Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Appreciating the Weather and Snow (both natural and man-made)
    We experienced much warmer than usual weather for September, October, and November here in Minnesota. Yes, there’s the warming, not good for skiing...but honestly, I loved it!
In September I did just about every workout in shorts and a t-shirt. There was no need to think about what to wear- it was like 58 degrees all the time.
October and the first half of November followed suit. It seemed we had endless days with lows in the 40s and highs in the 60s. We kept thinking this would be the last nice weekend and then we had another one. So many great shorts and t-shirt days for running and rollerskiing, even in November. Our November rollerski time trial proved to be the same temperature as the September one which meant fast rolling wheels and non-slipping pole tips.
The temperatures were so warm it really made me want to go canoeing. On two Saturdays in a row in November (the first with highs in the 60s), I went paddling. It was wonderful. There is something so cathartic about being on the water.
But then the weather finally turned towards the end of November with a dumping of wintry mix to make the rollerskiing unsafe and the running either sloppy or icy. Now I needed an attitude adjustment. I had to see it as an opportunity to run both to and from work, something I hadn’t done in a couple years. And I could PLAY in the slop! This also was a great time to do some indoor workouts at the Y and make use of my husband’s guest passes. This also meant attempting to bench my bodyweight again (I tried this last year as well). I disappointed myself again but did achieve a new max of 105 pounds so that must mean I’m getting stronger and only 10 pounds away from benching my bodyweight! I really can’t be disappointed though since I only benched about 3 times over a one month span prior to my attempt.
As snow fell in certain areas but not the Twin Cities, I have to weigh the pros and cons of driving long distances to snow. Giants Ridge provided some promising trail reports and so Thanksgiving weekend, even though we only had 2 days, we drove north to snow. Yes, we spent more time driving than we did skiing, but not if you include our combined time skiing! The long range forecast did not look good for natural snow or making man-made so we decided to seize the opportunity.
The luring trail reports from Giants Ridge. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

Due to some warm temps and unfrozen ground, the conditions at Giant’s Ridge proved less promising than predicted but alas, I suppose all those “river” crossings are just part of the adventure. I guess it’s about appreciating what we have and making the best of what we don’t have. Skiing around at Giants Ridge, we knew just about every other skier. I’m not sure if this suggests our desperation to train on snow or is more a reflection of our love for snow.
Bruce Adelsman did an excellent job of capturing the "rivers" during early season skiing at Giant's Ridge. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

After a weekend of dryland back in the Twin Cities, Erik and I drove to ABR in Ironwood, Michigan for a 3 day weekend of skiing. Everything in life is relative and that includes average amount of snowfall. Our average annual snowfall in the Twin Cities is pretty meager at 45.3 inches (less than 4 feet) but up in Ironwood it’s huge at 167.5 inches (about 14 feet)! Because of the expected low snow in the Twin Cities, our trails are designed to be ski-able on 4-6 inches of snow. That’s not true in Ironwood. When we were there, they had 2 feet but kept saying “we need more snow.” Some trails were closed and a good number had bare ground spots in wet places where the ground hadn’t frozen yet due to our warm fall.
I spent the first two days in Ironwood skiing slow on cold, new snow, not getting any good pole pushes as conditions were also quite soft. This made me feel more like a tourer than a racer. Then on our third day in Ironwood, I suggested we do some pick-up sprints and in combination with finding some harder tracks, I felt like a real racer again and my dignity was restored.
When we returned to the Twin Cities, we had gotten a bit of snow. We were still waiting for man-made loops to open and so we skied on natural snow. Conditions were very lumpy and while I struggle to have good balance skate skiing, I especially struggle in lumpy conditions. I attempted skate intervals twice but just couldn’t get my heart rate up as all I did was flail.
A beautiful backdrop over a not so beautiful (highly rutted and sparse snow on 12/15/16) trail at Columbia Golf Course. I tried to do intervals this day but wasn't going so fast. Photo: Erik

Then we got more snow! Just in time for a weekend with cold temps! We had good skis at Lebanon Hills (so nice to do one big loop in 2 hours as opposed to skiing laps) and at Battle Creek East.
For the past few weeks we were in a pattern of doing an out-of-town ski trip every other weekend and we kept this up as we headed to Maplelag a couple days before Christmas and then to Bemidji for the weekend. Conditions at Maplelag were about as good as natural snow skiing gets. They were so so good. A dedicated groomer everyday also really helps. The trails are also designed ingeniously and have perfect flow. Then it was on to Bemidji with more sparse lumpy skiing. We made the best of it though and I guess at the end of the day having fun is most important. 
Erik and I at Hobson Memorial Forest in Bemidji. The bare ground in the tracks is evident in the background. Photo: Leif Ronnander
Here I am skiing with my bro, Leif, in Bemidji. It's rare these days that we get to ski together. Photo: Erik
We were told the hills at Hobson were pretty lame but there is one black diamond and my bro took a big fall. Even the best fall down sometimes! Photo: Erik

