Monday, July 16, 2018



Crossroads #1: This is Supposed to be Fun


When I first thought up the title for this blog several months ago (or maybe it was even more than a year), I thought it would be a unique title. But if AP Psych taught me anything- it’s that we pretty much all think alike- and so I wasn’t too surprised when Jim Carlen posted a blog containing these 2 sentences: You aren’t a professional athlete. This is supposed to be fun.

A couple years ago I learned there is a semi-pro football league. These guys are good, but not good enough to be pros. And they clearly love the sport- so much that they do this in addition to their jobs and they pay their own way.

That’s when I realized I’m a semi-professional cross country skier! I dedicate a lot of time to this sport, fork out lots of the money I make at my day job to it, and am virtually unknown.

I don’t do this for money or fame. I do it because I like it and it is fun.

But is it really fun? It’s supposed to be fun. It’s my leisure activity after all.

But so many times this skiing business is NOT fun. There’s rollerskiing in the rain, the wrist pain from holding planks too long, not getting the results I want, and sometimes just a general lack of motivation. And there there is lots and lots of skiing on the hamster loops. Some days I love skiing on the hamster loops. Other days it is drudgery.

Rocking the pigtails and hot pink polka-dotted spandex to remind myself that skiing is fun even if it was for the umpteenth time of the year on man-made snow above freezing klister conditions. Photo: Erik

Every once in a while I have a really bad ski. It’s the kind of ski that makes me want to quit racing competitively forever. This past winter it happened at Wirth on their hilly man-made loop. I knew going into the ski it would be hard because I was classic skiing and it was supposed to be an easy day and these two statements at Wirth’s man-made loop are completely contradictory. Add to that temps around zero making for little glide and harder to breathe (I’ve previously wrote about my distaste of skiing wearing a baklava) and I was working really hard to go nowhere.

Here's a screenshot from that really hard ski at wirth. Obviously not going too fast and you can read my comment about it. It was supposed to be an easy ski but my heart rate was hovering in low level 3. I would have had to either walk or herring bone on my skis on the hills to keep my heart rate down any more because the snow was so slow.

Let’s put it this way- I was put on this earth to double pole. I love double poling and it doesn’t get my heart rate sky high when skiing easy. As soon as I start striding, my heart rate skyrockets and so even though I was stoked that the man-made loop had recently been added onto to include some of the Twin Lakes loop, this was not an easy ski for me despite my attempts to keep it easy. (Now I will add here that a couple weeks later the temps warmed up to the 20s and I did the ski again and this time I had glide and wasn’t wearing a baklava and I was like “wow, this classic skiing isn’t so hard!”)


I hate to pick on Wirth but at least twice this winter I arrived there expecting to ski the full man-made loop but there were events taking place and so we were confined to a much smaller portion of the loop than expected. It’s really hard mentally to re-boot to skiing a 2 km loop for 2 hours when I had planned to ski a 5 km loop. I have since learned about a Loppet Events Calendar that will get bookmarked to use in the future!


There are other times when the skier humor comes through. Last October after Twin Cities Marathon our cheer section had the great intention of going for a rollerski. But it was raining and given we had already spent some time biking around in the rain, we decided to scrap the rollerski.

Instead we played a board game- with a twist. In between turns we had to do a strength exercise. This made us less competitive in terms of the board game and also kept us encouraging everyone to take their turns as quickly as possible so we could stop doing push-ups/planks/leg lifts- or whatever other exercise we were doing that round.

Chair dips and abs while Eva takes her turn at the board game Ticket to Ride.

Half way through the board game, Craig’s girlfriend, Eva, who is a bit new to this skiing thing, remarked, “I can’t believe we are actually doing this!”

Of course I thought this was hilarious and now had the added challenge of hysterical laughter while doing my strength workout.

The board game with strength. You can see Craig in the other room in one arm plank position and Erik was doing chair dips which is why his head looks so funny. I'm not sure why there were 2 people at the table here...one of them was clearly slacking off!

I seem to recall other times of skier humor- largely when a group of us is exhausted after a ski race or a really long training day. And always when I convince my little bro to a round of 8 minute abs.These are the fun parts.

Here's a retro photo dating back to 2006 during the old relays at the Finlandia Family Fun Day. I was getting ready to tag off to my little bro and was skiing without poles cause I had really bad tendonitis as I had just completed day 2 of the 100 km race. Photo credit: anyone's guess but probably Mom

Now that I have reflected on some of the not-so-fun parts of skiing, I’m going to bring back my favorite skis from the 2018 winter season. These were the skis that I enjoyed (almost) every minute of and felt so lucky to be a skier in great physical condition.

New Years Ski in Bemidji with my bro and Erik at Three Island County Park. We made it through this ski at -20 ℉ on a trail system big enough (and slow enough at those temps) to only do one loop in 1.5 hours. It’s always such a treat to ski with my bro!

This photo was taken at Three Island last winter but the day after the Finlandia, not the day it was -20 because that's too cold. This was our large ski group that day and my bro and I were taking up the rear on our classic skis. Photo: Erik

Three consecutive Mondays towards the end of January and early February I was able to get off work early enough to do some skiing on natural snow while it was still light at Elm Creek and Hyland- absolutely beautiful to be out on trails I don’t have memorized with the pink sky glowing at sunset.

OK, obviously this photo was not taken at Elm Creek, but it is an awesome sunset photo over the Mediterranean taken last October in Cinque Terre Italy. Photo: Erik

That short Birkie tune up ski at Irondale Ski Trails. (https://www.skinnyski.com/trails/traildetail.asp?Id=574) Yes, this trail system is really short but skiing it forwards and backwards and only being out for one hour prevented boredom. It’s always special to be on new trails.

