Update + The Pros & Cons of Time Trials

Fall is here! But not for long…

Since the last update, just about the only thing that has changed is that I now have more classes on my plate than I did before. But, to be honest, not a whole lot of interesting things have happened. I’ve settled into a nice rhythm with training and school, oh and of course watching the Tour de France! With all that, I have managed to stay quite busy, which I can certainly be grateful for! We have had our fair share of lovely fall days here in AK, and the colors have been equally brilliant. The temperatures have certainly started to drop, and every once and a while you can see a light blanket of snow sprinkled on the peaks above Anchorage. As I mentioned in the last update, I had been dealing with a couple of injuries, but through perseverance and no doubt a bit of stubbornness, I can confidently say that both injuries have healed and I have been able to get back to a more normal training regime. Hopefully I can remain uninjured and healthy for the rest of the season, as is every athlete’s hope. As the season’s change, a slight shift in training is also occurring…

Time Trials.. The Pros and Cons

In all sports, there is periodization. No matter the definition, there is no arguing that sports in general all have their own respective phases. For many endurance athletes, it’s common to train more and more specifically as the season nears. As for us nordies, we are starting to get closer to the competition phase, so the focus generally narrows a bit. For me this translates to a slight decrease in overall training volume, and an increase in intensity. Without getting into the specifics too much, a good (or bad) way to do that is by implementing time trials into training…

PROS

Time trials can be a great addition to spice training up a bit! Until now, a lot of training time has been spent logging in distance hours and a large portion of Level 3 intervals(roughly 85ish% max), so it’s been a while since you really got to rev the engine. This is one reason why time trials can be highly effective. They remind the body what it’s like to go as hard as you can, to race, go absolutely full gas, open up the throttle, throw down the gauntlet, & lower the BOOM! You get the picture. Often without race like efforts before important races your body may feel sluggish and won’t be able to optimally perform because it’s not used to such intense efforts. Doing time trials in the Fall is also a great way to measure improvements from time trials done in the Spring, and they can certainly improve your high end efficiency (among other things). They also allow for opportunities to test things like pre race meals, warm-up routines, day before training, etc, so that when you get to the starting line you are dialed in and ready to go. Furthermore, adding time trials now can highlight areas of weaknesses where more time should be spent in training to make further improvements with the time left before the season opener.

CONS

While there are numerous advantages to implementing time trials into training, there are other things that you might want to take into consideration. One of the biggest things that can have a negative effect on a potentially golden opportunity, is having the wrong mindset. Personally I have been there. It’s easy to get distracted in comparing & analyzing variables such as rollerski speeds, weather conditions, training loads, one’s strengths and weaknesses, etc…I like to recognize such variables, but also keep it all in perspective and judge my performance accordingly. Off season TTs can play mind games, so it’s always best to look for areas for improvement and if applicable, appreciate gains made from previous tests. For most of us, there are 8+ weeks left before our first ski races, so regardless of any TT performance, there’s lots of time to continue improving!

Until next time! Keep training smart, and enjoy the warmer temps while they last!

Cheers,

Garrett

Update + Getting Through Injury & Sickness

The winds of change are blowing…

With all the things that have happened since last spring, it feels like an eternity since anything school related has been on my radar. Now, school is back in session. For me, nothing has really changed too much as far as classes are concerned because I was taking mostly online classes last year before the pandemic started, and will go back to taking more online classes again this semester. It seems my “norm” is becoming more of the “norm” around the country, as far as schooling is concerned. Since the last update, I was able to do a few more cool Alaskan outings to finish off the summer before the school year! In the first part of the month, I was able to tag along with Hunter and Chip for a caribou hunt up north of Fairbanks. Long story short, we woke up early, hopped in the truck, and shortly before reaching our destination, the truck broke down. Luckily we were able to get our hands on a satellite phone, got in touch with some help, and thought, “Well, they won’t be here for a few hours, so let’s go hunt.” A couple hours later Hunter had notched his first ever caribou tag, and we were loaded up with heavy packs heading back down the mountain! Needless to say, we finished out the summer with a BANG! And of course more training. 😉

(From left to right, Hunter, Chip, Me, with Hunters first caribou.)

