Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Monday, December 27, 2010

Como Championships

This past Sunday was the Como Championships 10k. This was my first chance to race this season, and I was using the weekend as a chance to bust some rust out of the legs (I couldn't take the race too seriously since Christmas was the day before, and I was not going to ignore all the food and cookies).

This was also my first chance to wear the new Vakava racing suits. The past couple of years the Vakava team has just worn the Finn Sisu suits, but since the team has gotten pretty established we decided to make our own suits. Derek (who is a graphic designer when he is not skiing fast) took my Finn Sisu suit design and made a few changes and also created the great Vakava Racing logo (that you see at the top of this blog), to come up with our new suit design. I personally think it looks very sharp, and I got a couple of compliments on the new suit at the race.

The conditions at como were awesome! I have been skiing in Red Wing (where I live) most of the time, and it has gotten to the point that we have too much snow for the goomers to handle without a piston bully. Almost every pole push sinks down 8" or more. Getting to como and finding firm, fast conditions was fantastic. Skiing is so much more fun - and a lot easier!

The race started out on a nice wide starting line, but it narrowed quite quickly. I have not put in nearly as many hours this year as in past years (working for a living really cuts into my training time!), so I was a bit cautious at the start. I sure didn't plan on trying to keeping up with the CXC guys who I knew would be flying from the start. My plan was to ski relaxed for the first 5k, and then see how I felt from there. When the gun went off I got out in about 12th or 15th place - probably a bit further back than I wanted to be, but I was able to stay relaxed and ski easy. Right from the start, and as predicted, the 2 CXC guys took off and 4 skiers went with them. The rest of field formed its own big pack. After about 2k I found myself at the front of this big pack and slowly reeled in the 2 skiers who had obviously started to hard and had been spit off the back of the lead pack.

At the 4k point I stepped to the side to let someone else lead. Much to my suprise there were still about a dozen skiers in our pack. Jon Miller and fellow Vakava skier Eugene went around me to pull, and I stepped back in to the 3rd position in the pack. There was a bit of jockying for position, but I still tried to stay focused on skiing smooth and relaxed. As we went through the 5k lap point, the timers said that we were 25 seconds back from the other 2 skiers that had been dropped by the CXC guys. We skied along through the second lap, and at about 7k a new skier went to the front a put in a surge. I was in the 3rd or 4th position in the pack and went around to bridge to gap. I was suprised at how much of an extra gear I had. This was the thing I was most worried about since my training has been less than ideal, and this was my first race, but I had no problem surging up to the skier who had broken away. At this point our big pack began to splinter a bit, although a few skiers were still able to match our increased speed. At the second to last "big" hill on the course at about 8k, the front skier surged again, and flew up the hill. I again matched his speed, but this time we were not followed. At the top he stepped to the side and asked me to pull. I went to the front and pushed. I could see the 2 skiers ahead of us, and we were certainly making up ground on them. The last 2k were a blur, since I was just pushing as hard as I could to make sure no one could sprint around me. I made up a fair amount of ground in the last bit, but we had spotted the front pack far too much ground in the first lap. I came in 5th overall, less than 20 seconds behind the 4th skier.

I felt great about my race. It was great conditions, I had rocket skis (Fast Wax Green and a Finn Sisu fine grind), and I was able to go hard and feel like I was racing.

Vakava Results:
5th Nate - 23:27
12th Eugene - 24:22
30th (1st in age group) Dave C - 26:05

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Family Ski Outing

As the sun was setting this evening and my kids were returning home from school, I was waxing five rather dull looking skis. Yes, I ignored the golden rule of ski care and left the skis unwaxed since last spring! My husband returned home from work as I was finishing the last pair. An hour later all the kids (ages 2-11) were dressed for one digit temperatures and had a snack that would hopefully tide them over for a couple hours. After loading up all the gear, we drove to our local high-school ski course and unloaded. The kids fought over who would wear the three headlamps we had in our possession. Five minutes into the ski my nine year old fell to the ground complaining of cold hands, feet, and skis that were too soft. I was still feeling optimistic, four of the five were still not complaining. The nine year old and my husband headed back to the car. I was now in charge of keeping the other four from getting lost in the complete darkness that was lit only by a fingernail moon. My two year old kept a steady pace, even as his five year old brother tried repeatedly to run him over head on. Keeping the younger two together, I watched as the darkness seemed to swallow my seven and eleven year olds as they skated away along the trail. After nearly an hour had passed the young crew was ready to share the car with their sister. My husband and two boys skied one last loop before calling it a night.

To save time we drove directly to a Burger King for dinner. We raised a few eyebrows with our attire, and shared a good conversation about family with a restaurant patron. Years ago, when I was in my twenties, I never would have imagined that a night like this would be fairly typical. Life is a ton of work, but unexpectedly good.

Monday, November 29, 2010

When horrible things happen to skiers / The power to overcome

The world can be unfair, and people can do terrible things to each other. Sadly, cross country skiers are not immune from this pain. When a woman can't take her children out cross country skiing in a local park without being robbed at gunpoint and then sexually assulted in front of her kids (article here), it certainly drives this point home.

Cross country skiing is supposed to be safe. The ski trails are supposed to be a refuge away from the ills of society and the rush of the modern world. And when this refuge is invaded and the world spills onto the trails in all its horror I feel violated. It feels like the skiing community as a whole has been assulted.

But what defines us is not the terrible things we must endure, but how we come out on the other side. The woman who was assulted released a statement on a community forum. In it she said:

"At one point the boys (who were robbing her) asked for our skis. I wish they could have taken them and used them and experienced the pure joy of gliding in the fresh snow, getting winded from exertion and breathing in cool, fresh air. Please send them all the love you can muster. I think they really need it."


If that does not speak to the power of an individual to forgive, and the power of skiing, I don't know what does. I personally am in awe of her response.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Training or Exercising in Futility?

Fall has always been my least favorite time of year. It’s dark, cold, bad conditions for just about anything, and we’re supposed to be putting in a lot of hours. Not a good combination. This November has proved no different. I haven’t had my heart in my training lately so that is not helping either. I’ve been more in the mood to ‘nest’ in this weather than get out and train and hadn’t trained in a couple days. Dave came to my rescue today and got me out the door. We decided to try the U of M golf course since we figured it’d still have snow. Well, it had snow, sort of. It was more ice than snow, but we ventured out anyway. There is a fair amount of terrain there that we had to navigate in addition to bare spots and ruts so finding a good area to ski was tricky. Conversation was difficult above the noise of us scraping along but some snippets were… Angie to Dave, “Look, another fool!” as we spotted another skier, who wasn’t out long. Dave to Angie, “Come on!” in the tone you’d use to coax a puppy along. We finally picked our way to the north and east sides of the course and found some fairways that had decent coverage, few ruts, and were gradual enough that we could get up and down them reasonably well. Even so, it was rather comical to see each other hobbling and skittering along. I think my heart rate topped out at 110 since it was so hard to move around. All that said, I actually began to enjoy myself. It was a nice sunny day, I enjoyed the company, and I was even getting the hang of the ice at the end. I was thinking how it was good practice in case we have to race in conditions like we did at Pepsi last year. So it wasn’t so futile after all. (I’m still praying for a few inches of fresh snow rather than more freezing rain tomorrow though.)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Minnesota Trails Magazine

So I got a copy of MN Trails magazine in the mail, and I guess I can now add cover model to my resume. The magazine did have great coverage of last year's MN Skinnyski Series (including a word-for-word copy of Mary Beth's Iceland blog entry - even including my editor's note!). Their team competition coverage was especially entertaining. It went:

"The team competition proved to be, once again, a duel between Vakava/Sisu and Peter's Cheaters. This rivalry has grown to epic proportions and taken on its own mythology. It is a story of good against evil: on the side of good the wholesome and hard-working Vakava racing team, and on the side of evil the Cheater's, a heartless group of mercenaries - recruited by mastermind Peter Hansen - who wouldn't recognize each other on the street. Good triumphed in the end, but there were some interesting moments along the way. Vakava came out with guns blazing at the Twin Cities Championships and scored a whopping 586 points to 541 for the Cheaters. And it was the Skinnyski team also showing some firepower with 581. Boulder Lake saw the two favorites surge ahead with 590- and 572- point totals, respectively. The Cheaters snuck ahead at the Pepsi Challange. Then it was the Muven Gruven squad who made up some serious distance at the Nordic Spirit race. Muven Gruven was best at the City of Lakes Loppet, too. Were we going to see a new champion? It was not to be, as Vakava and Cheaters brought in the muscle for the Mora Vasaloppet. Vakava showed its might with a dominating 595-point performance - just five points shy of a perfect score. Still. in the Skinnyski Series, it's never over until the ax swings at the Minnesota Finlandia. The Cheaters were game and topped Vakava by over 100 points, but it was not enough. The skiers in blue came out on top."

