Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

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)