Saturday, January 30, 2010

Trying something new: Green Acres Recreation Center

Ben and Mike recommended checking out Green Acres Recreation Area for cross-country
Skiing. Because the snow conditions at my preferred locations had been rather poor, I decided to give it a try. Saturday morning was cold but gorgeous. I gave Colin a ride to the Coliseum at the MN State Fair Grounds for his hockey game and kept going to the second road south off Hwy 36, just east of the 694 interchange. A nice rural setting, it's like skiing on grandpa's farm. The xc-trail had a thick snow layer, even where the dirt had started showing through on the field. there were some excellent climbs and some good descents. The snow was very cold, a bit sugary in places and dirty in others. But all in all an excellent alternative for those days when your favorite trail has thawed, is iced over or otherwise not skiable.

View Green Acres XC-Skii in a larger map

Sunday, January 24, 2010

First Run Since First Half of December

Everything between then and now was on skis. The January thaw made the conditions impossible for skiing, so I switched back to running. Not without trepidations, the roads and sidewalks had been very icy and while it rained hard for the last two days, the temps were barely above freezing. But the run was surprisingly smooth, mostly I was able to run on bare ground. Puddle jumping was more of a challenge, some of these sidewalk ponds looked rather like oceans. I modified my route a bit from the usual to avoid deep snow and slippery side streets.

View Como Park Run Route for Slippery Conditions in a larger map. See also the corresponding Garmin Connect Entry

A good day to try out my new Nike Air Pegasus +26 Trail WR. They performed very well indeed. My previous pair of Pegasus all weather shoes had a flaw that caused blisters on the inside of my arch and needed significant breaking in (of feet rather than shoes) and surgery on the inner sole. Fortunately, there was no such problem for my current pair, it feels very good to have a pair of runners with the cushioning intact.

I saw only one other runner, but at McMurray Fields, a broomball game was in progress and just north of there, a temporary frisbee golf course had been set up and people were playing.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Skijoring Review 2008 to Now

Have been at this for a little more than a year now and it has been a lot of fun. Last year I mostly used the classic technique. I switched to skating at the beginning of this season. What a difference, not only the switch in techniques, but also the work into improving my skating.

The quality of snow and track plays a role, too and there is the ever fickle mind of a labrador retriever. I chatted with a skier at Snowflake Nordic Ski Center,  who had just completed a lap with a sled dog type breed. Mentioned that I skijor with a lab and she said "oh yeah, labs are either on or they are off."

All my skijoring outings were at the St.Paul Highland Park "Executive" (i.e. 9 hole) golf course. A good way to get metrics. The variables were daylight or darkness, snow conditions, temperature and the canine factor (potty breaks, deer pursuits and other forms of criminal mischief) I measured my progress using a Garmin Forerunner 305 and uploaded the results to Garmin Connect (GC) and Garmin Training Center (GTC). I manually extricated the data from GC (after almost two years of development, GC is still very much a work in progress. still no way to easily export to something as basic as  .csv). I used Google docs (don't you just love cloud computing?) to create the charts below.

Snow quality is definitely a factor. The ups and downs on last year's chart (classic striding) illustrate this. Note how much faster I became once I began skating. My two initial outings were on a pair of 20-year old beat-up heavy-as-hell back-country skis. Still, much faster than last year's diagonal stride. The real improvement kicked in when I began my skate skiing lessons in early January. Of course, dog and man are becoming a better team, too.

View Skijoring Highland in a larger map

Unless Mellie (the dog) becomes more cooperative, I have reached the maximum speed skijoring, at 27 minutes for two laps totaling 7 km, in the dark. I have not done the course without canine, but I venture to guess that now, I would be faster without her.

From Christian's Running Blog

From Christian's Running Blog

Sunday, January 17, 2010

More Good Skiing at Wolverine

Got out with my two friends Joel and Craig, right after breakfast. Headed for the Wolverine Nordic Trails, in Big Powderhorn's backyard. By now, we know the trail system very well and I was looking forward to doing the outermost trail around the entire area.

View Wolverine Outside Loop in a larger map

The trails were groomed to perfection. I started as soon as we arrived, the temperature being 25F. My shoulder felt a little stiff after yesterday's fall but not too bad. I spent the first seven minutes on Powderhorn, Cliff and Cliff Hanger trails climbing to the ski jump. Unfortunately, I was too bushed and to eager to keep moving to enjoy the view. I kept moving along, hoping I'd see James and Colin as I skirted the downhill area. No luck, but I kept moving well. I crossed the two roads without skis, when stepping in the second time, I had some trouble with snow built-up clogging up the pilot bar of one boot. Took me a couple of minutes fixing this. The rest of the round was uneventful and I met Joel and Craig back at the warming house. We chatted about the quality of the grooming when a guy who just returned from skiing said that the Wolverine Ski Club just took out an $80K loan to pay for the new groomer. Keep those donations coming!

Great time Skiing ABR in Ironwood Michigan

Headed up for Ironwood, MI on Friday, Jan 15. The temperatures had been on the mild side all week with no significant snowfall, thus thanks to a timely departure at 14:45 hrs. and the clear roads, we made it to Dream Catcher at #609 Snowflake St. by 19:30 hrs.

