Friday, January 23, 2015

The "LONG MARCH".... aka, Italy's Marcialonga

The "LONG MARCH".... aka, Marcialonga .... a direct translation. That pretty much sums it up. I'm writing a quick post before the race because I'm already afraid that after the race, my arms will be so destroyed that I won't even be able to type on my computer!



It's fun to be in Val di Fiemme again. Over the years I've spent a bunch of time here for the Tour de Ski and World Champs in 2013. But this time, the entire valley has come alive. The race is the biggest in Italy and perhaps the 2nd or 3rd most prestigious ski marathon in the world. The traditional, full distance is 70k however this year, due to the (seemingly) world wide snow shortage, the race is shortened 13k, for a total of "only" 57k. 

But first, the drive to Val di Fiemme from Austria... it was SPECTACULAR. From Austria we drove to Toblach and up the valley, mirroring the men's point to point Tour de Ski course. Every year the girls are stuck doing 5k loops in and out of the stadium while the men get a picturesque point to point trip through the Dolomites.  We drove up, through Cortina, and up and over some absolutely majestic mountain passes.  It was perhaps the most beautiful drive I've ever been on. Thank goodness for the GPS because without it, I'm not sure we would have ever found our hotel in Molina! 



A Euro life saver... 

Rob putting a "Go Holly" sticker on the sign at the Summit :) 

Team Santander & the Auckland Brothers have been staying at Hotel Ancora for the past dozen or so years of this race. The lobby is full of signed skis, poles, bibs, pictures, and congratulatory signs. It's a bit of a "Ski Museum" if you will...... 

This place has some serious character. This is only a small part of the "spa"...... there is an amethyst cave steam room.  When we walked into our room three days ago we both busted out in laughter because there is a stone pond/tub type thing and you can crawl through a glass draw bridge the shower. Apparently every room is different, and every room is "handmade" by the owner. 


But enough about the hotel, back to the race. Here's the modified course profile.  The initial 13k of the race was gradual uphill and now that's gone. Gone with it is the debate of whether I should use kick wax or no kick wax.  It's a mute topic now. I'm guessing that all of the girls in the elite wave will be double poling only. (Which brings the question - is classic dead?)  Double poling it seems has become a sport in and of itself. 

The thought of double poling 57k is quite intimidating to me. Especially with girls that train primarily double poling. But, in a race that is primarily downhill will it be as easy to get away? Different than the previous Swix Ski Classic races, the girls start amongst the men this time.  Coed versus same sex race starts are entirely different.... in the coed starts often the girls get separated from one another. I've had experiences where I am in a sea of men and have no idea where the other girls are, let alone what place I'm in.  


Here is the race map. As you an see, almost the entire thing is on the valley floor. This year the start is in Mazzin.  The course goes along the river and in and out of small towns.  Our "course inspection" the first day was a combination of skiing and walking through cobble stone streets that didn't have snow on them yet.  I am excited for the race and REALLY excited for the experience. 


As stated in my Anchorage Dispath News article, it seems like ski courses are large-scale construction projects rather than the result of natural occurrences. The Marcialonga is certainly no exception.  The ENTIRE 57 kilometers are man-made. I can't even begin to imagine the time, effort and expense that goes into such an endeavor but as I stated earlier, this race is the life blood and a huge economic engine of this valley. 


The new start in Mazzin

Rob standing on a rock-hard pile of artificial snow

The last three kilometers of this race is the most famous. After 50k of flats and gradual uphill, Marcialonga skiers must climb 3k UPHILL to the finish line in Cavalese. For all you Anchorage folks, think of double poling Potter Hill after a couple hours of double poling. That is what I'm going to do on Sunday. The final climb is called the "Cascata" and this photo, below is part of the course literally .5k kilometers from the finish line in Cavalese. I was up there earlier today and now the entire thing is covered in snow. The Auckland brothers who have tons of wins are podiums were nice enough to show me the course via car the other night after pizza. It was fun winding down the climb which is barely wide enough for one car.  The next day I went back and ran UP it just to make sure I know what to expect this weekend. 


In addition to the awesome ski culture here is the amazing food.  This Parmesan is fresh and from the next valley over. Perhaps it's hard to tell how large this is from the picture but I'd guess it weighs close to 30 pounds. (I guess I'm attracting all kinds of big cheese wheels this winter!) 


This fresh pasta was the best pasta I've ever had in my life. Jorgen, Anders, and Rob liked it quite well too! 

I have to say, I was touched by the small edition of the American flag amongst the bigger Norwegian flag. 

If you're at all curious to follow the race you can actually watch it LIVE via the Swix Ski Classics website.  I find it ironic that you have to pirate World Cups but you can watch the ski classics on the website here: 

Wish me luck & arms on Sunday because I'm going to need them! 
Have a fantastic weekend, 
Cheers, 
Holly 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dolomitenlauf: Red bib, Tirol wreaths & BOND!

Yesterday I raced the Dolomitenlauf and right now, I'm racing hotel check out time to get this post up. We're moving up into the mountains for a couple days of training in Obertilliach where the Internet is almost non-existent! So, here goes..... 

After a few LONG weeks off racing, I'm back!  I must admit, I was nervous coming into the race this weekend because I was feeling extremely rusty. The holiday break at home was awesome but towards the end, it was growing long as I sat at home, watching teammate's results pour in from the Tour de Ski and US Nationals. For someone who loves racing more than waking up at odd hours to check results this was hard. But, patience was important and I have many, many kilometers of racing in my near future. Yesterday was super fun and well worth the wait. 

Here's how the day ended:

Photo credit: Worldloppet/Epp

 But here are a few pics leading up to my Alaska departure..... 

 A "care package" from my awesome sponsor CLIF. It's nice to travel with a taste of home and CLIF has some awesome new flavors including my new fav, a chili chocolate! 

Always need to have Mexican a couple of times before months in Europe. It's not the same over here.... 

 And, a fun cross training workout with my AK girlfriends.... 

 BYE Anchorage! 

 Tiny, tiny bits of snow on the mountains leaving Anchorage. Alaska, similar to many places all over the world is experiencing a horribly dry winter.... 

 The first day of travel we only flew to Seattle and spend the night in an airport hotel. My parents live nearby and drove out to see us.... they brought a gorgeous green salad and my T-Mobile world wide SIM card. This is my first time ever having a phone that WORKS in Europe and it's a crucial tool when I'm making all my own arrangements. I have unlimited text and (SLOW) data in all countries. It's not cheap but well worth it! 

There are many people who have played integral roles in my winter distance racing experiment. Chelsea Little is pursuing a PhD in Zurich and has kindly let me use her home for ski storage. I can also sleep there before and after international flights which cuts out $200/hotel rooms.... Plus, she BAKES! What!?!?!

 This trip I was lucky enough to bring Rob, my husband along.  Part of my change from World Cup to Ski Marathons was the desire to spend more time at home and have more flexibility in my schedule. 5 solid months away from a spouse is tough no matter which way you look at it.  While Rob was hating life the first couple of days with some of the most intense jet lag I've ever seen he's finally in his groove and it's really special to share this with him.  

 We spent our first two days with my friend Bettina Gruber who recently retired from the Swiss National Team.  Bettina's family lives in Chur, Swizterland and she was on vacation from her medical rotations. Yes, you heard that right. Bettina (who will be turning 30 Jan 31st!) pursued elite ski racing and medicine simultaneously. Perhaps my disclosure of this makes the rest of us look like slackers but I'm always super impressed with her. It was great getting to know her parents and she also taught us how to make the traditional Swiss dish, Spatzle - she even sent us with the special Spatzle maker so if you're ever coming to dinner at our house we can make it for you! 

 Bettina's home tracks are Lenzerheide (recent TDS stop) so it was nice to get the first couple days of skiing there. Thankfully they had just enough snow. 

Then, we made the trip to Austria...... Here's Rob during our course inspection: 

 Photo credit: Salomon/Nordic Focus

Rob raced too!  Like the "Mr" on his bib? 

 Check out Antonela's gloves! It sounds like she might be making the trip to the Midwest for the 2015 Birkie! 


Wax tech :) 


Rob helping me test skis :) Photo credit: Salomon/Nordic Focus

Completely unrelated to the ski race.... the new James Bond SPECTRE was filming in Obertililach - literally a couple hundred meters from the race start/finish.  The film employed hundreds of folks and they took up all the hotel rooms in Obertilliach, making it so we had to stay down below in Sillian.  The entire town (which is tiny) was overtaken by the film production. Add a couple thousand people for the race and it was a funny mixture of Hollywood and Euro ski marathons: 


I found this picture online but Rob and I drove by the staging area and saw this plane fuselage: 
I'm actually kind of excited for the movie to come out..... ! 

