Monday, March 30, 2015

End of Season

What a great end to the 2014/2015 season these past two weeks in Sun Valley, Idaho! Spring Series/Spring Nationals has always been a love-hate relationship for me. Coming back from World Cup, I often feel blown out and just ready to be done! Racing four more times can sound so terrible. On the other hand…. spring series is a time to almost "celebrate" the season during racing. We often refer to it as "letting our hair down". We try to focus a little less, smile a little more, and keep things a little bit lighter.

It may not be the beach... but it is sand! Finding some sunshine in the middle of the golf course.
Fun to meet up with some of the kids from back home that I grew up babysitting. Walker Hall was crushing it all week!
"letting your hair down" or "letting your sleeves down". (Reese Brown photo)
Feed.... yes please! (Reese Brown photo).
This year was a unique one. The US Ski Team as a group was more blown out than ever at the completion of the World Cup Season. I think we all raced far more this year than we have in the past. Also, we ended with a challenging 30k skate race at Holmenkollen that left us all exhausted! Traveling overseas the following morning delivered everyone back to the US simply BLOWN OUT! Sadly, this left a bunch of the US Team sick, tired, or injured for these final few days of racing.
Sprinting in the sun. (Fasterskier photo)
Some challenging relay racing in the snow... with my klister skis. I wasn't imaging winter conditions when I packed my ski bag in Europe... so bringing only klister skis home proved to be a mistake! (Fasterskier photo).
Sun Valley, living up the the "sunny" piece!
Doing some racing with one of my favorite training buddies! (Reese Brown photo)
Somehow, I got really lucky, and my immune system jumped into overdrive trying to help me recover from this challenging and long World Cup Season. The amazing Sun Valley Vitamin D sure seemed to help, Not only that, some family time cured me right up!

Pretty fun to be wearing some Craft with the APU team this week! (Noah Hoffman photo)
Having family around this past week was the highlight of the week. My Grandma and Mom, as well as my dear family friends from Seattle all came out and cheered on my brother and I. We even got a visit from my Aunt, Uncle, and Cousins for the 30k Skate! It was so nice to be able to have some family time after a long season where homesick seemed to visit me all to often throughout the past four months! I also especially enjoyed getting to join back up with my home team, Alaska Pacific University. I love this team, and have so much fun training and racing with these guys. It has been great to join back up with everyone, catch up on winter racing stories, and go to the line wearing my blue APU uniform!

As you can see... my mom has been in a bit of a different climate than me these past few months!
Hanging out with my Mom and Granny in SV.
Our wonderful Family Friends and Hosts, Peter and Kristiann.
That's a happy Granny!
Throughout the four races this past week in Sun Valley, I experienced every different emotional feeling. Exhaustion, excitement, nervousness, but finally, I finished with a great feeling of accomplishment! As I crossed the line the final day, the 30k Skate National Championship, I flopped across the finish line falling into the snow knowing I had given every last bit of energy towards this season! I finished happy, accomplished, and proud of what I have done this year. What a fun 2014/2015 racing season. Ending it with four podiums just put some fun icing on the cake.

Exhaustion (Reese Brown photo).
Excitement! (Fasterskier photo)
Nervous. Doing the Super Woman pose is proven to help you do better. It gives you a rush of testosterone and  confidence before the start.
Accomplishment. (Reese Brown photo)
Proud of APU for going 1 and 2 on the relay day! (Fasterskier photo)
After the final races, I stayed a few extra days in Sun valley for a US Ski Team event. This consisted of a day full of teaching ski clinics, meeting some wonderful people of Sun Valley, and finally wrapping up an amazing year with a cheers and celebration with my team! I am so lucky to have such great support from teammates, coaches, family, the people that believe in US Skiing and my largest sponsor, Saltchuk, making this financially possible! I want to thank everyone for making this an incredible and memorable year! I am lucky to be part of this team, and this time of cross country ski racing in the US!
The agility group. (Reese Brown photo)
Showing the younger generation some of our favorite drills. (Reese Brown photo)

Jessie Diggins telling the group of supporters about how lucky we are to have such an awesome team! (Reese Brown photo)
Thanks to Steve and Diana Strandberg for hosting us and hosting the Fundraiser! (Reese Brown photo).
Ready, BREAK! Rest time! (Reese Brown photo).
For now I am headed back to Anchorage to enjoy some much needed rest and recovery. I can't wait to have a few weeks of waking up with as little focus as possible. I sure will enjoy a mental and physical break before starting a new year of new and higher levels of focus and training!

Happy Spring from the USST!

