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The exciting new season continues! First off a skate sprint weekend along the Rhein river in Düsseldorf, Germany . In the individual sprint, I started off the day with a 10th in qualifying and then battled my way through the rounds on the narrow course to make the final. In the final, there was some bumping early on in the race but I was able to stay on my feet and make a free-skating charge at the end to take the win.

In the next day’s team sprint, I lined up with my APU teammate Sadie Bjornsen and made it through to the finals. On the first lap we had some bad luck and got stuck behind a fall, dropping us to last. We never lost faith however, kept charging and on the last lap I was able to make up a few spots and get us into the silver medal position. The first ever team sprint podium for a US sprint team!

The next weekend took us to Davos, Switzerland where the snow finally arrived and we got to contest a 15km skate on a 7.5km loop (a rarity on WC these days), and a skate sprint.

In the 15km, I had a good start early but then faded through the race, just managing to stay in the points at 27th place. It proved to be a great warm-up for the sprint however, and I was able to qualify 1st and lead through the quarters and semis to make the final.

In the final I took the lead midway through and made an aggressive acceleration over the top of the hill to break up the pack. I ended up breaking away for the win. I also got to wear the red Sprint Leaders jersey through the day, which was pretty fun!

Now we’re on to Rogla, Slovenia for the last weekend of Period 1. There’s not much snow here but the organizers are working hard to put on some good races. We’ve got a 10km classic mass-start and a skate sprint coming up!

The Full Report:

Hello everyone! It’s been another couple of exciting weeks! I have to admit that I’ve been having so much fun celebrating the good races and hanging out with my teammates that I’ve been a little delinquent in getting my Race Tails out. Here is a quick recap of the last two weekends.

Following the mini-tour in Ruka, Finland, we headed down to Central Europe to the sun! Winter had not arrived yet here either, and the first few days of training were confined to 1-3km loops of man-made snow on top of green grass!

Training in Pontresina, not much snow in the backround!

Düsseldorf Sprint Weekend

Once in Düsseldorf, the scene was pretty much the same as the previous years. Except, this time in the giant stadium attached to our hotel, the soccer field was covered with a car racing track. We got to watch the drivers test out their cars and I have to admit it was pretty fun to see them sliding the corners and revving their engines.

The car racing track inside the stadium!

On Saturday morning we awoke to pouring rain. Luckily I had all my stuff this year and packed my bag with just about every piece of ski clothing I had brought! The most exciting thing was that I had female teammates this year, three of them, which meant that we could actually ski in the team sprint for the first time!

Individual Skate Sprint

For the qualifying round I was given bib #1 for the 2nd week in a row, so with a fresh course before me, I set off around the 750m loop! I came around the first corner so fast that I almost lost my balance. Luckily, I stayed on my feet and made it around the course in less than two minutes. It was a solid burn but over so fast! I ended up qualifying in 10th position.

Thankfully the rain stopped in time for the heats. In the quarters and semis, I had decent starts, worked my way up through the pack on the back stretch and used strong finishes each time to advance.

In the final, I did not get a good start and ended up bumping skis with a couple competitors down the first straight away. After a few more bumps coming up to the first turn with fellow NA racer Chandra Crawford, I decided to settle back in the pack. As we approached Mt. Düsseldorf I noticed a narrow opening in between Chandra and the Russian, Matveeva. I went for it. A few more bumps. Over the top I managed to get myself into 2nd position. As we came off the final turn, I worked an aggressive free skate and swung wide into the outside lane. Skating low and without poles, I managed to sneak into the finish lanes just ahead of Matveeva and secured the win at the line. I let out an ecstatic yell!

Düsseldorf has one of the most fun awards presentations after the race, up on a big stage next to the course. They blasted techno music while they called up the top ten and I couldn’t help but do a little dance. After the awards were presented, they played the US National anthem and it was incredibly special to hear it out loud. I sang every word.

Doing the "running man" on the podium, a hit with the crowd!

Right away we had another important race to focus on, the team sprint. It was decided that Sadie Bjornsen and I would team up on the first team, and Holly and Ida would team up for our second team. We were all pretty excited to get in the mix!

Team Sprint

The next day we awoke to clearer skies and less wind. While the snow was much dirtier than the day before, the course was holding up well. We did some jogging to warm-up and then hit the course for a short window of ski testing before the race. I found my legs to be quite tired from the full day before.

