Saturday, October 1, 2016

On Confidence
    Confidence is a strong word. It’s really important in athletic endeavors (like skiing!) and throughout life. Often confidence in one realm of life breeds confidence in another realm of life. Confidence is something felt by the individual, but also something others can perceive.
    Last year, I diligently watched almost every women’s World Cup race because I wanted to know who everyone was and how they were doing prior to watching the World Cup live in Canmore. Throughout the season, Jessie Diggins seemed to be doing better and better. Not only was she doing well at sprinting, but she was doing awesome in the distance races as well. One Saturday there was a 5 km individual start classic race in Falun. Jessie surprised herself and finished 5th overall behind four Norwegians. The next day was a mass start 10 km skate race at the same venue. With what looked like extreme confidence (at least watching it looked like Jessie had mega confidence) Jessie proceeded to try to ski with the Norwegians and was able to do so for awhile, eventually finishing 4th overall behind three Norwegians.
During the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, I was 11 and had a big crush on the Magnificent Seven (the US women’s gymnastics team). I excitedly watched the team competition which came down to the vault. Kerri Strug was the last US member to go and she fell and sprained her ankle on her second to last vault. She was clearly in a lot of pain but had to land her second vault to secure the gold medal for team USA. It was pretty obvious Kerri was in a lot of pain from her facial expressions but she knew what she had to do and even though she didn’t have a ton of confidence she focused and landed that second vault and man, she she was surprised when she landed that vault! At least per her facial expressions she looked pretty darn surprised. This summer in Rio there was an interview with the Magnificent Seven and Kerri said landing that vault gave her a lot of confidence in her life.
    So where does this leave me in regard to confidence?
    After high school, I was really burned out on running, and in particular, on running intervals. So I declared that I was not a runner and avoided running intervals and running races. Oh, I thought about doing them, but then thought better. Until I got really slow. Six years ago, in 2010, I vowed to become a faster runner and started doing intervals again. This resulted in surprising myself and running a faster Twin Cities Marathon than I believed I could run last year.
    This gave me confidence to continue working on getting faster and made me excited to keep pushing myself through those intervals. I was even motivated to run a PR 5 K even though I had sworn I would never run that distance again many years ago.
    It also motivated me to run a 10 mile race. A year ago, I thought about running a 10 mile race in sub 90 minutes (sub 9 minutes per mile). At the time this seemed like a reasonable goal that would be challenging but likely do-able. Zoom ahead to Twin Cities Marathon and I decimated this goal in the first 10 miles of the race. Hence I needed a new goal so decided to aim for sub 80 minutes (sub 8 minutes per mile). This was definitely fast for me and would be hard and I’d have to train, but likely possible as my PR 10 K is a 46:45 (average 7:31 minutes per mile).
    This year I set my sights on the Bear Water Run, a 10 (1 lap) or 20 mile (2 laps) race around White Bear Lake on September 17th. This event was perfect because I could run the 10 mile and Erik, who is training for Twin Cities Marathon, could run the 20 mile. 
The map of the course. It's just about a perfect 10 miles around White Bear Lake.
    I diligently ran intervals every week alternating between fast 3-4 minute L4 pace (upper 6’s minute/mile) and longer tempo runs at about 7:45 minute/mile pace. I even slogged through some slow runs at 9,000 plus feet in Colorado. On the weekends I usually ran an overdistance run with Erik that was well over 10 miles. Overall my training went well.
    The pace was going to be fast and I somewhat dreaded race day but tried to convince myself once I was in the race the pace wouldn’t seem THAT fast. Yet six years ago, when I was totally out of interval shape, I couldn’t even muster an 8 minute mile and now I was about to string 10 of them together! I wasn’t really sure I could run sub 80 minutes but despite this, I felt ridiculously confident. Despite my doubts, I felt my confidence would carry me through.
    Maybe that’s why I wasn’t too nervous the morning of the race. Usually I get pretty nervous and that’s actually a good sign but I wasn’t very nervous race morning. Erik and I had planned that he would run with me for the first 7 miles, and then he would take off and run the next 13 miles at his goal marathon pace (7:15). I had checked out last year's results and it looked like my per mile time would place me in the top fifth of the race so I also planned to start very near the front.
    I did start pretty close to the front but we started on a bike trail so the start wasn’t very wide. There were some slow people in front of me and I made quick work to get around them. It’s always hard to settle into a good pace and I didn’t want to be checking my watch too much so I just waited for the half mile autolap while I made sure I wasn’t breathing too hard early on. There was a group of runners already way in front of me but otherwise Erik and I were relatively alone.
There was a competition between the water stops for Best Water Stop. Unfortunately I was running too fast to fully enjoy all the fun themes/costumes at the different water stops. Photo: Bear Water Run Race.
    My first autolap beeped in at 7:32 pace. Oops, a bit fast which is often what happens in races, and as I had told myself. I still felt confident because I wasn’t breathing too hard and felt fresh. I stopped trying to push and my pace slowed a bit. My first 3 mile times were 7:37, 7:52, and 7:45.
    Just before mile 4 there was a big uphill but I kept up my pace, clocking my 4th mile at 7:52. There were water stops every 2 miles and I only planned to get water once or twice. I knew it would be difficult to take in much liquid while running fast. I got some water and had to slow to get enough down. Then at the end of the aid station a woman was handing out chocolate! I’d never taken chocolate before and it was like “to take or not to take the chocolate” in a fast 10 mile. I grabbed it and then thought it was probably a bad idea but I don’t waste food so I ate the chocolate. The jury is still out on whether this overall made me faster, slower, or was neutral.
I mean, how do you pass up the chocolate from this friendly volunteer? Photo: Bear Water Run Race
    There was another big uphill and then the course got flatter again. I was still feeling good but thinking I should probably get more water at the 6 mile aid station because even though it was only 62 degrees, it was really humid and my hat was soaked with my sweat. I slowed to take more water and Erik got ahead of me and I couldn’t quite catch up to him. My 5th and 6th mile times were getting slower at 8:07 (water and chocolate and uphills) and 7:59.
    At mile 6, the effort got harder which was reflected in my slowing paces. Every half mile I stayed under an 8:10 pace I was elated. By mile 8 I was thinking some good thoughts (Elspeth, even though your are getting tired your paces are still about on target; this is a 10 mile PR, it is SUPPOSED to be hard; Elspeth, you really aren’t breathing THAT hard) and some bad thoughts (this is hard; I want to stop; it’s still more than 20 minutes running time to the finish).

