March 25, 2014

A Slice of Heaven

I have always said Italy is my favorite place to travel and race, but I have also always assumed that one day, racing in Italy would be horrible. Instead, I think I found my most favorite place yet. I can't say I was anywhere near excited for the 12 hour drive that took us from Rogla to Isolaccia, but I knew when we arrived it was going to be worth the drive. Even in the dark I could feel the mountains around me and we were greeted to some amazing Italian food served by some friendly, funny Italian waiters. The morning did not disappoint as we woke to warm sunshine and massive mountains. Isolaccia is between Livingno and Bormio and the amount of skiing in this area is unbelievable. I have to say, I was a little sad to not have downhill skis as I think you could ski a different mountain everyday and still have some you didn't get to by the end of the season, but the cross country skiing was nice to as the trails all meander in the valleys and climb up the base of the mountains.
Our hotel had a funny ice bath that we hit up for recovery
And a hot tub to go with

OPA Finals consists of a mini-tour, meaning that all the races are important as they all add up and the last day you start based on your time back the other 2 days. The field is also quite deep as all the World Cup skiers who weren't quite fast enough to make World Cup Finals attend OPA Finals. The first day was a skate prologue which is the always brutal 2.5km distance. I can't say this is my forte and this day was no exception as I had a rather mediocre race, placing around 20th. I was excited that the next two days were both 10km meaning the classic and skate portions of the tour were more equal in time. I think my classic skiing tends to be stronger so I felt if I could make up time in the classic portion I might fare better in the overall. But, I guess things don't always go as planned and I struggled with my skis as well as my body, making for a disappointing day. The unfortunate part about this was that I couldn't just accept a bad race and move on as I had to feel the effects of the bad race the next day, starting 3 minutes behind the leader. To make matters worse, we arrived at the venue to find it hadn't frozen and the snow was mushy and wet, something that is not easy to ski in. Luckily, I still started near quite a few others and found myself moving up quickly over the first few k. I caught my APU teammate Becca and from then on, we stuck together taking turns leading and catching quite a few people. I can't say it felt good skiing in slush, but I was surprised by how well I was handling it so I kept pushing along. I crossed the line having moved up 6 places in the overall, which I was quite satisfied with. I don't think I have ever moved up in the skate portion of a mini-tour. Then, the results came out and I learned I had the 10th fastest time of the day! While it is hard to say that means I would have been 10th if the race had been a normal 10k skate, as tactics do play a role in pursuit start races, I can say that is far better than I expected, especially given the conditions. It was great to end on a happy not and leave with the confidence that I can ski with these girls.
Patrick racing through the slush
The boys skiing together
A look at how slushy it was

Then we embarked on the massively long travel back to AK. I am still extremely jet-lagged and not sure what time it is, but nevertheless, we are all racing tomorrow in the end of the season US Nationals and SuperTour Finals. It's a little more on the wintry side of things in Alaska but the days are long and the sun is shining!

The view of the stadium

Some amazing scenery. Thanks to the NNF for supporting our trip!

March 13, 2014


After much debate on where to go next and when, I headed back to Craftsbury for a relaxing week before heading to Europe. It was very much midwinter in Craftsbury, cold and snowy, but I can't complain as the skiing was terrific. I have found flying from the East to Europe isn't nearly as taxing as from Utah or AK unless...
The door of the plane breaks and you spend 3 extra hours on the tarmac in Newark and subsequently miss your connection in Zurich and then learn the next flight to Ljubljana isn't for another 10 hours.
But when in Zurich:

We took a fancy Swiss train into the city to pass the time. Unfortunately, it was raining so our exploration consisted of trudging from one old building to the next. We still managed to see some cool stuff and learn a thing or two. 

Old City Zurich

Looking out over the lake

Grossmunster- an evangelical Protestant church dating back to 1100!

St. Peter's Church-The largest clock face in Europe!

Looking across the river from above 
The Grossmuster is a great landmark

Elizabeth, excited to check things out
Needless to say, it was a long day and we were very happy to make it to Rogla. Rogla is a weird place. It is a resort on top of a mountain that very much caters to families. It has some alpine and nordic skiing along with an alpine coaster, kids song hour, pool, gym, and other all-inclusive resort like activities. Everyone stays in little bungalows or cabins so the top of the mountain is littered with funny looking buildings. Bummer for me, ours was at the bottom so we had a serious hike to our meals. Speaking of food, while the scenery is more reminiscent of Central Europe, the food has more of an Eastern European taste. In other words, we ate a lot of mystery meats in gravy and our plates only contained shades of brown. Food aside, I think Rogla has some really nice skiing and good trails. The sun came out just in time for the races! It was freezing hard at night making our races fast and furious. It was a good reminder of how aggressive racing in Europe is compared to our dinky SuperTour circuit. That said, I was taken aback by the aggression and didn't have the races I had hoped for. There were some good moments so I'm hoping to build on my weaknesses and get better results next weekend. I am also ecstatic to be back in the warm sunny mountains after a long period of cold Midwestern racing!
Boys racing

Taking a ride on the Alpine Coaster!
After 2 days of racing in Rogla, we packed up and headed west. It was a long journey, but we made some neat stops on the way. We stopped at the Bled Castle, which I went to 2 years ago, but not wanting to entertain myself outside the castle walls, I went in again to check it out. It's still amazes me to think how they could have possibly built a castle on top of a cliff so many years ago. I'm sure there were a few casualties in the process.

