Monday, January 19, 2015

"Welcome to Estonia"

In all three times I have been here racing in Otepaa, Estonia- there is one song that plays over and over again in the stadium and get's stuck in my head as I ski around the courses in the "grey tint" of Estonia. This is the song called, "Welcome to Estonia". You can listen to it here:

I feel like this song just sums it up! I have always loved coming and racing in Estonia, because I feel like it "keeps me real". As a World Cup athlete, we are often racing in beautiful places, staying in cute little hotels situated in the Alps…. and sometimes I find I need a little "check". Estonia has always been that place for me. Although it is often grey, and more times than not, the sun is hidden behind layers of rain or freezing cold temperatures, it is still fun! The food may not be gourmet, but it tastes good! The Estonians are friendly, helpful, (often beautiful), and they just seem down to earth in the best way! They love their little grey home, and they are proud of it! I have a great deal of respect for that- and honestly, I love that they find their own "beauty" without the mountains, sunshine, and chaos! 

Welcome to Estonia- the view of the stadium from our bedroom window.
Soph and I found some fun and random hats in one of the two stores we could find in town.
So, as this little upbeat song gets played on repeat for the five days we generally spend here in Otepaa;  in my own way, I am always reminded of the true "pleasures" in life. 

Tech Races- best part of the week. Watching our wax tech's thrown down in a team event against all the other waxing teams!! So fun!! Here is JP all ready to go with a waxed mustache and all!

And their off!
Dream Team! Matt, Oleg and JP
OK, on to the racing! It has been a fun week of training and racing here in Estonia. First off, my best friend from home, and the continental cup leader, Rosie Brennan, arrived to join the group. She just got done crushing Nationals back home; so I have been so excited to get her over here to join us. Not to mention, I have missed my roommate and best buddy from back home. So, we have been having a little reunion this week being hotel roommates. It has been awesome to catch up with her and get all the updates about my teammates back home. 
Rosie and I running through the rainy afternoon.

Racing came quickly, beginning with the classic sprint. I had one of my better heats, and just missed qualifying onto semi's by a photo finish….. darn! As frustrating as it seems now to have two weekends missing moving on in a photo finish… I have some confidence it is coming! If at first you don't succeed… try, try again! If you want to watch, it is on youtube. My heat starts around 15 minutes:

Photo finish... soo close!
Day two was team sprinting, one of my favorite events in skiing. I love the perfect combination of both speed and endurance you need for an event like this. I have always really enjoyed team sprinting in the past, so I have been looking forward to this one for a while. Soph and I finally got to make a SODIESPECIAL team sprint, but a series of unlucky events left us standing on the side cheering on our teammates Ida and Rosie for the finals, rather than joining them. With some variable and slowing weather conditions combined with some falls… it just wasn't the magic we were capable of. But, that's ok. As with all racing, sometimes things just don't work out right. It was incredibly exciting to watch Rosie and Ida race their hearts out and finish 6th!! So impressive and fun to watch!

Always the best of crowds here! Nordic Focus photo

We now have two days of training here in Otepaa before heading to Rybinsk, Russia for next weekends period of "cold racing". Hopefully the warm weather gods will grant us one last "warm weather wish" and keep Rybinsk from freezing over!!

Happy Snow Day- FIS photo

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Tour de Ski

For the first time, I participated in the Tour de Ski… otherwise known as the "big battle". For years I have been watching this race, and dreaming of the challenge of participating in it. Never did I really realize what exactly it entailed though. I knew that there was somewhere between 7-9 races. I knew that it ended with a hill climb. And, I knew that it entailed racing in several different locations.
Dinner with the Haub's in Obersdorf- some of Erik and my WONDERFUL supporters! So wonderful to share an evening with them!
Not until starting it did I realize that it is a constant RUSH of testing, racing, sleeping, resting, packing, traveling, racing, sleeping, eating, driving, resting, racing, etc., etc.  There are very few seconds to turn your brain off, and truly relax. 

