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

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hit by Boulder

Boulder Lake was a really hard race this year. The conditions were my worst kind, cold and very slow. I’m a technical skier, not a power skier, and tend to do better on technical courses with lots of transitions and fast conditions where I can really work the course and take advantage of the speed. There was none of that at Boulder. It’s a fairly flat, easy course and the conditions favored strength and power, not finesse. I also have not really felt ready for racing. Training has not been what it should to get into racing shape. I knew this going in and intended to just ease into it, but warming up it was so slow I knew I was going to have a challenge and I was right. I don’t know how I did it, but a few K into the race I managed to stick my ski pole between my legs and suddenly found myself spread-eagle and on my face. This confirmed my suspicions that this was going to be one of those days. A good sized group went by me, including Cheryl DuBois. At least I didn’t trip anyone else up. I scrambled up and caught the group that passed me fairly quickly and got in line. I figured I’d best just chill out with them and see how I felt. I started to move up the group a bit with the guy in front of me. He passed Cheryl at the front and I followed him. He pulled the two of us up to two other guys and the four of us skied together for a bit until one of them started dropping back. I was behind him in the back and when I saw the gap forming I asked him if he was letting them go and he said yes and let my by to go after them. I caught them up and the three of us skied together for quite a while. I tried pulling my share and seemed to be able to contribute a bit despite not really feeling up for it. We slowly worked our way up to another group of three that included Carolyn Bramante. It was a pleasant surprise to see another woman. The six of us then skied together for quite a while, trading pulling at the front. It was a really nice group. Halfway through the last lap the lead guy started to pick it up and got a small gap. I was second in line with Carolyn behind me. I tried my best to close the gap but after awhile it was clear that it wasn’t going to happen. I called back to Carolyn that I couldn’t get him. She said she was tired but would try and took off. I was hoping I’d be able to hang on but couldn’t and lost them. In the process we’d dropped the two guys in my first group and it was just me and John Hopkins then. What little uphill there is on that course is at the end of the loop and I was just too tired to ski them well and John pulled away right at the end and I crossed the finish line alone.

Part of what made the race so hard, in addition to my lack of energy, was the cold. When I fell I got a bunch of snow inside the left side of my glasses and then developed a huge icicle right in the middle of the lashes on my right eye so I could hardly see a thing most of the race. There’s no downhill on that course to rest on and mess with my eyes to clear my vision and I couldn’t afford to slow down and lose my group so I just had to put up with it. By the end of the race the icicle had gotten so big that it clinked the lens of my glasses when I blinked. My whole face felt like it was covered in ice and I’m sure it was from snot, frozen energy drink, frost, and snow left from my fall. I could tell that I was starting to lose it on the last lap when I started to feel chilled, a sure sign my body was done. This was confirmed on my warm-down when I just couldn’t keep warm and decided to just go in and get some chili. I didn’t feel quite as dead as I did after my first big race back from retirement when I skied my guts out at Seeley Hills 42km, but close. I feel just wrecked today and most of my joints hurt. It took a full two weeks after that race at Seeley until I felt normal again. I hope it doesn’t take that long to recover this time, but I’m going to have to monitor myself closely. I’m thinking no intervals this week and may even have to evaluate how I feel before racing this weekend. I don’t want to have a repeat of the over-trained state I got into two years ago. My plan is to just ski easy and do some good stretching and maybe even a massage and see how I feel at the end of the week.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pre-Loppet

