Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Minnesota Finlandia!!! February 27th, 2016
The Minnesota Finlandia, or MinnFinn, near Bemidji, Minnesota, is my hometown race. My dad served on the MinnFinn board for many years, and now my brother does. Once part of the prestigious American Ski Chase, the MinnFinn remains part of the American Cross Country Ski Marathon Series. Each year with the banners, announcers, music, and flags from many Nordic nations flapping in the wind, I feel pride in taking part in this legendary event.
Me after winning Axe #2 in 2013 with Paul and Babe in downtown Bemidji. Photo: Craig

Despite arguably the best non-cash prizes in the Midwest (check out this video to see why: participation in the MinnFinn is dwindling. I first attempted to remedy this situation while on the University of Minnesota Nordic Club by encouraging and providing lodging for the dozen or so of my teammates who did the race. Due to a limited number of racers, especially in the women’s field, spread over 4 races, a mediocre skier such as myself has a pretty good shot at the podium. In both the mens and womens races, the same skiers tend to show up year after year and collect the same prizes year after year. After winning 3 axes in as many consecutive tries, I again attempted to remedy the situation by making a Promo Video (see link above).
Temperatures for the race were projected to be in the mid 30s at the start and climbing. The day before, temperatures had been in the high 30s. I was racing the 22 kilometer classic race, and Craig and Erik were doing the continuous pursuit. This sounded like klister conditions and so we applied Rex Brown the morning of the race. I was worried upon arriving to the start and seeing the snow was very dry and skied more like it was 15 degrees. My brother later told me this was because they had received about 2 inches of snow earlier in the week “north of town.” I was afraid my klister would ice and was quite surprised and glad when it didn’t.
Due to low snow, the course was changed from its usual 25 kilometer lap, to shorter 11 kilometer laps on the less exposed west side. Hence race distances would be about 22 kilometers (2 laps) for the shorter races (classic, skate, and continuous pursuit) and 44 kilometers (4 laps) for the long skate race. The MinnFinn had posted a couple pictures on skinnyski throughout the week and course conditions looked excellent. Indeed, course conditions exceeded expectations and would have been perfect had it been 10 degrees colder.
At the start of the race, I was busy looking around to find other women in my race. I only saw one other woman, sporting the old one piece high school suit. My bro recognized her as Morgan Sagadahl. Knowing high schoolers can be fast, I was worried despite my bro’s reassurance. The start line was narrow and I lined up in the second row between Matt Lee and a guy wearing a non-descript blue spandex suit who didn’t look too fast. He was doing the classic as well and I vowed to beat him.
The gun went off and despite my struggling to apply power on the gradual descent (one of my continued weaknesses) the top pack of men didn’t get too far in front of me. I made a pass as we headed into the tunnel and for the next couple kilometers the course is rolling. I passed a couple guys and then my brother. As we headed into the flatter double pole section, I decided I needed to go faster so I passed a couple more guys. That guy I started next to, in the blue suit, was ahead of me and I was on the chase. As the course looped back on itself, I saw a couple women behind me in the trees. This gave me motivation to keep going hard.
Most of the first lap was glazed conditions with a few areas of slush. There were two glazed downhills that ended in sun-exposed slush. I almost fell on each of these hills as my momentum changed and remembered about these hills to be prepared for the next lap. The second lap was mostly slush although still fast enough to double pole on the flats.
Some good kick double pole. No other women anywhere! Photo: Margaret Adelsman

About 9 kilometers into the race, I caught up to the blue suit skier. I skied behind him until the hill right before the lap where I was able to stay in the tracks and make up some ground on him as my mom and brother’s girlfriend and others (remember, it’s my hometown race) cheered loud for me. The blue suit skier followed behind me. I had no idea how close the women in my race were, so I kept trying to push hard. I also wanted to beat this guy in the blue suit and through the trees I could see a bright orange suit we were gaining on. There’s a couple steep hills and I tried to herringbone run or run outside the tracks on all but the steepest of these hills. A couple times doing this my skis did ice just a tad but once back in the tracks I was able to shake this.
The blue suit guy stayed behind me in the double pole section but we could see the orange suit guy ahead and so about 16 kilometers into the race, blue suit guy took off. I didn’t feel ready to go with him. This is where I’m still working on racing the guys because I had conflicting thoughts between “I want to do well overall and therefore I need to beat the guys” versus “I’m probably going to win this by a few minutes so why should I push so hard?”
In pursuit of blue suit. Photo: Margaret Adelsman

