World Championships Athlete Blog: Ben Lustgarten, New Experiences & Tough Decisions
This season has presented many new and amazing opportunities for me and my ski career. I was honored to qualify for the 2017 FIS World Championships this year for the US Ski Team. I also qualified for the Period III World Cup races in Otepaa, Estonia a week before the World Championships kicked off in Lahti, Finland. I think that the World Cup races would be a great warm up especially because there was a 15km classic race in both series.
We stayed in the athlete village in Vierumaki, Finland, which is about a 30-minute bus ride from the Lahti race course. From what I have seen on TV, it reminded me a lot of what I imagined the Olympics to be like, just downsized a bit, and only nordic skiing of course. I was so excited to be there and seeing the best skiers in the world and all the other teams walking around, eating in the dining area, and skiing at the venue. We had a few days of great weather and were mesmerized by the grandiose stadium. It literally was about the size of a football stadium with stands and a huge screen and stadium lights and everything!
A few days before the 30km skiathlon, Tad Elliot and I had a great morning of some level 4 skate intervals to open up the body to be ready for some fast and painful skiing. We both felt pretty good pushing each other and got excited for some World Championship racing.
Unfortunately, two days before the skiathlon, I started to feel a bit nauseous, not debilitating but just a bit uncomfortable and lost my appetite. I figured it might be from some random meat or vegetable that I ate in the dining hall. I hydrated a bit more, took some electrolytes and napped to see if more rest would help it go away. The next day it was the same, very consistent and rather uncomfortable. My energy was a bit less. I started getting nervous that I couldn’t race if I didn’t start eating more. 30km is hard enough to do when you have all engines running and feeling good, and a 30km at World Championships will take nothing less than 110% effort.
The morning of the race I felt the same, forced down a banana and half a bowl of plain yogurt thinking I’ll be ok, just a bit lighter. I warmed up, and my energy was about 60% of what it needed to be. My heart rate skyrocketed just trying to kick up the hills, and wouldn’t go down fast at all when I stopped skiing. I knew my body wasn’t in form to race at the highest level. I had to make a choice, to race on a beautiful sunny afternoon in front of thousands of excited fans at my first World Championships, or walk off the field and turn my back on what wanted all season. I chose to not race, and save what I had for the 15km classic later that week. That definitely was one of the hardest decisions I could make. I was excited to see my teammates do incredibly well against a tough field though.
I didn’t start feeling better for 2.5 more days. That made a total of 4.5 days without eating more than about 800 calories a day, if that. I ate a normal breakfast on Tuesday morning and raced the 15km classic on Wednesday. As to be expected, I felt rather empty, but my energy was much better than before. At 2km into the race, my legs felt like they were about to fall off, and my triceps burned. I knew that I couldn’t push like I normally could. So I told myself, “I have to deal with this consideration, and how can I race as fast as possible feeling this empty?” I took a small feed at 3km and felt like I was going to throw up for the next 5km. So I found I couldn’t take feeds. I tried to ski as smoothly as possibly at high level 3 because my body couldn’t tolerate level 4. I tried to be as efficient as possible considering my limitations. Kyle Bratrud passed me looking really good; I knew he was going to have a great race. That gave me a bit of a boost, knowing that my teammates were crushing it. I also heard that Erik was in the lead for a bit of the race as well. I finished in 55th, not what I wanted, but I was proud to get that result while dealing with the illness I had. I sat out the rest of the races that week due to low energy, feeling completely depleted, and resting for the World Cup races in Norway after World Championships.
It was frustrating and disheartening to sit out and not perform very well in such an important and iconic race series. However, I think the experience was amazing. I attended the opening ceremonies with Chelsea [Holmes] and some nordic combined and ski jumpers. That really made me feel that I was part of a very important and highly respected sport. I was proud to be there, looking back at all the hard work that brought me to this level. Traveling to the venue, testing skis, talking with my wax tech, doing afternoon jogs with my house mates, the nightly team meetings, rolling and stretching sessions, pre-race intervals, and the race experience was all part of such a monumental opportunity for me. I was proud to represent both my team and my country with the skiers I have been following for years. A huge thank you to NNF and the supporters for letting athletes such as myself to compete at this level. The experience really opened my eyes as to how huge this sport is in Europe, and how respected we are internationally.
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Here I am at the Sochi Olympics, I would not be here if it weren’t for the years of support I have had from the NNF.
Thank you so much!