Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Monday, February 25, 2013

Birkie 2013!

Well that was a relief. This was my 10th Birkie, and it was considerably better than my 9th.

Last year we had very little snow in Northfield, and I spent almost as many days on rollerskis as on snow during the winter. Then during the race I wasn't smart enough to realize I was not in great shape and on slow skis. I went out WAY too hard and honestly was blowing up by the end of the powerline hills. Oops. Consequently I started this year with bib 103.

Wearing that triple digit made it easy to start on the second line. Plus looking around at the start there sure seemed to be a lot of fast looking European skiers this year. My goal from the start was only to stay relaxed and ski as easy as I could through the powerline hills. Fortunately my skis this year were pretty good (FinnSisu fine grind, Fast Wax HF Green with Flight Cold), and I soon found myself right behind Vakava teammate Derek. It took some pressure off me mentally to just stay right on his tails, and so that is exactly what I did all the way through the powerline hills. At that first feed stop I was excited about how good I still felt - especially compared to how I remember feeling last year! The field had already broken apart, and Derek and I (along with another Vakava skier Eugene) were a part of a large second group skiers that had formed quite early in the race. It probably had to do with the slow snow conditions, but that group stayed pretty much intact all the way to the finish.
Myself (103), Eugene and Derek (36) skiing in the pack (photo: Julie Joy Wenner)
One of my race highlights is always getting to OO and seeing my family cheering me on (and handing me a gel). This year (like every recent year where she has been in the country) my sister was there ready to cheer. Most people bring cowbells to cheer. My sister brings the whole dang cow suit!

Jessica driving to the race
My wife Nichole also managed to get me a gel without falling over. I think she was more nervous for the Birkie than I was, all because of having to hand me a gel!
Me with gel. Nice job Nichole. (photo: Kerry Yndestad)
The second half of the race we continued along in our big group of skiers. I spent almost the entire race in the top 3 or 4 positions in the pack, since I don't like the slinky effect you can get at the back of a long line of skiers going up and down the hills. On the last hills after Rosie's field I even went to the lead of the group. My first couple of Birkies I nearly walked up these hills after bonking so bad, but this year I was feeling quite strong, aside from my left tricep, which kept cramping up every time I would pole hard. Up the hills I could shorten my poling motion, but going across the lake I knew I was in trouble. Every time I would get up on my poles my tricep would twinge, on the brink of cramping. I managed to stay in the group, but a few guys (including Eugene) went around me on the lake, and I was just holding on.

After Rosie's field (photo: Brett Morgan,
Turing up Main Street I was doing all I could to hang on to my place, but I got passed in the last 20 meters and finished in 40th place overall, 6th in my age group, and 28th American. (To give some perspective, in 2009 when I finished 28th overall, I was the 27th American). The field this year was deep.

I would consider this a very good result for me, and right where I have historically been. Helps to have some snow this year :)

My Birkie history:
2001- 430th (senior year of high school. the top wave 10 skier)
2005- 73rd (senior in college. skiing out of wave 1)
2006- 61st
2007- 84th 
2008- 30th
2009- 28th
2010- 38th
2011- 35th
2012- 103rd
2013- 40th

Vakava had a great day. Some Vakava results highlights:
Birkie skate men:
35th Eugene
40th Nate
41st Derek
98th Ryan
119th Andrew
124th Anthony (east coast vakava crew)

Birkie skate women:
18th Kathleen
20th Mary Beth
31st Bonnie
40th Angie
42nd Carolyn (east coast vakava crew)
52nd Michele
55th Katy

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Eugene's Birkie

Five done!
To reduce the pre-race stress and fluoro inhalation I had my skis waxed at Finn Sisu. The skis were really fast, I never got passed on the downhills, but myself have often passed the front skiers when going out of a long downhill draft. Thanks guys! By the way, about fluoros: it is dangerous when the vapors are exposed to extreme heat over 230 C and especially open fire (they produce some toxic compounds). I never use my gas stove during or after waxing with powders or HF. If possible one needs to avoid vapors going into the kitchen (close the doors and ventilate).
Otherwise the preparation got into routine over the years. Carbo loading last three days, driving to Hayward on Friday, pretending to myself that its just a weekend trip and try to get a good sleep at night,.. entering start area from the warming lap after the classic wave 1, putting the skis in the second row, taking of warmups 5 min before and climbing over the fence to the truck (this year the fence was higher, but some lady helped me with the bag, thanks!) and finally - celebrating the year's training with sking the best race I have ever done!

