Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Meaning, Melancholy, and Moving On (not necessarily in that order): A Look Back on the 2019-2020 Season

Around the Birkie this year things seemed to take a deep dive. I was deeply disappointed to not requalify for Elite Wave. Then I had really bad back pain after The Great Bear Chase that made it difficult to roll over in bed and to work at my desk job. This made me wonder why I was so upset over the Birkie, but mental pain is real, too.

And then COVID-19 cancelled the Minneapolis World Cup. This was perhaps the biggest bummer of all. It seemed akin to the Birkie getting cancelled in 2017. In other words, it felt like the world was ending. The MInneapolis World Cup had been 1.5 years of anticipation, my brother coming, taking the day off from work, and then nothing. NOTHING.

Well, except I still took the day off from work, Erik worked from home, we put on some glitter, and went off to Wirth to ski. Jessie was out there and I skied behind her for a bit and Erik showed her his glitter. So maybe it wasn’t nothing. And after that cardiac arrest a couple days prior, well, it actually felt like SOMETHING had happened.

Getting the GLITTER ON!

It’s all about perspective. The numbers showed New York City blowing up bad with COVID-19 cases. The Minneapolis World Cup did the right thing. But it still hurt.

An admittedly terrible photo of Delta planes grounded due to COVID-19 as we drove to Hyland for man-made skiing

In terms of skiing, this year started and ended a bit strange. With knee and shoulder injuries, I took two-ish months off from running and doing pull-ups in May through July. Despite this, I trained fairly consistently and relatively hard from August to the end of the season. Except I somehow managed to do my hardest intervals of the year in June.

Training hardcore with Vakava at our fall camp where we did a couple long rollerskis in the snow! Photo: Erik

Owing to a heavy February race schedule, I didn’t race in January and that suited me well. As a result, I did lots of threshold work on my own in January. By this I mean every single weekend to get ready for my February races. I wasn’t feeling so motivated to do 3 hours skis this year but certainly did a number of 2 hour skis and of course eeked out a few 3 hours skis.

Some Sauna-Swim on the St. Croix with the Vakava team in January!

Despite all the threshold work on the weekends and shorter intervals at Vakava on Wednesdays, I still didn’t feel as prepared as I would have liked for the race season. But then again, I had to remind myself I never feel as prepared as I want. It’s better to be undertrained than overtrained.

Especially in December and January, the darkest months of the year, I often found myself running to and from work rather than figuring out how to get skiing. It’s ridiculously efficient: driving wastes so much time, requires extra packing, and when the snow isn’t good, the man-made trails can get heavily rutted or a mix of ice-suck snow in the evening.

It’s 5 miles one way to work. I’d usually take the bus in on Monday, run home, and then run both ways on Tuesdays and Fridays for 25 miles per week. This is a lot of running for me. But the thing is, with a 5 mile run, it’s such a short distance it doesn’t make me feel like I’ve done anything. So by splitting my 10 mile runs in half, I kinda felt like I wasn’t training at all.

Substituting some bowling with my coworkers for a running workout- this photo is for Mom who always told us to just go bowling:) Turns out I've done this twice now in adulthood. Photo: Kyle Constalie

I made a big gear change and have some thoughts about new gear for next year.

I got new classic boots. These were my first NNN classic boots ever. Not only were my old boots completely falling apart, but they felt too big. I stuck with Salomon, but instead of going with the women’s version as I had for my previous pair, I went with the men’s version which has a bigger toe box. As a result I was able to go down two sizes and got a snugger fit. I’m not sure if it’s the snugger fit or the binding change, but I feel more connected to my classic skis than ever before.

My current classic racing skis are 15 years old. Sadly, it’s time to retire them, and not just because KJ tells me so. I’m starting to get worried that they are so old they aren’t good anymore. When I lose faith in my equipment, it’s time. But they’ve been with me for so so so long!

Likely my first race on my new classic skis- the Loppet 2006! This was like 4 suits ago...probably time for new classic skis. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

In terms of my racing, well, I accomplished my goals at the City of Lakes Loppet, felt good about Mora and Finlandia, and then was troubled by my Birkie performance.

As much as I had thoughts of quitting ski racing after the Birkie and was deep within a Crossroads existentialism, I rebounded for the Great Bear Chase and my last couple weekends of skiing on man-made. The thing is, I’m not done working my body hard. I’m not done seeing if I can’t break through that ceiling I feel I’ve been stuck under for years. It has got to be made of glass. I still need to learn to stride efficiently and easy. I’ve got to learn how to balance to get more power out of my V-2. I need to learn how to jump skate in my V-1. And somewhere there has got to be room for improvement in my double pole. I’m just not done yet.

I watch a lot of women’s World Cup skiing. This can make me feel pretty down on myself if I start comparing myself to them. I listened to a podcast about comparing yourself to others and in general we seem to compare up rather than compare down. While it’s nice to have images in my head of beautiful technique and it’s fun to strive to be better, it’s also degrading to compare myself to others.

There’s some pop song out there with lyrics that go “It’s wanting what you’ve got.” I need to remember to live by this every day.

Sometimes wanting what you've got is merely enjoying a beautiful April snowstorm in the city (yes, this photo is from the city- evidence you can find wild places just about anywhere)

And so it’s important to focus on the positives as they come.

While I’m humbled by how slow I am, on the flip side, I often get heartfelt comments that I’m a wicked double poler or that I myself am so fast. Everything is relative.

I might not win the race, but wow, I’ve gotten very good at transitions (cornering, keeping speed into and out of hills) and getting power double poling downhills! I also marvel that I changed tracks a few times in the Great Bear Chase! I really stuck to my plan of L3 skis in January!

I’ll leave this post and season with my three favorite skis of the year.

Towards the end of January, during some warm weather, Erik and I had a late evening ski at Wirth from The Trailhead (where we celebrated the Loppet Founder’s Dinner) to the Wirth Beach Parking lot. Temperatures were around freezing with relatively fast new snow that made it easy to get an edge. The sky was overcast, reflecting the city lights and thus allowing a perfect dusk-light ambience to see perfectly. This was city skiing at its best.

A photo from a different city ski this year that wasn't quite as good as the one above.

OK, the next few aren’t exactly one ski but rather a series of skis on man-made snow at Wirth and Hyland from March 14th to the 22nd. These were all incredibly special as I spontaneously skied and talked with friends. Yes, we tried to social distance as best we could, but we all savored some much needed conversation and physical human contact while skiing under great snow conditions with sun and spring temps. It may not have been a snowy trail in the woods and mountains with solitude but it’s the next best thing.

Maybe one of these years I'll post on top 3 best sledding adventures of the year- I'd have to go more than twice though:)

Then there was the ski the day after the Great Bear Chase at the Swedetown Trails. I had packed light for the weekend and only brought my classic gear but after my back went out on me, classic skiing was pretty much out of the question. I debated going for a walk but seeing as my winter boots were wet, I decided to try skiing. Erik had to literally help me put my boots on. My friend, Eva, lent me her skate skis. I thought the ski would be terrible skating on classic boots but what ensued was one of my favorite skis of the winter.

The snow was great- either freshly groomed and slightly icy or just freshly groomed but hard. Conditions were fast and as long as I free skated or V-1’d and kept my weight completely under me, I could ski pain free. While I avoided the most curvy hills, I still felt very confident going downhill and even step turning. I guess that’s when I know I’m a good skier, or at least very comfortable on my skis.

And skating on my classic boots went just fine. Most of the time I forgot I was even doing this. It makes me think I should do skiathlons next year and use my classic boots. This will be a fun mix-up from my normal winter here’s to 2021, the year of the skiathlon!

Monday, April 6, 2020

COVID-19: Minneapolis World Cup Cancelled but Heart Disease Doesn’t Get the Memo

Had you told me anytime in the past year or more that John Munger would be calling me on Minneapolis World Cup Weekend I would have never believed you. I’m just not that important.

But then something called COVID-19 happened. And the Minneapolis World Cup got cancelled.

This was a huge collective loss for our ski community. After a week of progressively more and more cancellations, the writing was on the wall and I don’t think anyone was too surprised. It was the end of season we’d all been looking forward to and more than anything this was just such a huge let down.

We all tried to make the best of the situation. On Saturday, Pi Day, Erik and I headed out to Wirth to enjoy the World Cup course. Hey, at least we got to ski it if not the professionals. It felt a bit post-apocalyptic as volunteers were still setting up the stadium. Wait, did someone not get the memo that the World Cup was cancelled? Or did we all die and was this heaven and it was going to happen anyway? And Kleabo and Pellegrino would be duking it out for the men’s win and Jessie and Sophie and Sadie and Julia and Hailey and Caitlin in the first ever all American women’s final in World Cup history!!!!

But no, this was the Loppet getting ready to put on a little gathering on the down-low to showcase that we were ready to show the world that the Twin Cities is the #1 ski community in the Western Hemisphere and Oslo better watch out for the world title. Erik and I got wind of some shenanigans and we decided we wanted to partake so we headed back out to Wirth on Sunday.

People had gathered around and there was supposed to be some kind of “sprint” but it was pretty informal so I just skied around but on my third lap or so on the World Cup Course someone said the sprinters were coming. By the time I’d gotten to the top of the snowboarding hill, the hill I was planning to watch the action on in the World Cup, a few people had gathered and it looked like this sprint race was about to happen. And sure enough it did and here came Diggins jump skating like mad up that hill.

It was pretty surreal. I’ve watched Jessie do this on TV at least a hundred times but seeing it in person, well, it just went by so so fast. It was pretty amazing. It was at least a bit of a consolation prize.

