Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Chilling Out: Literally and Figuratively

Perhaps I’m just getting old, but my cold tolerance has taken a dramatic downturn over the past few years. Last year’s January and February were brutal, resulting in a frozen thumb and subsequent mega handwarmers for four weekends in a row of racing. My core can handle the cold as can my face, but my hands are weak. I’ve always had cold hands and Raynaud’s since high school, hence skiing isn’t exactly the best sport for me.

Erik got a hand boiler for Christmas. It’s a glass device with some colored liquid in the bottom, that when held by hot hands, moves upwards through a bunch of tubes, and "boils". The joke was on me. Everyone else could get it to instantly boil, but me, not at all. So it goes. 

Hand boiler and its box in case you're interested.

My training was going average until mid-November when after some running intervals, a long walk, and an overdistance skate rollerski, my posterior tibial tendonitis (more on this in a subsequent post) reared its ugly head and I haven’t ran since. Now I’m trying to tell myself that a 5 mile walk counts as much as a 5 mile run. I do walk fast but don’t think it provides quite the same cardio; the jury is out though on muscle fitness.

I decided to keep on with ski training and hope the break from running alone would be enough to rest my inflamed tendon. This was going OK but then back in December we had a week of rain, then snow, followed by cold. I volunteered at high school ski practice and thought I’d be OK. I used hand warmers inside my mittens but my thumbs got cold. I pulled them inside with my other fingers twice and then the third time I decided it was time to go home. But my car key fab was too cold and didn’t work. I fumbled getting out the back-up key which didn’t work either. I ran around frantically and the whole time my thumbs didn’t get warm. When I finally got into the car and got my hands warm, I realized my thumbs still felt numb. I’d frostbit both of them. Not again, and this time so early in the season.

I didn’t ski the next three days, hoping my strength workouts, shoveling, and starting to bring back in some walking would be decent training.

This brought me to Saturday December 24th, a sunny but cold day barely above zero with a fierce wind. It had been over a week since my last intervals and so with a short warm-up and an even shorter cool down knowing I’d be really sweaty, I got it done, 3 x 15 minutes, and mostly was able to keep my thumbs warm.

The next week I was lucky enough to have a ski vacation in Duluth and Bemidji and we were all lucky enough to have some temps in the 20s. I suppose the upside to cold weather is that it really makes me appreciate warmer weather. I got in 11 days in a row of skiing (although one day was a brief street ski during the big snowstorm) and two interval sessions amassing 20 hours. OK, that’s not actually that much but in the previous 11 days I only skied 7 hours. Now the weather has remained moderate and we have excellent natural snow so I’ve still been skiing a good amount.

Excellent skiing at Three Island County Park in Bemidji.


Well, I’d be skiing more but as I previously mentioned, I’ve been doing some volunteer high school coaching. The Type A in me is regretting the time I could be spending training instead of giving lots of technique advice and often skiing slower with the kids. It’s a balance between wanting to give back, feeling good about the coaching, and feeling bad about my lack of workout. I try to get in at least 8 miles during those coaching sessions which often last nearly two hours. It’s always more than what the kids ski and it reminds me of one of my high school ski teammates who was also a swimmer. Her specialty was the 500 meters in swimming. One day she remarked, “so in swim practice we usually do 2,000 meters but in ski practice we usually do 5 km and the pursuit race is 10 km. No wonder why I feel like we ski a marathon for every race.” So true. Between busing to snow for practice and an incredibly wide range of ability of skiers spread throughout the trail, it just doesn’t leave much time for skiing. 

High school throwback- first varsity race, a team relay at Mount Itasca. Date on photo.

I’m still not running but am doing a lot of walking. Next week is trending cold again and I suspect I won’t ski as much. But the week after that we’re headed to Sun Valley and planning to log some long days. I’m telling myself all this is good to switch up the routines- have a few high volume weeks, some very low volume weeks, and try a winter of not running. It mimics a lot more what I did in college and I was relatively successful back then. Indeed, despite so many more hours of training, I don’t think I’m that much more proportionately faster now, so maybe this new experiment of sorts, this kind of forced periodization and changing things up with injury and weather and ski trips, will be good for me.

Does our snowy back yard look impressive? So easy to ski with temps in the 20s and lots of natural snow.

So in essence I’m trying to chill out more in the figurative sense- train when the training is good, try not to stress about it when it’s not, give back, and try new things. And avoid chilling out in the frostbite sense. We’ll see how it shakes out come February racing season.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Ben’s Backyard Ultra

Last year, Vakava member Ben and his wife, hosted the Inaugural Forsta Upplagan (first edition) Lindstrom Bakgard Ultra after having recently moved to a house which abuts Linstrom’s Allemnsratt Park. This year, Ben hosted the Andra Upplagan (second edition).

