Monday, February 11, 2019

The Bubble: Mora Vasaloppet 2019


A couple days before Mora I got to thinking about the racing experience: a discrete period of time in which I’m unplugged from the reality of life. While racing I turn off my phone. I won’t respond to any texts, emails, or calls. I won’t have real conversations with anyone or stop and rest. I can’t google whatever I want. In fact, I won’t be thinking much about anything to google. I’ll be focused on skiing hard, racing my competitors, and staying on my feet. I’ll interact a bit with the other racers, volunteers, spectators, and Bruce taking photos, but for the most part, I’ll be alone inside my head. For a couple hours I’ll be a little bubble weaving around some lakes, woods, and fields in a little section of land in central Minnesota, completely oblivious to the outside world.

Once again this year I registered for the classic race. While my training wasn’t bad, I wished to have a bit more time on snow and feel more prepared- not unlike any other year. I didn’t dwell too much about the race in the couple days before, but was a bit worried when I tweaked one of my ab muscles shoveling the day before now that winter has finally arrived.

With the cold weather predictions of most of the race hovering around zero, I decided to wear two layers of long underwear/spandex under my racing suit. I had all this on, plus my warm-ups and a down jacket when I went to warm-up. Needless to say, I got toasty before the start. This kept me warm in the port-a-potty line and right up until the start. I had put my skis down in the second row and after taking off my warm-ups only made it back there with three minutes to spare. This also helped keep me warm. I never felt cold out there as I’ve finally learned to do two layers under my racing suit at these temps.

In the starting line I looked around for all the other yellow bibs indicating my fellow female racers. Mora has always done this one right- and continues to do so- making the women easily identifiable. The gun went off immediately after the National Anthem was complete without a countdown which seems to happen every year so we were all ready. The start didn’t seem as fast as previous years and I tried to keep Josie in my sights as I skied around a couple other women.

My bro (in the green flying fungi suit in the middle and me, second women's bib to his right) at the start. Photo: Bruce

Trying to keep Josie (far left in the Fast Wax suit) in my site (I'm in the women's bib behind my buddy Dave in the red Finlandia hat). I'm still holding hope that one day I can ski with Josie! Photo: Bruce
On Mora Lake the pace still seemed fairly frantic to me. I passed one woman but then was skiing alongside Kerrie Berg. I thought it was faster outside the tracks but everyone seemed to be skiing in the tracks. I mostly skied outside the tracks. I tried to stay with Kerrie and did a good job on the herring-bone hill coming off Mora Lake and was even able to ski side-by-side with her until the Nordic Center when she got away. I noted how strong her double pole was compared to mine. It was similar last year and while I tried to work on this over the summer months I guess it was ineffective.

Kerrie Berg. Photo: Bruce
My pole straps and handwear were driving me crazy. I often have a problem with my bulky mittens and lobsters falling down my hands no matter how hard I cinch my pole straps, especially on my left watch hand. I debated using a light pair of lobsters that usually don't cause me this problem but was like “Elspeth, it’s going to be really cold, you better wear your mittens.” They had worked fine as far as I could remember in the Loppet Classic Team Sprint but ended up being a disaster at Mora. Both of my mittens kept falling down no matter how many times I tightened them. I never held onto my pole grips and instead all the power went through my pole straps. As a result, my hands pained me the entire race and in the days after.

After going by the Nordic Center, I was skiing by myself feeling like the entire classic field was ahead of me. I knew this wasn’t true but I never looked behind me- only ahead. I could finally settle some. In the first winding section, I would look back to see if any yellow bibs were close. A couple skiers passed me and always I waited with baited breath to see if this was a white bib or a yellow bib. Part way through that winding section a yellow bib passed me. She was skiing in the tracks and I out of them. We skied evenly side by side for a couple kilometers, neither of us saying anything to each other, each thinking our own thoughts.

