Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Ranking Ben's Birkies

Approaching OO with my kids in the background.  Photo credit: Dad

Non-skiers often ask what your goal time is for a given race.  It is hard for them to understand how big a difference the conditions make.  A road running race like a marathon can be substantially impacted by weather conditions.  But skiing takes it to another level.

For this fairly atypical race report for me I'll first talk about a few numbers that really bring that point home.  Then, since those numbers aren't really what I was hoping for, I'll talk about some other Birkie numbers.  Finally, we'll get to the excu... er... reaso... er... well, we will do some pondering.

A Birkie PR of Sorts

For context, this was the 7th Birkie I have completed.  Relative to my similarly aged teammates, that is a pretty small number.  That is what I get for taking 10 years off from skiing after high school.

My second Birkie number is 2:40:50 which of my 7 Birkie's is my fastest.  So #1 all time.  On the surface sounds great right?

Plotting my Birkie times.


On to the third number.  545.  That was my overall place.  495th place male.  <sarcasm alert>Just a skosh off the top 200 men for the 2021 elite wave</sarcasm alert>.  Actually, despite the fastest time ever, this was my #6 Birkie by place.

So much for getting better every year.
I won't deny that this result is pretty disappointing.  I wasn't out for the win, and there was a really strong field this year that would have made even staying 200th place like last year a pretty tall order, but this sort of regression wasn't in my thoughts.

We'll come back to what may have happened in a bit.  First let's do some more ranking.

More Rankings

How about we talk about the weather?  Start temps around 20F, finish temp around 32F, afternoon beer drinking and spectating temps pushing 40F.  Sunshine and blue skies.  Just a slight breeze (and not a headwind on the lake to boot).  Yeah, I'm going to go with #1 weather wise.  It was an absolutely glorious day to be out skiing and hanging out.

A photo of the start of the Elite women skate race.  Blue skies and sun all day long.


And the trail conditions?  Let's see, I skied out of wave 7 on my first Birkie.  Uff, no idea what the original trail conditions were like that year, but wave 7 was not ideal.  2014... there was a little snow.  OK, a lot of snow.  I don't remember 2015.  2016 was soft for at least part of the race.  2017... outside of that one not being one of my 7... well actually that is the point of that one, no one got to ski.  2018 was warm and slushy.  2019 pretty dang nice actually, just a little fluff on top.  Blah blah blah, 2020 was excellent.  So let's go with #1 trail conditions.

Hard to see, but that firm and well groomed trail behind the lead snowmobile there... it was like that ALL the way to Hayward.

Next let's do spectators.  I had a record number of folks out cheering specifically for me this year.  My parents got up early with my aunt, picked up my kids and wife and I had a crew of 6 cheering for me at OO. #1 again.

Not my spectators, but my hosts for the weekend and every one of my 7 Birkies.  I think that was about to be 56 combined Birkie finishes in the car.


Summary Ranking

OK, so we've got 1, 6, 1, 1, 1.  I think that averages out to a #2.  Yeah, that sounds about right.  Probably my second favorite Birkie after last year.

So What Happened

So, barring a full blow by blow race report like I might normally do (and have notes for almost all of this year's races, just didn't actually write anything), what on Earth happened out there?  I'm not really sure.

Being bib 200 and a strong field, I felt pretty safe starting near the back of the elite wave.  I felt OK as we headed up towards the Power Lines.  I didn't want to go out too hard and blow up.  I have a habit of blowing up in first 10k of the Birkie.  A quick look over my shoulder on the Power Lines though and there were only about 20 guys behind me if that.  Hmm, that's pretty close to being out of the Elite wave right off the bat.

Then things went down hill figuratively and never came back up.  My legs felt tired.  There were only a few short stretches after the high point and before OO where I felt decent.  And during that stretch just before Boedecker the lead group of five wave 1 skiers came blasting past.

I don't know that I would call it a full on bonk feeling, but definitely low energy and tight muscles.  Some stomach discomfort too.  Same feeding plan as last year so that probably wasn't a contributor.

After Gravel Pit and while the wave 1 skiers were streaming past I probably checked out mentally.  I'd try to grab the back of a group and would make it about 30 seconds tops before falling off.  Do that eight or ten times and you kind of stop trying.

Theories

Let's run through a few theories.

Life stress.  The body doesn't know the difference between training stress and life stress.  There is definitely stuff weighing on me.  Then again, it was also weighing on me at the beginning of the season too while I was racing better.  Or at least better relative to everyone elses performances.

Sleep.  I could get more.  I tried to really put that at the top of the list in the last two weeks.  I certainly didn't feel any more sleepy tired than I had earlier in the season.

Illness.  I know I had some friends not perform as well as they wished due to actually being sick.  The rest of my house was suffering through stuffy noses, sore throats, and the like for the week before.  I never had more than a slightly snuffy nose.  Continued that way after the race too.

Power to weight.  Hmmm.  I say each year I should do something about both sides of that ratio.  This year I maybe slightly improved the power side.  But I also unimproved the weight side.  After watching all of my team mates during strength at practice I know I have a lot of room for improvement.  I also know, that despite being down considerably from my heaviest, I've got plenty of room there too.  The Birkie isn't exactly a flat course those opening km either.

Mental toughness.  I do think I'm a bit of a headcase when it comes to the Birkie too.  I don't judge my self worth by my Birkie result.  It is important to me though.

