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.
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.
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!
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.”
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Whenever I travel back to Vermont from a stint at home, one of the first questions my teammates ask me is how many times I went to the Power House at Highland. I count the Powerhouse as one of my happy places. Whether it’s a group workout led by Logan or Jill, some one-on-one coaching with Max, a midline and mobility session with Meredith, or a friendly but also fiercely competitive workout with Gunnar…I do my best to be there every day.
As I wrote about last year, the Power House at Highland has a unique environment that encourages people to test their physical and mental limits in a space that is safe and welcoming for that, at times, painful task. Looking back after a full year of calling the Powerhouse my oasis, I think it can be neatly re-dubbed the EMpowerhouse.
At the EMpowerhouse, doing your first real pull up is just as exciting as doing your tenth pull up in a row. Going to Pilates every day is just as impressive as competing in the Crossfit Open, and eating mindfully for a week earns just as much respect as finishing your yardwork. It’s a judgement free zone, where other people’s accomplishments lend a helping hand for you to reach your own goals.
Further, any perceived failure at the EMpowerhouse is celebrated. When you come up short, it means you gave it your all. Give it a rest, and next week you’ll “fail” better. Beyond that, when an entire community shoulders the effects of “failure,” getting up is that much easier.
My goal for September is to raise an additional $5,000. My fundraising for the year is off to a great start thanks to the generous support of my new headgear sponsor MD Biosciences, and a grant from the American Birkebeiner Foundation. Last year I raised enough to cover my journey to my first World Cups, and this year my goal is not only to race in World Cups but place in the top 30. There is a lot of time, money, and energy that goes into this pursuit, and I am humbled and grateful to all of the people who have helped me along the way.
There will be a donation box at the Powerhouse starting next week, and I hope you will be able to join in for a workout on the 24th. The class schedule for that Saturday is available HERE, and if you can’t make it but still want to donate please send a check made out to “Anne Hart” and send to 9727 Primrose Ave N, Stillwater MN 55082.
Near where Thomas lives in Maine there is a tiny ice cream stand with the world’s best ice cream. Tubby’s (aptly named when you realize who owns the place) hand makes creative combinations, with names like “The Tree Hugger” (maple ice cream with oats, cinnamon, and walnuts) and “Unicorns Do Exist” (I’m not sure what’s in this one), and seriously the ice cream is the best. It has, in fact, ruined all other ice cream for me. I pretty much only get ice cream now when I go to Maine. That’s how good.
So when I spent the week in Maine for a seven day recovery training period, Tubby’s was an obvious destination. Standing in line looking at the flavors of the day, my eyes (and then my heart) set on the “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” I then noticed it was seven o’clock at night, I was wearing a fleece, and it was August 27th. And I was having a a delicious and pumpkin based ice cream. Two seasons combining to create the best possible dessert, and ultimately the inspiration for this blog.
This is an interesting and important time for a ski racer. The workouts shift from volume based to more intensity. Attire changes from sports bras to long sleeves, and the air changes from horribly humid to, in a word, pleasant. With this shift comes a lot of uncertainty, and some fear. A bad workout becomes a little harder to shake off (more on this in a later blog), getting sick becomes scarier, and in general the goal is to start feeling good going 100%.
How to make the shift from raspberry chocolate chip ice cream (my summer flavor) to pumpkin depends on the person. For me the best way is to keep up consistent, good training. I’ve learned I recover, train, and consequently feel best when I’m in one place. So, while some of my teammates travelled to New Zealand for the next block, I opted to stay in Stratton with Pat and Paddy! I have a three day intensity block coming up (which will be my first full L4 intervals of the year!), and am looking forward to some Pumpkin ice cream with the #Patricks.
Thanks for following, and check out a new recipe that will help you usher in fall on the cooking page (hint: not pumpkin, but the other fall fruit favorite).Click HERE for the recipe!
