“Just remember, you’re doing this to yourself”

Doing a max VO2 test on a treadmill is a lot like ordering the “suicide spicy wings” at a restaurant.

You’re doing something extremely painful, and you are doing it voluntarily. Lots of people will gain entertainment, or else be confused, by your antics. Most people probably think you’re slightly stupid. Most people don’t do it.

It should always come with a waiver. A waiver that says “I understand that I will be in extreme pain shortly and I will embrace the pain. I am doing this challenge because of (insert your reason here). Reasons include: pride, fearlessness, stupidity, bravery, backing up a dare, your own ego, and: “I’m trying to impress that chick at the bar! Enough with the waiver already!”

Whether or not the spicy wings analogy applies to you, you can probably guess where this is going: the treadmill max VO2 tests hurt. A lot. But this, my friend, is what we call a “Champagne problem”. Which is to say that when you get to train for your job every day, life is really good, and doing intervals that test your mind as much as your body aren’t really a problem at all!

Getting ready to max out on the treadmill (photo from Sadie)

Getting ready to max out on the treadmill (photo from Sadie)

*In case you’re wondering what a VO2 Max test is: your VO2 max is the maximum volume of oxygen that you can use while doing physical activity. So the higher your number = the more oxygen you can process = the faster you can go, in theory. We test this number on a roller ski treadmill that moves at a constant speed but gets steeper every minute. You ski on the treadmill as long as you possibly can, usually between 9-11 minutes, while breathing into a tube that measures your VO2 (this is the science part that I don’t know how to explain yet).  When you can’t take another stride, you usually fall off the back of the treadmill (at this point, most athlete are blacking out a little from total exhaustion, hence the word “max”), and you’re caught by a harness.

Sadzarue having a laugh as she warms up for her test

Sadzarue having a laugh as she warms up for her test

I was really happy with how testing went this spring. I’m coming into the season very well rested, and I know this not because of the good test results, but because I’m super excited to train every day. I’m bouncing back from workouts better than I was last fall. I was able to hit the highest heart rate I’ve seen in the last 2.5 years on the treadmill – which is 186, if you’re curious. Apparently, I am a 43 year old woman trapped in a 23 year old body! I don’t remember my VO2 max number, which is fine because personally I like to think racing fast is so much more than having a big VO2, or having perfect technique, or having the perfect strategy. It’s a collection of 100 little factors that need to line up on the right day. And I still haven’t seen a test that measures your grit, your willpower and your mindset when faced with a huge challenge. Although to be honest, the treadmill test comes close because you can choose to end it whenever you want, and only stubbornness keeps you hanging in there.

My point is, the testing we do every spring and fall is great because it helps us stay on track, helps make sure we’re not injuring ourselves or overtraining and gives us good feedback that we can use to plot out training. But it’s also important not to take the testing too literally. We tested strength, mobility, technique efficiency, VO2, and did physical screening, all of which plays a part in determining what we need to focus on over the summer.

The girl's got ups! Kikkan showing us what power looks like during strength testing

The girl’s got ups! Kikkan showing us what power looks like during strength testing

But the best part of camp has been getting back into training with my teammates again! It’s always hard getting back into shape. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. I’m hungry all the time, sore, and generally uncoordinated…but it comes back pretty darn fast. And I like this time of the year because when I’m sore, it feels like I’m really going somewhere, like I’m taking big steps towards my goals. Most of the time we are dealing in a game of inches, of working countless hours to improve one second over the course of a 5km. But in the spring? You see the big changes being made as you catch up to where you left off!

Kikkan, me and Caitlin during our double pole session (photo from Kikkan/Matt)

Kikkan, me and Caitlin during our double pole session (photo from Kikkan/Matt)

We have been logging some good distance sessions with the focus on technique, and it’s been so awesome learning from my teammates. I find that the best way for me to learn is by mimicry, so, uh, yeah…monkey see, monkey do! I’ll hop in behind whomever I want to be for the day, and try and match their tempo and technique.

Kikkan and Erika single-sticking (photo from Kikkan/Matt)

Kikkan and Erika single-sticking (photo from Kikkan/Matt)

Having a little balance fun during a speed session (photo from Kikkan/Matt)

Having a little balance fun during a speed session (photo from Kikkan/Matt)

We worked on speed and moving quickly again, and I was psyched with how quickly the coordination came back! I mean, it still felt a little awkward, but after following my teammates around and focusing I felt like I was moving my limbs together again.

The girls getting started on ski walking and bounding intervals (photo by Matt)

The girls getting started on ski walking and bounding intervals (photo by Matt)

Another fun session for me was the ski walking and bounding intervals we did up the Canyons. Normally, this workout is the bane of my existence. When it’s sunny and hot, I overheat and I’ve had major troubles breathing in the hot dusty weather. But yesterday it was cool and chilly and controlled. For the first time, I had fun during this workout format!

"Don't sass me", says Matt as he's documenting the workout.

“Don’t sass me”, says Matt as he’s documenting the workout.

Erik and Hoff working together during an interval (photo by Matt)

Erik and Hoff working together during an interval (photo by Matt)

Coming back down between intervals (photo by Matt)

Coming back down between intervals (photo by Matt)

Of course, I’ve also been loving gym sessions in the Center of Excellence (COE), our US Ski Team training center. It’s been so great to see all my friends there and meet the new interns, who are so enthusiastic and awesome. Tschana Schiller, “T”, is our strength coach, She’s super fun, and if you try and slack off she will call your bluff in a nanosecond. I love her for that!

Today is our day off, and we have another week of camp left. I’m looking forward to some good chances to improve technique and get stronger!

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Ready, set…

Well, here we go! Time to buckle up. From now on, I’m on the move, going from USST camp to SMST2 training in Vermont, to visiting Minnesota, to New Zealand, to Norway, back to Vermont….it’s going to be a busy, fun and productive summer! For full schedule details, check out my “schedule” page.
Before I begin all this traveling around and living out of a suitcase, I had a solid spring break at home with family and friends. It was practically perfect and a great balance of social time, relaxing time at home cuddling my dogs, clinics and events, and low key family nights!
Getting a slurp on the nose from our sort-of-newish family member

Getting a slurp on the nose from our sort-of-newish family member, Pepe

Out in the park with Cass, my handsome little running buddy.

Out in the park with Cass, my handsome little running buddy.

One of the most exciting things that happened when I got home from Costa Rica, was my friend Lydia’s wedding! She just became Lydia Eikevik, and I attended her wedding with a big group of my Stillwater high school ski teammates. Back in our senior year, we signed a “love pact”, and I can’t tell you everything it said. However, one major part was that we would all attend each other’s weddings.
Kristen, Emily, Me, Nora, Lydia, Gretchen, Emily, and Annie (photo from Nora)

Kristen, Emily, Me, Nora, Lydia, Gretchen, Emily, and Annie (photo from Nora)

People always say you lose touch with your high school friends – it’s inevitable. But there we were, whooping and cheering in the back row of the church as we watched our teammate take the next exciting step in her life! It was so fun to be there, see my Stillwater teammates again and watch Lydia be a beautiful bride. I am so happy for her!
And of course seeing all my SAHS teammates again was a blast! (photo from Kristen)

And of course seeing all my SAHS teammates again was a blast! (photo from Kristen)

Continuing the series of mini-high school reunions, I had the good luck to be in town at the same time as many of the friends I graduated with. We got to have dinner together a few times, and it was fun to see that everyone is essentially the same. Well, maybe we got a little more mature, and we weren’t stressing about upcoming AP tests. Both are good changes!
Out to dinner in Minneapolis! Big city time with good friends is the best.

Out to dinner in Minneapolis! Big city time with good friends is the best.

 Later in the spring, my coach Cork and I had a mad scientist morning. We made 3D molds of my feet to ship to the Salomon guys in France! My feet are difficult as I have bone spurs on the backs of my heels, super flat feet and other weird pressure points, so Salomon is making me custom shoes and boots.
Proudly displaying my new 3D foot models!

Proudly displaying my new 3D foot models!

Of course, that’s easier to do if they have my feet on hand, and since my travel schedule is already full for the summer we thought we’d send my feet to France even if I can’t go! Eric Packer came up with the method for making them, and was kind enough to send us a step-by-step guide which worked like a charm.
They are creepily realistic. Cork showing them off.

They are creepily realistic. Cork showing them off.

I heard that a Loppet Nordic Racing girls training camp was being hosted at Kris Hansen’s house over the weekend, so naturally I had to crash the camp and help coach at the workouts! Kris was my coach in high school, and we’ve stayed close over the years. I’m often over at the Bo-Hansen household because I love their whole family, and it was great to be able to roller ski and run with them while I was home.
On a run in the Afton state park (photo from Caitlin)

On a run in the Afton state park (photo from Caitlin)

During the camp, which was coached by Caitlin Gregg, Kris and myself, we did a run in the Afton state park, a big long bike ride, strength and a classic roller ski. I was very impressed with the girls and their hard work.
The "mountain-bike-on-the-roads" group! I was part of this gang.

