Thursday, November 5, 2020

I FINALLY DID IT!!! A TALE OF BUTS AND THE MAKING OF A MEMOIR

Back in 2004, I was a burgeoning cross-country ski racer. Fresh off my first ski marathons, I was inspired by my college club teammates with their head-turning names and finish places. Waiting for me when I arrived home from my freshman year of college was Pete Vordenberg’s newly minted Chasing the Olympic Dream, a gift from my mom. Wow, I was ready for a summer of ski training.

But there was one more thing I wanted to do, and that was write. For years I’d put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, but I’d yet to produce anything solid. Reading Pete’s page-turning book about him careening down a mountain at 55 miles an hour on roller skis and streaking naked across a stage at his college made an impression on me. I was ravenous to read more books like Pete’s. The problem was, there weren’t any. Wow, I could write a book about this summer in training!

But not quite yet.

Three years and a few character-building life experiences later, I penned an outline for a memoir. Over the next decade I wrote, and then painstakingly edited what was initially a 155 page single spaced manuscript.

I thought I had the perfect ending, something that happened when I was 27; but the real ending came when I was 31. It turns out that writing, just like life, can’t be forced.

All the while, I knew this whole publishing thing was looming on the horizon. It wasn’t really something I wanted to think about. Writing my book was the easy part. Publishing was the impossible part and totally out of my control. And I don’t do well with things out of my control.

And so, after a decade, I was ready to submit to publishers. Or was I?

See, the thing about a memoir, is that it’s incredibly private and personal. Sure, there are parts that lots of people already know about and that I don’t really care if people know about me. But there were other parts I wasn’t really sure I wanted to make public. Yet, for that decade, the goal, the purpose, was always to publish.

I sought a small outdoor publisher where I thought I had a decent chance. I spent several months tweaking my query letter, writing a synopsis, a chapter outline, and even a market analysis. I waited patiently for almost a year for that first rejection. I won’t lie, it hurt and took a while to rebound. I submitted to a handful more publishers over the next few months. I really wasn’t interested in self-publishing but several rejections later, self-publishing became the obvious thing to do. I simply didn’t think I had the time to keep finding and submitting to publishers with the same end result: rejection. It was amazing to me how successful I could be in many domains of my life and yet what a complete failure I could be at publishing my book.

So I decided to self-publish. I set a launch deadline and set out to edit my book for One. Last. Final. Time. I truly vowed that this was the absolute last time I could edit my book before I turned it over to a couple editors to get me a nice looking project. “Elspeth, remove the jankiness,” I told myself. Janky became my word of 2019.

And so I was in the midst of this final edit before selecting a self-publishing company when I learned Jessie Diggins was about to launch her book. To say this was one of the most disappointing days of my 30s would be an understatement. All the self-doubt and self-unworthiness flooded into my mind. Elspeth, just give up now and save yourself the 10 grand to self-publish. No one wants to read your stupid book anyway. You’re just a dumb copycat.

I’m never going to win an Olympic medal. Heck, I’m never even going to the Olympics. But I was going to write the book on being a female cross-country skier. And now I had failed at this, too. Worse yet, I got rejected by the same publisher that took on Jessie’s book.

It would be so easy to just quit now. To just leave the document on my computer. To keep the private things private. To stop editing. To not find the self-publishing company. To not edit the book with the publisher. To not fork over the dough to publish my book. To not advertise my book.

But I’m not a quitter.

But I wrote this book to get it published.

But my last chapter is called “Epitomizing Determination.”

But I want to validate others and help break the silence on the mental aspects of endurance sports, especially for our high school athletes.

But even though I’m not famous and don’t want to be anyway, my story deserves to be heard.

But...but...but...maybe this will be the biggest failure of my life. But I won’t know if I don’t try. It’s so much easier to say my mantra to someone else, but sometimes I have to say it to myself, too: sometimes we have to fail to succeed.

Our car full of 1,040 copies of my book! If I don't succeed, one of these copies will be coming to a Little Free Library near you!!!

