Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Monday, February 27, 2017

Birkie 2017: Keep on the sunny side

    As the snow conditions looked dismal for Birkie 2017, the lyrics from Keep On The Sunny Side came to mind. This is largely because of how I view the Birkie. Let’s just suffice it to say, I’ve never caught the Birkie Fever. For me, the Birkie doesn’t make or break winter because:

  1. I put a lot of weight on every ski race I do. Indeed, everyone shows up for the Birkie at the expense of the smaller races. This is really too bad. Fortunately, I’ve already had some solid races this season.
  2. Even though I train for months for skiing, part of why I train is just to be outside using my body. I [mostly] love this training and the training is something in and of itself for me.
  3. The chase is better than the catch: training for the Birkie, the anticipation of it, is almost better than the event itself. This is like the anticipation for a vacation or a party where the planning and excitement are at least half the fun. Besides, because I’ve been training so much for the classic Birkie, I’ve become so comfortable on my classic rollerskis and my striding has gotten so much better and these improvements inspire me.
    On Tuesday, four days before the Birkie, three scenarios were announced. For me these became four possibilities:

  1. Race is on if we get enough snow but shorted to about 25 kilometers from the start to OO..
  2. If we get some snow but not enough to safely race, we would do a “tour” of sorts. This happened in 2007 and it was my most fun Birkie ever!
  3. Birkie gets changed to foot-only event. Uh-oh. Now here’s where there are some decisions to be made. My uncle died a week ago and the funeral was scheduled for the day of the Birkie. If it’s a running only event, I feel like I should go to the funeral. So possibility 3 is drive to Hayward, get our race bibs (lowest numbers we’ve ever had so we want these), spend the night with friends, then drive to the funeral in the morning instead of the foot-only event.
  4. If Birkie is a foot-only event, forget about driving to Hayward (maybe someone else can pick up our bibs), stay in St. Paul, and go to the funeral.

    This might sound pretty terrible to be contemplating going to my uncle’s funeral versus skiing the Birkie but here’s the deal, I wasn’t that close to my uncle (or extended family) and when considering I’ve spent 700 hour just this year training for the Birkie and that I haven’t spent 7 hours with my uncle in the past 10 years, these options make a bit more sense. 

    I mulled over all these options while on a classic rollerski two days before the Birkie. Still in suspense over the Birkie scenarios, this made it difficult to know what I was training for, except my training was largely determined by the weather. 

Then I had a dark 24 hours when I wasn’t on the sunny side. It started with the Town Hall I attended on climate change. It’s a grim topic at best. Then by the time I got home the weather forecast now predicted even less snow with the system going farther south and east. This made Possibility #4 most likely despite the high fluoro wax job I had done earlier in the day. All the details of planning were coming to fruition- loading up the car, making food, packing race clothes and touring clothes, and funeral clothes (which could double as my business casual wear for work). Despite all this packing and prep work it seemed likely I wouldn’t be going on a trip at all.  

I worked in the morning on Friday and fortunately was busy at work until about noon when I learned the Birkie was officially cancelled. Now we had to choose between Possibility #3 and #4. We could either go have a “Birkie Party” with friends or we could stay home and go to a funeral which seemed like a not terribly fun time. After approximately an hour of deliberation, we decided on #4. 
No Birkie 2017 means I can't collect anymore age class hats...and clearly my collection is already complete! Photo: Erik

Now I entered into the deep dark side. It’s always a bad sign when I’m not terribly interested to leave work. The Birkie is the biggest ski event of the season where we match our fitness to our fellow racers and see if we have made improvements. Even though I’m still learning to love racing, without this big test I felt a huge void. Moreover, staying home meant skiing laps on deteriorating man-made snow. I decided I needed a new sport for our snowless winters.

Somewhere in my excessive planning, when contemplating the above Possibilities, I decided to walk home via the library where I would look at some travel books for an anticipated trip to Europe later this year. It was sunny outside and exercise cures all and slowly I was seeing some light on the dark side. Once in the library, I became so engrossed in travel books I completely forgot there was a world around me. By the time I left the library and started walking home things were looking up. Then I walked by a skate board shop… “hmmmm, maybe that can be my ski replacement sport,” I mused. 

Erik and I spent the evening together, running, then putting together a 3D puzzle of the Eiffel Tower. Then we learned about the impromptu Hamsterbeiner and suddenly I could see the sunny side!

I enjoyed some quality time with my immediate family at the funeral and then we were off to Hyland to ski a few laps. Given my classic skis were waxed with high fluoros for Possibility #1, I decided to classic ski. Once I added some START yellow hard kick wax I got enough kick to be satisfied if that is my last classic ski of the season.

