skis than ever before.

My current classic racing skis are 15 years old. Sadly, it’s time to retire them, and not just because KJ tells me so. I’m starting to get worried that they are so old they aren’t good anymore. When I lose faith in my equipment, it’s time. But they’ve been with me for so so so long!


Likely my first race on my new classic skis- the Loppet 2006! This was like 4 suits ago...probably time for new classic skis. Photo: Bruce Adelsman


In terms of my racing, well, I accomplished my goals at the City of Lakes Loppet, felt good about Mora and Finlandia, and then was troubled by my Birkie performance.

As much as I had thoughts of quitting ski racing after the Birkie and was deep within a Crossroads existentialism, I rebounded for the Great Bear Chase and my last couple weekends of skiing on man-made. The thing is, I’m not done working my body hard. I’m not done seeing if I can’t break through that ceiling I feel I’ve been stuck under for years. It has got to be made of glass. I still need to learn to stride efficiently and easy. I’ve got to learn how to balance to get more power out of my V-2. I need to learn how to jump skate in my V-1. And somewhere there has got to be room for improvement in my double pole. I’m just not done yet.

I watch a lot of women’s World Cup skiing. This can make me feel pretty down on myself if I start comparing myself to them. I listened to a podcast about comparing yourself to others and in general we seem to compare up rather than compare down. While it’s nice to have images in my head of beautiful technique and it’s fun to strive to be better, it’s also degrading to compare myself to others.

There’s some pop song out there with lyrics that go “It’s wanting what you’ve got.” I need to remember to live by this every day.

Sometimes wanting what you've got is merely enjoying a beautiful April snowstorm in the city (yes, this photo is from the city- evidence you can find wild places just about anywhere)

And so it’s important to focus on the positives as they come.

While I’m humbled by how slow I am, on the flip side, I often get heartfelt comments that I’m a wicked double poler or that I myself am so fast. Everything is relative.

I might not win the race, but wow, I’ve gotten very good at transitions (cornering, keeping speed into and out of hills) and getting power double poling downhills! I also marvel that I changed tracks a few times in the Great Bear Chase! I really stuck to my plan of L3 skis in January!

I’ll leave this post and season with my three favorite skis of the year.

Towards the end of January, during some warm weather, Erik and I had a late evening ski at Wirth from The Trailhead (where we celebrated the Loppet Founder’s Dinner) to the Wirth Beach Parking lot. Temperatures were around freezing with relatively fast new snow that made it easy to get an edge. The sky was overcast, reflecting the city lights and thus allowing a perfect dusk-light ambience to see perfectly. This was city skiing at its best.


A photo from a different city ski this year that wasn't quite as good as the one above.

OK, the next few aren’t exactly one ski but rather a series of skis on man-made snow at Wirth and Hyland from March 14th to the 22nd. These were all incredibly special as I spontaneously skied and talked with friends. Yes, we tried to social distance as best we could, but we all savored some much needed conversation and physical human contact while skiing under great snow conditions with sun and spring temps. It may not have been a snowy trail in the woods and mountains with solitude but it’s the next best thing.

Maybe one of these years I'll post on top 3 best sledding adventures of the year- I'd have to go more than twice though:)

Then there was the ski the day after the Great Bear Chase at the Swedetown Trails. I had packed light for the weekend and only brought my classic gear but after my back went out on me, classic skiing was pretty much out of the question. I debated going for a walk but seeing as my winter boots were wet, I decided to try skiing. Erik had to literally help me put my boots on. My friend, Eva, lent me her skate skis. I thought the ski would be terrible skating on classic boots but what ensued was one of my favorite skis of the winter.

The snow was great- either freshly groomed and slightly icy or just freshly groomed but hard. Conditions were fast and as long as I free skated or V-1’d and kept my weight completely under me, I could ski pain free. While I avoided the most curvy hills, I still felt very confident going downhill and even step turning. I guess that’s when I know I’m a good skier, or at least very comfortable on my skis.

And skating on my classic boots went just fine. Most of the time I forgot I was even doing this. It makes me think I should do skiathlons next year and use my classic boots. This will be a fun mix-up from my normal winter routines...so here’s to 2021, the year of the skiathlon!

