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 :) 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Birkie-Fever-Birkie-Fever-BIRKIE FEVER!

The Fever is running high, eventhough the temperatures are running low!  Despite the cold temps it's great to be back in the "homeland" eventhough Hayward, Wisconsin is still thousands of miles away from my true home in Anchorage, Alaska.  It's a great reminder of just how big the US is compared to Europe. 

Birkie greeting recorded for the Local Paper, the Sawyer Country Record. Check back often with their website for future Birkie coverage. 

Last fall I sat down with the calendar, pen & paper and mapped out my race season. Having never focused on marathons before I had no idea how many I could do in a row. What kind of recovery would I need in between? How much training could I fit in between back to back to back 50ks.....?  That said, the American Birkie is one of my "focus events" and I have a long stint coming up after this. Thus, I chose to skip the Tartu Marathon in Estonia (63k Classic) last weekend.  Unfortunately it meant giving up the red leader's bib.  My goal will be to get it back this weekend on US soil! 

My wonderful hosts, the Swees! 

The awesome thing about coming "home" is that I know people..... people that can help me.... people who let me stay in their homes, cook in their kitchen, borrow their cars, and do my laundry. I  know it sound trivial but after life on the road it makes all the difference in the world. 

Right now I'm staying with my great friends, the Swee Family. I went to Whitman college with Hannah  and I'm nestled down at her family's lake cabin. In 2012 Rob and I stayed here as well (although without Hannah.)  Marge and Ron, Hannah's parents are awesome hosts & friends. It's really fun to come back 3 years later to find their interest in skiing has grown immensely. Ron even has a snow machine and a track setters to groom the lake in the front yard! 

So much fun cooking delicious food with the Swees!  In salad heaven with Hannah.... 

In Hannah's left hand, (viewer's right) is a Brussels sprout recipe from Heidi Drygas!  Check it out on her amazing website Chena Girl Cooks! 

Speaking of people that can help, I am eternally grateful to Larry Foss at the Fix who saw me TWICE in twelve hours (on short notice) to help with my elbows.  If you're ever in Minneapolis and want to see a cool, cutting edge bike shop & workout studio or want a great sports massage, check it out HERE.  A big thanks to Caitlin and Brian Gregg who let me spend the night at their house and drive their car for a day in the cities... eventhough they weren't there! 

The Birkie tracks are just about perfect and waiting on thousands upon thousands of Birkie skiers! 

Last Friday I got to ski with these Amazing ladies.  Their group is called "Ski and Tea" and I essentially equate it to the adult version of Fast and Female. With a theme of "no women left behind" these ladies work out together every week, 11 months a year. They hold clinics, train for races, support each other through illness.... the list goes on and on. To me, they seem like the epitome of a successful social support network with an active twist. They currently have over 350 women on their list serve, many whom live far away and simply like to be connected to this amazing group of ladies. 

It should also be mentioned that these women play a large role in the community. For example, many of them will be the volunteers for Sunday's post-Birkie Fast and Female. They have also provided scholarships for the event. (I told you they are amazing!) 

Check out some of their Custom Birkie Snaz.... 

These skis have seen a couple of trips down the Birkie trail! 

Nancy Bauer (mother of John Bauer US Olympian) lead the team sprint workout for the morning. She also made her ENTIRE outfit including the custom Birkie bib skirt! 

In addition to rest, east living, and good Internet (yes!) another benefit of being here is the ability to connect with old friends.  Here I am with Per and Sandy Johnson, members of the Kongsberger ski Club near Seattle. Growing up there were very few kids my age that skied and I ended up skiing (and racing against) adults including Per and Sandy! It was fun to reunite with my training partners from 15 years ago! 

Last but not least, please help spread the word about Sunday's Fast and Female event here in Hayward! Registration link is below.... 

More from Birkie land soon. 
See you here? 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Transjursienne Bonk & Birkie Bound!

…… 30,000 feet enroute to Copenhagen for the first time! Flight one of three to get from Zurich to Minneapolis St. Paul. I must admit, I’m excited to touch down in the states and enjoy a solid two weeks in the “home country.” 