As everyone knows, the best part about funerals is the food afterwards. There was quite the collection of jell-o salads. I'm so glad Birkie 2017 was cancelled so I could appreciate this. Priceless:)
Ironically, by staying in the Twin Cities, we got to do a race. The Hamsterbeiner, sponsored by Pioneer Midwest, was a 10 lap (25 kilometer) skate race at Elm Creek on Sunday morning. I was a bit disappointed there wasn’t a 20 lap option! According to the Facebook page, there looked to be some stellar competition at the event and I realized getting lapped twice was likely to happen to me for the first time in my life. 

To get into race mode, I watched the World Championships skiathlon. It certainly did the trick and made me glad to be racing. I think I even caught #Hamsterbeiner fever! Erik asked me about my race strategy which was to pretend like I was racing a bunch of 5 kilometer races. I don’t have much top end speed, but what I lack in speed I make up for in endurance. I was ridiculously hoping for a time of 1:15 which is five 15 minute 5 K’s back to back which is a pretty aggressive goal for someone with an all-time PR of 14:52 for a 5 K!

The race field was small with only one other woman. The start was very chill and with only 25 racers, there was hardly any need to double pole. Course conditions were perfect for me- fast transformed snow with a hard base but with soft corduroy on top (I’m not a hard track skier). As usual, the field got away from me quickly with 3 guys off the back who I vowed to try and catch. I skied hard until I caught those guys on my second lap and then tucked in behind one of them for almost a lap until I blew past him after I V-2’d up a hill where he was V-1ing. By the fourth lap I was all on my own. I kept up a hard pace I hoped to maintain for 25 kilometers and was already feeling tired by the fifth lap- a good sign I was skiing hard. There also isn’t much time for rest on the Elm Creek Hamster wheel. 
I tucked in behind this guy for most of lap #3, then he blew up big time as I lapped him on my final lap! Photo: Bruce Adelsman

Mostly though, I skied the Hamsterbeiner by myself. Photo: Bruce Adelsman
Even though I was winning the women’s race by a decent margin, I still kept pushing and racing. In these races I’m really trying race as many guys as possible. I lapped a couple people and the top guys lapped me on my lap 4 and 7. It was fun seeing people (including Erik who was using his skis I had waxed for Birkie Possibility #1) along the course as there are so many places where the course comes together. After skiing by myself for 5 laps, I was really happy to see a guy in front of me as I started lap 9. Now I had more incentive to ski fast. It took me over a lap to catch him but I was glad to pass him! Just before finishing, I double lapped the other woman. That makes me feel better for getting double lapped myself.  

Getting lapped by the lead guys for the first time. Yes, that's Sergio Benaldi from Italy (2 time winner of the Birkie) out in front followed by a couple guys from the SMST2 team. I swear, the only time I let up easy in the race was right when this photo was being taken because I didn't want to cut Matt off. You can even see me looking for him in this photo by Mark Lahtinen
In the end I finished 15th of 25 racers where the top two racers were former Birkie Champs! My time was 1:16:17 which is not too shabby for me given my PR 5 K time. I won a chocolate-caramel apple (yes, no bling to take home) and was back on the sunny side!

In the end, attending a funeral and racing the Hamsterbeiner definitely made for an unforgettable #EpicBirkie2017!

Channel 5 news even came out to do a story about the Hamsterbeiner! My skis and feet have a starring role.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Finlandia and February Frolicking
How's this for February Fun? Check out my new wedding ring! Never thought I'd have one like this when I was all grown up.
    Finlandia! This year, for the 3rd time in a row, I did the 25 kilometer classic race. There is also a 25 kilometer skate and pursuit, and a 50 kilometer skate. Due to the warm weather, the courses were all shortened to either 2 or 3 loops of 11 kilometers on the west side trails (for either 22 kilometers or 33 kilometers). 

I took a peek at the start list the night before the race and learned Ingrid Leask was doing the pursuit. This was really exciting because it meant I would have someone to ski with for the first lap (the classic and pursuit start together) but we weren’t actually racing each other because we were in different races!  

Similar to last year, race temps were very warm. Unlike last year, the race organizers moved up the start time by an hour (9 am start, still relaxed) so we didn’t have to ski so much in the slush. This enabled me to ski faster than last year!

At the start of the race, I looked around to see who all showed up. I lined up behind Ingrid in the second row. Allie Rykken made the drive and was doing the classic as well. Allie is a solid skier with excellent technique and even if she proclaims to be out of shape, she is always a threat! There was another woman with her husband (they were wearing some matching Nike hoodies and headphones) who appeared to be quite slow. “We got a full podium,” I declared when I saw that woman. It’s always good to round out the podium. I didn’t see too many other fast women in the start but enjoyed the matching headphone couple saying “these people all look fast. They are wearing these funny spandex suits. How far is this race anyway?”
I made the Bemidji Pioneer Newspaper again. This is the start of the classic and pursuit races. Craigger was so fast he was out of the picture. I'm in this photo with both Erik (Vakava suit on the right) and my brother (too small to see).
The gun went off and we had a gradual downhill glazed start and before too long Ingrid had broke away. The first part of the course has some uphills and steep downhills, including the “s” curve. I caught back up to Ingrid in this section and we were skiing with a group of guys from NDSU. I had some fast skis compared to those guys!

