Monday, February 22, 2021

Mora Vasaloppet 2021

It was a cold start for the long skate race at Mora, touted as 47 km this year, with temps in the minus single digits but warming quickly for the 8:20 am start. There weren’t Vakava men in the field but two hardy women made up for it. Claire Trujillo kicked off what would end up being a number of podiums for Vakava with a 3rd place finish (and 35th overall)- definitely impressive in a field that included World Cup skiers!!! Laura Cattaneo wasn’t far behind finishing 7th.

A good chunk of the Vakava team raced the 35 km skate race on Saturday, starting after noon under sunny skies. The warm weather was a nice contrast to the previous two weeks. It was nice to see that skiers could leave their warm-ups on the starting line fence. Mora is just so welcoming! Vakava was a sea of pink-on-top, blue-on-bottom in the two elite waves. Nate Porath, Andy Shackel, Jojo Baldus, and Paul Olson all skied together in the lead peak with Nate still having energy to charge with the young guns (aka college kids) for the sprint finish down Main Street. Nate would presumably lose the win by 1.5 seconds. However, taking advantage of going hard from the gun in the second elite wave 2 minutes back, as opposed to the cat-and-mouse tactics of the lead pack, Dennis Curran pulled off the overall victory! It was fun to see him walk down Main Street with the big wreath over his shoulder, beaming from ear to ear.

 

Since I don't have any photos of this year's race, here's the first of a few throw-backs. Erik doing his first Vasaloppet in 2002.


Andy, Paul, and Jojo finished 5th-7th. Erik Pieh was 14th, Arti Huber 17th, Scott Kyser 24th, Mark Ahlers 26th, Ben Mullin 30th, and Dave Christopherson 36th. In the women’s field, only Mary Beth Tuttle made an appearance for Vakava, finishing 12th. Erik apologizes for taking out Arti on the hill heading down to Mora Lake- who says cross-country skiing isn’t a contact sport? Dave found it hard to ski almost the entire race by himself and missed the traditional large mass start. 

And Erik in 2003 racing the dala in the old U of M kit.

Now onto my race, the long classic which I clocked at 40.4 km on my Garmin (which is always right:) This was my first “real” race in almost a year- since last year’s Great Bear Chase. Going into the race it seemed impossible I could go hard for that long- or what usually takes me around 2 ½ hours. Sure, I’ve been doing lots of intervals with threshold sessions lasting an hour but was I really ready? Well, at least that City of Lakes Hybrid Race took me 2 hours and 37 minutes...so I had done a hard effort recently. But Mora has lots and lots of double poling. Would my back muscles be ready? I’d done a handful of threshold double pole sessions and just couldn’t get my back sore.

After the race was delayed by a week due to bitterly cold temps, the forecast for the Sunday classic race looked just about perfect with temps going from 16 to 22 degrees. While I was hoping for an individual start race, Mora decided to have two small elite waves for each race. Everyone else was assigned a five-minute start window. In all reality, this mitigated “cheating” by similar speed skiers starting near each other in an unregulated interval start. 

Mora high school alum, Larissa Sigurdson, crushing the Dala in 2005.

I arrived to the start in time to practice the couple turns heading out onto Mora Lake, get warmed up, and do a couple speeds. Over the years I’ve learned that Mora goes out hot! Then it was time to get in the starting pen. Temps were warmer than predicted in the low 20s with lightly falling snow.

It was nice to have a small elite start and being one of a handful of women, I lined up in back. As usual the pace went out fast and I tried to mark Josie Nelson and Molly Watkins but they were getting away. I tried not to let Rebecca Kolstad get too far in front of me, either. She passed me for Mora Lake but I caught her quickly on the hill leaving the lake. Molly seemed to be slipping in front of me and briefly seemed within reach but then she took off double poling.

For a long time I could see Josie and Molly ahead of me in their yellow bibs. They were skiing with a U of M skier. I skied with a guy until I terribly bobbled on the first lake we skied on (I wasn’t expecting tracks after they had been briefly pulled up but they were added again for the corner). Then that guy got away from me. I stopped seeing Josie and Molly ahead of me but was gaining on the U of M guy. As usual, Mora had a few course deviations which always make it interesting.