So I wrote a book. A memoir at that. This is the before-story to my blog, if you will. It’s about my childhood and how I got into running and skiing. It’s not perfect but I couldn’t edit it forever. Some of my critiques say I write as well as Cheryl Strayed in Wild, but spoiler alert, there’s not enough sex or drugs to truly compare. But it’s not a pretty book. As a memoir there’s some skeletons that come out of the closet.

And the crazy thing is how good I feel about this self-publishing process. This was the right thing to do. Copyright 2020 couldn’t look better. And I got to collaborate with my mom on the most beautiful cover and subtitle. It's amazing how it all came together. I can’t thank my mom enough. It’s perfection! 


 

To buy:

Amazon

Or support your local ski shop:

Finn Sisu

Pioneer Midwest

Gear West

Home Place

Or find me on your local ski trail this winter and I can autograph a copy for you!

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Vakava Fall Camp in the Time of COVID

One of my favorite weekends of the year is always our Vakava Racing Team’s Fall Camp up in the Hayward/Cable area.  This would be our 16th annual, but several months ago I was not at all confident that we were going to be able to pull it off in this year of COVID.  The training part of the weekend has always been outdoors and thus would still be relatively safe, but we’ve always crowded ourselves into a couple of our members’ cabins for the eating and sleeping parts.  Further, I know that some people are having a hard time getting fired up about doing any serious training in a year when the upcoming racing season is so uncertain. 

But other team members and I have talked about this, and, to the contrary, that possibility of a diminished racing season hasn’t really affected our training at all.  We certainly hope for good racing this year, but we don’t train just to get in shape for racing.  Getting outdoors, working hard, training most every day of the week is something that is just part of what we do, part of who we are.  We love to ski, we love to train, we love to -- and hope to -- race.

So, let’s do it.  Why not make it an actual camping camp, completely outdoors, with people in individual tents, cooking outside, and sitting around the campfire in the evening?  And indeed, this first weekend in October we packed up all our gear and the Vakava Team headed for the north woods.

Birkie Trail -- leaves instead of snow
Our schedule was pretty much the same as it has been for a number of years. Started off Friday afternoon on the Birkie Trail with an hour-and-a-half run for part of the group, a brisk pole-hike for the rest.  It’s a different look with the brilliant colors of autumn, and you even get to stop once in a while and enjoy the view, but it’s the same great trail with all those hills as it is when you’re racing in the winter.

Afterwards, as usual it was up to The Rivers Eatery in downtown Cable, where Beth and Mick Endersbe serve up some of the best pizza and beer around.  I know, anything goes in Wisconsin right now, but the Endersbes are being properly cautious about our and their safety; ordering is online, and we enjoyed our meal on their outdoor patio, sitting around a cozy bonfire.  If you haven’t been there, you really need to check this place out the next time you’re up in Birkieland.

Saturday morning it’s always classic roller ski intervals.  This year it was on the smooth pavement and gradual climbs of Mosquito Brook Road just south of the Birkie Trail.  Over the last several years we’ve settled on a double, descending ladder: 6 minutes, 6 minutes, 5 minutes, 5 minutes, etc., down to two 1 minuters.  That’s 42 minutes of on-time, getting steadily faster and more intense, with the last ones being absolutely flat out.  A butt-kicker of a workout.  (P.S. Don’t do this one every day.)

The Vakava Racing Team, with our classic Marwes.  (World’s best roller skis; you know where to get them.)

Back for lunch at the big, open field at the Porath cabin where we camped, and, after a bit of a break, an afternoon strength session with body-weight and core exercises.  Finally, dinner and then relaxing around the campfire with a well-deserved beer or two.

Woke up bright and early the next morning to a frosty but sunny 22-degrees -- felt great, we’re winter people -- and got ready for our final session of the weekend.  Sunday morning is always a long, 3-plus hour skate roller ski, nice and easy, interspersed with fast, 20-second pickups.  We’ve usually skied from Cable to Drummond and back, but this year we stayed farther south on Upper-A, east of Double-O.  Perfect, rolling terrain, good roads with little traffic, and absolutely beautiful, with the crisp air, bright sun, and bright fall colors right at their peak.


