Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Saturday, December 26, 2015

December Doldrums: Continuing to ski train despite no natural snow

When we got back from Colorado we had about 4 days of “skiable” snow. I missed out on a couple of these days, electing to run instead, not really sure if the skiing would be any good. Then for Vakava practice we did some intervals and speed on an ungroomed Como Golf Course going through the slush. I learned from this practice it’s really hard to get any glide while skiing easy on slush but as soon as I ramp up the tempo the glide is good. I spent one morning classic skiing on crust on Summit Avenue, in the median. There was definitely a lot of bare spots necessitating some grass skiing. That afternoon I went rollerskiing.
Then the natural snow was all gone. I felt skiing on real snow in Colorado gave me a break from normal dryland training and actually felt a bit re-charged to resume dryland training rather than lamenting over the poor snow conditions. Also, after the winter we had 2 years ago, I really can’t complain about temperatures in the 30s and 40s. It’s nice to wear spandex, a headband, and thin gloves for every workout and not have to think too hard about what to wear because the answer is very little.
I’ve been making use of my husband’s guest passes to the Y and had a brief stint of attempting to max bench press. I made it to 100 pounds after racing Hoigaard’s Relays! That made me really excited to try to bench my weight but I tried to do so the next week and failed miserably. But I did do a Zumba class...I tried to move around a lot but am pretty bad at dancing and can’t say it is comparable to running in terms of cardio but it’s fun to try something different. Especially since Elm Creek and Hyland were both closed that day to make more snow.
I resumed running and biking to work. These workouts are all incredibly efficient as they don’t involve driving or waxing skis and quite frankly, I really needed that extra time right now (to deal with things like a squirrel in our basement and sending out those Christmas cards). 

The bike corral at work is pretty empty in December. In the summer it's hard to find a place to park.
Of course, I’m still spending plenty of time on man-made snow. I did a 2 hour 45 minute classic ski at Hyland at 40 plus degrees. My friend Andy Brown is a huge fan of Rex Brown klister but unfortunately I haven’t been able to achieve the same results. Some of my friends were skiing on waxless skis (the Salomon and Atomic skins) and had much better kick than me so I practiced the herringbone run and tried to double pole more. The next day I returned to Hyland for a 2 hour skate ski w/ 6 x 3 minute intervals. Even though the loop was only 1.8 km in length I really don’t get too bored- especially not when mixing in intervals and seeing so many friends. 

My klister ski! Every time I walk by my skis in the basement I get a good whiff of klister.

We had Vakava practice at Elm Creek and did more intervals and then the next day (I have Thursdays off from work) I went rollerskiing in a t-shirt. I think this is the first time I’ve worn a t-shirt rollerskiing in December (I’ve been rollerskiing in December plenty of times previously).
I had planned to do the Hoigaard’s Relays with my friend Emily Johnson and briefly thought I was off the hook for the early morning start but lo and behold, they were rescheduled for Afton Alps and so I set the alarm for 5 am. As usual, the competition is fierce and I was happy to not finish last, although we were a good 10 minutes off the male winners. The course was initially very icey which broke down quickly to deep slush due to the many skiers (high schoolers warming up). There were some hard hills with corners with slush conditions that seemed unpredictable. It seemed a bit ridiculous to work really hard on the uphills to just control my speed on the downhills. On the last hill I decided to tuck and took it fast but took it too far outside and almost fell over when my tip caught slush. It was one of those almost falls where I became really determined not to fall and I think that’s why I stayed up. Emily and I finished 5th of 9 women’s teams but we joke we won the real Master’s Race since we were the first (and only) finishers in the 30-40 year age class (we got beat by high school and college skiers). 

Emily and I as team Polka Dot Fun or Polking Fun (we couldn't really decide on what our name should be and the car ride to Afton Alps wasn't long enough to draw a conclusion) for Hoigaard's Relays.

I was planning to do the Fulton Team Race but that was postponed. Hopefully it will be rescheduled when we get some some more snow.
For the most part though, most of my best training has been skiing laps at Elm Creek and Hyland. Fortunately I am a rather good lap skier. I find it relaxing to not have to think about which trails to ski. Also, since there aren’t many trails to ski, every time I head out there are lots of friends on the trails. The time passes really fast when talking. Time also passes quickly when doing intervals or alternating laps with double pole only, legs only, etc. After living somewhere with less snow for four years, the man-made loops in the Twin Cities are really good.
After all that skiing on man-made snow though I actually hot scraped my skis for the first time in December because they were seriously dirty! One of my pairs of classic skis has become designated klister skis (with Rex Brown) because so many days have been in the 40s. 

Not skiing so much means having time to do other fun things like making gingerbread houses!

So although there hasn’t been much snow, I’ve been trying to make the most of things.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thanksgiving Ski Trip 2015

For serious skiers, the week of Thanksgiving is a popular time to take a ski trip to somewhere with snow. The West Yellowstone Ski Festival is pretty trendy amongst US skiers. I partook in this festival twice, back in 2005 and 2007. It was a great time and both years I felt the early season training at altitude gave me a boost and both years I had some good ski results.

Move ahead a few years and although West Yellowstone is fun, my husband and I and some others decided we wanted more kilometers of trails and change of scenery. Two years ago, in 2013, a group of us went to Silverstar and Sovereign Lake in British Columbia. We were there for a week and it was a challenge to ski all the trails over that time. There were a couple trails I wanted to get back to but never made it and of course I had a few favorite trails I did 3 or 4 times.