Vakava/Sisu 3525
Peter's Cheaters 3431
Muven Gruven 3167 2578
Hoigaard's/Breadsmith 1594

Nice recap. Couldn't have said it better myself!

Friday, November 19, 2010

First on snow practice

The twin cities got a bit of snow last Friday and Saturday, which was very nice. We have had a very mild fall so far, and that has made for some quite enjoyable training conditions (although now that I have a job with an hour commute each way, I am still figuring out how to fit it all in...). Where I live in Red Wing we only got about 3 or 4 inches, but that was still enough to get out to the high school ball fields for some skiing on Saturday and Sunday. It was warm slushy snow, and harries were kicking well on Saturday. Sunday I broke trail on skate skis, which was quite the strength workout. I had to V2 the downhills, and V1 everything else.

This Thursday Vakava had our first practice on snow. We opted to head to the U of MN golfcourse to find some pretty much untouched snow to try our hand at crust skiing. It worked pretty well, although that part of the cities definately got more snow than Red Wing, and the problem was that we would break through pretty often. It was still very enjoyable to be out skiing, and although conditions did not lend themselves to doing intervals, we still got in a good workout chasing each other around the course.

Monday, October 25, 2010

2011 Minnesota Skinnyski Series

So the 2011 schedule for the Minnesota Skinnyski Series was announced today. The skinnyski series is a 7 race series that awards overall, age group, team (Vakava is the defending champs), and most improved awards.

The 2 main changes to the series this year are:
1.) the Mayor's Challange 15k classic race will replace the Pepsi Challange classic race. This takes one of the least attended races in the series (the classic race at Pepsi) and replaces it with a Super Tour and CCSA event. For the team race this will no doubt make it even more important than normal to have older team members racing that weekend - since the under 25yr olds will have the entire college field to fend off, and the under 30yr olds will have the CXC team and other elites to battle to earn good age group points. I can already hear Peter calling up every 80 year old he can think of to try and convince them to ski on his team.
2.) the Nordic Spirit Race will be classic this year. This means that for the first time in the 7 year series history there will be 2 classic races in the series (along with a 2 day pursuit and a same-day pursuit - meaning 4 chances to put on classic skis). This is putting an increased emphesis on classic technique that makes since, since the prize for winning the series is a trip to Iceland to race in the Fossavatn ski marathon (a classic race). This also only reinforces my desire to buy a new pair of classic skis ASAP.

Anyone else have thoughts on the series?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fall Camp – The Ski Visits the Birkie Trail

Dave writes:

We took The Ski up to the Birkie trail recently as part of Vakava’s annual fall training camp – we figured that it deserved a trip to the Holy Land after being liberated from the dark clutches of Peter’s Cheaters. (For those of you who aren’t quite up to date on this, The Ski is the trophy from the team competition of the Minnesota Skinnyski Series – it’s been going back and forth between Vakava and Peter’s collection of mercenaries, and the 2010 competition saw The Ski come back to its rightful owners, namely us.)

Vakava has been doing a fall camp in the Hayward area since 2004, and we’ve done it in the sun, the rain, and even a dusting of snow, with weather ranging from lousy to beautiful. This one would have to be rated spectacular – gorgeous fall foliage, sunny, no wind, and perfect roller ski temperatures. The cold weather can hold off for another month – I’m still enjoying the Indian summer.

We pole-hiked the Birkie trail Friday afternoon, roller skied (classic intervals and video-recording) near OO Saturday morning, roller skied some more (including a bunch of specific strength and sprints) Saturday afternoon, and then did our 50K skate (with fast pickups) Sunday morning. The 50K in particular was under perfect conditions – roller skiing from Cable to Drummond and back on beautiful, winding, rolling roads through the north woods – kind of like the Birkie trail but on roller skis.

Then after the hard work, it was time to relax, watch ski videos, eat great food (thanks again, Michele), drink great beer (including home-brew from Angie and Kevin), and, of course, enjoy great company with the Vakava Team. All together, a big, excellent weekend, with lots of good training and lots of fun.

Now, we have our next set of roller ski time trials this coming week; we’re gradually bumping up the intensity and specificity of our training; and it won’t be long before the snow flies and we’re out skiing on the real stuff.

Monday, October 11, 2010

When Vakava Women Take Time Off from Ski Training

Jeff and I love to go with friends to the BWCA. This year Angie, Jim and family went with us in mid September. The group included 3 kids and they had a great time exploring the surrounding area and creating their own world using rocks, moss and sticks. Who's going with us next year...... Brent and Michelle? Anyone else?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Some like it hot!

It’s been hot. Really hot. Historically I’ve really suffered in the heat, but it hasn’t been much of a problem for me lately and I think I know the secret to beating the heat. Spend lots of time in it! We don’t use air conditioning at home or in the car and I wear a long sleeved shirt to work since there is air conditioning there. I also spend plenty of time outside in addition to the time I spend training. Last  weekend I spent a couple hours both days planting about 90 plants into a rain garden in the blistering heat. I sure sweated a lot, but wasn’t all that bothered otherwise. This morning I did some running intervals and felt great and ran plenty fast. I haven’t had any trouble sleeping on these sticky nights either. I think it’s not that different than, say, altitude training. The longer you spend at altitude, the more your body adjusts and the easier it is to handle. Going without air conditioning can take some getting used to, but not that long and it sure makes training in summer a lot easier. Not to mention the cost savings!

The only negative side effect that I think is attributable to the heat is a little hyponatremia (low sodium) which gives me muscle cramps and minor heart arrhythmia. I had a more pronounced case of it last winter and realized that it must be because I don’t eat processed foods and so don’t get that much salt in my diet. I started adding a little salt and it cleared up. I’ve been noticing it a bit again so I must be sweating more than usual and losing more sodium. I’m now experimenting with some electrolyte tablets that you add to your water bottle to see if that helps. If it does, I think I’ll mix up my own with a little salt and salt-alternative for some added potassium as well (which is usually made from potassium bicarbonate and potassium bitartrate). I may also use some sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). We’ll see how it goes. If the heat subsides it may be a non-issue very soon anyway. Until then, bring it on!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Kathleen & Cheryl's Excellent Water Adventure

A couple of workouts ago Kathleen asked me if I planned to do the time trials when I said, 'sure' she suggested that since we'd get a good ski workout early in the week why not play hooky from the Thursday Vakava workout and do a Hoigaards canoe race instead (races are every Thursday all summer). Well, it's been quite a few years since I raced canoes seriously but Kathleen is just getting into it this year so I thought 'oh what the heck'. I haven't been in a boat this year so I made sure I got two canoe training sessions in the weekend before. One of the sessions was with Kathleen on a very windy day on Pleasant Lake. We stayed upright in our racing boat (just barely) so I figured we were ready for anything. Fast forward to July 8. A nice hot day but no wind at Lake Calhoun. I got registered, got the boat ready, got me ready but no Kathleen. I wasn't too worried until about 10 minutes to race time - still no Kathleen. I knew she wouldn't blow me off so I figured something must have happened so I started frantically looking for a back up partner, trying to talk solo racers into ditching their boats and going tandem. I even asked the race starter if he'd partner with me (canoe racers never wait for the starters horn anyway). All the boats were in the water when Kathleen came running up. She'd been caught in traffic but she made it so we jumped in the boat and got a great start. She took the stern and for a beginner she did a great job stearing. I guess if you're going to race with a neophyte, pick a rocket scientist - she's a quick study on reading the water, waves and boat angles. Well into the second half of the race all was going well and we had some decent teams within sight coming out of Cedar into Lake of the Isles. Water was calm, no boats next to us and suddenly the boat leaned too far to the right and before we knew it we were swimming! Damn! We tried popping the boat up to get the water out but we couldn't get it flipped AND empty so we had to swim it to the edge of a bridge where we could get a toe hold on the bridge wall. The water was warm and it was a hot night so the water actually felt pretty good. There was a fisherman on the other side of the bridge who enjoyed the show and a few of the old time canoe racers who paddled by as we we struggled to get back into the race took full advantage of our prediciment. I must admit I had a hard time paddling when we got started again because I was laughing. I figured we lost about 6 minutes but hey, we finished the race and still won the women's division. Neither one of us knows why we tipped but after the race Joe Manns said he saw a 4' muskie in the vicinity so my theory is that the 5' muskie knocked us over.