Over the past couple years, I’ve been dealing with right posterior tibial tendonitis. I had been thinking about running another half marathon, but wasn’t too stoked about the courses available. Hence, when Ben announced his Bakgard Ultra, this gave me some training motivation to ramp up the distance.

For those unfamiliar with the backyard ultra format, there are some official rules. Briefly, participants must complete a 4.4 mile loop starting on the hour and ending within the hour to be eligible to continue. Most backyard ultras last 24 hours or until no one is willing to go any longer.

Ben’s version is more informal, largely designed for the Vakava team and some friends. Hence, the loop is closer to 4 miles and relatively easy. Biking is allowed, along with skipping laps or starting late (although you have to follow the rules to be eligible for the overall trophy). Hanging out is also highly encouraged along with potluck food, beer, yoga, and kuub. Last year, Vakava member Craig Cardinal took the win with 28 miles and seven laps. I had a work party and so arrived late to the noon start and due to my tendonitis, only made it a full three laps and two partials (partials get part of a sticker on the official board). 

 

Craig winning the inaugural 2021 Lindstrom Bakgard Ultra and last year's board (note the partial stickers).

Last year's official results. I like the bikers.

When Ben sent out the invite for the Andra Upplagan, I had a goal of 28 mile to make it a full ultra, but my training didn’t go so well. On my first 10.5 mile run my tendonitis really flared. It got better on subsequent 10.5 mile runs but I wasn’t interested in pushing the distance so that was my longest run prior to the ultra. After my poor training, I scaled back my goal to 20 miles, for five laps. 

The Andra Upplagan course.


The Andra Upplagan was held on July 30th, starting at 10 am. Fortunately it wasn’t too hot, but it was sunny. We had a large pack on the first lap but by the second I was the only woman with a few guys. The pack slowly dwindled throughout the day (although technically finishing the lap faster won’t get you any closer to the win other than more recovery time). We were running the loop in just over 40 minutes which meant 15+ minutes of recovery in between. Temps were already a toasty 79 degrees at the start and climbed to the upper 80s by mid-afternoon. The first half of the lap was mostly shaded through the forest but then we ran nearly a mile on paved roads before doing a fairly open section through the fields. 

Most of the crew for the Andra Upplagan (a few had already left by the time we did this photo).

After eating a large breakfast, I only hydrated between the first and second laps and took down a cookie between the second and third. After the third lap though, I was ready for some serious fueling. Someone had brought Seven Layer Dip and the saltiness of this combined with some protein and a more “real food” feel was awesome. After a couple scoops of dip, I had a handful of fruit (cherries or watermelon), and then finished with another cookie.

The chillin' scene in the shade under Ben's deck between laps. Craig just got more water and the food is closest to the house.

Teammate Alex joined us for the fourth lap. He was fresh and kept the pace hot, even for Craig. I had noticed on the previous laps that the guys started a bit fast and then slowed but not on this lap! We weren’t going that fast but seeing as I was now running farther than I’d ran all year and temps were climbing into the mid-80s, my heart rate really jacked up towards the end of that fourth lap. At least Alex brought some leftover Costco cake and a piece of that cold was amazing before starting the 5th lap which I scaled back a tad and ran with coach Mark. I was still breathing hard and struggling a bit out in the heat and called it a day after that (well, except that I was tempted to keep going even though my body said no and I started on another loop before calling it and later walked almost 2 miles).
Heart rate graph of my laps. You can see my heart rate really got higher on the 4th lap and then didn't rebound as well before my last lap.


While my tendonitis definitely flared the next day, my muscles didn’t, which I attribute to the 15+ minutes of rest between laps.

According to my Garmin, I clocked 20 miles in 4 hours and 42 minutes with 3 hours and 30 minutes of “on time,” climbing 575 feet (very flat land!), and burning 1,949 calories.

We had better run participation this year compared to last with two people bailing at 20 miles, an additional two completing a conventional marathon, and Craig taking the win again at 28 miles. He says “someone has to make it an ultra!” 

 

Craig taking the win for the second year and this year's board.



The super sweet traveling trophy. Craig needs some competition so flag down a Vakava member and ask to be invited to the Tredje Upplagan in 2023!

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Elspeth's 2021-2022 Season Recap

Despite doing a record number of races in March (the Yellowstone Rendezvous, Mora’s Last Chance, and the Denim Derby) and skiing throughout the month, those pictures of pristine trails north of me in April still left me drooling. An April ski trip wasn’t in the cards for us this year, but makes me know I still love skiing. 

 

I won best-dressed female at the Denim Derby with these overalls I got back in 9th grade.



Just like last year, I’m going to put some thoughts in bullets.

  • I love that despite my advancing age, I hold out belief that I can get faster! I’m still convinced I can find a higher gear to tap into. I’m getting older though, so I’d better find it soon.

  • But what do I have to do to get faster? I do my strength, have people plenty faster than me to chase at Vakava…can I just stay up with Bonnie and Laura? Should I do different strength, different intervals?

