Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

And My Axe Collection is Complete [for now]: Finlandia 2019

Given there’s four different races at the Minnesota Finlandia (50 km skate, 25 km classic, 25 km skate, and 25 km pursuit) and not a lot of female participants each year, I’ve really been able to rack up the prizes, in particular the axes. Indeed, I’ve won the last 6 times I entered meaning I have 6 axes! Erik won his first axe last year so collectively we have 7 axes. One of these axes is significantly less embellished than my others. That one has been banished to the upstairs closet. The other 6 adorn our dining room fireplace.

Heading into the Finlandia I didn’t need another axe. But at the same time I wanted another axe. But not just any axe. I want an axe with a gnome scene on it. Wow, I have become quite an axe snob.

So with this in mind when I went to register for the Finlandia, I thought a bit about which race I might be most likely to win and which race’s axe might have a gnome scene on it. I had intended to do the classic race, but now I was having second thoughts. But all this was stupid. It was impossible to know what the axes looked like and who might be in my race (well, I could defer my registration to the night before and see who was registered for each race and go from there but I still probably wouldn’t see the axes ahead of time).

All this got me thinking, I don’t need another axe. And last week for Mora I was thinking, I don’t need another Swedish Dala horse. I’m starting to feel bogged down by all my stuff. Why do we need these prizes? Why can’t we just go out and race and not get anything for it?

Most, but not all of my Dala horse collection.
I signed up for the 25 km classic, as I have my last 4 times.

In terms of waxing/ski preparation I’ve had a couple firsts this year. The first “first” was at the City of Lakes Loppet when I actually brought warm-up skis to preserve the life of my fluor topcoat on my racing skis. The second “first” was intentionally not waxing my skis before a major race. Finn Sisu waxed my classic skis for Mora and since conditions were about the same for the Finlandia, I opted to just brush my skis and hope whatever worked at Mora would work for Finlandia, nevermind that they had been skied on for 42 kilometers in between. I figured I couldn’t do a better job than what Finn Sisu did.

The Finlandia is my hometown race. We stay with my mom every year and are greeted by my brother and his girlfriend who handle registration (my brother is also on the board). I know everyone on the board and all the local skiers. It’s a family party every year and throughout the years my mom has hosted a lot of Finlandia skiers. The night before the race we had a pretty epic dance party with my 18 month old niece.

My bro and his daughter (my niece) after the race. I love her hot pink Carhart jacket:) Photo: Dave Harrington

I took a peek at the registration list at packet pick-up. There were some fast ladies in my race- Kerrie Berg and Molly Watkins. Hmmmm...I wasn’t about to give up in the race but an axe seemed pretty unlikely.

Other than eating a bit too much for breakfast, I felt good when I arrived at the Finlandia start. I tested out my skis which seemed to have good kick with SWIX VR40 even though it was barely zero degrees at the start. I wore the same layers I had for Mora given temperatures were similar; except I used my lobsters this time for handgear. I warmed up a bit and then got in the starting line.

I noted the other women in my race- the aforementioned Kerrie Berg and Molly Watkins. Allie Rykken was also there! I lined up in the 2nd row, behind my bro. Erik was next to Leif and Bjorn Adelsman next to me. We were in the midst of a conversation when the air horn went off and the race started. Molly just took off in her old bumblebee U of M suit. At least she was easy to spot:) I skied alongside Allie and then Kerrie came by me. I tried to not let Kerrie get away (Molly was already well away) and tucked in behind Kerrie.

The classic and pursuit line-up. I think my bro and Erik were turned around like this when the air horn went off since there wasn't any count down. Photo: Dave Harrington
The first hill is a steep downhill ski run and I herringbone ran behind Kerrie up that hill. The course then levels off a bit but still climbs up an easier green downhill run. Somehow I managed to stay behind Kerrie, actually striding. In hindsight, I’m super proud of myself to have strided up that part of the hill because striding is not my strong suit. Once we got up the hill I wasn’t completely spent either. Kerrie took off with her strong double pole. A few other guys were pulling away from me, too, but I kept going and after going around a field and down a big hill, I was reeling in the guys.

As we gradually climbed to the eastern section of the course, I passed an NDSU guy in the pursuit race and then Bjorn. Now I was skiing in a pack with a guy in a blue suit and Chris Broderson. I kinda wanted to pass both of them but it was also nice to settle into a pack that I had no trouble keeping up with. I tried to work on my striding. My kick was excellent. A few times I either tried to pass Chris and the blue suit, or Chris tried to pass the blue suit, but we were unsuccessful. It was slow outside the tracks and it seemed like he sped up every time we tried to pass him.

