Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Back to Canmore


Mountains, sun and great skiing! It’s great to be back in Canmore! GRP had great representation at the World Cups hosted by the Canmore Nordic Center with Pat, Caitlin, and I all racing.  (Noah Hoffman photo)

With a thick manmade base of snow, topped with natural snow made for kilometers of perfect skiing. It was a real treat! We had lots of choices of terrain to ski on as well. The XC race trails had long hard uphills, the Banff trail was more gentle rolling terrain, and the Frozen thunder loop was still open on the biathlon side but most of us skied enough of those loops in the fall. (Noah Hoffman photo)

Fast and Female took advantage of the World Cup skiers in town and hosted an event for local girls. Since we were all busy racing, we didn’t ski and the relaxed event focused on inspirational talks. All the ambassadors shared a lesson they had learned from ski racing. I spoke about balancing school and ski racing because I believe college is a great path for many young racers. My favorite speech, though, came from a Canmore World Cup Academy racer, who spoke of distracting herself from the pain during the race by visualizing herself as different animals throughout the race. For example, over a three lap race she may progress from an Albertan horse to a gazelle to a jaguar as she picked up the pace and charged for the line. We all got a good laugh and maybe I’ll give it a try sometime!

The day before each race, we do a race prep workout together as a team. This involves a L3 effort around the course and is an opportunity to warm up the engine before the hard race while experiencing the flow of the course and practicing important transitions. Skiing it as a team mimics the mass start feeling and a fun way to work together the day before the race. Here are Kikkan, Holly, Sadie, Caitlin, and myself climbing out of the stadium at the start of the L3 lap.

We were ready the next day to work together in the 10km classic mass start race. Sadie and I skied most of the race together before she dropped me going into the finish, scoring her first distance WC points with a 25th place finish! I just missed the points crossing the line right behind Holly in 31st.  Top 30 score World Cup points so 31st is never somewhere you want to be but with two races left in Canmore it left me hungry for more.  

Here’s a shot of the pack in a World Cup race. The pace usually starts out super fast and there is lots of aggressive skiing. The course in Canmore started climbing steeply out of the stadium so we were working very hard from the gun. In this race I was bib 45 so you can play “Where’s Waldo” to find me in the pack. It was fun to ski with a lot of different people including many teammates. In this shot I’m following my former Dartmouth teammates Rosie Brennan and Sophie Caldwell so it kind of felt like we were working together for an EISA carnival race!

Skate sprint day! I narrowly sneaked into the heats with a 28th place finish but I was able to move up from there. In the qualifier I went too hard on the top of the hill and my legs were dead. So in the quarterfinal I tucked in the back of the pack and was able to draft the big downhill and move up to second in the final sprint, advancing to the semifinal. I did ski tactically as well in the semifinal and found my self on the opposite side of the draft. This time I was the one being passed in the final meters and I had to settle for 5th in my heat. This was still my best ever skate sprint finish with a 10th place overall. I’m still learning a lot about the tactics of the sprint heats as each one plays out a bit differently. (Rob Whitney photo)

Kikkan, Andy, and I at the awards with Klister the Canada World Cup mascot.  The podium won cowboy hats so that will be a fun prize for Kikkan to travel with for the rest of the season.
The sprint day was another great day for our team with Kikkan finishing 2nd, Andy 5th, and Skyler, Sophie, and Sadie all skiing fast qualifiers and racing in the heats. Here are Kikkan, Andy, and I at the awards ceremony with Klister the Canada World Cup mascot. The podium won cowboy hats so that will be a fun prize for Kikkan to travel with for the rest of the season.
The last race day was a 15km pursuit race so 7.5km of classic skiing, a quick transition to skate gear, and then 7.5km of skate racing. After getting too excited in the previous 10km mass start race and wasting a lot of energy trying to move up too quickly from my poor start position, this time I focused on staying controlled and moving up slowly when openings arise. The pack strung out quickly with the fast pace set by Justyna Kowalczyk but I stayed relaxed, hoping I would have opportunities to move up during the long race if I skied within my own limits. This turned out to be a much better strategy. (Rob Whitney photo)

More skiing with teammates! Here Holly leads Kikkan and I during the classic section of the pursuit.  
I continued to move up during the race and really surprised myself with a 14th place finish on the day, my best distance World Cup finsh by far! I had fast skis and my body felt good. It takes a lot of races but when everything comes together it sure is fun! These races were great way to end Period One of the World Cup.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Almost Racing at Home: Quebec City Sprints