I was so hot this race I took two glasses of water. That’s a lot for me in such a short race. Usually I wouldn’t take any as I usually operate on more camel mode, feeling that taking feeds slows me down.
Now the blue suit and orange suit were frequently in view. I kept pushing on the uphills, working hard. About 4 kilometers from the finish, I saw blue suit had caught orange suit and about half a kilometer later I passed orange suit. Coming out of the last aid station, with 2 kilometers to go, I was gaining on blue suit. Again, I was thinking about this guy not really being in my race but I said to myself, “Come on, Elspeth, you said you were going to beat this guy, you need to put in some effort. Race for place overall.”
I passed blue suit but he was following close behind. On the last uphill, half a kilometer from the finish, I put the hammer down. I heard John Arenz and the Tibstra’s and Mark Morissey and others cheering for me. I did everything I could to put some distance on blue suit. After I skied through the tunnel and down the small hill heading into the slightly uphill finish with slushy snow, to my dismay, blue suit pulled along next to me. I fought for it, double poling hard, but in the end blue suit got me by 3 seconds.
Passing blue suit the first time up this hill.  Photo: Ashley LaPlante
Craig got 1st place in the Pursuit, which was the most competitive men's race. Erik got 4th place in this race. Photo: Skinnyski
After learning blue suit is Beau Larson, who got 149th in the skate race at the Birkie last week (he’s trying to get better at classic skiing), I didn’t feel so bad for not beating him. In the end, I finished 4th overall (men and women), just 3 seconds off the men’s podium! Talking to Beau, and his roommate Henrik Velle, I learned these two were inspired to race the MinnFinn due to my Promo Video! And one of them ended up being my primary competition.
           There were only 3 women in the classic race; I won by 24 minutes. Out on course, I could have easily skied slower and still got first for women, but I’m competitive and as I’ve gotten better, I’m trying to race the men more. Also, Erik persistently tells me how my awards don’t mean much because my competition is lacking, so I’m going to try to save some face by trying not to get guyed! 
Me with my new axe (#4). Note the bison head in the Lumberjack Hall of Fame. Photo: Ashley LaPlante 

My axe collection. Calling all women faster than me (you know who you are) to end my reign on February 18th, 2017 at the 35th anniversary.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Classic Birkie: February 20th, 2016 (My 31st Birthday)

At the expo, I got Kikkan Randall to write Happy Birthday on my bib. Note it's also Birkie #10 for me...halfway to Birchleggings!

As the Birkie got closer and the forecast called for warm conditions, it was looking like this would be a klister year! I tried not to panic and made a plan.

  1. Think about the worst possible kick wax scenario: (as in not as bad as getting sick or being injured) really bad icing. I mean like a foot of snow under my kick zone. Race over at that point. So in the event I had on klister and we got a bunch of new snow, I made a plan to bring with a kickwax scraper and some V30 to cover the remaining klister I couldn’t scrape off.
  2. Pretty much anything is better than icing so it will be OK. The first year I classic skied the Birkie I didn’t have great kick and still placed fairly well. Typically most people don't have great kick with klister so I figured most others would be in the same boat as me. I adjusted expectations from bomber kick to decent kick.
  3. Try to actually make a plan. I wanted to go with Thin to Win since I love double poling. I shortened my kick zones to accommodate klister and planned to put it on thin. I have Rex Brown and Rex was recommending Brown; however, I haven’t had great kick on Brown and so wanted to do something a bit different. I consulted the BNS catalogue and learned about Rex Gold- for coarse or glazed conditions. I had a hunch at 33 degrees (as forecasted) and climbing to the High Point that things would be coarse and glazed so I had Erik stop by Finn Sisu on his way home from work to pick this up. Then I planned to bring Rex Brown to the start and arrive in enough time to make a wax change if needed.
  4. Phone a friend. It’s always good to have some validation that I’ve made a good choice, so I phoned my friend Andy Brown, who posted a blog on klister earlier this season:
    He’s had good luck with Rex Gold in the past and thought it might work.
  5. Remember that things will be OK. Not confident? Check out this video of YOLO wax recommendations and things will be better:
  6. Rely on your husband. Erik and I have figured out a good 2 person system for klister application (Erik might not agree with this). Back in December we had a lot of klister conditions on artificial snow and I did a lot of classic skiing. I move the skis and heat the klister with the heat gun while Erik applies the klister and then uses a rubber glove to spread the klister!
  7. Remember to invite Andy Brown to your wedding so he will buy you a heat gun! Probably one of the most useful gifts we received.
  8. Apply the plan: I got to the start, tested my skis, and had zero kick. I heard Brown was kicking. I had just enough time to scrape the Gold off my skis (I had brought a piece of paper to put the scraped klister on; I didn’t want the klister too thick). Then I applied a layer of Brown. When my thumb started bleeding, I decided it was as smooth as it was going to get.

