Sunday, June 11, 2017

Kongsberger Birkebeinerløpet

Who wouldn't want to be following this trail on a morning in June?

Slyfield is working his way through a fun project this year: paralleling the Norwegian Birkebeiner trifecta of a classic ski race in March, a trail run in June, and a mountain bike ride in August.  It's a fitting match, given our club's Norwegian heritage and interest in year-round fitness, plus it's a fun challenge to keep moving outside of the ski season!

Alas, he ended up doing the classic ski race all alone, just him and the rain, but this weekend, for the trail run, he had Victor and me along to share in the adventure.  And people, it was a perfect day for a jaunt in the woods, all cool and gray and damp, with just enough wetness in the trails to make the steep downhills grippy and not slippy, and just enough moisture in the air, including several bouts of rainy sprinkles, to keep the temperatures enjoyable.

The "race" was very free-form; Jim suggested that each of us decide on the course that would provide us our own personal best challenge.  So I hiked two times the Berg/Viking/Ozbaldy/PK loop, Victor hiked it once, and Jim jogged the same loop plus the road on his first lap, then skipped the road and shortened the lap a little on the second lap in the interests of time.  He had a prior engagement that afternoon, so he and Victor jetted out of there shortly after we all finished (thanks for waiting for me before you left, in case I was eaten by cougars out there by myself!).

Jim in the distance, working his way up the hill.

Flowers?  It's still early, but there were some baby trillium and Tiny Purple Flowers and Tiny Yellow Flowers and lots of bear grass.  Wildlife?  Hundreds of birds singing their little hearts out, frogs, chipmunks, one large deer crashing through the underbrush, and, a couple of times, the sound of something largish and possibly carnivorous rustling in the bushes on the side of the trail.  I sang my "I'm not afraid of cougars!" song at the top of my lungs and whatever was rustling decided I was something to stay far away from.

Who needs an actual trail when you have a sweet meadow to wander through?

For me, the route I chose was sufficiently challenging; I should have known this, I suppose, but guess what?  Hiking steep rocky ski trails is A LOT harder than kicking and gliding on them over a lovely bed of snow!  And as Victor pointed out, there are a lot of small but noticeable ups and downs in the trails that are smoothed out by snow in the winter.  Hiking it is much slower, obvs, and several times I was actually slightly disoriented, as I arrived at intersections much later than I would have on skis and wasn't totally sure where I was.  That was pretty interesting, and I was embarrassed that I had scoffed at the skiers who got lost on our trails this winter.  Also, there is a maze of trails on the top of Ozbaldy that you might not know about if you're only up there in the winter when Nick has set a track.  I had to stop for a minute on my first lap and think about the right way down.  It was part of the adventure!

Hello, Ozbaldy, my old friend!

Jim and Victor had to leave shortly after I got back, but lucky for me, Pat and Paul had come up to the cabin ... with meatballs!!  So after a delicious shower, I got to spend a lazy afternoon with them, eating my recovery lunch and chatting about all kinds of fun things.  And talk about recovery lunch!  Besides the meatballs, there was an absolutely divine borscht-type beet/carrot/onion/ELK! soup that Jim had made, plus incredible apple fritters from a bakery in North Bend, plus watermelon ... everything your tired muscles need after a good hard workout on the ski trails.  Finally, Pat and Paul headed out for a hike and I headed home, happy as a tired puppy with the training I had stored in my legs and lungs and the forest's beauty I had stored in my eyes.

Recovery lunch of champions!

Many thanks, Jim, for such a fun day, and such delicious food, and especially for thinking up the idea and making it happen.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Jack Be Nimble, Jack Be Quick ...

Words from Sam Cook about keeping our middle-aged bodies fluid and active:
We all have our gold standards of who we'd like to emulate as lessability begins to reel us in. They are the ones who cross-country ski into their 80s or beyond, the ones who year after year carry themselves down the Grandma's Marathon course on sinewy, 70-something legs. They are lucky, perhaps. They've not had knees or hips or shoulders go bad. But it is not just luck. They have not quit. In the dark and quiet hours, they're doing sit-ups and push-ups and planks. They're jumping rope. They're stretching. They're doing yoga. They're hiking and running and biking and skiing and dancing.  Not as fast as they once did, maybe. Not for as long at a time, maybe.  And perhaps it only appears to us that they're doing it gracefully. Maybe it doesn't feel that way to them.  But what choice does any of us have, really, except to keep at it?  And let our bodies gradually reel in our brains, still stuck somewhere around 28.  
In between my own workouts this three-day weekend, I watched my niece play some elite-level volleyball in a big tournament.  She is a rockstar setter on a very strong team and as I watched, my mind switched back and forth from, wow, what a play! to wow, here are some qualities that are directly transferrable to Nordic skiing.  I saw strength, of course, and explosiveness and balance and quickness and agility and proprioception.  I told my brother that, but he's an occasional touring skier and just looked at me like I was off my rocker.  Skiing and volleyball?  Not seeing it.  But I told him, you take those attributes we're watching right now, add some big endurance training and some technical skills, and you'd have, well, you'd have Jessie Diggins.