For Saturday, consensus was to drop off the kids at the Big Powderhorn Ski Area and then head for the ABR trails. Realizing that it would take considerable time to get the younger skiers off the ground I offered to be the vanguard to ABR, doing my long run and meet the others for some classic skiing when they arrived. I was a little concerned about finding the place as the directions on Google Maps seemed quite convoluted. Fortunately, there was a big sign on Hwy 2 saying to turn left at the Holiday station. From there, it was pretty much a straight shot, even though I couldn't for the world figure out how this differed from what I had seen on Google. I made it, and after a five-minute chat with the ticket sales man in his little booth,

View ABR Skate skiing Jan 16, 2010 in a larger map

I got going. Super snow, freshly groomed! Lots of trails to chose from: in succession I did River Trail, Bachelor's Loop, Sulo's Loop, Hautanen's Highland interrupted by Coyote Canyon and back via the remainders of Sulo's Loop and River Trail, not without asking for directions at the River Trail-Blueberry Bluff trail merger. Somehow, they forgot to put the "You are here" markers on the map, and the place is a maze. How did I do? I had a grand time out, not as fast as I would have liked, but there were a few rather steep hills. River Trail a good warm-up stretch, Bachelor's loop a nice step up. Sulo's loop, another moment to work on technique. Hautanen's Highlands interrupted by Coyote Highlands were definitely my challenge for today.

When I returned, I checked for my companions. As luck would have it they were just pulling in, having the obligatory chat with the gate keeper. Left some time for me to switch to classic gear. Went with my lovely wife Lynn and our good friend Peggy and did part of the River and Hemlock Trails, mostly without using my poles. Got to exercise that kick and weight transfer! Liz and Craig took a lesson offered by ABR.

View ABR Classic in a larger map

Monday, January 4, 2010

Taking a XC Skating Class, Fundamentals of Skiing

After picking up skating, I quickly realized that my technique was lacking. I always tell my kids to take a class for this and for that, hockey, playing the guitar, freestyle skiing, you name it. Sure enough, my eldest plays the guitar much better than I ever did, they skate circles around me on the ice (well, 10 years of hockey vs. my zero), and in the downhill ski department I like to take it easy if not avoid it altogether while they bomb down every hill and jump every jump. And then there is Martin, mocking my stance in the only picture I have of myself skiing. Oh, the horror, to be mocked by an Olympian ... (even though he is a rower, and not a skier) Well, I have to admit that I finished in the bottom 10% of that race, but that was only my third time out on skate skis.

Gotta practice what you preach. I signed up for the Sisu Ski School: Fundamentals of Skiing class. The first session was tonight, at Battle Creek West. As I expected, the first exercises were very, well, basic but I did them, because I know that one has to build a foundation. The free skating is something I know I had to do, but having instructors telling me what to do was an invaluable additional step.  I have done this exercise before, I did it tonight, and I have to do it again and again and again. When we moved to poling diagonally, it felt so much better than anything I had ever done before, and then the V1 was even better. I am looking forward to next week!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

More skijoring in Highland Park

James' first hockey practice after holidays provided a good excuse for a quick jaunt on the Highland trail. Mellie in tow, we started at around 4:00 PM. The sun was setting and the temps had started to drop again from its high of -18C (0F). There were a few other skiers out, judging from the cars. I thought we'd do our usual two laps but in the end, we were in such fine shape, we added a third lap. Finishing the 3 times 3.5 km in just over 42 minutes, we had another personal best for this track, in spite of or maybe because of the grim cold. Another reason for our high speed may have been the presence of another skijorer. Unlike Mellie and I, that man and dog were a pro team. The guy was a top notch skier, and the dog, something that looked like a black lab mix, ran fast, without being distracted by flying clumps of snow. In passing, he snapped at Mellie, as if to say "what are you bloody amateur doing in my way?" Mellie felt motivated to pick up her pace after they passed, but we were no match to them.

Today's data at Garmin Connect.

Friday, January 1, 2010

First activity in 2010: Skijoring at Highland 9-hole and Gear Review

Trying to beat the arctic cold forecast for the next few days, I got out at 3:30 PM on New Year's Day 2010 to celebrate with a quick skijor. Mellie is always a willing partner, when she sees the harness, she gets very excited, as this video will illustrate:

I was also looking forward to trying out the new pull rope I had just assembled from 1" tubular mountaineering webbing and 3/8" shock cord (both bought at REI). Mellie had destroyed the polypropylene rope that I bought from Nordkyn, a skijoring outfitter, within a few outings. She gets kind of wild and wants to help pulling by taking the rope into her own hands or rather fangs. Polyprop may be light and strong, but it seems to be more susceptible to a dog's biting action.

Tape and double shock cord loop with
carbine hook
Quick release hook (the cheapo version)
tied to the other end of tape and cord
In the interim, I had replaced the frayed polyprop rope with a sheathed steel cable. Rather less bite-friendly heavy. Not that Mellie or I couldn't bear the weight, but as soon as the line went slack, the cable was under our feet and skis (see the video).

I pulled two strands of 7' shock cord through a 9' lenght of mountaineering tape, sewed on a loop on each end, and voila, I had a nice, self-contracting pull line, not as lightweight as the polyprop line but certainly sturdier.

The guard harness (I selected the neoprene option) and SKJ5 hip belt I bought at Nordkyn. I see now that they have an option for a water bottle and a little pouch, too. I always take a fanny pack for poop baggies.
Mellie taking things in her own fangs. Note the guard harness from Nordkyn.
When we started, there were quite a few people on the trail. I wonder why some decide to go against the one-way. Well, as long as they stay out of my way, I don't care. Mellie did find the new rope chewier than the steel cable, but the self-contracting feature made up for this, and I can take the rope into my hand and haul in the dog, which she does not appreciate.

After a short while, we were off and had a good run. At under 30 minutes for two 3.5 km laps, our fastest one yet!