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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That crazy whirlwind of a day – The World Champs 10km

This has been the most incredibly fun week! I am still on cloud 9 and can hardly believe that there is a World Champs silver medal sitting on our hotel room desk! Before I get into the race day “blood and guts” as my Dad likes to call it, I want to take a moment to thank all of you. All the support, congrats emails, Facebook messages and cheers mean so much to me and the outpouring of support from back home has been the foundation for success at these races. The medal is the icing on the cake, but the best feeling is knowing what this means to everyone back home. It has taken so many people working together and supporting Cross Country skiing for this to be possible, and this medal belongs to about 10,000 people. I think it’s a shame that the podium step only holds one person, because if I could I would put everyone who has been inspiring me and believing in me and pushing me to be my best up on that stage! So thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for believing in this team, because fantasy leagues aside, this US Cross Country team is YOUR team and our successes don’t mean anything without people back home to share them with!

Silver medal!

Silver medal! (photo from Salomon Nordic)

The morning of the race, I went through my usual pre-race routine, just like always. I got up, went for a jog, headed to breakfast and proceeded to drink an insane amount of coffee with my oatmeal and yogurt and cereal. I watched some old race footage to get inspired and fired up, I laid down in my bed and visualized skiing the entire 10km loop perfectly, and then I braided my hair, put on some glitter, and glittered up my teammates. The night before I had also come up with my pacing plan while memorizing the course, and I knew exactly what I had to do at each point of the race to be able to race my fastest and lay it all out there.

Once I got to the venue, it was time to start testing skis. Jason Cork has been my tech and coach since 2010, and I trust him completely. When I get too nervous before races and I can’t even pick my skis, he does it for me. We were in agreement about which skis were going to be fastest for the race, but I had to make him make the last call because I was getting way too nervous. And he totally nailed it! See? That’s why he’s so good at his job. :)

Jason Cork and I after the relay (photo from Brian Gregg)

Jason Cork and I after the relay (photo from Brian Gregg)

I finished my warmup and jogged to the start. If you weren’t fired up to race before, the jog to the start REALLY gets you going because they created a tunnel that goes underneath the spectator stand. Running underneath a couple thousand people all screaming, stamping their feet ready to watch you race with the speakers blaring pump up music totally gets my heart hammering against my ribs. Running around the warmup pen, I saw Caitlin and Kikkan ski through the stadium on their way to the second 5km loop, and I cheered for them although I seriously doubt they could hear me over the roar from the fans!

At the starting gate, I remembered to smile because when I am having fun, that’s when I can push my hardest and race my best. Then I took a deep breath and started on the course. It started snowing shortly before I started racing, and for the first few kilometers it was lighter snow but in the second half of the race I could barely see and I kept wiping it out of my eyes on the downhills, afraid that I was going to crash! I knew that the snow would slow the course down, and it would be crazy to say that starting near the back of the seeded group wasn’t a disadvantage. My bib, #37, was right in the middle, so during my race I kept convincing myself that the snow wasn’t slowing me down, that the snow didn’t matter at all and that I was right on track no matter the weather. Because I knew that the biggest disadvantage would be to start believing that I had a problem to begin with!

Racing with goggles up for a second at the top of the biggest climb (photo from a fan on course)

Racing with goggles up for a second at the top of the biggest climb (photo from a fan on course)

 

That said, because of the snow I started to take some risks on the downhills to make up speed and time. I knew my skis were running super fast, and Cork had the idea the day before to turn my skis on their edges on straight parts of the downhills. I was taking risky lines on the corners to avoid the deeper, churned up snow and I almost crashed coming into the stadium for the last time, but it was totally worth it!

Matt yelling splits to me on course (photo from Erik Mundahl)

Matt yelling splits to me on course (photo from Erik Mundahl)

My pacing plan was to break the course up into 8 parts, and to really attack each section individually. I was only thinking about the section that I was on while I was skiing it, which allowed me to really focus and also not feel overwhelmed when I was in a lot of pain because I wasn’t worried about how much course I still had left to ski.

Near the start of the race (photo from Salomon Nordic)

Near the start of the race (photo from Salomon Nordic)

 

Once I got to the last 1.5 km, which goes over the sprint course, I convinced myself that I was skiing the last leg of the team sprint and I just hammered up the hills with everything that I had left. When I crossed the finish line I was nearly blacked out and although Caitlin ran out to congratulate me I didn’t know it was her at first! Once I had a chance to start breathing normally again I was able to sit up and hug her, and I hadn’t realized until just then that we had had such great races, and that it was my turn to sit in the leader’s chair!