Nordic skiing can be an easy walk in the woods (yawn) but with these bonus attributes in your quiver, it becomes an occasion for exuberance and joy; it becomes a sport of power, pop, and sparkle, and one I will be passionate about for the rest of my life.

Because that's one of the things I love about being in love with skiing; you can do it well into your old age, as multiple living, breathing examples have taught me, but also the art of it encourages all the qualities I want in my own body: functional strength coupled with mobility, gracefulness and fluidity, balance, endurance, and cultivating a specialized skill set that uses both upper and lower body.  And for people like me, the ski season is only a few months long, so in the off-season, the activities that will benefit us in ski season turn out to be super fun during the summer and fall, like trail running and hiking, biking and paddling, roller skiing and … dancing.

To that end, and emulating dancing Diggins, I'm taking a beginning hip hop dance class.  Seriously.  Because if anything can get this body trying to move quickly and lightly, it's going to be loud music and a super-fun instructor and fellow dancers who look, to my undiscerning eye, like professionals.  I'm the oldest person in the class by a factor of at least two, maybe more, but that's okay; they still let me play.  And I don't see hip hop on ANY ski training plan, but that's okay, too -- quickness and lightness are big weaknesses of mine (it's a long list) and I believe in attacking your weaknesses.  And if attacking your weaknesses means getting all sweaty and goofy in a rundown old dance studio with a handful of millennials who got sick beats, hey, I'll try it!  Verdict: to be provided when ski season rolls around.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

SnoPark Clean-up Day in the Gym of the Outside


People, that was one of the most fun clean-up days!  After 160 days of rain and the wettest Seattle winter in recorded history, summer landed today with a great big KAPOW!  It was an absolutely gorgeous day to be in the mountains, and even better to be using that day to make the ski trails a little cleaner after their rough winter.

We had about 16 people at Cabin Creek, a relatively small turnout considering how many people ski there, but those of us who were there were stalwart.  We found an incredible amount of garbage, more than I can remember seeing before, and we worked hard all morning gathering up blown-out tires and tons of truck chains and castoff clothes and food wrappers and beer cans and pee bottles (yuck) and dirty diapers that had been sitting in a pool of water (more yuck) and broken pole baskets and weird miscellaneous bits of mysterious things.  In the dead wildlife department, Frank reported two large birds and a deer head, antlers and all, sitting on a fence post.  That is too weird to even contemplate, so let's just move on.

After everything was all picked up and loaded into plastic bags for the Forest Service to pick up, we gathered back in the cabin for Kare and Aase's so-scrumptious barbecued chicken and all kinds of salads and desserts, and beer, and fun conversation.  What a great day, to be in the mountains with my friends and making the trails a little bit nicer.  A couple of people had the foresight to bring their skis and, after lunch, headed back up to the pass, where there is still plenty of snow, for some spring skiing.  The rest of us headed on home to soothe our sunburns and eat leftover chicken.   Many thanks to everyone who came -- it was so fun to spend the day with you!

One of these does not belong here.

So. Much. Garbage.

Joan, deep in the Ravine of Trash.

Gunnar, age 86, who found out he actually won FOUR medals at the Canadian Birkie this year!  For doing it for the first time, for winning his age group, for being the oldest finisher in the entire race, and for finishing all three Birkebeiners: Norwegian, American, and Canadian.  Way to go, Gunnar!  Age is just a number.

Moving some heavy metal in the Gym of Outside.

Aase doing what she does to make everyone around her happy.

Kare, the world's best chicken cooker, keeping a sharp eye on 40 pounds of chicken. 

The beer refrigerator.

Lunch on the back porch; is there anything more delicious on a sunny Saturday in May?

We really did let Jim come and eat with us!

A LOT of chicken was eaten, and still there was plenty to take home for tomorrow.

Manly men, having a meeting about manly matters.

Ah, the cabin in summer ...

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Happy New Year!

I had such an amazing weekend last week: one last glorious ski up Amabilis on stealth grooming, and one first hike at Tiger Mountain in the delicious freshness of exploding spring.  

