Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gifts

I was so happy that I was finally healing up and was to be able to ski fairly normally last Friday and Saturday. The ugly suit time trial was a lot of fun and lots of people came out to show off their ugly suits. It was so nice to see so many friends and enjoy the day.

I was pretty bummed that I needed more surgery and would be starting over with recovery. Recovery from the first surgery was harder than I expected and I had more swelling and discomfort than expected. Plus I had fears of permanent problems that can happen when you have lymph nodes removed, which have not occurred. I really didn’t want to go through that again, but I knew that it had to be done so I just grit my teeth and bared it. It wasn’t nearly as bad this time, thankfully, since much less was removed than the first time. I’m sore and have some swelling for sure, but not nearly as much and I know more of what to expect so it’s less distressing. I feel like I’ve only regressed about a week in recovery instead of the full 17 days. I still need to wait for the lab results and make sure they got it all, but I’m hopeful that I’m done with surgery. The surgeon told be that 10-20% of his patients need a second surgery but he’s only had a few in 23 yrs. that he couldn’t get a clean margin with so that’s reassuring. I’m going to be more patient with healing and not try to do too much too soon this time. Having no snow and the holidays to keep me busy should help. I’m trying to think of this time as an opportunity to do some other things around the house rather than a time that I can’t exercise. Feeling like you can’t do something just makes me want to do it more. So I’m trying to get caught up with some stuff and hopefully do some sewing projects. Heck, maybe I’ll even get some skis prepped!

This season of giving has me reflecting on the many gifts I’ve received, mainly the gift of community and particularly the ski community. The support of all my friends has meant so much and helped me get through this stressful time. Feeling a part of the ski community was one of my objectives when I started training and racing again and this experience has shown me just how much a part of it I am. I hope that I contribute as much as I have received.

Peace to all and pray for snow!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Low Flying Hamster

Dear winter,
I miss you. Please come back.
Love,
Nate

Since the snow is not cooperating this year (dang did we get spoiled last year!), and all the races for citizen racers were cancelled, I figured that we needed to take things into our own hands and organize our own opportunity to go fast. So last Wednesday while sitting in my car in the pouring rain I called up Dave and proposed a time trial on the man-made snow of Elm Creek. Dave started spreading the word at practice that evening, an event was made on the Vakava facebook page (feel free to "like" us), and by Saturday morning we had a group of 40 to 50 skiers ready to knock the cobwebs off their racing muscles. This was made even more entertaining by Cheryl's idea to make the time trial an "ugly race suit" contest too.

When the start time rolled around everyone lined up and the race was on. I was lucky enough to have Bjorn Batdorf and Jon Miller show up, and the three of us soon formed a lead pack,and we traded off the lead every couple of kilometers. With about 1.5k to go in our 10k race I went to the lead to push the pace. The conditions were pretty soft and granular, and I figured if I could be in the lead going into the last uphill it would be hard to pass. This, in addition to a pretty ill-defined finish line, allowed me to just stay in front of a hard charging Bjorn. Jon came across another 5 or 10 seconds back.



The sprint to the finish


My dad was kind enough to stand around freezing while we raced. While were were doing our laps he did have the park police come up to him.


"You holding a race here?"


"Of course not."


"Did everyone line up and start at the same time and is it timed?"


"Yes"


"Did you charge money?"


"No, and anyone was welcome to join in"


I guess that was good enough for them, because they said ok and did not give us any more trouble, and my dad was able to write down a number of the finishers as they came across the line. As this was a self-timed event, many people also were able to find my dad or Dave after the race and get their results recorded, but the final "official" results found on skinnyski are still a bit thin - especially with finishers who were near the back of the race.


Most importantly, Cheryl and Dave Nelson were declared the winners of the ugly/retro suit contest by the crowd of people cheering on the race at the big uphill (led by Jon Millers mom). I think Cheryl knew that she had a "winning" ugly suit when she proposed the idea, but Angie's old FinnSisu race team warm ups could have given her a run for her money.





Angie




Cheryl





Dave


Vakava Racing results:
1st Nate
4th Anthony
6th Ryan
7th Dave C
15th Dave B
2nd Bonnie
4th Cheryl
5th Katy




Thursday, December 15, 2011

Change of Plans

I had planned on taking it a little easier this race season and do fewer races. I raced almost every weekend last winter and extended my season longer than usual with World Masters in March, and I felt like I needed a break. I did not anticipate how much of a break I'll likely need, however. In early November I was diagnosed with breast cancer, which pretty much changes everything. Needless to say, my training focus changed completely from racing to simply staying strong and healthy to help me get through treatment. I continued to train, but took things much easier. If I felt a bit tired, I backed off. There seemed no sense in tiring myself out needlessly. The original biopsy showed that I had caught it very early. The tumor was small, about 8mm, not aggressive, and a common more easily treatable variety which meant it was unlikely I'd need chemo. So that was all reassuring, but I had to wait 3.5 weeks for surgery when we would truly know the extent of disease and confirm the course of treatment. The waiting was brutal.

I found out the morning of our weekly team practice. I knew I had to go since exercise is my best stress reliever. I was very teary when I told my teammates, but they were incredibly supportive. (One of the many benefits of team membership. :-) I only told them, my husband, my mother, and my boss at work. I didn't tell my extended family, children, or other friends because I wanted to maintain a sense of normalcy and not have everyone on pins and needles around me. My teammates were great. I could talk about it to them, but it was never dwelled on and I was able to enjoy practice and talk about other important things like life and skiing.

I was a wreck the days before surgery. The morning of I was pretty calm. In many ways it was like ski racing. I get terribly nervous right before the race but that all goes away the second the gun goes off. Same with surgery. Plus you feel like you have to pee constantly even though you just went and you get a plastic bag with your name on it to put your clothes in. The day was very long because of a surgery backup at the hospital and the various procedures I had to do before surgery. The surgery was a lumpectomy and included what is called a sentinel node biopsy. Cancer in lymph nodes is a good indicator that it may have spread and so requires more treatment. To find that out, they remove a couple nodes and look at them. You have lots of nodes in your armpit and they try to figure out which nodes cancer would travel to first and only check those instead of taking them all. To do that they inject you with a radioactive fluid and then get an x-ray to see which nodes suck it up first. They also inject you with a blue dye and see where that goes. The nodes it goes to first are the ones any cancer cells floating around would also go to. So if those are clear, you're clear. All that took several hours getting wheeled around to various departments for the various things. The worst part was that I couldn't eat and my stomach was so empty I almost felt nauseous. It's hard for someone who eats like a hobbit (as my husband likes to say) to go that long without food. Then it was time to get the IV and prep for surgery. I spoke to the anesthesiologist and made sure he knew that I normally had low heart rates since I'm an athlete so he wouldn't freak out. (Low 50's is not uncommon and I've even seen it in the upper 40's.) He said as long as it was stable he didn't care what it was. He also knew that athletes don't need as much to put them out because of high metabolism. (Most athletes I know are light-weights with alcohol for that reason.) The surgery itself went fine and they sent me on my way. The fun thing about the blue dye is that it turns your boob bright Smurf blue and you get to pee like a Smurf for several hours.

