Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

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.


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