As I’ve mentioned in prior blog posts, going into this season I have some big goals that required some big alterations to my modus operandi.  I worked hard with Max and Pat to come up with a training plan very much tailored to my specific needs, have been diligently working to create purpose and intentions in even the most mundane of workouts (looking at you 60 minute afternoon double pole), and have made listening to my body a significant priority.

Last year I suffered a little bit from what I’m now calling an invincibility complex.  Through out the summer and fall months I was continuously getting positive feedback in time trials and workouts that I couldn’t possibly do enough.  I added 30 minutes here and 45 minutes there, generally gave into the desire to push just a little harder on every, single interval, and all the while assumed that I couldn’t possibly be broken by any of it.  How could something that is making me fitter possibly make me slower?

Turns out it can, and it did.  The “tireds” (a Sophie Caldwell term) happen when you least expect them, and when you would really rather do without them.  So, going into this year I wanted to really stay on top of my tireds.

So when Max introduced me to the WHOOP company, I was immediately intrigued.  In short, my whoop watch takes 100 heart beat measurements per second all day and all night.  From that data it gives me my daily strain, and calculates how much sleep I should aim to get.  Then, while I’m sleeping, it determines my resting heart rate as well as my heart rate variability (click on link for more info on that).  From all of that information (including my overall sleep quality), the Whoop provides me with a daily recovery score.  This ranges from 0% to 100% (neither of which I have actually seen) recovery, and from there gives a recommended daily strain.

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My recovery and strain from the last two weeks. As you can see, I’ve been pushing my body pretty hard to finish out this block. This is evidenced by the “space between”- the difference in what my recovery score indicates I should hit for a daily strain, and what I have been hitting.

 

While understanding that you can’t live, die, and train by the Whoop…it sure has been interesting.  Some things aren’t surprising- like after a rest day I typically have my highest recovery scores.  Or after a day of hard intensity and strength I typically have my lowest recovery scores.

And perhaps least surprisingly of all…I am NOT invincible.  Training is designed to put a stress on your body, and then with ample recovery you bounce back at a higher level of fitness than before.  But without this rest, you just start getting more tired and more tired.  And then feeling tired becomes your norm, and when it’s time to really get going (i.e. winter racing) you simply cannot.

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My Whoop telling me what I already know, but always need to hear (sometimes from more than one source).

So in an effort to avoid the cannot in winter I’m opting for the do-not right now.  I broke my training this year into seven week cycles, with each of those cycles ending with a nothing week.  I don’t do any intensity, take as many days off as I need to feel antsy plus one more, and just focus on recovering, and recovering hard.  And my do nothing week could not come at a better time!

I’ve had such a great block of training spanning three different time zones, lots of modalities and many training partners.  I was so excited to finish it off with my Stratton teammates, and we really sent this block off in style with a 4 hour run in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.IMG_0022

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No one is really sure what Sophie thought we were all doing in this photo.

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Taking advantage of a “green” recovery day to hammer out some uphill skate intervals!

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It has been a bit of a hot and humid (and rainy) block of training, and I’ve even been taking a couple natural ice baths in the various bodies of water Vermont has to offer!

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And, as always, eating well. Grilled parmesan, zucchini and avocado on honey oat bread to kick off this nothing week.

Cheers to recovery!  Whoop whoop! :)

Due to the limited photo storage on my iPhone (which going on 1.75 years old is some kind of dinosaur in the tech world), I don’t actually have a ton of pictures depicting my adventures over the last month.  I’ve been all over the country, begrudgingly had a six piece chicken McNuggets somewhere between Rapid City and Minneapolis (sometimes food is food), had a couple mountain bike crashes, set some new personal training records, and generally kept myself busy enough that I’ve started wishing for another hour in the day.

I do, however, have one of my favorite pictures of all time saved on my phone, probably forever (or at least until I have to try and save it to “the cloud” when my geriatric phone takes its last charge, I’ll crowd source for help when that happens).

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There are many questions that are commonly asked of professional skiers.  Number one is undoubtedly, “what do you eat for breakfast?” (it varies). Number two probably concerns training, how hard training is, or what I do for training every day (it varies).  Then, after those questions, comes the question: what is your favorite part of ski racing?  While the skiing fast, training hard, having a strong body, all the medals and glory (and also the money…) are great bonuses, nothing will compare to the women (and more broadly people) I’ve met and the deep seated bond we’ve formed over collective and individual failures and successes.

It has been one of the luckiest things in my life that I landed at Dartmouth College with Erika and Sophie first as scary upper classmen, then (and still) as amazing teammates and mentors, and finally as two of my very best friends.  A couple minutes before Erika walked down the aisle to marry the man of her dreams, the only sensible thing to do was a team cheer (1,2,3 ANDY LOVES FLOWERS!).  For me, the picture of this moment represents a lot.  On the one hand the amount of amazing work and love that went into making the wedding the most beautiful wedding, possibly ever (250 napkins folded, 10 hours of make up application by Erika’s step-sister, some almost sleepless nights, and a 10 mile trail race).  But on the other, more important hand, this picture represents absolutely everything that sport can bring you as a female.

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As does this one. This was from my off-term at Dartmouth when I came to Stratton for the first time to train with the SMS team. I was all sweat (clearly) and tears after a rather terrible 10 mile running time trial, but Sophie and Erika were right there with hugs (despite the sweat) and love.

