Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Back on the World Cup

After spending the first period in North America, I am back on the European side of the World Cup scene. My first stop was in Liberec, Czech Republic- home of World Championships 4 years ago. Things were pretty hectic for the first couple days back on this side of the pond. After finishing a big week of racing at Nationals- I hopped on a plane the day after the skate sprint and traveled over. Then, only a day and a half after arriving, I was back on my skis racing.
The town hall right behind our hotel in the heart of the City of Liberec.
The only way I can describe the feeling of skiing around after that sort of a time adjustment and exhausting week is.... drunk. I felt like I was looking through a pair of goggles where everything was almost delayed by two seconds. It was a wild feeling!! So, after blowing some of those poor feelings out of my system during the individual sprint the first day- I was ready to get back to some good feelings the second day. Since the second day was a team sprint, Ida and I got to combine efforts and put our skills to the test. Even after breaking her pole during the final exchange of the semi-finals, which included her skiing half way up the hill without a pole- we still managed to squeak our way into the finals. After practicing our exchanges a couple more times, and pumping each other up, we headed into the finals. To our surprise, each lap we moved further and further up the group. For the final three laps we were sitting in 3rd position, a place we would have never expected to be. Our our final exchange, again we sort of botched the tag. As Ida took off in the exchange zone full of excitement, it ended with her having to snow plow right before the end of the zone so I could jump out and tag her. With this small little set back, Ida took off in a fury, ready to catch back up to our position. After racing full speed around the loop now her sixth time- her legs struggled to flush out the instant excitement. Coming into the final climb, we slipped back a flew places... but only a few seconds. We ended up finishing in sixth- by far the best result the two of us have ever put together as a team. Even more encouraging, we skied the entire race in medal contention until 200 meters to go- so we are making huge progress! The last time we teamed up for a team sprint we finished 14th, not even advancing on to the finals! So it was a great way to start the year back in Europe!
A view over the city on the low part of the sprint course- FIS Photo
Ida holding a strong position during the team sprint- FIS photo
Following that we headed over to the land of the mountains- La Clusaz, France. When I arrived, I was reminded how much I love Europe and skiing here. We arrived early Monday- so we had a week to do some training in the beautiful Alps. The sunshine managed to bring out all the excitement and joy in all of us as we geared up for a weekend of racing.

Skiing in the Alps
Skiing with buddies in the sunshine! Liz Stephen photo
Saturday was a mass start classic race, and after spending the whole week skiing in clear, beautiful, cold weather- we woke up to a combination of rain and snow. When this happens... things generally get a bit tricky with the waxing. So, saturday brought a stressful day for the wax techs, and a day of racing that tested your patience and determination. As I walked up the hills with stilts, and braced myself for the grabbing on the downhills- I kept reminding myself that the one with the determination on this day is the one that will do well. At that time, I had the feeling I was the only one in this boat, but as I listened in the finish line- we must have looked like a bunch of beginners out there. Scraping our skis sideways and poles and butts out.. waiting for the grabbing snow. Even through all this mess, I was able to score my first European World Cup Distance Points, as I finished 28th- just in the points. So even through all the frustrations, it was a day of success for me.
Spectators lining the fences on the high turn in La Clusaz Mass Start- FIS photo
It was also a special day, because my boyfriend, who is from France, got to finally come watch me race in person. He has been following on TV, but it was nice he finally got to stand on the course and watch!
Alaskan and US cheers from Jo and his roommates
Some of the skiers from Jo's home town who have become my favorite French Fans!!
Sunday was a relay, but I hadn't skied fast enough the day before to make it on to the team- so Ida and I put on our cheering game faces, wrapped ourselves in American flags, and put our lungs to use!
Womans US Team
From there I took a short training break for five days in Meribel where my boyfriend lives and works in the winter. I have been visiting him here or the past three years, so I have started to really learn my way around. I always love this time, because it is a period for me to relax my mind, and enjoy skiing alone. For five days it was just me and the snow and the wild animals. Meribel is the largest alpine ski resort in the world... so you can imagine nordic skiing isn't very popular. With that said, the trails and grooming are great!! I swear, its like the little secret land. But this is the greatest way for me to recharge my battery and get a little personal time before jumping back into a good period of racing.
Running into a few of my ski instructor buddies who have become good fans over the years.
Good skiing and beautiful views!!
Taking advantage of gravity and hitting the slopes... making my legs burn in a new way.
I have also been breaking up my mornings by attending class at 5:30, three mornings a week. This means that most of my free time at the moment is filled with school work, and taking naps trying to catch up on my missed sleep. Fortunately, all my classes are super fun and the professors are so passionate that they do a really good job of keeping me awake and not letting me fall asleep at that hour of the morning.

And that brings me to now! I am currently living and training in the Olympic Athlete Village in Sochi, Russia. We have World Cup races here this weekend, so it has been incredibly interesting getting to know the way of the land, the culture, and the trails of Sochi! I tell you, it is a different scene way up here in the mountains of Russia! I look forward to trying out some racing this weekend!
Loading up baggage for our charter flight to Sochi
This is our form of transportation up here in the athlete village. We are literally perched on the top of an alpine hill, so vehicles are only limited to construction vehicles... and I have yet to figure out how those got up here!
The Gondola Ride up from the Black Sea to the mountains- Hoff photo
My ski tech, Randy Gibbs and I. Randy has been working hard getting to know the unique snow up here!!
skiing up one of the big hills into the stadium... I think we will get to ski this beast 6 times on Saturday...YES!!
Holly and I above the Biathlon Stadium.. it is huge!! Like a huge football stadium. The Nordic Stadium is temporary, so nothing set up yet.
Finding some time to ski in a skirt!! Thanks Skhoop for all the support!
One last exciting note from the past couple of weeks is that my brother and I both just recently got named to the World Championship Team in Val de Fiemme, Italy!! This has been a goal of mine all summer, but I started loosing site of it while I hit bump after bump throughout the summer and fall. After racing into form throughout the beginning part of the season- I was able to accomplish my original goal- so I really look forward to teaming up with 12 others for one of the strongest World Championship Teams ever!! These races will take action the last weeks of February, so we have two weekends of World Cup races between now and then.

