Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Vakava Racing, Training Update, and the Hybrid City of Lakes Skate Loppet!

Vakava Racing

While I’ve taken January off from racing, a few of my teammates have made use of the rare in-person races these days in light of COVID-19. Here’s a brief and incomplete synopsis.

Nate Porath finished an impressive third in the Pre-Loppet and followed it up with 10th a week later in the rescheduled Skinny Santa Solstice Ski. Ben Mullin and Dave Christopherson also raced both, placing 23rd and 22nd and 59th and 38th respectively. 

Nate racing the Skinny Santa Solstice Ski

Bonnie Weiskopf raced to 25th (2nd woman), Scott Kyser to 27th, and Brock Lundberg 34th, at the Skinny Santa Solstice Ski. New Vakava team member Artie Huber finished 4th in the half distance, less than a minute behind the winner.

At the Seeley Hills Classic, Bonnie pulled off a podium finish in third place. Brock finished 30th followed by Abe Peterson in 52nd, and Ben in 62nd. Judging by the times, conditions must’ve been slow, making for a long grind for these hardy racers. 

Scott wearing the pink!

Meanwhile, Erik Pieh and Laura Cattaneo took first and second at the Loppet Ski-Orienteering race. 


Training Update

In my last post I mentioned possibly doing some training blocks over the holiday when I worked less but these never panned out. I’m just not about to drive to go skiing twice per day and I had other things to do like play with my 3 year old niece. 

Couch time with our niece. Photo: Mom

Mostly my training has been similar to previous years except that I’ve been busting out the weighted pull-ups like mad! Otherwise I’ve been skiing 4 days per week, running 2-3 days per week, and doing 2 interval sessions (one with Vakava and one on my own). And up until recently, I have been loving the warm winter weather. 

Sledding with my niece and bro- this should at least partially count as a workout since I had to walk back up the hill! Photo: Erik


Hybrid City of Lakes Skate Loppet

And finally onto what was supposed to be my first race during the COVID-19 pandemic. I was honestly pretty stoked for individual starts as this is something different and given that I’m not much of a pack skier, I thought this format would play more to my strengths. With Mother Nature cooperating, this year’s Loppet made use of both natural and snow-making trails for a slightly different course.

Often when I haven’t raced in awhile, the effort feels frantic. As noted above, I hoped my recent interval sessions and knowing the course well would mitigate some of this intensity. The Loppet course is quite technical in my opinion, with almost constant turns and changing terrain. I really like this for skate skiing.

And so I was all set to start my 2020-2021 racing season on February 7th at The Loppet although I will admit with the forecasted cold temperatures I was less than excited. Then 5 days before the race, The Loppet decided to cancel the in-person race.

After not racing since last year’s Great Bear Chase, I figured I should race the “Hybrid” Loppet. This would be an almost entirely solo time trial, with a few others out on course at the same time. Erik and I initially made plans to “race” during the “warm” afternoon of Saturday but supposedly the Hybrid option was only open through Friday and since I have Thursdays off from work, I decided that despite a snowstorm, racing in 20 degree temps sounded preferable to low single digits.

Then I did a bunch of stuff “wrong:” I still went to our weekly Wednesday evening Vakava practice where we arguably did the hardest workout of the year, used my heavy B skis with training wax, and skied during a snowstorm with strong winds.

I arrived at the start line solo in my hot pink polka-dot spandex suit where a nice volunteer greeted me. My two goals for the race were 1) to not be so competitive during the road crossings so as to get hit by a car (never had that goal before) and 2) ski fast. Recently I’ve been listening to the Ian Harvey interviews and in particular Alison Owen Bradley discusses the goal of skiing fast but not necessarily hard. I love the twisting technical Wirth course so planned to have fun on all the corners.

Brock and Bonnie racing fast around a corner on the Elk River course.

The start line was on the north side of Wirth Lake. After starting my watch, I followed the course for a partial lap of Wirth Lake before the trail headed to the four-way intersection with Glenwood and Wirth Parkway. I took my skis off, crossed the road, and then headed up the Wedding Hill. Then it was downhill to the second road crossing and then onto the Bog. Conditions were obviously slow as the snow kept accumulating but I kept a positive attitude and the bog went by quickly- so quickly that I was already almost half way across Wirth Parkway when I had to decide if I should take my skis off. A benefit to using my B-skis and doing the Hybrid course during a snowstorm was that I just decided to leave my skis on and carefully crossed where there was the most snow. A few other ski tracks told me I wasn’t the only one doing this:)

In the Eloise Butler section I met a group of women and a couple dogs walking on the ski trail. I thought about telling them they shouldn’t walk on the ski trail but decided not to. At least they cheered for me and said they liked my spandex. Despite the slow snow, soon I was making my way around the Pavilion Loop and then took my skis off for Glenwood Avenue and was done with my last road crossing. Goal one accomplished. Out on Wirth Lake there was a video crew filming a skier wearing spandex and a bib. It seemed a bit staged to me but maybe my hot pink polka-dot suit made the news!