This year I was really eyeing Colorado for a Thanksgiving week ski trip. There are lots of great Nordic ski areas in Colorado. And all of them are at really high around 9,000 feet. I initially thought about the Crested Butte area which I’ve heard has early season snow but this area is a bit off the beaten track and would be an even farther drive from Minnesota.

I got pretty excited about skiing at Devil’s Thumb Ranch and Snow Mountain Ranch around the Winter Park/Tabernash area with each area touting 100 kilometers of trail. In the end, our friend Emily Johnson was able to get us some free lodging compliments of her aunt and uncle, and so we based much of our trip out of the Breckenridge area.

There are 3 good Nordic ski areas around Breckenridge: Breckenridge Nordic, Gold Run (which was not open due to low snow), and Frisco Nordic. Because each of these areas are at significant elevation (remember, 9,000 feet and above as noted earlier) I tried to not have any kilometer goals. Two years ago I tried to ski at least 42 kilometers every day but Silverstar is at half the elevation of the Breckenridge area. 

On Saturday November 21st Erik (my husband), Craig Cardinal, Emily Johnson, and I began the drive to Colorado. We spent the night in Greeley, Colorado with our friend Graham Baird who is a geology professor at Northern Colorado University. We met Graham at the University of Minnesota (where the rest of us all met) when he was a doctoral student. He was a good 6+ years older than the rest of us and so we gave him the nick-name Graham-pa! He’s a really fun guy to talk to and grew up in upstate New York (where Erik and I lived for 4 years) so there’s always good stories to share. 

After a big pancake breakfast we drove over the continental divide on Sunday. Our first stop was Frisco Nordic. We began skate skiing around noon under a very hot sun. Temps must’ve been in the upper 30s and the snow was melting in the parking lot but fortunately there didn’t seem to be much melting on the trails. We have a theory that since it’s so dry out west we think the snow on the trail just sublimates rather than melts. Tickets were half price since the snow was pretty thin. At least half the trails were open; everything except the black trails. We skied for well over two hours without getting bored. We had to do some grass and pavement dodging but the views were exceptional and we found really good snow and gradual climbs on RJ’s Vista and Crown Point Road. My skis felt pretty long for the first few minutes but after that I enjoyed working on my technique- mostly the V-2 with good balance and compression on my poles. 

Taking my first fall of the year during my first ski of the season after poling between my legs. Photo: Craig

It was so warm Emily and I did the last part of our ski in sports bras. It does give some "snow burn" though if you fall. Photo: Craig.
Monday morning we went to Breckenridge Nordic for a classic ski. This was probably our biggest disappointment of the trip. Due to low snow only about 5 kilometers were open. We skied a good number of loops on mostly flat terrain although by combining a couple trails there was a good 1 kilometer climb Craig did a few times. Here the trails are surrounded by quite expensive cabins.

That afternoon we skate skied the upper area of Breckenridge Nordic (also called New Nordic World). There is a ski trail connecting these two areas but due to low snow that trail was closed. We skated and were in for the biggest surprise of our trip. The trail immediately began climbing from the small parking lot for about a kilometer on a trail named Otter Slide. I next took a trail called Heaven’s Gate which contoured around the mountain and provided some stunning views. I removed just a few rocks from the trail. Then I started on Elk Dance. After a bit more contouring the trail took an abrupt left turn and began climbing a 30% grade! Moreover there were some tiny trees growing up in the middle of the trail. After a ¼ kilometer, the grade decreased and became glide-able but kept going uphill. I imagined I was climbing the Alp Cermis but since this trail tops out right around 11,000 feet my ski technique wasn’t of World Cup caliber. When I finally made it to the top of “Jeffrey’s Biff” as it is called I saw a sign which read “Caution, Expert/Advanced skiers only.” I think they need a more bold sign like “this is the steepest XC trail in the US- suicidal skiers only.” I then skied back downhill to the parking lot dropping about 1,000 feet in 5 kilometers. The trail was nicely groomed and wide enough to get in lots of parallel turns. 

Looking north from New Nordic World

Looking across the valley towards the continental divide from New Nordic World

Tuesday morning we classic skied at Frisco Nordic. I worked on my double pole but mostly just tried to keep my heart rate from getting too high. For some reason I decided to do 2 minute intervals. I did good on these but did just 3 because I don’t want to be a Thanksgiving Turkey. Towards the end of the workout we did some double pole video as a group.

Practicing technique at Frisco Nordic. Photo: Erik

Tuesday afternoon we headed back to New Nordic World so Emily could climb Jeffrey’s Biff as she had missed out on that hill the day before. I climbed Jeffrey’s Biff again. Unfortunately a caterpillar type vehicle had gone up the ski trail making it pretty hard to parallel turn on the way down so it wasn’t nearly as fun as the previous day.

On Wednesday Erik, Emily, and I went downhill skiing at Breckenridge. I mostly skied with Erik who wore his Garmin and reports we did 21,000 feet of vertical and around 84 kilometers. Turns out taking chairlifts and skiing mostly downhill (I DID ski just a bit uphill) really makes getting the K’s in easy!

