American Birkebeiner…Success!

Anyone that know’s him knows that he only races triathlon so he can ski hard in the winter!  SSSMST’er Mike Schaefer made the trip home to Wisconsin for the pinnacle of North American cross country skiing, the American Birkebeiner.  Since there’s a whole lot of not much going on, the temps are still below freezing and it is snowing again, let’s hear about Mike’s saga. He followed his run of form from some northern Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania events with a very sound result at the Birkie.  Quality!

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This was my 17th running of the American Birkebeiner – An annual pilgrimage back to Wisconsin for me and 10,000 other skiers!   The whole trip was a blast, and we enjoyed excellent camaraderie from the other skiers from Ohio and family in Wisconsin.

I had a personal goal of qualifying for the “Elite” wave for next-year’s race – an honor reserved for the top-200 of “freestyle” (skating) skiers from the year before.  I’d qualified once (2009) and narrowly missed it on about 8 other occasions (once by less than one minute and twice by less than 3 minutes).  I figured it would be a long-shot with our variable snow conditions and limited training time… But with an excellent triathlon and running season behind me, I decided to attempt another Birkie “Elite qualifier” – after all, I’m not getting any younger…( I hadn’t raced hard since my dad passed away in 2011, choosing instead to tour the race with his old classical-style skis in his memory.)

So, I managed to log about 62 hours of organized training from Dec thru Mid-February – about 10 hours less than in 2009 , but with similar amounts of interval sessions, local races, and a little more strength-training  My early season races also showed that I struggled with the steeper hill-climbs so, I knew the Birkie would be a struggle with its rugged terrain (it’s the hilliest of all of the FIS World-Cup series.

My usual job and family obligations didn’t help my training, but they were certainly less stressful than in previous years.  It is SO nice to finally have kids who can be left alone occasionally, who rarely wake up in the middle of the night, and who help out around the house (occasionally).  Jill still handles most of the household activities (an even bigger blessing! and she’s an outstanding cook!  Even though she is not always verbally supportive of my skiing (and triathlon, and hunting, volunteering, teaching, coaching, football-watching, etc), she’s always there for the kids, and she’s the first to notice when I’m over-trained and over-committed.  She’s a blessing.  She makes me a more self-reflective person which (in turn) makes me a better athlete.  This cannot be overstated.  In some ways, committing to training time away from her and the family (and the emotional/psychological strain that comes with it), raises the “stakes” of the race.  It’s not just my sacrifice – it’s the the whole family’s.  Most of you understand this, but I think it’s important to recognize it, and channel it into extra motivation on race day.  For this race, we need it!   

On race day we caught a break in the arctic weather – as temps warmed to balmy 10deg F.  We got a little new dry snow which made the trail even more difficult, but this usually helps me compared to the competition so I was ready to ski!!  I made a strategy of starting slower than usual, but I had to let my heart rate redline for most of the first 5Ks just to stay towards the front of “Wave 1” and avoid being stuck in traffic on the first few uphills.  We started 10min behind the Elites Wave, and I settled in ~40th place with a great paceline of guys, including one of my old training partners from Minnesota (Henry Walker) who was always very strong. At this point I figured I had to pass about 10 people to have a chance of qualifying, as about 30 skiers from Wave-1 place in the top 200 each year).  I hung-on to Henry’s group over the most brutal climbs from 12-21Ks, but I had drop back on the last climb before the half-way point.  I was near max heart rate, and there was NO more room left in my lactate tank – OUCH!  In despair, I watched the group of ~10 guys ski away over the top when I was still somewhere in the middle.

At this point I was nearly out of the running for qualifying, but I wasn’t quite ready to quit yet.  I gave a slight acceleration at the top of the climb to get things rolling again.  XC skiing is a sport of momentum – if you start bogging down, you’re DONE, so I kicked a little extra on each small rise, and let the skis run full-out on the downhills. I can honestly say I didn’t snowplow or even carve an aggressive turn ONCE in the entire race.  I blew right thru the next feed zone, choosing to finish the bottle on my belt instead – slushy accelerate but not frozen (to my great relief).  