My tour roommate J.Diggs enjoying some nice views and beauty sunshine!
One of the road trips between venues. Race, come home and grab your bags, and jump in the van for a 3 hour road trip to the next venue. Fun stuff!
With such quick turnover... sometimes it just isn't worth it to unpack
The first two races of the Tour were in Obersdorf, Germany, somewhere I had never been. The French Team was friendly enough to bring Erik and I over to Germany, so we quickly jumped back into the swing of racing after a wonderful break! After a nice streak of cold, snow, and wintery conditions… conditions switched just in time to rain and tropical storm as the racing began. Although it seemed to be a constant downpour in Obersdorf, somehow we found ourselves lucky enough to never race in the rain! While it was warm, it wasn't soaking us! Obersdorf was overly exciting for me, because I had my very first top 10 of the season… in SKATE skiing. Something I wasn't even dreaming I would achieve this year, so I was pretty stoked. Starting on a good note, I was ready to "head to battle" with a smile!

Hanging out waiting for the "Tour de Ski Opening Ceremonies"

Skate Prologue in Obersdorf- Marcel Hilger Photo
Knocking Knees.. always! Marcel Hilger Photo- 10k Classic, Obersdorf
The four days of racing included:

3.3k Prologue- Obersdorf, Germany

10k Classic Mass Start- Obersdorf, Germany

Skate Sprint- Val Mustair, Switzerland

5k Classic- Toblach, Italy

Enjoying some sunshine with my buds in Val Mustair
Some Val Mustair Sprinting.
It was an exciting 5 days of traveling, racing, staying healthy and strong, and putting our best efforts down each day. I found it so fun and exciting to race, and know we were having another chance the following day!

Recovery Methods... massage, ice baths, contrast baths, stretching... and SLEEPING

Before the Tour, my coach, Flora, and I put together a plan for Period 2 of racing. This included doing the first four stages of the tour, resting in Ramsau for a week, and then racing in Estonia and Russia the following two weekends. Not knowing how the tour would go, I was excited and set with this plan. When day four of the tour came around, the 5k Classic in Toblach, I finished the race, and found myself sitting 7th overall in the Tour. Suddenly this plan I had made didn't sound so fun… I wanted to keep going! As I did my warm down, I took a step back, and thought about my goals for the season. Some of the top ones on the list revolved around early February, in Falun, for World Championships. While it seemed so tempting to keep going in this incredibly fun pursuit, the Tour de Ski, I stuck to my guns, and kept the same plan. I have many more years ahead to take on "the big beast". 

Givin' it all!
Sometimes it just feels so good to go to exhaustion!
I have watched the Tour de Ski for many years now, but I now feel like I have the true appreciation for it. I have so much more respect not only for the people that win it, but everyone that completes it!! It is incredible to watch people just tough it out, and keep fighting, day after day… when it seems impossible to have that much energy for so long! I only did four days, and it felt HARD! Not only that, all the staff are having a race of their own!! For them, they are working like crazy, driving us, going to all the meetings, and hardly getting any rest. They have our job, except without the rest and recovery! Yikes! Big thanks to you guys!

JP and I doing some testing (Anatolii Tsymbalov photo)

I am now in Ramsau, Austria trying to enjoy 5 days of rest and recovery, before jumping back into the swing of things and heading to Estonia for a sprint weekend. 

More racing to come soon!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Holiday Break

APU Christmas Fun

Growing up, Christmas was my favorite times of the year. I loved the holidays. To me, it meant family time, playing in the snow, presents, yummy meals, and lots of holiday spirit. In the Bjornsen household, we celebrate in full force! For the past two years, I have spent Christmas away from my family, and overseas. Having a french boyfriend, and his french family nearby- I have learned to appreciate the "french christmas" a bit more. While it is very different, it has become something to look forward to in a new way. They put together an amazing meal, and like Americans, surround themselves in lots of family! I learned that Santa actually comes and brings presents to children in France…. he doesn't just show up in the middle of the night when the children are sleeping. Neat!

