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!

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