Glass half full mentality…

Having been at sea level for roughly 6 weeks now, it is safe to say that my body has normalized to its new environment. It did however take around 26 days, which was very interesting to see. During the “boost week” of the last training block, I can certainly feel now that it did indeed help boost fitness, but I also picked up a couple of injuries. One, a strained calf muscle which I got during a bounding interval session, and the other was a case of either tendonitis or tenosynovitis in my right hand, and I have no clue how I picked that up. (Although I do have some ideas.) This meant no running and very limited roller skiing. Luckily it all happened at the tail end of the block and I had a recovery week following it, which enabled me to get a handle on things. I continued to plug along through these injuries with training, using different methods such as the ski erg and spin bike, and now both injuries have seemingly healed. It wasn’t the ideal way to do things, but it got the job done, and I came out the other side stronger than I would have otherwise. In other words, persevere! Do whatever you can do, and do it to the best of your ability. You’ll be all the better for it! 🙂

(Lots of sweaty indoor sessions over the last couple weeks…)

Coming back from injuries…

The bigger point I want to address is returning from injury or illness back into regular training. Like most of us, I have gone through my share of sickness and injuries despite trying my absolute best to avoid both. The most important piece of the puzzle to keep in mind when coming back, is to do it slowly and steadily. One of the worst things you can do is rush your return, and wind up setting back the clock and restarting your healing process. To give you an example with my recent calf injury, I gave it 3 days, it felt mostly normal, I rolled the dice and ran on it to try to give my hand a break, and went right back to where I was 3 days before. I came back too quickly… After that, I made sure that I was 200% certain that it had healed before I started building back the run. I started with a 15 minute run, and almost 3 ½ weeks later, I am up to an hour of easy running. I hope to return to complete normality in the next couple weeks in regards to both running volume and intensity. As they say, “Patience pays dividends.”

(Been wearing some extra padding to help put the hand.)

Hope everyone has had a lovely summer!

Until next time,

Garrett Butts

Update + The Lowdown on Going to Lower Elevations to Train.

Getting there!

It’s now been a little over 2 weeks since I have arrived back in Anchorage, and needless to say, things have been ticking right along. Since returning, I have planted a “leafy green” garden in hopes that it’s not too late to be able to enjoy it in the coming weeks. I’ve purchased a car so that I can take myself around whenever I need to go and not have to always rely on my teammates to hitch a ride. Anyone you ask here in Anchorage would say, “It’s definitely a car town.” Luckily for me, I’ve got some great friends up here who have been more than happy to give me a great tour of Alaska, and we have started what we call “scenic Sundays” where we get out and do some sort of sight seeing.

(Hunter Wonders and I took a paddle around Eklutna Lake, then went to his house to roast some moose sausage over the fire.)

(Took a weekend trip to Hunters cabin. Did some more canoeing, water skiing, took an argo tour, and picked some berries.)

Then of course I have been training quite a bit. I am just over half way through the 4th “period” or “block” of this season’s training calendar, having just started the beefiest week of said block. In this week there will be 3 intensity sessions stacked among lots of other workouts to log between 26-30 hours for this week. We call it, “the boost week.” It has been very interesting to once again come back down to sea level after having spent 4 months at altitude at home in Colorado, where most training happens at 8000 ft+.

Why sea level? The quick run down…

Most people have heard of athletes going from sea level to altitude for training to get more fit and get other adaptations, so I often get asked, “Why do you want to go down in altitude? Don’t you have an advantage by training up here?” The short answer is, “Yes, and no.” If all of our ski races were held at higher elevations, then yes, I would likely be fine spending the majority of my training time at altitude. However, this is not the case because most of the biggest races on the calendar for me and even World Cup athletes happen close to sea level. Since cross country skiing is largely a power-endurance sport, you have to sustain higher power outputs over long distances to be able to compete. In order to train the body to increase your sustainable power, and even your maximum power output, you need more oxygen. To put it in perspective, here is an example. In a lot of races at sea level, you see athletes from higher elevations who do well in the longer distances, but are nowhere near that level when it comes to shorter races like sprints. Essentially, being from altitude, your body can hold a lower sustained power for a long time, but it doesn’t have the ability to sustain higher power outputs because it is too expensive for the body to train that higher power output when at altitude. Now there are certainly some exceptions, there are some great sprinters that have come from altitude, but this is what generally happens and certainly is in my case.

Low altitude sickness? (whaaaaat?)

