Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Monday, December 10, 2018

A Great Holiday Gift: The State Park Challenge


Last year for Christmas my little bro gave our family the State Park Challenge. He bought us each a State Park sticker and gave us a map with all the state parks and recreation areas. The challenge was for each family unit to visit as many of these parks and areas as possible in a year. I don’t recall if there was a prize for winning but it could be whatever you want or make the journey the prize.

So here’s some photos from the State Park Challenge over the past year:

We started with Bemidji State Park (since that was where we were celebrating Christmas). It was too cold to take any photos!

Skiing on Pike Island at Fort Snelling State Park after work. Photo: Erik

And skiing at William O-Brien State Park. Photo: Erik
What I think of taking pictures in front of signs, here at the St. Croix Boom site. Photo: Erik

The cool tunnel (full of colorful graffiti) below the St. Croix Boom Site. Photo: Erik

Doing some bouldering with our friends at Interstate State Park

A paddle on the Minnesota River at the Minnesota River State Recreation Area. Photo: Erik
High Falls at Tettegouche State Park.
The swinging bridge (on the Superior Hiking Trail) above High Falls at Tettegouche
Snowy, icy gorge at Temperance River State Park
The frozen spray everywhere at Cascade River State Park
The lower waterfall at Cascade River State Park
This weird thing behind us is a frozen waterfall at Judge CR Magney State Park. Photo: Erik (because his arms are longer and we're too cheap to buy a selfie stick:)
Playing on some ice that was incredibly grippy at Judge CR Magney State Park
One of the many, many waterfalls at Gooseberry Falls State Park. We did a hike that included every bridge in the state park- including the hwy 61 bridge twice- on top and on bottom! Photo: Erik
I had lots of fun bouncing on the swinging bridge at Jay Cooke State Park and was quite amazed by the granite in the river gorge. Photo: Erik
The Kettle River flows through Banning State Park. Someday we're gonna run these rapids. Current water levels were low. Photo: Erik
We climbed this fire tower at St. Croix State Park. Photo: Erik
And the view from the top. Photo: Craig

We stopped for a brief hike and some playground time at Nerstrand Big Woods.

We'll see if we can squeeze in a couple more state parks before the end of the year!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Crossroads #4: Mixing It Up

Since turning 30, I’ve been wanting to do things “different” but as I’ve ended up stuck in my usual ruts and the only thing I’ve managed to do “different” so far seems to be growing out my hair! I’ve tried to change that this year and here’s a few things I’ve been implementing.
Yowzers, my hair is getting long. This is from out New Mexico backpacking trip in September. Photo: Erik

Strength Training: I’m really good at doing abs and pull ups but admittedly terrible at leg strength. Every year I vow to do more leg strength and every year I pretty much fail. Well, last year I started doing single leg squats and I’ve gotten a bit better at those this year and am able to go deeper. This year I’ve been doing squats regularly and even added in weight (10 pound dumbbells)- and I got extra motivated to double my weight after watching Jessie Diggins Fastenal strength video and started using two 10 pound dumbbells. Note, Jessie used two 35 pound dumbbells...progress, not perfection. But now what I really need to do are more explosive/dynamic movements! We’ll see if I can get those incorporated. Part of my problem is that I try to fit in a quick strength workout after I run home from work and by that time I’m starving so I want it to be short.

Ahhh, yes. I've always been good at doing my arm strength. Even on my honeymoon. Even on the Eiffel Tower. Photo: Erik

Plyos: I typically run four times per week and on one of my runs I’ve been doing plyos (skipping for height, skipping for distance, butt kicks, high knees, moose hooves, karaoke, backwards running, etc). Instead of running, I interject a plyo so I keep moving forward. I believe this helps my training in a number of ways including strength, explosiveness, agility, and keeping things from being boring.

Technique: I’m always making technique changes and one thing I’m trying to hone in on now that my balance is better, is the need to make a really quick, dynamic poling motion. Somehow, this is my goal every year and every year I fall short and so this goal re-emerges every year. Last year I had this motto “no pole plant shall go without power.”I think it helps to find some some lyrics to go along with this and Snoop Dogg’s Drop It Like It’s Hot seems to fit the bill. (As in let the gravity work with the pole plant and follow through feeling the motion start in the upper body, keeping a tight core, and exploding on the legs!) Please note, I was recently looking back at some previous years goals and back in ‘08-’09 my goal was the same. Some things never change:) I’m not a power person in my skiing but I’ll keep working at it.

