Friday, December 21, 2018

Highs and Lows of Period One

Period one of the World Cup has come to a close and I'm enjoying a little holiday break in Seefeld, Austria before the World Cup starts up again in a week. After a good fall spent mostly back in Vermont, I was excited to head over to Europe for the season when mid November rolled around. Our first stop in Europe the last couple years has been in Finland. We go to Rovaneimi, Finland for a short pre-season camp to adjust to the time zone, get used to snow again, and get our feet on the ground for ten days or so before the first World Cup. This year we were able to jump into some races while in Rovaneimi, which was a good way to wake up the system and go hard before the big races began. Unfortunately, snow conditions in Rovaneimi were hurting this year and while the organizers tried their best to salvage the track, we had to go to Kuusamo a little earlier where there still wasn't natural snow, but the World Cup courses had cleaner snow that we were able to get some good training in on.
Possibly the rockiest rock skiing I've ever done
Our first World Cup weekend is always in Kuusamo, Finland and this year was no different. The courses of Kuusamo are hilly and hard and the competition is tough. As a team, we tend to work into the season a little because we haven't been on snow for as long as many other teams and we have a big travel overseas, but that said, we've also had some great results in Kuusamo before. I was feeling really good heading into the weekend and had a solid classic sprint, finishing 16th. It was by no means an awesome race for me, but Kuusamo has always been a tough one for me, and I was happy to start the season feeling good and having a solid result. Sadie led our team through the weekend with two top tens in the classic sprint and classic 10km and the rest of our team had some solid results, but were left hungry for more!
Ready for the season to begin! (Jesse Vannenan photo)
After Kuusamo, we had a long travel day to Lillehammer Norway for a mini tour weekend that consisted of a skate sprint, a skate individual start, and a classic pursuit start. Unfortunately, on the travel day I started to get a bit of a scratchy throat. After a big night of sleep I was feeling better the next day, but in hindsight probably overdid it a bit because by that night the scratchy throat was back and feeing like the beginning of a cold. I tried my best to rest it out and kick it before the races, but sometimes it's easy to forget that colds generally last about 7-10 days and I had about four days before the races, so the math wasn't working in my favor. I was bummed to miss what I think was my first sprint in a few years, but so it goes. Sometimes you get sick on the road and it's never fun to sit in a hotel room for a week and wish you were racing, but it happens to the best of us. I tried to keep myself busy by going for walks, listening to podcasts, drawing, writing, watching some TV, reading, and facetiming friends and family back home. That worked pretty well and over the weekend time flew by because I was able to watch the races on TV for most of the day, including the Bjornsen siblings coming away from the weekend with a pair of 3rds! By the time the weekend was coming to an end, I was beginning to feel a lot better.
Brown cheese curing colds
And lots of tea!
After Lillehammer we drive to Beitostolen, Norway for a weekend with a distance skate race and a relay. I was feeling better and better and was psyched to go on some easy skis on the natural snow that Beito had just gotten. The World Cup race courses are brutally hard, so the opportunity to ski on tourist trails is always welcomed for easy mid-week training. After a couple days of what seemed like normal training, I was starting to feel pretty healthy again, but then a dry cough and fatigue began to set into my system. At first we thought it was just the tail end of the cold, but I was bummed because we had planned to start two relay teams, but we weren't able to to start our second team because I wasn't feeling healthy enough to race. I gave it a couple more days of hoping it was just the tail end of my cold, but the cough wasn't getting better, which made it hard to sleep, and by this point I had been sick for two weeks and was majorly bumming. This is the part of being a ski racer that really isn't glamorous. When you're sick on the road, the last place you want to be is in a dark hotel room and it makes you excited for the phase of life when a cold doesn't require you to be quarantined and you can go on with life as usual. There were several moments where I wondered why the heck I was still doing this and got upset at myself for being so bummed about something that in the grand scheme of things was so small, but there was a teammate for each one of those times to remind me exactly why I'm doing this. You're allowed to  be bummed out, but things can turn around really quickly, and all the happy moments we have on the road allow us to so quickly forget the royally sucky ones. 

Period one U.S. women's team!