By the end of the hilly section, Ingrid and I had dropped all those guys except one (I remember this happening last year, too). For the remainder of the lap, Ingrid and I skied together. Again, as I mentioned above, this is a real treat to ski race with someone who is not in my race. I talked with Craig [Cardinal] about this afterwards and turns out this happens a bit more in the men's race where there is more competition. 
Skiing with Ingrid on lap one. Photo: senior Arenz brothers
I skied by myself on the second lap. No one was around me but I tried to keep up some kind of pace because I knew Allie was behind me. Conditions were definitely slower on the second lap but not quite slush yet. My kick was also a bit better on the slushy snow as I had Rex Brown on. Still the kick wasn’t great and I did a lot of herring-boning (hip flexors were a bit sore the next day). The fast skaters all caught me on that second lap (they started 10 minutes behind me). I kept pushing to the end but without any competition it didn’t feel much like a race. It was fun to have my mom and my youngest brother cheering for me!
All by myself on lap two. Photo: senior Arenz brothers
After the race I wanted to keep skiing because I haven’t skied much on natural snow this year. A group of us did a cool down. I stayed plenty warm in just my spandex suit as temps were near 50 by this time!
Women's 22 kilometer classic podium. I love that the woman in the Nike jacket got 3rd place even though she was over an hour behind me. It's fun that the common folk can podium sometimes. Check out Allie's really awesome jacket from the Bemidji Woolen Mills! Photo: Leif Ronnander

Thanks to the Finlandia for yet again having a great race with excellent snow conditions. 
I love skiing my home town race. Not only does everyone know my name, hence I get a lot of cheers, but the local newspaper photographer knows my name as well so I got two photos on one page of the Bemidji Pioneer!

With the recent warm February temperatures, I’ve taken to some frolicking.
Frolic #1: (this really may be more of a confession and better for Twitter or Instagram, but I’m not on social media) yes, I did it. In February. And don’t hate me. It was sunny and 40s and warm. And I had fun.*

Frolic #2: I thought about biking to work on my birthday (the 20th) and when I saw the AM temp was forecasted to be 50 degrees, I really couldn’t pass this up. I don’t think it’s ever been 50 degrees in the morning at 6 am on my birthday!

Frolic #3: when I realized it was going to be 50 plus degrees on my birthday, I decided to forget about skiing and go canoeing instead! Just kidding. Since it was raining, we played Here Comes the Rain Again and worked on a 3-D Eiffel Tower Puzzle!

Frolic #4: I ran home from work in a t-shirt running bra and shorts in FEBRUARY in MINNESOTA!
Quite scantily clad for February, but still plenty warm at about 60 degrees. It was a beautiful sunset on February 21st and thanks to longer daylight, I didn't need those lights on my running belt (although I could use some help with my selfie technique:)

Frolic #5: I finally made it out canoeing (with Erik) on February 22nd! First canoe ever in February. 
Evening paddle on the Mississippi River. Lots of people were out on the banks making fires and we saw 4 boats from the U of M crew team. Not bad for 50 degrees...and likely better than skiing at Hyland. Winter is forecasted to return in 24 hours so maybe there will still be time for February Frolicking of the snowy kind. Photo: Erik

*I think this is pretty taboo so I’m trying to hide it. The answer is rollerskiing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Skiing on Natural Snow in Cable (Pre-Birkie and North End Classic Recap)

Driving to Cable from Stillwater we saw a little more white on the ground, but the snow coverage really started to improve once we got North of  OO.  I had heard the Cable area receive about 8" of snow in the last week.  This was dry, lake effect snow; something I hadn't seen all winter.  When we arrived in Cable, Friday evening, there was a bright full moon illuminating the fresh snow banks.  The trails were calling me, persuading me to ski on them, but I had to say no.  I still had skis to wax for the next day's Pre-Birkie and was feeling under the weather.  My kids and I had all been fighting a virus for the past week or so and I was already sleep deprived.  After getting my kids to bed I read the wax recommendations from Dan Meyer on his Fast Wax web page, then I got to work. First a layer of HSLF 20 blue, then another layer of HSF 20 tan, then a top coat of Flight cold.  I put some structure in and then ironed in a hard wax binder, and another layer couple layers of Rex  TK1814.  The rest of the job I would do on sight the next morning. 

