Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Seeley Classic 42km , Skratch That, 38km

I raced the shortened Seeley Classic "long" race, even though I couldn't find a picture on SkinnySki to show for it.  It was a frigid morning race start at -9 F.  I just registered for the race two days prior, taking my time to decide if I should race the long or the short one.  Because I thought I needed a boost in my training and because I didn't want my 30km race at World Masters to be my longest race of the season thus far, I went for the longer one. 

I arrived at OO on the late side, as is typical for me.  I didn't have time to test kick wax; luckily my Guru Green was kicking fairly well.  My skis were fast.  I waxed them the night before with Fast Wax LF Teal.  I love this wax for hardening the base.  Unlike other brands, Fast Wax is super easy to apply and remove.  Then I applied a couple more layers for good measure.

This was my longest race of the season so I didn't want to go out too hard.  I was skiing with a great group of women: Kim Rudd, Josie Nelson, and Marit Sonnesyn. For about 28 kilometers we all went back and forth.  I realized I need to work on the downhills, that is where I repeatedly lost time.  Earlier this season I bought a new pair of salomon skis and I'm not able to control them as well as with my older Atomics.  My finish placing was 4th woman overall, 51 seconds behind Marit, 1:23 behind Josie, and well... less than 10 minutes behind Caitlin.  Even though I was one place out of the money, I accomplished my goal of getting in a really solid training race.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Selling My Soul and other Musings

Well, after much debate I did it.

And now I’m a bit more like Erik, who I swear has just about a pair of Salomon boots for every pair of skis he has because none of his boots and bindings are compatible!

So what am I talking about? The plight of the pilot bindings...what else?

Back in high school, 16 years ago, half my life ago, I got my first pair of skate boots and they were pilots- all the rage in the Nordic ski world. It was 2001 afterall and the Olympics were coming to Salt Lake City in a few months. And since then, I’ve been a pilot devotee. I love Salomon boots on my feet (well, not completely, but we’ll say 90% of the time which is bound to happen when spending lots of time in boots) and when I’ve demoed some not-to-be-mentioned other brands, my feet have screamed “get these off me now!”
My old quiver of skate skis, all with old pilot bindings. From left to right: my rock skis  that were my race skis in high school and early college; my race skis (obviously a decade old- the graphics don't lie); my B skis.

But alas, as the demise of the pilots has been foreshadowed over the past couple years and I’m desiring some new skate skis and some new boots, I have really procrastinated (and those of you who know me know I don’t procrastinate much). I was also kind of waiting for those new carbon Salomon skate skis to come out in my tiny 177 cm size. So when Devin at Finn Sisu finally secured me a pair, I had to decide on bindings. My current black beauty ski boots are 9 years old. Being a pilot devotee, I scoured the websites from every store I know in the Midwest and no one had a single pilot boot in my size. I’m sorry to report for all you other pilot devotees out there...pilots are dead:(

So to not delay the inevitable any longer, I got some Prolink bindings and switched one pair of bindings on another pair of skis. Walking out the door with my first non-pilot skate bindings in half my life felt, well, akin to something like selling my soul!
Ecstatic about my new carbon skate skis!!! Photo: Devin
My first ever NNN bindings. I may be smiling on the outside but on the inside I was crying. Photo: Devin

A few weeks later, over the holidays, I was out skiing with my brother.

“Sister, what kind of binding are those?” he asked rhetorically. “Sister, wow, you made the big switch!”

Intervals on the busy Elm Creek hamster loop: It just so happened that my first day on snow this winter I decided to do intervals. Now some might say this is not the best plan, but that week I wasn’t motivated to do my intervals running, bounding, or rollerskiing; I was motivated to do them skiing. I also figured that there is no better way to work on ski speed than by skiing fast, so why not do intervals my first time on snow for the season? I did my intervals skating and tried to work on my balance. It was extra difficult because there were some icy patches on the machine made loop and the donut hill. Since it was a weekend there was also lots of people dodging but I got my intervals done and added to my skills of skiing through traffic.

The next week I did intervals again on the hamster loop. This time I did classic intervals. It was the weekend again and very busy. Unlike the week before, being in the classic tracks it became so much more obvious how I passed a lot of people during my intervals and then these same people passed me back up while I was “resting” and skiing slowly. Normally I don’t do intervals in front of so many other people and I was a bit self-conscious of my uneven pacing even though this was quite intentional. I was wondering if these people were wondering why I would ski so fast, blow up, rest, then ski so fast again. Hopefully they caught on that I was doing intervals and not skiing stupid!
Me skiing at the Nordic Opener at Elm Creek on Dec 9, 2017. It seemed the crowds came in waves and this was a more quiet time. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

Indoor Running: The Minnesota Distance Running Association (MDRA) sponsors the US Bank Stadium run. This is not a race but a chance to do some indoor running during the winter without dealing with cold temps, darkness, or snow and ice. Check out the website:

