Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Monday, February 26, 2018

Birkie Bash 2018

I’m always extra nervous before the Birkie because this is like the World Championships for citizen racers and I always want to do well. Add to that all those uphills and lack of confidence is my striding ability, and I’m quite a mess the week before the Birkie. So this year I decided to be a bit more proactive on managing my stress and become my own sports psychologist (because I’m a do-it-yourself kind of person). Here’s the three things I decided to focus on:

First, follow the wax recommendations. I don’t know why this is sooooo hard for me. Maybe because when I first started waxing the wax companies didn’t post wax recommendations (or if they did I wasn’t privy to them) and so I always decided how to wax based on the forecast. While I now look at these recommendations, I also always look at the weather forecast and somehow think I can “outsmart” these recommendations. So this time around I told myself to just follow the wax company recommendations, especially for kick.

Second, focus on skiing technically well. I’ve previously declared my intention to actually stride the Birkie and I’ve done a ton of work on this (at least on the classic rollerskis where I’ve seen much improvement). Hopefully if I follow my first pillar my kick will be good, and the glide should be good, so I should be able to stride. Skiing well also involves good technique and power with double poling, implementing some kick double pole, and skiing the downhills well.

Third, enjoy the day. This is probably what those later wave skiers are doing (or at least until they get really tired) but something that would likely make me happier if I took some time to do this and might even help me ski faster. So as part of my racing strategy, I made it a point to put some energy towards appreciating the scenery which will involve looking in the woods. I’ll set me watch to beep every kilometer and after that I will take a look in the woods to enjoy the scenery.

The day of the Birkie was gorgeous with a combination of new snow and frost hanging on the trees. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

Of course there’s also the race logistics of making sure I arrive to the start on time, figuring out what to wear, and feeds on the course. I’m notoriously bad for not taking any feeds on the course, and I’m trying to change that. I always overeat for breakfast but this year am going to try and eat a bit less and then take more feeds on course. Erik assures me this will make me faster overall despite taking a few extra seconds to grab some feeds.

Before the race I didn’t think too much about my pacing. I tend to do a good job of self-pacing out there and hold back a bit before OO. I like to ski my own classic race, especially with so many big uphills on the first half of the course and then start pushing the pace after OO.

I also thought about all the hours I’ve trained and raced this year to be prepared for Birkie 2018 and all those hours over the past 16 plus years. And then that Olympic Gold Medal won by Kikkan and Jessie on my birthday week was certainly extra inspiring!

So how did I do with the above?

Well, I finally sanded (or more correctly, Erik sanded, after we disagreed on the grit of sandpaper to use, but fortunately Google resolved that argument) my kick zone since stonegrinding my skis. Then I actually used a hard wax binder (that I think I put on too thick and really should have put outside to let cool) before corking in 7 layers of V45 (the “warmer” kick wax recommendation by SWIX. This combination felt a bit draggy, especially early on, and was slightly grabby on the lake but otherwise gave me great kick. Again, I think I put the binder on too thick and didn’t heat it in quite enough to get it really smooth either. I arrived to the start late as usual and did a very short test loop. My skis weren’t icing so I didn’t make any adjustments.

When I got in the start pen with the other Elite Wave Classic skiers, I noted there seemed to be lots of women, particularly fast looking women. I didn’t have much time to chat and got in about the fourth row behind a fast looking woman. When the gun went off it seemed we took it out harder than in previous years. I found myself double poling outside the tracks. While it would have been nice to be in the tracks, it was also easier to get around people outside the tracks.

I'm bummed I was too slow to ski with this guy:( Vakava is talking about getting new suits next year and I think we should do something to this effect. Photo: Bruce Adelsman
Once we got on the classic only trail I tried to ski with a couple women. Usually I’m totally exhausted by the time we get to the Powerlines but this year, probably due at least in part to good kick and a slightly shortened trail to this point, the Powerlines came pretty quickly. As we headed back in the woods I was skiing with another woman and a pack of Elite Wave Classic guys. One woman cruised by us and we never saw her again. Our pack stayed together until just before the big climb to High Point. Here I lost my group and a big stream of Wave 1 guys, who started 5 minutes behind me, kept passing me. I tried to do some striding up to High Point but was probably only successful about half the time and otherwise could only muster a shuffle/run. I guess striding half that hill was significantly better than I think I’ve ever done before and I had felt relatively good up to that hill so progress, not perfection:)

After High Point there’s some flatter areas and downhills which made every uphill that much worse. I was already really tired- but remembering back to years previous, I don’t think it was any different than any of those other years.

My buddy Dave passed me 3 kms out from OO when we really started climbing. He wasn’t particularly fast up those big climbs to OO and he didn’t gain too much on me but really took off double poling at the Korte start area.

I did finally change my watch from miles to kilometers and set it to beep every 1 km. Mostly I felt it vibrate on my wrist. Every time I thought about looking in the woods and enjoying the beautiful day, but mostly I just focused on the trail in front of me to keep my balance and avoid falling down. By doing this I was still able to appreciate the snow clinging to the trees.