Thursday morning we skated at Breckenridge Nordic again. I climbed the 1 kilometer hill 4 times. A couple other trails involving a ski tunnel and a ski bridge were now open. Actually, the outer black loop (Shock Hill) was technically closed but the groomer let us on it “because we’re expert skiers from Minnesota.” On that loop there are some fun downhills that fortunately all face north because we had to do some walking on woodchips on the south facing uphills BUT we did have a great view above the town of Breckenridge. Then it was off to Conifer to have Thanksgiving dinner with Emily’s aunt and uncle. Much thanks to the Cheronis for their kind hospitality (and for showing us there are a few Chicago Bears fans in the world…)

Friday we drove back over the continental divide to the Winter Park area. We skied for about 4 hours at Devil’s Thumb Ranch. Erik and I ended up skiing together. We did a classic ski followed by a skate ski. They had more snow than the Breckenridge area and they had just gotten a couple inches of fresh snow so conditions were pretty slow. We skied for quite awhile on green trails that are flatter than most trails in Minnesota before we climbed a bit on Blue Extra which offered superb views. We headed to the west side for skating and got some really good clear views of the continental divide from the Black 10 trail and Molly’s Meadow and then on to Homestead which had a surprising big downhill (I admittedly fell) and then back on Blue Extra. They had most of their terrain open and we skied a decent amount of it. Like most ski resorts, we do think they over report their kilometers (like include trails twice if they are both classic and skate) but we were only able to ski about half their trails in 4 hours so they have a decent amount.

More great views of the Continental Divide from Devil's Thumb Ranch. Photo: Erik

Friday evening we stayed at YMCA of the Rockies (also called Snow Mountain Ranch). If you stay there, you get free Nordic passes (I think Devil’s Thumb has the same deal but their lodging is more pricey). The 4 of us got a room for $85 (you get a slight discount if you are a YMCA member). Craig immediately made use of the lighted ski trails and a full moon and put in an hour of classic skiing. When he came back he announced the tracks were beautifully hard thanks to piston bully grooming (Bill Pierce, former Birkie Trail groomer, is now the groomer at Snow Mountain Ranch). We only had about 3 hours to ski on Saturday so the rest of us plotted our route. 

Saturday morning we began skiing by 8:30 am. Erik again skied with me as we eyed the trail that climbs to the Summit Overlook. This trail climbs 2,000 vertical feet. As soon as I realized this was an actual groomed trail, I had to take up this challenge. I decided to skate ski since I’m a much better climber on skate skis than classic skis. Unfortunately the trail had about 3 inches of powder on top of solid piston bully grooming. This slowed our progress but I would not be deterred; I’ve never climbed 2,000 vertical feet in one go before (sure, I’ve done 1,000). So we pretty much trudged up the mountain slowly with our stops getting more and more frequent the higher we climbed. This ridge/hill/mountain (whatever you want to call it) topped out at 10,670 feet). Unfortunately we were in the clouds so the views weren’t good, but the snowflakes were AMAZING. I would’ve liked to spend more time looking at the snowflakes landing on me but alas we had a time limit so I had to keep going. We finally made it to the summit after climbing for 1 hour 40 minutes. It took us about 30 minutes to go 9 kilometers downhill (the fresh snow made it slow both ways).

The powder conditions on the way up to Summit Overlook at Snow Mountain Ranch. Photo: Erik

Then it was back over the continental divide for the last time and back to Minnesota on Sunday.
Total: about 16 hours of skiing and 180 kilometers over 6 days with an additional day of downhill skiing. I was a bit surprised my numbers were so close to Craig. Hopefully I didn’t train too much at altitude but I have been training more than Craig this summer and fall.
I’m hoping in a couple years to ski again at Devil’s Thumb and Snow Mountain Ranch. I need to ski all their trails and make it back up to that summit on a clear day….and maybe by then I will feel confident to stride the whole way!

Monday, November 2, 2015

October Training: After the Marathon, Fall Camp, and Halloween!

After running Twin Cities Marathon on October 4th I took it easy for a couple days. Mostly my quadriceps, the left more than the right, were very sore. It hurt when I first stood up (I considered being able to get out of bed a big accomplishment) and really hurt going up and down stairs. I previously heard people say easy biking is a great way to recovery so I got to it after the marathon when I biked to a party and then resumed biking my 6 miles to work the following day. I’m pretty well known for usually always riding in one moderately high gear on my bike, but for three days I actually stayed in pretty low gears and did lots of spinning.

The day after the marathon my recovery was a bit impeded when a coworker brought a soccer ball to work to try out the new artificial turf soccer field across the street. Having played soccer back in high school, I couldn’t quite resist the temptation to kick the soccer ball around for awhile (and I always say I’m not competitive!). So even though I had to walk down the stairs backwards, I made it out to the new field and kicked the ball around for about an hour.

Because I consider my primary sport to be Nordic skiing, I didn’t want to take too many easy days. I also think by training properly for the marathon and by doing activities other than running, I was able to resume a fairly normal training load within 3 days of the marathon. Two days after the marathon I did a 30 minute classic rollerski I had been thinking about doing as an easy workout before the marathon. Three days after the marathon my soreness dissipated, I could walk down the stairs without pain, put some strength into my biking, and did 2 x 1 km double pole time trials at our weekly Wednesday Vakava session. I was only 3 seconds slower than my best time so I think I was reasonably well recovered.

By four days after the marathon I was able to run 5 miles and rollerski for over an hour and after that the rest is history. 

