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.

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