Sunday, February 27, 2011

Winter's Back

It was inevitable that we would have some more snow and I am glad to report that the Twin Cities Metro area got a good foot of the fluffy white stuff. As expected, grooming at my two preferred venues, Como and Highland Parks were a little slow on the uptake due to the extra work the snow emergency had brought but a nice track was laid at Como and then at Highland. Sad to say that at the latter location, the meandering course was changed to a simple oval, not even half as long as the normal loop. But I am glad there is a groomed track at all and Mellie and I took advantage of it three times, logging quite a few of the short laps and running into our friends Tom and Mary on Sunday. Not a lot of traffic, doubtlessly due to the Birkebiner events in the Hayward, WI area.

The regular loop:

The shortened oval loop, post thaw and storm, set on February 25:

It's still evolving: as of March 3, adding a short loop. Creative grooming!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Iowa City Run

Of course, winter was not over and a big snowstorm was announced for Sunday. It was a travel day for me, Colin and two friends. We were heading for Iowa City where they were checking out the university. It had not started snowing yet but we drove through it, entering at about Faribault and exiting around Mason City. In Iowa City traces of snow were restricted to old piles on the north sides of buildings and, amazingly for someone used to November-March permafrost, the lawns were soft and muddy.
Running by the Old Capitol Building
I went for a run hoping to use some hypothetical trail along one bank of the Iowa River, returning on the other side. I was disappointed, river-side trails were intermittent and only on one side. But I enjoyed the run, including the fact that the city has some contour. I also felt like I definitely had my running legs back, even though for the next week (or weeks?) it would be back to winter.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Winter's Fading: The End is Nigh!

In my post of February 13 I described the rapid increase in temperature and what that did to snow conditions up to that point. During the week that followed the thaw continued, taking away about half of the snow pack. I kept monitoring the trail reports on and folks were skiing through Wednesday, February 16. I decided to not push it or switch to my rock skis; instead I went running for the first time since I participated in an orienteering meet in Belgium during the Thanksgiving week.

I woke up around 4:30 on Tuesday and decided I might as well take advantage and head out. My big concern were icy patches. Even though day-time temps were closing in on 10°C and during the night it barely dropped to freezing, the ground was still super-cold. I decided to run on the street, where deicer and traffic kept the ice from forming. This early in the morning I did not have to worry about cars in most places and on the busier stretches of my running route, like Snelling and Lexington, the salt from the trucks covered the sidewalks, too. I made it with hardly a need to slow down because of slipperiness. I knew I would be in for some sore muscles after such a long hiatus from running and indeed, Wednesday was not pretty. I ran again on Thursday, this time without any slippery spots, even on the sidewalk. My soreness was slowly subsiding, and by Saturday I was able to up my pace, too.

Back to the old grind

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Spring Seems in the Air

Last week, I had been keeping a worried eye on the weather forecast. True, morning temps from Monday through Friday had been -18 C to -24 C, but for the weekend and the coming week, a major change had been announced. Temperatures up to 10 C and with that a major thaw, ending the near perfect skiing conditions.

I did my best to get some more skiing in. Mellie and I braved the cold on Tuesday afternoon. The week until Friday was too busy to squeeze in another session but we were out at Highland Golf course on Friday at around 16:30. The temperature had climbed from -19 C at 7:00 to +1 C when we started. The snow was perfect and we had a good two laps.

We were out there again on Saturday morning at 8:00. The temperature was still above freezing and like the evening before, conditions were near perfect for our three laps and we clocked close to our fastest pace for a practice run in spite of a couple of tangles and a fall due to a dog with spring fever.

I was glad to have been out that early for the remainder of Saturday saw a strong thaw. I cannot say that I did not enjoy the warm temps but I regretted the melt.

When James requested a ride to Afton Alps ski area I embraced the opportunity to get another ski in, certainly the last one before another shift in the weather, at the state park next door.
All uphill from here, NE corner of Afton State Park 
Afton State Park is classic only and has an extensive trail system. One of the challenges is that the park consists of a plateau delimited by the deep St. Croix Valley on its eastern flank and divided into a northern and a southern section by Trout Creek valley. The descents into these valleys are quite steep, fortunately the trails are wide and allow for breaking. From the trail head near the visitor center I descended into the valley of Trout Creek and skied north as far as I could along the St. Croix. Before the steep climb at the northern edge of the park, I applied some Swix Violet Extra, which provided the necessary kick.