Monday, April 6, 2020

COVID-19: Minneapolis World Cup Cancelled but Heart Disease Doesn’t Get the Memo

Had you told me anytime in the past year or more that John Munger would be calling me on Minneapolis World Cup Weekend I would have never believed you. I’m just not that important.

But then something called COVID-19 happened. And the Minneapolis World Cup got cancelled.

This was a huge collective loss for our ski community. After a week of progressively more and more cancellations, the writing was on the wall and I don’t think anyone was too surprised. It was the end of season we’d all been looking forward to and more than anything this was just such a huge let down.

We all tried to make the best of the situation. On Saturday, Pi Day, Erik and I headed out to Wirth to enjoy the World Cup course. Hey, at least we got to ski it if not the professionals. It felt a bit post-apocalyptic as volunteers were still setting up the stadium. Wait, did someone not get the memo that the World Cup was cancelled? Or did we all die and was this heaven and it was going to happen anyway? And Kleabo and Pellegrino would be duking it out for the men’s win and Jessie and Sophie and Sadie and Julia and Hailey and Caitlin in the first ever all American women’s final in World Cup history!!!!

But no, this was the Loppet getting ready to put on a little gathering on the down-low to showcase that we were ready to show the world that the Twin Cities is the #1 ski community in the Western Hemisphere and Oslo better watch out for the world title. Erik and I got wind of some shenanigans and we decided we wanted to partake so we headed back out to Wirth on Sunday.

People had gathered around and there was supposed to be some kind of “sprint” but it was pretty informal so I just skied around but on my third lap or so on the World Cup Course someone said the sprinters were coming. By the time I’d gotten to the top of the snowboarding hill, the hill I was planning to watch the action on in the World Cup, a few people had gathered and it looked like this sprint race was about to happen. And sure enough it did and here came Diggins jump skating like mad up that hill.

It was pretty surreal. I’ve watched Jessie do this on TV at least a hundred times but seeing it in person, well, it just went by so so fast. It was pretty amazing. It was at least a bit of a consolation prize.

After that I kept skiing around and ran into my teammate Claire. We were having a good time talking, practicing physical distancing, and working on some balance and ski speed. But as we approached the Upper Stadium something wasn’t quite right. There were a few people gathered on the north end. One guy was lying on the ground, a couple people were next to him. John Munger was standing and on the phone. My immediate thought was that this was likely a cardiac arrest and given I’m a health care professional I might be in need.

I took off my poles and skis as quick as I could. The two guys giving CPR and Munger confirmed he had seemed to lose consciousness, fell face forward to the ground, and was pulseless. I jumped in and started compressions right away. Munger got off the phone with 911 and said he was going for the AED which I confirmed made sense. My whole goal was to provide high quality uninterrupted chest compressions.

Mortality is very high in out of hospital cardiac arrest, but we had a witnessed arrest with bystanders initiating CPR immediately and EMS activation. These were all good prognostic indicators. The AED is super important, but in the meantime it’s all about high quality uninterrupted chest compressions. There’s no need to count, no need for mouth to mouth, no need to check a pulse, no need to worry about breaking ribs, and no need to worry if the patient is agonal breathing. Just don’t stop the compressions (at a rate of around 100 per minute). There is really really good evidence in providing high quality chest compressions to perfuse the heart and ideally the brain. We were also lucky with 3 people on the scene and one gone for help. This allowed 2 of us to do compressions while the other person secured the scene and had the good common sense to remove this guys poles (none of us knew this skier) and skis (something I only realized hours after). And don’t wait to switch off until you’re exhausted- switch frequently.

Somehow I had the foresight to take off this guys jacket and get his shirt up in preparation for the AED with trying to minimally interrupt chest compressions as much as possible.

Munger had skied down the hill, gotten the AED and got back up the hill. Around the time he returned with the AED, Lazlo arrived. Fortunately Lazlo is a healthcare provider, too, and knows compressions are gold. I fumbled badly with that AED. I couldn't get the pads out of the package. Meanwhile I heard the AED automatic voice saying “Stay calm.” Fortunately Lazlo took over.

Then we had the pads on and that AED was analyzing the rhythm.

“Please please please be a shockable rhythm,” I pleaded.

The AED won’t shock asystole and if the patient is in asystole, meaning loss of heart activity, that’s a bad sign.

Shock was advised.

“Yes!” I screamed, possibly out loud, maybe just in my head.