Running so fast I missed this trio at a water stop. Photo: Bear Water Run Race
     Yet at the same time, I felt confident I was going to do this. I just had to suffer a bit longer. My mile times for 7-9 were still pretty good (8:05, 7:54, and 8:09) and I had put some time in the bank early on in the race. I was going to do this.
    I could hear a group of runners catching me. They were talking a lot about running marathons (including Boston) and I assumed they were running the 20 mile race. I tried to speed up so they wouldn’t catch me but they still did somewhere between mile 8 and 9. When they did I said, “stay with them Elspeth, don’t let them get away. Get distracted by what they are talking about.”
    This was a good strategy. One guy was talking about why he was buying a new house. I told myself again that I wasn’t breathing that hard. Actually I noticed that as my legs tired and my stomach knotted up, my breathing got more shallow and I had to remind myself to breathe deeper which did help.
    My half mile splits kept ticking away. One mile to go. OK, I can do this but I don’t feel like kicking yet. Half mile to go. Maybe I should think about starting a kick but I’m not read yet. More breathing. More listening. Check watch, OK, just a quarter mile and we’re nearing the last turn but now there’s a group of people in front of me. Should I go around them? But then I have to go into traffic. Once we made the last the turn,  it was like, OK, gotta go now! So I went around in the grass and at the same time another woman went around the group on the other side. I could not stay with that woman but I did quicken my pace and ran as hard as I could. As I got near the finish the clock was in the low 1:19s and I ended crossing the finish line in 1:19:14. Mission accomplished thanks to surprising myself last year in the marathon and my new found confidence!
    At the finish my breathing was labored (my last mile was a not too shabby for me 7:46), my legs were really tired, and my stomach was quite knotted up. After I stopped breathing so hard and had managed to eat some recovery food, I tried going for a cool down jog but gave this up after 5 minutes because I was running so incredibly slow. This was testament to me pushing really hard during the race. 
Running fast and looking tired at the finish. Photo: Bear Water Run Race

