Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Birch Shorts

 20 Birkies gets you Birch Leggings.  I'm halfway there at 10 now so that must be birch shorts right?  No?  Moving on...

Birkie Prep

Where we last left our hero... too much?

OK, so the Vasaloppet was a bit of a bummer.  The course profile and layout and the usual trail conditions really suit my skiing style.  Far more so than I think/thought the Birkie course did.  I can use my balance and glide to cover up for a lower power to weight ratio.  So laying a bit of an egg there a week after a less than stellar Boulder wasn't super encouraging.

The first week between Mora and the Birkie started the taper.  I can't quite remember why a month later now that I took Monday and Tuesday off completely.  Then Vakava practice on Wednesday night my activity is titled Ice Skating.  It was the second week in a row where Battle Creek was just this side of terrifying and that is coming from me who likes when the conditions get a little icy.  Instead of skate intervals we ended up doing double poling which isn't my favorite.

With no race on my calendar, and no full marathon racing of the season other than Seeley, I decided to make my final Saturday workout a solo 1 hour marathon pace effort.  Based on the feel of all of my racing and training up to that point, I wanted to head out to the hills of Battle Creek and test what I thought would be my Birkie pace.

The workout went great, and it was super fun to see many many other feverish skiers out at Battle Creek getting their final tune-up in for the Birkie.

Birkie Week

Have you heard about the Birkie week snowstorm?  Well that pretty much threw the week leading into the Birkie into disarray.  I took Monday off of skiing as is pretty typical.  But then decided to try to do my last interval work on Tuesday instead of Wednesday since I didn't think I would make it to practice.  I met up with Ian and Laura at Theo that evening and we cranked out 4 x 3 minutes at L4.  Well I tried.  I felt like hot garbage.  Legs loaded up immediately, just scrambling all over with my technique.  Just a mess.

The loaded up legs feeling is something I've struggled with by Birkie time the last few years.  Basically I just feel cooked right from the gun.  I was worried this was the start of it again, right at Birkie week this time instead of the few weeks leading into it so that would be something in the right direction.

Then came the shoveling.  And despite it being a super light and fluffy snow, I somehow managed to strain a bunch of the muscles in my back.  So by the time I drove up to Hayward on Thursday afternoon I was in all sorts of disarray physically and mentally.

After a only mildly nerve-wracking drive to Hayward I met up with Artie and family at Coops for dinner and then tried to get to bed early.  Friday was more relaxing, a trip to the Expo to pick up my packet, and a quick shake out ski at the Hayward golf course to see if I still knew how to ski.

That was actually a pretty nice ski for a change and I felt a little more relaxed going into the evening that the big day would not be a disaster from the line.

Ski Prep

I leave the detailed prep to Finn Sisu.  My only task is to decide what ski to use.  Given the forecasted temps of single digits at the start and only warming into the mid 20's, that was a pretty easy call.  I have a pair of Rossignol's that I have probably raced on 75% of the time.  They have an FAC1 (now obsolete I think) grind from Finn Sisu on them and have been my goto for anything below warming conditions.

After the race I told Devin and Nate that my skis were decidedly above average.  And not the sort of above average from Lake Wobegon, but actually better than more than half the skiers.  I saw a few people with better skis, and lots of people with much worse skis.

Mental Prep

I've talked about it before.  I feel like I am a bit of a headcase when it comes to the Birkie.  You try not to put too much value on your results... but it is hard not to.  And I've had one really good Birkie, a couple of decent races, and a couple of absolute stinkers.

With minimal else to do the day before I spent a fair bit of time reviewing my notes, pacing notes, check lists, and checking my piles of gear for the bag.

That list is relatively unchanged over the last two or three Birkie's.  The one item I actually removed from the list was something about being comfortable being uncomfortable.  AKA, its gonna hurt, don't be a wimp about it.  For the millionth time I was telling myself to not go out too hard.  Most of my bad races come from bonking/blowing-up at about 35km into the race.  So I decided to forgo the idea that I should be uncomfortable and maybe even start to think about the first half to two thirds of the race being too comfortable.

Race Strategy

Uberlegger Jay Wenner always seems to ski a great Birkie.  So when I saw him before the start I told him to whack me with a pole if he ever saw me ahead of him before the High Point, and maybe even OO.

Basically the strategy was to ski at a pace I thought was "too easy" until at least OO.  I get too wrapped up in who I should be skiing with and thinking this is a race, so if I'm not pushing hard I'm not racing.  The effect usually is that I race 35km and suffer for the last 15km.