  • Last October I V-2’d the ENTIRE Coulee Hill in Afton. Sure, it wasn't pretty BUT I stayed ahead of people on the steeper part I’m no match for with V-1. Despite this, I couldn’t qualify for the Elite Skate Wave at the Birkie in 2020. Alas, sometimes we can work so hard and still not achieve our dreams.
  • The elevation (in gray) and heart rate (in red) profile from my Afton Rollerski where I V-2'd the Coulee Hill in the middle of the ski (where the heart rate spikes).

 

  • I don’t like racing much and struggled heading into City and Mora. When there’s not much competition and I win or get a podium it just seems easier but competition…


  • Should I just embrace racing by myself? I love this way more than skiing in packs but I equate skiing in packs with being faster. But I don’t like that someone is going to win and lose. Why does this feel so black and white- that there’s a winner and a loser? Why can’t I just see it as a race?
  • I elected to not look at the results from my last two races. This felt kind of good. Maybe I’ll do it more (although I might miss out on some awards:)
  • I love Mora. Double pole course. The only other course I’ve found that compares is The Great Bear Chase…I’m gonna give it a couple year hiatus but then I’ll be back.
  • I don’t fully appreciate just what my body can do compared to others my age with minimal soreness and fatigue. It’s not normal to run to and from work, 5 miles each way. It’s not normal to classic race the Mora Vasaloppet and not be sore the next day and run 5 miles. My body is amazing and so well trained.
  • Wow, Mora celebrated 50 years but 2014, eight years ago, was their last point-to-point race. It’s the end of an era. While I appreciate the easy logistics and good course conditions, there’s just something so epic (and now nostalgic) about the point-to-point race. I feel incredibly grateful that I got to do it. 
    An oldy but goody. The start of the Mora Vasaloppet in 2006. That's me in the old U of M spandex on the right. Photo: Skinnyski


I looked back on last year’s bullets with many similar themes- I want to be faster, I care too much about my results, and ultimately I enjoy the process of getting/staying fast. But this year I’ve come around to some of the awe of what my body can do and the ski race legacy.

I find it’s important to be well balanced (have other interests/work aside from only skiing), appreciate what is in my control (like V-2ing the Coulee Hill), and enjoy the daily workouts (I often do- can’t say I always love the hill bounding or classic ski intervals in the moment- but I always feel better afterwards).

In regard to other interests, here's the frame I made for my niece with three calendar prints.



And one for my nephew. Yes, that's ski waxing on the left.

The streets are getting cleaned so time to break out the rollerskis!


Sunday, March 13, 2022

A Winter Ski Trip and the Yellowstone Rendezvous

Erik and I continued on both our goals of state high-pointing and completing all the races in the somewhat defunct American Ski Marathon Series with a driving trip to Montana where we hit up the North Dakota high point along the way before ending the week with the Yellowstone Rendezvous.

After the Birkie, we drove home, slept, repacked the car, and set out west. 

Got the unicorn earrings on as we near the North Dakota high point.

First we stopped at Elm Creek for an easy day-after-the-Birkie ski. It’s kind of fun to only ski for an hour and conditions were great and it was warm (20 degrees).

That night we made it to Dickinson, North Dakota which set us up well for the North Dakota high point, White Butte, which rises 3,508 feet above sea level for Monday. It was a 3.5 mile round-trip hike with 445 feet of elevation gain. There wasn’t much snow, although all seemed to rest on the trail, but it was still a bit of an adventure and somehow I enjoyed it more than I anticipated. The mud there is tinted white and was occasionally slippery where snow was melting, and reminded me of our last high point, Nevada, in what is called the “White Mountains.” While North Dakota’s high point was significantly easier than Nevada’s, somehow it brought a similar feeling of accomplishment. 

 

We used Summitpost for the beta on this hike as it's on private land. Apparently the info hasn't been updated and we could have driven down this road to the parking lot (next photo) but instead we got to walk more and pass this abandoned farmhouse that frames the North Dakota high point in the distance.


 
The official White Butte Parking lot and some small white buttes.

 
Erik on the trail where we began gaining some elevation!

 
We saw this grove of trees on the west side of the butte- must be an area of concentrated moisture!

 
And of course crow pose on the summit:)

 
Then we kept driving west to Montana and it got warm. Erik wanted to stop at Pompeys Pillar, a notable rock along the Yellowstone River where Clark, of the Lewis and Clark expedition, carved his name. Since the road was closed for winter we ran in and then hiked the stairs to the top. 

 

Clark's name is in the rock under the frame above my head.

As we kept making our way farther west, the temps continued into the 40s and 50s and it rained as we went over the pass between Livingston and Bozeman. We had two days in Bozeman, both with overnight lows around 40 and temps in the 40s and 50s. After some debate, we went cross-country skiing at Crosscut and hiking the first day (Tuesday).