Recovery from surgery was more difficult than the surgery itself. I'm not good at being laid up. I had a fair amount of swelling that was very uncomfortable, especially around the incisions, which were tight and the swelling made it feel like I had a rope around my armpit. I’d never had surgery before and had no idea what to expect, plus I had fears of long term problems that can happen when you take lymph nodes out. Was told that I should be able to resume normal activities a few days after surgery, but I’m not sure what is normal for me is what they had in mind. I tried skiing 4 and 5 days after surgery and probably did too much, but I was so anxious to get out and do something. I felt fine at the time but had a lot of swelling and discomfort afterwards. I was told that it was probably due to the exercise because it increases circulation and the fluid can’t leave that area as fast as it enters yet. I didn’t know when I’d be able to comfortably ski again and I was distraught at this because it’s really hard to go without my best stress reliever during this stressful time. After seeing the doctor about it he said that the swelling wasn’t a problem in itself and I should do whatever I comfortably can. That reassured me at least and I tried to be patient and waited another week. I went easier this time and seemed to feel ok the next day. So I’m back out, if not working as hard as I’d like to be. The doctor commented that the women like me that complained the most of slow recovery were all athletes and he thought they had higher expectations than most. I’m sure that’s true. I’ll bet there are plenty of people out there that are happy to have an excuse to lie around for a couple weeks and wouldn’t notice or care if they didn’t regain 100% function, but I am not one of them.

I got the lab report back from surgery and there was good news and bad news. The good news was that the nodes were completely clear of cancer so no chemo will be needed and we won’t need to radiate the nodes in my armpit which can cause additional side effects. The bad news was that there is still a little cancer left and I need another surgery to get it out. So I go in on Monday to do it. It’ll be a quicker procedure using the same incision and local anesthesia, but I’ll be starting over with recovering from surgery and swelling and whatnot. Plus that means that I can’t start radiation treatments until January. Not great, but it is what it is and I’m better prepared this time.

All this started just before Thanksgiving and I kept thinking how grateful I was that I had good insurance and could afford the co-pays because there are so many that are not so fortunate. Radiation treatment alone can cost $20,000. A woman I grew up with had breast cancer several years ago and started a non-profit to help women pay for it. Check it out http://www.payitforwardfund.net/.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When I grow up…

The other day I was roller skiing on E River Rd. when a woman passed me on a bike and said, “We need some of the real stuff!” and I replied, “Yeah, we do!” As she went by I saw that she was this little old lady with fuzzy gray hair sticking out from under her helmet. She was on a nice road bike, wearing black tights, looking very fit and riding at a decent clip. I thought to myself that that was what I wanted to be when I grow up, that little old lady with fuzzy gray hair cranking out a good workout. Some day I will be...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fall Training Camp

Friday late afternoon we started our 3 days of training in the Hayward/Cable Area. Those of us who got up to 00 by 4:30pm that day did a 2 1/2 hour pole hike on the Birkie trail, mostly north of 00. It was warm and the trail was full of leaves making a lot of noise as we hiked through them. We finished our pole hike in the dark, hungry and thirsty. Next stop, the Sawmill Saloon in Seeley for dinner. The rest of the team met us there, giving us a total of 17 members for the camp. The food was great, although they ran out of  Dark Beer on Tap. A bar in Wisconsin on a Friday night running out of any kind of tap beer? What is the world coming to?! But the Spotted Cow on tap was still a very good alternative.
Pole Hiking on the Birkie Trail

Saturday morning was classic rollerskiing near Hayward. We started with a warm up and video taped striding and double pole kick. We then moved on to some specific strength, single stick poling up a slight hill, and double pole starts up a larger hill. We finished with a cool down, then it was time for lunch. We ate lunch and watched our videos while Dave and Mark critiqued our technique. That afternoon, it was up to Cable to do some classic intervals. After warming up on the interval course, it was time for some hard work! We did 4 intervals of 2.25 K on a hilly section of road. Our team had an average time of about 7 1/2 minutes per interval. We cooled down then went for a dip in a local lake before heading to The Rivers Eatery in Downtown Cable. We enjoyed some of their pizza and micro brews on the outdoor patio to finish off the beautiful day.

Sunday morning we donned our new safety orange Vakava Racing shirts and did a 50k+ skate rollerski on the rolling hills of Cable. This was a hard workout because many of us were tired from the amount of training we did on Friday and Saturday. After a little over 3 hours, we finished our rollerski, packed up and headed home.

video
Sunday Rollerski

Thursday, September 8, 2011

In her spare time

Vakava has always had individuals from many different professions on our team. Here is a nice little profile on what 2006 Olympian and Vakava skier Carolyn does in her spare time (when she is not skiing with us). And I complain that I have a hard time finding time to train!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A new season has begun

Dang, I can't believe that we are already a week into the 2011-2012 Vakava season!

Last season was another good one for the skiers of Vakava Racing. I am sure I will get around to a recap post of the season with numbers and such (I still have a half-written post recapping my Birkie that I need to finish). Sounds like projects for another day.

The upcoming season promises to be another great one for the team. I am pretty sure that we will be returning our full roster from last year, and will no doubt add a couple of skiers too. Can't wait to see what everyone will do with another year of training together (I am looking over my shoulder waiting for the Russian Rocket to blow by me - with another year of technique I think he might!). We are going to try better to keep the skiing community up to date on our team's adventures and exploits this next year - we are a pretty unique group of skiers considering the nearly 40 year age range of skiers in our group all working together and skiing fast, and I think our stories need to be told better. To start with, we will try to keep this blog updated!

As for the latest in my life: Nichole keeps rocking along on her marathon training, and I just try to keep up on her easy days. Working full time keeps cutting into my training, but I do love my job (and being done with school!). We lost a training partner about a month ago when our awesome dog Ellie was hit and killed by a car, and things have been a bit boring around our house since. Solution: we are adopting a new dog this weekend - a 5 year old Vizsla named Mesa! I don't know if that poor dog knows what she is up for and the miles she will put on. I can't wait to pound the trails in the Carleton arb with a dog again. Fun times!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Crazy Idea...

So, I've got a crazy idea. I'd like to do an informal
Ironman TT this summer and am looking for people to do
it with. You could do the whole thing, one leg, part
of each leg or set up a relay.If you are going to be
around this summer and are interested, or know someone
else who might be interested, let me know.

Right now my vision for this would be to do it sometime
in August or early September around Square Lake, but
nothing is set at this point. If there are a couple of
people interest, Robb Lageson (St. Paul Central coach)
has offered to be race director and run the transition
area.

To give a little background, I've competed in a couple
of triathlons per summer for the past couple of years.
Last year I did my first half-Iron distance tri and had
a blast. Afterward I started looking at doing a full
Ironman. Unfortunately, Ironmans are expensive. I could
buy a new pair of skis for the registration fee, and
quite frankly, I'd rather have money to pay my rent and
buy food than do an official Ironman at this point. So,
that's where I'm at.

Anyways, I'm planning on doing this and would really
like some company, both for training and for the actual
event.

Questions, comments, rude remarks?

PS. Ironman distances: 2.4mi swim, 112mi bike, 26.1mi run



Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Tuesday night WC update:

ANGIE = WORLD CHAMP!
Monday's 10k freestyle results from the Master's World Cup are in, and Angie is now a world champ in her age group (F3). Cheryl finished 2nd in the F4 category too. Nice job ladies!
Rounding out the Vakava crew was Dave, finishing 11th in the M7 category. I'd say Vakava was well represented.

They have been putting in a full schedule of racing in Brittish Columbia. Check out all the results here. I am sure we will get race recaps and some good stories once the celebrating calms down ;)

Side note #1: Still snowing in Minnesota. Go ski.

Side note #2: JOs at Wirth. Go cheer.