After start. ABSF photo.

I got well of the start, close to the leaders and next to teammates Nate and Derek. The leaders broke away shortly after hitting the powerline hills. At the top of the first climb I found myself in the front of the chasing group and skied the entire race in this 10-15 people pack. With a tougher than usual race on soft snow and warm weather I took two energy gels with me and got energy drink at every feed station (except the last two). I think this and the three days of carboloading (eating as much as possible, but no protein food) really helped me to stay strong throughout the race.
I was leading when entering the second station at 9 K, took my cup successfully, but found myself down on the snow as I finished it. Some people skied over my pole and luckily it was ok, but the guy next to me had his pole broken. Sorry, I am not sure what happened, but since it was at the aid station I hope you had the replacement quickly. I then skied in the pack for a while, then got a friendly pole push on one of the downhills and got in the lead again before the OO. On the long climb I made a little gap on the group. Wow! Usually the first hilly part of the Birkie was the toughest for me and I always had a hard time to keep it up. I am in much better shape this year. Perhaps, it is because I made a lot of trail running on long hills (Battle Creek, Afton SP) this summer/fall.
After OO
At about 37K I started feeling dizzy and with some more long climbs left I got worried about running out of gas. By the time I fulfiled my social duty of leading for 50K/10-15 skiers in the pack = 3-5 K and stayed at around 3-6 position thereafter. I ate my second gel at 41 K and tried to get a feed, but got showered on both last two aids. I encouraged myself that if it gets too bad I could at least soak my race suit (and with the warm weather it also had some extra electolytes in it!).
Nate, me and Derek captured. Photo from Julie Joy Wenner.
 Things got fast and nervous after the last long climb at 45K as it got flatter and closer to the finish. I skied a lot parallely to the pack. After some sprinting/maneuvering around elite women (who started 20 min earlier this year) I was ready to go second into the lake and the final 3 K, but rationalized that one windshield is good but two are better, and let another skier go in front of me. Shortly after entering the lake the first skier started making a gap and the second did not seem to be willing to close it. As a few skiers from the back sprinted around me I quickly merged in and secured the fifth position in the line. I was able to ski the next 2K somewhat relaxed with long glides and at about 800 m to go started the sprint, just early enough to reach the lake exit first. The trail got very narrow for about 100 m and I slowed down to relax a bit since no one could pass here. I then got passed by one and started sprinting again. At that point I felt strong pain in my quads and had to control each movement to stay up, but was able to keep up the pace and stay ahead of the rest of the pack. Nate and Derek finished just seconds behind. Great race for Vakava!
I had a significant progress in each of my successive Birkies. 323th, 149th, 71th, 56th and now 35th! Time back from the winner also got down: 37 min, 26 min, 14:25, 12:50 and now 11:44. My last three I skied in the pack of 10+ people and not only the pack got faster (it were mostly different people each year) but I also got closer to the front of the pack (in terms of positioning throughout the race and finish). For further improvement I will have to get myself ready to ski on my own...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Vasaloppet classical race

Earlier forecasts predicting a heavy snowfall with significant snow accumulations during the race made me worry about several things. Would my stiff skis be OK, should I get some larger baskets for my poles, would it be a race or a ski-orienteering event on the Knife Lake? It ended up with a small snowfall at night with the storm coming only after the race, and I enjoyed the day. 
On the lake
 The lake loop went slow with over a dozen guys in the leading group. I pulled a bit but mostly stayed in the pack to conserve energy. Shortly after the lake the pace went up and I found myself in a group of 4. My original plan was to use the same tactics as two years ago. That is to try to break away about 5K to go. Stronger competitors, stronger headwind and my poles punching through did not allow me to do that. I moved to the front about 4K to go to be in control and stayed there until the Mora Lake. There I started the sprint but then let the two guys go ahead and break the wind. By the end of the lake I pushed harder and came first to the Bell hill and to its middle.  I think it was a smart tactics up to that point, but then I got more concerned about staying ahead of the younger guy then taking a shorter path in the left turn and watching for the older guy. He passed me on the left and in the last few hundred meters I was not able to return the lead. Later I learned that it was last year’s classic Birkie champion, and I was quite satisfied with my 2nd place.