We skate skied about all the trails at Crosscut. Despite temps in the mid-forties, the trails were only slightly slushy and sometimes a tad icy. While we could have skied more, we decided to call it when it started raining. 

 

Garmin map from our ski at Crosscut. Note the 45 degrees in the upper right corner.


While it rained, we ate lunch in our car and checked our phones which called for an hour of rain. When the hour was up, we started hiking on a forest road. Erik brought his sled and did a couple super steep runs but then the terrain flattened and we started postholing so we headed back to the car and tried a hike that began climbing up a ridge. By now it was mid-afternoon and so when we got to a good viewpoint, we stopped, took it in, and then headed down- on the sled! Erik sledded the entire way down, sometimes with me pushing him, as he navigated switchbacks by carving and leaning in with his inside arm outstretched. I did a less curvy section near the bottom twice with him (we climbed part way back up) because it was so fun! 

 

View point.


 
Erik's switchback sled run route (from the Bracket Creek Trailhead in case you want to repeat this adventure).


The next day- Wednesday- we went downhill skiing at Bridger Bowl. That place seems to have runs going everywhere, especially through the trees, and I got lost a number of times. If you think this sounds goofy, check out Bridger Bowl. I did one run down from the very top on the “road” that got my heart rate up. Things were getting pretty slushy by the afternoon and I called it while Erik did a couple more runs. 

 

The view south-ish from the top of the highest chairlift at Bridger Bowl that doesn't require avalanche certification.


Before dinner, I ran around Bozeman and found some beautiful old houses and toured the Montana State University campus.

The next day, Thursday, it was time to head south to West Yellowstone. Lacking motivation with the warm temps, we decided to nix skiing at Lone Mountain Ranch for backcountry sledding and skiing adventures. First, we checked out the avalanche-prone slopes overlay on Gaiagps.com.

The sledding was hot! That mountain sun is so strong. I was stripped down to my sports bra before long and finally appreciated the two-way zips on my high school ski pants I was using as snow pants. We hiked for over an hour, gaining 700 feet of elevation, and then mostly sledded our way back down.

 

So hot hiking up the trail along Cinnamon Creek. Garmin said it was 59 degrees!!!

 
Erik sledding down.


Next we drove a few more miles down the road for a backcountry ski from the Specimen Creek Trailhead, except we were just on our skinny skis. We had picked this route because it looked as flat as possible for the mountains and it was. After skiing out 4 miles, we had still gained 600 feet of elevation. The snow was melting and slow. In the open areas I was baking in my black top. After we got done we drove the remainder of the way to West Yellowstone. 

 

Garmin track of our Specimen Creek "backcountry ski." Note, there wasn't enough snow for avalanche danger.



 
Skiing up the Specimen Creek Trail.


On Friday we took a lap of the 25 km Rendezvous course. Despite fast conditions, the kilometers slowly ticked by. I was amazed by how much the course reminded me of the Great Bear Chase with the exception of rare mountain views- largely because it’s all in towering pines, relatively rolling, and goes under powerlines twice. It got warm again and the powerful sun was transforming the open areas by the end of our ski. In the afternoon we did a short classic ski into Yellowstone National Park. 

 

Skiing in Yellowstone National Park with the Madison River. Erik and I had just started dating back in 2005 when we went to our first Yellowstone Ski Festival and so this brought back some memories.


Saturday dawned a bit cold for the Yellowstone Rendezvous. Erik and I both did the 50 km skate distance on the two loop course. Since we had been to the Yellowstone Ski Festival twice in the past (2005 and 2007), neither of us were terribly excited about the Rendezvous but the day exceeded our expectations. The snow was again fast thanks to the morning cold temps after the recent warm weather and it turns out that when there’s a marked course and we were blazing through intersections at high speeds, it’s much more fun than just being out for a ski and having to decide which trails to do. I was able to V-2 a lot and despite clocking 1750 feet of elevation change, it felt like we spent 25% of the time climbing and 75% of the time going downhill.

Knowing the course was at altitude (6500 feet and higher) I took it a bit easy and never pounded the uphills. I got placed in Wave 1 and started near the back. As we headed into the early part of the course with a couple big right-hander corners, I made my way to the front of the pack and passed a woman who was snowplowing and only doing the 25 km course. Awhile later she got back in front of me and I had to snowplow on a small hill but I soon went by her on the outside as the course rocketed through an intersection with a swooping left-hander. I worked hard to stay in front of her as we skied on and off the powerlines where there were a few more downhill turns and I didn’t want to snowplow.

That snowplow woman got ahead of me again as we headed on the Deja View trail near the end of the lap. I passed her on an inside corner- something I almost never do. Then I never saw her again because she was done and I was out for a second lap.

Yellowstone Rendezvous course from my Garmin.

The forecast called for clouds which I was banking on to both keep me cool (it was 18 at the start and so I wore a layer of long underwear under my spandex as it was only supposed to get up to 25) but the sun came out and stayed out. I got warm and tried fairly unsuccessfully to roll up my sleeves and also worried about the snow transforming and getting slow. As the kilometers ticked by on the second lap and it hadn’t transformed yet, I was glad and also found the long downhills cooled me off.