Erik and I decided to do this one night. It was a good experience and a nice way to see the stadium for only $3! The loop is 0.44 miles. It was fairly cool in the stadium so I didn’t sweat too much. Even though I’m not a very good runner, I was still pleased to be passing many people in the “slow lane.” There is also a ramp on the east side of the stadium that can be used for hill repeats if you are interested. Despite the relatively short loop, I kept myself plenty occupied between people watching, looking at everything in the stadium, and trying to get some glimpses of downtown as I ran by the windows. The only downside is running on concrete. Usually MDRA hosts a few runs per months but this year due to the Super Bowl there are no runs in January. There are some February dates and I’m guessing they will sponsor this again next year!
Erik snapped this photo of my running inside US Bank Stadium. He said it was uber artistic. In case you find it too blurry, that's me running with the football field in the background.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Skiing in the Negatives

This past weekend I found myself in Bemidji, MN (aka Burrrmidji) visiting family with lows in the minus twenties and highs in the minus teens. Despite this, I got out to ski everyday.

First, let me start with a couple things I try NOT to do when it’s -20 °F (or maybe even below zero).

             Intervals. I prefer to do intervals when it is 10 °F or warmer outside as doing intervals in sub-zero temperatures can really make my lungs burn. Towards the end of December we had a string of days with temperatures around zero and when it happened that the day it warmed up to 12 °F it was logistically difficult for me to drive to machine-made trails, I decided to do my intervals running. While I believe it is best to do intervals in the specific sport you are trying to be best at to maximize efficiency, running intervals should still be good for building the VO2 max.
Long skis. I have done some 3 hour skis at temps around "the doughnut." -20 °F is another story. On a long ski, inevitably there is sweat and those temps below zero cause that sweat to freeze which is obviously not good and can zap all that body heat quickly.

This past weekend, since I was also visiting family, I didn’t feel too bad about skiing for less time and spending more time with family. We (my husband, brother, and I) planned to ski for 1.5 hours and one time almost got to two hours. Locals may say the weather isn’t so bad and take pride in living in the ice box, but these are the same people who leave their cars running when going into the grocery store and ice fish in their heated ice houses. Given the very few people you will actually encounter out on the trail, even this short amount of ski time will make you feel pretty hardy for braving the elements for 1.5 hours!

So what to do when it’s -20 °F out in terms of clothing? It’s all about protecting exposed flesh and appropriate layering. I’m not very versed on skiing at temps these cold so most of this advice comes from trial and error. 

It’s important to remember you still sweat when it’s -20 °F, especially if you overdress.

Minimize exposed flesh: My husband and I decided to go for an early morning walk on the lake by my mom’s house. Air temp was -28 °F and with the windchill it was -45 °F. For some dumb reason I didn’t wear my super warm weather hat and only wore a ski hat and one buff. Things were OK when I was walking away from the wind, but when I turned into the wind, I had an instant headache from the cold wind hitting my exposed forehead. It turns out a ski hat leaves a bit too much flesh exposed above the eyebrows. I had never had this problem before. I dug out my warm weather hat for my afternoon ski (during the warmest part of the day) with the ear flaps and was glad to discover it covered my entire forehead down to my eyebrows. 

Getting dressed inside and making sure my warm hat really covered my forehead! Photo: Erik

Head: As mentioned above, I wore my warm weather hat in addition to 2 buffs at -20 ℉. I stacked my buffs together but you could also wear one under your hat and one over your hat. This day had a bit of a wind and so windchill was about -35 ℉. Two days later, there was barely any wind and skiing at -10 ℉ I probably could have gotten by with one buff and a warm ski hat but I didn’t test this. Erik much prefers to wear a balaclava over a buff because he doesn’t care about fashion. He figures the more you look like a bank robber the warmer you will be on the ski trail:) [Actually, Balaclavas are perfectly tailored to cover the human head and neck without excess fabric or uncomfortable tightness, and don't make you look like a wannabe world cup racer.]-your editor ;)

Exposed flesh: After putting on my hat and buffs, I had a bit of exposed flesh left on my cheeks and nose. I prefer to slather on lots of Dermatone. Vaseline works, too, and is probably cheaper. You can also use athletic tape, cut up a buff with nose and mouth holes, or wear a face mask.

Feet: The feet are always hard to keep warm. Keeping the core warm helps, as does starting warm (i.e. try not to sit in a cold car or stand around in the cold before starting). We’ve been using our Yoko boot covers which seem to help and also provide a seal when tucking ski pants under them. When it gets really cold though, feet warmers can be a real “toe” saver. You can either use generic warmers or ones specifically designed for your toes. One day I tried taping these onto my boots and covering them with the boot covers. This didn’t keep my feet warm. The next day I taped the warmers onto my socks and this kept my toes toasty. There are toe warmers that are sleek and designed to go inside the boots (and come with their own stickiness). My classic ski boots have ample room in the toes so the big foot heaters worked well inside my boots but not for Erik.  

Taping warmers onto my ski boots. I then put on my overboots.