    Rex Brown is truly brown in color and I learned Rex Gold is gold in color!

The Race
    Starting in the Elite Wave is chill. This was my second year in the Elite Wave and it is so great to just get in the starting pen and not have to worry about getting in the pen early and then running for a front row position. Everyone knows everyone in the Elite Wave and we all self seed.
    We started at a fairly pedestrian pace. As we started climbing, I was glad to know I had decent kick. About 2 km in, I didn’t feel like I was working very hard and got tired of being slowed by the guy in front of me, so I made a break. As soon as I made that break, I started breathing a lot harder.
    A couple women passed me on the Powerlines and then I didn’t see any women in the rolling section until just before the 9 km aid station when Margie Nelson passed me. I got in front of her on the downhill but as we began the long climb towards High Point, she quickly got away. I’m not very good at striding and less than ideal kick doesn’t help. I always struggle on the climb to High Point and this year was no different. Before we reached the High Point, Kate Ellis, Julia Curry, and Lynne Cecil had all passed me. I made no attempts to ski with any of these women.
    Each year I forget that after High Point there is a nice double pole section and the climbs become less relenting. I passed back Lynne in this double pole section and soon CXC skier Niki  Rekker as well. I do much better on this flatter, more rolling terrain and finally started racing, trying to chase those in front of me. No more women passed me. 
In passing mode after OO. Photo: Skinnyski

    On the long climbs to OO I could see a woman in front of me. Just after OO I passed her. I had been passed by many Wave 1 men throughout the race; most I never saw again, but a few I leap-frogged with for a few kilometers, and a few more I saw again in the last few kilometers. All but one of the men who passed me made a clean pass and stayed out of my way. Once we had joined up with the skaters, there was one guy who passed me and then seemed to really slow down. I had no idea how he could have made up 5 minutes on me as he was going so slow. I made a decisive move on an uphill.
    A couple kilometers later, I came up on Julia Curry. We skied together for a bit. She is very good at striding and I enjoyed following her strides. I am much better at striding on shorter hills when I am skiing behind someone. My double poling is stronger and was thinking about making a break as I was hoping to be top 10 and thought I still had a couple more women to chase down. When that Wave 1 guy, the one who went super slow, came back up on us, I decided it was time to move on. I skied hard over the top of a hill and was gone.
    Since it was my birthday, I wrote “It’s My Birthday” on the back of my bib. I realized this would be appreciated, or unappreciated, largely by Wave 1 men. I got a good number of “Happy Birthdays” on the course which made me smile and hopefully others had fun with this as well. I’m a pretty serious person; however, I really crave spontaneity and think people in general are too serious. I got passed by a Wave 1 skater in a cow suit and told him I liked his costume but was disappointed it wasn’t my friend Jeff Lanners. 
The back of my bib on my 31st birthday.

