Thursday, March 31, 2016

Craftsbury Racing!

After a long winter on the road, I count down the days until I can spend time at home.  This year that time came a little earlier as Craftsbury was hosting SuperTour Finals and Distance Nationals.  Rather than having an additional week of travel, I was excited to be able to share my home with the top skiers from around the country.  On top of the extra nights spent in my own bed, I felt a huge boost from the home course advantage.  The familiarity of the courses as well as the special feeling of having my family and friends there makes a big difference.  

Here's a recap and pictures of the final races of the season but first it's important to recognize the amazing work of the Craftsbury Outdoor Center.  On a year when winter didn't ever arrive, they put together a world class 3.5km loop.  The grooming and course condition was better than I saw at many World Cups this winter.  The groomers and volunteers all worked tirelessly through the week to put on a very high quality week of racing.  Thank you!

The week started with the GRP girls leading a Fast and Female event.  We had a great turnout and I was impressed with the high energy that all of those girls brought.  We shared stories, had some ski stations on the snow, danced a little and signed autographs.

We had over 80 girls and 20 ambassadors and sunshine for the event! (Reese Brown/SIA photo)

Ski stations (Reese Brown/SIA photo)

Sharing inspiring and embarrassing stories. (Reese Brown/SIA photo)
The races started right after the Fast and Female with an informal Dash for Cash, a 250 meter elimination sprint on a fast icy course with a downhill, icy turn, uphill and then sprint finish to the snow pile.  It was a fun way to wake my body up after an easy recovery week after Canada and it's always a bonus to leave with a little extra cash in the pocket.

Pat showing he's still got it with some fast sprinting! (Reese Brown/SIA photo)
Finishing through the snow pole hole prevented any photo finishes (Reese Brown/SIA photo)
Dash for Cash podium and thanks for tall podiums when you have tall teammates :) 
The official racing started with a 10km individual start skate race.  I was very tired the day before this race but surprised myself with a 6th place finish and less than two seconds from fourth which gave me some new found confidence in distance skating.

I actually had fun racing the 10km skate which doesn't usually happen in that race.  But it was really fun skiing with Chelsea and Sadie and others. (Reese Brown/SIA photo)
First time ever being on a distance skate podium for me! (Reese Brown/SIA photo)
Team Madshus- I've been so happy with my new skis this year and of course a huge thank you to our awesome Craftsbury wax staff this week of Nick Brown, Anna Schulz, Ruth McGovern, Jake Barton, and Pepa.  (Reese Brown/SIA photo)
The next race was a classic sprint on my favorite fast and firm tracks.  Jessie proved her strength once again with fast heat times all day but I was very satisfied with a close second place finish, striding and double poling on hills that I know so well.

Striding up Moss Run in the semifnal.  Racing at home is great because I know all the hills so well and after countless times running, bounding, skiwalking, and of course skiing up them, one more race isn't too hard.  (Reese Brown/SIA photo)
Podium jump shot after the sprint final (Reese Brown/SIA photo)
So nice to have big cheers from Mom and Dad and all the other hard working Craftsbury volunteers
Next up was a team 4x5km team relay with two women and two men on each team.  Unfortunately all the GRP guys were racing at Biathlon National Championships so Caitlin and I teamed up with Tad Elliott and Noah Hoffman from Vail for team Vailbury Green.  We finished second but were unofficial so we didn't get to win the delicious Clothbound Cheddar cheese from Jasper Hill.  Each race featured wonderful local sponsors donating local food which was greatly appreciated during the week of racing!