Peaking early.  Not quite a November Turkey, but I'd rather be racing my best in February instead of January.  Last year I think I raced less and had a better result at the end of the season.  This year I think I race more frequently, but shorter distances.  I'll actually have to run the numbers eventually.  But maybe I hold back in workouts and racing for a few weeks longer.

What's Next

Well, the race season isn't over yet.  Great Bear Chase in a little over a week.  I'm going to do the skiathlon again just because you don't get many opportunities to do that format.  I'm hoping for something less than the epic bonk I had last year.  Then there is the World Cup format sprint races at Theo and the World Cup itself.  I'm really looking forward to seeing the best in the world!

Then a little offseason and starting to think about 2021.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Vakava Racing Update

Hey remember how I talked about giving regular team updates on the blog?  No?  Good.

Lets see, the last one I did got us all the way through the end of December... 7 race weekends ago!

Vakava has been out racing every weekend.  Sometimes twice per weekend.  Let's roll some January results.

I count 9 podiums in this stretch.

January 4th - First Chance Race 21km Freestyle - Mora

First NameLast NameOverallGender
AndySchakel22
BenMullin88
DavidChristopherson2525
BrockLundberg3129
Andy on the podium.

January 5th - Pre-Loppet 17km Freestyle - Theodore Wirth

First NameLast NameOverallGender
AndySchakel33
CraigCardinal66
NathanPorath99
AbePeterson1616
ScottKyser2828

January 11th - Hyland Rennet

26km Freestyle

First NameLast NameOverallGender
NathanPorath55
AndySchakel77
PaulOlson1111
BenMullin2322
BonnieWeiskopf322
DavidChristopherson6058

Vakava train. Photo Credit: Bruce @ www.skinnyski.com

Bonnie on the podium and in the money!
Age group podium for Andy.
Age group podium for Dave.


26km Classic

First NameLast NameOverallGender
ScottKyser77

January 18th - Seeley Hills Classic

Fresh snow made for some hard work at Seeley.


43km

First NameLast NameOverallGender
CraigCardinal88
AbePeterson2524
BenMullin4944

23km

First NameLast NameOverallGender
AlexReich11
BrockLundberg2222
DavidChristopherson2323
HeatherCichanowski598

January 25th - Noquemanon 50km Classic

First NameLast NameOverallGender
MarshalLandrum2422

January 25th - Badger State Games 43km Freestyle

First NameLast NameOverallGender
AndySchakel55

January 25th - Nordic Spirit 27km Classic

First NameLast NameOverallGender
BonnieWeiskopf92

January 26th - Marine O'Brien Ski Race

25km Freestyle

First NameLast NameOverallGender
AlexReich33
ScottKyser99
BenMullin1414
MaryTuttle151
LauraCattaneo253

25km Classic

First NameLast NameOverallGender
CraigCardinal11
MarkAhlers55
DavidChristopherson1313
HeatherCichanowski304
Craig off to an early lead and on to the win.  Photo Credit: Bruce @ www.skinnyski.com

Monday, February 17, 2020

Minnesota Finlandia 2020: Hugs, Bugs, and Shrugs

Hugs

The Minnesota Finlandia is my hometown race. The ski community in Bemidji is small and tight and so it’s no joke that I know lots of people. Given that Josie isn’t at the Finlandia to give me a billion hugs, I did lots of hugging of my own this weekend- starting at the bib pick up where I met up with my long lost high school friend Jim. I hadn’t seen him in 9 years!

High School Winter Formal circa 2002. From left to right: Kathryn, Jim, me, David, Leif (my bro), and Anna. Photo: ????
My bro runs bib pick up. This means no need for a photo ID for anyone; he just IDs everyone based on recognition and gets them their bib before you can spit out your name.

My bro finishing up this year's Finlandia. Photo: John Arenz
Before the start I exchanged greetings with the Finlandia board, spectators, and fellow racers- and certainly hugged quite a few in the process.

Mark Morrisey, chief of the course, was planning for rocket fast conditions owing to a monstrous base (greatest snow depth in years) and no fresh snow. But mother nature had other plans with a howling wind on Friday that caused lots of blowing and drifting on the course. After cheering on his son at the STATE meet where everything was delayed due to a timing snafu, Mark worked tirelessly all night to make the best possible course.

Despite this, the wind merely shifted directions, keeping up its gale force. As a result, ironically even with the settled massive snow depth, this year saw some of the worst conditions for the Finlandia that I can recall. Don’t get me wrong, conditions were excellent for 90% of the course, but the remaining exposed 10% had soft, blown and drifted snow. It’s a good reminder that we do an outdoor sport, completely dependent on mother nature, and she always has the upper hand.

As noted in my last blog post, Kerrie Berg, was there ready to defend her title in the 25 km classic. Apparently, she has earned the nickname “The Iceberg” for her strong racing results. My plan was to stay glued to her. I lined up in the second row, happy to have our backs to the wind in the starting gate. And then we were off. I stayed in front of Kerrie as we rounded the bottom of the Buena Vista downhill area and as we climbed up Sunnyside, the downhill ski run.

The start of the classic race. Photo: Monty Draper
The field up on the plateau had some blown snow. I was happy to not be skating. Once we headed off the ridge the conditions markedly improved. Here Kerrie got in front of me and I vowed to stick with her- which I did for the next few winding kilometers- often leading. Kerrie took the lead back as we battled the headwind through the narrows. As we went up on the island she almost got a lead on me and I struggled through the last couple kilometers on the east side to stay with her.