The “mountain-bike-on-the-roads” group! I was part of this gang.

On an Afton roller ski with Siri and Kris!

On an Afton roller ski with Siri and Kris!

The day before I left for Park City camp, I spent an afternoon at Finn Sisu, one of the major ski shops in the Midwest. I’ve always had an awesome relationship with the staff there and they are friendly and help keep my Marwe skis rolling smooth! I came to chat with local skiers and sign posters. A lot of the high school skiers from Central were there, and they showed me the music video their team made after being inspired by the US Team’s video! So cool. I love seeing teams that are clearly having fun on skis together, and they gave me a good laugh with the video, so I promised to share their link: https://vimeo.com/119814739
Last but not least, it was such a great spring for me because I was able to spend a lot of quality time with my family. I was home to see my sister Mackenzie in all 3 of her plays (she was in 3 at once! I’ll never know how she kept all her lines straight). I spent a lot of time gardening with my Mom and helping with house projects.
Mom with all the new flowers we got to plant on Mother's Day

Mom with all the new flowers we got to plant on Mother’s Day

Dad mowing the lawn while our littlest dog "helps" him drive!

Dad mowing the lawn while our littlest dog “helps” him drive!

My morning routine became a stroll through the vegetable garden while sipping coffee and picking weeds or thinning out carrots. It was so relaxing and exactly the refreshing break I needed before coming back to my usual routine of camps and travel.
Making homemade gnocchi  for dinner!

Making homemade gnocchi for dinner!

It's hard to beat eating fresh vegetables that you've grown yourself! Mom harvesting some of the asparagus.

It’s hard to beat eating fresh vegetables that you’ve grown yourself! Mom harvesting some of the asparagus.

On a run with my parents in Willow River Park

On a run with my parents in Willow River Park (excellent photo timing by my Mom)

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The 15 thoughts of a first ski

Hey you! It’s me, checking in from my first classic roller ski of the year. All things considered, it went really well. No falls, no bruises, only had to do one all-out speed as I got chased by a dog. But wouldn’t you rather read the play-by-play of my thoughts as I start up training again? Here’s how it went down.

*walk out the door. clip into roller skis. buckle helmet. run back inside because I forgot my sunglasses.*

1. WHEEEEEEEEEEEE! I looooooove my job!

2. Am I wearing enough neon? Lemmecheck….neon Marwe skis, hot pink Fast and Female shirt, bright yellow One Way poles, neon glasses and Rudy Project helmet…yep, everything I own is designed to stop traffic!

3. It’s a good thing my friends love me, because I look pretty dorky right now. Am I always this un-coordinated every spring? Argh, oops, GAH! Poles go on the OUTSIDE of the skis! Why are these things so short? Where are the tracks? How do I keep them straight?!? And why is classic skiing so hard?

4. Hey, what side of the road am I supposed to ski on, anyways? Am I considered a vehicle? I’m at least as fast as a smart car.

5. Uh oh. Oooooooooo no. I forgot about this downhill. I’m so not ready for this. These things don’t have brakes! Why didn’t I practice ditch-diving earlier?

6. I think I’ve got the hang of this downhill now. Oh, yeah, buddy! Almost 30mph on this hill…OHMYGOD THERE’S A TURKEY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD! MOOOOOOOOOOVE, TURKEY, MOOOOOOOOOVE!…whew…that…was….that was a really close one! We almost had Thanksgiving dinner in May. I am so not telling the coaches about this. But I am telling my Dad. He’ll be pretty psyched.

7. I think I need bigger triceps to cope with all this pavement pounding. Oh, muscles, wherefore art thou?

8. I swear, if one more helmet-less motorbike rider buzzes me, I’ll whack him with my ski pole. Hold on a second…am I actually getting road rage on roller skis? Calm down, cowgirl.

9. YEAH! Look at me, my bad self! I just kicked up EVERY hill and didn’t slip ONCE! No herringbone, baby!

Oh, wait, that’s because I have ratchets now? Uh, soooo…..am I still allowed to be proud of kicking up every hill, or what?

10. Cute dog! Uh, why is it still running towards me? And barking? I don’t like this. Run away! Run away!

11. Why am I having problems with animals today?

12. Oh wow, this smooth pavement is amazing. I love it. I am actually obsessing over how new this road is.

13. Ok, this is really hard work, but it’s also really fun. I’m really getting into seeing how fast I can tuck the downhills!

14. My first friendly, supportive car honk of the year! At least…I think it was friendly. People are so nice!

15. That flew by! Am I really done already? This is going to be a great summer.

 

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Costa Rica!

Paradise! We found it! Danielle and I met in first grade and have been great friends ever since, and this spring we took an adventure to Costa Rica together. It was an amazing 6 days and I feel so lucky to have experienced another part of the world. Get ready for an explosion of photos, because I couldn’t choose just a few to share!

Quick, someone tell my coach that I did in fact do some strength training on vacation!

Quick, someone tell my coach that I DID do some strength training on vacation!

I get to travel all around the world for skiing. I realize how fortunate I am, and I take every opportunity that I can to explore each new town and learn about the culture in all the different countries I have been to. But there is no denying that traveling for work and traveling for the sheer fun of it are very different things. When I’m visiting a country for skiing, everything I do revolves around the question “how can I race as fast as possible this weekend?” So I can’t spend a ton of time on my feet walking the town and I need to say no to some fun activities that normally I couldn’t resist. So on this totally-non-skiing vacation, I wore myself out! We went surfing – and I loved it so much I surfed for a few hours almost every single day – we did adventure runs along the beach, snorkeling, sailing, walking circles around the town, stand-up paddle boarding, and we zapped ourselves lying out in the sun for hours. It was amazing to be in a part of the world that is always hot and sunny!

At the airport, ready to leave as it was snowing out in Minnesota! (photo from Danielle's Mom)

At the airport, ready to leave as it was snowing out in Minnesota! (photo from Danielle’s Mom)

When we landed it was already dark, as our flight from Houston to Liberia got delayed. But our cab driver was extremely kind and spoke perfect English, and gave us the low down on the area as we sped along a bumpy road for an hour to Tamarindo Beach.

As luck would have it, there was a hopping salsa club right across the street from our apartments, next to the skate park. That thing was pumping out Latin dance tunes from 10pm-3am. The music was so catchy, I wasn’t even mad that I was hearing it long after I had tried to get to sleep!

Danielle ready to go adventure on our first morning!

Danielle ready to go adventure on our first morning!

Our first day we spent the morning exploring the town, which was just the right size. You could walk from one end to the other in 30 minutes, and it was touristy enough with people constantly whistling and trying to get you to buy things. The nice thing was, it was home to tourists from all over the world, and we met so many cool people from Europe, US and Canada that were vacationing there and learning to surf.

The abrupt transition from dirt road to "main town"

The abrupt transition from dirt road to “main town”

Once you left the main town part, it turned into a bumpy dirt road pretty quickly!

Walking the beach at low tide

Walking the beach at low tide

The beaches were absolutely amazing. The tide turned twice every day and the change was drastic, so if you fell asleep too close to the water you might wake up soaked in an hour! It is also supposedly one of the top 10 beaches for beginning surfers in the world because it’s sandy (no getting hurt on rocks or coral!) and there are almost always consistent waves.

It was important to stay hydrated, otherwise I'd get a headache just from sitting up!

It was important to stay hydrated, otherwise I’d get a headache just from sitting up!

I loved how you could see the sky in the water when the tide was receding

I loved how you could see the sky in the water when the tide was receding

I don't know about you, but I was pretty surprised to see so many horses along the beach!

I don’t know about you, but I was pretty surprised to see so many horses along the beach!

Because the holes in the bottom of my foot were still healing, I kept them covered with duct tape while on the beach. Let me tell you, I felt super classy walking around with a silver foot.

"Listen, the duck-tape-foot is just a part of my whole look" (photo from Danielle)

“Listen, the duck-tape-foot is just a part of my whole look” (photo from Danielle)

The best part of the day was from 5-6, when the sun set because it was always stunning and the air got cooler so you weren’t constantly sweating!

Don't even get me started on how beautiful the sunsets were!

Don’t even get me started on how beautiful the sunsets were! (photo from Danielle)

I loved this hour of the day the most (photo from Danielle)

I loved this hour of the day the most (photo from Danielle)

The ceviche! It was amazing! I think I ate my weight in seafood that week.