Hands: People who design ski gloves, lobsters, and mittens have clearly never skied at -20 °F. OK, I admittedly have cold hands and even in my ski mittens my hands initially get cold until my body warms up. So I decided to try skiing in my super warm mittens. Fortunately these have an extra tightening strap at the wrist that help keep the mittens secure. Also, because my big mittens go a ways up my forearms, my watch stayed under the mittens. Although I couldn’t easily see my watch during my ski, electronic technology doesn’t work very well at -20 ℉ and therefore by doing this I was able to keep my watch working; Erik had his watch exposed to the elements and it froze and stopped working. 

These ski mittens claim to be rated to zero and are most definitely insufficient at minus twenty degree Fahrenheit.

These are more like it for skiing "below the doughnut"!

Core: I tend to get hot skiing and thus dress fairly lightly on my core. From about 10 to 25 ℉ I do well with a layer of long underwear and my Vakava ski jacket. Between 0 and 10 ℉ I might wear the same as above or consider adding another layer if it is particularly windy or if the temperature will be dropping. In the past couple years, I started wearing my ski jacket from high school when temps are in the minus single digits. This jacket is incredibly warm but doesn’t breathe very well so this year I’ve tried layering under my Vakava jacket more. I’ve always read about using a “mid-layer” but often get so hot I skip the mid-layer. Hence I did some more experimenting with mid-layers at -20 °F. I tried wearing a fleece in addition to my usual long underwear and got fairly warm so the next two days I went back to using two wicking long sleeve shirts and this seemed to be just about right. I didn’t have to unzip my jacket at -15 ℉, but I did at -10 ℉. If you tend to be on the cold side, I would highly recommend a fleece mid-layer, maybe even at warmer temps, and if you tend to be on the hot side, don’t wear fleece, not even at -20 ℉! 

Legs: Similar to layering with the core, I take into account my heavier ski pants vs lighter ski pants. I wore my Vakava pants with a layer of long underwear at zero one day and this was barely warm enough but the next day when it was -20 °F for our ski, I wore my old high school ski pants which are warmer (fleece lined) and they felt similar to my other ski pants the day previous.

       Yes, your eyelashes will freeze. I don’t quite know what to do about this. I wore my sunglasses which probably helped some. I suspect goggles would help more. 

Erik with some frozen eyelashes after our sunrise plus double sundogs walk. He didn't use his goggles for this walk.
       The frost from breathing will get everything on your upper body all wet- mostly your hat, buff/balaclava, upper chest, and back. This accumulates in giant white ice forms, especially at -20 ℉.

A frosty Erik after our ski at Bemidji State Park. Erik says: don't forget the jumper cables and be sure to turn on your defrost once back in the car because your warm body will get the windows all foggy.
A selfie after our coldest ski of the weekend. Note all the frost build-up under my chin. Also note I was unzipped exposing my fleece, which subsequently got all frosty, too.
Note I have less frost under my chin on this day as it was 10 plus degrees warmer than the above photo (but still in the negatives). Also, be aware of looking like a woolly mammoth from snotsickles, as in Erik's case. Photo: Leif

So don’t let the cold temps keep you inside. When dressed up proper as above, skiing in the negatives is amazingly pleasant. It is always good to get out in the woods with the snow in the trees sparkling in the sunlight! I had three very amazing skis in the Bemidji area and one walk (with a hibernating black bear sighting!) without getting my core cold.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Getting that last 5% better

    I’ve been training hard to get faster at skiing for many years now. While I hold my own in citizen races, if I were 5% better, I’d be closer to the top of the results list- about 45 seconds faster in a 5 km, 4 minutes faster in a 25 km, and 10 minutes in a 50 km. But getting that last 5% better is really really hard, much harder than getting the 10% before it better. 

When I say getting better, I really mean faster. And I mean this in the most straight-forward sense of raw speed. I mean gliding on snow faster. I know my fitness is good and what I'm missing is technique. How do I know this? By comparing my 5 km and 25 km ski times on the same relatively fast course at Elm Creek. Now, I know.. I know... I know... conditions are always different but consider I've only ever broken 15 minutes once in a 5 km and compare that to my 25 km time and it's a no-brainer that I should be able to ski 5 km faster. And that just might make my 25 km time even faster!

           So last year I didn't make any technique changes other than trying to use my abs more and a motto of “no pole push shall go without power” after realizing I could probably put more force into my pole pushes. But this year I've made a technique change in double poling, V1, and V2. 

