Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Excuses, excuses...

In high school I heard a saying that stuck with me: "Excuses are like backsides*. Everyone has one and they all stink." (*You can imagine what the backsides word usually is.) However, I have a couple weird excuses I'm dealing with now.

As I whined to several of you about, I had a catheter ablation performed on my heart in mid-November in order to hopefully cure my atrial fibrillation. This problem started becoming noticeable soon after I ran the Twin Cities Marathon in 2006. My heart would skip around randomly at a high rate, and for no good reason. Within about a year, this was happening to me about every 7-10 days, and the episodes lasted for up to 24 hours or longer. When it happened, I couldn't even walk up stairs without getting winded. Then I could go out the next day after it was over and pound a 20 mile run...it was weird.

After my collegiate track/CC teammate from Notre Dame, Ryan Shay, died of a heart attack in the Olympic marathon trials in November of '07, I decided I had to get checked out right away. (Incidentally, the last time I saw him was when we went out to dinner after that Twin Cities marathon the year before.) The doctors told me I had "A. Fib" and sent me on my way. I didn't try drugs until the summer of '08, and then added another drug in October of that year after I had to walk away from the start line of the TC 10 miler because an episode started minutes before the gun.

The drugs didn't work well, so I went to Mayo to have the surgery done. I was out for about 8 hours, during which time the burned the portions of my heart containing bad electrical pathways in order to "open" those circuits. That's my extremely dumbed-down explanation, but the hope is that this stops the conduction of the erratic electrical signals that caused my Afib. Now, about 6.5 weeks after the surgery, I'm still Afib-free.

However, two things are holding me back on the athletic front. First, my phrenic nerve was damaged, so my right diaphragm is partially paralyzed. It pushes up against my lung rather than going down when I breathe. Second, I started noticing lately that my heart rate is weird. My resting rate now is 90 (which is not so surprising since my resting rate when I'm healthy is usually way up in the 70s), but the absolute max I've been able to hit so far is 165, which I confirmed by wearing a monitor during a skate interval session on Monday. That is over 20-30 bpm lower than what I'm pretty sure it should be. I know it was generally not too difficult for me to stay in the 170s or 180s for sustained efforts before the surgery.

The doc thinks that it's possible my sympathetic nervous system was affected during the ablation, and along with the phrenic nerve, it should heal over several months. But for now I'm left with a couple barriers to any success this season. I'm going to keep training hard and hoping things come around by late February for the big races. In the mean time, if I miss some Wednesday workouts (like tonight), it is likely because I'm still trying to do my own stuff where I experiment and watch what happens with my max rate. Hopefully things will get better soon, and I'm left with a strong Afib-free heart.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Body Knows Best

I was planning on racing the Pre-Season Physical today. I wanted to get a few shorter, easier races in before the bigger, longer races start in January and thought I may as well start with that one. The problem was that I'd had a very disorganized week and ended up doing very little training early in the week due to weather and whatnot and tried to cram in a bunch on Friday and Saturday. By Saturday afternoon by body was very tired and I was feeling my legs quite a bit when trying to sled with my son. I figured I'd do the race anyway even though I was tired and hadn't prepared my skis just so I could get on a starting line and get used to the whole race thing again. So I got all my clothes ready for morning and went to bed. Sometime in the middle of the night I woke from a dream about the race. I was in the middle of the race skiing nice and easy and feeling good. I figured it was time to pick up the pace and took off. I quickly started getting more and more tired. Soon I was dragging myself along on my belly through the snow until I finally ran completely out of steam and just lay there in the snow, exhausted, unable to crawl any further. When I woke up, I figured by body was trying to tell me something and that it was best to listen. I reached over and turned off the alarm. As hard as it is to back off sometimes, I've learned that it just doesn't pay to ignore your body. It knows best. I'm a little disappointed that I missed it, but feel it was the right decision. I still have a few opportunities to get some races in this month and hopefully I'll be able to plan ahead and be better prepared.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Been a while...

The title could be taken a couple of ways.
1. It has been a long time since my last post here.
2. Unfortunately it was even longer since my last time on snow.

I am currently up in Hibbing, MN doing required outreach as a part of my last year in dental school. The dentistry is great - I have been seeing more patients than I usually would at the school clinic, and the clinic itself is quite nice. When I learned that I would be heading to Hibbing in December I thought "well at least they will probably have more snow than the metro". Unfortunately I was wrong. So while my wife is shoveling out our house in Red Wing, and the Vakava team is doing intervals on snow in St. Paul, yesterday I was double poling back and forth on a little used road not far from the clinic. At least I was on snow (Hibbing got less than an inch from the storm that buried parts of the Midwest = lots of new "speed grooves" in the rock skis). It had been 5 weeks between time skiing on snow!

Today I tried to drive to Giant's Ridge today to ski under the lights. But as I tried to coast to a stop at a stop light my car started to accelerate on its own! I grabbed the floor mat to make sure it was not caught on the gas pedal, but that was not the problem. I put the car in neutral to see if that solved things, but that just made my car jump to 7000 RPMs (but at least I wasn't accelerating anymore). All I could do was shut the car off and steer to the side of the road. When I tried to start the car it immediately jumped to 4500 RPMs. After getting the number for the towing company from my wife I tried to start the car one last time. After some clanking and grinding the car seemed to be running normally. I had a dilemma. I wanted to ski, but I was 20 miles into a 40 mile trip, and it was probably a lot better to be stranded in Hibbing (where I at least have classmates with cars) than at the Ridge (even if the do have lit trails with some snow). So I aborted my ski for the night and drove back to Hibbing. Fortunately the dental clinic here is one building over from the auto mechanic school at the community college, and they will be able to look at my car tomorrow. Hopefully they can figure out what is going on with my car, because I have 5 pairs of skis in the back, and I am craving getting on some more snow!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Snow last week, rain this week.