Friday, March 20, 2015

End to the World Cup Season

The end of the World Cup Season seemed to have come all too quickly. In a year that I keep looking to find a little bit more, I almost felt like I was racing the clock to find those "great" feelings before the season came to an end.

Enjoying some sun with Rosebud! (Holly Brooks photo).
Fortunately, I came pretty darn close. Lahti, Finland World Cup's are always unique, because they come the weekend after the big Championships. Two weeks of trying to be in your best form, and then you have five short days to recover before you come back onto the "regular tour".  This time is especially hard for the US Team because we are not coming home… but instead move from the "Championship hotel setting" to the "World Cup hotel setting". But, even with these funky feelings, I have always still loved Lahti! I love the courses there, I love the atmosphere, and I really enjoy living right in the heart of the city. 

Enjoying some time inside a home with a home cooked meal at Aiko's house.
Lahti started with a skate sprint, one of two race courses I have ever qualified into the Semi's. I have always loved the grade of this course, one that I look forward to all year. As it turns out, the organizing committee decided to salt the course the few hours leading into the race… so suddenly nobody was allowed on course, and it was turned to solid ice. As I headed out on track, I felt like I was riding a wild bull. I couldn't find my balance as I ice skated around the track, crossing the line feeling like I hadn't even started breathing hard. Instead, I was fighting my balance for the 1.2 km. So, I narrowly missed the finals, shoot! 

But this day still marked an exciting one. Kikkan worked her way back up onto the podium after a challenging season, something that left me with goosebumps and tears. Kikkan has been a leader of this "team" since my very first trip I came on for 2011 World Champs. From that moment, she taught the women's team what it looked like to set goals that would overcome expectations. She taught us to dream, and she showed us that it was possible. Whenever our women's team left the tracks feeling defeated, she reminded us that it only takes time. Patience is the virtue! But in all these years of watching Kikkan, and trying to chase behind her, I have never seen her give up for a second. Not when she got injured, not when she fell in her "gold medal favorite" race in Oslo, not when she didn't reach her goals at the Olympics, and most importantly- not this year! Even when she just couldn't find what was wrong this year, she held herself together, and remained a leader. Somehow she always still managed to dig out some confidence and believe she knew where she belonged. So, this day in Lahti, when she landed back on her spot on the podium… it was a golden one!

Kikk, back where she belongs! (FIS photo)
The following day, I had another opportunity. One of my favorite races, 10k classic, on one of my favorite courses. Perfect! I set out with a hot pace, and tried to hold it. As my technique and kick fell apart, I kept hanging on, reaching for that feeling that I was looking for all season. As I crossed the line, I knew I hadn't caught it yet… but I was getting closer. I finished a happy 14th, something I would feel satisfied about.

Erik starting bib 1.
Sometimes it is a bit exhausting traveling constantly! Erik, finding a place to get some zzz's.
From Lahti, we jumped on a plane and headed for Drammen, Norway, the world's most exciting classic sprint. Situated in the heart of the city, and finishing by climbing up the steps of a Church, this weekend is always unique! Warming up and cooling down in running shoes throws a bit of a different twist in things! A new, and exciting challenge. Again, searching for that fitness and that "feeling", I went out in the qualifier on a mission! I was ready to stop being on the "edge" of qualifying. And finally, I was back! I qualified in 9th, my best of the season. Yehooo. 

The last two weekends of the World Cup, FIS was trying a new method of heat selection. It requires this funky order of athletes showing up and picking their heats one at a time… creating an opportunity to have very un-even situations. I was the 3rd athlete to pick, so I picked heat 1, imagining that should be fine. But, somehow a storm of all the top qualifiers came rushing into this same heat. As I looked at my quarterfinal heat, it resembled an A final. Yikes! I was going to have a good opportunity to get lucky loser, but that would entail getting in the top 4. I went out that afternoon, and chased that spot, but finished last in my heat… NO! As the following heats came in, they slowly showed to be less stacked! While I had gotten sixth in my heat, I had skied the 9th fastest time… the same as my qualifier…. but I wasn't moving on. A bit of bad luck on this day that I just wanted some redemption. But, I swallowed my frustration, and looked for one more opportunity in the last few days of this season.
Striding it out in Drammen. Nordic Focus photo.
Fun to have Pete Kling around for some extra cheering!
The 30k Skate! I have only done one 30k Skate before, on a 1.5k loop at Spring Series… maybe a bit different than Oslo. But I sort of enjoyed this, I liked the idea that I was coming into this race with no expectations, and no knowledge of what it was going to feel like. I spent the last few days between Drammen and Oslo enjoying some sunshine, visiting one of my friends families down in the city, enjoying some perfect "promenades", and catching up with some of the college skiers now living back in Norway. It was  a perfect last few days to this season. Holmenkollen has always been my favorite place in the world to race, so I started to prepare myself for this 30k Skate battle. As the day came, I went out with the pack, tried to hold on, but couldn't quite manage. It has been a long season, with lots of racing, so I just tried to enjoy every last bit of it. The atmosphere up at Holmenkollen is incredible, so I took in the cheers of the crowd, and used every last bit of stored energy. I crossed the line excited to be done with that race, but sad to have the season wrapped up.
Soaking in some Vitamin D after a long break from it!
Cheering with Celine, her sister, and Pauline (my wax tech's girlfriend).
That is one heck of a view of Oslo from my hotel room!