Perfect mid-winter conditions and temperatures in March in Alaska; best skis at the Beach Ski Trails and Kincaid.

That ski at Hyland on March 24th where we ran into all our friends. So fun to just show up and spend time talking while skiing.

Epic crust skiing- we had a really great day at Wirth (funny that all the ski racers were on the crust while the tourer skiers were doing hamster loops) then followed up with a day on the farm fields by Northfield. Crust skiing is like eating ice cream. It’s like being 8 years old again when the world had fewer boundaries.

Crust skiing one day too late (too much melting) through the farm fields by Northfield. Photo: Erik

Finding a bit more snow which makes the turning (me on right) more fun. Photo: Erik


So in conclusion (and above is a very short synopsis of some examples of fun and misery from the past year), there is definitely fun to be had as a semi-professional cross country skier; however, this is a hard sport and there’s also lots of work and not-so-fun times involved. I guess the bad days make us appreciate the good days so much more.

Monday, June 18, 2018




Crossroads: The Intro



Every February I enter into what I call “skier existentialism.” I seem to forget this phase of my life exists until it creeps in, slowly at first, and then gains a lot of momentum by the 3rd week of February or so. Maybe this is what some people call Birkie fever. It’s what I call skier existentialism.

I’m not really sure where it starts. Maybe it’s all the packing and unpacking, not only for the races, but for the practices, too: meticulously checking off items on the list so nothing is forgotten: skis, poles, boots (and the right combo of each, cause wouldn’t it be terrible to show up to a skate race with classic poles! Although it clearly would be much worse to show up with my NNN boots and pilot binding skis), wax, the right clothes for the weather, dry clothes, food for before, during, after, etc, etc, etc. 5 times a week or so.

Maybe it’s the micro decisions: should I classic or skate today? If I do X workout today, then when should I do Y workout? Where should we go ski? This becomes slightly easier when the only options are Elm Creek, Wirth, and Hyland.

Maybe it starts with the waxing. And not just the waxing itself, but the deciding what to put on the skis. And the layers, and the pure fluoros. And the klister:) And now with my ever increasing fleet, remembering which skis I waxed last and with what wax.

Maybe it’s all the driving. During the non-snow months I use running and biking as transportation and do most of my workouts from home. This results in almost no drive time. But every time I go skiing it’s at least an hour of driving plus putting on boots, off boots, etc. This sucks up so much time.

Maybe because it’s dark on weeknights in the winter:(

Maybe it’s all the January skiing not because I want to but because I feel I have to to do well in the upcoming races and this results in skiing around hamster loops for hours.

Maybe it’s the monotony: City of Lakes Loppet-Mora-Finlandia-Birkie on 4 consecutive weekends every year. Can I really race hard 4 weekends in a row? During the “off-season” of 2017 I did just 2 running races- a 4 mile on July 4th and a 27 km in mid-October and that felt about right over 8 months. But can I just ski easy for a race? I mean, I have enough axes so maybe I should just tour the Finlandia. But then others will see my results and wonder what happened to me!

I do know where it ends: my self-induced pressure to do well. This results in nervous race mornings, a month of diarrhea, and too many Saturday alarm wake up calls. I train really hard for 10 plus months out of the year (because I never really take a month off) to do well for these February races. Don’t get me wrong- I love the training. What I don’t love is the racing. I don’t love this me versus you mentality and who has better genetics, is stronger, fitter, healthier, has better skis, wax, etc. I think us skiers tend to be pretty friendly people and this whole notion of racing against each other kind of debunks that. I’d so much rather just ski for fun but then I guess there would be no goal to work for, no objective way to know if I’ve gotten better, no pushing myself to exhaustion.

This is citizen racing. While the pros think about retiring in their 30s (or perhaps 40s if you’re Bjorndalen) many skiers around me have shown that excellent fitness can be maintained into their 60s. That means I still have 30+ years of this lifestyle! That is a really really really long time and I’m not sure I can keep it up. And what am I missing out on? This is so daunting it makes me feel like I need a break. I’m 33 and the obvious answer here (I can hear my mom screaming at me) would be to have children. But is that really a break? And I’m not so sure I want to have kids. And as plenty of skiers have demonstrated, it almost seems having kids make them faster (I’m talking about some dads out there, too). When it comes to making money I’m not about to try and keep up with the Joneses, but it’s a whole ‘nother story with skiing and so getting back to racing after having kids would only intensify the pressure.

So then, why don’t I quit ski racing? This is going to be the premise for a not yet determined number of posts (with some “normal” posts in between) I’m labeling “Crossroads.” I suspect some others out there have contemplated this same issue- perhaps most poignantly in February.

Sunday, May 13, 2018


Switching It Up: A Trail Running Race


Last fall I ran a 27 kilometer road race. I really liked this distance and wanted to do another race of this length but there aren’t many on the road. And that was OK with me because over the past couple years I’ve had some great PRs on the road and I was looking to switch it up this year.

Erik was running Boston Marathon and so I started looking for a spring 25 km as I likely would be doing some training with him. I set my sights on the Maple Syrup Fun Run on May 5th held at the River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. This race is a favorite of my fellow Vakava teammate Craig and his Northfield crew. The winner of each race (there is also a 5 km, 10 km, and 50 km) takes home maple syrup. Moreover, Craig told me he thought I could win the 25 km!

Training was derailed by getting sick and further dampened by some left patellofemoral pain that reared its ugly head after the Birkie. Since I made it almost the first 33 years of my life without this problem I hoped I would be immune to it, but apparently not. By the end of March I made it through an 11 mile run without being sore the next day.