I leaved early to avoid the storm. But the roads have already become snowy and I found myself driving slowly in a large “pack” of other cars. Some drivers were apparently unsatisfied with the slow pace and “made a move”, but found themselves in the deep snow “off the course” shortly thereafter. Drive safe!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Vasaloppet Champion Celebration

On Saturday the Vasaloppet held a Celebration of Champions to acknowledge the past champions. Mary Beth and I and many other past champions were able to attend and it was fun to see everyone. We walked down Main St. as they announced our names and the years we've won.
Vasa Parade
After the parade, they inducted several people who've had 5 or more wins and Mary Beth was one of them with six wins. She increased that to seven the next day and now has more Vasaloppet wins under her belt than any other racer. Way to go, MB!
Vasa Hall Fame

Mora Vasaloppet - 58 km Freestyle (39-41 km??? anyone know the shortened distance?)

Well, I’d be lying if I started this race report with my typical, “what a beautiful day for a race”, line.  Although some may think it was perfect, it wasn’t my favorite race weather.  The good thing about the conditions was that it was pretty much the same for everyone.  The start was pretty brutal; heading straight into the wind in a tight line of double poling that seemed to go on forever.  I tried to keep my eyes on Jan Gunther and stay right with her.  Going through the first feed station I got stuck behind a few skiers and fell back from the main pack.  I tried bridging the gap, but soon decided it was taking way too much energy going alone into the wind.  I tucked in behind a couple men until the wind direction changed.  After a few kilometers, when the wind was not as fierce, I tried again to bridge the gap to the next pack, but by this time the next pack was barely visible through the haze of thickly falling snow.

By my second lap of Knife Lake, it looked like I would be skiing the rest of the race by myself.  Then came number 502; I nick named him “Lake Angle”.  He was a smaller man that skied with a very unique style; his arm swing closely resembled the butterfly motion in swimming.  I can’t knock him, because he was skiing smoothly and going really fast.  I think we all had to modify our technique somewhat to be more aero-dynamic in the snow blast.  “Lake Angle” and I took turns pulling and drafting for a long time. 

As my time on the lake was winding down, my skis were still running fast; I waxed them with Fast Wax’s HSF 30 over HSLF 30 and a cover layer of Flight Warm.  The “Uni-grind” stone grinding I had Finn Sisu do last summer really has improved my ski’s glide and seemed to be a good pick for this race.  I almost fell trying to climb the first hill off the lake.  After several more kilometers I came upon the unmanned “Y” with a highly placed sign telling skiers which way they should go.  It appeared to send the 58km racers to the right, and everyone else to the left.  The confusing part was the additional marker at snow level directing the 58km relay to the right.   The trail to the right looked pretty fluffy compared to the trail to the left.  I second guessed my trail choice after skiing a ways down the trail marked for the 58km race.  I turned around and skied back to the sign to take another look.  By this time another 58km skier came by and we decided together that this was indeed the correct trail.  Before I knew it, Bell Tower was right in front of me with the finish line right around the corner.  I finished 3rd female overall and first in my category 5 age group.  Shortly after I crossed the finish line, my 13 year old son, Joshua, finished the 13 km race tied for 3rd place overall (first in his 12-13 year old age group).  My 9 year old son followed shortly behind Joshua in the same race with an overall place of 29th (first in the 11 and under age group).  My boys absolutely loved receiving their Dalia Horse awards at the awards ceremony.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Angie’s COLL