By the second lap the corners were heavily snowplowed-out and some even icy. I’ve learned to ski these by going outside the berm and step-turning around. This strategy has served me well. On the first big corner a guy fell in front of me and I had to cut inside but fortunately this was just after the turn and it wasn’t icy.

I skied the second lap by myself with a handful of people passing me from previous waves and me passing a couple. There was a small pack in front of me. As we climbed the big hill on Deja View (I know this section of trail the best as my only SuperTour race was the 10 km classic at the Yellowstone Ski Festival), I caught up to a woman who had passed me previous and then a Montana State University skier caught me. I tried to stay with that MSU skier through Deja View. At one point she had gotten in front of me but I caught her on the last big uphill because I was V-2ing which is so much more efficient for me than V-1, although it felt like all the blood was draining from my arms- a weird effect that I chalked up to the altitude.

The sunny ending stretch stayed fast although it was firm and I mostly used open-field as opposed to V-2. When I looked at my watch and saw I finished in just under 2 hours and 55 minutes I was surprised to be that fast, but snow conditions were lightening speed.

After a quick post-race feed we began our drive home. I drove and Erik read me some of the results; I decided to not look at them, at least not for awhile. If I did, I would be disappointed. True, I had held back at altitude and after a week of trying to enjoy being outside as much as possible, wasn’t exactly rested. I want to keep my good feelings about the race that would be tainted by seeing the results. It’s a novel idea for me, maybe something I’ll try again in the future.

According to the ASMS webpage, we only have four races left. Boulder Mountain Tour next year!!!
I crossed off all the ASMS races we've done. Quite the list spanning just about the entire country.


Monday, March 7, 2022

Birkie 2022: Striding, Gels, and Double Poling

After years of trying to learn how to stride classic skiing, this year I decided to give up, even after striding many miles on my rollerskis. Think France’s Hugo Lapalus vs Finland’s Iivo Niskanen. The latter has a beautiful stride that I would love to mimic but I’m built more like Lapalus and if he can be 7th in the 15 km classic at the Olympics running up hills, well, maybe that’s just a more efficient technique for me. 

 

Coach Mark Ahlers is an Elite Uberlegger with a good stride.


So I came into this year’s Classic Birkie with more process goals than usual. These included popping over uphills, double poling hard on the flats, getting in a few good strides on as many uphills as I could, and taking at least 3 gels. And I also had a revelation a couple days before the race. If I don’t like racing, why don’t I just consider the Birkie practice? I could practice striding. Ahvo led us through a session with lots of sprinting three days before the Birkie, but it also taught me to slow down my striding and really feel the glide.

It helped tremendously to feel confident I could slow down my strides and work on them in the race and still finish well within the Classic Elite Wave. This took so much pressure off me. It’s a privileged position. 

Teammate Craig crushing another Birkie Classic.


Not counting last year, I’ve done the classic Birkie 5 times- enough to know that the race is far from over at High Point. Hence, my strategy was to start slow and pick off skiers after High Point, not before.

The Classic Elite men and women line up together. With a wide start, we weren’t very deep but I was still near the back. Once we started, I quickly learned it was significantly slower outside the tracks, so I made my way to the left side of the course with the classic tracks. By the time we diverged from the skate trail, I was near the back but OK with that position. In the woods I tried to double pole any flats and slight uphills but it was slow going and quite the strength workout. I tried to stride and not just run in the tracks on the uphills.

On the Powerlines I felt comfortable skiing with a couple women, including Kelly Skiliocorn, but when my friend Annio Bunio came by, I let her go. Once back in the woods I stuck with the same strategy- skiing next to a couple women but looking ahead I bid my time and said “See you later!” After Timber Trail, Erin Blow came up alongside me. I skied with her until the long grinding High Point hill. I felt better than I have in the past at the bottom of the hill and tried to get in some strides. As it got steeper near the top I did a shorter shuffle stride and some running outside the tracks. Wave 1 men were whizzing by me and I felt like I didn’t belong.

 

My teammate Brock was one of the Wave 1 guys who passed me early on. He stayed well ahead of me to qualify for the Elite Wave next year.


By the top of High Point, despite trying to conserve some energy, my quads cramped but I had dropped the two women I’d been skiing with and caught #619. There’s more double pole terrain after High Point for which I was glad. I took a gel at Fire Tower and then worked the more rolling course to Bodecker where I took an energy drink and saw Annie Bunio. I slowly caught her on the way to OO where I took another gel. 

 

Annie Bunio rocking the gopher alumni suit.