Based on my marathon paced workout and the racing I had done thus far I had a rough heart rate I didn't want to exceed.  Other than that it was about relaxing.  Getting good balance and ankle flexion.  And letting people go.

So my goal was a solid race.  I figured if  I could do that, my training had me in top 300 men shape.

The Race

Finally, race time.  I really dislike the Wave 1 pen race.  Thankfully it wasn't too cold this year.  And since I wasn't too concerned about trying to get out at the front of the wave I opted to be a little more conservative in the pre-race race and ended up about 6 or 7 rows back.  About as far back as I've ever been at the start of the race.

The gun goes off, and we are on our way to Hayward.  I made it out cleanly.  I think I only saw one person go down and I was able to dodge them cleanly.

I quickly saw Jay and opted to try to settle in behind him.  There is a lot of comings and goings in the first few km up to the power lines.  Plenty of people who think they've gotten a horrible start and MUST get through right now and try to wedge themselves into lines or between lines etc.  Trying to relax and get my flow on I wasn't overly aggressive in holding my spot.  As a result Jay was steadily moving further up the line than I was.  By the High Point I could still see Jay near the top of the climb as I approached the bottom.

Strava Flyby showing Jay slowly putting about 30 seconds into my by the high point.

Despite Jay getting away from me I was feeling good.  I had managed to get my first gel down, my legs felt good, and my HR was staying "comfortably" in my target range.  I was touching the limit occasionally, but it seemed easy to back it off just a tiny fraction or tighten up the technique a hair and it would come back.

There were a couple of short stretches where the group with Jay in it was up ahead and there was some pretty empty trail between us.  But for the most part I was able to find another skier or three that was willing to go to the front and do any work that might have brought them back.  Sometimes someone would come through much too hot for me to want to stick to them, but the group that formed and dissolved around me up to OO seemed pretty solid and I was happy to let someone else do the pace setting.

My family was going to be at OO so as I skied through I was watching for them.  I never saw them, but they apparently saw me because my kid got a picture of me looking up the bridge over OO.

I was still feeling good but I knew the wide open field through the Korte start area, the bit of a headwind out of the south, and that gradual climb to Picnic Table was going to be unpleasant.  I wouldn't say I stalled there, but I definitely didn't go charging off on my own and as soon as I saw someone else I happily let them take the lead and I hopped in behind.

Safely over the hill the next bit of the course is fairly solidly downhill with only one notable climb before Gravel Pit.  Somewhere in this stretch a nice little group formed that I was happy to sit in about second or third ski.  I frequently found myself thinking, should I be going harder yet?  Maybe I can make up some ground.  No... not yet.

We made it to Gravel Pit, and so far I had only had one minor brief burpy moment.  Otherwise I was feeling decent enough for 30km into a race.  I was getting my gels and water in plus a cup or two of water or energy at the aid stations if they were convenient.

But we were entering the sector of death.  Somewhere between Gravel Pit and Mosquito Brook is usually when not only do the wheels come off, they start a tire fire, the head gasket blows, and the transmission leaves parts all up and down the trail.

The little pack I was skiing with... actually... I should mention I actually have no idea how big the group was.  I never once during the race looked back.  I wanted to keep my head up and looking towards the finish, not over my shoulder.  So anyway, the two people who were occasionally in front of me, and whoever else might have been behind continued to ski at what felt like a pace I thought I could totally hold for another 20km.

Somewhere before Mosquito Brook we got passed by the first and maybe second person from Wave 2.  They had 10 minutes into us, I obviously wasn't going to be trying to hitch a ride with them.

Shortly before Mosquito Brook I grabbed a quick Gatorade feed from Frank.  I managed to get a chunk of snow stuck in the cuff of my boot in the process and proceeded to make a huge bonehead move.  So when I said I never looked behind me, I guess that wasn't entirely true.  Instead of bending over to pick out the chunk of snow I somehow thought it would be a good idea to pick up my foot and pick it out... promptly catching my ski tip in the trail and getting spun around until I was hands down on the trail facing back to Cable.  I didn't actually fall, but I did come to a complete stop and killed all of my momentum heading down that last descent into the Mosquito Brook aid station.

Thankfully since I was carrying my own nutrition and had just grabbed a big swig of Gatorade I didn't need to stop.  So I was able to ski through and with a little bit of extra effort was able to catch back onto my group.