Somewhere distant I could hear the arrival of the ambulance.

After the shock Lazlo was back on him doing compressions just like it should be. By then the snowmobile had shown up with the sled to get him down to The Trailhead. It seemed like forever coordinating getting him into the sled (but it must’ve been less than 10 seconds) and who would go down the hill doing compressions but Lazlo jumped in and straddled the patient and off they went.

By the time we collected ourselves on top of the hills and skied down to the bottom, EMS had the LUCAS machine on the patient. It took a bit but they were stabilizing him before they got him into the ambulance. Lazlo said he heard they got a pulse back in the ambulance.

Wow, this definitely wasn’t what I expected when I happened out to ski at Wirth that day, and I surely failed at physical distancing for COVID-19, but cardiac arrest happens. Often.

I know this wasn’t Munger’s first rodeo with cardiac arrest. Unfortunately this occurs relatively frequently in skiers. Emergency situations are really difficult, and quite frankly, not my cup of tea. But for a bunch of people who had never practiced together, this situation played out as if it had been rehearsed a thousand times. It was witnessed and two bystanders did exactly what they should do- check for a pulse, get the patient on their back and start CPR. Then Munger came along, called 911 calmly, and had the foresight to go for an AED and alert the trail crew (I believe Issac) to get the sled. I arrived for the high quality compressions while the other bystanders helped and secured the scene (took off the patient’s ski gear). We got more trained people, an AED, the sled, and the patient down to EMS. This was very very seamless and they wouldn’t have done a whole lot better in the hospital other than give some meds through an already placed IV and consult cardiology.

An hour or so after I got home, John called to let me know as far as he knew, the patient was alive in the hospital. This was very good news.

Hopefully no one reading this will need to know what to do in the setting of a cardiac arrest, but inevitably some of you will witness a cardiac arrest. So here’s what to do in three easy steps. Because emergency situations are chaotic and people often act on instinct rather than rationale, it would behoove you to memorize this list and repeat it to yourself every so often. This list does assume access to 911 which might not be the case if you are in the wilderness. Ideally all the steps would happen at the same time.

1. Call 911

2. Get an AED (skip this if you are the only rescuer or if there is no easy AED access)

3. High quality uninterrupted chest compressions (preferably started at same time as calling 911 if multiple rescuers or call 911 on speaker phone): place the heel of your hand with your other hand on top between the nipples and compress down about 2 to 2 ½ inches at a rate of 100 beats per minute- about to the pace of the song “Stayin’ Alive, Stayin’ Alive!”

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Great Bear Chase 2020: A Mixed Bag

Last year I embedded my Great Bear Chase 2019 race report within a blog post titled “A Mixed Bag.” Somehow that seems to be an appropriate subtitle again this year.

It wouldn't be the Great Bear Chase without at least one hat like this! Photo: Brockit
For the second year in a row, I did the 50 km classic. This is largely because it is a relatively flat course with opportunity for lots of double poling which I love! The 50 km consists of two 25 km laps. It starts flat, has a section with some punchy hills (short with some curves), gets pretty flat again, and ends with more punchy hills. Conditions this year were in the 30s with fresh snow a couple days prior to the race. Knowing that good kick wasn’t essential but would be nice, especially in the second half of the race, I waxed a bit on the warm-side with SWIX 55 then 50 then 45. I tried to cover each layer but it seemed to all just mix together.

The Vakava team stayed in an AirBNB that was ½ mile from the start and so it was nice to walk to the race in the morning. I tested my kick wax and it wasn’t icing (but not exactly giving great kick either) so I decided to leave it alone.

Sunrise on the way to the start. Don't forget that Calumet, MI is in Eastern Time Zone if you go!
An iconic UP house where our Vakava group stayed.

The classic race field was very small with only about 40 competitors. I got a front row start on the far right. I noted any rival women and as we skied up the first hill, I looked around for them, but they were nowhere in sight. The top four men, including Erik and Josh Doebbert, made a break and then I tried to stay on some trailing men. Despite my best attempts, they had all dropped me by 2 km into the race. I thought maybe I’d ski the next 48 km by myself, but in the first section of punchy hills, Badger, so named for what looked like his U of Wisconsin suit, passed me. Then in the flat section a guy wearing black and bright green passed me. We all skied by each other for quite some time. We passed a lot of skiathlon skiers and we also skied with one skiathlon guy who seemed to be taking it easy.


