Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Skiing outside the Cities (part 2)

After submitting my thesis to the committee I took a vacation and travelled around the Midwest with my parents. We took a different loop and did it counter-clockwise compared to last year (see the blog here) when we went from Giants Ridge (NE MN) to ABR (UP MI). Here are the trails we did this time:
Birkie trail. Besides the race, I have only been skiing here once on April 27th last year when the temps reached 70F and not surprisingly the trail was not at its best shape. Now we stayed for 5 days and fully enjoyed the skiing here. The grooming was great despite the snowfalls.

April or December he is watching you on the Birkie trail
Near the Fire Tower
This year they also added the “Birkie Ridge” trail, a 3.5K connector from Hwy 63 to the 15K point on the Skate trail. It is essentially all uphill, and one can continue to climb when going to the highest point at 13.6K near the Fire Tower.
Near OO with my mom
A cool illustrated book I found in the cabin
I especially enjoyed a long ski from the Powerlines to OO and back on the Classic trail. It is so awesome to ski a huge loop with no intersections deep in the wild woods, but on a wide and perfectly groomed trail at the same time! And it is only 2.5-3 hours from the Cities!
In the north part there lives a raven family that we met quite often. I once saw one charging on the power lines, and it was funny to hear him do an unusual electric-like kra-kra after.
Minocqua Winter Park. After a 2 hour drive east we arrived in Minocqua, a cool island-city in NE Wisconsin. The winter park is located in the nearby woods and contains 75 km of well PB groomed XC ski trails. This system is really large with three outer loops of about 10 K and numerous inner loops. The chalet is located in the middle under the downhill slope, and there is a super steep trail in the woods that goes up and down (!) that hill.
On the Lake Marie loop
On the Nutcracker loop
Dense forest with evergreens, swamps, lakes, ponds and creeks makes a very scenic trail. This together with twisty rolling terrain (especially on the black diamond trails) gives a very fun skiing experience. From a training prospective, the trails vary from flat to very hilly (although the climbs are shorter compared to the Birkie trail or Giants Ridge), and are often very twisty and technique challenging.

Sunset over a frozen swamp
ABR. We stopped by ABR for just one ski on the way to the North Shore. This year they got much more snow and trails were very smooth. Actually it’s impressing how much work they need to do for grooming 70 K when it snows almost every day! It was cold but the trails were fast and I enjoyed 3 hours of skiing on a sunny winter day. My favorite loop for easy skiing here is probably the twisty and rolling Coyote Canyon/Highlands.
Skiing in ABR
North Shore. There are a number of trail systems on the North shore, and Sugarbush-Norpine-Cascade are interconnected. We stayed right across the Norpine trail near the Lake. One day was clear and the sunrise was very beautiful. It is amazing for me that the Lake does not freeze at all, because near S-Petersburg, where I am from, there is a lake that is also very large but freezes completely in winter.

Sunrise over Lake Superior
I have skied the Sugarbush trail for two days. It is a nice trail system, but one needs to know what’s groomed before heading out. It is not as dense as many other trails, but one can make a 30K+ loop. It is a rolling terrain in the woods, with the views of the lake through the trees in many places and a few high points with the overview of surrounding lands.

Lake Superior in sunshine through the trees
A woodpecker made a show for us after skiing
On the third day we went 20 miles north to Grand Marais. It is the last somewhat large town (it has a traffic light!) before the Canadian border. Very nice shoreline with a small bay, lighthouse and a lighted pier.

In Grand Marais
The land raises gradually from the shoreline which is probably why the XC ski trail system there is called the Pincushion Mountain. In my opinion, it is the best trail system in this region. Although it only has 25K, the terrain and views are great! Even on a cloudy and foggy day we could see Lake Superior from the parking lot and one of the loops. The trail goes through a deep evergreen forest which makes a “wall” in some places. I had a blast doing classic intervals on their well-groomed roller-coaster terrain with a lot of long climbs! There is a 7K intermediate loop with gentle but long uphills and an advanced 8K made of quite steep ups and downs.

Trails in Pincushion
I took Saturday off from skiing and went snowboarding in the Lutsen Mountains with my girlfriend. I was surprised with how tall those mountains are. Unfortunately (in my opinion), the XC ski trail that they have goes downhill from the top of the chairlift.
Giants Ridge. The weather has been mild so far, but changed to sub-zero on Sunday. With -33F last morning, I was sitting at home till noon, but then regretted because it was calm and did not actually feel that cold, and Giants Ridge’s great grooming kept the trails fast for this temperatures. Skied for 3:40 at Gold, Silver, Bronze and Summit. Only 1:50 today, but at colder temps and classic. Going back to the Cities tomorrow on the New Year’s Day. Hope 2014 will bring more skiing adventures!
At the top of Giants Ridge
After being in many places I can say that there are a lot of great trails in Midwest. Giants Ridge, Birkie trail and ABR all offer great terrain and grooming for a serious XC skier. At the same time many other trails, such as Minocqua or Pincushion are also very good, but offer great views as a bonus (not to say that the first three places are not pretty). An important thing when skiing in a group is a warm chalet or shelter and all those places have it! Unfortunately, it is difficult to find a place to wax the skis, but I discovered an instant paste wax (Fast Wax Slick Pro) and it seemed to work quite long on the new non-abrasive powder snow that I have been skiing on so far.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Skinny Santa Solstice

Saturday was the Skinny Santa Solstice 20k skate race at the Woodlands trails in Elk River, MN. This is always a fun race since the course is one of the most twisty, windy, up and down fun courses in the Midwest (and always in good shape). And since there were really not a lot of other options for racing this weekend, the competition was (as usual) pretty good.

I lined up next to fellow 2005 Gustavus grad Jon Miller, and former U of MN skier Andy Brown. Andy had beat me in the Vasaloppet 35k last year, and Jon always skis tough, so I knew I had my work cut out for me. In the field: Matt Liebsch (We heard before hand that he would be taking it out hard to get in a good workout before US Nationals, so we knew the race was for second place), but also former CXC skier Doug Debold, a resurgent Fred Kueffer, the always strong Even Pengelly, and a host of other good skiers including a few college guys home on break.

