Thursday, March 5, 2015

An Even Dozen

I now have twelve Birkie's under my belt. The race was another slow one and my 30th place was not stellar (like Mary Beth Tuttle who got 11th!), but I was very satisfied with it. It was a different year for me than usual since I was assistant coaching the Roseville Area High School Nordic Ski Team this year. It was also a struggle to train with the low snow requiring lots of travel which I don’t have time for and I battled colds all winter. I've never been sick so much in all my life. Not terrible flu-like sick, just the run down mild cold sick, much of the winter. I think I had at least four weeks when I was too run down to do much other than show up for the high school practices and ski around with the kids. The high school team also had quite a few races on the weekends which left me too tired to race on Sunday. So I only had two races in before the Birkie. I did the Baker Shaker for 20k the end of January as my first race and it felt much harder than it normally wood. I skied another 15k after the race and was pretty baked. But the following weekend I did the City of Lakes Loppet, which was only 12k, and felt really good. I even went to Hyland after the race and skied another 30k and still felt pretty good. Then I felt sick again the next day which lasted another two weeks. This was also over the high school section and state races which kept me too busy to train or recover from being sick. A week before the Birkie I finally felt good enough to do something and decided to put in a long hard workout to prep for it. I figured that it didn't make sense to try to rest up when you haven’t been doing anything in the first place. I also figured that I respond quickly to intensity after feeling so good a week after Baker Shaker. So I skied 30k at Wirth on the hills at a good Birkie pace hoping that would at least keep me from bonking at the Birkie. It seemed to do the trick.

On race day I was relaxed and not worrying about how I would do. I had no real expectations given the amount of training I'd done. My only goal was to not lose my elite wave start and wasn't too worried that would happen. I just wanted to enjoy the day. The first 5k often foreshadow the rest of the race. If I'm feeling the hills on the power lines, it doesn't bode well for Bitch Hill. This year the first 5k felt pretty good. The pace set by the others in the wave felt reasonable and the first hills felt fine. I was careful to ski within my limits knowing I would need to so as to not seize up 40k in. As we got off the power lines, the pack started to string out and I ended up in a group of about four of us. After about 15k, two of them started to pull slowly away. Kara Salmela and I discussed it and decided to let them go. They were just a bit faster than we wanted to go and we are old and wise enough to know better. Unfortunately not long before OO, Kara fell for some reason. She had been climbing the hills a bit better than me so I assumed she would catch me back up on the climb to OO. After OO I kept looking back for her but she never materialized, so I was alone pretty much the rest of the way. It wasn't so bad since pockets of men would go by now and then and I’d see someone I knew sometimes. It was comforting to note that as I got closer to the end, the men passed me by at a slower and slower rate than the initial packs did so I figured my pace wasn't falling off too bad. I was also pleased that my legs didn't cramp up like they have in the past. I tend to overuse my thighs which caused hamstring problems and I've been working on using other parts of my body better. This year my whole body got increasingly tired at the same rate rather than mainly the legs, so I must be doing something right! The lake was windy, cold, and miserable as usual. I didn't mind the bridge across Hwy 63 at all, in fact, I enjoyed being shot out on to Main St. So I crossed the finish line, got my 12 year pin, and life was good. I sure was hungry and tired though. My tummy wasn't happy, even after some food. More liquids helped with that eventually. I was so tired I fell asleep on the floor next to the wall in the food building. I think that amused quite a few onlookers (including Katy Splan, who took the picture!), but I’m not proud so I didn't care. I felt much better afterwards. So I felt I had a good race, considering. Most of the people I talked to afterwards said the same thing. Kind of a tough year, but still good.



Next year is lucky 13!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Electrolytes

We all know that electrolytes are important for performance, not to mention normal bodily functions. There are plenty of electrolyte drinks and whatnot out there, but I prefer to get them through my normal diet. I usually eat pretty well. I don't eat much processed food and try to eat plenty of veggies and whole grains. Even so, I have had trouble getting enough of various electrolytes at times.

The first issue I had was a few years ago with low sodium. It's pretty unusual for an American to have low sodium, but I think the combination of not eating processed foods (that have a lot of sodium), not adding any to what I cooked, and exercising (and hence sweating) a lot, caused my sodium to drop over time. I started having really bad muscle cramps after exercising and even some mild heart arrhythmia. I got a blood test that showed all my electrolytes in the middle of the normal range except sodium which was barely inside the low end. I started adding a little salt to my food and the problems cleared up pretty quickly.

The second issue I had was with calcium. I was just not feeling well and was having a hard time going hard. I felt like I needed to stop and lie down after about 30 seconds of going hard. I didn't know if I was anemic or what, so I went back for a blood test. The only thing that was off was calcium which was barely inside the low end of normal. Calcium is critical for muscle function. I drink a fair amount of milk so I don't know why it was low. It may have been due to the drug tamoxifen I was on to prevent breast cancer recurrence which also caused me significant fatigue. I started taking calcium supplements and started feeling better, although the medication was still taking its toll.