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Women: Just Do It!
Back in high school, there were twice as many girls on my Nordic ski team as boys. At the races, there were about equal numbers of boys and girls. When I went to college and joined a club team, there were twice as many boys. When I “burst” onto the marathon scene in 2004, it quickly became obvious I would be skiing amongst a lot of men, and the occasional woman, for the rest of my “career.” (aka half century)
I’ve thought about this a few times. In running races, women now actually make up about half the field at marathons and the majority in many shorter races. This wasn’t always the way it was, and it has taken about 30 years. So why hasn’t this happened in skiing?
Skiing takes more time than running. You can just run from your door and it requires little gear. But for skiing, you needs skis, boots, poles. You need to wax your skis. Then you need to drive somewhere, change into ski boots, etc. Hence, a one hour ski actually takes at least 2 hours and that’s if you are really efficient at dressing, getting out the door, and don’t have to drive too far. I feel this every ski season. I train less during ski season because I spend so much time driving and dressing and deciding what wax to use and waxing. Men are likely better at making training a priority and likely feel less time pressure than women.
I had a conversation with Caitlin Gregg regarding the paucity of women who ski marathons compared to men. She suggested it’s an equipment thing. In other words, skiing requires lots of equipment (see gear list in the last paragraph) AND waxing. It’s the idea that men are better at tinkering with tools and toys than women (think bikes, cars, etc) and this results in women getting turned off from the sport. We think men might be better suited to these logistics (picking the right wax before races).
Here’s my favorite theory. This is something more innate about men and women. Men have the idea “I’ll just do it, tough it out” and so even though they haven’t trained, their testosterone is going crazy and they’ll get through. Sure, they may get injured and start out too fast, but they’ll finish. Women on the other hand, are smarter. We like to be well trained and prepared for the distance. We are better able to pace ourselves. And so, if we feel we don’t have enough time to train, we’ll be more conservative and sign up for the shorter race.
But the problem with this is, if you never commit to a longer distance, you will never challenge yourself and break through that barrier. When I did my first ski marathon, the Mora Vasaloppet, it was 58 kilometers. I was foolhardy, and even though I’d only ever skied about 25 kilometers at one go before, I did the race anyway. And you know what? I finished and survived. And this gave me confidence to do another one and another one and after I’d done about five, I found myself saying “wow, I don’t even respect this distance of 50 kilometers anymore.” Had I never taken that plunge though, I’d probably never have skied more than about 30 kilometers at one time. Sometimes we have to do something outside our comfort zone, even if we feel like dumb men doing it.
I’ve struggled with how to be nice with other women when discussing this topic, but I really just want to say: women, just do it. So women, here’s the deal:
2016 Birkie Skate: 3662 men, compared to 895 women (women made up 20% of the field).
2016 Birkie Classic: 1913 men compared to 573 women (women made up 23% of the field).
This is pathetic. Let’s do better. Surprise yourself, unleash some of your testosterone (women have it, too) and make the next race you sign up for a full marathon distance.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Running A PR 5 K: Get In Gear, April 30th, 2016
Back in high school, I ran a couple 5 K road races. I realized these were really really hard requiring a brutal pace for about 20 minutes. This means breathing hard and being uncomfortable for this amount of time. So I pretty much never ran 5 Ks. Well, I did a couple times, never seriously, and hence my PR was in the 25 minute range.
It’s funny how things change over the years and somehow running a good marathon time for me actually made me want to run a true PR 5 K. I started looking for some 5 Ks to do. I didn’t want to spend too much money but also wanted a competitive field and didn’t want it to be too hot. I ended up choosing the Get In Gear 5 K. The race was a bit early in the year which gave me less than 2 months of running intervals after ski season. I felt a bit dumb running a race called “Get In Gear” and a distance of 5 K which is of absolutely no challenge for me; however, the goal was to run a PR, and that’s no easy task.
Part of my goal is to see if I can kick my high school butt. After PRs in track my sophomore year (6:11 mile and 13:35 two mile) I blew up and started running a lot of 2 miles in the 14:30 range and 2.5 miles cross country races in the 19 minute range with a PR of 18:20. Back in high school I always wondered why I couldn’t run consistent 7 minute miles, and now is my chance to try.
Although April is typically considered a month off from structured training for cross country skiers, I trained seriously for a 5 K.
I consider that all my training for this 5 K was in two phases.
Phase one began 15 years earlier when I first joined track. It involved all those high school speed workouts, years of distance but no intervals, then finally getting back into intervals and while continuing distance. I know Phase one is pretty extended, but I truly believe what I did 10 or 15 years ago has an impact on my performance now.
Phase two began about a year ago, around May 1st, which coincides with the start of the training year for cross country skiers. My body felt amazing this whole year. I have never done so many back-to-back interval sessions and distance sessions and still not felt super tired. I’ve just had unending energy this past year. Or maybe I should have pushed harder during all those intervals!
I did some running intervals in November, but no more until March. After the Minnesota Finlandia I started training for this 5 K running race, two months before the event. First I did an altitude block in Canmore where I mostly skied but also got in a couple slow runs. Then I returned to low elevation and began running one speed session and one interval session a week. The speed sessions consisted of mostly sprinting or running fast for up to 1 minute to really work on my top speed. My intervals were 4 x 3 min, 3 x 4 min, and 3 x 5 min. 

Me on top of Ha Ling Peak above Canmore. The trail up this mountain climbed about 2,000 vertical feet. Photo: Erik
 After 3 weeks, I did a second altitude block in Utah. OK, I admit, this sounds absolutely ridiculous, and I really just put this in for effect. I’m pretty sure it’s terrible training to do 2 weeks at altitude in an 8 week period to train for a 5 K. One altitude block was probably sufficient and working on speed and intervals would probably have been more advantageous. The altitude blocks were quite coincidental, coinciding with planned vacations. I decided on the vacations first and the 5 K second. Unlike a marathon, this is a 5 K; they are dime a dozen and require significantly less commitment and so if this race doesn’t go perfect, so what, I can do another one. 
I went to Utah with my friend Amy and we met my friend Kathryn (in picture above) there. We encountered some snow when we tried to climb Mt. Olympus above Salt Lake City. I spent 5 nights total at 8,000 feet making it some good altitude training. Photo: Amy

