Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Monday, April 22, 2013

“The Project”, part 2 by Angie

Mike Nohr joined Vakava late last Summer, early Fall. This is not the best time to start your ski training as we all know that skiers are made in the Summer. But Mike seemed determined and Ahvo thought he’d be a good candidate so we had him check us out. Mike had raced pretty well over a decade ago and we knew he wanted to get back into his old racing form. Being in that same boat myself a few years ago, I could relate. (Although I had the good sense to start in the Spring!) When he came to our workout it was immediately clear that Mike had his work cut out for him. He was tentative on his roller skis and out of shape and he could not keep up with our slowest members. We weren’t sure what to make of him at first. Knowing first hand what kind of effort it takes to get back into shape after over a decade off, we wanted to be sure he knew what he was signing up for and how much work it would be and make sure he was committed. But he was so excited and determined to race that we knew we had to seriously consider him anyway. Attitude is very important. We’re more than just a bunch of skiers who get together once a week to have fun and stay in shape, although that is a big part of it. We also have a commitment to training and racing which can be hard to sustain for working adults/parents. Being around others who are equally committed is very important to keeping ourselves going. So after some discussion we decided that Mike had the right attitude and we figured he be able to work his way back into skiing form so we asked him to join us and he did.

I started teasing him a bit about all the work he had ahead of him and told him that he would be our “Project”. So far I think the project is going well. We were certainly right about him having the right attitude and commitment and I think his enthusiasm has been a nice shot in the arm for the rest of us weary warriors. And his skiing has improved a great deal as well. He still has a long way to go, but so far the project is definitely on the right track. So it’s good to have you on board, Mike. We’re looking forward to seeing what you can do with a full year or two of training under your belt.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

“The Project”, part 1 by Mike

Reflection on the 1st year back

Sorry about the length of the post I should have done some during the season, but I was too busy skiing and waxing skis.

Finn Sisu – Ahvo

It would only be fitting to start my return to XC Skiing by visiting Finn Sisu. From past experience I knew Ahvo would have the best advice and gear. It was instantly clear that a lot had changed in 15 years. A new store, larger staff, more gear. My 1st purchase was a pair of Marwe skate roller skis. I thought they felt just like snow but how would I know it had been 15 yrs since I’d been on snow…. What I did know is that they felt great.

The first thing Ahvo told me was; give yourself 4 years. Little did he know that was already in my plan. After a few more conversations he recommended that I join the Vakava team. Dave and I discussed the possibility further to make sure I would be a fit and was committed and serious. I believe I passed the verbal test.

1st Vakava workout

Now is when the comeback story really begins. After all I had been on roller skis for a couple weeks and been doing 45 minute to 1 hour basic endurance workouts for a month. I even thought my V2 was as good as before and maybe even better (given that 15 yrs ago V2 was almost never used in a marathon distance at least by citizen racers). How difficult could a workout be with the Vakava team.

When the workout began I was instantly dropped off the back and this was during the warm up. After chasing from the back during the initial intervals Dave finally told Mark to work with Mike on his V2 and weight transfer…. I guess my V2 wasn’t as good as I though. My next surprise was that we kept roller skiing well after dark. I remember thinking as I felt my way in the pitch black “4 years might not be enough”. I was also pretty sure I failed the ultimate test of performing in a workout.

Lucky for me Dave seemed willing to let me continue to join them. At about the same time Angie started referring to me as “A Project”. I guess the Vakers like challenges as much as I do.

Double Pole Time Trial

One of the next workouts was a Double Pole time trail. As I drove to the workout I thought “I got this dialed, how difficult can DP technique be”. After the time trail Dave gave instructions to the team on what to do next and told me to come with him and we’ll work on your DP technique. Bonnie drew the short straw and got to be my tutor for the rest of the night. Thanks Bonnie!

Checking the ego at the door before workouts

What I did know is that the Vakava Team was the best thing that could have happened to me. I just had to remind myself that I needed time to get back to the level I once was at and where I again want to be. I was getting great technique training and everyone was extremely supportive.


I could write a whole blog post on this alone, but will keep it short with a few highlight bullets.