Wow, the tracks were slow after OO. I mean, they had been slow all along but they weren’t getting any faster! I had intended to start racing harder at OO but was too tired- mostly my arms. The Wave 1 men weren’t coming by me and now I was slowly closing in on some who had passed me before, sometimes skiing with them for a bit, sometimes blazing past. About half way to Gravel Pit I saw Kelly in front of me and slowly caught her. On one hill as I got close to her I noted she was taking shuffling strides and I forced myself to take longer gliding strides and it felt great. Before Gravel Pit I also got my eye on another woman's bib.

I caught the two women just before Gravel Pit but I stopped to take water and a gel. Over the next couple hills, I caught back up with them, briefly skied with them, and eventually was able to drop them. In this section I spent a surprising amount of time skiing in a small pack with some Wave 1 guys. As I neared Mosquito Brook I was coming up on Lisa Garretson. I caught her just as we climbed the hill out of Mosquito Brook. She was striding and I told myself to just tuck in behind her and copy her technique. I did and was impressed with myself. I passed her after that hill, and then worked on catching Kris Hansen, the next woman in front of me, which I did before B Hill.

I walked B Hill, saddened it no longer attracts spectators, and then focused on a couple Wave 1 men in front of me. I took one last gel at Fish Hatchery and then tried to stride some up Sunset Hill but I was dogged tired. I did the best I could but jumped out of the tracks at any steep sections and just ran. When we finally rounded the corner and began heading west I was happy for the downhill. Then we got to ski across the new hwy 77 bridge. I was a bit disappointed to learn that it didn’t cut off any of the last big uphill as I was exhausted. Again on that last uphill I was in and out of the tracks, never walking, but not striding much either. I was glad to be done with the hills and didn’t mind the rolling ones after that. Just the sustained climbs kill me. 

 

Abe, another Vakava skier, leading his pack.


Just before the lake I passed my coach Dave Christopherson in the skate race. I told him to jump in behind me and that I’d pull him across the lake but he couldn’t sustain the pace. I was glad for the wind on the lake as I was roasting with the big temp warm-up but was also super tired. At least I can double pole well when tired. There were a few guys in front of me that I slowly picked off. A couple times I tried to inject the pace but immediately started hyperventilating so I took strength over turnover.

Once off the lake I never think I’ll make it but things get better once I start climbing the Birkie Bridge. “Make Ahvo proud,” I thought as I herring-bone ran up the bridge, albeit not at sprint speed. As I crested over the bridge I took a couple strong double poles and passed a skater. Then I made my way to the tracks on the left side of the course where I caught a Wave 1 guy and then raced him to the finish. Sure, he had 5 minutes on me but it got me to push harder. 

Me, happy to be in the rolling terrain south of OO.

My 15th Birkie done. 21st of 411 women; 203 of 1642 overall. My second worst place. I thought I was in better shape than that so am not sure what happened. My three best guesses are 1) It was any easy kick year and as a better endurance athlete, I suspect I do better when others are also struggling with kick. 2) It was really great striding conditions but since this jacks up my heart rate, I tried to double pole more early on which was slow and thus tired my arms so when I hit the double pole sections my arms were more tired. 3) Elite and Wave 1 skiers skied in the tracks making them faster for subsequent waves.

Or maybe I’m just getting old and slow!

As usual I think about how I can be better for next year and what went wrong. I still care about racing results. I know if I had the energy to stride more I could go faster, but my engine just isn’t that big. In terms of my process goals, my arms were too tired to hammer the flat sections or pop over uphills. On the flip side, I took four gels during the race and I’m quite certain I strided more in this year’s Birkie than any in the past so two of four process goals complete!!!

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The Minnesota Finlandia!

It was another cold race with temps barely crawling into the single digits and a strong wind causing windchills well below zero, similar to both the Classic City of Lakes Loppet and Mora. Too much of the race talk was about who froze what at Mora. My bro seems to take the cake with his nose, cheek, and left knee, which blistered into larger than a silver dollar! Ouch. Erik and I suspect he must’ve spilled some feed on his knee. Impressive.

“At these temps there’s just no room for error,” my friend Emily says. 

Emily and I skiing together in Colorado in November 2015 on a warm day when there was plenty of room for error! Photo: Craig

Given the ongoing pandemic, there was no lunch afterwards in the Lumberjack Hall of Fame. Participation was down but still competitive. I did the pursuit for the first time to mix things up. It’s a little over 13 km of classic followed by just under 12 km of skate. Once the gun went off in a combo wave of classic and pursuit skiers, three women got a good lead on me before we got to the steep Sunnyside and I never caught them. (There was actually a fourth woman I didn’t know about- Vivian Hett who crushed the classic). After a tour around the plateau on the north side of the Buena Vista downhill area, we headed into the woods and I just had one guy in my sights. The rolling terrain far out on the east side is really nice for classic. I was skiing all alone, which is how I like it, but skiing hard enough that I couldn’t fully appreciate the beauty of the bogs and other natural elements we passed. With fresh wind-blown snow the kilometers slowly ticked by. 

