Tuesday, February 9, 2016

City of Lakes Loppet Races 2016
The last two years I have raced the Loppet Challenge (the classic marathon on Saturday and the skate marathon on Sunday). This year I decided to do my own “Loppet Challenge,” racing three races over two days, albeit with two of them being shorter races on Saturday.

Ski-O-Loppet
Some may not consider this a true race, but I consider any race in which I don spandex and use high fluoros a real race. Ski Orienteering is big in some parts of the United States and world, but the local scene isn’t such a hot spot. Check out this video to see some Ski Orienteering in Sweden: https://youtu.be/Lg9zSo_yluc. Note, most people don’t do back-flips during Ski-Os. When I lived in Rochester, New York, I participated in a few Ski-O races but in Minnesota my only previous Ski-O was as part of the CIty of Lakes Loppet Festival in 2013.
Ski Orienteering is similar to foot orienteering, except that participants use skis. Racers go to controls (white and orange cubes which are either hanging from trees or other objects or raised off the ground on a stick by about two feet) and use an electronic plastic stick to “punch.” Ski-O controls are usually much easier to find as they are often located adjacent to ski trails. There are often a few controls on smaller walking paths which are like single track trails. The fastest skiers use skate skis but classic skis can be used as well.

The Ski-O map

The Ski-O began at north Calhoun Beach, near Loppet Village, on Saturday afternoon. The sun was high in the sky and the snow was fairly slow. I stapled the map onto my race bib and was still putting on my poles when we officially started. Usually orienteering races are interval start (at least 1 minute apart or whenever you’re ready) to avoid following, but the Ski-O was a mass start. I always look at my map before beginning; it seemed everyone else just started following the leader. By the time I got my pole straps on and took a quick peek at my map to locate the first control, I was almost at the back of the pack.
I took off fast, passing a good chunk of the field, but there were still some Puoli Loppet and Classic Tour skiers heading towards us so there was some traffic dodging. Then, in the skate lane to my left, another woman caught an edge and biffed it. I thought I had enough room in my lane, but she went sprawling and seemed to catch my boot. I fell really hard, face-planting, and my glasses were covered in snow. I got up super quick and continued my passing and was second woman by the time I got to the first control. As I went to punch the electronic control, I realized my punch stick was broken. It likely broke off when I took that fall. I didn’t waste too much time trying to decide what to do; somehow I decided to go back to the start and see if I could get a new punch stick. 

Me, racing in my Flower Power suit, with the map stapled on my bib and an example of a control in the background. Photo: MNOC
 
Erik made himself this stealth suit for Ski-O! He won the men's race. Photo: MNOC
I was able to get a new punch stick, learned there were 4 women in my race, lost about six minutes, and then took off as fast as I could, determined to get on the podium at least. I skied fast between controls and got my heart rate up high. I tried to read the map well, but quickly, and overshot a couple controls. The majority of the controls were on Lake of the Isles and I had to crisscross the lake multiple times. I finally passed one woman before I got really disoriented at the second to the last control. Then I forgot to punch the finish control. This whole time I was skiing hard to make up lost time, but I had about a six minute deficit to make up which is a lot of time in a 39 minute race.
In the end I got third place so I got to stand on the podium. I was feeling salty having not gotten first place being the best skier in the group (subtracting six minutes from my time would have placed me in the lead; in addition, there were several controls in which I had the second fastest time between those controls compared to all the other competitors). 
Feeling salty about this 3rd place. Not really sure what to do with this newest prize anyway. Does anyone have any ideas? It would make a pretty good earring tree if I can get it to stand up. 

Age Gap Relays
A couple hours later, I participated in the Age Gap Relays where I was paired with Gabe, a skier at Anwatin Middle School. Again, some may not consider this a true race, and if not, see the first sentence under the Ski-O-Loppet header. The loppet started the Age Gap Relays a couple years ago and I’ve thought about partaking a number of times but finally decided to make it happen this time. In the Age Gap Relays, an adult is paired with a child or teenager with the idea the adult is at least 10 years older. The format is 4 x about half a kilometer with each skier going twice. The adult starts first...so I got to work on my starts.
There were several heats and I was in the U14 group. It was a big group of us with quite a scramble. The event took place at the finish of the loppet so we started essentially going backwards on the course. After we went over the bridge we turned around and headed back to the start. Conditions were a bit icy and even though the event was skate, we had to deal with a classic track down the middle of the course. At times it was a struggle just to stay on my feet and I did some double poling in the classic track.
Erik was paired with a very fast eighth grader, Kathryn Scott, who passed me on her final lap!
Overall this was probably the most fun race of the trio. No pressure and since each leg only took me about 2 minutes it wasn’t really enough time to get my heart rate up. If any adult knows a skier 10 years their junior, or would like to volunteer, this is a short, fun event.