This Saturday l did the Pre-Loppet, the race which uses the first half of the City of Lakes Loppet course. I started really well and found myself in the front for first half a K or so. Then I let two skiers ahead. My goal for this race was to control my technique and try to be more efficient. I tried to follow Ahvo’s advice from TC champs “not to push the glide”. When I thought about this, I realized that previously I was trying to glide as much as I could and that made me be completely above the ski during the glide, with the hips behind and not forward. It is very difficult to do anything from this position but just pushing upwards. So in my previous races I often found myself kind of “stuck” – I was working had but was not really going fast and could not keep up with other skiers. So this time I tried to change something. Not sure what I actually did, but it definitely made me faster than last Sunday. The whole race I was going 2-4 in the pack. The hills were surprisingly easy for me, it felt harder on gentle uphills and flats when using v2 or v2 alternate. That’s strange because on rollerskis I had it the other way round.
The pace went up in the end of the golf course when Derek took the lead. When we reached the lake Derek went back to 3rd position and I was going 4th. In the woods just 1K to the finish the first two skiers began to break away. I felt I could go faster, but the trail there is so narrow that there was no way for me to go around Derek. When we came back to the lake I passed Derek and was surprised to find how much I had left. I wished the first two were a bit closer, but was only able to finish 3rd. Anyway, I am definitely having progress and it is almost 2 months of racing left.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mary Beth's waxing adventure

Mary Beth writes:

You may think that I'm trying to flip you off in this picture, but I'm actually showing off my latest battle wound. I was helping my niece wax her skis about three weeks ago. I did the final run your finger along the side of the base to check for the extra wax thing, when my middle right finger caught a frayed piece of the edge of the ski. At first, I thought I had just got a small sliver of it in my hand, but with more in depth exploration, I realized it was quite a large piece which extended through the entire width of my finger. I could actually put my fingers on each edge and and move it back and forth between my fingers like a poker. I was a little amused by this, as I showed my niece, but she thought this was quite gross and told me to stop. After spending around 30 min. trying to get it out myself, my hand was quickly becoming more painful and swollen, so I headed to urgent care at 10:30 at night. They confirmed to me that they had never seen anything else like this before. After about 20 min of working on it and threatening that I may have to see a hand surgeon the next day, the doc was successful, or so I thought. She pulled out about an 1 inch of fine ski base.
Boy, did I need a beer or something much stiffer, but unfortunately the next day was a work day. Everything seemed to be healing well, until about a week later I had this nagging feeling that there was a little more base left in my finger. After several unsuccessful attempts to try to find the base myself during the next few weeks and trying to convince my husband and my mom to give it a "college try", I made an appointment with a hand surgeon. He was a little skeptical about it, but since he is a family friend, I think he felt obligated to try to pacify me. He injected my finger with the usual pain numbing med's and some epinephren to cause vasoconstriction and slow the bleeding process. He dug for about 10 min, before he placed a tourniquet on my finger to further stop the bleeding. He suddenly saw it, but had to work for several more minutes before he was able to get it out. He finally got it out! Hurray, no more digging! I will definitely think twice before I do a quick finger sweep along the side of my ski to check for extra wax. I hope you will too!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

You get what you pay for…

Skiers are notoriously cheap. I know this because I am one. I’ve never liked spending a lot of money. But as I’ve gotten older and gained clarity on what is truly important and worthwhile, I’ve become looser with my money on those things. Skiing is one of those things. I love skiing. I love getting outside and moving my body almost everyday. I love hanging with my friends and feeling like part of a community. And as much as many would like to believe otherwise, skiing really does cost money. Trails are expensive to maintain whether we get lots of crazy weather with monster snowstorms and heavy rain, or almost no snow at all and the trails get pounded into concrete day after day. So I buy all the ski passes that I’m supposed to. Yes! I do! And if you want nice trails to ski on so should you! I’ve got one for Three Rivers, Minneapolis Parks, and the State Trails system (required for Battle Creek among other parks). Along with nice trails, I also feel that the ski community is very important to me so I contribute to that as well. I am a member of several ski organizations such as SkinnySki.com, which I use regularly, The Birkie Foundation (my favorite race), and the City of Lakes Nordic Ski Foundation.

So if skiing is important to you too, pony up and pay for those passes and memberships. You’ll be glad you did. I am.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Cold/Hot: TC Champs recap

My concerns about kick wax vanished as I trudged along in the sandpaper track cut out of the ice hard skate deck at Green Acres. It was obvious that no one would be using the tracks except for some of the steeper climbs. I did a few warm up laps to familiarize myself with the course and then got over to the start line to place my skis. I found a nice spot on the far right side between Bjorn and John Swain. When the gun went off I found myself scrambling to stay up with the lead pack. It felt crowded and awkward on the slippery course. As we rounded the first corner things seemed to calm down, but I had trouble getting into any sort of productive rhythm. I felt like I was struggling and kept getting cut off every time I tried making a move. The drifts of slow, dry snow and blowing icy wind only added to the frustration. I finished in 21st, an improvement over last year's 29th in the classic, but not exactly where I wanted to be going into Sunday's 15km skate. The guys I normally ski with had a solid minute plus on me.