It was frustrating to not make any technique changes in the double pole last year which was again evident in the Mora Vasaloppet when I could NOT respond to Kathleen's surge. After a video session with Vakava early in the training season where Ahvo told me I needed to bend my knees more at the start of my poling, and a week later Nate telling me the same thing, I was double poling along when one time I changed my technique a bit and felt the knee bend. I adopted this new technique. Zoom ahead a couple weeks to our 1 km slightly uphill double pole time trial at Vakava practice: using my new double pole technique I was the same speed as my last double pole time trial. Now, I was a bit sad to not be faster, but took it as a good sign that I was at least the same speed. A couple months later when we repeated this time trial, Kathleen came flying by me, but this time, I could respond with my new technique and stay with her (and eventually even pull ahead as we neared the finish).
Working on really bending those knees at the start of the double pole. Photo: Erik
Over the past couple years I’ve made some changes in my V-1 technique, mostly involving my arm positioning (elbow closer to my body and less bend in the elbow). I’ve also been playing around with foot position a bit and trying to keep my skis a bit more parallel to the direction of movement. Despite making these changes, I’ve been struggling to feel the power go through my abs as I drive the force from my poles to my legs. I’ve kept at this though and am finally starting to feel some power.
My new V-2 change is my fault. When I didn’t have a coach, I changed my technique by bringing my leg down farther in front. On one of those long skate rollerskis out in Afton, Dave Bridges (thanks Dave) told me not to do that! Fortunately because I was somewhat consciously doing this other technique, I was able to make the change and go back to not setting my foot so far in front (this also crosses over to V-1). After reverting back to my old technique, I managed to have my fastest net uphill skate 5 km time trial in Afton which was encouraging!

           Other than focusing on a couple running races and doing hard running intervals, my training has been mostly the same- running, rollerskiing, a little strength, a bit of canoeing, and biking to work. In terms of the strength, I always vow to do more, especially in the leg department. I’m good at getting myself to do abs, push-ups, and pull-ups 3 days a week. This year I have started doing one legged air squats which I figure is good for both strength AND balance but other than that, I haven’t made many changes.

    In October we went on a 2 week trip to Italy. Now while this may be prime fall training (and we did do a fair amount of training in Italy), this was somewhat intentional to have a break from our usual fall routine. In particular we needed a break from Sunday morning Afton rollerski sessions and the shoulder season which can often be cold and rainy. 

    We started off our time in Italy doing some Via Ferrata routes which is where cables, pietons, and ladders have been placed to help climb rock that would otherwise require rock climbing skills. A harness and cables (Via Ferrata kit) are recommended for these routes.
Working on the upper body strength on the Via Ferrata. Photo: Erik

And some mental toughness training:) Photo: Erik
    Next we headed to the Cinque Terre region of Italy, which while mostly known for its picturesque, colorful, vertical, seaside villages, provided plenty of stairs and vertical for us to get in some good training. 
The town of Riomaggiore where we did L4 intervals- it wasn't too hard to get the heart rate up just by running up the main street or doing some stairs!
Stairs anyone? Finally getting in that leg strength in Cinque Terre!

    Our last 4 days were spent in Venice getting seriously lost, kayaking, and battling the crowds. 
Not quite sure why I thought running intervals would be a good idea in Venice! Photo: Erik

Finding a bit better area for the intervals. Photo: Erik
Finally finding a place to do intervals. No disrespect to the MAC track, but this is probably the most picturesque place I've ever done L4 intervals.
One of our running routes through Venice. You can see where we took some wrong turns!
 The hope was once back to regular training in Minnesota, this break from usual activities would leave me hungry to get back to rollerskiing and continue to work on implementing all my new technique changes. In reality, the transition back was a little rough with temperatures in the 20s and no snow. But after a week of this (and thanks to some warmer weather) I was once again excited to be rollerskiing and working on my technique. I was glad all those technique changes I had made over the summer and fall came back naturally after my rollerski hiatus while in Italy!
Getting in a strength workout at the Amsterdam Airport. There is no excuse for people to not exercise:) Photo: Erik

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Say What? A 26 km Road Running Race

    This isn’t a terribly common distance but it happens to be the distance around Lake Bemidji (or at least the distance on paved trails and roads). This distance is one of three distances offered as part of the Blue Ox Marathon (there is a marathon distance as the name implies as well as a half-marathon which entails getting bused 3.6 of the miles around the lake). I had never done a 26 km running race previously but since distance is my forte and I was less than inclined to run a full marathon, I settled on the 26 km. 

    When Erik and I discussed our plans with one of our friends, she coined this the “Goldilocks” race distance because it’s not too short and not too long. And for this particular race, it’s also the distance around a lake without having to get bused or adding in any out-and-back or extra loops (as is the case of the marathon).  
A training run on some gravel roads- always reminds me of high school running in Bemidji:) Any day running on a gravel road is a good day. Photo: Erik

    I’ve ran around Lake Bemidji a good number of times dating back to high school. Last summer I ran around with Erik but we cut a few corners and did a bit of trail running. I averaged 8:44 minutes per mile on that run. 
My Garmin from my last year's (2016) run around Lake Bemidji. We started and ended at my mom's house and cut everywhere possible.

    My training for the race was mostly good. Two weeks out from the race I exceeded my own expectations on a long run with combined threshold. I ran with Erik along the Mississippi River, doing 15 miles total with interspersed threshold for 20-15-10-10-5 minutes at 7:30 pace. This run took me just under 2 hours and 6 minutes total which was way faster than I thought I could run for 15 miles and a huge confidence booster!
Crushed this 15 mile run!
    Then the week before the race we did a 12 mile trail run as part of Vakava Fall Camp that ended in the dark and rain and me dropping 4 out of 5 of my guy teammates (oops- but they did all do rollerski intervals faster than me the next day). I was breathing out of my nose and wasn’t trying to drop them, but this was still a good sign leading up to the race.  