The ceviche! It was amazing! I think I ate my weight in seafood that week.

The fresh fruit and seafood in Costa Rica were to die for. I particularly loved the pineapple and mango, but pretty much everything we tried was great.

Loving the shade. And the palm trees. (photo from Danielle)

Loving the shade. And the palm trees. (photo from Danielle)

I have to add this proof for my Mom that I took sun-safety VERY seriously!

I have to add this proof for my Mom that I took sun-safety VERY seriously!

You’re probably wondering why there aren’t any surfing shots in this post yet. That’s because it was rare to have one of us in the water and one of us out, and we didn’t take many photos because we didn’t want to damage the cameras in the water! But you can take my word that I had a super dorky looking way of keeping my balance on the board. :)

I was really psyched because after hours in the water, I felt like I was finally getting the hang of it! By our last day I could catch nearly every wave I went for, and I had learned more about how to judge if it was going to be a good wave or if I should duck it.

Enjoying the start of a nice beach-y sunset (photo from Danielle)

Enjoying the start of a nice beach-y sunset (photo from Danielle)

Our spot. (photo from Danielle)

Our spot. (photo from Danielle)

One afternoon as we were having lunch on a deck outside, we heard this howling that sounded suspiciously like barking dogs coming from the trees. Nobody else looked alarmed, though. We found out it was the howler monkeys that lived above the restaurant!

It's a little blurry from the zoom, but can you see the howler monkeys?

It’s a little blurry from the zoom, but can you see the howler monkeys?

One of the best afternoons was when we went sailing on a catamaran. We made new friends on the boat, learned to salsa and merengue dance, and went snorkeling. The snorkeling was awesome because I have never seen so many different types of animals before! I got to hold a porcupine fish that was all puffed up so it’s spines stood out, see a sea cucumber, hold a starfish and hold an octopus. That thing was so slimy and it’s little tentacles suctioned right to my hand! Cool.

On the trampoline of the catamaran with Danielle. Also pictured is Ryan, a friend we met on the boat.

On the trampoline of the catamaran with Danielle.

The guys running the boat trailed some lines off the back and caught a fish!

Heeeeeeeere, fishy fishy fishy!

Heeeeeeeere, fishy fishy fishy!

Trying out the boat's SUP (photo from Danielle)

Trying out the boat’s SUP (photo from Danielle)

The catamaran we sailed on

The catamaran we sailed on

My favorite restaurant in town was called the Green Papaya, for two reasons. One, it had swings for seats on the porch. I was completely and totally allowed to be 5 years old while I had my dinner. SWEET! The second was that I had the most delicious fish taco I’ve ever tasted there.

My favorite seat - on a swing! (photo from Danielle)

My favorite seat – on a swing! (photo from Danielle)

The last day, we caved and bought the coconuts that vendors ambled up and down the beach with. And they were delicious.

Happy campers with our coconuts!

Because nothing screams “tourist” like a coconut with a straw poking out of it!

Panorama from Danielle

Panorama from Danielle

Now I’m back in Minnesota, and feeling so happy and refreshed after 6 days of intense heat (it got up to 92 degrees!) and sunshine. I’m ready to take on the training for next winter’s race season, and training starts today! Well, that’s sort of a lie. Technically the training I’ve been doing the last 8 years has all kept adding up to help prepare me for the next season…but let’s not be picky. It was important to give my mind and body a break so that I wouldn’t burn out, and now I’m ready to get back at it!

Rad! Bye Costa Rica, see you again someday!

Rad! Bye Costa Rica, see you again someday!

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New places, new faces

!Hola! I just got back from an amazing trip to Costa Rica! I’m slightly sunburned with arms that feel like they’re going to fall off from paddling on a surfboard for hours. Most importantly, I’m totally happy and mentally refreshed. And I’m going to do a big post on it with stories and tons of drool-worthy photos of big sand beaches, fresh pineapples and sunsets! But before I do, I’d like to fill you in on some cool events I got to participate in before I left the country.

The weekend of the 18th I went up to Green Bay for the first time with Jenny Beckman, who works in Marketing with Salomon Nordic. Salomon was putting on a big kids clinic and donating skis for auction at the Bay Nordic fundraiser that night, and I came out to help where I could. The community rallied to raise money to light the trails so that skiers could be out in the snow even when the sun isn’t out anymore, which sounds pretty awesome.

When we arrived the first thing I was stuck by was how fast the club had grown – from 1 skier about 10 years ago to over 145 at the clinic! The other great thing about the area was how friendly everyone was and how excited they were to hear about skiing even in April. I was impressed by the questions the junior skiers were asking about race day preparation, race strategy analysis and how to take that next step up after making Junior Nationals.

Jennie got the Salomon tent and banners all set up!

Jennie got the Salomon tent and banners all set up!

The first thing we did with the older skiers was go out on a run through the trail system. We found a hill to do some ski walking drills and then bounding, and after working on our technique we ran and ski walked back to the lodge. There we met up with the younger skiers and we all did some mobility and balance practice together.

Leading some balance and coordination drills

Leading some balance and coordination drills

To be honest, balance work has been really important for me over the past season. Yes, I still fall down in training and sometimes in races because I take risks. But as my balance and spatial awareness improved, I was able to take riskier and better lines on the downhills and get away with it more and more, which I think was a huge contributor to my silver medal at World Championships. So although practicing standing on one leg probably sounds pretty lame, it was one of the more important points I wanted to share at the clinic!

we had some fun stations with hurdles and agility ladders

we had some fun stations with hurdles and agility ladders

Don’t worry, we got down to the action soon enough, and the kids went through a pretty intense obstacle course of agility drills!

Going over the hurdles

Going over the hurdles

There were hurdles to jump over, speed ladders to race through, zig-zag cones to weave around, a rope to jump forward and backwards over (sometimes on one leg!) and stretchy bands to walk with.

The junior group did all the stations too!

The junior group did all the stations too!

And afterward there were posters and stickers, curtesy of Salomon and Podiumwear, two of my sponsors!

After the clinic we had some posters to hand out!

After the clinic we had some Salomon and Podiumwear posters to hand out!

The fundraiser that night was also fantastic, and afterwards Bay Nordic director Noel Versch’s family hosted us at their lovely home so we could drive back the next morning. I had a fun stay and got to meet so many awesome skiers, and I hope the trail-lighting system works out great!

On April 20th, I went back to Stillwater High School for the first time in years for a welcome-home, end-of-season party. This was really, really special to me because I got to see so many friends and people from the area who have been supporting me from day one. I can honestly say that I would not be where I am now, and probably wouldn’t be skiing full time at all, without the love and support from this community. It means so much to me to hear that hundreds of skiers and fans of the ski team from the Midwest are checking in on us and watching us race the World Cups, and that my teammates and I have an impact on the younger skiers. If I can inspire even one junior athlete to pursue their goals to the fullest, then I will have done my job and I’ll be one happy little lady when I retire from racing.

Giving a slideshow presentation recapping the season (photo by skinny ski)

Giving a slideshow presentation recapping the season (photo by skinny ski)

I also got to meet some new skiers, some of which drove hours to get there!

Signing posters at the event (photo by skinny ski)

Signing posters at the event (photo by skinny ski)

Thanks to everyone who came for making it a very special evening!

We took photos with the World Champs medals, too! (photo by Dane Mizutani)

We took photos with the World Champs medals, too! (photo by Dane Mizutani)

All in all, April has been a very restful, recovery-oriented month. I didn’t post about it earlier, probably because I was afraid of how it would go down, but I got some work done on my foot when I got home. I had two deep-rooted warts (ew! Gross!) in the bottom of my right foot, right under the ball of the foot which receives the most pressure. They hadn’t bothered me for years but this winter they started to get painful. So I got them removed, and I hadn’t realized at the time that they were deep enough that they needed to get cut out. This hurt afterwards (this is an understatement, obviously) and I was on crutches for a week. Having no prior experience, I wasn’t sure how long it would take for the deep holes in the bottom of my foot to fill in. But now, a month later, they are almost back to normal!

Don’t worry, you can continue to scroll down the page…I decided NOT to include photos of this particular event.

After a week of staying at home and playing with my dogs all day, and somehow sleeping about 11 hours every night (I guess the season took a while to recover from!)  I finally broke out of my hermit shell and got social again.

Jennie, Me and Tad at the game

Jennie, Me and Tad at the game

I went to my first Twins baseball game, with a few Salomon friends; Jenny and Tad. While at the game my good friend from back in High School, Chelsea, was there working for the twins. She runs operations in the stadium, which I think is SUCH a cool job! I was thrilled to see her for the first time in a long time.

Getting a hug from Chels!

Getting a hug from Chels!