Nichole and I have now completed our move to Red Wing, and the first benifit of said move was that while the twin cities got no accumulating snow last friday afternoon, Red Wing (40 miles to the south) got 4 inches of snow. This allowed me to get my first day of on snow skiing in on Saturday morning. I drove over to the middle school and skied around the soccer fields and dirt track. The snow was melting fast so I only got an hour in, but it was a fantastic ski (40 degrees and sunny at the start, and 50 degrees by the end), and harries were kicking great. I could tell that my arms are used to the nice easy gliding of rollerskis - they were sore after double poling through the mush for only that hour.

This week has been rainy. Last night's rollerski with Vakava was a classic workout on the big river trail with 30 minutes of "on" interval time. It was also our last week on rollerskis (it gets dark too early, especially with daylight savings ending this weekend). Fortunately we were able to avoid most of the heavy rain, but it was still very wet. Some how I managed to lose a rear fender off the back of my marwes during a ski last week, and I sure missed it yesterday. Without the fender on the wheels seemed to take the water on the road and just dump it down the back of the cuff of my classic boots. I was sloshing in standing water in my boot after just a few minutes. It did motivate me to double pole more and DP kick less - double poleing kept my feet in place and the water was able to warm up around them better.

Here's hoping for snow soon so that we will have fewer weeks of dryland at como park... :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New Woman

We had our last roller ski time trial of the season today. I had not been looking forward to it. I'd been a bit worn out with all sorts of things since coming back from our camp in Hayward a couple weeks earlier. So I hadn't been training very hard or sleeping nearly enough and was not feeling at all chipper. But I hadn't done the previous time trial and wanted to get the last one in, so I decided to go and not worry about the outcome. I needed a good workout at any rate since I hadn't been doing much. So after a fairly stressful and busy day I fought the traffic down to Afton and got there a bit late. I ended up starting the skate time trial by myself and it felt about how I had expected, dreary, like the weather. But I was able to get myself into my classic gear in short order and caught up with the others for the warm up for the next round. We started the classic time trial as a pack and I wasn't sure I was up to being pushed that hard and demoralized and that perhaps a private pity party would be better, but I jumped in anyway. What the heck, I was there, may as well, whatever. I felt surprisingly good and skied in a nice pack with Kevin, Dave, and Kathleen. We skied the whole thing together and it was so much fun!!! I felt good and the pack dynamics were great. We all finished strong together and it was so invigorating! All my cares melted away. I felt like a new woman. Since starting up racing again after my long hiatus, I've been trying to figure out why I'm doing this. I don't have the high goals and purpose that I had before, so why am I working so hard and putting in the tremendous effort it takes to ski at this level with all of my other responsibilities? I know that the regular exercise and friendships are really important to me, but I can still have that and just ski recreationally, so why push myself so hard? Tonight really reminded me why I do it, because I love it so much. So thanks guys for the pick me up! I needed it.

Des Moines by rollerski

This past Sunday was the Des Moines Marathon. My wife Nichole was running, and I was looking for a good way to see as much of the course as I could (and my bike has a flat tire that I have not fixed in months), so I threw the rollerskis into the trunk and away we went to Iowa. The morning of the race I did all the helpful husband things to get her ready for the start. We jogged a warm up together and I took her warmups just before the gun went off. After watching the start I sprinted to the car parked a few blocks away and got my boots, skis and poles on. Then I sprinted to the mile and a half mark to spectate.

Watching a running race on rollerskis actually works quite well - assuming there are parallel streets to ski on. I would watch the race go by (taking Nichole's long sleeve, or handing her a gel as needed), then I would head over to the parallel street, hammer for a mile or two, and head back to the course to cheer again. She got the feeds that she needed, and I got to see her at many different points of the race while getting a decent workout in the process (I'd call it natural intervals).

The most entertaining part of rollerskiing along the race course was the looks I got from the spectators (and a number of calls of "hey, thats cheating"). I guess there are not a lot of rollerskiers in Des Moines. Even funnier were the looks I got from runners - especially the Kenyans in the elite pack. They looked at me like I was crazy. I definately don't think there are many rollerskiers in Kenya.

Near the end of the race I got back to the car, back into running shoes, and back out to watch the last half mile. Nichole was hurting pretty good at that point (i.e having a hard time running in a straight line), and it was nice to have the mobility to be able to jump the finish barrier to help her hobble to a cot in the medical tent (she was fine after some rest). Her race went well. She finished in 2:55:53, which was not quite as fast as she was hoping, but still a new personal best, and it puts her less than 10 minutes off the Olympic Trials standard.

Check out her blog for the first hand account

Monday, October 12, 2009

First Ski on Real Snow!

I got out for a ski today! I grabbed my oldest classic skis and a bag of kick wax out of the basement on my way out the door this morning. I don't think those skis have been waxed in at least 15 years, but no matter, I didn't expect it to be fast anyway. When I got to Gross Golf course, which is right by where I work, I discovered that the bag of wax didn't include a cork. No matter again, I just applied some purple powergrip and used nature's first cork, the heel of my palm. I apparently took too long messing with my skis because a guy came and told me I couldn't ski on the course yet. No matter! I just went to the cemetary across the street. I occassionally run and roller ski there in the summer. There is great asphalt, no traffic, and rolling terrain. Plus I've never been asked to leave. I also saw another woman running the road in there today so I wasn't alone, and the other occupants didn't seem to mind my presence. It was a bit strange to ski among the barely turned leaves and stones, but also very peaceful and beautiful. All in all it was a very nice ski. Hopefully it won't be long before I can get out again.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

OK this is my test since I've never written a blog before. My prior posts were actually emailed to Nate and he published them for me so here goes:
Training is going pretty well. I think I'm a little behind last summer at this time due to a strained ab muscle and a few other things but I'm feeling good now and hoping I can have a good fall. I did intervals yesterday with my new heart rate monitor - yes, I guess I am a technology resistor - and was surprised that I could not get my HR above 170. I'm either a wimp or I have a low max HR. Regardless, I figured that today should be a recovery day. I lifted weights in the AM and this afternoon went out for a relaxing skate in North Oaks, throwing in a couple of pick ups. During one fast pickup on the flats I flushed an owl. A big one. As I watched it take flight right in front of me I noticed a snake dangling from it's beak. Most of my memorable wildlife sightings are great all around experiences but this one left me with a puzzling combination of awe and eww.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Vacation last week, time trial yesterday