This is when the skiing zombies started appearing.  Oh, I have soooo been there.  You would see someone just rocking back and forth on their skis.  Or just plodding along.  I even saw someone get a little too far over their ski, lost there balance, and honest to goodness swan dive off the trail into the powder.

Mosquito Brook/39k climb came and went.  Just three more hills to go.

Bitch Hill came into view and looked huge... but oddly not that terrifying.  I wasn't going any faster than before, but the effort was starting to add up.  There were just the little niggles of cramps starting in my quads and triceps.

Bitch Hill came and went.  I knew the next stretch was a bit rolly, just a couple of short climbs, and some nice descending down to Hatchery.

I was looking forward to my high five with Keith there and then moving on to tackle the last two hills.

I slapped my high five and rushed past the aid station having taken my last gel on the descent into the aid station (note, I tossed my garbage into the aid station, no littering time penalty for me).

For the first time since a couple of odd locations back in the first 10km of the race I was out front.  Rosie's hill is such a brutal climb.  Not steep.  It just keeps rolling.  One climb after another.  I think one of the guys I had been skiing with caught back up and as we crested the top of the hill he was out front by a tiny bit.  I pushed over the top to try and catch back on.  My skis were running good (Finn Sisu remember) and I was able to get back on again.

One more climb.  77.  That three tiered wandering monster.  The check engine light was starting to flicker on the dash at this point.  Nothing had cramped yet, but things were threatening.  Technique was starting to falter.

My V1 was actually holding together pretty well though and I felt like I was moving when I went into it.

I caught Craig at the top of the last climb before we descended to Duffy's field and headed for Wheeler Road.

As we hit the lake the Donut guy I had been following for probably 20km was right in front of me.  Wanting to make a solid push for the finish I offered to take a pull.  Nice guy huh?  Draft a guy for 20km and finally offer to pull.  And I think I dropped him.  In similar fashion to my elite wave qualifying year, I went to the front on the lake and pulled all the way to the line.  One guy pipped me right before the bridge by Market Place, but no one else did.

It felt good to be hauling in Elite Wave skiers and classic skiers all the way across the lake.

Actually, it felt good to finish the race feeling like I had left 98% of it out there all along the trail.  Not 110% in the first 35km and then another 100% in the last 15km.


So 2:48:21, 284th overall, and 257th male.

I'm quite pleased with that.  The splits tell a tale of a reasonably well paced race.

As far as placings go, it was my second best result in 10 (9 because there was a virtual year in 2021) attempts.

By time it was the third fastest, just squeaking in ahead of 2016 by 14 seconds.

Overall I left the weekend quite pleased.  I'll probably not get around to writing up the rest of the season, but I went on to race two more 50k races over the next two weekends (Pepsi 50k skate and Bear Chase skiathlon) and I think each one was better than the one before it.

Anywho... good season and after some time off structured training, a good solid offseason of some biking and running, and I'm excited to be back skiing and racing again next year.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

2023 Racing Tales: Mora Vasaloppet, Minnesota Finlandia, and the Birkie

42 km Mora Vasaloppet Classic

The Mora Classic race returned to the 42 km distance after nearing 48 km last year. Even though I’m better the longer the slog, 42 km of mostly double pole is enough for me. Race weekend was warm. OK, maybe hot. The forecast for the classic race the day before predicted mostly cloudy skies but when I checked my weather app the morning of the race, it now predicted full on sun and temps into the 40s, a solid 50 degrees warmer than last year. Now I was really glad it was only 42 km but with a 10:30 am start I was sure we’d still see plenty of transformed snow. 

Coach Dave Christopherson double poling hard in the 21 km on his way to another horsee. Photo: Eve Graves

We got to Mora in time to preview the first and last kilometer of the course. This meant I could see how aggressive they were with laying down tracks on tight corners and downhills. It turned out as has been the case in recent years, they were aggressive again. Good to know. Erik and I were both doing the classic race and even though we would only spend 1% of the race kicking, we had decided on a klister binder with Oslo Purple. This combo was icing on my warm up but not grabbing so even though not ideal, I didn’t make any changes. When I put my skis down in the line-up, I scraped them off and then set them on their sides facing the sun.

I lined up in the 3rd row on the east side so I’d be more on the outside for the first corner where there is always more room. The race goes out fast and I quickly found myself well behind the leaders. I’d passed some people by the time we climbed off the lake on quite icy snow. I seemed to lose any pack much sooner than in previous years. There were a few skiers who passed me but I think I caught more than passed me and some guys who passed me I subsequently passed them back up! 