The course starts on a short, flat loop around a prairie before you head into the woods for two 10k laps. This race always bottle-necks very quickly, so it is important to get out fast into a good position. I got myself off the line in 5th or 6th place, and as predicted Matt jumped to the lead quite early and was soon out of sight.
Early in the race
By the time we hit the woods I had worked myself in to 3rd position in the what-I-will-refer-to-as-the-lead-pack (Matt doesn't count). The trails are narrow and passing is difficult, but people soon started to cycle through the lead, and I took my turn at the front. After I pulled over to let the next skier lead I found that the strung out field had an almost lead pack of 4 skiers: the now leading Cory Ellertson, Jon, Andy, and myself. Cory took a hard pull that really separated things out, but when he pulled off to let Jon and Andy by he wasn't able to stay with our pack, and we were down to 3 skiers.
Coming through the lap with Andy (6) and Jon (70)

Jon, Andy, and I shared the lead for the next 10k, trading off every couple minutes. Each of us took an equal time leading, and it was a lot of fun skiing with two skiers I know well. From our time trading off it was apparent to me that Andy was probably the strongest skier of our group, and when he went to the front at about 14k and pushed the pace up the biggest hill on the course Jon fell back and it was just Andy and I.

I took my turn at the front and kept the pace a bit higher - I didn't want to have to fight off Jon again. When I moved over to let Andy lead he put in a surge again and I couldn't match him. All I could do was watch him slowly pull ahead. I told myself at that point to stay relaxed and ski my race. There was still a bit of racing to go and I didn't want to blow up and get caught by Jon.
Bringing it home
I had a Finn Sisu fine grind with Fast Wax Green and Fast Wax Flight Cold over the top, and my skis felt good the whole way. I was able to maintain a good pace, and Andy was never really out of sight. I pushed the last bit of the race but couldn't close the gap. Matt crushed us all, winning by over 5 minutes. Andy beat me by 18 seconds, with Jon coming in 49 seconds after me. I think all of us were pleased with our race, and the loaves-of-bread-as-trophies were great too!

This was the first race of the newly renamed Cities Cup. There is supposed to be a team competition, so I am sure Vakava will put our name in the running.

Vakava Results:
3rd Nate
35th Rob
39th Dave C (age group win)
62nd Mike
4th Cheryl

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Training on the Other Side of the World

This just in from Mike...

Just when I thought I had my professional career tweaked to allow me to focus on skiing and training everything changed. I’m now responsible for business in Asia which means I may easily join the “one a month club” in my travels to Asia. The good news for skiers is that so far every time I’m in Asia it snows back home. It snowed in November when I was in Japan and last week Wednesday as I was leaving it definitely was snowing. According to Karen (who’s on her own shoveling) it’s snowed at least one more time…

So back to training in Japan, It seems odd to be doing so much non- ski specific training at this point in December. Given that if anything I was too ski specific through the whole dryland training season. For the past week I've been running, swimming and riding a stationary bike. I feel more like a tri-athlete than a member of the Vakava ski team. I've found it’s best to run before the majority of Japan wakes up, which means getting up before 5AM (which might sound early but it’s 2PM back home), otherwise there are too many cars, bikes and pedestrians to negotiate around.

I've been lucky this week since the hotel I'm in has a lap pool, good gym and great spa with cold and hot baths plus a sauna. It seems like I've been working, working out, sleeping or spending time in the spa doing cold / hot contrast baths and using the sauna. Yes, Ahvo, I will buy a sauna some day (still working on permission).

Looking on the bright side, I likely have been flirting with over training for most of the off season so if anything the last two trips to Japan have given the body time to recover. If I can get past the jet lag I should be ready to ski and train when I get home this weekend. Can’t wait to see everyone on the trails and at Wed night workouts.

Monday, December 9, 2013


I hate to say it, but skiing today sucked. The snow was such dry, wind blown, sandpaper that my skis would hardly glide and kept kind of catching and causing me to lurch which in turn made my shin muscles burn from trying to keep my balance. But I really needed to get in some intervals since I haven't had a chance to do any in almost two weeks and I was short on time so I headed over to Como to get in what I could. I toughed out 3x11 minuters and I must have gotten the hang of that cold snow because the fire in my shins subsided and I actually took 15-20 seconds off each of my intervals for negative splits, so I guess it wasn't so bad. But I have to admit that the whole time I kept thinking that I really don't want to race in those conditions.

The reason I've been short on time for training is that I've been helping out with the Roseville Area High School Nordic Team a couple days a week and skiing with my daughter on the weekends. She's on the team and it's been fun to be able to ski with her and the other kids. She hadn't shown much interest in nordic skiing until she joined the cross country running team last year and absolutely loved it. Her new running friends convinced her to join the nordic team too. Unfortunately she broke her arm at Thanksgiving last year and missed most of the season. No such bad luck this year and she's doing great despite not having skied all that much. Even though running is her main sport, she seems to be enjoying the skiing as well, even when she lets me drag her out on the weekends. Yesterday we went to French Park to try out her 'new' classic skis. I really wanted her to try them because they're the first real classic skies she's used. They're my old classic skis from high school and they're still in decent shape. (I've never been very hard on my equipment.) I took them to FinnSisu to see if they would fit her and they would work if she kicked them properly. I was afraid that she'd have trouble with them since she's done so little classic skiing on waxable skis so I made her come out with me. She actually did great and had no trouble with them. Her kicking is quite naturally and looked good. Her double pole needs work, however. She can feel that it's not very effective and was getting frustrated. I kept trying to help her but she's so impatient that she kept spazzing out and waving her poles around because it just wasn't working for her. We both ended up laughing so hard we could hardly ski or breath. So I didn't get in a workout, yet again, but had a great time skiing with my daughter.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hey all,
Yellowstone was amazing! I was able to ski with a lots of friends and family. There were so many Minnesotans out there that it was almost "Old Home Week" I was able to check it off my bucket list, but I think I need to go back again. The weather was perfect, sunny skies with single digit temps in the morning, perfect for classic skiing. The afternoon temps rose up into the mid 30's which made it nice and fast for skating.  The new Fast Wax Race Pro glide wax worked great for skating.  It was fast and durable. I was very impressed with it!  One of the highlights of the week was watching Caitlin Gregg win the sprint race! Go Caitlin!!!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

West Yellowstone Bound

The Yellowstone Ski Festival has always been on my bucket list. I can't believe that this year it's really going to happen. My kids seem as excited as I am about this adventure. While I'm out there, I'm going to try a new fluorinated wax from Fast Wax, their new secret weapon.  Can't wait!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Minnesota State Gravel Championships

Last weekend I took part in a couple of the races in the inaugural Minnesota State Gravel Championships bike event in Northfield.  Contrary to the official sounding name the races were low key and most of the riders were just out to have a good time.  There are some great gravel roads around Northfield, and it was great to take part in an event that showcased about 140 miles of those roads.  There were three events over the course of the weekend, a 10.5 mile time trial prologue on Saturday morning, a 55 mile stage Saturday afternoon, and a 85 mile stage Sunday morning.  I raced the time trial and the Sunday morning stage.