Every time I come down to sea level after extended time at altitude, I feel quite strange. When you spend a long time at higher altitudes, your body adapts and your blood thickens as your RBC (Red Blood Cell) and Hemoglobin counts increase. When you come down to sea level, the surplus of oxygen saturates your blood so more oxygen is being carried throughout your body. (this is why blood doping is highly illegal in sport) Whenever I come down to sea level, it always feels like I am always putting the pedal to medal (muscularly speaking) but somehow still flying along with ease.(cardiovascularly speaking) Since your body now has so much more O2 available, you feel like you’re not breathing at all,(compared to altitude) but since you’re able to put so much more power down because of all that extra oxygen you feel it more in your muscles than in your lungs. Essentially, when you come down to sea level, after time at high altitude, there is a much higher muscular stress on the body than there is on the lungs. Here’s another example: When I am in Colorado, most training is distance training and what we call “Level 1.” For me, that means I keep my heart rate between 140-160ish(63-72% max), “Level 3,” or “threshold” is 182-192ish(82-87%max) (numbers based off of physical lab tests). Now, when I come to sea level, Level 1 feels like I am going Level 3 altitude pace, yet my heart rate might only be 120-130. My body becomes confused because my muscles are “hammering” but my lungs feel like they’re taking a nice Sunday stroll. This is where the “low altitude sickness” train hits me and I feel like I’m in a funk, for lack of better terms. For me personally this sometimes shows itself as having a good morning session, then in the afternoon, I end up being unmotivated but not tired and have a harder time getting out the door. I think part of this comes from changing time zones, and training later in the day (9 vs 7:30), so it’s an even bigger change for the body. This year that “low” point hit me about a week after I arrived and luckily only lasted a couple of days. My body has been normalizing to sea level and slowly getting back to a balanced point, but I am still not quite there yet and still have quite a bit of “high altitude juice” flowing through my veins. In the long run, the goal is to increase sustainable power and max power, which, because of high o2 availability, is much easier at sea level than 8000ft.

Yours Truly,

Garrett Butts

First Blog Post!!

Welcome back sports fans!

Welcome to my website!! TEAM Butts headquarters! Home of everything you want to know and find about my journey as a cross country skier!!

I know it’s been a while since the last newsletter and update, but despite all the changes that have occurred I have been lucky enough to stay busy! While a lot has happened in the past few weeks, much of it has been the same daily routine, train in the morning, go work, train again in the evening, inevitably eat a lot throughout all of that, then go to bed and get ready to do it all over again the next day. I got to spend some great time with family, friends, and run around in the mountains exploring.

I just finished up the last major week of my 3rd training period, and am currently in a recovery week. Last week I had my second testing week of the season to check in on how my form is progressing. Needless to say, I set new personal bests in all of my tests, so all things are headed in the right direction!

This friday, I will be heading back up to the last frontier to join back up with my APU squad. I have taken the necessary precautions in order to return and keep everybody safe in doing so. Getting tested before travel and once again after travel. Unfortunately once I have returned to AK there will likely not be any glacier camps as was previously anticipated, which is a big bummer because I was looking forward to checking a lot of firsts off the list during that time. It will still be great to get back with the crew and to the land of lots of oxygen.

Big thanks to all of my sponsors/ partners/ supporters for your support! I truly couldn’t do it without you! I am super excited about the upcoming season, and with the way things are going, I’m on track to have the best season so far in my career to date. More to come in the future so if you would like to get the latest updates in real time, subscribe to my newsletter, or shoot me a note saying you would like to be added to it.

“You’ve Hit Rock Bottom”

Trained more hours than ever”. “PR-ed by 30 seconds”. “Set a new record in the race”. “Felt awesome in intervals”. These are all common statements by cross-country skiers throughout their summer and fall training—whether said in-person, at practice, or on social media. These statements reflect gains in fitness, strength, and technique: steps towards fulfilling the goals athletes set to eventually achieve peak performance during the season. But what happens when your summer is filled with slower times in time trials/races, feelings of tiredness that persist even with rest, interval sets where keeping up with your teammates and training partners is impossible? These intermediate measures reflect moving further and further away from your goals, and eventually those goals seem unattainable and ridiculous to even pursue. What does a fulltime athlete do when this is their reality?

As you might have guessed, currently I fall in that second category. Whereas many athletes have tracked progress on an upward trend this summer, my trend has been increasing downward, or at least all over the place. Some training days have been awesome, but the majority and, in particular, hard efforts in intervals and races, have been brutal and well off the mark I personally hold myself to. Starting in July and continuing throughout August, I found myself unable to train with my normal training buddies, feeling tired, confused and overwhelmed at why I could not keep up. I was training similar amounts to my teammates (which I’ll admit is not a small number) and focusing on recovering as much as possible, but I just couldn’t handle it. During workouts that I count as a strength of mine (uphill threshold skating), and being far behind everyone else, started to kill my confidence. By ranking myself behind, other types of workouts that always are a bit challenging for me (speeds, short sprint-pace efforts), turned into a brutal mind game that translated into questioning my potential to be a top-level racer. All through Alaska’s rainy, cold dreary August, I fell deeper into a negative feedback loop. The topping on the cake came in the last week when first, I developed a cold, and second, likely did not take enough time to rest and get healthy. And then less than a week later I jumped into a three-day time trial series with an uphill run, skate sprint and classic hill climb. Instead of setting PRs in these races, I was more than two minutes back from my personal records. The first day, in the uphill run, I thought I was going to simultaneously pass out and have my head explode from the pressure left over from my recent cold. Things did not improve from there.