This picture is a group of smart, athletic, independent, and powerful women all getting together to support one of their own.  And it is the exact reason why I love sport so much, and also the precise reason I have been able to accomplish everything I’ve had in cross country skiing.  Because at the end of the day- whether you win, lose, or draw- pictures of those moments aren’t the ones that will force you to conquer your fear of the cloud.  It’s what got you there- namely, the people that saw (and even sometimes caused) the tears, sweat, and laughter- that remind you how awesome life truly is, and that the greatest accomplishment of all is the ability to grow and succeed as a group of women.

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Two more incredible women I met through sport, and both of whom are now stuck with me for life…Natalie and Isabel (coincidentally the younger siblings of Erika and Sophie…clearly I have a type)

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…four (five?) years later!

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Wedding week/ Fitness week!

 

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Skiing also brought me the love of my life Thomas, and even though he’s a full time working man and had just recovered from a broken leg, he enthusiastically joined along on a 16 mile trail run that I told him would be more like 8 miles, tops.

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More friends from skiing- Paddy Caldwell came to visit Thomas and I in Rapid City en route to the wedding! Fishing!

 

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Gus- who coached me when I was still a junior and then again during my off term at SMS- was Sophie and my date down the aisle! Another thing skiing brought me!

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that skiing has brought me a lot, but nothing compares to the people and relationships that I’ve had the tremendous luck of forming through my life as a full time skier.  So find your people, it makes everything worth it.

 

Running on a dirt path with an awkwardly oversized 20 pound weight vest creating a small patch of raw skin that is just now beginning to heal, I had to take a moment and laugh at the hilarity of my situation.  I could have been whipping up a batch of strawberry cornmeal pancakes with a hot latte in hand, enjoying the slowness that usually typifies Memorial Day Monday.  Instead I was working very hard to run a mile, then complete 100 pull ups, 200 push ups, and 300 air squats…and then suffer through another mile.  All the while toting around the aforementioned 20 pounds.

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In the middle of the workout (I’m in the middle of a squat on the left!)

Thankfully I had set up my Murph (the annual crossfit Memorial Day workout) station next to an equally suffering individual.  We had broken up our repetitions differently- I chose to do 20 rounds of 5 pull ups, 10 push ups, and 15 squats, while he was doing 5 rounds of 20 pull ups, 40 pushups and 60 air squats- but found ourselves to be moving along at similar paces.  Just past the half way point, my Murph partner starts giving himself a pep talk.  His weight vest had hit the ground one too many times, and in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, he says: “You wanted this!  You did this to your self.  This is your choice, you can stop ANYTIME you want.” He then proceeded to knock out the remaining push ups in his set and continue on to complete the brutal workout.

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I’m very thankful to have found Rushmore Crossfit in Rapid City for my strength workouts and needs this month. It’s where I did the Murph- alongside many individuals currently enlisted and on active duty. One such individual did the “Strict Murph,” meaning he ran the mile, then did 100 pull ups to completion, 200 pull ups straight, then 300 air squats in a row and finally the mile run. I did helped him through the last 20 air squats, then gave him a high five and he went off for the run. The community vibe that comes with a well run crossfit gym- like the Powerhouse in Minnesota or Rushmore Crossfit in South Dakota- is really remarkable and something I’m so happy to have discovered.

Fast forward a couple days, and I’m doing a 5 by one kilometer trail running workout.  I consider myself to be a pretty good runner, but trail running is very much slower and very much harder than the typical road run.  Rocks, loose gravel and some BIG UPS (1.2 miles of straight up in one instance) make the experience exponentially harder.  I was in the middle of an all uphill kilometer, my heart rate was going up as my speed was going down, and I was ready to just finish out the interval without any real bravado.  But then, the Murph Man’s voice popped into my head, reminding me that I was choosing to do this.  If I wanted to stop, I could.  No one was making me run up the hill, and no one would even know if I stopped.  This reminder that what I chose to do- run up hills, race on snow and do 200 pushups with a 20# weight vest- was in fact my choice was weirdly liberating.  Instead of choosing to stop, I chose to go harder.

Finishing up the final kilometer of up hill running, I was the closest to puking I’ve been in a long while.  My legs totally flooded and my heart rate hovering around 190, I let my grimace turn into a smile.  After another three minutes of rest, I did the last interval downhill (actually maybe the hardest part of trail running) smiling/grimacing/enjoying the choice the entire time.

Going into a new training season it is critically important to have intentions.  Remembering that I am choosing to do this, and more than that I want to do this will be propelling me through this season.  There will be days- I’m sure of it- where I don’t want to go outside, or do one more rep or push my heart rate up that extra beat.  And it is important to listen to those days- why am I feeling that way?  And it is equally important to sometimes push past those hesitations, voluntarily pop on a 20 pound weight vest and sweat it out over 42 minutes of constant work.

Luckily for me, there haven’t been many of those “push through the pain” days so far this year.  I’ve just wrapped up a very successful May of training (including two weeks of on snow time in Bend, Oregon), and will be spending the month of June training in Rapid City, South Dakota.  Cheers to choice!

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Minnesotans take on the crust cruise (year two)

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Atop Harney Peak, the highest peak in South Dakota (7,000 feet!)

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Thomas will be my training partner this month, and I skied while he biked up Spearfish Canyon in the Black Hills national forest.

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One of my favorite parts of Rapid City: Mountain Biking followed by lunch from the best food trucks with Thomas!

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Also good post training fuel: Avocado oil fried chicken sandwiches :)

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Mid mountain bike OD (with the wound from Murph on my chest just beginning to heal). Happy June!