Still with Kerrie Berg on the east side. Photo: Monty Draper
As we went by the start/finish area before going out on the west side, there was tons of soft drifted snow and Kerrie started to gap me here. I pushed hard, but she just started to get away from me as we headed onto the west side with the short punchy hills. I’d like to think maybe I had another gear in me somewhere that just wasn’t going to come out to play on this day. Last year, when I saw Kerrie on the start list, I didn’t even try to keep up with her. This year I made it 14 km, so I was happy to take that. Perhaps, a bit too complacent.

I didn’t think there were any other women remotely close to me. Over the next few kilometers I leap-frogged with Matthew Broderson, son of my former rival Chris (he’s no longer my rival since he simply got way too fast this year!), who made STATE as a freshman. It was interesting that I pulled in front of him on the flats and he’d catch me on the uphills. I’m glad I at least provided some inspiration for him since he was tired from racing the day prior at STATE. This definitely helped keep me focused.

Matthew on the left classic skiing when Craig and the skaters (they started 10 minutes behind) passed him. Photo: Monty Draper
Last year I remember getting so mad at myself for not staying in the tracks, which were obviously faster, on downhills. This year it was usually faster out of the tracks and so I couldn’t be mad at myself, but was reminded I still have work to do to trust in the tracks. With two kilometers left I tried to keep pushing the pace. Despite this, I heard someone breathing close behind me. I just kept working hard. I had used SWIX VR45 for kick which was perhaps a bit aggressive but I’m someone who likes good kick. It seemed to be wearing off a tad but I was still able to run really hard up the last uphill before the tunnel. Then whoever was behind me, it was Matthew, came up behind me. Even though technically the tunnel under the highway is two-way, I didn’t really want to try it out and so I let Matthew go.

On the final straight away I tried hard to keep up with him but he was just too fast and I finished a few seconds behind him.

I crossed the line in second place, only 1 ½ minutes behind Kerrie. I would have had to dig really really deep to keep up with her. Last year she beat me by almost six minutes, so I’ll take that as progress. And there were a whopping 21 women in my race!

The Finlandia had its highest turnout since 2011 with 210 participants. This is one of the smallest of the American Ski Marathon Series races but has arguably the best prizes. Need convincing? Read on for more:

Craig won the 50 km skate race and got this axe which has tigers on it! He's now won an axe in each of the races.
I was stoked that my bro (left side) got on the podium. It had been a long time. He got some wild rice and a crock for third place. Owen Baird got a Bemidji Woolen's Mills jacket for second place. And that axe for first place has a beautiful buffalo scene on it! My bro also remarked that the ages of this podium were 32, 47, and 16 indicating that cross country skiers can be competitive for a long time!
Erik and I both got second place in our races and got the Woolen Mills jackets as well. Photo: Erik

And there were only two women in the 50 km skate!


Bugs

Given that my niece lives in Bemidji, I got to spend some quality time with her. She’s 2 ½ and loves to push me around, lock me in the bathroom, and chase me around the house. When I was a kid, I always wanted to live in a house with circles. I was too old by the time my parents bought their current house, but now I got to re-live my childhood running in circles and even using a special door to pull a Houdini trick!

The Houdini House! My niece is pretty smart though and she definitely caught on to my shenanigans:) Photo: Mom


My niece also loves the outdoors. She’s always motivated to go “outside.” Indeed, this was about the third word I heard her say. Erik dug her a tunnel in the snow. It had a 90 degree corner and was pretty awesome. I went through it a bunch of times!


The tunnel. You can see both entrances in this photo.
Playing in the tunnel.
And me crawling through the tunnel. Photo: Erik

Anyway, my niece isn’t a bug, but she had a cold “bug.” Hopefully I didn’t catch it!


Shrugs

When I met up with Jim, my old high school friend, and learned he was doing the classic race, I definitely had the thought that we could just ski together and talk the whole time. Turns out he had been reading my Crossroads blog regarding my ambivalence towards racing. I’m aware that as Kerrie skied away from me, I just didn’t have a desire to chase her to get yet another axe. I already have six. The only way I would want another axe was if it had a cute gnome or animal scene on it. None of the women’s axes had that this year. I’ve already decided that one of these years, my “ugly axe,” the one that’s been banished to an upstairs closet because it has significantly less embellishments than my others, is going to get a new paint job with some skiing gnomes!

Overall I still put forth a good effort. Am I falling into my February slums? Racing week after week takes it out of me mentally. I know my fitness is good. Maybe I’m just saving some mental game for the Birkie next weekend!

Erik's podium with a couple UMD skiers. Photo: John Arenz

Monday, February 10, 2020

Mora Vasaloppet 2020: 44 km Classic

Every winter I tell myself I won’t write a blog post for every race, yet somehow, I almost always end up writing one anyway. So here we go again.

The Mora 42 kilometer classic is one of my favorite races because it’s 95% double pole. I love to double pole. But Mora has also become somewhat predictable for me as I’ve finished in 2nd-4th place for the past several years, always well off getting that winner’s wreath around my neck. After accomplishing my mission last week coupled with my stagnancy in the classic, I was having trouble getting really pumped up for Mora.

Every year my back gets super sore after Mora from all the double poling and I was curious to see if since this happened after the classic race at the Loppet if my back wouldn’t still be so sore. I was also excited that Mora had once again made a small course deviation from prior years and so there was something new.

