Monday, March 2, 2015

Team Czech + Holly.... Bieg Piastow Report

What a weekend….. While the racing itself wasn’t the best, I had a great time with my new friends which certainly fulfills the “exploring the world one ski marathon at a time” aspect of my winter!
During my initial planning stage months ago I saw the Bieg Piastow on the schedule, revisited the map to find that Szlarka Poreba was FAR from most ski locales in central Europe and thought, “Oh boy…. That’s going to be a hard one” (from a logistical stance).  How would I get there? Where would I stay? Who would help me wax my skis?? Of course I’ve asked myself these questions every weekend this winter but the thought of going to Poland for the first time alone seemed intimidating.

Then I met Adela at the Finish line of the La Sgambeda in December. She was one of the super strong girls that opted to go without kickwax two classic race days in a row – first the 15k team time trial and the next day, the 35k Swix Ski Classic. Needless to say, I was impressed!  During our short introduction I also learned that she didn’t start skiing until she was 20 years old – wow!
We kept in touch via Facebook and lamented about bad races at the Marcialonga (my race much worse than hers)  Somehow the topic of the Bieg Piastow came up in a FB messenger conversation and she offered to help me “manage” the trip. Once again, the kindness of new friends (or strangers) shines through!

After weighting the options I decided to fly to Prague where Adela & her boyfriend Jiri, picked me up for the 2 hour drive to the race venue.  The Bieg Piastow race is in Poland but we stayed in Harrachov, Czech Republic literally two kilometers down the highway.  The Bieg venue hosted a World Cup race two years ago but I didn’t attend.  We arrived Wednesday night for a Saturday race. I was pretty beat from the long International travel (from the Birkie) and slept like a ROCK the first night with assistance from a double dose of sleeping pills.

Each day leading up to the race more and more people showed up for what I’ll call the “Czech Alliance +Holly” which was Adela, Jiri and Jiri’s father, Jiri Senior AKA skiman #1. Then Petr Novak (Current FIS Marathon Cup men’s leader) and his mother and father plus his ski man, “Lada.”  For race day we were joined by Petr’s girlfriend Pavlina and her friend Petra. The family aspect of the Czech racing weekend really struck me as extraordinary, especially in comparison to my pseudo “orphan status.” 

The whole gang after the race 

Any fears I harbored were extinguished the second Adela and Jiri picked me up from the airport. The entire crew was extremely welcoming and immediately took me as “one of the team” eventhough I was anything but…. Only Adela, Petr, Pavlina & Petra spoke English but it was amazing what we were able to accomplish with smiles, gestures, and lots and lots of acting not to mention Adela’s tireless translation skills. The intricacies of kick wax adjustment, how to offer feed support on a 50k marathon race loop, and stories about home were communicated without any major hiccups. It was amazing.
Due to the kindness and extreme amount of effort that “team Czech” put into me I wanted to race well for them almost more than the valuable FIS Marathon Cup points I needed to hold onto the red leader’s bib!  I cannot express how much they went above and beyond to make me feel welcomed and supported. With the race being so close to home Adela did a lot of cooking prior to the trip and we ate things that she & her family grew, raised, or harvested. Fresh eggs, a homemade cake, rabbit soup (!) pickled beets, the best meatloaf I’ve ever had….

My new (fast!) friends!  They competed on Friday and Sunday and each won both races....

Then it was race morning and let’s just say that it came really, really early. I usually have an amazing internal clock and will frequently wake up two minutes before my alarm goes off.  Saturday morning I woke up, ready to race. I went downstairs, made a big bowl of 50k oatmeal (peanut butter, banana, raisins, yogurt, salt, honey) and drank two cups of coffee. I finished and thought it weird that other people weren’t joining me in the kitchen. It took me a full 45 minutes to realize that it was ONE THIRTY AM, not SIX THIRTY AM. SH*%!!! Upset with myself I got back into bed with a full stomach, full bladder and laid in bed for the next five hours wide awake with two Starbucks Vias in my system. Unable to fall asleep I caught up on all my favorite blogs, twitter, and saw everything friends posted on Facebook.  Let's just say it was not the ideal start to an important race. 


This picture brightened my day and made me smile though! 

The red bib I "won back" in the Birkie... .and then promptly "lost" again.... 

Homemade soup....

The night before in our red bibs.... determined to keep them! 

Photo, Marcin Oliva Soto

Adela receiving her award from one of the two races she won over the weekend
Photo, Marcin Oliva Soto

With Marek, Salomon Poland
Photo, Marcin Oliva Soto

Women's podium. The race gave beautiful crystal/glass engraved vases.  Maybe it's a good thing I didn't win because I have NO idea how I would get the vase that Tatijana is holding back to AK! 
Photo, Marcin Oliva Soto

Polish podium mascots

This guy looks disinterested for the shot but believe me, he was interested in getting his picture taken with me :)
Photo, Marcin Oliva Soto
New friends and awesome "ski men" Jiri Senior and Lada

Like an ice cream truck but for eggs and produce - complete with clucking hen music! 