Checking out the tourist trails in Beito (Kelsey photo)
And turn around quickly things did. After a few days in Davos, I was beginning to feel more like myself and my cough was settling down enough to get some good sleep. If I had one day of going hard in me, I wanted to save it for the race, so I just went for really easy skis until sprint day in Davos. We stay in the same hotel every year we're in Davos and it's the same hotel my Uncle Tim stayed in when he was on the U.S. Ski team, the Hotel Kulm. Everyone there is so kind and it feels like our home away from home. The sunshine also helps with health and spirits, so a combination of a lot of things was beginning to make me feel pretty happy again. 
Soaking in the Davos vitamin D

Easy skis with buddies (Sadie photo)
Going into the sprint, I didn't want to set any expectations. I was really grateful to be feeling healthy again and excited to be able to race. I've had some solid results in Davos before. I think my first ever top 10 was in Davos and I've made the semi finals several times, but I was going to be happy to qualify last weekend. I was also really looking forward to doing my first World Cup skate race on my new Salomon skis since the only weekend I had raced was classic only in Kuusamo! I made sure I got a good warm up in since it had been awhile since I had last gone hard, I did a good ski test with my tech, Oleg and then tried to ski a smooth, fast, and well paced qualifier. I couldn't really believe it when I came across the line in 1st and then the results stayed that way and I had won the qualifier. The rest of the day was kind of a blur. I felt good, my skis felt great, and I tried to ski each heat as tactically sound as possible and before I knew it, I had made it to the final and finished 2nd in the sprint. It was truly a dream day and so much better than I could have imagined going into the day, but I think there are a couple important things I can take out of it. The first is that there is something to be said about being well rested, especially at altitude. But more importantly, as my teammates and sports psych and coaches reminded me, hard work doesn't just disappear in a week or two weeks or three weeks, and things can turn around really quickly. Often all it takes is one bad race, or a cold, or a fall to lose your confidence, but it's important to remember that conversely, all it takes is one good race, or one good feeling, or one good corner to gain your confidence back. 
2nd place! First Davos podium, first podium of the season, first podium on Salomon skis! (Reese Brown photo)

Excited to be sporting GTY Technology on my hat this year! (Reese Brown photo)

Davos skate sprint (Reese Brown photo)
We have one more week in Seefeld, which is one of my favorite places in the world. There isn't a ton of snow, but there is enough for some good skiing and previewing of the World Champs courses. We have a nice kitchen where we get to enjoy the one time all winter when we can cook our own meals, a mini Christmas tree to help with holiday spirit, and skiing that is basically out our door, so I'm looking forward to one more week of this before beginning the chaos of the Tour de Ski! My plan is to do the first three stages before returning to Seefeld for another little block of training before the sprint weekend in Dresden. Thanks for following and Happy Holidays!
Life is good in Austria! (Kelsey photo)

Saturday, August 25, 2018

New Zealand Week 1

It's Saturday afternoon in New Zealand which means it was a week ago that we were packing our bags to make the long journey across the world. If you calculate the time change and the fact that we lost a day while traveling, we haven't quite been here for a week yet, but time is still flying. I say it every year, but our camp in New Zealand is one of my all time favorites. We are training our butts off, but the living is easy, which is what allows us to put in some big hours! We stay up at the Snow Farm, which is the only cross country ski area in the country and is located between Queenstown and Wanaka. The skiing is amazing this year, and the view out our bedroom windows is of the endless kilometers of perfect skiing. The sleeping is great. Something about the jet lag when flying this far west makes us so confused that we pretty much sleep from 9-7 each night. Then on top of the amazing sleep and skiing there's some of the most delicious food we've ever tasted that is prepared for us three times a day. When most of your day is taken up by skiing, sleeping, and eating, training camp life is pretty good!
Since arriving at the Snow Farm, we've mostly been doing easy distance training. Most of us haven't been on snow since May, so it's important to remember what skiing feels like and to retrain all those stabilizing muscles that don't need to work as hard on pavement as they do on snow. We took our first stab at intervals this morning and will continue to do a mix of easy training, speed, and some intensity over the next couple weeks. With the amazing snow pack, just about everything is groomed and we were able to ski one of my favorite trails in the world yesterday morning on a classic distance workout. One of my favorite parts about camp at the Snow Farm is watching the faces of people who have never been here before. We're all like little kids in a candy shop when we get our first clear day on snow up here, but people who have never been here before take it up a couple levels in the excitement category. A couple of my SMS T2 teammates, Alayna and Kyle, and our coach, Pat, are experiencing the Snow Farm for the first time and it's been a blast to watch them rip around the trails. In a few days we head down to the town of Wanaka for a mid camp break. We're at a little altitude up at the Snow Farm, so being in Wanaka gives us a few days to recover at sea level and go for some sweet runs. It's winter up here, but Wanaka has a much more spring like feel, so it's fun to pull out the shorts and running shoes and explore some different scenery. After the break in Wanaka, we will be back at the Snow Farm for almost two more weeks where we will continue to train and have the opportunity to jump in the Merino Muster and the NZ Winter Games. It's a fun atmosphere because we still have a couple months until the season, so these races are pretty low pressure, but give us the opportunity to find some areas to fine tune before the season starts. So with almost one week down and two more to go, everyone is doing well and we are feeling extremely lucky to be training in what has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. Thanks for following!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

What a Year!