The week after the marathon the Minnesota Orienteering Club held their annual Corn Maze-O at Sever’s Corn Maze in Shakopee. This is a bit of a twist on usual orienteering courses which tend to be held in the woods at state parks but this is truly a really fun time. Erik and I have done this the last 2 years and we did it again this year. My family was visiting so I drug my mom and my brothers with their significant others out of bed early on a Sunday morning to go to the Corn Maze-O and everyone had a great time! It’s super fun and if you’ve never done an orienteering race you should do one. Go to to look at the schedule. 

The map from the Corn Maze-O; this years maze featured a fire truck in the center.

The weekend of October 16-18 I attended my first Vakava Fall Camp based out of Cable and OO. This is my second year on Vakava and prior to that over the previous 10 years or so I have done very few structured workouts where someone else tells me what to do. It does make me a bit nervous when someone else plans my workout but at the Master’s level I do appreciate that we can always individualize the workout if needed. 

On late Friday afternoon we started with a pole hike from the Birkie Ridge Trailhead. The most adventurous in the group did a 10 mile trail run; I did a 7 mile pole hike with a bit of running. 

Saturday morning we did classic intervals on a nicely paved road northeast of Cable. I was a bit surprised the workout was to do 8 x 5 minutes of intervals. Because of the terrain, most of the intervals were just under 5 minutes. We got videotaped on 3 of these intervals and on those 3 we did an interval start versus a group start. I liked switching up this format a bit because I think it helps keep things fresh. We then had lunch at OO and after a lengthy break of staying warm in front of the fire and reviewing our video technique, we did a strength workout followed by a bit of ski walking and bounding, and then finished with a game of frisbee. I felt tired on the hill bounding (like my heart rate felt like it got high pretty fast) but once we started the game of frisbee it seemed everyone was fresh! Funny how some competition can get the legs and heart moving again. Then we went to Rivers Eatery in Cable for lots of pizza.

On Sunday morning we finished camp with a three hour skate rollerski heading northeast from Cable. The roads were mostly very well paved and low traffic which is nice. We did an out-and-back route. Along the way we did a few pick-ups about every 8 minutes or so. The fastest in our group looped back to pick up the slower skiers so that way we all stayed together. I’ve been having some foot issues inside my right boot but didn’t have that issue so I was pretty glad. After that we headed to OO to eat more food (compliments of Michelle Oja who supplied our lunch both days) and then we headed home. 

I ended up not being sore at all on Monday (maybe I should have done those jumps in the strength session a bit more exuberantly) and was surprised to actually not feel very tired.

Many weeks this year I have done back to back intervals on successive days. We usually do rollerski intervals at our Wednesday night Vakava training session and then Thursday I have the day off and usually do running intervals. For whatever reason I’m most motivated to do these running intervals on Thursdays. This provides a miny intensity block but somehow I seem to be recovering really well this year. I’m not sure if it’s because of all the base I have done over the last many years or what but it feels pretty awesome. I was particularly happy when 3 weeks after the marathon I was able to do 5 x 6 minute classic rollerski intervals followed the next morning with 4 x 3 minute running intervals (and I did these all at sub 7 minute mile pace). After these two interval sessions though I usually give it another week before I do more intervals. I’m hoping these back to back interval sessions will be my secret (not so secret after this is published) weapon for this upcoming race season.

Me trying to look like Marit! It's not easy to see in this picture but I did add some bicep implants because mine aren't very Marit-esque.
      Then as always October ends with Halloween. I haven’t been in costume in a few years but this year I actually had a couple Halloween parties to attend so I had to make a costume. I like to use things I have and this year my inspiration were my multiple medals (a few years ago Erik went as Michael Phelps and wore all of his and my medals). Unfortunately, not too many skiers attended either Halloween party so I’m posting my costume here for the skiers to enjoy. 

Showing off my medals and sponsors. At my first go-around of this picture I put my headband on upside down. Oops! I guess that's why I'm not a pro.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Running Marathon #2: Twin Cities Marathon October 4, 2015

Running Marathon #2: Twin Cities Marathon October 4, 2015 by Elspeth Ronnander

The lead up (aka “putting money in the bank”)

I did my first running marathon, the Montreal Marathon, in 2011 when I was 26. My goal for that marathon was to run sub 4 hours. My training went well- I gradually increased my mileage every week for 3 months, but I did very few speed workouts. Marathon day was warm, going from about 75 to 85 degrees with high humidity. I was a bit eager at the start and pushed hard for the first 8 miles and then blew up. For the remaining 18 miles I did what I call the “dead jog.” I was able to maintain about a 9:30-10:00 minute per mile pace but I just had no desire to go faster and couldn’t really push my body harder anyway. In the end I ran 4 hours and 16 minutes which I guess isn’t terrible considering the weather and that it was my first marathon. 

The Montreal Marathon was intended to be my first and only marathon but I came up a bit short of my goal. I also had a desire to run Twin Cities Marathon which is frequently mentioned as being not only the most beautiful urban marathon, but also a really good one to run in the United States. When I was a kid, my dad took me out to watch the marathon. My dad did a bit of running in his younger days but wasn’t much of a runner. I could tell though, that he had a great appreciation for runners- for the fast runners but also the middle of the pack runners.

In 2015, at age 30, I decided it would be a good year to run Twin Cities Marathon. This was largely decided after I figured out my vacation schedule as canoeing for two weeks (as I had done in previous years) is not really good marathon training a month before the event. This time around I really wanted to break 4 hours and set this as my goal. I adjusted my training compared to 4 years previous to include more distance sessions but also much more speed. In the intervening 4 years I had also run a couple half marathons and in typical Elspeth fashion ran several 12-13 milers, and even one 16 mile run in preparation for those half marathons! 