From my journal 10 years ago.

But alas, something really needed to change. In the Intro post of this series, I noted my February routine of four consecutive weekends of racing. It’s my February rut to which I feel “obligated.” But I just couldn’t do it again so I looked at the different technique and distance options at each race. I’ve been doing the skate City of Lakes Loppet and am still a bit stuck on this. I love the classic at Mora so wasn’t about to budge on that. That’s my favorite race all season. I’d still rather do the short classic at Finlandia.

So everything came down to the Birkie.

My second Birkie in 2005.

I skated my first six Birkies, then took a three year hiatus while we lived in New York. I had no interest in skating out of Wave 2 again, surrounded by a sea of men who all think they are faster than small me, so I started doing the classic race. After five years of the classic race (and training for it when it was cancelled in 2017) and this year falling back in my placing, I needed to make a change. I’ve been thinking about this heavily over the past couple years and the 2017 race cancellation derailed my plans a bit. This year I waited until almost the end of the first price-hike before registering as I was still wavering between the classic and skate. I didn’t want to lose my Elite Wave place but I also wasn’t motivated to do the classic again. I wanted to do the skate race.

After making the switch from Birkie Classic to Birkie Skate I knew 100% that this was the right decision. I needed to mix it up. This makes me so much more excited for the Birkie and to look forward to the ski season ahead, focusing more on skate than classic.

It seems my skiing results have been pretty stagnant over the past few years. Meanwhile, I’ve been getting much faster at running. Now, it’s really easy to measure my progress running where I can look at my paces. The conditions are often quite similar and it doesn’t really matter how many people are in my race- I can judge my improvement based on my paces. Compare that to skiing where a whole host of variables- ski conditions, type of course, different distances from year to year- make pace irrelevant. Therefore I have to measure my progress based on others’ results. And in many of the races I do there is such a paltry women’s field it’s really hard to measure.

Me racing to a 10K PR just after graduating high school. I've always considered this one of my best every races and after working on my running a lot the past few years, I think I'm back in this kind of shape.

This makes me think about mixing up my training in a revolutionary way- but there is this voice nagging in my head that says “but what I’m doing has helped my running times.” So I probably need to make my ski training more mimic my run training. And what I’ve done really successfully are threshold runs in addition to faster shorter intervals.

So I need to do threshold skis.

In Vakava rollerski practice we’ve done a lot of longer intervals this season (about 8 minutes) that is somewhere between threshold L3 pace and L4 pace. It is a bit hard to do these on rollerskis without a good loop. My plan is once we have snow to start doing a threshold ski workout once per week. This will look something like 4 x 15 minutes, 3 x 20 minutes, 2 x 20 minutes, etc, with 5ish minutes of active rest between intervals.

Since this is my future plan, you’ll have to check back next year to see if I accomplish these threshold skis.

Happy Training:) Photo: Jordan Hart

Monday, October 29, 2018

Double Trouble: Two Inaugural Loppet Races

The Red Bull Urban Portage

A few months back I heard scuttlebutt about this race and thought it sounded terrible. I’ve done a number of canoe races that involve portaging and have never found running with a canoe, or trying to run with a canoe, anything I wanted to repeat. I happened upon the registration for this event when I went to sign up for the Loopet Loppet and although I still thought it was ridiculous (about 6 miles of paddling and 4 miles of portaging), Erik and I knew we had to sign up for this event because this is what we do, albeit usually on our own and not part of a race.

We signed up just 3 weeks before the event. That’s not much time for a planner like me:) As usual, we had grand plans to get in some good paddling but then Erik got sidelined with shingles on his face. He didn’t like braving the waves with an eye that was swollen shut in our racing canoe. So we made it paddling just 3 times. We did get in some practice portaging and I found a new way to carry the canoe for which I was really glad.

Getting some training in on a flooded side channel of the Minnesota River. Here we're paddling over a ped bridge! Photo: Erik
Given I wasn’t getting much time in the boat, I devised a little extra mini workout for my forearms in our basement. This included swinging back and forth on our small set of rings and dumbbell exercises. I did this five minute workout about 6 times. We knew a bunch of our fast canoe friends were racing which lowered our expectations. They even pre-scouted the course while we decided to wait for an adventure on race day.

