Junior Nationals kicked off with a skate sprint under the lights Monday night at Theodore Wirth Park. It was incredible – the organization, volunteer work and trail work that went into making the event possible! There was a huge home crowd out cheering, and flood lights, lanterns and ice bucket lights along the trails. Our J1 boys were out cheering with a snare drum. And best of all….I heard my parents cheering as they got to see me race for the first time this year!
The Midwest team did really well; especially the OJ girls and J1 boys! Every year, the different regions compete for the Alaska Cup, which goes to the region scoring the most points at the end of the week. A top 20 result scores points, and the Midwest is hoping to finish in the top 3 (we seem to keep getting 4th every year!)
However, the most exciting and trash-talk inducing competition of the week is within the Midwest team – the “Muscle-man” cup, going to the age class that scores the most points for the Midwest. And after the sprint…the OJ girls are in the lead! WHOOOO! (I might be just a little excited about this since we’ve been trash talking the J1 boys, who are in a close second place).
The skate sprints were around a deceptively hard loop this year. There were no super steep climbs, but rather a long gradual one that would wear you out if you didn’t watch your pace early on in the rounds. And there were unusually long breaks in between the heats to let each age class compete, which made the day a game of details and endurance. To remain focused and race-ready from 1:45 to 7:55 pm took a lot of mental prep, and I was exhausted by the end of the day from all the warming up and cooling down and getting nervous!
The quarterfinals were, for me, the coolest part of the day because it gave me a chance to prove that in a sport some say is “individual”, there are still some sweet team tactics coming into play. I was in the quarter with Jordan, a Midwest teammate, and halfway through the heat I got a coach telling me she was in 3rd place. In the quarterfinals, only the top 2 from each heat automatically move on, and the two third place finishers with the best bibs (from qualifying) make it as “lucky losers”. Since I was bib #1 from qualifying, I knew I’d automatically make lucky loser, so when I got to the finishing stretch I slowed down and let two girls past me, thus finishing third. I still moved on to the semis, and Jordan did too, so the Midwest got another girl moving on (we put 2 into the A final and 2 in the B final).
In the final I tried to take it out fast from the get-go, and Kinsey Loan from Alaska and Elizabeth Simak from the Midwest stuck right with me till near the end. We finished 1-2-3 respectively and it was super fun to stand on the podium with girls I’m friends with and have been on ski trips with this year!
I’ve linked the Junior Olympic website HERE – it contains results, pictures, schedules and information. Our next race is Wednesday – the 5/10/15km classic mass start. Wish us luck!