A selfie on the rim of Bryce Canyon National Park. We did a lot of hiking here and the trails are some of the best I have ever been on...amazing scenery, ups and downs, and very well graded. I didn't have to watch where I was walking and could look around!
Jumping around to get some extra altitude training at the highest point in Bryce Canyon National Park. Photo: Amy
Next we went to a slot canyon. This is Little Wildhorse Canyon which is the easiest of all the slot canyons. This photo was too good not to include and will hopefully inspire some readers to check it out. Photo: Amy
No trip to the desert of Utah would be complete without a picture under the iconic Delicate Arch (it's on the license plate after all) but at a mere 4,000 feet, the Moab area didn't provide the best altitude training. Photo: Amy
 After my second altitude block I only had two weeks to run intervals before the 5 K. I started with a 3 x 1 mile workout with only 3 minutes rest in between. My first mile was a 7:06, the second a 7:01, and the third a 7:13. After the second mile I did not feel recovered before starting the third; however, that is the goal of the workout. This is a chance to see what my pace could be for the 5 K. We did this workout twice my senior year of high school and my times were pretty comparable.
I completed my training with a couple more sprint workouts, easy runs, and then one final 3 x 4 minute set of intervals on the track where my latter two average paces were right around 6:15. This was pretty incredible for me and might have been due to a slight tail wind advantage (yes, on a track, largely due to wind direction and a large set of bleachers). 
Ever wonder if it's really necessary for the street sweepers to clean the streets in the Spring? It turns out the answer is yes. This is how dirty my legs got after running on the streets of St. Paul for a speed workout after a rain. This is from running on STREETS only! Signs were posted that the street sweepers were supposed to be out the next day.
 Two days before the race I had an easy 6 mile run planned but seeing as I had ran the two previous days, it was raining, 40 degrees, and April, I thought “What Would Jessie [Diggins] Do? The answer was easy as I curled up on the couch and read a couple more chapters in my book.
So I felt relatively strong and confident heading into the race. I was surprised by how little I thought about it the day before and was even somewhat worried that I didn’t wake up feeling nervous. I wanted to pay $30 or less for the race, but justified the $35 entry fee to Get In Gear because I could run my warm up on the way there and cool down on the way home. It doesn’t get much easier than that. It was a 2.5 mile run to the start with three pull outs at about race effort. I got hot in my long sleeve top and bottoms so was glad I had decided to go just running bra and shorts for the race. Erik did the race as well. We watched the 10 K/Half marathon start which had a lot of really good runners.
There didn’t appear to be many fast people in the start gate of the 5 K. I lined up in about row 3. Usually I ski races for place and run races for time, but this was looking like a race in which I could place pretty well. The gun went off and the race started. I wanted to make sure I didn’t start too fast. I had set my Garmin to get splits every half mile so was right on pace with a 3:33 half mile. My second half mile was a bit slower at 3:38. I passed a couple women and a couple more passed me. I just tried to maintain for the second mile, not wanting to breathe too hard yet. I wanted to race a bit conservative the first and second miles and then ramp up the pace for the third mile if I was feeling good. By the third mile I was pretty winded. I tried to ramp up the pace and did slightly but not really until the last .1 miles. One woman passed me in the last mile. That last mile I was breathing hard and didn’t feel like pushing harder. I also lacked motivation to push further into oxygen debt.
I had set a goal of running sub 22 minutes which seemed possible by averaging a pace in the low 7 minutes per mile. I did underestimate how long it would take me to run the additional .1 miles. My GPS had told me I was doing this well so was disappointed when I saw the finish clock reading over 22 minutes. I was breathing very hard when I finished and was barely walking forward in a dazed state when I finished. I could have pushed harder but it’s so easy to forget how hard I was working at the time. My end time was 22:26. The field was not very strong so I actually finished 8th of 870 women (top women’s time was 21:15). I did have other racers, including women, to run with the whole time which was good. 
My race outfit. My bib had my name on it! I didn't hear anyone cheering for me by name though so I like to think I was running too fast for it to be read (as opposed to my name being too difficult to read/pronounce:). Photo: Erik
Back to a comparison of my high school self, according to my time I averaged 7:14 minutes per mile. Both times are about as fast as many of my 2 mile races in track in high school and both times are faster than I ever ran 2.5 miles in high school cross country! Not bad and a decent new PR benchmark. I think I might take the month of May off from running intervals.

Sunday, April 24, 2016


My husband organizes a pickup Ultimate Frisbee game every Saturday morning with friends. It's the same group of people that I started playing with 20 years ago and were I got to know Jim. They play year round and he claims playing in the winter is the most fun because you can dive for the frisbee without getting hurt. It's a very different game in the snow since you can't run and maneuver like you can on grass. I'm always too busy skiing in the winter to play with them but I usually start up in the spring after I've gotten my legs used to running again. Yesterday was my first game of the season. I haven't done any kind of intensity for some time but I can still run pretty fast when I need to. I just can't help myself and ran pretty hard. It amazes my how it makes my whole body hurt when I start playing again. It truly is a full body sport. My arms, shoulders, back, quads, hip flexors, and even my feet are sore today. My feet must be sore from all the cutting back and forth. The soreness is coming and going in different parts of my body at different rates. My quads and hip flexors were too sore to run today. Hopefully I'll be up for another hard go by next Saturday.