Christmas Dinner Party at the Saquet's
Jo helping the little guy's unwrap their gifts from Santa
I asked Santa for snow.... but it didn't quite come as I was hoping.
Christmas in Meribel
Having a ten day break from racing meant that I had a small opportunity to get some "away time". I have learned my ski racing depends on being happy. Being happy means getting a little time away, and finding some time to turn my "professional/serious brain off". I am lucky to have my boyfriend living over on this side of the pond, so I get to go have a little break with him. He is always working a lot during Christmas, so it just means a lot of resting and catching up on life. There wasn't much snow in Meribel, so I was finding myself doing more hiking and jogging than normal, but it was just a nice "mental vacation". I did manage to force myself to ski once a day on the mini .5k loop of ice… but it was the hiking on dirt that I was most enjoying!
Not much snow, but a whole lot of enthusiasm! Love meeting up with my little "Meribel Ski Club buddies"
Enjoying some good wine and good food "while in France"
The awesome Meribel Ski Club girlies
Discovering some cabins in the hills while out running.
After 5 days in Meribel, I headed towards Villard de Lans, where my brothers girlfriend and her family live. Holidays are a prime time to get extremely home sick, so it was really nice to meet up with my brother. It was also really fun to meet Marine's family, who took me in and made me feel right at home! I quickly fell in love with Villard and the Dusser's! The skiing is some of the best skiing I have done, the area is really beautiful, and the people are all wonderful in Villard! There are many french biathletes and nordic skiers living in Villlard, so we were in great company as well! It is definitely a place I will go back to!
Polar Plunge...
Skiing in Autrons (just a few k's from Villard). Maybe my new favorite place in the world to ski!!
One evening we went bowling, and made bets with each other. I won my bet, so Robin (one of the skiers on the French Team) had to wax my skis for training... he is not quite as good as my French Tech on the World Cup.. but I had some good training skis!
Running through the streets of Villard with Erik and Marine
A view of town.
Marine soaking in some evening sunshine.
Interval day, getting chased by Marine
Pretending we are in the Methow for the day.
Marine's sister, Fanny, getting my fingers ready for some golden Tour de Ski days.

After five short days, Erik and I jumped in with the French team and headed to the Tour de Ski. Updates from the Tour de Ski coming soon..!!

Headed for Obersdorf with the French Squad.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Dropping Back onto Earth

It is has been some time since the last time I posted! I don't think I necessarily dropped off the face of the earth, but I definitely took a little break from the world of "inter web". So, I will take you all through a brief synopsis of Period 1 of racing, and a month of happenings. 

World Cup Openers were in Kuusamo, Finland this year with a double classic weekend. Classic Sprinting and classic 10k. With some "less than normal" weather, conditions were warm and tricky, which made for some tricky skiing and waxing conditions over the weekend. The sprint heats left me with some icing skis on the top of both hills which pulled me out of the chase. Sunday's 10k was a new try, and new conditions. JP really nailed the wax, so this time I came with a little more of a chase! 
Doing some Fischer Photo Shoots in Kuusamo with Nordic Focus
Thanksgiving looks a little different from the road.... :) :)
Soph doing some media fun
Jess taking advantage of our small oven in Kuusamo and making us some delicious banana bread!!

One week later we were back in Lillehammer, Norway, one of my favorite places to race. I have always loved racing in Norway. I just love the feeling, I love the confidence I mysteriously always find, and I just love the whole atmosphere and history behind this sport! This year we had our "mini tour" weekend here with 3 races: two distance and one sprint. The highlight from this weekend was making my first distance points in skate skiing during the 5k skate race! It was pretty darn fun!