My parents’ own a coffee mug that is from Rock Bottom Brewery and its slogan, “You’ve Hit Rock Bottom” echoed in my head after that first time trial. Now of course, I didn’t lose a loved one, I didn’t contract some terrible illness and overall, my life is running pretty smoothly. But when your day-to-day lifestyle revolves around training and your performance during those hours, it really feels like the bottom when things keep heading south.

It took a major wakeup call to drive through my stubborn head that something is not going well. After finishing up the time trial series, it did not take a genius to point out that I have to change my training and on a more personal note, my approach to skiing, if I want to reach the goals I set for this coming season. Now what made this realization so hard? It seems perfectly doable to train really hard, push yourself to exhaustion and overwhelm yourself with training load, intensity, summer races, lots of work hours and school when everything is going perfectly. As my teammate Chelsea Holmes put it, “when you are having good results, you are PRing and training tons, AND working to pay for all of it, you feel like a champ. You have this little muscle man angel on your shoulder screaming in your ear “YOU GOT THIS.” But when your results start to slip, your performance, or even your perceived performance isn’t up to par, all of a sudden that basket that you put every single last egg in…just fell apart.”

I have spent most of my athletic career working hard, then working even harder to get to where I am at. However, the top racers are not necessarily the hardest workers—in the literal sense of the term. Top performers are people who listen to their bodies and work really hard when the moment is right. And sometimes what is really hard is not driving yourself into the ground, but figuring out a way to rise up from the ashes. Acknowledging that you are not in a good place is really hard; it feels like you are acknowledging that you are weak, and in turn, that challenges part of your identity as an endurance athlete. Even harder is setting aside your pride enough to do what you need individually, especially if that is much less than everyone else. This is where I am at for the month of September.

The road back includes less training, less life stress and focusing on the positive. In truth, I’m not much of a concrete goal-setter, but this month I set goals that include less tears and breakdowns, slower training or taking more time off, and most of all: no comparisons—against my teammates, my personal records, my “competitors”, whomever. This process isn’t a temporary fix; it’s a long-term perspective shift. There will always be pressure to overdo, and consequently, times where we give into that pressure. When the consequences hit we simply need to adjust and figure out how to find balance, balance in training, in work, in relationships and in life.

Maybe my September plan will not work, but once you’re at the bottom the only place to go is up, right?

 

Some photos from the last month (including an awesome visit with my little sister; first time anyone in my family has been to Alaska!):

My sister, who lives around the world in Spain, came to visit after we hadn't seen each other in over a year!
We road tripped down to Homer
Fisher-woman extraordinaire
A rainy hike around Williwaw Lakes
Beluga Whales in Girdwood
Beautiful Anchorage sunsets above Fire Island. Photo: Anna
The only image I have of me rollerskiing from the entire summer.
Anna was a champ and hiked with me
McHugh Ridge on one of the rare sunny days with Anna
We explored the Turnagain Arm during our rainy camping trip.
Arctic Valley
Missed this girl!
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Risky Business

The APU Elite Team just finished our first glacier camp of the summer training season. This past week was my sixth time on the glacier and I finally feel like I understand the drill. Wake-up, drink coffee, eat breakfast, ski for 2-3 hours, eat lunch, bake (my energy supplier), read, wax skis, ski again for 2 hours, make dinner, eat, and go to bed…it all becomes a blur by the third day. While in the past I often became a little bored during each afternoon’s downtime, this year I found it a pleasant break from my day-to-day schedule of training, then work, then often biking or rollerskiing home from work to second training, then on the really crazy days, heading to a second job—whew! However, by the end of the week, while I was pretty exhausted from A LOT of training, I secretly looked forward to getting back into my busy schedule down in Anchorage.

This summer has looked a bit different than past summers in Alaska. While my first summer I found myself quite busy with schoolwork finishing my M.P.A. from NMU and ski training, and last summer I tutored and trained, this year I jumped off the “busyness” cliff and took a summer office job, continued tutoring, enrolled in APU class, and have grabbed any odd-job opportunity I can (looking for a house sitter: I’m your girl!). For a couple weeks in May, I diagnosed myself as psychotic. I felt like I was in a constant whirlwind of deadlines, places to be, logistical planning and not a moment to breathe. As a carless Anchorage-ite, I rode my Huffy (more adequately named my Huffy and Puffy as it weighs about 100lbs and only has two working gears—hard and easy), or rollerskied as my main form of transportation. I felt like a fool, as I would rollerski across busy intersections in Anchorage with my backpack full of work clothes and lunch. However, towards the middle of May things started to get easier. I got in better biking shape, I started realizing that after sitting at a desk for six hours the only thing I want to do is train and be outside, and everything became a bit more manageable. And then manageable became awesome. I remember summers in Bozeman and Marquette where I worked at hotels housekeeping or at McDonald’s, on your feet the entire time, but still quite energized to train a second time. Your off days become secret gems of anticipation and you look forward to the weekend like the rest of society. Long ODs of three hours seem quite short, and much better than deskwork for six. Everything becomes relative and instead of feeling drained, I, all of a sudden, seem to have more energy and positivity than ever.

