Monday, February 1, 2016

Resting and Recovering

I think of the TDS as the halfway point. It is the big "mountain in the middle", where you build a lot leading into it, and then you build a lot leading out of it. In order to keep things going strong though, there is a certain amount of rest and recovery that has to happen after eight races in ten days with a lot of travel in between. 

This year my rest and recovery sort of came in two parts. Directly following the Tour de Ski, I headed to Sieser Alm for ten days of high altitude recovery. Following the tour, I picked up a small cold that seemed to hang on for much too long, so I was doing more than my fair share of resting and recovering. In a time when some may find it stressful to miss training, I was taking advantage of the extra rest that I realized my body must have been asking for.

Sun and sleds for Liz's birthday.
Jessie and I resting, in the form of dancing under the sun.
Seiser Alm treats us really well with some delicious food!
Some amazing crust cruising!
I was lucky in that Jo got to take some time off of work and come and visit for a few days. He encouraged me to not only take the physical rest, but also take the mental rest and throw on some "fatter skis" and use gravity to my advantage. On one of those PERFECT Italian sunny days, we skied the Sela Ronda Tour, a big 30+ kilometer tour around a big beautiful chunk of rocks. It starts in Val Gardena, one of the many alpine downhill World Cup stops- and then circles around from there.

Keeping up with Jo on my nordic skis
A funny little bar mid-tour.
Sela Ronda
The big rocks we were circling around.
Believe it or not, this guy is a pretty good nordic skier!

After the 10 days of heaven, I jumped back on the World Cup Tour and headed for Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. Having done not very much training, and no intensity at all, I was feeling a little "intimidated" jumping into the World Cups in Nove Mesto. On saturday, I gathered my head and my mind back together and put together my best ever 10k skate race! It was a good reminder that things don't always need to go perfectly. Often when your body is shutting down, it is in fact smarter than you think…. and it must need the rest!

So fun to have Chelsea on the road with us- here she is on her birthday.
Rosie and I enjoying a little sun before the big snowstorm arrived.
A perfect Czech sunset!
The following day only continued in excitement. I think it is safe to say relay days are many of my teammates favorite races. Unfortunately, we were missing our 8th woman, so we were only able to start one of our relays. With a new team that we hadn't tried yet, Sophie Caldwell lead the race out. She did an incredible job, and proved to the world, and herself, she is not just a sprint racer. From there, things continued in a perfect direction, and we managed to finish second, our best ever relay finish ever! As Jessie crossed the line, we celebrated in our new achievement, but also celebrated in our new belief. Every weekend our team learns to "believe in ourselves" more, and take more chances! The spirit is high, the excitement is high, and the belief is extremely high! Not only are we having tons of fun, but we have learned to push ourselves and not fear chasing those Norwegians. As I watched our boys fight up until the final climb for a medal themselves in the relay, I got goosebumps! I am so excited and lucky to be part of this team we are building now!

Second Place! Nordic Focus photo
Striding and gliding! Nordic Focus photo
Stoked on smiles!! Nordic Focus photo.
From the Czech weekend of World Cup's, I jumped back on the plane and headed for France, my final "training break" of the season. Jo got to take another week off of work, so we headed to a new place, Les Saisies, France. I had never skied here before, and I have only heard wonderful things, so I decided to check it out. We had an amazing week of training and preparing for the final push of the season. Somehow we were lucky enough to have sunshine almost the entire time, which made for some perfect tracks, and amazing views. Les Saisies is just beside Mont Blanc… so the scenery was almost distracting sometimes. I finished the week feeling fully rested, recovered and ready to rally this final period of European racing. It is hard to believe in only three weeks, I will be jumping on a plane back to the US to prepare for the final Tour de Canada!

Good morning Mont Blanc!
Some beautiful tracks.
Jo enjoying some "ski in- ski out" from our cabin.
The Pierra Menta during one of our backcountry adventures.
Some beautiful terrain!

Jo, teaching his little "hot potato" to ski.
Mandy, Robin, and Uncle Jo :)

Dear France. Thank you for bringing winter! Yours truly.
Until then, I am jumping on the airplane, enroute to Oslo, for some of my favorite races of the year! Drammen and Holmenkollen, here we come!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

8 Goals, 10 Lessons, in 4 Varieties

I am just finally sitting down to rest, recover, and review one of the more exciting and challenging things of my life, the Tour de Ski. Much like the Tour de France, with an added amount of travel, the goal of this event is to test who is the toughest and fittest over the course of eight races in ten days across four venues throughout Europe. Having participated in this event last year for the first four races, and then dropping out… I must say I didn't really realize what I was getting myself into! The second half of the tour is when things start getting extremely challenging, so I was in for a surprise this year! I am going to share a few little fun facts about this "big battle" I just finished a few days ago.
Mission Accomplished- Top of the final climb. (Zuzana Rogers photo).
8 Goals-
1. This summer I set a goal for myself to complete my first Tour de Ski, and finish in the top 15. 

USSA photo.
2. Attack the skate races of the tour like they were my strength.

Sticking on Jessie like glue in one of the skate races.. Nordic Focus photo
3. Never let the disappointment from one race bleed into the following day's race. Every day is a fresh day.
4. Stay healthy. Traveling sometimes 6 hours between venues directly after your race truly tests your immune system and even patience sometimes… so staying healthy is key!
Packed, and ready to rally to the next venue!
5. Be diligent with my ski testing. Even though I am tired, and the waxing crew is tired, spend the extra ten minutes to really dial my skis, and not just cross my fingers and hope I made the right decision.
6. Fuel enough. Again, ten days of intense efforts means you need to pay attention to eating enough. When you become really rushed to travel to the next venue, or you arrive home and you are dog tired…. you have to remember to fuel well… because it's the only way to survive.
7. Focus on Recovery- Ice bath, massage, morning and afternoon jogs, drinking lots of fluid. In order to keep performing, I had to focus on this all day every day.

Rain suited and ready for a seriously rainy day mid-tour.
8. Stay positive during that final climb. There are only a dozen people on the World Cup Tour that were loving every second of that uphill climb… and I am not one of them. For that reason, it was my goal to stay positive in my head and never give up.

10 Lessons-
1. Pack light. Just as you unpack your bag, you are repacking to travel to the next venue… therefore having a specific "tour bag" that only has the racing necessities is key.

Living out of the tour bag.
2. Always keep your eyes up. Some days you will have amazing races, where you can't stop thinking about them. Other days you will have terrible races, and you can't stop thinking about them. But, during the tour, you have to move on to the next race, because the train keeps moving, and if you jump off, you may just miss out! I struggled with this on day one. I had one of my best sprint races ever, and missed out on making the finals by a photo finish. I had lunged too early, and that was the end of it. I spent that night not sleeping, because I just kept replaying the last fifteen seconds of that semi-final in my head. Full of adrenaline and excitement… I forgot to relax, and waisted too much energy. I realized pretty quickly that wasn't going to fly, and I just needed to look forward.