The final race of year was the 30km US National Championship.  There is no better way to end the season and empty the tank than with a long hard race!  After not doing much distance racing this past winter, I was seeded 35th and a little nervous about starting so far back.  Luckily it was very easy to move up in the pack and I found myself near the front not too far into the race.  Jessie had already gapped the field but I settled into the chase pack with many of my GRP and USST teammates. Having not raced a 30km in two years and also having some spectacular blow ups in distance races this year, I was not sure what to expect.  But I knew every turn, rise and descent on the course so well that I was surprised with how easy it felt and how quickly the kilometers flew by.  Even as it got harder as the race progressed, I reminded myself of the number of times in my life I had skied and ran each section of trail and found an extra boost.  With each lap I felt better and better and had enough energy to make a move on the final lap to finish second.
Skiing with the pack early in the race. (Reese Brown/SIA photo)
Craftsbury green! Our women's team is so strong right now and it will be a fun to carry the momentum into the summer and fall training together.  (Reese Brown/SIA photo)

Leading Caitlin, Liz, and Kait in our chase group pack (Reese Brown/SIA photo)
Post 30km carnage.  It feels good to sit down in the snow after 30km of racing! (John Lazenby photo)
Big post race hugs with my USST and former Burke Mountain Academy teammate Liz who is one of my favorite people to ski with so it was a blast to race 30km with her. (Reese Brown/SIA photo) 

Three GRP girls in the top 5! (Reese Brown/SIA photo)
30km National Championship podium with Jessie and Caitlin (Reese Brown/SIA photo)
We were lucky and raced first with the fast conditions.  By the time the men raced their 50km, the sun was blasting full strength and the snow had turned to thick, slow slush.  They had a long hard endurance test and I was glad to be cheering and not racing.  Here is Tad Elliott racing to an impressive 2nd place finish in the 50km Classic National Championship. (Reese Brown photo)
Finishing the season at home and on a high note was the perfect ending to a long winter.  I swore I wouldn't ski another lap after the race on Saturday but the sun was out on Sunday so Pat and I took out our skis to appreciate the snow for one last time this winter.  But now springtime relaxing and adventuring is on!

Monday, March 28, 2016

SkiTour Canada

I finished my first ever World Cup Tour last week.  Normally as a ski racer my goals involve more than just making it to the finish line and instead involve some performance or result.  But this Tour wasn't just any race and it was going to be an exciting challenge.  I had a couple individual races during the Tour which I was focusing on more specifically but most importantly I had set my mind to racing day after day as hard as I could and crossing that final SkiTour Canada finish line in Canmore on the last day, racing strong and knowing I had given it my all.  This feat would involve eight races for a total of about 60 kilometers of racing in the period of twelve days in four locations across Canada.  It would involve one car ride, four bus rides and a five hour flight.  Just staying healthy would be the first challenge.  We would race, eat, sleep, travel, and race some more.  Here's what the busy schedule looked like:

Day 1: Drive to Gatineau from Vermont and opening ceremonies with all the teams
Day 2: Course preview in Gatineau
Day 3: 1.6km skate sprint in Gatineau and then 2 hour bus ride to Montreal
Day 4: 10km mass start classic race in Montreal and then 3.5 hour bus ride to Quebec City
Day 5: Recovery day in Quebec City with some easy skiing and jogging
Day 6: 1.5km skate sprint in Quebec City
Day 7: 10km skate pursuit in Quebec City and then drive back to Montreal airport
Day 8: Fly from Montreal to Calgary and then bus to Canmore
Day 9: Training day in Canmore previewing the courses for the last four races
Day 10: 1.5km classic sprint
Day 11: 15km skiathlon
Day 12: Recovery day with just a short run
Day 13: 10km skate race
Day 14: 10km classic pursuit
Day 15: Tired body flying home to VT

Opening Ski Tour Canada with a skate sprint in Gatineau, Quebec (Reese Brown/SIA photo)

I unfortunately ended the first day in my quarterfinal after getting tangled with Hanna Falk from Sweden.  I raced as hard as I could to catch back up to the pack after the crash but couldn't regain contact. (Toko US photo)
Luckily some of my teammates found more success and Jessie and Simi both ended the day on the podium! (Reese Brown/SIA photo)

Getting some pre-race advice from Pepa
Mass start racing in Montreal!  (Reese Brown/SIA photo)

