The Turkey World Junior/U23 trip has been a really great experience, despite my personal hiccups in the week. It’s been so cool to see international racing through the eyes of junior racers who are here for the first time, and it’s also really cool to continue to meet people from the other teams. It’s fun to race against girls who used to really intimidate me but are now just another person in the race, after meeting them and racing against them a couple times. However, my start to the trip was extremely shaky since I got sick on the flight to Erzurum. I had some crazy stomach bug that made me throw up, and stay nautious and a little dizzy for two days. So my race prep was anything but ideal and although I felt good the day before the race, there’s a distinct difference between feeling “racing good” and “yay-I’m-not-sick-anymore good”. I made the mistake of confusing the two and raising my hopes for the race, but regardless of how ready my body was I was simply excited to get to start instead of having to sit on the sidelines and watch! Sitting out the first two races, even with the most concrete excuse in the world, was extremely difficult for me. I battled with feeling useless and wondering why I was here if I couldn’t even race for the team. Getting sick happens and dealing with it is hard, but I finally realized that even if I couldn’t race, I could do a pretty good job of cheering and being as absolutely supportive of my teammates as possible. And that made all the difference, since it wasn’t so hard once I truly felt like I was part of the team effort here in Turkey.
However, there was one other issue besides sickness I was struggling with. The whole week I had people asking me if I was going to be racing, and if I would try to podium, and while every single comment was sincere and supportive, I felt so much pressure to perform that it got really overwhelming. It felt like a hole in my chest that got a little bit bigger every time I thought about racing. I realize that much of that pressure comes from me and that I expect more from myself than anyone else does, but no matter where it comes from, pressure still adds up fast and I started wondering when I was finally going to crack apart. Because as much as I want to be a consistent racer and have each race turn out well, at some point I’m going to have some really bad races as well as the good ones. And the pursuit race didn’t go the way I’d been hoping it would. But dealing with pressure is part of the life, part of the job, and something I need to get my head around sooner or later. It’s not going to go away, and it’ll probably build the more I race. So this week was a good learning curve for me!
I finally got to put on a bib for the U23’s last race, the 15km pursuit. The pursuit is always a fun event for me because I have a crazy history of racing skiathalons at World Juniors. In 3 events I’ve pretty much covered the spectrum of things that can happen in a race; going out too hard and dying, holding your line in a mass start, having a super good race, not holding the best line in a mass start and getting skied over, crashing, breaking a pole, getting one of the top pit-splits and also one of the very worst (I missed my pit one year and had to pull a 180 turn). So needless to say, before Saturday’s race I figured I’d probably know what to expect. Turns out I had some new experiences to add to the list instead; leading the race, and then having one of the more spectacular “hit-the-wall” moments of my life.
The first half of the race was amazing. I felt like I was skiing relaxed and smooth, and exactly where I wanted to. I stayed near the front, letting others lead and doing some pulling as well, especially on the last hill before the steep dowhnill with the sharp turn. I wanted to be able to step-turn the corner without being surrounded by athletes, so I made sure I was the first one over the top of the hill. But I didn’t feel like I pushed too hard in the altitude, and was trying to be careful since once you hit the wall at high elevation, you go downhill really fast. But despite my efforts, as soon as we started the skate half I knew something was really wrong. I simply didn’t have any energy stores left! I was in a break with an Italian and Norwegian and it looked like we had the podium locked in, and that’s when I completely fell apart. My legs went numb, I couldn’t get enough air in and the pack swallowed me up as I got passed right and left, just trying to make it to the finish line. I finished in 15th and all 3 of our U23 women got top-20’s (Sadie in 16th, Becca in 19th). But it was so hard for me in the hour after the race to feel anything but dissapointment that my body had let me down, especially after I’d put so much pressure on myself and knew that on a good day I had just as much of a chance to win as anyone in the field. And that’s when the team stepped in. I’m always so thankful that this sport really isn’t as individual as it seems, because I would have been much harder on myself if my teammates and coaches weren’t there to remind me that I was the only person there who was super bummed about the race. I skied as hard as I could, and fought till the finish line, and I can’t do anything more than that. So after a cooldown, I joined the team in cheering for the men’s pursuit race. If you know me you know that I pretty much live for cheering and facepainting my teammates, so it’s not a suprise that nothing helps me bounce back faster then getting my “outdoors voice” on!
Overall impressions of Turkey? It’s been really cool. Our setup in the hotel on a ski resort is amazing, and while there are foods I can’t describe and olives everywhere, the staff also cooks up the standards like rice and chicken. And sometimes we have the option of eating a spinach pastry thing called “observation” or pancakes labeled “a fried patty the chief ingredient of which is squash”. So yeah, there are some google translate situations happening, which makes things funnier. The hotel is above town, so we get a really good view, but unfortunately there’s also a lot of smog hovering over town and the air gets pretty toxic. The venue is about 40km away though, so the air there is much clearer. There are some cool buildings in town and mosques with super intricate tile work, and the call to prayer can be heard all the way at the venue. It’s been a great chance to see a part of the world I’d never been to before!