Side note #3: Vakava Racing supports the SJU/CSB Nordic Teams! Join the FB group here. Sign the petition here.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Masters World Championships - the sweet life

It was a grueling day Friday getting to the Masters World Championships at Sovereign Lake, BC Canada. Three flights (two delayed) and an hour long van ride. My skis didn't arrive when I did and I developed a nasty sore throat. I didn't race the skate race on Saturday when everyone else did and spent the day napping since I was absolutely wiped out and my throat was quite sore. That evening I had to get my skis waxed for my race on Sunday and get to bed and was feeling a little sorry for myself. I didn't get to watch any races or drink wine and soak in the hot tub with my friends. What was I thinking in coming here? Sunday morning I was feeling a bit better, throat less sore and less tired. I was a little nervous because it was a 15k classic and I was unsure of waxing in these mountain conditions which include lots of fresh, very humid snow, very different than the cold dry stuff I'm used to. But the day turned out great despite feeling tired and under the weather. I realized that I was living the sweet life.

I got chauffeured to the race, had an awesome support team helping me wax, and my skis worked great. The start area was extremely well run and organized. Start position is assigned so there are no crowds or jockeying for position and the clothes bags are taken from you right before you step up to the start line. I got off the line well and exited the start area in first, but was quickly passed by several women. The first 5k were a gentle climb, but I felt like I wanted to lay down and die in the altitude the first few k. I was wondering how I was possibly going to finish 15k, especially since the last 5 are much hillier. I started to feel a little better k's 4 and 5 and made it to the top of the 5k climb in 5th place. Then there were rolling downhills for about 2k and I was able to recover well and my skis were running nicely. I was skiing with another woman most of this time and was just trying to relax and enjoy the race with her. I started running up her skis but I tried to just relax and rest and sit behind her. But I couldn't keep behind her and decided I needed to get around her. So I made my break about 9k or so and she couldn't hang on. I looked back a couple times but she was soon out of sight and I knew I was solidly in 4th. I was really able to get my rhythm and felt pretty good on the last hilly 5k. I felt good as long as I wasn't climbing too much. There was a big hill at 14k and I had to struggle to get up it without feeling like I wanted to keel over. I just kept telling myself that all I had to do was get to the top and then I'd be fine, and I was. I was able to push hard into the stadium to finish in 4th. I was just under one minute behind third and just over a minute in front of 5th. A fine finish for being sick and at altitude. Then home for more pampering the rest of the day which included napping, an incredible home cooked meal, ski waxing for the 10k skate tomorrow, and relaxing. This truly is the sweet life. No long work days, laundry, getting dinner, or other family chores. No wonder those young single pups (and retired old guys :-) can ski so fast! I'm hoping to continue to recover from my cold and enjoy the rest of the week. We'll keep you posted on everyone's results as we find time between naps and waxing sessions.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Best Birkie Ever!

I was nervous coming into Birkie week. I think everyone was wondering what the weather was going to do, with having a big warm up the week prior. To add to this, I snapped one of my good race skis a week before the Birkie! But after a last minute trip to Finnsisu and fitting with Devin I had a new pair of skis, complete with a famous Finnsisu Fine grind and Devin's spectacular wax prep. The scary thing was that I picked up the skis on Friday on my way up to Hayward and Saturday morning would be my first time trying them out. But skiing around the warmup loop 20 minutes before the start I knew Devin had worked his magic, I had some rockets on. Now I just needed to have a conservative start and not blow up on the north half hills. I quickly found myself in the middle of a huge 30 plus pack, which stuck together for nearly the whole race. I've never felt so fresh at 00. I was just conserving and waiting for someone to make a break and split the pack. The Ks kept clicking away until we were less than 5K from the finish and about to hit Lake Hayward, which is a 3K stretch before Main Street. I thought about my Mora 35K race from a few years ago when I jumped ahead of Andy Schakel on the lake and ended up pulling him across only to have him out sprint me to the finish. But I also knew that I didn't want it come down to a huge sprint on Main Street. So I made the decision just before the lake to ski to the front and take a gamble on opening a gap across the lake. I thought I could either try to put the "hurt" on these guys and make a break or end up pulling them all across (with a head wind). Two guys from the pack followed me about half way across, but I was able to keep a strong v2 up and hold about a 6 second gap into Main Street and right across the finish line. I actually got really close to catching Dave Chamberlain just before the end. My goal for the past few years has been to break into the top 50 (I've been 51st prior), so I was totally pumped to end up in 39th. Woohoo!! Catch the Birkie Fever!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Birkie week!

Does Birkie fever got you eager as a beaver? Listen here to get in the mood (feel free to put these on a continuous audio loop at work all week).

For most of us citizen skiers and master blasters, the season comes down to the Birkie. It is a crazy race that is unlike any other. It is big and important enough to get a story in the Washington Post - with one of the more perfect profiles of Ahvo that I have ever read :) It has an entire library of aforementioned Birkie songs (available on CD with your donation to the local public radio station).

Ari put a nice guide to the Birkie on his blog. He also has some good course profile info (in comparison to the Birkie office's profile).

The weather reports are starting to come out for race day. Sounds like the waxing should be pretty straight forward and conditions should be excellent! Birkie trail reports say that Hayward received 5-7" in this latest system. Don't know if it will be as fast as last year (which was course-record fast), but I am optimistic that it won't be a 50k grinder.

Anyone else still really confused as to why the official results go off of "chip time", which does not start until you cross the 300m mark from the start? So unless you think you will finish in the top 6, let that be one more reason why starting on the front line does not matter - and may even be a negative (since last year I out-sprinted people on main street, but they "beat" me in the official results). Makes for a weird race strategy. Not sure why they don't just put the timing wire at the start line. As I said, the Birkie is a race unlike any other!

FYI: Make sure you pick up your bib at the Middle School this year.

Oh, and Vakava Racing did wrap up our Minnesota Skinnyski Series Team Championship again this past weekend, even with Kathleen being our loan representative at the Finlandia - although she did win the race for good measure! (video evidence) Atta girl!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mora classic race

I knew this should be a good race for me. The flat course is mostly double poling and does not require much technique: just keep the legs in the tracks and swing the arms as fast as you can! But it happened that my preparation for the race did not go so well and I even considered not doing it. First I had a really hard City of Lakes Loppet trying my best to stay ahead of Caitlin Compton. I ended up having the average heart rate higher than in any other race this season, including the Pre-Loppet which is just the first half of the course!
I should probably get some stiffer poles
Then I went for a workout on Tuesday morning. Usually there are a number of other skiers at these hours at Wirth. However I have not met a single skier during my 1.5 hour workout. That day I only had a mild frostbite on a finger but the next day after vakava’s intervals I got sick. I was not feeling well next day but did a half an hour ski Friday night. It seemed like the sickness did not impact my speed but I was still worried that I would not have enough gas for 42K. I still decided to do the race. And now I know that I was right!

Getting forward on the poles

After the start I was in the end of the leading pack. I was not sure how I would feel so I only took a pull once and just for 1K. Luckily for me the pace was relatively slow, nobody tried to break away and we skied a large pack of about a dozen skiers.

However, at the “big” hill many of us got stuck in the soft snow and 4 skiers made a gap on others. It took me a few K’s to catch up, but then the pace settled down again, and eventually other two skiers caught us up as well. So we continued this slow skiing in a pack of 7 skiers now. People were talking to each other and it seemed like we were just having a fun long Sunday ski and the race would only start somewhere on the Mora lake. However, after the last water stop Piotr Bednarski made a small gap on others. The gap did not decrease for a few K, so I decided to step out and catch him. I did not plan to break away at that point, I only wanted to see how I would feel at higher speeds. But when I caught Piotr and looked back I was surprised to see that nobody followed me. At that time I also figured that I would probably be able to maintain the pace for the 5K left to go. So I passed Piotr and went ahead. I turned back a few times, at the Vasaloppet center I could still see the chasing group but once we reached the lake nobody was in the visibility. In fact over the last 5K we made 40 sec on the 3rd place!
Unlike me Piotr had a kick and was faster on the Church hill. I poled as hard as possible and at the top of the hill in its most steep part my poles somehow went through without touching the ground. I fell down and Piotr passed me. I got up quickly and Piotr was so tired that it only took me a few strokes get him.
The last 200m proceeded smoothly without any additional falls.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What a difference a month makes!