Now it's the first week of May.  Ski season is months away, but this is the beginning of that critical period when we make the deposits in the fitness bank, build the muscles, generate the mitochondria, expand the heart and lungs.  There is a ton of good information out there right now.  There is Gerald Marzorati, whose essay in the NY Times talks about the value of learning a new hard thing in your golden years, so as to keep the mental and physical fires lit.  He sort of gives me the okay to be not so good at skiing.  Being good is not necessarily the point; the point is finding an activity you're passionate about and trying hard, and working at it, and thinking about it, and focusing on it, and improving.  This is what he says: 
I am talking about improving at a demanding skill or set of skills — a craft, a discipline. I have in mind something that will take years to get proficient at, something that there is a correct way of doing, handed down for generations or even ages, and for which there is no way for you to create shortcuts with your cleverness or charm. Playing the cello, maybe. Or cabinetry. Or, in my case, tennis, serious tennis.  … I wanted to learn and get better at something that embodied life. … Which brings us to the beauty of a disciplined effort at improvement and, I think, the only guaranteed benefit of finding something, as I found in tennis, to learn and commit to: You seize time and you make it yours. You counter the narrative of diminishment and loss with one of progress and bettering.  
Speaking of roller skiing, as we were since it's the first of May, here's Jen Santoro, former professional bike racer and now champion masters skier in the 40-44 age group.  She raves about the benefits of classic roller skiing, and like Marzorati, gives me permission to love what I love.  She says:
I was amazed at the technique improvement I had gained with my summer of careful roller skiing concentrating on technique, and all my strength training. After a summer of real ski training of all types (strength, cycling, running, bounding, lots of rollersking with attention to good form head-to-toe), I had my best season yet.   
The take-away here is that roller skiing is good, mindful roller skiing for form over speed is best, and Swenor roller skis are so close to snow that I even used them a few times this winter when snow was hard to find.  I've never done that.  Check out a pair as Rest Month rolls to a close and May 1 brings on the long days!

Let's go do this thing -- winter is coming back, but there's work to be done first, starting with a roller ski in Discovery Park on a gorgeous sunny Sunday morning.  Solid mindful training, building the foundation, dreaming of snow, and loving the journey.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Race Report: Rune Rocks the Norwegian Birkebeiner

While Slyfield was doggedly skiing his solitary way through a rainy 50k at Cabin Creek, Rune was on the other side of the Atlantic with his 10,000 closest buddies, doing the real Birkebeiner in the kind of incredible skiing conditions that only Norway can offer.  I always learn a lot from Rune's race reports, like don't sweat what you can't change; wax is your friend, even when it's a new friend; and work is evidently overrated.  Thanks, Rune, for telling us your awesome story, and thanks, Rune and Augustina, for photos to swoon over, here at the tail end of winter as we start to dream about next winter's adventures.

Every race has its own unique challenges, be it waxing conditions at Gunnar Hagen or surviving the cold in Wisconsin (in normal years, that is), but few have as many challenges as the Norwegian Birkie.  With its big elevation changes, usually quite different snow conditions throughout the race, and not the least the logistics, a successful race largely depends on how well these challenges are handled.  
This year I decided to get to Norway almost two full weeks in advance of the race to have ample time to adjust to the time zone, get some quality skiing in, and get a real good handle on the various challenges (work is totally overrated).  

This also gave me time to do the half Birkebeiner, 6 days prior to the real deal, as well.  I totally lucked out this year and got to stay in my childhood friend’s brand new cabin at the top of Mosetertoppen, basically 50 meters to walk and I was right at the start of a 600-kilometer network of groomed trails, at 900 meters above sea level; couldn’t be better!  

Skiing the days before the half Birkie was superb, with blue kick wax and sunny days.  

The half Birkie starts up at Sjusjoen, goes in a 14 k loop in gentle terrain up at the mountain before descending down to the Birkie stadium for a total of 28k.  I had skied the course a few days before and with only gentle hills, I figured if there ever is a double pole course manageable for Master skiers, this is it.  
There were just shy of 1,000 skiers in the race, self seeded in 8 waves, and I got a start position towards the end of the first wave.  I had seen from the times last year that this race attracts a lot of really fast young skiers, this year no exception, and the pace from the start was blistering fast.  I used my Madshus Propulsion skies (double pole skis) for the first time and they were excellent!   I could probably have done a better job tactically and made sure I was in a large group farther up in the wave from the start.  Instead I ended up just 20 seconds off a large group for most of the race before descending down the mountain, and with a gap behind me,  no advantage of drafting in a group.  Nonetheless, a fast and good race, 1 hour and 15 minutes which gave me an 8th in the 50 – 59 age group.  The winner of the age group: 1 hour and 7 minutes, ridiculously fast! 
Now on to the big race, with 6 days to rest and time to do some more skiing. 