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Finally I could see Henry and a small group about 45 seconds ahead.  I chased him really hard for the next 2-3Ks, on what is one of the flattest parts of the course.  This is usually the place where I recover a little, but there would be no rest this year – this was going to be a 100% full effort from here to the end… In retrospect, this was the decisive point in my race.  The official timing splits had me 203rd OA at the half-way point, so if I had settled in with the next slower group, I probably would have lost even a few more places – the “Elite Wave” competition remained unseen up the trail, ~10minutes ahead since their separate start.

 

I was finally able bridge the gap to Henry’s group at about 27K, and after a brief rest I worked my way up in the line to fall into his draft…  I “zoned out” here for a while, focusing only on matching his strides and slowing my breathing… just like the “old days” in Rochester… such a familiar draft and rhythm – both of us 12 years older now, but almost as strong and probably twice as determined.  I gasped out a few words of encouragement for him and he smiled just a little as I pulled alongside him to take a token “pull”.  I only managed 30 seconds in the front, though, as he and a few other guys were tearing up the trail. On the next downhill section I finally got my heart rate down to 170, but that was as low as it would go.  We passed quite a few skiers, including a few Elite-wave guys, so I know I was RIGHT BACK in the running!!  If I could just hang on to this group, I’d be REALLY CLOSE to 200th overall..   

Unfortunately the missed feed gradually took it’s toll as my energy levels started dropping.  I had to let Henry’s group go on the long, gradual climb out of the Mosquito Brook valley at 38K, then I slowed even more on the Bitch Hill at 41K.  I sucked down my last two gels as soon as I felt the energy drop, but it was a little too late, and the last few swigs in my bottle were frozen solid. I even accepted an granola bar from a random spectator on the middle of the Bitch. Then then I really don’t remember much of the next few Ks.  Somehow the granola bar was still stuck in my mouth 3Ks later, and there was no way I could swallow it – so I chewed it a few times and let the crumbs tumble out of my mouth. I almost fell once as I wandered too close to the side of the trail to scatter the crumbs which kinda “jolted” me back to reality.  At the last feed station I stopped completely and pounded two cups of energy drink.  The gels finally started kicking-in and things came back in focus – Only 20 minutes left, and I told myself that I could do ANYTHING for just 20 minutes. I couldn’t remember how many guys had just passed me, but it wasn’t too many.  It was time to get ROLLING again.

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Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one struggling.  As I approached the last long climb, I saw about 10 guys ahead of me, strung-out in various states of suffering – shuffling, single-poling, and even just walking up the hill.  Henry wasn’t with them anymore, as he had left these poor broken soles in his dust.  I just kept chugging along picking them off one by one.  This was gonna be TOO close.  At the top of the climb I caught a few Elite-Wave guys who were looking totally broken.  

A smaller group re-formed on the last decent, and we bucked a steady headwind across the Lake Hayward to the finish on the streets of the city. I figured I could sit-in and pick up a few places in the sprint, but my legs cramped again on the small climb up the lakeshore and kept cramping all the way over the new bridge they constructed this year just to get skiers into downtown.  I still gave it full-gas to the finish, knowing that every second could matter over people in other wave starts.  As usual, it was a total rush to see the finish line, but I didn’t catch anyone in the finishing sprint.  

IMG_2745The adrenaline didn’t stop though, until a quick check of results revealed that I’d done it!! 189th Overall!  The beer and bratwurst tasted even sweeter this year!  It’s really a joy to qualify for the Elite wave again, and something I’ll cherish for a long time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Awesome job Mike!