The race season started pretty slow for me. I didn’t do any races in December because I didn’t feel ready and still didn’t feel all that ready by mid-January for Boulder Lake. The following races were a bit better, but progress felt pretty slow. I was starting to feel decent at COLL and had a good race, but I had to work pretty hard to do it. I had a pack of three women on my tail and had to hold them off all across the lakes mostly by myself. I was pleased that I had managed to keep ahead of them and was tired but not baked at the finish.

Then came Mora. I really fretted before the race not knowing what to expect with the weather. A long slow slog through the mush was not appealing and after racing most races around 0 degrees I had no idea what to wear. After some last minute clothes changes I got in a little warm up and found a spot on the line in the third row. The start went very smoothly with no mishaps and I was off with the crowd. I looked around and didn’t see any yellow (women’s) bibs. I always get off the line fast and then ease up and settle in. People started passing me and a bunch of yellow bibs from the 58k went by. Then Elaine Nelson and Sarah Kylander-Johnson from the 35k went by. They were at the end of a very long train. They were going just a bit faster than I wanted to go so I didn’t latch on. But then I looked behind and realized that there was no one close behind me and I’d be skiing alone if I didn’t hang with the train ahead. I thought I should probably try to catch up but after a short bit decided to just let them go. I’m going to World Masters in a couple weeks and didn’t want to bake myself now so I figured I wouldn’t fight for it. So I skied alone for at least half the race. I was grateful for all the classic skiers along the trail. Many of them cheered as I went by and I didn’t feel so lonely. About 1/3 of the way I passed Bruce Adelsman taking pictures and he said I was about 40 sec. back. At the feed station before the big hill I started passing a guy here and there and thought, “Now that’s interesting.” I didn’t know if they were really falling back or I was reeling in the back of the train. When I hit the bottom of the big hill I looked up and could see Elaine and Sarah near the top. I thought, “Now that’s really interesting. But don’t get too excited and go too hard up the hill and put yourself under.” So I just skied the hill strong and smooth and not too hard. I passed a few more guys and then caught Elaine and Sarah’s pack at about 10 or 11 K to go. Things just kept getting more and more interesting every few K’s. I hung there a minute to rest and see what they were up to. They weren’t up to much and I felt good so I figured I’d just keep going. You just never know what will happen in a situation like this. They could pour it on once they realize you’re there and drop you again, or jump in and hang with you, or let you go. I figured the only way to know what would happen was to try it and see, so I made my way past. Elaine said hi and asked how I was. I said good and asked her the same. She said, “Oh, you know…” I chuckled and said, “Yeah, I know…” (See my entry about Boulder Lake. Elaine smoked me by 5 min.) So I kept my pace and they didn’t follow, the most interesting development yet! But you can never count on anything and I kept looking back now and then to see if they were catching up, but they just kept getting slowly further and further back, and then they were gone. At one of the road crossings a man called out, “You’re the first girl, way to go little lady!” Little did he know that this “little lady” was 43, “little old lady” more like it. About 5k to go I found a pack of men and skied with them the rest of the way in. I finished in first a minute ahead of Elaine and Sarah, skiing a comfortable pace the entire way. It felt so good and what a fun race to win with all the hoopla at the finish! Afterwards Dave asked my why I skied so well and I’m not sure, I just felt good. So here are the top 10 possible reasons…

10. good wax (FastWax tan with a healthy top coat of pure fluoro, same skis I always race on)
9. caffeine laced gel before the start (I’d never tried caffeine before)
8. fast snow (I do better in faster conditions)
7. drank my own homemade sport drink for feeds with lots of electrolytes (another first, I have troubles with low electrolytes so I figured I’d try wearing a bottle, which I never do)
6. decent sleep the few days before (rare)
5. good nutrition in the days before (dropped a few pounds so I’ve been on a see-food diet, see food and eat it)
4. good recovery after races and intervals (easy days are EASY)
3. skied my own race at my own pace (funny how that works)
2. finally raced myself into shape

And the top possible reason…
1. all the stars and planets were perfectly aligned!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

More on Mora

Dave writes:

What a day! The Vasaloppet does seem to be our race. We’ve accumulated a huge herd of horses and a good number of wreaths over the years, and Sunday saw some significant additions. It’s great to see everyone skiing so well and having all that hard work pay off.



35k skate men's and women's champs and 42k classic men's champ

You’ve already read Nate’s account; I’ll just add a note of my own. I’ve always loved doing the Vasaloppet. Aside from getting some pretty good results in 30+ years, there’s something about the friendliness of the small-town atmosphere, the chiming of the bell pulling you across the lake, the mainstreet finish, the shower and the lunch afterwards (except maybe for that baloney sandwich).

I’ve also been involved in running enough races to really appreciate all the hard work that goes into something like the Vasaloppet. I especially appreciate all the volunteers who actually make the race possible and whose efforts often aren’t given enough recognition.

So it’s with a certain amount of dismay that I recount this aspect of my race. I had skipped the first food stop, so I wanted to make sure that I got a good feed at the second. We came into it fast, however, and, as sometimes does happen, the cup of liquid that was pushed out to me, instead of ending up in my mouth, explodes all over my face and my glasses.

When I open my eyes a split second later, I realize that another of the volunteers has accidentally backed straight ahead of me into my path. I’m still going at a good clip, she realizes I’m coming straight at her, I lurch to the left, she moves in the same direction, we both shift to the opposite direction, and then BAM. I reach forward to grab her and hold her up, but just end up flattening her. Right over her I go, one ski on each side of her body. Amazingly enough, I don’t end up on top of her. In fact, the whole thing doesn’t even slow me down (which is a good thing because I’m doing my damnedest to hold on to Ahlers and the pack ahead of me).

So, to the volunteer, whoever you are, I do apologize, and I really do appreciate your being out there for us. I’ll be back again next year, and, if I do encounter you, I promise it’ll be in a much more friendly manner.


(My wife keeps wanting me to bring home one of the pretty blue ones. Sorry, Paula.)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mora Vasaloppet 2011

Mora Vasaloppet 2011: 3 overall wins, 10 age group wins, and 16 total dalahorses. Not a bad day for Vakava Racing.

In fact is was a great day for Vakava Racing, highlighted by awesome wins by Angie in the 35k skate (coming from behind, catching the leaders and pulling away for the win), and Eugene in the 42k classic. In his first year training with Vakava Eugene has made HUGE improvements. Last year in the 42k classic race Eugene finished in 23rd place (6th in his age group), and over 9 minutes off the winning pace in 2:07:37. This year, in much slower snow conditions he was 45 seconds faster than last year, and won the race. All the top guys from last year were there again too - including COLL classic champ and defending Mora classic champ Evan Pengally.

My own race also went very well, as I defended my win in the 35k skate race. Last year standing at the starting line I knew I should be able to win, and early in the race while testing the field I pulled away and soloed in for a relatively easy win. This year the field was much stronger, including two skiers who had soundly beaten me last weekend at COLL (Derek and Andy Brown), and Gustavus college skier Andrew Tilman who had outsprinted me the weekend before that at the St. Olaf invite. Plus Mora's own Chad Giese was in the field. A multiple time 58k champ (and former National champ), he has retired to the family and working world, but I couldn't be sure about how much training he has been getting in down at his new home in Illinois, and I sure was not going to take him lightly. I had my work cut out for me.