Wrapping up an entire season in one- at least somewhat digestible- blog post is similar to finding a new favorite coffee shop and only going once a week.  That is to say…nearly impossible (Harriet and Oak I’m the one who came twice on Wednesday).  So I’m not promising a full dive into the guts and glory moments of the 2016-2017 season.  But in trying to come up with a unifying theme for a year that was, in a word, frustrating, I got the inspiration from my strength/life coach Max.

One day Max came into the gym for my strength session, and decided to also hop into that day’s primary workout.  When I asked in jest why he had decided to hop into the session, he said he had to become “harder to kill.”  His dad had just broken his ankle, and while pushing yourself through an intense workout of thrusters and pull ups and med ball slams might not directly lead to broken ankle prevention, he figured it wouldn’t hurt his odds at avoiding that fate.

That harder to kill mentality stuck with me.  While I had some definite highs this season- most notably my improved qualifying speed and mass start distance races- I also struggled a lot of the time.  I found myself unable to get out of my own head, and instead of shaking off uncontrollable variables I let them decide that race’s outcome, and future races’ results.  For example- when driving to the final race of US nationals (a skate sprint qualifier), the sky started spitting some mix of snow, ice, and rain.  Instead of recognizing everyone was dealing with the same thing and understanding I had to race no matter what…I burst into tears.  And being 100% honest, when a super tour was cancelled in Truckee, CA due to too much snow, I was almost relieved.  I had gotten myself believing that I couldn’t perform well in blizzard conditions at 8,000 feet elevation, so not having to test myself against myself that day I saw as a bit of a blessing.

It was after returning home from the Truckee, CA super tour race that Max planted the harder to kill seed.  He helped me flip my perspective from, “that really sucked,” to “somehow in someway that experience will make me harder to kill in the future.”  So when I came down with a nasty cold mid sprint race at the last race series in Fairbanks, I worked hard to flip the narrative from the ever unattractive victim act of “why me,” to “get your butt in bed so you can go race a 30K.”

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During my charge in Fairbanks during the 30K. So lucky to ski the race with my best Sophie Caldwell! (and in our new schnazzy suits!) Photo Credit: Lance Parrish

Despite not being at 100% health the day of the US National Championships 30K, I wanted nothing more than to race.  And race with the mentality that pushing through this last race of the season would make me harder to kill next year.  At 8K I thought I was done for.  I had held on to the lead pack of six for the first 7.5 Kilometers (which included the 5th place finisher in that event at World Championships teammate Jessie), and then began to worry about how I would possibly make it another 22.5 Kilometers.  That’s when my best friend Sophie hopped in front of me and told me to hang on.  And hang on I did- and then miraculously with 10K to go I had a second (or maybe at this point third or fourth) wind.  Sixth place was only 30 seconds in front of us, and it became my absolute mission to catch her.  With three kilometers to go I had bridged the gap, but then began to cramp a bit. I simply told myself that I wasn’t cramping, and I had to make it to the finish line.  Coach Pat told me to “remember my strengths” (which he intended to mean my speed, so encouraging me to ski slower and follow), but I was not in a physical or mental place to try any kind of tactics.  I was simply charging towards the finish line.  With 400 meters to go I put in my biggest effort of the entire season, sprinting across the line into sixth place.  I was probably the happiest sixth place finisher ever.

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Very happy to finish out the season with a great race

While it wasn’t a win, I firmly believe I was only able to push myself to close that 30 second gap and then hold on for sixth place because of all the things that have happened this past season.  The 2016-2017 season has literally made me harder to kill.  It doesn’t mean it can’t happen- I can still have a bad race, a spectacular blow up at a bad time…be beat.  But I am going to spend the next ten months making myself as hard to kill (or less dramatically beat) as possible. And, I know there are a lot of other very talented, driven, and incredible women doing the same thing.

This next year is a big one- the Olympics have been a goal of mine for three years now.  Qualifying for the team will take an incredible amount of effort, time, sacrifice… and a bit of luck too.  Regardless of the outcome, I want to look back and know that I did absolutely everything I could.  The worst thing in the world would be looking back and realizing I hadn’t been that hard to kill.  So with that I’m making a promise to myself, and sharing it with everyone.  Everything I do from now through January will be in the pursuit of being harder to kill.  Right now, that means taking a pause from focused training to reset (and spending a lot of time cruising on my mountain bike).  Then when May rolls around, it will be planning and figuring out how to accomplish my goals.  Ten months is both a very long and very short time, and I can’t wait to share the story with all of you.

An incredibly massive heartfelt thank you to everyone who has encouraged and supported me this season.  And especially to my family, boyfriend and furry four legged friends for occasionally picking me up from a puddle on the floor.  Also to my teammates and coaches, and of special note Max and the rest of the Powerhouse for helping me find a 2017-2018 season motto.  Here’s to being harder to kill!

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Currently I’m spending two weeks in Rapid City, South Dakota with my boyfriend Thomas. While he’s at work I’m either doing yoga, going for a walk, working on my mountain bike skills or finding the best coffee shops in town. Then we go on big adventures during the weekend! We went and saw the cathedral spires and Custer state park and also my first buffalo!

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speaking of things that are hard to kill…this guy!

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:)

 

Walking into the River’s Eatery on Saturday night (the Saturday that was supposed to see my 51K Birkie Debut), I was expecting to see a lot of very sad and grumpy skiers sitting quietly over their perfectly cooked pizzas while sipping on a feel better beer.  Instead, the restaurant was pleasantly full of very happy people.  Talking with owners Mick and Beth, I was asking how the Birkie cancellation (due to low snow/ high ice) had affected business and morale.  Mick paused for a second and then said, “You know, I think this has been the happiest group of Birkie people yet.  All the grumpy people just went home, and the people who remained are really here because they want to be.”