I always tell the team that this is going to be -- and is supposed to be -- a hard weekend and that everyone's going to come home tired.  We did.  Pleasantly fatigued.  A weekend in the north woods with great weather and fall colors, great training, and great company.  Pretty hard to beat.  Especially in this, our year of COVID.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Long-Term Goals

In this year of unknowns thanks to COVID-19, it’s hard to know for what I’m training. Sure, there is the ski season, but we don’t know if that will be normal or not. As time progresses, it’s getting more likely that events will be more like individual time trials.

I’ve been thinking about my goals as I run 200s on the track, thinking about breaking a 6-minute mile while also tinkering with the idea of running an ultra-marathon in the fall, and then there is always skiing. So I started to think about my training in general and came up with this list of long-term (if not life-long) goals.


1. I want to be able to walk fast, run, squat, jump, ski, climb mountains, canoe, and still do some pull-ups when I’m in my 70s. And I want to be able to do this mostly pain-free. While this may not be at my current level, I still want to be able to do these things.
 

There are lots of exemplary people I know who are able to do these activities into their 50s, 60s, and 70s. I wish I could be as spry as Ahvo is in his 70s, but I don’t think I was that spry at age 3 so he may not be a good example- but maybe I can still jump and run in my 70s. To achieve this goal, it’s important to look at what I’m doing now. Simply being active and doing these things now can help me maintain this goal in the future. I need to continue doing these things to maintain a good fitness base and strength throughout my life. This means paying attention to what is hurting me now and doing physical therapy to prevent the minor things from turning into major things. It also means not overdoing it to cause injuries.

Ahvo, sporting his Yoko get-up in Finland's Border-to-Border tour



But I also need to consider agility and balance. These are things that are not natural for me. I try to do some stretching but always think about doing yoga. People tell me this is good to do. Maybe one of these years (when I stop working so much), I’ll start getting in the habit of doing yoga. For now, I’ll at least keep doing crow pose.

 

2. I want to ski fast for many years to come, whether it’s racing a sprint or a marathon. I don’t have a specific age for this. It used to seem 50 was the end age, but then there’s local women like Jan and Kate and my teammates Marybeth and Bonnie who are proving this is possible until at least age 60. Then there’s Dave, he just turned 70 and man, but is he ever fast and still hungry to push himself. With climate change it’s impossible to know if we’ll still be ski racing in 35 years, but I do hope I can still push my body and be brave then. Dave is a great example of the “use it or lose it” principle. I don’t think I’ll be roller skiing in the dark when I’m 70 (I largely try to avoid this now). Of course, with global warming, it’s possible that may define my age limit.

Kate kicking [my] butt at the Mora Vasaloppet in 2017
Bonnie skiing so fast at this year's Birkie.
Arguably not Dave's best moment- but I've put in this picture because he's willing to take risks to be competitive now into his 70s! He doesn't ski like he's 70.
 

So I keep up the roller skiing, strength, and general ski training. I’m not satisfied yet with my previous ski results. I want to see if I can crack into that top 10 in the Birkie Classic, keep up with Josie in the Mora Vasaloppet, and get a PR on our 1 km double pole roller ski time trial course. It’s also important for me to make some changes to my training given it seems my ski performance has been relatively flat the past few years. I’ve made some changes to my strength training (more to come soon) and am thinking more about planned periodization (maybe more to come at some point). Of course, I’m always working on my technique as well. While I may never achieve the above specific goals, it’s even more unlikely that I would achieve them if I didn’t have them.

Still skiing with Josie early on in the Mora Vasaloppet in 2016. Maybe some year I can stay with her!

 

3.  I want to run fast. Specifically, I still want to sprint, I still want to break a 6-minute mile, and I still want to race a fast half marathon. Last year I took a hiatus from running races after I got injured in the midst of training for a 5 K and focused more on ski training. This year I was determined to train again to break a 6-minute mile. I did a baseline mile in 6:44. Then I started doing intervals but will admit I was discouraged when I could barely hit 200s at 6-minute pace. This has taught me I need to go back to basics and work on running form and even sprinting. I’m also interested in trying another PR 5 K. To some extent, mentally I can only handle so many really fast running intervals, especially on early weekend mornings. Then there is running fast at longer distances which is more my forte. I’ve never even ran a road half marathon! I don’t have much desire to try for another marathon PR, but I do need to get after that half marathon at some point. I don’t necessarily have a goal time in mind for a half marathon, but I do know my pace should be faster than 7:56 which is what I did for a 16.7 mile race three years ago that seemed to push me to my absolute limit. So for these different distances, I need to set a goal race, train for the goal race, and then get a PR. 

