Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mary Beth's Fossavatn ski marathon race recap

After a challenging season on many levels, culminating in my father’s death from cancer just a few weeks before leaving for Iceland, I was more than ready for a nice, stress free trip with my 11 year old son, Will. Initially it appeared that the worst of the Eyafjallajokull volcano had passed, after it closed down a majority of the European airports for an unprecedented 6 days. But the week before departure, like many good volcanos do, it began spewing again. This time, instead of closing European airspace, the Reykjavik airport closed for several days. As we watched very closely, it became clear that there was no way of knowing if we would be able to land in Reykjavik, as opposed to landing in the remote Akureyri with a stopover in Scotland, until we were actually in transit. Not exactly what I was hoping for. It all depended on which direction the wind was blowing. I contacted Icelandic Air the morning of our departure and they were still uncertain if we would be able to land in Reykjavik. It wasn't until we arrived in Boston that we learned that we would be the first flight in many days to be allowed to land. We had a similar situation when we departed. The winds gods were definitely with us on our traveling days. We weren't so lucky, however, on race day.

The day before the race was amazing; minimal wind, sunny and temps just above freezing. A perfect Klister day, or so I was told. Since I've only used Klister three times now, I didn't really feel qualified to make this call myself. Race day was supposed to be more of the same. I remember asking the locals about the weather prediction several times. It was supposed to be even nicer on race day. When we woke up race day, it was warm and calm. By the time Scott Ellertson, my other travel mate, and I made it up to the start of the race, the wind had picked up dramatically and it was cold. As we tried the recommended multigrade Klister out, it didn't take but a few strides to tell it wasn't going to work. Most of the skiers around us were struggling with what to do as well. Scott ended up with a couple layers of VR 50-65 over his Klister and I ended up with one. Nobody around us really seemed to be having great success and we definitely didn't know what would work. We found out after the race that scraping the Klister off and using a product called Ski Go was the application of choice.

At the start of the race I was still optimistic. The first several K are flat and slightly downhill. My skis were sticking a bit, but not more than the others around me. It wasn't until we began to climb that I realized it was going to be a long and brutal race. I can honestly say it was the most difficult race I've ever done. We had very diverse conditions including some falling new, dry snow along with very strong wind. There were gusts between 30-40 mph. I remember forcing my myself to push back into the wind at times or be blown over. I skied about 85% of the race out of the tracks because they were either nonexistent, had snow in them or were just very slow. I kept telling myself to keep my feet moving. I have also never experienced such significant icing on my skis before either. The Swiss men that I was skiing with at the time showed me how to try to reduce this icing, but I struggled to do so. On the last long uphill, I was passed by Stella, the top Icelandic skier and a friend. I have gotten to know her from the two years she has come over to ski in the COLL and a previous Fossavatn race. I was so relieved to make it up the hill. I quickly passed Stella at the top on a flatter section. The last 6-7 K are all downhill. I was exhausted from my duck walk up the hills, but I embraced the potential for an extended, quad killing tuck position. Anything other than the nasty slipping I had endured the previous 43K. I tried to visualize my teammate Angie, who has amazing and graceful downhill technique, during my quest to the finish. The downhill section included dodging many slower skiers from the shorter races and maneuvering through the sloppy, slushy snow that occurs at lower elevations. I was really happy to make it down without falling! After finishing, I quickly found my son who had participated in the 7K race. He had a great time, but he tried to convince me that I had made the wrong choice to only bring waxless skis for him. I just laughed and looked for my post race bag with chocolate in it. Later in the afternoon, was the famous cake buffet which consists of many tables of the most amazing deserts that you have ever seen. Then there is also a talent show, which was hilarious. This is where skiers, and their family and friends, have an opportunity to perform for the group. Then the soup buffet in the evening, followed by more music, dancing and drinking late into the evening. Icelanders sure know how to let loose and have a good time.

Although getting to and from Iceland and the race were difficult. I didn't travel to Iceland just to race. I really went to explore the beauty of the country and its people with my son. Our trip was truly amazing. My son and I were hosted by Margaret Gunnarsdottir, Jon Sigurpalsson and their daughter, Rannevig Jonsson. Why so many last names? An Icelander's last name consists of the father's first name followed by daughter (dottir) or son, depending on gender. This is the second time I've stayed with the family. They have a way of welcoming you into their home and by the time you leave, you think you're part of the family. They are warm, generous, fun and creative, Margaret is a pianist and Jon is an artist. They are the perfect host family.

Iceland's rugged landscape is extraordinary. It has many unique features, from beautiful mountains, stunning waterfalls, fjords, glaciers, and usual rock formations to barren volcanic wasteland where nothing can grow. The landscape has an elemental rawness that's like nothing I've ever experienced. Visitors shouldn't forget the fabulous and relaxing hot pools or "hot pots" as they are called by the locals from their endless supply of natural geothermal heat. Icelanders congregate at these mainly outdoor pools at the end of the day. It is not a vacation spot for the faint of heart. You need to be prepared to endure the elements, but that's all part of the adventure. Full rain gear is essential unless you want to explore while sitting in your car or drenched. Although Iceland has experienced some financial woes recently, the spirit of the people is alive and thriving. They are survivors and have dealt with much adversity before. They are truly a hardy breed. I was also very impressed with the kindness and generosity shown to me and my son by several Icelandic strangers. Although I thought that this maybe would be my last trip to Iceland. I may try to return in several years, perhaps with my daughter Libby. It's just one of those places that makes you long to return.

As they say in Iceland,

Bless, bless
Mary Beth Tuttle




Editor's notes:
Yes, Mary Beth did win the Fossavatn marathon again this year:
2010 50k Results
2010 7k Results (Will did great too!)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Where did that come from?