In the semis, Sadie skied our lead off leg. Over the first few laps, we just hung contently in the pack and tried to avoid all the chaos. The exchange zones were war fields every time but we managed to make it through unscathed and in good position going into the final lap. I was able to pass a couple teams in the finish stretch to automatically advance us to the final. The pace had been fast and furious and we both hoped we had more left in the tank for the finals.

Sadie and I hung out together in the wax trailer during the short break between rounds. Sadie played it pretty calm, but disclosed to me later that she was really nervous. The funny thing is, I was too. Although, I did manage to drift off to sleep for a few minutes and dream about Santa Claus of all things.

Coming in for a tag. Photo courtesy of Holly Brooks

For the finals Sadie again skied the lead off leg. She got off to a fantastic start and was near the front when suddenly, just past the exchange zone, she got caught up behind a fall and dropped to the back. Not panicking, I chased hard once I got the tag and over the next couple laps we just tried to get back in contention. Sadie skied a fantastic last leg and got us back on to the back of the lead group, we were in 9th.

Once I got the final tag, I decided to go for it. I went wide up the first rise and around the corner and made up a couple places. While everyone seemed to relax a bit on the back stretch, I again worked the wide lane and by the time I got over Mt. Düsseldorf, I was in 4th. When we came off the final turn, I free skated like crazy again and headed for the far wide lane. This time I did manage to use a couple of pole plants and somehow managed to get us into 2nd place by the time I hit the line. Podium #2!

The first ever US Team Sprint podium!! Photo courtesy of Holly Brooks.

Sadie immediately ran over and gave me the biggest hug.  A wave of emotion surged over me.  We jumped up and down together and then our other teammates and coaches, who had been yelling like crazy for us, came over and we had a big group hug.  We all shared in the success and it made it so incredibly special!

We got to go up on stage for the awards ceremony and dance some more.  We did a special tribute dance to our teammates back in the US and took in all the atmosphere.  It was pretty fun to be watching Sadie do all this for the first time!

Later that night we all got to share a champagne toast to celebrate the good weekend!

Davos

On Monday we packed up and headed back to Davos, Switzerland. A little bit of natural snow had started falling and through the week, it would start to look more and more like winter.

I was pretty bagged for the first couple days and took it nice and easy to recover. Davos is one of my favorite places in Europe. Not only is the skiing (usually) amazing, but the town is really welcoming and cozy, and there is an incredible coffee shop called ‘Kafe Klatsch’ that is great for meeting up with our international friends.

Midweek activities included a Secret Santa poem night with our team, where we all had drawn a collegue’s name out of a hat and then wrote a poem about that person and gave them a small gift. It was good for a plethora of laughs and team bonding!

The other highlight of the week was getting a fika (coffee date) with our Swedish friends Anna Haag and Charlotte Kalla. We were discussing the early season success of the Norwegian women’s team and decided that if we were able to displace some of them from a podium spot during the weekend, we would spray champagne at the flower ceremony to celebrate.

15km Individual Freestyle

The first race of the weekend was the 15km skate individual start. Earlier in the week when it looked like there wouldn’t be enough snow, the race was going to be shortened to 10km. But the organizers did an amazing job and got the 7.5km loop ready in time for the longer distance. Over the past few distance starts here in Davos I have really struggled. So I was hoping a longer event on a slightly different course might help me break my Davos distance curse.

My plan was to start aggressive, which had worked well in Sjusjoen, and then try to maintain a steady but solid pace through the race. Without really noticing, I managed to hit this strategy right on and at the first split at 2km, I was leading the race with 49 racers through. The pace felt reasonable and I was feeling confident that I could build speed through the race. But then, only a kilometer later, as I made my way to the high point at 4km, I began to unravel. My body felt stiff and my focus started to waiver.

I kept fighting, reminding myself to work the gradual terrain, bend my legs and keep my tempo up, but I was really struggling to kick myself into the next gear. Skiing totally alone, I had to keep trying to coax myself to stay on pace and dig deeper. When I crossed the finish line, I was definitely exhausted, yet didn’t have that flop-on-the-ground, totally dead feeling I had wanted to achieve. In the end I had to settle for 27th place.

While it was my worst race of the season so far, it was still a big improvement over my other distance results here in Davos, it was still in the points and only 13 seconds out of the top 20, and I had great results from my teammates (Holly in 13th and Liz in 21st) to celebrate. I crossed it off as a successful day and turned my attention to the next day’s sprint.

