Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Monday, February 7, 2022

Mid-January Blues, Frostbite, and the City of Lakes Loppet Classic Race

Mid January Blues

The last three years, since Minneapolis hosted the Master’s World Cup, I’ve purposely not raced in January to sleep in and give myself a break prior to racing every weekend in February. Instead I’ve been doing hour-long L3 sessions by myself inside of three hour skis. This got tedious and so this year I was determined to do some January races. But not just any races, specifically I wanted to do races I’ve never done before. I signed up for one, the St. John’s Langlauf, but this became yet another casualty of COVID-19. 

Alex Reich from Vakava skiing fast in the Skate Loppet. Photo: Skinnyski

And so by mid-January the usual three negative themes emerged. My positive self-talk to remedy these situations are in italics.

1. I’m not prepared to race. This is ridiculous. I’ve trained for nine months. I’m at some of my highest training loads now, so of course I’m tired. I’m doing intervals and long skis and strength the same day- sometimes strength to exhaustion. I’ve trained at least as well, if not better, than every other year. I’m doing weekly intervals with Vakava and more intervals on my own. I’m ready to race.

2. I should have done more strength. I feel weak- especially the double pole. I had plans to do some double pole-only workouts. On the man-made loop at Wirth. Yeah, I know, it’s really hilly. But the snow has been slow. Really slow. Or is it just me? Well Elspeth, this is coming from someone who has done 100 pull-up days. I’ve likely done more weighted pull-ups than anyone who will be above me on the results page. It must be slow snow. It has been colder than usual. This is also where I glean motivation for more strength next year and when I usually think of better specific strength.

3. I don’t even like to race. I should quit. Oh, I battle this every year. I’ve learned some from running when I only do occasional races. I do better racing infrequently, thus every weekend in February is a bit daunting. So it’s important to remember why I race. To push myself, get out of my comfort zone. Because I actually like to go hard AND FAST. At least sometimes. COVID has also killed most of the social aspect of racing. No parties afterwards. So I need to take one race at a time. Think in the moment, approach each corner, uphill, flat, and straightaway as a novelty. As a chance to ski as fast as I can.

The best way to remedy these feelings is to race. There weren’t any nearby races the third weekend of January but the 4th weekend was packed. Erik and I debated between the William O-Brien Race and the Lumberjack Jaunt but ultimately decided against travel and waking up early. I pounded out one last solo interval session and then kicked off 5 weekends in a row of racing with the City of Lakes Loppet Classic Race the first weekend in February. 

Andy Schakel skiing to a good finish in the Skate Loppet. Photo: Skinnyski


I have cold hands. Most of the time this means the temp of my hands mimics their environment, even if my core is pleasantly warm. I’ve struggled with this and occasionally the screaming barfies my whole ski career. The tips of my pinky fingers are permanently numb.

This year I’ve decided to do something about it and purchased a huge pack of chemical hand warmers to use when it’s much below 10 degrees. The chemical warmers can be too hot next to my skin, so I’ve found that wearing nitrile gloves inside my mittens with the hand warmers is just right.

The problem is the poor thumbs. Usually after 10-15 minutes of skiing my thumbs will get warm with a mildly unpleasant tingling sensation and then they’ll be good but three nights before the City of Lakes Loppet, at Vakava practice with intervals, my left thumb just wasn’t warming up. I tried twice on long downhills, pulling my thumb in with my other fingers to rewarm it, but was unsuccessful. After that I gave up and finished the workout and only as I was cooling down did my thumb get warm- the screaming barfies, but because it was only one finger, it was mostly just screaming.

The thumb still felt funny though and it kept me up some of the night, throbbing. In all my years I’ve never frostbit any of my fingers this bad. My thumb swelled up. I thought it was going to blister but it didn’t. But this means I need to figure out how to not get it cold again which almost always happens if it’s below 10 degrees. And there’s plenty of that in the forecast. The obvious answer is to quit skiing. That would be easy. But I’m too stupid and stubborn. I’ll lose my thumb before I do that. Why hasn’t someone invented a chemical thumb warmer???

Erik proposed a number of solutions but finally we settled on taping handwarmers around my thumb on the outside of my mittens. 

Handwarmers taped to my thumbs on the outside. Back in business.

The City of Lakes Loppet

The Classic Loppet dawned cold, windy, and cloudy with temps forecasted to be 5 degrees warming to 13 with corresponding windchills of -12 to -2. It took me too many years to factor in the wind. I hate getting hot (some of this post was written in a 55 degree room in my house), so tend to dress on the cooler side. Despite years of ski racing, sometimes I’m a bit unsure of exactly what to wear. I figure that using hand and foot warmers, the parts of my body that are always coldest, allows me less layers under my spandex. In the end I wore a balaclava, hat, and two layers of long underwear under my spandex.