I have done a fair amount of running over the years, but I have never been that much of a runner. A good day for me is one where I keep up with my wife Nichole. She has been injured lately, and so I have not been running nearly as often as I normally would during the spring (since I normally run with her). I had also not run any races yet this spring, mostly because I would normally hop into a few of the races that she would run, and she has had to cancel a few planned races. Saturday was the Fargo half marathon, and I would not otherwise drive 4+ hours to North Dakota if Nichole wasn't planning on running the marathon there (she finished 2nd and won $1200 last year). Unfortunately she is still unable to run, but I had signed up for the race before she got injured, and so I was already committed.
We got to Fargo on Friday around noon. My mom and both of Nichole's parents were running the 5k in the evening. It was the first road race that Nichole's parents had ever done, so it was a pretty big deal for them (they have never been runners). Nichole and I did 7 minutes worth of jogging around the Fargo dome while waiting for the 5k race to start, and then we watched the 5k - (Interestingly it was an out and back course, and there were over 5,000 people running/walking so it took 12 minutes for the last people to cross the START line, and the winner came in in 16 minutes, so there was very little break in the action).
On race day morning I (along with my dad, Nichole's brother, and 2 of his friends) got to the Fargo dome to get ready to run the half marathon. As we are waiting it starts to rain. I love running in the rain, but there is nothing more miserable than standing around in the rain waiting to run. As we lined up at the start and the singer starts the national anthem it starts to POUR. By the time we start the race there are pretty big puddles in the street. The good news is that it was not 90 degrees and sunny like the forecast said it could be.
I really did not know what to expect for this race. As I mentioned, I really had not done that much running this spring. The fact is, I have not done as much of anything this spring as I would have liked to, and although I haven't felt particularly out of shape, I certainly have not felt in great shape. Plus most of my running has been on the trails in Red Wing, which has meant lots of hills and lots of sand and mud, but not much sustained pounding on the roads. It is also hard to gauge how fast you are going on the trails. Last year at Fargo I ran 1:28:13 (which was a personal best), but I had already raced 3 other times that spring including another half marathon. By the end of last summer I got my personal best in the half marathon down to 1:27:08. My goal for this year was just to get under 1:30.
The gun went off and I felt good. I was trying not to get caught up in all the people taking off too fast (like I often do in a running race), but I still came through the mile in 6:30. Considering a 1:30 is 6:52 pace I was a little worried. I felt good, but I certainly was second guessing my preparation. I backed it off a bit and came through in 6:40 for mile 2 and 6:49 for mile 3, still feeling very good. At that point I was wondering if I was going to really regret my fast start by mile 10, but at the same time I couldn't help recalling an interview that I had read earlier in the week. The part that stuck with me was about how often the only limitations that we have are the ones that we place on our selves. I was feeling good, and with this positive mindset I picked up the pace a little bit (6:40 for mile 4, 6:39 for mile 5). After two more miles at 6:40 pace I picked it up even further and ran a 6:30 mile for mile 8. My legs were starting to feel the pounding at this point, but I figured at this stage in the race I was committed to trying to keep pushing the pace and would either have a great race or would blow up spectacularly. Miles 9 and 10 were in 6:35 and 6:36. Mile 11 is where I made a surge last year, and so even though I was way ahead of last year's pace I tried to get my legs to do the same thing again this year. Mile 11 was 6:29. Now I was really hurting, but I knew I was on pace for a great time, and I wouldn't let myself lose it in the last 2 miles. Mile 12 was 6:33. In the last mile I was focusing on keeping my tempo up. My legs were hurting enough that I couldn't really tell if I was going faster or slower, but I was pushing hard. Mile 13 was in 6:24, and the last .1 miles was at 6:15 pace to put me across the finish line in 1:26:29. It was a 39 second personal best.
I really don't know where this race came from. I have raced at least a dozen half marathons in the past, many of them feeling much better prepared and with much more running and training in general under my belt. The only 3 explanations that I have come up with for my unexpected performance are: 1.) it rained for the first half of the race, which really helped keep me from overheating; 2.) The trail running that I have been doing at our new house in Red Wing has left my legs strong (even if I have not put in as many miles); and 3.) I found myself with a completely irrational positive mindset for almost the entire race. Based on my training I had no logical reason to think that I should have been able to keep up the pace that I was running, but I kept telling myself that slowing down would only limit my potential, and so I kept pushing. This could have completely blown up in my face but the result was a very good race (at least for me).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Finally another post

It has been a while since I (or anyone else *ahem*) have posted anything here...
It has been a busy spring. Although unfortuantely not that busy with skiing. This spring has been my worst for training in the last 3 years. I just graduated from dental school last week, and all of the chaos leading up to that event was not helpful to my training. Although without question the worst thing for my training has been hip alignment issues to my wife Nichole. She had been having a great spring, and was setting her sights on a big spring marathon (it would have been this weekend at Fargo) where she was hoping to run a 2:50 or 2:51. All her workouts and lead up races were pointing to being able to hit that too, but as most runners know, you are constantly teatering on the edge of greatness or injury, and unfortunatly injury won out. She has not run more than 3 minutes at a time in the last month, and she is my biggest training partner this time of year. Plus as any married folk out there probably understand, I just feel guilty going out for a long workout while she is at home on the stationary bike in the basement.

Fortunately Vakava is now 2 weeks into the new season. Things start pretty low key for us this time of year. We are still sorting out who will be back for another year, and who will be the new skiers joining the group. We are also working out plans to get some new racing suits for this next winter. Derek is a graphic designer by trade, and so we we have a pretty sharp looking suit design waiting in the wings. Now we are just working on getting a few sponsors lined up to help defer the cost of the suits so that everyone on the team can get one at the begining of the season (if anyone out there is interested in sponsoring us, just let me know). More on this to come in the weeks ahead.