With these future running goals in mind, I’ve done everything from 200s to 15 minute tempo/L3 runs so far this year. It’s good ski training and will keep my legs fast for those future goal running races.

I've been chasing the 6-minute mile for 19 years now- training on two continents and lots of different states!
 

                                                            ___________________________

If there’s anything that I’ve learned over the years, it’s to celebrate achieving goals! This is especially true because it can be daunting to set a goal I can’t achieve until I’m 70. Some goals are really small, like daily to-do lists, some take months, and some take years. So I’m going to celebrate my recent completed goals:

At age 35, I’ve finally learned how to french braid hair!

After a couple months of french braiding my own hair, this was my first go-round on someone else's...and I think it's pretty darn good for a first try!



I’m ridiculously proud of this pot that I planted this spring. It’s partner (on the other side of the door stoop) didn’t turn out quite so good. But this one is perfection!

The front planter that turned out perfect!
 


And…

drum roll please…I’m launching my own website featuring a new blog about all my adventures!!!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

100k in July

To offset Elspeth's discussion of the Screaming Barfies (a term I am thankfully unfamiliar with!) I will share a recent story of challenges with being too hot instead of too cold.



I've been known to do some endurance activities that even my other endurance athlete friends think is too crazy (TI V13TIV14Marji Gesick, etc).  Thankfully I have friends who are equally not quite right in the head and we can encourage each other to do these sorts of things.  Enter Artie and his proposal for a 100k roller ski this summer.

During a nice long Saturday morning ski in Afton, Artie talked about how he was planning to do this short little ski.  He had a route all planned out, a mid-way rest stop to refuel, etc.  It took me about 5k more of skiing to decide I wanted in.

After missing the first proposed date due to a minor injury scare we settled on making a go of it on Friday July 3rd.  As the date approached we were watching the weather.  Thankfully the prospects of storms appeared to be holding off.  Unfortunately we were still in the pre-storm sultry hot and humid conditions.  We planned a nice 5am departure to try to beat the heat.

The evening before I got everything all set.  Stocked a cooler with plenty of snack foods, appropriate recovery beverages, etc.  Swapped out my normal 2/3 combination of wheels on my Pursuits for a 2/2 combination.  100k seemed like plenty far I didn't need a little extra training resistance.  Seeing as I had a 45 minute drive to the start I set my alarm for something dumb like 3:30am.  I then promptly tried to sleep through what felt like pre-race anxiety of oversleeping and missing the start.

It wasn't too long and the alarm was going off and I was sipping coffee grabbing my goodies from the fridge and heading for the door.

Not off to the greatest start as I was getting my stuff out of the fridge at 4:00am.

We arrived at John's house at 4:45 ready for a long day.  John lives right off of the trails at Elm Creek and his place would serve as a nice launching off point, mid-event refuel stop, and a nice post event recovery.  John was going to join us for the first 40-50k and then switch over to a bike and trailer during the second half to keep us fueled.

Artie and I ready to get going before the sun even crested the horizon.

Dave B was our other companion for the first half of the adventure.  Shortly after 5am the four of us rolled out from John's to make our first partial circuit of Elm Creek.  Artie's route had us covering all of the trails in Elm Creek going each direction and then a pair of out and back trips to the Coon Rapids Dam.  It made for a great route since the only repeat section was the trip to the dam.

Sunrise over the steamy prairies in Elm Creek.

Right off the bat things were pretty warm.  It wasn't hot yet, but the humidity was high.  The mist hanging in the air as the sun rose was beautiful but I was already sweating despite a super easy pace.  We rolled along comfortably chatting about how we had a long day ahead but we felt great and were just coasting.

26k and 1:45 in we were at the dam for the first time.