Saturday morning was warmer than I expected, and riding out to the race directly into a 20 mph headwind warmed me up pretty quickly even before the racing began.
 Boonies Bar and Grill, the finish of the Prologue Stage

I rode the time trial on my fixed gear, just for an extra bit of challenge.  I shared a start time with Nate Porath, who was trying out his newly rebuilt single speed, and had a couple of coworkers in the time slots ahead and behind me, so I had plenty of people to gauge myself against over the course of the race.  I got a jump on Nate right off the line and was flying down the first hill, my legs spinning furiously to keep up with the bike, when all of a sudden I heard a crunching noise from my rear wheel and felt my chain go slack.  My chain was not tensioned tight enough and had jumped off the cog from the bumpy gravel descent.  Luckily it did not wrap up on the cog or in the wheel, so when my speed ran out on the uphill I stopped and quickly spun the chain back on.  I had to run the rest of the uphill because it was steep enough that I couldn't get back on the bike and get traction from a standstill.  I was on my own for the next several miles of the race until I caught sight of my co-worker Mike "the moose" Kosloski ahead of me.  I fought hard to pull him back in over the last 3 miles or so of the race, but when he turned and saw how close behind I was he put on the afterburners and held me off.  I still ended up beating him time-wise for the stage, but didn't catch up to him.

By Sunday morning the wind had died down and the sun even poked out through the clouds as the final stage got underway.  My plan was to ride conservatively for the first half of the race then crank it up if I was feeling good, a strategy that had worked out very well for me at the Inspiration gravel race this summer.  Jeff Lanners and my friend Jake came up to race this stage as well, so the three of us and a few other Northfield folks formed up a good pack a few miles into the race.  I was feeling pretty good, so I took pretty long pulls and tried to keep the pace steady and manageable so everyone would have time to take in the amazing views some of these back roads offered.  The roads were in great shape, except a few miles of freshly graded gravel that were a bit soft.  I amped the pace up to try for a Strava segment on Shady Lane, a long, steep gravel climb in Sogn Valley.  It is a minimum maintenance road, so the conditions can vary quite a bit, but it was great this weekend.
Shady Lane Minimum Maintenance Road (MMR)

After Shady Lane there was a mandatory check in point just before mile 40.  I waited there and chatted with the volunteers and ate a cookie while I waited for Jake and Jeff.  Once we were all back together we started out, but Jeff and Jake were starting to hurt, so I ventured on alone.

This was the worst section of the course to be by myself, 20 miles directly into the wind.  The miles seemed to crawl by and every climb I could feel my energy draining.  The rider who stopped to eat caught up to me just before the town of Nerstrand.  We once again traded pulls for a bit before he got a gap on me, and then stopped again to eat.  This happened at least a couple more times before the end of the race and it got frustrating.  I was not strong enough to keep up with him or drop him, and yet when I passed him I felt like I had to try to hold him off, so I would push on.  Finally we turned out of the wind and he had a 200 meter or so lead on me when we rolled through Cannon City.  At this point I knew what waited ahead.  My co-worker Jim drew up the route for this race and he loaded up the last 15 miles with hills, and the last four hills are all big on their own, much less after 75 miles of riding and hills.  With about 8 miles to go the rider ahead of me pulled over and stopped again, so when I went by him I was determined to not let him catch up.  I pushed hard on the hills and geared up for the downhills to hold him at bay.

I looked back a couple times and saw him behind me, but he didn't look like he was closing, so I kept the pace high and just hoped he was hurting as much as I was.  I still had 100 meters or so on him when I made the last turn towards the finish.  The finish was on top of "Radar Hill" a minimum maintenance road with a slope over 15% at some points.  Right near the base of the hill there was someone cheering who said there was a rider behind me closing fast.  As I pushed up the hill there were some great cheerers, including Nate and Nichole in full cow suit attire, but I was struggling just to keep the pedals turning.  On a good day this climb takes about 3 minutes, so I just kept reminding myself how little was left after 5 1/2 hours of racing.  I took one glance behind me when I was about halfway up and the rider had closed the gap to about 3 meters.  What!?  How can he still be riding that strong?  My legs were on fire, I was in my lowest gear, and I just couldn't climb faster, so I kept cranking my way up and when the slope eased I shifted up and really stood on the pedals.  My legs were not happy at all, but I could see the finish line ahead and I was not going to get out-sprinted after this many hours of racing.  I managed to fend him off and just hold on to 10th place.

"Radar Hill" this one really hurt.

There is something really great about a tough race where you finish knowing you had nothing left.  When I crossed the finish line I could not have climbed one more hill.  I just stood bent over the handlebars for a couple minutes trying to catch my breath.  It was all I could do to pedal the mile downhill back into Northfield where there was hot soup waiting.  The race hurt, but the pain fades quickly and already I'm mostly only remembering what a great day it was to be out riding.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Wrapping up the running season

I has been a couple of marathon-centric weeks for me. Two weekends ago I went down to cheer for Nichole Porath as she ran the Chicago Marathon. Nate and I, as well as a couple other friends, dressed up in cow costumes (because everyone at races has cowbells, but there are no cows) and biked around Chicago cheering and ringing cowbells. We were a hit with almost everyone, except one police officer who didn't like us having bikes close to the course.
Nichole didn't run the time she was hoping for, but everyone had a good time.

Since I do most of my running training with Nichole I tried to pick a marathon close in time to the one she was running so our training schedules lined up a closely as possible. The weekend after Chicago was the Mankato marathon. I have a number of relatives that live in Mankato, so I figured if I ran that one I would have no trouble getting a cheering squad together. Tapering for Mankato was actually hard. I have been doing more training this year than I ever have before, so to cut most of it out for two weeks left me pretty restless. The forecast for race day was cold and rainy, which for most people would be good running conditions, but I don't run well in the wet and cold (odd for a ski racer).

The last marathon I ran I went out way too hard and paid for it in the final miles of the race, so this time I resolved to start out in control. My goal pace was 6:15 miles, which would be a 2:44 marathon. Brian, another Northfield runner who trains with Nichole and I, buzzed by me looking pretty smooth before the 1 mile mark. I settled in and ran at my goal pace and it seemed almost easy for the first few miles, but started to feel more like work when we turned into a headwind at about mile 4. I caught Brian again at about mile 9, he still looked alright, but also looked like he was working pretty hard to hold the pace. This was his first marathon, and he still has a bit to learn about pacing. I reached the half-marathon point at 1:22, exactly where I wanted to be, but I knew the second half would be a lot more work. I saw my relatives out cheering in a couple places, and Jeff Lanners had come down to cheer for me as well and he was all over the place. Around mile 16 I saw Nate and Nichole in full cow suit apparel out cheering. I kept up a good pace until about mile 20, then the legs really started to tighten up. I pushed through for a while, but the legs were feeling clumsy and just really stiff. I lost a fair amount of time in the last 10k and finished in 2:51:40, which was good for 6th place.