Last year, when I was 29, I started working on trying to break the 6 minute mile again. This isn’t exactly the best marathon training but it has gotten me doing more speed and in my second year of working on this I could really tell my running speed training from the previous year made me faster this year.

My marathon training plan began about 3 months before the marathon. I tend to make my own training plans and usually this seems to work OK for me, and better since I’ve been regularly incorporating intervals. The last couple winters I’ve also “ran through the winter.” Typically I do about 3 running workouts a week from the middle of March through December or whenever I get on snow. The last two winters I have tried running about 6 miles just once per week (typically home from work). I’ve noticed that running even just once per week keeps my running muscles primed so I can jump back into running in the spring. So this spring- that’s just what I started doing. Erik (my husband, who also decided to run the Twin Cities Marathon as his first running marathon) and I did our “long” runs on the weekends. We just kept increasing our mileage until we were doing about 13 miles by the middle of May. At this point we were about 4 ½  months out from the marathon. I didn’t want to burn out or get injured so I pretty much kept my long runs at 13 miles until the beginning of July when I caught up with my training plan. I figured this extra distance could only help me.

In July when I was about 3 months out from the marathon I started increasing my distance. The first workout I did was 14 miles with a 4 mile race in the middle (Erik did this too, we ran to the race and then ran the long way home). The following week Erik competed in the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon and I did my run while cheering. I ended up running 17 miles by the time I got home. I was still well above my weekly long run goals but I was super psyched after this run because it was the longest distance I had ever run without being sore afterwards! 

For my first marathon I increased my long run by about 1.5 miles every week. I felt like that wasn’t quite enough so for my second marathon I decided to do about the same thing but do 2 weeks each at 12, 15, and 18 miles. That plan got a bit thrown aside after I did that 17 miler. The following 3 weeks I backed down to 15 miles for my long runs. Then I did a 19 miler with some friends (including fellow Vakava teammates and ultramarathoners Craig and Rob). That run, in which we were trying to include quite a bit of elevation, felt very good. Again, I wasn’t sore afterwards, although a bit stiff.
The next week I ran 15 miles, and then the following week 16.5 miles on the Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills. This trail is tough. It’s crushed limestone or gravel at 5,000 feet of elevation. It’s either gradual uphill or gradual downhill for miles. Running uphill felt hard and downhill easy. Erik and I then spent 7 days hiking about 6 hours per day in Wyoming’s Wind River Range around 10,000 feet of elevation. This is where it gets hard to plan in vacations. We both wanted to do this trip but we had to weigh the altitude training with not running for a whole week. On our way home we again ran on the Mickelson Trail. Our intention was to do an 18 mile run but we were both a bit sore from hiking and our running muscles weren’t really in form. Also, as previously mentioned, it’s difficult on the body to run all downhill especially for several miles at a time. We also wanted to get back home at a decent time that day so we ended up running only 13.5 miles which left me feeling a bit defeated.

The next week we were back at distance training with an 18 miler, now 4 weeks out from the marathon. This was Labor Day weekend and we went for a steamy run. We both felt good until the last 5 miles when we were on straight sunny roads with temperatures in the 80s. It was good to run that distance but I wanted to feel stronger at the end. It’s also a bit frustrating realizing the marathon is still another 8 miles in length which is more than another hour of running time. 

The following week, now 3 weeks out from the marathon, we did a 22 miler. We actually ran a good chunk of the Minneapolis side of the marathon course. Throughout all this training I kept telling myself I should stop doing my long runs with Erik who was trying to run a Boston Qualifier time (sub 3:05 for males under 35) because we were always running close to my goal marathon pace. To run under 4 hours, I had to run 9:07 miles. Running with Erik we usually ran around that pace and for the most part it felt easy. So on this 22 mile run I ran with Erik for about the first 17 miles around my goal pace. I hit 19.5 miles right at the 3 hour mark so I was on my pace, and again, it felt pretty easy. I actually ran a few sub 9 minute miles towards the end of my run and as I approached 22 miles I had a thought about actually going to 26.2 miles to see if I could run sub 4 hours on an OPEN course. My body was started to get a bit stiff though and I knew that wasn’t good training so I stopped at 22 miles. I was really glad to get in a good long distance run after not feeling very good the two previous weeks. 

It felt really good to have my long run down. Throughout this whole process I was quite paranoid about getting injured. I never feel this in skiing but in running this worry is so omnipresent and in almost every run I felt something hurt, even if it was just some rubbing on one of my toes. 
Around this time I had a shoe crisis. A few months earlier I had bought 2 new pairs of shoes for the marathon. I was undecided which pair to wear, but neither felt terribly good. Lately I’ve been wearing very lightweight shoes and the new shoes were heavier. These new shoes just felt clunky. Fortunately I had kept a pair of my old lightweight shoes around and even though they were somewhat worn out and had some cracked seams, I got them out for my last hard week of training. These shoes felt so much better on my feet- like ballet shoes. I wore them for my 18 mile run 2 weeks out and they felt pretty good so I decided to use them. 