 

Birkie Weekend

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Good luck going out to SSSMST’er Mike Schaefer as he heads to the mecca of cross country skiing (at least here in the US) – Hayward, WI for the Swix American Birkebeiner Cross Country Ski Races.  Kind of a big thing.  10,000+ skiers. Mike’s been doing this since he was a young shaver, and he’s had a pretty strong ski season so far, even with fairly limited time on snow, so we’re pretty sure he’s looking for a big result.

Mike XC

You can try to follow the weekend’s activities there at the following link:http://new.livestream.com/xcountrylive/birkie

Good luck Mike!

Ski bum

This is the time of year SSSMST’s Mike Schaefer is gobsmacked for!  Give the man some powder and some trails and he’s in his element.  Which was hard to be in during December (which brought us virtually nothing).  But now into the new year we’ve had a layer of it around for a while.  Which means Mike is working hard.

First XC race stop is at one of his usual rounds in that state up north for the Cote Dame Marie Loppet, a 26km cross country event.

Great start to the season! I had one of my better Michican Cup finishes and beat last year’s close competitors by ~3-4minutes, improving from 22nd overall last year to 7th! (times vary a lot from year to year due to conditions)…. I chased an old rival for the first 10K and caught him just before a major climb (up and over the local Alpine ski hill!). He dropped me again at the top as I didnt’ have the courage to stay with him (first race insecurity I guess)…. So I spent the entire 2nd half chasing him again. I got the gap down to 10seconds with a despirate surge on the last hilly section, but I couldnt close it. Still, I couldn’t be happier considering our lack of snow in December. The highlight of the weekend, though was some great father-daughter time with Julia as she travelled with me, and we did some Alpine and XC skiing together!

Then, this past weekend, the Ohio Nordic Ski Club was able to pull off the Ohio Cross Country Ski Championships at Lake Farmpark in Kirtland.

The relaxed 5k Classic style race start

The relaxed 5k Classic style race start

We had a great turnout – 84 different skiers from 4 states! My “nemesis” from Pennsylvania Jim Samuels showed up and won both races. I struggled in the 5K classical race and got out-kicked by our friend Frank Pattison and Jared Gregg (a young former Michican Tech Varsity skier.) In the 10K freestyle race I got some immediate revenge – I took it out pretty hard trying to stay with Jim (unsuccessfully) but this gapped Jared so I kept pouring it on until I got out of eyesight. This was a painful tactic but I got one heck of a workout! The back-to-back 5/10Ks and the soft snow really made this one tough. Next week is the PA state championships, and I’m planning to stay with Samuels this time! The weather is looking great and the Birkie training is on schedule!

Taking on the big climb in the 10k Skate-style race

Taking on the big climb in the 10k Skate-style race

Mike powering into the finish line of the 5k

Mike powering into the finish line of the 5k

 

 

 

 

 

 

Awesome job!!

New Year’s Resolutions

This time of year is still somewhat quiet as far as racing goes.  Unless you’re one of two factions – the die-hard, gotta-run-on-New-Year’s-Day or  the cross country skier.  Well we have both.  First we backtrack to January 1, 2015 to Berea, OH and the Resolution Run 5k.  It’s a benefit for Peanuts for PNET – a non-profit to benefit children and their families in Cuyahoga County with PNET brain cancer, which has been near and dear to our team for a couple of years now.  As for racing…..it was cold.  Really cold. And windy.  Let’s hear from a few peeps:

Jen P: Great way to start the New Year….good run, great cause, and even better people!

Brian Kostura: This race is a nice start to the year, a good excuse to get together with everyone, and all for a good cause. Mother Nature blessed us with a little less snow than last year, but made up for it through the wind chill. The race was well run and generously catered. Thanks to everyone who was involved in putting this together.

Patrick Kolozvary: A big THANK YOU to the team, Second Sole and everyone that supported this race! A nice turn out on a very cold & windy New Years Day. This was a big day for us, since we have come a long way over the past year. We appreciate all the support and prayers over the past year. I am glad that Jeff & the Peanuts for PNET organization was able to pay it forward to another family that unfortunately has a child fighting a brain tumor this year.
Early rumor is that the race may be on January 2nd (Saturday)next year – put it on the calendar!