I spoke with a teammate of mine who works a lot. She unfortunately is on her feet most of the time and deals directly with a fair amount of rude customers. Outside of the occasional horrible day, we both remarked how while work seems like a drag some days, overall the sense of purpose, and the filling of our days with activity outside of our sport, lets us bring more of ourselves to the table each training session. Now I understand everyone is different. I know athletes who need to solely focus on training and do not operate the same way as me. I know athletes who train and work full time jobs. Everyone is different. I do not see my outside obligations and pursuits as disruptive to my athletic goals and the process to achieve them.

I do not operate with 100% intense focus on skiing year round. I love to train, but training is part of my lifestyle; a run in the mountains will help me achieve my athletic goals, but it is also one of my favorite activities to do. Sometimes I struggle with finding the balance between working towards my goals and the outward futility of each baby step in the process. Will I ever get to where I want to be? My first year skiing with APU, results within racing and training took a new level of importance. Since I was “a professional”, I felt I had to act a certain way with a certain presence and level of knowledge. So although I was making technique and fitness gains beyond previous years, I fought internally with how to be the athlete I am, especially when it did not always fit into the stereotypical “Nordic Skier” mold. This also diminished my confidence and enjoyment I experienced training and racing. This past year, after spending a large chunk of the winter training alone, I started to question if I was pursuing something even achievable. Self-doubt breeds into a lack of confidence, and eventually race results show this.

Everyone analyzes their season in the spring, determines what went well and what failed. Oftentimes, the analysis discerns that an increased focus on training and a limitation on outside obligations are necessary. While true for some, I realized this is not how I operate. I am at my happiest, most productive, and therefore, “fastest”, when I am juggling with more than one ball. Of course, I am only human and so have hard days and need vacations, but overall this summer so far has been awesome—partly due to taking the risk to burden myself in addition to ski training. A wise teammate once said, “taking risks is essential to what we are as athletes, be it in a race or the big decisions of pursuing our sport full time”; while I continue to pursue skiing as my first and most important priority, sometimes the risk taken is to be authentic in your individual approach and believe in your process. My process this summer includes some outside pursuits, but pursuits that nonetheless enhance the journey to my end goal of performance on the snow. And of course, making some money can’t hurt either.

My only photo of the glacier, whoops!
Little O'Malley Trail
Yummy cake post-glacier camp!
Willowa Lakes

 

A Trip to the [other] Windy City

After the season ended in late March, I flew back to Alaska to 1. Get some work hours, 2. Enjoy some world-class crust skiing, and 3. Travel up to Barrow to participate in Skiku for the second year. Last year I journeyed up to the North Slope village of Wainwright, just a hop, skip and a jump (in a Cessna plane), from rural Alaskan “hub-city” Barrow. Due to some scheduling constraints with my APU M.B.A. weekend class, at the last minute I switched from my original assignment to the Barrow team. After spending three full days in a classroom, running a fake pharmaceutical company’s marketing through an online program, I was ecstatic to spend my days outdoors and not staring at a computer. Heeding forewarnings of dreadfully cold and windy weather, I borrowed Sadie’s giant parka, packed multiple pairs of ski pants, and flew to Barrow with the warmest clothing I own.

IMG_2004At our quick stop in Prudhoe Bay, I awoke to a comical scene of passengers attempting to cross the runway to the airport, only to have their hats and loose items rocketing off their bodies in the wind. As the flight attendant placed an orange construction cone on the crosswalk to guide passengers, the cone jetted off, straight-lining across the frozen tundra. I imagine there is a giant collection of orange cones somewhere in the Brooks Range, just waiting to be discovered in a thousand years by some archeologist who will attempt to explain the phenomenon with an overly academic theory. Needless to say, I was a bit shocked at the conditions and only hoped Barrow could somehow be better.

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A terrible quality photo but demonstrates how to dress in Barrow’s weather

Well, a bit to my dismay, Barrow’s weather mirrored the conditions in Prudhoe. After multiple people in the airport discouraged me from walking to the High School (only three blocks away), I set out to meet up with the team. Now, I have witnessed tornados, straight-line winds, even the BWCA storm of July 4th, 1999, but never in my life have I witnessed wind like in Barrow. The minute you stepped out around a wind block, you needed sure footing because the wind hit you like a semi-truck. It took about two days to just adjust to the weather conditions and manage to ski/stand upright. Barrow natives said that the long lasting windy weather was the worst they’ve seen in decades. But, of course, wind or cold, those kids were outside on skis.