I woke up Saturday morning to a light drizzle.  It was drizzling all the way to Hayward; naturally I became worried about kick wax selection.  I was registered to do the 42 km classic race.  At last year's Birkie I double poled most of the race because I "missed the wax". I had flash backs and really didn't want a repeat of last year's Birkie. I said a prayer, asked for some advice from other racers and then put on a couple layers of Ski-Go red.  It was slipping on Lake Hayward and I hadn't skied on the course the previous day so I didn't know what to expect on the trails.  I saw some people using klister.  By this time I only had about 20 minutes to the start so I opted not to remove my wax in favor of klister, but to add a couple more layers of Oslo purple.  My skis are not klister skis, they are a fairly low camber hard track ski, so I imagined them being draggy with all the layers I had put on.  Without trying them, I headed for the start, stopping to go to the bathroom along the way. 

I was lined up with many men and a few women doing both the 42km and 26km races; I figured the third row back was about right for me.  We started off really slow.  I was slowly moving up in the field realized I should probably slow down or I would be leading the whole thing.  I was a bit puzzled that we weren't going faster, especially considering most of the racers were only going 26 kilometers.  By about the 3km mark it was just me and a couple of boys from Park Center High School that were up doing the 26km event.  The results show another man winning the 26km classic by about 24 second over the boy from Park Center, but I didn't seem him out there.  Anyhow, the two boys from Park Center were good company on the trails.  I asked them if they would consider continuing on after completion of their race, they unanimously said "no". I really couldn't believe I was leading the 42km event overall.  Once I was the overall winner of a 10km running race, but never a marathon ski race.  The day was beautiful, the snow was awesome, and I was feeling relatively good, considering I was fighting a virus. Slowly I saw another skier, besides the three of us, just meters behind.  By about 20 kilometers or so I decided I had better let him pull for a while or I could soon be overtaken.  Tom was from Chisago and was fun to ski with.  We traded off pulling several times over the next 15 kilometers or so.  With about 4km to go the ball of my right foot was hurting to a point where it was hard for me to herringbone the uphills; I had to do kind of a one leg herringbone. This is where Tom gapped me. I finished a close second about a minute behind Tom in a time of 2:37:07. Now that I completed this race, I feel better prepared for the Skate Birkie in a couple weeks. Bonnie finishing the 42km Classic Pre-Birkie

Last year my youngest two, Bryce and Ethan, currently 11 and 8 respectfully, raced the 10km event at the Pepsi Challenge.  They had so much fun they wanted to do it again this year.  Unfortunately, this year the race conflicted with the Midwest Junior Championships, so we would be unable to attend.  Instead, I suggested they try the 12.5km North End Classic race. So the day after the Pre-Birkie it was my pleasure to accompany my boys on this adventure.  Even though I had a good idea of what kick wax would work from racing the classic Pre-Birkie, the temperature was a few degrees colder.  After settling on a wax, I got my boy's skis ready and then sent them ahead of me to ski to the race start, which was a couple kilometers away on the power line.  When I arrived at the start I couldn't find my boys.  I was somewhat panicking thinking it was really stupid to send them ahead, what if they got lost?  What if they took a wrong turn?  I quickly started back.  Within a couple minutes I saw them.  Oh my, was I happy to see them!  They had taken a wrong turn, but figured it out before they got lost.  Bryce is #401, Ethan is #402 (far left), and I am #403 (behind Ethan).
Photo by Kelly Randolph
For safety, I skied behind my last skier. I ended up skiing with Ethan for the whole race.
Photos by Kelly Randolph
Bryce skied all on his own and reported very nice complements from other skiers around him. This was Bryce's longest race to date.
Photo by Kelly Randolph
Ethan said he was getting tired around 8km so I fed him a Shot Blok and that seemed to help him. This was also Ethan's longest race to date.  Both boys are proficient classic skiers. I was super impressed by their kick double poling.

Photos by Kelly Randolph
Ethan was ready for the finish line, and the donut holes that were waiting there for him.  Bryce finished 28th out of 70 skiers in his race, with a time of 54:54.  Ethan finished just over five minutes behind Bryce in a time of 1:00:37 in 38th place overall.  All in all we had a great weekend enjoying the best winter has to offer and spending some quality time together.

Monday, February 13, 2017

My Man-Made Racing Career Moves to the Mora Vasaloppet

    This year, for the fifth time, I registered for the 42 kilometer classic race. And just like happened the four previous times, the course was again altered and shortened. It is incredibly unlikely that I alone am jinxing the Mora Vasaloppet, but this is a strange correlation especially because four of the five times I registered for the 58 kilometer skate, it has been on the traditional course. This year the 42 kilometer classic was changed to 3 laps x 12 kilometers with an additional out-and-back kilometer to start and end on Main Street for a total of 37 kilometers. Except for Mora Lake, this snow was entirely man-made by the Little Snow Gun That Could!
The new and improved course at Mora. This is one lap. The race crew did an excellent job of preparing the trail and the volunteers were amazing yet again!
    So I’ve thought about registering for the skate race again, but the truth is, I really really like to double pole and since the Mora course is so flat, it provides an excellent opportunity to do lots of double poling!   

