Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

2018-2019 Season Recap

Every year I like to write a season recap, but similar to when to put storage wax on my skis, it’s hard to know when the “season” is officially over because I’m always waiting for those April skis. Often when I’m racing and nearing the end but still hope to catch a few people the phrase blares in my head: “It’s not over until the fat lady sings.” Now, why I think of this proverb over and over again in ski racing is beyond me, but it’s applicable to the end of the ski season as well. And I think it’s a good attitude to have: never give up until it’s really over.

Erik landing a jump during our crust ski on April 14th

Anyway, given that I’ve never seen ski-able snow in the Twin Cities in May, I think it’s safe to say the season is officially over April 30th, and good thing since the new season arbitrarily begins May 1st:)

As ski-able snow is becoming increasingly less likely, and my skis are getting storage waxed in order of their likeliness to be used between now and May (A skis first, then B skis, then rock skis- maybe we should call them C skis:)), it’s time to publish this post.

We only got one crust ski this year but it was amazing! Crust skiing is simply the best. Photo: Erik
We still found plenty of snow that we never needed to take off our skis. Photo: Erik

If not already evident enough with my Crossroads Series, the 2018-2019 ski season for me was marked by ambivalence juxtaposed by all-in training and races.

This past year I’ve taken a more type B approach to ski training. I’ve made some subtle differences- not doing many half hour rollerskis after work, not focusing on rollerskiing so much, and racing less (partly because World Masters wasn’t in Minneapolis this year). I’ve also been struggling with this notion of getting stuff from races. I’m over the prizes and shwag. My house is too full of this stuff already. Once I get them they become too sentimental to me and I can’t box them up and send them to Goodwill. Besides, who wants some plaque that says “Top Female 32 km Classic?”

Erik and I came home from Birkie 2019 and immediately put our new hats in the Goodwill pile before they became too treasured.

During the winter I find it really difficult to get skiing after work. By the time I get skiing it’s dark and often quite cold. The driving takes forever and it’s difficult to get home at 8 pm on a work night. So this year Erik and I used more biking/running to and from work in lieu of one of our usual ski days some weeks. It’s just so “easy” to run the 5 miles home from work in the light for my exercise and be home by 6 pm rather than driving somewhere to ski in the dark. That’s just not efficient and I’m an efficient person. We did this during the polar vortex because somehow, it seemed nicer to run rather than ski at -17 ℉. Besides, on that coldest day I got to run with the wind on the way home from work and that’s something no ski trail would afford.

And so what have I been doing instead of training quite so much? Well, I've entered into my "project phase" of life. Here's a nightstand I made with Erik's help. You may notice a few different awards as structural features:)

Sometimes, to save time and spend less on bus money, I started biking and running to go skiing after work. This had me running from downtown Minneapolis to Wirth a few times and biking part way to Hyland. This activity was in addition to my usual ski time so it worked to improve my fitness. I figure if it’s faster to run somewhere than take the bus that I should run. A couple times I also ran to Hiawatha Golf Course and those times I substituted some run time for ski time.

Despite being at a crossroads with skiing and the man-made loops we skied before we managed the snowiest February on record, I actually liked being out skiing the vast majority of the time. It made me savor my ski time.

Most frustrating for me over the winter was repeatedly failing at keeping my hands warm in December and January. I’m not sure if this is a new phenomenon or an old one that I forgot about during the months of 80 degree weather. Either way, I’ve developed a zero tolerance policy for frost nipping my fingers. It seems I often fail to factor in the wind and other times it was colder than predicted or snow conditions were so fast that I wasn’t dressed appropriately. I shouldn’t be making this Rookie Mistake.

A typical April skier's workout. Yup, that's a two man saw we used to cut down this tree! Photo: Steve Pieh
Erik arguably got the better workout on the day.