Just having a little extra fun!
Lillehammer brought some different significance to me this year, other than just ski racing. The past 4.5 years I have been working on school at Alaska Pacific University. So, this year, Lillehammer marked as the home for my senior presentation. Because I was on the road during the time that I would normally present my "senior project" to the Anchorage Community and APU faculty; I had to instead give a "virtual presentation" over a program similar to Skype. Often the places we are staying and racing in Europe have internet…. but it is pretty iffy. It is rare you can carry a successful Skype conversation without being cut out. So, the big stress was finding a place with dependable internet in order to give the best presentation without being "cut out" to my audience back in Alaska that would be grading my project. My norwegian buddy, Celine Brun-Lie, contacted the University in Lillehammer and set me up with an incredibly friendly and helpful man, Christine, that set up a meeting room for me, and the very best internet connection. So, 7PM on Wednesday night I headed over to the University to present my project I have spent the last 8 months working on. It was so neat and special to have all my friends, family and teammates sign on from all over the world- and then also hear the audience that collected in the classroom in Anchorage!

It was so fun to spend some time with Ella Hall, my neighbor from back home in the Methow, who was over here in Norway being the most brave 17 year old ever, and going to school here!
Thank you to this awesome guy, Pete Dickinson for generously donating his PT expertise and time for three weeks! 
So, fast forward one more week, and we arrive in Davos, Switzerland for the next weekend of World Cup Racing. Again, this week is significant for another reason other than racing. This is because I signed in to my final class, turned in my final paper, and sealed the deal for being DONE WITH SCHOOL. With a little celebration, some nice gifts from my teammates, and some bricks being lifted off my shoulders, I quickly tried to focus my energy back into ski racing. With a bit of an off weekend, I missed making sprint heats by .01 seconds (too close to even imagine), and I didn't have the classic race I was capable of. I have always struggled a bit in Davos, so I wasn't dishearten; I just left the weekend looking for some more!
Marcel Hilger photo
Marcel Hilger photo

Really fun to meet some of the girls on the Russian Ski Team!!
Thanks to Liz Arky and Levi for some wonderful cheering and amazing support!!
With no snow in La Clusaz (our next stop for the World Cup), the final weekend of racing before Christmas break got relocated in Davos again- another weekend of racing on the challenging Davos courses. The final weekend would include a skate race, and a skate sprint- double skating! Determine to test out my skating again, I jumped into the 10k distance race, excited to see what I could do. I managed to "just sneak into" the points, in 29th. Still a victory for me. By the final day of racing, I was exhausted. With lots of racing in period 1, and lots of training at altitude, I was left digging for every last bit of energy in the sprint qualifier. Again, I showed up short, missing the heats by a little less than a second!! While frustrated, I finished this past weekend of racing ready for a break.

Finding something new to take my energy!
Jess singing and playing me to sleep

Thanks to this wonderful French man for some fast skis and happy times!
Fun to always have someone around to make you smile! Professor Gus, making sure JP stays on top of his stuff!
So, this meant jumping in the van with the French Team and heading west for some much needed rest and recovery in Meribel. I woke up this morning and looked outside to find all the hills brown! It is crazy, you can hardly even tell it is winter here. There is no snow anywhere. This afternoon I went for a little hike behind Jo's house in the sunshine and found people hiking around with shorts, t-shirts and walking sticks…. something I would imagine in June or July! This afternoon I will adventure up a bit higher and see if I can find a place to potentially ski. But things are looking pretty grim! It has been so sad to see the lack of snow all over Europe this winter. 

Not enough snow for much.....
The cross country skiers were lucky that we were able to race four weekends! There has been a lot of World Cup Racing cancelled in Europe so far. There are very few places with enough snow to hold a race, so I feel pretty lucky to have so many venues willing to put in a lot of extra hard work to allow the races to be pulled off. Big thanks to Davos for some incredible work…. two weekends in a row!

Not much snow in Davos- but they pulled it off really well!!
Now we all cross our fingers for some snow storms in Central Europe so that we can have the Tour de Ski, and of course all the racing after that!!

For the next two weeks I will be chasing snow around France. First I will have some time with Jo, then Christmas with his family in Hauteville, and then some time in Villard de Lans with my brother's girlfriends family. And after that? Who knows…. with this lack of snow, I have learned you can't really make so many plans!

Best Christmas and wintery wishes to everyone!! Enjoy the wonderful holidays, and I will check back in soon!
Soph and I finding some Christmas Spirit