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Archive for December, 2009

Rogla wrap-up

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Cliff Notes:
Final weekend of World Cup racing before Christmas wraps up in Rogla, Slovenia.  A new venue to the World Cup and to me, it was a thrilling weekend of racing.

In Saturday’s classic sprint, it was some of the most brutal conditions I have experienced—altitude, a long course, cold temps, high winds, soft tracks and blowing snow.  I gave it my best out there but unfortunately didn’t have the speed to qualify for the rounds, I finished 38th.  I still haven’t quite found my classic sprinting form yet.

Sunday’s 15km mass-start classic race was not much better.  While the conditions improved a lot (clear skies and cold tracks) I struggled physically and mentally through the six laps around the 2.5km course.  I managed to pull together a decent second half of the race to finish in 30th place.

After six weeks on the road, I am psyched to be returning home to Anchorage to spend Christmas with my family and prepare for US Nationals beginning January 2nd.

Merry Christmas!

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Rogla is the home training venue of Petra Majdic, she was everywhere!

The Full Story:
The final races of Period I of the 2010 World Cup season transpired in Rogla, Slovenia this past weekend.  Rogla is a brand new venue to the World Cup and this was my first trip to Slovenia.  Day one is a classic sprint, the longest course I have yet to encounter.  Supposedly it is only 1.4km, but it takes well over four minutes.  Day two is a 15km mass-start classic race.

For Saturday’s race, the weather is just about as bad as it gets.  It’s hovering right around –16 C (that’s 3 F), the wind is howling and it’s snowing hard.  To top it off, the organizers decide to re-groom less than an hour before start, leaving super soft tracks.  Combine that with the altitude of 5,000ft, and I know it’s going to be a tough competition.

I feel stressed and tired in my warm-up but brush off the bad feelings attributing them to nerves and the altitude.  When I step up to the start line I am psyched and ready.  As the announcer calls my name over the loud speaker, I bust onto the course.  The first few hundred meters is double-poling, slightly downhill.  Then a long gradual section that builds into the first hill.  I tell myself, “smooth urgency, build speed, glide.”  I make it up and over the first climb feeling pretty good but I know I need to pick up the pace.  I get a short rest around a sweeping right hand turn, although it’s hard to see the trail in the blowing snow and flat light.

I hit the next climb, a short steep section, and focus on a quick tempo.  The effort is setting in and I drive myself over the top and push into the next downhill.  Again, there is only a momentary rest.  I double-pole  through an S-turn section, my poles sink into the soft snow.  Then the course pitches up again as I approach the next hill.  The tracks have been washed out, but I try to keep my skis parallel anyway.  I only make it partway up the hill before I slip and have to herring-bone.

There is now only a few hundred meters left and know I have to make it hurt.  Yet, although I am sending the signals to my body to dig in, that extra gear is not there.  I’m trying to push, but I feel like I’m floundering.  It’s a long straight stretch all the way to the finish.   I frantically switch between striding, double-pole kick and double-pole to make it to the line.  As I slid my foot across the red line in the snow, I notice several racers laying on the ground gasping for air.  I skid to a halt and breath deeply while hanging on my poles.   I suddenly feel guilty that I am not lying on the ground, completely wasted from the effort.

Once I take off my skis and poles, I am ushered into an enclosed tent where the transponders are unwrapped from my ankles, a cheerful volunteer wipes the spit off my face and I get my warm-ups back on.  I leave the finish area feeling anxious. As soon as I see the look on Justin’s face, I get a sinking feeling in my stomach.  “Sorry,” he says to me and pats me on the back.  I know that means I’m out of the rounds.

Amid a whirlwind of emotions, I hang my head and slowly walk back to the wax cabin.  I have just NOT qualified for another classic sprint, the event I have been focused on improving the most for this season, and I am totally frustrated.  My hands are still unthawing from my brief turn around the course, and I opt to do my cool down on the spin bike indoors.  Then I wish Andy good luck and head back to my hotel room.  My final result is 38th, 3 seconds out of  the top 30 and 20 seconds out of the lead.

I try not to dwell on my frustration, focusing instead on staying positive for the next day’s 15km race.  I watch the rest of the race unfold on TV, envious of the other racers battling it out even though the conditions look incredibly tough.  Watching Andy (Newell) ski smoothly through the quarterfinals, semifinals and then into the A final, brightens my spirits.  Andy skis to a solid 6th place.

The wind is still howling and blowing snow as I head out for my evening run.  I have my hood pulled tight and only a sliver of my face is showing.  Midway through my run I bump into Lars and Kristina.  Kristina is beaming with good-race energy from her 24th place finish.  We had done intervals together earlier in the week and I let her know that I take partial credit for her good result.  I also feed off her energy to get further psyched for the next race.

15km mass-start classic:
When I wake up Sunday morning, the sky has cleared.  “A great day for ski racing,” I tell myself to distract my mind from pre-race nerves.  Heading over to the course, I am feeling optimistic.  It’s going to be a mass-start race and my goal is to try and hang towards the front for as long as I can.

