January 7, 2015

Halfway Through

Houghton...what comes to mind when I think of Houghton? Well, literally every different descriptive word I can come up with comes to mind. It's very hard to get to, it's cold, windy, but also has lots of snow, good courses, great volunteers and race organizers. There are pasties, snow machines, and beer, but not a whole lot of greens or good shopping. I have had crashes, but also some break throughs. This week seems to be no different.

The first race was a 10k skate individual start. It was very cold and blowing snow. Adorning some of the most attractive looks Nordic skiing has ever seen with lots of layers and very little skin showing, I set off to see what I could do. The first part of the course is pretty gradual allowing for some big, smooth skiing. I was just getting in my groove, starting down a long, winding, gradual downhill, when, BOOM, I had a mouthful of snow and was unsure of what just happened. I actually thought I had broke my ski, but I stood up and it seemed in tack so I went to plant my poles to start moving again only my pole didn't catch me and there I was getting a taste of the snow again. I then realized it was my pole that broke. Shucks. I got back up reminding myself to stay calm, these things happen, I can still have a good race. There were only two people near me and one was kind enough to offer their pole, only after I grabbed it, did I realize it was taller than me...I kept moving anyhow, doing my best to try to use a pole a size of me as I frantically climbed looking for my coach. Due to the cold and the many layers everyone was wearing, I didn't actually see my coach until he was next to me giving me splits. I told him I needed a pole, which he didn't have in his hand so he took off behind me. Not willing to stop, I kept moving up the hill thinking I probably missed my best chance to get a pole. But I have a coach who literally gives everything he can to help us succeed and soon enough, he was sprinting next to me with a pole that fit. At that point I was 3k into the race and could finally think about actually racing. Unfortunately for me, Caitlin, who ultimately won the race, was able to catch me while I was floundering around. Knowing her impressive skating results, I knew I could still have a good race even if she had already put 30 seconds into me so I did my best to regroup and make a plan. As we headed into the climbs on the second lap, I was feeling great, I wanted to push, and I didn't want to bring anyone with me because I also knew my teammate, Chelsea, who started ahead of me was having a good race. So, I went as hard as I knew how the last 2k and was able to make up some time. 2k wasn't enough distance for me to make up everything, but it was enough to climb on to the podium. Frustrating, of course, but also a learning experience and something I could be happy I made the best of. 
Following Caitlin (fasterskier photo)

Podium, APU went 2,3 with Chelsea in 2nd and me in 3rd! (Skiinyski.com photo)

Skiing very awkwardly with a pole taller than me... (fasterskier Photo)

Next up, classic sprints! We awoke to quite a bit of new snow and heavy snow falling, with also single digit temperatures, yikes. I started first in the qualifying round and I felt as if I was skiing through a snow globe, with no one in front to measure distance, pace, or even see where the trail went. As I entered the stadium, I looked up to see the clock past 5 minutes and I couldn't believe the people who started behind me hadn't caught me. Most sprints take around 3 minutes...It turns out cold new snow is not fast and that is simply how long it took. I qualified in 2nd, frozen and wet. The race organizers are very on top of things here so they actually re-groomed the course before the heats and the snow had enough moisture in it, that it set up nicely, making for some good skiing. The snow even let up a bit and the temperatures maybe climbed a degree or two.  The tracks that had been skied in the most were the fastest so that was the key to the day, to stay in those tracks and keep moving. Our wax team did a remarkable job and my skis were very fast. I noticed that I was getting a gap on a small downhill between two of the climbs so I took advantage and tried to extend the gap up the next climb, then relax and ski well to the finish. This strategy worked in my quarterfinal and then in my semi final so I had to trust it for the final too and it worked! After I crossed the line, I looked back and there was my teammate, Becca, coming across the line in 2nd, adding more excitement. And then my teammate from Park City, Elizabeth crossed the line in 3rd, putting the cherry on top. It was a tough day to be out there racing, or volunteering, or waxing, or really anything so I am very thankful for all the work that was put in and I am ecstatic with how things went. 

Showing off Nordic Skiing's best fashion (skinnyski.com photo)

Nothing better than sharing hugs at the finish...(skinnyski.com photo)

With close friends and good teammates (Skinnyski.com Photo)

Leading out the final (Fasterskier Photo)

Podium pic, APU goes 1, 2 this time! (Fasterskier Photo)
We still have two more races and weather is supposed to be remain the same so it's time to get used to cold snow, cold toes, and not having skin exposed. 

The Alaska Dispatch News has been doing a great job of covering the races so here is a link to the article: 

Fasterskier.com is also, of course, covering all the races if you are looking for more.