    The race started at 9 am allowing plenty of time to sleep in and eat breakfast before the start. Weather conditions were forecasted to be about 38 at the start warming to 44 with increasing chance of rain throughout the day. Perfect for long sleeves on top and bottom and some light gloves. The marathon started with the 26 km but did a big loop first and so I would only be running with the other 26 km runners and given last years times, I would likely never see any of the other marathon runners again. The half marathon also started at the same time, but over 3 miles up the course so I wouldn’t be seeing those runners until later in the race.

    Looking at the race results, I was likely to finish well within the top quarter of the 200 participant field in the 26 km and that meant I would be running with few others around me. This was quite different from some of my recent races, but not unlike long runs with just Erik. Thinking about this was good mental preparation prior to the race. 

    Given the distance, I was going to let the first few miles be my warm-up. My goal was no sub-8 minute miles for the first few miles. While this pace felt pretty fast to me a few years ago, it was now very comfortable. I set my watch to autolap every half mile so I could frequently check my progress. I had also been paying better attention to my heart rate and knew I wanted it in the upper 140s for most of the race. My goal pace average was somewhere between 8-8:30 minutes/mile. 

    Assuming I was feeling good, my plan was to start pushing the pace 3-4 miles prior to the finish and try to run some miles in the 7s. Also, from the race map, the distance looked to be more like 27 km rather than 26 km which is also important to know prior to the start as a kilometer, which would take me about 5 minutes, is a long time when the muscles are tired and the cardiovascular system is being taxed.  
    Since the start was cold and we knew the field was small, we left my mom’s house for the start with only 30 minutes to spare. There was no traffic and ample parking and no line for the port-a-potty. I downed a gu with 10 minutes to go and got in the start line with 5 minutes till gun time. No one was really getting up close to the front so I lined up very near the start with just a couple women in front of me (both 26 km and marathon racers). The gun went off and I moved to the right side to let people pass and so as not to be too caught up in the excitement. I ran what I thought was an easy pace but still clocked a 7:45 min/mile pace for the first half mile. There was a woman running in black who got ahead of me; she was chatting with a guy from Hibbing.

    From there I tried to slow down just a tad, but mostly avoid doing any pushing and just nose breath. I counted the women in front of me as we veered off from the marathon course- I was 6th, but then another woman passed me. I ran with the 6th place woman for the first 2 miles, then dropped her. A couple guys passed me and I passed one. Then a guy in a white shirt came up alongside me and we ran together for the next 4 miles along the mostly flat and straight railway grade trail. We passed a sign that said “100 miles to International Falls.” I had saw that sign so many times while rollerskiing this stretch more than a decade earlier but had forgotten about it. The trail does indeed go to International Falls, albeit it is mostly unpaved. Every time I see that sign it makes me want to go to International Falls, but today my goal was to run around Lake Bemidji.

    My half miles kept ticking away right at 8 minute per mile pace as I ran with white shirt. We didn’t say anything and I kept nose breathing. I hoped I wasn’t going too fast but figured the nose breathing was a good sign as well as my pace workouts at 7:30 min/mile. My stomach felt a bit cramped. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken that gel right before the start? It wasn’t slowing me down but I didn’t feel as good as I would have liked. 

    And then we were passing the 4 mile sign and I thought, “wow, that was quick. Already about a quarter done with this thing.”

    At 6 miles we got off the railroad bed trail and headed into Bemidji State Park on a winding downhill trail. The fall leaf colors were amazing but I was racing and couldn’t fully enjoy this part of the course. Here I started passing my first half marathoners who had a 3.6 mile lead on me. Then once we got back near Lake Bemidji the course started climbing through the western part of the State Park. Now 7 miles in, I gave up on the nose breathing and was breathing hard out of my mouth as I passed another guy.

    Next was our first road section (we would be on roads almost the entirety of the remainder of the race). Now I was passing half marathons constantly. I made it a point to say “good job” even though it takes my breath away I like cheering; however, I was disappointed that all these people were plugged in. 

    Unlike the Twin Cities Marathon course that is almost continuously lined with spectators, there were very few spectators out on course. On the north side of Lake Bemidji, 2 people came up with a very effective way to cheer- they got some giant speakers and blasted music! This was awesome. Now, I love listening to music when I run, but not the headphones kind- the kind that screams TREAT THIS LIKE A DANCE PARTY!

    Soon the fifth place woman in black was in my sights. I worried I might be breathing too hard. I was mouth breathing now and it was loud to me. I was working hard but thought I could put out this effort for another 8+ miles. Then some fast chick passed me. I thought about going with her but told myself that would be stupid. And it would have been stupid.