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Apparently due to limited TV production capabilities, the race will be confined to a 2.5km loop.  That means six laps for 15km.  As I head out for my first lap around the course, my optimistic mood quickly gets flipped around after I ski the first uphill.  I feel heavy, tired and out of breath.  For the next 45 minutes, there is an epic battle going on in my head between the good voice (“Let’s race and go for it”) and the bad voice (“I’m tired, this is going to be hard,  I want to go home”).  I almost bust into tears at one point, but somehow get myself to the start line.

I’m bib #21, smack dab in the middle of the red group.  We get the 30 second command, several tense seconds go by and then we’re off.  The pace is furious from the get-go.  As we head out of the stadium and under a bridge, the whole field accordians.  My tips run into the boots of the skier in front of me and I get hit with equal force from behind.  Chaos ensues as we make our way around the first lap.

I try to keep my position near the front of the pack but the pace is furious.  I feel like I’m striding close to max speed and I still can’t keep up.  Heading up the major climb midway through the lap my mind starts to go south.  As girls scramble all around me, the negative thoughts start to overcome my mind.  I tell myself I will only ski until the end of this lap then I’m done.

By the end of the first lap I have slipped back a ways in the field, I am struggling with myself.  Somehow I manage to convince myself to start the second lap.  The pain is already setting in, I’m not skiing like I want to, and all my energy is going into keeping myself in the race, “just keep skiing,” I repeat in my head.

Entering the third lap I have settled in with a pack of skiers.  I still have fleeting thoughts that I will pull out of the race at any moment, but my mind is beginning to settle on just focusing on what’s right ahead of me.  I catch a good draft over the second half of the lap and hang on to the train through the stadium.  Justin is yelling encouragement and offering a feed of sports drink.  When I see him I feel ashamed that I am struggling to mentally commit to this race.

Heading up the first two climbs of the fourth lap, I easily move up through the group I’m with and am out in front by the highpoint of the course.  Without any extra effort, I am starting to pick up skiers ahead of me.  This encourages my spirit and my focus is narrowing.  As I make it through the 10km mark, the thoughts of quitting are leaving my mind and my attention turns to salvaging what I can of my performance.

I lead my group through the stadium and into the fifth lap.  I have found a rhythm and I try to put a little distance on those behind me.  I have clear, open snow ahead of me.  No more draft, just me.  Near the end of the fifth lap, I see the leaders cross under the bridge just before I enter the stadium.

Coming through the lap lane, I can’t remember exactly which lap I’m on.  I frantically search around for the lap counter and see the number ‘1’.  What does that mean?  Do I have just one lap to go, or do I have to complete a lap before I have ‘0’ remaining?  I decide I most likely have just one lap left and turn my attention to using everything left in the tank.  There are two skiers about 100m ahead, and I try to catch them.

I make some ground up on the first climb, but feel my triceps start to twinge near the top.  I can still keep my tempo up but I can feel my strength draining.  Heading up the major climb for the final time, my technique is falling apart and my arms are cramping, but I managed to keep a steady pace going and I’m reeling in the two skiers ahead.  I get within about 20m by the top of the hill.  There is a false flat over the top, I scream at myself to keep the pressure on.  “Use your core,” I tell myself.

I am unable to make up anymore ground on the two skiers ahead on the flats and downhills.  There is one short steep climb left, up and over the bridge, and I scamper up and over it as fast as I can.  I make up another few meters, but now it’s a 250m false flat surge to the finish.  I stride and kick and pole madly all the way to the finish, but cannot quite catch the skiers ahead.  At last I slide across the finish line and hang over my poles.  I am relieved to have made it to the finish.

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Sara Renner and I after the race, Sara commented on the race, “it was a pain train from the word go.”

It was so chaotic during the beginning part of the race, I have no idea what place I had finished.  When I see the results several hours later, I am surprised to see that I had finished 30th.  Because the beginning of the race had been such a mental struggle, I figured I was going to have another result towards the back.  So it was at least encouraging that a mediocre day was still top 30.

With the race said and done, it was time to head home, hooray!!  As soon as the men’s race ended, we packed up our stuff and drove six hours to Munich.  Then, for me, it was a short night’s sleep before catching an airport shuttle at 5am.  Since I will not be returning to Europe until after the Olympics, I am bringing all my race skis home with me, which means lugging two giant ski bags, and two duffle bags through a 22 hr schedule of travel.

There are a few hick-ups and bumps during my travel home but I make it.  It’s so good to be back.

Now that I’m back in Anchorage, I will take a few days to unwind, get over jet-lag and rest, enjoying Christmas with my family.  Then at the end of next week, racing resumes with the 2010 US Cross-country Championships, where I look forward to racing again on my home trails.  Hopefully the weather will be a little kinder this year, and we’ll have some great racing.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Cheers,
Kikkan 🙂

Let’s show some support!

Friday, December 11th, 2009

My heart goes out to the McCabe family for their terrible loss.  While I never had the pleasure of meeting Sean, I can tell from wht I’ve read and heard that he was an incredible person, a talented artist and an important member of the American ski community. I admit I was a little slow to show my support to the SEAN MCCABE MEMORIAL FUNDRAISER but I will echo Fasterskier’s call to action.   I hope you will join me in contributing to this fundraiser so that we can show support for loved members of our community!!   Let’s meet the fundraising goal by the end of the weekend!!