Approaching the castle

Looking up at the castle wall, it's really on a cliff

Looking down on the lake from the safety of the castle

Some fabulous views from up there

Presumably how they got water

Green Teamers Patrick and Elizabeth

Patrick judging me for taking a selfie

The non-selfie

Panorama from the castle

Patrick pretending he knows what to do in a church

The ceiling of the mini-church in the castle had some intricate paintings
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Patrick demonstrating what the hole in the bench was for. 

Such good views

Looking into the courtyard of the castle from the spy deck
Our drive took literally all day, but it was quite scenic as we worked our way through the Alps crossing the border of Austria and Switzerland before finally arriving in Italy. It feels like a little slice of heaven here. I have to say Italy has never disappointed me so I am very much looking forward to some great days ahead!

Italy is the best!

March 3, 2014

The Birkie!

I will be completely honest in that one of my goals in the past few years has been to be racing fast enough that I am conveniently in Europe during the American Birkebeiner, a 50k skate marathon in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin. This year I was not so lucky. Not making the Olympic team meant I really had no reason not to do the Birkie.  I can't imagine a race that suits my strengths worse than a 50k skate. And to add to the negatives, it snowed about two feet two nights before the race and the projected highs were in the single digits with windchill around -15. Needless to say, I didn't have a whole lot of expectations for the race. In fact, I would go as far as saying I was purely terrified about what this race would do to me and if I would make it to the finish in one piece.

Back up a bit, I was lucky enough to be able to stay in my friend Annie Hart's family's cabin right in Cable, Wisconsin. It was a perfect little place and with the frigid temps, I couldn't help but imagine how amazing this place on a lake must be come the summer months. The events start out with Elite Sprints on Main Street. The sprints are only about 400 meters long, 200 meters down the street, around a pole and back up. We raced head to head with the loser going home and the winner moving on in the bracket. It was a really fun event and required a lot of finding a way to stay on your feet through soft and
squirely snow. I found myself in final against the Russian that beat me at US Nationals. Unfortunately for me, I got the "bad" lane that had all the foot traffic and slow snow and I was unable to overcome that, placing 2nd overall. I was pretty happy though because I would consider really short sprints a severe weakness of mine.
Winner Natalya and I 
Sprint Podium
We only had a day to really check out the trail due to the large snow storm that hit. Not wanting to tire ourselves out, we skied the first half of the course. I was planning to ski the last 10 or so kilometers the next day but the snow proved too much to even ski through, meaning I would be skiing the entire second half of the race blind...good thing it's a mass start!
Going for a ski with Rossignol!
The amazing part about the Birkie is that while I am dreading it, there are 10,000 others who are flying in from all over and are ecstatic about this race, it is their whole life. I have never seen anything quite like it. I am thankful I got to ski first in the Elite wave and didn't have to deal with passing some 10,000 others out there on the trail. I also got to pick one of 500 some porti-potties before the race before the hoards of people arrived. It's the small perks of being an elite racer! I am also glad to see so many people excited about the sport I love.
The start of wave 3 of 10, yikes so maybe skiers!

Being as scared as I was proved, I think, an asset in the end. I was over prepared for everything. I had toe warmers, boots covers, body warmers, lots of long underwear, lots of PowerGels, and a drink belt to carry my own drink. I am thankful for everything I wore and brought with me. I think I was probably one of few girls who didn't get really cold out there and I never bonked! 

The first 5 or 10k, I found myself uneasy about the pace, unsure of when to feed and just still a little nervous about the whole endeavor. Eventually, I was able to to relax and even enjoy myself out there, rocketing past people on my very fast skis. I made a point to stay in the top 5 the whole time to be ready for anything and to be able to watch the best and do as they do. The snow was unbelievably slow, getting any glide took a lot of power and energy and I felt that sitting towards the front was less energy due to the accordion effect on all the undulations in the trail. 

Just after half way, the elite boys pack passed us, something I was not expecting. It was whirlwind of commotion and equipment banging as the hard charging boys rushed passed. Unsure of how the girls would react, I found myself caught between trying to find the girls in the pack and eyeing which boys were having a good one. Somehow in all the chaos, eventual winner Caitlin Gregg got away. The rest of us regrouped and set out again, probably a little hopeful we might see her again. At this point I was skiing blind, so I was not about to go out on my own so I just continued to sit in and see how my body would fare as I skied past the 30k mark, marking the longest race I had ever skied prior to that day. 

I knew there was a lake at the end, but it just wasn't coming soon enough, it felt like we just kept climbing and climbing. Eventually, the Italian (who ended up 2nd) and the Finn got away on the back of a small group of boys. I was stuck in the back of the pack, unable to respond and unsure if I could. I started to feel weird cramps in my tricep and hip flexor. I could feel we were near the lake though and suddenly if felt as if the girls in front of my just stopped so I went to the side and just started to go with every bit I had left. I passed two girls and caught the Finn right as we entered. She was not very happy about that and pushed me into the lead. The lake is the last place you want to lead with a solid head wind and slow, wind blown snow. Unsure of what else to do at that point I decided to just focus on what I could, my own skiing. Thinking about my technique, skiing big and powerfully, I trudged on through the wind. When I got to the end of the lake, I peeked back and saw I had dropped the Finn so I did whatever I could to make it through the streets of Hayward and across the finish line in 3rd place. While 3rd is far from winning, I was so happy to not have only skied 50k, but to have surpassed all expectations for myself. Dazed and happy, I was captured by the doping control officer to give a sample and the poor lady had to listen to me babble on and on about my first 50k, but it is really quite a feeling to make it across that finish line! I may even be back again next year...

Cold, tired, and finished!

Sprint Day Interview

More big checks! 
Here is an article and movie about the Birkie that gives you a much better idea about what the race was actually like: