After our training and tune-up racing week in Gällivare, we packed our lives up, squeezed our duffels into the cargo van and trailer, and headed over to Ruka (also called Kuusamo) for the first World Cup weekend!
Ruka is what we like to call “the half pipe course” because that’s what the course outline looks like for the final stage. Just up one side, back down and up another hill again! So when we had a whole week of training before the races started, we spent some time on the flatter tourist trails so we didn’t totally wipe ourselves out.
Ruka is also home of the “ice-fog phenomenon” where it’s never obviously raining on you, but your glasses get crusted with a sheet of ice and your clothes get frosted over. It’s kind of like halfway washing your jacket every time you go flying down the big hill (at 77 kilometers an hour, according to gps, in case you’d like to know).
I also got to bake banana bread for all the techs, and it was fun for me to have a mini-kitchen for a week!
We trained for the first part of the week, and did strength at the gym in town. Then the World Cup crew started showing up, and it was like being at the first day of school all over again. I just love seeing my friends on other teams and hearing about how people’s summer was, and seeing all the familiar faces.
The wax techs and coaches also got things super dialed in. Those guys work so, so hard. And it’s all behind the scenes. But here’s a sneaky little look: there’s skis on skis on skis in that room! Mine are out of the frame but you know there’s a lineup of some wicked fast Salomon boards at Cork’s station.
The mini-tour started with a classic sprint on Friday, a 5km skate individual start (10 for men) on Saturday and a 10km classic (15 for men) on Sunday. They totaled up everyone’s times from the first two races so on the last day, you started your race however many seconds back you were from the leader of the race. Then wherever you crossed the finish line, that was your final standing in the tour, even though your time on the day for that last race may have been better or worse than your overall tour standing.
I was happier than a bluebird with a french fry when I finally, FINALLY managed to qualify for the heats in a classic sprint! I’ve been racing World Cups for 5 years now and qualified in a lot of skate sprints, but never in a classic. So it felt so wonderful to break through! I didn’t make it through to the semifinals after my quarter, but I was proud of how I skied and how I was making up time in the finishing stretch. I placed 25th that day, and it was a fun PR!
The second day, in the 5km skate, I went out of the gate charging as hard as I could. And I was in a lot of pain when I finished – I’d almost (almost, but not quite) managed to forget how much those races can hurt! I finished in a tie for 16th, and it was one of those days when I was happy with my race but also wanted more, and knew what I needed to change for future races to get there. I have a few specific technique things I’ve worked out with my coach to work on for the next skate race now!
The last day, I started the pursuit in bib 19, and to be honest I really didn’t have a good race at all. I struggled with my striding and kicking technique in some tricky conditions, and lost a lot of ground although I was proud of how I mentally handled the race. A few years ago I might have given up and mentally checked out of the race, but I stayed in it and kept fighting for every second. Which, in the end, is all you can really control – you don’t know if your body will be working at it’s best when you trip the start wand, or if your skis will be the fastest, or if someone will trip you during the race. But you can always be in control of the effort you put in, and you’re the only one who can honestly say if you gave it everything you had, mentally and physically. I aim to be able to say that after every race.
I also had a real Jessie moment out there. After crossing the finish line in the final race, my wax stuck to the fresh snow after the glazed tracks. My skis stopped, I didn’t, and I went flying forward and broke my fall (and my pole) with my right knee. And One Way poles don’t break easily. I had a big contusion on my kneecap that is almost gone by now, but for a day it looked like half a clementine on top of my knee! Pete our PT took care of me though and I’m all set to go, no lingering soreness. It was funny because I wasn’t seriously hurt at all, and girls from other teams were shaking their heads and laughing with me, saying “well, it’s not a real start to the World Cup if something doesn’t happen to Jessie!”
This is pretty cool. Andy, Simi and Liz led the charge and got the World Cup athletes together for a photo to show our support for a solution to the changing climate. This is so important to our sport because our sport is changing. Last year we raced on real snow ONCE. That’s all. One race on the whole World Cup wasn’t on man-made stuff. I’d really like to share this awesome sport we do with my grandkids someday, and I hope that will be possible.
After the races, we recovered (hello, super fun ice bath experience!) and packed up to travel to Lillehammer, Norway for the next weekend!