Getting there, however, is never without a little bit of stress as experienced this am. The string of events when like this:
1)   Almost forget my phone (2nd phone!) I used as a wake up alarm. Chelsea had to come running down the street chasing me with it.
2)   Morning workout #1 heavy ski bag, giant duffel, and backpack 1/5 mile “hike” to the train station.
3)   Train tix machine won’t accept any of my cards & I am able to “buy” Swiss Francs off a stranger 1 minute before train departure
4)   Proceed to get a deluge of “delayed flight” & “cancelled flight” emails from priceline.com via my phone…. the stress grows
5)   Morning workout #2 navigating Zurich airport with 150# of luggage, finding the different places to check in, drop skis, pay for sporting equipment, etc. Fear of missing flight (or is it cancelled?) remains high
6)   Make it to the gate and buy a $8 tall Starbucks latte to celebrate the small accomplishment
7)   And fly, fly, and fly again.
8)   Remind myself I am “living the dream” :) 

.... X number of hours later, stuck in Chicago for the night! This was the good news on the International flight though - NAP TIME! 

But enough about travel and the adventures that accompany it. The last 1.5 weeks have included a fun tour of Germany for the Konig Ludwig Lauf with Team Santander and France, ala Team Salomon, (AKA Holly & Max road trip #2) for the Transjursienne.

Following my struggle at the Marcialonga I knew that my body needed a bit of time to recover before the next big marathon push. With the knowledge that the Konig Ludwig Lauf Swix Ski Classic was a “flat” course and girls would most likely go on “blank” skis (classic skis with no kick wax, waxed tip to tail) I opted to race the 23k skate on Saturday for training, and help with service for Team Santander for Sunday’s main event. Saturday’s event was a great “interval with a bib” and I was roughly a minute behind the overall men’s winning time.  It was dumping snow at the start and streaming sunshine by the end of the race…. Just beautiful!


Post race, pre podium :) 

Per Germany, BEER was offered at the completion of the race - 10:30am!

On Saturday, Tord Asle, my Team Santander teammate, arrived super late at night after racing in Norwegian Nationals and chartering a plane to catch a flight into Munich in order to race in the Swix Ski Classic on Sunday.  Saturday night I set out to help test Tord’s skis – at midnight, by headlamp (or as they would call it, a “torch” here) On Sunday I was happy to give drinks at the far end of the course for my teammates at the Linderhof Castle. I was joined by 12-year old Leo for the job and we had a great time cheering and chasing the racers from the far end of the course to the finish line (by car) in time to see the sprint. While it wasn’t the stand out team performance that we had in the Marcialonga we collected enough points to take over the Team LEAD and Santander is at the top of the charts going into the biggest marathon of the season, the Vasaloppet. 

A baller move if you ask me....!

While I’ve always known the VASA is a big deal I fully grasped the grandeur of and importance the event. Some people have likened it to a Gold at World Championships. While this is of course up to dispute, it is by far the most prestigious marathon race in Cross Country Skiing and a huge event.  During “VASA Week” I have been told that 80 thousand, yes, you read that right, EIGHTY THOUSAND skiers will participate in Vasaloppet events with the premiere event, the 90k at the end of the week.

Feeding the team at Linderhof Castle with Leo

Following the KLL, I had one week to kill before the Transjursienne in France.  Lucky for me I was able to crash with Max at his family’s flat in Garmisch.  In Garmisch I found a winter paradise and went on some awesome skis with Max including my first trip to Seefeld, good food, and the sun! 
One night (yes, night!) I even got to go “back country” skiing at the resort right in town.  Every Tuesday evening is K2 rondenee night where literally hundreds of skiers come to skin UP the alpine resort.  Once on the mountain you can choose between 4 different hut destinations, complete with schnitzel, beer, or my personal fav, a mug of Gluhwein. We skinned for two hours under a full moon and I had a blast. I WISH that this kind of thing was allowed at US resorts but the fear of liability and accidents is probably too high. While it was dark I was amazed by the number of people that came to this event. At 7pm the parking lot was packed and little bright dots lined the mountain cat track like a massive pilgrimage. This outing was a perfect respite from the normal cross country training  - special thanks to Max, Ben & Anders for helping me with gear, waiting for me, and skiing behind me to provide light for the downhill!

Seefeld whitewash! 

After some home-cooked meals Max and I departed Thursday for the 7-hour drive to France. Max crushed it on the autobahn in his little Skoda. Even so, we arrived super late to our accommodations for the weekend, the National Nordic Training Center in Premanon. (Think the Lake Placid OTC) Luckily, through a string of contacts, we were able to convey our lateness and they saved some “salty cheesecake” (or quiche) for us for dinner. We were starving and happy to see it!

My view from the passenger seat... 

