April 19, 2013

Done Done Done

I don't think I have ever left as tired and exhausted as I did during the last few days of Super Tour Finals. Everything seemed like a challenge, eating became a task, and sleeping was difficult. The last week of racing for everyone in the U.S. occurred from April 4-12, which is extremely late for any sort of ski racing and on top of that we raced 5 times during that time period, all above 7,000 ft in every sort of weather condition you can imagine. This is also the only time during that year that all U.S. skiers race together, including the entire World Cup team so the races are competitive and important.

The first 4 races were considered a mini-tour so there was an overall winner based on the cumulative times at the end of the 4 days.

Day 1: 3.5km Freestyle Prologue. We were welcomed by pouring rain, not the image I have when I think of California so certainly everyone's spirits were a little deflated. It was a brutal 3.5km course on top of that and I was the lucky one to have the famed Kikkan Randall starting behind me. Knowing this is my weakest event, I had a good feeling she would catch me, which retrospectively was probably not the best way to look at the race, but regardless, it happened and I did my best to learn from her and follow her into the stadium. It was certainly not my best day, finishing 12th.

Day 2: 10km Classic Mass Start. The sun came back out, but the interesting weather provided somewhat tricky wax conditions, adding to the stress of racing. I started off well skiing with the leaders, but as per usual, skied poorly in the downhill sections loosing a bit of contact. I unfortunately then broke a pole just as I was finding my groove to get back in the lead pack. It was a very bad place to break a pole as no coaches were out there so I skied for about a kilometer with one pole before I saw a male friend of mine who was cheering us on and I yelled for a pole which he graciously gave me. It was about 2 inches too long, but that is better than no pole so I continued onward. The hill featured on this course was something close to absurd. It was a wall so steep and so long, it left some of the best in the world in nothing more than a glorified waddle, panting like a freight train. I couldn't help but look up and laugh seeing Kikkan walking up a hill on skis while actually pulling away from the field. I skied a much better second lap and moved into 8th. I was looking for more, but it would have to do.
The start of the race

The entire field waddling up the hill and this is only about halfway up!

Here I am reaching the top and trying to move from the waddle back to striding
 Day 3: Classic Sprint. It's amazing how even when you are too tired to sleep, your body can still pull itself together for about 4 minutes of hard racing. While sprinting has not been my strength this year, I have been able to succeed in sprinting when I have found myself exhausted. The day brought rain, snow, and sun so we had three pairs of skis waxed and ready all times and were continually testing trying to find the best wax. It was exhausting for everyone and I am very thankful to have a full wax staff who works so hard to make that an option for us. I had a lackluster qualifying round and was lacking in confidence going into the heats. Fortunately for me, the finish was all uphill so I just went for it in the first round, easily moving on. This was certainly not the smartest move on my part, but I had to prove to myself I was amongst the best. In my semi-final, I used the same tactic, moving into the final. I was ecstatic to make the final, but I paid the price of pushing too hard in the earlier rounds and really struggled to get my body going. I was able to fight a little and ended up 4th on the day, something I was quite pleased with.

Day 4: Hill Climb. We skied all the way to the top of Sugar Bowl Resort, 1500 ft of climbing in about 3km. We started based on our combined time in the previous 3 races. The first 3 km were flat through a meadow and then we turned and headed straight up the alpine area. We were greeting by outrageously strong winds that made planting your pole and seeing the blue lines of the coarse a real challenge. I skied the first 3km very conservatively and was disappointed to loose time on this section but I was able to find a really good groove on the way up and started passing people one at a time while crawling up the slope. Eventually I was passed by Jessie who started behind me, but knowing she was going to have a good time on the day, I stuck with her all the way to the finish line, collapsing in a heap while the wind howled across us. I moved up 2 places in the mini tour, finishing 6th and had the 7th fastest climbing time on the day. I was pleased with this as I am much larger than all of the girls who finished ahead of me. It was so windy, I was too tired to even think about skiing down on skinny skis, but was shocked to see that the lift was even running. I took my chances and rode the lift down swinging like crazy.
Wind howling across the mountain
Day 5: U.S. National Championships 30km classic. 30km is a long and hard race so rather than hold it in January with the rest of the National Championship races, it is slapped on at the very end of the season, making it a true battle of grit as everyone is skiing with so much fatigue. It turned out to be the sunny hot day we were all hoping for earlier in the week. The snow became mush very quickly and staying hydrated was key. After the snow turned to mush, it was a serious slog fest as none of the downhills were fast enough to tuck forcing us to work hard and ski hard every one of those 30km, never getting a rest. For the first time in the U.S. we also had the option to switch skis in the race, however, at the penalty of a small loop that took about 50 seconds to complete. This adds a lot more in terms of tactics picking which laps to switch and which not to based on the pack you are skiing in and not knowing what they are going to do. I had one of my best races of the year! I had a great start and was skiing right with the leaders. As we turned up the largest climb, a couple girls started to pull away and I thought I might as well try to go with them as it was the last race and I had nothing to loose. They went through the stadium without switching skis so I too followed them and was able to ski with both Liz and Kikkan (both world cup superstars!) for another half a lap before there pace became too much for me to handle. I dropped a little ways back but held a steady distance behind them. The challenge then became skiing alone for another 15km while holding off the girls behind me. Every so often I could get glimpses of Kikkan that kept me chugging along. I dug really deep and pushed myself harder than I think I ever have and was able to hold on to 3rd place, something I am really happy with. It was great to end my season on a high note and finally prove to myself that I can indeed ski 30km well. 
The Start 
Champagne toast for a season done!

 These races had more on the line than pride. The SuperTour Points awarded for each race were doubled. The winner of the Overall SuperTour gets start rights for the World Cups in the Fall. I came into the series with a pretty good lead, but my biggest chaser, Sadie, was skiing very well and I knew I had to hold it together to keep my lead. I managed to hold the overall lead and also, with a good sprint finish, won the distance title and the sprint title. This means that I scored the most points over the whole season in SuperTour (professional circuit in U.S.) in sprint and distance racing. This is something I never even considered going into the season, but is a big bonus and a great accomplishment. I can't wait to get back on the World Cup and improve my results from this spring!

I am so happy to be done and to have had my best season yet. I am very thankful for my sponsors, mainly Rossignol, my team, coaches, family and friends for all the support and effort put into helping me have such a great season. Cheers!