The course started on the west side of Cedar Lake with a half mile portage. From there we paddled to Lake of the Isles and back and then into Brownie for 5 miles of consecutive paddling before we did a 1.5 mile portage into Wirth Lake. From here the paddling and portaging sections were each much shorter as we made our way up Basset Creek. The course ended with a 0.6 mile portage to finish at the new Trailhead.

The course map for those of you who are more visually inclined. The red represents the portaging and the blue the paddling.

I wasn’t looking forward to the long portage between Brownie and Wirth Lakes:( On the flip side, given the cold temps, I was glad to be able to use my neoprene boots from my Alaska trip!

Race morning was chilly. We chatted with our friends as the Red Bull DJ in the massive Red Bull truck played subdued pump up music. Similar to ski racing, we all placed our boats in line behind the blow up Red Bull arch. With a minute to go we got into canoe portage position and waited for the airhorns to go off. Once they did everyone took off running. We had lined up in the second row so we got passed by some people but towards the end of the portage we were passing people back up.

The start under the Red Bull inflatable Arch. Photo: Bruce Adelsman
There's lots of ways to portage a canoe. Here's Josie with the usual up on the shoulder. Photo: Bruce
And Kate with the black canoe demonstrating the waist carry. I switched off between this style and the one below. Photo: Bruce

My new portaging technique- turning the canoe sideways and jamming the bottom of the boat into my neck. This works better for my short arms than up on the shoulders. We just had to make sure that our paddles were well secured. Photo: Bruce
We got a slow start on the water as I was careful to not go in deeper than my boots. Once on the water the racing canoes took off on us. We passed some SUPers and then worked on two non-racing canoes. Erik and I aren’t great canoe racers and it was frustrating at how long it took us to pass these guys who weren’t paddling in sync and J-stroking. Erik and I paddled as fast as we could but we were the slowest racing canoe by a long shot.

Some fast boats! Photo: Bruce
We're in this mix- about to pass the SUPs and about to be passed by the racing boats. Photo: Bruce

Erik started our long portage with a shot of red bull while I opted for the safer water option. We walked the beginning uphill part of the portage to the road and then began running once we got on level ground. Some guy with a fancy camera followed us across the 394 bridge and I’m hoping to get a few seconds of fame in a fancy Red Bull video one of these days!

From there the portage followed some single track in the woods. This part seemed to take forever and I thought we were never going to make it to Wirth Lake. Once we turned north on a more direct route to the lake it felt like we were getting somewhere and then we passed one of the racing boats which elevated our spirits! On that long portage we did a combination of carrying the canoe on our shoulders and at our waists. And then we were at Wirth Lake.

I was glad to have the long portage over and from here the race went really fast. Quick paddle across Wirth Lake- super short portage, short section down Basset Creek, slightly longer portage under hwy 55 and back to Basset Creek. Then we had a longer section up Basset Creek. There was an optional portage around an irrigation pipe but we found it an easy duck.

The optional portage or duck. Photo: Bruce
There was another optional portage around the rapids under Plymouth Avenue. It looked doable and the skilled Greg Zofie in a solo went up right in front of us and made it look super easy so we followed suit. We made it up without difficulty but the water was shallow and we hit rocks a few times (perhaps why I had a small crack in my paddle blade).

Not the first rodeo for my paddle so it was OK it got a bit beat up. This photo, circa 2009, shows Erik and I paddling around Manhattan! Photo: John Kaputska

Some put-ins and take-outs on the portages were rocky or muddy but all were free of underbrush. Erik and I had planned to be deliberate in these areas so as not to swamp the canoe. We were careful but efficient and barely scraped on the rocks.

As we continued up Basset Creek this was all new water for us as we hadn’t scouted. We enjoyed the challenge but not the “suck water”- the shallow water that’s less than a couple feet deep. There was another short portage around a fast section and then a final short section paddling up Basset Creek. This part was my favorite because as a bow paddler, my skills can really shine in technical upstream paddling!

Good thing we got so much rain in the past 2 weeks so we were able to paddle more of Basset Creek than portage.

Then we had one last 0.6 mile portage back to the Trailhead. We took off running but once we had to climb the big hill, we just walked. We figured we’re about as fast walking as running anyway. Once we crested the hill we started running again and ran fast all the way to the inflatable Red Bull Finish arch.

My GPS clocked the course at 9.71 miles and we completed this in 2 hours and 7 minutes. We finished 14/28 doubles boats but were closer in time to the winners than the last boat. We ran less than 3 miles back to the start (and not the most direct way either) to pick up our car.