Barrow is an interesting “village” because it is a regional hub for the North Slope. With a population around 5,000 people, and easy jet-plane access to Fairbanks and Anchorage, Barrow operates much more like a conventional small town/city than a rural Alaskan village. While the population is still predominantly Native Alaskan, much more diversity exists than in smaller villages. Barrow has three schools, and each school is significantly larger than the one school in many small villages. Barrow’s elementary school alone houses over 500 students. Due to the unique situation in Barrow and our large Skiku team size, we split up our days at each school. I spent one day each at the high school and elementary school, and three days at the middle school. This schedule pleased me because the middle schoolers had the most enthusiasm for skiing and with an earlier dismissal time, had the opportunity to ski after school. Similar to my Wainwright experience, you got to know the “regulars” pretty well and actually taught them some ski skills.

 In my opinion the best part of this program is to watch kids struggle, but persevere, though the skiing learning process. It is humbling to remember how difficult this sport is to learn, something that nowadays I often take for granted. Due to the wind in Barrow, even just skiing 500 meters presented quite the challenge. Nonetheless these kids put their heads down and trucked forward. At the end of our ski area’s straightaway, they held their arms up and windsurfed all the way back to the start—a reward for pushing through the conditions. At the end of the week we held a small race for anyone who wanted to participate. Most of our regular middle schooler group participated, along with some elementary school students. One of my favorite little skiers raced and then joined me to cheer on the younger kids, telling them to “send it to the finish line”. Watching the interaction of the kids and the ways they help each other try out new techniques is very rewarding (and rather comical). They convince each other to try out new skills, but also support one another when they fall or struggle. Of course, we both laugh when they topple over from a standstill and somehow get so tangled they cannot get up.

Out learning how to skate
Champ and I
One of our middle school classes

Barrow’s size offered us volunteers the chance to participate in more activities than usually found in rural Alaska. Along with some new friends, I attended a yoga class, rollerskated on the indoor roller rink attached to our intirent housing, and took a water zumba class! However, the highlight of my week (both in coolness-factor and tired-ness) came when a local whaling crew took us out on the sea ice to help build the road for their seal skin boats. Whaling season was just beginning during our week and all of Barrow’s whaling crews were scrambling to get their ice roads finished and sail out to the migration. Around 8pm on our last evening, our posse snow-machined out to the edge of the sea ice with our pick axes and sleds. We paved our way by sledgehammering giant ice chunks—the size of cars—into mini chunks that we used to fill in cracks to make a level path. Since the spring whaling vessels are made of seal skin, they tear easily and it would be devastating to pull your crew’s boat all the way to the ice’s edge only to have a tear. With armed watchmen guarding against any hungry polar bears, I kept myself entertained by pretending I was one of the dwarfs in Snow White and progressively became loopy after hours of pickaxing. I decided that last summer’s glacier project of building a Piston Bully road was nothing compared to the work a whaling crew did each spring. And the futility of the project! All the ice would soon melt away, along with our creation, a thought that increasingly became funnier as the night progressed. We worked for a number of hours and finished right as the sun set over the ocean.

Sunset around 10:30pm
The Arctic Ocean!
The sea ice we were chopping to make a road
Cole checking out the whaling harpoon

Watching the warm sunset colors dance across the cold sea ice and reflect over the surprising smooth Arctic Ocean was magical. This golden hour brought the end of our work and signaled it was time to return to Barrow for a small demonstration of the harpoons and guns a whaling crew uses. The hospitality of the whaling captain and his family displayed the unique community atmosphere I’ve experienced in each Alaskan village. It was the perfect way to cap off our week in Barrow.

Since returning from the Arctic, I found another summer part-time job working for a printer supply company in Anchorage. Along with Thomas O’Harra, I coached Denali Elementary’s Run Club, a fun way to hang out with some speedy youngsters. I logged quite a few crust skiing adventures and discovered some new cool spots up towards Hatcher’s Pass Road. Unfortunately, I am battling a bit of a heel/Achilles injury, but am looking forward to jumping into some Alaskan mountain running races coming up and our first glacier camp in early June. Until then I will be starting up another summer semester (two classes to go until my M.B.A. is finished), clocking some work hours, continuing to build up the training, and hopefully successfully hunting mushrooms.

Crust Cruising in Hatchers
#simba #africa
Getting some early season hiking in with Thomas and Sadie

VOTED AMERICA'S #1 LAUNDRY MAT! A MUST SEE IN GIRDWOOD
Bird Ridge shenanigans
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Jess and I are ready for summer BBQing!
Denali Elementary Running Club
Last Roommate Picture. And yes, I am strangely wearing a helmet.