(A little bit of nitty gritty to set the stage)
One of my big training goals for this year was to simply do more training. And not just more, but smarter. Looking at last year’s plan and what I’m trying to accomplish this winter, Pat and I came up with a schedule that involved a lot more long easy distance skiing this summer. We decided to avoid too much speed work and high intensity sessions, because those in combination with an uptick in volume would leave me flattened come December. Max and I then came up with strength programming to match the volume emphasis, and most of my strength sessions are focused on muscular endurance. So at this point in the training year I’m less worried about power output (that will come in September), and more worried about efficiency.
(Okay, story time)
It’s another really hot and humid day in Vermont. Our morning session is 5 by 8 minutes of classic threshold, with varying terrain to force us to work on different techniques. I feel amazing, my lactate is exactly 4.0, and I proclaim to Pat that I think I’m fitter than ever before (which would make sense, but still, a nice feeling). Two weeks and fifty hours of training later, my heart rate is struggling to even get to threshold, laying horizontal becomes my go-to pose, and I tell Pat, “I think this is the most tired I’ve ever been.”
To which Pat replies, “Good.”
And I say, “What?”
He looks at me and says, “That means the training is working.”
A little incredulously I respond, “But I feel terrible.”
And he replies, “Listen. If you didn’t feel tired it means one of two things- either you didn’t do enough, or you are lieing to yourself about how you are feeling. If you weren’t tired after 50 hours of training, I’d be confused. But the timing is perfect. You’ll get through three more days, and then go home and take your rest week. And then we’ll do the cycle again. And come December, you will be ready to rock and roll”*
*this is not verbatimAs it turns out, training is really awesome but also really hard. In one sentence, training is just a cycle of stressing your system, and then letting it rebound. Each time you stress and then rebound, you should become fitter. And the more fit you get, the more tired you can become. You can stress the system more. This can get dangerous- without letting your system fully rebound it is easy to overdo it and torpedo your entire season.
Which is why I created this handy flow chart:After answering my own questions, I’m ready to take a break. Which works out well, because on Monday I’m flying home for a much needed rest and recovery week. It has been a great block of training (albeit a very hot and sweaty one), and I’m excited to get back at it…once the idea of putting on a sports bra doesn’t make me watch another Netlfix episode
In just over two weeks, the Olympic torch will reach Rio, and the TV at the Disney house will be tuned to NBC sports 24/7. During the last Summer Olympics I was completing my sophomore summer at Dartmouth, and bringing homework and snacks to the adjacent house (which had cable) became a nightly activity. We’d open our textbooks, then not look at them for a couple hours while we watched the World’s best compete on the largest stage.
What I hadn’t really ever watched, or cared about before, were the Olympic trials. In swimming and running, the trials are a week long competition of intense emotion. In swimming the top two finishers become Olympians, in track three. Yet beyond these top spots, there are dozens of incredible athletes with extraordinary talent, work ethic and drive. And sometimes these people miss the Olympics by less than one hundredth of a second.
(Or Alysia Montano, who placed fifth in the 2012 Olympic 800 meters (behind two dopers), and fell during the 2016 trials and will not be competing in Rio. She had to switch her social media from #roadtorio to #roadtoburrito.)
It’s simultaneously wonderful and brutal watching the finishing sprints. It’s incredible to see those who have just become first time Olympians try to put into words what they’ve just accomplished. And it’s incredibly heartbreaking to watch those who just miss the cut compose themselves to congratulate the winners.
I think the reason I’ve been so enthralled by the trials this year is I am currently going through a similar experience (while much more drawn out) as all of the trials athletes. Even though the Winter Olympics are two seasons away, watching these athletes who have put everything into an uncertain outcome has been truly inspiring. Because of the last two years, I can really empathize with both emotions- that of triumph and that of defeat.
The other reason I’ve really tuned in to the trials is I’m trying not to fall into the “every-four-years-expert.” With many Olympic sports, Nordic Skiing included, most people only pay attention every four years. In off Olympic years, many could honestly care less what the difference between skating and classic is. As a result, many stupendous athletes go unnoticed. I’ve started looking into the #roadtoburrito crowd as well as the #roadtorio crowd, and am so impressed.