    I got a gel at the 10 mile aid station that took me half a mile to get down. I didn’t want to litter and so carried it to the next aid station. My stomach was still a bit cramped. Again, nothing major but it didn’t feel awesome. By now I caught up to the woman in black in front of me (we were now 5th and 6th place). She was talking to Hibbing guy still. They were going the pace I wanted to run and thoroughly enjoyed listening in on their conversation and even partook a bit (the woman ran a 3:36 at Twin Cities Marathon 2 weeks previous and she didn’t seem to be pushing the pace- especially since I wasn’t in her age group). We were passing so many half marathoners and us women were often cheering them along. This part of the course also had about 4 small hills on it. Now, as a Bemidji native who had ran this street a lot (Birchmont), I knew about all these hills but it was pretty fun hearing these 2 companions talk about how the course was hillier than expected. 

    Somewhere in this section, the race officials had done away with the 26 km mile markers. Now, as I mentioned previously, this might be because the race is closer to 27 km, and in the US we don’t really measure things in kilometers. Since there were mile markers for the marathon, which was a Boston Qualifier, I figured those were pretty on the mark and I could count down at that point. 

    With 4 miles to go I remarked that my calves and body was getting tired. At 3 miles to go we came out to Diamond Point Park near Bemidji State University. This was our first time being close to Lake Bemidji for awhile and with the angle the Event Center, the start and finish of the race, looked a lot farther away than 3 miles! I got a surprise cheer from my father-in-law before running up the hill by the college. My legs were fried and I could tell my lungs didn’t have much reserve.

    As mentioned earlier, my plan was to push the last 3ish miles if I felt good but my stomach was too cramped, my body too tired, and my breathing already too hard to do any pushing. Now we were nearing downtown Bemidji and soon we were heading by the Paul Bunyan and Babe statue. The Hibbing guy was really struggling but that woman was really encouraging him! He said this was a training run for his first planned marathon (Grandma’s) next year. I was a bit disappointed my family wasn’t out cheering- especially because I picked up lots of plastic sh*t noisemakers for them to use. 

    Oh well, as I approached the one mile to go I started to struggle a bit and sometimes it’s just better to struggle solo. Then I blazed past the 2:15 half marathon pacer. That last mile was into a cold headwind and not at all downhill. I was still passing some half marathoners but couldn’t muster any kick. With half mile to go it felt like an eternity. With .2 miles to go the finish looked so far and wasn’t approaching very fast. I tried to take some deep breaths like my friend Craig, recommended, but it wasn’t very helpful. My mom was cheering .1 miles from the end and my bro took a video (although I didn’t see him). I did see Erik who had finished 16 minutes in front of me cheering in his bright green shirt. My effort felt like I was finishing a 5 K...I was totally beat and couldn’t run any faster. But this also told me I completely nailed the pacing!
My mother-in-law took this photo less than a minute after I finished and you can see I look pretty rough. Erik ended 3rd overall in the race! Photo: Barb Pieh
And this is why I looked pretty rough...19th overall, 5th female. Fast pace for me.

    It started sprinkling, and then raining, after I finished. I must’ve looked pretty rough because someone asked me if I was OK at the finish. My lungs had worked hard and I had that feeling like I needed to cough but the cough wasn’t coming. My stomach was in knots for a good hour after finishing as I gradually got down some water, then chocolate milk, then a banana, followed by more chocolate milk:)

    Afterwards I wasn’t at all sore which was nice; however, for the remainder of the day, every time I took in a deep breath, I could tell my lungs had worked hard. My pacing was very consistent throughout the race, average 7:56 min/mile overall. My slowest half mile was 8:24 (big uphill) and my fastest 7:36 (mostly downhill). I averaged 7:55 for my 16th mile and 7:44 for the last .7 miles so I wasn’t slowing down by the end which was good. Oh, and my watch clocked 16.7 miles for 27 km.
My Garmin trace for the race. Here you can see the distance and the farther route on the northeast side of the lake compared to last year's run...and the faster pace!

    I ran through the 10 mile at 1:19:01. Last year I ran a 10 mile race in 1:19:14 and felt I had put it all out there. This year I was able to run another 6.7 miles at that pace which tells me my training is working and I am getting faster which is so exciting! Even though I was exhausted at the finish and was thinking I’m not too keen to repeat this, seeing improvement makes me want to keep racing. I’m trying to decide what I want to do next year but this includes trying to shatter my previous times in the 5 K through 10 mile and possibly running a 25 km trail run. 
Winners of each race got these mini axes, or "hatchets" as Erik said. Not quite as cool as the rosemaled axes for the Minnesota Finlandia!
Erik and I with our age group prizes- cowbells. Now an hour after my finish I was feeling much more recovered. Photo: Barb Pieh

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Half My Life: A Comparison Between Now and Age 16  

At age 32, one of my patients said, “you look like you are 16.” Indeed, I get that a lot. It’s not many ages a person can be and yet be mistaken for exactly half that age. When I reflect back on being 16, I don’t recall thinking much about what my life would be like when I was 32. I suppose I figured I’d have some sort of career, and if lucky, married, and maybe even have kids!
Yes to married at age 32, but sometimes still acting like I'm 16. Photo: Steve Pieh (taken by father-in-law on the High Line in New York City
    I don’t think much about being 16 now that I’m 32 but there is one aspect of my life that makes me think a lot about being 16: running intervals on the track. It was at exactly half my current age that I first began running. Really running- as in, for more than just a mile at a time. And when I began running, I began intervals on the track. And running for miles and miles at one time. And this was my segue into the endurance world. 
Talk about segue into the endurance world- here I am competing in my first Chippewa Triathlon. I think I have some good forward lean here. Photo: Mom
    Therefore I’ve been running, and hence doing endurance sports, for exactly half my life. 