After OO we joined with the skaters. Now a steady stream of Wave 1 skaters were passing me- a handful of these skiers knew me and we gave each other some cheers which is always fun! The tracks were now glazed and the kilometers ticked by faster. This was such a relief to my exhausted self. After OO I believe I was passed by just one Wave 1 classic guy and slowly reeled in about 10 Wave 1 guys who had passed me prior to OO.

Just past OO and now skiing alongside the Wave 1 skate guys. Check out the glitter snowflakes on my cheeks! They really show up in this photo if you zoom in! Photo: Bruce Adelsman
In regard to skiing technically well: this year compared to years past it seemed the groomers pulled up the classic track significantly more often on downhills. I do prefer this as I often have trouble trusting in the track around corners and the tracks are likely to get destroyed by later waves anyway. Sometimes it was hard to see where the tracks started again and those pine boughs they use on the World Cup would have been nice! I had one small technique goal of striding up the hill leaving Mosquito Brook. I really set my sights on striding up that hill and I did (except for the very steep part near the end where I did some running but was able to stay in the track) and by this point, finally, I was able to keep up or even pass the Wave 1 skaters!

It was also on this hill I got a glimpse of the woman who had dropped me on the climb to High Point. With just over 10 km left and some double poling I made it my goal to catch her. It took me about 5 km until we climbed that really evil hill coming out of the last Aid Station. I was a spent force and while I did some striding on that hill, I also did some shuffle running outside the tracks on the steeper parts. Then sorry to say I couldn’t maintain a tuck the entire way down the next very long hill as my quads were just too tired. I fared similarly on the last big uphill after crossing 77: probably some striding but also just some shuffle running. Two years ago I remarked that I really wanted to stride all these hills beautifully, you know, like Marit winning the 30 km classic at the Olympics (hey, a girl can dream) but I probably just looked like a tired citizen racer out there. It would be so interesting if a drone was following me the whole time so I could see my technique albeit that would be a very boring replay.

Erik always gives me a hard time for not feeding enough on course. I don’t want to be bogged down with my drink belt so rely on the air stations. This mostly works out well. I took a total of 3 gels (or more accurately parts of gels) and 4 Nuun drinks which is probably the most I’ve ever taken out there so figured that was an accomplishment.

I was motivated to keep skiing fast in the Birkie in case I might get another sweet Age Class Prize such as this shirt I sported last year on a run in Central Park. Photo: Erik
By the time I got to the lake I was really tired. But I have mad endurance (as one of my high school teammates once said) so I kept going, very happy to be able to just double pole and that the classic tracks were reasonably fast. I also noticed that the lake was beautiful with the snow in the trees on the lakeshore. And that water tower in Hayward looked like it was a long ways away! I kept looking for skiers ahead of me to catch, especially women. I saw an Elite bib way ahead and couldn’t tell if it was red for men or pink for women but vowed to catch them anyway and catch them I did near the end of the lake (it was a guy). Once I got off the lake I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the finish line because I was so tired. I could only hope this meant I had done reasonably well if I was so tired everyone else must be, too. I made my way over the bridge which felt so much slower compared to those downtown Minneapolis Sprints and mostly double poled my way up Main Street and it was so cool to hear so many people yelling my name!

I ended up 16th of 374 women. This was a bit disappointing since I was 11th two years ago. Comparing my results to 2016 this year I skied 5 minutes faster (although the course was slightly shorter). Hitting the kick was was also significantly easier this year and so my hunch is that I do better compared to others when we’re all struggling with kick and a bit worse when the kicking is good. Oh well, I still finished 147 of 1,735 overall in the classic.

Sporting my Birkie Age Class shirt in snowy Banff in June last year! Photo: Erik
For the 5th consecutive year, I got an age class award. Apparently the Birkie must have noted I have too many hats and so this year we only got bells:( I was hoping for another wicking shirt as in the photos above. Erik keeps telling me to do the skate race so I don’t have to worry about getting age class awards. I’ve been seriously thinking about switching to the skate because it would be fun to skate out of Elite Wave (provided they let me have the technique transfer) and my skate technique always holds together so much better than my classic technique but I remain ambivalent as I also want a top 10 in the Classic race and still aspire to stride like Marit!

My latest bling. Not quite as good as the wicking shirt but I did put this thing to use immediately to cheer on some of the late finishers in the Birkie.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Finlandia Fun 2018

After winning my axe (prize for first place at the Minnesota Finlandia) each of the last 5 times I entered, I always feel that another one isn’t necessary; however, each year before the race, I’m always greedy for another axe. Maybe this is because I’m competitive and want to win. But do I really need another decorative axe? Maybe it is because I want one of those sweet axes with an animal scene or one with gnomes on it! Afterall, my favorite axe is the one with the owls on it and I have been known to try trading axes (without success because that one had a highly desired gnome scene). Wow, I have become an axe snob!

This year, for the fourth year in a row, I did the 25 km classic race. There was enough snow to run the full 25 km course which we hadn’t been able to do since 2014. About half the course is on the east side of the road and half is on the west side of the road with the courses linked by the Terrific Two Way Tunnel of Temptation. Taking a peak at the start list, I didn’t recognize any of the female names. During my warm up and at the start I was sizing up the competition. There didn’t appear to be too many fast women in my race.