The Minnesota Finlandia trail per my Garmin.

Heading back through “The Narrows,” “The Island,” and around the east and south sides of Buena Vista, the conditions got epic. Owing to lots of snow, cold temps, blustery conditions- including a west wind the day before the race and a south wind the day of the race- we bashed through snowdrifts with little trace that any racers ahead of us had been through. I herring-bone walked a couple hills with deep powder. Otherwise I tried to stride or herring-bone run. A couple times it was difficult to even see where the course went. 

This photo showed up on my app today as "5 years ago today." [2/22/17] I had to take a double take. This was February??? It feels so far removed from our current February.


 
The view from my front window this February 22nd [2022], snowing, 7 degrees, feels like -12.

Then I headed into the transition zone, slowly changed both my skis and poles, careful not to pull off my thumb handwarms, and took a feed.

Just like in last year’s Great Bear Chase pursuit, I opted to use my classic boots. This time seemed to go better with softer conditions. The snow was nice in the stadium although under cloudy skies the flat light made it difficult to see. The snow in “The Tunnel” was super slow as it was road slush and it being a gradual uphill by the time I clawed my way out I was barely moving. A couple guys in the 25 km skate race passed me on the first uphill. My skis were so slow I herring-bone ran a few of those hills. I couldn’t find the glide- likely multifactorial with classic boots, I’ve never been great at transitioning to skate, and slow conditions.

Two more guys passed me just before the S-curve and then Brett Arenz made his way by as we hit the mostly flat section. Here I found my skating groove. I was able to relax a tad but kept pushing and V-2’d a lot. With 2 km to go I got determined that no one else would pass me. The hills here were also less gradual and I could glide with a strong V-1.

I finished the 25 km in one hour and 49 minutes, likely one of my slowest 25 km races of all time (much slower than the 1:15 I did at the Hamsterbeiner in 2017) but always condition dependent. A real winter experience. It was good to do the pursuit- especially seeing as the classic race was the most competitive. I was 2nd of 11 women (four minutes back) and 3rd of 21 overall (six minutes back). Yes, a small field.

Hopefully we’ve all learned how to dress by now and cover up and no one incurred more frostbite.

For Vakava, Erik skied to 5th place in the 25 km skate which boasted the largest field and Craig won the classic to get yet another axe!

We joked later on that we needed those dye people to help with the course boundaries and undulations and leaf blower people to clean out the classic tracks that we’ve been watching at the Olympics!

 

Sporting my new pink Finlandia headband and off for a ski at Three Island with Erik in Bemidji the day after the Finlandia. If anyone wants one of these headbands put Finlandia 2023 on your calendar!!!


Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Go Big or Go Home: Mora Vasaloppet Classic 48 km

The Mora Vasaloppet’s Classic race has often been advertised as 42 km. This year, with dividing the skate and classic techniques between Saturday and Sunday and utilizing all the Vasaloppet trails, the Classic got the bump up to 48 km! I guess this increases the skiing:driving ratio and provides a better per kilometer value. Go long or go home. 

 

Three Vakava skiers in our hot pink tops (from left to right: Alex, Paul, and Nate) in the lead pack of Saturday's skate race.


Now offering prize money for the classic, the start list was stacked- the most competition I’ve seen since 2013! Looking at the list made me question whether I’d even earn a dala horse- I guess that’s some gender parity. Go fast or go home without a horsee.

The temps were forecasted to be cold again, similar to the City of Lakes Loppet Classic Race, but without the wind. The prediction held. I again wore 2 layers under my racing suit. At least it was cold enough to make that decision easy. Dress warm, be cold, or go home.

Unlike running races where I have a good idea of what pace I can maintain for the entirety, I haven’t figured this out yet in skiing. Hills burn me up but since Mora is fairly flat, I’ve tended to go out with the leaders and hang on as long as I can. Sometimes this is only until Mora Lake, sometimes a bit longer. Usually the pace goes out hot, even for the women, and I warmed up to be ready and try to push myself. Often I think I have more to give but somehow can’t tap into that gear. I was determined to find a pack to push myself hard, hard, hard. And to fuel.

Us Minnesotan’s must be hardy because despite the temps, the announcer said it was a “beautiful sunny winter morning” and the race was neither shortened nor delayed. I was nervous with my recently frostbitten thumb as my handwarmers hadn’t worked on my Saturday ski. Erik told me I needed to quit if my thumbs got cold. Quitting for me is so much harder than sticking through the pain of racing. 

 

Paul Olson, Mora native, finishing the 34 km skate for Vakava.


I lined up around the 4th row- the farthest back I’ve started in the classic since 2013. Since 2015, I’ve finished 2nd-4th in the classic. Once the gun went off, I got dropped immediately. There was a fair bit of congestion until the first aid station and then things started to spread out. With a dusting of fresh new snow, conditions were slow!