The season has been a special one. For the first time, I made it through the full World Cup Season. I finally participated in this awesome Tour de Ski, I finally made it through without being sick for any races, and I visited many places! From Russia, to Scandinavia, to Central Europe, and Estonia. 20 different hotel rooms, four months, 26 World Cup Starts…. and it was a good one. I didn't manage to accomplish some of my higher goals during the Championships, but I have started to realize this season has been a large step, and success. I had my best result of the season, and a tie with the best result of my career, in a skate race! I can't say I would have ever guessed that as a classic specialist! I only sat out five races on the World Cup Tour… where last year I sat out close to fifteen. And, I finished 23rd on the overall list, which means I get my name on my bib next year! Pretty fun! 
Doing a fun photo shoot along the shore in Fornebu. (Noah Hoff photo).
So, although the World Cup Season seemed to have come to an end all too quickly, before I could accomplish some of those goals I had set, I am left with some "frustrations". Frustrations for me are motivations! I will go into this summer with my list of ten things that I see I have missed, or that I can improve. This list will be that fire that keeps me training hard this long summer and fall!
Laughing it out during in interview after the 30k in Holmenkollen. (Holly Brooks photo)

But, first, Spring Series! I still have four more races. Four more challenging races at 7,600 feet here in Sun Valley, Idaho. A skate sprint, 10k classic, Team Relay, and another one of those wonderful 30k Skate races! So, I am hanging tough, and putting every last bit of energy into these. It is fun to be back with my APU Team, and APU coaches. I spend seven months of the year training with this group, so it is great to be "a team" with them, and enjoy our last bits of racing. I am also looking forward to my Mom and Grandma who will come and cheer for the week. All these wonderful pleasures of being back in the US! Family, great food, teammates from home, laundry, cell phones, fast internet. GREAT!

BBQ on the deck- one of the pleasures of being back home.
Thanks to everyone for all the cheers, support and enthusiasm through this long World Cup Season. A few more weeks, and that will be a season. The 2014/2015 season!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Falun 2015

It has been an exciting and long 10 days of Championships in Falun, Sweden. A lot seems to have happened in 10 days! I participated in four of those fun days, so I will share a little bit of my experience in Falun. I will also include a link in case you didn't get to see the races.
Fans on Fans- Noise on Noise!!
Race 1: Classic Sprint

This is one of the events that I have had my largest "sights" and "goals" set on. We haven't done much classic sprinting this year, but every time I finish one, it feels better than the time before. Each time, I feel I figure it out a bit more, and I am getting closer. Sprinting is always a wild card for me… mysteriously it can go really well, or mysteriously it can go really poor. I never feel it is much of a predictable event, so I have a hard time putting all my "goals" towards it. It is too easy for something small to go wrong, and take away all your chances. On the other hand…. on a day where something small goes right, and suddenly I am given an awesome opportunity…. those days I start to "love" sprint racing a bit more. 

Fist Pumps before the start- SODIE start (Zuzana Rodgers photo)
On this particular sprint day of World Championships, I fell onto the side of "something small going wrong". I had a strong heat with some of the race favorites, so I knew it was going to be a good opportunity to advance as lucky loser. I soared out of the start ready to begin the Championships with a bang, jumped in behind Bjorgen, a perfect place going into the uphill… and suddenly a skier came shooting out of my side vision, plop, right on top of me. My heart stopped for a second, thinking, "how can this be happening on this one day that I am fighting for my best". My fight or flight mode turned on and I shoved this girl as hard as I could… maybe hard enough that I ended up pushing myself backwards down the course. I quickly tried to get going again, desperately sprinting to catch back up to the high paced race around the 1.2k course. Instantly my legs flooded, and I struggled to stay with the pace… feeling I was fighting from behind. I crossed the lined disappointed, knowing I had missed an opportunity, for a reason out of my control. I later learned that the girl who had stepped on me had been disqualified… deservingly so, but unfortunately she had ruined the opportunities for both of us. Not only had she gone on to ski an incredible heat after my little power push… but I had crossed the line, not even close to my potential. Sprinting… so fun, but sometimes so frustrating. Fortunately, I knew I had many more races to come in the next two days! 