We arrived to Mora an hour before the classic start. This was just enough time to get my bib, change into my boots, put on my headgear, get outside and on my skis, get in the porta-potty line, run around a bit, go inside the Tinker & Larson Auto Repair to take off my warm-ups while eating a cliff bar and give them my gear bag, and get back to the start. I got in the porta-potty line a full half hour before the race which is a bit early for me but gave me time to relax which was nice.

From my warm-up ski I learned there were lots of ridges in the snow by the start and with my kick wax that posed a potential hazard of catching my skis on the ridges. In the end, I decided to line up in the second row, on the far right next to Josie where there was space around me. The gun went off just as the anthem concluded (as we all joked it would) and we were off. I always try to stay with Josie, at least to the lake, but in the tracks she was just, like gone, and so was everyone else it seemed!


The start of the classic race. I'm the bright  green bib second from your left. You can see the ridges in the snow. Photo: Bruce Adelsman
Almost everyone took the first 90 degree corner on the inside while I was outside, and so after the first corner I was easily able to get into the tracks. That was a bit scary on the second 90 degree corner and fortunately I didn’t fall. Then it was smooth sailing down to the lake but by now Josie was so far gone!

Me, far left, and Kerrie, far right, on the first corner. You can see the congestion on the inside and that Josie is already long gone! Photo: Bruce
I had seen Kerrie Berg at the start and I wondered when she would come cruising by me. I was going to try and stay with her if I could!

I was admittedly glad when we made it to the far east end of the lake and didn’t head up the steep hill on the northeast side of the lake. Once we did get off the lake, my kick was bomber. It is so fun when I have great kick and unfortunately it’s rare. I was skiing around a couple guys and trying to double pole hard, hard, hard, surprised with every stroke that Kerrie hadn’t blasted past me yet.

There was a new loop by the first aid station which was a good surprise. Here I could see just how much of a gap Josie already had! Wow, she is fast. Around the aid station I realized Kerrie was hot on my heels. There were a couple other guys skiing with us and as we literally wound back and forth one guy started talking to us. He knew me, wondered who Kerrie was, and asked if anyone was in front of us. “Josie!” we chorused.

Josie- way out in front! Photo: Bruce
We were skiing with “Joe.” In my head I went, “Joe?, Joe?....Joe Manns- the canoer?” Yes, that’s who I was skiing with. He later told me he was surprised to be skiing up with me as usually I left him in the dust, but I had the opposite recollection and so was quite glad to be skiing with him and told myself I needed to stay on him.

And so we snaked and snaked and I was keeping up with Kerrie and Joe. Sometimes I was working beyond my comfort level and other times it was easy. And a couple times I was inadvertently riding up on their skis despite my best intentions not to when we started striding or kick double poling. I was pretty stoked to be skiing with Kerrie because she’s won the classic Birkie and has been faster than Josie at times.

Then we were onto the new north loop. I heard there were a couple insignificant hills on this loop. Suddenly, heading into the first downhill, I found myself a bit behind. And then I got stuck in the far track on the outside corner. Now, I’m not a terrible downhiller, I could be better, I could sometimes have better confidence, but what I really really suck at is trusting in the tracks on big corners. And so I did the only thing I could do to keep myself upright: I snowplowed with one ski out of the track on the entire downhill.

I was so irate at myself and told myself I absolutely had to catch back up to my pack. And somehow, I actually managed to do owing to what kick was still left on my skis and the longest uphill on the entire course.

This had got me a bit out of breath and so I was happy to ski behind my pack again as we headed back south. Given the courses had all been changed this year, we were now mingling with the 35 km skate race, a race I haven’t even seen in the past couple years. As we headed into a couple short hills, I was skiing ahead of Kerrie when we got to a steep herring bone hill. I was running up the hill when I felt her step on my pole. I reflexively jerked it back and heard her go down. “Sorry!” I yelled and then kept going. After this I noticed that Kerrie dropped a long way back. I wasn’t sure if she was hurt or what happened.

A couple kilometers later, Joe, who had been in front on that hill asked, “Where’s Kerrie?” I told him about her fall and he said, “We’ll, I bet you’re happy about that.”

“Well, not exactly,” I responded.

“Yeah.”

We kept double poling and double poling. Soon we were going through the lap and back out on the lake. I was still skiing with these two guys, at times it was easy to stay up with them and then all of a sudden they’d pull away from me and I’d have to chase hard.


My bro doing the classic race. I guess double poling is a genetic thing:) Photo: Bruce
The lead 50 km skate pack passed us on the lake with a round of cheers and then as we headed off the lake my kick obviously wasn’t as bomber and we were trading skate/herring bone space with the 35 km skate race. At least we were moving about the same speed as those skiers. And so we kept on, me being glued to Joe. I liked skiing with him, because unlike many of the guys my speed, he had good technique and was very smooth. I can’t say quite the same for the other guy with us. Eventually we caught another guy. As the kilometers wore on, my second place was getting more and more solidified.

Around this time this was the scene on Main Street in Mora- my teammates Nate and Paul sprinting to the line! Photo: Bruce
Erik, skiing the 50 km skate race, passed me just before we headed onto the north loop. I thought he said “Pass those guys!” to me. But I was like “No, dude, this is my pack.”