A ski course snaking though a city which is only three hours from my house, familiar faces lining the course, American flags draped over the boards and flying high by eager faces that have climbed onto the fort walls, English cheers, and so much excitement in the air; the Quebec City World Cup last weekend was an unreal experience and possibly the most fun races I have ever skied.  The cheering and American support at the races made it truly incredible as a participant.  I think there was even a stronger American presence than Canadian, or at least it felt that way as I heard all the voices around the course of friends, family, and teammates from Vermont, New England, and around the US.  I constantly ran into one person after the next who I knew as it seemed like every Nordic skiing enthusiast from New England made the trip.  It just further demonstrated the momentum and enthusiasm which is driving our ski community.
The racing was fast, technical, and fun!  The course started underneath the gate surrounding the walled Old City and then wound through Parliament Park before finishing up the Grand-Alle√© of Quebec City.  During Thursday’s official training the course was fast and hard but temperatures warmed up for the race days and with all the athletes, coaches, and techs skiing around and around the 800m loop, the conditions quickly deteriorated to shin deep sugary mush.  Like most other city sprints, it was a flat course but with a bridge, lots of corners and even a little drop-off jump, it definitely wasn’t boring.  The track was also super narrow so a fast start was important as passing was really tricky.  The spectators were treated to an exciting display of many crashes and collisions.  I set a new personal record of most crashes in one race with an impressive three on the team sprint day but the crowd made it easy to get back up and keep hammering.  Then on Saturday I drew bib #1 for the individual sprint and the roar of the crowd chanting my name as I started was indescribable.
As racers we rode the wave of this energy and US support to a lot of great races.  Kikkan and Jessie won the first ever relay by a US women’s team.  Holly and I also made the team sprint final and were in the mix until my crashes and this was the first time the US had two teams in the final.  On Saturday, we got to hear the national anthem for the second time when Kikkan won again.  Andy made the final, finishing 5th and Sophie, Becca, Sadie, and Jessie were all in the points!  It was exciting and another proud day to be an American!

Thank you so much to all came to Quebec City.  It made a huge difference and we really appreciated the cheers!






Monday, December 10, 2012

A home World Cup


A ski course snaking though a city which is only three hours from my house, familiar faces lining the course, American flags draped over the boards and flying high by eager faces that have climbed onto the fort walls, English cheers, and so much excitement in the air; the Quebec City World Cup last weekend was an unreal experience and possibly the most fun races I have ever skied.  The cheering and American support at the races made it truly incredible as a participant.  I think there was even a stronger American presence than Canadian, or at least it felt that way as I heard all the voices around the course of friends, family, and teammates from Vermont, New England, and around the US.  I constantly ran into one person after the next who I knew as it seemed like every Nordic skiing enthusiast from New England made the trip.  It just further demonstrated the momentum and enthusiasm which is driving our ski community.
The racing was fast, technical, and fun!  The course started underneath the gate surrounding the walled Old City and then wound through Parliament Park before finishing up the Grand-Alle√© of Quebec City.  During Thursday’s official training the course was fast and hard but temperatures warmed up for the race days and with all the athletes, coaches, and techs skiing around and around the 800m loop, the conditions quickly deteriorated to shin deep sugary mush.  Like most other city sprints, it was a flat course but with a bridge, lots of corners and even a little drop-off jump, it definitely wasn’t boring.  The track was also super narrow so a fast start was important as passing was really tricky.  The spectators were treated to an exciting display of many crashes and collisions.  I set a new personal record of most crashes in one race with an impressive three on the team sprint day but the crowd made it easy to get back up and keep hammering.  Then on Saturday I drew bib #1 for the individual sprint and the roar of the crowd chanting my name as I started was indescribable.
As racers we rode the wave of this energy and US support to a lot of great races.  Kikkan and Jessie won the first ever relay by a US women’s team.  Holly and I also made the team sprint final and were in the mix until my crashes and this was the first time the US had two teams in the final.  On Saturday, we got to hear the national anthem for the second time when Kikkan won again.  Andy made the final, finishing 5th and Sophie, Becca, Sadie, and Jessie were all in the points!  It was exciting and another proud day to be an American!
Thank you so much to all came to Quebec City.  It made a huge difference and I really appreciated the cheers!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ruka Triple


The World Cup season is off and running and the good times are flying.  Last weekend the US XC team raced a 3 day mini-tour in Ruka, Finland, a small ski resort town outside of Kuusamo.  The courses in Ruka are perhaps my favorite on the World Cup with steep hard climbs and fast downhills.  There is one straight downhill where Simi clocked 40mph.  That’s pretty exciting mid race with shaky legs and watery eyes!  This was my third year racing in Ruka and as they say, “the third time is the charm!”

