December 8, 2015

Norway, Birthdays, Podiums, O MY!

December has started off well! Norway greeted us to an abundance of salmon, brown cheese, waffles, and most importantly SUNSHINE! The hotel buffet is no joke. Every meal has a full spread of everything you can imagine and then some. Many different choices of meat and seafood, any carb you can imagine, tasty vegetables, and an extensive dessert bar! While the snow was a little sparse, we were able to drive to higher elevations to ski on some natural snow and enjoy the sun and scenery.

I also celebrated my birthday midweek! My teammates threw me a painting party and all of us followed watercolor instruction by Caitlin to create some really nice landscape paintings. I love painting, but oil paint is my favorite medium and those are a bit cumbersome to travel with so I unable to do any art over the course of the winter. This was a wonderful surprise and a ton of fun!

The organizers were able to get together a 3.75km loop for the races with manmade snow. The day before the races we got a big storm that left a fresh blanket of nice, natural snow everywhere. It packed down well overnight and made for some really nice racing conditions on Saturday. Day 1 was a skiathlon, an event we only do once or twice a season. It starts with 7.5km of classic skiing then we switch to skate gear midrace and finish with 7.5km of skating. It is a gear intensive race, making logistics all that more important for the day. The only flat on the course in Lillehammer is the stadium, the rest is up or down. It is very nice skiing, but challenging nonetheless. Skiathlon races are a bit of a mental hurdle for me because I am generally better at classic skiing and am therefore never quite sure what is going to happen when I switch to skate skis. My general plan is always to make up as much time in the classic portion and try to hang on in the skating. For whatever reason, I wasn’t able to make up as much time classic skiing as I had hoped. On the flip side, I didn’t feel all that bad skating and managed to only loose a few places during that portion of the race. Retrospectively, I think I was skiing a little timidly both in the classic and skate portion with a subconscious fear of anticipating skating to feel bad. I was skiing technically well and finished in 37th, not a disaster and not quite what I wanted. Lesson learned: always send it.

Saturday temperatures reached well above freezing melting that nice layer of snow that had fallen and then dropped to below freezing Saturday night making for an ice rink of a ski course on Sunday morning. Ice is my least favorite condition, especially when I have a nice layer of sticky klister on the bottom on my skis. Sunday was also relay day so my race was not just my race, but an important part of the Team USA’s race. The downhills on the course are very fast to begin with and got a lot faster when the tracks where solid ice. I did my best to stay calm and maybe on the surface I appeared calm, but inside I was holding back a flood of tears. I pulled myself together as best I could and the race was off. I found I was climbing really well and feeling quite good on the climbs. I moved up to the front on the longest climb of the course, a grueling 700m climb. But what goes up must come down….I tried hard to take a deep breath and ski fast and controlled down the hill, but just couldn’t get the panic out myself and scrubbed much more speed than I would have liked. Now in the chase group, I set out to just ski the climbs as best as I could and survive the downs. I tagged off to Sadie in 7th place with a number of teams in sight. I was disappointed that I couldn’t overcome all my fears, but hopeful that my teammates could pick off a few teams. Sadie skied an aggressive leg, leap frogging with three teams in front of her before tagging off to our skating machines. Liz, a strong climber, made the most of the climbs dropping 2 of those teams before tagging off to Jessie. Jessie quickly latched onto 4th place, Sweden, and just as quickly passing and dropping them. She was quickly putting time into the 3rd place team and the three of us who had already skied our legs were nervously watching the big screen in the finish as we suddenly realized the podium was in reach. Jessie caught 3rd place on the big climb and then skied over the top of hill very hard, skied an incredibly daring downhill and just flew into the finish to three overwhelmed and screaming teammates! Team USA on the podium!

Two years ago, I watched, from the sidelines, a USA girls relay team win bronze in Lillehammer. It was very inspiring and I knew I wanted to be a part of that someday. To get on the podium in the same place two years later is a great feeling of accomplishment. Watching my teammates ski unbelievable legs full of heart, determination, and belief will keep my inspiration and motivation high for the next two years I’m sure. Having a strong team is an amazing asset as each member has their own wealth of strengths to learn from. I’m a lucky girl to have a strong team in AK and a strong team the rest of the season with USST.

Check out this video highlight if you missed the race:
or watch the full race here:
 Very festive on the streets of Lillehammer

Finding Sun and Snow up high

Sadie, Sophie, Jessie, and me enjoying our ski

Sadie at the painting birthday party

Boys hard at work

My finished product

Lots of neat paintings

The big snowfall before it all melted...

Wax tech JP meeting with his athletes about the race the next day

Greeting Jessie at the finish line

Some very happy girls!