January 19, 2017

Solo Camp

I am a full believer in teams. My college team, my club team, and the U.S. Ski Team have all played invaluable roles in my life. I also believe that the stronger and more individual each person on the team can be, the stronger and more creative the team will be as a whole. The U.S. Ski Team is unique because we spend close to every day together over the winter competition season. This, in some ways allows our team to be stronger because we are forced to learn to get along through thick and thin. In other ways, I think it threatens us because it allows us to become complacent.

I chose to travel solo after the Tour de Ski to recover and get a full break from the World Cup circus. It was a little cheaper to travel elsewhere and the place that was planned didn't have snow so my boyfriend slowly talked me into this solo adventure. I was fortunate to pick a place where winter had arrived, leaving me with hundreds of kilometers of skiing and lots of time to reflect. I very quickly realized that the team has much more influence on me than I realized. Of course, this is how I learn as well. I follow those that are better than me, try to pick up on new things my teammates are working on, etc. But, I also think at times it leaves me doing what’s easiest and not always what’s best. When every morning you wake up alone and must decide what to do that day, it makes you think of what would be best for YOU and what makes YOU happy, instead of well this is on my plan, but Jessie’s doing this and Sophie’s doing this, so maybe I should change my plan. Other days, you might feel tired and be skiing really slowly and then a coach is out there with a video camera so you speed up because you suddenly feel like you are being watched or judged. Confidence is key to success and being susceptible to that kind of thinking is no way to build confidence. It took me having a week alone to fully realize how much I had fallen into this trap. I have to imagine I am not the only one to do so either.

I now believe strongly that taking time to be alone, even if just for one session from time to time will ultimately make our team stronger. It allows time for everyone to truly do what’s best for them, to do what makes them happy, to think about what they are doing and why, to be creative and to try new things without anyone holding judgement. Then, when we come back together, we are refreshed, we have new ideas, we have confidence in what we are doing, and all of us are ready to reach higher together.

I had a fantastic week, skiing on some beautiful trails with snow falling everyday. I went on a hike through a gorge, a night time sledding adventure, and an evening backcountry ski to dinner. I even found out I had friends in the area. Traveling alone was not nearly the trauma I had once imagined and is now something I think I will incorporate into every season. 

It's back to the World Cup now! Ulricehamn, Sweden will host this weekends events and this is a new venue for the World Cup! 

The trail, right outside my door!

Hiking in the gorge

First ski after a few days of rest from the tour

When you decide to start hiking a little late and then get summit fever and have to go to the top....starting my sled down in the nearly dark without my light

Best skiing I've had in a long time
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New snow everyday
Seefeld, Austria

January 12, 2017

The Tour de Ski

Last year was my first year ever doing a tour and I managed to drag myself through two of them. Something about racing day after day and pushing yourself truly to the limits is attractive to me, so I went for a third tour this year. It was an interesting experience doing the same tour a second time because even though we were at the same venues doing mostly the same races, my feelings and my results were not the same. I think this is maybe the key part of any tour. It is impossible to feel good on all the days, but to take each day as it comes and to learn to work with what you have can make for a successful tour.

So what exactly does the Tour de Ski entail? The schedule went like this:

Day 1: Sprint race Val Mustair, Switzerland
Day 2: 5k Classic Val Mustair, Switzerland
            Drive to Oberstdorf, Germany
Day 3: Test Skis and try to recover as much as possible
Day 4: 10k Skiathlon Oberstdorf, Germany
Day 5: 10k Skate Oberstdorf, Germany
            Drive to Toblach, Italy in a snow storm
Day 6: Go for a little ski and try to recover
Day 7: 5k Skate Toblach, Italy
            Drive to Val di Fiemme, Italy
Day 8: 10k Classic Val di Fiemme, Italy
Day 9: 9k Hill Cimb Val di Fiemme, Italy

I like to ski on the few off days we get because while it may seem like the best way to recover is to do nothing, often times recovery can be aided by some light exercise to get the blood flowing. Which brings me to recovery, a key aspect of any Tour. We were fortunate enough to have a Physical Therapist and Massage Therapist volunteer to join us for the duration of the tour and aid us in our recovery. After every race, I try to eat as much as I can, then I get a muscle flush from the massage therapist, then I take either an ice bath or contrast bath (alternating hot and cold) to help with inflammation and circulation, and lastly I head out for a little jog to warm up and let my body remove all the bad stuff in my muscles. Eating enough if also a key of recovery. Often, after a few days of racing, I start to loose my appetite so it's important to find some calorically dense food that is easy to take down for the second half of the tour.

As for the racing, I started the tour with some average races and was looking forward to moving up. Things didn't go quite as planned and I found myself with some terrible feelings and terrible results to go with in the middle. I decided to stick it out and keep an open mind and I am very glad I did that. I turned things around in Toblach and had one of my better skate races there. I held my own in the 10k the next day and then finished with a bang, finding some strength in my climbing and turning in a decent time up the mountain. It may sound absolutely hellish to finish 7 days of racing with a race up an alpine mountain, but it is actually a perfect finish. I find the climb to be simple as all you have to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other. You don't have to think about what technique to use, how to make the most speed, or how to navigate the downhills. If you want to see what that climb is like, check it out here:

The good news is that I had enough good races to qualify for the World Championships that will be taking place at the end of February in Lahti, Finland!

