The Midwest

The Midwest

After a month on the road, I returned home to Alaska this past Sunday. Travelling is fun, but it is wonderful to be home, sleeping in my own bed, driving my own car, not wearing the same clothes day after day. The past few weeks were brutally cold in Anchorage, barely getting above 0F. Thankfully, I missed all that and the day after I got home the temperatures starting rising and snow started falling. I’m not complaining. It has also been sublime to ski on a loop longer than 3km! Since I left for Nationals December 28th, I have only skied on short loops of manmade snow (with the exception of one day at Bread Loaf in Middlebury where I got to ski all the trails after a 6-inch dump of snow). During my hour-and-a-half ski at Kincaid on my first day home I did not ski a single trail twice. Not to mention that the snow in Alaska is beyond good right now, with a record snow year that will undoubtedly extend the spring skiing well into May. Needless to say, I’m happy to be home now.

For the past ten days, I was in Minneapolis, Minnesota for a mini-tour called the Tour de Twin Cities (TdTC) featuring five races in nine days. The first two races were January 21-22, with a 5km classic and 10km skate at Theodore Wirth Park. The classic day started early and chilly—testing skis and warming up at 7:45am with the temperature hovering around 0F was not ideal. My skis were a bit on the slow side and my legs weren’t as snappy as I was hoping they would be, but I had a fairly decent race in 8th place. The following day, however, was a struggle. My calf muscles have been bothering me quite a bit recently in skating, and the race was no exception. Not only did I start out with my legs feeling heavy, after only a few km my calves began to cramp and I had a really hard time just keeping my legs moving. It was especially noticeable when Caitlin Gregg passed me before the first lap was over, having started 30 seconds behind me—even though she won the race. When the girl who started 15 seconds behind me passed me on the second lap, I tried to stay with her, but my legs just could not keep up a good tempo. I finished 18th or so, barely able to walk for several minutes after the finish until my calves relaxed. It was disappointing.

5km classic at Wirth Park. Photo from Skinnyski.com

10km skate at Wirth Park. Photo from Skinnyski.com

10km skate. Photo by BK

Post-skate in pain. Had to hang on my poles because my legs wouldn’t support me.

Mark skiing to 6th place.

Lars, 10th place.

BK skiing to 13th.

The TdTC had an overall standing that determined the prize money payout. For each race you received a certain number of points based on your result. At the end of all five races, the top six overall were awarded prize money: $3,000–$2,000–$1,000–$800–$600–$400 for 1st through 6th place. So after my sub-par skate race, I was a long shot from any money. The next race was a sprint, though, and I knew I could get some redemption and pick up some points. The sprint was strange. It was held at 6:30pm (6pm for the men), and although we had skied the course many times throughout the week, it was still daunting to be sent out full blast on a less-than-well-lit course. I almost skied off the trail at one point. It was a great course though, with some good hills you had to work for, and also areas to gain a lot of speed. The snow was fast and my skis were rockets. I had a good start position, fifth girl out, right behind my teammate Rosie Brennan, who I could gage myself on. At the top of the last big climb, someone in the dark shouted that I was even with Jennie Bender. That really motivated me because I figured that meant she was leading, and I pressed harder. I lost a bit of momentum up the last little hill into the stadium but pushed into the finish best I could. When results were posted 15 minutes later, I was excited to see that I had indeed improved on my points total by taking 2nd place (and receiving 25 points) but I was also disappointed to see that I only missed winning (and a $250 bonus) by ONE second. It was hard not to berate myself for the next day or so for not pushing harder in one spot or another in the race where I might have gained that second, but I had also moved into sixth place overall, so I had a chance at some money. Rosie finished 4th, and my teammates Mark Iverson, Lars Flora and Brent Knight finished 3rd, 8th and 12th in the men’s race.  (See previous post for sprint photo).

The second weekend of the TdTC moved from Wirth out to a suburb of Saint Paul, a place called Green Acres Recreation Area. To put it bluntly, and accurately, we were skiing in a cornfield. The course went up a short gradual way around some trees, then up a steep herringbone hill about 30m long, down a 180-degree turn, up another 15-20m herringbone hill to an upper cornfield that we skirted the perimeter of (see crude drawing below).