The Transjursienne is the fourth event of the FIS Marathon cup following the Sgambeda, the Dolomitenlauf & the Marcialonga. This year the 56k classic was the scored event despite Sunday’s 68k skate race being the main World Loppet event.  The “Transju” traverses through the “Jura” mountains and much of the course is on an exposed ridge thereby making it extremely susceptible to high winds.  On Friday, our typical ski testing, course inspection, race prep day the winds and drifts were so high that we literally had a hard time finding the race track. Add the fact that many French don’t speak a lick of English the experience was a bit like a scavenger hunt. Unsatisfied with my race preparation and knowledge I had to pick skis blindly and study the race map and course profile as best I could.
The next morning I was relieved to find the weather relatively calm as compared to the pre-race nerves boiling in my stomach.  My confidence following the Marcialonga disaster was a bit low and I’ve never gone into an important race this “uneducated” before. Turns out the nerves were appropriate as I made a rookie move in my first 3+ hour race of the season. Despite the fact that I had been properly warned I failed to bring enough sugar with me for the race and the last 20 kilometers (especially) were a constant struggle of will and determination.

On Friday baguettes were much easier to find than the course in the white out! 

The race was quick from the gun and I quickly found my two primary female competitors, Aurelie Dabyduk of France and Tatjana Mannima of Estonia. The three of us skied HARD together for the entire race, switching off leads and positions. Approximately one k into the race I knew I was in for a long day when my elbow pain returned with avengence. In hindsight, the Marcialonga was a horrible race given my previous healthy history and thus, the Tranju turned out to be 55k of shooting pain in my elbows.  During a three hour race you have a lot of time to think and I just kept reminding myself of the year that I finished the 9-stage Tour de ski with a broken wrist. I told myself that I’ve done it before and I could do it again. However, as the kilometers stacked up my vision grew blurrier and blurrier. While I had one small feed the last 18k of the race my competitors had coaches and serviceman driving alongside the course with cars offering drinks, words of encouragement, and tactical advice what seemed like every 2k.

Leading the way to winning the first sprint (at 30k nonetheless) .... a snow machine and camera filmed us the entire race! There is a video HERE but I haven't been able to view it in the last 4 countries I've been in in the past two days! 

In the end, Mannima was strong enough to double pole away from me and I struggled, virtually blind, to a second place finish 4 seconds behind her. While winning and collecting 100 FIS Marathon Cup points is always a goal, I was really happy to pull off second considering the chain of events.  Without dragging the story on anymore than I already have, I was mad at myself for not being prepared, more self sufficient, etc, etc, etc.  However I would counter that argument with the fact that I’m learning some tough lessons regarding what it takes to be a marathon racer with patched together knowledge, waxing & drink support. It is certainly a transition going from the USST where the support staff is awesome to branching out on my own. On the World Cup an athlete’s main objective is to ski fast. While I have the same primary goal of skiing fast I don’t have anyone doing the thinking and planning for me. It’s an adjustment for sure!

The end result wasn't so bad although that bell is SO cool I might just have to go back and fight for it again! 

It took almost half a liter of Coke, some CLIF blocks & Gels, and the French pre-race meal to start feeling better. As if this wasn’t enough, I had to ask a French race volunteer for help undressing because I couldn’t get my race top up over my head!

Despite the mishaps it was awesome to explore a new place and I’m happy to report that I still have the red bib!  Unfortunately I’m skipping next weekend’s race, the Tartu Marathon in Estonia but I knew if I was flying over the pond I wanted to spend enough time to be adjusted for the big race! So, Birkie bound it is! 

Before signing off for the night I'd love to put up a few links: 

1) My good friend Gretchen Weiman writes a fantastic blog called Gretchen Loves Anchorage. She's always posting about cool Alaskana type stuff but the other day I had a chance to talk to her via skype from Italy. She's speaking at the March 28 TEDX talk in Anchorage about "Dreamer-Doers" and I was incredibly honored to be featured on her blog.  Check back often as she's talking to a slew of cool people! 

Also, I'm auctioning myself off for the future of American skiing - that's right!  The National Nordic Foundation has provided amazing support for aspiring cross countries through a variety of Pillar Projects. Most recently they helped offset the costs for World Juniors and U23s in Almaty, Kazakhstan. There were some awesome results! 

Thus, I'm helping NNF with future projects by auctioning myself off!  Bid on ME and I can come to your school or workplace and give a talk... or I can lead a clinic, workout with you (!) or have dinner and share stories from ski racing around the world. Don't make my husband win this auction :) 

Last not certainly not least a huge SHOUT out to all my sponsors and folks that make this journey possible. It's a true "cross country" marathon with up and downs, peaks and valleys.  Thanks so much to all these companies and all of the additional folks whose logos appear on the right column of my blog. Check them out! 

WHEW! More soon. Thanks so much for checking in!