Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How and why do I still fit in training for the Birkie?

By Jan Guenther

I am often asked, why does a woman of 53 with two teenage boys and a time demanding retail job still have the desire and need to be fit enough to ski well at the Birkie?

Yes my priorities have shifted. I have no training log or heart rate monitor. My kids need me in the morning more than I need to stuff in swim workouts for strength and stretching like I used to.  With the local crossfit gym having moved, I have no time to fit in the extra drive, so my strength workouts are more haphazard.  Yet racing well at the Birkie is still a super fun focus and priority for me, so I have created a quick snapshot of my life and how I fit in the workouts for the ski marathon.

I absolutely love XC skiing more than any other sport.  I own Gear West so I am surrounded by the thought of XC skiing almost every hour all winter long.  Training for skiing is my biggest stress reliever, providing me the mind cleansing and physical outlet I absolutely need to handle the daily pressures of running a retail store.

As to the specifics of my training, my winter activities hinge, a bit, on how I trained in the fall.  With no Ironman Wisconsin on the schedule, rollerskiing and trail running was my September through November exercise outlet this year. This gave me the freedom to add fun, colorful, and challenging  trail running races to keep me motivated such as the Birkie trail run in mid-Sept and Wild Mountain Duluth, a 30 miler on the superior hiking trail.  The mix of rollersking and running on soft ground (with decent shoes!) protected my knees and the fall ended with me in decent fitness.

In the winter, Birkie training is all about getting yourself on snow despite weather, health and work obstacles, all of which can fill up an entire diary titled 'reasons not to ski'.  I was a bit cavalier about my inability to get sick until my entire family got knocked out with the flu including me.  The result was a week of...not much...followed by a few more days of weak skiing. The rain and ice earlier in the season also took a huge toll on my motivation.  But the company of friends, the beauty of the Twin Cities metro area ski trails, and the promise of another amazing Birkie helped me keep going.

Aside from motivation, I would say the biggest keys for busy adults trying to race the Birkie are flexibility and determination.  With XC skiing these days, nothing goes as planned. Yet the times when all comes together...real snow, a sunny day, fast skis, and a willing body...the beauty of XC skiing is SO worth the effort. 

Beyond plain ol' discipline to get out every day to do something physical I had and continue to have no formal training plan.  Daily and weekly exercise goals are definitely a part of my thought process however.   My aspiration always is to insert a longer workout on Sunday while making sure that between skiing and cross training, I exercise an hour or so per day during the week, with one day off most weeks.  An important goal for any woman, especially middle-aged, is to include two strength and or stretching sessions of some sort, weekly.  Without Crossfit I started attending Barre classes nearby.  Not nearly as challenging physically, these indoor classes still offer superb micro strength and stretching movements which really aids in injury prevention.  Additionally I added specific strength on roller skis, focusing on arms only. When running I utilized every picnic table in my path to add random situps and pushups as I don't belong to an indoor gym. Until the longer retail evenings set in for the ski season I did wake up early to swim. Those early morning workouts are happily scratched during the winter when I require extra sleep from working the store late and my teenage  boys need to see their mom in the mornings (at least I think so, they probably don't care).

As I write this, I am sitting in a Denver hotel room at the Ski Industries of America (SIA) trade show deciding on next year's orders based on snowfall and temperature guesses.  I snuck in a morning strength workout in a windowless gym and am eager for tomorrow when I have one day to demo skis at the beautiful Devils Thumb resort outside Winter Park, CO. My plan is to ski a 1/2 hr ski on each  brand of performance race skis - Fischer, Salomon, Rossi and Atomic - so I can make up for missing the City of Lakes Loppet ski race while feeling out the nuances in each ski model.

For me, I  will try really hard to fit everything in - catch up with paper work, kids needs, and ski ski ski!  I have big mental goals! Eat better, forgo most extraneous social activities... all to squeeze in a daily purposeful ski before business and life demands.  That means each workout ski hour must have a focus, either to build arm strength or leg strength or challenge me aerobically with speed pick-ups.   Afterwards I feel great and build up a great amount of happy energy for more boring tasks.  The Mora Vasaloppet is a must for me, even on the lake, as I need a long distance athletic event to build up some speed and strength.  After any weekend ski race it's recovery for a day or two. Despite my desire is to ski, my body just is not too lively for several days after a marathon.   And each year after 50 I just slow down! ~more so after a race until my muscles recover.

