Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Frohe Weihnachten!

Every year Santa decorates a big sugar cookie of every family member and puts them in our stockings. But when you're not at home....

Your older sister gets to eat yours!

I'm used to spending a lot of time away from home especially in the winter but it's always a little harder at this time of the year.  I grew up with so many holiday traditions that can be hard to replicate on the road.  Even the little things like sitting as close as possible to the wood stove first thing in the morning when the rest of our wood heated house is still a little chilly is a really special feeling.  So I always dread not being at home at Christmas even if I'm doing something I love.  But that said, I had a wonderful Christmas this year.  I spent the ten days between the Toblach World Cup and the Tour de Ski with my teammates in Davos.  We rented a really nice apartment and had a great break together cooking delicious meals, skiing, ice skating on Fluella pass under the full moon, and enjoying the sunshine.  Winter hasn't really arrived yet in most of central Europe so we skied on a manmade loop in Davos but enjoyed sunny weather every single day! 

After the last World Cup we drove from Davos to Zurich via Innsbruck where we stopped for some groceries.  It was cheaper there than in Davos so we stocked our kitchen for the week and also had a scenic drive through Innsbruck in search of a bigger grocery store.

Jessie serenading our living room with some Christmas carols 

Our house came decorated with two Christmas trees and we added some other decorations from the "Christmas box" our team saves in Europe so the apartment was very festive!  I woke up early a few mornings and loved reading in the light of the tree with a cup of coffee before everyone else woke up 
Andy, Noah, and I at the dinner table.  We don't often have kitchens or the opportunity to choose what we want to eat so we took advantage of this time and had some awesome meals including burgers, curry, fajitas, mushroom risotto, pad Thai, and sushi bowls!

Noah and Liz making sushi rolls!

Chrismas family this year getting a little silly.  So lucky to spend the holiday with all of them!

The view from our deck on one of the cloudy days

Lunch on the deck after a morning of skiing

We were just out of town at the base of the Jacobs Horn gondola so it was an easy walk to the ski trails or grocery store.

A strip of snow in green grass.  There was about 8km of manmade snow in Davos.  The temps were freezing at night so they were making new snow most nights and many of the trails (not this one) were shaded so the conditions held up extremely well.

Christmas eve dinner with the Capol family is a highlight of our Swiss Christmas.  Jurg Capol works for FIS and is the mastermind behind the Tour de Ski.  He lives about 45 minutes from Davos with his wife and daughters and they have graciously welcomed us into their home for a wonderful meal.  Jurg's wife Michaela taught herself how to cook a turkey just for us and I think her turkey's may be the best that I'v ever had!

Delicious food and great company

The moon shining on the snowy mountains on the top of Fluela pass! We ice skated on the top of the pass under the Christmas full moon!

Winter in Switzerland?
A pretty drive to Lenzerheide from Davos for interval training on the next World Cup sprint course 

Almost looks like VT

This tunnel maybe not as much

A pretty Swiss church in the village of Schmitten

The view from Lenzerheide.  Today we drove 45 minutes from Davos to Lenzerheide for the start of the Tour de Ski.
The Tour de Ski starts here this weekend!  The entire tour is eight races in ten days in three countries!  I'm only planning to race the first five or six races and then will stop in order to recover for the following World Cup weekend in Slovenia.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Sprint Racing

Sprint racing can be incredibly fun but it also can be incredibly frustrating.  Sometimes it seems like tactics and speed happen effortlessly while other times it feels like this weird combination of being frantically stuck, spinning your wheels without making progress.  My last couple sprints have felt more like that latter.  I've finished sixth in both my quarterfinals and I've crossed the finish line wanting just a little more or feeling like I had more to give.  In a longer race there is always enough distance and time to give your all and leave everything out on the course which isn't always the case in sprinting.  Sprints are fast and exciting but leave less margin for error and sometimes they are over before you're ready.  The competition is tight on the World Cup and often times first through 30th place are within five seconds of or less of each other in qualifying.  Cruising through quarterfinals and semifinals doesn't happen and it's game on from the minute the gun is fired.

Two weekends ago we raced at altitude in Davos, Switzerland.  My legs did not recover from the morning's qualification quite like I had hoped and going over the last hill in my heat my legs flooded and I felt like I was barely able to stand up much less ski well for the last few hundred meters.  This past weekend racing in Toblach, Italy, I felt like I had the opposite problem when my legs felt great but my tactics on the last couple corners were less than stellar.  So I was eliminated each day sooner than I had hoped.  I left the race course wishing for a do over button but I held on tightly to valuable lessons and experience from each day which I will use in a future sprint.  Part of the process is simply standing up to the plate with a bat in a hand and ready to swing with all your might.  With enough tries you will connect and be the one who finds the opening through the pack, has an ounce of extra punch over the top of a hill,  or blazes down the finishing lanes in the lead.  Racing may be over for 2015 but I'll be back at it in 2016 fired up for more races and new opportunities.

Here are a few pictures from Davos and Toblach.  Happy holidays to all!

Caitlin decorated my drink belt!

Our awesome wax staff also happens to play together in a band!  Here are JP, Jessie, Andy, Tim, and Andrew playing a little concert for us at the Hotel Kulm in Davos.

Sprint qualifier in Davos (Marcel Hilger photo)

Pain face grimace (Marcel Hilger photo)

Neither Davos nor Toblach have any natural snow but both venues did a great job providing awesome race courses and great skiing with manmade snow.

Mountains grass and some mamade snow in the stadium in Toblach.  The race course climbs up and over the roof of  building with the flags on the right of this photo.

Evening jog with the ladies on a night before one of the races.  Mama Kikkan came to visit us for the past two weeks!