Overall I had a great time paddling with Kathleen. She's amazingly strong in the boat and I think if we did a couple more races we could hang with some of the regular racing women. So if any other Vakers are looking for some awesome cross training, try canoing. Kathleen might even take the stern with you. Just watch out for that 6' muskie lurking on the west end of Lake of the Isles.

enlightenment through closed eyes

I’ve really worked hard on improving my technique and have made great strides, but there’s always something more to work on and tweaks to make. I think I’m on the verge of a breakthrough. Last week at the V2 video session, Ahvo told me that I need to get my hip just a bit further over and pole longer on the one ski before shifting my weight to the other side. I’ve heard this many times from various sources and know what he’s talking about. I can see it on the video and feel it when I ski, but just haven’t been able to make the change. So earlier this week I tried some balance drills with my eyes closed. I’ve read that having the eyes closed is important for improving balance. I think doing balance drills with eyes open helps strengthen the muscles used for balance, but doing them with the eyes closed helps train the brain and other systems involved somehow. Anyway, I was doing the V2 motion with my eyes closed and found that I couldn’t step back and forth without putting a foot down unless I did it a certain way. After thinking about it I came to the conclusion that that motion was what I had been trying to do but couldn’t quite get. Doing it with eyes closed forced me to do it right. So tonight at practice I tried doing the same thing on roller skis (with eyes open this time!). I was finally able to make it work. It feels deliberate and inefficient since it’s new, but I think once I commit it to muscle memory and practice it a lot it will feel good and be more powerful.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Time Trial #1

Every summer we do a series of 5k time trails as both an opportunity to gauge our improvement, and also a chance to get in a good, hard effort. The first time trails of the summer were this past Tuesday. They are always in the same location - a 5k area of road on the rolling hills in Afton, MN - and the format is: warm up, 5k skate, recovery, 5k classic, cool down. It is all self timed, individual start, and drafting is not allowed.

I started about 30 seconds after Eugene did, and made it my goal to try and catch him. Eugene is one of the new skiers to Vakava this year, and he is also relatively new to skiing in general. His technique is quite raw (although it has improved quite a bit already this summer), but he has a huge engine, and I think he is going to be much improved by this winter. I was probably a bit to excited to chase him down too quickly, and I started out quite hard. I made up 75% of the distance between us by the half way mark, but by then the 90 degree heat and my fast start was starting to get to me, and I spent most of the last lap just trying to keep the gap from getting bigger. On the last stretch of rolling hills I made a final push to catch him, and I think Eugene was starting to fade a bit as I was closing in. About 30m from the finish I was still 10m behind, but then with a ill-placed pole between the skis Eugene was sprawled out on the ground and I glided past over the finish line, completely drained. Eugene got up quickly, and with bloody knees and left elbow was not far behind.

In between the skate and classic TT's I was doing by best to recover and prepare to go hard again, but I was really feeling the heat. I don't think I have ever felt as light headed or jello-legged at the start of a time trial as I did in the classic portion. I never felt like I was able to give an all out effort or get any snap in my arms and abs, but I could go no faster. I think everyone was just happy to have stayed on their feet during the classic portion. Eugene, after bandaging himself up, gamely put in a great classic TT and he finished in the same time that I did. All in all a good start to the year, and some times to improve upon when we do it again in a month or two.

Skate TT:
Nate 12:34
Eugene 13:10
Paul 13:38
Jason 14:30
Dave 14:39
Kathleen 15:20
Michele 15:39
Brent 15:47
Cheryl 15:57
Bonnie 16:32

Classic TT:
Nate 13:39
Eugene 13:39
Paul 14:56
Brent 15:15
Cheryl 15:29
Dave 15:34
Michele 15:49
Kathleen 15:50
Jason 16:58
Bonnie 17:55

A couple of notes about the results:
1. Both Bonnie and Eugene fell during the skate TT.
2. Jason is brand new to classic skiing and this TT was his first classic "race" ever.
3. We brought along the MN skinnyski series team trophy that we won last winter. We figured that if Peter brought it all across the country to take pictures with it after his team won, the least we could do is to take an occational picture with it too (and send it in to be on the front page of

Kathleen and Dave

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Afton Trail Run

One of my favorite things about the 4th of July is that it means that it is time for the Afton Trail Run. Just writing that makes me feel like a sick, twisted individual, but I really do enjoy a good, hard-core trail run.

The Afton Trail Run is basically the biggest, baddest trail run around the Twin Cities each summer, and this year it served as the USATF MN state championship for the 25k and 50k distances. The race is held (appropriately) at Afton State Park, and covers as much elevation change as they can cram into the trails out there. Most of the course is on 3 or 4 foot wide grass or dirt trails through the woods and fields of the park, but part of the course is also on the gravel road, and the last 2 miles is on some very winding single track.

Last year was my first year doing this race, and I went out hard and paid dearly for it. Up the first hill I had wondered to myself, "I know it's steep, but why are people walking already?" only to have an epic bonk and spend the last 4 miles stumbling in (In the last 5 miles I lost 10+ minutes to coach Mark, and ultimately ended with a 8:30 per mile pace). This year I was determined to pace myself and be able to run much more consistently. I also filled the water bottles in my fuel belt with Gatorade Endurance Formula (last year I had water in the bottles and took gels during the race, this year had the Gatorade and skipped the gels).

For the start of the race I placed myself in the middle part of the field and took it easy at the gun. This year I was one of the people walking up part of the first big hill, and I settled into a comfortable pace. Up ahead I could see coach Mark in his Finn Sisu jersey, and over the next few miles I worked to slowly reel him in. I was able to maintain my even tempo, and spent the entire race gaining, catching, and dropping people on the course. Unlike last year, after the first hill I was not caught and passed by anyone during the entire race.

I was still pretty shot by the end, but I only came away from the race with a couple of small blisters (my Inov8 Roclites worked great - much better than my Vasque Aether Techs worked last year) and some chafing that was very painful during my post-race shower (I don't know how people do the 50k!). My time was over 6 minutes faster than last year, and I beat coach Mark by almost 5 minutes (he was pacing himself for Voyager marathon this weekend).

Finn Sisu had some good results:
3rd- James
4th- Evgeny (aka: Eugene - one of our new Vakava skiers)
17th- me
22nd- Mark (the 4th masters runner)

Eugene and James

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hanging in there…

I have not had so hectic a schedule in a very long time. It’s been non-stop since the ski season ended with no real end in sight. Most springs are busy since things tend to fall to the wayside during the winter race season and I then try to get caught up, but never as bad as this. At least I’d been feeling the best this spring than I have since I started training again three years ago (Ahvo had said that it would take me four years to get back into shape and he sure was right!), but it's finally catching up to me and I’m just frazzled. I just tried to fill in my training log and it was really tough. I hadn’t written in it in over three weeks! I can hardly remember what I did yesterday let alone three weeks ago. My heart rate monitor records my workouts so that helps a bit but that only goes so far. So if I happened to do a workout with you any time from mid-May until now, please let me know what we did! My monitor only holds the last 14 workouts and then starts overwriting the oldest one so I had even stopped wearing it the last few days because I was afraid I’d overwrite my oldest workouts, which of course would be the hardest to remember. I still don’t have a training plan worked out so I just kind of wing it every day. Something has got to give soon or my brain is going to come to a screeching halt. So that is my excuse for lack of posts. And here it is almost mid-night again and I’m still not in bed. (Maybe at least Nate will stop hinting that I need to post something.)