Classic field going out hot! That's "Vaker" Brock Lundberg on the left getting up high. I'm just behind him on the left. Photo: Eve Graves

The course was a bit short and took me 2 hours 25 minutes, during which I got in 4 feeds which might be a record for me. I had good energy to herring-bone run up the short steep hills and attempt a fast stride on the less steep ones. I mostly had kick but it was a bit hit-or-miss and once on the second half of the second lap I had just a tad of icing. 

Check out Ahvo STRIDING Bell Tower Hill. Sure, he was on skins but this is still darn impressive. He also crushed his age class. Photo: Eve Graves

I focused on getting up high to start my double pole, to keep soft knees, and also to hold firmly onto my poles during the main power phase to generate more force. Sure, I got tired but was mostly able to ski strong. In the transforming snow, it was notably slower outside the tracks.

Because it was so warm, I had decided to ski without any headgear. This ended up being a big snafu because without a headband, my prescription sunglasses kept falling off my face and there wasn’t quite enough downhill to always push them back on without missing a pole:)

My second lap I was chasing my bro who had gotten off to a fast start. In some of the twisty section he was always a turn in front of me. Once we got back out onto the lake I saw him in front of me. He was getting tired quickly and walked up the Bell Tower Hill while I ran. I watched him stride up the street before Main Street while I ferociously double poled, except when I missed a pole to push my glasses back onto my face. He stayed in front of me by 20 seconds but it was fun to finish next to each other in the results.

I love double pole courses and short uphills. It makes me feel like I can sprint every uphill. I finished in 6th place and was just a couple minutes behind some really strong women so I was pleased with that and stood on the age class podium with one of my teammates. 

Molly Watkins (who finished 5th) and a sit skier. Photo: Eve Graves

As for how the rest of Vakava fared, well, it was almost an embarrassment of corral filling.
Vaker Sarah Widder on top of the age class podium with me second and Erik third over on the far right. Photo: Heather Chicanowski

The Minnesota Finlandia 25 km Skiathlon

Six days later it was time for the Minnesota Finlandia. Even though I don’t like skiathlons, Erik has charged me with winning every race at the Minnesota Finlandia and since I haven’t won the skiathlon yet, I entered it again for the second year in a row along with Molly Watkins, who had me by three minutes at Mora. She’s also a classic specialist. I lined up in the front row because there was a spot next to my bro. A handful of skiers took it out really really hot, including my bro, Craig, Artie, and Molly. I just couldn’t double pole that fast. As we skied in front of the Buena Vista chalet, Kerrie Berg passed me. But I rallied, following her to the base of Sunnyside and then herring-bone running up the downhill next to her and keeping pace with her once it leveled out. 

Dennis Curran and Erik at the top of the steep pitch on Sunnyside in the 25 km skate race. Photo: Monte Draper

I kept skiing with Kerrie on the east side as we passed one guy and then dropped another. My skis were fast! After the first aid station I took the lead as we gradually reeled in another guy. Once we caught him though he seemed to accelerate. I jumped out of the tracks to try to pass him but found the skate deck much slower and couldn’t get around him. Kerrie jumped out, too, and in a few hard double poles managed to get around him. I couldn’t though and settled into the tracks behind the guy with Kerrie now leading. At least we were keeping pace but I was worried he was going to slow down and I really didn’t want to lose Kerrie. 

The start of the classic and pursuit races at the 2023 Minnesota Finlandia. That's Craig on the left, he went on to win the skiathlon, Molly Watkins behind him, me in the middle, and Artie Huber on the right who got second in the skiathlon. Photo: David Harrington

The awesome thing about skiing with Kerrie is that we were in different races as she was doing the classic and I was doing the skiathlon. I’d also never been able to keep up with her before for the entire east side and I was feeling good. Eventually I decided to just track that guy and once I did, Kerrie and I dropped him pretty fast. Kerrie and I kept skiing together past the next aid station, through the Narrows, and into the Island. Here the trail was a bit rough with a fair amount of swamp grass poking through. Kerrie got a brief gap on me but I was able to close that down by the final hills on the east side and then the last couple downhills were screaming fast- almost out of control- and I got ahead of Kerrie heading into the skiathlon split! 