The last two weeks I tapered and 1 week out I ran a half marathon which ended up being around my goal pace. It didn’t necessarily feel hard, but it wasn’t super easy either so as usual I began to fret. Throughout these last 4 weeks I was doing speed workouts once per week. I alternated half mile repeats (for me around 7:20 mile pace) and “pace” workouts which I kept running around 8:06 ish mile pace. Erik and Craig kept telling me I needed a more aggressive marathon goal than sub 4 hours. I thought about trying to run a Boston Qualifier myself (sub 3:35 for women under 35) but that is 8:12 mile pace and I thought that was a bit too aggressive and after my last marathon it was important for me to make my goal and ideally run a negative split for the second half. I kind of came up with a marathon goal of running in the low 3:50s because I thought I could probably do this although I was also interested in running around 3:46 because this would give me a 30 minute PR which sounds pretty badass.

I’ll also mention that as a skier I was diligent about getting in 3 strength workouts a week (abs, lots of pull ups), 3 rollerski workouts a week, and in June I did the Chippewa Triathlon which is a canoe-mountain bike-run that I completed in just over 5 ½ hours.

Race Day

Some people really seem to like to race and I’m still wavering whether I’m one of those people. I end up thinking about the race a lot before it happens. I thought about this marathon for months which intensified in the weeks and days leading to the race. I fixated on the pace I needed to run, the burning lungs as I tried to negative split, and how my body would feel. In the last couple weeks I came up with a couple mantras I told myself to repeat during the race. During the first half I was to “relax” and “run my pace.” In the second half I was supposed to “feel strong and enjoy passing people.” 

I had a couple fitful nights of sleep before the marathon. It’s always difficult to taper and try to do little or no exercise in the couple days before the event which probably adds to my restlessness. I cherish anything which takes my mind off the race. I reviewed the race course, thought about my feeding and hydration plan, and made mental marks of certain mile markers. Living in Saint Paul, and having grown up in Minneapolis, I am very familiar with the course. And as Craig remarked, “I would hate to live where you guys do” because our house is just 2 blocks south of the 22 mile marker!

My plan for the race was to start conservative. I used my Garmin watch and set it to do ½ mile splits. I like the constant feedback. I really didn’t want to start too fast and blow up so I told myself not to run any sub 9 minute miles for the first 6 miles. Then I could start running fast. But again, I wasn’t totally sure how I’d feel so my plan was to do nose breathing for as long as I could as this seems to keep me more relaxed and tells me I am truly going at an easy pace. 

The couple days before the race I spent a lot of time thinking about what I was going to wear. The race start was going to be sunny, around 45 degrees, warming up to the upper 50s while I was out on course. I thought about wearing spandex pants but hadn’t trained in them and so was worried about chafing so I decided to just wear the spandex shorts I had done my long runs in without chafing. I debated wearing a long sleeve shirt but for sure decided to wear gloves. In the end my friend Emily lent me her arm warmers so I wore those with my gloves, running bra, shorts, socks and shoes. 

I woke up marathon morning with butterflies in my stomach which is typical for me before races. I ate a small breakfast I had been practicing in the past few weeks before my long runs. One of the big differences between running and skiing marathons is that I have to be really careful to not eat too much. Our friend Emily gave us a ride to the start in downtown Minneapolis. Since I work at Hennepin County Medical Center, which is right by the start, a lot of anxiety about the location of the start, port-a-potty’s, and bag drop-off was relieved.

I had a couple indicators the race was going to go well. First, I felt jittery which is always a good sign. Second, I was intensely emotional. I kept getting these urges to burst into tears as we walked to the start. I used to feel this in high school before track meets and I get it every once in a while before ski marathons. Whenever I get this feeling, I know it’s going to be a good race. I had to keep fighting this emotion as we walked to the start as I really didn’t want to start crying.

We got to the start half hour before the race. I got in the port-a-potty line and then waited until 10 minutes before the start to take off my warm-ups. I got in the corral and realized I was way too far back as I saw the 4 ½ hour pacer. Although I’m somewhat of a novice at running marathons, I’ve done almost 40 ski marathons and there are a lot of similar tactics. I just moved my way up through the crowd (so much easier without skis) til I got near the 4 hour pacer. Then I waited for our start time which was delayed a bit as I was in corral 2. I crossed the start line over 7 minutes after the elite runners.  

I tried to stay relaxed but felt like I was passing people right from the start. I got ahead of the 4 hour pacer. I passed 2 women wearing banana costumes being chased by a guy in a gorilla suit. My first ½ mile split was a 9:08, right on pace. I kept running relaxed. There’s a big uphill just before mile 2 and when my watch split read 8:49 and I felt like I was breathing easy I knew this was going to be a good day. I told myself to reign it in though. When I ski my marathons, in the small ones I’m often trying to win, in the big ones, I’m at least going for top 20; in this running marathon, I was going to finish way back in the hundreds.

I kept up my nose breathing and didn’t worry too much that my 8:40 splits were faster than I planning to run because (1) I didn’t feel like I was pushing and (2) all my training pointed towards me being capable of maintaining this pace. Throughout the race I was always vaguely aware of where I was on the course, but most of the time I paid attention to other runners (I did a lot of passing) and the spectators. I read a lot of fun signs that got a little boring in the second half of the race when they seemed to repeat. Although dubbed as “the most beautiful urban marathon” I didn’t notice the scenery around me. 