I want to race at the 2018 Olympics, which is a big goal that involves lots of moving pieces (two big ones being time and money). Because you can’t just be an every-four-years-athlete, it is also wonderful to have not-just-every-four-years-supporters. I have been so lucky to find people who believe in me, and are willing to spend time, energy, and money in an uncertain pursuit.
This year I will be racing with MD Biosciences as my headgear sponsor. It is a research and development company in the areas of inflammatory and neurological disease areas. Its cutting-edge science and innovative technological platforms are helping to deliver new therapeutics and medical devices sooner to millions of patients with unmet needs. This is a phenomenal company with an impressive list of accomplishments and goals, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be working with them as I work towards reaching my own goals.
The Birkebeiner Foundation is continuing to support me as an athlete ambassador, and I can’t thank them enough for all that they’ve already done.
There are many more people who have supported me (too many to name here!), but I of course must mention my mom and dad. These two have seen me through it all, and even though I’m a full adult now (whatever that means) I know they will always pick up the phone, order me my favorite Thai food (#34 with chicken), and send me cute dog photos from Facebook.
If you’d like to donate please head over to the “support” tab on my website- and be on the look out for some more ways to support later this summer Till then, I’m in the middle of a big volume block before heading home for our “vacation” week!
Mountain biking is something I REALLY want to be good at. I have a nice bike (it’s black and pink), I have a plethora of willing could-be-pros to teach me (Simi, coach Pat, and my boyfriend Thomas), and a gang of fitness freaks for friends whose idea of a party is a three hour ride. Yet when I clip in, my first emotion is an overwhelming sense of panic. Every turn, rock, bridge, and bump spikes my heart rate. More often than not I slam on my brakes, scramble to unclip, and walk my bike over the obstacles. Sometimes the obstacles are too advanced for me, and I thank my self-preservation instinct for saving my elbows. But 85% of the time, I’m just uncomfortable. I could maneuver the trail, but instead give into my uncomfortableness.
Recently my strength/life coach Max Lipset advised me to view “pain” as just being “uncomfortable.” For example: Pain is the feeling when you have a bone chip floating around your knee (like my brother Henry had). Or having broken elbows (like my teammates Sophie and Erika had). But the burning sensation during a CrossFit workout or a ski race? That’s just being uncomfortable. I choose to have that feeling, and could stop at any second. I’m not in pain, I’m just uncomfortable.
With that mindset, the most important factor in ski racing becomes managing uncomfortableness. Knowing when you’re in pain, and recognizing when you simply aren’t comfortable. And then the biggest question of all, how uncomfortable are you willing to be? Put another way, how comfortable are you with being exceedingly uncomfortable?
Feeling a sense of calm and comfortableness in the face of obstacles isn’t just an innate skill. Some people are inherently better at it than others, but I believe it can be learned. This upcoming year I’m going to practice being uncomfortable. Sometimes this will take the form of pushing extra hard in an interval. It might be taking a rest day when the rest of my team is doing intervals. It will definitely be clipping into my mountain bike more often. Uncomfortableness takes many forms, but I believe if you practice it in one area, the effects can’t help but spill into other areas of your life.
Today I went for a mountain bike ride. The first twenty minutes I rode with a lot of tension and panic, but forced myself to stay on my bike, see the path through the rocks, and when worst came to worst just keep pedaling. I was uncomfortable, but I pushed through those first twenty minutes and continued for another two hours. Sure I was uncomfortable, but that discomfort was actually pretty fun And now, some pictures!
Cooling down from the last strength workout before embarking on my rookie World Cup voyage, my strength (and general life) coach Max Lipset closed out the session with two words: “Surprise Yourself.” With eight races in twelve days on the most elite and competitive cross country ski stage in the world, I was most certainly in for a lot of surprises. I didn’t know what race day would bring, I didn’t know how the travel would go, and I really had no expectation results-wise. But Max’s words reminded me that I could also be the surprise- it didn’t have to be other things surprising me, I could be surprising myself. In trying to come up with a neat package for relating my Tour de Canada experience, I’ve decided to list out all the surprises- both my own and those sprung on me. Enjoy!
