December 17, 2014

What Goes Up Must Come Down

Of course, it's impossible to be living on a cloud for an entire race season. After finding my groove in West Yellowstone and really making it count in Bozeman, I came crashing down. I returned to Park City to find not a drop of snow on the ground and to come down with a cold. Well, at least if I can't train due to illness, I'm not missing out on any good skiing. But still, that double whammy is a hard one to contend with. While there are bits of skiing up high, training on snow machine roads above 8,000 ft with traces of a cold is truly not an ideal way to prepare for U.S. Nationals. I came to a point where I had to decide to suck up my pride, to choose what made the most sense from a training perspective, and to strap on those dreaded rollerskis that I left here after October camp thinking that if I left them, then there would have to be ample snow to train on. As I smacked my poles into the hard, cold, and wet pavement, I wasn't terribly excited or particularly motivated. It took me awhile to find my groove and I began to think, every World Cup I have done, I have noted that my double pole is particularly weak compared to the rest of the field. This is a hard one to keep in my head because when I race domestically, I don't notice this and I often see double pole as one of my strengths (see last post). But, with period 2 World Cup start rights in my hand, I was able to remember many times when I was just dusted on a flat or a finish and alas, I found my silver lining. I may have to put in some hours on rollerskis, but I have also received the opportunity to continue to build my strength in double pole.

It seems ski racing, and really life, requires finding and capitalizing on the silver lining (thanks First Aid Kit and David). It's not an easy thing to get your mind to do and something I am always working on, but a skill that I think will help me not only become a better ski racer, but a better person.

I don't have any pictures because it was truly too sad to take a picture of rollerskiing in December and I forgot my phone on the days when I have found little slices of heavenly winter in the mountains.

Here's to wishing for snow for everyone and to finding that silver lining for every misfortune.
Happy Holidays!

December 9, 2014

When Everything Works

I have raced at Bohart a number of times and every time I left feeling some sense of despair, like things just didn't go the way I hoped. As result, I dreaded racing there. This year was no exception as we rolled up to the venue the day before the race to find more of an ice skating rink than a ski course, something of a nightmare to me. We waited and let the sun do it's job, warming the tracks, only they went from ice to slop in a matter of minutes, another dreaded snow condition. As I skied around the course, I felt great and I quickly realized that I have put hours and hours of skiing and training in these conditions (thanks Eagle Glacier) and it was actually completely and totally fine, everything was fine. I was feeling incredibly fit and I was going to race no matter the conditions and I was going to have good skis because we have awesome, hard working techs and everything was going to work out.

Upon arriving the morning of the race, the conditions were back to being more on the icy side, but something that was manageable so I strapped on my skis and I just went. I found rhythm, I found speed and power, I was focused, my skis kicked up the hill, flew down the hill and everything went well. I won the qualifier, which I believe was my first time doing so. That was a big boost to me, but also painted a lovely target right on my back for each every sprint round raced, making the my nerves on the high side. I was really confident in my fitness however, I just let myself go and become immersed in my own skiing each round, finding some hidden power I didn't know was in there and advancing to the final with relative ease. Last week, I used the same strategy and then failed in final so I will say, I was unsure if this was the right strategy to be taking. As I lined up for the final, I thought I just felt too good to not try again so off I went, focused on making each stride as powerful and strong as possible until I made it to the high point of the course where I glanced back to see I had a gap. I focused then on skiing smooth and relaxed all the way back to the stadium where I had the chance to really enjoy a sprint race victory.

As soon as I finished, I felt the anxiety for the next day's race, a mass start 10km on a course full of challenging downhills, my absolute least favorite thing! We got to the race the next morning to find some more terrifying ice. I became so worried about just making it around the course, I didn't even think about how I was going to ski, where I was going to make a move or anything, all I wanted to do was survive. Now, this seems a little silly and definitely a little dramatic, but at the time it truly felt that way and I was more than a little consumed. The race started and off I went, skiing with trepidation across the icy tracks. My teammate Chelsea took charge and really just took off. I wasn't sure if she was just finding her groove or if she was going for the win from the gun. I wasn't sure if I wanted to try to catch up to her or just continue trying to survive. Luckily, I know Chelsea, I know her strengths, and I have a rather competitive side in me and my mind took over, caught up to her, and I began to focus on the race itself. Of course, there still had to be a winner, ice or no ice, of course I still needed to finish the race, and of course I am experienced enough to make the best of the situation. Chelsea is a great downhill skier and was smoking me on every downhill. She also happens to be really fit and a great uphill skier. Shoot, how on earth am I going to try to win this race? As we finished the first lap, we had a sizable gap and the field and I had to figure out quickly, how I was going to put my best effort forward. While there are a number of climbs on the course, I felt most of them were quite gradual and given the ice, quite fast meaning I could actually double pole most of the them, ah ha, my mind was still with me and I had my plan. When the course flattens out, go like hell and hope for the best. I went and I got a gap into the long and treacherous downhill section, but I wasn't sure it was enough. I had to conquer my fears of downhills and at least try to not to loose everything, but also try not to fall. I lost time on the downhill for sure, but I also made it to the stadium alone, where I could safely double pole across the line for my second win of the weekend!