I lined up behind my bro and the Vakava guys in the second row. My bro is known for his fast starts and then quickly falling behind. The guys were joking about this before the start. The air horn went off. I started too close to a friend from Bemidji and didn’t want to break either of our poles so didn’t get the best start and couldn’t ski really well until after I passed him about 50 meters into the race.

My bro leading out the classic field by a very large margin. Photo: my other bro:)

Here comes the rest of the classic field led by Craig. Photo: Monte Draper

The skate field taking on Sunnyside. Photo: Reid (aka my other bro)

About a half kilometer into the race we ski up Sunnyside, a green downhill run. Knowing there weren’t any big hills for a long ways after this climb, I really tried to push it, herring-bone running up the steepest part, then running (there were no tracks) up the more gradual part. Now I was closing in on my bro and a couple kilometers later, was nipping on his heels when Toward (in high school we referred to all the cool teachers by their last name only), who currently supervises the Bemidji High School National Honor Society and their associated feed stop for the Finlandia who recognizes our family despite our ever-changing spandex yelled to my bro, “your sister is right behind you. You can’t let her beat you!”

But then my bro took off. I knew my fitness was good but didn’t quite want to accelerate at his pace and figured he wouldn’t sustain it for very long anyway and so I let him get ahead. I never did catch back up to him and only saw him one time thereafter in a curvy section by the S curve on the west side. He caught Bjorn Adelsman and those two skied together; meanwhile I skied the rest of the race by myself.

Mom cheering (far left) for my bro and Bjorn Adelsman who are about to head into the Terrific Two Way Tunnel of Temptation! Photo: Reid

I did catch 3 other male classical skiers- 2 soon after my bro took off and the last one later on in the race. Someone asked me last week to describe the course. I’d say it is similar to Mora with the curves but there really are hills. These are not long sustained climbs like in the Birkie, they are shorter climbs and in some sections they do come at you one after the other but these are always broken up by some nice long flatter sections. There are plenty of features to keep the course interesting with places called The Island, The Wall, and the aforementioned S curve!

An artistic photo as I ski by this picturesque barn! Photo: Reid

I thought I was in the lead of the woman’s classic race but there could always be a sneaky woman I didn’t notice! The 25 km and 50 km skate races started 10 minutes after my race and so after about 10 km I was gradually passed by a number of skaters. My kick also wore off after about 10 km, hence I tried double poling up some hills and either running outside the tracks or herring-bone running (and sometimes walking) up the hills. And I even fell on a downhill with a left corner that I was trying to ski aggressively. Despite likely being in the lead, I was still racing and pushing hard all the way to the finish. Oh yeah, and in honor of the women’s Olympic relay, we (Erik and I) put some snowflake glitter on our cheeks:)

Still pushing the pace on the last uphill on the Canns Loop with some skaters behind me. Photo: Monte Draper
And still pushing hard into the finish as Erik skis beside me cheering me on (this can only happen at a low-key race:) Photo: Reid

And I did win! Again! It was nice to see my bro beat me, something I don’t think he’s done since 2014. I finished first of 9 women on the classic field (winning by a 7 minute margin) and 7th of 35 skiers overall in the classic.

Erik also won his race, the Pursuit, so we were husband-wife axe winners. When Erik went up to get his first place prize, the announcers call him an “axe virgin” in comparison to many of the other winners with our multiple axes. Craig won [again], too, so of the 5 of us driving to the start in one car, 3 of us won axes!

The winning Vakava contingent. Check out these axes! Craig Cardinal got a cardinal on his (plus a sweet deer scene); I got flowers (actually all the women’s axes had flowers...not quite sure where this stereotype comes from); and Erik got a moose on his! If these sweet axes aren’t enough to convince you to do the Finlandia next year, I give up! Photo: Eva Reinicke

The Vakava team stayed with my mom in Bemidji (thanks mom for hosting and making some wonderful food!). On Sunday morning there was a snowstorm and we went skiing. It was a bit slow skiing through 8 inches of powder (often we could not see our skis under the snow) but there was an icy base owing to Wednesday’s meltdown. We skied at Three Island County Park where we had skied when it was -20 ℉ at New Years. This time it was 35 degrees warmer and snowing. It was nice to find real winter even if the loop took us 30 minutes longer than when it was -20 ℉! The combination of the classic race on Saturday and the trudge of a classic ski on Sunday was good training for the Classic Birkie.

Our snowy ski at Three Island with quite the big group and no skis visible. Photo: Erik

We then drove back to the Twin Cities where there was no snowstorm and it was another 30 degrees warmer! It’s not very often that the weather is that dramatically different between Bemidji and Saint Paul but I guess it happens every once in awhile and nature never seizes to amaze me.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Mora Vasaloppet 2018

My previous posts from the Mora Vasaloppet have always noted that every year I have signed up for the classic race (as opposed to the skate race) the Mora Vasaloppet has not been held on its traditional, now called “Legacy” course. And this year was no different. It’s almost as if I’m single handedly cursing the vasaloppet and when they see my early registration, they preemptively decide to use the new Mora course.

