Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Saturday, January 27, 2018

World Masters 2018 Wrap Up

I was pretty stoked when Minneapolis won the bid for World Masters. This is because, although I acknowledge to being biased here, I think the Twin Cities has the best cross-country ski community in the country and this is the perfect event to showcase our Nordic enthusiasm. Our 15 kilometers of machine-made snow in the Twin Cities is unrivaled by any other ski town in the United States!
Racing on the "world stage" in the city where I was born, in a park I skied in as a kid, with the skyline on my bib and in the background! Photo: Galen Murray

Being in the women’s 30-34 year age group, I wasn’t expecting a large entry field. Indeed, there were just 8 of us with only 5 women in the 35-39 year age group. The largest women’s age group was 50-54 with 36 participants and the largest men’s age group was 60-64 with 99 guys. Overall there were 184 women registered compared to 533 men. I’ve previously written about these gender discrepancies.

Skiers could choose to do any of 3 races (and a 4th race if selected for the relay). There were six races to choose from: short, medium, and long distances in both classic and skate techniques. The actual distances were based on sex and age. For example, the medium race for the 30-59 men was 30 km but for women in that same age group only 15 km; however, both men and women in the 60-69 year age classes raced the same distance. Go figure!

My first race was the
15 kilometer classic. The machine-made loop at Wirth is pretty hilly and I knew going in that a hilly classic course is not my strong suit. Despite this I tried to have a positive attitude. It also helped that I had bomber kick in my last few workouts leading up to this race and well, this might be obvious to everyone but me, but having good kick makes skiing up hills easier! I also really struggle on that big climb up the old sledding hill by the old chalet and was glad we were doing 2 x 7.5 km loops as that meant only going up that hill twice!

Seeing as I started racing over two hours after the men, I had limited ability to test my kick wax. There was a small area to test kick and it was on hard icy man-made snow. Per Rex recommendations, I put on some Gold klister. The kicking was OK at 8 am but it was supposed to warm up 5 degrees and be partially sunny prior to my race so I decided to add on some Rex Brown. I really didn’t think icing would be a problem BUT as us skiers know, the Eskimos are spot-on with their 1,000 words for snow and even though we were skiing exclusively on man-made, there were glazed parts of the course and other places where the snow skied like it was cold and new.

The course was groomed really well and they even had those pine tree things where the tracks stopped and started and V-boards everywhere so it was like skiing at one of those fancy World Cup races!
Getting off to a good start in the 15 km classic. Photo: Bruce Adelsman
There weren’t many of us in our 30s and so they combined the 2 age groups which meant hugs all around from Josie:) There were 6 of us total, so obviously the start was not chaotic. I had a reasonable start and wasn’t trailing Kathleen by too much but Alex Jospe and Josie took out the pace quick! I was skiing with Margie and gaining on Kathleen when my skis iced up really bad on the sledding hill climb. I was pretty sure I needed to stop and scrape my skis so I did.

I didn’t know how I was going to scrape my skis but some guy with a foreign accent came up and showed me how to do it (at least better than the scrape with my pole method). Essentially you slide the edge of your other ski perpendicular down the kick zone of the ski you are de-icing. Then the guy said “stay in the tracks.”

I hadn’t quite noticed if the 4th place girl passed me while I stopped to scrape my skis. I kept going but somewhat enjoyed skiing by myself. An older age class of women started just before I was about to begin my second lap so had a bit of additional work to pass these women. I try not to “track” people unless really needed. It just doesn’t make sense when the stakes are so low and it is so easy for me to pass. One old guy “tracked” me on an uphill.

The second time up the sledding hill climb, despite staying in the tracks, I iced again. The tracks here were surprisingly not at all glazed, possibly because this area is always in the shade. I really didn’t want to stop a second time and so once the hill flattened out just gave a few extra kicks on the glazed tracks and the skis de-iced. This made me wonder if my skis would have de-iced on the previous lap without my needing to take them off; it’s incredibly hard to think clearly after climbing 3 big hills in a row and I guess on the plus side I did learn a new technique to de-ice my skis.