The race started cleanly from the new location, which featured a much narrower starting line. My goal was to (unlike last weekend at COLL) ski easy and relaxed from the beginning. The 58k field had most of the top skiers, so I made a point not to concern myself with their starting pace. Andy Brown had started fast and was up in the top 5 guys, so I kept an eye on him and made sure he would not get too far ahead, but I also knew he would not be skiing all 35k by himself. Once the course split and the 35k field was alone, Andy was leading a long train of skiers with myself in 2nd. He pulled us along for a few kilometers, and eventually pulled off to the side and I took the lead, with Andy jumping back into 2nd. I pulled for a while, making sure to stay relaxed. My skis felt great (2 coats Fast Wax tan with Rex 244 powder on a FinnSisu fine grind), but unlike last year I could tell the field was having no trouble keeping up with my pace. After a kilometer or two I pulled off to the side and Andy was left to lead again. I pulled into the 5th or 6th position, since I had put in my work and did not feel like simply trading the lead with Andy for the whole race. This must not have occurred to Andy and Andrew Tilman, since the two of them pretty much traded the lead for the next 10 kilometers - one would lead and the other would pull into the second position (putting them in line to take the next lead). They both were keeping the pace relatively honest, but because the course is almost entirely flat, and there was a headwind of 10-15mph, everyone in the draft was able to ski much easier than the leaders.

The 35k course only has one significant hill, and it is at about the 15k point. The Birkie probably has a dozen hills that are bigger, but for this race it is a significant climb. Andrew was leading with Andy in second and myself in third going up the hill. At the top I looked back and noticed that a gap had formed back to the 4th skier. I yelled up to Andrew that we should put a little juice in the pace to see if we could widen the gap. Andrew moved to the side and I jumped to the lead and floored it. I didn't really intend to completely break away and have to ski the second half of the race by myself, but I did want to see who had the legs to come with. When nobody came right away I just kept my foot on the gas (Derek had been conserving his energy back in 6th or 7th place, and had to get around too many people from too far back to respond very quickly). By the time I let off the pace and turned around there was no one in sight. I was a little concerned with having to ski the last half alone, but I actually had broken away sooner last year, and although I had to fight through the headwind (last year was a nice tail wind), I was counting on my move having splintered the pack and all the other skiers would have to fight the wind too.

By the time the sun came out and the snow really started to slow down (and my legs started to really feel the extended time pushing the pace on my own) I only had 7k to go and people cheering along the course were telling me I had a big lead. I let my pace slow a bit to save my legs and make sure I wouldn't run out of energy before the finish. I got to the finish on main street and was ready to be done (I sure didn't envy the 58k skiers - once things warmed up they really got slow) but I felt great. After finishing I got to watch all the other Vakava skiers come across the line in great positions (Derek finished 2nd). Vakava had won 3 of the first 4 races that had finished and then Carolyn finished 2nd in the 58k skate! There was lots of celebrating to do at the finish, and many dalahorses to pick up at the awards.

35k winners (Angie and me)
Vakava at the Vasaloppet:
58k Skate:
11th Andrew K
21st Ryan
2nd Carolyn
8th Bonnie (age group win)
42k Classic:
1st Eugene (age group win)
12th Andy S
21st Brent (age group win)
80th Kevin
5th Michele (age group win)
35k Skate:
1st Nate (age group win)
2nd Derek (age group win)
6th Paul
11th Mark (age group win)
13th Dave C (age group win)
20th Dave B
1st Angie (age group win)
6th Kathleen
7th Cheryl (age group win)
8th Katy
Notes:
1.) Skinnyski.com has video coverage of the 35k skate race.
2.) Eugene working on his interview skills after winning the 42k.
3.) This should give Vakava a skinnyski series team score for the Vasaloppet (the 35k was the series race) of 595 - again just 5 points short of a perfect score. This should put us very close to the 600 point lead that would guarantee Vakava will have repeated as series champs before the last race (Finlandia) has even happened. Update: the team standings have been updated, and with a commanding and insurmountable lead of 877 points, Vakava has successfully defended our team championship!
4.) Long time Finn Sisu racer (from the early days of Finn Sisu racing) Roy "Gramps" Carlstad is still skiing strong at 87 years young, finishing the 42k classic in 4:08:40.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

It Keeps Getting Better

I love that the City Of Lakes Loppet ski race continues to get bigger and better. The Twin Cities is a tough market to promote sports in - physically pulling off a point to point urban race, getting people to show up for all of the many events, and getting media coverage... Good job, John Munger and your 1000 volunteers!!!!
A year ago right after the Nordic Spirit I was feeling pretty burned out. I actually considered skipping COL, Mora and the Birkie but knew I'd be disappointed in myself if I didn't finish the season so I did them. This year, I've definitely had some emotional (and physical) highs and
lows but for some reason I'm having more fun the more races I do. The best yet was City of Lakes on Sunday. I did the classic course which I really like - fits like a glove.

Sat. night I put on VR40, as recommended by Swix but driving to the race early Sun
day morning it was 29 degrees (22 had been predicted at that time)!!! I knew it could be a tough kick day. I ran into Kevin Ivens (racing with 2 broken ribs!) on the shuttle bus so we tested our skis along with everyone else. VR 50 seemed to be the consensus of the Swix users so I put some on. My kick was not great but my glide was good and I knew a lot of the hills were either gradual enough for the kick I had or steep enough that I'd be running anyway so I called it good and went to the start line. But I still
had a lot of angst so right before I entered the start area I added one more short layer of V50 - the 'panic wax' - and did not even test it. I started next to Hilary Patzer on the right side but never saw her once the race started. My start was not the greatest so I passed quite a few folks and finally settled in with Brent and just behind Katherine Himes. Brent has not been getting a lot of training in (too much work-related travel) so I jumped ahead of him and tried to stay with Katherine. On the second leg of Wirth Lake I
noticed she was kick double poling. I thought that was a bad sign for her but a good one for me so at the aid station just off the lake as she slowed for a drink, I skipped the drink and took off, hoping I could put a little distance between us.
This year the course took us through part of the flower gardens which are fun. Soon we were on the overpass above I-394 and I knew my favorite part - the lakes - were just ahead. The course was very fast and my kick was perfectly inadequate (Not enough for great kick but as much as I wanted for this race), allowing nice glide. Throughout the race I could see Josi and
everytime the course did a 180 turn, I could hear her cheering for me so I knew she was aware of where I was. I thought it would be nice to catch her but she felt out of my reach so I decided not to blow myself out trying to catch her but just kept the pressure on. As we 180'd onto Brownie Lake, Brent called out to me that I was safe - meaning that neither Katherine nor any
other women were close. Thank you, Brent! Coming up the boulevard to the finish was fun because my daughter, Claire, and her friend, Emily, were there to watch the finish. I had given them cow bells to cheer with and it was so nice to have Claire there as I was announced as the third woman, 49 seconds behind Josi. Then the race organizers pulled me to the side with Hilary and Josi and they did an awards ceremony on the podium with flowers. It was pretty cool for an old lady like me to experience the illusion that I'm a young hot shot skier. I doubt I'll ever share a podium with the likes of Hilary and Josi again so I'll tuck the good memories away and get ready for Mora.
I'd like to add a couple more Vakava results from the weekend. We had a few sprinters on Saturday:
Kathleen: 5th, Open Division
Paul: 8th, Open Division
Andy: 3rd, Masters Division

Pics on Lake all taken by Tom Stuart - Thank you, Tom. And woods pics of Cheryl and Andy & Dave from Skinnyski.com

Monday, February 7, 2011

Slow going at the City of Lakes Loppet

Ever have one of those races where every time you get into a tuck on a downhill you can do nothing but slowly watch the skiers you are with pull away from you on that downhill? That was my race on Sunday the City of Lakes Loppet. Granted, I didn't have the legs to keep up with people very well on the uphills either. I started between Adam Swank and Andre Watt, and told them that I was going to let them pull ahead of me at the gun and just tuck in behind them, and that is what I did. This worked great, and got me out in around 10th place - which is probably about where I would hope to place at the Loppet if I had a great race and fantastic skis (I was seeded 17th if my bib is any indication). If nothing else it set me up to get in with a good group of skiers and hang with people as they went by.

