January 19, 2017

Solo Camp

I am a full believer in teams. My college team, my club team, and the U.S. Ski Team have all played invaluable roles in my life. I also believe that the stronger and more individual each person on the team can be, the stronger and more creative the team will be as a whole. The U.S. Ski Team is unique because we spend close to every day together over the winter competition season. This, in some ways allows our team to be stronger because we are forced to learn to get along through thick and thin. In other ways, I think it threatens us because it allows us to become complacent.

I chose to travel solo after the Tour de Ski to recover and get a full break from the World Cup circus. It was a little cheaper to travel elsewhere and the place that was planned didn't have snow so my boyfriend slowly talked me into this solo adventure. I was fortunate to pick a place where winter had arrived, leaving me with hundreds of kilometers of skiing and lots of time to reflect. I very quickly realized that the team has much more influence on me than I realized. Of course, this is how I learn as well. I follow those that are better than me, try to pick up on new things my teammates are working on, etc. But, I also think at times it leaves me doing what’s easiest and not always what’s best. When every morning you wake up alone and must decide what to do that day, it makes you think of what would be best for YOU and what makes YOU happy, instead of well this is on my plan, but Jessie’s doing this and Sophie’s doing this, so maybe I should change my plan. Other days, you might feel tired and be skiing really slowly and then a coach is out there with a video camera so you speed up because you suddenly feel like you are being watched or judged. Confidence is key to success and being susceptible to that kind of thinking is no way to build confidence. It took me having a week alone to fully realize how much I had fallen into this trap. I have to imagine I am not the only one to do so either.

I now believe strongly that taking time to be alone, even if just for one session from time to time will ultimately make our team stronger. It allows time for everyone to truly do what’s best for them, to do what makes them happy, to think about what they are doing and why, to be creative and to try new things without anyone holding judgement. Then, when we come back together, we are refreshed, we have new ideas, we have confidence in what we are doing, and all of us are ready to reach higher together.

I had a fantastic week, skiing on some beautiful trails with snow falling everyday. I went on a hike through a gorge, a night time sledding adventure, and an evening backcountry ski to dinner. I even found out I had friends in the area. Traveling alone was not nearly the trauma I had once imagined and is now something I think I will incorporate into every season. 

It's back to the World Cup now! Ulricehamn, Sweden will host this weekends events and this is a new venue for the World Cup! 

The trail, right outside my door!

Hiking in the gorge

First ski after a few days of rest from the tour

When you decide to start hiking a little late and then get summit fever and have to go to the top....starting my sled down in the nearly dark without my light

Best skiing I've had in a long time
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New snow everyday
Seefeld, Austria

January 12, 2017

The Tour de Ski

Last year was my first year ever doing a tour and I managed to drag myself through two of them. Something about racing day after day and pushing yourself truly to the limits is attractive to me, so I went for a third tour this year. It was an interesting experience doing the same tour a second time because even though we were at the same venues doing mostly the same races, my feelings and my results were not the same. I think this is maybe the key part of any tour. It is impossible to feel good on all the days, but to take each day as it comes and to learn to work with what you have can make for a successful tour.

So what exactly does the Tour de Ski entail? The schedule went like this:

Day 1: Sprint race Val Mustair, Switzerland
Day 2: 5k Classic Val Mustair, Switzerland
            Drive to Oberstdorf, Germany
Day 3: Test Skis and try to recover as much as possible
Day 4: 10k Skiathlon Oberstdorf, Germany
Day 5: 10k Skate Oberstdorf, Germany
            Drive to Toblach, Italy in a snow storm
Day 6: Go for a little ski and try to recover
Day 7: 5k Skate Toblach, Italy
            Drive to Val di Fiemme, Italy
Day 8: 10k Classic Val di Fiemme, Italy
Day 9: 9k Hill Cimb Val di Fiemme, Italy

I like to ski on the few off days we get because while it may seem like the best way to recover is to do nothing, often times recovery can be aided by some light exercise to get the blood flowing. Which brings me to recovery, a key aspect of any Tour. We were fortunate enough to have a Physical Therapist and Massage Therapist volunteer to join us for the duration of the tour and aid us in our recovery. After every race, I try to eat as much as I can, then I get a muscle flush from the massage therapist, then I take either an ice bath or contrast bath (alternating hot and cold) to help with inflammation and circulation, and lastly I head out for a little jog to warm up and let my body remove all the bad stuff in my muscles. Eating enough if also a key of recovery. Often, after a few days of racing, I start to loose my appetite so it's important to find some calorically dense food that is easy to take down for the second half of the tour.

As for the racing, I started the tour with some average races and was looking forward to moving up. Things didn't go quite as planned and I found myself with some terrible feelings and terrible results to go with in the middle. I decided to stick it out and keep an open mind and I am very glad I did that. I turned things around in Toblach and had one of my better skate races there. I held my own in the 10k the next day and then finished with a bang, finding some strength in my climbing and turning in a decent time up the mountain. It may sound absolutely hellish to finish 7 days of racing with a race up an alpine mountain, but it is actually a perfect finish. I find the climb to be simple as all you have to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other. You don't have to think about what technique to use, how to make the most speed, or how to navigate the downhills. If you want to see what that climb is like, check it out here:

The good news is that I had enough good races to qualify for the World Championships that will be taking place at the end of February in Lahti, Finland!

Now time for some rest!

On Stage 5, Jessie Diggins won and Sadie Bjornsen got her first podium!!! Photo: Nordic Focus

Here is a course map and profile of the final stage of the Tour de Ski. Photo: FIS

Getting across that finish line is an amazing feeling on top of a mountain. Photo: Liz Arky

Trying to find some speed. Photo: NordicFocus/TokoUS

Our massage therapist, physical therapist, wax tech, and coach at the top of the climb 

The three of us who completed the tour. Photo: Matt Whitcomb

Trying to find one last spurt of energy at the top

Noah was the only boy to finish and did so in style with the 15th fastest time!

The first snowfall I have seen this winter came in Oberstdorf. Winter has been hard to come by here in Europe...Photo: NordicFocus/TokoUS