    No one really looks forward to the hill climb out of Mosquito Brook but with all the cheering AND that Wave 1 guy toggling with me again I put in a surge. It’s Ditto with the newly named Holy Hill, but I saw a Vakava suit in front of me and wanted to catch them so mostly ran the hill.
    Coming out of the last aid station I was impressed with a Wave 1 skier who started singing Happy Birthday to me! I passed fellow Vakava skier Andrew Kromroy and kept going. I had no energy to try a glide-stride in the tracks so just ran up the hill on the skate deck. Looking up the hill, I caught a glimpse of a pink bib which gave me motivation to keep pushing harder. I enjoyed the double poling on Rosie’s Field before the last big climb.
    After crossing 77, I could tell I was gaining on the pink bib who turned out to be Kate Ellis. I caught her at the top of the hill but dawdled a bit to hear Ingrid Remak play the accordion! Once Kate realized I was on her tail, she put in a surge. Kate is twice my age and I’ve been trying to catch her in skiing and canoeing for the past 10 years. She is a huge inspiration for me regarding what I might be like in 30 years. Immediately my striding improved as I followed Kate’s perfect stride-glides. I smiled to myself, thinking, “what a birthday treat to ski behind Kate.” My skis were fast and I pulled ahead of her on a big downhill. Then it was flat to and across the slush pit lake. I was by myself and felt double poling was the fastest technique but put in a few kick double poles to stay fresh. Here I passed back up some Wave 1 skiers as well as another Elite Wave male who shall not be named.
I hadn’t seen any pink bibs in front of me for awhile but as I made the last corner, a pink bib went up and over the bridge. The chase was back on as I gave it my all to the finish to try and catch bib #606, Ingrid Leask, but in the end I ran out of real estate.
Two years ago I finished in 16th place and last year I finished in 15th place. I was less than 5 minutes out of top 10 last year and set that as my goal this year. Given that I was super nervous on the bus ride to the start, this usually indicates I’ll have a good race. I was 11th place, 7 seconds out of top 10 this year. For the third week in a row, I’ve finished short of my placement goal, but I have set very aggressive placement goals for this year and therefore just being close is an accomplishment. Comparing the much larger overall field (men and women), this year I finished 124th and last year I was 178th so I think that shows big improvement.
A couple nights before the Birkie, I had a dream in which I got another hat as an age class award. I was quite upset about this because I have way too many hats. My dream came partially true on Friday night when I picked up my bib and got a NEW HAT! Just what I needed. Then, I finished first in my age class (women 30-34). I have placed in my age class in each of the last 4 Classic Birkies. When I picked up my age class award, guess what I got? A NEW HAT! I now have a blue “3rd place age class” hat, a red “2nd place age class” hat, and a new “1st place age class” hat. I guess the Birkie doesn’t expect people to win year after year. Erik tells me I should do the “real race,” (the skate race) where I would be extremely unlikely to get an age class award.
While I agree my Birkie age class paraphernalia is becoming excessive, I’m still learning to stride-glide efficiently. Every time I do this for more than about 5 seconds, I get so out of breath. I’ve made huge strides (no pun intended) on my striding technique but still have a long ways to go to stride-glide relaxed. Over the past couple years I’ve been able to V-1 in level one up hills; I’m hoping I’ll get there striding and until I do so, I might just keep classic skiing the Birkie.
My ridiculous collection of Birkie age class hats and this year's participation hat. The hat I dreamed about looked something like in out of a Dr. Seuss book.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Mora Vasaloppet, 42 km classic, February 13, 2016
The first four years I did the Mora Vasaloppet, I skied the 58 km race. Those were during my days of “must always ski the longest distance possible.” Since then, I’ve been trying and failing to do the 42 km classic. The first time I signed up for the 42 km classic, in 2008, the high for the day was -17 degrees Fahrenheit and all courses were shortened to 35 km. In 2013 and again I signed up for the classic race but owing to low snow we did a lap on Knife Lake before heading into town. In 2014 I did the 58 km skate (on the full course) and then in 2015 I again signed up for the 42 km classic; however, as luck would have it, we did loops on Mora Lake.
Needless to say, I felt my signing up for the 42 km would jinx the event yet again, but I did so anyway. Briefly, trail reports were looking like four times might be the charm, but alas, not enough snow and so it was decided we would do four 10 km loops!
Mora has been my target race all year. Yeah, there’s that race called the Birkie, but I really like Mora….maybe because it was my first ever ski marathon… and because it’s pretty flat, which is good for double poling, my favorite technique. Although my double pole was already strong, it wasn’t strong enough to beat Josie last year at Mora on the lake, so I’ve worked on it a lot this year. I also seem to have a plateau double pole speed and struggle to go any faster.
As usual, Josie was at the start. Fellow Vakava skier, Kathleen DeWahl, also decided to do the classic race this year. There were a few other fast women in the mix as well, including Leslie Hale. While I thought it was pretty unlikely I could ski the race with Kathleen and Josie, I at least wanted to try. I lined up near the start, and as there was still some room on the front line, Kathleen and I scooted up there next to Josie. The gun went off and it was a double poling furry trying to stay up with Kathleen and Josie. As we headed down Bell Tower Hill and onto the lake, I settled in the tracks by Josie and Kathleen. Josie said “let’s go catch that pack of guys,” so we put in some hard double poles to catch a pack of guys including Mike Brumbaugh and Joe Manns. 

