The last few races of the season for me were big ones! In a quick two week “series”, I raced the “Sven”, a 30-kilometer individual start in Anchorage, then headed to Cable, WI for the infamous double Birkie challenge, and then finally right back up to Alaska for the Tour of Anchorage, a 50-kilometer point-to-point marathon through town. With this season being so full of uncertainty, and frankly, many disappointments from not reaching my original goals geared at World Cup level racing, this self-made marathon series was a great way to change perspective, challenge my mind and body in a lot of ways, and reconnect wth the American and Alaska ski communities.
One forgotten aspect of racing citizen racing is that you are the athlete, the coach, often the wax tech, the logistical and travel planner and more. I think after a couple years of racing World Cup, I had gotten “soft” and wasn’t used to taking on all of these roles that come with nordic ski racing—especially when you are racing some high level competitors in big, long races! Conquering these small logistical details, which often I find more overwhelming than just putting on your skis and racing hard, showed through the success of winning the Sven, classic Birkie, Tour of Anchorage and coming in a close second in the skate Birkie.
I am now up in Anchorage enjoying the endless winter by logging lots of time on the snow, dabbling in getting the running legs ready for this summer, coaching our Ski & Run club and making plans for summer field trips, and possibly jumping into some fun, spring time trials. I am so excited for what this summer of training will bring.
Photo Credit: Jen List (Tour of Anchorage).
Mountain View Ski and Run Club.
This season with the help of NNF, SMS T2, and my hometown club in Rochester, I was able to race on the World Cup in Davos, Switzerland as well as Lahti, Finland, and Falun, Sweden. All these international opportunities on the highest level of skiing are valuable experiences that I will bring into the Olympic year as I chase the goal I have had since I was 5 watching the Opening Ceremonies on our 12-inch TV with tin foil bunny ears.
Someone once said, “you either win, or you learn”. Well, I did a lot of learning this year! I started out my training year early during the COVID quarantine when I should have been recovering from the season before, and kept on pushing my limits throughout the summer and fall. I felt so good training so much and so hard that I probably flew too close to the sun and was unable to access that essential race mode when it mattered most in the winter. That race shape that comes from smart, balanced, and targeted training was missing and if you are even 1% off on the World Cup, it gets magnified on the results sheet tenfold. I am taking these lessons of overtraining into the Olympic buildup and training with the mindset of entering my peak shape for Olympic qualifying in December and January.
However, my season did end on a bright note at the Birkie Classic. Here is a recap I wrote up for that crazy day:
After a 3-burrito dinner and going to bed early, I woke up the next day at 4:45 again, sleepy, but actually feeling pretty good. As soon as I pulled into the parking lot, the snow started falling as the forecast predicted. Along with Alayna, I was getting wax support from Evan Pengelly, and I felt confident in his straightforward no BS approach and we found a good mixture of glide and kick dialing in the skis. Walking to the line, I saw Tyler Kornfield and Andy Newell marching in with skate skis and knew I had to push the pace on the climbs again to drop them before the mostly downhill second half. The race started out mellow and we soon learned that following the snowmobile live video streaming crew on the downhill and flat sections was faster than staying in the rapidly filling tracks. Peter Holmes and I switched leads a couple of times and soon it was us with Tyler impressively hanging on double poling up the climbs. I felt really good and pushed hard again on the last climb before the halfway point and established a break. I continued to push hard throughout the rolling downhills on the way back and ate my gels and drank my sports drink, just enjoying clicking off the kilometers feeling so strong for the first time in a while. Then, with 10k to go, Alayna’s dad offered me a coke feed that I promptly dropped. 400 meters later, I regretted not going back for another try as I felt the beginnings of a slow bonk coming on. “It’s only 10k, you can hang on for 30 minutes” I thought but just then it really started nuking snow and turned the kilometers into 4-5 minute slog fests. With 7k to go the snowmobile pulled over for some reason and I had a loooong solo 2k plowing through the 5+ inches alone, wondering what would happen if I passed out on the trail. With 5k to go, I almost did pass out after putting my head down tucking into a downhill. The gels and sports drink were long gone but I kept sucking at my insulated hose for the mental boost of getting a few drops of sugar. With 4k to go, I saw a spectator up ahead and after unsuccessfully yelling for food, I stopped and got a Toko drink belt cap full of water from the kind man. This water got me to 3k, where I was having trouble seeing through the snow and staying upright following the soft unsteady snowmobile tracks. I got a little mental boost from passing 2k and soon enough I was on the final kilometer. What followed was the most pathetic attempt at moving fast up the final bridge hill of all time followed by crossing the line and collapsing in the snow, asking for any and all food the volunteers had. One lucid interview with race director Ben Popp and multiple clif bars, root beers, and donuts later, I thankfully felt normal again. In the end, I had won by 7 minutes, but I was more proud of pushing through my limit again and again when my body and what was left of my brain cells was telling me to stop. I will take that momentum from a great end to an otherwise disappointing season into next year and am already looking forward to toeing the line again.
I am now settled in Ann Arbor, Michigan for the spring with my fiancé Kameron and am waiting to hear back from a local bike shop for a job opportunity. I will head back to Vermont around mid-May to start up the long training season, but I hope to come back to my hometown of Rochester during the summer at some point and lead another training clinic for the incredible ski community there. I hope this finds you healthy and enjoying the spring!
Early in the classic race.
It was pretty cool to have the opportunity to race on the World Cup and at Under-23 World Championships this year. I walk away with immense gratitude and respect for our coaching staff, wax techs, and trip organizers (some people do all of those things!). I believe the support staff is always doing more behind the scenes than we as athletes ever see, but I am guessing that this was especially true this year. I can’t imagine how many extra phone and zoom hours were logged talking about COVID-19. I am impressed with how smoothly this year went on the whole and I believe that is largely due to the dedication of our staff. Without them, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to ski my first World Cup heats and compete in my final year of U23 World Championships. Every ski season is filled with highs and lows, and like any other I appreciate the good moments and take what I can learn from the disappointing ones. Thank you to everyone who makes it possible for me to be a ski racer!