    While I’m good at double poling, I’m not the best as has been painfully evident in my previous Mora Classic races as I got dropped from the pack. Each year I work more on my technique in the off-season and seem to make small increments at getting better. When I tell people I’m working on my double pole, they usually laugh, because as mentioned previously, I’m good at double poling. But not the best, so I keep working on it. 

    I was hoping for a bit of kick with Rex Gold Klister. Prior to the race I tested my skis, mostly to make sure they weren’t icing. No icing, but I noted a small area of slush on the lake in the tracks. During the race I kick double poled a tad but mostly ended up herring-boning the hills so don’t think I had much kick.

    Last year I lined up in the front row, but this year the competition was steeper and there weren’t any women on the front row. Instead there were four women in the second row (Kate Ellis, Josie Nelson, Kathleen DeWahl, and myself). Looking around in the start, I thought these three other women would be my biggest competition. 
Us four lead women after the first turn. I'm already at the back:( Photo: Bruce Adelsman
    The gun went off and I made sure to keep track of these 3 other women. Once on the lake, I got in the tracks behind them. And then I hit the slush and even though I knew it was coming, I just fell forward and went down! I had to let a couple people pass me before there was enough clear space for me to get up and start going. I was pretty disappointed and a bit worried I had taken myself out of contention with those other top women, but I was in racing mode and skied hard and by the time we got to the new hill on the course on the northeast side of Mora Lake, I was back up with my pack. 
Back on the pack on Mora Lake. My bro is leading this pack in the Flying Fungi suit. Kathleen is 3 places behind him and I'm about 8 places back. Photo: Bruce Adelsman
A closer-up picture of me. This shows how there is a gap between me and the next skier. I think I beat everyone behind me and half the guys in the pack in front of me (note Kate among the guys). Photo: Bruce Adelsman
 Before long, Kathleen and Josie got away. I was poling as hard as I could and eventually bridged the gap. By this time we were doing a couple new hills by the small pond with the race directors working with all the topography the Mora area has to offer. This part of the course was an addition to last year’s course and was very fun- especially as it was a way to see skiers in front and behind us.

    Unfortunately for me, Kathleen surged and Josie went with her. I tried to pick up the pace, too, but just couldn’t stay with them. That increased pace tore apart the group of men we were skiing with (note to husband: those men couldn’t stay with us “slow” women)!

Kathleen with her amazing double pole. You can see the gap she opened up on Josie here. Photo: Bruce Adelsman
Josie is always smiling! I think this makes her go faster. I'm still trying to emulate her smiling technique:) Photo: Bruce Adelsman
Me leading a small pack of guys the first time around Mora Lake. Photo: Bruce Adelsman
Kate with good technique and her game face on. Photo: Bruce Adelsman
     Back on Mora Lake, I could see the gap Kathleen had opened up. Kate caught me on Mora Lake and apparently I was still in racing mode as I vowed to hang onto her. It was nice to ski with someone. Now we started dodging a lot of traffic, mostly from the 35 kilometer race, which is both fun and a hassle. I was having a great race, mainly because my mind was completely dialed in to doing whatever I could to place as high as possible and hard breathing, some hand cramps, and tricep tendinitis couldn’t get in my way. 

    Kate opened up a bit of a gap on me in a particularly fast section of course (slight downhill) that showcases my double pole technique flaws. I wasn’t about to let her get away though and bridged the gap as we headed slightly uphill again. I noted that the next time around I would have to be careful in that section. Indeed, just before we hit that section on the next and final lap, Kate got in front of a couple skiers we were lapping on one of the more technical sections and got a gap on me. She had at least 50 feet on me, possibly more, but I was relentless. I was so happy to be in the racing mindset (compared to Seeley a few weeks ago) and I just “attacked” from the back. I had no idea if I could beat Kate; she is a very strong double poler and her technique is likely superior to mine, especially on fast sections, like the downhill finish. I just knew I wanted to be there on Main Street for the action.

