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.  


Monday, November 24, 2014

Arctic Training

Sunrise today was at 10:21am and a mere three hours and forty-one minutes later at 2:02pm, the sun officially set.  And between those times there was not a lot of daylight as the sun barely rises above the horizon and never shines over the mountain behind the ski area.  Muonio is over 250km north of the Arctic Circle in Finland and close to the Swedish border.  The darkness could sound depressing but it hasn't felt that way yet.  Just as a rainy day can makes a sunny day feel extra special, the darkness enhances the light here.  Sunrises last all day, slowly morphing into a sunset which eases out over the hours of dusk.  This is my fourth trip to Muonio and I'm probably in the minority for skiers, but I really like it here.  It's simple and relaxing.  We stay in cabins on the ski trails and just a short walk from meals.  There isn't anything to do but ski, eat and sleep so it's the perfect place to recover from the jetlag of international travel and prepare for the upcoming ski season.  Despite the darkness it is surprisingly beautiful here, the Arctic light reflecting on the snow in a unique way.  There isn't a lot of natural snow but there are 6km of manmade tracks which have been excellent, providing more than enough terrain for great training.  Tomorrow we are driving to Ruka, Finland and the World Cup season opens this weekend!

Muonio on the map.  Head north and keep going!
Arctic light
Sunrise or sunset?
An ice fog settled in and we even got some new snow this morning.  This photo almost looks like it is taken in black and white but it's full color today
Northern lights over our condos one evening.  It was incredible!  (Matt Whitcomb photo)
Kikkan is psyched to go back to school!  We visited the Muonio elementary school which was a tradition started by my GRP teammate Clare Egan during a Craftsbury trip to Muonio.  We shared videos of our team training and racing and the kids were excited to meet us.  Finnish school seemed pretty similar to American except everyone takes off their shoes before coming inside.
The beginning of the season means lots of new skis to test.  Here is my fleet of Fischers as well as Matt's coat rack.  On top of being the women's team coach, Matt is my wax tech.  He has done an awesome job preparing skis, cleaning skis and helping me test.  It's important to have skis for every snow condition and course profile but too many skis can be overwhelming so we have put in a lot of work testing and getting to know the different skis in the fleet.  Thanks Matt!


   

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Last Days at Home

My last week in the US was a frantic and busy week.  I balanced packing, cleaning, training, and running the last minute errands necessary before leaving the country for over four months with also wanting to spend as much time as possible with friends and family who I wouldn't see over the winter. It felt surprisingly relaxing to sink into my airplane seat for a 28 hour travel day from northern VT to northern Finland after all the craziness of getting ready to leave.  Leaving was bittersweet with a mix of saying goodbyes and enjoying the last few nights in my own bed played against the excitement to be back on the road at the start of the season.  Here are some pictures from my last week or so at home.

A frosty early morning in Craftsbury on Little Hosmer Pond
Sunrise at home! The shorter days have provided some wonderful sunrises and sunsets!
A little snow before I left was the perfect transition to winter.  The Craftsbury Outdoor Center turned on the snow guns as well to stockpiling even more than the natural dustings.

It's always fun to wake up to a white blanket outside! 
The breakfast nook in my cottage.  Coffee, yogurt, and views of snow are the perfect way to start the day!
GRP girls dinner before we head our separate ways to Finland, Norway, West Yellowstone, and Canmore.  We missed Clare but it was a great chance to get the rest of the team together.
Snow on the side of the road (and a little in the road too) for our last rollerski of the year
Eben came home for hunting season and luckily our paths crossed for one day!  It was fun to share stories of recent adventures and travels.
That's a lot of stuff!  Two ski bags, a duffel bag, and a big backpack for the winter travels.
It took about 28 hours from to get from Barton, Vermont to our little cabins in Muonio, Finland which is about 250km north of the Arctic Circle.  It was surprisingly sunny for our ski this morning and fun to ski under the lights this afternoon.

Winter!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Frozen Thunder!


As the first flakes have fallen here in Craftsbury,  winter is just around the corner.  I was lucky to already have a little taste of winter in the form of a 2km ribbon of snow saved from last winter in Canmore, Alberta.  Every year the Canmore Nordic Center buries a pile of snow under a mound of wood chips and digs it up in mid-October to spread around a loop, aptly named Frozen Thunder.  The 2km track takes anywhere from 6-8 minutes to ski depending on how fast the snow conditions are that day.  Since we would usually ski for two to three hours every morning, it was important to find technique or pacing cues to focus on or a good friend to chat with, anything to keep the mind active and distracted from counting laps or looking at your watch as we skied round and round.  In years past we have had colder weather and have had some natural snow or at least new manmade snow added to freshen the track.  This year, though, the temperatures were warm and it rained a few days so many days Frozen Thunder was not very frozen. Over the eight days that we were there, the depth of the snow decreased noticeably and certain sections of the track were much less elevated from the ground than they were at the start.  But a huge thank you needs to go out to the grooming staff for an awesome job maintaining the snow and the ski conditions were awesome all week despite the unseasonably warm weather.

Since I had skied in September in Ramsau, Austria with my Craftsbury teammates, the transition back to snow was remarkably easy.  I was very grateful to have had the glacier skiing just a month earlier because skiing felt natural almost instantly in Canmore, rather than having the normal few days spent trying to navigate the awkward skis which feel helplessly long compared to rollerskis.  Most of the skiing we did in Canmore was just distance training but Cross Country Canada also organized a couple races  which were a really fun opportunity to put on a bib and go hard.  The lung burn and tired legs were a quick reminder of what racing actually feels like but made me more excited than ever for the World Cup season to start at the end of the month!

