Saturday, December 28, 2013

Asiago Classic Sprinting

Last weekend was a double classic sprint weekend in Asiago, Italy with an individual sprint on Saturday and a team sprint on Sunday.  Asiago was my first new venue this season which is always really exciting to travel somewhere new, explore a different area, and race on a different course.  Unfortunately warm weather in Italy at the beginning of the winter left the organizers scrambling but they amazingly pulled off a fun course in a park in the center of town.  

One of the main streets in Asiago.  It was lit up with lots of Christmas lights at night for a festive feel even if there wasn't any snow on the ground and the temperatures were not particularly wintery.

A WWI monument on the edge of town.  There was a major battle of WWI which took place in the fields surrounding Asiago and this memorial houses the remains of 50,000 Italian and Austro-Hungarian soldiers

The town square with a Christmas market set up.  In the evenings these booths were open selling food, drink, crafts, and local foods.  

A little shop in town selling jams and marmalades, fruits, mushrooms, pasta, and more.  The food in Italy is always some of the best with lots of great pizza and pasta. 

Looking down on Asiago and the surrounding hills.  It was pretty cloudy the whole time we were there so we were not able to see many of the surrounding mountains.  

Training on the course on Friday, the day before the races.  Usually this involves a lap of the whole course at L3 or threshold, a lap at L4 and then some pickups on different parts of the course.  This is a fun way to practice pacing the course and skiing the faster and in a group.  We do these workouts together as a team and it is fun to ski together around the course in a pack, a fast train of black and pink (Austin Caldwell photo).

Testing skis on the course with Matt, who as well as being a coach, is also my wax tech.  I travel with close to 30 pairs of Fischer skis so that I'm prepared for all snow conditions and race types but having that many skis can be confusing sometimes to pick the best ones.  Matt does an awesome job keeping the testing process simple and straight forward.  We have an awesome team of hard working techs.  They were up at 4:45am each day this weekend testing wax and preparing fast boards for the tricky snow conditions and we had great skis all weekend despite the dirty slushy snow (Eli Brown photo). 

Qualfication on Saturday's individual sprint.  It was a pretty flat course so about half of the top women double poled the course on skate skis.  I opted for classic skis and was happy with that decision qualifying tied for  20th.  I still have not ever double poled a classic sprint and it would probably have to be pancake flat for me to confidently forgo striding.  I was a bit tempted to try in Asiago but the World Cup is so competitive that it's not a great place to test new things and gamble with seconds (National Nordic Foundation photo)

The start of my quarterfinal.  I'm on the far right of the photo next to the boards.  The quarterfinal was really fun although I got out double poled at the line by Katja Visnar from Slovenia in the fluorescent suit.  She was on skate skis so I got an advantage on the uphill but I couldn't quite hold her off on the downhill and into the finish when she had the upper hand lacking klister on her skis.  I still qualified for the semifinals and had a bit of a bobble at the start with one of the Finns in my heat and ended up 5th in my heat for 10th overall, my first top 10 of the season!  

The start of Sunday's team sprint final with a view of the stadium

Both the US teams were in the same semifinal in the team sprint but we were able to work together along with Finland break away from the rest of the field.  Sophie and I finished second in our semifinal behind the Finns with Sadie and Kikkan right behind us.

Sadie and I skied together for basically every second of every leg.  Sadie is an incredibly strong classic skier so it was fun to ski with her.

Here are Sadie and I wearing our relay socks in the mix in the final.  It was an incredibly tight and competitive race and one of the most aggressive races in which I've ever skied.  Game on from the sound of the gun and the twisty narrow course made it very exciting with lots of elbows being rubbed.

Sophie and Kikkan hang over their poles after a strong finish.  This time we finished 8th just seconds behind Kikkan and Sadie in 5th and not too far from the podium either.  