Owing to the Little Snow Gun That Could, the Mora Vasaloppet now touts 17 km of piston-bully groomed man-made snow. While it’s traditional and always fun to do a point-to-point course, I do appreciate having excellent snow conditions. The logistics of point-to-point races are also quite laborious and even for us racers it is nice to start and finish at the same location. Not having to take a bus ride to the start also means we can sleep in later.

Each year the man-made loop at Mora gets longer and this year they made some additions. I studied the map quite a bit before the race. For the classic we were doing 3 loops with an out and back segment across Mora Lake.

This year at the start there appeared to be some suspiciously fast looking women. Perhaps I was a bit too pretentious when I lined my skis up in the second row- but if I’m going to get after it I have to be aggressive. The race started and all the guys in front of me were leaving me in the dust. I found the fast women (I love the Mora Vasaloppet for many reasons, one of which is the easily-identifiable yellow bibs for women) and tried to tuck in behind them but they (Josie and eventual winner Brandy Stewart) were just too fast. I was already behind by the time we got to the lake and could not catch them- or any of the men in front of me.

My bro (on the left in the tracks in the Flying Fungi suit) off to his characteristically fast start. I need him to teach me how to go so fast! Photo: Bruce Adelsman

Soon after we got into the woods another fast woman came by me. She led a group of guys and try as I could, I just couldn’t go with them. I felt good the whole first lap but couldn’t go any faster and gradually a handful of men passed me. Hence, I wasn’t feeling great about myself but that all changed when I started my second lap and the passing/lapping began. While the downside to a multi-lap course is the traffic, this is also the upside as it keeps the race from being lonely and can really boost self-confidence. I can happily say I got through the entire race without tracking anyone or causing anyone to fall over which makes me feel successful! I figure if Matt doesn’t track people then why should I? I also always worry that tracking slower skiers is more likely to result in them falling over and then me falling over so it’s just easier to go around. I also try to cheer for people as I’m passing them.

Finally making my move on the classic skier behind me and passing this skater in the shorter race. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

As the distance passed by I kept trying to push the double poling despite the progressively increasing tiredness in my back and triceps. I was also motivated by the thought of any fast women coming up behind me. While the consensus amongst the fast guys was to just double pole, all us women used kick wax. After hearing a couple stories of where the double pole only went wrong, I’m further inclined to think we really are the smarter sex:) I enjoyed every possible hill where I could stride, kick-double-pole, or herring-bone run to give my back a break. And I could really attack every herring-bone climb because when double poling I’m never redlining so I had energy for these short hills. While I don’t necessarily agree with the course being “hilly” as noted in the race tagline, it most definitely is “curvy.” I tried to work on skating around corners, but only did so on the few corners where the classic track had been pulled up; otherwise I would have felt like I was cheating.

Getting passed by my teammate Alex who got 4th in the 52 km race. Otherwise I passed and/or lapped all the other skiers in this photo by creator extraordinaire

In the last couple laps I was able to pass up a couple guys. Unfortunately one was my bro who was in his self-proclaimed “toast lane” but he was racing much faster than last year which is always good to see. I had been exchanging places with one guy and he was leading up Bell Tower Hill but once we hit the streets I decided I needed to try and beat him. As we rounded the last corner onto Main Street, he got stuck in a small burn and fell down and so I was able to beat him.

The guy who fell is behind me as I approached the finish. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

I can’t say I was ever bored out there and got to watch the men’s 52 km race unfold:) After my first lap, the only skiers to pass me out on course were the top 4 men in the 52 km race, and they passed me on each of my laps which enabled me to get and give more cheers! Thanks also to Josh who provided some great cheer support.

It was great to see an albeit small but competitive women’s field in the classic race. I ended up 4th woman and was 12 minutes back.

I still managed to win my age class and got to share the podium with my friend Allie and her smiley daughter. Photo: Chris Broderson

Given that I love double poling, the Mora Vasaloppet is my favorite course! I also love the community atmosphere, the main street finish, the blueberry soup, seeing all my skier friends, and the kranskulas. And the course keeps getting better every year. I do really miss the butter-and-cheese sandwiches from bygone years and might rally to bring them back!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

In Conclusion - A City of Lakes Loppet Fix to the Short Cut Fiasco

In my last blog post about the City of Lakes- Columbia Sportswear skate marathon I talked about some skiers accidentally taking a short cut at 20.5km into the race.  The Loppet staff made a time adjustment for those skiers that reported taking the shortcut, including myself and the team-mate I alluded to.  Here is the message I received from Piotr Bednarski:

Dear ______ (I removed names here for privacy)

As you probably know, a number of people missed a key turn in the Bog during the Skate Loppet on Sunday, and took the shorter (and flatter) route to the sound wall on 394.   Though the intersection was marked correctly, its a tricky  intersection to navigate because you are moving quickly.  We do not believe anyone did this intentionally, but we wish to make this fair to those that skied the correct (and longer) course, so we will do a time adjustment.