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So many bananas, with even more in the back of the truck. Photo courtesy of Ben Popp’s Facebook page.

Several thoughts went through my head when the official Ben Popp (President of the Birkie, and hopefully future presidential nominee for the United States…he was that good) video surfaced online cancelling the Birkie.  One, DAMN.  Two, WHAT A BUMMER.  Three, why couldn’t that storm have tracked 50 miles to the north.  And finally, four, what are they going to do with all of the bananas?

A couple days prior (when the hail mary snow storm seemed to be on track to dump 18 inches of snow on the Birkie trail), Ben had posted a picture on Facebook of what must have been thousands of bananas.  These, along with energy drinks, energy gels, oranges, brats, beers, and shots, were intended to help fuel the 10,000 Birkie participants along the beautiful Birkie trail from Cable to Hayward.  But with the race cancelled, what would happen to all of that stuff (well, I knew what would happen to the brats, beers, and shots).

The Birkie team put out an incredible effort, and on Birkie Saturday had “Birkie Stock.”  A nice 5K loop was put together, and all of the on snow demos, food, and music travelled from Hayward to the new Birkie start line in Cable.  Nearly 10,000 people attended throughout the day (normally the Birkie brings closer to 30,000 people).  I stuck around, and very happily skied some 5K loops with my mom, tried the official Birkie Brew-Ski, and watched some very joyful people dance to the live band.  Earlier that morning I had ventured out on to what would have been the course, and much to my happy surprise skied 30 Kilometers (well, probably skied closer to 28 kilometers and walked 2 of them…and made a new pair of rock skis).  I ran into a number of people on the trail.  One guy had started in Cable and was trying to make it all the way to Hayward, whether he had to ski, run, or swim.  Another individual said he didn’t do all this training for nothing, and was planning on hiking 25 Kilometers to the party.  And another duo had already made it 25 Kilometers, and were shotgunning beers at 10 in the morning.

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The junior birkie went from a ski to a run. Huge kudos to all of the kids who still came out!!

I’ve had some times this season where I feel like I have 10,000 bananas and nothing to do with them.  Whether that something is me poling between my legs at the start of a sprint heat (a la the Michigan supertours), not selecting the right skis, or just some serious bad luck (blizzards, rain, hail), I’ve had some times this season where I just feel like nothing goes right.  I’ve done all of this careful preparation and made so many improvements, only to feel like I didn’t have the chance to show it off.  When this situation arises, I’ve learned (very valuably I think, although it took some time) that you have two options.  Option one:  Feel bad for yourself, play the victim, and do nothing with the metaphorical bananas.  Option two:  Make banana bread.

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The Birkie even provided the best photo op! Just practicing for next year :)

Everyone who stuck around for Birkie Stock in lieu of the actual Birkie opted for the latter.  They took those 10,000 bananas and made some delicious bread.  They still got outside (including many individuals who completed 10 laps of the 5K loop), hung out with an amazing community, ate good food, and danced their faces off (looking at you doughnut pants lady).

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Skiing with the Craftsbury Green Team Girls Saturday morning!

So for me, I’m currently taking my 10,000 bananas to Italy and Austria.  I skied well enough at US Nationals to qualify for the Europa Cup Trip, and will be racing the equivalent of the World Cup “JV” circuit for two weeks.  I’m excited to get some more high quality racing in this season before I actually do nothing but bake for a couple weeks, fueling up for another season of training.

I want to encourage everyone to make sure they surround themselves with bread makers.  These are the people that make you feel empowered and important.  I’m lucky enough to have a lot of bakers in my life.  Plus…no one has ever complained about having too much banana bread :)

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The pink group! Sunday morning I had the most fun helping out with the Birkie Fast and Female.  We got to pose with the “big check” for the fastest American female.

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Elsa working on her time capsule. Each of the girls wrote down three dreams or goals (some of them wrote down actual dreams, which was pretty cute…such as I was running away from a unicorn), and sealed them in an envelope to be opened when they graduate from high school!

P.S.If you’re looking for a healthy banana bread recipe, head over to my food blog enduring eats.  After a great week of races in Canada I had some extra bananas and buckwheat flour on my hands…and this delicious recipe came straight out of the oven into my tummy.Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

You either love Valentine’s Day or you hate it (I’m not sure there is a single person alive who feels “meh” towards this day of love).  If you hate it…then this blog post is not for you (or maybe it is primarily for you).  Because this blog post is all about love.

I love skiing.  Through skiing I’ve met all of my best friends.  I’ve learned a lot about myself, my body, and what makes me tick.  And most of the time, skiing loves me back.  I’ve found that generally the harder you work at skiing, the better (relative to others) you’ll become.

Except for sometimes, it doesn’t work that way.  Sometimes no matter how much attention and love you give skiing, it just responds with a quick slap in the face.  This smack is often the result of uncontrollable variables.  Sometimes it’s a fall, a sickness, just plain bad feelings… or sometimes it is nine feet of snow in four days (looking at you, Truckee).

And as everyone knows, loving something (or someone) who just doesn’t seem to be loving you back is heartbreaking.  To offset this heartbreak, common practice (Hallmark) produces a myriad of half joking cards renaming Valentine’s day “Singles Awareness Day” in some sort of semi-insulting-but-intended-to-be-empowering marketing scheme.  Or cards hinting at the luxuriousness of cat-lady life, or the half sized bottles of wine to enjoy with your single filet mignon (and a microwave cupcake for one).