Regarding the race..... I had heard the course was hard - more like true classic skiing with uphills and downhills. While it wasn't flat there was a HUGE amount of Double pole which has proven hard for me this year. While the tendinitis in my arms is better than it was 3 weeks ago it's still bad making it so I can't train DP. That and the other girls were just stronger and faster. No excuses.  But, I'm pumped that the last two races are skate. I've beaten all of my major FIS Marathon Cup competitors in every skate race this season so I'm hoping the cards are stacked in my favor. I do have a 17 point deficit that I have to make up though. While it would have been nice to ski faster in Poland I'm keeping the race for the overall title interesting - it's a true "nail biter" and will most surely come down to the final race, a 50k skate in Khanty Mansisyk Russia April 11th! Going to Russia in mid April is a topic for another blog post.... 

The weekend ended on a great note. I was able to watch 37 year old (!) Lukas Bauer of the Czech Republic ski his way into history and earn the silver medal in the men's 50k at World Champs. It was beyond fun cheering for a Czech skier in Czech, with Czechs! Congrats to Lukas! 

If you haven't seen it you have to check out this short sub two minute youtube clip! 

Last but certainly not least, a HUGE THANK YOU to Chelsea Little for the Internet, the couch and the storage space in Zurich. Without her help I don't know where I'd be! 

Off to catch the train(s) to the Engadin Valley!!!! 
Check back soon & thanks for the cheers, 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Birkie Recap + Photo Explosion!

(From the Copenhagen Airport!) 

Well, the 2015 Birkie is in the books and it was a success!  I don't know if that constitutes a strong bout of the fever or "beating" the fever but I'll take it!  I'll begin with these three links that had good coverage of the race. The first link is a radio interview I recorded via phone with Alaska Public Radio. It's always fun to get notes from friends saying, "I heard your voice tonight" when I'm so far away! 

Alaska Public Radio: 

Fasterskier's race recap: 

Alaska Dispatch News, Beth Bragg:

Yes, I was able to take the win in the Birkie... it was my feet on the skis but those feet and those skis wouldn't have been there without a LOT of help.  Thus, my thank you shout outs are interwoven into the post and the pictures. 

THANK YOU to the Swee family for providing AWESOME hospitality for 10 days surrounding the race. They provided me with meals, wheels, enthusiasm and even a personal ski track out their front door on the lake!  Plus, they woke up at 4:30am to get me to the race start and Marge made fresh squeezed orange juice EVERY morning. The joke was that my stay was going to make me soft and a wimp for upcoming hard travel! Their lake cabin just outside of Hayward was an amazing place to refresh & rejuvenate. 

 Marge & Ron braving the wind on Lake Hayward pre-Birkie 

While the snow conditions were good, the temperatures were a bit tricky. The one day weather window we got for the race was absolutely amazing. Someone or something was smiling down on all 10,000 + people! The race was the ONLY day of the entire trip where I wore gloves instead of lobster mittens. Most days began well below zero and I had to wait until the "heat" of the day to train at 2pm. Admittedly I totally wimped out one day too and paid $14 to run on a treadmill :) 

THANK YOU to Salomon USA for great ski & drink service!  Josh Korn, Evan Elliot & Bill Pierce waxed my skis. Jenny and Brent Knight helped out with feeds. You guys are awesome. I raced on the new Salomon Carbons and they were great. I've been racing on them in every skate race, all year!  They're like feathers on your feet. 

 Lex, my APU teammate doing the Mo-Bot. Congrats to Lex on a fantastic race, 5th place!  We were both able to take home the "Tony Wise" award for top American. 

 Two nights before the race checking out the "International Bridge" and the snow spread over main street

Great physio help from Jim Mullen - a sport rehab Doc and CXC racer. Thanks for your poking and prodding Jim! While in Hayward I also saw former Olympic skier, John Bauer. 

A glorious pre-race dinner that powered me from Cable to Hayward. The Swees love to cook and it was really fun to try new recipes and share favorite dishes with them! 

Rob, Marge & Hannah squeezed into the back of the car on race morning. 

Lining up at the start line - photo, Epp Paul 

And we're OFF! Leading the charge 

A group of 4 skied together for nearly 40k. We "broke trail" for the 10,000+ skiers as it snowed overnight and snowed hard during the first half of the race. The conditions were NOT fast! 

Hannah helping with her first-ever feed! Thanks Hannah :) 

Looking not-so-stylish..... thanks Skinny Ski for some of these pics! 

Ski for ski, toe for toe at the Double OO sprint. It was a photo finish and I lost.... 

While I didn't win the sprint I was able to be the first down main street! 

Finishing with the snow machine

And got a great hug at the finish line! 

Here is actually a great 26-minute highlight reel of the race..... it shows my move with 2k to go on Lake Hayward

Podium happy! 

Top Girls - four countries represented

With the Swees! Thanks for the sign Hannah! 

A handful of skiers from APU including Becky Manley and Reno Deprey came to race the Birkie! (I think Reno was the oldest finisher at 85?  Just amazing - what an inspiration!)