Big hugs after the race!  Sophie and I grew up skiing together in VT and on the New England JO team and then were teammates at Dartmouth so it was really fun to race at World Cup team sprint final together!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

I'll be home for Christmas...... Nope not this year

Merry Christmas! Frohe Weihnachten! Joyeux Noel! Buon Natale! God Yul! We're celebrating them all this year!  This was the first Christmas which I didn't spend at home with my family and while I did wake up Christmas morning feeling quite homesick especially after hearing "I'll be home for Christmas" on the radio, it has been exciting to start new traditions and spend merry times with my winter family.

We started our Christmas celebrations a couple weeks ago with a Secret Santa poetry and gift exchange in Davos with the entire team. 
Last weekend the Christmas lights in Asiago, Italy were wonderful.
All the streets were decorated which created a holiday atmosphere for the weekend before Christmas even though it was warm and snowless.
Kikkan and I were rooming together and since this wasn't Kikkan's first Christmas on the road, she came prepared.  She has a Christmas box filled with decorations, lights, and craft supplies and so we set up this little tree between our beds.  For training the day before the first race Kik wore her reindeer antlers, I wore a Santa hat, and she put a little speaker in her drinkbelt and blasted Christmas music while we skied.
We hung stockings in case Santa decided to come a few days early.  
After the weekend in Italy, I returned to Davos where I will be staying for the next couple weeks for a mid winter training block.  Jessie, Liz, and Noah were staying in an apartment in town and they had decorated it with a real tree, ornaments, lights, candles, snowflakes and paper chains.  Their cozy home had the perfect atmosphere that cannot be recreated in a hotel room.  
One afternoon Jessie went into a baking frenzy and baked four or five different types of delicious Christmas cookies in the span of only about an hour and a half.  It was amazing!  She made cracked chocolate ones, jam drops, salted caramel chocolate chip, gingerbread, and more.  I had fun tasting the dough and cutting out the gingerbread men.  
That same evening, Noah organized a Christmas party with other World Cup skiers who are also homeless for the holidays.  Some Canadians and some Norwegians joined us for a white elephant gift exchange.  Everyone had to bring a wrapped gift of something under 25CHF and then we exchanged, opened, and traded the presents.  There were some awesome and also interesting gifts including firecrackers, a stars and stripes tank top, a finger guitar, a harmonica, chocolate, a giant bubble stick, coffee mugs, and more.  
And one of the best parts of this Christmas break is the chance to go outside and ski in such an amazing setting.  With mountains, big valley, great tracks, and sun, I feel very lucky to be spending the holidays here.   
On Christmas Eve we were invited to dinner at the home of Jurg Capol, former FIS Nordic Race Director.  Once again it was wonderful to be in a home with a very welcoming family.
Jurg's wife Michaela cooked us an amazing Christmas dinner.  Michaela is from Czech Republic and Jurg is from Switzerland so we had traditional Swiss and Czech foods as well as a turkey for us Americans.  Michaela researched what Americans eat for Thanksgiving and then YouTubed how to cook a turkey.  She did an excellent job especially for her first time and everything was delicious!
Santa comes to Switzerland on Christmas Eve so after dinner we went on a walk with their two young daughters to look for Santa.  When we returned he had already come and gone and the tree was full of presents.  It was really fun watching the excitement of a six and seven year old opening the gifts, quickly tearing through the wrapping paper.  The Capol family even had gifts for us under the tree as well so we opened chocolates and snow globes.
Then it was on to dessert including Ben & Jerry's!
Christmas day was a quieter day and I spent most of it relaxing at Hotel Kulm, my home in Davos.  Andy, Simi, and I ate Christmas dinner with the Canadian team at the hotel and Devon Kershaw told us it was his eighth Christmas in the hotel.  The best part of the holiday came in the evening when I skyped with my family at home and heard their familiar voices, separated by many time zones but still sending love and holiday cheer.  
Another holiday gift arrived today in the form of fresh powder!  Most of the team left today for Obehof, Germany and the start of the Tour de Ski.  I bid them farewell and stayed behind in Davos, opting for the chance to train and recover before the second part of the season.  I have some solo time ahead  so send stories, news, one person card games, book recommendations and anything else that will keep me from talking to myself too much in the next week or so.  
Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mountain highs and valley lows in Davos

Welcome to beautiful Davos Switzerland.  Does it get any better than this?