My COLL was a great improvement over my earlier races. The slow new snow wasn’t great for me, but I felt much better than I had in a long time. My skis were good with Fast Wax HSF White and Flite Arctic. I’ve used them before and had good results so I felt confident using them again. After the flood of men went by at the start, I had no idea where any of the other women where. I ended up skiing with a few men, but pulled for most of the first half. It was such a relief to get on the lakes and fast snow. I really took off and had one man that went with me. We were caught by Audrey Weber on the north side of Cedar Lake and she got in front. It was such a relief to have someone pull who knew what they were doing. It was also really nice to know that all the fast women weren’t long gone like I had assumed. We skied together for a couple km but then I past her by accident just as we headed into the wind on Cedar. The one man went with me and I powered across the lake. Then he pulled for a bit and we switched off back and forth and dropped Audrey again. I kept powering on and caught a couple more men. I asked for the inside of the curve as I passed and one of them took the opportunity to hop on my train. As we passed a couple more I heard him tell another to hop on as well. After a bit I was looking for a break and asked if he could pull, but it turned out we were almost off the lake so I didn’t bother and just kept going. I felt strong heading up the street to the finish. So after a lot of self-defeating thoughts at the beginning it turned out to be a decent race after all. It seems that the extra calcium I’d started taking had helped. I had another doctor appointment the next day and confirmed that my calcium levels had indeed risen. I felt more confident that my racing career wasn’t over after all like I’d feared.

Mora Vasaloppet

Dave Christopherson reports:

An overall win, three more overall podium finishes, and over a dozen horses – Vakava always seems to come to the forefront at Mora, and 2013 was no exception.  Strong winds, sometimes-heavy snow, and a starting lap on Knife Lake certainly made for an interesting and somewhat unusual 41st Vasaloppet, but it was the same downtown finish, cheering crowds and small-town atmosphere, and over a thousand competitors.  Always one of my favorite races.

After a very slow and crowded start, where no one seemed anxious to break the headwind for the first several k’s, things finally started moving when we got to the far end of the lake and switched directions.  I tried to stay on the faster, crustier snow, but there was enough slightly wet new snow and slightly dirty wind-blown snow that you definitely wanted a good fluoro top coat on your skis.  I chose Fast Wax Flite Warm, ironed on with the Fast Wax Base Saver, on top of HSF-30, along with a pair of uni-grind Rossi’s that can handle softer snow.  I think everyone felt their skis were a little slow in some of the wind-blown stuff, but then my skis seemed to take off when we got into more of the new-fallen, fresh snow.  Of course, it also helped a lot that I had two team-mates to help pull me along with a good draft – thanks, Rob and Paul.

A strong, hard finishing sprint up Main Street didn’t move me up any places, but it at least looked good (hopefully) for the crowd.  That’s 24 of these under my belt now, and I’ll be back next year.

Vakava results:

35K Freestyle
Mary Beth Tuttle -- 1st overall, 1st age group
Kathleen DeWahl – 2nd overall, 1st age group
Angie Robinson – 4th overall, 2nd age group
Nate Porath – 2nd overall, 1st age group
Rob Edman – 10th overall, 2nd age group
Dave Christopherson – 11th overall, 1st age group
Paul Olson -- 12th overall, 3rd age group
Andy Schakel – 13th overall, 3rd age group
Mark Ahlers – 15th overall, 1st age group

42K Classic
Michele Oja13th overall, 3rd age group
Eugene Beletskiy – 2nd overall, 1st age group
Kevin Ivens – 51st overall
Brent Oja66th overall

58K Freestyle
Bonnie Weiskopf – 3rd overall, 1st age group
Katie Splan9th overall, 2nd age group
Derek Wallen7th overall
Steve Yore – 29th overall

(And our east coast contingent, temporarily on leave in Baltimore, also did very admirably, despite almost no time on snow this year – Carolyn Bramante was 3rd overall in the 35K and Anthony Bramante finished 33rd in the long race.)

Monday, February 4, 2013

City of Lakes Loppet

Race recap from Mary Beth Tuttle

I was thrilled to learn early last week that COLL was going to run full course, so I quickly registered for the race.  It's one of my favorite races.  I love the challenging and varied terrain, which mixes hilly wooded sections with amazing views of the Minneapolis skyline, takes you over a busy interstate, across several lakes and finishes on the streets of Uptown on Hennepin and Lake Street.  The race also has amazing volunteers who give a small town feel to a very large, urban race.  We were blessed to receive a little more snow the night before the race, so the course was in perfect condition.