 The streets of Obertilliach

 Photo credit: Meiko Homke

The race itself went well. Due to the low snow the course was changed and the race was shortened.  The OC did a fantastic job putting on a top notch event and I would certainly recommend it to anyone interested in combining ski racing and international travel! 

Here is a short highlight video of the race (3 mins): 

 Thanks a ton to Salomon for this help in organizing and supporting the event! After yesterday's race I'm the current owner of the "red bib" which signifies the overall leader of the FIS Marathon Cup. Photo credit: Thomas ISEP

No Finish sprint needed! Photo credit: Thomas ISEP

I've always wanted one of these Vasaloppet-inspired wreaths! 
Photo credit: Thomas ISEP

And here's how the "Alaskan Podium" played out.... I don't think there is any shame in "getting girled" :) 
It was fun having our buddy Seth Downs here.  Seth is a FedEX pilot and sometimes work leaves him with multiple day layovers all over the world. Seth has perfected matching those layover with international ski racing. Jealous? I am! 
Racers and support crew - thanks to these guys! Nicolaus of SWIX Germany, Fred & Norbert of Salomon Austria. These guys waxed my skis and gave crucial feeds throughout the race! 

Seth proudly displaying his World Loppet Passport :) 

Race "Chief" Franz Theurl & local men including my new friend Alois Ebner in their traditional Austrian garb.... 

Last but not least, a toast with Aperol Spritz - a favoite apre ski drink in the Dolomites

What's next? The Marcialonga next weekend? Stay tuned!!!! 
Thanks for the cheers - I can hear them all the way over here in Dolomites! And, a special thanks to all my supporters and sponsors. This wouldn't be possible without you! 
Holly


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

569 kilometers.... let's do this!

It's been great having a rare couple of weeks at home in the middle of the winter. But, I'm getting the itch to get out of here and put a bib on! I'm inspired but all the amazing results my teammates are turning in all over the world. The USST is racing day in and day out in the Tour de Ski (yes, I too am loosing sleep watching at ungodly hours in the middle of the night) My APU teammates are skiing in blizzards and standing on podiums in Houghton, Michigan and recently retired APU skier Pete Kling just got a sprint race in the Tour of China.


Turnagain Arm from Main Street, Hope (Alaska's not so bad in January!!)

The sole reason I'm not going completely crazy is because I know I will have my day, my turn! The other day I calculated that if I do all the races I want to in the remainder of the season I have FIVE HUNDRED AND SIXTY NINE kilometers of racing left!  

569k, 11 ski marathons, in ten different countries!  The thought alone makes me simultaneously excited and exhausted. 


So, while its hard to watch racing, wanting to be there, it's important to be patient.


Dragging Nat on a super duper tough training ski at Hatcher's Pass. Cold, punchy & altitude. Theme of the workout: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger..... 

This weekend is my "old November" meaning that when I take off this weekend I won't return home until April.  I'll be back just in time for the snow to fall :) Before departure there is all kinds of business to take care of including getting lined out to continue my graduate studies with APU. Last semester I was a full time (in person!) graduate student and while it's going to hard to study on the road I need to continue my academic momentum.  Last semester I took three classes for a total of 12 credit. This semester I will take two including "senior seminar" for a total of 10 graduate credits. Wish me luck writing papers from Italy, Austria & Poland! 

In addition I'm also trying to figure out logistics for the next three months of my life. Where will I sleep? What will I eat? Who will wax my skis? How will I get from point A to point B? Despite the stress and anxiety my last trip went so well that I'm feeling much more relaxed about my upcoming travels. I hope that I'm not getting too over confident and/or too relaxed about it!  Last trip I was lucky enough to have Max and Markus - my dream team of friends to help out. This trip is different in that I'll be renting a car and my fate will be in my own hands...... 


Quality time with friends

The good news is that Rob is going to join me for the first two weeks in Europe!  This is huge in that being gone for months at a time while married is really, really tough. He'll serve as my wing-man and I'm happy that I won't be lost in Europe alone driving through Zurich. I'll have someone to share the frustration with :) 

SNOW MAKING AT KINCAID!!!! Photo: Jim Falconer


Photo from adn.com

That's it for now! Off to pack, train & enjoy my last couple of days in town! 
Cheers & Happy New Years to you, 
Holly 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A different kind of Christmas....