I’m not sure we’ll do this one again, but just in case it’s a one and done we’re glad to have given this Red Bull Urban Portage thing a try.

We also couldn’t help but think of all the ways this course could be made even more challenging...making the portage longer and hillier, paddling up the culvert and weir on Basset Creek under the hwy 55 bridge or starting the whole event on Minnehaha Creek with an upstream paddle, portage into Lake Harriet, portage into Bde Maka Ska and then Chain of Lakes and follow with the remainder of the course.

The Red Bull DJ truck. Photo: Bruce

The Loopet Loppet

Doesn’t everyone want to know how far they can go on foot in one day?

I entered the solo 12 hour category of the Loopet Loppet just 4 weeks before the event. My initial plan was to go the farthest I’ve ever gone on foot in a day- or at least 30 miles. I’m not exactly sure how far I’ve gone in a day before but it’s either in a road marathon or hiking rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon.

As the race neared, I began to get more competitive and started thinking about really pushing up into the 30s...or wouldn’t it be awesome to hit 40 miles!!!

I didn’t train specifically for the ultra. I also didn’t taper and did some hard workouts two and three days before the race. I was mostly going to use it as a long training day with the plan to run for the first 15 miles or so (including a fast lap) and then walk/pole hike/bound the uphills thereafter and once I got tired I would just walk. I hoped that by mixing up the race with running, walking, and using poles that I could prevent any kind of injury.

As the name implies, the course involved a 5 mile course at Theodore Wirth, weaving in and out of the forested parts of the 18 hole golf course on the mountain bike trails. This meant every 5 miles I could easily assess whether to keep going.

Race day was cool and windy but sunny and dry. Most of the day temps were in the upper 30s with a high in the low 40s.

As planned, we arrived to the 7:00 am start just in time to pick up our bibs, pin our bibs on, and stow our gear. I opted to go without a headlight seeing as it would be totally light within 30 minutes of the start and only the last 30 minutes of the day would be dark and I thought I’d probably finish a bit early anyway. I was a bit surprised that everyone (or at least everyone I was around) took off running. Granted, we were running slow. I was happy to tuck in behind a couple girls with headlamps as it was quite dark in the woods even though the sky was getting light blue and pink. These girls seemed pretty legit. They both worse tight fitting camelbacks. I didn’t carry any drinks or food with me. Part of my strategy was to take nice breaks every 5 miles. These girls were talking about how they trained with the loppet ultra running club and that they had to keep reminding themselves this was much longer than the Birkie Trail Marathon. I was a bit frustrated when they used speed walking up the hills and didn’t run all out on the downhills. But I tried to be patient and tell myself that I was in this for the long haul! With about a mile to go in the loop I passed those girls and started running a bit faster- but mostly I just ran my comfortable 9 minute mile pace and faster on the downhills.

Erik still running early on in the day. Photo: Loppet Foundation

I completed my first loop in 57 minutes and then took some time to switch jackets, drink water, and go to the bathroom. My strategy, or rather lack thereof, was to run a fast second lap around threshold pace. The reasons for this included wanting to get in some threshold work, hopefully stave off some muscle pain by varying my technique/speed, and after I ran my first lap slow, to treat myself. Usually I wouldn't consider a threshold run as treating myself but with trail running there is terrain to “work” per se (banked corners, rollers) and so my second lap was the lap to do that. And that’s what I did and it felt good and I hit just under 48 minutes.

My next transition was quick- another couple glasses of water and then I took off with a cookie in each hand. My friend John joined me for this lap. This was a “run easy” lap although John had done one less lap than me at that point and hadn’t ran the last one hard so mostly I was running at my comfortable pace. It was fun talking with my friend but about half way through the lap he was going faster than I wanted so I let him go. Shortly after that, I fell. I was in a new section of trail with some rollers. I kept wanting to land just on the down-slopping side of the roller but I’m not very agile and so I think I landed on the up-slopping side and just couldn’t adjust. Oh well. By the end of the third lap my left knee was having the patellofemoral pain problem again. It was time to grab my poles.

This time in transition I took time to put on sunscreen, my new Loopet Loop (aka buff race swag) as a hat for sun protection since I hadn’t brought one, and then for some dumb reason I was getting warm and decided I should switch into just a long sleeve wicking shirt on top. I took off with my poles, doing a bit of bounding but mostly just walking and froze. Each loop had 3 sections connected by an out-and-back trail and the first section was full on exposed to the wind while the second and third sections were very well sheltered. So every lap I was either fine or cold on the first section and then warmed up later on. Halfway through this loop Erik caught up with me. He was still running so I started running, too, albeit quite slowly by now. By using my poles a lot on the downhills, my knee pain actually went away by the end of the loop.