After several hints from various people that it’s time for another Brew-Ski (my homebrewed beer party), I finally scheduled it for the first weekend I had free only to realize later that it was the same day as Grandma’s Marathon. So I moved it to the following weekend only to realize that is the weekend of the City of Lakes Tri-Loppet. Criminy. Who can keep track of all this stuff? Ah well, I guess that’s just the way it is when you hang out with a bunch of athletes. There’s always some race going on. I guess I’ll just have to have another party soon, if I can find a spare weekend to have it and time to write an invite that is!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"If a tree falls in the forest", and other jobless ramblings

I have discovered the secret to getting in more training: unemployment...

Which coincidentally is my current employment status (well, besides the little bit I do at the ski shop, but I don't think that counts as the proper use of a doctorate degree - or at least my wife tells me it doesn't). After four grueling years I made it through dental school, only to graduate during a recession. The good news is that you can't export teeth, so I do have some options on the horizon and I am sure I will enter the working world soon enough (is that really good news...?). With that in mind I am trying to take advantage of this break between school and the real world and get in a bit of decent training.

One of the best things about living here in Red Wing is that I have the state forest just over a mile from my front door. This has lead to a much increased amount of trail running, which I am very pleased about. My most recent long trail run was in the evening just after the skies had cleared up after a soaking rain. It lead to a lot of mud running, but it was a lot of fun. At one point on the run I was going through a valley where the trees were farther off the trails. I had just finished watching a doe run off the trail in front of me when I heard a crack and looked off to my right to see the top 15 feet of a 40 foot tall big birch tree crash to the ground with a huge thud. I have been in the woods and seen a tree fall before, but this was certainly the closest I have gotten to being hit. This was the closest tree to the trail, only 20 feet away, and I had just run past it. The tree itself was probably 10 inches across and dead, and the very top of the tree with most of the branches had been long missing. This left only the trunk, and the rain from earlier in the day soaked into and water-logged the top. I'm just glad I was far enough away so that I didn't have to regret forgetting to wear my road ID.

Yes they do make a sound.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

(Finally) The End of the Racing Season

It's not often that you get to race - on real snow - at the end of May. It's also not that often that you get to race - at least at my level - against the likes of Ivan Babikov.

Last weekend I got both. The race is Ski to Sea, up in the northwest corner of Washington State. It's held every Memorial Day weekend, and my part was the first leg of a 7-leg, 8-person relay (XC, alpine skiing, running, road biking, canoeing, mountain biking, flat-water kayaking) that starts up at the Mount Baker ski area in the North Cascades and ends down in the saltwater of Puget Sound - ski to sea. The race claims roots going back to 1911 (it was in a much different form back then), but it's been a multi-sport relay now for almost 40 years.

Start of Ski to Sea at Mt. Baker Ski Area in Washington

I hooked up with a team 15 years ago and have been flying out every year to help them try to win, originally, the masters division (40 and over) and, now, the veterans division (50 and over).

It's a pretty big race - 464 teams and 3712 competitions - and it attracts some pretty fast people. Yes, Babikov was there and, yes, he did win. But not by as much as you might expect. Babikov wasn't the only Olympian; in fact, out of the first 13 finishers (I was lucky enough to end up 12th), 6 of them competed in the Olympics at Vancouver, Torino, or Salt Lake City. CXC's Brian Gregg (check out his blog) had a terrific race - he was only 2nd this year, unlike in 2009 and 2008, but he managed to stay with one of the world's best hill climbers up one of the biggest and nastiest hills I ever compete on, pushing Babikov almost to the end of the race and finishing only 20-some seconds behind.

Not a bad setting for a ski race. (It's called the Mt. Baker Ski Area, but it's really at the base of the much more photogenic Mt. Shuksan.)

And, yes, there was plenty of snow - 140 inches still. (This place had a world-record 1140 inches in a single season a few years back.) It was pretty wet and sloppy, as you'd expect at this time of year, but that's what big structure and pure fluoros are for.

Of course, like in any race, the most fun part comes afterwards. We spent a couple of hours skiing around together on the last slushy snow of the season, the I wound my way down the mountain to Bellingham to watch our kayaker Shaun Koos (Torin's dad) finish up my team's last leg, then trade stories of our exploits, and start the mandatory partying.

Brian Gregg, Martin Rosvall, me, Torin Koos, Kent Murdoch. (Martin was leading at 63 K's in this year's Swedish Vasaloppet; Kent is a friend of mine from Seattle who is a past Ski to Sea winner and who is still really fast.)

So, finally, the end of the ski-racing season, almost 2 1/2 months after the Twin Cites snow melted. (I'm sure I was one of the first guys out on roller skis, making sure I stayed in at least reasonable racing shape for this thing.) The rest of Vakava is a month into the new training year, gradually cranking things up. For me, it's time to kick back a bit. (And it's always kind of fun to run the rest of the team through their paces and make them sweat at our workouts during a period when I get to take it easy for a while.)

Dave Christopherson
Editors notes:
Here are the race results. Dave was the top "veteran" skier.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mary Beth's Fossavatn ski marathon race recap

After a challenging season on many levels, culminating in my father’s death from cancer just a few weeks before leaving for Iceland, I was more than ready for a nice, stress free trip with my 11 year old son, Will. Initially it appeared that the worst of the Eyafjallajokull volcano had passed, after it closed down a majority of the European airports for an unprecedented 6 days. But the week before departure, like many good volcanos do, it began spewing again. This time, instead of closing European airspace, the Reykjavik airport closed for several days. As we watched very closely, it became clear that there was no way of knowing if we would be able to land in Reykjavik, as opposed to landing in the remote Akureyri with a stopover in Scotland, until we were actually in transit. Not exactly what I was hoping for. It all depended on which direction the wind was blowing. I contacted Icelandic Air the morning of our departure and they were still uncertain if we would be able to land in Reykjavik. It wasn't until we arrived in Boston that we learned that we would be the first flight in many days to be allowed to land. We had a similar situation when we departed. The winds gods were definitely with us on our traveling days. We weren't so lucky, however, on race day.

The day before the race was amazing; minimal wind, sunny and temps just above freezing. A perfect Klister day, or so I was told. Since I've only used Klister three times now, I didn't really feel qualified to make this call myself. Race day was supposed to be more of the same. I remember asking the locals about the weather prediction several times. It was supposed to be even nicer on race day. When we woke up race day, it was warm and calm. By the time Scott Ellertson, my other travel mate, and I made it up to the start of the race, the wind had picked up dramatically and it was cold. As we tried the recommended multigrade Klister out, it didn't take but a few strides to tell it wasn't going to work. Most of the skiers around us were struggling with what to do as well. Scott ended up with a couple layers of VR 50-65 over his Klister and I ended up with one. Nobody around us really seemed to be having great success and we definitely didn't know what would work. We found out after the race that scraping the Klister off and using a product called Ski Go was the application of choice.