Skiing with the pack! I'm number 7001 towards the back. Photo:

Josie, Kathleen, and I had all used kick wax despite a relatively flat course. I knew just with the hills on and off the lake kick wax would be important. The race course reports had called for hard and fast conditions and binder was recommended; however, the first lap around the course the conditions were pretty icy and probably only klister would have kicked well. After the first lap the hills were sugar snow. Most of the hills were so steep I herringbone ran them. That being said, at least 90% of the course was double poling. I hung onto my pack for the first lap and learned there were a couple sketchy corner/downhills. These were all small hills but owing to some sharp corners and icy conditions these were a bit scary.
Despite the Little Snow Gun That Could, snow conditions were sparse. I think most of the “brown” on the trail were oak leaves because my skis fared well, but brown is never a good sign. Snow was pushed onto the classic track which enabled for deep classic tracks but the transition on and off the classic track was pretty rough (big coarse ice chunks). Because of these big ice chunks, I couldn’t get good pole plants in the classic track in places. Also, it almost always seems like every classic race I do, the classic tracks are slower and I think this race was no exception. Overall, I know the volunteers for the Vasaloppet worked extremely hard to provide a good course..
I stayed with my pack through the first lap and onto Mora Lake. Mostly I was towards the back of this pack and was working pretty hard to stay with them. There was a surge as we headed off Mora Lake and I dropped behind my pack by about 5 meters. I was really struggling to bridge this gap and double poling as hard as I could (I briefly felt a bit dizzy) but even though I’ve worked super hard on my double pole technique, this is how I know I still have room for improvement. As we came out onto the far north lake, I caught up with the pack, but after a few poles, I fell behind again. We were now passing a number of skiers and my train passed a guy on the right. I was a bit far behind and was working so hard I cut things close. As I went by he was drifting right and he poled wide between my skis and we both went down. I think I landed on my butt and this guy was on top of me and he wasn’t very good at getting up fast. My glasses came off and by the time that guy finally moved away from me and I got up and my glasses on, the pack had moved a good ways in front of me. Since I was already struggling to stay with that pack, I had very little hope of catching them. I did try though, and skied as hard as I could.

And dropped from the pack :( Double poling on the skate deck. Photo:

In my ski racing tenure, I have done admittedly very little pack skiing. This is something the good people tend to do and we get really strung out in the back. After I got dropped, I felt more relaxed. I no longer had to worry about matching my pace with others- I could just ski my own race. Since it was a lap race, I also had lots of company, mostly passing many people. I tried to say “good job” when passing others. There were also a few fast skaters who passed me as well. It was fun cheering for and getting cheered on by John Munger, Craig, Nate, Paul, and Hans. I mostly skied on the skate deck and figured that was OK since I was passing more people than passed me. I was motivated knowing Leslie Hale and other women, were behind me.
Since the weather was forecasted to be pretty cold, I decided to try some new layering. I wore two layers under my spandex on bottom. On top I decided to wear long underwear, then a warm fleece, and then my spandex top. Every time I wear this fleece, it keeps me toasty warm and today was no exception (although I did get very hot during the warm up).
In the end, I finished 3rd in the women’s race, a whopping 6 minutes behind Josie and Kathleen! I guess I still have a lot of work to do in my double pole. If anyone has any pointers, I’ve been watching lots of World Cup footage, but am at a total loss for how to get faster. I was surprised to finish 17th overall in the race but not as surprised when I learned there were only 129 people in the classic. Compare this to 253 in 2014, the last year of the regular course, and 392 in 2011. 

Erik got 4th place in the race and 2nd in his age class, too. Here we are with our horses although they really blend into our jackets. Maybe our new nickname will be the Dark Horse Couple. Photo: Robin Welling.