On the loop by the machine shed I noted that I was passing by Kathleen at about the same place I did the previous lap so likely we were skiing about the same pace but I lost about a minute de-icing my skis (although maybe I got a bit of breathing reprieve!)

After cheering for the men’s 30 K, when it seemed like forever between seeing the guys, all I can say is racing goes by so much faster! I was also breathing a lot harder than spectating and could feel it in my lungs for the rest of the day and coughed a lot.

I ended up 3 of 4 skiers in my age class so I got a bronze medal. We went to the award ceremony downtown and made it through no less than 24 national anthems! At least they were abbreviated and the medals were pretty sweet!

My 3rd place podium. That's teammate Kathleen in 2nd! Photo: Erik

I also made it in the FasterSkier Recap:

Rules, Schmules, We’re Fools!

As a first born Type A overachiever, I invented and enforced all kinds of rules throughout my childhood for myself, my parents, younger brothers, friends, and family to follow. This abruptly ended when my dad died when I was 22. Life is just too short to sweat the small stuff.

Now, some rules ultimately keep things fun but too many rules become onerous. The World Masters Association (WMA) really really really really really likes their rules. Throughout World Masters I broke quite a few rules and in general didn’t really follow what they wanted us to do (I hung out in the big tent rather than the USA tent, didn’t put my warm-ups in their designated place, etc). They imposed some harsh rules like a 60 second addition to your time for false starting:(-

Technically the race was supposed to start with a RED flag but apparently this could not be procured so all the races started with a WHITE flag. Apparently no one contested this within 30 minutes of the unofficial results being posted in writing through the National Team Director with 100 Swiss Francs so all races stood as official.

Note, when the guy helped me de-ice my skis, this probably counted as “3rd party waxing help” from the WMA rules that should have resulted in disqualification but given no one protested following the protest requirements above, my 3rd place stands.

I kinda forgot about the 83% classic pole height rule until the day before my first race. I thought about measuring my poles but Erik was like, “no, I’m sure they are way under,” so I didn’t bother even though I know my poles tend to be on the long side. Erik raced first and the pole measure device (kinda looked like a ladder they put over your head) wasn’t ready yet so his poles didn’t get measured. But it was ready by the time my race started and guess what, my poles were too long. I think I looked real sad because they said they’d let me through this time but I’d have to cut them down for subsequent races. And I happened to be racing the long classic race.

Now anyone reading this blog knows I’m a double poler and with a race like the Mora Vasaloppet coming up I’m not very excited to cut down my poles. Long poles might work to my detriment on a hilly course like Wirth or the Birkie but I’m also really used to my pole length and didn’t want to cut them down for ONE race. So I spent some time worrying and debating about this, losing some sleep, and ultimately an hour going through our entire pole collection, measuring, re-measuring and deciding what poles to cut down. I could think of a million things I’d rather be doing instead of fussing over this stupid rule in my opinion (I don’t think anyone knows the most ideal pole height for double poling and this is likely to be different on hills versus flats and I don’t know that it’s even been proven that double poling is faster on a hilly course anyway) and quite frankly cleaning the toilet would have been way less stressful and maybe would have gotten done:)

Let me just go on a bit more here- no one is winning any prize money at these races. This is supposed to be fun.

Personally, I like the casual races better- the ones where we decide on the start line how many laps to do or the self-seeded interval start races with a goal of a mass finish and a requirement to eat a donut at every lap. See, some rules are good, literally!
A young volunteer gets ready for the mandatory donut stop at the Black Lake Loppet. Photo: Dave Harrington
A racer at the mandatory donut stop wearing some retro spandex and and a great wig to boot! Photo: Dave Harrington
My brother was pretty stoked to win the traveling trophy at the Black Lake Loppet in 2012 for his lucky 13th place finish! There is a rule though that if you win you have to add something to the trophy! Photo: Dave Harrington

On Sunday it was time for the 15 km Skate race. After the previous day’s blunder with icing up, I was glad to be skating. I also like the Wirth course a lot for skating with big uphills and lots of transitions.