Skiing with Kerrie! Photo: Monte Draper

Oh, the skiathlon. I used my good skate skis which are better in soft snow, which it was, but owing to some fresh new snow on top that was transforming my skis were slow and dangerously so on the downhills when they kept catching. Many others echoed similar stories. I soon realized the tracks were faster and tried to use them whenever I was brave enough. At times on the flats I just double poled in the tracks. Not many skating men (who had 10 minutes on me for the 50 km or 12 minutes for the 25 km) passed me and I even held off Erik.

Molly claimed her second consecutive victory, 3 minutes ahead of me again but I was happy to be able to stay with Kerrie on the entire east side. It made me realize that even without running this year, or maybe in spite of it, I was still in good shape. 

Artie out on course racing in his first Finlandia. Photo: David Harrington

53 km Classic Birkie

Then after Mora and the Finlandia it was time for the Birkie. Owing largely to weather, I significantly tapered the week before the Birkie and after skiing Sunday, only went out for a measly 30 minute street ski on Thursday. I didn’t know how much snow we would be getting, and hence how much shoveling I would be doing and that made it difficult to perfect a taper. 

Alex leading the skate field for Vakava. Photo Bruce Adelsman

Since I had felt good at both Mora and Finlandia I was a bit more aggressive in my start at the Birkie. Because the Classic Elite Wave is mixed with both men and women and there’s more of the former, it’s kinda difficult to keep tabs on all the women, even if we do have different colored bibs. After the first couple kilometers though I settled into a steady pace to begin the long grind to High Point. I don’t think I realized how far up in the women’s field I was as the women started to stream by me. I wasn’t about to go with any of them. Sure, I had kept up with Kerrie easily last weekend, but that was a 1.5 hour race and this was a 3.5 hour race at best. So I let her and the others go.

I was all but defeated on the way to High Point, certain I was in 40th place and about to get dropped from the Elite Wave. But I tried to be positive, ski my own race, keep some of those women at least in my sight, and hope I’d feel better after OO when the course suits me better. After High Point I rested on the big downhills. My skis, compliments of Finn Sisu, were fast. I was able to mostly stay with the women around me, although they all beat me to OO. I tried to be patient and after OO began feeling better and better and dropped all of them. 

Erik and Artie skiing together this year in the skate race. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

Last season, after neglecting striding which I’ve never been good at, I had a reckoning before last year’s Birkie and tried to stride a lot. My legs cramped on the way to High Point and my arms were dead by OO. This year I decided to mostly shuffle if it seemed more economical and that’s what I did, especially up that hill after Mosquito Brook. But by then I was getting tired. By now I had a hot spot by my right big toe. My medial epicondylitis was acting up, too. Remember, you’re good at suffering, I told myself. So true- as long as I’m inflicting the pain on myself I’m good. 

Skiing after OO and trying to drop that Wave 1 guy. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

I saw my teammate, Mark Ahlers ahead of me. He was in Wave 1 and had passed me early and I wanted to catch him, but I also watched him stride up B Hill while I herring-boned walked. After that I was closing in on another woman and passed her after the last Aid Station (Hatchery Creek) but that hill climbing out of there, Sunset Hill, is a doozy. I just tried to keep my legs moving and not jump out of the tracks too much. Funny that no one seems to be buying into that development – perhaps too many painful Birkie memories.

On the last big grinder uphill I caught three Elite Wave Men. It would have been so easy to just settle in behind them. No Elspeth, don’t get complacent. You are moving better than them. Go around. And so I did, more than happy to catch breathers on the next couple downhills and milk the tuck and glide.

Then it was time for the flats and double pole. My favorite. As I got out onto the lake I took stock of the skiers ahead of me and vowed to catch them all before the end of the lake. I wanted to ski faster but the pole tips were catching in the ice and anytime I tried to pick up the pace I began hyperventilating. So I again told myself to be patient, focus on the pole plants, getting forwards, and just keep going.

I picked off every one of those skiers, the last being Margie, now I knew for sure I’d requalify handily for Elite Wave.

“This is the hardest thing I do every year!” I told Margie as I passed her. Then I herring bone ran over that Birkie Bridge, tucked going downhill and tried to mount some kind of strong double pole finish but there was a Wave 1 guy in the good track. I debated just tucking in behind him but then decided to make a lane change and really go after it, knowing that places can be determined in tenths of seconds. My Mom watched it on live streaming and said “You looked like you knew what you were doing.” Well, not certain about that, perhaps I should’ve just jumped into the skate lane, but thanks, Mom. 