As I’ve been skiing on mostly natural snow over the past few weeks in the midwest, it makes me realize just how much skiing on man-made snow I’ve been doing over the past few years. Man-made snow is ridiculously consistent. The base is deep and the snow itself mimics ice pellets or what sometimes makes me feel like I’m skiing on sand. The trails are wide with a classic track on the side with still plenty of room for two skating lanes. And the trails are not lumpy. The scenery is fairly boring though. Assuming the grooming is good, I can usually ski fast even when going easy and the conditions are firm yet soft to get good pole plants and really be able to push during intervals.
Contrast that man-made snow to something called REAL SNOW. I’ve almost forgotten the real stuff exists. The last few weeks has been a lesson on real snow which is temperamental. This stuff gets slushy and slow and cold and sticky. There is no thick base and it’s not uncommon to find bare ground. And often the pole plants are not solid- sometimes because the snow is too deep and sometimes it’s punching through a crust. Talk about lost power! Unless there is a lot of snow, trails are often quite lumpy. Oh, and if not groomed daily, they get icy with lots of ruts from previous skiers. For all of these reasons, I can feel like a real beginner out there flailing around on natural snow instead of feeling like the expert skier I am.
One more comment about grooming. I’ve been skiing some single and double tracked classic trails around the midwest over the past few weeks. I always appreciate when the track is pulled up on big corners. I feel so much more comfortable maneuvering outside the tracks. I know, this is partly because I’m still not confident on all downhills, but it’s pretty scary to trust in the tracks especially when there is minimal room to maneuver outside the tracks should I get spit out. Almost always, if the tracks are pulled up on the downhill, they seem to start too soon again. We see tracks get pulled up for World Cup races.
So I have a theory: touring skiers really like the comfort of the tracks and since their skis aren’t very fast, they won’t glide as far down a hill. Thus becomes a conundrum for groomers- whether to groom for racers or tourers. There were a few hills out at Lebanon Hills where the tracks were pulled up but then put down again at the final downhill corner. This either makes for some scary or thrilling skiing depending on who you ask.
After being spoiled with my out of town natural snow ski trips for the past five weeks, I’m actually looking forward to some good new fashioned man-made snow skiing!!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Training Updates

As I get older, I adjust my training to be smarter, both to get faster and enjoy the process more. I’m not always sure I’m successful but it seems I’m getting ever so closer to my goals of skiing faster. Here are a few ways I’ve changed my training in the past couple years.

  1. Running. I’ve been doing a lot of running. This is largely because I ran the Twin Cities Marathon in 2015 but also because running has felt very good recently. It’s so easy to go for a run (hardly any equipment required) and I can run to and from work. I can also run just about anywhere I want which prevents boredom (compared to rollerskiing where I am trying to find good pavement and low traffic roads/trails). It also feels much safer than rollerskiing. True, I have fallen a couple times running, but the risk for injury (and damaging equipment) is much less. Also, when I rollerski, I try to focus on technique which is mentally demanding. In contrast, I don’t really focus much on technique while running and hence am alone with my thoughts. As I’ve mentioned in a few of my last blog posts, most of my intervals lately have been running and therefore I’m getting much faster.

  1. Rollerskiing. I used to go for lots of longer skate rollerskis. Then I started classic rollerskiing and was pretty bad at it. Around this time I heard Laura Bednarski talking about how she was also bad at classic rollerskiing and practiced for 30 minutes everyday. Usually I feel any workout under an hour is not worth it, but to quote Stuart Smalley (Al Franken) in Stuart Saves His Family, that’s “stinkin’ thinkin’.” So I started doing 30 minute classic rollerskis focusing on the striding technique. My balance isn’t great and so that’s what I’m working on. This year I’ve started incorporating shorter (about an hour) skate rollerskis focusing on technique. Again, I’m really working on balance, but also working on using my core strength with my skis underneath me to get a good push off. I find this keeps my heart rate relatively high, hence the shorter duration. This is essentially power that I’m working on- combining strength with speed. I think this has improved my technique a lot and now that my striding is getting better I’m applying power while striding as well.

  1. Biking. Yes, I do count my 6 mile bike commute in my training log. Anyone who knows how heavy my old 10 speed bike is understands. I feel this is both a cardio and a strength workout (especially because I almost always ride in the same gear). While 6 miles one way is hardly very far by bicycle (it takes me 25-30 minutes), it is too much to not count it at all.

    Killing 2 birds with one stone: getting my strength workout on while volunteering at Loppet Trails Day. Photo: Loppet Foundation

  1. Strength. In the past I’ve spent way too much time lifting weights at the gym. I am way more ripped from taking 15 minutes to do 90 pull ups a week than when I spent 3 hours per week lifting in the gym. I also do abs and push ups 3 times per week. I’m always trying to change up my ab routine since my abs are naturally pretty strong so I’ve been incorporating more planks and use of a big ball. Admittedly, I’m terrible at doing lower body strength training but have gotten a bit better at air squats and step ups. Sometimes I like to get in the tuck position between sets of pull ups. This can also be done on one leg to get in some core action and make it more difficult. I’m also a huge fan of doing strength on playgrounds. I love doing monkey bars and rings, but my favorite are the swinging monkey bars. Unfortunately, I’ve never found a long enough set of swinging monkey bars to suit my needs (I’m asking my husband to install a set in our basement for my 32nd birthday!). If the playground has a firepole, I try to climb up it. And new this year, I’ve started doing weighted pull-ups to which I say Bring It if only I could get myself to start doing weighted squats!

     We had a recent 90s Dance Party at our house...I wore my wedding dress...a few skiers showed up...and we had our usual pull-up contest. I stalled out on #10 but I sweat these were really weighted as my wedding dress weighs a lot! Video: my bro, Reid.

  1. Canoeing, hiking, walking, yard work, etc. I only count these things in my training log if my heart rate is persistently above 100. Otherwise I count this in the “Lame-O” category. For our vacations, we often go backpacking. This year we went to Colorado and Glacier National Park. We try to hike about 15 miles per day and I don’t bring my heart rate monitor with me because the battery just doesn’t last long enough. I try to guestimate my uphill hiking time and put that in my training log as real training. Sometimes it’s hard substituting a real workout for one of these Lame-O workouts, partly because then my reported training volume won’t be as high. But these things are important, too, for everyday life, and to keep the mind and body fresh.
    This is how to do a canoe with a bike shuttle! Photo: Erik

  1. Seize the opportunity to train different places. I get bored doing the same routes week after week. Going on vacation is a nice break, but I only do this about 4 times a year so it’s not quite enough to break up the monotony. Going on weekend trips throughout the year helps. Whenever possible, we also try to incorporate one way runs or rollerskis. Sometimes if we’re driving somewhere, one of us will run back home. Recently we ran 16.5 miles to Erik’s parents house and then got a ride back from his parents. These one way adventures are a treat.
    Stopping to eat some thimbleberries while hiking in Glacier. Photo: Erik

  1. Remember some advice I got back in high school from a couple of my team-mates: essentially, leave something in the bank for races. I got told this when I was doing my intervals harder than everyone else or when I was determined to run farther. This concept is about not training myself into the ground and remembering to smell the flowers. I’ve been thinking about this more lately and letting myself bail on workouts if the weather is bad or erring on the side of doing too few rather than too many intervals. Unlike professional athletes, I don’t plan to retire at this sport for 30 plus years; therefore, I have to keep the training fresh.  I’ve given up two workouts lately for Happy Hour with my work group. This is a big accomplishment for me in my exercise-addicted life!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