And while these are nice ideas, for anyone experiencing true heartbreak, this does absolutely nothing.  No amount of “support” in the form of chocolates, flowers, and cards can heal a heartbreak.  Further, hating other people (or the holiday) for having a requited love won’t get you very far either.  In my newfound experience (thankfully only relating to skiing), the only way to move on is to give your unconditional love.

After the first half of the season and the snow storm that was Truckee, I was starting to feel a little bit spiteful towards skiing.  Instead of throwing my unconditional love at races and training, I started just expecting something to go wrong.  I became overly focused on things I simply could not control, and was failing to race the way I know best- going as hard as I can from the start and holding on.

When I went to talk to my strength/life coach Max, I described it as unrequited love.  From this inherently negative perspective I was going to get nowhere.  Max encouraged me to rebrand the love from unrequited to unconditional.

Racing will almost never go exactly how you want it to go.  In fact, more often than not you will cross the finish line wishing you had done something differently- be it pacing, ski selection, waxing or group tactics.  And if you don’t hold an unconditional love for racing, you will not make it very far.  Because playing the victim and feeling genuinely hurt only digs you deeper into the hole.  And the more you dig, the further you have to climb out.

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Race photos from Ian Austen, Monique Punt and James Mclean.

As it turns out, I had about five days of climbing.  But after five completely off days, I was feeling the love.  Caitlin Gregg invited me to do some skate intervals with her at Wirth, and it was honestly the most fun I’d had in about two months on skis.  We had a great session of cat and mouse, each pushing each other a little faster every interval.  Then I went to Ottawa, Ontario for a three race weekend at Canadian Eastern Championships.  I came away with one of my best qualifiers ever, a third place in the sprint and two wins in the classic and skate distance races.

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We had one day of brilliant sunshine (the sprint day), followed but a classic distance day with flurries, and a 15K skate pursuit in a full on snow storm.

Most importantly, I had so much fun doing it.  Type two fun (because 15 Kilometers of skating in the falling snow as hard as you can go hurts a lot), but still, so much fun.  And then I had three days of extra training in Ontario that included skating on the world’s largest outdoor ice arena, a beautiful ski through Gatineau Park (200 Kilometers of groomed trails!), a trip to the nicest anytime fitness I’ve ever been to, and finally a beautiful sunny day exploring the Nakkertok Trails (and the jumps they groom).  I was lucky enough to be staying at a beautiful home near all of the foreign ambassadors home (courtesy of Veronica and Eric Wessels, Veronica was my mom’s Dartmouth roommate), and took many beautiful walks, checked out local coffee shops and cooked a lot of great food.

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Scenes from my ski throughout the Gatineau forest.

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After three days of racing, I was looking for some active recovery. As luck would have it, Ottawa is home to the Rideau Canal AKA the world’s largest outdoor skating rink. I borrowed a pair of skates from the Wessel’s and spent an hour skating around (I did the whole thing). I only got passed by two people, and was pretty pleased with myself.

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My personal fans. Eric turned out to be the proud owner of a pair of Madshus skis older than me! Veronica is a not a lover of the extreme cold, so I am especially appreciative that she came out to cheer me on. And of course the mother like no other who helped organize the whole weekend!  And as always, all of my sponsors- especially MD Biosciences- for joining me in this unconditional love of sport.

I’m back to a place of unconditional love, and with this emergent perspective I’m feeling a lot of love from skiing, too.  We’re back to a very happy relationship, just in time for Valentine’s Day (coincidentally the next period of Supertour Racing and the Birkie).

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So if you’re a person who loves Valentine’s Day…I’m with you.  If you’re a person who thinks it’s the dumbest day in existence, I encourage you to change your perspective.  Instead of thinking of it just as a hallmark holiday for people already in love to obnoxiously share that love all over social media, find the things that you have unconditional love for.  Really give the unconditional love your full self, and I promise you’ll get some love back.  With or without a card and instagram post :)

I feel confident that not one single person (even the ski guru Zach Caldwell himself) could have predicted the past nine days at Soldier Hollow for US Nationals. What is normally a very straightforward venue- both for waxers, coaches, and skiers alike- became anything but.  Each day brought some new form of precipitation, often changing every five minutes.  And in a sport where (like it or not) skis and wax make almost as big of a difference as an athlete’s fitness, this made the last week, in a word, hellish.

Waxers quite literally made beds under wax benches before classic days (Pat did an absolutely amazing job all week long- he cares so much and I am so lucky to have him on my side), and dealt with a myriad of logistical obstacles.  To start, the wax trailers were 2 days late.  Then the morning of the first race, there was no power to any of the wax trailers, forcing an hour delay.  The grooming plan wasn’t clear, and for athletes there was not a warm up course that at all represented the actual race course.  The timing site often crashed, leaving waxers, coaches, and athletes waiting till the last minute on sprint days to find out if they were in fact lucky losers.  And finally, the wax cabins were about a 5 minute run and a 10 minute brisk walk to the start, which when combined with changing conditions (and coaches waiting until the last possible minute to make a wax call to try and ensure the best possible skis) certainly resulted in a couple of pre-race stress tears (GUILTY).

I don’t normally like to complain about race sites, but for this to be a standard for US Nationals competition is unacceptable, especially because U23 and Junior World Championships will be held at the same venue in just over two weeks.  While it is a massive bummer that this had to happen at US Nationals, I think there is a lot that can be improved when the world’s best descend on Park City.

For all of these reasons (combined with the 5,000 foot elevation), this week did in fact put every single athlete, coach, waxer, volunteer, and parent through both hell and high water. Despite all of this, I’m pretty happy to report that I had two great race results, one medium result, and one result I just really have no explanation for at all.