Training progressed nicely over the next couple weeks as I did some threshold workouts with Erik and covered good miles- in between the snow storms:)

Then it was time for Erik’s Boston Marathon. I went to spectate. We were fortunate to fly out before the “snowpocalypse.” As I usually do when going anywhere new, I found a great 10 mile running route that included 4 parks with 2 of them having extensive trails. And by trails I mean nice dirt trails that were dry (while home was getting buried in 1.5 feet of snow). I also chose a pretty hilly route and unfortunately the patellofemoral pain returned.

Undeterred by either the knee pain or the “epic” Boston Marathon conditions (upper 30s, windy, and rainy), I continued with my cheering plan of running 7 miles out to Heartbreak Hill and back to cheer on Erik. I sure was glad to have brought my ski jacket. I knew Erik’s planned paced and had signed up for both text alerts and B.A.A App so I had a pretty good idea of when Erik would get to Heartbreak Hill. Since I didn’t want to stand in the rain for very long waiting for him, I only gave myself about 5 minutes to spare. This was a bit dicey given the terrain was much hillier than I imagined and had to hold my phone in my hand to hear Google Directions (Boston is typical New England where the roads are anything but straight and instead converged in the multiple town centers I ran through).

Once I got to Heartbreak Hill I checked my phone, confirmed I hadn’t missed Erik yet, and waited for him while I tried not to get hypothermia. I was super excited when I saw him and while I didn’t know for sure if I was going to do this or not- I ended up running up Heartbreak Hill on the side street next to the course. I figured this was the best way to cheer for longer and get me warm (I had thoughts of checking myself into the Medical Tent but I’m not quite sure that’s kosher for spectators). Because the spectators weren’t out in full force, Erik and I could see each other going up almost the entire hill. It surely got my heart rate up at Erik’s pace!

Then I continued back to Erik’s cousin’s house where we were staying, climbing some epic hills. My knee really started hurting on the last big downhill but fortunately walking a tad, and then stopping under an awning during a deluge, eased up the pain to a minor annoyance.

The purple circle on the elevation profile is Heartbreak Hill. It pales in comparison to a couple of the other hills I ran that day. Just in case anyone out there is complaining about Heartbreak Hill, you should thank the Boston Marathon for not putting in a much bigger hill into the race as there is plenty of terrain in the Boston area!
 

After running 24.5 miles in 2 days, once back in Minnesota I backed off my running. We did a fun paddle down Minnehaha Creek and then I did a running shuttle back to the car- only I went the “long” way around Lake Nokomis and included 3 x 1 km as fast as I could go.

Paddling down the Minnehaha Creek through south Minneapolis on April 21st. Photo: Erik

Taking our packraft over the still semi-frozen Lake Hiawatha. Photo: Erik

Then it was time for one last hard workout: 11 miles w/ 8 x 1 mile at threshold pace with only 1 minute in between of easy running. My goal pace was 7:30 and when I realized this amassed to a full hour of threshold I wasn’t sure I could make it, but I was about to try anyway. I had done 45 minutes at this pace just a couple weeks before.

The workout started well for the first 3 miles of threshold. Then the short breaks got to me as well as a set of stairs on mile 4 and my pace dropped to 7:45 average and I was getting really hot (it was a warm afternoon). At that point I decided to bail on the workout. I gave myself a longer rest time (a bit over 3 minutes) and planned to stop to get water at Minnehaha Falls Park. I figured the fastest way to get to water was to do another mile interval, so I did and hit goal pace again at 7:32. Then I got my water (it was from a drinking fountain that likely had just been turned on because it was nasty) and then did one more mile interval which was quite slow at 7:50 pace. So instead of 8 x 1 mile at 7:30 pace w/ 1 minute rest I ended up with 6 x 1 mile at about 7:35 pace but w/ lots of rest before the last one.

It’s always a bit of a let down to not make my goal workout. That being said, I knew it was aggressive and had I backed off to 8 minute mile pace I most certainly would have been able to complete the whole thing. This didn’t make me feel very confident heading into the race but then a couple days before I ran 7 miles easy in an hour (albeit on flat ground) which works out to 8:32 pace. Given this, my goal pace for the race was 8:15 minutes per mile.

Despite a 7 am start, temps for the race were already in the 50s and it was sunny! I guess we are less than 2 months away from the summer solstice. The 25 km and 50 km races started together. We started and I tried not to run with Craig and Erik and let them drift ahead along with one other 25 km guy and a couple 50 km guys. After half a mile that lead pack was out of sight and now I had to pay attention to the markings at trail intersections! My pacing was good until we started climbing a small hill a mile in and that got my heart rate up. A mile or so later there was a bit of a tricky downhill with some loose rock. I try to run these downhills pretty aggressively but this one was a bit gnarly so I did a sideways gallop until I felt confident to just run all out with what I call reckless abandon.

The course consisted of 3 loops. Each loop had a small section in common and then both the second and third loops had different short out-and-back sections.


One of 2 ridges over the Straight River. So pretty. Photo Gaylon Murray

By the end of my first loop, I was a bit disappointed that my left knee was hurting again with the patellofemoral pain. I was only 5 miles in but I guess with the downhills this was inevitable. Otherwise I felt great. There was one guy who was following just behind me the whole first lap but no other women in sight. I took a long chug from my water bottle at the lap and then started running again. The guy who had been just behind me was now just in front of me. We kept running at a decent pace and it was fun to see Erik and Craig on the out-and-back section. There was also a long tunnel on the second lap. Nearing the end of the second lap I was really starting to get tired. My legs didn’t have great spring and I was breathing harder than I wanted. I guess I must’ve not paced appropriately and started out too fast. The good news was either my knee stopped hurting or else I stopped paying it any attention.

