Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sun's out in Falun!

After lots of snow over the course of our first week in Falun, the sun finally came out for a few beautiful days in Falun, Sweden.  It was a nice end to the training camp and the perfect energy boost for the last few hard sessions.  Tomorrow I travel to Ostersund, Sweden where I will meet up with my USST teammates and race in a World Cup there on Saturday.  As they say in Vermont, "the hay is in the barn."  It's time to rest, taper, and get even more psyched for the World Champs (if that is even possible)!  Can't wait to see what the next few weeks will bring!
Sunrise on my morning jog
Sunrise on my morning jog
Morning rays
Morning rays
Looking down the stadium
Looking down the stadium
A Swedish ski cafe
A Swedish ski cafe on the trails
Looking out over Falun from halfway up the Mordarbacken
Looking out over Falun from halfway up the Mordarbacken
Our cabin with the ski jumps behind
Our cabin with the ski jumps behind
Hanging over my poles after a hard interval.
Hanging over my poles after the "final" in my sprint time trial.  The training has been great but I'm excited for the races and ready to go!

Falun training camp

Greetings from training camp in Falun, Sweden!  I have two full weeks off from World Cup racing before a weekend of World Cup racing in Ostersund, Sweden followed by the 2015 World Championships here in Falun. This is the longest break since the season started back in November.  Most of the US team is in Davos, Switzerland but I needed to stay at sea level to prepare for speedy sprint racing so Pepa traveled to Falun to help me train and peak for the World Championships.  I am very grateful that she is able to be here during these important last few weeks of preparations!
photo 2 (8)
Hello from Falun!
I wouldn't trade my travel and race schedule for anything but I must admit that the pictures of the skiing at home in Craftsbury this winter have made me a tad jealous.  There's nothing quite like a tour around Ruthie's and Sam's!  The trails here remind me a lot of home and so I'm enjoying the opportunity to just go out and ski through the woods!  The snow conditions are excellent and the sun is even forecasted to appear for our last few days here.
10931727_876353909074033_6357786105995210439_n - Copy
A bridge design that could possibly enhance the Craftsbury race trails?
This camp is a great opportunity to train on the race courses, familiarizing myself with all the big uphills and fast twisty downhills.  These courses are some of the most challenging that we race on.  One hill is infamously named "Mordarbacken" which translates to the Murder hill and climbs steeply from the stadium all the way to the top of the K120 ski jump.  Today Pepa skied up it twice and without poles either time so she could get video on her Ipad!  So I am not the only one who is in training camp right now.  Pepa skis every morning, runs on the treadmill whenever I am lifting in the gym, and walked several miles to town and back one afternoon when it was too snowy for our rental car tires to make the trip.
photo (6) - Copy
Stopping halfway up the "Mordarbacken" to watch the piston bully groom the ski jump.
Lots of Concept 2 skiergs to choose from while warming up for strength at the local gym
Lots of Concept 2 skiergs to choose from while warming up for strength at the local gym
We're staying in cabins that are just a few hundred feet from the ski trails making it easy to roll out of bed and get ready to train!  The cabins were advertised as two bedroom but turned out to be just two rooms with one room room being the bathroom.  Each cabin is one room with a couple bunk beds and a kitchen and living area.  We're spending a lot of time together but Pepa wasn't keen on being bunk mates.   Quick Bulgarian negotiations later and we now have two separate cabins and haven't gotten sick of each other yet.
photo 1 (13) - Copy
Big snowflakes falling on the Swedish cabins
Along with Pepa's heavy training she has been paying closer attention than normal to nutrition and I've been impressed with her culinary skills.  She still doesn't trust anything I cook, preferring to eat salami and Swedish meatballs on those evenings but she has cooked a couple delicious and nutritious dinners of roasted potatoes, sauteed veggies, chicken, salad, and more!  I even witnessed her snacking on carrot sticks yesterday afternoon!  But don't worry, our freezer is still full of ice cream, our chocolate supply is no short supply, and she unsuccessfully searches for chicken wings every time we visit the grocery.
photo 1 (12) - Copy
Pepa in the kitchen!
photo 2 (9)
A Bulgarian salad that is topped with lots of delicious feta.  We might not be quite up to Craftsbury Outdoor Center dining hall standards but we are eating well.
The town of Falun is only a few minutes away from the ski area so we've had a couple shopping trips to ward off cabin fever.  While I can easily stay ahead of Pepa on the ski trails I have trouble keeping up when we start shopping!
A new jacket for World Champs?
A new jacket for World Champs?
photo 2 (10)
A view from the square in the center of Falun
And the banners in the city center provide inspiration for tomorrow's training!  It's easy to be motivated for the upcoming World Champs when you're surrounded by these images which decorate just about every corner of town!  I will be doing solo intervals on the sprint course but "staying ahead" of this pack of Swedes!
photo 3 (8)
Can't wait for World Champs to begin!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

