Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Four Countries in Three Weeks!

This blog is a little overdue, but the past few weeks have been busy! After the first five races in the Tour de Ski, those of us who finished early had a week or so in Toblach to recover and prepare for the sprint weekend in Slovenia. Toblach didn't have a ton of snow, but they put down a huge stretch of trail for the marathon that was happening while we were there. It was one of the first times this season that we had more than a 5k loop to ski! Unfortunately, I caught a mild cold after the Tour, so I was doing more resting than skiing, but Toblach is also a great place to recover.

View of Toblach out my hotel window

Skiing on the marathon trail with Chelsea Holmes
After our week in Toblach, we traveled to Planica, Slovenia for the sprint weekend. I had never been to Slovenia before, so I was looking forward to seeing a new country. We were staying in a beautiful little town in the Julien Alps. The first race in Slovenia was a skate sprint. I placed third in my quarter final, missing the lucky loser spot and placing 13th for the day. I didn't feel great, but 13th in a World Cup is never a bad day. The following day was a skate team sprint. Ida and I paired up and moved through the semi finals to place 5th in the final, the best we've ever done as a pair in a team sprint! Team sprints are a really fun format and also one of the most demanding races on the World Cup. Each person does three laps of the sprint course and tags off to their partner between each leg. So by the end of the day, after the semi final and the final, we had each done six laps of the sprint course!

Ida, Erika, me, and Chels skiing around the day before the sprint

Team sprint buddies

Me and Ides sporting our relay socks after the team sprint
My favorite part of our trip to Slovenia was the adventure run we went on the day after the races. There wasn't much snow, so we decided to wander into the Alps for a run. It was a beautiful morning and there were mountain goats zipping around above us as we ran up the valley in Planica. Days like this are one of the many reasons I love being a skier and it was really refreshing to get away from a small manmade loop of skiing for a day.
Zuz running up the valley

The crew (Zuzana photo)

Checking out the view on one of the ridges

Zuzana, Erika, and me

SMS T2 jumping photo with Ruka

Made it!
The Tuesday after the Slovenia weekend, we made the long drive to Nove Mesto Na Morave, Czech Republic. This was the third time I had ever been to Nove Mesto, and for some reason I really like it there. It's not beautiful central Europe with sunny skies and delicious food, but we stay in a cute little hotel right by the ski stadium and everything is simple. Nove Mesto has a really neat stadium and they had a 5k loop of skiing. I did some good training in the beginning of the week and then took a couple easy days to prepare for a potential relay start. My cousin, Lilly, was coming over to Europe for a work meeting and she made the trip over to Nove Mesto to visit me and do some cheering before her meetings! I was so happy to see a familiar face and I loved showing her the ropes at her first ever cross country World Cup race. Saturday was a distance skate race that I didn't do, but I cheered on my teammates and we had a great day as a team. Jessie raced to the podium AGAIN, placing 3rd, and Sadie, Liz, Rosie, and Noah were also all in the points. 
Our friend Robin from the French team gave us some special herbs to spice up our food in Europe in exchange for some VT maple syrup and cheddar cheese when we get to Canada!

Me and Jess on one of the training days in Czech

Jessie at the podium ceremony downtown!

One of the best fireworks shows I've ever seen after the awards ceremony

Hanging out with my cousin Lilly at the races!

On Saturday afternoon, I found out I had a spot on our relay team! We have a really strong women's team right now and I think one of the coolest things about it is that any one of the seven of us could make a case for a strong relay leg. I was thrilled to be a part of our A relay team for my first time. The relay was 4x5kms and the first two legs were classic and the second two legs were skate. I was the scramble leg, so the first classic leg, and my goal was to conserve as much energy by following people and to come in tagging Sadie off in a good place. The first 2.5kms of the relay were pretty mellow. I had a good start and positioned myself in the front 1/3 of the pack. After 2.5kms, Norway took off at a sprint pace and put some time into the rest of the field. I hung tight to the chase pack and came in the with a pack of skiers from 2nd-5th place, tagging Sadie off in third. Sadie and team Finland managed to gap the skiers they were racing with and Sadie tagged Liz off in third, right behind Finland, with a gap to the next pack of skiers. Liz skied an awesome race and passed Finland on the second lap, tagging Jessie off in second, with a small gap to third. Jessie, being the anchor queen she is, put a little more time into Finland and crossed the finish line in a decisive second place, the best result our US women's relay team has ever had! This was one of the most memorable races of my ski career and I was so happy and honored to be a part of such a strong team.
Sprinting into the finish pen to celebrate our 2nd place as Jessie crosses the line (Getty Images)

Our relay team of Sadie, Jessie, me, and Liz (hiding behind her skis) (Getty Images)
USA, Norway, and Finland on the podium! (FIS photo)
On Monday morning, we flew to Norway for a week of training in Sjusjoen before the World Cup picks back up in Scandinavia next week. There are over 300kms of skiing in Sjusjoen and it is a winter wonderland. We are staying in cabins right near the trails and I'm looking forward to some good training, relaxing, and a weekend off from racing. Thanks for following!
Emily Nishikawa, me, Sim, Andy, Liz, and Ides posing for a picture on our first ski in Sjusjoen (Jessie photo)

Jumping for joy! (Jess photo)

Liz and Jess finding a cave under a snow covered tree

Celebrating Ida's 28th birthday

Sunrise view out my bedroom window in the morning

Making our way up the backside of the alpine mountain...oops!