Erik emerging from the tunnel! Photo: Gaylon Murray
This is the guy I ran with throughout the race. This was on our second lap when I was trailing him. We were throwing down a bit under sub-8 mile here which did me in. Photo: Gaylon Murray
Craig, who crushed the men's 25 km field, cheers for Erik in one of the out-and-back sections. Photo: Gaylon Murray

The course wasn’t terribly hilly but there were still some hills and by this point I walked up the big hill up from the river. I came through 10 miles at 1:25 and was beat! I chugged more water at the lap. My stomach didn’t feel like taking on food so I grabbed the gel I had and tucked it down my shorts. The guy I had been running with was still right with me and I said something about being a bit sad to already be so tired. He seemed to be in the same boat as me and so we started talking. And we talked the whole last lap which made my effort so much easier and made the race so much more fun. I was also surprised when I was still hitting 8:30 pace at times because my body felt really really tired and we were talking. I was quite sure the other women were very far behind me and after climbing the big hill about a half mile from the finish my legs were dead so I was happy to just run in easy still talking. It was my first ever running race victory- albeit among a small field; and at such a low-key race I can’t find the results.


Running and talking on the last lap with that gel stuffed down my shorts. Photo: Gaylon Murray
My time ended up being 2:15 for an average pace of 8:38. I wish I could have run a bit faster but hadn’t done that many long runs and perhaps that in combination with the hills were too much for me? I’m thinking about doing the Trail Loppet in the fall and thinking maybe I should get in some more training on hilly trails before then.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

ALASKA!

Suffice it to say, I’ve wanted to go to Alaska for as long as I’ve known that Alaska exists. My dad went there (twice, I believe) and he talked it up. I don’t have much appeal to go to Hawaii or the Caribbean, or somewhere warm, but man, I’ve wanted to go to Alaska, the last frontier, for as absolutely long as I can remember.

So I’m not sure why it took so long to actually get there other than it is a long ways away and I’ve been distracted by other cool places.

Every year we talk about doing the Tour of Anchorage and this year we finally decided to do it! And we lucked out with some of the best snow conditions in years! Over the past five years or so the Tour of Anchorage has been moved to machine-made loops at Kincaid a couple times because there was not enough snow. This year we got to ski the normal course.

Unfortunately Erik and I both developed colds just before leaving for Alaska. This was the worst cold we’d both had in years

Despite not feeling the greatest, we still wanted to check on the famed “Spencer Loop” on the Tour of Anchorage course. A few years ago I had read someone’s race report and took note of the big ups and scary downs in the first few kilometers of the course on the Spencer Loop. This was our first ski in the Alaska. While we did note there was a really big climb, with two lesser climbs, we found the downhills to be quite fun! No snowplowing required; however, these were 10/10 snow conditions and if the hills had been icy they would have been no fun at all.


Skiing the Spencer Loop. There are mountains in the background and a heart on that pine tree but these things are hard to see in this photo by Erik.

After the ski my throat got more sore. It now felt like razorblades to swallow and I took down as much food as my pain threshold allowed. The next day my throat wasn’t any better and it was so hard to get in enough calories for not being active let alone to eat some extra for the marathon the next day. We didn’t end up skiing this day so we could try to feel better for the race. Eventually I realized that ice cream is a calorie dense food that I should eat- but even that was like swallowing razor blades.

Checking out the Iditarod tour through Anchorage on the same trails we raced on the next day! Here's an example of the packed bike bath. Photo: Erik
 

I was glad to be feeling at least a bit better on race morning. At least my sore throat had dramatically improved. I had thought about “touring” the race but knew I was far too competitive for that. Besides, I got placed in the women’s elite wave. It was incredibly small with less than 20 of us on the start line but that at least minimized any congestion on the course. I certainly did not start hard and skied at the back of the field with a couple sisters I recognized who had done the Mora Vasaloppet a few years ago for the first couple kilometers. Then they got ahead of me. My plan was to ski the first big uphill slowly to save some energy for later on and also because I had been sick. I caught one other elite wave woman on this big long uphill and tucked in behind her. She was going really slow up hills though and so I passed her on the next big uphill section. By the time we were off the Spencer Loop I had been passed by 3 women from slower waves.

Next came my favorite section of the course that was net downhill of about 500 feet over 15 km. While the Tour of Anchorage race course weaves its way throughout the entire city, it largely does so on bike/multi-use paths that are packed but not plowed in the winter. This next section was all through some undeveloped land where snow clung to the pine trees. I skied this part with that elite woman who skied the uphills really slowly. She was much faster on the gradual downhill. Eventually I passed her on a big overpass bridge across a busy street.

The next part started fun but got tiring. We crossed over roads on bridges and under roads in tunnels. See course profile below. Now I was in the 20 kms of almost completely flat trail. And this was really really flat, V-2 almost all the time flat. I kinda took off at the start of this section and passed up some people including 2 of the women from waves back who had passed me early on and was feeling good until about 30 km into the race when I got hungry. Now given that I hadn’t ate much the 2 days prior to the sore due to my sore throat, I should have started feeding immediately at each aid station in the race but I was worried about my sore throat and eating and drinking during the race with this painfully sore throat. Even the thought of orange gatorade just made my throat hurt. By 30 km into the race it became obvious though that I had to give the energy drink a try and whatever else I could get my hands on.



The next aid station was the most poorly run of all the stations. All of the others seemed much better. I grabbed some energy drink which was orange flavored but went down much smoother than gatorade for which I was glad. I looked for some food but no one was handing anything out. I was desperate and knew I needed some food. I spotted a plate of oreo cookies and made my way towards that and finally a volunteer grabbed the plate for me. I took two cookies and took awhile trying to take these down with my sore throat and snot-filled nose.