Hugging at the finish line (photo from Salomon Nordic)

Hugging at the finish line (photo from Salomon Nordic)

Headed to the leader's chair! (photo from Salomon Nordic)

Headed to the leader’s chair! (photo from Salomon Nordic)

I think, sitting in that chair and looking at the split board where you can see exactly what’s happening out on the course, that’s when it dawned on me that Caitlin and I might actually be able to keep our medals. When Charlotte Kalla crossed the line I was so happy for her and of course totally impressed with her gutsy racing. I have looked up to her as a really inspiring skier, and actually, my “pump up race footage” before the race was watching her and Astrid Jacobsen duke it out at the end of the skiathlon because I really loved how both of them were totally unwilling to give up, and pushed themselves to the limit.

Then, of course, once all the skiers crossed the line and I realized what this would mean for everyone back home – the first ever distance medals for US Women in World Champs and then 2 in one day?!? – I started freaking out. I think more than anything else what I’m going to remember about that day was the feeling I had hugging my teammates, hugging the techs who were totally over the moon, seeing my coach cry for the first time (although he insists it was a huge snowflake that hit him in the eye), and celebrating that feeling of “holy crap we just did it!” with the whole team. I’m probably going to forget some details about the flower ceremony and the interviews I did later in the media storm, but I’m definitely never going to forget those moments with the team when we found out it was actually, truly happening and that we’d gotten to the medals stand as a Nation.

Getting a big hug from Grover (photo from Zuzana)

Getting a big hug from Grover (photo from Zuzana)

Hugs in the finish pen! (photo from Tom Kelly)

Hugs in the finish pen! (photo from Tom Kelly)

To have all 4 women racing place in the top 15 really speaks to how far we have come as a country, and I am so proud of all my teammates for racing so fast! More importantly, I feel so honored to be a small part of a team that is SO. DARN. INSPIRING. Being the youngest on the US team I feel like the luckiest girl in the world because I have so many older sisters, role models, and team leaders that have paved the way and continue to push this team forward. The team chemistry that we have created is really something special because we really truly care about and believe in each other, and that creates this positive energy that just lifts you right through the periods of homesickness on the road or the bad races and keeps you excited to ski and believing that you can do it.

Our girls team cheer before the first races started (photo from Sadie)

Our girls team cheer before the first races started (photo from Sadie)

Let’s talk about the amazing work our techs and coaches have done this week in making skis, please. Those guys have been skiing at least 50km a day, testing glide, all kinds of different waxes and kick, and they never once complain that they’re tired or not getting enough sleep, although I’m sure that both of those things are true. They come to the team pre-race meeting with tired shadows under their eyes, but you barely notice because they have huge smiles on and hugs and high fives for everyone. We have the hardest working service team in the world, and on Tuesday they really showed it to the world because we had the best skis of the day and it was obvious. They opened the window of opportunity for Caitlin and I to get onto that podium, because waxing is part of the game, and they played it just right. We are so incredibly lucky to have them, and I am so proud to work with them!

Getting a hug from Peter, the head of our service team (photo from Zuzana)

Getting a hug from Peter, the head of our service team (photo from Zuzana)

Our coaches also deserve so much credit for the good races we have been having at the Championships, because early in the year the media was coming down so hard on them for our rough start to the World Cup season. Even when I was having trouble believing that my racing would come back around, they believed in me and never looked discouraged. They knew that the championships came late in the season and planned accordingly, and the peaking plans worked out! It took a lot of guts for them to actually plan on us racing sub-par at the start of the year and be ok with taking the blast from the media for it, so if you haven’t toasted Chris Grover, Matt Whitcomb and Jason Cork yet, please do.

Flower ceremony (photo from Salomon Nordic)

Flower ceremony (photo from Salomon Nordic)

So…after the race! The flower ceremony was so fun, and Charlotte was so nice in congratulating Caitlin and I and celebrating with us. I still was in shock and could hardly believe what was happening, and I was so happy that I think I smiled for hours on end! I must have looked like a small child finding out they just received the best Christmas present ever. Here’s a link to watch it if you’d like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RC8zi6QN4bQ

Giving Charlotte a kiss! (photo from Johaug Gloves)

Giving Charlotte a kiss! (photo from Johaug Gloves)

After going through the mix zone (where I kept hopping up and down because I was soaked and wet and cold!) I was taken in a car to another building where we took photos with the medals that we would be given that night. Then I had a 10 minute break, and the first thing I did was call my parents to talk to them. They had been watching the whole thing, of course, but I had to laugh when my Dad asked “so, how did it go?” because he always wants to know the strategy and pacing and details of the race, even when he knows how it ended. Then we went to a press conference, which was super exciting for me and also incredibly professionally run. Through all of that, a chaperone from Anti-Doping Control stayed with me, and once the media was done I went to the anti-doping room. Which I’m totally happy to do, to prove that I compete clean! Also to apparently prove how dehydrated I was because it was literally 2.5 hours after the race when I finally got to pee.