    I entered into the endurance world innocently enough at 16 when I joined track and thought I’d be a mid-distance runner. But I was too slow and so the coach had me run the mile, then the two mile, and I was hooked on suffering. Well, kind of hooked on suffering. I became more hooked on the idea and ability of my body to travel great distances by foot. This gave me confidence, purpose, direction.
Running in Central Park, age 32. Photo: Erik
    In my early teens I hungrily read Seventeen, YM,  and Teen magazines. I wanted to be beautiful and popular. When I came across something I really liked in these magazines, I ripped out the pages (similar to what I do now with Better Homes & Gardens magazine). So somewhere along the line, even though I hated running, I tore out a story called something along the lines of Getting on Track (I tried googling to find the actual article but was unsuccessful) about a girl who joins track and starts running the mile. She of course meets a boy in track, but along the way becomes much more self-confident. Even though I hated running at the time, I was fascinated by this story, whether fiction or nonfiction, and I kept that story for years and looked at it or re-read it frequently. This article likely had some effect on me joining track, especially since I kept it in my bedside drawer for 2-3 years before joining track.

Remember these? 1990s throwbacks.

    Running is about more than running fast and racing. It is about being outside, engaged in the natural world, discovering new places, running trails. Running is almost always the best on the easy days when the breathing isn’t so labored and I can appreciate all these finer things about life and my world. When I was in my early teens reading teen magazines and saving stories about joining track, I didn’t feel terribly satisfied with me. While Getting on Track did mention the self-confidence obtained from running, it hinted at the more subtle concept of belonging. I often struggled to feel belonging, but as soon as I joined track I belonged with the other distance girls. These were my people. There is something so grueling about distance racing that bonded us. Since then I have belonged to a group of endurance people. I have found a sense of purpose in my running goals and hence a belonging. But mostly, I’ve found a belonging on the trails, on the streets, on the track, running along with my thoughts.  

    As I’ve returned to the track almost every week this spring and summer, I’ve been thinking a fair bit about my first season in track and thought it would make a good blog post to compare and contrast my running now and 16 years ago. It seemed I needed some kind of objective comparison to my running between then and now. My PRs in track all came when I was 16 and I had been getting much slower until I started doing intervals a few years ago. Last year, at 31, I felt the strongest I’ve ever felt in my life, although not the fastest. At 32 I don’t feel any stronger, but I also don’t feel any less strong. 
Chasing down my team-mate Maria at the Crosby-Ironton track. I have no idea who took this photo:)
    While I still would love to break a 6 minute mile, my intervals and 400 repeats indicate this likely is not possible at this time. Last year I thought about benchmarking with a 2 mile, which given it is twice the distance, better suits my aging body:) The real motivation to do this 2 mile time trial came when I decided to write this blog post. And so sometimes writing a blog can be a real motivator!
Central Park is an amazing place to run. I had wanted to run here for 16 years and finally got my chance this year. Photo: Erik
    Of course I naturally put off this test until it had been 2+ months since my last blog post. I usually run intervals by myself on Thursday mornings, the day after a hard Vakava workout but thought this wouldn’t be ideal as I’d be doing the time trial solo. I thought about jumping in a Twin Cities Track Club race, but these were all on Wednesday evenings, the same time as Vakava practice. And I thought about doing this on a Saturday morning with Erik (who could run with me and yell encouragement and splits) but that’s our long run day and I didn’t know that I wanted to do both on the same day. Then we went on a trip to the mountains so I didn’t do intervals for a couple weeks. So, finally one week when I started thinking about what to do for my running intervals and thought about hill repeats but wasn’t particularly psyched for this workout, I decided on the 2 mile, or more precisely, the 3200 meter, time trial. 
Photo from trip to the Beartooth Mountains in Montana. Erik has a knack for taking pics of me "on the edge." A few minutes after this photo was taken I was to be in glory on the top of Whitetail Peak, 5th highest in Montana.
    I’ve had a few objective measures of my running performance this year: as part of a tempo workout I ran back-to-back 2 miles in 15 minutes with 5 minutes rest and I did a 4 mile hilly road race averaging 7:19 minutes per mile. But neither of these were on the track and the 2 mile was a tempo workout, not an all-out effort. Based on these times, I kind of made this goal of running sub-14 minutes. I had doubts I could PR, partly because I did a long L3 rollerski workout the night previous with Vakava and because this was not an actual race (although it should be noted that my best 2 mile times at 16 were preceded by PRs in the mile 2 hours prior). 
This is one of my all-time favorite photos taken when I was 16 at sub-sections on the Detroit Lakes track (where I had my PRs). I was back on the waterfall line but you may recognize some fast girls on the front line! Photo: Mom
    In preparation for this 2 mile, I wanted to run a mile on the track first. I did this one day where my goal was to run a steady 7 minute per mile pace through 3 laps and then go faster on the last lap to clock in a 6:53. While this wasn’t too shabby, I followed up this mile with my first two sub-90 second 400s since high school! That made me think I could probably go sub-14 minutes.