Now time for some rest!

On Stage 5, Jessie Diggins won and Sadie Bjornsen got her first podium!!! Photo: Nordic Focus

Here is a course map and profile of the final stage of the Tour de Ski. Photo: FIS

Getting across that finish line is an amazing feeling on top of a mountain. Photo: Liz Arky

Trying to find some speed. Photo: NordicFocus/TokoUS

Our massage therapist, physical therapist, wax tech, and coach at the top of the climb 

The three of us who completed the tour. Photo: Matt Whitcomb

Trying to find one last spurt of energy at the top

Noah was the only boy to finish and did so in style with the 15th fastest time!

The first snowfall I have seen this winter came in Oberstdorf. Winter has been hard to come by here in Europe...Photo: NordicFocus/TokoUS

December 28, 2016

I'm Back

Welcome back to my blog!

I finished the 2015/16 season utterly exhausted having raced more and traveled more than ever before. As spring rolled around, I started to question how I could sustainably continue to race. I love racing and was not interested in quitting, but I did need to rethink how I approach training and racing and how I can make it as fulfilling as I want it to be. Many of my ideas are difficult to put words to and morphed quite a bit over the course of the summer, but in the end, I realized that I needed to be more present. It's exhausting just to think about all the races I have left or the number of training hours I need to do during a glacier camp so why think about them when the training session I'm currently doing is a great one? One aspect of this has been to essentially remove social media from my life. I have found it to be distracting and often cause stress about things that are completely out of context or out of my control. Unfortunately, the worth of a professional athlete today is too often defined by their social media presence so I still have accounts and do post (although it's rare). Not blogging was included under social media, hence the extended leave of absence. However, I have realized that I do enjoy writing very much and I like to share my journey with those that support me and cheer for me. So with that, I'm back to blogging!

I started the season with two not-what-I-was-hoping-for weekends, a weekend of sickness, and finally a weekend of two races in which I was happy with my feelings and proud of my results. Our entire team was ravaged by sickness over the last few weeks and I was lucky enough to get sick twice over the course of the last month. So, my Christmas break has been not so busy and not very filled with skiing or snow.

 I am lucky that my two roommates in Alaska happen to both be dating French people and that they were kind enough to let me tag along. I have been in the town of Villard de Lans, a nice town above the city of Grenoble. Snow has been non-existent throughout central Europe so we have been relying on little ribbons of man-made snow. It speaks highly about the passion Europeans have towards skiing when you see the measures they go to in making a skiable trail when there is only green grass. In La Clusaz, we raced on a 2k loop that was made from crushed ice they had taken from a lake! On the plus side, the sun has been shinning strong and the trails are great for running.

In France, Christmas Eve is a big evening that involves late nights, lots of wine, and a plethora of food. It was a real treat to have a family to take me in for the evening. We began about 8:00 with appetizers of all kinds. We then moved to the table for a seafood feast; a course of turkey, stuffing, and potatoes; a course of all kinds of cheese; and last but most important the dessert! We finished about 1:00 AM stuffed to the brim and then moved on to presents. I was happy to finally sit the sack and get some much needed rest.

With a 10 hour time change to Alaska, I was able to FaceTime my boyfriend Christmas morning so we could open presents together since I was staying by myself. My mom sent an amazing Christmas package full of goodies that I was able to share over the internet.

Still feeling sick, but needing some sunshine and fresh air, I headed to the mountains for a little hike. I have what my teammates call summit fury and I do not like to turn around when I start up a mountain so alas, my little hike turned into a bigger hike and I headed to the top of the mountains that sit behind Villard de Lans. It was absolutely stunning and just as I was taking in the views, a chamois poked over a rocked. As I climbed back down, he followed me, turning into a statue every time I turned around to look at him and then scampering behind me when I would continue on my way. Eventually, I thought I had lost him and sat down on a bench over looking Grenoble. I turned around and there he was right next to me. I screeched, he jumped, and we both hurried away in opposite directions having successfully startled each other.

Tomorrow, we hit the road again, driving all the way across Switzerland to begin the Tour de Ski, a 7 stage ski race through central Europe. The Tour is one of my favorite events and I am doing everything I can to make sure my health is good enough to make it through.

Climbing mountains in France! Mont Blanc is somewhere out there...

My friend following me down the mountain

Hello Christmas Friend

Hugging Mr. Snowman good luck in Ruka, Finland

Racing in Lillehammer

Every year the team does a secret santa event. This year we had to make a portrait of the person. I cut up a magazine to do make a collage of Bryan Fish, one of our coaches. 

Taking hikes in Davos, Switzerland

Taking in some sunshine

Finding my groove (and race face) in La Clusaz, France

Relay day, welcome back socks!

The cake I made for Christmas dinner!