On Confidence
    Confidence is a strong word. It’s really important in athletic endeavors (like skiing!) and throughout life. Often confidence in one realm of life breeds confidence in another realm of life. Confidence is something felt by the individual, but also something others can perceive.
    Last year, I diligently watched almost every women’s World Cup race because I wanted to know who everyone was and how they were doing prior to watching the World Cup live in Canmore. Throughout the season, Jessie Diggins seemed to be doing better and better. Not only was she doing well at sprinting, but she was doing awesome in the distance races as well. One Saturday there was a 5 km individual start classic race in Falun. Jessie surprised herself and finished 5th overall behind four Norwegians. The next day was a mass start 10 km skate race at the same venue. With what looked like extreme confidence (at least watching it looked like Jessie had mega confidence) Jessie proceeded to try to ski with the Norwegians and was able to do so for awhile, eventually finishing 4th overall behind three Norwegians.
During the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, I was 11 and had a big crush on the Magnificent Seven (the US women’s gymnastics team). I excitedly watched the team competition which came down to the vault. Kerri Strug was the last US member to go and she fell and sprained her ankle on her second to last vault. She was clearly in a lot of pain but had to land her second vault to secure the gold medal for team USA. It was pretty obvious Kerri was in a lot of pain from her facial expressions but she knew what she had to do and even though she didn’t have a ton of confidence she focused and landed that second vault and man, she she was surprised when she landed that vault! At least per her facial expressions she looked pretty darn surprised. This summer in Rio there was an interview with the Magnificent Seven and Kerri said landing that vault gave her a lot of confidence in her life.
    So where does this leave me in regard to confidence?
    After high school, I was really burned out on running, and in particular, on running intervals. So I declared that I was not a runner and avoided running intervals and running races. Oh, I thought about doing them, but then thought better. Until I got really slow. Six years ago, in 2010, I vowed to become a faster runner and started doing intervals again. This resulted in surprising myself and running a faster Twin Cities Marathon than I believed I could run last year.
    This gave me confidence to continue working on getting faster and made me excited to keep pushing myself through those intervals. I was even motivated to run a PR 5 K even though I had sworn I would never run that distance again many years ago.
    It also motivated me to run a 10 mile race. A year ago, I thought about running a 10 mile race in sub 90 minutes (sub 9 minutes per mile). At the time this seemed like a reasonable goal that would be challenging but likely do-able. Zoom ahead to Twin Cities Marathon and I decimated this goal in the first 10 miles of the race. Hence I needed a new goal so decided to aim for sub 80 minutes (sub 8 minutes per mile). This was definitely fast for me and would be hard and I’d have to train, but likely possible as my PR 10 K is a 46:45 (average 7:31 minutes per mile).
    This year I set my sights on the Bear Water Run, a 10 (1 lap) or 20 mile (2 laps) race around White Bear Lake on September 17th. This event was perfect because I could run the 10 mile and Erik, who is training for Twin Cities Marathon, could run the 20 mile. 
The map of the course. It's just about a perfect 10 miles around White Bear Lake.
    I diligently ran intervals every week alternating between fast 3-4 minute L4 pace (upper 6’s minute/mile) and longer tempo runs at about 7:45 minute/mile pace. I even slogged through some slow runs at 9,000 plus feet in Colorado. On the weekends I usually ran an overdistance run with Erik that was well over 10 miles. Overall my training went well.
    The pace was going to be fast and I somewhat dreaded race day but tried to convince myself once I was in the race the pace wouldn’t seem THAT fast. Yet six years ago, when I was totally out of interval shape, I couldn’t even muster an 8 minute mile and now I was about to string 10 of them together! I wasn’t really sure I could run sub 80 minutes but despite this, I felt ridiculously confident. Despite my doubts, I felt my confidence would carry me through.
    Maybe that’s why I wasn’t too nervous the morning of the race. Usually I get pretty nervous and that’s actually a good sign but I wasn’t very nervous race morning. Erik and I had planned that he would run with me for the first 7 miles, and then he would take off and run the next 13 miles at his goal marathon pace (7:15). I had checked out last year's results and it looked like my per mile time would place me in the top fifth of the race so I also planned to start very near the front.
    I did start pretty close to the front but we started on a bike trail so the start wasn’t very wide. There were some slow people in front of me and I made quick work to get around them. It’s always hard to settle into a good pace and I didn’t want to be checking my watch too much so I just waited for the half mile autolap while I made sure I wasn’t breathing too hard early on. There was a group of runners already way in front of me but otherwise Erik and I were relatively alone.
There was a competition between the water stops for Best Water Stop. Unfortunately I was running too fast to fully enjoy all the fun themes/costumes at the different water stops. Photo: Bear Water Run Race.
    My first autolap beeped in at 7:32 pace. Oops, a bit fast which is often what happens in races, and as I had told myself. I still felt confident because I wasn’t breathing too hard and felt fresh. I stopped trying to push and my pace slowed a bit. My first 3 mile times were 7:37, 7:52, and 7:45.
    Just before mile 4 there was a big uphill but I kept up my pace, clocking my 4th mile at 7:52. There were water stops every 2 miles and I only planned to get water once or twice. I knew it would be difficult to take in much liquid while running fast. I got some water and had to slow to get enough down. Then at the end of the aid station a woman was handing out chocolate! I’d never taken chocolate before and it was like “to take or not to take the chocolate” in a fast 10 mile. I grabbed it and then thought it was probably a bad idea but I don’t waste food so I ate the chocolate. The jury is still out on whether this overall made me faster, slower, or was neutral.
I mean, how do you pass up the chocolate from this friendly volunteer? Photo: Bear Water Run Race
    There was another big uphill and then the course got flatter again. I was still feeling good but thinking I should probably get more water at the 6 mile aid station because even though it was only 62 degrees, it was really humid and my hat was soaked with my sweat. I slowed to take more water and Erik got ahead of me and I couldn’t quite catch up to him. My 5th and 6th mile times were getting slower at 8:07 (water and chocolate and uphills) and 7:59.
    At mile 6, the effort got harder which was reflected in my slowing paces. Every half mile I stayed under an 8:10 pace I was elated. By mile 8 I was thinking some good thoughts (Elspeth, even though your are getting tired your paces are still about on target; this is a 10 mile PR, it is SUPPOSED to be hard; Elspeth, you really aren’t breathing THAT hard) and some bad thoughts (this is hard; I want to stop; it’s still more than 20 minutes running time to the finish).