After that I kept skiing around and ran into my teammate Claire. We were having a good time talking, practicing physical distancing, and working on some balance and ski speed. But as we approached the Upper Stadium something wasn’t quite right. There were a few people gathered on the north end. One guy was lying on the ground, a couple people were next to him. John Munger was standing and on the phone. My immediate thought was that this was likely a cardiac arrest and given I’m a health care professional I might be in need.

I took off my poles and skis as quick as I could. The two guys giving CPR and Munger confirmed he had seemed to lose consciousness, fell face forward to the ground, and was pulseless. I jumped in and started compressions right away. Munger got off the phone with 911 and said he was going for the AED which I confirmed made sense. My whole goal was to provide high quality uninterrupted chest compressions.

Mortality is very high in out of hospital cardiac arrest, but we had a witnessed arrest with bystanders initiating CPR immediately and EMS activation. These were all good prognostic indicators. The AED is super important, but in the meantime it’s all about high quality uninterrupted chest compressions. There’s no need to count, no need for mouth to mouth, no need to check a pulse, no need to worry about breaking ribs, and no need to worry if the patient is agonal breathing. Just don’t stop the compressions (at a rate of around 100 per minute). There is really really good evidence in providing high quality chest compressions to perfuse the heart and ideally the brain. We were also lucky with 3 people on the scene and one gone for help. This allowed 2 of us to do compressions while the other person secured the scene and had the good common sense to remove this guys poles (none of us knew this skier) and skis (something I only realized hours after). And don’t wait to switch off until you’re exhausted- switch frequently.

Somehow I had the foresight to take off this guys jacket and get his shirt up in preparation for the AED with trying to minimally interrupt chest compressions as much as possible.

Munger had skied down the hill, gotten the AED and got back up the hill. Around the time he returned with the AED, Lazlo arrived. Fortunately Lazlo is a healthcare provider, too, and knows compressions are gold. I fumbled badly with that AED. I couldn't get the pads out of the package. Meanwhile I heard the AED automatic voice saying “Stay calm.” Fortunately Lazlo took over.

Then we had the pads on and that AED was analyzing the rhythm.

“Please please please be a shockable rhythm,” I pleaded.

The AED won’t shock asystole and if the patient is in asystole, meaning loss of heart activity, that’s a bad sign.

Shock was advised.

“Yes!” I screamed, possibly out loud, maybe just in my head.

Somewhere distant I could hear the arrival of the ambulance.

After the shock Lazlo was back on him doing compressions just like it should be. By then the snowmobile had shown up with the sled to get him down to The Trailhead. It seemed like forever coordinating getting him into the sled (but it must’ve been less than 10 seconds) and who would go down the hill doing compressions but Lazlo jumped in and straddled the patient and off they went.

By the time we collected ourselves on top of the hills and skied down to the bottom, EMS had the LUCAS machine on the patient. It took a bit but they were stabilizing him before they got him into the ambulance. Lazlo said he heard they got a pulse back in the ambulance.

Wow, this definitely wasn’t what I expected when I happened out to ski at Wirth that day, and I surely failed at physical distancing for COVID-19, but cardiac arrest happens. Often.

I know this wasn’t Munger’s first rodeo with cardiac arrest. Unfortunately this occurs relatively frequently in skiers. Emergency situations are really difficult, and quite frankly, not my cup of tea. But for a bunch of people who had never practiced together, this situation played out as if it had been rehearsed a thousand times. It was witnessed and two bystanders did exactly what they should do- check for a pulse, get the patient on their back and start CPR. Then Munger came along, called 911 calmly, and had the foresight to go for an AED and alert the trail crew (I believe Issac) to get the sled. I arrived for the high quality compressions while the other bystanders helped and secured the scene (took off the patient’s ski gear). We got more trained people, an AED, the sled, and the patient down to EMS. This was very very seamless and they wouldn’t have done a whole lot better in the hospital other than give some meds through an already placed IV and consult cardiology.

An hour or so after I got home, John called to let me know as far as he knew, the patient was alive in the hospital. This was very good news.

Hopefully no one reading this will need to know what to do in the setting of a cardiac arrest, but inevitably some of you will witness a cardiac arrest. So here’s what to do in three easy steps. Because emergency situations are chaotic and people often act on instinct rather than rationale, it would behoove you to memorize this list and repeat it to yourself every so often. This list does assume access to 911 which might not be the case if you are in the wilderness. Ideally all the steps would happen at the same time.

1. Call 911

2. Get an AED (skip this if you are the only rescuer or if there is no easy AED access)

3. High quality uninterrupted chest compressions (preferably started at same time as calling 911 if multiple rescuers or call 911 on speaker phone): place the heel of your hand with your other hand on top between the nipples and compress down about 2 to 2 ½ inches at a rate of 100 beats per minute- about to the pace of the song “Stayin’ Alive, Stayin’ Alive!”