At the press conference (photo from Marc Rhodes)

At the press conference (photo from Marc Rhodes)

When I got back to the hotel, I took a second to lie down on the floor in all my dirty smelly clothes and just breathe and think about what happened. But only for a second, because then it was time for a cool-down run and a shower and a 10-minute-shovel-that-food-in-you-mouth-quick-dinner before the best part: the champagne toast with the team! Kikkan literally had to give me a “how to pop a bottle of champagne without looking like a dummy” tutorial a few years ago, so I hope I did her proud when, with only a few awkward seconds, I finally got the cork. I mentioned that the support and congrats from home was amazing, and we also got so much love from our fans and friends here in Europe! The hotel sent us the champagne and set it all up for the team, and a French baker hired by the Norwegian team to bake bread had made us a congratulatory cake!

The medals ceremony! (photo from Fasterskier)

The medals ceremony! (photo from Fasterskier)

Then Caitlin and I went to the awards ceremony, and the crowd was just amazing. It was a solid wall of sound, flags, and lights, and I’m just feeling lucky that I didn’t trip over the podium steps because I was so overwhelmed with it all! Then we did another media mix zone as well as live spots on Norwegian and Swedish television, and then it was all over! I was so worried about recovering in time for the relay during all of that so I kept drinking so much water and sitting down whenever I could, because I was already so psyched up and ready for the next thing! I’m so glad that my teammates told me to finally take a second to just soak it up and enjoy it, because this kind of thing doesn’t, like, happen every day, you know? Here’s the link to the ceremony footage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MpIzHINLLY&feature=youtu.be

This is a highlight reel from the whole day, put together by the US Ski Team: http://youtu.be/AsNLoEjodt4

I’ll be writing more soon about the relay, 30km day and the rest of the week! Thanks again for all the cheering!

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Team Sprinting

I’ve now done a grand total of 4 team sprints in my life, and each one has been a crazy mix of excitement, nerves, fun, mind-numbingly painful leg burning, and adrenaline. 3 of them have resulted in podium finishes, and yesterday’s in 8th place, but ALL of them have equally helped me grow as a racer and as a person. All of them have been a fun experience that I wouldn’t give up. All of them have inspired me and kept me hungry for more racing in the future. And in all of them I have been so proud to be a part of this team – the whole team – my sprint partner, the techs, the coaches, all of the athletes and staff and supporters that makes this possible!

Was the result yesterday what we were hoping for? No…but did we ski with everything we had? Did we keep fighting to make up time? Did we cross the finish line knowing we did everything we could? Yes! So I am keeping my head up high. I am so proud of Sophie and how she skied, and I am lucky to have her as a team sprint partner, teammate, friend and year-round training buddy. I had so much fun racing with her and being nervous with her and jogging around getting ready to race. We knew going into the day that if everything fell perfectly into place, we had a chance at a medal…but of course so did a lot of other teams and we weren’t the favorites this time around. It was nerve-wracking and fun getting to wear that defending World Champion bib, but there was no mistaking that we were the underdogs this time around!

Racing in the semifinal (photo from FlyingPoint)

Racing in the semifinal (photo from FlyingPoint)

Both Sophie and I were so extremely nervous DAYS before the race! I have been visualizing racing on this course since May…no joke. Which made me nervous because I have been looking forward to this race for so long, but also calmed me down because I knew that I had done everything I possibly could to prepare for it. So although the course was closed to all athletes and techs in warmup, by the time I started racing I felt like I had already raced on the sprint loop hundreds of times!

In the qualifier our goal was to move on to the finals using as little energy as possible, especially since we had the disadvantage of being in the second semifinal. It really stinks, especially for the boys with even less rest, when you’re put into the second semi because you get 30 minutes less rest than the teams in the first semi before the final round. I don’t know if there’s a fair way to do it, but knowing you have less rest makes you want to conserve energy as much as possible! So the first two laps we skied in the middle of the front pack. I had one crash in the tag zone the first time I tagged back off to Sophie, as the tag zone snow was so much faster than anyone had anticipated and skiers were tagging off but then gliding way past their teammates! I tagged Soph but didn’t have any room to get out of the way before running into the back of a German girl’s skis, and down I went. But I didn’t break any equipment, slow down Sophie or slow down other skiers so it was all ok!