Running so fast I missed this trio at a water stop. Photo: Bear Water Run Race
     Yet at the same time, I felt confident I was going to do this. I just had to suffer a bit longer. My mile times for 7-9 were still pretty good (8:05, 7:54, and 8:09) and I had put some time in the bank early on in the race. I was going to do this.
    I could hear a group of runners catching me. They were talking a lot about running marathons (including Boston) and I assumed they were running the 20 mile race. I tried to speed up so they wouldn’t catch me but they still did somewhere between mile 8 and 9. When they did I said, “stay with them Elspeth, don’t let them get away. Get distracted by what they are talking about.”
    This was a good strategy. One guy was talking about why he was buying a new house. I told myself again that I wasn’t breathing that hard. Actually I noticed that as my legs tired and my stomach knotted up, my breathing got more shallow and I had to remind myself to breathe deeper which did help.
    My half mile splits kept ticking away. One mile to go. OK, I can do this but I don’t feel like kicking yet. Half mile to go. Maybe I should think about starting a kick but I’m not read yet. More breathing. More listening. Check watch, OK, just a quarter mile and we’re nearing the last turn but now there’s a group of people in front of me. Should I go around them? But then I have to go into traffic. Once we made the last the turn,  it was like, OK, gotta go now! So I went around in the grass and at the same time another woman went around the group on the other side. I could not stay with that woman but I did quicken my pace and ran as hard as I could. As I got near the finish the clock was in the low 1:19s and I ended crossing the finish line in 1:19:14. Mission accomplished thanks to surprising myself last year in the marathon and my new found confidence!
    At the finish my breathing was labored (my last mile was a not too shabby for me 7:46), my legs were really tired, and my stomach was quite knotted up. After I stopped breathing so hard and had managed to eat some recovery food, I tried going for a cool down jog but gave this up after 5 minutes because I was running so incredibly slow. This was testament to me pushing really hard during the race. 
Running fast and looking tired at the finish. Photo: Bear Water Run Race

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Women: Just Do It!
Back in high school, there were twice as many girls on my Nordic ski team as boys. At the races, there were about equal numbers of boys and girls. When I went to college and joined a club team, there were twice as many boys. When I “burst” onto the marathon scene in 2004, it quickly became obvious I would be skiing amongst a lot of men, and the occasional woman, for the rest of my “career.” (aka half century)
I’ve thought about this a few times. In running races, women now actually make up about half the field at marathons and the majority in many shorter races. This wasn’t always the way it was, and it has taken about 30 years. So why hasn’t this happened in skiing?
Skiing takes more time than running. You can just run from your door and it requires little gear. But for skiing, you needs skis, boots, poles. You need to wax your skis. Then you need to drive somewhere, change into ski boots, etc. Hence, a one hour ski actually takes at least 2 hours and that’s if you are really efficient at dressing, getting out the door, and don’t have to drive too far. I feel this every ski season. I train less during ski season because I spend so much time driving and dressing and deciding what wax to use and waxing. Men are likely better at making training a priority and likely feel less time pressure than women.
I had a conversation with Caitlin Gregg regarding the paucity of women who ski marathons compared to men. She suggested it’s an equipment thing. In other words, skiing requires lots of equipment (see gear list in the last paragraph) AND waxing. It’s the idea that men are better at tinkering with tools and toys than women (think bikes, cars, etc) and this results in women getting turned off from the sport. We think men might be better suited to these logistics (picking the right wax before races).
Here’s my favorite theory. This is something more innate about men and women. Men have the idea “I’ll just do it, tough it out” and so even though they haven’t trained, their testosterone is going crazy and they’ll get through. Sure, they may get injured and start out too fast, but they’ll finish. Women on the other hand, are smarter. We like to be well trained and prepared for the distance. We are better able to pace ourselves. And so, if we feel we don’t have enough time to train, we’ll be more conservative and sign up for the shorter race.
But the problem with this is, if you never commit to a longer distance, you will never challenge yourself and break through that barrier. When I did my first ski marathon, the Mora Vasaloppet, it was 58 kilometers. I was foolhardy, and even though I’d only ever skied about 25 kilometers at one go before, I did the race anyway. And you know what? I finished and survived. And this gave me confidence to do another one and another one and after I’d done about five, I found myself saying “wow, I don’t even respect this distance of 50 kilometers anymore.” Had I never taken that plunge though, I’d probably never have skied more than about 30 kilometers at one time. Sometimes we have to do something outside our comfort zone, even if we feel like dumb men doing it.
I’ve struggled with how to be nice with other women when discussing this topic, but I really just want to say: women, just do it. So women, here’s the deal:
2016 Birkie Skate: 3662 men, compared to 895 women (women made up 20% of the field).
2016 Birkie Classic: 1913 men compared to 573 women (women made up 23% of the field).
This is pathetic. Let’s do better. Surprise yourself, unleash some of your testosterone (women have it, too) and make the next race you sign up for a full marathon distance.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Running A PR 5 K: Get In Gear, April 30th, 2016
Back in high school, I ran a couple 5 K road races. I realized these were really really hard requiring a brutal pace for about 20 minutes. This means breathing hard and being uncomfortable for this amount of time. So I pretty much never ran 5 Ks. Well, I did a couple times, never seriously, and hence my PR was in the 25 minute range.
It’s funny how things change over the years and somehow running a good marathon time for me actually made me want to run a true PR 5 K. I started looking for some 5 Ks to do. I didn’t want to spend too much money but also wanted a competitive field and didn’t want it to be too hot. I ended up choosing the Get In Gear 5 K. The race was a bit early in the year which gave me less than 2 months of running intervals after ski season. I felt a bit dumb running a race called “Get In Gear” and a distance of 5 K which is of absolutely no challenge for me; however, the goal was to run a PR, and that’s no easy task.
Part of my goal is to see if I can kick my high school butt. After PRs in track my sophomore year (6:11 mile and 13:35 two mile) I blew up and started running a lot of 2 miles in the 14:30 range and 2.5 miles cross country races in the 19 minute range with a PR of 18:20. Back in high school I always wondered why I couldn’t run consistent 7 minute miles, and now is my chance to try.
Although April is typically considered a month off from structured training for cross country skiers, I trained seriously for a 5 K.
I consider that all my training for this 5 K was in two phases.
Phase one began 15 years earlier when I first joined track. It involved all those high school speed workouts, years of distance but no intervals, then finally getting back into intervals and while continuing distance. I know Phase one is pretty extended, but I truly believe what I did 10 or 15 years ago has an impact on my performance now.
Phase two began about a year ago, around May 1st, which coincides with the start of the training year for cross country skiers. My body felt amazing this whole year. I have never done so many back-to-back interval sessions and distance sessions and still not felt super tired. I’ve just had unending energy this past year. Or maybe I should have pushed harder during all those intervals!
I did some running intervals in November, but no more until March. After the Minnesota Finlandia I started training for this 5 K running race, two months before the event. First I did an altitude block in Canmore where I mostly skied but also got in a couple slow runs. Then I returned to low elevation and began running one speed session and one interval session a week. The speed sessions consisted of mostly sprinting or running fast for up to 1 minute to really work on my top speed. My intervals were 4 x 3 min, 3 x 4 min, and 3 x 5 min. 