One of the nicest parts of being a professional student is the breaks. This August I got what will probably be the last month long break until I retire (wow... sad). I am making pretty good use of my time. I'm working on finding a job for when I graduate next spring (anyone want to hire a dentist?), studying a bit for board exams, and getting in some good training. Nichole actually has a job, but she took last week off and we went up north for some "relaxation". Most of our vacations consist of some form of beating our bodies, and this year we decided to have a go at backpacking. I have a bit of experience backpacking, having been on a number of such trips during my boy scout days, but Nichole had never experienced the joys of carrying everything you need to survive on your back while hiking from place to place. Although our plan had been to camp for 3 days, by day two we had decided that backpacking was too slow, and that cars had been invented for a reason. So we got ourselves out to a road, ditched our packs in the woods, and did what we are more comfortable doing on vacation -run (all the way to our car). We picked up our packs, drove to the next state park, took some pics at the waterfalls, and then drove to my parent's cabin near Hayward, WI. It was a great decision. We spent the rest of the week running, kayaking, and rollerskiing around Hayward (I had a black bear cross the road in front of me when I was out rollerskiing. That was a first!). It was my first 15+ hour week of training since last year's summer vacation with Nichole :)
Nichole saying "what am I doing out here?"
Feeling much better after the run back to the car (and the pack off).
Lesson of trip: exploring without backpacks > exploring with backpacks.


Overall my training has been going very well. This has been my best summer ever - even better than my summers during college. My goal at the beginning of the year was to train one hour a week more that what I had done the year before, and so far 26 weeks into the training year I am already 42 hours ahead of last year. A lot of that has been on rollerskis (I have nearly doubled my hours on rollerskis this year compared to last year), but I have also increased my running (100 miles more this year than this point last year).

Hopefully the training will show up in the ski races this winter, but it already has been showing in running races this summer (my PR in the half marathon has come down 2 minutes), and our rollerski time trials this summer. Yesterday was our second Afton 2 x 5k time trail. It is 5k skate followed by ~20 minutes of recovery followed by a 5k classic time trial. We do this 2 or 3 times a summer, and it allows for pretty good comparison from year to year and at different points in the season. Yesterday I did not feel really great in either the skate or the classic, but I did feel strong. My times were really fast. I set new personal bests in both skate and classic by almost 30 seconds (and I have done this course a number of times over the last couple of years). Conditions were ideal yesterday, so that was probably worth a couple of seconds, but it is a good indication that I am in much better shape than I have been at any point in the last 2 years. Bring on the snow!

I should have full results from the TT later today.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

First Post

Hi all,

I'm new to the group, and since I have to be out of state this summer (unfortunately), I thought I should post something so I'm not totally forgotten so soon after I met most of you...


Summer has been hectic...here's a summary: I was married on May 23rd in Minneapolis, and then left for 10 days in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. Less than a week after I returned to Minneapolis, I left for 10 days in Japan. I presented a paper at a circuit design conference, but figured as long as I'd be half way around the world, I really had to spend some time touring. Less than a week after I got back from Japan, I moved to Austin, TX for a few months to do another internship with IBM Research. I'm about ready to finish my PhD in CMOS circuit design at the U of MN, but it's not a great time to be looking for jobs, so I'm kind of waiting out the worst part of the recession before finishing up. Therefore, coming back to Austin (for my 3rd stint here) provided me with a chance to get some more experience and earn a decent paycheck for awhile.


The summer in Austin is always a killer, but this summer has been one of their worst ever. The high temp has been over 100 almost every day since I arrived at the end of June. And, no, it's NOT a dry heat. So although the temps "cool down" to a little under 80F in the early morning, the humidity is usually ~80%. There is no choice but to deal with this if you want to run or rollerski outdoors, so we just get used to it and accept that paces won't be quite as fast.


Although some weekend traveling has interrupted my training schedule a couple times, here is a normal week for me now:


M: 11-12 mile run, lift
Tu: 11-12 mile run with 30 min tempo (~5:30 pace), lift

W: 1:10-1:20 rollerski

Th: 10 mile run with speed work (track or fartlek), lift

F: 11-13 mile run, lift

Sa: 15+ mile run

Su: long-ish rollerski (hope to be getting this to 2.5+ hours soon)


Hope you are all enjoying the cool weather up north!


John


ps. here are some pics from my travels:

The new wife (Sarah) and I in Mexico.

Sensōji Temple in Asakusa. It's a Buddhist temple, and Tokyo's oldest. In this picture you actually see the Kaminarimon, or “Thunder Gate". The temple is behind that.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Train when you can

So this is finals week for me. Hopefully, the last finals week of my life. (I just think back to how many tests and exams I have taken over the last 26 years and cringe). But as with most finals weeks, my training has taken a bit of a hit. I have a final early in the morning on Mon, Tues and Wed mornings, but I will still be in the clinic after that until 4pm, leaving little time to both study and get a workout of any substance.

My plan for yesterday was to try and get a short run in once I got home just to clear my head before I started studying for this morning's TMD/orofacial pain exam. All was going to plan when at the Franklin Ave light rail station (I ride the train to a park-and-ride every day) it was announced that the train would be going no further. Apparently there had been a crash further down the line. When this happens buses come and shuttle people to the next stops, but there are thousands of people that take the train, and the people around me were mumbling that the last time this happened the buses never really showed up. So I decided that I should at least start moving towards my car, since walking put me closer to home than standing waiting for a bus that I did not know if it would ever show. When I got to Lake street I could see a news chopper hovering over the next station. I figured that that is where the crash was, and about this time I also figured I should really try to use my time wisely and double-task. So I cinched up my back pack and started to run. I am sure I got some strange looks from the cars on 55 as I ran along with my backpack and lunch pail, but because of the crash I was actually going faster than they were. The crash site its self was pretty bad. I guess some guy decided to try and drive around the crossing arms and drove right in front of an oncoming train (really, how stupid can you be?). I just kept on running to the next station, and since I was now on the opposite side of the crash, I was able to catch a bus to my car. All total I got 20 minutes of running in, and although that really is not much to write home about, what I have learned is that 20 minutes is better that nothing (a point that Chad Giese drove home earlier this year in talking about his transition to full time job with a young kid), and that fitting in little extra workouts can add up. Its why I do push ups in the morning while waiting for my oatmeal to cook in the microwave, or do pull ups every time I go down to my basement. If I can't always block out big chunks of time to train, I just train when I can.

