Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring Series

Spring Series has wrapped up here in Anchorage, making for the end of the 2013-2014 season. It was an incredibly fun season, it couldn't have ended better!

The last time I raced in Anchorage was 4 years ago when I was trying to qualify for the Vancouver Games. It was a different world, I had a different home, I was in a different place, and I didn't come close to making my Olympic goals. So, to come back to Anchorage, and race at what now feels like "home" was so much fun. In these last three years, it has been so much fun becoming a member of APU and this community! People are so excited about skiing here. They love it, and they support their local crew so well. All four races, I couldn't believe the amount of people that showed up, and the noise level of the crowd. It was often louder than the cheering I heard at the Olympics! So, to be included in that excitement, and hear my name being cheered on, it meant so much!
ADN photo- Celebrating Sophie's birthday right as she crosses the line
Rob Whitney photo- having a little cheer with the girls after our last sprint of the season.
ADN photo- some awesome cheering on the sidelines!
Spring Series was a little shorter this year than normal, thankfully! We are always so tired at the end of the season that each additional race after World Cup Finals gets you closer and closer to the bottom of the tank! This year the race set up was 10k skate, classic sprint, team relay, and then ending with a 30k classic.
Rob Whitney photo from Team Relay
The first three races were held out at Kincaid. With the low snow year, there wasn't much snow left out at Kincaid, but the organizers did an awesome job of making it work! There was enough snow to ski on, and we had a great time racing on the old World Cup Trails. Even though I am now living in Anchorage, I have skid very few of these trails; only because I spend my entire winter in Europe racing. But I quickly grew familiar with them, and really enjoyed them!
ADN Photo
ADN Photo
Along with the rest of the field, I managed to scrape out enough energy to have four good races. It started with the skate race; that aside from taking a fall on one of the icy downhill corners, it went really well. The second race was a classic sprint, which was fun to have a sprint off with the local favorite, and best sprinter in the world… the one and only Kikkan! The third race was my favorite, the team relay. It was a new event this year; two boys, two girls. The first two legs were classic, and the final two were skate, all 5k legs. The APU Team entered 6 teams into this event, and landed two of them on the podium! My team made of Reese, me, Erik B and Kikkan was lead out by Reese making a break from the field early on in his leg. It was so much fun getting decked out in APU spirit… yellow and blue sparkles, face paint, hair gems… you name it! There was some fun trash talk between the teams, and it turned out to be a ton of fun! Since many of the World Cup Skiers are from different clubs, there were some good teams out on the line!
ADN Photo- Tagging off to Erik in the Team Event
Skiing around at our "Ski With the Olympians" Kids event
Fasterskier Photo- Sprint Podium with the APU Bear!
And then the final day was the 30k classic… a race I have suddenly started to enjoy. Ever since being a young junior, I was often steered in the sprinting direction. Since joining APU, I have started trying to train more for distance racing… but I would have never guessed I would ever do well in a 30k. After Holmenkollen this year though, I decided I really like the format of a 30k. You go out hard… and see how absolute long you can hold on to it. I think it is fun to test your body… see how deep you can dig into the pain cave. So, I have been looking forward to this 30k at spring series, in my hometown for the past month!
ADN Photo- 30k race with Lizard
ADN Photo- celebrating across the line!
After deciding there wasn't enough snow, the 30/50k got moved up to Hilltop, on the Spencer Loop… an infamously hard course…. harder than 95% of the World Cup Courses I have skied. The thing about Spencer is it keeps climbing, and climbing… and climbing! It is not very forgiving! So, as I was skiing around it the day before the race… all I could wish for was that we took it out at an easy pace and didn't start going crazy until the last 10k. Well, come race day… that idea lasted no more than 10 mins into the hour and 30 min race! Once it started, I wanted to go! I wanted to see what I could make of each ounce of energy all of us had left! It turned into an incredibly fun race! The first lap, there was a group of 4 of us. The second lap there was a group of 3 of us, and then for the final lap… it was a group of two of us… just Liz and I… both working together, but also trying to beat each other. The whole 30 kilometers, I was smiling inside. I was having so much fun! There were so many people out there cheering, I was racing on one of the hardest courses of the season, I was skiing alongside my teammates using teamwork to push ourselves…. and all I could feel was this feeling of celebration. As I crossed the line, I was swarmed with emotion! I was so happy! Winning a 30k National Championship race is one of my larger accomplishments in my career… and to be able to do it in Anchorage, on Spencer Loop!! One thing is for sure; I am going to enjoy bounding intervals there a lot more this summer when I have flashbacks!
Todd List photo from the 30k
Travis Rector Photo Credit
So now, the season is over, and it's time to rest, relax and reflect a little! It has been such a fun season, and so many good times! Thanks Anchorage for welcoming me home with so much excitement, and thanks James Southam, APU and all the organizing committee for putting on such a great event here in Anchorage!! And thank you to everyone that has made this year possible for me! I can't say thank you enough!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

