After several years of Erik trying to convince me to do the MinneTour, largely because the prize money in the women’s field goes five deep and often there aren’t too many women competing in this category, I finally decided to do it. Erik forgot this was likely to result in a several page blog post he’d have to edit:)
The Loppet MinneTour is comprised of three races: the skate sprints on Friday night, the long classic race on Saturday, and the long skate race on Sunday. This year both of the “long” races were 37 km.
While I wasn’t too excited to race two almost marathons on back-to-back days, I’ve done this a number of times previously and always feel super tired for the second marathon. I figured I should do the MinneTour at least once.
The week before the MinneTour, Erik got a cold. I kept waiting to get the cold as well.
Throughout January I trained every day with lots of skiing, running, strength, and intervals. I began tapering Wednesday, doing less than half of the Vakava workout. I wanted to ski a bit on Thursday but ultimately decided it would be best for me to take a day off. I often struggle taking days off but knew my body needed it to be competitive in the MinneTour.
The Skate Sprints
I’m not much of a sprinter but was determined to give it my best effort. I practiced some sprints on various parts of the course earlier in the season. While doing a couple fast three minute efforts wouldn’t make me too tired for the remainder of the weekend, I knew getting to Wirth and waiting around for the often not so well organized sprints would take a toll. Plus, given the sprints were at 7 PM, I had to figure out how to get in a solid dinner (I hate eating dinner too close to bedtime). And, since sprinting a couple hours prior to bedtime doesn’t help me sleep, that would be another negative.
Fortunately, since Erik convinced me to do the MinneTour and was only doing the long skate race himself, he was willing to be my support person for the weekend.
My day at work was busy and put things in perspective. This always helps take the pressure off racing. For reference, I work at Hennepin County Medical Center (now Hennepin Healthcare). So I arrived to the start grateful for:
1. An safe, stable, and abuse-free upbringing and life
2. To be loved, supported, and respected by so many people
3. That I’m able to ski, almost always pain free
4. That I’m able to ski hard
If anyone thinks this list is cheesy, consider yourself exceptionally fortunate. This small list (yes, it does look like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) doesn’t hold true for many of the people on this planet.
I got my bib, met up with some of my Vakava teammates, and tried to relax. With 30 minutes to my quarterfinal, I put on my skis and began my warm up which included a couple hills and a couple sprint starts. Then it was time to race! And credit to the Loppet, they ran those heats on time and were well organized!
The top three women in each quarterfinal advanced to the semis and the other women went into the Consolation “Break your pole” heat. I thought I had a chance at advancing but knew Vivian Hett would destroy our heat and I’d be lucky to beat one of the Garretsons.
The starter said “go” and we were off. Wow, I was still with the other ladies at the end of the double pole zone. I transitioned well into skating but found myself in 4th place. I couldn’t believe how hard I was breathing within 200 meters but it was awesome! I V-2’d a bunch and only V-1’d the steepest part of the catwalk. I tried hard to get into 3rd but didn’t quite make it. I was a long way in front of 5th so thought that boded well for potentially winning the “Break your pole” heat and then could end up lucky 13th!
I chilled out for 30 minutes and then planned to get a good start position for the Consolation heat. I took the inside line again. Right at the start I realized I hadn’t hit my watch and lost a bit of time. I never did hit my watch. I quickly found myself in 6th place. I worked hard on the long uphill to crawl back into 3rd. I tried really hard to catch the 2nd place woman but just couldn’t quite do it. Ahhh, if only I could actually balance on my skis I could put in some power.
It was nice to see a bunch of my Vakava teammates do really well!
In the end, I didn’t get any bonus seconds from the sprints but I did put in two solid efforts for which I was proud.
|The giant piece of cake I ate on Friday prior to the sprints. Maybe not the healthiest decision, but definitely calorie and carb packed!|
The Classic Race
I still hadn’t gotten Erik’s cold. Crazy luck!
Conditions for the classic race were perfect: upper 20s to low 30s, no wind, and good snow. Given that the first third is all double pole with the hills later in the race, it makes kick waxing difficult. I knew I’d appreciate some kick for the hills, so decided to wax thick and warm, hoping it wouldn’t all wear off by the time I got there. I put on binder, ironed in a layer of SWIX VR 55, then corked in four layers of VR 50, and finally covered it with two layers of VR 45.