I was never warm or cold so I had made a good clothing selection. Because it was a cool day, I knew I could skip a good number of water stops. I typically balance my water intake with how bad I will have to pee. Often I skip the first couple water stops in a marathon. For Twin Cities I decided to take water at 5 miles and then every other water stop from there (which would be about every 4 miles). I wasn’t particularly concerned whether I got water or energy drink. I ended up getting energy drink at the stop at 5 miles before I learned energy was first, water second. I knew I had to take feeds during the race and from doing long marathons like the 55 km Birkie Classic, I figured I could get by with about 3 feeds. I began experimenting in my long runs and actually really liked eating half a Cliff bar at a time. I found it really easy to just hold in one hand and chew- especially if I was nose breathing. I played around with how to carry the Cliff bar and eventually broke it in half and put it in a small bag. I started the marathon with half a Cliff bar stuffed down my shorts which I ate easily around 7 miles without breaking stride, a second ½ Cliff bar Craig handed me at mile 10, and a Cliff shot provided by Cliff at mile 17. Erik convinced me to use the Mint Chocolate Chip Cliff bars which have caffeine and I also took a Mocha Cliff shot which has caffeine. 

There’s a lot of discussion about whether a given marathon course is fast or not. I haven’t read what others say, but I decided Twin Cities is a fast marathon because the cheering is phenomenal! When I ran the Montreal Marathon there were a few pockets popular with spectators, but the Twin Cities Marathon course is almost completely lined with spectators on both sides of the course. There were only a few sections probably adding up to less than 2 miles totally void of spectators. This is honestly largely why I wanted to run Twin Cities.

So mostly the miles flew by as I was comfortably nose breathing, running well under 9 minute miles, and every once in awhile getting choked up about all the people out cheering me on. Around 10 km I realized, compared to ski racing, there were a lot of women in this race. 

My Garmin watch had unfortunately lost some charge overnight so I knew it wouldn’t get me through the whole marathon. I was kind of bummed about this but tried to get over it. I knew when I finished the marathon I wanted instant feedback on my finishing time but also knew the clock at the finish would be based off the elite gun time so fortunately early on in the race I began paying attention to the difference on the clocks at the 5 km, 10 km and half marathon compared to my watch. I learned the difference was a little more than 7 minutes.

I came through 13.1 miles around 1:54. I did the math- if I kept up my pace that was a 3:48 marathon. I figured I might not actually negative split like I wanted to do. I kept running strong and realized there was quite a lot of attrition going on around me. I was passing people constantly. As I crested the bridge over Hiawatha Avenue my friends, dressed in cow costumes, were cheering for me. My friend Jeff (who is trying to run a sub 2:40 marathon next week at Chicago) yelled “don’t you wish you were biking” but I responded with “I hate biking.” I’d actually rather run a hill any day than bike a hill!

I kept passing a lot of people. I was pretty much in the zone. My old friend Dave from college was biking alongside and yelled “run faster” to me but I thought “seriously, I’m passing all these people and NOT YET.” Around mile 18 I picked up the pace a bit and could no longer breathe from my nose. I ran the hills really strong. 

Then at mile 19, I hit the PAIN CAVE. I had felt really good on my 22 mile run and thought I might actually be able to make it through the whole marathon without any pain. But at mile 19 my right lateral hip started to hurt. I had felt this pain a few weeks earlier at a very mild level but now the pain was intense each time my right leg hit the ground. It wasn’t too long before my left lateral hip also started hurting and I just had this band of pain around my hips and then my quadriceps got really sore and stiff. I just kept going and was still passing a lot of people. I hoped maybe the pain would go away in the upcoming hills but it didn’t. Around mile 20 I realized I was going for it- really going for it which meant a 30 minute PR or so. 

I was not prepared for this pain. This was like everything from the hips down just hurt. Fortunately, I think largely because I had not pushed myself from a cardiovascular standpoint until about mile 18, my lungs were ready to work hard. I couldn’t push too hard- I just kept running and passing people and didn’t mind if I was breathing a bit harder. I kept thinking and wanting to tell people “I’m not prepared for this pain.” This is what my friend Craig told me about (his PR marathon is 2:38). He said keep the breathing in check until the body hurts, then push it to get out of the pain sooner. 

The cows were cheering on the big hill coming up from the Lake Street Bridge. Unlike previously, I couldn’t really acknowledge their presence. I got somewhat tunnel vision. I had to because I was in so much pain. I just had to keep going. I thought about stopping to walk a few steps to see if that would get rid of the pain but I was afraid to stop. Afraid I wouldn’t have the same momentum when I started again. I focused on the next part of the course- the next big uphill before heading onto Summit. I was briefly nauseous on that hill but that quickly subsided. I focused on getting water at the next water stop. Once I got to Summit I focused on the next big cross street. I kept thinking, get to Cleveland, get to Fairview. As I ran by the street where I could head south to my house the cross street was lined with so many spectators I wouldn’t have been able to get through if I wanted. 

Then it was on to Snelling- the high point of the course. Then Hamline where my concentration was briefly distracted by the cheers of Kitty- a fellow skier and my colleague at work. At Hamline there was a band playing. Then Lexington. and I thought I’M NEVER DOING THIS AGAIN. My hips and legs hurt so bad. I was passing so many people. Some were walking. I was hoping for a clock at the Governor’s Mansion at mile 24 but there wasn’t one. Then it was a short time to Victoria but it took forever to get to Dale. My body held up on the short downhills in this stretch but the pain didn’t get better on the uphills. I tried to read the spectator signs, given some kids some high 5’s, anything to keep my mind off the pain. 

