Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Christmas Traverse

For the past three years, I have been spending the Christmas holiday in France with my boyfriend and his family.Since the Tour de Ski starts so closely after the holidays, it doesn't make sense to fly back to the US, and then turn around right away and fly back to Europe. So, in order to stay healthy and best prepared for racing, I have made it a tradition to join my French family instead.

Christmas Fireworks with the Maubets
Enjoying some high mountain adventures on a search for snow.
The first couple years were always hard for me, simply because the French holiday traditions are not quite the same. And when something feels different, it becomes really easy to feel lonely and homesick. But, I have realized that I have started to adjust. I just rock out to my own Christmas tunes when I go training, and have learned to really enjoy the French Food, and the Pére Noël's (Santa Clause's) different traditions. The French still decorate un sapin de noël avec des garlands et des boules. (A Christmas tree with lights and bulbs) The French also still give lots of cadeaux and love. I used to say that being away for Christmas was the hardest part of what I do… which I still agree with, but I have realized I have it pretty darn good! While I may be away from home, I am not away from family. I get to spend a few weeks away from the "focus" of ski racing, and recharge my soul with some boyfriend and family time. Jo's family and friends around Hauteville and Meribel have taken me in as if I am their own. I am incredibly lucky in fact, because I am surrounded by family overseas. While I miss the perfect skiing in the Methow Valley, and being with my parents and sister, I will be back there after ski racing!

Jo and I on Christmas Eve.

Jo's father making the US Ski Team badge look good!
My new skis, ready for chasing Jo in Valdez.
Jo, Diane and the goat on our tropical Christmas hike.
This Christmas break, things felt like a little bit of a traverse. First, we finished out final races in Toblach, Italy… so it was a bit of a long traverse back to France with Marine and Erik (9.5 hours including our minor GPS detour issues). Following that, it was a constant "traverse" to find some snow around Meribel. Unfortunately Europe hasn't really received any snow this year. We have spent all of our time chasing man-made snow around in order to get our training and racing in. So, things continued this way for the Christmas Break. So, I enjoyed some good promenades in the forest hiking and running (taking a break from chasing the snow). Snow was thin, so I took as few 1 kilometer double pole laps as possible. 

A little refuge in the mountains during my ski in Champagny.
Doing some of my training on the alpine slopes. Skiing down with Jo and the kids, and skiing back up afterwards.... creative training.
Having some fun hiking in the mountains.
perfect hiking conditions.
Jo and his amazing Christmas clients.
The new biathlon involving alpine skiing and shooting.
After five days in the "ski instructors palace" in Meribel, I headed on the train, and took a traverse towards Villard de Lans, home of my brother's girlfriend and her family. So, lucky for me, I got to celebrate a second Christmas with them, and enjoy some skiing in Autrans. Autrans is a little town, only twenty minutes from Marine's home, and it has some of the most fun skiing around central Europe. It also happens to have maybe some of the most kilometers at this time to ski on.. maybe 15k? It is impressive, all 15 kilometers are packed with people. It is more people in one place then I have ever seen at a nordic ski area. One thing is for sure, skiing is pretty popular in the Vercors! (The region around Villard de Lans)

A dream ski chasing Marine.
Smiles and sunshine all around!
Autrans traffic controller.
From here, we will take our final traverse back to "ski racing" tomorrow and the start of the famous Tour de Ski. The Tour will be starting in Lenzerheide, Swizerland… about a 6.5 hour traverse from here. I am feeling pretty excited and ready to do this Tour de Ski battle. 8 races in 10 days, in 3 different countries. Fun times to come!

Thanks to all my wonderful French family for making this holiday enjoyable despite it being a brown Christmas. And thanks to all my family back home for blowing many kisses overseas! Now, please send your snow too!!

Tour de Ski…. here we come! 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Rocking Out With Our Socks Out!