This is a little figurine of a person diving for a disk that my nephew gave Jim. Isn't it cute?!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Artificial Winter
Each year around April, I like to reflect on my ski season and the training leading up to it.  2015-2016 was my best training year ever in terms of volume, intervals, and still feeling very strong. This training reflected in a “better than I dreamed of” Twin Cities Marathon and was hoping it would catapult me towards some “too good to be true” ski results, but that didn’t quite happen.
There were the not-so-good races. Namely, the series of sprint races I did (Hoigaard’s Relays and the new Master Blaster Series sponsored by Fulton). I have never considered myself a sprinter and still don’t; but doing these sprint races are supposed to make me better, right? Then there was that Ski-Orienteering race as part of the City of Lakes Loppet I really should have cherry picked….and when I didn’t, I was left feeling salty. And then there was the Lake Louise Loppet that left me crying on the course (icing is never fun)!
There were the so-so races: the 5 km team time trial at Elm Creek and the 42 km skate City of Lakes Loppet. My goal at the time trial was to show some improvement over the previous year. It is always hard to judge when competition and snow speed are different. I couldn’t really determine if I was any faster in either the skate or the classic. In the City of Lakes Loppet I just did not feel on top of my game the whole race but ended in 16th place for women which tells me that even on a so-so day I’m not that far back.
Another so-so race: the inaugural Three Rivers Rennet. I'm still sporting my hot pink polka dot suit here. We did four loops of Hyland's man-made loop for 20 km total. I do best climbing. Caitlin Gregg lapped me! Otherwise I held onto top 10. Photo: Skinnyski

Then there were the good races: 42 km Classic Mora Vasaloppet, 30 km Classic Boulder Lake Race, 20 km Classic Finlandia, and 55 km Classic Birkie. The Mora Vasaloppet was fun because I skied with the two lead women (Josie Nelson and Kathleen DeWahl) for about 13 km before getting dropped when I fell. I’ve never stayed with either of those women that long before so I think that at least shows some progress in my double pole. Although I cherry picked Boulder Lake and Finlandia, I was proud of myself for really racing the men and Boulder Lake was the first race I have ever won outright (men and women) AND got to ski with my bro! While I narrowly missed a top 10 at Birkie, I really can’t complain about 11th place. Besides, had I done much better, it would make it hard to set goals for next season. 
Over 200 meters into the Finlandia and still with the lead men's pack (albeit at the back as #2119). I'm the only woman in this group. I went on to beat about half the men in this picture. Photo: Skinnyski

While there were the races, I spent much more of my ski time training. And in both races and training, I did many, many, many loops on man-made snow. We spent Thanksgiving week in Colorado on natural snow which seemed to make the December loops more tolerable but by the middle of January it was getting mundane. Hyland’s snow-making loop is amazing; however, 60 km there one weekend were 20 too many.
By the end of January, my husband Erik, quipped “I need an adventure.”
Skiing and racing loops on man-made snow is not very adventurous.
All my early season races were on man-made snow and then Mora was saved by the little snow gun that could, so hence, only partially on man-made snow.
Entirely man-made races: Hoigaards, Elm Creek Time Trial, Three Rivers Rennet, Fulton Races at Wirth (2 total). This was 5 of my 11 races. 
Racing in the man-made slush at the MYSL/Fulton Team Sprints at Wirth after the Birkie. This was the slushiest snow I've ever skied in. It's interesting how the man-made snow slush is much different from natural snow slush. It's more like skiing through a slushy than mashed potatoes. Photo: Skinnyski

Partial man-made races: City of Lakes Loppet, Mora Vasaloppet
All natural snow races: Boulder Lake, Birkie, Finlandia, Lake Louise Loppet (not sure if this one counts...I did not wax my skis for this race).
In March we headed to Canmore to watch the World Cups and ski on more man-made snow. Canmore has about 20 km of man-made snow! The snow was dirty and since I felt deprived of abundant snow, winter still seemed missing.
Watching Petter Northug and other World Cup skiers navigate the slush on man-made snow at Canmore. It was similar to the slush at Wirth. Photo: Craig

But then there was Lake Louise and Mount Shark. Both locations, higher in elevation than Canmore, offered a true winter experience and provided for just enough real snow time to complete winter. 
Glorious, pristine, abundant natural snow on Mud Lake near Lake Louise. So much fun to be making first tracks. Check out the mountains in the clouds. Photo: Craig

So I was curious to know just how many hours and km I spent skiing at Wirth, Elm Creek, and Hyland this year. Being as Wirth’s loop didn’t open til mid-January, I spent only 6.4 hours skiing there and logged 67 km (time and distance is a bit funny because 2 of the times I skied there were for team sprint races). I skied 20 hours at Elm Creek for a total of 300 km (that’s 120 laps of a 2.5 km loop). By far I skied the most at Hyland- 44 hours in total resulting in 544 km (of which over ⅓ occurred in December when the loop was less than 2 km). That is a lot of time and distance on man-made snow. This is why when I reflect on my 2015-2016 season, two words come to mind: Artificial Winter.
In summary, I think all this training on man-made snow boils down to two points. First, this is indicative of snow conditions in Minnesota. This is not a post about global warming so I will merely state we do not get a lot of snow in the Twin Cities and given that we have so much man-made snow, this is not an unusual winter. Second, this shows just how crazy I am in my desire/need/ambition to continue to train that I spend so much time going around in circles. I seriously wonder how sustainable this is in the future which is why in December I often elected to run or rollerski instead of drive to a man-made loop. It also begs the question, how many hours does a competitive master athlete need to spend training on snow in an artificial winter?