We raced in a park near the center of the city which was a cool back drop but unfortunately the course was too narrow for a mass start race.  There was a big pile up a few hundred meters into the race and I went down again for my second fall in two days.  When I got back up I realized that the front of my ski was broken in half!  By the time I got a new ski I was in the back and spent the rest of the race fighting my way back up into the pack! (Toko US photo)

I finished the race skiing with my Craftsbury teammate Kaitlynn Miller who had an incredible winter of fast racing and was competing in her first ever World Cups in Ski Tour Canada!  It was really fun to ski with her and sprint to the line together. (Reese Brown/SIA photo)
The beginning of the Tour was so busy that despite going to three different cities in Quebec there was very little time for sightseeing.  The third day was an off day and Noah and I explored Quebec City on a morning jog. (Noah Hoffman photo)
Montreal and Quebec City were snowy and cold and it was the most natural snow I had raced on all winter!  Here is Noah with the St. Lawrence River behind him.
Racing in Eastern Canada and so close to home was a highlight of the winter for me because I was able to share the experience with so many friends and family.  There were so many familiar faces lining the trails and the cheering rivalled Scandinavian World Cups in my opinion but maybe I'm just biased ;) (Reese Brown/SIA photo)

Good luck hugs from Mae
And my cousin Abby and her family visiting from New Brunswick

And more sprint racing on a very fun course that circled in front of the Parliament building, along the walls of the fort and across the Plains of Abraham 

I had a really good sprint in Quebec but just missed a lucky loser time in a fast heat and the opportunity to advance farther along that day. (Reese Brown/SIA photo)

After the sprint it was on to skate distance racing.  This is normally not my favorite race but I had a blast racing in a big pack until someone stepped on my pole and broke it on the last lap at which point I had to put my head down and hammer to the finish alone. (Reese Brown/SIA photo)
After Quebec we were halfway through the Tour and the fatigue from the racing and travel was building up.  For recovery we did massage, stretching, ice baths, and short jogs every day which made for a busy schedule of racing and recovery.  Ana, Meg, and Steph kept our muscles going with wonderful massage and physical therapy work.  Thank you ladies!

Another huge thank you to our incredible wax staff that were up early and working late every day preparing fast boards!  I work with Tim Baucom who got sick during the Tour but kept working just with a buff over his face to prevent anyone else from getting his germs! (Reese Brown/SIA photo)
After the Quebec City races we travelled across Canada to Alberta for the last four races.  We left the city racing for the mountains of Canmore and the cold and wintery eastern conditions for hot sunshine in the west!  The last four races were really hard but great experiences.  I struggled with the altitude and the heat  and did not find the results I was looking for in all of the races but there were still many highlights like a fast classic sprint qualifier and some exciting pack skiing in the distance races.  
Classic sprinting on an awesome but very challenging and long sprint course which was made extra tough for the heats when the conditions turned to slop.  This sprint was the last of the winter and I finished the World Cup season ranked in the top 25.
Skiathlon racing with US teammates (Fasterskier photo)
Beautiful Canmore scenery! (Fasterskier photo)
I usually try not to have dramatic finish line displays but for the last race I couldn't help it and I laid in the snow for quite a long time, trying to cool my body off from the hot racing and lacking any energy to make it one step farther.  I was in the most exhausted state I have ever experienced.  The last race was more of the toughest races I have ever finished with big hills at altitude, a tired body, and some heat exhaustion on top but the feeling of satisfaction I felt lying in the finish area was like none other.  It was a new level of tiredness that I could not have begun to fathom was possible. Fortunately with extreme exhaustion soon came a boost of endorphins like none other.  After a few nights of 11+ hours of sleep and a couple days of moving as little as possible and eating and napping as much as I could, I am so thankful for the experience and excited for another World Cup Tour in the future!  But first, the SuperTour finals and Distance Nationals at home in Craftsbury!