Boulder Lake Race, 33 km Classic, February 14, 2016
This race got postponed due to cold weather back in January. Erik and I had already registered and so we had some debate about whether or not to do this race. Cons included extra driving, racing two races in one weekend, and doing this the week before the Birkie. Pros included not skiing at Hyland, supporting a smaller race, and delaying house projects for another week. In the end, my brother decided to do this race and since we had a place to stay with his girlfriend’s parents, we headed to the race.
While the course was very similar to Mora (three 10 km loops compared to four loops of mostly flat terrain) the conditions, competition, and camaraderie were quite dichotomous.
My lower paraspinal muscles were sore from so much double pole at Mora the day before but I was more concerned about some right elbow pain. I didn’t do much of a warm up, just ran around for about 5 minutes. All my kick wax got stripped off at Mora so although I corked in some more, I didn’t have a binder. As I was warming up, I paid attention to the competition. There were a handful of women, but they all seemed to be wearing skate boots.
I lined up in the second row and after we started, quickly found myself near the back of the pack. I could see my brother ahead classic skiing in the track across the trail. The start crosses a bay, then we head into the woods. As we headed into the woods, I noticed a female classic skier across the trail from me. I tucked in behind her and had some mixed feelings. She was keeping a pretty swift pace and I was able to stay with her without difficulty but having raced the day before and not wanting to work too hard in anticipation of the Birkie, this competition wasn’t necessarily welcome. Half way through the first loop we passed my brother. 

Here's a good picture of the classic skier I skied my first lap with wearing the orange hat in the foreground at the start of the race. I'm the far skier to her right. I look to have really good technique here but despite that still have some improvements to make. Photo: Boulder Lake Facebook page.

As I followed closely behind the woman, I noted the beautiful snow conditions. There was ample white snow to cover the trail and the classic tracks were deep and firm, but not icy. After skiing on rough conditions yesterday, it was nice to see at least some of Minnesota is experiencing a good winter.
The latter part of the loop had more uphills and I noted my competitors’ striding technique. By setting my kick and “driving” my hip forward as Ahvo says to do, I seemed to be getting more glide than the woman I was following. I started thinking, assuming I was still with this woman in two more laps, about where I could make my “move.” Then as we neared the end of the first lap I had a new thought, “maybe she is doing the short race.” The short race is about 11 km and just one loop and as far as I could tell, based on bibs, there was no way for me to know what race she was doing. So I resumed thinking about where to make a move and then said “Elspeth, just wait and see if she turns off for the finish.”
Sure enough, as we came to the lap, she turned off for the finish. I immediately felt myself slow down and lost a lot of motivation. I doubted there were any other women in my race and had only seen one other male (my brother). Having raced hard the day before, and thinking about the Birkie next week, it just didn’t make sense to push hard. Unlike yesterday when I was dropped by the pack, there was still a lot of camaraderie on the course as I was constantly passing people. Now today it seemed all the skate skiers were ahead of me and I was out by myself. It felt very lonely. In addition, I was diagnosing myself with some medial epicondylitis (golfer’s elbow) as I was having pain in my elbow with poling.
I debated slowing and waiting for my brother to catch me but I didn’t really want to consciously slow down. Fortunately, after a couple kilometers, my brother caught back up to me. I was really glad my bro caught me because then I had someone to ski with and that also meant he hasn’t gotten too slow as he hasn’t been training much at all. Despite having my brother on course, it was still pretty desolate out there. A couple skaters passed us and we passed one classical skier but by the time we got to the aid station for the last time, they were packing things up. Out on course in the snowy trees, it felt like we were the last people left on earth. What a contrast to the previous day.

Skiing with my bro. Photo: Ashley LaPlante.

By our third lap, the track seemed a lot slower. There was snow falling and where previously I had glided down a hill and had to lean to stay in the track around a corner, on my last lap I had to start poling before I got to the corner!
I can’t say I really wanted to beat my brother, he should be able to easily beat me, but I figured I should try. I thought a bit about trying to drop my brother. In the last couple kilometers where there are some shorter but stride-able hills, I skied with decent effort, but by no means tried to make a move. I think my bro was pretty tired because I ended up dropping him in this section.
So the results were pretty funny- I won overall. My brother still won the men’s race. And there were actually two other men in the race as well. Maybe I should have done a more competitive race but I really like this course for classic and since life is too short to do things we don’t like to do, I’ll keep classic skiing this race for now. 

My bro and I with our 1st place wood carvings. Leif won the skis in this photo as part of the raffle. Photo: Ashley LaPlante.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

City of Lakes Loppet Races 2016
The last two years I have raced the Loppet Challenge (the classic marathon on Saturday and the skate marathon on Sunday). This year I decided to do my own “Loppet Challenge,” racing three races over two days, albeit with two of them being shorter races on Saturday.