All of you have spoken to me about this, so thanks for your being up front about it.   I just wanted to give you the full scoop.   There were 11 skiers that took the shorter route, 3 of which did not finish.  We will be doing a time adjustment of  6min, that is we will be adding 6 minutes to your time.  .  This is based on our skiing both routes at race pace and subtracting the difference.  Jon Miller skied an extra lap of Calhoun as his penance :) so we won't be adding any time to his result.

Thanks for racing the Loppet!


Piotr Bednarski

Chief of Course

I thanked Piotr for taking the time to sort through this and make an adjustment.  Now I can sleep a little better knowing a correction has been made.  Way to go Loppet Foundation!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Loppet 2018 Low Down

After racing 3 races at World Masters in 5 days, I didn’t want to do a long classic race at the loppet. Instead I decided to do the Ski-Orienteering Race. I’ve done this twice before and my last time didn’t go so well. I hoped for warm temps to make map reading and control punching easier.

Fortunately for me, it was relatively warm with temps in the low 30s. Similar to two years ago when I last did the ski-O, the race started on Bde Maka Ska (if this sounds mysterious, remember it is orienteering afterall). I suspected most of the controls would be on Lake of the Isles and so the morning of the event I studied the old map to “reorient” myself with the area.

This year's ski-O course in case you are interested

Usually in orienteering races, whether on foot or skis, I have significant difficulty locating the first control. I tucked the map down my spandex pants (see photo; others use a fancy map holder). My plan for the start was to get a good orientation on the map and really see where the first control was before taking off. At the start, I did just that and executed perfectly. I was in third place already by the first control and the fastest woman.
Erik demonstrates how to punch the control. But wait, you can't see him in his winter camouflage suit! He also has a fancy map holder if you look closely. Photo: MNOC

There isn’t a lot of “orienteering” to be done on a lake but the snow conditions did make for a bit of an adventure. It was in the upper 40s the day before causing significant snow melt, then froze overnight, causing lots of ice. As usual, I fretted about my wax selection prior to the race. I had decided to use my B skis in case we ended up a bit in the woods and had use Rex Pink- a medium fluoro designed for temps in the teens and twenties. With the sun shining bright, I was worried the snow would get slushy and my wax wouldn’t work; however, as we drove to the start, it got cloudy and during our warm up we discovered the snow was either ice or skied cold and powdery with glare ice under the bridges- and glare ice is pretty fast no matter the wax choice so I really didn’t need to fret about the wax.

So anyway, at each control (the places you need to orient to on your map and then punch to prove you were there) I looked at my map and located the next control. I made it to all the controls easily but did have some difficulty staying on my skis on the glare ice sections and when following choppy “skied-in” tracks.

Me at a control. Here you can see the map-tucked-down-my-pants holder. Photo: MNOC

No one passed me out on course and so I assumed I was still in third overall heading into the finish and first woman although orienteerers can make different route choices so it was always possible someone took a better route choice than me and passed me. Lucky for me this was not the case and I maintained my position and got some redemption over my last ski-O! Good thing, too, because my mom made me a bunch of earrings for Christmas and I was in need of a new earring holder.

Erik on top of the podium! Photo: MNOC

And me on top of the podium for a husband-wife sweep (and you thought only the Gregg's did that!) There was a 3rd place woman but she was doing the Ski-joring race so couldn't wait for awards. Photo: Erik

The next event for me was the Classic Sprint over the Birkie Bridge on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis! Erik and I are both significantly better at distance than sprinting and we weren’t sure about snow quality but we both agreed we didn’t want to miss this opportunity to race in downtown.

An uber artistic photo with me and the full IDS during warm-up taken by my bro, Reid, who came out to watch the spectacle!

Since I work downtown, I walked over to Nicollet Mall after work. Once I got to the Birkie Bridge, the stand-still crowds, spot lights, strobe lights, and music amped me up so much it reminded me of the time I downed 16 ounces of coffee back in undergrad (I don’t usually drink coffee). I was really nervous and as I watched the high schoolers race, they looked to be going so fast which made me even more nervous.

We were able to warm up on the course for 20 minutes. I was still so amped up as I tried to warm up and just tried to remain calm and do what I know how to do- ski. I worked on some starts and double poling hard and thought about some strategy for herring-boning up the steep side of the bridge. I also skied the 180 corner many times. This corner was incredibly tricky- the first part was easy but the second part was incredibly tight and icy- as it was actually even tighter than a 180 resembling a lollipop configuration. Even with almost no speed I was getting spit out to the very edge of the snow. I decided this was definitely a one skier at a time corner.

Really getting forward when practicing my starts in the warm-up. Photo: Galen Murray

I always want to do well in every event I enter. Meanwhile, Erik was really immersing himself in the experience. It was almost surprising how easy I could tune out the crazy lights, crowd, and hyped up atmosphere during the warm up; Erik just enjoyed standing on the bridge and taking it all in.

Fortunately by the end of the warm up I wasn’t feeling quite so hyped up anymore. I had to wait over half an hour for my first heat. There were four girls in my heat. My goal was to get to the bridge first but we all took off really fast and I trailed behind Nicole Harvey as we herring-bone ran up the steep side of the bridge. I walked up this hill or slowly ran up it in warm up and all I can say is it felt like I got up that hill so fast in the race!