Monday, August 3, 2009

First long group ski of the summer

Last Thursday's practice was the second 1k double pole TT of the summer (and it was so much fun that Dave had us do it twice!). It seems like almost everyone was able to set a new personal best, and a couple people were even faster on the second 1k than the first. I felt good on the first 1k up, and my time was fast - a new course record and personal best by 5 seconds in 2:34. Bjorn started a few people back came in at 2:36, and Derek finished in 2:40. The second time up the course was tough for me though. The first thing to give out in these all out sprints is my legs, and they were getting pretty bogged down by half way up the course. I also had Bjorn starting just a couple seconds behind me, and I could hear his poles getting closer and closer. In the end I was able to hold Bjorn off, and finished faster than I thought I would in 2:37, but Bjorn killed the course in a new course record time of 2:30. The TT confirmed to me that I need to get my legs stronger. I have been putting in lots of running this year, and that has really helped my fitness, but I have been lacking in the leg strength category. I will have to find time to get to the gym for more lifting, and should ideally add some bounding to the training. At least I know what I should do, now its just whather I find the time/energy to do it.

Sunday was the first long group rollerski of the summer. Last year these group skis got very popular, drawing in most of the top skiers in the Metro at one point or another (with our biggest group being 28 people). Every year we move the start date further up the calender than the last year, so I wasn't sure how many people would be up for the long group skis on August 1st, but there must have been some pent up demand since we still drew a group of 12, including olympian Carolyn Bramante and national champ Caitlin Compton, among others.

The discussion on these long skis often involves how fast we (as individuals) should be going. The course that we take around Afton always includes plenty of out and back sections that allow for regrouping, but some people are better at going there own pace than others. I know that I have probably "won" a few to many hills on these long skis. Caitlin is inspiring on these long skis not for how fast she goes, but for how slow she takes these long skis. She is a master of the "ski slow to ski fast" mentality. My struggle is always how to adapt this to my training. She is training twice (or three times) as many hours as I am in any given week, and she has to keep her long skis easy so that she can hit her intervals hard. I am often not able to get in a workout every day, and so have more recovery built in to a given week, but does this mean that I should be taking the long skis harder? This week was easy to go slow since I raced a half marathon the day before (and set a new PB by over a minute!), and needed the recovery. Next week will be the real challenge to hold myself back.

Anyone have any thoughts?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Need for Speed

I'm going to be up north on the Gunflint trail at the in-laws cabin all next week. I wanted to get in a good hard week of training this week because I don't expect to get much in up North besides a little running, and hiking and canoeing with the kids. I decided to go out to Afton to hit the hills for some intervals. I was using the hill on Trading Post Rd., long but not too steep. When I got to the top there was a car full of teenage boys hanging out. After turning around to head back down, I saw that they were preparing to go down the hill on skateboards. I was going down leisurely, catching my breath, standing up to get a nice long recovery and they zoomed by. When I reached the bottom after them I just turned around and headed back up. When I turned at the top to head down again, I passed them as they prepared to head down again also. I was standing again and they caught me in the middle of the hill. There was a slight rise before it heads down again and I decided to follow them. I did a few quick skates over the rise and went into a tuck. One of the boys was half standing and doing some slalom back and forth. I had to squeek by him as he swerved toward me and didn't see me coming. I passed him and started catching another boy who was just crouching low on the board. We all reached the bottom about the same time and I turned and headed back up again. As the boys passed me in their car on the way to the top, I got a double toot on the horn and a two-fingered, peace-sign wave. I thought it was pretty cool for a 42 yr old woman to get that kind of recognition from a group of young skate boarding boys. I guess we connected on understanding the need for speed; the rush of wind in your face as the ground zooms by under your feet. I just love that. Don't we all?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rain rain go away

Truth be told, my lawn really needed the rain, but as I drove towards Afton this evening and my radio was saying "severe weather going through Woodbury and Afton right now" I was not thinking of my lawn. Tonight was the first set of 5k time trials for the summer (we do them three times each summer). The time trial consists of a 5k skate, a bit of recovery, and then a 5k classic. Tonight I got to the time trial location on Nybeck road 45 minutes early hoping to get a little extra skiing in, but this is what I saw rolling in:

Instead of skiing in I got to sit in my car and watch the clouds roll through and dump quite an impressive amount of rain. Fortunately by the time that we were supposed to start it had pretty much passed, and we were left with just a drizzle.

By the time we finished our warm up the rain had stopped and the sun had come out. It actually got pretty hot! (or at least muggy). The time trail went well. My arms could definitely feel the 2:45 classic ski from Sunday, but I was still able to post a personal best time in the skate race (the classic was a bit slow for me). Dave should send out results in a day or two.

More pictures:

It was Cheryl's birthday, and that meant treats! But don't try to steal any of her brownie - she will cut you!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Elbow pads

One of the best things about our sport of Nordic skiing is that it is a sport for all ages. How many high school football players are still playing at 50 (or even 25) years old? This makes it a great family activity, as everyone can participate. I have it particularly good, as my dad has always been a skier (although mostly downhill when I was growing up) and is always willing to hop into a race or some crazy endurance adventure. My wife is also my best training partner, and by far my greatest motivation to work out (I have to keep up with her!). She has also been a fantastic sport and has been willing to leave the comfort and speed of her running shoes to wobble around on rollerskis trying to learn a sport that can take frustratingly long to feel comfortable.