My finish was a new PR for me, by about 12 seconds. Overall I was happy with the race, but I think my legs still have a faster time in them, so I think Grandma's marathon will have to go on the calendar for next summer. The snow Tuesday night reminded me that ski season is on the horizon though, so now it is time to refocus the training to get ready for winter.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Making Progress

We had time trials on Wednesday which consist of a 5k skate followed by a 5k classic on rolling terrain in Afton. I hadn’t done any of the earlier ones the team did this year for various reasons so I didn’t know what to expect this time around. It turned out ok. My times weren’t as fast as they were two years ago pre-cancer, but not too far back. So I have confirmation that I really am feeling better and am encouraged. I’ve been able to train hard, unlike last year, and it feels good. Now I just need to keep up the consistency in my training and I’ll be ready for snow.

Birkie trail run weekend

Last weekend I travelled to Cable to participate in the Birkie trail half-marathon run as well as to enjoy some other activities in the area. The run starts 10 am Saturday morning and utilizes the north portion of the Birkie trail from OO to Telemark. The trail is well maintained throughout the year and is very smooth. This together with its width gives the feeling of a road race, except for the softness of the grass underneath, a number of long steep climbs and the surrounding nature. That’s what makes this course stand out and that’s why I like it very much.
Half-marathoners after the start
It was my second time doing the race. The day was great – temps in the 50’s, sunny, calm and the fall colors just giving their first touch to the woods. As the race started, two guys quickly separated from the field and I found myself in a spread-out group of five runners competing for the third place. A few times someone would speed up and separate from the group, but knowing how punishing those hills would be from the last year experience, I kept my pace under control. Those who separated were caught up, and at half distance I was in the front and 5 miles to go – broke away from the group. The remaining hills took their toll and although I kept the pace and finished 3rd, my legs were almost exhausted.
Biking on the Rock Lake trail 
After the race, in the afternoon, I went to check out some biking trails. I did the Rock Lake loop (east of Cable) and Seeley Pass (from OO). The woods are great in the area – tall trees, some lakes views, no traffic noise, some areas are very remote. The first trail proved its name and turned out very rocky, which was a struggle on my steel no-suspension bike. But slower speeds gave more opportunity to look around. The Seeley pass trail is very smooth and has a fun fast long and twisty downhill.
I stayed at the Two Lakes Campground, which is located in between two lakes as one might guess. Last year I rented a kayak and sailed over Lake Owen, which was really fun because the lake is thin, so little wind and always close to a shore with the actual impression of moving forward, and very clear water with plants visible through. The kayak rent was also free as it rained a bit during my ride and the owners could not believe it was fun.
Rollerskiing out of the tent
In the morning, I went rollerskiing right from my site. The campground is really large so it takes about a mile just to get out. I then had a loop on Lake Owen drive and Ryberg road and then back and forth to Drummond. Those roads have almost no traffic, very rolling and twisty, deep in the woods in some places and very smooth south from the campground, making for the best place I rolleskied on.
In summary, Hayward area is awesome with all those activities to do there. I will be back there next weekend for the Vakava Fall camp and more rollerskiing. The fall colors should be at their peak and it should be great.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Sawtooth 100

The weekend after labor day I ran the sawtooth 100, part of the fall superior trail race, along with the 50 and 26.2 mile distances. I like using a long race in September to mark the change in season and training phase. September is when I switch from summer endurance work to fall speed work so a long race tells gives me something to focus on over the summer and gives me a pretty good idea of how my my endurance base is. Sawtooth is run on the superior hiking trail, which makes it a extremely rugged, tough, race, lots of rocks, lots of roots, and lots of hills. It is gnarly terrain, but its also a beautiful trail, so even if I have a tough race, I can still enjoy a pleasant day in the woods.

My race plan was pretty vague: be careful with footing and eat lots, drink lots. I asked some of the veteran runners what I should do for my first 100 miler and they said "tie your shoelaces together for the first 70 miles, go really slow, then actually start racing with 30 miles left". I didn't actually tie my shoe laces together, but I did take the pacing to heart and run pretty conservatively for the first 70 miles.

We started at 8am, and by 8:30 I could tell it was going to be a warm, humid day. I tried to be pretty careful with my pacing and pretty conscientious about drinking water and took some extra electrolyte pills at the aid stations because I could tell I was losing a lot of salt through sweat. Arriving at Silver Bay, I felt pretty fresh although it was clear that the heat was beginning to take its toll on other runners.

Still fresh on the first day
(photo by Todd Rowe)
The section Silver Bay to Finland was challenging, lots of climbing as we made our way inland, although the 5 or 6 miles outside of Finland made for some glorious running over fast rolling terrain. I had a lot of fun on that section opening up and just running fast for fun. The climbing and heat seemed to be pretty hard on other runners, and I started seeing a lot more people running out of water and struggling to continue. I offered my last swig of water to a runner who looked particularly bad off, along with some encouragement to "keep moving".

At the Finland aid station, I picked up a dry shirt and hiking poles before the night section. Running at night were hard. I mostly hiked night, running only when the trail was smooth and I could be sure of my footing. As tricky as the night section was, the two most memorable moments of the race happened during the night. The first was arriving at sugarloaf aid station around 3am and hearing wolves in the woods. The woman at the aid station assured me that they hadn't lost anyone to wolves (yet), and that tired runners likely wouldn't taste very good to wolves anyway. Shortly after that,  around4:00am, I switched to my backup headlamp and paused for a few moments to take in how dark it in the wood, and how brilliant the stars are in that sort of darkness.

The toughest part of the race for me was from Sugarloaf to Temperance. I was really tired there but with another marathon to go, the end wasn't yet in sight. I brought up dropping out with the volunteers at Sugarloaf, Cramer Road, and Temperance, and the crews there gave me lots of support and made sure I kept going. I owe those strangers a lot, because I'm not sure I could have made it without their help and encouragement.

When the sun came up I got a little more energy, which continued to build through the day. After I made it to the top of carleton peak, I felt like the worst was behind me and started running a bit better, especially on the flats and gradual uphills. I wasn't catching anyone with my newfound "speed" (no faster than 15min/mil) but I felt good and knew I would make the finish.