Sophie skied really smart, letting the other girls lead and then when she was forced to lead, slowing it down so that she could conserve energy for later in the day. When we tagged off for my last lap we were only 9 seconds down to the leaders and in 4th position. I figured I could gamble on being lucky loser, or pass the two teams in front of  me and finish 2nd to secure a spot in the final, so I went for the second option. Once I opened up a little gap and was sure that we’d finish second I coasted into the finish, and although I guess there’s no way to know for sure I felt like it didn’t take too much out of me because I skied the second half of the course slower. Then it was time to quickly change clothes, get some food and drink and cool down. I was excited and pumped up and ready for the final!

In the final Soph skied a brilliant opening leg and tagged off with the lead group, and I mimicked her strategy, skiing right in the back of the pack and then easing up over the top of the big climb because I knew I could catch back up drafting on the downhill. Did I mention how great our skis were? I was super impressed with our techs and coaches getting us such good boards!

The second leg I had a little catch-up game to play, and I was skiing a little bit in no-man’s land trying to get back onto the lead pack. I think I loaded my legs a little too much, because in the final lap I felt pretty toasted. I made up the 4 seconds to Switzerland but then had nothing left in the finishing lanes, and I swear I meant to lunge at the line but when I tried to stick my foot out I just folded over instead! That’s how I know I really spent it all out there.

The best part of the final, though, was when I collapsed at the finish and Sophie was right there, hugging me and helping me get my skis off and telling me she was proud of me. No matter how the race went, I was so happy to race it with her and it meant so much to have her there as soon as it was over! And I’m glad we had each other there for support especially when going through the mix zone of media and reporters, which can be overwhelming and also hard right after a race when you’re head is spinning and you’re emotionally through the wringer after days of being nervous and then racing your heart out.

And of course, after I got home I got this awesome note from my Mom and Dad, who were up in Hayward, WI for the Birkie weekend with a big group of friends, all of whom got up at 5:30am to watch the semis then the finals. Thanks for the cheering guys!

The gang up in Wisconsin for the Birkie weekend, watching the race! (photo from my Mom)

The gang up in Wisconsin for the Birkie weekend, watching the race! (photo from my Mom)

At the end of the day, I was proud of how we skied. I think I skied with the same intensity and drive as I did back in 2013, and although I don’t know because I wasn’t skiing with them the whole race, I feel like I could have kept up with that lead pack and caused some trouble! :) So it was a great confidence booster, and I feel like I am in good shape right now, and as long as I can recover in this one day off, I am super excited to see what I can do in the 10km skate race tomorrow.

The girls team having a meeting before the races started (photo from Sadie)

The girls team having a meeting before the races started (photo from Sadie)

 

*For those of you who read the Fasterskier article, there were a few errors that I’d love to correct: I fell twice during the day but one was in the semifinal and one was in the final, not both in the final like the article suggested. And I had tagged Sophie before my fall so it didn’t slow down our relay or change the outcome of the race – I fell because after tagging off I was still gliding faster than the girls getting tagged around me and I had to space to move out of the way. I figured it was better to maybe stumble and fall than come to an abrupt snowplowing stop and risk ruining someone’s race and getting yellow carded.

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A day at the World Champs in Falun

Here are some images from our first week here in Falun! I have been having such a great time here, the team energy and spirits are high, and I am just SO EXCITED TO GET RACING ALREADY!!! I can hardly wait. :)

I’ll take you through a typical day here, starting with breakfast and then catching a shuttle to the venue. We never really know if we’ll all fit into the car that arrives, so that makes it exciting, but sooner or later everyone gets up to the venue!

Dakota taking the Dalarna horse for a little ride...

Dakota taking the Dalarna horse for a little ride…

We go to the wax cabins and check in with our coaches and techs. They have been so hard at work all week testing every wax and topping, and in addition to getting race boards ready they have training day skis set out for us as well!

Gus picking out some skis from the wax room

Gus picking out some skis from the wax room

Then we get out on the trails! Yesterday I was so psyched to be out cheering for my teammates racing the classic sprint, the first race of the World Champs. I hiked up through the woods to get as close as I could to the base of the big sprint hill.

One of the spectator camps set up in the woods

One of the spectator camps set up in the woods

There were so many fans out there! It was really amazing. The energy in the spectator area and stadium was electrifying!

I had a pretty good view from where I was standing!

I had a pretty good view from where I was standing!

Patrick "Touque" Moore next to our wax cabin

Patrick “Touque” Moore next to our wax cabin

The coaches outside the wax cabins, waiting to see who made it through to the sprint heats

The coaches outside the wax cabins, waiting to see who made it through to the sprint heats

The stadium was packed full of fans! Well done, Falun!

The stadium was packed full of fans! Well done, Falun!

After training, we’ll catch a shuttle ride back to the hotel and eat lunch, then we have a few hours to relax. I usually Skype my friends or family, walk around town, read or watch netflix.