At the beginning of the season I stated my intention to do more threshold workouts prior to the racing season. I can happily report that I executed these marvelously. The first one occurred on Onion River Road near Lutsen. It was one of those rare times when everything came together perfectly. For me to do intervals, I need decent snow conditions. There wasn’t much snow on the North Shore in early December when Erik and I were on a trip for the State Park Challenge but we did manage to get in one ski and I was really hoping to do a double pole threshold session to get ready for Mora. Every year Mora leaves my lower back incredibly sore and so this year I attempted to be better prepared with long threshold sessions. I double poled 4 x 15 minutes on Onion River Road- on the flats, up the gradual hills and even down the gradual hills and a few hours later as a stiffness settled into my lower back it was mission accomplished!

I did a few more threshold sessions each weekend in January when I wasn’t racing: a couple 4 x 15 minutes skate skiing at Hyland and Wirth and then did 30-30s (30 seconds on at marathon race pace followed by 30 seconds skiing easy for an hour total) at Wirth. I finished up with 4 x 15 minutes classic at Elm Creek. Most of these sessions I did as part of 3 hour skis. I warmed up for an hour, did an hour of threshold, and then skied easy for an hour. Doing this really made those sessions fly by and made me feel ready for my upcoming marathons.

My heart rate from skate 4 x 15 minute thresholds at Hyland.

Despite a more type B approach, I’ve been doing my intervals and races with a fervor that has even surprised me.

Every Wednesday night at Vakava we do hard intervals and in particular, two Wednesday nights in a row, we did classic skiing at Wirth going twice up the hill to coach’s corner. Some of these we even did double pole only! I pushed these so hard it made me realize that I still have that fight 100%.

Heart rate from hard intervals at Wirth with Vakva

In early January, Vakava participated in the Wednesday night Elm Creek team race sponsored by the Fulton Team. This year’s categories ended up being different than previous years and was a bit confusing but in the end I ended up racing the 10 km classic against Kathleen. In terms of performance, this was one of the standout races for me in the past few years. Kathleen gapped me a decent bit on the gradual downhill from the start but I attacked like no other on the two steep uphills on each loop- running them with mad turnover. I didn’t give up and tried my hardest on the fast double pole sections as well and by midway through the third lap I caught up to Kathleen! I passed her and she tucked in behind me. I did everything I could to put some time on her on those short quick uphills but she stayed with me and pulled in front of me as we neared the finishing stretch. I didn’t let her get too far in front of me and we finished within a couple seconds of each other. Mission accomplished again: phenomenal training race AND it was extra fun to come home and watch the women’s Tour de Ski Classic 10 km which was also 4 x 2.5 km loops and see that I had a similar time! (OK, so their course was hillier).

We've been paddling a fair bit this spring, including on March 31st, the day the river crested in St. Paul. Here we're about to canoe into the building on the grounds where we got married almost 11 years ago. It's been quite the adventure paddling on flooded roads, bike trails, and parking lots this spring, into buildings, and over bridges! Photo: Erik

In terms of racing … in summary, I was left wanting more.

I wanted a longer City of Lakes Loppet but was grateful to get to ski on excellent snow conditions at the man-made loop.

I wanted to ski faster at Mora where I ended up 4th for the fourth consecutive year. Despite my training, I don’t feel my double pole has improved. Meanwhile, my fellow competitor, Chris, made up almost 30 minutes on me in a year’s time. Maybe it’s not possible to get 10% faster.

At the Finlandia I managed to enter into the most competitive race and was denied an axe for the first time in seven tries. Wow, I had quite a streak going. Here I found myself wanting there to be no prizes, maybe even wanting no placings. Just wanting to ski hard and not actually know how I stack up against others:)

Things went well in the Birkie with my highest place ever in the skate race and that 337th overall...the wanting more is wanting to stay there and knowing it will take a lot to improve upon that performance.

And finally, at the Great Bear Chase, I got my first and only win of the season but know I could have pushed harder. I wanted to double pole faster. My double pole is good, but not as good as Ingvild Østberg’s and instead of accepting the obvious- that I will never be top 5 in the world- I’m going to keep working on it.

The crazy thing is, despite being in the Crossroads last year, I’ve emerged wanting more than ever to get better at skiing. Because. I’m. Always. In. Pursuit. Of. Perfection.