I love the landscape at Afton SP, the ravines leading to river and creek valleys and the open prairies on top. I enjoyed the sun out in the open though I noticed that the snow conditions were deteriorating rapidly. Dark litter such as bark, scat and even leaves had started to sink into the snow. The difference in glide between shade and sun started to be very noticeable, there was hardly any glide left in sunny spots. At one point I fell head first into trail-side powder when I emerged from shade to sun on a downhill stretch and my skis stopped dead.

I returned to the St. Croix Valley via a long forestry road that challenged my snowplowing muscles. Here, I was glad for the slower snow. The steep climb back to the parking lot rounded out this challenging 14 km outing, likely the last one for a while. I will have to look for my running shoes if I plan outdoor exercise in the near future.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

City of the Lakes Loppet Skijoring Race

A week after the King Boreas Race (results here), it is time for the City of the Lakes Loppet. Mellie and I had participated in the Skijoring Loppet last year, and after a promising result (38th out of 124 entrants, see here) we decided to definitely be part of the event again this year. After last week's encouraging result at the King Boreas Race in St. Paul, I was looking forward to an improvement over last year, even considering the longer distance.

Lynn decided to accompany me, to cheer me on, experience skijoring and to take pictures. We arrived at Lake of the Isles, parking near the skating rink with just enough time to make it to registration to pick up our package and bib. The volunteer signing me in gave me a puzzled look as he glanced from his check list to me and back to the list. It turned out there was me, Christian Franken and a Chris Franken. I could help clarifying, assuring him that Christian was my name and that the other Franken was a woman. How odd is this? He checked and double-checked my bib number to make sure there was no mix-up between Chris and Christian.
Patient pup!
I headed back to meet Lynn and to begin the long wait (about an hour) before start. Mellie and I had to take evasive action in order to avoid being in the way of the sprinters. We dropped our stuff, posed for pictures and said hi to some of the many dogs. After the sprint race was done, the skijorers' meeting got under way. After that was done, Mellie and I went for a little jaunt, mostly to drop her excitement to a bearable level.

Mellie was very good waiting those last 15 minutes, mostly. There were a lot of excited dogs and some of the handlers had their hands full. Some of the scenes were quite hilarious, with handlers ending up on their rear ends and at least one dog making a short-lived escape attempt. Lynn, Sharon and Peggy told me later that there was all kinds of mayhem during the start proper.
The "oomph" as the line snaps tout
On our way!
Thanks to our decent finish last year we got a higher wave placement, just behind the elites in row one, thus fortunately we were spared any tangles. We were not able to match the speed of many of our opponents and concentrated on keeping an even pace. Mellie did very well, staying out of the way of other dogs and skiers and pulling hard, especially when pursuing other competitors. We came by  a wipe-out of one of the elites, a woman with a team of German shorthaired pointers. She was picking up hat and GoPro camera as we were skiing past. Within a few minutes they passed us as if nothing had happened and managed to finish 5th.
Starting the second lap.

In the meantime we finished the first lap, Mellie continuing undeterred by the crowds and were catching up to a group of four teams, two male (including Dallas and Comet) and two female. We continued with them from about half-way through the second lap to the bridge.
End of second lap.
One of the dogs, another labrador-type seemed very friendly to his comrades on the other teams. His owner, a very strong skier was rather handicapped by his teammate, I think he might have been able to get away from us without him. Once under the bridge, the women fell behind. Not sure what happened, they lost 20-30 seconds on us over the home stretch. It turned out that one of them was the mysterious Chris Franken.
Chris Franken on my heels.
We finished behind Comet and Dallas and the other guy, in 17:37 minutes, 13th out of 37 teams in our category. Awesome time thanks to Mellie! For full results, see here.

Did I do a good job??? Yes, you did!

Full picture set can be found at my share site.

Upgrade to Skijoring Quick-Release

After last week's King Boreas race I must have dropped the quick release bail in the snow. I had changed my setup to comply with new racing rules which requires the quick release to stay on the skier's belt rather than on the tug line. Makes sense, would not be fun to be hit by a 200g piece of metal at the end of a rope tied to a fast-moving dog ...

Anyway, I needed a replacement before the City of the Lakes Loppet, none of the local hardware stare carried something like it and I could not wait for mailorder to arrive. I thought of sailing and after a little research I found listings of a piece of hardware called a snap shackle. I called my friend David, xc-skier and sailor, who directed me to West Marine in Bloomington. I made the trek before the race on Saturday morning and was glad I found one, much lighter than my old one and quite a bit cheaper than similar versions sold by skijoring supply vendors.

I decided that a swivel, which more than doubles the price, did not add enough usefulness and stuck with the fixed bail snap shackle for $15 or so.

I added the para cord for ease of operation.