It feels pretty surreal to be at home right now. This was my first Christmas in the US, let alone at home in years.  Three years ago I was in Ramsau, Austria and fell while running on Christmas night... I broke my wrist and then continued to finish the 9-stage Tour de Ski with a broken bone. The following year I was in Oberhof and it was warm and raining - we "skied" on brown dirt-snow waiting for the first stage of the Tour. Last year I was in Davos preparing for the Tour yet again.  In the past the Tour de Ski has traditionally started Dec 28th or 29th so Christmas has been all about business and preparation.  This year is obviously much different in that I was AT HOME for Christmas!  My "period one" trip to Europe consisted of 12 days and three races. It was brief but it was oh-so-much fun!  I returned to Alaska December 17th and don't take off again until January 11th.  That's 3+ weeks at home to enjoy winter in Alaska. I raced my first Besh Cup (!) spent some quality time with my family (including parents) at Christmas and am getting in some good training hours.  I calculated it yesterday and if I race everything I want to race in the next 3+ months I have 569 kilometers of racing left this season.  Hence, the training period that I'm in the middle of now!  The rest of my APU teammates left for US Nationals in Houghton, Michigan this morning so I'm solo yet again.  Luckily there are lots of good skiers in the Anchorage area to pull together as training partners.  Here are some photos from the last two weeks to tell the story of being home! 

With Sam after the Besh Cup 

Fun racing my first Besh Cup!  In the past I was always coaching at Besh - or, I was in Europe. It was great fun racing home trails and getting cheered on by friends and family. It was fun looking around at the race to realize that many of the racers and/or coaches are people whom I've coached in my past life! (Fun aside, Anson Moxness, who I coached, is coaching at West High School - my first coaching job.  He has 160 kids on the high school ski team roster making it the BIGGEST high school ski team in the entire country. That makes me really happy! Nice work Anson!) 

Alice the festive Bib Lady.... handing out race bibs, chocolate and smiles! 


My parents flew in on Dec 23rd for a week long visit.  Just two hours after landing in Anchorage we were out at Kincaid Park to compete as a team for the AMH Friends and Family relay. It was my mom's first ski of the year! I was proud of my parents for rolling with the punches and being good sports! 


That same night it was my niece's first ski race!  She's only 4 years old and did a great job! 


Mom and Dad making traditional clove oranges.... 


We celebrated family Christmas on Christmas Eve because Rob had to work on Christmas.... Fun to have everyone together! 


Way too cute! My nieces with their new (and slightly premature) Junior Nordic hats. Sometimes it's just too easy to get excited about young family members skiing :) 


It snowed Christmas morning! Buggz approved... 


On Christmas Day my family headed to Beans Cafe to volunteer with the Ronsse crew of Dennis & Annie, Katie & Justin Libby, and Amber Walker. Unfortunately Dennis has another broken elbow but was making the best of it with a green and red cast.  Dennis and Annie brought a beautiful load of organic potatoes and carrots for the cafe. They've been donating from their garden and root cellar for years which is very, very cool! 


A fun way to spend Christmas - we helped serve over 800 meals! 


My parents making "to-go" meals for folks at the Brother Francis Shelter. Beans Cafe provides an amazing service to people in need of food in Anchorage. I believe that Bean's Cafe is part of Alaska's Pick Click Give Campaign. 


 After Beans & Training we paid a visit to Rob at the Fire Station. While most folks have holidays such as Christmas off Firefighters and emergency responders are always at work, prepared to help when needed. 

After the holiday we headed to Hope, Alaska.  We've been working on this place incessantly (correction - Rob has been working!) for the past four years. It's literally been Rob's project since I have been skiing full time.... The cabin was originally inspired by my family's cabin at Snoqualimie Pass in Washington State.  I learned to ski skiing in and out of the cabin growing up and all my fondest memories from childhood  were at the family "stugan" (Swedish for cabin). This has been a HUGE project and we've been lucky to have help from friends and family. It was really special to share it with my parents for the first time! 



Inside view from the couch.... fun to display some of my ski paraphernalia as it doesn't fit in our 850 sq foot house! 



Mom and Dad getting their read on! 


Just one of the many things I love about Anchorage..... I'm able to pull together this many skiers for a 3-hour double pole ski departing from my house - in the DARK! Anchorage rocks and so do all these people :)  Left to right: Me, my dad, Greer, Megan & Katie. 


Last but not least, ending on a goofy note. Rob doing the opposite of training. Don, Erin, Austin and Reese through one of the more incredible Christmas parties I've ever been too. They built an ice hot tub & ice bar. Rob was the first one to strip down and jump in!  Then someone brought him pizza and a beer..... 

Happy New Years Everyone!  Be safe and have fun! 
More soon, 
Sincerely, 
Holly