This year, even my mom has gotten into the act. She has always been an avid walker (and she can really move!), but she never did much more than the occasional cross country ski in the winter. However the past couple of winters she (I think feeling a little sorry for Nichole, as well as wanting to improve her fitness) has been out more, and even got skate equipment. My dad and I have been giving some pointers, but this spring he (and Greg) managed to talk my mom into joining Sisu Skiers. She has loved it so far! She got a pair of Marwe combis, and has been going out on her own and practicing. I worried about how she would get the balance (since she has had minimal skating on snow experience, and she had a pretty serious knee injury in the BWCA a couple years ago), but she has actually picked that part up quite well (I think years of downhill skiing and some limited rollerblading with my sister have helped). The irony is all that worrying about rollerskiing didn't account for other freak accidents... since last Thursday at Sisu Skiers practice (a dryland practice at battle creek) one of the guys there accidentally ran into her and she landed awkwardly on her arm. Unfortunately the ensuing trip to the ER revealed that she broken the end of her radius at her elbow, and her rollerskiing will be on hiatus for the near future. Hopefully she will have the speediest of recoveries, since I know she would much rather be out with her group of Sisu Skier newbies.

Winter days on snow are wonderful, but not nearly so when spent alone every day. I just want to thank my family for participating in this great sport, and in doing so supporting me and all the fun I have skiing.

Hopefully I won't kill you all in the process :)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Take it easy

The life of a researcher is tough... especially when conferences are held in the middle of the summer in a happening "town" like Oslo. At the end of June I hopped a plane to Norway with my ears ready for some serious listening and my USB stick (with my own presentation on concurrent strength and endurance training in recreational runners about 98% ready) in my bag. Upon arrival, I found the sun shining (didn't stop once during our stay) on a beautiful city with lots of good dining/outdoor activities/shopping/parks/museums... the only disappointment was that Holmenkollen is being renovated so I didn't get to visit the place (I guess I just have to go back sometime!). I definitely recommend a visit to Oslo (though it's not such a cheap place - cheers to traveling on "business"!)

Norway's obsession with nordic skiing makes most folks' obsession with nordic skiing look like child's play. Thus, the conference had a relatively high number of skiing-related presentations (many by Norwegian researchers, quite a few Swedes, a couple Finns and an Austrian if I remember all... topics covered biomechanics, physiology and coaching, among others).

One of the themes that stuck out in the presentations on training was volume and intensity of training. There was, an entire session on training to achieve optimal adaptations that, after "careful consideration", I chose to attend over the other 7 sessions happening at the same time (well, in reality the skier-magnet in me didn't really give me any other choice...). Other presentations were linked into sessions on physiology, coaching/testing, etc. The presentations discussed, for example, how high intensity training improves VO2max more effectively than moderate intensity training, and how long slow distance (LSD) training is essential for VO2max development/maintenance in even highly trained individuals. These presentations confirmed most of what we already understand about adaptations to training and there were no groundbreaking secrets on how to train, though throughout the congress, some new methods for the assessment of the effectiveness of training and what is going on at e.g. the neuromuscular or cellular level, were presented.

One presentation that stood out for me in a practical sense was one in which the researcher presented three colored charts of yearly training volume (intensity was denoted by different colors) from some TOP level skiers in Europe (I mean world-class here). The next slide was yearly training volume and intensity from a research project done in '99 using top US skiers. The main difference between these plans/training logs was the amount of green on the charts. Green was the color used to denote low-intensity distance training, of which there was significantly more of on the Euro charts than the US chart. While many training methods can produce good skiers, and while there are interindividual variations in training responses, I found it interesting that many of the best skiers in the world really do ski EASY (LOTS of green on their charts which is equal to about 75 to 90% of training volume performed below 2mmol blood lactate). The key observation here was not that total training volume between the Euros and the US differed, but that there was a lot more low intensity training visible on the Euro charts than on the US ones. Could this difference in volume of low intensity training be one of the keys as to why Euro skiers have traditionally dominated the podium? To my knowledge there are no studies directly comparing training between skiers from different nations (and which method(s) might be more effective), but from an observational standpoint I would venture to say that it makes a difference.

In my skiing experience, long slow distance workouts didn't always end on such a slow note even if they started out in the zone and I'm betting I'm not the only one... The competitiveness of a team and multitasking (thinking about the homework/upcoming exam/*insert something else that could make your mind spin here* while skiing) can gradually work you out of the zone as can the expectation that you always work as a team. In college, we logged our hours of training as "easy" when we skied for 3 hours even when the heart rate monitor average BPM didn't necessarily agree...this means that the training volume I had at moderate and high intensity was greater than my training log will let you believe....of course I should have known better, but hindsight is always 20/20 (If you want to read more on that on a "personal level" I wrote a series of six "ski lessons" last year after going to a Finnish Ski Association Coaching Seminar. (the views expressed are mine alone) Here are the links: Lesson 1, Lesson 2, Lesson 3, Lesson 4, Lesson 5, Lesson 6). Based on what I listened to and observed in Oslo, I cannot, unfortunately, write a formula to achieve skiing glory, but the take-home message was to train with purpose (easy when you need to go easy and hard when you mean to go hard) and do not underestimate the power of low intensity training!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cookies

Last night Derek and I finally got out for a rollerski together. Derek and his wife moved this spring to a house only about 4 miles from mine, but it has taken us until last night to actually get out for a ski together (we have certainly talked about doing it a number of times before).

Today is actually Nichole's 26th birthday (everyone wish her happy birthday!), but it is way too predictable to suprise her on her birthday (and you can't suprise someone after their birthday, since then it just looks like you forgot), so last night I got home a bit before she did and got her gift out and started baking chocolate chip cookies (we have a long history of me providing cookies, just ask Brent). This was going great until I realized that we were out of chocholate chips. I raced over to the store, and was in the chocolate chip isle when my phone rang. At first I thought it was going to be Nichole telling me that she was almost home and my suprise would be ruined, but instead it was Derek asking if I wanted to rollerski. I raced back home, got the cookies in the oven, got my rollerski stuff on, got the cookies out of the oven, and was able to suprise Nichole when she got home. I then headed out for my ski with Derek. We did a nice little double pole together, were able to loop around to check out his house, and then we ended up back at my house for a water bottle fill-up and some fresh cookies. Very nice, since it is great to have someone to train with that is nearby. We will have to do that more often (including some runs in Lebanon Hills that Nichole will have to join us on too).