Some may not consider this a true race, but I consider any race in which I don spandex and use high fluoros a real race. Ski Orienteering is big in some parts of the United States and world, but the local scene isn’t such a hot spot. Check out this video to see some Ski Orienteering in Sweden: Note, most people don’t do back-flips during Ski-Os. When I lived in Rochester, New York, I participated in a few Ski-O races but in Minnesota my only previous Ski-O was as part of the CIty of Lakes Loppet Festival in 2013.
Ski Orienteering is similar to foot orienteering, except that participants use skis. Racers go to controls (white and orange cubes which are either hanging from trees or other objects or raised off the ground on a stick by about two feet) and use an electronic plastic stick to “punch.” Ski-O controls are usually much easier to find as they are often located adjacent to ski trails. There are often a few controls on smaller walking paths which are like single track trails. The fastest skiers use skate skis but classic skis can be used as well.

The Ski-O map

The Ski-O began at north Calhoun Beach, near Loppet Village, on Saturday afternoon. The sun was high in the sky and the snow was fairly slow. I stapled the map onto my race bib and was still putting on my poles when we officially started. Usually orienteering races are interval start (at least 1 minute apart or whenever you’re ready) to avoid following, but the Ski-O was a mass start. I always look at my map before beginning; it seemed everyone else just started following the leader. By the time I got my pole straps on and took a quick peek at my map to locate the first control, I was almost at the back of the pack.
I took off fast, passing a good chunk of the field, but there were still some Puoli Loppet and Classic Tour skiers heading towards us so there was some traffic dodging. Then, in the skate lane to my left, another woman caught an edge and biffed it. I thought I had enough room in my lane, but she went sprawling and seemed to catch my boot. I fell really hard, face-planting, and my glasses were covered in snow. I got up super quick and continued my passing and was second woman by the time I got to the first control. As I went to punch the electronic control, I realized my punch stick was broken. It likely broke off when I took that fall. I didn’t waste too much time trying to decide what to do; somehow I decided to go back to the start and see if I could get a new punch stick. 

Me, racing in my Flower Power suit, with the map stapled on my bib and an example of a control in the background. Photo: MNOC
Erik made himself this stealth suit for Ski-O! He won the men's race. Photo: MNOC
I was able to get a new punch stick, learned there were 4 women in my race, lost about six minutes, and then took off as fast as I could, determined to get on the podium at least. I skied fast between controls and got my heart rate up high. I tried to read the map well, but quickly, and overshot a couple controls. The majority of the controls were on Lake of the Isles and I had to crisscross the lake multiple times. I finally passed one woman before I got really disoriented at the second to the last control. Then I forgot to punch the finish control. This whole time I was skiing hard to make up lost time, but I had about a six minute deficit to make up which is a lot of time in a 39 minute race.
In the end I got third place so I got to stand on the podium. I was feeling salty having not gotten first place being the best skier in the group (subtracting six minutes from my time would have placed me in the lead; in addition, there were several controls in which I had the second fastest time between those controls compared to all the other competitors). 
Feeling salty about this 3rd place. Not really sure what to do with this newest prize anyway. Does anyone have any ideas? It would make a pretty good earring tree if I can get it to stand up. 

Age Gap Relays
A couple hours later, I participated in the Age Gap Relays where I was paired with Gabe, a skier at Anwatin Middle School. Again, some may not consider this a true race, and if not, see the first sentence under the Ski-O-Loppet header. The loppet started the Age Gap Relays a couple years ago and I’ve thought about partaking a number of times but finally decided to make it happen this time. In the Age Gap Relays, an adult is paired with a child or teenager with the idea the adult is at least 10 years older. The format is 4 x about half a kilometer with each skier going twice. The adult starts I got to work on my starts.
There were several heats and I was in the U14 group. It was a big group of us with quite a scramble. The event took place at the finish of the loppet so we started essentially going backwards on the course. After we went over the bridge we turned around and headed back to the start. Conditions were a bit icy and even though the event was skate, we had to deal with a classic track down the middle of the course. At times it was a struggle just to stay on my feet and I did some double poling in the classic track.
Erik was paired with a very fast eighth grader, Kathryn Scott, who passed me on her final lap!
Overall this was probably the most fun race of the trio. No pressure and since each leg only took me about 2 minutes it wasn’t really enough time to get my heart rate up. If any adult knows a skier 10 years their junior, or would like to volunteer, this is a short, fun event.