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Minnesota Finlandia!!! February 27th, 2016
The Minnesota Finlandia, or MinnFinn, near Bemidji, Minnesota, is my hometown race. My dad served on the MinnFinn board for many years, and now my brother does. Once part of the prestigious American Ski Chase, the MinnFinn remains part of the American Cross Country Ski Marathon Series. Each year with the banners, announcers, music, and flags from many Nordic nations flapping in the wind, I feel pride in taking part in this legendary event.
Me after winning Axe #2 in 2013 with Paul and Babe in downtown Bemidji. Photo: Craig

Despite arguably the best non-cash prizes in the Midwest (check out this video to see why: participation in the MinnFinn is dwindling. I first attempted to remedy this situation while on the University of Minnesota Nordic Club by encouraging and providing lodging for the dozen or so of my teammates who did the race. Due to a limited number of racers, especially in the women’s field, spread over 4 races, a mediocre skier such as myself has a pretty good shot at the podium. In both the mens and womens races, the same skiers tend to show up year after year and collect the same prizes year after year. After winning 3 axes in as many consecutive tries, I again attempted to remedy the situation by making a Promo Video (see link above).
Temperatures for the race were projected to be in the mid 30s at the start and climbing. The day before, temperatures had been in the high 30s. I was racing the 22 kilometer classic race, and Craig and Erik were doing the continuous pursuit. This sounded like klister conditions and so we applied Rex Brown the morning of the race. I was worried upon arriving to the start and seeing the snow was very dry and skied more like it was 15 degrees. My brother later told me this was because they had received about 2 inches of snow earlier in the week “north of town.” I was afraid my klister would ice and was quite surprised and glad when it didn’t.
Due to low snow, the course was changed from its usual 25 kilometer lap, to shorter 11 kilometer laps on the less exposed west side. Hence race distances would be about 22 kilometers (2 laps) for the shorter races (classic, skate, and continuous pursuit) and 44 kilometers (4 laps) for the long skate race. The MinnFinn had posted a couple pictures on skinnyski throughout the week and course conditions looked excellent. Indeed, course conditions exceeded expectations and would have been perfect had it been 10 degrees colder.
At the start of the race, I was busy looking around to find other women in my race. I only saw one other woman, sporting the old one piece high school suit. My bro recognized her as Morgan Sagadahl. Knowing high schoolers can be fast, I was worried despite my bro’s reassurance. The start line was narrow and I lined up in the second row between Matt Lee and a guy wearing a non-descript blue spandex suit who didn’t look too fast. He was doing the classic as well and I vowed to beat him.
The gun went off and despite my struggling to apply power on the gradual descent (one of my continued weaknesses) the top pack of men didn’t get too far in front of me. I made a pass as we headed into the tunnel and for the next couple kilometers the course is rolling. I passed a couple guys and then my brother. As we headed into the flatter double pole section, I decided I needed to go faster so I passed a couple more guys. That guy I started next to, in the blue suit, was ahead of me and I was on the chase. As the course looped back on itself, I saw a couple women behind me in the trees. This gave me motivation to keep going hard.
Most of the first lap was glazed conditions with a few areas of slush. There were two glazed downhills that ended in sun-exposed slush. I almost fell on each of these hills as my momentum changed and remembered about these hills to be prepared for the next lap. The second lap was mostly slush although still fast enough to double pole on the flats.
Some good kick double pole. No other women anywhere! Photo: Margaret Adelsman

About 9 kilometers into the race, I caught up to the blue suit skier. I skied behind him until the hill right before the lap where I was able to stay in the tracks and make up some ground on him as my mom and brother’s girlfriend and others (remember, it’s my hometown race) cheered loud for me. The blue suit skier followed behind me. I had no idea how close the women in my race were, so I kept trying to push hard. I also wanted to beat this guy in the blue suit and through the trees I could see a bright orange suit we were gaining on. There’s a couple steep hills and I tried to herringbone run or run outside the tracks on all but the steepest of these hills. A couple times doing this my skis did ice just a tad but once back in the tracks I was able to shake this.
The blue suit guy stayed behind me in the double pole section but we could see the orange suit guy ahead and so about 16 kilometers into the race, blue suit guy took off. I didn’t feel ready to go with him. This is where I’m still working on racing the guys because I had conflicting thoughts between “I want to do well overall and therefore I need to beat the guys” versus “I’m probably going to win this by a few minutes so why should I push so hard?”
In pursuit of blue suit. Photo: Margaret Adelsman