Unfortunately as skiers would come up around me, all I could do was watch them pull away. This wasn't for lack of trying. After all, I know just about every skier in the top 50, and I know which ones I can normally ski with. So when skiers who I am usually skiing with or even ahead of at most races were gliding past me, I was pushing hard to keep up with them. This left me with pretty trashed legs by the 7 or 8k point, as I was working harder than I should have been that early in a 33k race.

By the 10 or 15k point of the race I was skiing in no-man's-land by myself. As the trail wound through the woods I could see the group a minute or two in front of me, and also a group of 5 skiers about a minute behind me. I knew that skiing by myself for the last 15 to 20k of the race was not ideal, but skiing alone did allow me to relax and focus on skiing smooth and just trying to get my legs to recover.

With 10k to go in the race I had put a bit more distance on the group behind me, and my legs were starting to perk up again. My skis were still feeling slow, but I felt like I could begin to look ahead to a couple of skiers who had fallen off the group in front of me and slowly reel them in. After catching 3 skiers on the last lake, I was able to muster enough of a surge to separate myself from them early enough so as to not have it come down to a sprint on the home stretch.


The race was good, the weather was great (i.e not sub-zero), and it is awesome to see so many people that are apart of the COLL festival. Kudos to everyone involved in putting this event on. Next year I just need to talk to Devin about my waxing first (and maybe put in a few more hours training over the summer too!)

Vakava results from COLL:
33k Skate:
15th Derek
26th Eugene
27th Nate
32nd Paul
33rd Andrew K
36th Ryan
47th Dave C (age group win)
89th Mark
99th Jason
4th Carolyn
7th Angie (age group win)
11th Bonnie
12th Kathleen
21st Katy
25k Classic:
6th Dave B (age group win)
13th Andy S
29th Brent
71st Kevin
3rd Cheryl (age group win)
7th Michele

Next weekend: Mora 35k, and a flat course that suits my racing style better. I know of at least 2 skiers who beat me at COLL who will be in that race, so I will have to pick up my game to defend my title.

Pics taken from skinnyski.com (thanks for the continued great coverage Bruce!)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Deal

Brent Oja is funny. Really funny. He’s usually got some good one liner at the ready and is fun to joke around with. Earlier this week Brent emailed me to ask if I could do him a favor and pick up some wax for him at FinnSisu and bring it our team practice the next day. The Oja’s live in River Falls and I live in Roseville, less than a mile from the handy new FinnSisu location off Hwy 280 and Larpenteur Ave. I was planning on stopping in anyway, and seeing as I’d like to ensure they have room me at their cabin outside Hayward on Birkie weekend, I agreed. I thought I’d share with you the email thread concerning “the deal”.

From: Brent Oja
To: Angie Robinson
Sent: Mon, January 31, 2011 10:52:11 PM
Subject: Wax Fix
Angie - Help! I need some wax from FinnSisu and was wondering if you could "mule" some over to Battle Creek on Wednesday? This is not an internet scam where I'm asking you to forward money to cover the cost of shipping Rex wax to Nigeria. Although, I won't reject cash if you should happen to wire it on over. I need a Rex PowerGrip Green and a Rex Binder kick wax. Let me know if you are going to BC and/if you could swing by FinnSisu and I'll give Greg a heads-up. I mentioned this to him at the Marine O'brien race so he won't be surprised. If you can pick it up I will pay him later. If you can't...no worries. Thanks, Brent

From: Brent Oja
Sent: Monday, January 31, 2011 10:54:11 PM
To: Angela Robinson
Subject: RE: Wax Fix
Oh...I also need a bottle of Hydrex. Thanks.

From: Angela Robinson
Sent: Tuesday, February 01, 2011 10:13 AM
To: 'Brent Oja'
Subject: RE: Wax Fix
Brent, I was going to swing by there today anyway so it'll be no problem. Angie

From: Angie Robinson
To: Brent Oja
Sent: Wed, February 2, 2011 2:29:39 PM
Subject: the drop
I got the stuff. I'll make the drop tonight.

From: Brent Oja
To: Angie Robinson; Michele Oja
Sent: Wed, February 2, 2011 3:12:52 PM
Subject: RE: the drop
Thanks Angie. I'll make sure my contact is there for the exchange.
Codeword for the deal is "Rex" and if the deal goes bad I will disavow knowledge of either of you.

The deal went down without a hitch. I’m sure Brent will have more “transactions” for me in the future.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Return of the King

The King Boreas race returned to St. Paul after a lengthy absence. It is really nice to add another local race to the ski calendar. Being able to leave home at 9, race at 10 and be home by 11:15 is a huge plus. When you throw in the fact that the highly efficient Ben Popp was the race director, you have the makings for a great day on the snow. Throw in temperatures close to 30 degrees and wow, what a fun event.
The weather was much warmer than expected overnight and many racers were left scrambling in the minutes leading up to the start looking for warmer wax and structure tools. I got lucky here, and through no skill or planning on my part, had absolute rockets under my feet. From the start the pace was high, and Jacob Beste was flying. A lead group of about 6 formed with Jacob doing almost all of the work. After the first of 2 laps were complete, the elastic broke. At one time or another each of us in the lead group tried to latch on to Jacob's Rossi orange suit, but alas, it was not be. He won solo, smoothly skating away, completing 15k in about 37 minutes.
I was able to ski in with the lead pack of 4 and had might sights on trying my sprinting legs for a chance at second place. It did not go so well. I ended up 5th, last in the sprint. Hats off to the 3 others skier who absolutely torched me, you deserve it. Check the video clip found on Skinnyski.com and keep in mind that 2nd through 5th were all together with about 500 meters to go. Oh well, I will be looking for pointers from the team on sprinting at the next practice.
Overall, a very nice race for me considering I am attempting to come back from arm surgery performed in November. Thanks to the Vakava coaches for their patience as I slowly come around to race fitness. A sincere apology to my teammate Paul Olson. I step on his pole on the 1st lap and pulled his strap right off his hand. He had to turn around, ski back to his pole and then attempt to catch back up. I felt terrible about it, and it's made worse by the fact that Paul is probably the nicest guy on the team.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

King Boreas, the Ski Race

Boreas was famed to have described Minnesota as a winter paradise. After racing the King Boreas 15km skate race at Phalen park, I believe there is no better descriptor than "winter paradise". The course was fun, well groomed, and gently rolling. Two laps around the twisting course was just enough to keep the racers in close proximity for spectators. Follow this link for a sneak peak at the race highlights.

The men started in mass, followed by the women one minute later. This format made for some interesting maneuvering by the lead women. I have to admit, it was really fun passing so many skiers! Because everyone was in the same situation, it didn't bother me much that our speed was compromised by this format. Hats off to the men! They were very well behaved. We just had to mention our presence and the word relayed up stream for the men to move to their right so we could easily pass. We even received cheers and words of encouragement from many of those we passed. This made a very good impression on the ladies of the race. Thank You!

Like most Midwest races, the post-race cool down was like a reunion of old friends. I was fortunate enough to have made some new friends as well. Fun fun times.