At the start of the race I was still optimistic. The first several K are flat and slightly downhill. My skis were sticking a bit, but not more than the others around me. It wasn't until we began to climb that I realized it was going to be a long and brutal race. I can honestly say it was the most difficult race I've ever done. We had very diverse conditions including some falling new, dry snow along with very strong wind. There were gusts between 30-40 mph. I remember forcing my myself to push back into the wind at times or be blown over. I skied about 85% of the race out of the tracks because they were either nonexistent, had snow in them or were just very slow. I kept telling myself to keep my feet moving. I have also never experienced such significant icing on my skis before either. The Swiss men that I was skiing with at the time showed me how to try to reduce this icing, but I struggled to do so. On the last long uphill, I was passed by Stella, the top Icelandic skier and a friend. I have gotten to know her from the two years she has come over to ski in the COLL and a previous Fossavatn race. I was so relieved to make it up the hill. I quickly passed Stella at the top on a flatter section. The last 6-7 K are all downhill. I was exhausted from my duck walk up the hills, but I embraced the potential for an extended, quad killing tuck position. Anything other than the nasty slipping I had endured the previous 43K. I tried to visualize my teammate Angie, who has amazing and graceful downhill technique, during my quest to the finish. The downhill section included dodging many slower skiers from the shorter races and maneuvering through the sloppy, slushy snow that occurs at lower elevations. I was really happy to make it down without falling! After finishing, I quickly found my son who had participated in the 7K race. He had a great time, but he tried to convince me that I had made the wrong choice to only bring waxless skis for him. I just laughed and looked for my post race bag with chocolate in it. Later in the afternoon, was the famous cake buffet which consists of many tables of the most amazing deserts that you have ever seen. Then there is also a talent show, which was hilarious. This is where skiers, and their family and friends, have an opportunity to perform for the group. Then the soup buffet in the evening, followed by more music, dancing and drinking late into the evening. Icelanders sure know how to let loose and have a good time.

Although getting to and from Iceland and the race were difficult. I didn't travel to Iceland just to race. I really went to explore the beauty of the country and its people with my son. Our trip was truly amazing. My son and I were hosted by Margaret Gunnarsdottir, Jon Sigurpalsson and their daughter, Rannevig Jonsson. Why so many last names? An Icelander's last name consists of the father's first name followed by daughter (dottir) or son, depending on gender. This is the second time I've stayed with the family. They have a way of welcoming you into their home and by the time you leave, you think you're part of the family. They are warm, generous, fun and creative, Margaret is a pianist and Jon is an artist. They are the perfect host family.

Iceland's rugged landscape is extraordinary. It has many unique features, from beautiful mountains, stunning waterfalls, fjords, glaciers, and usual rock formations to barren volcanic wasteland where nothing can grow. The landscape has an elemental rawness that's like nothing I've ever experienced. Visitors shouldn't forget the fabulous and relaxing hot pools or "hot pots" as they are called by the locals from their endless supply of natural geothermal heat. Icelanders congregate at these mainly outdoor pools at the end of the day. It is not a vacation spot for the faint of heart. You need to be prepared to endure the elements, but that's all part of the adventure. Full rain gear is essential unless you want to explore while sitting in your car or drenched. Although Iceland has experienced some financial woes recently, the spirit of the people is alive and thriving. They are survivors and have dealt with much adversity before. They are truly a hardy breed. I was also very impressed with the kindness and generosity shown to me and my son by several Icelandic strangers. Although I thought that this maybe would be my last trip to Iceland. I may try to return in several years, perhaps with my daughter Libby. It's just one of those places that makes you long to return.

As they say in Iceland,

Bless, bless
Mary Beth Tuttle

Editor's notes:
Yes, Mary Beth did win the Fossavatn marathon again this year:
2010 50k Results
2010 7k Results (Will did great too!)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Where did that come from?

I have done a fair amount of running over the years, but I have never been that much of a runner. A good day for me is one where I keep up with my wife Nichole. She has been injured lately, and so I have not been running nearly as often as I normally would during the spring (since I normally run with her). I had also not run any races yet this spring, mostly because I would normally hop into a few of the races that she would run, and she has had to cancel a few planned races. Saturday was the Fargo half marathon, and I would not otherwise drive 4+ hours to North Dakota if Nichole wasn't planning on running the marathon there (she finished 2nd and won $1200 last year). Unfortunately she is still unable to run, but I had signed up for the race before she got injured, and so I was already committed.
We got to Fargo on Friday around noon. My mom and both of Nichole's parents were running the 5k in the evening. It was the first road race that Nichole's parents had ever done, so it was a pretty big deal for them (they have never been runners). Nichole and I did 7 minutes worth of jogging around the Fargo dome while waiting for the 5k race to start, and then we watched the 5k - (Interestingly it was an out and back course, and there were over 5,000 people running/walking so it took 12 minutes for the last people to cross the START line, and the winner came in in 16 minutes, so there was very little break in the action).
On race day morning I (along with my dad, Nichole's brother, and 2 of his friends) got to the Fargo dome to get ready to run the half marathon. As we are waiting it starts to rain. I love running in the rain, but there is nothing more miserable than standing around in the rain waiting to run. As we lined up at the start and the singer starts the national anthem it starts to POUR. By the time we start the race there are pretty big puddles in the street. The good news is that it was not 90 degrees and sunny like the forecast said it could be.
I really did not know what to expect for this race. As I mentioned, I really had not done that much running this spring. The fact is, I have not done as much of anything this spring as I would have liked to, and although I haven't felt particularly out of shape, I certainly have not felt in great shape. Plus most of my running has been on the trails in Red Wing, which has meant lots of hills and lots of sand and mud, but not much sustained pounding on the roads. It is also hard to gauge how fast you are going on the trails. Last year at Fargo I ran 1:28:13 (which was a personal best), but I had already raced 3 other times that spring including another half marathon. By the end of last summer I got my personal best in the half marathon down to 1:27:08. My goal for this year was just to get under 1:30.
The gun went off and I felt good. I was trying not to get caught up in all the people taking off too fast (like I often do in a running race), but I still came through the mile in 6:30. Considering a 1:30 is 6:52 pace I was a little worried. I felt good, but I certainly was second guessing my preparation. I backed it off a bit and came through in 6:40 for mile 2 and 6:49 for mile 3, still feeling very good. At that point I was wondering if I was going to really regret my fast start by mile 10, but at the same time I couldn't help recalling an interview that I had read earlier in the week. The part that stuck with me was about how often the only limitations that we have are the ones that we place on our selves. I was feeling good, and with this positive mindset I picked up the pace a little bit (6:40 for mile 4, 6:39 for mile 5). After two more miles at 6:40 pace I picked it up even further and ran a 6:30 mile for mile 8. My legs were starting to feel the pounding at this point, but I figured at this stage in the race I was committed to trying to keep pushing the pace and would either have a great race or would blow up spectacularly. Miles 9 and 10 were in 6:35 and 6:36. Mile 11 is where I made a surge last year, and so even though I was way ahead of last year's pace I tried to get my legs to do the same thing again this year. Mile 11 was 6:29. Now I was really hurting, but I knew I was on pace for a great time, and I wouldn't let myself lose it in the last 2 miles. Mile 12 was 6:33. In the last mile I was focusing on keeping my tempo up. My legs were hurting enough that I couldn't really tell if I was going faster or slower, but I was pushing hard. Mile 13 was in 6:24, and the last .1 miles was at 6:15 pace to put me across the finish line in 1:26:29. It was a 39 second personal best.
I really don't know where this race came from. I have raced at least a dozen half marathons in the past, many of them feeling much better prepared and with much more running and training in general under my belt. The only 3 explanations that I have come up with for my unexpected performance are: 1.) it rained for the first half of the race, which really helped keep me from overheating; 2.) The trail running that I have been doing at our new house in Red Wing has left my legs strong (even if I have not put in as many miles); and 3.) I found myself with a completely irrational positive mindset for almost the entire race. Based on my training I had no logical reason to think that I should have been able to keep up the pace that I was running, but I kept telling myself that slowing down would only limit my potential, and so I kept pushing. This could have completely blown up in my face but the result was a very good race (at least for me).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Finally another post

It has been a while since I (or anyone else *ahem*) have posted anything here...
It has been a busy spring. Although unfortuantely not that busy with skiing. This spring has been my worst for training in the last 3 years. I just graduated from dental school last week, and all of the chaos leading up to that event was not helpful to my training. Although without question the worst thing for my training has been hip alignment issues to my wife Nichole. She had been having a great spring, and was setting her sights on a big spring marathon (it would have been this weekend at Fargo) where she was hoping to run a 2:50 or 2:51. All her workouts and lead up races were pointing to being able to hit that too, but as most runners know, you are constantly teatering on the edge of greatness or injury, and unfortunatly injury won out. She has not run more than 3 minutes at a time in the last month, and she is my biggest training partner this time of year. Plus as any married folk out there probably understand, I just feel guilty going out for a long workout while she is at home on the stationary bike in the basement.