I feel very lucky to be in such a beautiful place and to breathe the fresh mountain air of the Alps.  We have had full sun every single day!  After a few weeks in northern Scandinavia, it feels great to soak in the rays and regenerate our Vitamin D stores.  

Mountains and more mountains

The view from behind our hotel

There isn't quite as much snow this year as last year or in years past but the skiing in the valley is still really good.  While I surely can't complain about all of the sunshine, I have my fingers crossed for a few fresh flakes so that they can groom some of my favorite trails up some of the nearby valleys (FIS Cross Country photo).  

Always great to be in Switzerland with lots of chocolate!  The giant Toblerone I'm holding was 140 Swiss Francs in the Zurich airport so I had to pass on that one but I've still had my share of great chocolate.  
I was excited to find some maple syrup in a store in town but fortunately it is still early in our winter travels so I still have part of my supply of Vermont syrup from home.  I gave a pint of it to Heinz Kessler, the owner of our hotel here in Davos and he excitedly told me that he loves syrup but has not had any since the 80s when another VT skier brought him some.

The team after our annual Secret Santa gift exchange which includes poetry writing and reading and gift giving.  I wrote 'Twas the Night Before the World Cup, a rendition of 'Twas the Night before Christmas for Fred, our massage therapist.  Jason Cork, one of our coaches wrote a series of Haikus for me and gave me a little Christmas tree for my hotel room.  It's a real tree and about a foot high and just perfect for firing up my Christmas spirit. 

The Davos stadium (Salomon Nordic photo)

Hotel Kulm, our home away from home on the road and where I will spend Christmas this year.
We had World Cups here in Davos this past weekend.  On Saturday some of the team raced in a 15km and 30km freestyle race and had great results including five top 30 finishes.  I sat out that race and prepared for the freestyle sprint on Sunday. I felt energetic and confident leading into the race and dreamed big with my sights set on improving on my results from last winter.  My qualification round was solid but not perfect and I just missed making the top 30.  My day was done far before I planned or was ready for and I was left with a huge ache of disappointment.  The women's field was incredibly tight this weekend and only 3.6 seconds separated the first through thirtieth and I was just behind that mark.  Normally the mens' field is packed into close margins while the womens' field sees larger gaps but on Sunday the opposite happened as six seconds spanned the top thirty men.  I guess just a lot of ladies were on fire this weekend.  I have replayed the race in my head repeatedly, grimacing while thinking of the slip on the ice on the final corner or my horrible transition into the uphill on the second lap.  Lots of little mistakes quickly accumulate on a day when there wasn't room for error.  On a perfect day for racing, I was left sitting on the sidelines which is not a fun place to be.  It's easy to become disappointed and frustrated when you look at just the place number beside my name on the result list but this sport is about keeping your head up, kicking harder up the next hill, and racing faster toward the next finish line.  The time had come to find confidence and motivation from this race and this day even if its ending was far different than I planned.  It's about looking for improvements, challenging obstacles which will eventually make me stronger, and embracing every success whether big or small.  It's a practice of patience, embracing this amazing journey rather than instant wins and gratification.