Alex mixing it up with some fast guys in the skiathlon en route to 5th place and some prize money! Photo: Brockit
Ben in the skiathlon making his way to an age class award. Huge thanks to Ben for organizing the weekend trip! Photo: Brockit

Towards the end of the first lap those guys started pulling away from me. I could see one more guy in front of me as well. I’m not sure why those guys pulled away from me so much but I couldn’t quite stay with them.

The snow seemed slow to me. I couldn’t tell much of a difference inside the tracks or on the skate deck so I did a mix of both and cut a lot of corners. I felt like I had been out there forever and still had another lap to ski!

Craiger crushed it in the skate with a 2nd place finish! Photo: Brockit
Scott and Abe weren't far behind. Photo: Brockit
And Dave rocked it, too. Photo: Brockit
The tracks were better skied in and slightly more glazed on the second lap. They seemed faster than the first lap as I was more easily able to double pole up gradual uphills. The skate deck was getting soft and slow and was obviously slower than the classic tracks. After the punchy hill section, I saw a couple classic guys in front of me. I reeled them in with my double pole and was greatly enjoying catching and passing men (it was such a mental boost compared to this year’s Birkie) but then, suddenly, with 14 km to go my back went out on me.

Now, when I say this, it means I started feeling like my actual spine hurt as opposed to my muscles. I could still double pole but I had to change my technique. Kick double poling and striding both sent jolts of pain throughout my back but I was able to run/shuffle without the jolts.

I suppose most people would quit when this happens. But not me. I’m a total sucker for pain and so I just realized this race was going to be way more painful than I wanted and I wasn’t sure if I could walk at the finish. I’ve had this pain before a few times, most recently last summer, and it lasted a couple days and totally sucked. It’s super hard to bend down to pick anything up, tie my shoes, and it hurts to roll over in bed. All those simple activities trigger lightening bolts of pain.


Laura put the smack down in the skate leg of the skiathlon to finish 4th with prize money, too! Photo: Brockit
So I kept going and my back didn’t actually bother me too bad. We started the gradual climb towards the second section of punchy hills and then I saw Badger! Oh yeah, I like coming from behind and passing people. It took me awhile to catch Badger and at that point we passed another guy in the classic race, too, who we came up on real fast. When I passed Badger, I could hear him slip in behind me.

Then we hit the punchy hills again with 6 km to go and on the first uphill, where the tracks were obliterated and some fresh snow had been churned up, I herring-bone ran and my left ski iced. I was able to stomp my ski enough to get the snow off but by then Badger had passed me AND another guy I hadn’t seen before. Bummer. Wow, this race was definitely not perfect. First my back, now the icing. And yet I had just been so excited to pass some guys. Man, I REALLY wanted to beat those guys.

Ok, so I now knew I had to stay in the tracks. That was all well and good except for where the tracks had been wiped out. Fortunately this only happened a couple more times. I could see Badger and the other guy ahead of me but there was nothing I could do to stay with them- not when I had to stomp my ski and lost some time on a downhill when the stomping wasn’t effective enough. I tried to just bide my time, knowing those guys looked pretty tired and the last 2 km or so the hills were a bit less punchy and I should be able to stay in the tracks.

I had really good energy and was disappointed I couldn't go faster but that energy was also helping me deal with my aching back and icing situation.

With 2 kms to go there was a long uphill. I should have been able to stride but my back hurt too bad so I just shuffled up it quickly. I passed both Badger and the other guy. My ski still iced a tad where new snow had been kicked into the track from pole plants and skiers outside the track, but I was able to stomp it off and finish without any more icing.

Me and Badger! Photo: Brockit


I stayed ahead of those guys and managed to finish 9th overall, first woman.

The top classic guys. Erik was trailing a tad here but paced things well to finish 2nd overall. I guess we couldn't quite pull off the husband-wife podium like Team Gregg did in the skiathlon. Oh, well- next year! Photo: Brockit


It was very nice weather after the race with temps pushing 50s and sunshine!!! The Vakava team had fun enjoying the snow and weather. My back actually didn’t bother me too bad after the race- it waited a few hours to rear its ugly head. Getting out of bed the next day proved to be my greatest accomplishment! (Uh oh, that’s what my mom says every day!) I really need to start doing yoga or something specific for my back because this pain sucks. Guess I’m just getting too old or pushing my body too hard:)


Some shenanigans after the race- daring to walk out on Portage Lake with Craig, Erik, and Alex. There's an old mining town and the local downhill ski area on the left shore.
Craig taking a selfie in front of the big boat that goes to Isle Royale!