Last weekend has already formed into a blur of excitement in my mind. Saturday was the 15k pursuit, where we ski 7.5 kilometers of classic, then switch mid-race into our skate gear, and finish off the race with 7.5 kilometers of skating. Pursuits have never been a huge "favorite" of mine, but on the same token, I LOVE the challenge of them. Because I have always been a stronger classic skier, it becomes a mental battle out there for me as I switch from my stronger suit, to my weaker suit. I can tell you, there are a whole lot of "voices talking in my head" for the second half of the race. I have had some great pursuit races, and I have had some horrible ones.... but I never seem to form a love or hate relationship with the event. Instead, I look at this silly event as mental training. So, saturday's event was another "in-between" feeling. For the first time in my life, I felt like I struggled during the classic leg, and then started to have fun during the skate leg. Why not switch things up every once in a while?
Thanks to my French Technician, JP, for working hard preparing skis for me!
Noah and I making a plan with JP for testing and preparing skis for race day... testing out the yoga bosu balls for attentiveness.
Liz doing an ice-tub for recovery while doing a skype interview at the same time... multi-tasking at its finest!
The second after I finished the pursuit race though, my heart was in a new place. The 4x5 relay. Our women's team has made this event a huge focus over the years. Ever since the girls won their first medal in Gällivare four years ago, we have gotten a little taste of the pie! We know that it is possible, but we know that it isn't any small achievement. Even heading into the 2014 Olympics, we saw ourselves as medal favorites... but the day didn't work out right. During the 2013 World Champs, we came in 4th. During the 2015 World Champs, we came in 4th again. Although we have "just missed" that medal many times, our hearts are all set on this goal, year-around! We talk about it every camp, we focus on it during training, and we all visualize ourselves stepping onto that podium afterwards. It is a HUGE goal and a HUGE focus of our nine person US Women's Team.

The Kikkan Randall new addition- our team cheering socks!
Which is why Sunday became so special! I like to call it "rocking out with our socks out"! It is a tradition on our women's team to not only paint our faces, braid our hair, and get our american spirit on- but we also pull out our "special socks" on relay day. It is a huge honor on that day to "rock the socks", and you know when you put them on, you are representing the team. A team event is unique, because instead of representing the talent of one successful individual, it represents the collective effort of a group. It represents the work ethic, the vibe, and the belief of a collection of people. Sometimes that vibe will be on fire, and sometimes it won't. When you put those socks on though, you are "rocking out with your socks out" for everyone.... so you better dig just a little deeper, honey! That's when the voices in your head get even louder... but you also have company. You have the voice of all your teammates talking to you, coaxing you on, and believing in you.
It takes a team! (Not pictured- Julia Kern, Katharine Ogden, and Caitlin Gregg)
As Sunday worked out, it was a roller-coaster of ups and downs. With icy tracks, and ripping fast downhills.. most of us went from feeling amazing to feeling terrified. At times I surged far too hard to chase down every second towards the teams in front of me... and other times I held on for dear life waiting for a mini- recovery down the hill. Lillehammer is unique in that I see it as one of the hardest courses in the world. There is little to nothing as far as recovery, and it seems you are either going straight uphill, or jetting down a terrifyingly fast downhill. It is brutal! So, throughout the course of the four legs, Rosie, Liz, Jessie and myself all experienced some swings! Some good moments, and some bad. Magically though, we were able to keep fighting when we fell behind, and we were able to chase harder than ever! With the collective effort of the four of us, Jessie had an incredible last leg to cross the line in 3rd. As she let out a cry of joy, we all shared some goosebumps, hugs, and a few tears. Yes, we can do it! Yes, we believe it. And, yes, WE DID IT!

Jessie's cry of joy- Nordic Focus Photo
Screams of excitement- Getty Images, Cornelius Poppe
Joining the podium
Big thanks to US Women's Coach, Matt Whitcomb, for leading this charge!! Marc Rohde photo
Don't you worry, we have our eyes set on more though! We are gunning for the top. Although Norway safely finds themselves there, it doesn't always happen! In Sochi, they were touchable. On Sunday, we didn't all have our perfect 5 kilometers... which is the exciting part. There is more of where that came from. Look out January... we will be ready to "rock out with our socks out" for the Nove Mesto relay!
Our huge hunk of cheese we won for 3rd place.
We have just now arrived in Davos, Switzerland- which is the next stop for the World Cup. There isn't a whole lot of snow here, but there is a 5k manmade loop at the moment, which will do the job. It sure is nice to see some sunshine and mountains around!

If you missed the races from this weekend, here is a video summary:

Thanks to everyone for all the congratulatory emails and cheering! It means the world to all of us! Go Team USA! And if you missed it, check out the men's relay! Those boys are on the hunt, and they are not far behind. So good to see them fighting and believing!
Erik, with his lost and found World Cup Trophy, which we re-awarded to him for having the fastest classic leg of the day!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Jumping Back In

It has been two weeks since we arrived in Europe to jump back into the "ski racing" life. As always, the first couple of weeks feel like I am arriving in a foreign world for the first time… and then life swings back to normal. Back to that "ski racing life", that "life on the other side". Unfortunately, things took a little longer to get thrown back into normal this year. A few days after arriving in Gällivare, Sweden, where we were doing our pre-race camp, I came down with a very unpleasant stomach flu that left me in bed and homesick as ever for three days. Fortunately, I have some amazing teammates and people looking after me. Between daily cracker and coke deliveries and Pete Dickenson room service… I managed to build myself back up, and recover. 