I got to the finish just before 2pm, and ended up 8th overall, with a time of 29:56:58.  I didn't stop to sleep on the trail, so at the finish the first three things I did were: shower and took care of blisters on my feet, scarf down a sandwich, then take a nap. It was a tough year to be out there, so my congratulations to everyone who finished the race.

Whenever I do these races, I also see old friend and make new ones, so I was happy to unexpectedly bump into Christi, Ethan at aid stations as well as meet John and Reese at aid stations (they brought me my poles). Before, after, and during the race I was happy to see Aaron and my new friend Justin (who turn out to be brothers). I never saw Steve on the trail, but I was happy to find his name on the finishers list. I'll also reiterate my thanks to all the volunteers who kept me going through the night, I'm not sure I'd have made it without them.

This was my first 100 mile race, and the longest run I've ever done (also, longest week ever). I still don't feel back at 100% but I have been out running a few times, and I'll try do get out more this weekend. I must be close to recovered because I keep catching myself thinking "maybe I should do that again next year"; luckily registration doesn't open until march, so I have plenty of time to make up my mind.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Two weeks of racing

In winter I'm pretty used to racing almost every weekend.  In the summer I try to space things out a bit more, but the last couple weekends have had a couple big events for me.  Here's what I've been up to.

Ragnar 8/16-17:  I know a few people who are just getting in to running and were struggling for motivation to keep with it over the winter.  Since I didn't have any good advice (I don't run at all in the winter if I can help it) I went to my fallback motivation plan, put a race on the schedule.  I ran on a Ragnar team a couple years ago and one of the things I liked best about the race was how runners of different fitness and ability levels could all race together on a team and all feel proud about how they and their teammates raced.  So I signed up and started to get runners together.  If you read Rob's blog post he had a pretty good description of what the race entails and how our team did.  I'll give you a short recount of how things went for van #1.  
The day before the race Jeff and I decided to have a contest to see who could pass the most teams during our legs.  I was the very first runner for our team and since I was ahead of the other 20 or so teams that started at 9:30 with us right from the line I did not count them in my total.  I worked hard to try to catch a team from the next wave 1/2 hour ahead, but while I had a couple of them in sight by the time I reached the exchange zone 8 miles was not a long enough leg for me to actually catch any.  I did my 13 push-ups and hopped in the van to head to the next exchange.  The other runners in my van passed a steady stream of teams as the day began to heat up.  We handed off to the other van early in the afternoon and went to find a late lunch.
Jeff sent me a message before my second leg that he had passed 31 runners during his first run, so I knew I had my work cut out for me.  I started my second leg at about 8:30 PM and charged off into the setting sun.  I set a fast pace and about a mile in decided that maybe a hamburger and cheese curds was not the best meal option a couple hours before my second run of the day.  It was a very picturesque run, with a gorgeous sunset over the Mississippi river and a string of blinking runners along the road ahead.  I passed 31 runners, enough to even the score with Jeff, and handed off just as darkness was starting to settle in. We drove ahead to a rest stop a bit up the road to cheer on our next runner and I struggled through my 41 push-ups.
I was not as diligent as Rob about getting good sleep, so when I started my 3rd leg at 5 AM, but it was a cool 55 degrees out, perfect running weather, so I took off, headlight bobbing, chasing after the blinking tail lights ahead of me.  There were some trail sections where I definitely had to keep my speed in check a little and could only keep the headlight on the trail right in front of me.  Then I got out of the woods, the sun cracked the horizon and navigation became much easier.  I passed 24 runners and came into the exchange zone... and my team wasn't there.  What, where was van, where was the runner I was supposed to hand off to?  Well, I didn't have to wait long, a couple minutes later she came sprinting up to the line.  The van had gotten a bit lost trying to find the exchange and got there just a little behind schedule.  I handed off and did my 36 push-ups then grabbed one of the super chocolatey cookies I had in the van for when I was done running.  Once our van was done we made some french toast and eggs and then went to see our team finish and to celebrate a race well run.  Total miles run = 19.  Total pushups = 90.

Ngede Challenge 8/24:  I really like unique races, and the Ngede challenge certainly fits that description.  It is a 50km, 4 leg race near my hometown of Amery, WI.  The race includes a 10k road run, 10k mountain bike, 25k road bike, and 5k trail run and can be done as an individual or a relay team.  It is a very small race (14 racers/teams this year I think), but there is some good competition at the front.
I set a strong pace for the road run but was still only the third person to the bike transition.  My friend Erik was about 3 minutes ahead of me, but I'm a better biker than him, so I was hoping I could close the gap.  I was using a cyclocross bike for both the mountain and road bike segments because it is the fastest bike I have, and it would let me skip a transition.
The mountain bike and trail run were on the Balsam Branch Ski Trails, where I learned to ski.  They are really great trails and I know them well and ski them whenever I am back in the area.  That all makes it that much more embarrassing that I took a wrong turn and ended up adding about 5k extra onto the mountain bike leg.  Part of me knew right away when I made the turn that it wasn't right, it wasn't that I was lost or anything, I just somehow convinced myself that I was going the right way.  I eventually got things straightened out and went to work passing people and making up ground on the racers ahead.
The road bike was an out and back, so by the turn around I could tell how many people were ahead of me and by how much.  It turns out most of the racers ahead of me were relay racers and so not directly my competition.  My friend Erik was leading the individual category and I was in 3rd with second place just ahead of me.  Erik had broken a chain on his cyclocross bike so was doing the road bike on a far too small mountain bike.  This made for an amusing sight and also gave me a bit of hope that I might still be able to catch him.  I moved up into second place, but by the time I got to the run transition I still saw no signs of Erik and knew I wouldn't gain back time on him in the running leg.  Third place was not too far behind though, so I pushed as hard as I felt comfortable with after having been out for a bit over 2 hours already. I caught a couple of relay teams and held on to my 2nd place finish.  This is the 3rd year this race has been run and I won the first two, so it was sad to have my streak end, but it will make next years race that much more exciting.

After that effort I was pretty sluggish on Sunday morning's rollerski (the heat probably didn't help either), so now it is time for a couple easy days to let the body recover and the temperatures to hopefully drop a bit.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Ragnar Relay

A few weeks ago Craig Cardinal asked me if I'd like to join a Ragnar relay team he was putting together. If you aren't familiar with Ragnar, its a 12 person, 200 mile relay from Winona to Minneapolis. I promptly signed on, I'm always up for racing and I've been interested in Ragnar for a while, as someone who typically runs alone, the idea of running on a team is intriguing, plus I've been trying to get some long night runs in before the superior trail race in a couple weeks.