The first day of racing was the 10K skate, and I will give that day an A+ for planning and a C for execution.  I have always struggled with distance skating at altitude (I seem to always have a spectacular blow up), so I wanted to really pace the day.  I went out conservatively, and for the first time in my life almost even splitted (went the same pace each lap), and also for the first time in my life missed the finish lane and instead headed out for another lap.  I wasn’t the only one (the course was not well marked), but I feel lucky that even in my race haze I remembered to pull a 180 and go backwards to finish.  So while the plan was a good one- pace and don’t blow up- I never got going fast enough to be competitive in the race.  I think this is an important lesson.  When you make a race plan, it will probably only work 75% of the time.  It doesn’t mean that your plan was necessarily bad or you should never make a plan again, but it is worth recognizing what went right and what went wrong so you can make a better plan the next time.

Despite the added variables on a classic day, both the classic sprint and the classic 20K were great physical and mental efforts for me.  I ended up racing the “A” Final on the classic sprint day to end up as the 4th American, and then went the opposite distance and finished as the fifth American on a very challenging and mental resiliency testing 20K day.

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Racing the qualifier, doing a quick cost-benefit analysis of whether to stop and scrape my skis or head down the hill with a large build up of snow. Seeing as some people chose the latter and fell, I’m pretty psyched with my decision.

 

The new classic sprint course at Soldier Hollow is awesome.  It is a course where double poling really isn’t a viable option for four rounds of as-hard-as-you-can-go efforts, and requires both tactics and fitness to prevail on top.  The course is a combination of a minute of climbing, a fast downhill, a big kicker, and then a long stretch into the stadium.  The lead up to the qualifier was I think the most nervous and stressed I’ve ever been before a race.  The conditions were absolutely out of control- a combination of fresh powder, glazed tracks, and icy climbs.  I chose to race on klister.  I exploded out of the gates and was really excited about how I felt and the ratio of kick to glide (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VO5LNExTPrU) on my skis.  But part way up the last wall, I realized that I was starting to accumulate a lot of snow on the bottom of my skis.  This is particularly dangerous going into a big downhill (think face plant), and I decided to stop at the top of the climb and quickly scrape off my skis.  I’m happy to report I made it down the hill on my feet, and also feeling really mature about myself as a racer.  I know if that had happened last year I would not have even considered making a risk analysis (stop clean skis and lose seconds, or fall and lose more seconds) two minutes into a three minute race.

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Start of the “A” Final

I qualified well, and throughout the heats learned  that my fitness is right where I want it to be, but I got a little out-tacticted on the final climb.  I was at the back of the pack as we descended into the stadium, and put down maybe my best double effort+lunge to date to clinch fourth American.  Also, it was pouring outside the whole time (with no dry space near the start for either athletes, waxers, or coaches to go between heats- another thing to fix before U23/Worlds), and by the end of four rounds everyone looked like drowned rats or wet kittens (depending on your facial expression).

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Top four Americans after the classic sprint at drug testing. The most challenging part of the day (aside from the torrential down pour) may have been getting hydrated enough to provide an adequate sample. Here we all are showing off our hydration of choice.

The 20K classic was a course with three distinct huge climbs, followed by fast downs with almost no flat or undulating terrain.  It was clear to me at the beginning of the race that I had amazing climbing skis.  I was able to stride right up most of the hills, and spent most of the race leading a group of four to close down a gap to the leaders.  While I didn’t quite catch third place, I was really excited with my mental strength throughout an hour-plus of racing.  I never gave up, and while I ended up fifth American on the day (not quite the first I was hoping for), I gave everything I had and have to be satisfied with that.

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The start of the 20K. I am a notoriously fast starter, which I think is good in mass start races because it keeps me out of trouble.

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Leading the chase pack. Looking back, to “win the chase pack” I shouldn’t have led. But my goal is never to win the chase pack but instead to win the race, so I worked hard the whole time to try and catch back up to the leaders.

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It is always fun to look at heart rate monitor graphs from long races. As you can see, for the entirety of the 20K I was hovering around the high 180s, with my max at 190. Work!

The final day of racing- a skate sprint qualifier only- I really have no answer for.  I felt a little flat from the 20K effort two days prior, and the waxing conditions were rather difficult (heavy falling snow over wet snow over ice), but still I’m not sure what happened there.  Typically my skate sprinting is one of my strengths, but I ended the day in the 20s, disappointed and scratching my head.

By the end of eight days of “hell and high water” (according to Caldwell Sport), I was exhausted and having a really tough time getting past the negatives and variables and focusing on the things that I did really well.  I was having a hard time finding the silver lining.  Driving to dinner with my mom through yet another snow storm, one of my favorite songs came on:

It’s worth listening to a couple of times (I’ve listened to it at least five times this morning).  My three favorite lines are (1) “Hey, don’t write yourself off yet” (2) “It just takes some time, little girl your in the middle of the ride, everything everything will be alright” (3) “Live right now, yeah, just be yourself. It doesn’t matter if it’s good enough for someone else.”

Skiing, and US nationals this year in particular, felt like the most puke inducing roller coaster ride of my life.  It was supremely challenging both physically and mentally, and I certainly had some seriously questioning moments.  But it would be unfair to me to completely write myself off- at the end of the day I still had two top five races.  I felt good, and I continue to feel strong and fast.  I’m controlling the variables I can control, and getting much better at shaking off the variables I can’t.  After all, it just takes some time, I’m going to keep on being myself and everything, everything will be just fine, everything, everything will be alright alright :)

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Flashback Friday: Sophie and I (my sophomore year of college and her senior year) pretending to be on a roller coaster ride.