After this I felt better. We came out onto the ocean (or more correctly a big bay) and had mountain views! There were a few more kilometers of flat before we had a hill to climb and then what I thought would be a restful downhill but that ended up being incredibly short and after a couple more kilometers my arms just got really tired. I didn’t have any particularly sore muscles but overall my arms were just super tired. I really wanted a downhill break and some rolly terrain but all I got was a few more flat kilometers until we started a big gradual climb over the last 5 kilometers. My body was quite spent, and I dug in deep to my endurance. My pace seemed really slow those last 5 kilometers. My legs still felt strong but I felt like I couldn’t get any upper body action on my V-1. Slowly the kilometers ticked by and I could see a big uphill and an announcer area. I didn’t quite know where the finish was but it ended up being 10 feet past the crest of the hill. Perhaps I could have dug a little deeper had I known exactly where the finish was- or perhaps not.

Almost to the finish with mountains in the background! Photo: Erik


Making my way (skier on the right) up the very last uphill and finish of the course. Photo Erik

Throughout the race I had to suppress my cough. A couple times this resulted in wave-like contractions heading down my core. I knew once I finished racing that I would cough for several hours. Indeed, I couldn’t even talk without coughing for about 2 hours after finishing. It probably wasn’t the wisest decision to race but given perfect snow conditions and traveling all this way I had to experience the Tour of Anchorage at its best.

It turns out the way to get some press is to ski with the lead women which is what Erik did. You can check out this fasterskier link to see a couple photos of Erik in the Vakava suit behind Hannah Rudd. I guess they, along with second place Michaela Keller-Miller formed quite the Minnesota pack! I’m not sure if those girls noticed what I often do, and that’s that the men skiing around them (yes, I’m talking about Erik here) don’t have great technique compared to them:)

We continued to feel sick with unusual head colds for the remainder of the week. My mother-of-a-sore throat persisted almost the entire week. Despite this we still got outside every day, enjoyed more of the perfect snow conditions, and did some scaled-back adventures. I suppose this was really killing two birds with one stone with the paid time off (PTO) and maybe is some payback for never taking days off when I’m kind of sick (not the lay in bed all day kind of sick). It was nice not to have to think about whether to go to work when sick and because we weren’t doing many adventures I managed to read an entire book. Also take note, it’s a good idea to have access to Netflix (which we did at our Airbnb) when sick. We saw plenty of animals- on TV that is!

We went for this day hike on Eklutna Lake which was stunning. Photo: Erik


Skiing at Girdwood- albeit very slowly as we still felt pretty sick. Photo: Erik

A very short hike above Anchorage on the trail leading to Flattop Mountain in Chugach State Park. Powerline Pass is on the right. Photo: Erik

We did see one moose- this guy when we were skiing at Kincaid. There were a lot of people out skiing on the trails but this guy didn't care. Photo: Erik

The trails at Kincaid were amazing but the best views of the Chugach range was on the Lekisch Loop. This loop also had the biggest downhills- I even saw Erik snowplowing! Photo: Erik

Here's a big mountain from our hike part way up Bird Ridge. Photo: Erik

Low tide on the Turnagain Arm from the Bird Ridge Trail. Photo: Erik

Monday, February 26, 2018

Birkie Bash 2018

I’m always extra nervous before the Birkie because this is like the World Championships for citizen racers and I always want to do well. Add to that all those uphills and lack of confidence is my striding ability, and I’m quite a mess the week before the Birkie. So this year I decided to be a bit more proactive on managing my stress and become my own sports psychologist (because I’m a do-it-yourself kind of person). Here’s the three things I decided to focus on:

First, follow the wax recommendations. I don’t know why this is sooooo hard for me. Maybe because when I first started waxing the wax companies didn’t post wax recommendations (or if they did I wasn’t privy to them) and so I always decided how to wax based on the forecast. While I now look at these recommendations, I also always look at the weather forecast and somehow think I can “outsmart” these recommendations. So this time around I told myself to just follow the wax company recommendations, especially for kick.

Second, focus on skiing technically well. I’ve previously declared my intention to actually stride the Birkie and I’ve done a ton of work on this (at least on the classic rollerskis where I’ve seen much improvement). Hopefully if I follow my first pillar my kick will be good, and the glide should be good, so I should be able to stride. Skiing well also involves good technique and power with double poling, implementing some kick double pole, and skiing the downhills well.

Third, enjoy the day. This is probably what those later wave skiers are doing (or at least until they get really tired) but something that would likely make me happier if I took some time to do this and might even help me ski faster. So as part of my racing strategy, I made it a point to put some energy towards appreciating the scenery which will involve looking in the woods. I’ll set me watch to beep every kilometer and after that I will take a look in the woods to enjoy the scenery.


The day of the Birkie was gorgeous with a combination of new snow and frost hanging on the trees. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

Of course there’s also the race logistics of making sure I arrive to the start on time, figuring out what to wear, and feeds on the course. I’m notoriously bad for not taking any feeds on the course, and I’m trying to change that. I always overeat for breakfast but this year am going to try and eat a bit less and then take more feeds on course. Erik assures me this will make me faster overall despite taking a few extra seconds to grab some feeds.

Before the race I didn’t think too much about my pacing. I tend to do a good job of self-pacing out there and hold back a bit before OO. I like to ski my own classic race, especially with so many big uphills on the first half of the course and then start pushing the pace after OO.

I also thought about all the hours I’ve trained and raced this year to be prepared for Birkie 2018 and all those hours over the past 16 plus years. And then that Olympic Gold Medal won by Kikkan and Jessie on my birthday week was certainly extra inspiring!

So how did I do with the above?

