Sunday, February 27, 2011
Monday, February 21, 2011
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
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
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
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.
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.
Monday, February 14, 2011
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.
11th Andrew K
1st Eugene (age group win)
12th Andy S
21st Brent (age group win)
5th Michele (age group win)
1st Nate (age group win)
2nd Derek (age group win)
11th Mark (age group win)
13th Dave C (age group win)
20th Dave B
1st Angie (age group win)
7th Cheryl (age group win)
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
Monday, February 7, 2011
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:
33rd Andrew K
47th Dave C (age group win)
7th Angie (age group win)
6th Dave B (age group win)
13th Andy S
3rd Cheryl (age group win)
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
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 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
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:
Peter's Cheaters 1841
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.