 

 

There are a lot of skills (both practiced and innate) that get you to both the start and finish line of a race.  There is punctuality (don’t ever take for granted getting to the start line on time, even after three years of professional racing and eight additional years of high school and college, I STILL have nightmares about missing my start), time management, multi-tasking, organization, fitness, strength (both mental and physical), speed, stamina…the list goes on.  But- as I was recently reminded by a father of teammate of Val’s at St. Paul Academy- there is an often overlooked skill.  As the father eloquently put it, “and of course, the essential athletic talent of forgetting.”

I’m going to make a slight adjustment.  To get successfully to the start and finish line, one needs the essential athletic talent of selective memory.

In any career- whether it is skiing, law, teaching, parenting or cooking- you are going to have bad days.  Sometimes caused by things in your control, but also often a result of uncontrollable variables.  In fact in a lot of ways, you’ll have more bad days than perfect ones.  But to reach those perfect days- when pain doesn’t resonate and everything just falls into place- you need to remember you are capable of a perfect day, AND you not only need to have bad days, but also you need to forget they even happened.

I set incredibly high expectations for myself going into the season.  Coming off a kick-ass summer of training combined with some really positive fall time trial efforts, I was ready to take the season by storm.  But race after race after race (x3 more races), I fell short of what I feel I’m capable of.

It was incredibly frustrating to finish every race disappointed in the end-result, and I had an incredibly hard time in the moment recognizing the things I could control, and the things I couldn’t; what went really well, and what went poorly.  And each time I started a race, I carried that emotional baggage (which definitely took a physical toll) all the way around the course.  So by the end of period one- despite actually placing better than I ever have in these opening races (nothing below 12th place, whereas last year I had some high 20 results)- I had six races weighing me down both mentally and physically.

So when my mom forwarded me that text, I was stunned.  I had honed all of my other skills- I’m objectively stronger and faster than ever before- but I’d forgotten how to forget, or rather selectively remember.  I’d dwelled on things that didn’t go my way or well, and completely forgot to remember all the things I had done to get me to this point.

So with a 14 day training block at home before heading to the ever important nationals races in Par k City Utah, I embarked on practicing the skill of selective memory.  This doesn’t mean I’m not going to reflect on less than ideal races, but every time I start a training ski or a race, I’m going to view it as a blank slate and an opportunity to showcase my effort.  I’ve had some really positive sessions this last week (I did my first muscle-up!), and also some really wonderful relaxing at home with my family.

I’ll post another update after Nationals, and until then I’ll be snacking on all the best holiday treats, singing my favorite holiday songs, and working on that selective memory (in fact I just recently watched Finding Dory, a movie all about a fish with short term memory loss).  Happy Holidays, and now for lots of pictures!

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Podium pals in West Yellowstone with Erika!

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Also, it was really cold every single day of racing. In fact this week was the first time I haven’t skied in lobster mittens (shout out to both Toko and Sauce for keeping me warm!)

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All layered up in Silver Star!

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Even though I was disappointed with my results, Silver Star is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Cold smiles with Julia on a training day!

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…And another really cold set of races once I got back home to Minnesota. I travelled up to Houghton, Michigan (the site of the last two nationals) to get some more racing in, and was definitely feeling more myself. I took the win on both the classic sprint day (pictured here), and the REALLY COLD 10K skate day (pictured below)

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So cold, I even raced raced in my warmup pants. And a vest with hand warmers in the pockets (actually -26 real feel at the start).

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And just like that I was back home! We’re taking care of Henry’s dog Pudge (the bulldog), and our other dog Liesel is not exactly thrilled. I’m playing mediator here.

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I also was able to squeeze in lunch with my (I kid you not) first ever friend from Kindergarten Caroline. We spent 13 years together growing up in high school, both went to college out East (so saw each other on the eastern ski circuit), and she is now in her first year of Law School in Boston.

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And now Henry is being very domestic, making sugar cookies in the kitchen. I’m off to “supervise” this task, so happy happy holidays and new year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every year I head into the first races of the seasons with high expectations.  Each time I toe the start line, I know I’ve worked harder than ever before.  I know I’ve made gains in technique, fitness, and strength.  Despite this knowledge, every year I cross the first finish line I am left…wanting.  A little disappointed, a little discouraged, and a little bit perplexed.  So, every year I write a blog working my way through the weekend.  Year one: On Starts.  Year two: Finding Finesse.  Given this history, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the opening weekend of races.  They were WAY better than years past (each year at West Yellowstone I’ve cut my eventual result in half- 7th this year instead of 28th in 2014), but still not what I wanted (RE: winning).  This year is a little different because that first race weekend didn’t count for overall domestic points scoring (that happens this weekend), but still a race is a race.  And as a racer I’m generally unhappy when things don’t go to plan.

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Year One (28th)

 

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Year Two (14th)

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Year Three (7th).  Above photos from Toko Representative Ian Harvey.

So cooling down from the races, I was searching for an analogy.  Being a perennial pancake person (in the ongoing debate of pancakes vs. waffles vs. french toast), I decided that my racing is rather like pancake making.

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The First (Doggy) Pancake

To anyone who has made pancakes- you know about the first pancake theory.  For no real scientific reason- the pan, the ingredients, and the chef remain the same- that first pancake just doesn’t turn out like the rest.  I tried searching for a scientific explanation, and there just isn’t one.  There are some nonscientific ones HERE, the most succinct coming from KrazyKakeKylie using the source “myself.” You don’t do anything differently, but that first pancake is a little flat, a little burnt (or undercooked), and just not as tasty.  So you make one (and in our household give it to the dog), and then by the next batch things turn around.