I was so hot this race I took two glasses of water. That’s a lot for me in such a short race. Usually I wouldn’t take any as I usually operate on more camel mode, feeling that taking feeds slows me down.
Now the blue suit and orange suit were frequently in view. I kept pushing on the uphills, working hard. About 4 kilometers from the finish, I saw blue suit had caught orange suit and about half a kilometer later I passed orange suit. Coming out of the last aid station, with 2 kilometers to go, I was gaining on blue suit. Again, I was thinking about this guy not really being in my race but I said to myself, “Come on, Elspeth, you said you were going to beat this guy, you need to put in some effort. Race for place overall.”
I passed blue suit but he was following close behind. On the last uphill, half a kilometer from the finish, I put the hammer down. I heard John Arenz and the Tibstra’s and Mark Morissey and others cheering for me. I did everything I could to put some distance on blue suit. After I skied through the tunnel and down the small hill heading into the slightly uphill finish with slushy snow, to my dismay, blue suit pulled along next to me. I fought for it, double poling hard, but in the end blue suit got me by 3 seconds.
Passing blue suit the first time up this hill.  Photo: Ashley LaPlante
Craig got 1st place in the Pursuit, which was the most competitive men's race. Erik got 4th place in this race. Photo: Skinnyski
After learning blue suit is Beau Larson, who got 149th in the skate race at the Birkie last week (he’s trying to get better at classic skiing), I didn’t feel so bad for not beating him. In the end, I finished 4th overall (men and women), just 3 seconds off the men’s podium! Talking to Beau, and his roommate Henrik Velle, I learned these two were inspired to race the MinnFinn due to my Promo Video! And one of them ended up being my primary competition.
           There were only 3 women in the classic race; I won by 24 minutes. Out on course, I could have easily skied slower and still got first for women, but I’m competitive and as I’ve gotten better, I’m trying to race the men more. Also, Erik persistently tells me how my awards don’t mean much because my competition is lacking, so I’m going to try to save some face by trying not to get guyed! 
Me with my new axe (#4). Note the bison head in the Lumberjack Hall of Fame. Photo: Ashley LaPlante 

My axe collection. Calling all women faster than me (you know who you are) to end my reign on February 18th, 2017 at the 35th anniversary.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Classic Birkie: February 20th, 2016 (My 31st Birthday)

At the expo, I got Kikkan Randall to write Happy Birthday on my bib. Note it's also Birkie #10 for me...halfway to Birchleggings!

As the Birkie got closer and the forecast called for warm conditions, it was looking like this would be a klister year! I tried not to panic and made a plan.

  1. Think about the worst possible kick wax scenario: (as in not as bad as getting sick or being injured) really bad icing. I mean like a foot of snow under my kick zone. Race over at that point. So in the event I had on klister and we got a bunch of new snow, I made a plan to bring with a kickwax scraper and some V30 to cover the remaining klister I couldn’t scrape off.
  2. Pretty much anything is better than icing so it will be OK. The first year I classic skied the Birkie I didn’t have great kick and still placed fairly well. Typically most people don't have great kick with klister so I figured most others would be in the same boat as me. I adjusted expectations from bomber kick to decent kick.
  3. Try to actually make a plan. I wanted to go with Thin to Win since I love double poling. I shortened my kick zones to accommodate klister and planned to put it on thin. I have Rex Brown and Rex was recommending Brown; however, I haven’t had great kick on Brown and so wanted to do something a bit different. I consulted the BNS catalogue and learned about Rex Gold- for coarse or glazed conditions. I had a hunch at 33 degrees (as forecasted) and climbing to the High Point that things would be coarse and glazed so I had Erik stop by Finn Sisu on his way home from work to pick this up. Then I planned to bring Rex Brown to the start and arrive in enough time to make a wax change if needed.
  4. Phone a friend. It’s always good to have some validation that I’ve made a good choice, so I phoned my friend Andy Brown, who posted a blog on klister earlier this season:
    He’s had good luck with Rex Gold in the past and thought it might work.
  5. Remember that things will be OK. Not confident? Check out this video of YOLO wax recommendations and things will be better:
  6. Rely on your husband. Erik and I have figured out a good 2 person system for klister application (Erik might not agree with this). Back in December we had a lot of klister conditions on artificial snow and I did a lot of classic skiing. I move the skis and heat the klister with the heat gun while Erik applies the klister and then uses a rubber glove to spread the klister!
  7. Remember to invite Andy Brown to your wedding so he will buy you a heat gun! Probably one of the most useful gifts we received.
  8. Apply the plan: I got to the start, tested my skis, and had zero kick. I heard Brown was kicking. I had just enough time to scrape the Gold off my skis (I had brought a piece of paper to put the scraped klister on; I didn’t want the klister too thick). Then I applied a layer of Brown. When my thumb started bleeding, I decided it was as smooth as it was going to get.

    Rex Brown is truly brown in color and I learned Rex Gold is gold in color!

The Race
    Starting in the Elite Wave is chill. This was my second year in the Elite Wave and it is so great to just get in the starting pen and not have to worry about getting in the pen early and then running for a front row position. Everyone knows everyone in the Elite Wave and we all self seed.
    We started at a fairly pedestrian pace. As we started climbing, I was glad to know I had decent kick. About 2 km in, I didn’t feel like I was working very hard and got tired of being slowed by the guy in front of me, so I made a break. As soon as I made that break, I started breathing a lot harder.
    A couple women passed me on the Powerlines and then I didn’t see any women in the rolling section until just before the 9 km aid station when Margie Nelson passed me. I got in front of her on the downhill but as we began the long climb towards High Point, she quickly got away. I’m not very good at striding and less than ideal kick doesn’t help. I always struggle on the climb to High Point and this year was no different. Before we reached the High Point, Kate Ellis, Julia Curry, and Lynne Cecil had all passed me. I made no attempts to ski with any of these women.
    Each year I forget that after High Point there is a nice double pole section and the climbs become less relenting. I passed back Lynne in this double pole section and soon CXC skier Niki  Rekker as well. I do much better on this flatter, more rolling terrain and finally started racing, trying to chase those in front of me. No more women passed me. 
In passing mode after OO. Photo: Skinnyski