Some of the hard core Italian fans coming out to cheer

Sprinting in Toblach (Toko US/Nordic Focus photo)

PODIUM! Simi skied so smoothly and powerfully, making the amazing result look easy!  I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot more of these results from him this winter!

Without any natural snow I went for a run one day on some of the trails in the valley

The Dolomites!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

And the World Cup begins!

The 2015-16 race season season has begun!  The World Cup circuit opened last weekend with a mini-tour of races in Ruka, Finland.  I've raced in Ruka many times before and love the steep uphills and fast downhills on the course.  I was pretty nervous though before this year and wasn't sure what to expect after having gotten sick in Gallivare.  My cold lingered for quite awhile and I didn't feel any improvements until the day before the first race.  Even then, I skied around the courses and tried to do some easy intensity to warm up my body but just felt flat and slow.  Simply skiing up the hills slowly felt extremely tiring and I won't even try to explain what skiing faster felt like.  I tried to tell myself that I was at least very well rested but it was difficult when basically every skier on the World Cup zoomed by me as if I was in slow motion.  The warmup for the race wasn't that much better but with each new warmup interval, qualifier, or heat, I gave myself a fresh start and a new focus.  I barely squeaked into the top 30 in 30th but then felt better and better with each heat and I had so much fun racing head to head again with the best women in the world.  It's a very inspiring feeling to fight for every inch the entire length of the course.  I ultimately just missed the final, finishing just tenths of a second back in third place in my semifinal which put me in 7th place overall.  Last year I finished fifth in this race but I felt stronger and faster this year, a reminder that the results list doesn't show everything.  The rest of the weekend included more fast and hard racing up the steep hills of Ruka with some solid results all around for the team.

Classic sprinting!
(Noah Hoffman photo from
My favorite Finnish meal of mashed potatoes, sauteed reindeer and lingonberry jam.  The picture doesn't really do it justice but it's super delicious and was the perfect way to refuel in the middle of the mini-Tour
The day before the races started, I gathered with my fellow competitors from many different countries to show support for the UN Climate Conference which is taking place this week in France. The effects of climate change are very visible to a winter sport athlete.  While we are all responsible for making responsible and sustainable decisions I hope that change will occur at COP21 that will reduce the harmful effects of climate change.  For more information check out this article

Athletes uniting in the stadium

From Ruka we travelled to Lillehammer, Norway via two bus rides and two flights.  After a couple weeks of darkness, we finally found the sun!  Lillehammer is still quite far north relative to home but compared to Gallivare and Ruka there is so much light!  There is only a short man made loop in Lillehammer for the races which is extremely challenging with literally no flat outside of the stadium.  It's a great place to do intervals but for longer distance workouts we've been skiing in Sjusjoen and Nordsetter where the terrain is a little easier and the conditions have been wonderful!  I forgot my camera the first day but I went for an awesome ski with Noah Hoffman and Brayton Osgood in Sjusjoen who were both more prepared (Brayt even brought chocolate) and took the following photos.

Blue sky! (Brayton Osgood photo)
And SUN!
So much happiness!
Exploring a windblown plateau
Happy December!  Yesterday afternoon we walked around town and checked out the Christmas decorations!  Jessie and I are rooming together this week and have found our holiday spirit blasting the Christmas carols.  This weekend the races are 15/30km Skiathlon and a 4x5km relay.
A Lillehammer store transformed into a gingerbread house

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Resting up in Gallivare

The race season officially started for our team today in Gallivare, Sweden.  I had been looking forward to this date for quite some time and it was hard to mask my disappointment and frustration this morning when I woke up sick with a sore throat.  There wasn't anything I would rather have done than put on my new stars and stripes race suit with a bib on top and hammer til my lungs burned.  It didn't seem fair that I got the achy lungs without the satisfaction of a hard effort.  I longingly looked out over the fresh snow which had fallen over the last several days and settled into perfect ski conditions.  As a ski racer, everything seems to revolve around the delicate balance of staying healthy.  Colds or other bugs which would be minor to most quickly turn devastating to Nordic skiers.  My mind started to wander toward the what ifs and worries from missing races and training. So I spent the day coming up with ways to stay busy and happy in a lonely European hotel room far from home.  Here's a list of some of my top activities from the day
  • Organizing my email inbox
  • Reading Shantaram, a 946 page novel that I highly recommend
  • Coloring in a coloring book- surprisingly soothing and healing
  • Seeing how slowly I can chew raw garlic
  • Drinking cup after cup of tea
  • Researching online graduate school classes
  • Short walks
  • Yoga 
  • And of course.... blogging!
I have my fingers crossed for a fast recovery so I can be back on the ski trails soon!  Here are some pictures of Gallivare from earlier in the week and from a walk earlier today.

Skiing!  So much fun to be back on snow in winter and can't wait to get out there again!
The Hellner Stadium in Gallivare on a snowy day!  Swedish skier and Olympic Champion Marcus Hellner lives and trains in Gallivare

The stoke level is high for the start of the season.  Here are Erik Bjornsen, Tim Baucom, and Caitlin Gregg

Smiles and warm hands with my new TOKO mittens

Arctic sunrise (and sunset as my brother-in-law Linden pointed out) one morning at our hotel

Dr. Seuss looking trees

Looking down on the mining town of Gallivare from our hotel

Dundret, the alpine resort where we are staying

Alpine ski trails I found on a walk

The view from North of the Arctic Circle

Coloring book art
My room at home :) My parents put a new mattress in my bedroom at home and sent me the picture of my room which stirred up some strong feelings of homesickness.  Time to focus on the good adventures ahead!