We’ll also get some PT or massage work done each day. We are so lucky to have such an amazing staff here! Zuzana Rogers and Ana Robinson have been working 24/7 to keep us injury free and keep our muscles working at their best!

Zuzana and I in the wax cabin! (photo by Zuzana)

Zuzana and I in the wax cabin! (photo by Zuzana)

Greg, one of our team Doctors, Ana and Zuzana out for a ski! (photo from Zuzana)

Greg, one of our team Doctors, Ana and Zuzana out for a ski! (photo from Zuzana)

In the afternoon we might go for a jog to stay loosened up, or a short walk just so we’re not spending too much time in our rooms. Then after dinner we’ll have a team meeting, which I love because it’s a chance for the whole team to check in and plan out training times and race details for the next day!

Playing a card game with the team!

Playing a card game with the team!

Our first day here we also had such a fun experience getting to ride around an ice track in the Audi cars at the venue. They had rally car drivers, and at first they said we’d be able to drive as well but then the course wasn’t wide enough, and, well….they didn’t want us to crash the cars! :) But it was exciting getting to ride in the passenger seat as we drifted around corners and navigated on ice!

The team with the drivers!

The team with the drivers! (photo from Kikkan)

The venue set up here in Falun is unreal. There are banners everywhere, and it reminds me a little bit of the Olympic park! There’s expos, sponsor setups for spectators to come check out, and fun things like the Audi-ice-experience for people to try out. Just outside the venue there’s an entire tent village with Norwegian flags everywhere, so people are camping as close to the race trails as they can get! There are food vendors everywhere and the fans are super pumped to cheer!

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World Champs Starts Tomorrow!!!!

Hey Everyone! I hope you’re as excited as I am for World Championships to begin tomorrow!!!

I won’t be racing until Sunday, but I’m so pumped to get out and cheer on my teammates racing the sprint: Sophie, Sadie, Kikkan, Ida, Andy, Simi, Dakota and Ben. Join me in cheering them on by streaming the race LIVE! Everything will stream live to www.usskiteam.com (and www.universalsports.com). You can also get the coverage live in the USA on the Falun 2015 Live Arena mobile app (iOS devices only). Streaming is free, and because USSA bought the rights you don’t need to worry about weird pop-ups.

And finally, what I’m sure you’ve been waiting for (right? right?) our music video is finally out!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VraVelzlAL0

I’ll be posting more photos and details soon, but for now enjoy the video!

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Dance class is in session

Only one week left until World Champs starts!!! And guess what? The Superbowl’s over, but that doesn’t mean your fantasy team life has to end. Hoffman created a World Championships 2015 fantasy league, where you can pick your team and there are prizes (and pride points) given out. Check it out! Tons of people have already entered their teams, and the contest closes for entries at 11:59 p.m. (ET) on Wednesday, February 18th. The link below takes you the information and sign-up page. I think that it’s super fun that Noah made this league, so hopefully you’ll have fun watching your team perform at Worlds!

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/14EdrrOjDzeUP3cwQYGak5th0j1hvLM53QxNkFH6i_v8/viewform?c=0&w=1 

Andy, Me, Sophie and Simi pretty psyched for our SMS teammates at World Juniors/U23s

Andy, Me, Sophie and Simi pretty psyched for our SMS teammates at World Juniors/U23s

Today is the classic sprint here in Östersund, and it’s going to be unlike any other classic sprint. The course goes right up through the stands, so lucky fans on the sides of the course will see the racers fly by right next to them! The hills are wicked steep to prevent people from double poling the entire thing, and I suspect there will be a lot of herringbone going on which will make spectating quite exciting since the course is only wide enough to fit two people across on the trail. I’m excited to cheer on my teammates! While I’d love to be sprinting, since classic sprinting isn’t really my wheelhouse we decided I’d put all my energy into the 10km skate race tomorrow and prepare for that since that’s one of the races I’m focusing on for Worlds.

Our snowy drive out of Davos, to Munich, where we took a flight to Östersund

Our snowy drive out of Davos, to Munich, where we took a flight to Östersund

When we first got to Östersund, it had just poured rain and everything was super icy and a little sketchy, but the course organizers have done a great job getting more snow on the trails, preserving the race course and making it safe to get around the stadium. 

Ida taking careful steps over the ice into the stadium!

Ida taking careful steps over the ice into the stadium!

Our first day here we didn’t have our cargo van yet (the techs were driving it all the way from Davos!) so we did the good ‘ol parking lot scrape. It’s good to keep it low key sometimes!

The crew doing a little trailside scraping and waxing on our first day.

The crew doing a little trailside scraping and waxing on our first day.