Mora always has the hardest, iciest snow of any track around. With hard ice balls between the tracks, occasional ridges, and early set down tracks, despite being flat the course demands attention. As the race progressed, I came to appreciate this more as my technical skills have improved over the years (same comment I made last week). I’ve been thinking about skiing strong and me controlling the course rather than the other way around. 

 

Saturday's skate race was cold, too. Here's Craig racing in his warm-ups.


After the first aid station, there was one woman skier who dropped me. I ate a cliff bar over the hour before the race and wanted to puke a couple times in the short, punchy hills in the northeast part of the course. My teammate Cheryl briefly caught me which gave me motivation to keep pushing. By the time we hit the climbing section, coming up from the Snake River, I wasn’t feeling so snappy. The Garretson sisters caught me and I skied with them as we made our way through the northwest section (south of the road) where there’s some more hills. There’s a couple tight turns heading onto the lake in that section twice and for the second time my thumbs got cold in the race. Once we got out of the hills, we hit a fast double pole section and the sisters put some time on me.

It looked like something happened to one of their skis and at the Nordic Center I started skiing with the one who had fallen back. Once we got out on Mora Lake it was a relatively lonely existence. I skied the lake with one of the Garretson’s and then took off as we climbed back off the lake. She said I should go chase down her sister and that’s what I aimed to do.

Between the sun and the skied-in tracks, I was relieved that the second lap skied much faster. This meant easier double poling- or at least I could double pole farther uphills and up some gradual hills. The sun felt really nice and my thumbs had warmed up. My kick was gone, stripped clean by the abrasive snow despite sanding and heating in base wax- it usually happens at Mora. I focused on chasing down the lead Garretson sister and the woman who had dropped me earlier. I was feeling good. Yes, I had some hand cramping. Yes, I had overall fatigue. Yes, my double pole muscles were tired. But it was the second lap and mostly double poling and that’s where I shine. Even when dead tired I can still double pole relatively efficiently. This is not true of my striding. 

 

Bigfoot was on course but he was no match for these Mora Mannequins. Erik and I both did a double-take when we saw them. They are AWESOME!!!


I caught the lead Garretson sister by the hilly section. It took until the Nordic Center to catch the other woman. When I did I tried to make a decisive move but she put up a fight. I still had another gear so we began testing each other. When I later looked at the results sheet I learned it was Daisy Richmond. She’s a good strider. She whizzed past me last week at the Loppet in Butler on an uphill. I kept trying to make a move on her but she responded. As usual, when I tucked in behind her, the pace felt so easy. As I’ve said a billion times, I don’t like racing directly against others. I’d prefer individual start races. The only thing that made me feel better was that knowing by racing each other, we’d be skiing faster and I thought “we can go chase down some men!”

After making a couple moves, I went into the outside track before Bell Hill. This was a mistake as the inside was where everyone had herring boned. I tried as hard as I could to go up that hill fast but it was rock hard and Daisy pulled away from me and I couldn’t bring it back in the double pole. Perhaps it’s the hardest I’ve been breathing when I’ve crossed the line at Mora so that was a plus. 

Mora's course. Go squiggly or go home.

Despite finishing 9th, it was a good race. I really enjoyed the second lap when I was mostly skiing by myself but chasing, feeling strong, and warm. I was also within 10 minutes of skiers who usually finish in the top 10 in the Birkie, although I do better double poling over striding uphils. I also succeeded in getting 3 feeds of Mora’s infamous blueberry soup which was delicious and three feeds more than I often take to help power me to the finish. I finished 4th in my age class, the first time I haven’t gotten a horse since I was 20, and then they had 5 year age groups. I would’ve gotten horses in the two age groups below me and the one above me.

Erik also raced the classic. He finished 16th (I believe this was my highest overall place a few years ago so obviously there was much more competition this year). Interestingly enough, he won his age group (taking out Brian Gregg who was 2nd overall) but wouldn't have gotten any horses in the two age groups below him or the age group above him! Artie Huber for Vakava finished two minutes behind Erik and went horseless.

In the women’s classic, Cheryl Dubois crushed her age class and should be proud! I aspire to be that fast in my 7th decade of life and Maria Schilling finished not far behind, winning her age class as well. In the “short” classic race (still 24 km), Dave Christopherson was 9th. 

 

Nate, with his closet competitor Peter Carlen, at the finish.


Vakava had some great results in Saturday’s skate race led by Alex Reich 4th(!!!), Andy Schakel 8th, Craig Cardinal 13th,and Artie Huber 34th in the men’s 48 km field while Laura Cattaneo finished 5th in the women’s field. In the 35 km, Nate Porath took home his 8th victory with Paul Olson 3rd, Ben Mullin 16th, Hans Harlane 25th, Dave Christopherson 34th, and Mark Ahlers 44th with Katy Splan 14th in the women's field and Mary Beth Tuttle collecting another wreath!!! Go big or go home for Vakava.

 

Mary Beth and Hans at the finish.