As we made our way around the north loop it was me and three guys. I surely wasn’t about to make the same mistake I did on that big hill this time and so got out of the tracks in plenty of time and nicely cornered the left hander. As we started up the big hill section, I was riding up on the guy we had caught. I noticed his skis said “skin” on them.

“Elspeth, what are you doing skiing with somebody using skin skis in this race?” I asked myself. He was going way too slow.

So yeah, I made a move on an uphill to a guy using skin skis by double poling and running on my skis that were quickly losing kick. As we crossed back over the road I had definitely left two guys in the dust and only Joe was still with me.


The top classic guys always have this debate whether to use kick or not. Thomas Kendrick and Andrew Tillman both had kick and seemed to have a slight advantage over Karl on this hill who was just double poling, but Karl still got them in the end. Us women aren't so foolhardy, we always go with kick, at least until it wears off. Photo: Bruce
The remaining kilometers went by quickly. I was looking forward to a break from double poling, but mostly I enjoyed the absolutely perfect day, my pole straps staying in place (I wore my SWIX lobsters and didn’t wear rubber gloves underneath, thinking those rubber gloves might have caused the slipping that plagued me in previous years), and loving the flat course for double poling. The only entertainment was provided by the occasional 50 km skate skiers passing us.

“Look who I found!” Caitlin remarked as she passed me. On her tail was Erik. Those two ski with such remarkably different technique it was pretty comical to watch them. It’s almost like they are doing two different sports.

Erik and Caitlin sprint to the finish. Photo: Bruce
Then we were back on Mora Lake. As we neared Bell Hill I heard Craig yell “Drop that guy” about Joe. I tried to make my way up the Bell Tower Hill as fast as I could but that hill is just a bit off camber and I’ve never been super fast going up that hill. Then I double poled as hard as I could to the finish and stayed in front of Joe. I believe this is the only marathon I’ve ever done that I have skied with a pack/people the entire race! Such a change up from always skiing by myself.

Me finishing! Oh, I still have room for lots of technique improvement. Photo: Bruce
I was second overall in the women’s race and 37 of 192 finishers. This year I was just a tad under 6 minutes behind Josie. I often feel so stagnant in this race and so I compared my time back between this year, 2019, and 2018. This year I was only 4% back of Josie compared to 8% back the previous two years, although both of those years she had more competition. Compared to the men’s winning time, I was 28% back in 2018, 25% back in 2019, and this year, when the top four men took it down to the line, I was only 22% back. So maybe I’m not as stagnant as I thought.

As I changed back at Tinker & Larson, we were exchanging race stories. “I don’t know why I think I can ever stay with Josie!” I said followed by an immediate loud eruption in laughter. I realize it might be crazy that I continue to hold out hope of ever racing with Josie, but if I don’t hold this belief, then I’d have nothing to motivate me to keep training. What would be the point of racing? I mean, the whole goal is always to get better. I do recognize that I may never be fast enough to race with Josie. And that’s OK. But I won’t know if I don’t try and I’ll never get any better if I don’t try. It’s also important to break it down into smaller goals, to appreciate the small steps along the way, like feeling confident on my classic rollerskis or being able to stride-glide really powerful when I do have good kick.

I also owe it to Josie to try and stay with her. I’ve cherry-picked a few too many races in my day and while it’s fun to win, it’s always better when there’s some competition.

Training and constantly trying to get better does pay off. Every year that I’ve done Mora Classic my lower back is so sore the next day. But you know what? Last weekend I got that soreness out of the way after the City of Lakes Loppet Classic. Our bodies do adjust with training and so maybe, just maybe, one of these days I’ll be able to double pole like those women on the World Cup and keep up with Josie!


The Classic Podium! Unfortunately Kerrie was MIA (I think she was out skiing more with her kids!). I'm not sure Erik wants photo credit for this one:)
After the race I saw Kerrie Berg (she finished third overall). She ended up breaking a pole when she fell, which is a big bummer and explains why I never saw her again. She’s also been battling a sinus infection for a few months. Stay tuned for next weekend when we have a rematch at the 25 km classic at the Finlandia!

Monday, February 3, 2020

Loppet MinneTour 2020

After several years of Erik trying to convince me to do the MinneTour, largely because the prize money in the women’s field goes five deep and often there aren’t too many women competing in this category, I finally decided to do it. Erik forgot this was likely to result in a several page blog post he’d have to edit:)

The Loppet MinneTour is comprised of three races: the skate sprints on Friday night, the long classic race on Saturday, and the long skate race on Sunday. This year both of the “long” races were 37 km.

While I wasn’t too excited to race two almost marathons on back-to-back days, I’ve done this a number of times previously and always feel super tired for the second marathon. I figured I should do the MinneTour at least once.

The week before the MinneTour, Erik got a cold. I kept waiting to get the cold as well.

Throughout January I trained every day with lots of skiing, running, strength, and intervals. I began tapering Wednesday, doing less than half of the Vakava workout. I wanted to ski a bit on Thursday but ultimately decided it would be best for me to take a day off. I often struggle taking days off but knew my body needed it to be competitive in the MinneTour.


The Skate Sprints


I’m not much of a sprinter but was determined to give it my best effort. I practiced some sprints on various parts of the course earlier in the season. While doing a couple fast three minute efforts wouldn’t make me too tired for the remainder of the weekend, I knew getting to Wirth and waiting around for the often not so well organized sprints would take a toll. Plus, given the sprints were at 7 PM, I had to figure out how to get in a solid dinner (I hate eating dinner too close to bedtime). And, since sprinting a couple hours prior to bedtime doesn’t help me sleep, that would be another negative.