1. Being bib #1.
Probably the biggest surprise of the entire tour came the night before my first interval start distance race on the World Cup. Because of how the race seeding worked, despite not being the fastest overall I had the honor of wearing bib number one and being the first skier around the course for the day! I had never been bib one before, and with no idea exactly how fast to go on a 10K skate I was quite nervous. But I knew two things. One, I was sure to get some serious TV time. For at least thirty seconds the camera was just focused on me in the start lane, and I wasn’t sure whether to pretend like I didn’t see the camera or really ham it up. I opted for something in the middle, giving a couple smiles and then doing my best race face. Two, there was a strong chance I could be the leader of the race- if even for thirty seconds. I went out hard with the goal of not being caught by any of the starters behind me. And I didn’t! I had probably one of my best distance skate races ever, finishing 39th and just about thirty seconds from World Cup points.
2. I can be a competitive distance racer.
I used to consider myself more or less a sprint racer. I could pop the occasional distance result, but prior to this year I would have balked at the idea of distance racing being some of my favorite days. The sixth stage of the tour was a 15 Kilometer Skiathalon. This race involves 7.5 Kilometers in the classic technique, and then a quick exchange of skis and poles to continue the second half of the race in skating gear. I felt good (or as good as one feels after five races in eight days), but was really nervous about “blowing up.” Canmore is at mild elevation, and the consequences of going too hard are exponentially worse the higher in elevation you go. So for the classic portion I was very conscientious of not crossing the dreaded red line. I surprised myself when we switched to skate gear. I actually felt good, and instead of just floundering to the finish line I was really able to push. With about a kilometer to go I was told I was only 15 seconds back from 28th place, which really surprised me. I had assumed I was skiing in the forties, but gave it everything I had to pass a couple girls and finish the day 34th and only 13 seconds from 30th. Hindsight is always 20/20, and I wish I had skied a couple parts a little harder to bridge the gap to the top 30, but I left feeling extremely satisfied and so excited.
3. Sprint pace is 5K pace is 10K pace is 30K pace
The biggest surprise on the World Cup was just how fast every race is. I’ve always been told pacing is important (and it is), but there is no “comfortable” pace on the World Cup. In Quebec we had both a skate sprint and a 10K skate (completed in a mini mass start style), and I started both of those races at the same pace. Every race is an exercise in controlled discomfort, and I learned to find the good feelings even when everything hurts. In both the Quebec 10K skate, and the Canmore 15K skiathalon and 10K skate, I was in a world of hurt for at least 90% of the race. But as I finished each race with increasingly positive results, I realized that the best results weren’t the ones where you felt the most comfortable- they were the ones where your hands go numb and you keep racing anyways (no matter whether you have 1/2 or 5 kilometers to go).
4. I can get really, really, nervous.
Before the first race of the tour- a skate sprint in Gatineau- I got more nervous than I had ever been. About twenty minutes before I started the enormity of what lay ahead hit me like a ton of bricks, and I couldn’t calm myself down. In the start wand, standing still, my heart rate was 165 beats per minute (about 70 beats higher than my normal standing heart rate). The race still went quite well (only about five seconds out of qualifying for the sprint heats), and I think I got the initial crazy nerves out of my system. I still got nervous for each race (an exhausting task when there are eight of them in twelve days!), but I learned how to mostly harness those nerves for a positive experience, and a much lower heart rate.
5. The US is just as competitive as any other country.
Maybe the coolest part of the tour was realizing that the US can be right up there with European standards. Jessie Diggins had a standout tour finishing in fifth, and the rest of the US showed our increasing depth as a country. Nearly everyone scored a personal best, and our personal bests are creeping closer to world bests.