The awesome aid station that included a grill and cook stove! Photo: Loppet Foundation

After that fourth lap (20 miles down) we took a break inside. I ate some chicken noodle soup and a couple cookies. Erik and I headed out together on the next loop and planned to mostly just walk. Unfortunately my right hamstring started to hurt immediately. This hadn’t happened before and I wondered if sitting with my legs propped up on another chair caused this. It bummed me out because I could tell we both had this idea of 40 in our heads since it was still early in the day. Actually, Erik talked about doing 42 miles since a running marathon is 42 kilometers although there is no logic with that. And then he wondered what we should call the 42 mile distance. We never did solve that one. (the confused sucker distance?)

Erik and I split a chicken hot dog and I drank some thick hot chocolate (so much better thick than thin!) before we did our sixth lap with Allie and Kevin who were each doing the solo 12 hour category as well. Only they are much better ultra runners than ourselves and so they were doing their seventh lap. Mostly we walked fast but occasionally I did a bit of running (mostly to catch up with the guys who can walk faster than me). This was the last lap I had any spring.

Our friend Emily came to pace us for our seventh lap. By now I was having a lot of pain behind both of my knees in the lower hamstring and upper calves. I’d never had this pain before and I was struggling to keep any kind of walking pace. I was so grateful for my poles and probably would have quit many miles earlier if I didn’t have my poles. “If only this were a 12 hour pull-up contest,” I lamented. The cookies and tasty soup Emily had brought were getting me through this lap. I surely wasn’t going to end the day too calorie deprived and made full use of the aid station! Erik really liked the pancakes. We chatted with Emily and this made the time go by faster.

Erik, Emily, and I finishing up our 7th lap. I was dressed pretty goofy- but I needed the jacket on the windy section of the course and there weren't any prizes for best (or worst) dressed:) Photo: Loppet Foundation

I ate a couple bites of grilled cheese before we headed out on our eighth loop. Emily had to go and so it was just Erik and I. Erik could tell I was in pain (he was faring much better) and suggested maybe I should call it quits. Nope, today was one of those mind-is-stronger-than-the-body-days. The first bit was always the hardest and after the first few steps the pain behind my knees subsided just a tad. I loved the uphill sections where I could really use my poles and upper body to get me up but the downhill parts were torturous. I didn’t hurt anywhere else. I don’t know why I thought I shouldn’t be in pain after 35 miles. We spent a mile with Erik playing his game of trying to get me to figure something out (in this case, why there is no #36, my Loopet Loppet number, in basketball). The pain behind my knees never let up and nothing else ever hurt.

Now we were at 40 miles and had just 35 minutes left. The loop was shortened to 1 mile at this point and after a pickle and quick stop in the bathroom, I was off to get in one more mile. For some reason, I had renewed energy for this one mile loop. Maybe because the end was really finally in sight, maybe because I was pushing daylight and wanted to finish while I could still see, maybe it was because I was about to get third place, although I thought briefly those 2 girls I had started with were coming up on me but they really had 10 miles on me. I was able to run downhill without any extra pain but I think it was just the endorphins.

The prizes were carved pumpkins that said "1st," "2nd," or "3rd" place. Pretty nifty prize as it gave the relays team something to do while waiting and since they are decompose no one has to add them to their trophy shelf! Photo: Loppet Foundation

Officially I finished with 41 miles although the loop clocked .1 miles extra so for my personal record (plus my trips to the bathroom) I’m going to say 42 miles. While that’s pocket change in the ultra world, it’s a solid 14 miles or so farther than I’ve ever gone before in one day and not bad considering I didn’t do any specific training or tapering.

While the loop did start to get boring, especially the new rougher part of the trail, it was nice to have a full service aid station and access to my drop bag every 5 miles. It made logistics easy- for the racers, spectators, crew, volunteers and organizers. Nice and simple. Although at the end of the day, even though I put 40+ miles on my legs, I went absolutely nowhere:)

Maybe next year I'll be part of a relay team like Team Tutto. They were always lapping me so fast. Maybe if I'd only gone half as far I could be running that fast! Photo: Loppet Foundation

After I stood and sat around at the finish, I made the most pathetic walk over to our car. I kept almost falling until I realized I needed to straighten my knees. For some reason I was upset that I hurt. In redemption, I didn’t use any body glide and had zero blisters or chaffing. And I did make it out for an hour rollerski the next day.