It's been awhile since my last post, but it was a long and exciting season with many highs, a few lows, and now a few weeks of "off time" to reflect on the past year, take a little mental and physical break from ski racing, and get excited for the next year. The end of the season was a whirlwind, but now that the Olympics are two months in the past, the rollercoaster of emotions and experiences are beginning to sink in. I can't put into words how grateful and happy I am that I was able to witness what will likely be the biggest moment in cross country skiing history when Jessie and Kikkan won the gold in the team sprint. It was the second medal ever won by a U.S. cross country skier, the first gold, and the first ever won by a woman. The tears of happiness and amazement that streamed down our faces during that event will be ones I remember fondly forever.
Going through Olympic processing with Liz

GOLDEN GIRLS (flyingpointroad photo)

My races at the Olympics were a mixed bag of emotions. It's easy to dream big when you're on the big stage. Everyone is hoping to have the race of their lives when they're at the Olympics and even though it wasn't the race of my life, placing 8th in the classic sprint was a result I was proud of. I had the best season of my life this past year, but it was predominantly in skate sprinting and to be 8th in the world in a classic sprint was a really solid result for me. After the first few races, I was chosen to be the scramble leg for the 4x5km relay. I was ecstatic, nervous, and humbled to be on a team with Sadie, Kikkan, and Jessie and we started the morning of the relay off with a team jog that included a dance practice, lots of laughter, and a face paint application party. The pace of the relay started out faster than any race I've ever done, and I tried my best to hang on, but ended up exploding and tagging Sadie a ways back. I had dreamed of a medal for that team, whether I was on it or not, and to say I was heartbroken after my leg would be an understatement. My teammates skied their hearts out and we finished the day in 5th and met Jessie with a big hug in the finish area. I couldn't stop crying out of disappointment, but the girls were so quick to remind me that all anyone ever expects is that we race our hardest and that is exactly what we all did. I was lucky to have teammates, coaches, friends, family, and a boyfriend who reminded me over and over that not one of them was disappointed in me. It's still hard for me to think about that race, but it will always be an honor for me to have been named to that relay and my sad tears quickly turned to happy tears watching Jessie and Kikkan win the team sprint and watching all my teammates ski their hearts out at the games.
Goofing off on a ski with Noah. Noah has been my friend and teammate for a long time now. This was his last season as a ski racer and I'm sad to see him go, but excited to see what comes next for him!

Group hug after the 4x5k relay (flyingpoint photo)

After the Olympics, it's sometimes difficult to motivate for another month on the World Cup, but I found myself looking forward to the familiar routine of World Cup life. I never quite felt like I was firing on all cylinders during the last World Cup period of the season, but I tried to approach each race with confidence and looked forward to every opportunity I had to race through the end of the season. I had some solid results, making the semi finals in Lahti and the finals in Falun and was psyched to be able to do some more distance racing as well.
Racing the classic 10k in Lahti (Toko US/Nordic Focus photo)

Race prep with the girls

Racing the 10km skate in Lahti with Kikkan, which was Kikkan and Liz's final World Cup race (Photo: eventbilder)

When I sat down with my coach, Matt Whitcomb, two years ago to make some goals, he suggested I put being ranked top 3 in the sprint cup as a two year goal for myself. I was hesitant at first because it was a big reach and I also tend to shy away from making concrete results based goals, but what did I have to lose? This past season was the best season of my life and I had some standout results for myself with three individual WC podiums, a WC win, and a WC team sprint podium with Ida, but I think what I was most proud of was the consistency of my season. I placed in the top 10 in every sprint this season except for one and I was able to do that by learning to ski with the confidence that that was where I belonged. I knew my coach believed in me, my teammates believed in me, and I believed in myself and that confidence allowed me to have a dream season, finishing 3rd in the World Cup sprint rankings. When I look back at the training we did, it wasn't anything magical. It was my 5th season racing the full World Cup circuit, so we had a lot of information about what had worked for me in the past and what hadn't. I had process goals of getting strong, not getting too tired during the end of the training season, and jumping in some more distance races in order to increase my fitness and to do some more racing. I like to keep things simple and it's always rewarding when a good plan that makes sense ends up working!
Posing with Liz and Matt after getting my sprint cup award