I've recently had an issue that I believe was due to low potassium. (No blood test this time.) Earlier in the summer I had been feeling great and my time trial results were back up to where they were a few years ago. But several weeks ago my body started feeling (especially my legs) heavy and fatigued and like I wasn't recovering well from my work outs. I didn't have any good reason why I was feeling this way. I tried giving myself plenty of rest and recovery, but the next hard workout set me back again. I started googling "heavy legs" and several running websites suggested it could be due to low potassium. I can't eat things like bananas too frequently because I start having allergic reactions to them so I needed to find a source of potassium I could eat daily. I looked into supplements but they only contained 3% of the RDA and that didn't seem worth the expense and bother. Then I remembered that salt substitutes are made of potassium chloride and thought that I could use that. So I started adding 1/8 tsp (10% RDA) to my oatmeal every day and lo and behold, started feeling great again. Now I can crank out my hard workouts and bounce back like I used to.

The thing that surprises me most is that I could experience such symptoms when the electrolytes weren't that far off of normal and how small the additions to diet it takes to feel better. Food for thought!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Adventures in Northfield

Last Saturday Nate and Craig invited everyone down to their neck of the woods for a long roller ski and brunch at Nate's house. We had a nice group of about a dozen of us. The brunch was great and it was fun to see Nichole as she nears the birth date of their first child.

While it was nice to have a change of scenery from the usual Afton area, I must say that the roller ski session was a bit of an exercise in mental toughness due to the wind that day. The Northfield area has a lot of corn and bean fields and while it's pleasant to be out in the country they, don't do much to stop the wind. Plus it was a rather chilly wind. So after a few hours of fields stretching to the horizon, the beginning of body aches from K upon K of double pole, and the cold wind whistling through your helmet, the mind numbs and begins to ponder the truly great questions of life such as, "Why does the wooly bear cross the road?" Some cross one direction, some the other. Some go diagonally, some straight across, and some down the road. Some just roll into a ball and lie there. Where are they going? It's not like there is any food or cover from predators out there. And then there's the whole stripe width thing. What's up with that? These are the sort of things the mind contemplates on days like that. Yep, it was that sort of day...

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Core and mental toughness training with a bear

My kids, Will and Libby, and I recently visited Yellowstone National Park to visit my niece who is a rafting guide in Gardiner, MT.  We were looking forward to an active, adventured-filled week, but we got more than we were hoping for. It was our second day in the Park. We awoke to light rain, so we decided on two shorter distance hikes.  We didn't want to be too far away from the car in case the weather turned severe.   Our first hike was Bunsen Peak. It is listed as one of the top 5 most popular hikes in Yellowstone by the Lonely Planet Guide Book. The trail head is close to the main road. The type of trail where you'd expect to see more people than wildlife. 

We were about 1/4 the way up the mountain, when the open terrain quickly changed to a densely wooded area. Libby was leading, I was behind her and Will was bringing up the rear. Suddenly we heard a couple of grunting sounds coming from the woods. I knew immediately it was a bear. Before we could react, we heard branches and trees coming down in our direction.  Then a large black bear jumped in front of Libby on the trail and started to growl at us.  Libby screamed and begin to sprint in the opposite direction down the trail. The bear followed in pursuit.  As the bear begin to charge at me, I put my hands up above my head and took a wide stance to appear larger. I also started to roar back at the bear. In my mind, I was thinking "Ok, this is one of those bluff bear charges that I've read about." At some point as her open mouth with sharp teeth and claws got closer to my face, I realized this was no bluff. It was the real deal. 

I needed a plan B.  I wasn't sure exactly what that was going to be. Thankfully, my instincts took over.  I tucked my head in between my forearms and leaned in towards the bear's chest.  As I made contact, I pushed as hard as I could on the bear's chest.  She seemed a little surprised and stumbled backwards, back onto all fours. Then her yearling cub emerged from the trees. The bear and I both looked directly at the cub and then they both retreated back into woods.  

We regrouped and thanked our guardian angels for watching over us. Then we got our bear spray out of the bottom of our backpack. We didn't want to test the higher spirits again. We continued up to the top of the peak and back down, singing loudly the whole way with the bear spray in hand. Our songs were a variety of pop, camp, Christmas,  improv and Sound of Music melodies.  We were quite an earsore to all creatures around us.  We opted to get the cowbell out of the car for our second hike of the day, to Osprey Falls.  Thankfully, there were no other close range bear sightings the rest of the trip!
 5 minutes before the bear!
Lower Falls from Uncle Tom's Cabin trail in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

March

So, how come so many of us stop racing or even skiing after the Birkie?  Late-season skiing is often some of the best skiing, and the last month has been exactly that – more comfortable temperatures, more daylight, and still great trail conditions.  With yet a decent snow pack and with the really good grooming that seems to be pretty much the norm now in the Twin Cities, March has had a lot of wonderful opportunities to keep enjoying our favorite sport.