With all our new snow, Minnesota's winter wonderland doesn't seem to be in jeopardy. Sometime in July I'll think back to January and how beautifully white the St. Paul area was, and like King Boreas I'll look "forward to the time when summer's warmth would once again relinquish its hold on the realm and the frosty atmosphere of winter would prevail."

For more information on the legend of King Boreas see http://www.stpaulwintercarnival.com/legend.html

Skinnyski Series Update

We are 4 races into the 7 race Minnesota Skinnyski Series, so I thought I would give an update on where Vakava Racing stands at this point.

Team Competition:
Where did all the teams go!?! Do Vakava and Peter's Cheaters have such a dominant rivalry that we scared off all other competitors? I know that Muven-Gruven has been taking this year easy, but I expected them to at least enter a team. Gear West had also expressed interest in entering a team at the beginning of the year, but they are also absent. Even skinnyski.com didn't bother entering a team in the skinnyski series! And so we are left with only 3 teams, and with 3 races to go each team seems to have separated itself pretty decisively, almost to the point where it may not even matter how many skiers from each team show up to the Finlandia (like it usually does). This is supposed to be the most exciting category of the skinnyski series (see this recap from November, or this story from the series website). Heck, the skinnyski series trophy even has its own facebook page - and it currently has more friends than there are people competing for the teams in the competition! Boo to everyone who didn't even try to field a team.

Team standings after 4 races:
Vakava/FinnSisu 2331
Peter's Cheaters 1841
Hoigaards/Breadsmith 1254

Overall competition:
Men: Vakava coach Dave Christopherson is eligible to win the overall title again, and since he is probably the fastest 60 year old in the country, this competition is not even a fair fight for the rest of the field. After age adjusting his times Dave has been the fastest skier in each race by 4:25, 3:18, 1:56 (by far the closest anyone has been this year - fellow Vakava skier Dave Bridges), and 4:04. This competition is over assuming Dave skis any of the other races in the series. Other Vakava skiers: Eugene in 5th.
Women: The women's overall competition is a Vakava party at the top. Vakava skiers currently hold 3 of the top 4 places, and Cheryl's lead looks almost as safe as Dave's, since she has been the age-graded champion at 3 of 4 races. Fellow Vakava skier Angie is within striking distance, but she will probably come up agonizing short. Kathleen is 4th, Katy is 11th.

Skier of the year:
This is the "most improved" competition. Vakava is doing well here too: Dave is in 2nd, Cheryl is in 3rd, Kathleen is in 7th, Angie is in 13th. So far nobody is pulling ahead in this competition, and it is more a representation of who has skied the most races. This category will shake out quite a bit more in the next 3 races. Non-Vakava skier Jason Delebroux is looking good with 3 races completed, and Elaine Nelson and Sam Oftedahl are looking good with 2 races completed. If these skiers compete in more races they could pull ahead of current leader Richard Anderson, who will get bonus points if he completes all the races, but his lead is more about quantity than quality so far.

Age group competitions:
Vakava skiers currently leading their age groups: Kathleen, Angie, Cheryl, Eugene, Dave C.
Vakava skiers in 2nd: Katy, Mary Beth, Nate, Mark.
Vakava skiers in 3rd: Carolyn, Dave B.

Go team!

Monday, January 31, 2011

A good weekend of racing

Wow the skiing is good in Minnesota right now. I hope I didn't just jinx things, but considering that we are supposed to get another 6 inches of snow today, I am feeling pretty good about the skiing for the next month (still should probably knock on wood).

On Saturday I dropped my wife Nichole off at the airport, and found that I had enough time to swing over to Theodore Wirth to jump into the St. Olaf invite. It was a 10k skate race that went twice around the 5k JO course. It is a tough course, but it skis really well. Kudos to all the work that they have put in over there. They have a really nice, championship quality course to show for it. The race had the St. Olaf and Gustavus college teams (minus a couple skiers who were at the Supertour/CCSA races in Michigan) and also some alumni from the two schools facing off for supremacy. My goal was to find the happy medium of not embarrasing myself and to try to keep up with the college kids as best I could, while at the same time not frying my legs for the next day's Nordic Spirit 25k classic race. I think I accomplished both these goals. I finished 5th, not very far from the top 3, and as the top Alumni. After the race I had a chance to chat with Mark, the St. Olaf coach (who I skied in high school with) about skiing in Northfield (where I now live, as of a week ago). It sounds like Olaf may start grooming some hillier terrain on their campus next winter (which would be great!) and I may try to jump into some skis and rollerskis with the Olaf team in the future.

Sunday's race was the Nordic Spirit 25k classic. This was the latest stop for the Minnesota Skinnyski Series, and is the reason that Vakava had 7 skiers up in Duluth on a busy weekend full of good races. I personally have always considered myself a stronger skater than classic skier, and having done this race on skate skis last year (they switched the format to classic this year), and knowing how hilly the course is, I was a bit worried. Fortunately conditions were fantastic. The tracks were deep and firm, and conditions were easy to wax for: 10 degrees = great kick with VR40. I had decided to ski on my 8 year old classic skis, and they were rockets. Fast Wax green was flying again, and I was able to stick on the lead pack for 17k because I was able to make up distance on every downhill. By the 17k mark though I was pretty fried. I had lasted longer with the leaders than I had expected, but lost contact with them after going through a feed station (and not getting a feed), and I couldn't mentally or physically make up the gap. My goal from then on was to protect the distance we had put on the rest of the field and not get caught. Once I was on my own I also focused on just skiing as smooth and relaxed as I could (on legs and arms that were giving out). About 3k from the finish I did catch a glimpse of a pursuer coming around a corner, and was able to pick up the pace to hold him off. But as I had doubled my number of races done this entire winter in one weekend, my legs were feeling it. I got back to the cities after the race just in time to pick Nichole up from the airport (I had kept myself quite busy during the ~30 hours she was gone!). Overall I felt good about my races, and I considered Sunday to be a good classic result for me considering the amount of striding. I'm one weekend closer to racing myself into shape!

Other Vakava racers were also skiing well this weekend - highlighted by Kathleen winning the women's race at Nordic Spirit!

Vakava Skiers at Nordic Spirit:
4th Nate (age group win)
7th Eugene
11th Mark
12th Dave C (age group win)
1st Kathleen (age group win)
4th Angie (age group win)
5th Cheryl (age group win)

By my calculations that should net our team 595 points - just 5 shy of a perfect score, and only because Eugene and I are in the same age group (I finished 1st and he finished 2nd in the 25-29 category). At the time of this post we are still waiting to see how the team scores are stacking up 4 races into the 7 race series.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Renewed Confidence

I was feeling really wiped after Boulder Lake. I trained very little the following week. I didn't train Monday because I was aching all over or Thursday because my daughter had some teeth pulled that day and I was taking care of her at home. I skied very little on Tuesday and didn't do the intervals with the team at practice on Wednesday. On Friday I met Dave, Cheryl, and Bridges at Wirth to check out the race course for Mayor's Challenge and I didn't feel too great, pretty tired and the hills felt big. I didn't train again on Saturday because I was too busy with family stuff and felt tired, like I was just dragging myself through the day. The thought of going up all those hills at Wirth three times with the way I felt was not pleasant. I didn't know if it was even wise to try. Maybe I'd just be digging myself a deeper hole. I was getting discouraged that I could still feel so tired after what little I did all week. Maybe I should just take a couple weeks off racing. I woke in the middle of the night on Saturday and lay there thinking that I couldn't really call Dave and tell him not to come pick me up in the morning. So instead I gave myself permission not to start the race if I didn't feel good warming up or to quit in the middle if I felt bad during the race. I talked to Dave about it in the morning and he convinced me that I needed a decent workout if nothing else because I hadn't had one in a while. So I started the race. I didn't go out real hard and seemed to feel fine. My kick was really good. I had decided to err on the side of good kick over glide because I didn't want to struggle up the hills and tire myself even more. My goal for the race was to ski smoothly, in control, concentrate on good technique, and not put myself under on the hills. To my pleasant surprise, I actually felt ok, not bad at all in fact. Sure, it would've been nice to hang with Kathleen, but I accomplished my goals and felt like I had a decent race. At the finish line an older man that I'd skied much of the race with told me how nice it was to ski with me and how relaxed and efficient I was, so that was a really nice confirmation and confidence booster. I guess I can do this after all. I'm even looking forward to Nordic Spirit next weekend.