    On the long climbs to OO I could see a woman in front of me. Just after OO I passed her. I had been passed by many Wave 1 men throughout the race; most I never saw again, but a few I leap-frogged with for a few kilometers, and a few more I saw again in the last few kilometers. All but one of the men who passed me made a clean pass and stayed out of my way. Once we had joined up with the skaters, there was one guy who passed me and then seemed to really slow down. I had no idea how he could have made up 5 minutes on me as he was going so slow. I made a decisive move on an uphill.
    A couple kilometers later, I came up on Julia Curry. We skied together for a bit. She is very good at striding and I enjoyed following her strides. I am much better at striding on shorter hills when I am skiing behind someone. My double poling is stronger and was thinking about making a break as I was hoping to be top 10 and thought I still had a couple more women to chase down. When that Wave 1 guy, the one who went super slow, came back up on us, I decided it was time to move on. I skied hard over the top of a hill and was gone.
    Since it was my birthday, I wrote “It’s My Birthday” on the back of my bib. I realized this would be appreciated, or unappreciated, largely by Wave 1 men. I got a good number of “Happy Birthdays” on the course which made me smile and hopefully others had fun with this as well. I’m a pretty serious person; however, I really crave spontaneity and think people in general are too serious. I got passed by a Wave 1 skater in a cow suit and told him I liked his costume but was disappointed it wasn’t my friend Jeff Lanners. 
The back of my bib on my 31st birthday.

    No one really looks forward to the hill climb out of Mosquito Brook but with all the cheering AND that Wave 1 guy toggling with me again I put in a surge. It’s Ditto with the newly named Holy Hill, but I saw a Vakava suit in front of me and wanted to catch them so mostly ran the hill.
    Coming out of the last aid station I was impressed with a Wave 1 skier who started singing Happy Birthday to me! I passed fellow Vakava skier Andrew Kromroy and kept going. I had no energy to try a glide-stride in the tracks so just ran up the hill on the skate deck. Looking up the hill, I caught a glimpse of a pink bib which gave me motivation to keep pushing harder. I enjoyed the double poling on Rosie’s Field before the last big climb.
    After crossing 77, I could tell I was gaining on the pink bib who turned out to be Kate Ellis. I caught her at the top of the hill but dawdled a bit to hear Ingrid Remak play the accordion! Once Kate realized I was on her tail, she put in a surge. Kate is twice my age and I’ve been trying to catch her in skiing and canoeing for the past 10 years. She is a huge inspiration for me regarding what I might be like in 30 years. Immediately my striding improved as I followed Kate’s perfect stride-glides. I smiled to myself, thinking, “what a birthday treat to ski behind Kate.” My skis were fast and I pulled ahead of her on a big downhill. Then it was flat to and across the slush pit lake. I was by myself and felt double poling was the fastest technique but put in a few kick double poles to stay fresh. Here I passed back up some Wave 1 skiers as well as another Elite Wave male who shall not be named.
I hadn’t seen any pink bibs in front of me for awhile but as I made the last corner, a pink bib went up and over the bridge. The chase was back on as I gave it my all to the finish to try and catch bib #606, Ingrid Leask, but in the end I ran out of real estate.
Two years ago I finished in 16th place and last year I finished in 15th place. I was less than 5 minutes out of top 10 last year and set that as my goal this year. Given that I was super nervous on the bus ride to the start, this usually indicates I’ll have a good race. I was 11th place, 7 seconds out of top 10 this year. For the third week in a row, I’ve finished short of my placement goal, but I have set very aggressive placement goals for this year and therefore just being close is an accomplishment. Comparing the much larger overall field (men and women), this year I finished 124th and last year I was 178th so I think that shows big improvement.
A couple nights before the Birkie, I had a dream in which I got another hat as an age class award. I was quite upset about this because I have way too many hats. My dream came partially true on Friday night when I picked up my bib and got a NEW HAT! Just what I needed. Then, I finished first in my age class (women 30-34). I have placed in my age class in each of the last 4 Classic Birkies. When I picked up my age class award, guess what I got? A NEW HAT! I now have a blue “3rd place age class” hat, a red “2nd place age class” hat, and a new “1st place age class” hat. I guess the Birkie doesn’t expect people to win year after year. Erik tells me I should do the “real race,” (the skate race) where I would be extremely unlikely to get an age class award.
While I agree my Birkie age class paraphernalia is becoming excessive, I’m still learning to stride-glide efficiently. Every time I do this for more than about 5 seconds, I get so out of breath. I’ve made huge strides (no pun intended) on my striding technique but still have a long ways to go to stride-glide relaxed. Over the past couple years I’ve been able to V-1 in level one up hills; I’m hoping I’ll get there striding and until I do so, I might just keep classic skiing the Birkie.
My ridiculous collection of Birkie age class hats and this year's participation hat. The hat I dreamed about looked something like in out of a Dr. Seuss book.