Not your most impressively timed lunge. (Nordic Focus photo).
Sprinting for the line in the semi's. (Nordic Focus photo)
3. Sleep isn't everything, but rest is. For ten days I had more nerves than maybe ever before. Right away my sleep started to suffer. I spent the first three nights of the tour wide awake in bed.. but never stressed about it. I realized that rest was the key, but that sleep would come when it needs.
4. Be patient with my recovery. While the first three days I may not have realized it, my body started getting tired quickly. Being proactive about body work, ice bathing, jogging in the morning or evening to move your muscles. All of these things become exponentially important as the tour goes on.
5. When in doubt, sit down. I am a person that loves to run around and be active between races. I had to learn this tour that I needed to focus on resting my legs when I wasn't racing. So, I spent more time in bed than normal, and avoided running around as much as possible.
Rosie, Jessie and I doing some cheering on the final day.
6. Challenge and disappointment will strike, so be ready. I had a really challenging two days in Obersdorf, Germany. The first day was a classic sprint that I was really looking forward to. Unfortunately, I took a huge tumble on one of the big downhills and slammed into the boards, scrubbing all my speed and losing a significant amount of time. I jumped back up and raced to the finish line… but falling in a sprint does not allow for qualifying. After some big disappointment, I went home and enjoyed some extra rest. Then, on day two during the 10k classic mass start, I really struggled with my skis, and dug extremely deep to finish! While frustration overtook my brain in that race, I kept reminding myself that every second counted in this tour, and I kept pushing. I crossed the line in a heap of pain and exhaustion… only to fall back in my overall placing on the tour more significantly. In two races that I would have normally looked forward to so much, I wasn't able to reach what I wanted… and that was my first lesson about dealing with disappointment during the tour… just stop thinking about it!
Obersdorf classic skiing with Jess. (Marcel Hilger photo)
pre-tumble photo. (Marcel Hilger photo)
7. Teammates allow you to dare to dream. During this tour, two of my teammates stood on the top of the podium during the week! It was amazing, and beyond exciting. But if there is one thing to learn from seeing that, it is the confirmation that you need to dare yourself to dream. You can't just hope and wait. These two girls took a chance, believed in themselves, and they got there. While Kikkan taught us that early one, these girls are continuing the tradition. As I watch them, I believe in myself, and take my own chances in races. Pushing a little harder than I think is possible!

Soph in Obersdorf winning her first World Cup. (Marcel Hilger photo).
Jess and I pushing each other early on in the tour- using a little teamwork! (Nordic Focus photo).
We are really lucky to have this team! Dagbladet of Norway wrote an article about us:
(Dagbladet photo).
8. The staff is everything! The PT's, the Massage Therapists, the Coaches, and the Wax Crew are the people making our world go round. They are constantly working to make sure everything is perfect, finding the wax day after day. By the end, everyone is dog tired, but the staff are everything! Huge thanks to these guys!
JP and Noah making a ski testing plan for the following day. Thanks JP for putting your heart and sole into making the best possible skis for us! We are lucky to have you part of our team!!
9. You can't listen to your body. After about day four, my muscles and brain started screaming "help". Everything become tired, achy, and stiff. But if there is one lesson about the tour that I realized, it is that you can't pay attention to a single feeling. Instead, you just start the race, and imagine you are fresh. This is the best way to ensure that you are giving it your best every day.

Marcel Hilger photo
Mega pain train post race!!
10. Set some goals- I set many little goals for myself during this tour. This summer I set the goal to not only finish, but to finish in the top 15… and I chased that to the end. I also set a goal to be top 10 in a skate race in Toblach. Every day I had a little goal for myself to encourage me to keep pushing in those races that were maybe my weakness, or the races that I knew were going to be a challenge. This allowed me to keep me on my toes, and keep me fighting.

Nordic Focus photo.

4 Varieties-
The cool thing about this tour is that it included all types of cross country skiing for a combined score at the end!
1. Both short and long distance (5 kilometers- 15 kilometers)
2. Both skate and Classic
3. Sprint Racing
4. Skiing up an alpine slope… uphill climbing

Cheering on Erik near the top of the hill climb.
Rosie and I enjoying some ice cream after completing the big battle.
Holy cow, what a fun experience. I can't wait until the next! I feel like I learned a season of lessons, and got a season of experience. I want to say another big thanks to the staff for making this possible for all of us! We are lucky to be able to participate in an event like this, and we are only able to compete because of the help we are given!

The Team behind THE TEAM! (Zuzana photo). 
HUGE THANKS to Zuzana Rodgers and Meg Parker for coming over and helping during this intense time. These woman worked their butts off all day!! 