At times the trail was a bit hard to follow through JD Gardens as by now the wind had picked up and the snow was starting to drift. Soon I was onto Tornado Alley and Skyline. By Skyline it was obvious my skis were so slow on the downhills. I did some V-2 but did more V-1 than I would have liked. As I started on the Bridge Trail I was closing in on another skier- a guy- fast! This was just like a real race! I passed him just before we crossed the bridge over Wirth Parkway.

“Who are you? You’re moving really fast!” he said. Here we’ll clarify that “fast” can be relative. I was crawling but given the conditions, I was pushing.

After this things seemed to take a turn. Although I knew the race was two laps of everything on the manufactured snow side, I was thinking we would head down the smaller tubing hill by the chalet, thus cutting off the machine shed loop both times. Upon discovering this wasn’t true and we would be doing the machine shed loop, up and over the shipping container three times, the race suddenly seemed a lot longer. That and instead of lapping at the Loppet Round-a-Bout, I lapped in the stadium as this wasn’t entirely clear and I didn’t want to cheat. Under normal snow conditions this wouldn’t be a huge deal but with slow conditions all this would add a decent chunk of time to the race.

I kept going, aware that I was very near my car, and I could just quit. There weren’t many people out skiing at Wirth, fewer than I’ve seen on recent Thursdays. I did see a few others doing their Hybrid races which was nice to see. As I came down the hill leaving the Twin Lakes Loop, I made the mistake of looking at my watch. Prior to the race, I figured it would take me around 2 hours, but my watch already said 1 hour 27 minutes and I still had most of my first lap to do plus the second of the Wirth North trails.  

Ben racing the quadruple S race.

The downhills were painful as my glide quickly ran out. As I began on the Judy Loop, I felt like Laura Ingalls Wilder out on the prairie- trying to find my way. My fingers got cold but fortunately my body stayed warm. I really struggled up the steep uphills on the Judy Loop, my right quad burning as I V-1’d on my right side but then, on the last downhill before getting back on the manufactured snow, the wind was blazing at me full force. I was about standing still in my tuck. I stood up to V-2 and the wind almost blew me backwards. I got back in a tuck and free-skated. I may have had my record slowest speed on that downhill! Garmin tells me I was going 11 mph.

Once pulling the 180 and getting back on the manufactured snow, the wind did help push me up the long uphill. Next was Drevil’s Drop. On fast days I carry so much speed around the corner at the bottom it can be scary. Not today. I was V-2ing much before I even got to the corner! With the new snow and not many people out I could tell somewhat how my skis were gliding compared to others. My skis seemed a bit slower. According to my Garmin I got up to a whopping 16 mph. I do twice that under fast conditions. 

Dave crushing it in the Vakava "kit."

I really struggled up La Squadra. My goal was to get home before noon for an optional work meeting but as my V-1 on La Squadra felt dyssynchronous between my upper and lower body, I knew I would be late for my meeting. Then it was around the machine shed loop and back up over the shipping container, back down to the stadium, and then I was on my last lap.

I hoped to push it a bit more but was getting tired. Perhaps frustrated was more appropriate. Part of why I ski is to go fast but sometimes the snow conditions just don’t allow for that. When conditions are slow I can put in a medium effort to keep moving or I can put in a hard effort to go slightly faster but still slow. It just doesn’t feel worth it.

In yet another Ian Harvey interview, this one with Charlie French, Charlie talks about “pain sports” versus “thrill sports.” He says cross-country skiing and other endurance sports are “pain sports” but I think there’s some thrill involved- on big downhills, speeding around corners, and passing others. At least part of why I ski is for that thrill aspect. And when that’s gone, on a slow condition day, it just isn’t fun.

I kept fighting on that last loop, telling myself that if this was race day and others were out here I’d be doing better relative to them because the slower the conditions, the better I do. Back out on the Laura Ingalls Wilder loop I tried to find the ice under the drifts to go faster. It was a bit comical. Finally on the two steep uphills I succumbed to single- sticking (also called coach’s skate). It was the right thing to do in the moment. I did more single-sticking up La Squadra! Then I was almost done. I put in a bit of an extra effort, but not a whole lot.

When I finally finished I’d logged 33 kilometers in 2 hours 37 minutes.
Squiggly course!

That was one slow skate race. My average heart rate was only 141 so I know I could have pushed harder as usually my heart race is 10 beats higher for a similar race. Still, my average heart rate was 20 beats higher than for an easy ski. Maybe for my next Hybrid race I’ll get faster conditions. Or maybe this will be my last Hybrid race…

More data. You can see where my heart rate tanked after I looked at my watch!

Erik did the Hybrid on Saturday afternoon. Conditions were mostly fast with a few areas of slow drifted snow. He skied to a time of 1 hour 56 minutes. A lot of skiers reported their times- according to the Leaderboard, Craig won by only 6 minutes from Kitty. Per the sign-up form, Kitty skied under fast morning conditions while Craig skied a few hours later under transforming snow on a balmy day in the 30s. As we all know, snow conditions for skiing can make huge differences. 

Some crazy times. There's no comparing apples to oranges!


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