As I reflect on the weekend, of course, I am happy to have won, but more importantly, I am really happy with the strength of my mind. There were a number of less than ideal things happening, but they were happening to everyone, they were uncontrollable, and they day had to go on. I was able to find positive focus on the things within my control and amazingly everything worked out. And really when it comes down to it, who can complain about racing when it's 40 and bluebird? Not this western girl. So finally, I won against Bohart!

Teammies, o how I love them!

10km Podium

Racing up the big hill in the sprint final

Sprint Final

Sprint Victory

December 1, 2014

Racing Begins!

I arrived in West Yellowstone about a week ago and it's one of those places that feels like you never felt as soon as you arrive. Overly excited to ski on some nice snow, I quickly changed and headed to the trailhead, remembering instantly all parts of the trail. I have been coming to West Yellowstone for Thanksgiving since I was in 8th grade and I have amazingly only missed two since then. I actually largely learned how to ski here when I was in eighth grade so this place always holds a special piece of my heart. I did, however, forget just how busy the trails can be having not come last year. There are thousands of avid skiers of all ages and abilities that flock here from all over the country to enjoy the early snow, equipment demos, and clinics put on over the course of the week. Running into someone you know around every bend of course brings feelings of joy, but also frustration as it feels like training takes twice as long when everyone wants to catch up. I suppose I am also a little faster now, making getting around people more of a challenge. Needless to say, it's great to see such enthusiasm for the sport!

While most people are focusing on putting in hours and hours of on snow time, us elite skiers are actually focusing on toning the hours back and getting our bodies race-ready. West Yellowstone holds the first races of the year, which always brings an extra set of nerves and anxiousness as there are so many unknowns. We started with a sprint, which adds an extra element of nervousness as sprints can be rather unpredictable even at the end of a season. The course here really emphasizes a lot of my weaknesses so I really worked on skiing well, rather than fast. It was a good tactic and I actually surprised myself with how well I thought I was skiing. I feel like I made some good improvements over the summer and I pleased to see them applied in a race setting! I skied a good qualifying round, placing third. The heats started off well as well. I won my quarterfinal without too much stress and skied well in semi-final as well, winning that round as well. I was psyched to have the confidence in my skiing going into the finals. There were a number of timing issues delaying the race for some extended periods of time, making it challenging to stay warm and psyched up for racing. For some reason or another, I let it get to me and found myself sluggish off the line, fighting for the end of the pack. I am still lacking in tactfulness during races and struggled to pass people. I did my best up the last hill and into the finish but could only pass one person, ending the day in 5th. It wasn't what I was hoping for, but I felt good about how I was skiing so I did my best to keep my confidence up.

I enjoy individual start distance races the best because I actually enjoy being in my own head and racing my own race. It is a very good strength of mine. I used my strength to start hard and attempt to maintain that pace throughout the race. It worked and I eeked out a win by just 8 seconds, over a very talented junior who is sure to keep us older girls on our toes in the years to come. I am pleased with the weekend for a number of reasons. First, it seems like a big victory just to be here racing, let alone be in contention for winning after the fall I have had. I have to continue to remind myself of that and continue to take each day one at a time, working hard to make that day the best it can be. Second, I feel my technical improvements really showed in the races. For the first time in my life, I don't think I lost time on turns or downhills!

We are spending a few more days training here before moving on to Bozeman for the next set of races.

Hanging out in our new race suits, thanks Craft!

Packer getting after the turkey

Skiing with teamies

Classic, under the arch photo

Check out our new uniforms!

Our coaches adorable kids

Thanksgiving feast

Racing time

Lots of racing

and more racing

My semi final heat