Erik and Rosie showing off their "bench-less scraping skills"

Erik and Rosie showing off their “bench-less scraping skills”

After being at altitude, it feels so good to be back down to sea level! We had a good few days of training here before the rest of the World Cup showed up, and it was fun to ski some totally new trails. The course has a lot of twists and turns, with a lot of ups and downs instead of one or two sustained climbs, which I really like because it keeps it fun and exciting every second of the race!

I think the way the course goes up through the stands is SO COOL!

I think the way the course goes up through the stands is SO COOL!

Oh my gosh! I get to go skiing! (photo from Sadie)

Oh my gosh! I get to go skiing! (photo from Sadie)

And the view isn’t bad, either….the stadium is right on the edge of town and overlooks the water.

Not a bad view from the wax cabins overlooking town!

Not a bad view from the wax cabins overlooking town!

We have such a big team here now, and we get even more people once we get to Falun! This week we got Kyle Bratrud, Dakota Blackhorse Von-Jess, Matt Gelso and Noah Hoffman! Noah has made an amazing recovery after his broken leg in Kussamo, and I am so proud of him for working so hard to get right back onto the World Cup and never giving up.

Sadie, Hoff and me excited to be all together again! (photo from Sadie)

Sadie, Hoff and me excited to be all together again! (photo from Sadie)

Of course, you’re probably wondering about the title of this post. We are still chipping away at that music video, and I was thrilled to be the “official dance choreographer” which also makes me the dance teacher for the week. It was so fun seeing everyone learn it and get pumped about filming! The hallway dance practices before training were a great start to the day as well.

Me, taking a photo of Hoff taking a photo of me for his blog.

Me, taking a photo of Hoff taking a photo of me for his blog.

It was also great to have a chance to see the town and walk around it a bit!

Rosie and Sadie on our sunset jog before strength!

Rosie and Sadie on our sunset jog before strength!

We are close enough to run or walk to the venue, although Sophie and I quickly learned that we should never enter in an Orienteering competition. We got a little bit lost but eventually found our way back to the hotel!

Sophie practicing her orienteering skills

Sophie practicing her orienteering skills

 

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The secret happiness behind painful training

Overheard at the lunch table after a morning of time trials in Davos:

“Hey, how was your skiathlon time trial today?”

“It was AWESOME! I destroyed myself.”

While that sounds a little contradictory, it’s a pretty common theme for skiers: feeling awesome after pretty much destroying yourself. While our sport has so many different parts to it; tactics, technique, waxing, pacing, strength, power, speed…a huge part of it is dealing with physical pain as you’re pushing your body to it’s limit. And then a little farther. It seems like enjoying ski racing goes hand in hand with enjoying the lung-burning, muscle-numbing, iron-tasting, mentally-exhausting state you find yourself in near the end of a race.

To a lot of people, this sounds crazy. To me, it makes sense. Until you tear yourself apart, how can you possibly know what you’re made of underneath all the layers of “can I really do this?” How can you know what your limits really are, and if you can push past them?

And of course, let’s not forget that endorphin rush. That’s a big part of the reason hard training and racing out of your mind is so rewarding…not only do you feel like you’ve really done something hard, you get a rush of endorphins that somehow makes it all worth it!

Happy on my first ski back in Davos! (photo by Liz)

Happy on my first ski back in Davos! (photo by Liz)

So last weekend I did a team-sprint time trial with Cork. I was the only girl doing that particular time trial that day (most everyone else did a classic sprint time trial or a distance race) so Cork was my tag zone partner. It was really hard but really fun as well, in that weird way that only painful training can be. The time trial gave me a lot of confidence and good practice going into Worlds, especially since the last team sprint I’d done was the 2013 Worlds race! I don’t know yet if I’ll make the team, but I have to prepare for the races I’ve set my biggest goals on, and so I’ve been training with that in mind.

Sophie making some powder turns down the track we hiked up one day!

Sophie making some powder turns down the track we hiked up one day!

I guess you could say that our pre-Worlds training camp in Davos was one of the best we’ve ever had. When it was time to focus and be on the snow, it was all about the skiing. We trained hard but made sure to keep the pace down on our easy training sessions. The tracks were beautiful and we could ski so many different valleys. And in between, we relaxed and had fun!

Liz and I skiing up the sunny valley (photo from Liz)

Liz and I skiing up the sunny valley (photo from Liz)

You know me...always staying on my feet...(photo from Sophie)

You know me…always staying on my feet…(photo from Sophie)

Erik and Simi getting ready to ski right from the hotel door onto the trail

Erik and Simi getting ready to ski right from the hotel door onto the trail

One night our friends Markus and Maurus had the team over for Mexican food, and we had such a fun time catching up and then watching the live Fasterskier feed of the Craftsbury SuperTour races. It was so cool to cheer on our teammates and actually be able to watch the races happen while we’re in Europe!