I arrived to the start glad to have the extra layers as the southeast wind kicked up across Bde Maka Ska. From my brief warm-up on skis, I learned it was faster outside the classic tracks due to drifted snow. I put my skis down in what looked like the second row. Despite them being 15 years old, no one put their skis in front of mine so I was on the front row! Erik, who started 45 minutes after me in the 20 km race, was there to take my warm-ups. I should’ve given myself more time as I struggled getting my pole straps on with the extra thumb handwarmers. With 10 seconds to go I didn’t have my straps on yet so moved to the side, knowing that at least it was faster out of the tracks.

Fortunately I got my straps on just as they said go and I was off double poling hard outside the tracks. I was able to tuck in behind my teammate Laura and another woman. On the west side of Bde Maka Ska the pace seemed to slow so I jumped in front to take the lead. Once we got to the protected south side of the lake we got in the classic tracks and I followed behind Laura. Just before going through the channel into Lake of the Isles, Margie passed me along with another woman. One more woman passed me as we got onto Lake of the Isles. I tried to ski with that pack and was able to until we got to the south side of Cedar when they bridged a gap on me I just couldn’t make up. Back in the day, when I had just started marathon racing in college, I always thought it would be so fun to ski with the lead pack of women but now I know it’s just a lot of work! 

Myself and Laura at the start of the Classic Loppet.

The Loppet did a good job of making a snow ribbon in the channels but coming off Cedar Lake onto the east beach was rough. At one point all the skiers just went off the trail onto nicer snow. The bare rock was exposed along the east trail (I’ve previously had good intentions of removing that rock but it is HUGE and beyond my ability without some heavy equipment. One guy who had just passed me was going a bit slow in this section and I put in a bit of an effort and got back in front of him and never saw him again. 

Vakava teammate Brock on course during the classic.

From this point on I just seemed to lose my top gear. I was still moving but struggled to ski some transition sections fast (finding dirt-free snow and intermittent classic tracks didn’t help) and couldn’t push the uphills. A handful of guys would pass me the remainder of the race and one woman in Butler. Fortunately my kick was decent which definitely helped. I also noted that while not always skiing the transitions terribly well, at least I wasn’t wobbling on my skis even when tired. My agility on skis has definitely improved. Like I’ve been saying about just about everything in life recently from wearing masks to speed records on downhills…practice!

On Skyline the tracks were windblown again and I mostly skied outside of the tracks. I was glad for the double layers under my spandex. I kept trying to push the double pole but didn’t feel uber strong. I enjoyed the more rolling parts of the course on Twin Lakes and then pushed up to Coach’s Corner. I kicked up in the tracks, noted that even though I wasn’t breathing super hard, I felt tired. 

Crossing over Wirth Parkway in North Wirth during the Loppet. Photo: Skinnyski

I completely missed the corner heading off the north finger. Under cloudy skies it wasn’t super obvious, I didn’t see the left V-boards, and likely the marshal wasn’t in an optimal position. It sucked losing all my speed on that hill but I guess so is life. Those last couple grinders- coming off the North Finger and up from La Squadra were mentally challenging to keep pushing and not just walk. I did do a tad of that in the steepest sections. The wind was so strong I double poled into La Squadra and then despite tucking, had to start poling again before I even got to the corner. I started double poling up the bottom of La Squadra and noted that my arms weren’t that tired so clearly I could have pushed harder but also makes me feel better heading into the Mora Classic next week- especially given they just lengthened the course! Even my double pole finish felt lackluster although there wasn’t anyone around me so there wasn’t too much point in sprinting.

In the end I was 6/40 women and 49/193 overall. Not too shabby. Laura rocked it and placed onto the podium in 3rd. In the men’s race Brock took 23rd overall.

Meanwhile, to mix things up, Erik decided to add some competition to the 20 km and won! 

Erik on his way to victory! Photo: Skinnyski

In Sunday’s skate race Vakava also had some great performances with Alex Reich 6th, Andy Schakel 9th, Craig Cardinal 12th, Jojo Baldus 14th, Brock Lundberg (after racing the previous day) 65th, and Hans Harlane 105th in the men’s race. Laura Cattaneo was the sole Vakava female in the women’s field and came up just shy of the podium with a 4th place but did win the overall Loppet Challenge. 

Jojo hammering the Skate Loppet. Photo: Skinnyski

Craig crushing it at the Skate Loppet. Photo: Skinnyski

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