I went out to dinner and swing dance night with a lot of my friends from high school, who are all graduated from college and getting “real lives” going! I was totally soaking up their college stories and living vicariously through them as they told me about their jobs, homes and what they’re up to now.

Chelsea, Danielle and I at dinner

Chelsea, Danielle and I at dinner

Joey, Noah, Frank, Danielle, Chelsea, Me and Matt.

Joey, Noah, Frank, Danielle, Chelsea, Me and Matt.

Then it was time to pack up my things and head to Costa Rica with Danielle! We met in first grade and have been friends ever since, and we decided to take a week to go learn to surf, soak up some serious sun rays, and enjoy the waves in Tamarindo. A big post with all the details of the trip is coming your way soon!

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A few scattered thoughts

So here we are, in April, me still blabbing on about ski-related topics, you still reading it. Or maybe you’re here looking for the photos. In either case, you’ll get plenty of both! This is one of those “look back on the season and reflect on the lessons I learned, the experiences I had” posts, but in (hopefully) less sappy form. This is a series, in no particular order, of high and low moments from the season. The punctuation marks in a long stretch of 25 races all over the globe.

So cue up your Green Day “Time of Your Life” soundtrack, and let’s begin! Oh shoot, I said it wasn’t going to be sappy and emotional. Scratch the music, then.

High: filming the Uptown Funk video. Some of it wasn’t glamorous, like when we were filming in the streets of Falun dressed head-to-toe in white spandex with pedestrians staring at us, usually with open-jawed wonder at our apparent lack of self-consciousness. One of the best parts was getting the coaches to lip-synch on the bus ride to Falun. Especially because the lines we gave them were “dance, jump on it. If you sexy, then flaunt it. If you freaky, then own it.” They did not get those lines by accident. Hey, if you’ve got to do intervals all summer long then you take your retribution when you can, amiright?

But some of it really did feel pretty glamorous, like when they played our video on the big screen at World Champs in front of thousands of people. And all those hallway dance lessons paid off big time. So I’ve basically been sitting next to my phone ever since, waiting for MTV to call and offer us a reality TV show deal. Eat your heart out, Kardashian family.

The crew after filming some dancing in the Ostersund stadium!

The crew after filming some dancing in the Ostersund stadium!

High: finish-line hugs from teammates. They have literally and figuratively picked me up from the ground when I needed a lift, and been there to share in the best, and worst, moments. If racing is the huge variable, they are the constant.

And the exhaustion, pain, mental fatigue and lactic acid.

And the exhaustion, pain, mental fatigue and lactic acid.

High: Northern lights in Finland. They were so beautiful! And I had never seen them so bright before.

Seeing the beauty in the 21-hours-of-darkness days (photo by Reese Hanneman)

Seeing the beauty in the 21-hours-of-darkness days (photo by Reese Hanneman)

Low: Getting there. It was 4 flights, 2.5 hours of driving, total travel time about 20 hours. Travel days are the worst, and this one was the worst of the worst.

High: Getting my name bib for the first year. This is a big deal to me because to get a name bib, you have to have finished the previous World Cup season in the top 30 overall, and that was one of my big goals.

Happy to have a fresh new bib! (photo from Noah)

Happy to have a fresh new bib! (photo from Noah)

Low: missing my family. High in that low: getting to Skype with them. But it’s not the same as getting to hug them and have them there in person!

My Dad, Mom, Sister and Nana with her little dog all there to say hi!

My Dad, Mom, Sister and Nana with her little dog all there to say hi!

Low: not having a wax truck. It’s not just a prestige thing (although, let’s be honest, they are pretty freaking cool.) It’s about state-of-the-art ventilation systems so we can feel better about NOT slowly poisoning our hard working, amazing wax techs. And not making them set up and build the wax room in every single venue to go to.

Grover packaging up skis to load back into our cargo van

Grover packaging up skis to load back into our cargo van

Low:  travel days. Yes, this is in here twice.

Some of the team on a bus ride back to the hotel in Lillehammer

Some of the team on a bus ride back to the hotel in Lillehammer

High: Birthdays on the road. Any cause to celebrate, really!

Andy being a good sport about having to wear the Birthday crown

Andy being a good sport about having to wear the Birthday crown

High: Hotel bathroom haircuts. This may not sound like a high, but trust me, it is. It’s really fun and I’m getting pretty good at cutting boys hair! Not girls hair though. Let’s not even start with that.

Low…or is it a high? Having to go through duty free. You want to buy all the fun stuff, but the perfume section gives you a headache as you walk through it. And you always have to walk through it in the Euro airports.

The biggest chocolate bar you've ever seen.

The biggest chocolate bar you’ve ever seen.

High: getting to see new beautiful places, from a small-town perspective. Often, the places we go to race aren’t the super touristy sites, so we get to actually experience the true feel of a town!

The beautiful landscape in Sjusjøen!

The beautiful landscape in Sjusjøen!

High: Holiday poem exchange party. This is hilarious and embarrassing and hilarious BECAUSE it is embarrassing.

Grover reading the poem Simi set up on the computer to the group.

Grover reading the poem Simi set up on the computer to the group.

Low/High mix: the pre-race meeting: It’s a mix because it’s good to know all the details and plan for the race the next day, but the whole time I have nerves like butterflies in my stomach. Before the World Championship races, the butterflies morphed into large birds and they hurt with all that flapping around.

Low: unexpected injuries. Wait, that’s kind of a dumb thing to say…of course they’re unexpected! You never plan on getting hurt.  One morning in Davos I woke up and literally could not bend my knee without a lot of pain, and I could barely walk. I had no idea why, and I still don’t to this day. But luckily Fred, one of our PT’s, fixed me up and in a few days I was totally back to normal. Injuries are so scary because in a career that’s based 100% off your body being in peak condition, it doesn’t take much to derail that. In general through I came through the season unscathed, but I can’t say the same for everyone on the team, and I’m impressed with how those people mentally battled through their injuries and came out swinging.

Icing the feeling right out of my knee in Davos

Icing the feeling right out of my knee in Davos

High: having a chance at greatness every single weekend. Every single race is a new opportunity to push yourself. And that’s really cool.

A sweet card that Liz found

A sweet card that Liz found

Low: ice tubs. But also a high, buzzy feeling afterwards…but yeah, getting into them is just a totally awful moment.

High: Having my family there for the holidays. Having spent 2 years of being separated from my family on major holidays, getting to hug them in person felt extra extra good!

Kenzie, Me, Dad, Simi, Sophie, Ida and Mom (Liz is taking the photo)

Kenzie, Me, Dad, Simi, Sophie, Ida and Mom (Liz is taking the photo) having Christmas dinner together!

Accidental Low: Hiding Simi and Sophie’s Christmas stockings. My parents had brought over Christmas stockings for all the ski team members staying in Davos, and I thought I’d be a sneaky little holiday elf and hide them as a surprise in their condo. Well….somehow, I got the wrong condo. So Simi and Sophie had to go on a treasure hunt the next morning after I’d been breaking, entering and trespassing in some stranger’s home the night before. Oops. Big oops.

Simi finally getting to bring the treats home! (photo from Sophie)

Simi finally getting to bring the treats home! (photo from Sophie)

Low: getting sick in the Tour de Ski. But this was also an accidental high, because it forced me to rest and afterwards, I bounced back so fast I’m convinced it’s the moment my season turned around and started climbing towards better and better races.

High: pre-race hair braiding. It’s 1.) practical and keeps your hair out of your face during the race 2.) gives you something to do when you’re nervous before a race and have time on your hands and 3.) it looks awesome, obviously.

Katherine Ogden's sweet 30km race day hair. She was nice enough to let me practice on her.

Katherine Ogden’s sweet 30km race day hair. She was nice enough to let me practice on her this spring.

Low: getting totally beat up. I know that I bruise easily, but things got out of hand after a string of unlucky falls mid-season. I also heal quickly even though the bruises stay, so it doesn’t affect my racing…it just looks bad.

This bruising was from A MASSAGE. A deep, deep tissue massage to smooth out the muscle damage from earlier falls. Good grief.

This bruising was from A MASSAGE. A deep, deep tissue massage to smooth out the muscle damage from earlier falls. Good grief.

High: seeing Liz do so well in the Tour de Ski, and then get her 2nd place podium finish in Russia! This has been a long time coming to an amazing teammate who works so hard for it and deserves every high five in the world. It was so inspiring to see her ski so well and to do it all with a smile.

Liz and the Tour de Ski wax team after her 5th place finish: Peter, Gus, JP, Matt, Cork, Ann (massage therapist), Liz and Oleg (photo from Liz)

Liz and the Tour de Ski wax team after her 5th place finish: Peter, Gus, JP, Matt, Cork, Anne (massage therapist), Liz and Oleg (photo from Liz)

High: Seiser Alm camp with Liz and Cork. More specifically, sledding at that camp with Liz and Cork.