Teammates cresting over the hill in Sjusjoen

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Blur of the Tour de Ski

As cross country ski racers, we fall into the pattern of racing on the weekend. Sometimes we race twice a weekend, sometimes we only have one race, but we can always count on the weekend meaning race time. We know what day of the week it is based on how recently we just raced or how close we are to the next weekend of racing. Then there's the Tour de Ski where everything just gets messed up. Racing begins on a Friday and in the next ten days there are eight races. None of us know which day of the week it is. We only know that we are most likely racing tomorrow. This year I competed in the first six days of the Tour de Ski, which included five of the races. My teammates who are finishing the Tour just finished their seventh race and will compete in the final race of the series tomorrow, the hill climb.
U.S. girls (minus Caitlin) psyched for the Tour de Ski (DagBladet photo)
The first three stages of the tour were in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. The tour commenced with a skate sprint. I love the course in Lenzerheide. It has a lot of flat and gradual up where it is important to carry your speed and a long fast downhill into the finishing stretch. I qualified with the second fasted time in the prelim which is the best I've ever qualified in a sprint before. In my quarter final I got off to a bit of a slow start, but moved on as lucky loser to the semi finals. In my semi final, we had a stacked heat and I ended up third and moved onto the final as lucky loser AGAIN. I really am the luckiest loser in the world. I think I had been lucky loser in five out of the heats I had advanced in at this point. In the final I had a great start and held on as long as I could and finished the day in 4th place, the second best World Cup finish I had ever had! I was really happy with my day personally and it was pretty impressive to have three girls on the USST in the top ten and four in the top twenty. Go team!
Congratulating Maiken on her win in the sprint (Getty Images)
Beautiful Lenzerheide

The following day we had a 15k classic. This was the longest race I had done this year and I was looking forward to getting my striding on. I felt great for the race and settled into a strong pack early on. Unfortunately, on the second lap my pole got kicked and snapped in a less than ideal place, but after some one pole skiing I got another pole and tried to finish strong. I ended up 34th on the day, which was my best distance race of the year, but it was bittersweet to be so close to the points and have a little pole mishap. The following day was a 5k pursuit start race. I was starting in 23rd place and points for the day were rewarded based on your finishing place of the day. My goal was to stay in the top 30 and I knew that in order to do this, I was going to have to hang on for dear life to the pack I was skiing with. We took it out hot and I held on for about three kilometers before beginning to flood big time. With the help of our coaches cheering, I hung on for a 27th place finish and my first distance points of the season!
15k classic (Noah photo)
My headgear sponsor for the day - Happy BDAY Mom! P.S. Still looking for a headgear sponsor!! (Jessie photo)
After three big days of racing, we traveled to Oberstdorf, Germany and had a rest day. I was feeling pretty tired on our rest day, so I decided to take it off rather than going to preview the course. I spent most of the day in my hotel room with Liz and went for a little walk in the snow/rain storm that was taking place outside. My coach, Matt, sent me a text from the course that day saying "Hey - awesome sprint course for you.  You have a shot to win this one, even though it is classic." I smiled, because that was nice of him to say and I was happy it was a good course for me, but like he said, it was a classic sprint and I've always been stronger in skate sprints. The morning of the race we had a small testing window, so after warming up, I skied two laps of the course to test my wax and got ready to race. I qualified third in the prelim, which was miles better than I had ever qualified in a classic sprint before. My skis were great, I loved the grade of the uphills, and really loved the technical downhills.
Sprint qualifier (Marcel Hilger photo)
As I was warming up for my quarter final, Heidi Weng of Norway came up from behind and gave me a huge hug saying "You are skiing so fast! You must win today!" I was caught a little off guard, because Heidi and I are friendly, but I don't know her well at all and was surprised she had this confidence in me. Again, I smiled and thanked her, but like I said before, this was a classic sprint and I've always thought of myself as stronger in skating. I finished in the top two in my heat during the quarter final and for once knew I was going to the semis right away instead of waiting to see if I was the lucky loser! My semi final was another strong heat and I had Ingvild in it who had won the qualifier and is a really impressive all around sprinter. I stuck right behind her on the whole course and came across the line in second. Onto the finals! Between each round, Gus had radioed in to work on my lunges. So Matt stood with me while I was spinning and demonstrated the perfect lunge, over and over. I lunged in my semi and he told me it was okay, but it could be better. Before my final, I had one goal and that was to stick on Ingvild's tails for as long as I could. I can't remember much of my final, but I remember getting in the track behind Ingvild and not letting go. I tried to ski fast and relaxed on the downhills, hold onto her on the uphills, and power over the tops. After the last uphill, I was right on Ingvild's tail in second place and slingshotted by her on the last down hill. All of a sudden I was in first place leading into the final stretch. I focused on getting my hips forward, carrying my speed, and not looking back. I could feel someone coming up next to me and just before the finish line, I focused as hard as I could on having the perfect lunge. Then I WON my first World Cup!
Lunging for the line (Marcel Hilger photo)

Double poling down the finish stretch (Marcel Hilger photo)
I'm still in a bit of shock. Thank you to everyone for all the support. My inbox has been overflowing and I've loved hearing from each one of you. I owe a huge thank you to my team for all of their support. My wax tech, Oleg, and the entire waxing staff gave me amazing skis. My coach, Matt, is one of the hardest workers I know and was there giving me pep talks the whole day and it also meant a lot to me to have my former coach, Gus, there that day. Seeing my teammates' smiling faces after the race and back at the hotel made my smile even bigger and of course talking to my family that day was just the icing on the cake! Then, to top it off, Jessie goes and wins the 5k skate two days later. GO USA!! HERE is the link to my final and HERE is the link to my post race interview. Up next for me is the sprint weekend in Slovenia and here are a bunch of pictures from the day.

Heidi, me, and Ingvild (Marcel Hilger photo)

Post race with Matt (Jessie photo)

Getting a hug from Ides and jess after the race

And one from Matt (Jessie photo)

Thomas Zipfel made me my very own cartoon!

Giving Jessie a hug and nose rub after her 1st place in the 5k skate (Annie Hart photo)