Well, I finally sanded (or more correctly, Erik sanded, after we disagreed on the grit of sandpaper to use, but fortunately Google resolved that argument) my kick zone since stonegrinding my skis. Then I actually used a hard wax binder (that I think I put on too thick and really should have put outside to let cool) before corking in 7 layers of V45 (the “warmer” kick wax recommendation by SWIX. This combination felt a bit draggy, especially early on, and was slightly grabby on the lake but otherwise gave me great kick. Again, I think I put the binder on too thick and didn’t heat it in quite enough to get it really smooth either. I arrived to the start late as usual and did a very short test loop. My skis weren’t icing so I didn’t make any adjustments.

When I got in the start pen with the other Elite Wave Classic skiers, I noted there seemed to be lots of women, particularly fast looking women. I didn’t have much time to chat and got in about the fourth row behind a fast looking woman. When the gun went off it seemed we took it out harder than in previous years. I found myself double poling outside the tracks. While it would have been nice to be in the tracks, it was also easier to get around people outside the tracks.

I'm bummed I was too slow to ski with this guy:( Vakava is talking about getting new suits next year and I think we should do something to this effect. Photo: Bruce Adelsman
Once we got on the classic only trail I tried to ski with a couple women. Usually I’m totally exhausted by the time we get to the Powerlines but this year, probably due at least in part to good kick and a slightly shortened trail to this point, the Powerlines came pretty quickly. As we headed back in the woods I was skiing with another woman and a pack of Elite Wave Classic guys. One woman cruised by us and we never saw her again. Our pack stayed together until just before the big climb to High Point. Here I lost my group and a big stream of Wave 1 guys, who started 5 minutes behind me, kept passing me. I tried to do some striding up to High Point but was probably only successful about half the time and otherwise could only muster a shuffle/run. I guess striding half that hill was significantly better than I think I’ve ever done before and I had felt relatively good up to that hill so progress, not perfection:)

After High Point there’s some flatter areas and downhills which made every uphill that much worse. I was already really tired- but remembering back to years previous, I don’t think it was any different than any of those other years.

My buddy Dave passed me 3 kms out from OO when we really started climbing. He wasn’t particularly fast up those big climbs to OO and he didn’t gain too much on me but really took off double poling at the Korte start area.

I did finally change my watch from miles to kilometers and set it to beep every 1 km. Mostly I felt it vibrate on my wrist. Every time I thought about looking in the woods and enjoying the beautiful day, but mostly I just focused on the trail in front of me to keep my balance and avoid falling down. By doing this I was still able to appreciate the snow clinging to the trees.

After OO we joined with the skaters. Now a steady stream of Wave 1 skaters were passing me- a handful of these skiers knew me and we gave each other some cheers which is always fun! The tracks were now glazed and the kilometers ticked by faster. This was such a relief to my exhausted self. After OO I believe I was passed by just one Wave 1 classic guy and slowly reeled in about 10 Wave 1 guys who had passed me prior to OO.


Just past OO and now skiing alongside the Wave 1 skate guys. Check out the glitter snowflakes on my cheeks! They really show up in this photo if you zoom in! Photo: Bruce Adelsman
In regard to skiing technically well: this year compared to years past it seemed the groomers pulled up the classic track significantly more often on downhills. I do prefer this as I often have trouble trusting in the track around corners and the tracks are likely to get destroyed by later waves anyway. Sometimes it was hard to see where the tracks started again and those pine boughs they use on the World Cup would have been nice! I had one small technique goal of striding up the hill leaving Mosquito Brook. I really set my sights on striding up that hill and I did (except for the very steep part near the end where I did some running but was able to stay in the track) and by this point, finally, I was able to keep up or even pass the Wave 1 skaters!

It was also on this hill I got a glimpse of the woman who had dropped me on the climb to High Point. With just over 10 km left and some double poling I made it my goal to catch her. It took me about 5 km until we climbed that really evil hill coming out of the last Aid Station. I was a spent force and while I did some striding on that hill, I also did some shuffle running outside the tracks on the steeper parts. Then sorry to say I couldn’t maintain a tuck the entire way down the next very long hill as my quads were just too tired. I fared similarly on the last big uphill after crossing 77: probably some striding but also just some shuffle running. Two years ago I remarked that I really wanted to stride all these hills beautifully, you know, like Marit winning the 30 km classic at the Olympics (hey, a girl can dream) but I probably just looked like a tired citizen racer out there. It would be so interesting if a drone was following me the whole time so I could see my technique albeit that would be a very boring replay.

Erik always gives me a hard time for not feeding enough on course. I don’t want to be bogged down with my drink belt so rely on the air stations. This mostly works out well. I took a total of 3 gels (or more accurately parts of gels) and 4 Nuun drinks which is probably the most I’ve ever taken out there so figured that was an accomplishment.

I was motivated to keep skiing fast in the Birkie in case I might get another sweet Age Class Prize such as this shirt I sported last year on a run in Central Park. Photo: Erik
By the time I got to the lake I was really tired. But I have mad endurance (as one of my high school teammates once said) so I kept going, very happy to be able to just double pole and that the classic tracks were reasonably fast. I also noticed that the lake was beautiful with the snow in the trees on the lakeshore. And that water tower in Hayward looked like it was a long ways away! I kept looking for skiers ahead of me to catch, especially women. I saw an Elite bib way ahead and couldn’t tell if it was red for men or pink for women but vowed to catch them anyway and catch them I did near the end of the lake (it was a guy). Once I got off the lake I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the finish line because I was so tired. I could only hope this meant I had done reasonably well if I was so tired everyone else must be, too. I made my way over the bridge which felt so much slower compared to those downtown Minneapolis Sprints and mostly double poled my way up Main Street and it was so cool to hear so many people yelling my name!