Cork and I ready to go about 50km an hour down a mountain (photo from Liz)

Cork and I ready to go about 50km an hour down a mountain (photo from Liz)

High: the hours following the 10km skate race in Falun where I placed 2nd. Especially the hugs from teammates and coaches and wax techs as we all went through the stages of disbelief, believing it, and owning it. It was amazing to be with the team and celebrate our success together!

On the podium during the flowers ceremony

On the podium during the flowers ceremony

High: stealing Andy’s guitar throughout the winter. I didn’t travel with my little pink one this year, and regretted it, but Andy is a super nice guy and let me sneak off with his whenever I came knocking.

Playing Andy's guitar at the Newell, Stephen and Caldwell parents house during the Championships when they had us over for dinner. (photo from Susan Stephen)

Playing Andy’s guitar at the Newell, Stephen and Caldwell parents house during the Championships when they had us over for dinner. (photo from Susan Stephen)

Low: Missing my SMST2 club teammates. We had such a good time over the summer, and it was weird to be separated from some of them for the whole winter! Luckily, Skype was there for us.

SMST2'ers:   (photo by

SMST2’ers: Andy Ben, Pat, Simi, Annie, Erika, Me, Anne and Sophie (photo by Hubert Schriebl)

High: the fans. Seriously, these people who flock to the trails to come stand outside and cheer their hearts out for us make such a huge difference, and it makes racing exciting.

One of the less-crowded hills at the Holmenkollen in Oslo

One of the less-crowded hills at the Holmenkollen in Oslo

High: Glitter. Oh, the glitter! I love me some pre-race glitter. I think the photo below accurately sums up the euphoric feeling you get from putting on that shimmery stuff. All joking aside, the glitter is an important pre-race ritual for me, because it’s the moment where I step back from my race nerves, smile and remember that I’m allowed to have fun, that I do this because I like it. And that’s what allows me to race fast in the end.

Fish getting glittered up for the Junior Worlds relay (photo shamelessly stolen from Julia Kern's Facebook)

Fish getting glittered up for the Junior Worlds relay (photo shamelessly stolen from Julia Kern’s Facebook)

This season was a mixed bag of good moments and some I’d be ok with not repeating, but overall there were many more highs than lows. I left the season psyched on life and racing, and ready to do it again! After a break, of course. Excuse me while I go climb into bed to sleep some more.

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A few fun announcements!

Hey everyone! I’m really excited about a few things that I want to share with you. First of all, if you live in or near Stillwater, Minnesota, I have an end of season, welcome-home party going on April 20th, and I’d love to see you there! It’s from 5:30 – 8 pm, at the Stillwater High School. I’ll be sharing photos and stories from the year including some fun stories from my Silver Medal performance in Falun, and handing out posters and taking lots of photos!

I’ll also be giving a tutorial on “Uptown Funk Dancing” and race day face-painting, US Ski Team style. Just kidding…but now that you mention it….I’ll think about it, ok? The event is sponsored by Slumberland Furniture and Podiumwear so be on the lookout for some sweet door prizes. The party is free, open to the public, and parking is in the high school lot with entry to the event through the cafeteria doors located to the right of the main entrance doors.

Happy to celebrate the end of the season with my home state!

Happy to celebrate the end of the season with my home state! (photo by Nordic Focus)

Here’s another cool thing going on that is near and dear to me for a couple reasons…my headgear and main sponsor, Slumberland Furniture, has been sponsoring me for years. Before I had earned any big results, they believed in me and supported my goals. Their support has allowed me to have a training and travel schedule that created opportunities that led to some exciting races! And now they are signing on to become the title sponsor of the American Birkebeiner, to help create the same exciting races for thousands of others.

See? Slumberland's all over my headgear for the big moments and the everyday training.

Slumberland’s all over my headgear for the big moments and the everyday training. (photo by Reese Brown)

Some of you may be wondering…wait, huh? Why does a furniture and mattress store company want to invest so much in funding the American Birkie? Well, let me TELL YOU ABOUT IT! Slumberland as a company is really dedicated to healthy living and supporting active lifestyles (as evidenced by the fact that they support me. Duh!) Slumberland donates 10% of their profits to organizations that assist others at a local, national and global level, with many of these organizations focused on the needs of youth and families. The Birkie is about a healthy, active lifestyle, and both companies are dedicated to improving the quality of their customer’s lives. You see what I’m getting at here? It fits. It works. They have the same goals when it comes to living the good life, and now Slumberland is able to help fund the Birkie in a major way. Lucky us!

Want more details? Visit the American Birkebeiner’s website: http://www.birkie.com/2015/04/slumberland/

Fun fact: Slumberland was the first American CLASSIC Birkie sponsor, helping to create the classic race that complements the ever-popular skate race in Hayward, WI.

Another fun fact? I’ve never actually skied the Birkie. Gasp! And I have the audacity to call myself a real Midwestern skier???? Wait, wait…let me explain myself. You need to be 18 years old to ski it, so I started racing the Kortelopet, the 24km “half-birkie race”, when I was 13 years old. I loved the event so much I kept coming back and won it a few times, but my real moment of glory was when I decided it was going so well I may as well jump into the 52 km race. So at the cutoff point where the trail splits, I tried to sneak my way onto the Birkie course. Being 15 years old, I wasn’t quite smart enough, (or sneaky enough) to realize that my different colored bib would stand out, and I got escorted back onto the Korte course by a VERY helpful volunteer. Darn it. As soon as I was old enough to start racing the Birkie I started spending a lot of time racing in Europe, and that was that. But I’ve promised myself that the year I retire from World Cup racing I’m going to start racing the Birkie, and race it over and over again until I can beat my grandkids.

The last fun announcement? We have some new uniforms coming to the US Ski Team next season. LL Bean and Craft are partnering to become the new technical and trainingwear of the team! We are really excited about this, as Craft makes amazing suits and LL Bean makes great clothes and is an American company.

(photo by Reese Brown)

Erik, Sophie, Noah, Me, Kikkan, Liz, Sadie, Ida and Simi in our new LL Bean jackets (photo by Reese Brown)

Right now, you’re probably wondering when I’m going to finally start writing about how the last race of the season went. Well, after getting quite sick when I came home from Europe, I started to round the corner (so I thought) on my cold so I rebooked my flight to Sun Valley and flew out on Monday. I was there for the club team relay, which I think is probably the most fun race of the entire year. It’s a 4×5, and it started girls classic, then boys classic, tagging to girls skate and finishing with boys skate. It’s so fun to be a part of! Unfortunately I was still hacking up a lung and was too sick to race, so I was the “5th leg of the relay” and was out there cheering and taking photos. It killed me to not race but it was important to have a cheerleader on course too, so I gladly stepped into that role!

My new specially made suit from Podiumwear - thanks guys for the fun surprise!

My new specially made suit from Podiumwear – thanks guys for the fun surprise!

I wasn’t the only one sick from our SMST2 team…throughout the week, only 2 people remained healthy! Everyone else was recovering from a cold, in the middle of one, or just getting sick. Oof! It was a rough spring series for us, but we made it through together. I am still so happy that I went because I got to see my awesome teammates and friends from other teams as well.

Erika and Katherine getting ready for the club team relay

Erika and Katherine getting ready for the club team relay

The ski trails at Galena were beautiful and we had some nice sunny days! It was high altitude though, and you sure felt it the first time you climbed a hill.

Annie showing KO how to rest and still keep your legs dry and elevated at the same time.

Annie showing KO how to rest and still keep your legs dry and elevated at the same time. :)

I was so impressed with Pat and Brayton, as they put so much time and hard work into testing and waxing skis for us! They also had to organize a bunch of racers and sick athletes all week, so they deserve a big thank you and a hug (you know, once I’m not contagious).

Coach Pat taking some notes after a long morning of ski testing. These guys work hard!

Coach Pat taking some notes after a long morning of ski testing. These guys work hard!

Brayton and John helping us test skis and wax this week - thanks guys!

Brayton and John helping us test skis and wax this week – thanks guys!

The morning of the 30km skate I woke up, rolled over and coughed, and said “well, I flew all the way down here…may as well race!” This was a poor choice, and I may need to re-evaluate my decision making process for future race starts. It wasn’t a poor choice because of any result or slow skiing on my part – the race itself was a long hard slog but I had fun skiing with some great girls and taking some, uh, interesting feeds in the coaching zones. It was a bad idea because the whole time I had this cough rattling around in my chest that I couldn’t get out, and afterwards I got sick again. I’m still coughing today, and I had to go to the doctor when I got home from Sun Valley because my cough had gotten significantly worse. So….moral of the story: don’t risk your health or your job for one slushy moment of glory/pain! That said, it was quite a brutal way to end the season which, in skier talk, means it was AWESOME.