I’m not sure Red Bull sponsored the crazier of the two new loppet events:)

Next up: a 12 hour pull-up contest!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Crossroads #3: Dear High School Self

In high school, I got really burned out on running. This didn’t happen in skiing- probably because I only did it junior and senior years and was such an underdog coming in that I was able to continue on the up and up trajectory. My burnout in running began when I started to plateau and couldn’t push myself any harder.

This post is primarily fueled by my running burnout experience, but I’ve included some things to make it applicable to skiing as well.

While the title suggests this entry may be exclusively for high schoolers, this is simply not true. This post is for everybody who has raced in the individual sports world. I think most kids start to feel some burnout in high school or at least are aware of its existence. But what breaks my heart is that some kids experience it even earlier than high school:(

Back when I was in high school (I graduated a whopping 15 years ago now) the coaches never talked about the mental aspect of racing. Us kids talked about it subliminally. We were very aware of the mental fortitude required to race and most of us weren’t terribly fond of it. But we had a coach* (see disclaimer below) who gave us the message that talking about it would make us weaker, not stronger. It’s unclear if that was the coach’s true intention, but that’s how we felt.

Hence, I dedicate this post to my high school running teammates- may we no longer suppress our burnout in silence!

None of us wanted to be the weak one that succumbed to the mental pressure but we were all secretly envious of those who quit the sport- and there was a steady stream of attrition. Kids are smart and sometimes we talked about this when the coaches were well out of earshot. But we really didn’t have the resources to help each other out.

In the past year, some teammates have discussed their high school age children’s burnout. I also had a very short, but poignant conversation with one of my teammates (between 300 meter track repeats) that went something like this: my teammate said, “I didn’t like track, well, I liked track practice and all the people, but I didn’t like the meets.”

“True that,” I responded.

I don’t think we were alone. I think the majority of the kids in cross country running and distance track (i.e. from the 400 meter and longer- when we become aware of our own suffering during the event) feel the same way, which inspired this post. I don’t think we like racing against our teammates or friends very much either.

So this is the post where I lay down what I wish I would have known in high school, what I wish the coaches would have believed, and helped me believe, and if I didn’t believe, forced me to follow anyway. Although, as Marit Bjoergen recently said in her Nordic Nation podcast, and Sadie Bjornsen noted in her recent blog, we have to make mistakes ourselves and learn for ourselves. Marit said her coaches urged her to change her training for years, but it wasn’t until she started believing this advice that she herself made a change. And Sadie said it took her a long time to recognize the importance of taking days off.

So if I could go back to high school, here’s the advice I’d give to myself and where I wish the coaches would have stepped in:

#1: This is supposed to be fun

Even those who love racing will tell you at times the work is not fun, but at least 51% of the event needs to be Type 1 fun. That means you look forward to it. If you aren’t looking forward to it, then you need to change something. This is where I think individual plans, even at the high school level, are really important. This may mean some kids need to train more, some less. Some need more intervals and some need more endurance. Some need to cross train more. Some need to race once or even twice weekly, and others do better with less racing. Or perhaps even no racing!

Type 2 fun: rocking the classic race at sections my senior year of high school (this was interval start and I started a few minutes before #31!)

Balancing the Type 2 fun with some Type 1 fun at our annual high school skier dress up day.
 While I come across as hardcore and all about the racing, I think that is largely because I’m a product of the environment and we have a culture that is very focused on winning and a high school sports system that is very competitive as a result. But is winning the most important thing? I would beg to differ. I think high school athletics is about finding something you enjoy, something that can help keep you healthy for your life, something that can help forge friendships, teach you about commitment and prioritization, failure, success, and goals, and having fun all at the same time. I think these are the questions we need to ask ourselves- not did we win or lose, but did we have fun? (My mom has been telling me this for years:) And this is where I think the coaches (and parents) should be having these individual and group meetings with athletes to help determine if they are meeting their goals and if not what needs to change.

Goofing off with life-long friend Kathryn as we kissed our "Pelties" after we both had good races at Mt. Itasca


#2: Mix it up. 