The new snow along with the brisk temperatures made the course a little slow, except when you got on the lakes where the snow was significantly faster.  Despite the slow snow, my skis were fast, for which I am always thankful.  The Fast Wax recommendation of two coats of HSLF white, covered with HSLF teal and topped with Flight Arctic worked very well.  I used my Atomic World Cup skis with a Finn Sisu universal grind and a moderate flex.

I also was fortunate to ski with a great group of people during the race, who were all very encouraging to each other.  My only regret was that I didn't get a chance to have my usual post-race beer and attend the awards ceremony after the race due to a family commitment.  A huge thank you to the race organizers, many volunteers, groomers, and mother nature.

Congratulations to my team-mates for lots of excellent performances.  It was a good day for Vakava!

Vakava results:

25 classic -- women
Kathleen Dewahl -- 1st overall, 1st age group
Michelle Oja -- 9th, 3rd age group

25 classic -- men
Evgeny Beletskiy -- 4th overall, 2nd age group
Dave Bridges -- 17th, 1st age group
Paavo Taipale -- 20th
Robert Edman -- 35th
Kevin Ivens -- 48th
Brent Oja -- 53th

33K skate -- women
Mary Beth Tuttle -- 2nd overall, 1st age group
Bonnie Weiskopf -- 4th, 1st age group
Angie Robinson -- 8th, 2nd age group
Kathryn Splan -- 13th, 1st age group
Anna Peterson -- 18th, 3rd age group

33k skate -- men
Derek Wallen -- 15th overall
Andrew Kromroy -- 18th
Ryan Atwell -- 20th
Andrew Schakel -- 29th, 2nd age group
David Christopherson -- 71st, 1st age group
Paul Olson -- 96th
Mark Ahlers -- 107th
Steve Yore -- 115th
Mike Nohr -- 122nd

City of Lakes Loppet - 33 km Freestyle

Bonnie reports:

Thanks to all the wonderful volunteers, race organizers, the City of Lakes Loppet Nordic Ski Foundation, groomers …  who make this race possible.  You did a wonderful job!
For me, like most Nordic racers, this was a busy weekend.  I spent all day Friday at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester with one of my five kids, trying to find an answer to why he has chronic stomach pain.  Saturday was spent transporting my kids to and from athletic practices and birthday parties.  It was 10:00 PM and I still needed to wax my skis for the race on Sunday.  I quickly checked the weather report and went straight to the Fast Wax Nordic Race Recommendation page .   I followed the wax recipe recommended for the race (1 layer HSLF 10 teal, then 2 layers HSLF 0 White, then Flight Arctic using the Fast Wax base saver); saving me research time.  In short order, my skis were waxed, and I went to bed confident I would have fast skis the next morning.

What a fantastic day for racing it was in Minnesota! The skies were blue and sunny, and the snow was light, fluffy, and falling from the trees.  The start was a bit chilly (in the single digits) after stripping down early to get our bags in the truck to be shipped to the finish area.  I started with the other elite women in the second row of wave 1, but was quickly swallowed by a swarm of very fast men.  I was lucky enough to narrowly avoid a multiple skier crash just seconds from the start. 
Since this was the longest race I have done this season, I tried to ski conservatively at the start, not knowing how I would feel after an hour or so of climbing, and descending.  I latched on to a group of men and women skiing relatively my same speed.  The group morphed a bit as the kilometers wore on, but a few of us stayed together for most of the race.  My legs were still feeling pretty fresh through the bog.  By the time I reached the lakes, I was ready for some flats.  The fast snow on the lakes turned out to be an unexpected bonus.  With a few hundred yards remaining I spotted the third placed women.  I went after her, but was unsuccessful in catching her before the finish.  I ended up 4th overall of the 162 women that skied in my race.  I was happy with my finish and with the speed of my skis.  My skis stayed fast from start to finish.