Happy Birthday Nichole :)

Monday, June 29, 2009

new roller ski route

I discovered a new roller ski route close to my house today. I was even able to ski there from home! It's in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul, nestled between Hwy 280 and Como Ave. John Swain mentioned that he grew up there and would roller ski in the neighborhood so I thought I would check it out. It's a small area with little traffic and good terrain so it will be a nice place to do some intervals. There are a few hills that you can't go down, and I wouldn't recommend skiing there if you aren't really comfortable on skis because there are plenty of intersections to navigate, but it was fine for me. I'll have to work out the best route for an interval, but I think it has great potential. I'm psyched!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Speed Work

Looking to get in some speed work? How about a 1 mile race on the track at Macalester? Next Tuesday there will be a fundraiser for Cindy Brochman who is currently fighting cancer (check out an interview here). A $10 minimum donation is suggested, and races start at 6pm (including kids races that are shorter distances) with the fast heats going off at 8 and 8:15pm. Should be a good time for a good cause. Check out more info here, and registration form here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

transformation

Last Thursday we did a video session with Ahvo and worked on double pole. DP has been my weekest stroke and I've been working on it since I started with Vakava two years ago. I went back and looked at some video from the previous two years and compared it to this years. It was amazing to see how much it has improved and shows what working with Vakava has done for me. There is no way that I could've made those improvements without this group. These people have not just helped me with technique, but have also given me the motivation and support to do the hard work required to improve my conditioning and strength which is needed to make the technique improvements. Thanks everybody, I couldn't do it without you!

I know others have made dramatic improvements as well. My husband has wondered what the point of a team was for an individual sport. I think this proves it's worth.

June '07 - out of shape and just getting back on roller skis after a 12 yr. hiatus - pitiful



June'08 - getting much better

June '09 - that's more like it!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Beer

Since Kevin isn't a "contributor" to this blog yet, I am going to post the piece of brilliance that he emailed earlier today. It deserves a wider audience.

Vakers,

Now, there's no reason to wait for that post-rollerski beer! At last, I no longer have to act ashamed whenever people discover my hydration bladder is full of Summit Pale Ale —I'm simply ahead of my time. Our pal Science now says that beer, yes beer, is more effective for rehydrating the body than plain ol' water. I think I'm not alone when I say that this qualifiesas news on par with peace in the Middle East.

Researchers at Granada University in Spain found this Nobel Prize-worthy discovery after months of testing 25 student subjects, who were asked to run ona tread mill in grueling temps (104 degrees F) until they were as close to exhaustion as possible. Half were given water to drink, and the other half drank two pints of Spanish lager. Then the godly researchers measured their hydration levels, motor skills, and concentration ability.

They determined that the beer drinkers had "slightly better" rehydration effects, which researchers attribute to sugars, salts, and bubbles in beer enhancing the body's ability to absorb water. The carbohydrates in beer also help refill calorie deficits.

Based on the results of the study, researchers recommend moderate consumptionof beer as a part of athletes' diets. "Moderate consumption" for men is 500ml per day, and for women is 250ml per day. Goodbye Gatorade, hello Sam Adams. This opens the door to a whole raft of new athlete beer sponsorships. Hopefully we'll see Lance replace the water bottle on his bike with a 40 of St. Ides in the next few months. (In fact, maybe that's why he didn't win the Giro d'Italia.)

This of course doesn't mean anything for hydration outside of strenuous exercise, but I'm not taking any chances—best to start hydrating now. [cracks open bottle of Newcastle].

Kevin Ivens

Time Trial Night

Last night was our first time trail of the summer - an individaul start, self timed, approximately 1k double pole up lower afton rd. It was a nice night, and we had a bit of a tail wind (I seem to remember head winds most times), and this lead to some fast times, with 6 people setting new personal bests even though it is early in the season. We had a big group of skiers participating (including Caitlin Compton).

Results:
Nate 2:39!
John S 2:47*
Andy 2:51!
Derek 2:58*
Caitlin 3:01*
Brent 3:05
Mark 3:06!
Dave 3:10!
Jojo 3:11*
Kevin 3:13
Paul 3:20*
Pete 3:20
Cheryl 3:21
Angie 3:25!
Michele 3:31
Margie 3:43
Allie 3:45*
Nichole 3:59*
Mel 4:00!
Katy 4:00*
Sara 4:04*
(! = personal best time, * = first time on course)

After the time trial we went up into the neighborhoods and worked on double pole kick technique, with some pick-ups thrown in.

Even today my throught is still a bit scratchy from breathing hard during the TT - maybe that's because my body is not used to 1k sprints... got to love the taste of blood in your mouth at the end of a sprint.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

From the world of sport science

Greetings from Finland! As a former (or current/honorary Vaker), I've been added to the blog to throw in a little bit of international and sports science perspective. As some of you might already know, after completing my BA at
Gustavus (a little after other Vakers Nate, Nichole and Mel and before Kathleen), I headed to the University of Jyväskylä in Finland to work on my Master's in what is called the Biology of Physical Activity. Somehow or another the MSc snowballed into a research assistantship (in our department, and in part with KIHU because of my thesis topic) and starting work on a PhD (1 class down and years to go!). So far my studies have focused on combined strength and endurance training (because strength training and endurance training produce divergent adaptations, more on that at a later date) and I've been dabbling a bit in endocrinology, we'll see where that goes. I still ski and run (less racing as of late) and have gotten a bit into rowing and orienteering.

The first bit I will contribute here from the world of sport science deals with nutrition and recovery (inspired by a blurb in a recent email from my ski club here). The sports drink and nutritional supplement market is a huge money-maker, but are expensive sports drinks worth it? Supplements and sports drinks can certainly play an important role in an athlete's nutrition/recovery; however, the use of lots of supplements suggests that one does not trust their own nutritional choices (paraphrasing the head coach of the Finnish Natl team as well as my dad here...). A well-balanced and adequate diet that is made up of a variety of foods should be able to reasonably fulfill your daily nutrient requirements and besides that, the bioavailability of nutrients is typically higher in foods than in pills and powders. (The mini disclaimer: some supplements may be necessary, for example, calcium and iron for women...).