Racing the 30km slush-fest with Eliska and Lisa! (photo from Reese Brown)

Racing the 30km slush-fest with Eliska and Lisa in my new onsie Podiumwear suit! (photo from Reese Brown)

The next day we had the morning to go alpine skiing in Sun Valley! I am proud to say that I’ve officially gone alpine skiing over 10 times in my life now…double digits, baby!

Andy and Sophie on the chairlift at Baldy mountain!

Andy and Sophie on the chairlift at Baldy mountain!

Our ski group at the top of the mountain! Thanks Sun Valley ski resort for giving us tickets! (photo from Sophie)

Our ski group at the top of the mountain! Me, Erika, Simi, Ben, Andy, Nick and Sophie. Thanks Sun Valley ski resort for giving us tickets! (photo from Sophie)

We gave a ski clinic on Saturday, and it was a beautiful sunny day during which I got to meet so many cool people! We skied in perfect spring snow and worked on our technique while logging some km’s and working on our high-speed cornering.

The team after the fundraiser! (photo from Reese Brown)

The team after the fundraiser! Ida, Sophie, Sadie, Erik, Noah, Liz, Andy, Simi, Me, Steve and Diana Strandberg, and Kikkan (photo from Reese Brown)

That night, Steve and Diana Strandberg hosted a fundraiser dinner for the XC US Team, and it was a blast! The Strandbergs have generously supported Cross Country skiing and also hosted the team for the extra days we stayed in Sun Valley in their beautiful home. I was so happy to get a chance to know them better and we are so lucky to have them as a part of our team!

Erika and Ida on our hike!

Erika and Ida on our hike!

My last day in Sun Valley I went hiking with Erika and Ida on a fun loop through the mountains. It was lovely to have an easy hike without worrying about any sort of training elements…just doing what we wanted to do that day, which was being outside with friends!

Me and Erika at the top! (photo from Ida)

Me and Erika at the top! (photo from Ida)

Then I flew home to be with my family in Minnesota and rest up! It’s been so, so good to be home. I am still kicking this cold, but being out in the sunshine helping my Mom in the garden is a great way to do it.

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Going out with a bang.

Well, the World Cup season is over, folks! To tell you the truth, I’m not even sure how I feel about it being done. On the one hand I am so ready for a break…ready to be done getting crazy nervous for races and ready for a month of doing whatever I want, when I want. If it’s raining outside…guess what? I don’t have to go outside! If it’s sunny, I can go hiking or running or rock climbing or canoeing, not have to chill because it’s my day off. I can make my own coffee in a real coffee pot in the morning, and cook whatever I want for breakfast and actually clean up my own dishes afterwards. It’s weird how I miss that on the road, but it’s the little freedoms and quirks like putting away your dishes that really get to you after a while.

On the flip side, it’s really hard for the season to be over. There’s something about racing to the breaking point where you think you’re going to die that makes you feel so alive. There’s something about living out of a suitcase and experiencing a new country and culture every week that makes you realize how small you are and yet makes you feel like you’re growing bigger. Most importantly, there’s something about having a group of people thrown together as a team and seeing a real family form, with strong support for one another a genuine love for teammates that you can’t find just anywhere. It’s going to be hard to take a break from that! But I’ll see my teammates again soon enough, and it’s only 6 months till the World Cup season begins again, so I suppose I should take my rest while I can.

I'm going to miss goofing off with these girls! Ida, Sophie, Sadie, Me, Kikkan and Liz (photo from Noah)

I’m going to miss goofing off with these girls! Ida, Sophie, Sadie, Me, Kikkan and Liz (photo from Noah)

There are two guys I won’t be seeing next fall, though: Peter and Gus. Peter has been the head of our service team for years and he has been working with the US Ski Team the past 9 years! He has given so much to this team, and without him many of our best results simply would not have been possible! Gus has also tirelessly dedicated his year to waxing for the Stars and Stripes, although I’ve known him for much longer – first as a CXC teammate, then CXC assistant coach, then SMST2 coach, and now as a USST tech! Gus is headed back to school while Peter has an amazing new job opportunity, and while I’ll miss them both I am also excited for their next adventures! Thanks guys for all you’ve done for this team.

Peter, Gus and the team at their "going-away party"

Peter, Gus and the team at their “going-away party”

So, although the racing for the World Cup season is now over…let’s talk about that 30km, the last race we did in Oslo, Norway! It was a really exciting, hot and sunny race with about a million and one people out yelling in the woods. That’s my favorite part about racing at the Holmenkollen…it’s the rush you feel when you ski through the woods with hundreds of people right there on the side of the track, screaming your name and waving flags! Here’s a cool video FIS did about it, if you want to see what it looks like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2VRjBg2XOY

Some of the Holmenkollen crowd on one of the hills

Some of the Holmenkollen crowd on one of the hills

The start of World Cup mass start races is always such a crazy thing, especially if you’re a girl. The men’s field tends to usually stick together for longer (and I would want to as well if I was skiing 50km!) but with the girls they just go all-out from the gun. People are immediately dropped off the back by 1km. There’s a lot of fighting for position, especially if someone is trying to go for the bonus points at 5km, so it’s not a relaxed way to ease into 30km of hard racing. I was happy with my start and got into a good spot early on, and focused on hanging as close to the front as I could for as long as I could, without blowing up. The not-blowing-up-thing is pretty crucial when you’ve got 30km to ski.

What the last 100 meters looks like when the stands are packed

What the last 100 meters looks like when the stands are packed

I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I have one of the most aero-dynamic tucks in the World Cup, and our wax techs are some of the hardest workers around, and I know this because around 7km I out-glided the lead pack and passed Marit. For 2 glorious seconds I was leading the race. I looked around, a little terrified but excited (how did I end up here? This wasn’t the plan! Darn those techs for giving me such good skis!) and then Kalla took over and skied around me. Shortly afterwards they put in a surge and split up the pack, and I settled into a chase group. I was really happy for having stayed with the lead group for so long, because it’s a mark of how far I have come in my long distance racing. The first time I skied the Holmenkollen I couldn’t hold onto the ferrous pace for longer than 2km, getting dropped almost immediately. This time around, I made it to the top of Frognerseteren, the highest point of the course around 8km when I finally had to back off or else blow up. Next time, I’ll maybe make it to 10km, and someday I’ll hang on the whole way. Getting older is definitely helping me too, as years of training are adding up and creating a base, and the more racing I do the more I understand my own body and how to pace it, and how to mentally grit my teeth and hang on to a crazy pace, going all-out for over an hour.

However, soon after that I ran into some pole troubles. On one of the tricky downhill corners around 8.5 km, I cut it a little too tight, going for the fast snow where nobody had skied it in yet. There’s a reason nobody had skied it in. I clipped the end of my pole on a V-board and the tip flew off. I didn’t realize it until the next uphill, when my pole kept slipping and I couldn’t get a good push in. I had to ski another kilometer before I got to a spot where coaches had spare poles, and I got one from a Norwegian coach. (It was Heidi Weng’s pole, if you’re curious. I thanked her for it later). A hundred meters after that, I got my correct height in spare poles from Matt, although it had a biathlon strap on it so I knew I’d have to change to a real strap soon because skiing 20km with a loose loop around my wrist wasn’t something I was very interested in doing.

Only a few kilometers later, right before a feed station, one of the girls stepped on my other pole and took the tip off that one, too! I said something out loud, which was: “well, shit. Again? Are you kidding me?” I had to ski another kilometer with a slipping push off from one side, till I got to the stadium feed zone and got a new pair of poles. From then on out I was fine and didn’t have any crazy incidents, and I don’t think the pole thing drastically impacted my overall race although it was draining and distracting. But you know what? Nobody stepped on me after that. I think everyone figured I’d had enough for one race.

I settled into the second chase pack of the race, and we worked together. We ended up not switching skis, which was fine by me because my ski speed was very comparable to the speed of other skis in the pack I was skiing in. However, before the race Cork and I figured people would probably switch, so I skied the race starting on my “B” pair, and my “A” pair of skis was in the pits. I never got to ski on my A pair, but I think it ended up fine because the carbon skis I did race on were pretty great! Sometimes Usually things don’t end up going as planned, and I think the best race strategy is to be flexible and be able to roll with what comes your way. You never know when you’ll have to blow by the pits and not change skis. You never know when someone will step on your poles. (Although, if you’re me, you can pretty much count on that last one because I seem to have a personality that screams “step on me! I’ll still be your friend, it’s ok!”).