Sunday I awoke in a panic at 8am, as I had slept through my alarm set for 6:30am and still had to scrape and brush my skis. Not to mention throwing on my race suit, wolfing down a bowl of oatmeal and speeding from Apple Valley to Theo Wirth for the 9:15am registration cutoff. After completing the fastest scraping and brushing on record I made it to Wirth before 9am and collected my bib and chip with relief. I cruised around most of the 7.5k course, feeling optimistic about the freshly tilled skate deck, which seemed rather fast. I ended up starting in the 19th position, only 4 seconds behind my teammate Andy Kromroy. Of course my goal was to catch up to him as quickly as possible, which I achieved within the first K. But Kelin Dunfee, who started 5 seconds behind me was also out for blood. At about the same time I caught Andy, Kelin came shooting by. We hardly had time to react, but somehow I jumped on his one-man train and settled into the quick pace. He turned out to be an excellent guy to be cruising the course with. I hardly had time to take note of all the people we were passing as I stayed focus on keeping up with him. My skis were fast and I was able to out glide him on the downhills, which bought me some nice recovery time before the big climbs. But every time I pulled ahead he reeled me back on the climbs. We kept exchanging blows throughout the race. Then it came down to the last hairpin turn at the base of the tubing hill and we began the double climb back into the stadium. I heard Ahvo screaming from the sidelines, he knew we had been skiing together throughout the race and now was the time to make a move. I was matching his pace as we turned the corner onto the second climb. I started getting that end-of-race nervousness, knowing that I would have a much better chance if I gapped him during the climb, rather than having to grunt out a sprint on the flats. I thought about Peter Northug. Hell yeah! There was room to come around him from the right, I went for it. I gave it everything I had and just kept going. He didn't have enough to match it and I crossed the line in front of him. He still had a faster skate time since he started 5 seconds back, but I was able to get him in the overall pursuit. I ended up in 10th overall, which I was really pumped about considering Saturday's milquetoast performance.

TC Championship

The first day with classic racing went really well for me. I had a fast start this time. The most important was a good starting position. I think that the sides are the best, and people should really struggle to get them, but surprisingly nobody realizes this. In fact it was the only place left when I came 5 min before the start. Most strong people started in the middle to get the shorter path so from my position I went without pushing with anybody. This helped me to get in the top 10 after the start without working too hard. After that I stayed where I was the entire race.
On one downhill I somehow lost the skier in front of me. My skis were fast, but I could not keep them from sliding apart on the ice and that slowed me down I think. After that I got I bit lazy to ski fast on my own. But the pack behind me did not get me anyways. Finished 6th overall.
Looking at the photos I actually found that the same sliding apart of the skis happened in my dp too. And my poles were not parallel to each other. Lots of things to work on even in the simplest of all techniques!
Overall, I was very happy with my double pole. Not that it was fast, but that it did not make me tired. So I am expecting to have a great time in longer races like Mora Vasaloppet later in the season.
On the second day of skating I was not that fast. I think I just have not got used to the on snow skiing yet. In fall I was fast on rollerskis, but now I am way slower than I was expecting. The major problem with my technique seems to be that I am staying too much behind and not falling forward. Without that I cannot fully use my upper body. Also, when I straighten the leg before the push I am doing too much vertical movement instead of just bringing the hip forward. So when I try to stay with fast skiers I end up overloading my legs very quickly. Well, now that I figured this out I can work on it.
Vakava results:
10th Derek
14th Eugene
21th Andrew
26th Ryan
36th Dave (age group win)
3rd Kathleen
5th Mary Beth (age group win)
8th Cheryl
12th Katy