We also had a few runners take to some trails in January at the Dirty Snowflake 4-miler in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park!

Jen P (again!): Woke up race morning and it was -3 degrees! I think by race time, which was 10am which was awesome btw, I think it was 1 or 2…probably the coldest race I’ve done. However the sun was shining and as usual these days I heated up quickly running hard and took off the buff I wore wishing I hadn’t worn 3 layers up top but at least it was only 4 miles…on the trails though it seems longer but it was a fun morning with some hard running on beautiful trails in Peninsula.

Kostura (again!): …IT WAS COLD!
In other news, this was my first organized trail run, and I’m hooked. Completely different experience from road racing, which made predicting my time quite a challenge. A friend of mine brought the race to my attention, and I jumped in before looking at the morning’s weather report. Ha. Despite the cold, I did feel warm enough throughout the race.
Nice to see veteran (experience not age) trail runners/teammates Mark and Jen out on the course paving the way. The event was very well organized and a lot of fun. I definitely see more trail running in my future.

Great job everyone on kicking off the new year!!!

 

Run, baby run!

As we speed toward the end-of-year holidays and are now out of multisports for a couple months, various SSSMST’ers have been taking in some late season running races – some road, but a lot more off – leading up to the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot races around the area.  Let’s look in on what’s been goin’ on…..

Brian Kostura ran the Bay Village Heritage 5k (with baby jogger dragging him around): This was a fun local 5k that a friend of mine brought to my attention. I ended up doing this on a whim with Carolynn, which made it her 6th and fastest race of the season! Despite the unfavorable weather, it was a nice turnout, and the ‘goodie bag’ was well worth the effort. I may have to make this a regular part of my race/training circuit.

A number of us ran at the Run With Scissors Half & Full Marathon, a trail race down at the Hinckley Metropark.

Patrick K taking on one of the grueling hills

Patrick K taking on one of the grueling hills

Patrick K: Somehow I thought it would be smart to sign up for a trail marathon after training for a fall half marathon. I love the trails, but never have done a longer trail race. We had a nice group from SSSMST running and as support crew. It was great to run with Henely, Rood and Marty for most of the marathon. Schaefer joined us for the second lap, great team support from Murphy, Jeanne, Krol, Callahans, Erin and the boys. Jen P had a solid race too. Overall amazing weather for a race this late in the fall. The trails were great. I was in shape for 20-22 miles, the last 4 were rough, my gut wasn’t very happy with all the nutrition. Happy to finish under 4 hours for all the hills we encountered. Great to be out there amongst friends and family.

Jen P: I signed up with Run with Scissors to get back to running regularly and after being there last year on a beautiful fall day. Fortunately the weather repeated itself. Unfortunately my training wasn’t quite as consistent or as much volume as I would have liked. However I knew dropping to the half would be “too easy” and I felt I needed to prove to myself I could do it. I’m glad I did! I have to say for being out on the trails for almost 5hrs it didn’t seem that long. I would try to focus on getting aid station to aid station. The first loop (first 13.1) of the course I didn’t do much other than refill my handheld water bottle at the aid stations. On the second loop I need more nutrition and enjoyed pepsi and grilled cheese…wow it totally hit the spot and tasted so good! Might be another reason to get into ultras/trail running! By mile 19 things were starting to hurt, as I told Mark and Jeanne who were awesome to see out on the course. And, after telling them that that made sure to see me at a couple other spots the last miles before the finish which did help! Kudos to Mark, my fiancé :) for getting up super early and spending the day out there too. I definitely appreciated the support. Shocking to see Sunday evening that I was 3rd female. Hmmm maybe if I got into better shape I could really do well! It was also good to see several teammates and the guys killed that course! It was definitely not an easy course but beautiful. I would recommend considering this race! Congrats to all and thank you to all who came out to support!