Fortunately, since Erik convinced me to do the MinneTour and was only doing the long skate race himself, he was willing to be my support person for the weekend.

My day at work was busy and put things in perspective. This always helps take the pressure off racing. For reference, I work at Hennepin County Medical Center (now Hennepin Healthcare). So I arrived to the start grateful for:

1. An safe, stable, and abuse-free upbringing and life

2. To be loved, supported, and respected by so many people

3. That I’m able to ski, almost always pain free

4. That I’m able to ski hard


If anyone thinks this list is cheesy, consider yourself exceptionally fortunate. This small list (yes, it does look like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) doesn’t hold true for many of the people on this planet.

I got my bib, met up with some of my Vakava teammates, and tried to relax. With 30 minutes to my quarterfinal, I put on my skis and began my warm up which included a couple hills and a couple sprint starts. Then it was time to race! And credit to the Loppet, they ran those heats on time and were well organized!

The top three women in each quarterfinal advanced to the semis and the other women went into the Consolation “Break your pole” heat. I thought I had a chance at advancing but knew Vivian Hett would destroy our heat and I’d be lucky to beat one of the Garretsons.

The starter said “go” and we were off. Wow, I was still with the other ladies at the end of the double pole zone. I transitioned well into skating but found myself in 4th place. I couldn’t believe how hard I was breathing within 200 meters but it was awesome! I V-2’d a bunch and only V-1’d the steepest part of the catwalk. I tried hard to get into 3rd but didn’t quite make it. I was a long way in front of 5th so thought that boded well for potentially winning the “Break your pole” heat and then could end up lucky 13th!

I chilled out for 30 minutes and then planned to get a good start position for the Consolation heat. I took the inside line again. Right at the start I realized I hadn’t hit my watch and lost a bit of time. I never did hit my watch. I quickly found myself in 6th place. I worked hard on the long uphill to crawl back into 3rd. I tried really hard to catch the 2nd place woman but just couldn’t quite do it. Ahhh, if only I could actually balance on my skis I could put in some power.

It was nice to see a bunch of my Vakava teammates do really well!

In the end, I didn’t get any bonus seconds from the sprints but I did put in two solid efforts for which I was proud.

The giant piece of cake I ate on Friday prior to the sprints. Maybe not the healthiest decision, but definitely calorie and carb packed!

The Classic Race


I still hadn’t gotten Erik’s cold. Crazy luck!

Conditions for the classic race were perfect: upper 20s to low 30s, no wind, and good snow. Given that the first third is all double pole with the hills later in the race, it makes kick waxing difficult. I knew I’d appreciate some kick for the hills, so decided to wax thick and warm, hoping it wouldn’t all wear off by the time I got there. I put on binder, ironed in a layer of SWIX VR 55, then corked in four layers of VR 50, and finally covered it with two layers of VR 45.

Women started in the far right four lanes. I appreciate that the Loppet has this designation for women. Hoping for a top 10 finish, I put my skis down in the second row. I warmed up, cut in the port-a-potty line (not the best move), and got to the start. I lined up next to Margie. The gun sounded and we were off! Us women were pretty nice with letting each other in as the tracks went from several sets to five and then to four. I found myself behind Margie in the far right lane. I was easily able to keep up and wanted to go a bit faster. A bunch of guys and one woman passed us in a train and I hopped over a track and joined them. It was obvious this track was much faster and I let Margie know and she jumped in behind me.


The classic start. I'm way over on the far left in front. Photo: Margaret Adelsman
Skiers were passing me and I tried to go to whatever lane was moving faster. On the south side of Bde Mka Ska the trail went onto land and narrowed to only two classic tracks. I was behind a couple guys in either track who were going the same pace which became rather pedestrian. These guys created an impasse. Knowing my strong suit is double poling, I wanted to make time up on the lakes. I tried to be patient. It was possible to go around them but out of the tracks the snow was significantly slower. I tried this once, failed, and got back in the tracks. I tried to be patient again. Margie was hoping to make a move, too. I told her I thought there were only five women in front of us so it wasn’t a total loss. I tried to go around again out of the tracks but was then working super hard. Margie and I discussed tracking one of the guys.

Finally, a guy made his way through the field. I jumped in behind him and told him to track the guy in front. He did that, Margie jumped in behind me, and we were finally clear of the impasse.


Margie and I right after we broke clear of the impasse. Photo: Margaret Adelsman

The track between Bde Mka Ska and Isles was a bit rough. Out of Isles I tried to keep up with Margie. A few guys passed us. Soon Margie got a ways in front of me and so did the other guys, including my teammate, Brock. By the time we were onto Cedar I was skiing by myself.

I often end up by myself and while I’m still skiing hard, I kinda like being by myself. That way I don’t have to match or worry about anyone else. I kept skiing hard and as I climbed the hill coming off the east side of Cedar I was slipping badly. It’s always a hard transition to go from pure double poling to striding. I told myself I needed to calm down a bit, that this was a long race, and I needed to do some striding. This helped, I found my groove, and step turned a couple downhills.