I asked a couple friends who had previously run Ragnar for advice and pretty much everyone told me that the secret to Ragnar is sleep. Get enough sleep during the race and the second and third legs will go
well, forget to sleep, and you'll suffer. Because of that advice, I was careful not to forget my sleeping bag and pillow - which made a huge difference in the race.

Before the race, the skiers on the team all decided to take on an extra challenge; do pushups at the end of each leg we ran, one pushup for every kilometer you've run, and one pushup for for every person you pass on the road. I also tried to convince my van to work on track and field style moving exchanges of the baton - I could only get one person (Jeff)  interested in the rapid exchanges, but when we got it to work, it was really effective, and one of my favorite moments of the race was
hearing other teams at the 2nd exchange "did you see that? that looked like a 4x400, that was ridiculous"

Craig gives us an early lead.
Craig gave me leg 9 (which also meant 21 and 33) so I was a part of van 2 and didn't actually start running until mid afternoon. To be part of the team, we went down to the start and cheered for van 1 at the start (we left at 9:30) and got to see Craig run a very exciting first leg, winning the wave and nearly catching some runners who started at 9:00am.

By the time I started my first leg, our team was running about 20 minutes ahead of schedule. I started out at around 4:40pm on an 8km leg that was considered short but hard, rolling hills for the first three km, followed by a 125 meter climb over about two km, then an even bigger descent down over the same distance and a turn onto a bigger road and a slight downhill for the remaining 1500 meters to the finish. I always find it a little tricky to understand a trail from a description like that, so I translated it into a trail I know a lot better, thats roughly the same as one lap at battle creek, with one hill flattened out.

I got the hand off from Mark, who had a nice strong finish passing a woman in the final 50 meters. That prompted some trash talking from her team mate of the "I'm just going to pass you right back" variety - so I was motivated to make him eat those words and went out fairly hard to put some distance on the guy. I'd caught another two people before the start of the climb but the teams seemed pretty spaced out at that point. I didn't see anyone else until made the final turn and had a good view of the road ahead, where I saw a couple teams about half way to the exchange. Being able to see the exchange, I turned on the gas and managed to catch one more runner before handing off to Jeff with a lot of runners in view. My first leg talley was 8 kilometers, 3 people passed, for 11 pushups, and I never saw the guy who was trash talking in the exchange zone. Seemed like a reasonable start to me.
Leg 7, Jeff and I join Ryan up a tough hill climb.

The second leg I ran started at about 2am and was a rolling 16 kilometer course. I again started out and caught two people pretty quickly, before seeing no one on the empty country roads at night. The second leg was my weakest, due partly to the large (not fully digested) spaghetti dinner we'd had a few hours previously. Everyone had been making better time than we expected so I got the hand off about 2 hours ahead of schedule. I caught a few runners early on, but it was difficult to stay focused on moving fast in the dark. I went another 10 km or so before I saw any more runners but there were a lot of other teams on the road cheering, which was quite nice. As the lights of hudson started to be visible in the sky, I started catching more runners, typically in groups of two or three, and by the time I handed off to Jeff, I had managed to catch 10 runners for a total of 16km and 10 runners, for 26 pushups. It was then about 3am, and I'd only had a 30 minute nap after dinner, so I thought of my friends advice and promptly went to sleep in the back of the van.

The last leg was the second to last in the race. We shuffled around the order of runners in Van 2 for the final run, so that people who were hurting could run easier legs. I ended up with an 11km section from
downtown saint paul to just past the ford bridge, which included a nice long gradual hill climb. Jeff ran setup for me and handed off to me with lots of runners in view. I caught about 13 runners on the hill
while ripping off some of my fastest splits of the race. I slowed down a little at the top, but still kept up a respectable pace and caught another 8 runners for a total of 21, plus 11km for 33 pushups. I'll be
honest, I was tired for those pushups, and the last few did not come easy.

Hopping in the van after my last leg, I met our last runner Anna (and Jeff, who was running with her) 2km down the road and jogged with them into the finish. We were far enough ahead of schedule that Van 1 was still eating waffles in south Saint Paul, they joined us eventually and we enjoyed the sunshine and free beer.

The runners of Van 2:
Mark, Ryan, Anna, Rob, Jeff, Christina

I really enjoyed ragnar. Running with people and having a team to cheer for was a lot of fun (which is also something I really enjoy about skiing with Vakava), and having that many teams out on the course meant there was always someone cheering you on. I was surprised at how hard the race was, although I ran fewer miles than a full marathon, my legs felt much more tired at the end, as a result of running the equivalent of 3 short, hard races in 24 hours.

Our final place was 41st overall, 20th in the mixed, non-ultra category. Our total time was 27:59:05., my next race is the sawtooth 100 and my new goal is to run my first solo 100 miler under our teams Ragnar time.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Vacation Training

While having a lovely roller ski out at Afton this morning, I was telling fellow teammate, Rob Edman, about the day being a nice end to a big training week. I had put in a big week with plenty of intervals because I could (actually had the time!) and because I felt well rested after having done very little the week before while on vacation up north on the Gunflint Trail. Rob asked what my philosophy was on training while on vacation and if I tried to keep my regular schedule or if I thought taking a week off was not an issue. My philosophy is to just enjoy the vacation and not worry about training if I don’t feel like it. I always do at least a couple workouts, usually at the end of it, because I actually start to miss it and just feel like getting out and doing something to get my heart rate up and endorphins flowing. But I don’t fret over getting anything specific in. I figure that I do this for fun and if it starts feeling like a job or making life stressful, then something is wrong. While on vacation I had done plenty of easy hiking and paddling, but I wouldn’t call any of that training. I did do a couple actual workouts at the end of the week, one was just an easy pole hike and the other was some hill running intervals. I had packed a few things that I might want to do a strength workout with, but never really felt like doing one so I didn’t. I came back mentally and physically refreshed and psyched to get back at it and I think that’s how it should be.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Chippewa Triathlon

It's good for skiers to have other sports to fill the seasons when there isn't snow.  I have trouble choosing just one, and I guess many other skiers do too, because there were a lot of familiar faces from the ski trails for the Chippewa Triathlon up in Cass Lake last Saturday.  This is a very fun race with a beautiful course, I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a new and exciting event to try out.

The Chippewa Triathlon is a true outdoor adventure that begins with a 15 mile canoe that includes two miles of portaging while navigating a number of lakes and rivers.  The next leg is a 30 mile bike ride that covers gravel roads, single track trails, logging roads, and paved bike trails as it weaves back to the final exchange where the canoe leg began.  The final leg is a 6 mile run that is mostly on campground roads and finishes running along a sandy beach.  Despite chilly weather at the start and a chance of rain in the forecast it turned out to be an ideal day for racing.