7 Countries in January

February is quickly approaching and I have not written a blog yet this month even though it has been an action filled January!  After a quick count I realized that I have skied in seven different countries this month!  Here's a quick update from the start of 2015.

Opening ceremonies at the Tour de Ski.  We surprised the crowd by performing a quick line dance on the stage!  This was my first time starting the Tour de Ski and it was a blast!  Kikkan's face exhibits our excitement!
Once the racing starts it's a whirlwind of racing, recovery, and travel.  Here I am racing the 3km Prologue in Oberstdorf, Germany.  
The first two races were in Germany and then as soon as we finished the second race, we hopped in the van and drove to Switzerland for the third stage.  This picture was taken at a pee stop along the way which also served as a sightseeing opportunity.
The sun came out for the third stage, a sprint in Val Mustair, Switzerland. 
Swiss cheerleaders
After the sprint in Switzerland, we drove to Toblach, Italy and raced a 5km classic the next day.  Along with most of my USST teammates, I ended the Tour after that race, but Liz Stephen continued and finished an impressive 5th place at the end of Tour!  Here she is racing the 15km pursuit in Toblach.
My parents traveled to Europe to watch the races and spend some family time together after the races.  I was pretty exhausted after all the races but a few relaxing days with my parents was the perfect recovery and a very nice change of pace.
We spent a few days in Ramsau, Austria after the Tour and I enjoyed my first extra blue days of the winter!  I trained in Ramsau with my Craftsbury Green Racing Project teammates this fall so it was fun to return in the winter and explore new trails in a familiar place!  
It was a short break and then quickly back to racing in Otepaa, Estonia.  I first went to Otepaa when I was 15 for the J1 Scandinavian Championships so it was fun to return 11 years later for World Cups
I raced a classic sprint and a skate team sprint but the biggest event of the weekend was the tech sprints.  Our team's goal was top 12 and we finished 11th which also happened to be first place on reverse podium.  It was a blast to cheer for these guys who work hard day in and day out all winter long!  
Next we traveled to Rybinsk, Russia and our first real taste of winter. We were welcomed by temperatures of -25C so here are my blue faced roommates preparing for a day of skiing. 
The highlight of the weekend was Liz's first podium.  Hard work pays off so congrats Liz!
There are two weekends off from World Cup racing so I am currently in Sweden for a training camp with Pepa.  Thanks to my GRP girls teammates for the birthday card and American goodies!  Good luck in the SuperTour races this weekend in Craftsbury!
Happy trails and thanks for reading!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The 12 Days of Davos

Davos, Switzerland often feels like our home away from home in Europe.  It's the first World Cup venue we go to after starting the season in dark Scandinavia.  The mountains, sunshine and snow is something we dream about through November.  This year I was planning to be here for 12 days but after a poor snow year in Europe plans were changed and I'm spending 24 days in Davos, first for races and then for the holiday break before the Tour de Ski.  But since there isn't a Christmas song with lyrics for 24 days, I'll stick to the 12 days of Davos.  

On the first day of Davos, Switzerland gave to me....