Testing skis with Cork in the days before the race (photo from Salomon Nordic)

Testing skis with Cork in the days before the race (photo from Salomon Nordic)

Getting after it! (photo from Salomon Nordic)

Getting after it! (photo from Salomon Nordic)

The last half of the race was hot and hard skiing, but it was going great and I was in pack of girls that I was sure I could outsprint for 10th place. Going into the final 3km, I was feeling good about my energy, when suddenly the muscle cramps struck. Now, I have never before gotten muscle cramping in a race. I am good about taking feeds during the race, eating tons of salt beforehand, and hydrating. So I had no idea what hit me when my lower quad, right where it wraps around the inside of my knee, started twitching and unpredictably hurting like I imagine it would if someone decided to kick me in the leg during the race. I could barely V1 because my leg kept starting to fold inwards! Both legs started to cramp although my left one was really bad, and I immediately dropped from my pack which was terribly frustrating because my energy levels were really good. I kept trying to use my arms to muscle up the last few hills, and on the downhills I was holding my knees, manually picking up my legs to step around the corners because there are some really sketchy downhills and I was sure if my knee twitched when going around one that I would crash hard. I made it to the finish line in 14th place, happy with my overall race but disappointed that cramping held me back from seeing if I could have used my usual finishing kick! But it was my best Holmenkollen race yet, and a really encouraging sign. It felt great to end the season on a high note, and celebrate with my teammates afterwards!

Caitlin, me and Liz having a moment at the finish line (photo from FIS)

Caitlin, me and Liz having a moment at the finish line (photo from FIS)

Enjoying some sunshine on the deck! Holly, Rosie, Sadie, Maureen and Caitlin.

Enjoying some sunshine on the deck! Holly, Rosie, Sadie, Maureen and Caitlin.

Then, finally…FINALLY!…after 5 months of being on the road, I got on a plane and returned home to Minnesota where I got to see my family and just enjoy being back in my home country! Nothing feels quite like the sensation of walking back in the door after a long time traveling and getting hugs from your loved ones. Not surprisingly, I got really sick soon after all the travel. I got a bad cold and spent the last few days basically unable to move, just hibernating in bed and feeling generally amazed by just how crappy I felt. I mean…wow! When my body decides to shut down after a season, I crash hard. I was supposed to be in Sun Valley right now, getting ready for the last four races of the season at Spring Nationals: a 10km classic, skate sprint, 4×5 club team relay (my favorite!) and a 30km skate. It’s breaking my heart to not be there, but the upside is that I am recovering at home with my family here to take care of me, and at least I’m not risking getting any other skiers sick.

My hope is that I can fly to Sun Valley sometime next week, and still participate in a race. Although, to be totally honest, I’m really going for the good company and to FINALLY see my friends whom I haven’t seen since November! I know that after a week of lying in bed, hacking up a lung and going through a box of kleenex a day, my high-end race shape will be gone and I’ve run out of time to get it back. It’s a good thing I’m in this sport for the fun and challenge of it, not just the results! So time for me to go drink my millionth cup of tea, and hopefully my next post will be from Sun Valley!

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Lahti and the most random, exciting night race you’ve never heard of

It seems like the last week has flown by…the closer I get to coming back to the States, the faster the clock moves! Only one week left in Europe to wrap up a solid 5 months of travel through all these amazing, different but fun places!

Last week in Lahti was really fun. I had a little mental vacation from racing the first part of the week, and besides when I was actually clipped into my bindings on the snow, I wasn’t thinking about skiing at all! It took me some time to really process World Champs and get back to a normal energy level after the emotional highs left me totally exhausted….in the best way of course! But by the time the race weekend rolled around, I was rested mentally and physically and ready to go again, and for the first time maybe ever in Lahti I was healthy and fired up to race, instead of just wanting to be BACK HOME ALREADY!

Ida and I smelling our beautiful Women's Day flowers we got from our wonderful staff!

Ida and I smelling our beautiful Women’s Day flowers we got from our wonderful staff!

The sprint day, we were trying out a new format suggested by the Norwegian Federation (fun fact!) and adopted by FIS to try out. Because in sprinting, to make it to the final you have to first qualify in the top-30 in the qualifier, then pass through the quarterfinal heat and the semifinal. Athletes are distributed throughout the quarterfinals based on qualifier times to keep the fastest people from being all stuck in one heat, which so far has been the fairest way to do it. However, if you are in the last few quarters, then you are in the second semifinal, and you get less rest time than the people in the first semi before the final begins. This is amplified in the men’s race where they have even less rest time than the women (because women go first and have time to rest during the men’s heats), and there have been statistics showing that nearly all the men’s sprint winners come from the first semifinal.

To try and make it more fair for all the athletes, FIS is trying a system where after the qualifier, the top 30 athletes that made it to the heats all gather in the stadium. Starting with bib #11 and going down to bib #1, then picking back up at bib #12 and working up to bib #30, athletes get to pick which quarterfinal heat they want to go in. There is a lot of strategy in this. If you qualify a lot of athletes, like the Norwegians, you may want to spread your athletes out through all the heats to move on as many people as possible. If you’re like me and Kikkan, the only girls to move on from the US last Saturday, you may want to pick quarters 1 and 2 (like we did) to maximize your rest time.

So, after a qualifier that was quite tricky since the course was salted then closed to all athletes and techs before the race, Kikkan, Andy and I were the US athletes that met down in the stadium. I picked heat #1, and Kikkan was in heat #2, and Andy picked heat #3. I was lucky in that I had a great qualifier, coming in 5th, so I had a great chance to see where people were starting to put themselves in heats before I picked. The course in Lahti was quite narrow in spots like over the bridge, with a couple tight corners, so it became very tactical and the slingshot from the draft was huge! It was also very scrappy out there and I found myself trying to ski like a much bigger person than I am, to take up more room and keep some SPACE for myself! I was able to use the draft well through both my quarterfinal and semifinal, finishing 2nd in my quarter and winning my semi. I also want to mention that our skis were once again totally rocking and I was having a blast seeing the techs so happy! They were out hammering around the test loop, actually whooping and  cheering and racing each other in glide-outs and I couldn’t help but smile and get excited when I saw what a good time they were having while working so hard!

Our head of wax staff, Peter, goofing around after a long tiring day.

Our head of wax staff, Peter, goofing around after a long tiring day.

And, finally, it was time…for the final! I got out to a poor start and I was actually feeling quite tired the first half of the course, but over the top of the first big hill I put in some big pushes, got into my tiniest tuck, and started passing people. I couldn’t quite get around enough people to be able to make my move where I needed to on the last climb, but I was able to get into fourth over the top of the last hill and by the time we rounded the stadium corner, I was thrilled and filled with adrenaline realizing that I was right there, right in the sprint to the line with Marit, Ingvild and Kikkan! I did my best “monkey skate” without poles to the line but didn’t quite have it. However, I was just so excited to be in the fight for the medals…I’m not even the tiniest bit mad that I didn’t get one! And especially because Kikkan was back on the podium in her best race of the year – it was just so great to see her racing like her usual self. Andy made it to the semis and was close but just out of the final, but it was an exciting day for US sprinting!

Liz, Sadie, me and Kikkan after the races! (photo from Kikkan)

Liz, Sadie, me and Kikkan after the races! (photo from Kikkan)

The late and long sprint day left me quite tired but I still wanted to race the 10km individual classic race on Sunday because it’s a great chance for me to practice my classic racing! And by now, we all know that’s something I’m working on :) I was so happy to have great kick, and although the second lap of the race as I got tired my technique started to fall apart and I was more prone to slipping, I had to keep reminding myself that if I could just stand up and kick already then I can get up those steep hills, no problem! (ok, ok, some problems….like burning lungs and tired legs, but let’s not be picky). I had one of my better classic races of the year finishing 17th, and Sadie came in a strong 14th, so it was a great way to end my classic World Cup racing for the year! Which means that nope, I’m not doing the Drammen sprint as I want to rest up for the 30km skate in Holmenkollen this coming Sunday and classic sprinting isn’t really in my wheelhouse.

When you can fall asleep like THIS, it's safe to say you're pretty wiped out tired. (photo from Ida)

When you can fall asleep like THIS, it’s safe to say you’re pretty wiped out tired. (photo from Ida)

After the classic race in Lahti, I got into a car with Liz and Maurice Manificat of the French team and we drove 5:15 hours to a tiny town in Finland called Runni. We had been talked into doing a show race by our Polar rep, and it seemed like an opportunity for a little adventure and to see a more remote part of Finland. We stayed in this old hotel/spa with extremely nice people working there, and aside from a few press conferences, we had the day to enjoy walks in the sunshine. Yes, you DID read that right..SUNSHINE, I SAY! It was something close to a miracle after going about 5 weeks without a single proper bluebird day.