Women started in the far right four lanes. I appreciate that the Loppet has this designation for women. Hoping for a top 10 finish, I put my skis down in the second row. I warmed up, cut in the port-a-potty line (not the best move), and got to the start. I lined up next to Margie. The gun sounded and we were off! Us women were pretty nice with letting each other in as the tracks went from several sets to five and then to four. I found myself behind Margie in the far right lane. I was easily able to keep up and wanted to go a bit faster. A bunch of guys and one woman passed us in a train and I hopped over a track and joined them. It was obvious this track was much faster and I let Margie know and she jumped in behind me.
|The classic start. I'm way over on the far left in front. Photo: Margaret Adelsman|
Skiers were passing me and I tried to go to whatever lane was moving faster. On the south side of Bde Mka Ska the trail went onto land and narrowed to only two classic tracks. I was behind a couple guys in either track who were going the same pace which became rather pedestrian. These guys created an impasse. Knowing my strong suit is double poling, I wanted to make time up on the lakes. I tried to be patient. It was possible to go around them but out of the tracks the snow was significantly slower. I tried this once, failed, and got back in the tracks. I tried to be patient again. Margie was hoping to make a move, too. I told her I thought there were only five women in front of us so it wasn’t a total loss. I tried to go around again out of the tracks but was then working super hard. Margie and I discussed tracking one of the guys.
Finally, a guy made his way through the field. I jumped in behind him and told him to track the guy in front. He did that, Margie jumped in behind me, and we were finally clear of the impasse.
|Margie and I right after we broke clear of the impasse. Photo: Margaret Adelsman|
The track between Bde Mka Ska and Isles was a bit rough. Out of Isles I tried to keep up with Margie. A few guys passed us. Soon Margie got a ways in front of me and so did the other guys, including my teammate, Brock. By the time we were onto Cedar I was skiing by myself.
I often end up by myself and while I’m still skiing hard, I kinda like being by myself. That way I don’t have to match or worry about anyone else. I kept skiing hard and as I climbed the hill coming off the east side of Cedar I was slipping badly. It’s always a hard transition to go from pure double poling to striding. I told myself I needed to calm down a bit, that this was a long race, and I needed to do some striding. This helped, I found my groove, and step turned a couple downhills.
I sure love double poling though and enjoyed the last bit of Cedar and Brownie. As I climbed up off Brownie, it was obvious I didn’t have the greatest kick. I felt super slow. The stretch along 394 was slow. I told myself it was slow for everyone. The first hill in the bog was sugary and my kick wasn’t good. I flailed and didn’t do well on transitions. As I made my way to the steep hill in the bog, I was gaining on a couple guys. I did some herring bone walking, letting myself get my heart rate down a tad. Then I tried not to snowplow too much on the downhills but sometimes where they had put the tracks down made things a bit tricky. As I came out of the bog, I was catching up to a guy. He wasn’t any good at the downhills and I had no idea how he could be in front of me. He snowplowed the ENTIRE last hill in the bog. I couldn’t quite get in front of him and after we crossed the road and started out on Butler, he snowplowed down the entire first hill in Butler as well. Now I was completely set on passing him because I wasn’t about to get stuck behind him on any more downhills!
I made my way past him as we skied parallel to Wirth Parkway. Here I passed former Vakava teammate, Ryan, and he told me I was 6th woman! This made me really happy and kept me going (he had actually miscalculated and I was 7th, but still well within top 10!). I had practiced the next sequence of downhills but still snowplowed a tad and then snowplow turned around a left hander in Wirth that looked like it had been skidded out by the fast skiers. I tried to ski each section of the course fast, not thinking about what was ahead.
I finished skiing through Butler, across some slush and yikes, standing water on the pond, passed a couple more guys, wondered why they put tracks down on a sharp left corner and made my way to the Wirth Beach area. I took a feed and set out to pass my teammate Brock back up. Things were going well until we hit ice and then standing water on Wirth Lake (note to self: tomorrow’s event will be the first of its kind- a totally new duathlon- ski-swim-ski, better buy a dry suit tonight:)
Up and over Jar Hill, back across Wirth Lake where the snow was good and onto JD gardens. I struggled with skiing fast in the tracks on some corners. I always prefer no tracks. I could hear someone coming up on me. Oh, no, was this a woman? Sure enough it was. She passed me towards the end of JD gardens and I stuck with her for awhile. She got in front of me in Tornado Alley. At least I figured I could use the injection of pace to pull me further in front of some of the MinneTour competitors!
Soon we were skiing the Front 9 where I had my best striding of the day. This felt wonderful. And then before long we were crossing over Wirth Parkway on the bridge, making our way by The Finish at The Trailhead (Brian and Matt were already done, I was just glad none of the Puoli skiers had finished yet) and out towards Twin Lakes. I kept trying to push the pace but was admittedly t-i-r-e-d. By now the snow was transforming and with it any hope for kick. At least there were only a few K left, albeit with some big uphills!
I kept going, often running, double poling, and sometimes just herring bone walking up the hills.
I skied too cautiously on a couple downhills and Brock caught back up with me. Then it was just two big
uphills to go. We struggled through the first together- double poling, then trying to find some kick before resorting to a herring bone walk at the steepest and last part of the hill. Brock pulled in front of me in the tracks on the long sledding hill and got in front of me but he did inspire me to double pole a large section of that last big uphill which really helped. Finally, it was out of the tracks to try some running. My skis were slipping, I was tired, and as I went up the very last section and around a steep corner, I just walked a few strides. Then it really was all downhill from there and I tried to push hard to the finish to give myself all the advantage I could for tomorrow!
My lower back was sore from double poling and I had that cardiovascular “I pushed hard” feeling. My average heart rate was 151. I finished 8th of 54 women! It felt great to have a decent classic race. I put it all out there, hoping my solid training would carry me through tomorrow's skate race.
Now the trick was a mix of recovery and eating enough food!
The Skate Race
After skiing through some standing water yesterday and given temperatures expected to be about freezing overnight, I expected there might be some re-routing of the loppet. As usual, the Loppet left things to the last minute but promised to make a decision by 7 am.
I had a second fitful night of sleep with dreams of potential course circumstances. I worried about my MinneTour place and how course changes could affect this. My balance skating isn’t great and this is usually exaggerated on the flat lakes. I hadn’t looked at any official MinneTour standings, but as far as I knew, I was in fourth place, had about 8 minutes on fifth place, and money went five deep.
I woke up and checked the Loppet Website which noted course as usual with a couple small changes. OK, here we go.
I ate the same breakfast as Saturday morning (granola with a scoop of peanut butter, milk, and a banana) and we headed to the start. I skied from the parking lot to the start and then a bit more but didn’t feel like doing a warm up. I was getting hot, hot, hot though and thought about just skiing in my sports bra. I debated for a few minutes. The sun was getting higher but when I unzipped my warm-up pants I could feel the breeze and decided to leave on my spandex top.
I gave myself plenty of time in the port-a-potty line today and didn’t budge:)
Given I was in the “Bottle” wave (Best of the Loppet) and one of the slowest in that wave, I didn’t worry about a good start position and got in the corral five minutes to start and lined up next to some similar ability women. The gun went off and conditions were rough! The skate deck was fast enough but very soft on the sides. I struggled to stay up and keep up with the women. At one point I almost fell over, gliding unsteadily on my right ski for a very long time. I only knew who the top three women in the MinneTour were, the ones that I was never going to beat unless one of them had a very bad day or dropped out, but thought I knew a couple others and tried to keep them in my sights. Mostly though, I just tried not to fall over.
Usually I would be completely frustrated at these conditions, but I was a woman on a mission today. There was prize money at stake.
When my former teammate Angie passed me I vowed to stay with her (and skate behind her, not just resort to double poling:) and I did and she brought me up to a pack of women. I passed these women and started working on the next pack and I just kept doing that the whole race, trying to stay upright, picking off women, and so so so looking forward to the nicer snow on the snowmaking loop!
I didn’t know exactly who these women were in the MinneTour, but was feeling pretty confident by Isles that my presumed fourth place was a deal and then could just focus on trying to do as well as possible in the skate race.
By Cedar Lake I was so hot and knew I had made a mistake wearing my spandex top. I vowed to stop and drink a full glass of water at every aid stop. Maybe I needed the calories from the energy drink (which I did take at the last aid station) but somehow the energy drink never quenches my thirst.
|Oh, I should've dressed more like this guy! Photo: Margaret Adelsman|
Soon enough we were into the Bog. Things were going well until on a gradual straight downhill I just caught an edge and was down. A couple skiers I had just passed went around me and then I got up. I kept going, didn’t seem to be hurt, and was ever so slightly cooled off which was at least a plus.
|I was too slow in the skate race to have any photos of me so I've included some of my teammates. From left to right it's Mary Beth, Bonnie, and Erik skiing across 394. Photo: Margaret Adelsman|
I kept skiing through Bog and Butler, passed a couple people and a couple others passed me. One guy tried to sneak by me on the steepest hill in Butler but this resulted in both of us coming to a standstill. I let him pass me and then heard another skier behind me say “It’s OK, go Elspeth.” I didn’t know who this was but it ended up being my teammate Hans. I was very thankful that he let me ski up that hill in front of him and provided me some confidence that I was still moving decently well.
