|Toblach, Italy also known as one of the most photogenic places in the world|
With momentum on my side following a string of strong domestic results and 3 years of OPA experience under my belt, I traveled to Europe this year ready for BIG things. Although I missed my goal of qualifying for the Canadian World Cups this year, I was excited for the opportunity to race in Europe and intended to make the most of it. I envisioned myself posting personal best finishes, breaking into the top 5 and maybe even fighting for a podium spot at OPA Cup Finals.
|Excited and ready to race in Italy and Germany for OPA Cup Finals (Julia Kern photo)|
Well, not to spoil things, but none of that happened. In two weeks of OPA cup racing, I broke the top 20 exactly twice. On one occasion I finished within 4 seconds of the top 12, but still far from my aspirations for the podium. I initially wondered what went wrong? What did I miss? What do I need to do differently? And how do those Euros go so dang fast?
|Arber, Germany (The drove up the mountain for the races and snow!)|
Weekend #1: Arber, Germany
Skate 15km Mass Start
Weekend #2: Toblach, Italy OPA Finals
Skate 10km Pursuit
|Race stadium in Toblach|
I still don’t know the answer to all of those questions, but with each race I forced myself to look for at least one small victory or lesson. I read once that you learn more from your failures than your successes so I was determined to learn as much as possible.
6 HACKS TO OPA CUP RACING
1. Thin to Win
I have a love/hate relationship with classic skiing. I love striding up hills with perfect kick but I start to panic as soon as my skis slip. However, the best skiers in the world prioritize speed and make even the thinnest wax job work in in their favor. For the first time, maybe ever, I decided to forego perfect grippy kick-wax in favor of slightly slip-ier, but certainly faster, skis. And it worked! I finished 17th in Arber, my best classic race at OPAs to date and within striking distance of the top 15.
|Celebrating fresh snow in Arber before the races!|
2. Mass Start Fast Start
In Europe, you go from the gun. Sprint pace, all out, hammer down. Time for me to practice throwing some elbows.
3. Embrace the Place
While I prioritize rest between races and workouts, I’ve learned that too much time in a hotel room can be as unproductive as a 4 hour ski the day before a race-both make me tired and flat. Each OPA destination offered something different from beautiful point to point skiing in Toblach to churches and wooded forests in Germany. I find I race my best when I allow myself to actually experience and enjoy the destination as much as the racing.
|Becca getting the shot!|
|Evening run in Arber|
|Church views in Toblach|
|Playing tourist for a day|
|Enjoying a taste of small town Italy|
I first noticed this in Slovenia while watching the World Cups earlier this year, but the best skiers winning races have some serious muscles. Not the lean long lady muscles you see in magazines…I’m talking busting-through-the-race-suit quads and glutes that put Glamour workouts to shame. Time to hit the gym.
|Jon Filardo aka Juan More Taco cheering for Logan Hanneman aka Big Logs during the classic race in Toblach.|
5. Finding Finesse
Despite feeling fit and strong this year, my results at OPA left me wanting more. I think some of that “little bit more” comes down to finesse. The top skiers make the most of every transition, every downhill, every corner and every second. In a U.S. SuperTour you can get away with a few mistakes and still hold on to a top ten result. At OPA Cup Finals, a few errors turn into ten places. Competing at OPA gives U.S. skiers the chance to practice that. Racing at OPA gave me 5 more opportunities to race this year and 5 more chances to work on that finesse. I may not have totally nailed it every race, but I did have moments where I knew I was skiing as fast, or faster, than the best people out there. Hopefully with a bit more practice I can turn those moments into minutes and those minutes into races.
|One of my favorite days of the year in Italy|
|A little powder play in the Dolomites|
6. Sometimes, your body says no
Despite my best effort to show up to OPAs pumped and race-ready, my body protested. In an ideal world, every race will feel awesome and reflect your best fitness and strength. But athletes, like anyone, are imperfect. Sometimes your body just gets tired. Learning to accept and then move on from the days where I don’t feel my best or where everything doesn’t go as planned is one of the biggest things I’ve worked on this year. Not every day or workout or race will be perfect but as long as I do everything in my power to put my best effort out there, the results will take care of themselves…..maybe not every day, but at least some days everything WILL come together and those days are worth very minute of suffering when your body just says no.
|One of those days….|
|But really how can you be sad in a place like this! (Elizabeth Guiney and I-photo from Julia Kern)|
|Side-trip to Seefeld, Austria host for several Winter Olympic Games|
Finally, I owe a huge shoutout to coaches and wax techs Bryan Fish, Dylan Watts, Jon Filardo and Justin Beckwith along with the National Nordic Foundation for helping make this trip possible. I also owe a big thank you to all of the Ski-A-Thon sponsors for helping support the trip! The experience would not have happened without you and the opportunity was invaluable!