Skiing side by side with 3rd place woman, Rose Doda. Here you can see my mittens that caused me so much trouble. I did give shouts out to Bruce while in my bubble but was too focused to play goofy for the camera like some of my fellow skiers [Devin] Photo: Bruce
I was somewhat hoping to ski the whole race with that girl but once we hit the small hill on the first classic-only section she had a lot better kick than I did and she got away. I saw her on the next lake and she had really made up some ground. And so I skied on alone.

Josie- always smiling- even through her face tape. She's my S-hero and part of my motivation to train so much. Photo: Bruce
As we returned to the loop around the Nordic Center on our first lap I got passed stealthily by Chris Broderson with nary a word. Chris started skiing a couple winters ago when he met my skier friend Emily. The two subsequently got married. He has been training a lot over the past couple years and has been using me as his benchmark to measure his success. He has testosterone on his side and has been rapidly improving. I knew I’d have to watch out for him based on his improvements.

Chris Broderson. He tells me I'm his motivation to train so much:) Photo: Bruce
“Oh no, you’re not going to beat me,” my psyche raged as I tucked in behind him. It was a bit hard to get used to his shorter, albeit powerful and effective, movements. When we got back on Mora Lake he dropped me with his strong double pole even though I tried to follow his tempo. We passed a classic skier, Chris crossed the skate lane to ski in the outside track, and I caught back up with him. I emerged off the lake onto the herring-bone hill just ahead of him and passed another guy. There was another skier I had passed and so kept hearing somebody behind me who I assumed to be Chris (Chris later told me he poled between his legs on that herring-bone hill, fell down, and I was gone, so it must’ve been the other skier I passed who was hot on my tail for awhile).

OK, I really thought I was going to be in a photo with Chris cause Bruce was right there around the time when he passed me- but he just passed me so fast he was already out of the frame! Photo: Bruce
A couple kilometers later I passed my friend Dave and then another classic skier. I was now mixing it up with the skaters, including my buddy Byron who passed me, I passed him back on a steep herring-bone hill, and then he passed me back up and I skied with him until the first classic-only section. That first classic-only section was nice. It included a small to moderate striding hill, a downhill, a corner, and then a fun downhill onto a lake. There weren’t many other skiers around. I also got super turned around on that lake.

Now I could see that I had indeed gapped some time on Chris as well as the fifth place woman. The tracks on the north-south part of the trail were bomber fast compared with everywhere else. I kept trying to push the pace so to not let others catch up with me. I mostly skied out of the tracks but occasionally jumped into the tracks. Often conditions felt slow and my hands hurt but otherwise things weren’t so bad. I tried to keep the work rate high. I finished almost four minutes behind the guy ahead of me.

There weren’t too many people to catch in the last few kilometers. I felt bad lapping some skiers who still had another whole lap to go- it would be a long day for them but perhaps they weren’t so much in the bubble and therefore weren’t pushing the intensity and focus for that long.


Finishing with my ice beard. Photo: Bruce
I ended up 4th female (of 47 finishers) for the third year in a row:) I still won my age class and ended 33rd of 187 finishers (there were quite a number of DNFers in all the races who called it quits after one lap).

My bro had a good day, too! He finished 13th in the classic and got his first horse.


My bro back on form. Photo: Bruce
It’s always fun to burst the bubble at the end of the race and talk with everyone about how their race went. We often have similar experiences.


Bubble bursting talk with Josh Doebbert (on the right) where we both agreed it was faster outside the tracks. Photo: Bruce
The last few years my back (my lower paraspinal muscles) have been super sore after double poling so much. This year I tried to do more double pole intervals leading up to the race. While my back was still sore this year, it was much less than in previous years. My right lower triceps was bothering me more though instead. It’s too much force on the body to come away unscathed:)

I was sad my bro couldn't stay for awards to share the podium with me. I guess that's what happens when you have an 18 month old. He missed the memo that at the Mora Vasaloppet the horse winners usually bring their kids onstage rather than their skis:) Maybe next year. Photo: Erik

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