I sure love double poling though and enjoyed the last bit of Cedar and Brownie. As I climbed up off Brownie, it was obvious I didn’t have the greatest kick. I felt super slow. The stretch along 394 was slow. I told myself it was slow for everyone. The first hill in the bog was sugary and my kick wasn’t good. I flailed and didn’t do well on transitions. As I made my way to the steep hill in the bog, I was gaining on a couple guys. I did some herring bone walking, letting myself get my heart rate down a tad. Then I tried not to snowplow too much on the downhills but sometimes where they had put the tracks down made things a bit tricky. As I came out of the bog, I was catching up to a guy. He wasn’t any good at the downhills and I had no idea how he could be in front of me. He snowplowed the ENTIRE last hill in the bog. I couldn’t quite get in front of him and after we crossed the road and started out on Butler, he snowplowed down the entire first hill in Butler as well. Now I was completely set on passing him because I wasn’t about to get stuck behind him on any more downhills!

I made my way past him as we skied parallel to Wirth Parkway. Here I passed former Vakava teammate, Ryan, and he told me I was 6th woman! This made me really happy and kept me going (he had actually miscalculated and I was 7th, but still well within top 10!). I had practiced the next sequence of downhills but still snowplowed a tad and then snowplow turned around a left hander in Wirth that looked like it had been skidded out by the fast skiers. I tried to ski each section of the course fast, not thinking about what was ahead.

I finished skiing through Butler, across some slush and yikes, standing water on the pond, passed a couple more guys, wondered why they put tracks down on a sharp left corner and made my way to the Wirth Beach area. I took a feed and set out to pass my teammate Brock back up. Things were going well until we hit ice and then standing water on Wirth Lake (note to self: tomorrow’s event will be the first of its kind- a totally new duathlon- ski-swim-ski, better buy a dry suit tonight:)

Up and over Jar Hill, back across Wirth Lake where the snow was good and onto JD gardens. I struggled with skiing fast in the tracks on some corners. I always prefer no tracks. I could hear someone coming up on me. Oh, no, was this a woman? Sure enough it was. She passed me towards the end of JD gardens and I stuck with her for awhile. She got in front of me in Tornado Alley. At least I figured I could use the injection of pace to pull me further in front of some of the MinneTour competitors!

Soon we were skiing the Front 9 where I had my best striding of the day. This felt wonderful. And then before long we were crossing over Wirth Parkway on the bridge, making our way by The Finish at The Trailhead (Brian and Matt were already done, I was just glad none of the Puoli skiers had finished yet) and out towards Twin Lakes. I kept trying to push the pace but was admittedly t-i-r-e-d. By now the snow was transforming and with it any hope for kick. At least there were only a few K left, albeit with some big uphills!

I kept going, often running, double poling, and sometimes just herring bone walking up the hills. I skied too cautiously on a couple downhills and Brock caught back up with me. Then it was just two big uphills to go. We struggled through the first together- double poling, then trying to find some kick before resorting to a herring bone walk at the steepest and last part of the hill. Brock pulled in front of me in the tracks on the long sledding hill and got in front of me but he did inspire me to double pole a large section of that last big uphill which really helped. Finally, it was out of the tracks to try some running. My skis were slipping, I was tired, and as I went up the very last section and around a steep corner, I just walked a few strides. Then it really was all downhill from there and I tried to push hard to the finish to give myself all the advantage I could for tomorrow!

My lower back was sore from double poling and I had that cardiovascular “I pushed hard” feeling. My average heart rate was 151. I finished 8th of 54 women! It felt great to have a decent classic race. I put it all out there, hoping my solid training would carry me through tomorrow's skate race.

Now the trick was a mix of recovery and eating enough food!

The Skate Race


After skiing through some standing water yesterday and given temperatures expected to be about freezing overnight, I expected there might be some re-routing of the loppet. As usual, the Loppet left things to the last minute but promised to make a decision by 7 am.

I had a second fitful night of sleep with dreams of potential course circumstances. I worried about my MinneTour place and how course changes could affect this. My balance skating isn’t great and this is usually exaggerated on the flat lakes. I hadn’t looked at any official MinneTour standings, but as far as I knew, I was in fourth place, had about 8 minutes on fifth place, and money went five deep.

I woke up and checked the Loppet Website which noted course as usual with a couple small changes. OK, here we go.

I ate the same breakfast as Saturday morning (granola with a scoop of peanut butter, milk, and a banana) and we headed to the start. I skied from the parking lot to the start and then a bit more but didn’t feel like doing a warm up. I was getting hot, hot, hot though and thought about just skiing in my sports bra. I debated for a few minutes. The sun was getting higher but when I unzipped my warm-up pants I could feel the breeze and decided to leave on my spandex top.

I gave myself plenty of time in the port-a-potty line today and didn’t budge:)

Given I was in the “Bottle” wave (Best of the Loppet) and one of the slowest in that wave, I didn’t worry about a good start position and got in the corral five minutes to start and lined up next to some similar ability women. The gun went off and conditions were rough! The skate deck was fast enough but very soft on the sides. I struggled to stay up and keep up with the women. At one point I almost fell over, gliding unsteadily on my right ski for a very long time. I only knew who the top three women in the MinneTour were, the ones that I was never going to beat unless one of them had a very bad day or dropped out, but thought I knew a couple others and tried to keep them in my sights. Mostly though, I just tried not to fall over.

Usually I would be completely frustrated at these conditions, but I was a woman on a mission today. There was prize money at stake.

When my former teammate Angie passed me I vowed to stay with her (and skate behind her, not just resort to double poling:) and I did and she brought me up to a pack of women. I passed these women and started working on the next pack and I just kept doing that the whole race, trying to stay upright, picking off women, and so so so looking forward to the nicer snow on the snowmaking loop!