We had 3 age groups start together and still there were only 14 starters. I once again felt like I was on the World Cup as they had volunteers cleaning the snow out of my boots. This wasn’t really necessary since making the transition to the Prolinks. The start was crazy fast. By the end of the double pole zone I was at the back. The first stretch is slightly downhill and so instead of flailing around, I tried to just do some powerful free skating. As we started up the first uphill, I was able to pass a couple women by V-2ing. I got another woman on the new winding meadow section of the Twin Lakes Loop and then another woman caught an edge and fell down so I passed her, too. Heading off the Twin Lakes Loop onto the climbing portion of the course it looked like briefly I was gaining on Kathleen and another girl in my age class but these women quickly got away from me.
Getting off to a terrible start- you can see me waaaaay in the back! Photo: Bruce Adelsman

While the snow on Saturday mostly skied cold and dry, temps stayed above freezing overnight Saturday into Sunday and the snow was getting a bit slushy by my race despite overcast skies. I hadn’t thought about rilling based on Saturday’s conditions but Kathleen recommended it so I headed to the Finn Sisu tent prior to my start for a rilling and second layer of pure fluors (this time some liquid “Ruka” Rex). My skis were truly rocket ships and despite my poor technique on the flats I think I was mostly able to capitalize on this speed.
Capitalizing on my fast skis to V-2 farther up the Catwalk hill than those around me! Photo: Galen Murray

I did curb a bit of speed on a couple 180 corners, mostly by assuming a half tuck. Some people might not call this curbing speed but I do. I think I did throw in one tiny snowplow as well but to be fair there was a bit of traffic on my first big 180 corner.
Leading a "pack" of women from my wave. Photo: Galen Murray

The woman who fell was able to catch and pass me, but by the end of the first lap I caught a woman in the next age class. I skied with both of these women for about 3 km until one definitely passed me and I dropped the other one. I kept trying to ski fast and my skis were so fast it was all just a blur! I ended up 4 of 4 in my age class but skied 10 minutes faster than the previous day. I was really stoked about my time of 41:26 for a 15 km but according to my Garmin the course was a bit short at 13.2 km. (We’ll keep this our little secret and won’t tell the WMA organizers:)
Giving a few extra strokes to really send it on the new left-hander. Photo: Galen Murray
Erik gets really mad when I snowplow. This isn't me. Photo: Galen Murray
ERIK, NOTE, I'M NOT SNOWPLOWING HERE. I'm practicing the B-B-B-Aggressive low and forward pose! Photo: Galen Murray
My 15 km skate finish. Photo: Galen Murray

My last race of the week was the 30 km classic.
Based on the start list and results from earlier in the week, I suspected a podium would be very likely and it looked like I would be well-matched with another woman to fight for first place. There were 3 age groups all starting together which meant starting with Josie and a fast woman from Sweden so I knew the start would be fast as always.

I had a pair of poles cut down to abide with the 83% rule although I talked to Craig who had raced 2 classic races since my poles were checked and he said they never checked his poles so I brought my usual poles to the start. They didn’t have the ladder pole device out so I decided to use my regular poles; however, before the early men’s races they did note that if there was any concern that pole height could me measured at the finish. Erik told me not to worry about that. Besides, I know the race secretary:)

Owing to the big snowstorm we got on Monday, the plan was for 2 x 15 km loops making using of natural snow! This included a road crossing and a bridge crossing and some flatter terrain compared to the machine-made snow.

There were 4 women in my age class at the start. Josie was the only one in the 35-39 age class, and there were 3 women in the 40-44 age class. A couple girls from Alaska in my age class were wearing some fun spandex bottoms they had bought at Mall of America! Josie said we were going to have the most fun of any of the waves out on the course.