Jojo and Nate for Vakava in the skate race. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

Somehow I managed to finish 18th. I’ll take it. Looking at the results, I definitely failed to realize I was probably in about 13th when we turned off the skate trail and so even when I was feeling really bad about myself I was still in about 25th. Oh, and I won my age class:)

The classic Birkie is so hard. Maybe it wouldn’t be hard if I was a strider which I don’t think I’ll ever be, but I do think if I get a bit stronger, I could double pole more and I love double poling. This past year I’ve been doing one session a month of 100 pull ups and that, combined with doing weighted pull-ups (I even got up to 30 pounds!) has made me stronger so I’m going to keep that up and maybe next year I’ll be able to double pole up some of Sunset Hill!

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Ben's Birkie Pre-Cap

 My last race report was over a year ago, and was titled "Not Dead Yet".  It even ended with a "To Be Continued..."  Sometimes they just don't renew your favorite show for the next season.

So maybe this is a reboot?

Whatever it is, here we go!

2022 Offseason Recap

Not a super ski focused summer of training that included:

Spring "gravel" rides:

Lutsen 99er (actually 89 this year due to flooding):

Failed attempt to do a Double Duluth Traverse... we got rained out just as we started the return trip.

Ian's first century... on his fixie!

Hosted the 2nd annual Lindstrom Bakgard Ultra:

Did a couple of mounatin bike races with my kid:

DNF'd Marji Gesick Duathlon... again...

Got COVID and missed Artie's now annual 100k roller ski.  Used Artie's special exemption and did a stupid solo 100k roller ski.

Pre-Race Ski Season

So basically I came into the start of serious ski season training not super ski specifically fit.  And maybe slightly less overall fit than many falls.  The power to weight ratio was definitely not improved, both the numerator and the denominator headed in the wrong direction.

Weekly Vakava practice was an exercise in patience and not pushing harder than I should.  Snow came pretty early and I was on snow frequently starting mid November.  By December I was starting to feel like a skier again, though I didn't necessarily have any expectations of a stellar race season.

The holiday season this year resulted in a couple of pretty big weeks for me.  Closing out 2022 had a week with a two long L3 sessions of 2 and 3 hours and another 3 hour OD ski.  That week was followed up with a week that was capped by an epic tour of all of trails in all of the Three Rivers Parks that don't make snow.  Just an 80km day.

Race Season

With all that, it's time to race.

Seeley Hills 42km

Nearly every year I say I should just do the short race.  Nearly every year I sign up for the long race and regret it.  This year was one of those.

I like classic skiing, and I want to like classic racing.  To do that I think I really need to work out my equipment and get better at waxing.

Finn Sisu did the glide waxing for me and my skis were rockets on the downhills.  Unfortunately I did the kick waxing and it was marginal at best.  I tested the kick on some gradual hills and it seemed fine.  But race pace and the bigger hills it just wasn't enough.

I was satisfied with the effort I put out.  I was able to move pretty good on the flats and downhills and keep the effort up.  Just when the trail went up (like the last 11km of the race), I just couldn't move as quick as everyone else.

Woodlands Loppet 20km Skate

I think the original Skinny Santa date might have been one of the few weekends that Woodlands was not great for skiing (or would have been challenging to race on anyway), so the race was pushed to mid-January.

This was a low pressure, low expectations race.  I opted to wax my own skis and did the first race on my Atomic S9 Gen S.  I don't recall what I waxed with this long after racing, but I definitely liked the skis.  Like really liked them.

As the course is pretty tight and the field was pretty big this year, they did a wave start.  That meant wave 2 for me which was probably a good thing.  It allowed me to not go blasting out of the start trying to keep up with the uber fast dudes.  I was able to build into the race which is good because you spend the first 2.5km climbing to Top of the World.  Its pretty easy to blow up 10% of the way into the race.

Matt Peterson and I made a move on Stony Rollers to go to the front of the wave 2 chase pack.  I took the lead part way down Bullsnake Run.  Then just before the tight hairpin turn Matt took a digger.  Post race he said he psyched himself out trying to be ready for the turn.

I raced the rest of the race pretty much solo.  I caught one of the skiers shed from the lead pack, but passed him and dropped him part way into the second lap.

Another race I was happy with my effort and pacing.  Fast skis definitely helped.

Boulder Mountain Tour

The following weekend would have been Noquemanon or Marine O'Brien, both races I really like doing.  But we had other plans this year.  Saturday we started driving west into the teeth of the oncoming polar weather.