· I’ll start with Tom at Finn Sisu fixing my skis with a quick grind and a mini wax tutorial on Thursday.

· Mentally preparing myself for other skier traffic on the trail and to be patient. See next point.

· Wondering during the race if I somehow ended up on the classic trail given that we were walking herringboning every uphill.

· To thinking how much I enjoy marathon races as I crossed the lake.

· How much harder it is to find your wife at the finish when you start in wave 9 than when you start in the elite wave and finish in the top 100.

· And finally I can’t say enough about how fast and well my skis performed after Tom worked his magic! THANKS Tom.

In closing what could be better than starting this “Project” in the year of the never ending winter! Thanks again Vakers, Ahvo and everyone at Finn Sisu. I am psyched for the future!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Murphy-Hanrehan park and long intervals

I would like to recommend this park as a great place for dryland training (just in case the winter ever ends). Why? Lots of hills, little or no visitors, great scenery (completely in the woods with lots of small lakes and swamps), low maintenance (feels wild, but the trails are still good for training).
The park also has an abundant wildlife. I see deer and turkeys all the time, and often I see some large birds (raptors?) siting on the trail and then quietly flying away as I appear over the hill. Once I was skiing (the ski trail is great and probably the hilliest in Midwest, but you need to check for the grooming reports on Three Rivers website), and on one of the downhills noticed a turkey loudly flying right above me. My first move was to protect myself with a pole, but then I realized that she was not attacking me but was just frightened of the branch and could only fly downhill due to weight/power ratio. Luckily for her, the hill was steep and long enough to make her motor going and avoid crashing the ground (perhaps it was not the case with the now famous Wirth turkey).
Fall at Murphy
Fall is the best time to visit. Parts of the trail are closed in summer, not to mention an enormous amounts of bugs (many swamps). I once made a mistake of going there for a long run in late June and for the entire three 10K loops had an air fleet making 5 feet loops around me (I am not sure if that were the same guys or if they made a relay, but their endurance is amazing). In summer I prefer Afton SP as it is almost bug free.
As for the workouts, I like the park for long runs but even more for long tempo intervals. Those could either be running or bounding (with running downhills). I use the 4.5K loop shown on the map below (green dotted). This loop consists of ups and downs only, and many of those are quite steep!

Portion of the map from
I really like those 20 min intervals for various reasons: 1. the overall pace is under threshold (1-1.5h race pace) and the workout is overall aerobic. 2. Local pace on the hills could be anaerobic, but since many of the hills are under 30 sec long, I do not accumulate lactic acid. Very ski specific I think. 3. It is easy to maintain the moderate pace alone (compared to shorter 5-10K race pace intervals). When I am in shape, I can do three of those.
Here is a Fasterskier article about Babikov doing similar type intervals. He does the downhills and flats at lower intensity which allows him to do four 5K intervals.

So check this out. It is 30 min south of Metro. Best parking is at the horse trailhead (#29), as it is always open and could be accessed from I-35 without traffic lights (and you can also go green and arrive to a workout on a horse).

P.S. I have been “closing” my ski season for a few times already: first on March 31 in Elk River, but next weekend took Friday of and joined two teammates for a trip to Giants Ridge. Friday was terrific! Everything was groomed and icy fast but with plenty of edge. I skied over 80K that day. The big snowfall on Saturday provided some great winter views as all the trees and branches were covered with snow. 180K over three days!
Classic skiing with Mike and Dave on the Bronze trail
This weekend I skied at Elk River. 50K both days! Despite the forecast, today was even better than yesterday (12 min faster). Woodlands, with its winding, hilly and perfectly groomed trail, became my favorite place for weekend skiing this year. I would be curious to see how it looks in summer.
Mt. Everest, April 14 (which of the two is easier to believe?)
Now I see reports of street skiing in Duluth and forecasts for more snow there tonight. Might be worth a trip next weekend. I will wait with the storage wax for now…

P.P.S. Anybody in the snowland hiring a PhD chemist (organic/physical-organic) later this year? As a new graduate I will have work authorization for 29 months (as a practical training).