Following Nicole Harvey on the steep side of the bridge. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

The top 2 women from each heat moved on to the A finals and the second two women to the B finals. Unfortunately for me, there was another fast girl who got over the hill and tucked into the lineup for the 180 corner just in front of me which put me in third. As we skied up the shallow side of the bridge, I chose the untracked lane. I rallied as fast as I could but one of the girls moved over into my lane and I got stuck behind her. This whole event was so incredibly fast in my few strides behind her I didn’t really even have time to think that I should move over. I eventually moved over at the top of the hill for the downhill. Coming into the finish I got in my own tracks and tried to get forward onto my toes to mount a sprint finish but I was just a bit behind and finished 3 of 4 in my semi-final.

Tucking into 3rd as we headed into the 180 corner. I love the Target store in the background. Photo: Galen Murray

Still in third heading out of the 180. Sorry for all the photos but the atmosphere reminded me of being in Venice- just too much to take in. Photo: Galen Murray

So close to top 2 in the semis! Photo: Galen Murray

This put me in the B final. After getting a bit cut-off in my semi, I vowed to win my B final. I was in the opposite far-side lane which meant I would have firmer snow for the steep herring-bone but then I had to cut across the course to get in line for the 180 corner. I double poled hard on the straightaway and made it to the hill first this time but my herring-bone run apparently isn’t up to par and I made it to the top of the bridge in second. We skied conservatively around the 180 and despite giving it my all running and then herring-bone running up the gradual side of the hill, I was still in second at the top. I moved into my own lane and was at the bottom of the hill when the girl in front of me crashed. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get around her but I made it around her to finish first in heat B. This all happened a couple hours after reading Jessie Diggins blog on Brave Enough and I can say that as I took off my skis and poles at the finish, I was thoroughly breathing hard despite the very short attempt which took just over a minute. It’s always good to work hard!

The top 3 women in the B final. That's me over on the left. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

Cresting the bridge for the last time in 2nd in the B final. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

Dodging the fall in the B final. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

One note on equipment- I wanted to use classic skis because I am not a strong double poler (most of the guys couldn’t even double pole up the steep side of the bridge) and I know I’m pretty decent at mounting a fast run on my classic skis so I went with classic skis and kick wax; however, I decided to use my skate boots to give myself some ankle support in the 180 corner and in general. I was very happy that I made this combo decision and felt very stable the entire night.

On Saturday it was time for what Erik calls “the most important Loppet event.” No, it’s not a race, and I’ve had many a conversations trying to convince people of this. I’m talking about the Luminary Loppet. This is admittedly only the second time I’ve done the Luminary Loppet. I often don’t like to do the Luminary Loppet the night before the Loppet Skate Race but when we initially signed up, it was supposed to be the week earlier. When they changed the date to the night before the skate race, we decided to do it anyway. I tried to relax and enjoy the event instead of worrying it was making me tired for the skate race. I had decided to walk so I could wear my warm mukluks and keep my feet warm but with the new snow skiing would definitely have been more energy efficient as my feet slid backward with every step. I did really like the light-up penguin family (note to my friend Caitlin: you need to upgrade your penguin costume:) and the best was the ice band- complete with a xylophone made entirely of ice!!!

Finally, it was time for the Skate Marathon- the loppet event I was really targeting. Last year this race went pretty well for me doing laps on the machine-made loop, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I like knowing the course and places to work it, especially the corners. This year we went full course and with the cold temps and new snow it was bound to be a slog fest and for me the longer and slower the better.

I again got to start in the Best of the Loppet wave. Since I’m about the slowest skier in this wave, I could stay warm inside and get in the back of the women’s field with less than 5 minutes to spare. Indeed, once we started I stayed at the very back and was the last person to head out onto the Twin Lakes Loop. For awhile it was looking like I might be the last finisher from the elite wave but one by one I definitively passed a few girls. There was one girl, #65, who I started right next to at the back of the wave who I ended up skiing with for most of the race.

Wave 1 skiers caught me before the first road crossing and kept passing me in abundance until the bog. It’s kind of degrading to just get passed and passed. According to wave placement, the top 17 women and 94 men from last year’s skate race (I was 12th) were placed in the elite wave (and my overall 142nd place from last year would have placed me in wave if I was a man). I’m sorry to all the men faster than me who had to pass me but if you’re upset, you need to encourage your partners, female friends, and every woman skier you know to start racing so I have more competition. This year there were 90 women compared to 402 men in the race. Talk about gender inequality!

I thought maybe I had dropped #65 in the bog but she caught on a very fast woman from wave 2 (only a couple men out of wave 2 passed me) and caught back up for me just in time for Cedar Lake. I was kinda glad she caught back up to me cause that meant I wouldn’t have to do the lakes alone. And finally, once we hit Lake of the Isles, we got to start passing back up some wave 1 men and no one else passed us. Most of these guys had pretty inefficient technique and one thing I’ve noticed is women skiing at the same pace as men tend to have much prettier technique. So #65 and I worked together to pass a group of guys. She led south along Calhoun and for most of the ways along the very cold and windy south side. Here one of the wave 1 guys jumped in the front with his atrocious technique. The paced slowed. When #65 pulled over I took the lead and never looked back. It might have been a bit dumb to lead here into the wind but I was still feeling good and so did everything I could to drop all the skiers behind me and I guess I dropped all but one guy and #65 (although some people told me I was leading quite the pack of guys for awhile) so it was successful. And it turns out #65 was in my age group!