We made it to Bozeman Sunday evening and skied Sourdough Canyon at -20F.

Our original plan had us skiing in West Yellowstone the next morning... but it was something like -40F there overnight... so we kept on driving to Sun Valley where we spent the week skiing our brains out.

Anyway 130km of skiing at 5000+ feet of elevation later it was time for the Boulder Mountain Tour.  Definitely a fun race... but not exactly the best prep for it.  I also totally botched the skis.  I only brought my Gen S skis and a bottle of Rex RG42 to wax in the condo with.  My skis were bad.  Eric waxed his skis with some paste wax the night before the race.  On the very first downhill I got in his draft, tucked, and watched him pull away from me.

The course was fun though!  And while I was there to "race", it was more that I was there because of the race.

Mora Vasaloppet Dala 35km Skate

Back in the land of oxygen for a week I tried to get a bunch of recovery in from the big week at altitude.  Basically just super easy skiing other than practice on Wednesday night.

Before the season began I had 4 pairs of skis I would race on.  I took advantage of the Finn Sisu ski swap to sell off two of the pairs of skis that I pretty much never raced on any more.  Then in the course of two days in January I broke the bindings on both of my remaining pair of race skis.  I had Finn Sisu put screw in bindings on my primary pair that I do 75% of my racing on. That was also when I bought my Gen S'.

But for Mora it was looking pretty warm which is really weird for Mora.  I'm used to crazy cold temps for that race.  In any case, the other pair of skis with broken bindings are my warm and sloppy conditions skis.  But they were still broken.  So it was my Gen S or my "universal" skis which I know are less than stellar if it does get wet.  I thought it was going to be colder over night than it turned out to actually be.  So I gambled on my universal skis and lost a bit.

Finn Sisu waxed them again and they were good until they weren't.  I didn't outrace the slop and as the sun started to take its toll my skis sucked.  Literally and figuratively.

I also went out HOT.  It was fun and I was racing with folks I didn't know that I could hold onto.  Turns out I couldn't.  I popped hard about 20km into the 35km race.  Oddly I was able to keep my HR up, I just couldn't move any more.  Partially the skis, but definitely used up all of my anaerobic muscles pushing too much.

Hans passed me like I was standing still and shouted for me to jump on the train.  Thanks Hans... but you put 2.5 minutes into me in that last 10km.

Its a fun race, one where I have had one of my best races ever, so I'll keep going back.  Maybe pace it a little smarter next time...

To Be Continued....

Next up is the Birkie.  Do you believe me if I say I'll actually continue this time?  I guess we will all find out.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Idaho Ski Trip and the Boulder Mountain Tour

Continuing on our quest to ski all the American Ski Series Marathons, this year Erik and I targeted the Boulder Mountain Tour and got our teammate Ben and his wife Starr to join us.

We left Minnesota just as the temps plummeted at the end of January. After driving most of the day Saturday and Sunday as well (including on a very icy I-90), we arrived in Bozeman with enough time for a ski before sunset on the Sourdough Canyon Trails

Rough driving conditions on I-90 between Billings and Bozeman.

Garmin map of our Sourdough ski. Too bad we didn't make it to Mystic Lake.

It was a cold ski:)

A very cold ski according to the thermometer along the trail.

But a very beautiful ski! I'd highly recommend this trail for anyone in the area. Had we had more time and the temps been warmer, it would've been nice to make it up to the lake.

On Monday we finished our drive to Sun Valley (technically the town of Ketchum) where we got in an afternoon ski at the Quigley (Squiggly) Trails. It was cold again in the single digits. 

Warming hut yurt and looking up valley at the Quigley Trails.

And looking down valley at Quigley.

Tuesday we waited for temps to warm up and then drove up to Galena Lodge in the afternoon to ski their famed trails. Erik and I initially made a plan to skip most of the black trails but then Ben's friend saw our Quigley ski on Strava and said we had to do Cherry Creek and Psycho. Challenge taken. Galena sits at over 7,000 feet and the snow was cold so we skied quite slow except for the long downhills. It was beautiful skiing although definitely not rolling by Minnesota standards. We climbed for many sustained minutes to whiz downhill in a single minute. Some of the corners were intense but the trails wide and freshly groomed so Erik and I had fun doing big skid turns.  


Our Galena ski.

And corresponding elevation profile. Almost 2,000 vertical feet in 15 miles or twice as hilly as the Birkie Classic course.

Ben and Starr skiing at Galena. No frost = warmer.