1 leaning gingerbread house- Even on the road and away from home we've had no problem being festive and finding Christmas spirit.  We've made cookies, opened stockings, decorated with lights and candles, and yesterday afternoon we had a blast building and decorating a gingerbread house.  It's not quite straight and has LOTS of sugary frosting holding it together but we built it totally from scratch and it's still standing!

I think we are all expecting it to topple at any moment but it's still standing!

The finished product!

2 Skate Sprints: After the World Cups in La Clusaz, France were canceled, Davos took on the challenge for a second weekend of racing.  This meant we had back to back skate sprints on the exact same course!  A uncommon opportunity to try something one weekend and then improve on it the next weekend.The first weekend, I qualified in 19th which was one of my strongest skate qualifiers ever.  I finished third in my quarterfinal just missing out on a lucky loser spot into the semifinals to finish 16th on the day.  The following weekend, I almost crashed on an icy corner in the qualifier and in such a tight field I figured my day was over.  But luckily I just sneaked into the heats with a 29th place finish.  In the heats I actually crashed, face planting a couple hundred meters from the finish when Norwegian Heidi Weng and I clicked skis.  So I didn't find the improvement I was looking for on the second try but each sprint heat is such a learning opportunity and the experience of aggressive head to head racing gave me some new things to focus on in my next sprint.

Racing the qualifier with an American flag in the background.  USSA CEO Tiger Shaw, board member Liz Arky, and team supporter Levi Hensel came for the weekend and it was great to have their cheers on course! (Marcel Hilger photo)

3 Meters of Snow! Just kidding it's more like 3 inches or maybe 3 centimeters but it is enough to cover the ground so we can count it as a white Christmas. 

4 Skis for Waxing- I spend most of the winter traveling with over 30 pairs of Fischer skis, ready for every snow condition and race course.  It takes a full time wax tech to prepare the skis and keep the fleet in good shape and I feel extremely lucky to have an awesome staff of waxers on our team.  They work extremely hard to provide us with fast skis and I must say it was really fun to tuck by a Norwegian in last week's sprint.  For this break we are on our own for waxing so I'm keeping it simple with just a pair of skate skis and a pair of classic skis. We've nailed the classic wax so far, even on an icy klister cover day and a day of heavy falling snow.  But that said, I will be happily awaiting the return of our coaches and techs!

5 Kilometers of Skiing- There is a 5km manmade loop of skiing in Davos right now which was prepared for the World Cups and is in great condition.  We spend most of our time training on this loop but last week we took out our rock skis for a crust cruise up Dischma vallley or "Sunny valley" as we like to call it.  The coverage was thin in spots but it was a blast!
Sophie, Liz, and I took a selfie while Simi prepared the timer shot

Crust cruising up the valley

6 Americans in Davos- Liz and I are renting Anna Haag and Emil Joenssen's apartment together that is sitting on the ski trails so it couldn't be a nicer spot for the holidays.  Simi and Sophie have an apartment just a few minutes of skiing away.  Jessie's family is here also staying close by and Kikkan and her husband Jeff are staying in the hotel where our team stayed for the races.  It's great to have so many teammates around to spend Christmas with!

7 Hockey Goals- Jeff and Kikkan had connections in the Davos WC organizing committee and got the team tickets to a Davos professional hockey game.  We were in the second row directly behind the goal!  The play was very fast paced and exciting and Davos ended up losing 4-3 in a shoot out after regular and overtime play!
Liz, Kikkan, and Jeff watching the game

8 Pancakes for Breakfast- It has been a very nice change to have a kitchen and to cook for ourselves.  While we can't ever complain about having meals prepared for us, cooking is fun too and it's always nice to choose what you want to eat.  We immediately prepared spicy food with dinners of chicken curry and mexican.  We also had an incredible pancake breakfast our first morning here with stacks of pancakes topped with yogurt, maple syrup, fruit salad, and brown cheese from Norway.  And of course the delicious breakfast was accompanied by steaming mugs of Vermont Coffee Company coffee.