My new friend, #65. Photo Bruce Adelsman

Overall I had good energy, especially on the uphills, but I had very little glide. I never got tired climbing the hills but struggled on the flats. But, I didn’t do any double poling on the lakes like I did 2 years ago. I saved the double poling for next week at Mora:) Over the past few years I’ve really become a classic specialist, mostly because I love double poling. In my ideal world I’d make a combined technique with double poling on the flats and skating on the uphills and then I’d be ready for world domination:) I’ve had better races and I’ve had worse races. It’s hard to figure out the pacing and there’s something about wearing a buff that seems to prevent me from being in full on attack mode. That and the high coefficient of friction!

Racing through the bog! Photo: Bruce Adelsman

A note on my clothing for the day: (keep in mind it was around 0 ℉ with a stiff wind from the north making for a windchill around -20 ℉) I wore 2 layers on each top and bottom under my racing spandex. This seemed to be just about perfect except for my flabs and face getting cold on the headwind sections. My hands also often get really cold the longer I ski when my handwear gets cold from sweat. Erik overheard some guy at World Masters talking about this problem and he wears rubber gloves to prevent this. I tried this last week on my 3 hour ski with an experiment using a rubber glove under my mittens on one hand. It was about 15 ℉ and I was wearing mittens and both of my hands stayed warm throughout but when I took off that rubber glove the sweat dripped out of it. Anyway, for the race I decided to use rubber gloves on both hands under my mittens. My hands mostly stayed warm after they initially warmed up and my mittens were almost completely dry at the end but obviously the rubber gloves were dripping wet.

City of Lakes Loppet Festival - Columbia Sportswear Skate Marathon a.k.a. the long skate race (A Bad, Good Race)

This was one of those races I wish I could rewind and get a do-over.  This was not my first time racing the long course, but it has been a few years since we had enough snow to do the entire course (less the Minikahda golf course section).  Because I live in Stillwater, I only ski the South portion of this trail during the City of Lakes whole course events.  I'm not the kind of person that pays much attention to the trail when I race and I'm not good at remembering courses.  With that said, before racing I did take a two minute look at the trail map and gathered a couple rules of thumb I could remember:  there are five feeds, three big lakes in the second half, and the half way mark is just past the third feed.  That was all I thought I needed to know.  Of course I didn't give myself enough time in the morning, and of course our shuttle bus from Mortenson had engine issues.  I arrived at the Wirth chalet and ran to the start to place my skis near the line.  I talked to Mike, a start official, and told him to remove my skis from the start area if I didn't return in time.  Then I ran to the big tent and got a bib, changed into my boots, and threw my bag into the truck.  I arrived at the start line with three minutes to go time.  Mike was impressed I made it back in time.

The race was going pretty well.  My technique was a bit jerky until I could get warmed up.  I (37)skied some of the North side of Wirth with my teammate Erik Pieh (18).

He was pulling away from me on the downhills and I didn't want to go hard enough to catch back up, so he slowly drifted away. Bye, bye Erik! I pretty much skied the rest of the race alone.  

Okay, so you are probably wondering why I would want a do-over on a sub zero degree marathon that I pretty much skied alone for the majority of the kilometers.  At approximately 20 1/2 kilometers I came to a split trail.  There may have been a trail marker, but if there was I didn't see it.  All the other intersections were well marked and gave me no trouble.  Anyhow, realizing I didn't know which way to go, I stopped and asked the official blue coated person standing near the junction, "what way do I go".  They replied, "what race are you doing? the 40km?"  I said yes, the 40km (I figured it was close enough to the shortened 42km race that was now 38kms).  They said, "go right". At lease that is what I thought I heard.  So, I turned around and headed down the other trail.  I was a bit concerned because the number of ski tracks were just about half of what I had been skiing on. I looked back and saw another skier not that far behind, and that reassured me. In addition, I thought if I were going the wrong way, the trail official would have yelled for me to go the other way.  At about 25kms my faster teammate, Craig Cardinal, passed me in a pack of other skiers.  Craig yelled, "you took a short cut".  That was when I realized what had happened.  According to the Loppet Foundation Blue Course Map, the short cut I took at 20.5kms cut off just over one kilometer.  The rest of the race I was so distracted, thinking, should I even finish, should I ski the 3 or so kilometers back to where the trail split, should I go fast or just ski to the finish, ...  I tried to gather myself together and pick up the pace.  When I reached the lake formerly known as Lake Calhoun my skis felt much faster.  I ended up passing two skiers that looked like dots in the distance on the lake before reaching the finish line.  Man was the wind off the lake strong!

Right away after finishing I told the race director what happened, that I had taken a short cut. I later found out quite a few skiers took this shortcut. Another teammate of mine said he, and the 15 or so skiers in his pack, all took the shortcut. 