Hailey Swirbul, Alex Lawson, and me PC: dailyskier.com
World Junior Championships selfie of me and Novie McCabe.
I’ve been back in Alaska for a couple weeks now catching up schoolwork and reflecting on the season. Overall, it was an amazing winter with a lot of new experiences and exciting races. One of my highlights was racing in my first World Championships in Oberstdorf. I was super happy to be named to the team and as a starter in the classic sprint. The weather in Oberstdorf was pretty warm with temps in the 50’s and sunshine. The snow was freezing overnight and then becoming a crazy slush fest throughout the day which reminded me of so many junior races I had done at home in Truckee. I was able to qualify for the heats in 20th and Ben Ogden had a crazy qualifier coming in 11th!
The quarterfinal didn’t go very well for me as I just couldn’t keep up with the fast pace set by Bolshunov and I dropped off the back almost immediately. I came in last in my heat and finished 26th on the day. It was a solid day for my first World Champs but still a bit frustrating to be knocked out of another quarterfinal. This season I have not made it into the semifinals and it feels like moving on is starting to become more of a mental barrier than anything. I feel like I have the speed and strength to make it through but I’m lacking some of the confidence and tactics. I’m already excited to start working towards improving those things so I can take the next step. It will be challenging but I think I’m definitely ready.
The end of the season came up a lot quicker than I thought when the World Cups in Oslo and Lillehammer and I ended up going home right after the sprint in Oberstdorf. I did the Tour of Anchorage 50K which was super fun and I think there might be few more local races in Anchorage coming up so I’m pumped for those. Other than that I’ll spend this spring in the back country either touring or crust skiing and decompressing a bit so I can hit the training hard on May 1st!
More than ever, change is inevitable. This past month was no exception.
As you know, things seem to be getting back to normal and you may already be on track to get the COVID-19 vaccine soon! I hope that you do and can start to live a more “normal” lifestyle again.
Originally, this month’s plan consisted of racing in Utah, followed by the American Birkebeiner, and then a trip to Europe. Most things went off without a hitch. The races in Utah were as sunny as could be and was a hoot of a weekend! Little things like sunny days, fast race skis, and crossing paths with racing pals have taken on a new light. It has been the little things that have brought me the most joy in the past month. I have really been able to appreciate skiing for why I started racing it in the first place.
All in all, despite no European travels, it has been a great month of racing.
Last week, we flew to the Twin Cities to race the American Birkebiner. This year, unlike any year prior, the races that usually bring 10,000+ racers to Cable, Wisconsin, to all race on one Saturday, were spread out over the entire week. Thus, the 45km skate race was held on Saturday and the 45km Classic race was held on Sunday. With nothing to lose, I decided to take on both races back to back.
On Saturday, after waking up at 5am, the field of ~120 elite racers lined up to the start line at 8am. Ahead of us was a 45km course with countless climbs, twists and turns. For the first time this year, there was prize money on the line. The winner would take home $2500 and prize money. The prize money cascaded down through the top six finishers. Additionally, there were two $500 sprint bonuses at 2km and 20km. Much like in the Tour de France, first across the sprint bonus line would come away with a nice cash bonus. I knew I wasn’t likely to win the overall, and finishing in the top 6 would also be a big challenge. So, the night before the race, I said to my teammate: “I will ruin my entire race for that first sprint bonus.” And that is exactly what I did. I went out hard and raced my way to crossing that bonus line first. What a blast! I did however come off the pack and race the rest of the race alone.
Here is the link to video from the race and sprint:
Skip to 9:20 to see the sprint bonus.
Sunday was similar to the skate race, minus the sprint bonuses. We started the race at 8am with 1-2 inches of snow in the forecast. We all knew it would affect the skis and that it would be smart to draft behind the leaders for as long as possible. By the halfway point, the pack had already split apart and there was 3+ inches of snow on the ground! By the finish, there was 6 inches, and the tracks were no longer visible. It was a mess! The race took an entire hour longer than the day before (3:04 vs 2:05). It may have been the most brutal weather that I have ever raced in. Definitely a character building experience.
Finally, we finished the trip this past weekend by racing at the midwest junior regional championships at Wirth Park in Minneapolis. The three races were: skate sprint, classic 10k individual, and skate 10k individual. Finally, I had a good set of distance races and finished 2nd, 2nd, and 3rd in each race respectively.
As always, I cannot thank you enough for helping me make this year happen! I have had the time of my life and am getting to do something that I love.
In two weeks, we will compete at the final races of the season in Sun Valley, Idaho. Keep your eyes out for an email update to wrap it all up.
Sprint Bonus Winner!
Start of the 45km Skate Birkie.
My facial expression sums up nicely how I felt after 90km of racing in two days.
Last week I returned from racing in Norway to join the regional races in Sun Valley. Racing in Norway was a great experience but I looked very much forward to rejoining my team, BSF Pro and racing at altitude and in the sun. I learned a lot in Norway and racing in the Norwegian Cup was a great opportunity for me to experience the next level.
There were three races in Sun Valley, a sprint, and two distance races. I think the BSF Pro team had a really successful weekend with different team members really excelling in a variety of areas. My skate sprint was really good for me, especially sprinting. I also had two good distance races. So, I am pretty happy with my shape at the end of the season! It was so fun to be back with so many smiling faces too!
Sydney and I in Sun Valley.
Windy Race in Norway with Guro.