The flag went down and we were off. I smiled to myself as Josie, then the fast Swedish chick, and then me were the first 3 as we were each the fastest in our age classes and even though we weren’t really racing each other for a podium spot we were still racing each other in terms of time. I was quickly dropped by Josie and the Swede before the first kilometer. This might be a surprising statement, but I really prefer to be out racing by myself. I’m so much more relaxed when I do this and this might be good because I often spend so much time racing by myself, but might also be bad because then I’m less motivated to ski with a pack which is going to pull me along faster than I go by myself.
Josie and the fast Swedish chick. Photo: Bruce Adelsman
Even though I skied by myself in terms of my wave, there were plenty of other racers and cheerers on course to keep me company. Also, here's some proof of my striding up the the sledding hill. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

I had been working on this blog post throughout the week and all I can say is what happened next provided me the absolute perfect ending to this blog. As I approached the big downhill where there was a left turn at the bottom before the road crossing, some guy in a “coach’s bib” I assumed to be J.D. Downing yelled at me, “go right, go right, course is changed.”

The volunteers were all yelling at me to go right at the bottom of the hill so I did. I wondered if they were going to shoot us over the bridge but the course seemed to be following the machine-made course so I just kept going. I wasn’t quite ready to go up the big sledding hill climb as I was hoping for some flats before this, but then again, I’m never ready to classic up that climb! As I kept going, I started wondering how many laps I was to do. This was supposed to be a 30 km race and if we only did 2 laps we would be considerably short, yet we were supposed to only do 2 laps.

As I skied through the stadium, I hoped someone would tell me how many laps I was supposed to do. I listened to the announcer in the stadium, he announced my name but didn’t say anything about my number of laps. I didn’t see any of the other girls in my age class near me and so I didn’t really care that much how many laps we were now going to do. Starting on my second lap it was a bit difficult to figure out the pacing since I didn’t know if this was 2 of 2 shortened loops or if we would now have to do 3. I thought about asking some of the volunteers I was passing but didn’t know if they would actually know. And I started wondering if no one ever told me if I should just finish at 2 laps??? I was certain of one thing- all rules were now out the window with an on course change and I knew no one would care about my pole length!

Finally, after skiing almost an entire lap, J.D yelled at me, “you are now in a 3 lap race.” OK, that meant 3 really really hilly loops and doing my favorite sledding hill 3 times! Now here I will be totally honest and say that I walked every herring-boning hill but told myself I needed to stride both sledding hills every time. A huge thanks to my teammate Xena, my friend Caitlin in a penguin costume, and Lynne Cecil for their cheering in this section! I managed to stay in the tracks all 3 trips up the sledding hill and was even able to get myself to do a fair bit of stride-gliding instead of just running. This might have been the 3 best times I’ve ever made it up that hill classic skiing. Don’t get me wrong- I still have plenty of room for improvement- but I’m getting better!

Anyway, I was glad once the 3 lap race was clarified. I kept trying to ski hard, cheer for those I was passing and those passing me, albeit everyone got more cheers by me on the “flatter” Twin Lakes part of the loop than in the hilly sections. The snow was definitely much slower than on Sunday. I tucked on the 180 downhills and was almost stopped after stepping through the new deep snow on the corners. I wanted to have a really strong finish and think I accomplished this.

I got my age class victory in my 3rd race of the week!
It was a good day for Vakava with Craig, Bonnie (not pictured), and I all winning our age classes. Erik was 3rd in his. Photo: Eva

So it turns out, a very short train happened to come by and park right where the race course was supposed to cross the tracks. This created quite a mayhem in a couple age categories where some skiers had already made it over the crossing and others had to turn around. You can read more about it here:

Lots of awards were given out to these folks whose race got “derailed” by the train. All I can say is this really drives home the point that this is a RACE FOR FUN- there is no money at stake, no real metal medals, no Olympic spots up for grabs- this is a bunch of old people who are supposed to be having fun. And I thought it added some fun to this whole racing business. If only there had been a mandatory donut stop out on course…
This photo says it all. Maybe we'll see more bibs like this next year:) Photo: Dave Harrington

As racers we are defined by more than the results that are or aren’t on the results page. I’m slowly learning this and these World Masters races have brought me just a little closer to fully embracing this concept.


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  2. Elspeth Kate,
    Wow, your descriptive writing had me skiing with you! Three criteria for a good race: ski hard, ski fast, and have fun! I love your spirit...keep up the good work! You are an inspiration to me and I love you.