The Great Bear Chase is a great ski marathon in the Midwest. I highly encourage anyone thinking about it to put it on your calendar for next year. The snow and trail won’t disappoint. It’s what skiing should be.

And there was even a panda. It doesn't get better than that!!! See, I told you it's what skiing should be- pandas on skis!!! Ok, I know, pandas aren't real bears. I'm bummed I didn't see this costume because I love pandas. I mean, I once canoed like 400 miles to see some pandas. Maybe next year I'll have to wear a panda costume! Photo: Brockit

Friday, March 6, 2020

Birkie 2020: So Fast And So Slow

Intro

Each year that I have qualified for the Elite Wave at the Birkie, I show up more confident that I will make the Elite Wave again. Paradoxically, I also have a growing sense that if I somehow fail to requalify for the Elite Wave, it’s not the end of the world.

All that being said, I knew from the Loppet MinneTour that my fitness was good. In the week leading up to the Birkie, there was nothing I could do to really improve my performance but I could hurt it by training too much.

Given the weather forecast, I suspected this might finally be the year I would break 3 hours in the Birkie. I remember my time in the 3:36 range my first year doing the Birkie at age 19 and thinking it would be pretty amazing to go under 3 hours. I’ve done this in other marathons, but between skiing a bunch of Classic Birkies and Skate Birkies out of slower waves, I had never done this. Last year’s Skate Birkie was slow and I was just over 3 hours. The only thing about a fast Birkie is that I tend to do better the slower the conditions.

So I arrived to the start fairly confident but a bit concerned because I wasn’t as nervous as usual and history has told me that’s a bad omen.


So Fast

Given that the temperature was expected to go from about 22 °F to 32 °F, I decided to only wear underwear and my race suit. Last year for Great Bear Chase, the temperature was similar but I had worn long underwear on bottom and got way too hot! I don’t race well once I get hot so I dressed on the cool side. This was a bit unnerving as our car thermometer dropped to 5 °F on the drive to the start but I decided to trust in the forecast.

There are definitely some perks to the Elite Wave, most notably that it’s small and I don't have to worry about getting a good start position. Everyone always gets in the gate early but I waited a bit longer, trying to stay warm. I got in the gate with 5 minutes to spare. No one was on the right side. After they lifted up the FIS partition, I found myself in the second row, behind the first row of mostly former Olympians.

I got off to a fast start double poling but as soon as the tracks were up and I went to skate, my poles got stepped on twice. This knocked me back a bit. I found some room and kept going but all the women just seemed to pass me up. It pretty much felt like I was at the very back. Before I knew it, we were on the Power Lines. I completely missed the climb up to them. I felt like I was at the back of the wave. I saw the Reker sisters slowly pulling ahead of me. Once we got into the woods, I closed the gap on them. I knew I had to do this. There was a pack of maybe seven of us skiing together, including Jenna Ruzich.

I got off to a good start, demonstrating good technique, but this was about 100 meters into the race and things went downhill from here, literally and figuratively:) Photo: unknown but thanks to the Broderson's for sending it my way.

I wasn’t feeling terribly perky climbing the hills, but they were going by fast. I had, perhaps, made the mistake of doing my shake out ski with Vakava and got horribly dropped. That shattered my confidence. It also didn’t help that I’ve been questioning my V-1 technique lately.

Anyway, I stayed with my little pack to the High Point Hill. No one really pushed it up that hill but I felt a bit tired and so was holding back some. I tend to have an innate ability to pace in a marathon and it didn’t feel quite right to push that hill. I wasn’t really worried about getting dropped by the pack but apparently I should have been because I got dropped big time. Conditions and my skis were super fast. Even without the pack I felt like I was flying. It also felt amazing to have the entire trail to myself.

Then the men started catching me. I think it was after Boedecker. I hope it was after Boedecker. It was after Boedecker last year. I got over to the far right when the men’s lead snowmobile passed me but the Birkie failed to mention that’s where the snowmobile goes and if you’re in their way, they’ll run you over. That snowmobile came within inches of clipping my ski!