Me on top of Ha Ling Peak above Canmore. The trail up this mountain climbed about 2,000 vertical feet. Photo: Erik
 After 3 weeks, I did a second altitude block in Utah. OK, I admit, this sounds absolutely ridiculous, and I really just put this in for effect. I’m pretty sure it’s terrible training to do 2 weeks at altitude in an 8 week period to train for a 5 K. One altitude block was probably sufficient and working on speed and intervals would probably have been more advantageous. The altitude blocks were quite coincidental, coinciding with planned vacations. I decided on the vacations first and the 5 K second. Unlike a marathon, this is a 5 K; they are dime a dozen and require significantly less commitment and so if this race doesn’t go perfect, so what, I can do another one. 
I went to Utah with my friend Amy and we met my friend Kathryn (in picture above) there. We encountered some snow when we tried to climb Mt. Olympus above Salt Lake City. I spent 5 nights total at 8,000 feet making it some good altitude training. Photo: Amy

A selfie on the rim of Bryce Canyon National Park. We did a lot of hiking here and the trails are some of the best I have ever been on...amazing scenery, ups and downs, and very well graded. I didn't have to watch where I was walking and could look around!
Jumping around to get some extra altitude training at the highest point in Bryce Canyon National Park. Photo: Amy
Next we went to a slot canyon. This is Little Wildhorse Canyon which is the easiest of all the slot canyons. This photo was too good not to include and will hopefully inspire some readers to check it out. Photo: Amy
No trip to the desert of Utah would be complete without a picture under the iconic Delicate Arch (it's on the license plate after all) but at a mere 4,000 feet, the Moab area didn't provide the best altitude training. Photo: Amy
 After my second altitude block I only had two weeks to run intervals before the 5 K. I started with a 3 x 1 mile workout with only 3 minutes rest in between. My first mile was a 7:06, the second a 7:01, and the third a 7:13. After the second mile I did not feel recovered before starting the third; however, that is the goal of the workout. This is a chance to see what my pace could be for the 5 K. We did this workout twice my senior year of high school and my times were pretty comparable.
I completed my training with a couple more sprint workouts, easy runs, and then one final 3 x 4 minute set of intervals on the track where my latter two average paces were right around 6:15. This was pretty incredible for me and might have been due to a slight tail wind advantage (yes, on a track, largely due to wind direction and a large set of bleachers). 
Ever wonder if it's really necessary for the street sweepers to clean the streets in the Spring? It turns out the answer is yes. This is how dirty my legs got after running on the streets of St. Paul for a speed workout after a rain. This is from running on STREETS only! Signs were posted that the street sweepers were supposed to be out the next day.
 Two days before the race I had an easy 6 mile run planned but seeing as I had ran the two previous days, it was raining, 40 degrees, and April, I thought “What Would Jessie [Diggins] Do? The answer was easy as I curled up on the couch and read a couple more chapters in my book.
So I felt relatively strong and confident heading into the race. I was surprised by how little I thought about it the day before and was even somewhat worried that I didn’t wake up feeling nervous. I wanted to pay $30 or less for the race, but justified the $35 entry fee to Get In Gear because I could run my warm up on the way there and cool down on the way home. It doesn’t get much easier than that. It was a 2.5 mile run to the start with three pull outs at about race effort. I got hot in my long sleeve top and bottoms so was glad I had decided to go just running bra and shorts for the race. Erik did the race as well. We watched the 10 K/Half marathon start which had a lot of really good runners.
There didn’t appear to be many fast people in the start gate of the 5 K. I lined up in about row 3. Usually I ski races for place and run races for time, but this was looking like a race in which I could place pretty well. The gun went off and the race started. I wanted to make sure I didn’t start too fast. I had set my Garmin to get splits every half mile so was right on pace with a 3:33 half mile. My second half mile was a bit slower at 3:38. I passed a couple women and a couple more passed me. I just tried to maintain for the second mile, not wanting to breathe too hard yet. I wanted to race a bit conservative the first and second miles and then ramp up the pace for the third mile if I was feeling good. By the third mile I was pretty winded. I tried to ramp up the pace and did slightly but not really until the last .1 miles. One woman passed me in the last mile. That last mile I was breathing hard and didn’t feel like pushing harder. I also lacked motivation to push further into oxygen debt.