World Cup Finals

Well, the World Cup Season has come to an end for me. One of my main goals of the season was to finish in the top 50, which meant that I was allowed to participate in my first World Cup Finals. With the World Championship event in Falun, Sweden next year- I was also curious to check out the Championship courses to come. 

I haven't written much since the Olympics after coming down from a pretty high Olympic buzz. After the challenging travel back to Munich, the organization of getting everything home, and then the mental drainage of moving on to the next venue for the next races.. I picked up the Sochi Plague. A disease that came in an ugly form of a cold. Fever, chest congestion, all the fun stuff that you try to avoid all winter. Well, sadly the morning of the Lahti sprint, I woke up with the Sochi Plague. I learned pretty quickly how common it was; it seemed many people had managed to pick it up as well.

So after practicing my new found patience for illness this winter, I rested in bed for four days and jumped back on my skis for the Drammen Sprint. The Drammen/Oslo World Cup weekend has always been one of my favorite weekends of the season. The incredible atmosphere and excitement for skiing truly shine in these two venues. 

Wednesday's sprint in Drammen went well for me until I made a poor lane choice and collided with my Norwegian buddy, Astrid Jacobsen. We quickly got up, and raced our hearts out, catching one girl, but never getting back in contention. Unfortunately, I got in trouble for one of my lane selections, so I was relegated down to 30th place on the day. With three more days to recover to full health- I looked forward to the weekend of Holmekollen racing.

I have always loved visiting Oslo for more reasons then the culture. I also have a huge collection of friends around the area that always make me feel at home. Between my college friends, the family of my college friends, and some of the girls on the Norwegian Team that live in Oslo… there are many welcoming homes. After spending four months on the road traveling through hotels after hotels; spending an evening inside a real home with home prepared food is priceless!! It is something that just means the World. My five day stay in Oslo was quickly filled with social interactions, Fast and Female Events, and preparing for a 30k.

I went into Sunday's 30k race with little expectations. With Oslo being a special place because of my very first World Cup/World Championship level racing being there; I can't ever wipe the smile off my face as I ski around those courses. I love how challenging they are, but mostly; I love how many spectators there are in the most challenging places. Ski racing becomes like a dream. Often the noise is so loud as you are racing that it forces you to go into another place in your mind. You have to make another room, one with less noise and more focus… like a dream within your mind. Something crazy like that. Well this year, things were even louder than normal in my 30k race. Spending the majority of the race skiing in a pack of between 3-5 Norwegian girls… the crowds were always at full force when I went skiing by. While I knew they were cheering for the Norwegians, I could hear some "Bjornsen" and "Kikkan" coming out of the crowd! We had some of our own fans out there as well!! Between the atmosphere and the good feelings, it turned out to be my best 30k ever!'

So from this event high, next stop was World Cup Finals. Falun is about 7 hours away by bus from Oslo, and somehow we got lucky enough to enjoy this experience in a double decker bus. I have never ridden in a double decker bus, so I was like a kid in a candy shop, sitting on the top floor with my face plastered out the front the whole time. It was pretty darn fun!