9 Days to Change the Race Venue- There is a new FIS rule this year that venues have to make the call nine days prior to the first competition for whether there will be enough snow to hold the races.  And with very limited snow across Europe, this rule has been called into use.  It was uncertain whether Davos would be able to hold any races here but slightly cooler temperatures arrived and the race organizers were able to make snow on top of a pass and truck it down to the race course!  A huge thanks needs to go out for all the work that they put into making these races happen.  And then nine days before the La Clusaz, France weekend, those races were cancelled and Davos stepped up to host a second weekend in a row!  There were rumors that the Tour de Ski was also in jeopardy but now since we are less than nine days away, we've received official word that the Tour is on as planned!

A huge thanks to Davos Nordic for hosting back to back World Cup weekends in this stadium (FIS Cross Country Photo)

10 Tree Branches- Here's our Charlie Brown Christmas tree that actually reminds me of a smaller version of Christmas trees I've had at home.

11 Extended Family Members: I miss being home with my actual family for the holidays but as Christmas orphans we have been taken in for quite a few wonderful meals and the recipients of incredible Swiss hospitality.  We had homemade pizza for lunch with Esther Bottomley and Valerio Leccardi after a long ski one morning.  For the second year in a row we had Christmas eve dinner with the Capol family who live 45 minutes from Davos.  And on the 25th the Diggins family invited us over for a delicious Christmas dinner.  Thank you to all for such wonderful hospitality and making us feel at home here in Switzerland.
Christmas Eve with the Capol family where they cooked a turkey for us so we would feel at home!

And a very merry Christmas with the Diggins family

12 Days of Training: There are exactly 12 days off between the last World Cup in Davos and the start of the Tour de Ski.  This is a pretty long break from racing for us so it's nice to have an opportunity to train a bit and prepare for the rest of the season.  In normal race weeks we are focused on the weekend races so it's nice to have the opportunity to do what we all love and just go out and ski!  Happy trails!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Lillehammer World Cup Weekend

This photo from Eurosport commentator Mark Rhode pretty much sums up my feelings for the three day mini tour weekend in Lillehammer, Norway.  The racing started with a skate sprint on Friday, followed by a 5km skate on Saturday, and finished with a 10km classic pursuit on Sunday.  Sprint days are usually an awesome day for the team but this one turned out to be one of the worst.  Sadie was the only one who qualified on our team and we were all left disappointed and trying to grasp what had happened.  But luckily we had another race the day so we shook it off and moved forward to the first distance race. Unfortunately Saturday didn't go much better for me either but luckily a few of my teammates had better races and Jessie, Liz, and Sadie all scored some points!  And even on a bad day racing in Norway is still very fun!  Fans line the entire course and chant your name as you ski by.  The atmosphere is a big party and it's always exciting to see such enthusiasm for Nordic skiing! Unfortunately after the race on Saturday I started to feel worse and worse and I started to wonder whether the headache and cough I was feeling were just side effects from the race or my immune system failing me.  When I woke drenched in a cold sweat early Sunday morning it was starting to be more obvious.  The thought of watching Sunday's classic pursuit was much less enticing than actually being on the trail hammering so it took some serious convincing from coaches to not put on a bib that morning.  It was the smart decision, though, and I have been resting up and already feeling much better.  Sunday's race was the first World Cup I have ever had to sit out for illness so I'm thankful for a strong immune system and looking forward to more races this weekend in Davos, Switzerland!

Simi and Erik skiing up the long hill on the course which was about 4 minutes of solid climbing which was followed by a ripping fast downhill that was extra fun with screaming legs.  (USSA Nordic Photo)
And even while living on the road in a hotel room and duffel bag, the Christmas spirit is high!  One of my favorite parts of travelling at this time of the year is seeing the different Christmas decorations around the world and the streets of Lillehammer are lit up every night!

I finally get to open the advent calendar which my mom gave me before I left home!  It's not an easy item to travel with  so one day I opened the window and there wasn't a chocolate but a couple days later I had two chocolates waiting for me!  
Christmas spirit and in Lillehammer
The 'Birkebeinere' statue in town honoring the two year old future king Hakon Hakonson being carried on skis across the Norwegian mountains in 1206.  

