Monday, February 15, 2016

Mora Vasaloppet, 42 km classic, February 13, 2016
The first four years I did the Mora Vasaloppet, I skied the 58 km race. Those were during my days of “must always ski the longest distance possible.” Since then, I’ve been trying and failing to do the 42 km classic. The first time I signed up for the 42 km classic, in 2008, the high for the day was -17 degrees Fahrenheit and all courses were shortened to 35 km. In 2013 and again I signed up for the classic race but owing to low snow we did a lap on Knife Lake before heading into town. In 2014 I did the 58 km skate (on the full course) and then in 2015 I again signed up for the 42 km classic; however, as luck would have it, we did loops on Mora Lake.
Needless to say, I felt my signing up for the 42 km would jinx the event yet again, but I did so anyway. Briefly, trail reports were looking like four times might be the charm, but alas, not enough snow and so it was decided we would do four 10 km loops!
Mora has been my target race all year. Yeah, there’s that race called the Birkie, but I really like Mora….maybe because it was my first ever ski marathon… and because it’s pretty flat, which is good for double poling, my favorite technique. Although my double pole was already strong, it wasn’t strong enough to beat Josie last year at Mora on the lake, so I’ve worked on it a lot this year. I also seem to have a plateau double pole speed and struggle to go any faster.
As usual, Josie was at the start. Fellow Vakava skier, Kathleen DeWahl, also decided to do the classic race this year. There were a few other fast women in the mix as well, including Leslie Hale. While I thought it was pretty unlikely I could ski the race with Kathleen and Josie, I at least wanted to try. I lined up near the start, and as there was still some room on the front line, Kathleen and I scooted up there next to Josie. The gun went off and it was a double poling furry trying to stay up with Kathleen and Josie. As we headed down Bell Tower Hill and onto the lake, I settled in the tracks by Josie and Kathleen. Josie said “let’s go catch that pack of guys,” so we put in some hard double poles to catch a pack of guys including Mike Brumbaugh and Joe Manns. 

Skiing with the pack! I'm number 7001 towards the back. Photo: Skinnyski.com

Josie, Kathleen, and I had all used kick wax despite a relatively flat course. I knew just with the hills on and off the lake kick wax would be important. The race course reports had called for hard and fast conditions and binder was recommended; however, the first lap around the course the conditions were pretty icy and probably only klister would have kicked well. After the first lap the hills were sugar snow. Most of the hills were so steep I herringbone ran them. That being said, at least 90% of the course was double poling. I hung onto my pack for the first lap and learned there were a couple sketchy corner/downhills. These were all small hills but owing to some sharp corners and icy conditions these were a bit scary.
Despite the Little Snow Gun That Could, snow conditions were sparse. I think most of the “brown” on the trail were oak leaves because my skis fared well, but brown is never a good sign. Snow was pushed onto the classic track which enabled for deep classic tracks but the transition on and off the classic track was pretty rough (big coarse ice chunks). Because of these big ice chunks, I couldn’t get good pole plants in the classic track in places. Also, it almost always seems like every classic race I do, the classic tracks are slower and I think this race was no exception. Overall, I know the volunteers for the Vasaloppet worked extremely hard to provide a good course..
I stayed with my pack through the first lap and onto Mora Lake. Mostly I was towards the back of this pack and was working pretty hard to stay with them. There was a surge as we headed off Mora Lake and I dropped behind my pack by about 5 meters. I was really struggling to bridge this gap and double poling as hard as I could (I briefly felt a bit dizzy) but even though I’ve worked super hard on my double pole technique, this is how I know I still have room for improvement. As we came out onto the far north lake, I caught up with the pack, but after a few poles, I fell behind again. We were now passing a number of skiers and my train passed a guy on the right. I was a bit far behind and was working so hard I cut things close. As I went by he was drifting right and he poled wide between my skis and we both went down. I think I landed on my butt and this guy was on top of me and he wasn’t very good at getting up fast. My glasses came off and by the time that guy finally moved away from me and I got up and my glasses on, the pack had moved a good ways in front of me. Since I was already struggling to stay with that pack, I had very little hope of catching them. I did try though, and skied as hard as I could.

And dropped from the pack :( Double poling on the skate deck. Photo: Skinnyski.com.

In my ski racing tenure, I have done admittedly very little pack skiing. This is something the good people tend to do and we get really strung out in the back. After I got dropped, I felt more relaxed. I no longer had to worry about matching my pace with others- I could just ski my own race. Since it was a lap race, I also had lots of company, mostly passing many people. I tried to say “good job” when passing others. There were also a few fast skaters who passed me as well. It was fun cheering for and getting cheered on by John Munger, Craig, Nate, Paul, and Hans. I mostly skied on the skate deck and figured that was OK since I was passing more people than passed me. I was motivated knowing Leslie Hale and other women, were behind me.
Since the weather was forecasted to be pretty cold, I decided to try some new layering. I wore two layers under my spandex on bottom. On top I decided to wear long underwear, then a warm fleece, and then my spandex top. Every time I wear this fleece, it keeps me toasty warm and today was no exception (although I did get very hot during the warm up).
In the end, I finished 3rd in the women’s race, a whopping 6 minutes behind Josie and Kathleen! I guess I still have a lot of work to do in my double pole. If anyone has any pointers, I’ve been watching lots of World Cup footage, but am at a total loss for how to get faster. I was surprised to finish 17th overall in the race but not as surprised when I learned there were only 129 people in the classic. Compare this to 253 in 2014, the last year of the regular course, and 392 in 2011. 