The men passing me was a good reminder that I needed to keep pushing hard. And I did. I kept pushing the pace and pushing the pace. And I pushed extra hard over the one lane bridge over OO so I wouldn’t hold up any men and fortunately I didn’t.

I kept pushing and I was flying. The kilometers ticked away so fast. But I wasn’t catching any women. I started trying to hang onto the packs of men passing me. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stay with any of them, I was merely using it to inject some speed and as a reminder to keep pushing.

Skiing so fast and all alone. This is actually how I like it. Photo: Bruce Adelsman
 I know my strengths as a skier and I know my weaknesses. Fast conditions have always been a weakness for me. I’ve always cringed at the thought of those fast Birkies. I’ve always doubted my capabilities to ski super fast. My legs are small. I’m not good at balance. I’ve just never been able to get good glide out of my skis and I don’t have a Therese Johaug engine to make up for it. So I knew that even though I was going super fast, I still had to keep working hard.

After OO, I tried to stay with every pack of men passing me. I didn’t move over for them. And some of these were big packs. I knew my Elite Wave was in jeopardy and I was fighting. I’d try to stay with them for as long as possible, but I just kept getting dropped.

Silly me, of course I couldn’t keep up with them.

I tried the hardest with the huge pack that caught me before Mosquito Brook. I stayed with them the longest, yo-yoing on the uphills. Oh yeah, that’s why I don’t like pack skiing. And then they got away, too.

Erik passed me on the 37 km hill. This meant he was doing awesome- it meant I was doing terribly. He was clearly moving up, trying to catch the big pack of skiers ahead of him. Before the race I had declared if he passed me I would try to stay on him. Yeah, that wasn’t about to happen. I didn’t even try.

Erik. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

 I didn’t try to jump on any more men. I was too tired. I was still moving fast, but my tank was starting to run on empty. I was just so glad, again, to be skating up those last two big hills. it’s just so much easier to maintain V-1 form than striding.

Then we were on the lake. There was a pack of men that had just passed me but I thought I saw a woman up there, I thought it might be Jenna. I tried my hardest to chase her down. I skied hard and fast- across the lake, up over that Birkie Bridge, and down Main Street. I was definitely tired at the end.

I checked my watch. Wow, conditions were definitely fast- a PR by 15 minutes!

Bonnie, in her Vakava suit, crushed this year's Birkie in 17th!!!! Photo: Bruce Adelsman
Claire was 24th! Photo: Bruce Adelsman
And Laura was 28th. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

And So Slow

I didn’t want to check the results. I knew requalifying for Elite Wave was in serious peril. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel like normal during the race. I didn’t feel amazing but I didn’t feel too bad either. I mean, it’s supposed to be hard and it was. I sufficiently pushed myself hard but had left something in the tank to get me across Lake Hayward, over the bridge, and up Main Street without bonking.

I purposely waited until Wave 2 was well in before I checked.

67th place.

I think I already knew it. But I was honestly completely deflated.

See, the thing about the Birkie, especially about the Skate Birkie, is that unlike any other race I do, how I do this year determines my experience next year. Skiers in the Elite Wave are much more likely to make the Elite Wave again compared to skiers in Waves 1 and 2. And I’ve been in Wave 2 and I completely hated it. Way too many men. I’ve been so determined to NEVER be in that Wave again.

I’ve always hated the Birkie. The Traffic Jam race I used to call it. The exact opposite of what skiing should be- a billion people in my way. And so I’ve always been determined to make Elite Wave so I can race without a bunch of men in my way. And it is amazing to be in Elite Wave- so much better- except for this constant fear I’m going to get dropped from Elite Wave.

Because the Elite Wave is like this benchmark. You’re either a good skier (and along with it comes those special privileges as noted above, plus a low number bib and one with your name on it to boot) or you’re a bad skier. It’s like a pass or fail. I put so much pressure on myself that I hate the Birkie. I hate the week leading up to the Birkie. It’s the only week I consistently hate every year. And it’s where my birthday falls every year. So you can imagine what my birthday is like. Yeah, so I guess I get Birkie Fever, but instead of excitement, it’s dread. It makes me wish I actually had the real flu. I can’t wait for the Birkie to be over. Every year. I love March. March is the best month ever because the Birkie is like 11 months away.