Even the late-season racing can be some of the most fun – low-key, no pressure, just get out there with your buddies and go as hard as you can for 10 k’s or so.  And those 10k’s can go by pretty quickly on March corn snow.  The Slush Rush at Elm Creek the weekend before last was absolutely perfect conditions – no slush, just immaculately groomed and lightning fast and a gorgeous sunny day.  I’d attribute my time of 22 minutes for a purportedly 10 k course to great skis and Fast Wax Cold Flite, but then pretty much everyone was flying that morning.

Even the past few days, with warmer weather and snow disappearing elsewhere, the conditions at Hyland and Wirth have been first-rate.  (Maybe especially for classic; corn snow and klister – fast and bomb-proof kick.)

I’ll move on to other things when the snow is finally gone, but until then I’m going to enjoy the skiing.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

MN State Pursuit Championships

Yet another chilly morning of skiing with a start temperature of -3F.  The sky was blue and the sun felt good, even if the air was cold.  This was my first ever pursuit race.  I chose to wear my skate boots for the races.  The boots felt weird during the classic race because of their stiff soles, but I adjusted. 

I didn't get the best start, the front line was filled with several skiers that should have started in the middle of the pack.  It didn't take long for the field to get strung out.


 
My son, Josh, had layed my skis out for me at the exchange.  The toughest part about the exchange was stuffing my lobster mitts into my pole straps.  After a couple minutes I adjusted to the skate technique and was on my way again.  The skate portion felt slow as the cold, sharp snow crystals took grip on my ski bases.  I had waxed with Fast Wax's HSLF-0, and my skis were gliding as well as anyone's out there, I just wish the conditions were faster.
 
 
I finished 10th overall and first female.  This finish gave me enough points to claim first place in the Fast Wax Cities Cup Series.  Dave Christopherson also had a race, finishing 9th overall.
 
At the finish we were all treated to hot chocolate, hot apple cider, and hot dogs.  The key word here being "hot".  It all tasted good.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Birke - 50km Skate

When we are told to catch a bus from Hayward no later than 6:30 AM, they actually mean it!  We were running a bit behind schedule and pulled into the parking lot at Donnellan Field at 6:38 AM.  Not knowing if there was a parking spot left in the lot, Angie Robinson asked the attendant if we could park "here"; a spot partially blocking the lot entrance.  We took the attendants confusion for a "yes", and quickly vacated our vehicle.  We headed for the next loading bus as another bus pulled forward, next to the line of loading busses.  The driver open her door and asked if there were a few skiers that wanted to get on.  Angie and I ran over to the bus.  After about fifteen of us got on she closed her door and zoomed away.  We looked at each other and said, "that was weird, why didn't she wait until the bus was full?"  We were glad to be on a bus and headed for Cable. 

As everyone that skied these races knows, the ride to Cable took a bit longer than usual.  We finally pulled into Telemark about 7:50 AM; our race started at 8:00.  Certain we would miss our start, we pleaded with the driver to let us out ahead of the other unloading busses.  We were told there were procedures and we needed to wait our turn.  After getting released from our bus we ran for the start area.  My running wasn't quite as fast as Angie's since I had consumed an entire thermos of Gatorade on the bus ride up.  All I could think about was my bladder and how badly I wanted to empty it. 

As I approached the bag dump area I saw Brad Skillcorn.  Without saying a word he nodded "yes" and I handed him my bag which he relayed to the bag check truck.  I heard it announced that we had two minutes to the race start.  I ran to the nearest truck and finally emptied my bladder (sorry truck owner).  With one minute to race start I jumped over the start area fence and into my skis.  I still can't believe I actually made it to the start on time, and I was nice and warmed up from the run.

My race started off O.K. skiing with Jan Gunther.  We worked together for quite a few kilometers (20 or so?).  Just before OO I started to feel energy depleted;  I officially "bonked" not long after.  I have a really fast metabolism and needed a higher dose of calorie consumption than what I was getting, especially in the cold and slow conditions.  I have a few ideas for next year.
With about 17 kilometers remaining
 
With about 12 kilometers remaining (just before Bitch hill) I was in serious trouble.  I started feeling like I was floating and had to back my plodding down to a crawl (literally).  I oscillated between plodding and crawling for the remainder of the race.  With 100 meters to go I wasn't sure if I would actually cross the finish line, or if I would pass out on main street (how embarrassing would that be!). 
Crossing lake Hayward
 
I did finish and was whisked away to first aid on one of their golf carts.  Wow, first aid isn't such a bad deal.  They put me in a 80 degree room, brought me my clothing bag, fed me hot soup, barbeque potato chips and brownies.  Catlin stopped by and I was able to chat with her about her race. 
 
Hopefully next year I won't look quite as pathetic at the finish as I did this year.  But, I am very grateful for the wonderful volunteer that took care of me.
 
It's all a big adventure-