Individual Skate Sprint

This time, I did not draw bib #1 for the qualifier. But I did get to wear the red Sprint Leader’s jersey for the first time this season. The sprint course would be two laps of a 600m loop and required the right pacing.

During the warm-up my legs felt pretty heavy and I was anxious about the 15km’s effects on my energy reserves. Once I started the qualifier however, I could tell the feelings were good and I set off on an aggressive first lap. As I came through the stadium for the lap, I could feel the burn setting in. I dug down and pushed hard through every transition, not letting up until I slid my foot across the line. The announcer immediately called out, “And now Randall has the new best time.”

When all the racers had finished, I had managed to stay atop the leader board by 0.11 seconds! This was the first time that I had ever qualified first and it almost made me a little more nervous than usual. I finished my cool down and then made my way into the athlete’s tent. Many of the other teams had their massage tables out with therapists working on their athletes. Meanwhile, I laid on a foam stretching mat on the floor, covered myself in jackets and fought off shivers for the next 45 minutes.

Thankfully I was able to warm myself back up again pretty quickly in time for the quarterfinals. I got off to a good start and controlled the pace from the front. I put in a little extra push over the top of the last hill and stayed in the lead to advance to the semis. The effort was hard however, and I wondered if I could handle such a pace for two more rounds!

In the semis I got off to a good start again and led the race. This time I was able to relax a little bit more on the flats and then put in another good push over the top of the climb to keep my lead and advance to the final.

The sun was just setting as we lined up for the final introductions. Just happy to be back in the final again, I gave an excited double wave to the camera and to the crowd. Then we crouched…set…BANG!

I had a decent start and came out pretty even with the other girls. We all spread out and I gradually worked my way up towards the front, but then let Matveeva take the lead around the first corner. I followed her up and over the hill. My skis were fast and I glided up next to her as we came back into the lap lane. For a second, I thought I would try and tuck in behind her, but then I got the urge to take the lead. I V2’d powerfully up alongside and as we approached the hairpin turn, I got into the lead. I took one more second to relax and then accelerated coming out of the turn. I jump skated like crazy and made sure to push over the top.

As we glided back down into the stadium, I took a quick glance over at the jumbo tron. I saw three dark figures coming down the hill together and figured that was the other skiers right on my tail. So I kept hammering, determined to stay in front.

When I burst onto the homestretch I opened up into a tall V2 and imagined the others shadows coming up beside me at any second. Finally, when I got a few meters from the line I realized there was no one coming up and got to raise my arms in celebration across the line. Another thrilling day!

I was immediately just so happy to have put together such a solid day, feeling strong through four rounds. Once I caught my breath, I did a quick interview for the TV cameras and then got to exchange hugs and high fives with my team. Suddenly I remembered that I had made that bet with Anna and Charlotte about champagne on the podium. I asked Grover if he could try and find some at the last minute and he set off on a mission.

Just before the flower ceremony, Grover reappeared with a bottle of champagne. So after they presented the flowers and the medals and our official photos were snapped, Grover snuck the bottle (slightly shaken and the cork poised) to me on the podium and I popped the cork and sprayed the champagne around. I had always seen the alpine skiers do this on the podium and I was proud to show that the cross-country skiers can celebrate a good day too!

That evening I got to share another champagne toast with my team. They really did a fantastic job of making sure all I had to think about was racing fast. I’m so grateful to have such a hard working team behind me and it is the best thing to celebrate all together! Later I got to share another toast with my Swedish friends, Anna Haag and Emil Joensson (who was also on the podium) and their families over dinner. It was a great night.

All of the hard racing and emotion caught up with me the next couple days however and I was pretty bagged again. So I just took it easy, enjoyed the good skiing, took long naps and did some Christmas shopping.

One little thing I decided to do, in celebration of the team’s great results so far this season, was to buy a small espresso machine for the team. Already it’s getting a lot of use and makes us feel a little more at home in our hotel rooms!

Yesterday we said goodbye to Davos after a very delightful early morning ski and headed on to Rogla, Slovenia for the final stop of Period I. Upon arrival, it feels like we’ve gone back to September again. It was pouring rain here today and there was even thunder and lightning this afternoon. The organizers are busy trying to piece together a course and we’re hoping the temperature will drop back below freezing!

We’ve got a 10km classic mass-start on Saturday and another (third in a row!!) skate sprint on Sunday.

More reports to come in a few days!!

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