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

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