So far, Ruka/Kuusamo has been a pretty nice way to open the season, all things considered! I personally had some struggles with the early races but hopefully I’ve gotten my bad luck out of the way, and it was really neat to see the team perform so well right off the bat. Highlights for me were seeing the team pull together day after day – because someone always had a great race but others may not have, and everyone took turns lifting each other up. The wax techs got right into gear, and the race highlights included Sadie skiing like a total boss, watching Kikkan snag her first classic sprint podium, and of course seeing Noah catch up to the lead pack and get the fastest time on the skate stage!
Warning: this is going to be a nice loooooong wordy post. My Dad always says he wants to hear the “blood and guts”…the details of the race and how it went down from my perspective. So, here’s a look into what was going on in my head this past mini-tour weekend!
To start off; my first race of the season? Well, the classic sprint wasn’t exactly the morning I’d been hoping for, for a couple of reasons. I actually felt fairly good while warming up, and was hoping for a chance to crack the rounds in a classic sprint, something I’ve never done before. I guess I was pretty nervous and forgot to put my poles in front of the gate, so when I started, I clipped my pole and crashed, right there in the starting gate, .05 seconds into my race. What a way to begin the World Cup season, right? 🙂 The kicker is that I actually felt pretty good for the rest of the qualifier, and charged as hard as I could, making it up the steep climb better than I ever have before. I smacked my left kneecap pretty good when I fell, so it was pulling at my concentration and focus during the sprint, but I was proud of myself for not just giving up and still pushing my hardest. Cork looked at the times and thought I probably would have made the rounds if I hadn’t crashed, so that’s a positive piece of news, although I didn’t feel so psyched about it that morning.
The really awful part of my day wasn’t actually the bad qualifier, but came instead during my cool-down. I thought it might be a good idea to do a lap of the far side of the 5km course, and practice going down the “scary corner” once. This corner is a 90 degree right hand turn, and it always looks so much worse than it is, especially when it’s iced out from everyone skidding around it. I thought I’d be conservative and slid around, but I must have caught my wax on the burm and I crashed for the second time that day – but much harder, and right on the same spot on my knee. It was the kind of crash where I just huddled over my knee for a minute, and when I got up I was shaking from head to toe, and had a sick feeling in my stomach from pain and fear that I’d just really messed something up. I’m going to straight up admit that there were tears. But when I got back to the condo, Ana our PT taped me up and confirmed that my knee was going to be just fine, just stiff, swollen and bruised, but skiable. All the girls hugged me up and I felt back to normal. 🙂 I was careful to ice every hour and keep my knee moving so the swelling would go down, and I feel so lucky to have Ana here to help – we don’t always get a PT on the road but they really save the day when we need help!
Anyways, because of my hard fall, for the first time in a long time I was truly terrified of a downhill coming up in a race. Like, I visualized going down the hill at least 20 times, and I actually walked down it the morning of the race, in a tuck, perfecting my step turn around the corner. It was so weird because I haven’t been scared of falling in a long time (I mean, come on…I fall ALL the time!) but I guess once you smack yourself a good one it takes a little while to grow a spine again. So the classic 5km was an ok race for me – not a good race, but not the worst either, just middle of the road. I had too much energy wasted on stress and I asked for way more kick than I needed. That said, it was another chance to work on my classic racing and work on making it feel more natural, the way I feel about skating. The course was 1 lap of a 5km course, with a lot of climbing that got pretty steep in places, so it was a good chance to work on standing more upright and getting right over the kick pocket. Now I need to work on the glide!
Now on to the SKATING part! Yeah! I was so happy to get in a distance skate race because till that point, I hadn’t done a single one. Zero. Nada. All our fall time trials were classic, and we had only done skate sprints, so I hadn’t gotten a chance to do what I love best yet. This course was 4 laps of a 2.5km loop, and we call it our half pipe course, because it drops down from the stadium and up a big hill, does a little lollipop around the top and drops down again. While a course built exactly to my strengths would have a lot more transitions spots and more gradual hills to do some strong V2 on, I like this course a lot for skating. Especially since we’ve been working on my V1 technique a lot this summer!
As you might imagine, after the way the mini-tour started for me, my confidence wasn’t super duper high, and I was itching for a chance to prove to myself, for my own peace of mind, that I could go hammer a good race and that I was in fact in good shape. Because I started the 10km skate with bib 46, I had a lot of people to pass and chase down, which is exactly how I like it. I got to pass 22 people, and skied back into the points with a 24th finish in the mini-tour. I got the 8th fastest time on the day, sandwiched between Kikkan (7th) and Liz (9th), which is way too cool that we all skied similar races without seeing each other. But the part that I’m proud of is that once again, something went a little haywire for me during the race, and while it rattled me for a lap, I was able to keep calm and pull it together.
I guess there’s just something about me that makes people want to step on my poles. Do I give off that vibe? “Hey, go ahead, step on me!” I suppose I do. Because around 4km, someone stepped on my left pole and yanked it off. Because I had wrapped the grip so tight around my wrist, my glove came off with it. I think I said something like “you KIDDING ME?!??” out loud, and then proceeded to flag down the coaches asking for a pole. I got one that was about the right height with a biathlon loop strap, but it wasn’t until the next lap that I had a chance to get a glove, and I didn’t want to stop on the uphill and lose the pack I was in. So, I proceeded to ski the rest of the race without a glove, which was slightly distracting as my left hand slowly froze. I would just wrap my left hand in my right on the downhill and blow on it, and yes, I realize that it was stupid and I probably should have just stopped to put on a mitten. But I was having an awesome race, I was having fun catching people and wanted to see what I could do in the final sprint-out with the pack I was with (it went well, so maybe it was worth it?). And I figured…I’m from Minnesota. I can be cold and be ok! After crossing the finish line, Sadie and Liz grabbed me (more proof of teammate love!) and pulled a mitten on my hand, and my fingers ended up just fine, after a painful thaw-out period.
So, basically, I’m really looking forward to how it’s going to feel when nothing crazy happens to me during a race – when I’m not bruised or hurting or skiing with the wrong pole. Nah, on second thought…that might be a little boring.
After the Ruka Triple, we made it a 4-stage event by adding in a strength workout after the last race. Ugh. It was hard, for sure, and we were a little tired but it’s important to maintain the strength we’ve worked so hard to build going into a long season.
Since we always hop from one venue to the next right away instead of going home for the start of the week (since it’s kind of a long trip), we usually end up spending more time at the venue than most teams. We took advantage of the extra chill time this past week and went black-light bowling! I really love doing fun things with the team, even if I sometimes granny bowl and mostly put them in the gutter 🙂
We also had some birthdays this week – Andy had the big 3.0 and Rosie turned 25 on our travel day to Lillehammer! So we celebrated and even sang to Rosie on the plane ride over. At the moment, we are just getting settled into our room here in Lillehammer, feng shui-ing the rooms around and whatnot. It’s my first time in this city, and I’m excited to do some exploring tomorrow!