Steve Fuller photo- the catch up game

Race 2: 15k Skiathlon

I had an especially fun race this day. I always find myself racing the pursuit race during Championship events… and it has always been the hardest event for me! I start out classic skiing, my stronger suit. Then, I switch skis into my weaker suit, and spend the remaining 7.5 kilometers running from all the strong skaters! It is the true mental test for me! But in a way, I love that. I love the challenge of it! On this particular day in Falun, it was the classic that I struggled with. As I searched to find my relaxed and strong classic pace… I couldn't. I was instantly flooding on the large climbs. For the first time, I was almost looking forward to going through the pit and switching into my skate skis. As I raced around the challenging skate courses up some of the tougher climbs out there…. the roar of the crowd kept me going. I couldn't even hear myself breathing, let alone the coaches yelling out cheers and splits on the side! For 7.5 kilometers, the roar of the crowd numbed my brain from feeling the pain! I crossed the line 20th, one of my better pursuit results… and for once, loving the skate portion!

Steve Fuller photo- headed out of the stadium with an amazing crowd.
Finishing the pursuit- Zuzana Rodgers photo

Race 3: Relay Day

Relay's are my favorite races of them all. Firstly, because they are 5 kilometers, a distance that I just LOVE!. Secondly, because of the weird team pressure, excitement, and energy that comes from relay day. These are the days that somehow I am able to find new strengths and abilities that I wasn't able to dig out earlier. Ever since my first relay races at Nationals, and World Juniors- I have adored this day. I have always loved the middle legs of the relay, because I love going on a "chase". This year I was moved to the "scramble leg" a position that is a little bit more hard. This means a mass start, and a scramble to stay in contact with the top teams! Instead of racing your ideal 5k where you choose the sections to secretly charge, or secretly work… you are forced to follow the "group" and be ready for when ,most likely, the Norwegians are going to pounce and try to drop the pack. Two years ago when I was on the relay team in Val di Fiemme, I wasn't nearly aggressive enough, and I found myself stuck behind teams when the Norwegians made their move… and as a result I wasn't able to try to chase. This year, my goal was to stay in the front, and be on my toes when Heidi decided to go. 
Team Tactics the night before- Eli Brown photo.
My first relay in Slovenia
Making it on the podium at World Juniors in Slovenia (2006) with Liz, Morgan and Alexa
Getting ready for the show- glitter, face paint, braids... all of it! (Zuzana photo)
Things worked out spectacularly for the first 2.5 kilometers as I worked myself to the front and remained on the tails of Heidi. I had that feeling inside, that feeling where you know you are going to be able to dig deeper than you have been. As I headed down to the stadium on the twisty course from the highest point, I realized I had some of the fastest skis out there! As my skis took off, out of control, I swerved around the girls, trying to stay on my feet. Dropping down into the stadium, I jumped in my own lane… realizing I was moving significantly faster. Heading over the bump to take a trip back out onto the second loop, the Russian girl moved over on top of me and my skis… leaving me off balanced and trapped under her skis…. beeeeeem… I was down! Just like that, I was watching everyone go flying by in a race that I didn't want to screw up! I jumped up quickly, full of adrenaline, and sprinted through the stadium, trying to catch back up. A 400 meter sprint later, I had worked my way back up to the front, but I had an epic rush of lactate rushing through my legs. Suddenly I felt my legs turn to jello…. I was in trouble. I tried to keep pushing in my head "Sadie you can fight, you can fight".. My legs fell apart, my technique fell apart, and I was giving it all. I wasn't giving up, but it was not looking pretty! That front pack had made their move, to be expected, but I hadn't been there to fight. As I tagged off to Rosie in 6th, a huge 50 seconds behind the Norwegians, I wanted to go hide in a hole. I had faith in my teammates to play the "catch up game"… but I knew I had likely taken them out of the medal hunt!! On a day where we had all the potential in the world to stand on the podium… I had ruined that opportunity.