Midwest Marathoning

This winter I followed a slightly different schedule than last year. I continued to race the Supertour through its Eastern tour, but soon after found myself back in the good, ol’ Midwest. I jumped into the Mayor’s Challenge races on my old stomping ground at Theodore Wirth, helped out at the Ski with the Stars Minnesota Youth Ski League relays, and made my way up to the largest ski race in the United States: the American Birkenbeiner. A week before the event went off, the Birkie was put on the FIS World Loppet race schedule, meaning a posse of fast Europeans jumped the pond to line up with us in Telemark. I had quite the experience-building race, working in the aggressive lead pack until the last 10 kilometers (even leading quite a few times, which you can check out here in the Birkie re-cap video: http://www.birkie.com/2016-birkie/). With 10 kilometers to go, I “hit the wall”, and V-1ed my way into the finish, perfectly planning my final “sprint” to align with David Norris’s (my APU teammate) victorious glory sprint to his first Birkie win! Of course, having a front row seat to the show was my plan all along…perfectly executed race plan!

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Taking a bit of a tumble in the Mayor’s Challenge 10k Classic Mass Start

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Birkie cakes in Hayward!
We convinced my dad the giant muskie actually was miniature.
I wanted to join the Giant Ski Race. Directly after this photo I fell on my face trying to step out of the bindings.

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Soren, my little buddy for the MYSL relays

After the Birkie, I returned back to Minneapolis for the best part of my month: Asian Week. Asian Week is the taste sensation celebration that involves taking advantage of Minneapolis’ diverse grocery stores, some Internet recipe research, and a dose of creativity, to create a homemade Asian dish every evening. From Monday’s spring rolls, Tuesday’s pad thai, Wednesday’s North Korean rice, Thursday’s sushi, Friday’s curry and Saturday’s Great Wall (my favorite Chinese restaurant in the world) end-of-week festapalooza, we went on a taste tour of all Americanized Asian culinary delights. After a weekend off, the next week I traveled up to Houghton, MI, to race Calumet’s Great Bear Chase. The Bear Chase is unique because it is a skiathlon on a 25-kilometer loop. You race one loop classic, and then transition to one loop skate. Because of low snow in virtually every venue we have raced at this season, we usually are forced to do short laps of a manmade loop. However, the Bear Chase was the exception, which made the race much more fun and entertaining. I skied with quite a few Midwest Masters—go number 66!, and won the women’s race, placing 10th in the men’s. Shout out to Bruce Manske and CXC for helping me with waxing!

GREAT WALL!
PAD THAI NIGHT (with frosty joining us!)
Spring Roll creations

 I was able to sneak in a few gorgeous sunny skis on the Michigan Tech trails, which still have feet of snow, and I jumped into a Ski Tigers practice, helping coach with my host for the weekend, Alice Flanders. From Houghton I headed back down to Cable, to watch and cheer at Junior Nationals, along with logging some kilometers on the Wisconsin ski super highway (the Birkie trail). After a sunny 60 degree day the first day, the racecourse closed, and so I joined some of the JN skiers for some skis on the Birkie trail. While the trail is probably on its last days, it was fun to share a quintessential Midwest icon with the Alaska team. Now, I am back in Minneapolis (hoping to ski, but mostly tanning in the 60+ degree weather) until the last races of my season at Spring Series in Craftsbury, Vermont next week.

Ski Tigers at the biggest downhill on the Tech Trails
I guess we tired them out?
Watching the junior race after our Thursday practice, fast skiers!

Lots of snow in Houghton!
Florida??!!
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The 1k race, with 2 massive hills!
Warming up for their race.
Women's "podium" with the World's creepiest bear

2016 Qaniq Challenge, Valdez, Alaska

            When planning my racing season earlier this year, I had an open space to fill between US Nationals and the Eastern Supertours in late January. Outside of local Midwestern races, a faraway race in Valdez, Alaska caught my eye. In its inaugural year in 2015, Valdez’s Qaniq Challenge brought in skiers from across Alaska, all vying for a $10,000 prize purse ($3000 for first, $1500 for second and $500 for third place respectively). Many of my APU teammates claimed these enormous sums (at least quite large for domestic professional ski racing), and I saw a chance to make some cash to help fund my season. Coupled with my luck to have housing in Alaska, I weighed out the cost of a one-way ticket to Anchorage and bought in.