Skate Marathon (I guess it’s sponsored by Columbia Sportswear now)
Now for the report on the “real” race! I guess “real” race means pure fluoro top coat. Also, I have to add here that my husband suggested I use my old HF8 wax. I mention this here, because I first bought the HF8 wax for the 2005 City of Lakes Loppet, the year is was cancelled at 3 am race morning. Now 11 years later I still have that HF8 wax which either means I don’t race very much, or else not under HF8 conditions!
For the second year, I got to start in the Best of the Loppet Wave, which my friend calls the BOTL Wave (pronounced as in “pop bottle”). I put some pressure on myself to do really well in this race and was eying a top 10. Most of the women in the BOTL wave are pretty good and I vowed to keep myself in the mix early on.
Unfortunately, I hurt my left shoulder in that face plant I took in the Ski-O. It didn’t initially hurt, but as the evening went on my shoulder started to hurt more with doing things around the house and dressing. I didn’t have any pain at rest, and had full range of motion, but with the pain my motivation left me. As my friend said, I lost my mojo. I wasn’t sure how much my shoulder would hurt during the race. I also put forth a pretty good 45 minute effort on Saturday in the Ski-O so I wasn’t feeling too fresh.
On race day I didn’t have my usual pre-morning jitters. I got to the start at a good time and skied from the main chalet to the start. My skis were running good on the man-made snow and was glad my shoulder didn’t bother me too much skiing. I was in the starting gate in plenty of time but just didn’t feel terribly into the race.
The cannon went off and I did the best I could to find some women but found myself off the back of the wave pretty quickly. Snow conditions weren’t great for me- a mix of soft on the edges and hard in the center. It seems I’ve gotten better at balance but I still struggled, especially with transitions, and worried about falling on the flats. By the time I got to the Front 9, Wave 1 skiers began passing me. Three BOTL women passed me but I just couldn’t go with any of them. I tried to work on technique and skiing well but just couldn’t get my body to move much faster. It wasn’t until the bog that I realized my left shoulder pain was keeping me from doing a good V-1 technique on the my left side. I wasn’t able to apply any power through that arm and core. 
My hot pink polka dot suit is now in hibernation as I have some official Vakava spandex. Unfortunately that means no more cheers for "Pinky" out on the trail, but someone (I think it might have been Lynne Cecil) was calling me "Little Vakava," so I'll take that:) I'm not sure how good my weight transfer is here. Photo: Craig's friend.

There are zero hills on the course that caused me any difficulties (there are the two big hills on the man-made loop, but conditions were perfect for me in the BOTL wave). The loppet has done a great job of changing some previous sketchy corners in Eloise Butler and the Bog to flow well. I got to ski on two slightly re-routed sections of trail I’ve worked on during Loppet Trails Day over the past two years. One section is in Eloise Butler and the other one is coming out of the bog just before going alongside 394. It’s very rewarding to ski trails I helped make.  
Expecting forecasted cloudy skies and a strong west wind, I decided to wear a layer of poly under my spandex on top. Then the sun came out and heated things up quite a bit so I was hot for the first half of the race until I got to the lakes.
Skate skiing on fast flat terrain, like the Minneapolis lakes, is not my strong suit. I did what I could but by the time Lake of the Isles came around I found some icy classic tracks to do some double poling. It wasn’t until the south side of Lake Calhoun that I finally started skiing with a pack. A Wave 1 skier passed me with Mike Brumbaugh close behind, with one hot pink pole and one bright orange pole. I rode these two across the windy section of the lake, mostly double poling behind these guys. I stayed with this train heading into Minikahda, around Minikahda, and back out of Minikahda. Then I managed to stay with these guys back out on the lake heading towards the finish.
I pushed hard up the last hill, hit ground, got back on track, and went toward the finish. My friend was finishing the Puoli Loppet and I could see her ahead and she was a real motivation to try and finish at the same time as her. I beat a skier in my race by one second, probably because I was trying to catch my friend in the short race. I do best at long, slow, grind races, so when I saw my time of 2:27 I wasn’t too surprised I hadn’t felt awesome out there.
So for me it was some late motivation and a shoulder injury the day before that didn’t help my racing too much. I finished 16 of 96 women- not a bad result for me, but I feel this is a pretty typical result for me, and I was hoping for an unusually good result from me. I’m hoping for a pain free shoulder and more mojo for my next go-around! 
Rocking the Vakava suit and the corner! Photo: Craig's friend.