Calm before the storm... (Ronnols photo)
The best cheering squad!
For the next 45 minutes I watched my teammates fight their way back up, never once giving up! We crossed the line in 4th, a huge accomplishment, what we call "the wooden medal". The girls ensured me that I had done my best, the coaches encouraged me… but all I wanted to do on this day was hide in a little hole and cry! I knew what I was capable of, I knew what our team was capable of… and it just hadn't worked. Lucky for me, I have some pretty incredible and important people around me. While I wasn't able to give my best on this team day, I will be able to give twice as much next time! This is why relays are so special… because in order to have that amazing day and opportunity… it takes no mistakes, and a perfectly executed race by the whole team. It is an amazing collection of perfect team work! It has taken me until this week to finally get over this disappointment. Thank you to all you incredible people that have sent me emails and notes of encouragement! I needed that more than I realized! It was no-where near a disaster.. but on a day when I want to give 150% to my team, it is a hard disappointment to swallow.

Sometimes you just need a friend to give you a hug and tell you to get back up!
The Team behind THE TEAM!
Wooden Medal's! 
Race 4: 30k Classic

This is a race that I have either really loved, or really hated in my racing career. Dependent on my fitness level, it can go either way. When I am feeling at my best, I love this race. It feels like a race of toughness. Who can go for 1.5 hours without giving up in your mind for a second? Coming through the week, I had realized I wasn't in my best fitness of the year. I wasn't finding that incredible feeling of "invincible" energy and strength that comes with being peaked. The best advice I was told though was "arrive on this day ready to fight with what you have". And that is what I did. I pushed my way to the front of the pack, and held on for as long as possible…. what lasted for about 6 kilometers. For those 6 kilometers though, I was having a heck of a time. I was moving around the pack, even leading at one point… it was a feeling of pure FUN. But, things got tough around 11 kilometers… when I had to hold on for dear life.. trying to stay positive inside my head. Things went back and forth for a bit, and I was finally able to get control of myself for the last 6 kilometers and finish off with a good feeling… crossing the line, again in 20th… the same place I kept managing to get. 

Having some fun in the front with an incredible crowd! (Unleashed Coaching photo credit)
Climbing up through the roar of incredible cheers above the stadium- NordicFocus photo

And that was my four days, my 2015 World Championships. While none of these days were "huge break-throughs", they were all satisfying. An improvement from both my Olympics, as well as my World Champs two years ago. The tough thing is going into a Championships with none of your favorite events… because you have these huge number goals, but you forget to think about the little improvements. While I may have had a little bit of bad luck over the course of the 10 days, it was still pretty rewarding. Rewarding to watch some of the others on the team land on the podium. Rewarding to watch my teammates fight back into 4th on the relay day, rewarding to watch Soph and Sim make it into the Semi's on the sprint day. I wasn't the only one that had a little bad luck. Liz Stephen put together one of the more impressive 10k skate races, but it got hidden by a deep layer of slow snow. Baptiste Gros lost a ski in the final lap of the Team Sprint Final when France was in contention for a medal. The Norwegians missed the wax on the 10k Skate day and the Norwegian ladies landed in the 20s and 30's! The Swedish Team had a mishap in the tag zone during the team sprint and one teammate broke the other teammates pole… oops! That is why sport is so cool… because it takes some luck, some opportunity, and some seriously impressive performance to make magic happen! 

Because this job is pretty darn fun!! Marc Rohde photo
Wrapping up in this wonderful land of Sweden!
10 days later and I have had lots of emotion, watched two american flags raise during an awards ceremony, screamed in utter disbelief as I watched Petter out-sprint a field of exhausted men after 50 kilometers, enjoyed my first donut in years after 30 kilometers of pain, gotten goose bumps as I stood on the start line during the quarterfinals and listened to 50,000 people go wild when they introduced Stina Nilsson, lead a pack of 50 charging women during the 30k, gathered as a women's team and put our hands in the center ready to take on the week as a team…. and at the end of the 10 days, I left pretty excited. I am certainly hungry for more… but as we say, that's what keeps us coming back. Even Petter Northug… who seems to have won it all… he wants more! At the end of the day, there always needs to be that something, that is going to encourage you to train harder for the next.

8 girls, going in as a team!
But first, it is not over yet! The Championships may have completed, but we still have two more weekends of World Cup racing! Lahti, Finland this weekend, and Oslo, Norway next week!

Big thanks to the huge Staff and Volunteer crew last week! The wax crew, the coaches, the physio's, and the Joey and Toni's of the World!! Thanks for making it all work so awesome this week!

Our awesome PT's that are both tons of fun, and very good at their job! (Zuzana photo)
Thanks to these wonderful people for volunteering their time!
That is Matt Whitcomb, head Women's Coach, putting as much into cheering as we are putting into racing! (Erik Mundahl photo)
Our waxers gave us some of the best skis on the course these past 10 days!! Thanks for some fast rides!!