On a fun ski with Sophie!

On a fun ski with Sophie!

Sophie, Zuzana and me at the Hockey game (photo from Sophie)

Sophie, Zuzana and me at the Hockey game (photo from Sophie)

Another night we went to a Davos Hockey game, and I had such a blast. It was the second hockey game I’ve been to in Davos this winter and I still think the fans are the best I’ve ever seen!

Andy, Rosie, me and Sophie hanging out at the train station with our "pretzel legs"

Andy, Rosie, me and Sophie hanging out at the train station with our “pretzel legs”

For me, it’s really important to keep that balance between training hard and having a life, because if I start focusing on skiing for too much of my day, I actually won’t ski as fast. So I loved having time in Davos to hang out with friends, meet new people and enjoy the town.

Sadie and her boyfriend Jo out for a ski!

Sadie and her boyfriend Jo out for a ski!

Out having fun on the amazing sled run in Davos!

Out having fun on the amazing sled run in Davos!

The strange "snowman terra-cotta army" in town

The strange “snowman terra-cotta army” in town

The ice skating rink in the middle of town

The ice skating rink in the middle of town

It was hard to leave Davos, but I can’t wait to race again and see another city I’ve never been to before!

Near the top of the beautiful Sertig valley ski trails

Near the top of the beautiful Sertig valley ski trails

So here we are in the Stockholm airport, on our way to Östersund, Sweden for the last World Cup races before World Championships begin! It was a relatively easy travel day and I’m excited to explore a new place and see the stadium!

 

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From Russia, with Love, face-tape, and hand-warmers.

Ok, I admit I am a little late to the blogging game! Sorry about that, but now I’m back from Russia and ready to tell you all about it!

First of all, the end of my little Seiser Alm training camp with Liz and Cork was awesome. We got a ton of fresh snow, and for the first time all year it felt like it was really winter! The skiing was amazing and Liz and I had some good interval sessions together. Cork put in some big training hours too!

Liz and I post-intervals in one of the most scenic areas to train in!

Liz and I post-intervals in one of the most scenic areas to train in!

This part of the trails looks like you're about to ski into the clouds!

This part of the trails looks like you’re about to ski into the clouds!

Predictably, my favorite part of the whole week was the day we took sleds down the groomed sled run from the top of the mountain to the town below! It was EPIC. There were bridges we zipped under and tunnels we screamed through, and we got up to 48.5 km per hour!

So excited to be on a sled! And a little nervous.

So excited to be on a sled! And a little nervous.

Liz taking a break in the powder

Liz taking a break in the powder

Liz, ready to ski some equipment down the alpine slopes to the car lot!

Liz, ready to ski some equipment down the alpine slopes to the car lot!

To get to Rybinsk, Liz, Cork and I drove to Munich where we spent the night, then flew on a charter to Yaroslavl airport. From there we took a bus for a couple hours to the sports complex, Demino, which is actually a half hour out of the city of Rybinsk. There was a hotel, cabins, dining hall and the stadium and race trails, and we were effectively in the middle of nowhere because none of us had cars!

In a weird way, I kind of liked being stuck in our cozy little cabin. We had our Russian PT friend Vadim over with some of his family and they brought wood and made a roaring fire. It was really enlightening to hear about life in Rybinsk and such a nice gesture for them to come by and make our house so nice!

The frosty riverside walk to the dining hall

The frosty riverside walk to the dining hall

The first day of training it was pretty cold (-18 C if you’d like to know) but we were super ready for it. Growing up in Minnesota taught me how to race and go skiing in the cold! I might have actually gone overboard because during training and during the race I was actually sweating. The first race day was also pretty chilly, about -16 C, and I had taped almost every inch of my face. I actually raced in a buff for the first time in years (I can’t stand having anything touch my neck when I ski but this was an exception), and I wore fleece-lined tights under my race suit. Wowzers that was a lot of clothing I had on that day.

And how about Liz’s race, huh? If you haven’t heard about her second place on the podium yet, you should go to crosscountryski.us and watch her race immediately. It was brilliant. Not only was it a personal best for Liz, but the best distance result by any US Woman ever! I am so proud of her, although I have to admit it wasn’t a surprise…I knew this was coming for a while! Liz works so crazy hard and skis with so much heart, and it was so fun to see all that hard work pay off and come through in such a good way in that 10km skate. She is one inspirational woman, and I’m so lucky to have her as a teammate!

Liz and I with some Norwegian and Swedish friends at the awards ceremony in Rybinsk!

Liz and I with some Norwegian and Swedish friends at the awards ceremony in Rybinsk!