I paddled with Allie Rykken in my 18' Jensen for the canoe leg of the race.  We were only able to get out and practice paddling together once this spring, which put my total number of days in a canoe before the race this year at only two.  Luckily the Vakava practices so far this year have been pretty double pole heavy, so my core was in good enough shape to handle the 3 hours of paddling.  Allie and I paddled together for this race last year as well, so we had a decent handle on the logistical parts of racing and portaging as well as navigating some of the trickier sections of the canoe course.  We got off to a good start and were one of the first non-pro boats out into Pike Bay, about the 15th boat overall.  In general we tended to lose some ground on the racers around us in the water and make the ground back up on the portages.  We were right beside Phil and Kelly Rogers for much of the race, but we made a wrong turn in some reeds just before the end of the canoe leg and lost a bit of ground on them.

I was quick through the transition on to the bike this year, taking just enough time to get my bike shoes, gloves, and helmet on and grab half of a peanut butter sandwich from the aid station.  I didn't have much chance to eat or drink in the canoe because to do so means stopping paddling.  My plan for this race is always to make up the calories and fluids when I get on the bike, so I went through my two water bottles, a granola bar, and a hammer gel as quickly as my stomach would let me, and whenever the course allowed.  There are a lot of sandy gravel roads, bumpy logging roads and single track, and this year several water hazards on the bike course, so it is important to always be scanning the trail ready to react to what is coming up.  I got a cyclocross bike last fall and raced on that instead of the hybrid bike I had used for this race in years previous.  I felt like this bike was much faster on the gravel and paved trails, but maybe a bit slower and less maneuverable in the singletrack and bumpy logging road areas.  My time was within a few seconds of last years, but I had much more energy left to ride to that same time, just over 1 1/2 hours, so I felt like I had a lot more energy coming into the run transition.

I had been keeping track of the other mixed double (male and female) boats throughout the canoe leg and figured that the only racers in my category still ahead of me were Ryan Peterson and Grant and Elaine Nelson.  The end of the bike leg goes along the opposite side of the road from where the run leg begins, so I could see how far ahead of me the others were.  I figured Ryan was too far ahead to catch, but if I ran hard I could catch Grant and Elaine who were running together.  I always take the first mile of the run leg pretty easy to make sure the legs have time to adjust to the different motion then I pick up the pace from there.  I passed several runners from men's boats and relay teams but could not catch sight of Grant and Elaine ahead of me.  Finally I saw them with about 1.5 miles to go.  The last 3/4 mile of the race runs through the sand right along a beach, and the sand is the most firm right at the water line, so it was great fun running hard and trying to stay as close to the water as I could while still keeping my feet dry.  My finishing time was just under  5 hours and 10 minutes, good for second place in the mixed doubles category, about 3 minutes back from the winner.

Monday, May 20, 2013

New Blog Page

I just posted a new "Membership" page you should check out. Just click on the tab above. It seems that since we don't advertise for new members, becoming a member can seem mysterious or that the team is "exclusive". So I thought I'd outline the process and demystify it.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Plyo Strength

So, I had a pretty great season and people keep asking me what I did to come back from almost a year in Antarctica and be able to race like that. I think that the biggest thing was my strength training. I've never been great about consistently working on my strength, but while I was at Pole there was a group of us that went through several strength programs together. My favorite, and the one I think was most useful, was Insanity, which focuses on quickness and power.

The other week, I did a demo workout at Vakava practice. I got some requests to write up a description of some of the exercises we did. I tried, but it ended up being easier to video myself. So, below is a video of me doing example exercises, along with a short description of each:

ETA: I just posted the video on YouTube, so it isn't searchable yet. Until then, click here to view it.

Basketball Drill: Touch the ground and go up for a jump shot.
Level 1 Drill: Get down into push-up/high plank position, do four floor runs, then four push-ups, and jump up to standing
Ski Abs: Start in high plank. Keeping your legs together, jump your knees up, so that they are along side your chest. Then jump back to high plank. Jump to the other side. Try to keep your butt down for these.
Power Push-ups: Do a push-up, but on the way back up, launch yourself into your feet.

Switch Jumps: Similar to the b-ball drill, but rotate 180 degrees with each jump.
Squat Push-ups: Get into a squat position, with your elbows inside your knees. Fall forward onto your hands. Do a push-up, pushing yourself back to an upright position.
In-Out Abs: High plank position. Keeping your knees together, jump them up underneath your chest. For wide in-out abs, separate your feet and jump them up to the outside of your chest.
Power jumps: Start in a squat, then jump up. Your knees should come up high enough to hit your hands.

Pogo: On one leg. Bend and touch the ground with your hands. Then come up and hop into the air. The way down should be slow and controlled. The way up should be fast and explosive.
Side Suicide Jumps: Start standing. Bring your hands to the ground on one side of your body. Jump your legs out so that you are in a side plank position, but with both hands on the ground. Jump back in and up. Do both sides.
Full Body Drill: Similar to L1 drill. Get down to high plank. Four floor runs, four moving push-ups, four wide floor runs, jump up. Go back the other direction.
Plank punches: In high plank position, alternate punching straight out with each arm.

Moving Ski Hops: With legs together, squat down and then launch yourself sideways. Do four in one direction, then go back in the other direction. Can go for distance or height.
Oblique Push-ups: Do a push-up, but try to bring your knee up so that it touches your elbow. Do both sides.
Moving Planks: High planks, but walk yourself from side to side.
Floor Switch Kicks: Get into crab position (feet and hands on the ground, with your torso facing upward. Alternate kicking your feet into the air. Try to keep your hips high and butt off the ground.

Frog Jumps: Leap frog going forwards and backwards.
V Push-ups: Get into a pike position, with your fingers pointed inwards, and your heels off the ground. Do push-ups, trying to touch your head to the ground.
Slow/Fast Obliques: Similar to oblique push-ups, but stay in high plank.
Diamond Jumps: Start in squat position. Jump up, bringing your hands together, and your feet together, so that you make a diamond with your legs.