The conditions were such that the trail was only one skier wide. The skied-in snow was significantly faster than that on the side and thus passing required significant energy. As the day wore on and I made it through JD Gardens, Tornado Alley, and onto the Front 9, I was grateful for the contraband on my skis. In these conditions, pure fluoros really do make a significant difference. While it’s fun to still be able to ski fast in this completely suck snow, it did make me think about the impending fluoro ban. Potential substitutes for fluoro would have to be hydrophobic and since we live on a hydrophilic planet, well, they may turn out to be not so good for us and the environment either. Can we as skiers declare we’ll just stick to the hydrocarbons? I’m cool with this if everyone else is, although these sufferfest conditions usually work to my advantage as I usually have a high level of fitness but lack balance and top end speed.
|Nate and Erik skiing together after Nate caught Erik from Wave 1. Photo: Margaret Adelsman|
I passed another woman at the second to last aid station as I took a long drink and then caught up to Jenna. Wow, I was feeling so so ridiculously good and my favorite part was coming up! I passed Jenna as we made our way by the finish. I also got to see two of my Vakava teammates- Alex and Craig, finish 3rd and 4th respectively! The snowmaking loop was considerably less rutted but I still noted that the skied in snow was a bit faster. My skis were running fast relative to everyone else, and that had been affirmed watching Alex and Craig finish.
|Alex and Craig skiing together. Photo: Margaret Adelsman|
Through Twin Lakes, up the Catwalk and onto the far north trails I was still feeling good. Yes, I was tired but I still had really great energy. A couple more Wave 1 guys passed me, I passed a couple more Bottle guys. One guy I passed V-2ing in the super slow snow. I wondered why I didn’t just track him? What would the top 20 guys do? Shouldn’t the top 20 women do the same?
Ha, on the next big downhill I tried to pass another Bottle guy but forgot how slow the snow was just outside where everyone else had gone! I passed him on the next big uphill. That’s the second to last big uphill I told myself. And then it was over and I was going down the sledding hill. Oh, my skis were slow compared to other days, but they still had some fluoros and structure left. I went over the bump on the corner and then started V2-ing my way back up the last big uphill. “Elspeth, how far are you going to V-2 up this hill?” I asked myself. It ended up being a little less far than I had double poled up yesterday. I broke into a V-1 as I kept repeating to myself “Last uphill, last uphill.” I kept pushing as hard as I could right to the finish even though no one was in sight. But there’s always people from other waves! Indeed, a Wave 1 woman got me by 9 seconds!
While I was definitely tired at the end, I was more surprised by how much energy I had. I actually felt way better than yesterday. It felt like my average heart rate had been way lower.
We sat around for a couple hours waiting for awards. Finally the results came in. I ended up 17th woman in the skate race! I was stoked about that. And my fourth place in the MinneTour was finally confirmed.
|Wow, a Big Check and sharing the podium with some Big Names! Photo: Erik|
As I skied those final kilometers so strong, it seemed almost surreal. It was by far the best I’ve ever felt in all my previous marathon doubles, albeit this one was slightly shorter. I thought about all the external factors that kept me going so fast- the size of the women’s field over which I had no control, Erik encouraging me to go for the prize money, all the volunteers on course, my teammates and fellow skiers who were so encouraging, the spectators cheering so loud, Ahvo giving me technique advice, Brian Gregg for videoing me (when I tried to do some intervals with Caitlin) so I knew what Ahvo was talking about, and Finn Sisu who waxed the Vakava skis.
Then I thought about the internal factors- all those years of training 500 hours, and especially my last month of training with twice weekly intervals and not racing to keep me mentally fresh and it was no wonder why it all came together.
I’m glad I did the MinneTour. I’m not sure I’d say the same if I wasn’t on the podium. Now I’m looking forward to a few nights of good sleep and highly doubt I’ll do it again!
Mission accomplished for this weekend. I can relax some now, absorb the effort from the weekend, and ride my great fitness through the rest of the ski season.