Fortunately Vakava is now 2 weeks into the new season. Things start pretty low key for us this time of year. We are still sorting out who will be back for another year, and who will be the new skiers joining the group. We are also working out plans to get some new racing suits for this next winter. Derek is a graphic designer by trade, and so we we have a pretty sharp looking suit design waiting in the wings. Now we are just working on getting a few sponsors lined up to help defer the cost of the suits so that everyone on the team can get one at the begining of the season (if anyone out there is interested in sponsoring us, just let me know). More on this to come in the weeks ahead.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

First ROLLERSKI of the season.

I have to admit that I have already been out on the rollerskis this spring. Gross. And its not that I don't like rollerskiing. In fact I think most of the time it is at least as enjoyable as skiing on snow (especially compared to all the time spent skiing at -15 degrees), which is good considering the ski season only lasts 3 months (4 if we're lucky). But I usually don't break out the rollerskis for a couple more weeks. Technically I didn't break out my rollerskis yet, but on Friday morning Nichole and I were up at my parents' house and she had a 13 mile run planned. I wanted to come along, but my legs were really feeling the previous 6 days running (after no running the previous month). My knees can take only so much pounding, and they were telling me that this should not be running day #7. Fortunately my dad has the same size feet, and after a little scrounging I found some old combi boots, a pair of poles, and the Marwes. Soon we were off, and I double-poled and single-sticked along while Nichole ran with the dog. Nice and easy. It was probably not such a bad thing training-wise -the reason I stay off the rollerskis for a month or so after the ski season is more for the mental break than anything physical, and this rollerski was very relaxing. It was a preview of the next 8 months.

Side note: Ski racing season is not finished on the world cup. How would you like to be the back of Brian Gregg's legs?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Last skiing of the season

Like Nate I've been pretty lazy since the Birkie. In the past couple of years I've had additional races after the Birkie and we've had good snow sometimes into April. This year, unless one was willing to travel, the ski season ended abruptly since the heat wave that began on Birkie Saturday rapidly consumed all the great snow we got this winter.

Nevertheless, I still strapped on the skis for one last weekend on snow. On Friday the 12th Angie and Dave talked me into driving to Elm Creek. It was raining and probably in the high 30s or low 40s and as I put my boots on I was thinking about how pathetically desparate we must be to drive 35 minutes to ski in these conditions. But the track was surprisingly decent. I had wanted to practice warm weather kick waxing so I put some universal klister on and WOW! It felt like roller skiing - great kick with almost no push of the foot while still delivering great glide. Now I know what everyone means when they talk about how nice klister skiing can be. Not sure if I'll ever have a chance to use it in a race but it was pretty nice that day - a great way to finish up classic skiing for the year.

On Sunday I returned with Jeff and Claire and we had a blast playing ski tag and just skiing around. This time it was sunny and highs got up into the 60s. The snow really was still pretty good so I'm glad we got out for one last ski.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

And the training for next season begins!

Between being a bit sick last week, and also wanting to give my body a chance to recover after the ski season, I took 6 days in a row off from training. I think that is the most down time I have had in 3 years, and let me tell you, it was nice. :) It makes me realize why the average American is so fat - because sitting around and doing nothing but eat sure is easy! I did try to do a little bit besides eat. The extra free time gave me a chance to do more on the job search front, and I interviewed at two different dental offices last week. I also found out that I passed my clinical board exams, so between all of that the real world sure seems like it is coming up quick!

I am back training now - and man am I sore! Nichole has been pounding the roads pretty hard now getting ready for the Marathon this spring, and as her loving husband this means I get my share of the roads too. On Saturday (my first day back training) I did a 6 mile run with her pretty easy. This was the first run I had done in about 3 weeks, and really for most of the racing season I usually only ran once or twice a week, and usually not more than 5 miles at a time. So on Sunday I could feel the previous day's run a little bit in my calves. But Nichole was putting in a big day (18 mile run with the last 8 at marathon pace i.e. 6:30 mile pace), and she is feeling a little sorry for herself that she has nobody to run with her, so I suck it up and get out on the roads. I do 5 of her 9 mile warm up, and meet her at the high school where there is a 1.4 mile loop that, while still a bit hilly, is the flattest option we have here in Red Wing. She starts of at her 6:30 mile pace and I run with her for about half the loop, then I cut off and jog across the middle to meet her at the start point again and run with her for half the loop again. In total I did about 25 minutes at 6:30 mile pace with her, and about 15 minutes of jogging in between. Add in the warm up and the one mile cool down and I had an hour and 32 minutes of running on my second day back training. And that is why I am still sore 2 days later. Probably not the smartest training decision in the world, but I earned good brownie points at home, and I hope it will serve as a good kick-off to this year's training.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Another great season

Well, it has been a great ski season. I know that JOs are still happening out east, and spring series and other races have yet to be run, but for me (and probably most Minnesotans) the ski season is over. It is 40 degrees and raining pretty hard right now, and even the snowmaking loops at elm creek and wirth will have a hard time holding on for long.

I think my last ski will have been the Slush Rush at Elm Creek last Saturday. It was a lot of fun, and there was a family rate for the race so my parents, wife, and brother-in-law Ben all decided to come race too. The only problem was that Ben had skied a grand total of 2 times in his life, probably totaling less than 10k. True story: the race started at the bottom of the sleding hill, and Ben was having such a hard time getting up the hill that half way up the race organizers came down to him and pushed him the rest of the way up the hill. Needless to say he was a bit over his head, but was smart enough to cut the race short before he hurt himself (or my borrowed equiptment!). The good news is that he enjoyed himself enough to borrow my boots and skis for the rest of his spring break week and is currently skiing on some trails in Wisconsin with some college friends. Only bad part of the race is that I managed to catch a head cold and am now paying the price by having to carry a box of kleenex around with me in the clinic all day (is there anything worse than a runny nose under a surgical mask?). At least this is a good time to take some time off. It is probably good for me too, since I otherwise would have jumped right in to running with Nichole, and last spring that meant that I never really took any significant break after the ski season. This year I will. I will also have to do a deeper retrospective on my training log for the year. It was a good season for me - probably not quite as good as last year, but darn close - and I will have to figure out what type of changes I should make for next year.

As for Vakava as a team, I will simply quote Dave's last email: "It's been a lot of fun seeing all of our hard efforts paying off with some very good skiing and some very good results. Aside from just having a lot of fun on the snow together, Vakava had 14 overall race wins this winter, and more than 50 age-class wins. We're looking forward to continuing to build on that success."

It will be time to break out the Marwe's in no time!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Lessons 1,2,3

The first race I did this season was the 20k Elk River race in late December. There had been a couple earlier races I could have done but didn’t feel mentally ready to do one. The season can get really long and I thought it was better to pace myself. I figured I needed to race at least once before TC Champs and the Elk River race was the last one before it. 20k is a bit longer than I would’ve like for a first race but the timing was right. My only thought for the race was to just get one under my belt and see how it felt. I purposely didn’t think about who else was there or what place I might get or anything like that. I just wanted to ski my race, so that’s what I did. This is not the same as ignoring other racers. You still need to pay attention to what they are doing and how you might strategize things, but if they are going to fast for you, let them go. If they are going to slow for you, drop them. If they are going a nice pace, work with them and see if you can use the pack to ski faster. So that’s lesson #1: pay attention to others and strategize, but ski your own race. You can’t control how others ski and you shouldn’t let them control you.

The second race was the TC Champs 15k classic at Battle Creek. I planned to ski my own race again, and I did, but I was a little excited and went out too fast. I was leading for the first 1k when I tripped myself up around a corner and went down on my butt. Many people went by and I dropped way back. Then I settled down and found my pace. I was able to catch a couple people on my second lap but could’ve done better if I’d been smarter at the start. So that was lesson #2: keep yourself under control at the start, it’s better to finish strong than to suffer much of the race after starting too hard.