    So early on a very warm September morning I ran over the the Macalaster track and did my solo 3200 meter time trial. I started ridiculously fast around the first corner and quickly reeled it in. So I wasn’t surprised my first split was a tad fast and that I was already breathing hard. And wow, but I was breathing relatively hard for the first mile. Besides breathing hard and knowing I still had a ways to go, the first mile wasn’t terribly difficult. At the start of my fifth lap I tried to focus on my breathing on the corners (trying to breathe in deeply) and focus on some good push-off technique on the straightaways. After a lap of this, by the start of my 6th lap, I was simply breathing too hard (2:1 breathing meaning breathing in for 2 strides and out for one) that I couldn’t change my breathing pattern or focus on technique. Indeed, looking at my Garmin, with over 5 minutes to go my heart rate got to and stayed above 165 (92% of my max) and hence I was in the anaerobic zone. It’s fun to notice the 2:1 breathing with running that doesn’t quite work out when skiing. I really wanted to quit at the 2400 meter mark but told myself I’d come too far and just needed to suffer for another 3 minutes and 30 seconds and this would be over. Somewhere between 7:30 min/mile pace and 7:00 min/mile pace, I lose my shit transition from L3 to L4 and hence, by 10 plus minutes into an L4 workout, I’m breathing really hard. So I held in there and by the last lap the finish was close enough in the future to keep going. I took it as a good sign that I had maintained my pace for 3 laps after my mile split. I tried to speed up my last lap to make it under 14 minutes and do some kind of kick. I was breathing really hard and hoped I wouldn’t pass out! 
Still chasing down Maria my senior year, this time on the Brainerd track. Photo: Mom
    Here are the 400 meter splits. The normal font on the left are the goal cumulative 400 meter splits; times in italics are my actual times; in parentheses are how many seconds faster or slower I was compared to the last lap.

1:45; 1:43 (2 seconds ahead of goal; as noted above, I started really fast)
3:30; 3:28 (no pace change)
5:15; 5:15 (2 seconds slower)
7:00; 7:03 (3 seconds slower)
8:45; 8:48 (no pace change)
10:30; 10:33 (no pace change)
12:15; 12:18 (no pace change)
14:00; 13:57 ( 5 seconds faster than my previous 3 laps for the last one to end w/ 13:57!)

    Erik said in regard to my time, “you can do better than that.” And judging by my max heart rate of 174 for the effort, I should be able to do better as my max heart rate is closer to 180. But this was an individual time trial in every sense of the word- I was the only one out there, this was self-timed (including my splits)- and so likely with some competition I would have pushed harder. 
A screenshot of my Garmin. You can see the heavy line around the Mac track. I love my steadily increasing heart rate.
    So how does this compare to my 16 year old self? My first ever 3200 meter I did in 14:14 and a week later 14:07. From there all my other races were sub-14 minutes ranging from 13:56 to a PR of 13:34. I’m not sure I ever broke 14 minutes my Junior year; I have no record of my times from that year and suspect it was because they were so slow. My senior year I ran a few races in the 13:50s and at least 3 over 14 minutes. Given all this, I would say that at a distance of 2 miles or greater, I am at least as fast as my high school self and probably faster the longer the distance. 

    While I was able to negative split at age 32, I’m pretty sure I did quite the opposite by a large margin in most of my high school races. It was not uncommon for me to run 6:30 for my first mile and 7:30 for my second mile. That’s not very consistent. One nice thing about an individual time trial compared to a race is that I can manage the pacing much better. 
10 km Tutto Bene Road Race in high school. Note, there are 2 generations of these chilly-pepper shorts featured in my blog- these were the first! Photo: Mom
I would love to ski race my high school self but the reality is not only do I not remember my times, or the courses (I was fortunate to only very rarely race on man-made loops) but the times are completely irrelevant owing to constantly changing snow conditions. But the track, with its precise distance and relatively consistent conditions, allows for this test. 

It would be interesting to try to shatter my 4 km cross-country time from high school. My PR at that distance was 18:20 which breaks down to 7:22 min/mile. It might be hard to find a 4 km cross country course though. I have quite a bit going on this fall and not too many goals for next maybe next year!
One of my last high school track races at Grand Rapids. That's me fourth from left. Photo: Mom