February 1, 2016

A Little Training and Rest

When racing a full World Cup schedule, one of the biggest challenges is finding the right balance of rest, racing, and training. Most weeks require me to make an evaluation of my fatigue level and then decide if that week I need rest to get ready for the next race or do some training to fine tune the body for the next race. This is not a strong point of mine as I like to push until I break. It has been one of the hardest adaptations in becoming a World Cup skier, racing some 40 races a winter. Luckily after the tour, I had a solid 4 weeks with only one race allowing me time to rest, reset, and get some training in.

First stop was Seiser Alm, a resort village on top of a mountain in Italy. It was an ideal place to get in some much needed rest, enjoy some sunshine, amazing food, and catch up life. The snow was thin but we were able to ski on a scratchy 20k for some easy recovery sessions.

Next, I fired up my body a little and got ready for a 10k skate in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. With a little natural snow and a lot of snow farming, we were able to race on a solid 5km loop, a rarity these days it seems. Race day brought cold temperatures and falling snow, making for a slow feeling race, but some strong results. I finished in 28th, with 3 teammates ahead of me, including Jessie in 3rd! I was happy with the how the race went and am  looking to continue in this direction as the we move on.

Last stop, Sjusjoen, Norway. Winter found Norway over the last month and we were greeted by lots of snow and hundreds of kilometers of trails. Much of the team came to Sjusjoen to enjoy a week off from racing and prep for Period 3. With still 2 weeks until my next race, I was able to do a full week of normal training, something I haven't been able to do since I left Anchorage and a week of recovery and race prep. With so many trails and such good conditions, it has been delightful to head out from our cabins, explore the trails, get lost, and just enjoy skiing. Often, it is easy to get caught up in the details of racing and forget why you are doing this. A week like this allows you time to remember how much fun skiing is and how joyful it is to be doing what we are doing. My next race is this Sunday, the famed Holmenkollen 30km.

Sledding in Seiser Alm

Up high in the mountains

Sledding-Our favorite afternoon activity

Our hotel surrounded by mountains
Happy to be in Seiser Alm

Fireworks at the podium ceremony in Nove Mesto

Racing in Nove Mesto (Ian Harvey Photo)


Happy for winter and skiing

Enjoying long skis with APU teammates (Reese Photo)

Our cabin during sunset

Liz and I out for a long one

January 16, 2016

First Tour

I just completed my first Tour de Ski! The tour is a bit different every year, but this year we did 8 races over the course of 10 days at 4 different venues in 3 different countries. When the tour first started, 10 years ago, the U.S. didn't send anyone to compete in it and even after a few U.S. skiers started to race in the tour, I thought they were crazy and I couldn't fathom how anyone could do such a thing and that for sure this race format would not stick around. Fast forward a few years and here I am, in bed, recovering from my own first attempt at the event AND the U.S. had 2 stage victories AND 7 athletes complete the event, what a difference a few years can make!

An average day at the tour went something like this. Sleep in as late as possible, which for me is about 8:30. Go for a light jog to loosen up the body and start up the metabolism. Eat a hearty breakfast. With 3 hours until race time, have 2nd breakfast. Pack up and head to the venue. Start testing skis and warming up 1.5 hrs before race time. Race, generally around 2. Cool down, which was usually running because winter forgot to hit Europe. Eat as much as your stomach can handle. Go back to the hotel. Massage/PT and body care. Ice bath. Jog or walk. Then, if it's a departure day, throw suitcase in the van and hit the road to the next venue. Get in as much dinner as possible. Hope you can sleep!

It is imperative to put all other things aside and focus on eating enough, doing everything you can to recover from each effort, keeping stress as low as possible, and keeping the focus high.

My tour started off very slow. I had three of my worst races of the year to start the tour off, which was far from ideal. I did my best to just reset and treat each day as a new day. By stage 4, I started feeling more in my element and finding better race feelings. Each day I improved a little bit from the previous day and finally, on stage 7, I was 30th which scored me my first point of the season. While I always expect more from myself, I felt I really just needed to break the ice in order to start building back the confidence I need to ski faster so it was a huge relief. It wasn't until the last day that I woke up just exhausted and unsure of how I was going to fare. O, and don't forget, the last day involved a 4km climb up an alpine mountain...I held it together and finished the tour ranked 32nd. More importantly than my rank is that I not only finished, but did better each day I raced and was able to turn a rocky start into a promising finish. I really enjoyed the event and am really looking forward to getting another stab at it in the future. It was amazing to see two teammates top the podium as well and something that has given me hope and inspiration for the future.

Now, I am doing my best to recover and get ready for the second half of the season on top of a beautiful mountain in Italy. Life is good.
Stage 5 racing (Photo Marcel Hilger)

The team at the top of the climb! Thanks to all the waxers, massage therapist, physical therapist who took excellent care of us both on and off the snow.

2 American Victories, Jessie Diggins and Sophie Caldwell

Sophie and I classic racing (Photo: Marcel Hilger)

not much snow in Europe, also we had to do a little mischief to get the American racer to be winning the race!

Cheering for the boys up the climb

Happy we all made it to the end

green but pretty Germany

Erik climbing his way up the alpine mountain

And our little piece of paradise in Italy for recovery