Rolling back to Elm Creek to complete our first circuits we met up with Dave C, Bonnie, and Mark who started at a more rational hour of 7:30 and were going to join us for a while.

Rolling at the back of a nice train of skiers.

At just shy of 4 hours we rolled back into John's at 55k for a quick break to refuel.  I changed socks and boots, shoveled about half a loaf of garlic bread in along with a stack of Chewy Chipsahoy cookies.  I also took a couple of enduralyte electrolyte pills and a bunch of water.

About 18 minutes later we were back on the trails again to knock out another 45k.  How hard could that be?

Dave B joined us for just a bit longer before turning back and calling it a day.  I think he skied about 68k on the day.  Then we were onto the long very gradual downhill roll to the dam again.  I found myself on the back of the train and then yo-yoing off the back as my effort was going sky high trying to hang on.  My HR was climbing out of the L1, this is easy, I could do this all day, very quickly into no mans land, I'm not sure I can do this for a few more hours territory.

It was definitely getting warmer too and the sun was coming out.  I'm guessing it was upper 80's by this time and the humidity was still high.  I was definitely quietly sitting in my own little cave of misery at the back.  I've done enough of these to know signs.  When this happens people either find their way out of the bad patch, or the disappear and drop out.  Only time would tell what was going to happen to me.

After a short stop to refill our already empty water at the dam we turned around to head back towards Elm Creek.  The stretch back to Elm Creek is just a long false flat uphill.  The group had me lead to help set the pace instead of being the anchor.  Despite trying to set my own pace I just could not get my heart rate to come back down.

Just a few km shy of Elm Creek, St. John came rolling the other way down the trail with is trailer full of goodies.  We took another short break to refuel and try to work out some cramps that were beginning to plague Artie.

St. John and his trailer of salvation.

Artie had stocked the trailer with a gallon of Arnie Palmer.  That surgary nectar was a good pick me up.  This would be the inflection point of the ski.  Artie was just beginning to feel the effects of the heat and was starting the process of having various areas of his body cramp up.  Unknown to me just yet, but this is where I started to climb back out of the pain cave.

Artie took his boot off to try and work out some of the foot cramps.  To say there was some sweating going on was a bit of an understatement.

After a 10 minutes stop we decided we better get moving again or the last 20k would not just magically finish themselves.

Just 20k to go.  Piece of cake right?

We dropped Dave, Mark, and Bonnie back off at the chalet and Artie and I pressed on with St. John and his trailer in tow for the final 14k outer loop of Elm Creek.  Bonnie, Mark, and Dave C all did 55.5k.  Dave was adamant we not leave off that half a km.

Artie was starting to come apart at this point.  First a leg would cramp.  Then the shoulder blades.  Then the triceps.  He gamely kept skiing on but he was all on will power at this point.

I wouldn't say that I felt good, but I didn't feel bad either.  Hot and tired, but no cramps or the nausea I've come to expect with these really hot events.  We just kept plodding along, inching ever so close to the finish.  The final little climbs on the north east side of the park felt like Bitch Hill.  But finally we were over the last one and it was pretty much all downhill to the finish.

At the end I had 101.2km and 7 hours and 47 minutes elapsed time, 7 hours exactly moving time.  High temp on the day was recorded as 90F about an hour after we finished.



We grabbed some chairs and tried to cool off in the shade of John's garage.  Without going into too many details, Artie gave me a bit of a scare as the heat really hit him hard.  We got him inside finally and then the cramps hit him hard!  To pair with Elspeth's Screaming Barfies, we can call this the Screaming Crampies.

Things finally settled down though and apparently it wasn't so bad, Artie is talking about giving it another go in September as there are a few other crazies who think 100k roller ski sounds like fun.  And to answer anyone's questions of why you might want to join us, in the immortal words of George Mallory, "because it's there".

Thumbs up post the worst of the cramps.


Monday, July 20, 2020

The Screaming Barfies


I’ve purposely published this blog in the middle of summer when the Screaming Barfies are as far away from us as possible (unless you happen to be reading this in Antarctica). Hopefully this will prevent anyone from actually puking at the thought.