Pure Excitement... what will Russia bring next? Liz photo

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

US National Championships

This past week has been one of the best weeks I have had to this day- for so many different reasons. National Championships are always a great experience and caries so much honor to take part in. I went into this week with expectations, but nothing specific. After spending most of my Christmas break trying to get the tendinitis in my foot back under control, again I was simply happy to be able to race!
(All Fasterskier photos)
Soph and I handing out hugs on the podium! :)
When I think back on this week though, there is two things that made it super special: Family and Team!

For two years, my family hasn’t been able to watch me race for various reasons. I was sick over Nationals last year, and frankly, I just haven’t done much racing near home! This year though, my parents have gotten to watch quite a bit. Every weekend my moms screaming voice and my dads soft encouragement has allowed me to dig a bit deeper. Since I was a very young child, my parents have been nothing but supportive and encouraging of our athletic dreams. They are the number one believers, and somehow they will do anything to help make it happen. This is something that I have learned to appreciate over the past few years, so to be able to walk up to my parents and give them a huge hug after winning a National Title, and see the excitement in their eyes…. It means the world! Not only that, my brother is doing the same. I have been training alongside Erik since a young child; lived with him, talked goals with him, encouraged him, beat him to the line a couple times, and just shared this joy of our sport. To see him start to truly shine this year is so exciting! To hear “And Erik Bjornsen takes the win” stirs up all the emotions inside. In a way, my family’s success is my own, shared success. On the other hand, it is still a constant competition between the two of us. Every day he has a better day than me.. it’s time to out-do him next time! So between our 7 medals we won at National Championships this year- you can imagine the Bjornsen Family went to bed with big smiles at nighttime! Not only the Bjornsen Family, but also all my relatives that have now started watching results, following live timing, and getting online in the crack of dawn to watch the European races on the internet. Thanks you guys for all the notes of encouragement and cheering into the computer!

My mom nothing but smiles after my classic win! (All photos Fasterskier photos)
Erik B and Erik Flora after Erik's first National Title... tears of joy!
The other thing that made this week really special was my team. Both teams, my US Ski Team and my APU Team. During the beginning of the week, the US Ski Team was over in Europe racing in the Tour de Ski; the most challenging ski race in the world. With seven races in nine days… it’s a test of fitness, heart, and determination! Those girls were truly inspirational and kept me challenging myself this week. Each one of them had more than a dozen PR’s or great moments. Not only that, day after day, when the exhaustion set in, they continued to charge! So, every time I felt the pain in my own races; all I had to think about was those girls over there and an entirely different universe of pain!

Skate Sprint Podium

And second my APU Team. These past three years with the APU team have been incredible. Each year, the team steps up, and new girls start knocking on the door. Right now we have our two strongest girls in Europe, yet we have a true presence on the National Circuit! Racing sprint races and mass starts, we often line up alongside each other with the knowledge of each and every one of these girls strengths. Instead of taking advantage of this though, we work together and challenge each other to a higher level. We race as competitors but work as teammates! I have to say, my favorite moment of this week was sweeping the podium in the skate distance race. Rosie Brennan, one of my best friends and housemates won her first National Title- and Kate Fitz and I were on the other two steps. The three of us all got each other there though! We challenged the heck out of each other every day in training throughout the off-season, and we encouraged each other the weeks leading into the races that we could do it! Team means the world in an individual sport; because they are your encouragement, your partners, and your greatest competitors.
APU Sweep
APU ladies going to the point of exhaustion at the finish line! 
And the final piece of this team, yet the most important is the support staff- the coaches and the techs. This year APU brought 28 people, so you can imagine the work that had to be done! You can imagine these guys busted their butts testing all day, all evening, and all morning! Every single race I started I had great skis- along with the rest of the 23 APU athletes. Meanwhile Erik Flora is splitting his time between testing, racing around the course with Mikey Matteson for “world championships of the world”, and spending time making every person on our team believe they can be great! Erik has a unique skill in this; he knows how to encourage a group, but he also knows how to get them to truly believe it. He doesn’t just do this during racing though, he does it year around, every single day of training. So thanks to Erik Flora- this was a huge week for him as a coach and he deserves all the credit in the world!

So with two new National Titles in my pocket, and two “runner-up” titles, I am leaving my most successful Nationals week for the next adventure; my World Cup Season. I am actually sitting on the airplane right now flying to Liberic, Czech Rebuplic for a Classic Sprint and Team Sprint this weekend. As you can imagine, this is quite a quick turn around, so we will see how it goes over. With 15 out of the 28 athletes staying in our house last week getting sick… I am also putting my immune system to the true test! Lots of Cold-Eeze mixed with lots of hydration- I sure hope that is the magic to keep the bug away!
Joy across the line!
Racing for the finish!
Thanks to everyone for all the encouragement and cheers this week. I can’t say thank you enough, but it means the world!

On to the next adventures!!