The third race was the TC Champs 10k skate at Theo Wirth for the pursuit start. I was only a few seconds behind Kim Rudd and Kathleen DeWahl was right behind me. It didn’t take us long to catch Kim and the three of us skied the entire race together, which was great. I felt good and it was fun to have a nice group. Kim and Kathleen dropped me at the very end but I still had a very nice race. The three of us had the fastest times of the day and I’m sure it’s because we were pushing each other. So that was lesson #3: find a nice group to ski with if you can since you tend to ski faster in a group.

Stay tuned; more lessons coming soon!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Over All Ready???

Well, the race season is officially over for me and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand I know I need a break both mentally and phyically, but it's still hard to see it end. It was so much fun and I had a great season. But now I can no longer postpone all the things that have been piling up over the winter. I feel rather overwhelmed by it all and am trying to tell myself it doesn't all need to get done tomorrow and that I need to pace myself. But enough about that, the real reason I'm posting is because Nate keeps prompting me to. That and because I've been meaning to all season long. I've learned a lot, or I should say re-learned, namely how to race again. Each race taught me something and I want to recap them all. (Or maybe I just want to re-live the season in self-denial that it's really over.) So over the next several days I'll post about each one and relate what I learned. I guess the pile of projects and chores will have to wait a few more days.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Off to Oregon

I want to help Nate out here with a little contribution since he does such a great job keeping the blog going:)

First, if any of you haven't skied since the Birkie, Theo Wirth was in amazing shape (front and back 9) as of 11am this morning. It's great to have that kind of coverage and grooming in sunny 30 degree weather.

Second, the Birkie was fun as per usual. Unfortunately I'm still unable to push to a good high max HR as things continue to heal post-sugery. But after really struggling up through OO or so (while very seriously contemplating a DNF), I found a little rhythm and hung on to a small group. I was at Mayo last week, and the surgeon said he believes everything seems to be healing (although they put me back on a rate control drug due to my 90-100bpm resting HR). Luckily, I snuck into a top 200 spot, so hopefully next year I'll be fully recovered ready to go again.

Finally, next Tuesday I'll be defending my PhD thesis and then moving to Portland, OR to work as a circuit designer for Intel. Luckily there is good CC skiing one hour away at Mt. Hood (see pic below), and a little further than that in Bend. It's a bummer to move away from such a great city with so many trails, but such is life. If anyone finds themselves in Portland and is looking to roller ski or ski, email

Thanks to everyone who has helped me work on my form or whipped my butt in intervals. I'll be following Vakava results from the Northwest!

Da Birkie

Now that was fun! If there is one thing that will help mask a little lack of fitness, it is blazing fast trails on wicked fast skis (thanks Devin!).

As expected, the field was pretty dang impressive. Like most people, I was 15 minutes faster this year, and also like most people (it seems) I was 10 places further down in the results. 28th last year, and 38th this year. I don't think I could have finished any faster though. From the begining my legs were not feeling great. I was still with the lead pack through most of the power line hills, but I was not too focused on staying with them, and by the first feed stop I was off the back of the (very large) lead pack (side note: this was the first time in 4 years that I was able to get a feed at this first feed station, so that was one major benifit of having the classic skiers start first - it got the feed stations ready for us!). By the 7k mark I was caught by a good pack of skiers that included Bjorn Batdorf, Josh Korn, Matt Weier, and about 3 others. We worked together and caught Tyler Kjorstad and another skier that were a bit ahead of me, and from there we had a really nice pack that skied together for the rest of the race. I was very thankful for the pack. I skied most of the first 80% of the race at the back of this pack of 8 or 10 skiers just trying to get my legs to feel good. I always seem to have crappy legs for the first part of the birkie, but most years I am feeling good by OO, and feeling tired but very good by Bitch hill and have a good finishing kick. This year it took my legs until well after OO to feel ok, and still by Bitch hill I was not feeling like pushing the pace and was just trying to hold onto the group. In the hills after Rosie's field our group started to split up a little bit (I have heard that Bjorn may have had to take an unfortunate pit stop about this time), and I did have the legs to bridge a gap that formed and keep our pack together. On the last flats before the lake a skier from Canada (skiing his first Birkie) made a break, and once again I went to the front of the chase and brough the group together. Once we were on the lake the Canadian and another skier in his first Birkie (you can tell from the "1" written on the bibs) were pulling our group with my self in 3rd. I was perfectly content to let them switch off the leads, meanwhile trying to keep my left tricep from cramping. By the time we got off the lake and on to Main Street I knew that both of those guys were pretty spent. I pulled into the far right lane and sprinted hard to the line. I was the first guy in my pack to the finish (even though the results list Chad Tolbert in front of me).
Which brings up the point: Why is the starting sensor at the 300m mark in the race? Has anyone done a race that starts the chips part way into the race and not at the start line? This just seems stupid. Why not have the starting sensor at... the start!?! My other suggestion is that they instead move the start sensor to the 15k mark for next year, since that is when my legs usually start feeling good anyway.

But despite the timing quirks, this was probably one of the best (if not the best) Birkies I have participated in (this was my 7th). It truly is an experience that every skier should do once (if not once a year!).
Looking at the results I think I can justify saying that I had as good a race as last year when I was 28th. Note: 9 skiers who beat me last year did not race (or were in the classic race). 19 of the skiers who beat me this year did not race last year (or were in the classic race). 3 of the skiers who I beat last year beat me this year, but I beat 3 skiers this year who were ahead of me last year. This seems to point to an extra 10 top elite skiers in the race, and I was 10 spots worse in the results. Makes since to me.
Another side note: for the 3rd year in a row (every year they have had it), the U of MN - Twin Cities was victorious in the Birkie College Team Competition. This year all three scoring U of MN skiers also trained with Vakava: Myself, Bjorn, and Allie Rykken.
The Vakava team as a whole had a fantastic race (especially the ladies!)
Vakava skate finishers:
38 - Nathan Porath
67 - Derek Wallen
72 - Bjorn Batdorf
112 - Andy Schekel
154 - John Keane
160 - Dave Christopherson (age group win)
162 - Dave Bridges
171 - Paul Olson
296 - Brent Oja
5 - Jojo Winters (in the money)
7 - Mary Beth Tuttle (age group win)
14 - Angie Robinson (age group win)
19 - Kathleen Dewahl (age group win)
24 - Cheryl Dubois (age group 2nd, because Mary Beth was in it)
30 - Mel MacMillan
36 - Michelle Oja
43 - Katie Splan
101 - Nichole Porath
51 - Mark Ahlers-Moore
102 - Kevin Ivens
111- Pete Thurmes
11 - Margie Nelson (age group win)
19 - Allie Rykken

This year I unfortunatly was unable to take part in any post-Birkie festivities due to my dental board exams the following day. They went well. I will find out the results in a week or two, and hopfully there will have been no consequenses to doing a 50k race the day before the board exams.
Now it is time to soak up the great spring skiing here in Mn. I took the dog out skijoring yesterday, and today it is supposed to be 45 degrees and sunny. Fantastic.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Eager like a bever!

The big one is tomorrow. It is Birkie time!

I was in at Finn Sisu this morning putting the last touches on my skis (and to help out waxing some of the skis submitted for waxing at the shop). The recommended wax job for the Birkie is: a coat of Rex Blue, a coat of Rex RCF Black, a coat of Rex Olympico Moly, and 3 coats of Rex TK-72. It sounds like things will be pretty abrassive on the course, so that hard wax with the graphite is going to be important. Duribility will be key.

There were a lot of other people in at the shop this morning too. Most of them were from out of town who were picking up some last minute items on there way to the race. There were 2 guys there because the airlines had lost their ski bags! Apparently the airline has no idea where their bags are, and could not even find a record of where they had been checked in. Ouch. One of the guys had a pretty good attitude about it ("a good excuse to buy new skis!"), but the second guy was coming all the way from Sweden (!) and was pretty bummed out.