    If you happen to be reading this blog and don’t know, Kate is about twice my age. That means I’m 31 and she’s 60. And she is kicking my ass! Since I started doing ski marathons 13 years ago, it’s been interesting seeing how well people can maintain fitness and speed into their 50s and 60s. It gives me hope for the future.
ELSPETH, GET THOSE HIPS FORWARD! Thanks to Bruce for not only capturing my technique flaws, but cheering as well. Photo: Bruce Adelsman
    So after Kate opened up that gap on me, I fought back, double poling as hard as I could while dodging lots of traffic. My heart rate was back up and I could feel it in my stomach. It took me a couple kilometers, but eventually I caught back up to Kate. Now I had to think about making a move but Kate is competitive and based on my skiing with her thus far, I really didn’t think I could break away from her until Bell Hill.

    I thought about trying to make a brake on Bell Hill but it came up awfully fast and while I probably should have tried harder to take an inside line with a narrow herring-bone run, I was quite tired by this time and there was congestion on the hill so I didn’t make the move. Kate ended up with the inside line on the next two corners, a couple feet in front of me. We sprinted side by side all the way down Main Street and in the end Kate got me by a tenth of a second! I was glad to be there, in a real race, very tired at the end (indeed my next thought was “oh shit, I better stop before I run into the Blueberry soup feed)!

    It will be very interesting to see where I and the world will be in 30 years. We’re already racing so much on man-made snow, all politics aside. But I sure wouldn’t mind having a sprint finish with a 31 year old in 2047 on Main Street in Mora!

I still managed to win my age class (only because they took the winner, Kathleen, out of the age class awards). Always stoked to add to my Dala Horse collection! Photo: Chris Broderson

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Tour de Twin Cities Man-Made Snow

    Over the past 2.5 weeks I’ve been lucky enough to do one race at each of the 3 man-made snow loops in the Twin Cities. Some might disagree with the choice of the word “lucky;” however, if we didn’t have this manufactured snow, we wouldn’t have any snow for racing or training. And that would be a bummer because skiing is fun, at least if you let it be.

   Race #1: Fulton Team Race at the weekly Elm Creek Time Trial 

    This is a 5 kilometer skate followed by a 5 kilometer classic race with the races starting half an hour apart. This race series runs all winter long, but it is best to do it on the week designated as the team night when the competition is fast, fierce, and plenty. For the team scoring, 3 skiers from each team (including at least one woman) count toward an overall team score. There is also free beer afterwards sponsored by Fulton. Even though the mass start is hectic, having everyone out on the trails makes this really fun. Also, Vakava had won the past two years so we had a title to defend.

    I was coming off my not so stellar (at least to me) Seeley Hills Classic race but had good vibes heading into the time trial. Weather was in the mid-30s and calm. During my warm up I learned the snow was incredibly fast and borderline icy. I could get an edge everywhere, but with conditions so firm, it didn’t suit my technique flaws. I still have a long ways to go in learning to ride a flat ski efficiently, especially under icy conditions, so my goal for the race was to work the uphills and corners as hard as I could and then to not flail on the flatter parts of the course. I was aiming for sub 15 minutes which is by no means awesome, but something I’ve never done.

    The mass start was crazy. Someone stepped on my pole and then my teammate jumped in front of me and my skis were caught in hers so all I could do was glide for about 20 feet. Once out of the mayhem, I tried to remain calm and ski hard but couldn’t gain any places. I pounded the uphills as fast as I could but it seemed fruitless. I couldn’t catch anyone save for one guy. The race went by so fast. Way faster than the same time running. I ended up skiing 14:51 but placed way down on the results list. Despite this, I didn’t care because I know a 5 kilometer skate on a relatively flat course under exceedingly fast conditions (I think many people had an all-time PR that night) is not my strong suit so I was happy with my sub-15 minute time.

    Interestingly enough, due to the fast conditions and my plan to somewhat relax on the flats and try not to waste too much energy flailing, I wasn’t able to work the full course and therefore, not only was this my fastest 5 kilometer time ever, it was also the easiest!

    Fortunately fewer skiers did the classic race so the start wasn’t as chaotic. I was able to get into the tracks early. I was skiing with my friend Kitty from the new LNR Master’s team (the LEMONS). Most of the racers had decided to just double pole on their skate skis. I used my classic skis and was a bit worried I had made a bad call until I got to the one steep hill at Elm Creek. I’ve had a bit of luck in the past with using warm hard wax for kick even during above freezing conditions and this race was no different. I did not have good kick by any means, but I had some and when we hit that steep hill I just took off running out of the tracks up that hill. I did have to herring-bone run a bit but by the top of the hill I even took a few strides. I totally put the hammer down, passed a few people, and even though it jacked my heart rate up, it left me feeling incredibly strong and I was actually excited to do it again on the next 3 hills on the course!

Striding over the steepest hill at Elm Creek after putting the hammer down! Photo: Kira Stolen
    After I passed that group I only caught one more guy and pretty much skied by myself. I still ran up all the hills and it felt amazing. Conditions were so fast I double poled the smaller hills without even realizing I was going uphill! 