I had set a goal of running sub 22 minutes which seemed possible by averaging a pace in the low 7 minutes per mile. I did underestimate how long it would take me to run the additional .1 miles. My GPS had told me I was doing this well so was disappointed when I saw the finish clock reading over 22 minutes. I was breathing very hard when I finished and was barely walking forward in a dazed state when I finished. I could have pushed harder but it’s so easy to forget how hard I was working at the time. My end time was 22:26. The field was not very strong so I actually finished 8th of 870 women (top women’s time was 21:15). I did have other racers, including women, to run with the whole time which was good. 
My race outfit. My bib had my name on it! I didn't hear anyone cheering for me by name though so I like to think I was running too fast for it to be read (as opposed to my name being too difficult to read/pronounce:). Photo: Erik
Back to a comparison of my high school self, according to my time I averaged 7:14 minutes per mile. Both times are about as fast as many of my 2 mile races in track in high school and both times are faster than I ever ran 2.5 miles in high school cross country! Not bad and a decent new PR benchmark. I think I might take the month of May off from running intervals.

Sunday, April 24, 2016


My husband organizes a pickup Ultimate Frisbee game every Saturday morning with friends. It's the same group of people that I started playing with 20 years ago and were I got to know Jim. They play year round and he claims playing in the winter is the most fun because you can dive for the frisbee without getting hurt. It's a very different game in the snow since you can't run and maneuver like you can on grass. I'm always too busy skiing in the winter to play with them but I usually start up in the spring after I've gotten my legs used to running again. Yesterday was my first game of the season. I haven't done any kind of intensity for some time but I can still run pretty fast when I need to. I just can't help myself and ran pretty hard. It amazes my how it makes my whole body hurt when I start playing again. It truly is a full body sport. My arms, shoulders, back, quads, hip flexors, and even my feet are sore today. My feet must be sore from all the cutting back and forth. The soreness is coming and going in different parts of my body at different rates. My quads and hip flexors were too sore to run today. Hopefully I'll be up for another hard go by next Saturday.

This is a little figurine of a person diving for a disk that my nephew gave Jim. Isn't it cute?!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Artificial Winter
Each year around April, I like to reflect on my ski season and the training leading up to it.  2015-2016 was my best training year ever in terms of volume, intervals, and still feeling very strong. This training reflected in a “better than I dreamed of” Twin Cities Marathon and was hoping it would catapult me towards some “too good to be true” ski results, but that didn’t quite happen.
There were the not-so-good races. Namely, the series of sprint races I did (Hoigaard’s Relays and the new Master Blaster Series sponsored by Fulton). I have never considered myself a sprinter and still don’t; but doing these sprint races are supposed to make me better, right? Then there was that Ski-Orienteering race as part of the City of Lakes Loppet I really should have cherry picked….and when I didn’t, I was left feeling salty. And then there was the Lake Louise Loppet that left me crying on the course (icing is never fun)!
There were the so-so races: the 5 km team time trial at Elm Creek and the 42 km skate City of Lakes Loppet. My goal at the time trial was to show some improvement over the previous year. It is always hard to judge when competition and snow speed are different. I couldn’t really determine if I was any faster in either the skate or the classic. In the City of Lakes Loppet I just did not feel on top of my game the whole race but ended in 16th place for women which tells me that even on a so-so day I’m not that far back.
Another so-so race: the inaugural Three Rivers Rennet. I'm still sporting my hot pink polka dot suit here. We did four loops of Hyland's man-made loop for 20 km total. I do best climbing. Caitlin Gregg lapped me! Otherwise I held onto top 10. Photo: Skinnyski