To make this weekend even more crazy, this Sunday are my dental board exams. I am typing this from the dental school computer lab waiting for a mandatory pre-boards meeting. From here I will be swinging through my parent's house for some pasta, and then heading the rest of the way to Hayward to their cabin. After the race tomorrow I will unfortunately not be heading to the Sawmill Saloon, and will instead be heading back to the Twin Cities to get ready for my 7:45am exam on Sunday. This is the patient-based part of the exam, so it consists of scaling and root planing (a deep cleaning), a class II restoration (a filling on a back tooth), and a class III restoration (a filling on a front tooth). The dentistry should not be too bad, but if one of my patients doesn't show up I might be screwed. At least I have the Birkie to keep my mind off it until the last minute.

I have been going over the race in my mind the last couple of days, and I still havn't decided on my final game plan. The last two years I have been the first or second guy who has not been with the lead pack (28th last year, 30th the year before), but I got there two differnt ways. Two years ago I went out and skied my own race and let the lead pack go early, getting into that second group and skiing easier from the start. Last year my goal was to stay with the leaders for as long as I could. Around the 18k mark I was spent, and Chad Giese and I both kind of fell off the back of the lead pack, and skied together for a few k before the second group caught us and we jumped in with them. Both methods lead to about the same result, and to be honest, skiing my own race hurt a lot less (until the last few kilometers, at least). It will be interesting how having two strong teams in the race (the Italians and CXC) will affect how things go at the front. In the past the Italians could pretty much control how the race was skied, but now CXC might be able to mix it up as well. I am glad it is going to be recorded again :)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Few new items:

It has been a great day to be a nordic skier:

1. Minnesota Finlandia was this morning. The weather was amazing (I was skiing my cool down in a baseball cap with my sleeves rolled up) and the conditions were almost perfect.

2. The 25k pursuit race there served as the final race of the 7 part Minnesota Skinnyski Series. Our beloved Vakava Race Team was leading the team competition by 198 points heading into the race. We had 4 skiers in the race (meaning we could only max out at 400 points), so if Peter's Cheaters had sent a full squad of 6 skiers and had a perfect score (every skier winning their age group) they would have beaten us by just 2 points! The Cheaters did perfect score the race last year, so I was more than a bit worried, however they only had 5 skiers in the race and so Vakava has successfully taken down the Cheaters and won the team competition for the first time in 3 years!!!

3. I had a good race today myself, winning the pursuit for the 2nd year in a row. The race was a lot more fun than last year too (last year the field was a bit thinner and I soloed the whole dang race), since they wisely started the classic and pursuit skiers together this year, and this ment that there was a nice group of skiers for the classic portion of the race. This was nice, since I am not as strong of a classic skier, and I was able to hang out in the pack and get pulled around to the transition area and have plenty in my legs for the skate half of the race. The trophys for the Finlandia are the best of any ski race I have ever seen (well, I hear they give out some decent neckwear at those races in Vancouver) in the form of very intricate hand painted double-bladed lumberjack axes. Very cool, and worth the trip to Bemidji just for that. Vakava women took 1st and 2nd in the women's race too (nice job Mary Beth and Kathleen!)

4. There was a great battle at the front of the 50k race to watch, with Andy Liebner out sprinting Zack Simons and Andrew Johnson. I was telling somone after the race, "the 50k field was really tough. One guy was in the last Olympics, and one guy has one the Birkie." Of course then I had to say, "but neither of those guys won today". Big props to Liebner.

5. I got home just as the olympic men's 30k pursuit was taking off on TV. What an awesome race. It had the breakaway by Olsson, the team tactics of the other two Swedes (which made the race that much more compeling), and the amazing racing of the 4 Canadians (all in the top 16, including 3 of the top 9). The only thing that could hav possible made that race better would have been seeing some Americans a bit closer to the front. Kris Freeman looked to be havng a good race before his blood sugar and then his body crashed. Southam had a respectible race in 34th. Has anyone else noticed that of the 6 races so far, the top american in 4 of them (including all 3 men's races) has been somone not on the USST? Just saying.

Best race ever

You've probably already seen this, but:

How tough are you? Probably not this tough.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Vasaloppet recap

I have not been feeling quite as fast this year after having a great year last year. Between board exams and moving, this fall did not have the volume that I was hoping for leading into the season. Consequently I have been feeling a bit flat so far in the season, and the last couple of races have shown this (2nd at Nordic Spirit where I didn't have the skis or legs to hang with the leader from the gun, and 19th at COLL where I kept falling backwards in the standings throughout the race). Due to my not feeling quite as strong this year (and also a bit of a desire to help the Vakava team finally beat the Cheaters in the team race) I switched from the 58k to the 35k for the Mora Vasaloppet. The Vasaloppet is the largest ski race in Minnesota, and the 35k skate race served as the 6th race in the MiSSeries. The switch to the shorter race paid off, as I not only felt great in winning the race by a minute and a half, but Vakava as a whole had a great day sweeping the podium in the women's race and finishing 1,2,4 in the men's - helping to give us a sizable, but not quite comfortable lead in the team standings going into the last race of the series.

Vakava results at Mora (with dala horse listed):
35k skate:
1st- Nate Porath (1st)
2nd- Andy Schakel (1st)
4th- Paul Olson (2nd)
9th- John Keane (3rd)
25th- Dave Bridges (3rd)
30th- Mark Ahlers-Moore (2nd)
40th- Per Nelson (3rd)
1st- Mary Beth Tuttle (1st)
2nd- Angie Robinson (1st)
3rd- Kathleen Dewall (1st)
7th- Mel MacMillian (1st)
13th- Nichole Porath (3rd)

42k classic
16th- Dave Christopherson (1st)
20th- Brent Oja (1st)
35th- Kevin Ivens
37th- Pete Thurmes
60th- Ahvo Taipale (1st)
5th- Michelle Oja (1st)
9th- Allie Rykken (1st)

58k freestlye
11th-Derek Wallen (3rd)
12th- Bjorn Batdorf
2nd-Johanna Winters (2nd)
8th- Cheryl Dubois (1st)

Yes, that is 20 out of 23 people (the 3 coaches are included) winning dala horses. That is impressive.

Now I am waxing skis for tomorrow's race, the Finlandia 25k continuous pursuit. (I have an old swix portable 3-piece bench clamped to a board, that is clamped to the coffee table in the dorm, that is suspended on two chairs). The weather looks like it will be perfect, and the snow has been great. Fun times! The Vakava team is not sending a full squad to the race tomorrow, so the team standings will be very close (Peter's Cheaters put up a perfect score of 600 here last year). Hopefully we can hold them off.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lessons Learned

I've been meaning to post race reports all winter long but just haven't had the time. I'll try to recap them as I find the time since each race has taught me something. My main goals for this year were to feel good and have fun and not worry about how fast I was going. I've been having a great season in stark contrast to last year and have accomplished all those goals. I've felt great, been having a great time, and the less I worry about results they better they are. I think several things have helped me have a better season this year. Last year was a difficult year for me personally and I wasn't sleeping well because I was stressed. I think I just tried to push myself harder than my body could recover properly from with the other stresses and lack of sleep. I just got more and more worn down and felt worse and worse. This year I've managed my stress levels much better and have made sure that I didn't continue to push myself if I was tired or feeling overwhelmed by life. I've really tried to monitor my sleep, which is a good barometer of my stress levels, and take it easy if I needed to. This made my hard workouts more productive and I was able to slowly get stronger and faster. It really drove home that feeling like an easy workout really was easy, too easy even, was a good thing and that allowed hard workouts to feel good too as a result. In essence I relearned to pace my workouts appropriately. I used to be really good at pacing in races and I think I've relearned that as well. I've stopped worrying about how fast my competitors were going and just skied my own race. I can only ski how fast I can ski, so pushing myself too hard to keep up with others is counter-productive. If I can keep up with them I can, and if I can't I can't. It really is that simple. So I've just listened to my body, focused on what I could do that particular day, not worried about what I can't do, and enjoyed being out there. And what a difference it's made.