From here, I have some resting and recovering up in Seiser Alm before jumping back onto the World Cup in 10 days for some relay racing in Nove Mesto!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Christmas Traverse

For the past three years, I have been spending the Christmas holiday in France with my boyfriend and his family.Since the Tour de Ski starts so closely after the holidays, it doesn't make sense to fly back to the US, and then turn around right away and fly back to Europe. So, in order to stay healthy and best prepared for racing, I have made it a tradition to join my French family instead.

Christmas Fireworks with the Maubets
Enjoying some high mountain adventures on a search for snow.
The first couple years were always hard for me, simply because the French holiday traditions are not quite the same. And when something feels different, it becomes really easy to feel lonely and homesick. But, I have realized that I have started to adjust. I just rock out to my own Christmas tunes when I go training, and have learned to really enjoy the French Food, and the Pére Noël's (Santa Clause's) different traditions. The French still decorate un sapin de noël avec des garlands et des boules. (A Christmas tree with lights and bulbs) The French also still give lots of cadeaux and love. I used to say that being away for Christmas was the hardest part of what I do… which I still agree with, but I have realized I have it pretty darn good! While I may be away from home, I am not away from family. I get to spend a few weeks away from the "focus" of ski racing, and recharge my soul with some boyfriend and family time. Jo's family and friends around Hauteville and Meribel have taken me in as if I am their own. I am incredibly lucky in fact, because I am surrounded by family overseas. While I miss the perfect skiing in the Methow Valley, and being with my parents and sister, I will be back there after ski racing!

Jo and I on Christmas Eve.

Jo's father making the US Ski Team badge look good!
My new skis, ready for chasing Jo in Valdez.
Jo, Diane and the goat on our tropical Christmas hike.
This Christmas break, things felt like a little bit of a traverse. First, we finished out final races in Toblach, Italy… so it was a bit of a long traverse back to France with Marine and Erik (9.5 hours including our minor GPS detour issues). Following that, it was a constant "traverse" to find some snow around Meribel. Unfortunately Europe hasn't really received any snow this year. We have spent all of our time chasing man-made snow around in order to get our training and racing in. So, things continued this way for the Christmas Break. So, I enjoyed some good promenades in the forest hiking and running (taking a break from chasing the snow). Snow was thin, so I took as few 1 kilometer double pole laps as possible. 

A little refuge in the mountains during my ski in Champagny.
Doing some of my training on the alpine slopes. Skiing down with Jo and the kids, and skiing back up afterwards.... creative training.
Having some fun hiking in the mountains.
perfect hiking conditions.
Jo and his amazing Christmas clients.
The new biathlon involving alpine skiing and shooting.
After five days in the "ski instructors palace" in Meribel, I headed on the train, and took a traverse towards Villard de Lans, home of my brother's girlfriend and her family. So, lucky for me, I got to celebrate a second Christmas with them, and enjoy some skiing in Autrans. Autrans is a little town, only twenty minutes from Marine's home, and it has some of the most fun skiing around central Europe. It also happens to have maybe some of the most kilometers at this time to ski on.. maybe 15k? It is impressive, all 15 kilometers are packed with people. It is more people in one place then I have ever seen at a nordic ski area. One thing is for sure, skiing is pretty popular in the Vercors! (The region around Villard de Lans)

A dream ski chasing Marine.
Smiles and sunshine all around!
Autrans traffic controller.
From here, we will take our final traverse back to "ski racing" tomorrow and the start of the famous Tour de Ski. The Tour will be starting in Lenzerheide, Swizerland… about a 6.5 hour traverse from here. I am feeling pretty excited and ready to do this Tour de Ski battle. 8 races in 10 days, in 3 different countries. Fun times to come!

Thanks to all my wonderful French family for making this holiday enjoyable despite it being a brown Christmas. And thanks to all my family back home for blowing many kisses overseas! Now, please send your snow too!!

Tour de Ski…. here we come!