    Vakava won the team competition again. The full team results were never posted and we recruited Caitlin Gregg, which may be considered cheating, but I think it is likely Vakava would have won anyway. I was too lazy to try and re-calculate the results myself, taking Caitlin out and substituting our next fastest female skier, and with a bunch of skiers getting “unknown” times this would have been impossible anyway. 

Vakava Racing Team + Caitlin pose in a goofy photo after winning our 3rd consecutive victory at the Fulton Team Race. Photo: Kira Stolen

 Race #2: Three Rivers Rennet 26 kilometer 20 kilometer skate   

    For the second year in a row, the course was shortened to four loops on the man-made snow for a total of 20 kilometers. Anticipating this would happen and playing to my strength of skate climbing, I decided to do the skate race again. 

    Temperatures were in the 30s overnight and during the race with some rain. I waxed my skis for warm dirty snow with moly and HF8 (yes, that old HF8 I’ve wrote about before that I bought back in 2005 for the City of Lakes Loppet when the race got cancelled [before they started making snow]). I took a warm-up loop on the course and found it had set up nicely overnight and was very fast.

    By the time I skied to the start half an hour later, I found the course had already broken down and was slow slush. Fortunately man-made slush is a bit faster than natural snow slush, but still made for a slow race. While I do better under slower conditions, I don’t have much experience skiing in the slush and so am not sure it was to my advantage. 

    I started in the back of wave 1 (no elite wave) and tried to stay up with the back of the pack but found myself off the back of the pack before the first kilometer. I knew there were a few faster skiers starting in waves behind me (by 3 or 6 minutes) and that kept me motivated to keep going (and embrace slushy training conditions in the future). 

Skating in a train during the Rennet. Josh Doebbert was cheering hardcore at the top of this hill which was awesome! Photo: Bruce Adelsman
    During my third lap I started wondering when the fast skiers would lap me. I was a bit surprised to hear “on your left” because when Matt [Liebsch] laps me, he never tracks me, he just flies by. Indeed, Matt was not in the lead, it was Cory Ellertson (I later learned Matt was quite sick and dropped out). The 2nd and 3rd place racers, my teammate Alex Reich and Caitlin Gregg, caught me on the big downhill coming off Boulder Ridge. I always like to ski my corners on the outside but they were taking the inside line and I snowplowed a bit to let them by. Near the end of the lap the 4th and 5th place skiers caught me but no one else!

    I always struggle with the downhill coming off Boulder Ridge. I get up a lot of speed on those 2 corners (my GPS has clocked 27 mph under fast conditions) but there was so much slush during the race I was extra cautious. I definitely snowplowed and the last time did some snowplow carving but then I always took the outside line on the second corner where I found some fast hard snow and step turned the last corner. As I mentioned above, I need to ski more in the slush to get more comfortable with it. 
Apparently I'm not the only one who struggles with the big downhill coming off Boulder Ridge. Photo: Bruce Adelsman
But the yard sale award goes to Dave. Bruce Adelsman captured his entire fall in a series of 8 photos on Skinnyski.

    During the race I tried to focus on good technique and not bogging down on the uphills in the slush. I still skied reasonably hard and never took breaks but didn’t get motivated until the second half of my last lap. There was one skier ahead of me who I thought was a female and I was gaining on her but in the end ran out of real-estate. I was also aware there could be skiers from other waves skiing faster than me and that motivated me as well. I tried to ski that last half lap technically well which was difficult in the slush.

    In the end I was 8th of 29 women and 98 of 210 skiers overall. I’d like to chalk up the meager female presentation (29 compared to 181!) to the Women’s March, but this disparity is fairly common in ski racing.

I was pretty excited to be on the Age Class podium with a World Championships medalist! Photo: Karl Huemiller

   Race #3: City of Lakes Loppet 42 kilometer 30 kilometer skate
    Mother nature again did not cooperate and so we skied 5 x 6 kilometer laps on the newly expanded snowmaking loop at Wirth. (Here I would like to pause and say I think the Loppet Foundation has succeeded in the succession from the Minneapolis Park Board in terms of snowmaking with much improvement from years past. I also like their friendly rivalry with Hyland to now have a longer loop than Hyland and indeed one of the longest in the world).

I "cheered" out Saturday's classic race and wasn't too disappointed to have missed this pile up at the start! A few of my current and former teammates were involved. The expression on Waylon Manske's face (bottom of the pile up in the lumberjack suit) is priceless. Matt Nistler (also in the lumberjack suit) looks stoked that Cheryl Dubois is about to hug him! Photo: Bruce Adelsman
    I was mostly excited for this race because I thought the course suited me well. I know how to work hard and this course has some decent uphills. Under good conditions, I also feel comfortable on the downhills and corners. Instead of being nervous before the race, I tried to focus on how fun it would be to pass other skiers, and work the corners, downhills, and uphills. Heading into the race I was most nervous about forgetting to count my laps! 