Skate Marathon (I guess it’s sponsored by Columbia Sportswear now)
Now for the report on the “real” race! I guess “real” race means pure fluoro top coat. Also, I have to add here that my husband suggested I use my old HF8 wax. I mention this here, because I first bought the HF8 wax for the 2005 City of Lakes Loppet, the year is was cancelled at 3 am race morning. Now 11 years later I still have that HF8 wax which either means I don’t race very much, or else not under HF8 conditions!
For the second year, I got to start in the Best of the Loppet Wave, which my friend calls the BOTL Wave (pronounced as in “pop bottle”). I put some pressure on myself to do really well in this race and was eying a top 10. Most of the women in the BOTL wave are pretty good and I vowed to keep myself in the mix early on.
Unfortunately, I hurt my left shoulder in that face plant I took in the Ski-O. It didn’t initially hurt, but as the evening went on my shoulder started to hurt more with doing things around the house and dressing. I didn’t have any pain at rest, and had full range of motion, but with the pain my motivation left me. As my friend said, I lost my mojo. I wasn’t sure how much my shoulder would hurt during the race. I also put forth a pretty good 45 minute effort on Saturday in the Ski-O so I wasn’t feeling too fresh.
On race day I didn’t have my usual pre-morning jitters. I got to the start at a good time and skied from the main chalet to the start. My skis were running good on the man-made snow and was glad my shoulder didn’t bother me too much skiing. I was in the starting gate in plenty of time but just didn’t feel terribly into the race.
The cannon went off and I did the best I could to find some women but found myself off the back of the wave pretty quickly. Snow conditions weren’t great for me- a mix of soft on the edges and hard in the center. It seems I’ve gotten better at balance but I still struggled, especially with transitions, and worried about falling on the flats. By the time I got to the Front 9, Wave 1 skiers began passing me. Three BOTL women passed me but I just couldn’t go with any of them. I tried to work on technique and skiing well but just couldn’t get my body to move much faster. It wasn’t until the bog that I realized my left shoulder pain was keeping me from doing a good V-1 technique on the my left side. I wasn’t able to apply any power through that arm and core. 
My hot pink polka dot suit is now in hibernation as I have some official Vakava spandex. Unfortunately that means no more cheers for "Pinky" out on the trail, but someone (I think it might have been Lynne Cecil) was calling me "Little Vakava," so I'll take that:) I'm not sure how good my weight transfer is here. Photo: Craig's friend.

There are zero hills on the course that caused me any difficulties (there are the two big hills on the man-made loop, but conditions were perfect for me in the BOTL wave). The loppet has done a great job of changing some previous sketchy corners in Eloise Butler and the Bog to flow well. I got to ski on two slightly re-routed sections of trail I’ve worked on during Loppet Trails Day over the past two years. One section is in Eloise Butler and the other one is coming out of the bog just before going alongside 394. It’s very rewarding to ski trails I helped make.  
Expecting forecasted cloudy skies and a strong west wind, I decided to wear a layer of poly under my spandex on top. Then the sun came out and heated things up quite a bit so I was hot for the first half of the race until I got to the lakes.
Skate skiing on fast flat terrain, like the Minneapolis lakes, is not my strong suit. I did what I could but by the time Lake of the Isles came around I found some icy classic tracks to do some double poling. It wasn’t until the south side of Lake Calhoun that I finally started skiing with a pack. A Wave 1 skier passed me with Mike Brumbaugh close behind, with one hot pink pole and one bright orange pole. I rode these two across the windy section of the lake, mostly double poling behind these guys. I stayed with this train heading into Minikahda, around Minikahda, and back out of Minikahda. Then I managed to stay with these guys back out on the lake heading towards the finish.
I pushed hard up the last hill, hit ground, got back on track, and went toward the finish. My friend was finishing the Puoli Loppet and I could see her ahead and she was a real motivation to try and finish at the same time as her. I beat a skier in my race by one second, probably because I was trying to catch my friend in the short race. I do best at long, slow, grind races, so when I saw my time of 2:27 I wasn’t too surprised I hadn’t felt awesome out there.
So for me it was some late motivation and a shoulder injury the day before that didn’t help my racing too much. I finished 16 of 96 women- not a bad result for me, but I feel this is a pretty typical result for me, and I was hoping for an unusually good result from me. I’m hoping for a pain free shoulder and more mojo for my next go-around! 
Rocking the Vakava suit and the corner! Photo: Craig's friend.

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