According to mtec RESULTS, my per kilometer time was 3:10.  With skipping one+ kilometer of the race it should have been slightly higher than this.   I'm guessing my adjusted time should have been 3.5 to 4 minutes longer because the part that was skipped was said to have been hilly.  Adjusting my time would put my finish time at around 2:03:30.  Still safely in front of the second placed woman, but well back of my 22nd overall (men and women) position Loppet Results. I would have been around 33rd in the overall results.

I am so bummed about this because I was having a good race and now it’s not really like I won. I don’t know if there would have been any way to sort out who took the shortcut and who didn’t so they let the results go. I wish there was a way to sort it out and give us an official time penalty or make an announcement saying if you think you may have taken this short cut let us know and we’ll give you a free entrance into next years race. Both solutions sound good, but would not be very practical.  I would not have wanted to be a race director for this race.  They did the best they could with having to make a decision on the fly. I don’t think there was any good solution.

I'm trying to forget this one and looking forward to my next un-abbreviated race and being happy with my results.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Master's World Cup

Whoever says Winter is boring is obviously not a Nordic skier, and definitely not a mom of five Nordic racers!  This season has been a whirl wind for our family.  The last Midwest Junior National Qualifying race weekend was held in Cable, WI on January, 20-21.  We have a cabin in Cable and so we housed and/or fed a large portion of my son's Michigan Tech team, in addition to our own five racers.  I didn't have/couldn't find pictures for all of them.

On Saturday, after the classic race, I headed home to wax my skis for the Master's World Cup 15km Freestyle race to be held the next morning. I figured missing my kids' Freestyle race was better than missing their Classical race because kick waxing can sometimes be difficult and I wanted to help with that.

I decided to race on my new Salomon BLUE skate skis that I just had stone ground at FinnSisu.  Tom (FinnSisu stone grinding expert extraordinaire) did an amazing job on my skis.  In addition to the Fast Wax that was running amazingly fast Sunday morning, the stone grind, I believe, enhanced my ski's speed.  Going into a race it's hard to know how your skis speed compares to that of others; I must say, mine were running very good that day.

My time ended up being the fastest 15km time in the overall women's field by over a minute.  After the race I enjoyed lunch by myself at Wendy's.  I even had enough time to wax my skis for Monday's 7.5km classic race before the rest of my family returned home from Cable.

Monday's classic 7.5km race was a race against time to finish before the snow storm hit.  It was lightly snowing in the morning and accumulating just slightly in the tracks.  My kick wax selection wasn't the best, but at least it wasn't icing up.  I won my 04 age class (45-49 yrs) and was just behind Norway's Ragnhild Bolstad (age group 05, 50-54 years) for the overall.
I don't want to make excuses, but her skis did seem like they were kicking better than mine.  I talked to her after the race and she confirmed that she "had really good skis".

After a day off of racing, on Wednesday, I raced in the relay event. It's a 4x5km relay where the first two legs are Classic technique and the last two legs are Freestyle. I was really hoping they would pick me for a Freestyle leg because I didn't want to mess with kick wax again.  No, they picked me to lead out our relay in the Classic leg.

I started in the second row behind a less fast Italian skier.  They said we had to stay in our lane in the double pole zone.  By the time we passed the double pole zone and I could cut over I was way behind the leaders from the other age groups.  It took me almost the whole race to catch up and pass the other skiers.  I tagged my teammate, Kim Rudd, in first place, just a couple seconds ahead of the other teams.  Our USA relay team won our age group 03/04, and finished 2nd overall, .2 seconds behind USAs age group 05/06.  It was another fun day racing with good friends in my relay and against other relays with former USA and Olympic team members.

My last of three races at the Master's World Cup was on Thursday.  It was the 30km Classic event.  Like all the other mornings I started my day driving to Theodore Wirth park in the early morning; sipping on a cup of instant coffee and eating my bowl of cereal.  I eat in my car so save time on the long drive to Theodore Wirth from Stillwater.  My metabolism is really fast, so it really isn't too close to race time for me to eat.

With the new snow mixed in with artificial snow, I found kick waxing again to be challenging.  It seemed to be working for my test skis, but when I put the same formula on my race skis I didn't have enough kick.  I added more and that negatively affected my glide.  By this time I had too many layers of kick wax on my race skis and only 20 minutes until race start.  Time to call it good enough and run from the Wirth chalet parking lot to the race start about 1/4 mile away. God is so... good; even in the panic of the moment He gives me inner peace!  During the entire race I had a tune repeating in my head, "if I am for you, who can be against you".  Near the end of my first lap they re-directed the racers up the sledding hill.  Apparently a train was parked over the tracks on the other side of the road.  The race officials made a very fast decision to change the race course from a 2x15km race to a 3x10km, much hillier race.

I ended up winning my age group and having the second fastest 30km time in the overall women's field, behind Norway's Ragnhild Bolstad.

Because family and coaching commitments, I missed all of the awards ceremonies, except for Friday's closing ceremonies.  This set of races will go down in my record book for frequency of racing (4 races in 5 days), one huge snow storm, one train parked in the wrong place, one death of a racer on course, and many smiling skiers.  Congratulations to all of team Vakava!