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The next batch…with all the goods. RECIPE linked HERE

 

And, no one remembers that first pancake.  The first pancake is heavily (and thankfully) overshadowed by the glorious batches that follow.  I was devastated after the first races last year, but went on to podium for the first time at US Nationals, win my first SuperTour, and race in my first World Cups.  But if I’d given up and assumed that the first pancake would be representative of the following pancakes…well I’d be hungry.

So instead of throwing away the entire batch before I even give it a chance to cook, I’m going to figure out how to make them better.  For one, I should turn up the heat.  I skied technically well last weekend, but (I think) was so focused on skiing well that I ignored the ski really fast part.  Pacing has always been a struggle of mine, and the transition from pavement to snow makes that extra hard (you don’t get a perfect push every time on snow).  Further, you don’t pick different roller skis for different conditions.  I’m immensely thankful for all the new Madshus skis I got this year, but am still figuring out the prime conditions for each and working with Pat to figure out how to best wax them for kick.

Finally, I will head into the next weekend of races with twice as much skiing under my belt.  I decided to stick around Vermont this summer instead of travel for snow, so the learning curve is steep.  Kikkan Randall (who, granted, had a baby last year, making her transition all the more impressive) likened getting back to snow skiing like riding a bike: “It is a bit like riding a bike.  The sensations are all there and I’m used to it, but it’s also new again. But I kind of like that. I really enjoyed working my way to the top and where I was through the 2014 season, and now I have to work my way back. I like that challenge.”

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Other ways to work through that First Pancake include awesome teammates who will flip batch after batch with you until they come out perfectly. Thanks to Annie Pokorny (who is now on the Sun Valley Team) for capturing Erika and I in the act

I’ll report back on the second batch next week.  Until then it is time to recover from a big week of training and intensity on snow, and get ready for our first Super Tour races of the season- back at West Yellowstone because of (lack of) snow problems in Bozeman.

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And a HUGE thank you to my boyfriend Thomas who drove from Rapid City, South Dakota to be our assistant wax tech this week (and my number one fan).

 

Last year around this time I wrote about campaign season, and how I secretly loved every minute of it.  I’m here to formally retract that blog post.  I am BEYOND ready for this election season to come to a close.  That said, this blog post will be drawing inspiration from this current situation.  Regardless of political leanings or opinions, you would be hard pressed to call this election normal. In typical election years, the October surprise is a news event concerning one or both of the primary presidential candidates that either coincidentally or purposefully influences the eventual outcome of the race.  But when the Saturday Night Live skits and the events they are satirizing could work both ways, can there really be an October surprise?  I’m going to argue no.  Nothing that happens from here until (…or beyond) November 8th will surprise me.  And that goes for my ski season as well.

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Actually there was one October surprise. At fast and female I was challenged to a plank off with an 8 year old. I held it for 5 minutes, but she edged me out (after we agreed to stop at 5) for another two seconds.

 

 

The last two weeks in Park City have made it clear to me one thing:  If you spend five months working really hard, focusing on the small details, there won’t be any October surprises (the same can’t be said for America, apparently).  And when the only kind of surprises I like involve good food, this is a good thing.  In past years I’ve been incredibly nervous for the first race simulations of the year, wondering how I was going to feel and where I’d land amongst my peers.  In fact during my first year of full time racing, I couldn’t even finish a bowl of oatmeal before the first Park City time trial (a surprise to all who know me).

But this year was different.  Before our two time trials, I warmed up as I normally would and instead of feeling nervous I just felt excited (okay, also a little bit nervous, but in the good way).  I shot out of the “gate” (Head Coach Chris Grover’s arm) and immediately began focusing on my breathing, and relying on months of technique work to take care of itself.  I found myself not worrying about other people, but only how I was going to get up this hill (or more importantly DOWN the infamous solider hollow hill on roller skis), across that flat and into the finish line.  So when I finished, I didn’t have to wonder if I had put down a good time- I knew I had done the absolute best I could, so that time would be good enough. No surprises, just a lot of hard work summarized in a 30 minute all out effort.

Of course October roller ski time trials don’t mean everything, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a confidence booster going into the season.  I’m not expecting any November Surprises either (again, not sure if we can say the same for America), but I’ll keep you updated as we get closer to race season (three weeks for me, six days for America- make sure you vote!).

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Distance training with Craftsbury Skier Caitlin Patterson! These camps are a great time to ski with other top racers.

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…but still a great time to continue training with my best buds. Erika and I switching from classic skiing to running on an over distance workout!

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In addition to our shared love for all things pumpkin spice, peanut butter, lulu lemon, skiing, and weddings (to name a few), Erika and I share a love of strength. We were in charge of the Fast and Female strength station, and inspired by a workout from my Strength Coach Max Lipset, we created the Flowers and Hart 100 challenge. Do it alone or do it in a group…we promise it will get you strong (or at least sweaty and sore)

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Post Time Trial face (tired, but stoked, in an intense and stoic manner).

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The views in Park City do not stink.

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And pretty happy to visit Henry and his baby bulldog Pudge on my way back to Stratton! It was also nice to have lunch w with my mom in the Minneapolis airport on a layover :)

And for the best "Why Me" Halloween costume, this dog we found on Main Street Park City.

And for the best “Why Me” Halloween costume, this dog we found on Main Street Park City.