The final weekend before the Birkie Gear West organizes the Snowflake / Ingalami ( a separate mens and womens 10k ski race) that is super fun, not too competitive and adds some pick-up physical demands. It is a helpful speed workout - even in a costume, which is a major prerequisite for the women's race. The week prior to the Birke I do not workout much.  Monday might be light stretching and strength, Tuesday and Wednesday would be hour easy skis and Thursday is a day off.  I will be super busy working with our crew to organize the Gear West / Swix Birkie expo festivities and the Gear West waxing services in Hayward. Plus, My husband and I bring the boys up to the Friday events where my 14 yr old son Connor races the Barke Birkie with our rescue Doberman, Ace, and my 16 yr old skis the junior Birkie. The Birkie week requires non stop organization and sales thru Friday evening- either at the store or at the expo.  Yet preparation for American Birkebeiner event in all its forms of work and skiing is so much fun for me as I become energized from all the excitement the race brings to those who love skiing at any pace! I try to conserve some energy and will sit on a stool occasionally during the expo, but I thrive on the race excitement and skiing action.  During the Birkie festivities I do reflect on the all the years I have raced (26?) the event; the enjoyment I have had skiing in all types of snow and fitness conditions; the rush from work to deliver our kids skis to the Barnebirke bundled, warm and on time;  the days when Lynne Cecil took first and I grabbed second overall women ...and the finishing fun of enjoying my fitness as I V-2 down the main street of Hayward yet another year.  Cross Country Skiing and the health and smiles it brings me is all worth it in my book....for now and for all the racing/ touring years I have left.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Jennie Bender reports from Madona, Latvia

By Jennie Bender

Coming to you from Madona, Latvia, where I traveled after the Tour de Twin cities, to race a few of the Scandinavian cup races. My mission is to increase my FIS sprint points, and work on qualifying for the heats. I race a 5k classic, then a skate and classic sprint on the 9th and 10th in Estonia.

We flew into Riga, Latvia’s capital, on January 29th. While driving through many towns to our destination, you can sense the essence of sadness, yet spirit of re-birth, in the buildings and elder’s faces. After all, it was only in 1991 when Latvia’s final pre-war status as a sovereign independent country was restored. Being in a prime location (everyone go look up where Latvia is), it’s been put through the ringer, passing through the hands of the Germans, Poland-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Swedish, and Russians.  

Adjusting to change is part of life, and an important part of being successful no matter what it pertains to. Traveling to Europe throws many foreign curveballs at North Americans, and as an athlete, it’s important to compromise, find substitutes, and soak in the experience.  Although these “ski trips” to Europe sound very luxurious, they are for business. I met up with many of the post World Junior/U23 skiers and coaches, as well as a few others who came over from the Supertours. The standard schedule when traveling with a group, is to drive straight to our lodging, then usually only diverge to the grocery store, strength gym, and ski trails throughout the trip. In this scenario, we are living less than 20m from the ski trails, so travel is minimal.

My first compromise was adjusting to the eight hour time change, which definitely messes with your body more than you’d think. Despite resting plenty, I wanted to be sleeping during most morning trainings, and I would zombie drag myself to breakfast. A week later, I am finally feeling awake in the morning, but the process has been rough.

When I was in Italy for World U23s a few years ago, I took pictures of the food in town because I wanted to forever remember how fantastic it was. Here, well, it has been good, but I am getting sick of boiled potatoes, which is a staple at every meal. However, one thing Latvia does right is their gravy; it’s pretty darn good. Apparently, it seems to be their universal sauce for every dish. Some of the boys brought over Sweet Baby Rays from the USA, which was a smart choice.  Every dinner, we have had some sort of pounded meat or meatball, which although looks like mystery meat, is tasty, dipped in gravy. Breakfast is by far my favorite meal, with salted meats, cheese, and veggie open sandwiches (along side other more traditional breakfast foods), it’s easy to get in morning protein. The veggie side has been a bit lacking, but there are always shredded carrots on the table.

Where many of the surrounding countries have switched to Euro, their currency is still the Lati, which has an unfortunate exchange rate of about one to two American dollars. Apparently, they are converting sometime in the future. Our next race location, Estonia, only began using the Euro on January 1, 2011. If you ever travel to the United Kingdom, Denmark, or Sweden, be warned, I hear they don’t take euro there either.

As always, I feel like a dumb American who can only speak English and a tiny French. I feel bad trying as I use hand gestures with my English, making them communicate in my favor, since language here is one of the determining factors of national identity. The Latvian language is one of only two in the Baltic language group, the other being Lithuanian. I keep trying to remember the word for “Thank You” (“Paldies”), which is about as far as I have gotten in a week.

Other than the lack of sun, tiny coffee cups, and a large population of smokers, the venue here is quite pretty, the snow and company is great, and the multiple chocolate aisles are the best gourmet selection I have ever seen.  Wish me luck, as I hear two full buses of Norwegians are showing up tomorrow to race.

See you at the Birkie!

-       Jennie Bender

Monday, February 4, 2013

Lynne Cecil 1985 Birkie with Photo

Lynne Cecil - Current Gear West Employee and Birkie Champion (a few years ago)