As we rolled up to Falun… something just didn't seem right.. the ground was fully brown. The only snow that could be found was on the Falun race courses. To my disbelief, the skiing was great. The snow held together, and the organizing committee did a great job of still holding great races under such challenging conditions. 

World Cup Finals is raced in a Tour style format, so each race contributes to your overall score at the end of Sunday. Starting with a classic sprint was pretty exciting for me. Having gotten tangled last weekend in Drammen, I was stoked to try again right away. I had a great qualifier, crossing the line in 5th. In period 1, I had two great qualifiers, but both times really struggled in the heats. My goal was to do better. Be stronger in the heats, and be smarter. I took off out of the start, ready for battle.. and suddenly found myself leading. Without thinking about the best tactics, I kept firing on, just so excited I was out front. On the final corner into the stadium, my two teammates that I was in a heat with (Soph and Kikk) went shooting up beside me and past me. Trying to match their momentum, I double poled my heart out to the line but sadly wasn't able to gain my leading position back. I immediately was bummed… that was my chance. I was in the front all that time, why wasn't I the one sitting in behind? But, again, that is sprint racing. You have to do it wrong 30 times before you do it right! So, another season of training and tactical knowledge… and I will be back, smarter and fitter, for next season!

Up next in the tour was some skate skiing, FINALLY! Prior to this weekend, I had done two skate races this season. One in Kuusamo, and one in the Olympic Pursuit Race. That was just pure coincidence. With most of the skate racing during the Tour (which I skipped), and then missing Lahti… I haven't gotten to try much. Falun has fun courses. Lots of challenging climbing, and fast curvy downhills. It was good for me! On Saturday was the Pursuit race, and after having a great classic leg, I fell back a few places; but it still ended up being my best pursuit race ever. And then finally, Sunday ended with the 10k skate, pursuit style. The order at the finish Sunday was your overall placing in the tour. Starting 18th, at the same time as Liz, I wanted to see how long I could stay with her. Liz is an incredible skate skier. She has such fast tempo, yet great glide, and has proved numerous times she is one of the best skate skiers in the world. So foolishly, I went out hanging on for dear life. That lasted for about 1.5k when I had a major explosion. An explosion that left six girls passing me like I was standing still. My friend Astrid gave me some advice after the first day of the Tour. She told me my fitness was visibly there, but that I just needed to believe in myself, especially with my skate racing. So as I attempted to recover from my Liz chase too early, I eventually pulled my mind back together, and started working my way back to that group of girls that had passed me earlier on. Slowly I picked a few off, and managed to finish the tour in 22nd, only loosing 4 places. I was excited, and left my final races of the season happy!

Last year I finished 52nd on the overall list, missing World Cup Finals by about 8 points if I remember correctly. This year, I finished the season in 32nd, only 6 points from top 30, and I moved into the red group for distance racing; another accomplishment I have never achieved! While it was a tough season mentally, it started well and finished well. The middle was a good test, but the important part was I was able to pull myself back together.

But, before I get too excited about the end, it is too early for that. I am currently on an airplane traveling back home, to Anchorage for Spring Series. There we will have four races. The 30k National Championship, a Team Relay (4x5), a classic sprint, and a 10k skate. Anchorage hasn't had much snow this winter, but fortunately the snow gods decided to be generous and send down about two feet of fresh powder just in time for the races!

I am getting so excited for some racing in what feels like my hometown now. The last time I raced in Anchorage was six years ago for Nationals, before I had established a home in Anchorage. I am really looking forward to sharing my racing with all my friends and supporters, getting them excited about what we are doing! For those of you that are in town, we will be racing March 22-28, so come out and check it out. Races are expected to be held at Kincaid, assuming the snow holds up!

Thanks to everyone for the incredible support this season! This is the first time I have spent the full four months living and racing full time on the World Cup Season. It is certainly different, and I would say a lot harder. The homesick feelings are a little bit stronger with such  long stint at one time. I really appreciate all the emails, the photos, the love, and support that I have received throughout the winter. You have all made this the most special winter yet for me, so thanks!