I ended up 16th of 374 women. This was a bit disappointing since I was 11th two years ago. Comparing my results to 2016 this year I skied 5 minutes faster (although the course was slightly shorter). Hitting the kick was was also significantly easier this year and so my hunch is that I do better compared to others when we’re all struggling with kick and a bit worse when the kicking is good. Oh well, I still finished 147 of 1,735 overall in the classic.

Sporting my Birkie Age Class shirt in snowy Banff in June last year! Photo: Erik
For the 5th consecutive year, I got an age class award. Apparently the Birkie must have noted I have too many hats and so this year we only got bells:( I was hoping for another wicking shirt as in the photos above. Erik keeps telling me to do the skate race so I don’t have to worry about getting age class awards. I’ve been seriously thinking about switching to the skate because it would be fun to skate out of Elite Wave (provided they let me have the technique transfer) and my skate technique always holds together so much better than my classic technique but I remain ambivalent as I also want a top 10 in the Classic race and still aspire to stride like Marit!

My latest bling. Not quite as good as the wicking shirt but I did put this thing to use immediately to cheer on some of the late finishers in the Birkie.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Finlandia Fun 2018


After winning my axe (prize for first place at the Minnesota Finlandia) each of the last 5 times I entered, I always feel that another one isn’t necessary; however, each year before the race, I’m always greedy for another axe. Maybe this is because I’m competitive and want to win. But do I really need another decorative axe? Maybe it is because I want one of those sweet axes with an animal scene or one with gnomes on it! Afterall, my favorite axe is the one with the owls on it and I have been known to try trading axes (without success because that one had a highly desired gnome scene). Wow, I have become an axe snob!

This year, for the fourth year in a row, I did the 25 km classic race. There was enough snow to run the full 25 km course which we hadn’t been able to do since 2014. About half the course is on the east side of the road and half is on the west side of the road with the courses linked by the Terrific Two Way Tunnel of Temptation. Taking a peak at the start list, I didn’t recognize any of the female names. During my warm up and at the start I was sizing up the competition. There didn’t appear to be too many fast women in my race.

I lined up behind my bro and the Vakava guys in the second row. My bro is known for his fast starts and then quickly falling behind. The guys were joking about this before the start. The air horn went off. I started too close to a friend from Bemidji and didn’t want to break either of our poles so didn’t get the best start and couldn’t ski really well until after I passed him about 50 meters into the race.

My bro leading out the classic field by a very large margin. Photo: my other bro:)



Here comes the rest of the classic field led by Craig. Photo: Monte Draper

The skate field taking on Sunnyside. Photo: Reid (aka my other bro)

About a half kilometer into the race we ski up Sunnyside, a green downhill run. Knowing there weren’t any big hills for a long ways after this climb, I really tried to push it, herring-bone running up the steepest part, then running (there were no tracks) up the more gradual part. Now I was closing in on my bro and a couple kilometers later, was nipping on his heels when Toward (in high school we referred to all the cool teachers by their last name only), who currently supervises the Bemidji High School National Honor Society and their associated feed stop for the Finlandia who recognizes our family despite our ever-changing spandex yelled to my bro, “your sister is right behind you. You can’t let her beat you!”

But then my bro took off. I knew my fitness was good but didn’t quite want to accelerate at his pace and figured he wouldn’t sustain it for very long anyway and so I let him get ahead. I never did catch back up to him and only saw him one time thereafter in a curvy section by the S curve on the west side. He caught Bjorn Adelsman and those two skied together; meanwhile I skied the rest of the race by myself.

Mom cheering (far left) for my bro and Bjorn Adelsman who are about to head into the Terrific Two Way Tunnel of Temptation! Photo: Reid



I did catch 3 other male classical skiers- 2 soon after my bro took off and the last one later on in the race. Someone asked me last week to describe the course. I’d say it is similar to Mora with the curves but there really are hills. These are not long sustained climbs like in the Birkie, they are shorter climbs and in some sections they do come at you one after the other but these are always broken up by some nice long flatter sections. There are plenty of features to keep the course interesting with places called The Island, The Wall, and the aforementioned S curve!


An artistic photo as I ski by this picturesque barn! Photo: Reid

I thought I was in the lead of the woman’s classic race but there could always be a sneaky woman I didn’t notice! The 25 km and 50 km skate races started 10 minutes after my race and so after about 10 km I was gradually passed by a number of skaters. My kick also wore off after about 10 km, hence I tried double poling up some hills and either running outside the tracks or herring-bone running (and sometimes walking) up the hills. And I even fell on a downhill with a left corner that I was trying to ski aggressively. Despite likely being in the lead, I was still racing and pushing hard all the way to the finish. Oh yeah, and in honor of the women’s Olympic relay, we (Erik and I) put some snowflake glitter on our cheeks:)


Still pushing the pace on the last uphill on the Canns Loop with some skaters behind me. Photo: Monte Draper
And still pushing hard into the finish as Erik skis beside me cheering me on (this can only happen at a low-key race:) Photo: Reid

And I did win! Again! It was nice to see my bro beat me, something I don’t think he’s done since 2014. I finished first of 9 women on the classic field (winning by a 7 minute margin) and 7th of 35 skiers overall in the classic.

Erik also won his race, the Pursuit, so we were husband-wife axe winners. When Erik went up to get his first place prize, the announcers call him an “axe virgin” in comparison to many of the other winners with our multiple axes. Craig won [again], too, so of the 5 of us driving to the start in one car, 3 of us won axes!