Then there were the good races: 42 km Classic Mora Vasaloppet, 30 km Classic Boulder Lake Race, 20 km Classic Finlandia, and 55 km Classic Birkie. The Mora Vasaloppet was fun because I skied with the two lead women (Josie Nelson and Kathleen DeWahl) for about 13 km before getting dropped when I fell. I’ve never stayed with either of those women that long before so I think that at least shows some progress in my double pole. Although I cherry picked Boulder Lake and Finlandia, I was proud of myself for really racing the men and Boulder Lake was the first race I have ever won outright (men and women) AND got to ski with my bro! While I narrowly missed a top 10 at Birkie, I really can’t complain about 11th place. Besides, had I done much better, it would make it hard to set goals for next season. 
Over 200 meters into the Finlandia and still with the lead men's pack (albeit at the back as #2119). I'm the only woman in this group. I went on to beat about half the men in this picture. Photo: Skinnyski

While there were the races, I spent much more of my ski time training. And in both races and training, I did many, many, many loops on man-made snow. We spent Thanksgiving week in Colorado on natural snow which seemed to make the December loops more tolerable but by the middle of January it was getting mundane. Hyland’s snow-making loop is amazing; however, 60 km there one weekend were 20 too many.
By the end of January, my husband Erik, quipped “I need an adventure.”
Skiing and racing loops on man-made snow is not very adventurous.
All my early season races were on man-made snow and then Mora was saved by the little snow gun that could, so hence, only partially on man-made snow.
Entirely man-made races: Hoigaards, Elm Creek Time Trial, Three Rivers Rennet, Fulton Races at Wirth (2 total). This was 5 of my 11 races. 
Racing in the man-made slush at the MYSL/Fulton Team Sprints at Wirth after the Birkie. This was the slushiest snow I've ever skied in. It's interesting how the man-made snow slush is much different from natural snow slush. It's more like skiing through a slushy than mashed potatoes. Photo: Skinnyski

Partial man-made races: City of Lakes Loppet, Mora Vasaloppet
All natural snow races: Boulder Lake, Birkie, Finlandia, Lake Louise Loppet (not sure if this one counts...I did not wax my skis for this race).
In March we headed to Canmore to watch the World Cups and ski on more man-made snow. Canmore has about 20 km of man-made snow! The snow was dirty and since I felt deprived of abundant snow, winter still seemed missing.
Watching Petter Northug and other World Cup skiers navigate the slush on man-made snow at Canmore. It was similar to the slush at Wirth. Photo: Craig

But then there was Lake Louise and Mount Shark. Both locations, higher in elevation than Canmore, offered a true winter experience and provided for just enough real snow time to complete winter. 
Glorious, pristine, abundant natural snow on Mud Lake near Lake Louise. So much fun to be making first tracks. Check out the mountains in the clouds. Photo: Craig

So I was curious to know just how many hours and km I spent skiing at Wirth, Elm Creek, and Hyland this year. Being as Wirth’s loop didn’t open til mid-January, I spent only 6.4 hours skiing there and logged 67 km (time and distance is a bit funny because 2 of the times I skied there were for team sprint races). I skied 20 hours at Elm Creek for a total of 300 km (that’s 120 laps of a 2.5 km loop). By far I skied the most at Hyland- 44 hours in total resulting in 544 km (of which over ⅓ occurred in December when the loop was less than 2 km). That is a lot of time and distance on man-made snow. This is why when I reflect on my 2015-2016 season, two words come to mind: Artificial Winter.
In summary, I think all this training on man-made snow boils down to two points. First, this is indicative of snow conditions in Minnesota. This is not a post about global warming so I will merely state we do not get a lot of snow in the Twin Cities and given that we have so much man-made snow, this is not an unusual winter. Second, this shows just how crazy I am in my desire/need/ambition to continue to train that I spend so much time going around in circles. I seriously wonder how sustainable this is in the future which is why in December I often elected to run or rollerski instead of drive to a man-made loop. It also begs the question, how many hours does a competitive master athlete need to spend training on snow in an artificial winter?