I didn’t take any pictures this week so I stole some from Noah’s blog.  Thanks Hoff J!  I have a couple weeks of training in Craftsbury now before leaving for Europe so I’m taking advantage of my last bit of time at home before hitting the road!  Happy trails and don’t forget to do your snow dances!
Sunrise at the Canmore Nordic Center


Canmore is one of my favorite places to train and race!


Noah got artsy with his skiing shots and I think this is a cool image of me skiing over the top of the hill

Some one pole skiing to work on technique early in the season.  

I had a great time hanging out with my Canadian friends!  We had dinner at the homes of Chandra and Perianne who both live in town and each of the evenings was a highlight of the camp.  Here's a picture of dinner at Chandra's house where she cooked a delicious feast of four lasganas, two giant salads and a couple amazing carrot cakes.

Since we will be in northern Finland for Thanksgiving probably eating fish and reindeer, we celebrated early and cooked a Thanksgiving feast except with chickens instead of turkeys as we couldn't find turkeys at the store.  It took all the stoves and ovens from the four different team apartments with tiny kitchenettes to create the feast as well as several hours of chopping and prep but was worth the effort for the fun evening with the team.

Racing!  The Classic Sprint was organized in the King's Court format so everyone did all four rounds and moved up or down in the seeding based on their placing in the previous heat.  The other fun twist was that guys and girls were combined so I raced most of my heats with guys but had fun skiing one of the rounds with Peri.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Drive for 25


Like my teammate, Erik Bjornsen pictured above, I am one of those skiers who must fund a majority of my own World Cup racing expenses at a cost of over $20,000 per year.  The National Nordic Foundation is stepping up again to help close this gap.  Their support of XC development has helped transform our country into a skiing nation. The NNF has funded many racing and training trips which I have attended over the years, supporting my development from a junior racer to an Olympian.  They are a huge contributor to our team and our ski community.

Development doesn’t happen overnight but instead involves year after year of cumulative training and racing experience. This process is a journey that takes time and hard work.    Each race weekend and each season is a learning experience which helps me prepare for the next adventure.  Every goal that I reach launches me forward to new goals and higher aspirations.  Two weeks in Europe for World Juniors used to feel like a long trip and now I’m spending four months racing in Europe and I couldn’t imagine returning home after a couple weeks.  Toeing the starting line with powerful European racers used to be incredibly intimidating but now I am close friends with many of these ladies and have realized that they are also chasing similar goals through racing and training. This is also not a solo process.  I have had incredible teammates along my side the entire way as well as support from organizations like the NNF.  Here are a few pictures highlighting my development from a junior racer to a World Cup skier.  The NNF has funded many of these racing trips and I am grateful for their support. 

Please support the NNF through the Drive for 25.  My fundraising page can be found here. Thank you for the generosity! 



This picture was taken during my first European racing trip when I was fifteen years old.  We competed in the U18 Scandinavian Cup Championships in Otepaa, Estonia.  Simi and Liz were my teammates on the NNF (then NCCSEF) funded team as well as Hannah Dreissigacker who is an Olympian in biathlon.
Skiing in Italy with my buddies Sophie and Sadie at World Junior Championships
Sprint awards at the U23 World Championships in Hinterzarten, Germany.  I just missed the podium after racing against some of the ladies I continue to race against on the World Cup including from left to right, Denise Herrmann, Mari Laukkanen, and Katherine Harsem.

2011 World Championships in Oslo.  This was my first senior level Championships and the first time we raced together as a team! Pictured from bottom to top, Liz, me, Kikkan, Holly, Sadie, Jessie, Morgan
Training in Bend in 2011
Celebrating a 5th place World Cup relay finish in 2012 which was a breakthrough performance as a team.

Olympic rookies psyched for Sochi!
Kikkan, Sadie, Liz, and I practicing starts last week in Park City

Thank you for reading and thanks for the support!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Fall Colors!

I may be a ski racer but fall is my fall is my favorite season.  There is nothing that makes me happier at this time of they year than seeing the vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows or shuffling through the crackling fallen leaves.  We returned from Austria to peak foliage.  After returning home after dark, it was wonderful to wake up the next morning to all the fall colors.  I sat in the Adirondack chairs for a long time that morning eating breakfast, drinking coffee, enjoying the foliage and watching the stray leaf fall from the tree.  Later that day I had a nice foliage walk with my dad and snapped a few pictures of the peak conditions.





It can't be fall without apple picking and the GRP made a trip to an orchard in Hardwick

Liz with the foliage behind her
Climbing trees was not allowed so John grew a few inches with the help of Pete to reach the perfect apples on the highest branches


It's past peak now which means there are more leaves on the ground to shuffle through listening to the crackles of the dry leaves.  

Lost Nation Road yesterday morning
And don't forget the other fall color which is PINK! October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and a time to stand strong with women everywhere.  Pink is of course the unofficial USST Women's Team color.  Our last team training camp of year starts next week in Park City, UT.  I'm looking forward to proudly wear my pink while training hard alongside my favorite ladies!  Stay tuned for updates from Team Pink!