Erik got 4th place in the race and 2nd in his age class, too. Here we are with our horses although they really blend into our jackets. Maybe our new nickname will be the Dark Horse Couple. Photo: Robin Welling.


Boulder Lake Race, 33 km Classic, February 14, 2016
This race got postponed due to cold weather back in January. Erik and I had already registered and so we had some debate about whether or not to do this race. Cons included extra driving, racing two races in one weekend, and doing this the week before the Birkie. Pros included not skiing at Hyland, supporting a smaller race, and delaying house projects for another week. In the end, my brother decided to do this race and since we had a place to stay with his girlfriend’s parents, we headed to the race.
While the course was very similar to Mora (three 10 km loops compared to four loops of mostly flat terrain) the conditions, competition, and camaraderie were quite dichotomous.
My lower paraspinal muscles were sore from so much double pole at Mora the day before but I was more concerned about some right elbow pain. I didn’t do much of a warm up, just ran around for about 5 minutes. All my kick wax got stripped off at Mora so although I corked in some more, I didn’t have a binder. As I was warming up, I paid attention to the competition. There were a handful of women, but they all seemed to be wearing skate boots.
I lined up in the second row and after we started, quickly found myself near the back of the pack. I could see my brother ahead classic skiing in the track across the trail. The start crosses a bay, then we head into the woods. As we headed into the woods, I noticed a female classic skier across the trail from me. I tucked in behind her and had some mixed feelings. She was keeping a pretty swift pace and I was able to stay with her without difficulty but having raced the day before and not wanting to work too hard in anticipation of the Birkie, this competition wasn’t necessarily welcome. Half way through the first loop we passed my brother. 

Here's a good picture of the classic skier I skied my first lap with wearing the orange hat in the foreground at the start of the race. I'm the far skier to her right. I look to have really good technique here but despite that still have some improvements to make. Photo: Boulder Lake Facebook page.

As I followed closely behind the woman, I noted the beautiful snow conditions. There was ample white snow to cover the trail and the classic tracks were deep and firm, but not icy. After skiing on rough conditions yesterday, it was nice to see at least some of Minnesota is experiencing a good winter.
The latter part of the loop had more uphills and I noted my competitors’ striding technique. By setting my kick and “driving” my hip forward as Ahvo says to do, I seemed to be getting more glide than the woman I was following. I started thinking, assuming I was still with this woman in two more laps, about where I could make my “move.” Then as we neared the end of the first lap I had a new thought, “maybe she is doing the short race.” The short race is about 11 km and just one loop and as far as I could tell, based on bibs, there was no way for me to know what race she was doing. So I resumed thinking about where to make a move and then said “Elspeth, just wait and see if she turns off for the finish.”
Sure enough, as we came to the lap, she turned off for the finish. I immediately felt myself slow down and lost a lot of motivation. I doubted there were any other women in my race and had only seen one other male (my brother). Having raced hard the day before, and thinking about the Birkie next week, it just didn’t make sense to push hard. Unlike yesterday when I was dropped by the pack, there was still a lot of camaraderie on the course as I was constantly passing people. Now today it seemed all the skate skiers were ahead of me and I was out by myself. It felt very lonely. In addition, I was diagnosing myself with some medial epicondylitis (golfer’s elbow) as I was having pain in my elbow with poling.
I debated slowing and waiting for my brother to catch me but I didn’t really want to consciously slow down. Fortunately, after a couple kilometers, my brother caught back up to me. I was really glad my bro caught me because then I had someone to ski with and that also meant he hasn’t gotten too slow as he hasn’t been training much at all. Despite having my brother on course, it was still pretty desolate out there. A couple skaters passed us and we passed one classical skier but by the time we got to the aid station for the last time, they were packing things up. Out on course in the snowy trees, it felt like we were the last people left on earth. What a contrast to the previous day.

Skiing with my bro. Photo: Ashley LaPlante.

By our third lap, the track seemed a lot slower. There was snow falling and where previously I had glided down a hill and had to lean to stay in the track around a corner, on my last lap I had to start poling before I got to the corner!
I can’t say I really wanted to beat my brother, he should be able to easily beat me, but I figured I should try. I thought a bit about trying to drop my brother. In the last couple kilometers where there are some shorter but stride-able hills, I skied with decent effort, but by no means tried to make a move. I think my bro was pretty tired because I ended up dropping him in this section.
So the results were pretty funny- I won overall. My brother still won the men’s race. And there were actually two other men in the race as well. Maybe I should have done a more competitive race but I really like this course for classic and since life is too short to do things we don’t like to do, I’ll keep classic skiing this race for now. 

My bro and I with our 1st place wood carvings. Leif won the skis in this photo as part of the raffle. Photo: Ashley LaPlante.

1 comment:

  1. Elspeth,

    You and your little brother Leif sure look good on the ski trail at the Boulder Lake race! Keep up your positive work ethic and continue to encourage your brother. And remember, ski hard, ski fast, smile and have fun!

    Love you both, Mom

    ReplyDelete