6. World Cup skiers still panic, snow plow, and cause massive pile ups.
One of only two less than ideal days on the tour was the second race- a 10K classic mass start in Montreal. The course- a very flat park with very steep and un-stridable hills interspersed along a windy and narrow trail- was not assisted by very cold temperatures and aggressive winds. There was a very steep hill that would no doubt have a bottle neck (accordion) effect about a kilometer into the course, so everyone was really gunning it from the start. Because of the aggression, one girl went down about 500 meters into the course and caused a massive pile up. I was two girls behind her in the line, so I quickly found myself at the bottom of a rather large dog pile, and then at the very back of the pack. I spent the next 9.5 Kilometers clawing my way around the course, and while the result was not good I thought my effort was awesome. The only other negative day was unfortunately the last one, where I put way to much emphasis on having perfect kick and forgot about the other half of classic skiing- glide. The course was three laps of a grueling course that climbed for about two kilometers, and then rocketed back down for a kilometer. I started the race feeling great and climbing the lead pack, but the second we started going down hill I realized I was in for a bad time. While I was double poling as hard as I could, other girls were flying by me in a tuck (later I realized I lost about 45 seconds each time we went down the long hill). It was completely my fault for focusing too much on the kick portion of wax testing, and definitely a lesson for the future (I don’t want to be surprised like that on a downhill ever again!).
7. Therese Johaug takes a vacation, too.
On one of many bus rides from venue to venue I sat among the women’s Norwegian team. I learned that Therese Johaug went to Puerto Rico after the tour for some rest and relaxation. I also learned that Heidi Weng (who I sat next to for 3.5 hours!) really likes juice boxes and coca-cola.
8. Finesse seconds count just as much as fitness seconds.
On all three sprint days I was less than five seconds from qualifying for the top thirty (each sprint I got closer, and the last day I was just about four seconds out and only six spots). The sprints were each very long- about four minutes- and I went as hard as I could each time. The women in the top thirty are very fit, but in addition they are all very good skiers accustomed to looking for hundredths of seconds along the course. When four seconds can be anywhere from one to sixteen places, fitness is less of the decider. If you are able to ski intelligently and put 1/4 of a second on your competitors every time you make a turn, that pays huge dividends. Transitions and turning (skill sets) are just as important as climbing and strength (fitness attributes). I’m excited to work on these skill sets in the upcoming months, and know they will pay off tremendously in the future.
9. I can sleep for 11.5 hours.
After the last race we were faced with a whirlwind of packing and travel. All of our skis had to be prepped for travel (primarily by Coach Pat- he did such a tremendous job the entire two weeks, I can’t thank him enough), and than I had to pack all of my things back at the hotel (by pack I mean stuff into my bag). We then had a quick dinner and got ourselves prepped for a very early morning. We were assisted by daylight savings time (we lost a precious hour of sleep), so 2.5 hours of sleep later I was back on a shuttle headed for the airport. Luckily I had an easy travel day, with only one flight from Calgary to Minneapolis. The rest of that day in Minneapolis remains a bit of a blur, except for the amazing Vietnamese street style steak tacos, rosemary french fries and the best sautéed brussel sprouts from my favorite Stillwater restaurant- THANKS MOM. After that hugely satisfying meal (I was excited for some flavors after two weeks of pretty bland pre-race food), I hopped into bed and slept for 11.5 hours. I don’t think I’ve slept for that long since I was a baby, but maybe ever.
10. Even after racing for 12 days, I am SO excited for the upcoming training season.
Despite this extreme exhaustion, the first thing I wanted to do (after a couple more days of nothing but rest) was train. This was maybe the most surprising part of the entire trip. After seeing how competitive the US women are, and how close I was to World Cup points and the top thirty almost every day, I have more motivation than I thought possible to work harder than I thought I would ever want to. I know what I need to work on, and I can’t wait to get started. But first we have the season ending races in Craftsbury, Vermont, and then a good rest week in Maine with my boyfriend. Check back in for a season’s end wrap up, and thank you for all your kind messages and cheers. It was a tremendous experience, filled with all kinds of surprises (most all of them the good kind).