Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Chilling Out: Literally and Figuratively

Perhaps I’m just getting old, but my cold tolerance has taken a dramatic downturn over the past few years. Last year’s January and February were brutal, resulting in a frozen thumb and subsequent mega handwarmers for four weekends in a row of racing. My core can handle the cold as can my face, but my hands are weak. I’ve always had cold hands and Raynaud’s since high school, hence skiing isn’t exactly the best sport for me.

Erik got a hand boiler for Christmas. It’s a glass device with some colored liquid in the bottom, that when held by hot hands, moves upwards through a bunch of tubes, and "boils". The joke was on me. Everyone else could get it to instantly boil, but me, not at all. So it goes. 

Hand boiler and its box in case you're interested.

My training was going average until mid-November when after some running intervals, a long walk, and an overdistance skate rollerski, my posterior tibial tendonitis (more on this in a subsequent post) reared its ugly head and I haven’t ran since. Now I’m trying to tell myself that a 5 mile walk counts as much as a 5 mile run. I do walk fast but don’t think it provides quite the same cardio; the jury is out though on muscle fitness.

I decided to keep on with ski training and hope the break from running alone would be enough to rest my inflamed tendon. This was going OK but then back in December we had a week of rain, then snow, followed by cold. I volunteered at high school ski practice and thought I’d be OK. I used hand warmers inside my mittens but my thumbs got cold. I pulled them inside with my other fingers twice and then the third time I decided it was time to go home. But my car key fab was too cold and didn’t work. I fumbled getting out the back-up key which didn’t work either. I ran around frantically and the whole time my thumbs didn’t get warm. When I finally got into the car and got my hands warm, I realized my thumbs still felt numb. I’d frostbit both of them. Not again, and this time so early in the season.

I didn’t ski the next three days, hoping my strength workouts, shoveling, and starting to bring back in some walking would be decent training.

This brought me to Saturday December 24th, a sunny but cold day barely above zero with a fierce wind. It had been over a week since my last intervals and so with a short warm-up and an even shorter cool down knowing I’d be really sweaty, I got it done, 3 x 15 minutes, and mostly was able to keep my thumbs warm.

The next week I was lucky enough to have a ski vacation in Duluth and Bemidji and we were all lucky enough to have some temps in the 20s. I suppose the upside to cold weather is that it really makes me appreciate warmer weather. I got in 11 days in a row of skiing (although one day was a brief street ski during the big snowstorm) and two interval sessions amassing 20 hours. OK, that’s not actually that much but in the previous 11 days I only skied 7 hours. Now the weather has remained moderate and we have excellent natural snow so I’ve still been skiing a good amount.

Excellent skiing at Three Island County Park in Bemidji.

Well, I’d be skiing more but as I previously mentioned, I’ve been doing some volunteer high school coaching. The Type A in me is regretting the time I could be spending training instead of giving lots of technique advice and often skiing slower with the kids. It’s a balance between wanting to give back, feeling good about the coaching, and feeling bad about my lack of workout. I try to get in at least 8 miles during those coaching sessions which often last nearly two hours. It’s always more than what the kids ski and it reminds me of one of my high school ski teammates who was also a swimmer. Her specialty was the 500 meters in swimming. One day she remarked, “so in swim practice we usually do 2,000 meters but in ski practice we usually do 5 km and the pursuit race is 10 km. No wonder why I feel like we ski a marathon for every race.” So true. Between busing to snow for practice and an incredibly wide range of ability of skiers spread throughout the trail, it just doesn’t leave much time for skiing. 

High school throwback- first varsity race, a team relay at Mount Itasca. Date on photo.

I’m still not running but am doing a lot of walking. Next week is trending cold again and I suspect I won’t ski as much. But the week after that we’re headed to Sun Valley and planning to log some long days. I’m telling myself all this is good to switch up the routines- have a few high volume weeks, some very low volume weeks, and try a winter of not running. It mimics a lot more what I did in college and I was relatively successful back then. Indeed, despite so many more hours of training, I don’t think I’m that much more proportionately faster now, so maybe this new experiment of sorts, this kind of forced periodization and changing things up with injury and weather and ski trips, will be good for me.

Does our snowy back yard look impressive? So easy to ski with temps in the 20s and lots of natural snow.

So in essence I’m trying to chill out more in the figurative sense- train when the training is good, try not to stress about it when it’s not, give back, and try new things. And avoid chilling out in the frostbite sense. We’ll see how it shakes out come February racing season.