"The battles that count aren't the ones for the gold medals.  The struggles within yourself-- the invisible battles inside all of us-- that's where it's at." Jesse Owens
Qualification rounds have always been a challenge for me.  I ski faster and more relaxed in the rounds when racing head to head against the other skiers but the first step is to make the rounds.  My goal is to eventually confidently qualify in every World Cup sprint that I enter.  I'm inspired by my teammate Andy Newell who  with the exception of a couple falls, can't remember the last time he hasn't qualified for the heats (we think it is since about 2003 or 2005).  I'm obviously not there yet, but I'm making progress towards that goal.  The last time that I raced on this course in Davos, nine seconds separated the top thirty and I was almost 13 seconds out.  This weekend I was a third of that margin away from the lead.  It was my second best qualification ever if you measure based on FIS points (percent back) or total time back from the winner.  I felt strong and fast.  I skied relaxed with length, rather than with a frantic tempo which is not efficient on courses like this one requiring gliding and smooth skiing.  So these are my successes this weekend and these are the steps which will take me forward to our races next weekend in Asiago, Italy.  Those are the feelings which inspire me to continue to train, race, and put everything on the line each day.

Thanks for the cheers and support!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


One of the treats of coming to Norway is eating copious amounts of Brunost which is a caramelized brown cheese made from goat milk or a mix of cow and goat milk.  It's a rich and creamy cheese with a sweet caramel taste and it is available in a variety of kinds from very mild and creamy flavors to sharper stronger types which I believe have more goat milk in them.  There is even a Christmas Brunost that is currently available and is spiced with cardamon and cinnamon. Norwegians eat it with breakfast, lunch and dinner and I think it's best with jam on a waffle or piece of bread.

A big block of brown cheese
And while the brown cheese is a nice treat when we are in Scando land, my favorite cheese is still Extra Sharp Cabot Cheddar.  Produced by local VT farmers, its a staple of my diet at home and I wish I could find it when I'm abroad.  Cabot cheddar can be eaten with just about anything and I love it on the Green Mountain Special pizza at Parker Pie, on a slice of apple pie, or with crackers and roasted garlic as the staple appetizer at our house.  Cabot Creamery has supported my skiing pursuits and I feel really lucky to represent this community of local farmers and to know exactly where my cheese comes from.

Thanks Cabot!

Ruka Triple

The European teams on the World Cup are amazed that we spend so much time on the road but each new hotel becomes our new home.  Andy hangs the American flag, Holly built a fire in our last condo, and Liz loves to feng shui each room to find the perfect space and sleep environments.  We settle into our routines, doing laundry when possible, sampling new cuisines (I tried two different kinds of caviar last night but they were both a little too fishy for my taste buds), and overall loving the adventure.  We just arrived in Lillehammer, Norway but here is an update from our last "home" in Ruka, Finland

The World Cup opened last weekend with a three day mini tour of a classic sprint, a 5/10km classic, and a 10/15km skate purusit.

My teammate Noah Hoffman rocked the weekend with a breakthrough performance finishing 9th overall in the tour and posting the fastest time of the day on the final stage!  It was so cool to watch the Hoff hassle his way up through the pack and then ski with the lead pack.  Noah works really hard so I think this is just the first of many awesome World Cup results this winter!

Congrats Noah on the win!
Our women's team also had a great weekend.  Sadie had a couple breakthrough results with the 3rd fastest qualifier in the sprint and a top ten in the 5km classic.  Kikkan had her first classic sprint podium and finished 5th overall for the weekend.  Liz and Jessie both posted top ten times on the day in the final stage and Jessie lost a pole and glove at 4km and skied the next 6km without a glove in some Arctic temperatures!  Ouch! Check out this video of the highlights of our team over the weekend:

I had a solid start to the weekend but I'm still looking for more.  My best result of the weekend was a 16th in the classic sprint.  After a few poor lane changes and tactical choices early in the quarterfinal which I have replayed endlessly in my mind, I ended up in a double pole sprint finish with the other Ida on the World Cup, Ida Ingemarsdotter from Sweden for second and third place in our heat.  She got me by an inch or so in the final lunge and I just missed moving on to the semifinals.  Both Swedish Ida and Justyna Kowalczyk, the winner of our heat, advanced all the way to the finals so I was bummed to have my day end too soon on a day when I was feeling strong.  More races to come this weekend in Lillehammer!

Here is the beginning of my quarterfinal.
Black light bowling with the team in Ruka
A Ruka sunset, probably around 1:30pm