Racing the 10km skate (photo by Salomon)

Racing the 10km skate (photo by Salomon)

Personally, I had a race that was a step in the right direction. I had set a lot of small, process-oriented goals for myself for that race and I met each of them. I was really satisfied with how I approached the race and how I mentally handled it, but the 12th place was definitely a little bit of a disappointment for me, most likely because of how well I had raced in Rybinsk 2 years ago. It’s always hard to come back to a venue when you know you can do amazing, because it’s that much more pressure to perform this time around. That said, everyone has places that for whatever reason are really good for them. You don’t pick your place, it picks you. And Rybinsk seems to be one of those places for me! The rest of the weekend picked up right where I had left off when I was racing well last year. I started skiing with confidence and drive while having fun and soaking up the energy of the stadium and the crowd. I still made some mistakes and didn’t have perfect technique or anything, but I was really happy with how I skied and it gave me a much-needed boost of confidence.

The day of the skate sprint, it was snowing. And not just a little bit…winter was making up for all of the absent snow in a single morning. So the tracks were deep and soft and a little squirrelly, especially for the qualifier! Once all the men had come through it packed down a little more, so in the heats I didn’t feel like I was floundering around on the steep climb. Through my quarter and semifinal I was riding the energy and excitement of having so many US girls in the race: Sophie, Sadie, Ida and I all qualified and Rosie was 31st, so extremely close to the heats!

I knew my Salomon boards were running fast thanks to our techs and coaches nailing the wax, and so over the top of the final climb in my quarter I tucked behind the leader and slingshoted into first going into the stadium. I won my quarter so I advanced to the semis, where I raced with Sophie. On the steep climb I hesitated, not wanting to take the lead over the hill, but the girls to my right weren’t going either so I finally committed and pushed hard over the hill into my smallest tuck, and wasn’t passed until the finishing lanes where I finished second, making it into the final.

Racing the skate sprint qualifier (photo by Salomon Nordic)

Racing the skate sprint qualifier (photo by Salomon Nordic)

Before the final, I was jogging around with the other girls and I was having the time of my life! Jennie Oeberg (Sweden), the eventual race winner, had never made a final before, and neither had Silje Slind (Norway), and it’d been a long time since I’d made a final! We all knew each other from a few years of racing together, and we were just so excited to be there in that warmup pen. We were jogging around and high-fiving each other and wishing each other luck, and it’s cool that we can be friends right up until the moment the gun goes off, and then we’re all fighting for the medals, and immediately after the race we’re congratulating each other and asking each other about how the race went. When the gun went off, I had a little bit of a rough start, getting my equipment stepped on and my pole strap loosened, which distracted me more than I should have let it. I was also feeling a little tired, and when the pack went up the steep climb I tried my hardest but couldn’t hold on, and finished 5th. I know that with the right energy I could have been in there, and that excited “fighting for the medals” feeling was such a rush! I was extremely happy with my race, and 5th place is still currently my best result on the World Cup.

Jumping up onto the 5th place podium at the awards ceremony (photo by Matt Whitcomb)

Jumping up onto the 5th place podium at the awards ceremony (photo by Matt Whitcomb)

5th seems to be the number I’m stuck on, because the next day in the 15km skiathlon (7.5 classic + 7.5 skate) I finished the same place! I got out to a good start in the classic half, and my goal was just to ski smooth and efficient, and then start moving through the field in the skate half. Sadie and I were stoked because we later learned that our exchange-pit splits were 2nd and 3rd of the day…I mean, there’s no prizes given for clipping into your skate binding fast but it’s always a funny thing to look up afterwards! In the skate half of the race, I just barely managed to hold on to the back of a pack that was moving up through the field. I would start getting dropped and then latch back on, and get a second wind, then yo-yo off the back again. But I got my end-of-the-race kick just in time to ski into 5th, just 2 seconds behind the girls lunging it out for the last podium spot. Again I had that fighting for the medals excitement, and the belief that someday I’m going to be one of the girls lunging for a medal. Liz and Kikkan have been really inspiring me, and showing us younger girls on the team that with confidence it will happen!

Ida with her "microwave gluten free brownie birthday cake"

Ida with her “microwave gluten free brownie birthday cake”

While we were in Rybinsk, Ida had her 27th Birthday! We did the best we could in the small kitchenette to bake her some brownies and, randomly, pancakes!

The crew celebrating Ida's Birthday

The crew celebrating Ida’s Birthday

So now we are back in one of our homes away from home, in Davos Switzerland. We have 2 weeks here for a training camp before World Champs, and there are a couple things I’d like to get done this week. 1.) train well and be as prepared for Worlds as I can possibly be 2.) make a new USST music video and 3.) visit my friends in the area and have a fun, relaxing week!

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