Perhaps some of you have heard the term “Screaming Barfies” before, but I first learned about it last winter when, you guessed it, I was in the middle of the Screaming Barfies.

So what are the Screaming Barfies? It’s that really really intense pain we feel when our fingers or toes are thawing after getting them really cold. It makes us want to scream and vomit. I’m guessing most of my readers have experienced this at some point and you’re probably starting to feel a bit nauseous even though it’s a tropical 80 degrees outside.

After yet another experience with the Screaming Barfies last December, I decided to try to prevent this from ever happening again. I’ve already resorted to some crazy measures in the past like wearing my really really warm mittens for the coldest skis but I decided to take an even more bold move and get battery powered gloves.

Oh, wow, these sure look warm! The fingers are just glowing red!

My first ski with these was under relatively “balmy” conditions: 9 ℉ with a windchill of -6 ℉. The gloves came with 3 settings and I mistakenly thought the coolest of the three would be adequate. A big problem with these bulky gloves was getting them into my pole straps. With my big mittens, I’ve previously taken my hands out of the mittens, then used my bare hands to pull the mittens through the pole straps. I did this with the new heated gloves thinking that because they were heated my fingers would immediately warm up but this wasn’t the case.


Here you can see the battery pack. It fits into a pocket in the cuff.

I increased the setting on the gloves to the warmest setting (making the button glow red in the night causing lots of questions from fellow skiers) but I only felt a mild amount of warmth coming from them and my fingers still got cold. After I did a couple intervals my hands warmed up nicely and they stayed so until I felt a sudden coldness. Uh-oh, maybe the battery died? Sure enough, the left battery died (so the button no longer glowed) and shortly thereafter the right battery died as well. My fingers got cold again as we were at a Vakava technique practice. I ended up splitting my intervals on either side of the technique practice and my fingers got super cold until I returned to doing intervals. It took until my third interval before my fingers finally warmed up and when they did so it was a mild case of the Screaming Barfies. And so my first ski session with the heated gloves ended with the Screaming Barfies!!!

I decided to give these gloves a try a few days later. This time I made sure to charge them to their full value. Temperatures were again similar to a few days previous. This time I put them on the warmest setting. I skied for 2 hours, the maximum battery life. They worked- but just barely.

After these two encounters with the battery powered gloves, I was done. They were super bulky, difficult to get through my pole straps, and limited to two hours of charge assuming I had remembered to charge them. And they barely worked under what I considered mild conditions.


The battery fits inside the zipper compartment. The button that looks like it has a knight on it is how the gloves turn on and off and what glows!

I went back to using good old fashioned mittens on the cold days. What I like about mittens is that all of my fingers stay together and if they get really cold, I can ball them up to my palm to warm them- although that really only works if I’m no-pole skiing. I also have a pair of lobsters without separators between every finger and these tend to be my go-to lobsters.


My old-fashioned mittens
My go-to lobsters
On the really cold days, I use my super mittens. Yeah, I know I look ridiculous, but especially for the short skis these are a game changer. As I get older my tolerance for frozen fingers is decreasing and I want to avoid the Screaming Barfies.

My super mittens. An absolute must for those -20 skis!
I also use nitrile gloves inside my mittens or lobsters on the cold days when I ski for longer than 1.5 hours and thus risk my fingers getting cold again from the sweat on my gloves. And in general I try to dress a bit warmer- often wearing a big vest for the beginning of the workout- and then shedding clothes as I get warm.

Of course, there’s also those air-activated disposable hand and foot warmers. Maybe I’m just too cheap to use these but I find that they are worthless in gloves where they can’t directly heat the fingers. They provide the best benefit in ski boots when sticking them on my socks over my toes inside my ski boots.

After that case of the Screaming Barfies last December, I haven’t had a bad one since. Maybe if I play it smart and keep using mittens if the temperature warrants I can avoid the Screaming Barfies indefinitely. That would be really really nice.

There are many brands of battery powered gloves and perhaps if I kept searching I could find some I like but my first experience deterred me from wanting to try anymore.
Just a reminder of what the cold days can look like- here I am immediately post sub-zero ski. I used my super mittens this day.

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:)