A recent study by Kammer et al. 2009 published in Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition reports that cereal and non-fat milk are as effective in promoting muscle recovery following 2 hours of cycling at 60-65% VO2max.

A quick explanation: Long bouts of endurance exercise deplete muscle glycogen stores (your fuel) and increases the rate of protein synthesis while at the same increasing the rate of protein degradation (which typically exceeds the rate of synthesis). In order for the muscles to recover from endurance exercise (so you can get back out there and do it again), glycogen stores need to be replenished and a positive net protein balanced needs to be achieved. Glucose is needed for glycogen synthesis and amino acids are needed for protein synthesis, so simply put: carbs and protein are needed for recovery.

In this study by Kammer et al., subjects randomly performed two trials after whcih they were given either Wheaties and non-fat milk or a commercially available sports drink. Similar positive results were achieved with cereal and milk as with the commercial recovery drink. This suggests that cereal and milk are an effective recovery food. (A previous study by the same research group concurs).

For more details on these studies, my embedded links should bring you to the articles. Until next time, eat your Wheaties (or insert other whole grain cereal here)!

Monday, June 8, 2009

sore knees and shoulder

I've had cronic tendonitis in my left knee forever, classic IT band problems that makes the outside of my knee very sore. I'd learned to sort of work around it and be careful running, especially in the spring after not running all winter. But then both knees started bothering me at the top of the knee caps, although they didn't really bother me skiing so I continued to pretend it wasn't a real problem. Same with my left shoulder. It was bothering me lifting weights, but not skiing. But by the end of the ski season last year they both started bothering me skiing so I could no longer pretend. I went to the doctor and the xrays were normal so she told me I was just VERY tight and needed massage or yoga or something to loosen up. I went to The Fix Studio for some massage and it's helped a ton. I also got a foam roller to roll my legs on and am trying to stretch more. My knees are no longer bothering me and I can run as much as I want to now and the shoulder is much better, but still needs work. I can lift weights without pain but it's not as strong or stable as the right side. Last winter my legs were sore and achy a lot and I would wake up in the middle of the night with achy legs, but no more. I can get out of bed in the morning now without feeling like a stiff old woman. I think I've gotten my legs to the point where I can keep them loose enough on my own through rolling and stretching and will do a few more massages to hopefully get the shoulder to that point as well. I guess that keeping the muscles loose is increasingly important as we age. I think I've learned my lesson now and will take the time to keep them looser since it seems that I won't be able to keep skiing pain free if I don't!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Marwe endored by Jedi knights.

Thats right. I don't know if people caught this in the skinnyski newsletter, but Grinnell College made a star wars video, and a Jedi knight's favorite mode of transportation are his Marwe combi rollerskis.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LjSzV1R8Us (check out 1:43 into the video)

Not bad technique. The skier/Jedi is Alex Reich of Mahtomedi (11th at the MN state meet in 2007).

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Brew-Ski: training season kick-off

My sister and I started home brewing beer a little over a year ago. After we'd brewed several kinds we had a beer tasting party at my house last summer and the beer was a big hit. Several people familiar with homebrew have commented on how good it is and that some homebrew can be pretty bad. We've never really had a bad batch and I can only assume it's because we're women and know how to follow instructions! It's really not that complicated. I started bringing the latest batch to various ski gatherings and have begun to be known for my beer in our small circle of skiers. We brewed a bunch at the end of the racing season and had several kinds ready so it was time for another party. I decided that a beer tasting would be a great way to kick off the new training season. Many people came, including some of the new team members. It was nice to have some social time to get to know everyone better besides standing around sweaty after practice. It was nice to see everyone in something other than sweaty work out clothes. We all clean up pretty good! I hope to have more parties this summer since many people were out of town or at the Cable Offroad Classic. It's hard to find a weekend when half the skiers you know aren't at some race, so I guess I'll just have to have them often so that everyone can come to at least one. There isn't as much emphasis on performance as a master skier as there was when I was trying to make the US team since we have more going on in our lives now. But I don't miss that too much since there is more of an emphasis on friends and the social aspects of the ski community. I think that's a fine trade at this stage in my ski career and something that I know I'll never feel burn-out from like I did with high-level racing. I'm so glad to be a part of this community again.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Good Day for Vakava in Fargo!

So a few members of the Vakava race team were up in Fargo this weekend participating in the festivities in conjunction with the Fargo Marathon. Nichole has been focused on this marathon for a few months now (check out her blog for a full recap), and I figured it would be a lot more fun to spectate from in the race than on the sidelines, so I was in the half marathon. I have actually been putting in a lot of running lately (for me at least), so I am in pretty good running shape (once again, for me). While I tend to be a reasonably patient ski racer, I am horribly impatient in running races. At the Earth Day half marathon a few weeks back I had gone out like gang-busters and had still been able to hold on for a pretty good PR just due to fitness, but today I was going to try a different strategy: I was going to pace Nichole (and her training partner Jenny) through the 10 or 11 mile mark at 6:50 pace, and then I was going to kick it in to the finish. This was a lot of fun, but it sure was tough to keep from bolting ahead. I spent the first 10 miles making sure they took the tangents around the corners, got their feeds, and pushing through groups of slower runners (which makes to pass the time really well!). At the 10 mile mark I told Nichole that I was going to go, and she gave me her long sleeve and I was off. It was amazing to actually have a kick at the end, and I finished the last 3 miles in 6:22, 6:20, and 6:19 (all with a hot pick long-sleeve tied around my waist) for a new PR by 35 seconds of 1:28:13!