Then it was a torrential downpour of self-deprecating thoughts.


How did this race go so wrong? What had I messed up? What about all my training? Was it all a complete waste of time? Obviously, because it seems I’ve gotten slower rather than faster. I’m just a terrible skier. I should quit racing.

Now everybody knows what I’ve always known. The secret is out. I’m just a FAKE. I’ve just been pretending that I’m fast. I’ve been cheating by skiing the classic race where it’s easier to stay in the Elite Wave. Now everyone knows the truth. Why did I ever try? I sucked back in high school. Why did I keep going?

I don’t deserve to be on Vakava.


I tried not to be too bummed and talked with some of my friends but it wasn’t long until I completely lost it. Erik I were walking down Main Street, watching the later waves finish, but I just had to pull off onto a side street and ball my eyes out.

It’s so dumb that I’m so upset. I mean, it’s a beautiful day, I got to ski, I’m not injured (like a couple of my friends), and I didn’t get injured. I’m healthy. This is such an inconsequential thing that I do. It’s so stupid that I’m this upset.

Anything that makes me feel THIS bad is clearly not fun so why am I subjecting myself to it? I have got to quit racing. Or at least racing the Birkie. It’s not making me happy.

Or are all these tears just because I care so much. Too much?

There’s this fast runner chick’s blog I like to read. But she’s always so down on herself. She’s too driven to have fun or appreciate her talent. She sounds pretty miserable.

Gosh, I guess I sound just like her.


I was completely distraught.

I guess I either cry before the race or after.

If I cry before, I’m gonna get good results. If I cry after, I hate my results.

An interesting spreadsheet Erik created showing time and percent back from winner to qualify for Elite Wave. It was super tight for men this year but comparable to last year for women- except that this was the fastest of the years going back to 2013. I've qualified for Elite Wave all of these years except this one with 2013-2018 in classic.


Conclusion

I guess I was right about going under 3 hours. I was entirely wrong though about my feelings regarding failing to requalify for Elite Wave. Before the Birkie I thought I finally had the self-worth to not care about a result. To know that my other results from the year count, too. But no. And I’m still exceedingly critical of myself.

After my Crossroads posts, I certainly have the self-awareness to see more of the big picture. In some respects that helps, but in others it only makes it worse.

Objectively I know the race wasn’t bad. It may have been the best Birkie I’ve ever had out there, save for worrying about staying in Elite Wave. I had so much of the trail to myself. I never felt horrible. And the weather was perfect. If I didn’t care about that stupid result on paper, that number, those race stats, etc, it would’ve been great. If there wasn’t this magical cut-off. I was two minutes away from being “Elite” but it might as well have been 2 hours.

But I know I gave it so much. My average heart rate was 153, the same as last year, and my quads were seriously sore after. I don’t remember when my quads were last sore from skate skiing.

So how did this happen? I dropped 25 women’s places, doubled my place back in the overall field. Did I just completely miss the taper? Or peak? Did I overtrain? I did almost the same things as last year. Was it really all just the conditions? I prevail in slow snow and flounder under fast conditions?

Which brings me to the unfairness of life. I’m pretty sure I train more than Erik. I work way more on technique. I actually do strength- he hasn’t done any in months. I’ve beat him so many times doing rollerski intervals. And yet, twice, he’s qualified for the Elite Wave when I haven’t. And he even qualified for Boston on just about the most pathetic, limited mileage plan in existence. I mean, I don’t think “low mileage” defines the plan. That’s why I used the word “limited.” It kills me that he seemingly is a better athlete than me. Maybe it just helps that he’s Type B personality. He’s more like my high school friend Anna, telling me to leave something for the race.

“So much of life is managing self-pity,” my good friend Emily said to me a few years ago. That quote has stuck with me and sums up my feelings very well.

Myself and Emily having fun in NYC at the American Girl Doll store the day after we paddled around Manhattan. Photo: Erik

It’s almost like when I lined up on the starting line this year at the Birkie, it didn’t matter how many pull-ups I can do, how many hours of ab exercises I’ve done, how much I’ve ran, or how many interval sessions I’ve done. This year it seemed more like I flipped a coin. Heads fast conditions. Tails, slow conditions. And lo and behold, it was heads.