It then cruised down a fairly long steep hill, did a sharp 180 again, then went back up the same steep hill that was actually quite long and hard. It was just steep enough that you couldn’t quite stride up it, thus most people reverted to a narrow herringbone run. A short flat stretch on the cornfield again, then a long gradual downhill led to the finish. Saturday’s race was a 5km mass start classic race for the women, which ended up being virtually a double-pole/herringbone sprint. Mass starts can be pretty dangerous, with falls and broken poles, and the men’s 10km start did not disappoint. This video shows the men’s start. The guy who falls in the beginning is the guy who had won all the distance races so far that week, and just barely missed out on the win that day.

There was also an intermediate sprint bonus at 2km at the top of the long hill worth 15-10-5 points for the first three people to pass through. Jennie Bender took off like a bat out of hell and was well ahead from the start, with Rosie a few seconds back. I stuck with Caitlin Gregg from the start, trailing Rosie. Sitting in 4th coming into the big climb I started kicking it in to get one of the sprint bonuses. I knew I could get 3rd for the bonus after passing Caitlin, and as I got further up the hill, herringbone-running as fast as I could I saw Rosie struggling up the hill so I really went for it and managed to grab the 2nd place bonus for 10 extra points. Ultimately, I finished 7th on the day after fading a little after my charge and my skis were also pretty slow. Sunday’s 15km skate race started pursuit-style based on the finishes from the classic race, so I started 7th, 30 seconds behind the winner and was chasing the whole time. Unfortunately, I experienced the same calf problems as last week, to an even more severe degree and lost 3 places over the course of the race, finished 10th. Luckily my points for the overall were solid enough that I only had to have a decent race to keep my 5th place standing. Five laps around the 3k loop was painful, and my legs felt like they were going to tear right down the back, but I just kept telling myself I had to finish and I would win $600. Finishing was a relief and at the end of five races, I did bring home those six Benjamin’s. Rosie finished 3rd overall for one-thousand bucks.

My check! Wish I could have taken it to the bank like that…

The men’s 20km race was the finale, and it was exciting! Our guys hadn’t had a great classic day, struggling with poorly waxed skis, so they were starting pretty far out from the leaders. Brent was 36 seconds back, Mark over a minute-and-a-half. There had been a lot of turnover within the men’s overall standings all week, so it was really anyone’s game. Brent had a fantastic race to catch the lead pack and then drop everyone except the eventual winner. He finished 2nd in the pursuit, but because he started so far back, he ended up having the fastest split time of the day, winning his first career Super Tour race. He also was awarded 30 points for the win and vaulted from 12th in the overall standings to 4th for $800! Mark had a solid race moving up from 15th to 11th. Lars started well in 7th place but ultimately faded a bit to finish 10th.

BK can’t believe he went from no money to $800.

All told, the week was pretty successful, despite a few unsatisfactory races here and then by everyone. It was also greatly improved by the generosity of our hosts, Vanessa and Zach Handler, friends of Brian and Caitlin Gregg, who let us stay with them all week, a stone’s throw from the venue. Their 15-month-old daughter Clementine provided endless entertainment, especially at mealtimes, they had a wax room in the basement, and were fun to cook for/with. Staying with people greatly reduces our trip cost and provides more comfort than paying for a hotel room for ten days, so I cannot thank them enough. Minneapolis was a cool place to be for ten days. It’s not often we get to race in a city (besides Anchorage). I also got to see my college roommate/teammate/friend from Saint Paul, Claire Luby, who came up from grad school in Madison, WI to race one day and see me. I have only seen her once since graduation in May 2010, so it was really fun to hang out with her for a couple days and catch up. Caitlin and Brian were also awesome to have around and made us feel welcome in the Midwest.

Jogging in Wirth Park with downtown Minneapolis in the background!

Me and Luby!!

Clementine!

Beautiful warm sunny day for a ski with city views!

Rosie

This was not the only sunny day in the Midwest.

The snowmaking gun was pointed at this tree. Probably will kill the tree but it sure looked cool.

Pretty good skiing at Wirth for only a few inches of manmade snow.

The boys.

Minneapolis

Tall buildings! What a novelty…

Cruising downtown Minneapolis

We actually had champagne the night before the last race. Celebrate the night before and you will have a good race!?

So now I’m back in Alaska, and as I finish writing this on Friday, it has been snowing all day, and snowing HARD. After every lap we did this morning, there was an inch or more of fresh snow already covering our tracks. Next up are races at Kincaid with the western college teams, hosted by UAA, starting tomorrow and going through next Friday. Should be good skiing!!

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