Mary Beth was also in the area helping her sister clean up after all the flooding in the Fargo area, and decided to jump into the 5k to run with her niece. So just for good measure she won the race (19:40). Her 13 yr old niece was 4th! :)

First long roller ski of the season

I wanted to do a long roller ski this weekend and didn't want to go alone. It seems like it's been so long since I've trained with a group and was missing it. So I put out some feelers to see if anyone would join me. I got some bites from Mel and Dave and we cajoled Brent and Michele to join us when we saw them at practice on Thursday. Then Kevin decided to bag his mountain bike race and joined us too so we had a nice crew. We had agreed to go on the Gateway Trail for an easy ski, but little did we know that there was an MS sponsored bike ride on the trail that day and about 2500 riders were out. We weren't sure how it would go with all those riders, but we were there and so we braved the crowd. It wasn't too bad going out since most of the riders were fast and experienced and had no trouble going around us. Plus they could see us coming for a ways so they had time to get in line. It was a little shakier coming back. The riders at the back of the crowd were less experienced, had difficulty maneuvering quickly, and were more likely to be riding side-by-side. The fact that we were going in opposite directions now didn't help either since we came upon them with less warning. I was leading and could see the fear in many faces as they struggled to maneuver back to their side of the trail. There was only one mishap when a large group passed and some slowed to quickly for others. No one hit the ground, but it was close. Over all it turned out to be a fine ski on a fine morning. I'm looking forward to many more to come.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Is it sad that I'm sore?

Yesterday was our first practice of the year for the Vakava Race Team. It was kind of an unofficial practice, and really more of a chance to let potential members check out the group. But that dosen't mean that my abs aren't sore after the workout that we did! It mostly consisted of drills that focused on specific parts of classic and skate technique, but I think it is a great way to start the season by re-focusing on the basics. It was also a good way to show the new skiers how Dave and Mark work with the group (and I think that they did a great job, for the record).

The turnout was very promissing, and better than I was expecting (I think even Dave was pleasantly suprised). There were 4 potential new guys, and 4 potential new ladies (one of them being my wife Nichole). If they all stick with the team for the long haul it would be fantastic for the group. I personally couldn't stop smiling on the way home from the practice at the thought of the the new guys joining Derek, Andy, etc. and I on the Burlington Road hill for some epic intervals later this summer. I am excited where the Vakava team is headed, and not just because most of the new skiers were under the age of 30 and fast (there was one new master skier too - and I think that having the wide age range that we do is a very important and fun aspect of the group). What the turnout last night says to me is that Dave and Mark are on to something, and what we are doing in Vakava is something that other skiers want to be a part of.

The 2009-2010 looks to be a ton of fun!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Where does the time go?

I've been meaning to write a blog entry for some time now but just haven't had the time. Spring is always unbelievably busy with many projects that languished during the racing season and other family obligations like a spring break trip to Phoenix and my daughters ice skating show. I'm always so busy in March and April that I'm forced to stop training and take a break whether I like it or not. By now I've got several blog topics stacked up in the queue. I'll try to get to them in the near future, but for now I'll just leave you with a teaser; planning training for the coming season, working through shoulder and knee pain that started end of winter (I'm icing my shoulder as I write this), and more thoughts on what caused my slump last winter. I'll just have to make the time and get them posted. Now if only I could train and write at the same time.

I saw a bumper sticker once that read, "God put me on this Earth to accomplish a certain number of things and right now I'm so far behind I'll never die." Ain't that the truth!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Last snow day for the year?



I dont know if I should jinx it by even saying it, but I am ready for the snow to be over so that the running will be a little better. Nichole and I, along with Nichole's running buddy Jenny, did a long run this morning. I did 14, Jenny did 16, and Nichole did 22 miles. Long days like this would be nice to do along the minnesota river on the woodchip trails, but this spring has made things very muddy, so we stuck to the roads and paths. The water still did find a way to complicate things when one of our bike paths near the river was still under water. This meant running right by 35W for a while and then jumping a fence (see Nichole's blog for more info on that adventure) to get on dry trails. I am hoping all this running will pay off later in the summer. My total training hours for March 2008-Feb 2009 was 328 (although I don't count any time lifting in my hours). This is still a little less than I think is ideal (I would like to be closer to 350-375hrs a year), so my goal is to increase most of my weeks throughout the spring and summer by an hour per week. So far so good, since I have hit 5:50, 5:20, 3:10, 4:30, and 7:00 so far this year, and that is already 5.2 hours more than 5 weeks into last year. We will see if we can keep that up, but I think it is doable, and a sane way for me to break it down (52 weeks in a year, so just bump up one hour a week).

First get-together of the year for the Vakava Team is this week. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone again, plus some new faces (including my wife Nichole!).

Friday, April 3, 2009

Spring Training

So I think I will declare the 08-09 ski season officially over (even if Dave still has a race on the schedule and it's supposed to snow this weekend). This means that I am doing a lot of running (I did marry a marathoner, for better or for worse). I am trying to do as much on the trails as I can, since they are much kinder to my joints (I am only 26, but ouch I feel old), but a lot of my running has been on the roads. I have a half marathon in 2 weeks in St. Cloud and I am trying to get in reasonable shape. This afternoon I did threshold with Nichole. I did 5.5 miles of her 7 mile threshold at 6:20 pace, and my legs hurt. This week has been my biggest so far this year, with a 14 miler on Sunday (with a 30 min double-pole rollerski afterwards), Mon was off, 45min on the bike on Tuesday, 9 miles on Wed, 7 miles on Thurs, and 7 miles today. I do feel like I am starting to round into running shape (although that still does not mean I will be fast), but my legs are quite sore. My big goal for the summer is the vacation that Nichole and I have planned for August (that’s right, I have to train for the vacations that Nichole and I take). Our plan is to drive up to Calgary and then hike to the Haig glacier for a day or two of on snow skiing, and then we will run the Moose Mountain Marathon (the one in Calgary, not the one in MN). It should be a ton of fun, but I need to get my butt in shape to survive it! Wish me luck!!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

New Blog Location!

It has been great having the Vakava Race Team provide race reports this past year, but one of the drawbacks of hosting on the FinnSisu website is that there was no good way to have people comment on a report, and it often took a little while for a report to make it up on the site. At this new location we should be able to handle both! So here we go!!