The winning Vakava contingent. Check out these axes! Craig Cardinal got a cardinal on his (plus a sweet deer scene); I got flowers (actually all the women’s axes had flowers...not quite sure where this stereotype comes from); and Erik got a moose on his! If these sweet axes aren’t enough to convince you to do the Finlandia next year, I give up! Photo: Eva Reinicke

The Vakava team stayed with my mom in Bemidji (thanks mom for hosting and making some wonderful food!). On Sunday morning there was a snowstorm and we went skiing. It was a bit slow skiing through 8 inches of powder (often we could not see our skis under the snow) but there was an icy base owing to Wednesday’s meltdown. We skied at Three Island County Park where we had skied when it was -20 ℉ at New Years. This time it was 35 degrees warmer and snowing. It was nice to find real winter even if the loop took us 30 minutes longer than when it was -20 ℉! The combination of the classic race on Saturday and the trudge of a classic ski on Sunday was good training for the Classic Birkie.


Our snowy ski at Three Island with quite the big group and no skis visible. Photo: Erik

We then drove back to the Twin Cities where there was no snowstorm and it was another 30 degrees warmer! It’s not very often that the weather is that dramatically different between Bemidji and Saint Paul but I guess it happens every once in awhile and nature never seizes to amaze me.

Monday, February 12, 2018


Mora Vasaloppet 2018

My previous posts from the Mora Vasaloppet have always noted that every year I have signed up for the classic race (as opposed to the skate race) the Mora Vasaloppet has not been held on its traditional, now called “Legacy” course. And this year was no different. It’s almost as if I’m single handedly cursing the vasaloppet and when they see my early registration, they preemptively decide to use the new Mora course.

Owing to the Little Snow Gun That Could, the Mora Vasaloppet now touts 17 km of piston-bully groomed man-made snow. While it’s traditional and always fun to do a point-to-point course, I do appreciate having excellent snow conditions. The logistics of point-to-point races are also quite laborious and even for us racers it is nice to start and finish at the same location. Not having to take a bus ride to the start also means we can sleep in later.

Each year the man-made loop at Mora gets longer and this year they made some additions. I studied the map quite a bit before the race. For the classic we were doing 3 loops with an out and back segment across Mora Lake.

This year at the start there appeared to be some suspiciously fast looking women. Perhaps I was a bit too pretentious when I lined my skis up in the second row- but if I’m going to get after it I have to be aggressive. The race started and all the guys in front of me were leaving me in the dust. I found the fast women (I love the Mora Vasaloppet for many reasons, one of which is the easily-identifiable yellow bibs for women) and tried to tuck in behind them but they (Josie and eventual winner Brandy Stewart) were just too fast. I was already behind by the time we got to the lake and could not catch them- or any of the men in front of me.


My bro (on the left in the tracks in the Flying Fungi suit) off to his characteristically fast start. I need him to teach me how to go so fast! Photo: Bruce Adelsman

Soon after we got into the woods another fast woman came by me. She led a group of guys and try as I could, I just couldn’t go with them. I felt good the whole first lap but couldn’t go any faster and gradually a handful of men passed me. Hence, I wasn’t feeling great about myself but that all changed when I started my second lap and the passing/lapping began. While the downside to a multi-lap course is the traffic, this is also the upside as it keeps the race from being lonely and can really boost self-confidence. I can happily say I got through the entire race without tracking anyone or causing anyone to fall over which makes me feel successful! I figure if Matt doesn’t track people then why should I? I also always worry that tracking slower skiers is more likely to result in them falling over and then me falling over so it’s just easier to go around. I also try to cheer for people as I’m passing them.

Finally making my move on the classic skier behind me and passing this skater in the shorter race. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

As the distance passed by I kept trying to push the double poling despite the progressively increasing tiredness in my back and triceps. I was also motivated by the thought of any fast women coming up behind me. While the consensus amongst the fast guys was to just double pole, all us women used kick wax. After hearing a couple stories of where the double pole only went wrong, I’m further inclined to think we really are the smarter sex:) I enjoyed every possible hill where I could stride, kick-double-pole, or herring-bone run to give my back a break. And I could really attack every herring-bone climb because when double poling I’m never redlining so I had energy for these short hills. While I don’t necessarily agree with the course being “hilly” as noted in the race tagline, it most definitely is “curvy.” I tried to work on skating around corners, but only did so on the few corners where the classic track had been pulled up; otherwise I would have felt like I was cheating.

Getting passed by my teammate Alex who got 4th in the 52 km race. Otherwise I passed and/or lapped all the other skiers in this photo by Skinnyski.com creator extraordinaire

In the last couple laps I was able to pass up a couple guys. Unfortunately one was my bro who was in his self-proclaimed “toast lane” but he was racing much faster than last year which is always good to see. I had been exchanging places with one guy and he was leading up Bell Tower Hill but once we hit the streets I decided I needed to try and beat him. As we rounded the last corner onto Main Street, he got stuck in a small burn and fell down and so I was able to beat him.


The guy who fell is behind me as I approached the finish. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

I can’t say I was ever bored out there and got to watch the men’s 52 km race unfold:) After my first lap, the only skiers to pass me out on course were the top 4 men in the 52 km race, and they passed me on each of my laps which enabled me to get and give more cheers! Thanks also to Josh who provided some great cheer support.

It was great to see an albeit small but competitive women’s field in the classic race. I ended up 4th woman and was 12 minutes back.

I still managed to win my age class and got to share the podium with my friend Allie and her smiley daughter. Photo: Chris Broderson

Given that I love double poling, the Mora Vasaloppet is my favorite course! I also love the community atmosphere, the main street finish, the blueberry soup, seeing all my skier friends, and the kranskulas. And the course keeps getting better every year. I do really miss the butter-and-cheese sandwiches from bygone years and might rally to bring them back!