    Fortunately I got to start in the Best of the Loppet (elite) wave (top 20% in the women’s and men’s fields). As one of the slower skiers in that wave, I didn’t have to worry too much about jockeying for position or getting a good start. Instead I skied relaxed off the back. This worked fairly well and as expected, I found myself off the back of the elite wave pretty fast. 

    There was a gnarly corner on the “Back 40” that I skied twice in warm-up. During warm-up this corner was hard pack and made for good hard step-turning. By my first time down the hill in the race though, it had already been snowplowed out. One of the tricks to navigating icy downhills is to not do any turns/snowplowing/etc until I get to the fresh snow. My strategy is usually to go wide and then cut in and start step turning once past the ice. This is when I say to myself “B...B...Be Aggressive!”

Triple wipe out on the gnarly downhill on the Back 40. Photo: Bruce Adelsman
Alice Flanders demonstrates proper downhill technique in rough conditions. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

    Mostly I skied with a couple slower guys from the elite wave. I always struggle skiing with these guys because they rarely have good technique. I’m always frustrated that I have better technique and yet they are able to stay up with me just because they have bigger muscles and more oxygen carrying capacity. 

    The course has lots and lots of transitions but overall flows very nicely. It reminds me about what Mark Twain said about weather in Minnesota: “If you don’t like it, wait 5 minutes and it will change” (someone has told me this is not an accurate quote but it reminds me a lot of the Wirth course). Don’t like flat sections? There’s a hill coming up soon. This hill is too steep for you? There’s a less steep one in 30 seconds. Tired of doing right corners? There’s a left one soon. Not a fan of the slight downhill? Wait one minute and you will be climbing a slight uphill. This is largely why this course suits me well- lots of variety and places to work hard. 

    As often happens in lap races, the laps went by really fast. Laps took me about 18 minutes. The newer manufactured snow on the Back 40 hadn’t been through enough freeze-thaw cycles or pistenbully tills and it was much slower than the snow on the regular man-made loop. I wasn’t too surprised that the lead pack didn’t catch me in my first two laps, but was really surprised to not be lapped in the third lap either. Indeed, it wasn’t until my fourth lap that the lead pack caught me.

    As I started lapping skiers (on my second lap, way before I ever got lapped) I like to cheer them on. I’m sure this makes them feel better (I always like when people cheer for me when they lap or pass me) but also because it makes ME feel better! While racing I can have “this is so hard, I want to quit” thoughts or I can have “this is hard but this is fun, let’s keep going” thoughts and cheering puts my mind into the latter thought pattern. It’s a win-win situation. I even lapped a few people I know which is extra fun except when they seem to want to talk to me (as happened with one of my coworkers...I waved a pole and since I was on my fifth lap there was no time for chit-chat). It was easy to cheer for people in the Back 40 but by the time I hit the regular snowmaking loop, that course is just up, up, up (obviously with downs in between but with much longer sustained climbs) I didn’t do as much cheering. This is where it was super helpful to have people cheering for me! I’ll give a shout out to Mike Kosowski, Joe Mitchell, and Xena Huff who had some amazing cheers as I climbed up and then back up to the upper stadium. (There were a few others cheering for me but I was skiing so fast I missed you...including my hubby). 

The Wirth course has some serious climbing...1,100 feet according to my Garmin in 30 kilometers!
   With many skiers out on course, I was prepared for lots of crowds and to practice my skills “threading the needle.” It turns out the traffic during the long skate race paled in comparison to MYSL on Sunday afternoons at Wirth. Everything is relative. I was actually a bit disappointed that the course wasn’t more crowded!

    Like my rennet race, I focused on technique and tried to ski hard and consistent for 30 kilometers. I’m never quite sure I go hard enough but my left quad screamed at me as I jumped over the homologated bump at the bottom of the sledding hill and then again all the way up the sledding hill by lap 4 (maybe I should start working on more quad strength next year). It did help to switch V-1 sides half-way up the hill and am glad I learned to V-1 on both sides. I skied hard up the hills but wanted to leave some energy and brainpower to navigate the icy but sugary downhills. With so much net downhill over the last kilometer of the course, it was hard to finish feeling completely exhausted; however, in that last kilometer I kept telling myself someone from another wave could be coming up on me and so I tried to ski as fast as possible. Indeed, my finish video shows me V-2ing to the finish line while everyone around me was just gliding in. I beat a woman in another wave by 3 seconds affirming that every second counts with wave starts!

    Overall I put in a solid effort but it is always humbling to see how fast some of my female teammates can ski (Bonnie and Kathleen). They are so fast! This always motivates me to keep training hard next year.