Thursday, March 17, 2016

Tour de Tough Stuff

I am finally able to start functioning and using my brain again after the challenging finish to our 2015-2016 season. The fourth period of this season, the World Cup field finally came to our side of the ocean and competed in eight days of racing over twelve days spanning from eastern Canada to western Canada. Starting on March 1st, we pushed our bodies more than ever before! 

Flyingpoint Photo 
First time to ever wear bib #1. Reese Brown/SIA Nordic photo.
Canada made quite the showcase of events throughout the tour! Ranging from racing in the city, racing beside the St. Lawrence River, racing through city parks, racing in front of parliament buildings, and then finishing by racing on what I consider to be the hardest courses in the world, in Canmore, Alberta. 

The Tours daily events included:
Day 1- Skate city sprint in Gateneau, jump in the bus and travel to Montreal.
Day 2- Montreal distance classic race in the city park, jump in the bus and travel to Quebec City.
The start in Montreal. Reese Brown photo/SIA Nordic

Day 3- Day off, check out Quebec City courses.
Day 4- Skate sprint in Quebec City throughout the Plains of Abraham and in front of the Parliament Building.
Day 5- Distance skate race throughout the Plains of Abraham. Jump in bus and travel to Montreal for early flight to Calgary.
Day 6- Flight to Calgary and drive up to Canmore.
Day 7- Check out Canmore courses.
Day 8- Canmore classic sprint race.
Day 9- Canmore skiathlon distance race. 
Day 10- Day off… try to spend as much time in bed as possible to recover for final push!
Day 11- Canmore distance skate race.
Day 12- Canmore distance classic race.
Day 13- ….. HIT THE WALL!

Thanks to JP for working so hard the whole year, and this whole tour- and most importantly, always showing up with a smile! (Reese Brown photo).
As you can see from this schedule, there was a whole lot of pushing your body, a whole lot of travel, and not very many opportunities for recovering. Thank god for ice baths and our wonderful PT's and massage therapists on tour, Ana, Steph and Meg!

Wax Room "wild". Thanks to this awesome huge team of waxers!
 I have always loved the tour format of racing, in fact it is my favorite kind! When you have so many races in a row, you have endless opportunities to improve on the day before. Whether you are disappointed, or excited; you put all emotions in your pocket and prepare for the next day. Much like the toughest weeks of training in the summer, you fool your brain into feeling no pain and decide that feeling exhausted is the new "good" 
Reese Brown/SIA Nordic photo.
Having completed my first Tour de Ski this winter, I thought I was going into the Tour de Canada fully prepared. Little did I know how much of a difference it was going to make to be at the end of the season, and already be in an exhausted place going into it. For that reason, I had to be more "mentally tough" than ever before! I am going to share a few of the "mental battles" I experienced throughout these twelve days, just to give a little feel for this "Canadian Tour de Tough Stuff"

1. Weather- The first part of the tour in the east threw us some incredibly cold conditions with even colder wind blowing off the river. Having sent most of my long underwear home after not using it all winter… we weren't' particularly prepared for this. In Montreal, I froze my legs to the point that I wasn't able to get them to work at the end of the race… a lesson learned the hard way. On the other hand, conditions were unbelievably warm in Canmore! My bikini would have been more useful than my race suit!

Keeping warm on a freezing cold Quebec day. 
Quebec City Sprint on a cold day! (USSA photo)
2. Traveling- Each new stop on the tour had an interesting travel linking it. Whether that meant patiently waiting on a bus that doesn't leave on time, or eating bagged lunches, or checking in 300 people in the airport, each with three pieces of luggage in order to head west… it was always a scene, and required patience! The important thing to remember was that we were all in the "same boat", therefore, relaxing was the best thing you could do.

3. Illness- Staying healthy during tours can often be the biggest battle. Racing day after day, and traveling in between weakens your body. I have had the best success so far by thinking about "fueling". That means eating and drinking more than enough. By day six of the tour, you can sometimes feel hungry all hours of the day. My favorite trick is to always have "night snack" before going to bed. A bowl of cereal, some toast, muffins, etc. Anything to give you a little extra so you don't wake up starving the next morning!

4. Mental Stamina- more so than the Tour de Ski, this tour required mental stamina. Everyone's muscles and bodies were exhausted by day four! It has been a long season of racing hard, so we were all feeling it. The final four days of this tour required true mental stamina. In my mind, it wasn't about the muscles anymore…. but about how willing you were to convince your brain you could keep pushing!
battle zone post stage 8... thats what it looks like to give it your all! (Jessie Diggins photo)
Jessie rescuing me after giving it my all for the day! (Flyingpoint photo).
5. Studying- Getting my school work done was a particular challenge during this tour. With so much "focus" on the course, and travel in between…. I just wanted to be able to turn my brain and focus off when I came back to my room to rest. I had to have some serious motivation these past twelve days to keep pushing on with studying during my few breaks from skiing. In a way, I feel like I did a Tour de School as well!

6. Rest and Recovery- resting and recovering in a way gets harder by the day. As your body learns that you are on "go", it can sometimes forgets to turn off. The last few nights of these tour events, I often stop sleeping at night. I feel like I am constantly wired with coffee or energy… because I am working so hard to stay in "fight mode." That is why taking advantage of the rest and recovery early seems to pay off by the end!

Steph and Ana working on us before sprint heats.
7. Course Profile- Many of the course profiles were a bit different than what we are familiar with racing in Europe. Super long sprint races combined with super challenging and high altitude courses in Canmore threw us all for an "exhausted loop". By the time racers were hitting the finals in the sprint races, it was resembling the finish of a 15k race!
A challenging course and a challenging day in Montreal! (Reese Brown/SIA photo).
Sprinting on the worlds hardest classic sprint course. USSA photo.
8. Selfish Sadie- That's what I have to call myself during these tour events. With such a "battle", you have to look out for yourself. When you feel tired, you need to rest (despite feeling bad about it). When you feel hungry, you need to find food. In an odd way, you turn into a machine… where you truly listen to yourself. Unfortunately this sometimes leaves you feeling bad for being anti-social, and glued to your bed!

Just making it to the finish line was one of my greatest achievements so far in this sport. Two tours in one season, a full world cup season, and fighting for every last race…. it was a big battle! I wasn't particularly thrilled with my last race of the tour, but there wasn't a second that I gave up in my brain, and as I lay on the ground for possibly five minutes trying to catch my breath, I was proud! I may have missed the top 10 by five seconds- but I gave it my all! There will always be things you can't control on a certain day, and there will be some "boo-boo's",  but I am proud that I fought full force and made it to the finish!

One of my favorite moments from the tour was racing 10k behind Kalla and trying to learn how to skate like the best. (Reese Brown photo).
With that, I am excited to have finished my first full World Cup Season ranked 14th overall, 14th on the overall distance standings, and 14th on the overall sprint standings. It was a goal of mine to become a more consistent racer, able to fight for a podium any given day. Although I may not have gotten that individual podium yet, I made the consistency step, and I am ready to come back next year prepared to fight for some podiums! In the meantime, number 14 may just be my lucky number for the next eight months!

Thanks to everyone who made this season possible and so wonderful for me! My sponsors, my team, my coaches, my wax tech, my family, and all my wonderful friends sending cheers all winter! You have helped make it an incredible winter!
One of my favorite text messages from Pete after I won the qualifier in Quebec.
I am now on a plane, headed for Vermont to complete the last four Spring Nationals races of the season. This will be a 10k skate, Classic Sprint, Team Relay, and a 30k Classic.


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