In the section across the road near the Snake River, I pulled away from the U of M skier. I welcomed Nate Rhode cheering for me and on the biggest uphill on course, heading back up from the Snake River, some people cheered from their house. From here on out, I skied by myself. Erik met me a few times to cheer. I briefly kept up with a guy who caught me from a couple minutes back but couldn’t stay with him. My bro passed me from the individual start time blocks along with my teammate Brock. 

My bro and I hiking the John Muir Trail in 2012.

It kept snowing lightly but wasn’t accumulating which was nice. Soon I was out onto Mora Lake where I could see just how far in front of me Josie and Molly had gotten. It’s always a bit difficult to pull through the lap with the finish so close but I can’t imagine what it must be like for slower skiers who know others are already done. I guess that’s one advantage to a point-to-point race as it feels overall a bit more epic compared to not actually going anywhere.

Back out on course I was all alone. We’d been listening to a podcast about the atomic bomb and the cold war and for stretches out on course it felt like there had been such a disaster and I was the last one left on earth! Alas, one guy caught me from behind and I passed quite a number of skiers doing both the short and long races and it was nice to cheer for each other and have some human contact. 

My old U of M teammate, James, doing the classic circa 2005

At one point someone I passed said I was only 1.5 minutes behind second place. I didn’t exactly believe this but it got me to quicken my pace, at least for a bit. By the time I got to the Mora Nordic Center, the snow started to pick up and accumulate. I was glad to be mostly done with my race and this gave me an extra boost to ski as hard as I could to get done before it snowed more. I was getting hungry and my right medial epicondylitis was acting up but not too bad and the finish was close. Soon I was charging up Bell Tower Hill and trying to make it down Main Street despite the slow new snow.

I ended up 3rd woman for another podium for Vakava! Craig Cardinal was 7th and Brock Lundberg 11th for Vakava. My bro finished lucky 13. Maria Schilling finished 14th.

Meanwhile, in the short classic race of 20 km, Vakava had as many podiums as members entered with Arti taking 2nd for the men and Bonnie Weiskopf 1st for women, 4th overall.

Uff-da, I’m always hoping for more. In talking to others after the race, I’m not alone in my desire. But we can’t all be at the top. Erik suggested I could push harder in terms of my cardiovascular fitness. I could do this by increasing my tempo until breathing as hard as Therese Johaug! That sounds quite unpleasant. Every once in a while I have a race where I’m just on and want to work really really hard, but for the most part, my mind tells me that probably isn’t terribly good for my body. What we need to remember is that every time we race, we put forth the best effort we can on that day, at that moment, not only in terms of what our body can do, but what our mind can do as well. It’s often not the absolute best we have, but the stars don’t align terribly often.

My bib and horsey, in place of our socially-distanced podium
 

The 42 km classic at Mora is the race I think about most all year when training but I was almost 9 minutes off Josie! Last year I was only 6 minutes off but two years ago I was 12 minutes off. I know that last year I was racing hard and in a pack so that obviously helped my time. I have been doing more pull-ups and weighted pull-ups and feel stronger and for some crazy reason, my back doesn’t hurt this year- either because my training must have been effective or else because I’ve changed my technique to not hinge at the waist. Of some combo of the two:)

So for now, I’m going to appreciate what I do have- a podium finish (I won’t lie, it’s nice when the Kranskula came up to me to tell me I was third), an absolutely amazing strong body (I turned 36 the day before the race- I know I have one of the strongest 36 year old bodies in the country), tough female competitors (even those who finished behind me- you keep me training as much as Josie all year ‘round cause you’re fierce, too), and the incredibly welcoming town of Mora.

Every year I’m touched by the amazing race they put on and this year was no different. They never shied away from hosting a race in person, prizes, and had the same friendly volunteers as usual. As much as I felt alone out on course at times, every time I went by an aid station or road crossing those volunteers were cheering me on so hardcore! I just hope enough people keep skiing that Mora gets to shine their hospitality for years to come.



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