Who else? Henely with Schaefer in tow on Harter Hill, about to hit one of the unsanctioned "aid" stations.

Who else? Henely with Schaefer in tow on Harter Hill, about to hit one of the unsanctioned “aid” stations.

Mike Schaefer: Lots of green and blue at this race today! Congrats to Nicole Henely, Aaron Henely 3rd OA (full marathon) and Aaron Rood PK, Martin Mason, and Jennifer Petkovsek all top-ten. I only ran the half (5th OA) but loved every minute, especially cheers from Kevin Krol, Anne Callahan Mark Murphy, Jeanne DeBonis and Erin K!
This was my longest run (ever) considering the trail running format. What an awesome day and post race day-drinking time! This (and next weeks Red Flannel ride mark the end of my “off season” and will start easing into Rollerskiing and weight lifting to prepare for the winter! I won’t forget this beautiful run though- I will definitely be back!

Then Jen and Murphy were down at Salt Fork for the Trail Challenge…

Jen: I had done this race in 2011 and 2012…guess a year off made me forget how hard this race is! Although it was an early start to make the 2+ hour drive down to Salt Fork I was looking forward to some trail running. The car read 24 degrees but the sun was shining and no snow on the ground. The park is just gorgeous. As a friend commented when we do this race we say we need to return in the spring/summer when things are green and leaves on the trees rather than all the leaves on the ground-which I was glad the RD gave us the heads up about there being lots of leaf cover and to be careful as that was absolutely the case. I have done this race with so much mud it was amazing no one lost a shoe but due to the recent colder than average temps most of the ground was frozen except for some mud pits created by the horses that used the trail prior. Being that I ran the Run with Scissors marathon 2 weeks prior I kept telling myself this was “only” 10.4 miles…however there is the same amount of elevation in this “only 10.4″ miles as there was during the whole RWS marathon! I’m very happy to say that while I still feel like I am not in great shape I achieved my best time on this course and earned an AG spot well within the top 10 also! And proud of my fiancé and teammate Mark who ran well on a tough course with not a lot of run training under his belt-yet!

Murph: Great race, but hard as heck. A lot of ups and downs with questionable footing as trail heavily covered with leaves that concealed roots and rocks. I have to say thought about ditching this thing early but glad I didn’t as it was a beautiful day and they second half of the race seemed much better than the first half, not too sure why other than the trail/course got easier. Some awesome SWAG in the form of a really sweet “Built Salt Fork Tough” hoodie. I am thinking this may be on the race calendar for 2015. Hope to see some more blue green out there next year.

Then Jen and Muprhy ran the LCCC Penton Memorial Turkey Trot!

Murph: An annual Thanksgiving ritual, the LCCC is the cross-country Turkey Trot. And as always it lived up to it’s billing. There was snow, cold and mud. Great to see my teammates out there and see SSSMST cleaned up on awards, two AG wins, two AG Seconds and an AG Third. A fantastic way to start and celebrate Thanksgiving and a wonderful reminder of how blessed I am to be a part of such an incredible group of people – my teammates, their families and our sponsors. Thank you all!

Jen: Always a great way to start Thanksgiving day-running hard through mud and snow in cold, windy conditions! Seriously, love driving less than 10 minutes, paying 10 bucks, seeing friends new and old, and getting a good run in before enjoying the rest of Thanksgiving day. Pleasantly surprised how the run went and I placed but it’s more about getting out, running, and socializing at this event! Definitely recommend it!

And wrapping up the reports for now, Kostura was downtown for the road version of the Turkey Trot (report forthcoming)….

Great job everyone!!

And just a reminder to all that a benefit 5k run near and dear to us will again be taking place on January 1st, 2015 in Berea, OH – the Peanuts for PNET 5k Resolution Run!  (http://www.resolutionrun5k.org/)

The 2014 Resolution Run photo op!

The 2014 Resolution Run photo op!

Great little 5k course through the fair city of Berea, for a great charity benefiting children with various forms of brain cancer.  Hope to see you all there!