Sick walks are so much better when you are in a winter wonderland!
Coke and crackers are not exactly the same in Europe!
Night walks around a beautiful hotel.
That's as much of the sun as you will see on a clear day 100km north of the Arctic Circle!
Thanks to Pete Dickenson for playing doctor while I was sick, and then working his butt off volunteering his time to take care of us day after day! We really appreciate it! Thanks Pete!
I finally started feeling better on Saturday, the first day of races in Gällivare, but decided to patiently wait and get back to 100%. If there is one thing I have learned over the years, patience is a virtue…. but that is SOOO much easier to say than do!

Crisp and Cold in Gällivare!
The professional packing! L.L. Bean jackets folding into stow bags are a miracle!
Needless to say, when I arrived in Kuusamo, I had an extra amount of energy, excitement and anxiety after sitting in bed for 5 days. With a good interval session mid-way through the week, I was feeling much better, but nervous as heck. Not having done a practice race, that meant that I had an outrageous amount of butterflies leading into the tour. It is always so hard to gauge your fitness leading into the season. Even if you know you have trained way better than before… you always worry you will forget the racing touch. But, just like joining back into this European racing life, racing comes back too! 
I found a new friend in Kuusamo this year!
Back to the land of walking uphill! In Kuusamo, any and every destination seems to be a 1k trek above you!
The Fischer boot maker, Flo, performing magic on my new boots.
If you are top 30 overall on the World Cup points the past year, then you get your name on your training bib. This is the first year I have gotten that, so I am pretty excited! Pictured behind is my fleet of skis for the MANY varied conditions throughout the winter.
The first weekend was a mix of nerves, excitement, frustration, and all the above. I love the "tour" style of racing, where you get opportunity after opportunity to try again. One day's frustration is the following day's motivation. Instead of waiting a week to let that pent up energy fly- I get to just keep rolling with it!

Last weekend entailed...

A classic sprint, where I made it into my first classic semi-final. I was feeling great throughout the day, but started slipping on the final climb of the course, and became too stubborn to jump out of the track and keep the tempo up- so it was a bittersweet ending. I was stoked, combined with a little frustration.
Some screen shots from the TV of the sprint heats.
First time winning a quarter final!
The second day was a 5k skate. I have grown to love the 5k distance. It is the perfect amount of energy, concentration, and effort! I have spent a lot of time working on my skating this summer, so I was also looking forward to put it to the test. I was really excited to finish 14th, one of my best skate races.
Anatolii Tsymbalov photo
Ski Trax/Nordic Focus photo
The final day of racing was a 10k classic. Saturday we got some rain, and then Sunday we woke up to some rain/snow combo… so things got tricky quickly. Fortunately, I have an awesome wax tech, JP, who helped keep me from stressing about the conditions and to simply make the most of it. After 10 kilometers of challenging skiing, I finished the tour in 14th, my best tour finish!

Fasterskier/Nordic Focus Photo
Ski Trax/Nordic Focus photo
We are now in Norway, my favorite place in the world to race and ski. The weather has been great, and we have gotten a chance to ski on real snow… which doesn't happen so often anymore. We spend the majority of the time racing on man-made snow… which is much more challenging to ski on. So, our awesome break of perfect skiing in Sjusjeon and Nordseter just got twice as good! 

Traveling also becomes second nature. Liz foam rolling it out in the airport.
No problem for Bird- traveling and zzzzz's.
Lillehammer does holiday best! Rosie in front of one of the stores on the walking street.
Sunshine Sodie Sandwich
Perfect classic skiing in sjusjeon.
A great day to be out training!
It looks like the weather will continue with its frustrating pattern of perfect skiing during the week and then a rain/snow combination for the races! Fortunately, we are becoming pretty practiced with it. It will be an exciting weekend of racing ahead, with a pursuit race on Saturday, and then a relay race on Sunday!
Watercolor painting for Rosie's b-day. Caitlin lead an watercolor painting session.
Erik and Matt showing their true talent.
We brought our American pride to Norway!
Lillehammer holiday spirit.
If you want to watch WC races, go to www.crosscountryski.us to follow along!

Until then, keep up the cheering, we are loving it!