After over four months on the road, I was able to enjoy a few days at home in southern Vermont before heading up to Craftsbury for SuperTour Finals/Spring Series. Craftsbury did an amazing job of running the best Spring Series I have ever been to. The beautiful weather and great snow conditions didn't hurt, and the races went off seamlessly. I was pleasantly surprised to discover I still had some energy left and was able to put together four good races with the highlight being our SMS T2 team taking the club relay win for the second year in a row!
Going for a ski at Wild Wings, my hometown nordic center in Peru, VT

Supertour finals sprint podium (John Lazenby photo)

Jumping for joy after the 10km skate with the girls of SMS T2 (Reese Brown photo)

SMS T2 posing with Jessie's gold medal after our club relay win! (Reese Brown photo)

Last race of the season - 30km classic! Happy to be done with a great season, but sad to see a couple of these girls retiring (Reese Brown photo)
After Spring Series, I spent a few days with some of my girlfriends in northern VT, took a trip to Portugal and played tourist with my parents for a week, and have been enjoying some backcountry skiing and desert time in the west with Simi and his family for the rest of the month. I'm looking forward to kicking things into gear in another week or two and heading to our first camp of the season in Bend, Oregon during the last ten days of May.
Liz and I facing our fears with the help of our trusty guide, Simi

Girls weekend in Vt!

Biking through the desert

Family time in Portugal

Touring with Al and Sim in Colorado
Thanks for following my journey and happy spring!!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Olympic Lead Up!

It's been awhile and a lot has happened since my last post! After a lovely Christmas break in Seefeld, Austria, we packed up our bags and headed to the circus of the Tour de Ski. The Tour de Ski consists of seven different races in three different counties over nine days. The first stop of the Tour this year took place in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. Not only is Lenzerheide a beautiful area, but I also really love the courses there. They have a nice mix of hills and flow and I was looking forward to doing a skate sprint and getting in a couple distance racing opportunities. Our team had a strong day of qualifying in the sprint and I was feeling good and determined to make the final. I was thrilled to finish the day in second, my first podium of the year and to see Jessie place 5th, despite breaking two poles throughout the day. The next day was a 10km classic race and I woke up feeling tired, but I was happy to find some good racing feelings and have my best distance race ever placing 21st, made even better by having Sadie on the podium in 3rd! The next day was a 10km pursuit skate start race and even though I've struggled with skate distance skiing in the past, I tried to forget about that and hang on for dear life. It was a really fun race for me and Jessie finished the day in 3rd. Three podiums in three days for our team wasn't too shabby!
Finishing out Seefeld Christmas camp in style with Jessie and Liz

Tour de Ski opening ceremonies

2nd place in the Lenzerheide skate sprint! (Getty Images)
Unfortunately, I came down with a cold the morning of the classic sprint in Oberstdorf, so my Tour ended after the races in Lenzerheide. Oberstdorf happened to be getting some of the worst weather we had ever seen on the day of the sprint, so the race ended up being cancelled due to dangerous conditions. I was happy I wasn't missing a sprint, but it was a bummer that one race of the Tour de Ski had to be cancelled. I love the race course in Oberstdorf, so I'm hoping I get a chance to return next year! From Oberstdorf, the more sprint oriented crew who withdrew from the Tour headed to Ramsau, Austria for a week of recovery and training before the sprint weekend in Dresden, Germany. It was winter wonderland in Ramsau and I was able to go for some beautiful easy walks on skis while I was recovering from my cold.
View from my bedroom window in Ramsau

Above the clouds!