A big THANK YOU to these movers and shakers! These three and the entire Birkie staff had an amazing ability to get stuff done - not to mention order fantastic weather and ski conditions. I'm really honored to represent the American Birkie and these folks abroad on the FIS Marathon Cup Tour!
(Al Serano, Amy Rowley & Ben Popp) A huge shout out to all the volunteers as well.  The races wouldn't be what it is without you!

Lasting evidence of the last race feed (coke) that I took to the face.... and.... a big THANK YOU to two of my biggest sponsors. My Club, APU Nordic Ski Center & my headgear sponsor, BP Alaska. Without APU as a backbone and BP's financial help I wouldn't be able to chase these races around the world, literally!

Hannah back at the awesome cooking!

There was no rest for the weary on Birkie weekend. After Saturday's race I was up early to lead a Fast and Female event in Hayward.

The girls loved the concept 2 double pole machines!

And the CLIF bars. Thanks CLIF!!! 

Awesome ambassadors: Julia, Sarah, Izzie, me, Ingrid, Brandy & Nicole of Hayward Fitness Fanatics. (Sabra missing from the pic)

Big shout out to Kristy Maki for being an organizing Guru and Amy Rowley (again!) for doing the AV. 

Perhaps the biggest THANK YOU goes out to my husband, Rob. I already posted this picture on Facebook and said that, "He is my rock and he is carrying my rock" meaning that he is my biggest supporter and he lugged this beautiful trophy, (literally a rock) home to Alaska in his backpack! 

On the way to Minneapolis in a tiny rental car with Lex. It was a team driving effort.

After 10 days of frigid conditions my skin is destroyed! 

So, the Birkie was a success. I was proud to stand on the top step of the podium in the only FIS Marathon Cup in North America. I also successfully took back the red leader's bib!  But, the fight is close and I'm racing 50k classic at the Bieg Piastow in Poland this weekend followed by the Engadin Ski Marathon in Switzerland the following weekend!  Stay tuned for more action! 

Last but not least, here's a quick article I wrote before the race that I failed to publish.... 

"I've got a fever!" 
(Written Feb 19)

It's not the sick, immune suppressed fever that you might be thinking. The "Fever" that I'm referring to is actually "Birkie Fever", the affectionate name applied to skiers who are excited (or become obsessed) with the upcoming American Birkebeiner cross country ski race in Hayward, Wisconsin.  Perhaps the best way I can describe it in Alaskan terms is that it's like Mount Marathon hype, but in the winter, spread across skiers covering the entire country. Every February those skiers converge in Northern Wisconsin to reenact the 50 kilometer ski that "saved" the Norwegian Prince. Only, the American Birkie consists of 10,500 racers, start rights that sell out months in advance. The hype and "fever", however is palatable and affects racers and non-racers alike. Weeks leading up to the race are filled with planning, speculation, and anxiety; what will the weather hold, what will the fastest wax be, and who will try to break away from the "peleton" of skiers at bi*** hill to cross the finish line in Downtown Hayward first? 

In addition to the Birkie being the pinnacle of US Marathon racing, the race itself holds a special place in my heart as it was essentially the "breakthrough race" of my career.  In 2009 I signed up for the race on a whim and raced it as a coach. Surprisingly, I found myself sprinting down main street for the win against Rebecca Dussault, a 2-time Olympian. We both lunged hard for the line as the first "toe" across wins the race.  I lunged so hard that I ended up in a heap on the ground. Face in the snow, I heard that I came up an inch (literally!) short and Rebecca had won the 2009 American Birkebeiner. Despite my disappointment, I was elated. It was a huge result at the time and one that gave me confidence to move forward in my career as a professional ski racer.  

I didn't return to the Birkie until 2012, during a quick break from racing the World Cup in Europe. Again, the race ended in a sprint down main street but this time it was my toe that crossed the line first. American Birkebeiner victory one in the books! 

This year I am approaching the Birkie from an entirely different angle.  As a full time Marathon racer I am here because I love the race but I am also here because the race is part of the FIS Marathon Cup, a series of 9 Marathon races spread throughout the World which take place over the entire ski season. So far I have raced FIS marathons in Livigno, Italy, Obertilliach Austria, Cavalesse Italy, and two weekends ago in Les Rousse France.  Last weekend I skipped the Tartu Ski Marathon in Estonia in order to spend two weeks in the US. Unfortunately, my absence meant that I lost the red leaders bib to my nearest competitor, Tatijana Mannima of Estonia. My goal will be to get it back this weekend on home soil! 

After Saturday's Birkie I will lead a Fast and Female event for the local girls here and then Monday, begin a 3-day journey to my next Marathon racing destination, Slarska Poreba, Poland!  Following the "Bieg Piastow" the penultimate race of the series is the Engadin Ski marathon in Switzerland.  Then, the FIS Marathon Cup final will be contested in Khanti-Masiysk (Siberia!) Russia nearly a month later on April 11th! 

Holly :)