Eeeeek! The sun! It's blinding my pasty white skin!

Eeeeek! The sun! It’s blinding my pasty white skin!

The show race was 4 laps around an icy double pole track that was 1.2 km long, and looped around the hotel that hosted the event. There were so many people that came to the village to watch and cheer and get autographs, and with the announcers, music and lights during the night race…it was so exciting! I also confess that I was too lazy to scrape the travel wax off my skis that I had brought, so when Maurice offered to let me use his second pair that were already waxed, I took him up on it! Turns out double poling on stiff men’s skate skis is crazy fun. I may have forgotten to fully shut the binding though, and after my first lap I stepped around the corner and shot my (his) ski off into the crowd! It was hilarious! I was hopping on my one ski and laughing, and the people were laughing and cheering and slid the ski back along the track to me, I snapped the binding fully shut this time, and off I went. I ended up winning the race by .07 I think, and Liz was third even though she missed her start (we weren’t super duper professional, I’m afraid).

Our podium: myself in 1st, Rita Lisa in 2nd and Liz in 3rd! Double pole for days :)

Our podium: myself in 1st, Rita Lisa in 2nd and Liz in 3rd! Double pole for days :)

The other great part about the weekend was that we got to meet Finnish skiing legend Juha Mieto, and even got hugs from him as he presented oversize trophies at the awards ceremony that evening!

Liz, me, Juha and Maurice! (photo from Maurice)

Liz, me, Juha and Maurice! (photo from Maurice)

Now we are on our way to Oslo, Norway for our last week of World Cups. Wish us luck!

Maurice taking airport transportation to the next level!

Maurice taking airport transportation to the next level!

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World Champs part 3 – the Relay and 30km days

After the 10km skate race at Worlds, it was a relatively quick turnaround to get ready for the 4x5km relay, but I was even more excited to start that race than I was for the 10km! I just love relay races because it’s all about the strength of a team. I was also crazy nervous being the anchor leg, but I had so much confidence in the whole team and was so excited to be a part of it.

The relay day crew! We are missing some people but this is a short example of how many people it takes to race a relay! (photo from Zuzana)

The relay day crew! We are missing some people but this is a short example of how many people it takes to race a relay! (photo from Zuzana)

Getting our bibs a few hours before the race start! (photo from Zuzana)

Getting our bibs a few hours before the race start! (photo from Zuzana)

I was so impressed with how the girls skied, and how our service team once again gave us awesome boards! Sadie skied so well and although a Russian girl skied over the tips of her skis which caused her to crash and flood her legs, she never gave up and kept fighting.

Matt running alongside Sadie during her race (photo from Erik Mundahl)

Matt running alongside Sadie during her race (photo from Erik Mundahl)

Rosie went out charging and skied such a gutsy leg, pushing to catch up even in the parts of the course where she was skiing solo.

Rosie pushing it to the limit in her relay leg (photo from Erik Mundahl)

Rosie pushing it to the limit in her relay leg (photo from Erik Mundahl)

Putting the face paint and glitter on Super Sadie that morning (photo from Zuzana)

Putting the face paint and glitter on Super Sadie that morning (photo from Zuzana)

Zuzana doing my face up for the relay! (photo from Zuzana)

Zuzana doing my face up for the relay! (photo from Zuzana)

Liz put down the hammer and got us within the perfect distance to the Polish team, hopping right up those sprint course hills!

Liz navigating the fast downhill after the sprint climb (photo from Erik Mundahl)

Liz navigating the fast downhill after the sprint climb (photo from Erik Mundahl)

So when I got tagged off I was psyched up and ready to go. I caught up to Poland and I knew Germany had come into the tag zone only a few seconds behind, so at first I tried to drop Poland and make a break for it. But the course was fast and I wasn’t able to drop her, so mid-race I changed tactics and it became more of a game.

Coming through the stadium after lap one with Poland right behind (photo from Salomon Nordic)

Coming through the stadium after lap one with Poland right behind (photo from Salomon Nordic)

I slowed down and got the other girls (by this time Germany had caught up) to take a turn leading, and I hopped right behind them and focused on doing absolutely as little work as possible, letting my legs recover. Then on the final hill of the sprint course I made my move, and created a little gap over the top. I had great confidence in my fast skis so I knew I would be able to hold that position till the finish line as long as I didn’t fall over!

Skiing past the coaching zone on my way to the finish line (photo from Erik Mundahl)

Skiing past the coaching zone on my way to the finish line (photo from Erik Mundahl)

All the girls were there at the finish line, and we had this awesome team hug and were so fired up. We finished 4th, which ties out best result at a Championship, and we aren’t stopping till we get onto that podium. We were simultaneously proud of how we raced and hungry for more, which is probably the best possible way to feel about a race!

The relay legs: me, Liz, Sadie and Rosie (photo from Salomon Nordic)

The relay legs: me, Liz, Sadie and Rosie (photo from Salomon Nordic)

The finish pen crew right before I crossed the line: Sadie, Rosie, Caitlin, Liz, Sophie and Ida! (photo from Zuzana)

The finish pen crew right before I crossed the line: Sadie, Rosie, Caitlin, Liz, Sophie and Ida! (photo from Zuzana)

In the finish pen we had hugs all round and everyone was a huge part of that relay team, whether or not they were racing, prepping skis, cheering, coaching, or helping in the start/finish pens. Everyone came together to make that day work, and I’m so proud to be part of a team that functions as one so well!

The SOCKS!!!! (photo from Zuzana)

The SOCKS!!!! (photo from Zuzana)

This is a cool shot because you can see the warmup pen reflected in my glasses! (photo from Zuzana)

This is a cool shot because you can see the warmup pen reflected in my glasses! (photo from Zuzana)

To be totally honest, after the 4x5km relay I thought I was done racing, and I was pretty wiped out. Mentally and emotionally, getting stressed and psyched up and nervous for the races had taken a huge toll on me that I didn’t fully appreciate until a few days later, and physically my body felt pretty good but my energy levels were definitely not at 100%! But the day before the 30km race, the coaches talked to me because there was an open start spot. It was going to go unfilled, and they said that if I wanted to start I could. And I thought…why not? I need practice at mass start classic races, and I wanted to get in another classic race since I hadn’t done one in over a month! My biggest hesitation was that 30km takes a huge amount of energy, and the races coming up the next weekend in Lahti (a skate sprint and 10km classic) could be really good opportunities for me. Especially opportunities to solidify my position in the red group, which gives our team money, and, to be frank, we really need as many people in the red group as possible. So it would be more beneficial to both myself and the whole team for me to try and race fastest at the next World Cups, instead of digging myself into an energy deficit and potentially getting sick afterwards.

So the night before Cork and I decided that I would have fun, start the race and get the valuable experience of mass start practice and pacing, but only plan on finishing the race if it was going exceptionally well. Otherwise, the plan was to drop and be ok mentally with doing that, although we both knew there would probably be a ton of criticism coming my way for not finishing so it would take a different kind of bravery to pull out.

The start of the race went well and I got a lot of great things out of that day. I held my position at the start, and at 4km I was skiing right behind Marit for a second (thinking “holy crap! this is SO not happening in a classic race right now!”) Right before the first lap through the stadium I was skiing in a great pack of girls until someone changed lanes on top of my skis and I crashed out. I never quite caught back up, but focused on working my pacing plan and getting into a classic striding rhythm, which is something I’ve been working on. After 10km I knew that my body was pretty tired and it would be smartest to pull out of the race like we had planned, so I did, and immediately after changing to dry clothes skied out to the quiet part of the course to cheer as loud as I could for my teammates racing. I am so SO proud of the impressive races Liz, Rosie and Sadie did and they skied smart and awesome 30kms!

Athletes cheering from the wax cabin rooftops! (photo from Zuzana)

Athletes cheering from the wax cabin rooftops! (photo from Zuzana)

Then it was finally time for a day off! A day to rest, cheer for the boys in the 50, recover and also get a mental break from racing and prepping to race. I am so proud of this entire team and how we skied, but more importantly how we functioned as one unit, at these Championships. Every year we gain more valuable experience, gain more confidence and become an even tighter knit group and we are walking out of these races with great big smiles!

I love this photo of "Toque" and "Jay-Pea" having a coke break in the wax room! (photo from Patrick Moore)

I love this photo of “Toque” and “Jay-Pea” having a coke break in the wax room! (photo from Patrick Moore)

I’m looking forward to a fun week in Lahti and then some great chances to see what I can do and where my body is at in the next World Cups. I still have a lot of fire and fight left for the rest of the season, and I’m excited to see what happens!

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