I love this photo with Ben showing how deep the powder was off the trails at Galena!

We hit up Psycho as our last "run," best described as a downhill run. Erik and I both side slid the initial very steep pitch. I did skid turns down the rest of the run which was super fun.

View from the top of the steep pitch on Psycho. You can kind of make out the lodge below me.


Wednesday Erik went downhill skiing and Ben and I headed back to Quigley to do the Vakava workout for the week: 3 x 15 minutes of 30-30s classic skiing. This was mostly double poling and we both took the rest incredibly easy. 

A complete loop of the Quigley Trails!

Seriously hard (and fresh) corduroy at Quigley.

Me skiing at Quigley.

In the afternoon Ben, Starr, and I went to the Lake Creek Trails, home of the SuperTour. These trails were incredibly deceiving. Somehow I have trouble figuring out the slope amidst the wide-open landscape. Sure, I did the hard trail twice but was quite surprised to find I did 1,000 feet of vertical in 1.5 hours. No wonder why I had to jump out of the track so much, even with my skins.  

Lake Creek Trails all out in the meadows.

Careful crossing the bridge to the Lake Creek Trails if you are tall!

Thursday we skied the Boulder Mountain Tour course. For anyone not familiar with this course, it's a 34 km point-to-point with a fairly substantial drop of 1,500 feet and just 480 feet of climbing (per my Garmin). I was glad to see the course, learn that there was only one sketchy corner, and also to be able to just enjoy the views not racing.  

On Friday my friend Kathryn came up from the Salt Lake City area (also to race) and we hung out, doing an easy ski again at Lake Creek Trails. They had groomed some fun rollers into their course and we did these a bunch of times! 

My Garmin map of the Boulder Mountain Tour course.

Saturday it was time for the Boulder Mountain Tour. As for the race itself, well, I wasn't sure what to expect with the course profile and starting at over 7,000 feet. I submitted a qualifier time and got into the Women's Elite Wave (technically Wave 2) -- I both felt privileged and not really deserving. The course started in a very wide area with a gradual uphill that was really slow on the cold snow. From there we had a long swooping downhill followed by another climb, another downhill, and the only blacktop road crossing that brought us to the main Harriman Trail.

Boulder Mountain Tour elevation profile.

By now we'd already had two of the significant climbs out of the way. The course wound gradually downhill and then about 15 minutes into the race we hit the steepest hill followed by the only gnarly descent with a big left-hander that I had skidded around on our practice run but this time snowplowed.

I found myself skiing behind a para skier with one pole. She skied away from me on every downhill with great technique but I would catch up to her on the uphills. It was interesting watching her V-2 and switch into a V-1. I thought it would be good for me not to pound the uphills too hard since we were at elevation so I stuck behind her on the uphills till the first feed station. 

Photo of the Boulder Mountain Tour course.

One elite wave woman passed us on this part of the course. Her technique wasn't very good- she stood up on the downhills and even snowplowed around very easy corners but she had an engine and a very fast V-1 (in arguably V-2 sections) and she just skied away from me like I was standing still. I can't help but wonder if skiers with a good engine but deplorable technique would be very successful if they mimicked more "ideal" technique or if they've simply found the technique that works best for them? I've wondered this myself in terms of classic striding where I've never been good at getting a stride glide but seem more efficient to just run. It's not pretty but maybe it's just better for me.

The first feed station came 42 minutes and about 13 km into the race. After taking down some energy I continued on the false flat and eventually caught the para skier, passed her, and didn't see her again.  Around 20 km to go there's a bit of an uphill but this is followed by a nice downhill section from 18 to 16 kms to go. From there I don't remember much other than being passed by lots of Wave 3 skiers, some in big packs, none of which I could hang onto. It was mostly fast skiing on gradual downhill but not super fast conditions and from 15-5 kms to go almost entirely out in meadows. We returned mostly to the woods for the last 5 km and this section flew by and also included a couple hills. Only one Wave 3 skier passed me in those last 5 kms although lots of skiers came in shortly after I did. 


View from the course.

It's always easy in hindsight to think I could have and should have pushed harder in the early hills but it's hard to know if that would have negatively impacted me or worked to my advantage. I learned many years ago how important it is to keep working hard even on downhill sections and I did work the whole course. I also know fast flat-ish skate courses are not my strong suit. That's why I made sure to be back in Minnesota for Mora:)  

Erik and I on a sunny course preview day at Galena.

Thanks for reading!