One thing I need to remind myself of is that I need periods of rest from my daily life just like I need days of rest from training. I tend to push myself all the time, there's always so much that needs to be done. Sunday after the race, my husband insisted that I take a nap since I'd been complaining of being so tired. I slept for two hours and felt much better. I got a bunch of things done that afternoon and evening, and didn't feel like crap doing it like I did the day before. I probably got as much done, and felt better, than if I hadn't taken that nap. The hard part is finding that time for rest. Some things just can't wait, particularly things with the kids. Homework needs to be done, meals need to be made, and bedtime routines followed. As they get older they are starting to help with the chores, like folding and putting away their own laundry and picking up after themselves (albeit with constant reminders :-). My daughter, at 10 yr. old, is starting to take an interest in cooking. So hopefully responsibilities will shift and that elusive rest time will be easier to find. In the meantime I'm hanging in there, and I think I'll make it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Seeley Hills Classic

I was looking for this event since last year when I first tried classic skiing. Last year I was sick and did not do it. Maybe it was good that I did not, because at that time I was training on my own and was trying to figure out the technique also on my own. I remember I could not even do most of the hills in Wirth without slipping. With that the long race with so many hills could have turned into a nightmare. After a year with Vakava I am better in classic skiing, but I was still worryed as Seeley was going to be my first classical race with so many hills.
After the start I soon found myself in the end of the lead pack consisting of about a dozen skiers. Because of the snowfall the night before the tracks were soft, filled with new snow and slow. Although there were 4 tracks set everybody lined up in just one as it was much faster to go in the track packed by other skiers. I was able to stay with the lead pack until the steep hill at about 10K. At the top f the hill I found myself way behind and filled with lactate. After that I cooled down my ambitions and decided to ski at controlled pace and have fun. I already did the Birkie twice so it was my third time on the trail, however this time I enjoyed it much more without the crowds.
From about 15K I was skiing with 3 other skiers. They were much more efficient striders on uphills. I was not slipping, but they somehow managed to glide twice longer than me on each stride! So they were going away on uphills, however I was faster double poler and then was catching up with them on the flats. I guess if figure out the striding technique I would be much faster in classic races. We were going this way until OO where the course flattens and I went in the lead of our small group. There are still a number of hills there and one needs to stride so I could not get away from these guys, however I was staying ahead until about 36K. There was some long hill there and the 3 skiers passed me. At that point I was too tired to catch them up. Probably I started the race too hard. It seemed to me that I was still going fast, but I lost more than 2 minutes to the guys and when I looked up my heart rate after the race it appeared that I was going below 130 bpm for the last K!
Before the race I looked up last year’s results and thought it would be great to finish in top 20. I ended up being 12, and although there were not as many elite skiers this year, I am still very happy with this result.
22K: 1st Dave B
24 Kevin
42K: 12th Eugene
16 Andrew
23 Ryan
26 Mark

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

2.2 seconds

Boulder Lake 2011:

The day was cold, and the snow was slow. I was just happy that it had warmed up to zero degrees by the 11am start, and with the sun it felt much warmer than that. The trails were also in great shape this year. I had switched to larger baskets on my poles in anticipation of soft trails (last year I punched through a lot), but the trails were firm and my skis felt good (I had Fast Wax Green with a layer of Rex TK-72 over the top. Thanks Devin!).

Before the race started I heard Nikolai Anikin say that Tyler Kjorstad (who had beaten both Nikolai and I last year) was going to take the pace out fast from the start. When the gun went off, he did. At the end of the lake I found myself in the 2nd position, about 10m behind Tyler, and leading a big pack of skiers. Behind me was Nikolai, and he was telling me to keep Tyler in sight. Boulder Lake is a flat course, with no significant uphills to put a significant move on the competition, but also no downhills to recover. I made the mistake of pulling my competition around the course only to have them all fly by me in the last 3k the first time I did this race 4 years ago, and since then I have learned how this course races - it is one of attrition. With this in mind I did not want to be pulling the field, but I also wanted to make sure that Tyler was not able to pull away from the start and put significant distance on the field. I decided to keep him in sight, but to ski as easily as I could while doing so. This also left him out off the front working by himself for the first 2 or 3 kilometers of the race. Eventually the gap did close (he probably did not like the idea of skiing 31k completely solo) and the pace slowed way down. I kept myself in 3rd or 4th position, completely satisfied to be skiing along at a pace that was certainly slower than most of the 3 hour rollerskis that Vakava does in Afton. Tyler was still the skier at the front most of the time, and every now and then would increase the pace a little, but we still had a pack of more than a dozen skiers going into the first water stop of the second lap (probably 13k into the race). Tyler was leading, Casey was second, a random skier was third, and I was sitting in fourth. At the end of the water stop, Tyler took off with Casey close behind. I quickly surged around the 3rd skier and bridged the gap to them. Looking back we had put a bit of a gap on the field. I mentioned this, and Tyler and Casey motioned for me to take a turn at the front. I went to the front and put in a big surge. I pushed for probably 2k before I turned around to see who had stuck with us. To my suprise, Tyler was gone (and ended up dropping out), and only Nikolai and Casey were still there. We started rotating leads and skied along with the pace up for the rest of the second and into the third lap. At some point early in the third lap I took my turn at the front of the pack and Casey dropped back. Nikolai and I continued on, as the constant nature of the race was starting to give me a blurry tunnel vision. We continued to take turns at the front, and when I was in the lead I would periodically put in a little harder surge to test Nikolai. He had skied the SISU marathon the day before, and I was hoping his legs would be giving out, but no such luck. With about 2k to go the pace was pretty high and I was in the lead when I poled right on the top of my ski. I promptly face planted in the middle of the trail and Nikolai narrowly avoided skiing right over the top of me. As I looked up through one goggle lens filled with snow Nikolai was ahead, but in a true showing of sportsmanship had slowed down to wait for me. I scrambled up and we resumed the race with Nikolai in the lead. After a minute or two he put in a big surge, but I was able to stay on him, and I got onto the lake in what I thought was the perfect position for the final sprint - right on Nikolai's heels. I had outsprinted him from this position successfully 2 years ago, but this year our mad dash to the line did nothing to change our positions, and I finished right on Nikolai's heels. I was very happy with my race. I felt great throughout, which is 2 for 2 feeling good at races dispite my more difficult work/life schedule.

Oh, and 2.2 seconds is not how much Nikolai beat me by this year. It is the combined finish time separation between myself and Nikolai over the last 3 years at Boulder Lake. That is 2.2 seconds over a total of 93k of racing. This year he got me by 9/10 of a second.

Vakava Results at Boulder Lake:
2nd Nate (age group win)
7th Paul
18th Dave C (age group win)
3rd Carolyn
4th Angie (age group win)
5th Cheryl (age group win)
7th Katie
13th Nichole