 

 

You are an Ironman!

SSSMST’s Jeanne DeBonis took on the challenge of the biggest triathlon on the planet – the Ironman World Championships at Kailua Kona, Hawaii!  The race that EVERYONE knows.  It’s been a race that has had unique challenges every time out (this is Jeanne’s fourth!) and this year was no different…..

I seem to be plagued with disastrous races in Hawaii and this was be my fourth time there. I knew I had to do some things !differently.

I trained differently – in fact, I trained harder than I ever have for any race. By the time I toed the line in Kailua Bay on October 11, I felt I was in THE best athletic shape of my life, like I finally deserved to stand among all the amazingly fit athletes there. And I truly believed things would fall into place this year. But during my taper, I had worrisome pain in my left hamstring – an injury that I’ve been rehabbing for the past two years. Something just wasn’t right, even during the easy days of running, riding, and swimming in Kona. But I just didn’t believe it would become an issue on race day.

If you’ve read anything about Ironman Hawaii this year, you already know that swim conditions were rough and the cross-winds on the bike have been quoted as “the worst they’ve been in the last 15 years.”

Having a blast getting started on the bike!

Having a blast getting started on the bike!

For the swim, I was about five minutes slower than expected. But, because of the rough water, I had a blast in the bay that morning. On the bike, everything seemed to be going well despite the horrific cross winds. My nutrition was good – timing was an issue because it was hard to take my hands off the handlebars in the wind. It was only in the last two hours of the bike leg that I realized things were NOT ok with my left hip and hamstring. I started feeling pain and weakness on my left side, and all I can attribute it to is having to fight the crosswinds. Things continued to go downhill and I had to make a decision getting off the bike: (1) try to run (possibly limp) the whole marathon, potentially cause more damage, and/or have to drop out or (2) walk the marathon and secure the finish. When I got off the bike, the pain in my hamstring was excruciating and I could barely take a step forward. I was able to get a shuffle going out of transition, but by mile 8, I realized it would be better to just stop and walk the marathon and avoid doing anymore damage that might cost me next season. I knew I could finish if I walked.

Once it got dark, it got a little tedious, but I arrived at the finish line, smiling, well after 13 hours, with my worst time ever in an Ironman. But I finished. And I think (hope) I avoided a serious re-injury to my hamstring. And I learned something new: it’s NOT EASY to walk a marathon.

Finishing in style, with a smile!

Finishing in style, with a smile!

And despite a sub-par race, I had an amazing time in Hawaii.

Congrats on capping off a pretty killer season, Jeanne!!

Dreams of the Queen K

It’s that time of year.  Weather starts to change here in Northeast Ohio.  Racing for the season is nearly wrapped up, save for the fall bike tours and assorted running races.  It’s time for the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

It’s the one that matters.  Most people don’t know it’s actually taken place until the middle of winter when a condensed 2-hours is orchestrated on national TV.  But it’s also the race that people ask you if you’ve done when they find out you’re a triathlete. And it’s probably the single race that inspires all of us at some point to get into long distance racing.

From this (late March 2014)....

From this (late March 2014)….

Well, SSSMST’s Jeanne DeBonis is heading there…..NOW!   (Race day is next Saturday, October 11)  She’s not only going there, she’s qualified against a lot of odds.  Coming off some big injuries. Here’s some of her highlighted steps to get there this year:

  • Island Lake Triathlon – 1st OA Female/8th OA
  • Pittsburgh Marathon
  • Ironman Coeur d’Alene – 1st Female 45-49 (the race that gets her to Hawaii)
  • USAT Age Group National Championship
  • ITU Age Group World Championship
  • Rev3 Cedar Point – 1st OA Female/10th OA
...to THIS! (The unequivocal finish line at Kona)

…to THIS! (The unequivocal finish line at Kona)

Let’s all wish Jeanne an AWESOME race and great times!!!!!!

 

 

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