In this section, just after Lexington, I had the privilege of passing my good friend’s mom, who was also my high school ski coach. Karen is 60 now, she’s slowed a bit, was sidelined by injuries this year, but ten years ago, she was the 50 year old still chasing the sub 3 hour marathon!

At mile 25 my other high school ski coach was cheering. There was also a clock which read 3:42 so when I mentally subtracted 7 I got 3:35 and I realized I WAS GOING TO DO THIS. There was about a ½ mile where no one was cheering before I got to start heading down hill. LIkely because of the Black Lives Matter protest, there was a huge fence and few spectators in this area but I had gravity on my side. I sped up a bit but hurt so bad it was hard to run much faster.

The clock said 3:52 when I finished so my time was around 3:45. That was good enough for me. I was relieved when the hip pain immediately ameliorated with just walking. I took down 16 ounces of water but my stomach felt too full. The rest of the day I cycled between ravenous hunger and being full with eating a little. 

I was seriously sore afterwards. My quadriceps were the most sore- the left more than the right which is usually what happens. I think my soreness was from running many miles faster than usual and also because I never stopped. In all my long runs I stopped at water fountains or to go to the bathroom but I never stopped the whole race.

My official time was 3:44:46, an average of 8:35 minutes per mile, a PR by over 30 minutes. I finished 83rd of 666 women in my age class and 473 of 3810 female runners. Compared to the ski races I do, even the Birkie, this is soooo many people.

At mile 19, when I entered the PAIN CAVE and fully committed to the race I had no idea what pace I was keeping up. My body hurt and around this time my watch died. The only feedback I had was how fast I was going relative to the other runners and it at least seemed I was doing pretty well. Mtec timing provides some splits and indeed in the second half of the marathon while I was passed by 25 runners, I passed 1,195 runners. Moreover, I was able to run a negative split by about 3 minutes and my splits all got progressively faster; over the last two miles I averaged 8:20 miles. Overall it was a pretty perfect marathon. 
My running marathon hunger is satisfied; now it’s time to focus on ski season and chase some more goals.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


I'm doing some experimenting with my training this year. I'm not training any more hours than in the past. I don't have any more hours to devote to training so that's not going to happen. But I am doing some things differently.

The first thing is that I'm doing strength more consistently. I've never been a big fan of strength since I don't enjoy it very much and because it makes me feel heavy and tired so I feel like my intensity workouts suffer. I figure that if I can't do both, that intensity will give me more speed than strength, so strength has been a low priority. I've wanted to figure out how to incorporate more of it without making training a drudgery and causing my intensity to suffer. So I've just tried to do a little bit more regularly, at least once and preferably twice a week. I don't do a lot in a session, I just make sure I do something. Some sessions are pretty short because I'm tired and just don't feel like doing it, but at least I do something. If nothing else, I know from experience that regular general strength helps prevent injury and that is a good thing at my age.

I've also been stretching regularly. Again, not a lot, but consistently. Stretching has often felt like a chore so it's been hard for me to make a habit of it. I've been trying to change that by just doing a little bit at least once a day. Just a quick run through of all the major body parts. I've been taking a break during work to walk to the end of the parking lot where there is a little shaded sitting area and do a quick set of stretches. It doesn't feel like a chore this way since it's a nice mental break from work. I think this also helps prevent injury at my age. I'll have to figure out a good place to take my break during the winter when the snow comes.

The biggest change I've made is that I'm trying to polarize my workouts and weeks more. All of my intensity work has been fairly high and the easy days easier. I've also been doing a regimen where I alternate hard and easy weeks with one week of three intensity days and one week of just one intensity day. This way you still average two intensity days a week over time but there is a greater difference between the hard and easy weeks. The first month of that I thought it might do me in. The hard weeks were really, really hard and then the easy weeks required that I go at level 1 because I was too tired to do anything else. The second month wasn't so bad so I decided to keep at it and see what happens. I'm on my third month of this and my body seems to have adjusted just fine. The hard weeks feel very doable, like just another day at the office. I don't know if it's making me any faster at this point, but I do feel like it's making me tougher so that's something. I have also been doing my long easy day easier. I haven't been out to Afton on the weekend for a long ski like I have in the past. I've felt like it's too hilly to keep my heart rate low so I've been going to the Gateway instead. It's easy to keep your heart rate where ever you want it on a flat trail like that and it's a really pleasant trail. The new trail into Stillwater is wonderful. If I ski the entire thing from the Hadley parking lot to Stillwater and out to Pine Point Park and back I can do a full three hours. I've only done 2:40 so far but hope to work up to the full thing. The difference I've noticed besides going easier is that it is continuous for the entire time you're skiing since there are no downhills. There is not a single moment of rest like there is at Afton coming down the big hills. These long days leave me at least as fatigued as Afton, but in a different way. Historically I've always raced better in rolling terrain with plenty of rest between hills rather than long grinding courses with little rest. I'm hoping that these long continuous days help toughen me up for those long grinding race courses. So we'll see how the season progresses and I'll report back on my findings.

And now for a new picture on the blog. It has nothing to do with this post, I just need to put a new picture up. A friend of mine has a cycling blog (Hi Ben!) with a link to this blog. Apparently, the link shows the last picture posted from the blog, which happens to be of me sleeping after the Birkie last year. So here's one to replace it. I call it 'Neon Rainbow'.