Somehow I got past Chris and then I was skiing behind blue suit. We seemed to have gapped Chris and Allie. We were in a mostly flat section with small hills. We were going a decent pace on the uphills but we were going really slow on the flats. I was able to readjust my pole strap on the flats and not lose ground. I worried Chris and Allie would catch up with me. The NDSU pursuit guy caught up with us. I tried to pass blue suit on an uphill outside the tracks but got quite tired doing so. Finally, there was a long, just fast enough to tuck downhill. The NDSU guy and I got in the tracks and passed blue suit who was outside the tracks.

I skied fast and hard for a bit to drop blue suit. The NDSU guy stopped at the water stop and I skied on by myself for awhile. The NDSU guy caught up to me just as we headed onto the “island” but then I think he fell over on a herringbone hill as I got some time on him. The lead skate pack (they started 15 minutes after the classic) passed me on the backside of the downhill area (the tracks were clearly faster) and then Bjorn made a comeback and passed me back up. I was able to hold off the NDSU guy though. There’s a couple steep hills toward the end of the east side- I herringbone walked them as fast as I could, not able to muster the energy to run up them.

The NDSU guy behind me followed by Bjorn making his comeback (note, Bjorn is wearing a blue suit but is not "blue suit." The lead skate pack is coming up on us as we made our way up a hill on the east side of Buena Vista. Photo: Monty Draper
Then we were through the tunnel and onto the west side. Bjorn was getting away, but not so far away that I couldn’t see his beautiful striding technique which I tried to mimic. I kept skiing hard, now quite sure I had a sufficient gap on Chris and Allie. The west side snakes back and forth and so I frequently saw skiers both ahead and behind me.

Soon I was through the west side aid station and heading out onto what is called “Cann’s Loop.” Now there were only 5 km left. I kept trying to push the pace but walked up “The Wall” which is a steep hill deserving of its name. The hill coming off The Wall is a screamer and almost gets me every year. Then there’s a couple rolling hills before we circle back and climb a hill adjacent to the wall. Brett Arenz passed me skating and as I started up the hill I could hear another skater coming up behind me. This got me to break into a herringbone run. I climbed the hill, rounded a corner and could still see Bjorn ahead of me. I set my sites on chasing him down.

We went down and up and then there’s a straight section heading south. Bjorn appeared to be fading and this gave me more motivation. On the uphills I did as much striding as I could but sometimes got out of the tracks to herringbone. Then I was past the aid station again and heading to the finish with less than 2 km to go. I was gaining fast on Bjorn but he was holding his own. Finally, on the last uphill, I passed him. Then it was through the tunnel, down a small hill, and a long straightaway to the finish. Bjorn rallied and double poled away from me. Bjorn finished one place in front of me last year and again this year, but we were 10 minutes slower this year owing to some slow snow conditions.

Kerrie leading Molly in the bumblebee suit. Photo: Monty Draper
I ended up in third and so won the wild rice! My pantry supply has long been depleted so I’m looking forward to making some wild rice soup. Perishable prizes are always good (literally and figuratively). Overall I was happy with my race. And for this year at least we can keep our current fireplace axe feng-shui. The other two ladies were five plus minutes in front of me and I don’t think I had that in me. I always wonder if it’s more of a mental block rather than physical block keeping me from staying up with the fast women but when Molly took off at the start I couldn’t go any faster and same thing when Kerrie Berg got away.

A not very good podium photo w/ Kerrie (middle in first), Molly (left in second), and me in third. Photo: Dave Harrington

Our axe feng-shui (uh, just look past all the other clutter:)

Of note, not a single axe had a gnome scene:) The women’s axes all had flower patterns (although there were some new chic flower patterns this year) and two of the men’s axes had scenes. One was a brown bear scene but the other were a couple fighting moose:( I didn’t like that axe.

Not at all sad to have missed winning this axe- it went to a men's winner
On the way home we decided to ski at Lake Maria State Park. Similar to my previous experiences skiing at other Minnesota State Parks, while these double tracked classic trails stir up connotations of granny skiing, these trails are only appropriate if your granny has a Zach Handler affinity for tricky downhills. Fortunately, the snow was plentiful at Lake Maria State Park but I did my most snowplowing of the season and these hills were labeled “Intermediate,” not “Expert.” I know I’m not the best downhiller, but even Erik had to do some snowplowing! Yes, I saw him snowplowing:)

A common Zach Handler trail report.

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