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Ruka Classic Sprinting

It's pretty common for me to lay in bed counting sheep on the nights before a big race.  Nerves always seem to settle in the night before the competition and then clear out the next day when it's time to go.  So I wasn't too surprised to toss and turn on the eve of this season's first World Cup.  But this time my nerves were fine and I was just plain excited!  I was ready to get the season going and couldn't wait to get on the start line!  Normally we have a few warm up races before the first World Cup which help get into the winter routine but this year we came over to Europe later and didn't have that opportunity.  Go time was happening at a big time in the classic sprint in Ruka, Finland.

The courses in Ruka are some of my favorites with big uphills and fast downhills.  I have had good results here in the past so I was hoping for another good day.  The morning of the race dawned with unseasonably warm weather for northern Finland.  The temperature hovered around the freezing point and the techs were furiously prepping klister skis.  By the time I started testing, the firm tracks had broken down and were washed out on the sides and glazed on the bottom and over the tops of the hills they had filled with powder.  Every crazy variable was swirling together and producing my absolute least favorite classic conditions.  On the gradual parts of the hill where I normally like to stride hard it was slippery and necessary to feather the kick and then on the steeper sections where I like to put my head down and run, the skis were icing and I was ending up on stilts as I crested the top.  My normal warmup was thrown out the window and I spent every possible moment testing skis trying to find a balance between enough kick and keeping the skis gliding free.  I wasn't sure what to expect as I ran to the start line.  Our techs did an awesome job giving us great skis and for the tricky conditions.  But it was still the type of snow that you had to work with and not against.  For the qualifier, though, I fought the snow and ended up striding furiously and frantically.  I barely squeaking into the heats in 27th place which was far from the start I was looking for.

But luckily I had another chance and this time I was able to put my excitement and adrenaline aside and ski the way I knew I was capable.  I started to remember how to race and as the day went on it felt better and better and I was more and more comfortable with what I was doing.  I stayed more relaxed testing skis for the heats which took a lot less energy.  As the slowest qualifier in my heat, I had the last lane choice and on the outside I had by far the worst lane and I ended up last off the first corner.  But I stayed patient and took openings when I found them and kept fighting for every tenth of a second, pushing hard over the top of the big climb and into the finish.  I was third in my quarterfinal but scored the first of two lucky loser spots advancing to the semifinal.  The same thing happened in my semifinal with the final lane choice but again I was able to pick off a few places by the finish.  So once again I was a fast heat so I got another lucky loser spot and advanced to the final.  I tried the same strategy again for the final but the pace had picked up and couldn't put on the same moves over the top of the climb  It was incredible to be skiing with those fast ladies and to be in the fight all the way.  My 5th place finish was a personal best World Cup result and an awesome confidence boost at the start of the season

Before I could even get my warmups back on in the finish area, my teammates, who had been on course cheering, arrived with hugs all around!  It made me even more excited for the winter ahead of travelling and racing together.  Everyone's strength shine on a different day and rallying around that teammate on that day propels the whole team forward.  The classic sprint was a great day for me but congrats to Sadie for a 17th place in the 10km the next day!

Here are a few photos from Ruka. The World Cup continues this weekend in Lillehammer, Norway.  Thank you for all the cheers and support!

Striding it out in the qualifier.  Our new race suits are really easy to spot so look out for the starts and stripes this winter! (Toko US/Nordic Focus Photo)
Here's the start of my semifinal heat.  I'm in the far lane so only a little of my black suit is visible in the back. (FIS Cross Country/Nordic Focus photo)

Here's a shot of the big climb back into the stadium in Sadie and Kikkan's quarterfinal heat.  The fans were awesome and the cheering on this hill was so loud!  (FIS Cross Country/Nordic Focus Photo)

Ruka is infamous for the darkness so it was a really nice surprise to have a little sun one day.  This is the alpine mountain behind town that also has moguls runs and aerials jumps.

The sunshine was brief and this sunset picture was taken from my walk home from lunch.