The tour started with a classic sprint on Friday.  It’s a difficult sprint course finishing with a steep uphill into a hard double pole sprint.  The past two years I had struggled on this course, fading over the top of the climb and failing to qualify for the heats.  Those past attempts only raised my desire to make it in Ruka.  Finally this year I must have done something a little differently and was super excited to hear 13th stated after my name as I crossed the line, a new personal best qualifier and into the heats!

In the quarterfinal I skied conservatively and relaxed, waiting until the big hill to make a move and finished 2nd in my heat.  On to the semi finals!  In the semis I tried the same game plan but was boxed in at the bottom of the hill.  I wasted time and energy changing tracks and trying to find a clear lane and ultimately lost a double pole sprint with Kristin Lahtenmaaki from Finland, missing the final by a couple tenths of second.  It was hard to be so close to the final but I was thrilled with my first top 10 finish on the World Cup.  It was also inspiring to be in the fight.  In previous World Cup sprints, I have felt like I was holding on for dear life but during this race I was making moves and belonged there.  I missed the final by a tactical error and not because of fitness and strength and that was very exciting for me.

Saturday was a 5km skate and it was another fun distance skate race for me.  I struggled again to find efficiency and felt like I was taking a million fast steps on the steep climbs but staying in the same place.  So not a stellar race for me but Kikkan was 2nd and the rest of the US ladies finished in the top 20.  Noah had a personal best finish as well finishing 19th!  It was a freezing cold day with a harsh chilly wind and we were all frozen by the finish.  Luckily the athlete tent was serving reindeer soup which really hit the spot!

And luckily I didn’t lose too much time in the skate race and was seeded 14th going into the final day of the mini-tour, a 10km classic pursuit.  Last year going into this race I was sitting 51st so this was a huge improvement!  It looked like it would be a fun race for our team too as Kikkan was leading the charge in 2nd and the rest of us girls were all starting within 10-15 seconds.  The course was 4 laps of a 2.5km course.  I had prioritized kick when I was testing skis in the morning and was able to easily kick up the first hill of the course.  When I hit the first flat though,  I realized my skis were slower than many of the other ladies around me and I was working much harder to stay in the train on the parts of the course which should have been recovery.  At first I started to freak but after a lap or two I chilled out and skied my own race, attacking the hills and staying relaxed on the flats.  It was a really fun race skiing with lots of people including my teammates Holly, Liz, and Jessie.  I crossed the line in 18th after posting the 20th fastest split of the day.  It was a very surprising finish for me and left a lasting smile on my face!  Thanks to all for the cheers, support, and opportunities to chase dreams!  It’s very special to be apart of such a supportive community and I’m looking forward to what the next days and races bring.

A clear day in Kuusamo (FIS photo)
A busy day of training on the race courses.  This is the big hill of the sprint course which climbs back into the stadium
A busy day of training on the race courses. This is the big hill of the sprint course which climbs back into the stadium
Pain face in the qualifier (Salomon/Nordic Focus photo)
Pain face in the qualifier (Salomon/Nordic Focus photo)

On TV in the start for the heats (Rob Whitney photo)
The finish of the 5km skate (Salomon Nordic Focus photo)

A train in the pursuit (Salomon/Nordic Focus Photo)

Double poling through the stadium (Salomon/Nordic Focus photo)

Holly Brooks and I working together on one of the climbs (Salomon/Nordic Focus photo)

We have an awesome team of coaches and techs who have been putting out some great race boards the past few weekends despite wax rooms with poor ventilation. (Jason Cork photo)
Ice bath for recovery between races

Reindeer in the stadium (Holly Brooks photo)

Sunset in Kuusamo.  (Noah Hoffman photo)
Sunset in Kuusamo (Noah Hoffman photo)