The Mora Vasaloppet’s Classic race has often been advertised as 42 km. This year, with dividing the skate and classic techniques between Saturday and Sunday and utilizing all the Vasaloppet trails, the Classic got the bump up to 48 km! I guess this increases the skiing:driving ratio and provides a better per kilometer value. Go long or go home.
|Three Vakava skiers in our hot pink tops (from left to right: Alex, Paul, and Nate) in the lead pack of Saturday's skate race.|
Now offering prize money for the classic, the start list was stacked- the most competition I’ve seen since 2013! Looking at the list made me question whether I’d even earn a dala horse- I guess that’s some gender parity. Go fast or go home without a horsee.
The temps were forecasted to be cold again, similar to the City of Lakes Loppet Classic Race, but without the wind. The prediction held. I again wore 2 layers under my racing suit. At least it was cold enough to make that decision easy. Dress warm, be cold, or go home.
Unlike running races where I have a good idea of what pace I can maintain for the entirety, I haven’t figured this out yet in skiing. Hills burn me up but since Mora is fairly flat, I’ve tended to go out with the leaders and hang on as long as I can. Sometimes this is only until Mora Lake, sometimes a bit longer. Usually the pace goes out hot, even for the women, and I warmed up to be ready and try to push myself. Often I think I have more to give but somehow can’t tap into that gear. I was determined to find a pack to push myself hard, hard, hard. And to fuel.
Us Minnesotan’s must be hardy because despite the temps, the announcer said it was a “beautiful sunny winter morning” and the race was neither shortened nor delayed. I was nervous with my recently frostbitten thumb as my handwarmers hadn’t worked on my Saturday ski. Erik told me I needed to quit if my thumbs got cold. Quitting for me is so much harder than sticking through the pain of racing.
|Paul Olson, Mora native, finishing the 34 km skate for Vakava. |
I lined up around the 4th row- the farthest back I’ve started in the classic since 2013. Since 2015, I’ve finished 2nd-4th in the classic. Once the gun went off, I got dropped immediately. There was a fair bit of congestion until the first aid station and then things started to spread out. With a dusting of fresh new snow, conditions were slow!
Mora always has the hardest, iciest snow of any track around. With hard ice balls between the tracks, occasional ridges, and early set down tracks, despite being flat the course demands attention. As the race progressed, I came to appreciate this more as my technical skills have improved over the years (same comment I made last week). I’ve been thinking about skiing strong and me controlling the course rather than the other way around.
|Saturday's skate race was cold, too. Here's Craig racing in his warm-ups.|
After the first aid station, there was one woman skier who dropped me. I ate a cliff bar over the hour before the race and wanted to puke a couple times in the short, punchy hills in the northeast part of the course. My teammate Cheryl briefly caught me which gave me motivation to keep pushing. By the time we hit the climbing section, coming up from the Snake River, I wasn’t feeling so snappy. The Garretson sisters caught me and I skied with them as we made our way through the northwest section (south of the road) where there’s some more hills. There’s a couple tight turns heading onto the lake in that section twice and for the second time my thumbs got cold in the race. Once we got out of the hills, we hit a fast double pole section and the sisters put some time on me.
It looked like something happened to one of their skis and at the Nordic Center I started skiing with the one who had fallen back. Once we got out on Mora Lake it was a relatively lonely existence. I skied the lake with one of the Garretson’s and then took off as we climbed back off the lake. She said I should go chase down her sister and that’s what I aimed to do.
Between the sun and the skied-in tracks, I was relieved that the second lap skied much faster. This meant easier double poling- or at least I could double pole farther uphills and up some gradual hills. The sun felt really nice and my thumbs had warmed up. My kick was gone, stripped clean by the abrasive snow despite sanding and heating in base wax- it usually happens at Mora. I focused on chasing down the lead Garretson sister and the woman who had dropped me earlier. I was feeling good. Yes, I had some hand cramping. Yes, I had overall fatigue. Yes, my double pole muscles were tired. But it was the second lap and mostly double poling and that’s where I shine. Even when dead tired I can still double pole relatively efficiently. This is not true of my striding.
|Bigfoot was on course but he was no match for these Mora Mannequins. Erik and I both did a double-take when we saw them. They are AWESOME!!!|
I caught the lead Garretson sister by the hilly section. It took until the Nordic Center to catch the other woman. When I did I tried to make a decisive move but she put up a fight. I still had another gear so we began testing each other. When I later looked at the results sheet I learned it was Daisy Richmond. She’s a good strider. She whizzed past me last week at the Loppet in Butler on an uphill. I kept trying to make a move on her but she responded. As usual, when I tucked in behind her, the pace felt so easy. As I’ve said a billion times, I don’t like racing directly against others. I’d prefer individual start races. The only thing that made me feel better was that knowing by racing each other, we’d be skiing faster and I thought “we can go chase down some men!”
After making a couple moves, I went into the outside track before Bell Hill. This was a mistake as the inside was where everyone had herring boned. I tried as hard as I could to go up that hill fast but it was rock hard and Daisy pulled away from me and I couldn’t bring it back in the double pole. Perhaps it’s the hardest I’ve been breathing when I’ve crossed the line at Mora so that was a plus.
|Mora's course. Go squiggly or go home.|
Despite finishing 9th, it was a good race. I really enjoyed the second lap when I was mostly skiing by myself but chasing, feeling strong, and warm. I was also within 10 minutes of skiers who usually finish in the top 10 in the Birkie, although I do better double poling over striding uphils. I also succeeded in getting 3 feeds of Mora’s infamous blueberry soup which was delicious and three feeds more than I often take to help power me to the finish. I finished 4th in my age class, the first time I haven’t gotten a horse since I was 20, and then they had 5 year age groups. I would’ve gotten horses in the two age groups below me and the one above me.
Erik also raced the classic. He finished 16th (I believe this was my highest overall place a few years ago so obviously there was much more competition this year). Interestingly enough, he won his age group (taking out Brian Gregg who was 2nd overall) but wouldn't have gotten any horses in the two age groups below him or the age group above him! Artie Huber for Vakava finished two minutes behind Erik and went horseless.
In the women’s classic, Cheryl Dubois crushed her age class and should be proud! I aspire to be that fast in my 7th decade of life and Maria Schilling finished not far behind, winning her age class as well. In the “short” classic race (still 24 km), Dave Christopherson was 9th.
|Nate, with his closet competitor Peter Carlen, at the finish.|
Vakava had some great results in Saturday’s skate race led by Alex Reich 4th(!!!), Andy Schakel 8th, Craig Cardinal 13th,and Artie Huber 34th in the men’s 48 km field while Laura Cattaneo finished 5th in the women’s field. In the 35 km, Nate Porath took home his 8th victory with Paul Olson 3rd, Ben Mullin 16th, Hans Harlane 25th, Dave Christopherson 34th, and Mark Ahlers 44th with Katy Splan 14th in the women's field and Mary Beth Tuttle collecting another wreath!!! Go big or go home for Vakava.
|Mary Beth and Hans at the finish.|