 I don’t have many regrets in life, but I do kinda wish I would have done some different track events. I know I was headstrong even back in high school and would’ve been resistant to running anything but the 3200 meters, but I would have appreciated had my coaches noted that I was miserable and running slow and would have encouraged me to run some shorter distances or maybe even do some field events. Well, actually, one coach did one time and he made me run the mile in sub 7 minutes before I was allowed to double and run the 2 mile in the same meet. I met the challenge but wish in hindsight he would’ve made the challenge more difficult for me or had me run the 200 meter at some really fast pace instead. I wouldn’t have been very good at sprinting or field events, but I wasn’t good at distance either and perhaps I could have done longer warm-ups and maybe even have gone for some neighborhood runs which I loved back then and still love. There is no point in being miserable.

Trying to stay with the pack on the track my junior year of high school (I'm 3rd from the back); this photo was probably taken on the first lap

And dropped from the pack, running a lonely, miserable 3200.

This may seem a little more difficult to achieve in a high school ski race, but there are many variations on a theme other than a 5 km skate or classic. To keep things fresh, athletes could “handicap” themselves- for example, do a skate race without poles or double pole only for classic. This could be done at an individual level or the whole team could do this. The point is to learn about strengths and weaknesses and take some pressure off always having to perform to a certain standard. In term of skiing race format, the team sprint is not just for elite athletes anymore and seems to be gaining lots of momentum, at least in Minnesota! Mixing it up also goes for training (including intervals) and doing different sports. I’ve specifically given some racing examples but the same goes for training, too. Try to think of different exercises and variations on a theme. On Vakava when doing intervals we often stipulate that the first interval is striding only, the second kick double pole, the third double pole only, and the fourth whatever technique we want. This keeps things fresh.

#3: Athletics don’t end with high school. 

 Physical activity is good for us- not just in high school, but for the remainder of our lives as well. We need to cultivate sports as a lifelong activity. Fortunately in the endurance world, there are plenty of opportunities for us to keep active- whether that be on our own, as a tour, part of a training group, or racing. Too often in high school I felt like my teammates were so burned out, myself included, we just didn’t want to push ourselves so hard ever again. And so we quit. I think we need to change the culture, look back at the previous two points, to something that is more sustainable. We talk about moderation and sustainability in diet, and we need to do this in sport, too. And again, it’s individual and may even change over time for any one individual. We want to model for our high schoolers how to have a lifelong healthy lifestyle. We don’t want them to be so burned out they give up.

Racing citizen races with the U of M Nordic Ski Club in college
But still having some fun with indoor rollerskiing:) Photo: the one and only Jordan Hart

I was so burned out on running after high school that I didn’t want to do any races for years. It took me well over 10 years to want to actually “race” in running again. And in the past few years I’ve been loving it but part of what I love is that since I was never that great of a runner in high school, arguably because I was so burned out, I’m about as fast now as I was then but I have such better control over my training and racing that I’m not burned out and feel I’m less likely to burn out. The point here is, maybe high school isn’t this athlete’s time for a given distance or sport. Maybe it’s later in their life and that’s OK because it will give them some focus and purpose down the road.

#4: Just because you start at an early age (elementary school) doesn’t mean that a) you will do it forever or b) that you will be successful on the national or international stage.

After college, I moved to upstate New York and remember vehemently attempting to argue this point with one zealous dad. He believed that because he had a bunch of 9 year olds heavily involved with skiing, that these kids were going to make it to the Olympics. I tried to tell him about all the kids in Minnesota who raced in high school and quit the sport thereafter. I don’t know the numbers, but I’m guessing there is somewhere around a 90% attrition rate in regard to racing. The reasons for this are numerous and certainly minimal snow and expense are large factors (compared to recreational running per se) but there is also a large burnout component. Anyone who keeps racing after high school likely has a good grasp on the above 3 points, and if not, is probably struggling with burnout.

#5: Go back and read #1.


In my experience, rigid training and racing schedules lead to burnout and I think the best way to combat this is by first talking about it, second by making more individualized plans, and third to think about not just high school goals, but long term goals as well. I think if we’re doing this athletes, athlete supporters, and coaches will all feel more fulfilled and get better enjoyment out of our sports and life.

Some high school shenanigans! After years of playing in pep band for the football, basketball, and hockey players I thought the skiers should get some recognition!

*Disclaimer: I’m referencing one particular running coach who gave us the impression that the mental aspect of racing was a completely taboo subject that should never be discussed.