Hip Flexor Burners: Stand on one leg. Bring the other leg up so that the thigh is parallel with the ground and the knee is bent. Do toe touches, then pulses, then kicks, then hold. Switch legs.
C-Sit Progression: Sit with your knees up and bent in front of you. Lean back so that your hands come just in front of your butt, and your spine is curved. Start with your hands clasped in front of you, elbows out. Slowly move your hands from side to side. Then add legs, so that your knee touches the opposite forearm. Bring your hands into an A-frame above your head. Repeat the movements. Bring your hands to the ground in front of your butt. Put one leg straight out in front of you, while the other stays bent. Lift the straight leg off the ground. Bring it in, out, up, and down. Same with the other leg, then both legs together.
High/Low Planks: Start in a high plank. Go down to a low plank. Go back up. Vary which side leads.
Shoulder Burners: Get into horse stance (high squat). Bring your arms out so they make a T. Start with small flapping motions. Go to small circles in both directions, bring your arms forward and back, then above your head and back down. Finally, alternate bringing each hand forward.
Side Push-ups: On your knees, put your hands perpendicular to one another, and then on the ground to one side. Put your legs out to the other side. Do push-ups so that your are doing them on one side. Switch sides.

With all of these, you can regulate your effort by going faster or slower, by being more or less explosive. Usually, I'll pick 12-16 of these exercises and split them up into groups of four. I'll do each group once or twice, with each exercise lasting a minute or so. Then take a minute break between groups. You can vary time, or go for a number on each exercise.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Fitness Test

For our workout this week we had our fitness test. We do a bunch of strength exercises to see where we’re at and how many reps and whatnot we should be doing for our strength training. We also do a heart rate/conditioning test. This involves running an approximately 1k loop at four different speeds maintaining an even heart rate for the loop and graphing the time vs. heart rate. The first loop is a brisk walk and the last is all out.

I had not been looking forward to this test. For the last year I’ve felt tired, heavy and sluggish and my heart rates have been higher than normal. I think this has been due to the tamoxifen I’m on and after the Birkie I spoke to my doctor about it and she recommended that I stop taking it for a month or two and see if I felt better. Of course I knew that taking a break from the drug during the off-season would tell me much about how it was affecting my training, but I'd had a lot of fatigue generally and felt like I was dragging myself around the whole day so I was eager to see if I would feel better for daily life as well. The drug has a long half-life and it took a few weeks before I noticed a change, but then I felt like a new woman. I had so much energy! I’d forgotten what ‘normal’ actually felt like, and it felt great. So that pretty much confirmed that the tamoxifen was wiping me out. I had agreed with my doctor to start taking it again at a much lower dose so I cut the pills into quarters and resumed the drug. Within a couple days I was feeling tired again, not completely wiped like before, but tired enough that it greatly diminished my quality of life and I knew I couldn’t spend four more years like that. (I’m supposed to be on it for 5 years.) I was pretty dejected because the stats are very clear on the significant reduction of recurrence risk. I wasn’t ready to give up yet so I decided to take a quarter pill every other day and see how that went. It’s going pretty well and I feel mostly normal. We’ll see how it affects my training as the season gets under way. I feel fairly confident that the dose is still enough to be effective because I can feel a distinct difference in how the breast tissue feels on and off the drug. So I figure if it still feels like it does at the higher doses, then it must be doing it’s job.

Back to the running test… So I ran the test and I didn’t feel as bad as I had feared I would. I actually felt mostly OK and was pleased with the test. Then reality reared it’s ugly head. Today Dave showed me a graph of all the tests I’ve done over the years. (We try to repeat this regularly to monitor changes in conditioning.) He was trying to show me how each year I improve from the Spring test to the Fall but that wasn’t what caught my eye. It turns out that the test I just did was EXACTLY the same as the first test I did 6 years ago when I had just started training after taking more than 10 years off. Exactly. So I guess I’m back to square one. I’m resigned to the work I have ahead of me and plan to just buck up and buckle down and do what I have to do. After feeling so awful all last year I don’t mind. I’m just glad that I think I’ll be able to feel good again. Training is actually fun when you feel good doing it. So even though I’ve got my work cut out for me, I’m hopeful for coming year.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Skiing outside the Cities

I have been on a vacation after Christmas and skied in different places in Midwest. Here are the trails in the order I did them:

Giants Ridge. Best trail I have skied on. Great views, great terrain, great grooming. There is lot variety in terrain. Gold trail is made of long relatively steep climbs, Silver of steep but short and Bronze is one long gradual uphill. For the intervals, Gold is good if you are ready for the mental challenge of a trail with long climbs that turn and then go up again! Cedar and Bronze should be good too giving a 10-12 minute interval of almost completely gradual uphill.

For a long skate ski – Silver is excellent (somewhat similar to Woodlands trails), as you glide the half of the next uphill by carrying the motion from the downhill. But I mostly like the Gold: perfect grooming makes for exciting long and fast downhills, and the coolest thing is when a wind blow at the bottom makes for a local whiteout! For classic I like Bronze as it gives about 20-25 min of almost non-stop striding.  On cold days it is important to dress properly there: I was wearing a jacket which I unzipped on uphills and then zipped back before downhills.
Oh... and if those long downhills are not enough to freeze you out, then you can take a free chairlift. 

Hidden Valley. Located in Ely (near the border) 1 hour north of Giants Ridge. Skiing on gradually rolling terrain in mostly spruce forest.

You could then visit the International Wolf Center, which is right next to the ski trail. I would like to go there later this year when they have the pups and bring them to the room for showing.
Can I see your trail pass, please?

Bayfield area. Mt. Ashwabay ski trails: there is a view of Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands from one point, but I more enjoyed the classic only trails deep in the woods – narrow between pines and kind of wild.

Mt. Valhalla ski trails: great names, great views, great trail, need to check with the grooming. Striking difference between the woods on different sides of the road. Valkyrie trail is in pine forest and classic only (10K outer loop + 2 smaller inner loops). Goes through large moraine-like hills, very cool!

In search of Brünnhilde (photo by Siegfried). Wagner bird orchestra arriving in spring.

ABR. Another great trail system. Located in Ironwood, MI. Lots of trails (you can ski the whole day without much repeating), and a bunch of classic only. Peltonen Pass trail is a very hilly 5K loop (and good for intervals, as well as slightly easier Blueberry Bluffs), otherwise it is a gently rolling (a lot of that in southern parts) to flat terrain. Windy Ridge is additional 6K skate and 3K classic on the south side not included in ABR. Trails are mostly in the pine/spruce woods and a bit along the river.

Timberland Hills. Great place to ski on the way from ABR or Birkie trail back to the Cities. Very unusual terrain: seemed to me that the whole loop (14K, but there are inner loops too) is located on one large gradual hill making for big elevation difference. Rolling, good for both skate and classic. Feels wild and with nice views. 
Beaver hut

P. S. What a great season! For me it started December 1 and finished April 27 with no more than two days without skiing in a row.
Last Vakava interval workout. Who is out of shape? (Wirth, April 22)

This guy has been siting there for a few years already and has not seen such a long winter yet. Thanks, global warming (Birkie trail, April 27)