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.
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.
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
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.
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!”).
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!
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!