The temperatures are changing quickly in mid-March and the sun is all of a sudden having a real effect during the days, glazing and melting the snow in places; with that, it was time to pull out the klisters which we love so much.  
The Swix wax report was still largely based on ice klister covered with hard waxes.  Zach Caldwell skied the course the day before the race, testing a lot of different waxes, and his conclusion was to use one of the universal klisters, with Rex Gold having the best result.  So when I picked up my skis from the local ski shop, who did the glide waxing, I became the proud owner of a brand new tube of Rex Gold, a wax I had never heard of before. 
 Augustina came and joined me 5 days before the race and our plan was that she would take me to the start area in Rena where I had rented a room for the night at a local farm within walking distance to the start.  Looking at the map, Augustina just couldn’t believe how far it is to drive from Lillehammer to Rena, relative to the skiing distance.  Add in Friday night traffic and her round trip to Rena and back was about 7 hours!  Staying at the farm house was a really good move and for the first time, I actually slept the night before; sure beats a 3-hour bus ride at 4 am!  

There is something nerve-wracking about a 54 k race climbing 3 mountains on kick wax you have never tested, but that is the way it goes.  I have learned that testing at the start is meaningless; the warm-up tracks have no resemblance to the conditions up the course, so I just headed to the start and put my skies down.  I skied out of wave 3, which actually turned out really well.  I was able to be in the top 20 or so out of the gate and had plenty of room around me to quickly settle into a rhythm and ski relaxed on what turned out to be an excellent kick; thank you Zach!  
My first split, after 9k of climbing, was 31st in the age group, and I was now starting to catch lots of wave 2 skiers on the uphills, which continued for the first 14k.  The weather was gorgeous with sun, light wind, and anywhere from -2 C at the start to -6C up in the mountains.  Zach cautioned me that the skis that I chose were too flat to carry speed with klister wax and that turned out to be true, but those were the best I had in my travel bag so that’s what it is.  Every downhill I lost places, relative to skiers around me, and gained on the uphills.  My next splits were 47th in the age group, then 42nd after a series of climbs, and 55th at the finish (850 skiers in the 50 – 54 group), with the last 14k pretty much straight downhill skiing.  
All in all, though, I had a really good race where most everything worked out perfectly well.  I finished in a time of 3 hours and 11 minutes, and to give some perspective of how tight it is, there were 14 skiers within one minute just ahead and behind me on the result list!  My goal was top 30 in the age group; I didn’t quite make it, but seeing the splits, I know that a top 30 is within reach and I’m already looking forward to next year!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Birkie of One

The Birkie lifestyle ... both the Norwegian Birkebeiner and the American Birkie present themselves as part of a year-round lifestyle of general athleticism and spending quality time outside, and offer both a running race and a bike race as part of the Birkie trifecta.  With Kongsbergers' Norwegian heritage and focus on outdoor sports, it seems only natural that we might want to mimic this training-all-year concept.

So Jim Slyfield, who is always looking for fun and interesting new ways to challenge himself and others, concocted the idea of a Cabin Creek trifecta, with a bike ride and trail run to come later this summer and a classic 50k Viking/Berg Birkie on the same day as the Norwegian Birkebeiner, which was last Saturday.

Alas, it didn't turn out quite the way he had hoped.  Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was the 50k distance, maybe it was that Americans tend to be skaters more than classic skiers and the skate 50k was just the previous weekend; whatever, Jim was the only one who showed up.   But he did it anyway, 50k in the rain all by himself, no feed station support, no cheering fans, no one trail-side to say, "Way to go, Jim!"  I have tremendous admiration for this kind of mental toughness!  Here is his good-spirited report.  Way to go, Jim!

Good thing the kid brought his swim fins and snorkel….  
It didn’t rain all the time—it even stopped for a few minutes.  
I skied the first 3 laps, then came in to change everything from the belly button up.  Back out for the last two laps and the Berg loop to make it an honest 50K.  
**Ozbaldy Loop (Road+Berg+Viking= 9.5Km)  five times around = 47.5Km.Once around the Berg 2.5Km for total of 50Km. Call me a wuss for not going around for another 5Km and only wearing my waterbottle butt pack.   
Maybe next year the weather will be less oppressive and we’ll have a few more brave souls.  
Looked like Nick had not groomed since Wednesday.  There was a thin layer of new snow on top of the old stuff.  I used my fish scale skis to KISS it on the wax situation.  After the second lap, Universal Klister would have been fine.  
Lack of skiers is discouraging.  Other than rain, the snow wasn’t so bad.  Just get out and do it.  A hot shower when I finished was very welcome.