I didn’t know exactly who these women were in the MinneTour, but was feeling pretty confident by Isles that my presumed fourth place was a deal and then could just focus on trying to do as well as possible in the skate race.

By Cedar Lake I was so hot and knew I had made a mistake wearing my spandex top. I vowed to stop and drink a full glass of water at every aid stop. Maybe I needed the calories from the energy drink (which I did take at the last aid station) but somehow the energy drink never quenches my thirst.

Oh, I should've dressed more like this guy! Photo: Margaret Adelsman
Soon enough we were into the Bog. Things were going well until on a gradual straight downhill I just caught an edge and was down. A couple skiers I had just passed went around me and then I got up. I kept going, didn’t seem to be hurt, and was ever so slightly cooled off which was at least a plus.


I was too slow in the skate race to have any photos of me so I've included some of my teammates. From left to right it's Mary Beth, Bonnie, and Erik skiing across 394. Photo: Margaret Adelsman
I kept skiing through Bog and Butler, passed a couple people and a couple others passed me. One guy tried to sneak by me on the steepest hill in Butler but this resulted in both of us coming to a standstill. I let him pass me and then heard another skier behind me say “It’s OK, go Elspeth.” I didn’t know who this was but it ended up being my teammate Hans. I was very thankful that he let me ski up that hill in front of him and provided me some confidence that I was still moving decently well.

The conditions were such that the trail was only one skier wide. The skied-in snow was significantly faster than that on the side and thus passing required significant energy. As the day wore on and I made it through JD Gardens, Tornado Alley, and onto the Front 9, I was grateful for the contraband on my skis. In these conditions, pure fluoros really do make a significant difference. While it’s fun to still be able to ski fast in this completely suck snow, it did make me think about the impending fluoro ban. Potential substitutes for fluoro would have to be hydrophobic and since we live on a hydrophilic planet, well, they may turn out to be not so good for us and the environment either. Can we as skiers declare we’ll just stick to the hydrocarbons? I’m cool with this if everyone else is, although these sufferfest conditions usually work to my advantage as I usually have a high level of fitness but lack balance and top end speed.

Nate and Erik skiing together after Nate caught Erik from Wave 1. Photo: Margaret Adelsman
I passed another woman at the second to last aid station as I took a long drink and then caught up to Jenna. Wow, I was feeling so so ridiculously good and my favorite part was coming up! I passed Jenna as we made our way by the finish. I also got to see two of my Vakava teammates- Alex and Craig, finish 3rd and 4th respectively! The snowmaking loop was considerably less rutted but I still noted that the skied in snow was a bit faster. My skis were running fast relative to everyone else, and that had been affirmed watching Alex and Craig finish.

Alex and Craig skiing together. Photo: Margaret Adelsman
Through Twin Lakes, up the Catwalk and onto the far north trails I was still feeling good. Yes, I was tired but I still had really great energy. A couple more Wave 1 guys passed me, I passed a couple more Bottle guys. One guy I passed V-2ing in the super slow snow. I wondered why I didn’t just track him? What would the top 20 guys do? Shouldn’t the top 20 women do the same?

Ha, on the next big downhill I tried to pass another Bottle guy but forgot how slow the snow was just outside where everyone else had gone! I passed him on the next big uphill. That’s the second to last big uphill I told myself. And then it was over and I was going down the sledding hill. Oh, my skis were slow compared to other days, but they still had some fluoros and structure left. I went over the bump on the corner and then started V2-ing my way back up the last big uphill. “Elspeth, how far are you going to V-2 up this hill?” I asked myself. It ended up being a little less far than I had double poled up yesterday. I broke into a V-1 as I kept repeating to myself “Last uphill, last uphill.” I kept pushing as hard as I could right to the finish even though no one was in sight. But there’s always people from other waves! Indeed, a Wave 1 woman got me by 9 seconds!

While I was definitely tired at the end, I was more surprised by how much energy I had. I actually felt way better than yesterday. It felt like my average heart rate had been way lower.

We sat around for a couple hours waiting for awards. Finally the results came in. I ended up 17th woman in the skate race! I was stoked about that. And my fourth place in the MinneTour was finally confirmed.


Wow, a Big Check and sharing the podium with some Big Names! Photo: Erik


As I skied those final kilometers so strong, it seemed almost surreal. It was by far the best I’ve ever felt in all my previous marathon doubles, albeit this one was slightly shorter. I thought about all the external factors that kept me going so fast- the size of the women’s field over which I had no control, Erik encouraging me to go for the prize money, all the volunteers on course, my teammates and fellow skiers who were so encouraging, the spectators cheering so loud, Ahvo giving me technique advice, Brian Gregg for videoing me (when I tried to do some intervals with Caitlin) so I knew what Ahvo was talking about, and Finn Sisu who waxed the Vakava skis.

Then I thought about the internal factors- all those years of training 500 hours, and especially my last month of training with twice weekly intervals and not racing to keep me mentally fresh and it was no wonder why it all came together.

I’m glad I did the MinneTour. I’m not sure I’d say the same if I wasn’t on the podium. Now I’m looking forward to a few nights of good sleep and highly doubt I’ll do it again!

Mission accomplished for this weekend. I can relax some now, absorb the effort from the weekend, and ride my great fitness through the rest of the ski season.