Road to recovery

The not so glamorous side of it all :)

Back to health!
After our week in Ramsau, we made the long trek up to Dresden, Germany for a weekend of city sprinting. Dresden was a new venue on the calendar and we were excited to see what it involved. It was a beautiful, old city and the track was set up in a park that overlooked the river and some pretty incredible buildings. This was the shortest and flattest sprint I have ever done, but that added to the excitement of sprint racing! Most sprints are around three minutes and this one was closer to two. Sometimes you get long hilly courses and sometimes they're pancake flat, but a race is a race and you do your best at any given course and venue. I was psyched to be on the podium again, placing third in the individual sprint, and then got to team up with Ida and get another third in the team sprint! I was really proud with how we both skied and Ida raced a killer last lap and tagged off to me in podium contention, so crossing the line in 3rd and having her waiting with a big hug was icing on the cake.
Dresden individual sprint podium (Getty Images)

Picturesque race course (Getty Images)

Team sprint 3rd with Ides! (Marcel Hilger photo)
After the team sprint in Dresden, we drove back to Ramsau for a few days of training before heading to Planica, Slovenia for a classic sprint and classic 10km. Planica is a beautiful venue set in the Julien Alps. I had only been there on bad snow years, so it was amazing to see it covered in snow with tons of easy tourist trails to ski on. The classic sprint day was really hard. I was happy to make the semis and place 9th on the day, but I was exhausted by the end. It was a really long gradual course and I finished the day with some new things to work on. A lot of our classic courses have really steep hills where you have to shuffle up them or sometimes run/bound or herringbone. The course in Planica was very long and gradual and I definitely have some work to do on my power striding. I haven't been that sore from a race or workout in a long time! The second day was a 10k classic and my body was tired, but I tried to pace the race well and was able to finish with decent energy. I was 31st and it was a bittersweet result because I was two seconds from the top 30 and hadn't felt great, but being 31st would have been a great distance race for me in the past, so while I wasn't thrilled with how I felt, I also wasn't disappointed in the result.
Planica classic sprint day (photo: Toko/Nordic Focus)

Easy skate ski with Jess

And that brings us back to Seefeld, where we're currently having our pre-olympic camp. I've spent the last two Christmases in Seefeld and I love it here, so I was happy to return. We are staying in some really comfortable apartments and it's nice to have a bit of a homier feel for a couple weeks before the Olympics. Seefeld is having a huge snow winter. I'm sure I experienced a couple big winters like this when I was younger, but I haven't seen snow like this in at least ten years. I thought they had good snow over Christmas and then they got two more meters of snow right before we showed up. We timed it nicely because it's been warm and sunny since we arrived. We just finished our final World Cup weekend before the Olympics and our team is feeling good. World Championships is in Seefeld next year, so in addition to getting in some racing before the games, we've been able to preview the courses for the big event next year!
Check out that snow!

Evening ski with Liz and Matt

Happy Birthday to Ides!

Saturday we had a skate sprint and the women's course was back to a pretty short and relatively flat course. I love skate sprinting on fast courses because it's high speed, exciting, and tactical. Our team had a strong qualifier with Sadie, Kikkan, Simi, and I qualifying in 5th, 18th, 5th, and 4th. I was in a quarter final with Maiken Casperson Falla who is one of the strongest sprinters in the world, so I knew if I could stick with her, I would have a good chance of moving through the heats with some fast times. After a bit of a bobbly start to my quarter, I was able to move myself into second by the finish and move onto the semis. I prioritized having a better start in my semi and it actually felt a lot better than my quarter final and we had another fast heat and I was into the final. Sadie also moved on in her quarter and semi and toed the line next to me in her first ever skate sprint final! In the final, I tried to have the same strategy as my other heats and hopped in behind Maiken and stuck to her like glue. There was a big downhill corned into the finish and we had an exciting three way sprint to the finish. I was sure I had crossed the line in 2nd, but about twenty minutes later I found out I had tied for 1st!! It was the most pleasant surprise and ended up being a dream day. I honestly didn't even remember lunging, but I'm sure glad I did. The next day Jessie won the 10km skate, Sadie had another top 10, and Erik and Simi raced to their best distance finishes ever placing 9th and 12th in the 15km skate. This team is on fire!
Tie for 1st! (Getty Images)

Photo finish

Chasing Maiken around the course (Jens Korner photo)

Podium shot (Jens Korner photo)

All smiles with my coach, Matt (Lumi Experiences photo)

Proud of this guy (Lumi Experiences photo)
We have another week in Seefeld before we head to PyeongChang for the Olympics. I cannot wait to attend my second Olympics and to see what this team can do. I've had a dream season so far and regardless of what happens at the Olympics, I know I couldn't be happier or more proud to be part of such an amazing team. I want to give a huge thank you to everyone who has supported and believed in me, the U.S. Ski Team, and our SMS T2 team. Our success is so much bigger than ourselves and we wouldn't be here without you, so THANK YOU x a million.
Dream big
And send it! :)