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)

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