            I competed in the American Birkebeiner in 2012 while racing collegiately for Northern Michigan University. To this day the Birkie remains one of my most memorable ski races—a feeling I know many skiers share. As the contagious Birkie fever begins to spread after the holiday season, many skiers start their calculated training regimens. Skiers focus on goals ranging from maintaining an elite wave start, to surviving the Hayward Lake crossing with a couple beer feeds in the belly. Come mid-February, the entire American ski community descends on the town of Hayward for an epic weekend of ski racing, reunions with faraway friends and celebration. The Qaniq Challenge in Valdez reminded me of my Birkebeiner experience. While many of the traditions of the Wisconsin festival have not yet been implemented in Valdez, that same atmosphere of fun, challenge and community surround the race weekend.

            Famous for world-renowned heli-skiing, Thompson Pass marks the end of the five-hour drive from Anchorage to Valdez. The pass crossing welcomes racers to the immense beauty of the Valdez harbor and surrounding peaks. While daylight is short during Alaskan winters, the low light of long sunrises and sunsets mark each day with streaks of pink and purple against a mountainous blue-white backdrop. The Qaniq is a two-day race series, with an emphasis on “challenge” and surprise as snow conditions and avalanche danger dictate the courses each year. This year the first day consisted of a 19-kilometer classic interval start, with a gender mixed starting order. The course winded around challenging uphills and a spiraling downhill, before finishing along the coast of the Valdez Harbor—featuring views to distract even the most focused racer. I finished first, which set me up well for the second day: a 15-kilometer skate mass start. Finishing times from both days combine to determine a racer’s overall placing, and in turn, the tantalizing prize money. The second day I skied in a pack with two-time Olympian Holly Brooks, fresh off her first Tour de China, and two male citizen racers. Flat as a pancake, the skate course did not lend itself well to breakaway moves or even a simple pass. After a drag race of leading and drafting, I was outsprinted by all members of my group in the end. Luckily for me, my lead from the first day allowed me to confidently claim the overall and head back to Anchorage with some bill-paying cash money!

            The impetus for the Qaniq came from current race organizer, Darryl Verfaillie, director of Valdez Recreation and Cultural Services. Upon meeting visiting APU Nordic Ski Center skiers two summers ago, he worked to design a race series that brought in elite level skiers and citizen racers, while showcasing Valdez’s beauty and unique ski community. Though the Qaniq Challenge still continues to evolve and grow, the enthusiasm and energy of the organizers and participants creates a memorable experience for all. After the racing finished, our APU group led a community ski clinic, attracting skiers of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. The informality of the race series, and Darryl’s generous facilitation of our needs, let us become a part of the Valdez ski community for the weekend. Into the future I can see the Qaniq growing into one of the great American ski marathons, attracting racers from all over the country; in fact, as a native Midwesterner, I would highly encourage any racers with a desire to travel, witness the beautiful mountain and sea landscape and challenge themselves in a supportive race, to head to Valdez. Coupled with a great awards ceremony and post race pizza dinner, the Qaniq Challenge offers a unique way to visit beautiful Alaska during the winter months—and even head home with some extra cash.

My group finishing the 15k Skate Mass Start. I am number 5.
Our group coming into the finishing stretch of the skate race.

Casper Fenley showing off his Toko USA gloves
Lauren Fritz and I at the turnaround point of the 19k Classic Race

If you are interested in learning more about the 2017 Qaniq Challenge, please visit http://www.qaniqchallenge.com. For a more general write-up on this year’s race, check out http://skitrax.com/frankowski-treinen-win-2nd-annual-qaniq-challenge-in-valdez-with-10000-us-prize-purse/.

 

 

Rallying Support!

It is that time of year again…the end of summer and the beginning of planning for the approaching winter. Here in Alaska early fall translates to excessive berry picking, hunting for winter meat and winterizing the car, house, and more. This also means it’s time to start fundraising for this season’s cross country ski racing expenses.

After a very successful summer of training, I am excited to work towards even higher racing goals. Unfortunately, with higher goals comes higher expenses. The success of last year’s rally prompted me to conduct another Rallyme crowd fundraiser this year, hoping to gather support from near and far.  Please consider supporting my expenses: my rally can be found at https://ussa.rallyme.com/rallies/2089/rosie2015-16.

Similar to last year, your donation will support my travel, lodging and competition costs for the 2015-16 season of ski racing. Last winter your support sent me around the globe, racing to multiple top 10s at U.S. Nationals as well as finishing as one of the top American finishers at OPA (Central Europe) Cup Finals.

My rally will last for 45 days during which I hope to raise $5,000 for the upcoming season. This year I have added some exciting “swag” for various support amounts. You can also help me by spreading the word about my campaign through email, Facebook, and Twitter. In addition to financial support for the season, I greatly appreciate airline miles. If you wish to donate miles, please contact me through rosiefrankowski@gmail.com.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and feel free to contact me at any time with questions. If you are interested in corporate sponsorships, please contact me individually.