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On Monday morning after the IBU Cup races wrapped up in Forni Avoltri we drove west across the entirety of northern Italy into France. Entering the Frejus tunnel not far from Torino everything was green and the temperature neared +10C. Upon exiting the 10km tunnel in France we were greeted by true winter. That side of the mountains had received plenty of snow in the last weeks and by the time we reached our hotel in Bessans, around 20m, the temperature was down to -10C. Colder temperatures were to be the trend over the course of the week, with nighttime lows as cold as -18 and typical race time temperature around -12. Nonetheless, I was happy to be in the mountains, touched by sun in the afternoons, and with no shortage of snow.

Since last weekend’s races in Forni Avoltri I’ve regained a desired energy level to allow me to keep up a full training schedule during the week and still have plenty of gas in the tank for two to three races each weekend. Despite being a relatively flat venue, the range in Haute Maurienne is tricky because there is at least 500m of pure flat terrain (and cold, slow snow) leading up to it, which makes it hard to judge the appropriate time to slow down and catch one’s breath before shooting. In easy training the shooting was going well but as I went through my pre-race intervals I noticed that I continually entered the range “too hot” to shoot well. I told myself that on race day I’d have to use better judgement on the approach.

I was conscious of my mental reminder about the range approach in the sprint race, but still didn’t manage to slow down enough before shooting. Shooting was not well controlled and I ended up missing two targets each in prone in standing. However, skiing was a huge improvement and I still managed to qualify for the pursuit race the next day. In the pursuit I had the disadvantage of starting with time gaps on either side of me, which meant that I was skiing the first lap alone, a crucial lap when many other competitors benefit from a ride with the people starting closely around them. However, I was able to keep my calm coming into the range (mostly because I hated the penalty loop, which was oblong and tired out the inside leg considerably just before the largest hill on the course, and wanted to avoid it at all costs) and proceeded to shoot clean through three stages, moving up at one point into 28th place after having started in 54th. On the last stage I entered the range and shot three shots comfortably but rushed on the last two shots, neglecting to fully settle on the target before pulling the trigger, and missed them both. I fell back about five places while in the penalty loop, but upon reaching the finish was extremely pleased with both 90% shooting on the day and a very consistent ski time in the top half of the field.

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After three races back in Europe, I feel like I’m finally starting to find my game again. The week started with a U.S.-only team time trial, which was a good reminder for my body of what it feels like to race. Although I wasn’t able to dig deep into the red zone, I felt that with a few more races I’d be comfortable doing so. And in shooting 1-1 I felt reassured that taking two weeks off from shooting wasn’t a bad thing.

On Saturday I raced in the 15km Individual race of IBU Cup 4 in Forni Avoltri. It snows each night here but strong wind the night before the race dropped pieces of the trees all over the tracks, giving the snow the appearance of stracciatella gelato. Over the course of the race I could feel the skis slowing considerably, but it was helpful to hitch a ride with a later start number whose skis were less dirty. The wind was strong and gusty in the range but I made the appropriate corrections to result in only one prone miss. There is a good sized climb leading into the range that requires some pacing, and I made the mistake of skiing hard to the top of it before my first standing, resulting in three missed shots, but I redeemed myself with clean shooting in the second standing stage. Unfortunately, four misses does damage in an Individual. On the bright side however, I felt like I was able to keep an even pace throughout the race, something I struggled with in December.

Sunday was the sprint race, half as long as the Individual but at a much faster pace. I warmed up for nearly an hour after waking up with some tightness in my muscles, and despite being a little nervous about cramping during the race, I felt better than I have in a long time, with enough snap to push at all points on the course. With only one miss in standing I managed to finish in 25th place, only about five seconds out of the top-20.
I’m excited about where things are going from here, because better results are improving my attitude and increasing my desire to continue racing in Europe. I’m looking forward to finding that groove where the racing and recovery process comes naturally, without apprehension.

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I left the U.S. on New Year’s day to make the trip back to Europe. My first races of the new year are a time trial plus IBU Cup 4 in Forni Avoltri, Italy. The organizers laid down a base of manmade snow the week before we got here and were able to open almost all of the race loops. The course has some sustained climbs but nothing steep, with long, non-technical downhills. They’re still blowing snow at night and have been building a hill in the range during the last couple of days in order to have the course race-ready by Thursday or Friday. Fresh snowfall each morning has put the tracks in good condition. I hear we’re lucky because Oberhof, site of World Cup 4, is experiencing rain and strong winds right now.

The first race is a U.S. team time trial that will be used along with the two weekend races to determine the athletes who will travel to Nove Mesto, CZE next week to complete the January World Cup team. This being my third trip to Europe in 5 months, I was able to adapt to the time change almost immediately. Physically, I’m feeling much better after some much needed rest in the U.S. followed by about 10 days of altitude training in Colorado. I’ve left the direct sun behind, but not the mountains. The venue here in Forni, in the Dolomites, is beautiful, with stark, looming peaks all around. And taking some time off from shooting–the entire two week break–seems only to have been a much needed mental break, because I’m back on the range feeling confident again. I’m looking forward to the upcoming races!

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The tracks

On Monday we made the trip from Ostersund, Sweden to Hochfilzen, Austria. As we waited for our transport in Sweden snow fell plentifully from the sky. Although it was late in its timing it was a good omen that a real winter may be to come. The start of my world cup season wasn’t the whirlwind I’d hoped for, as I was feeling quite tired by the time the races rolled around from all the training of the first three weeks on snow. Being limited to the race course for two-hour training sessions every day was tough on the legs, as Ostersund’s course is one of the most challenging on the circuit. I was grateful to have a few days of easy classic skiing before getting back to combo training here in Hochfilzen.

When we arrived on Monday night there was no snow to be seen at our elevation. Everything changed the next morning as heavy, wet snow started to fall, complicating classic waxing but putting a smile on most everyone’s face. The snow continued all day yesterday through to late afternoon today, suggesting that the lack of winter that’s plaguing most of Europe right now was just an illusion. There is characteristically a heavy, wet snowfall every time we race here, but perhaps if it all falls now we’ll get to see the sun this weekend (another treat after three weeks in Sweden with a sunset around 3pm).

Per on the range

Sara at zero

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Nearing the end of week 2 in Ostersund. The food’s getting a little repetitive but with enough variation in our routine due the un-winter-like weather patterns limiting on-snow training times and the inclusion of ping pong into our training plan, time has passed surprisingly fast. There’s less than one week remaining until the first race! And when I think back to last year when I lost all of the skin on my fingers due to frostbite, in some ways I’m grateful that it’s not -20C and also not snowing.

For the snow report…we had a brief rain shower (downpour) this afternoon, which quickly subsided and was replaced with the last of the day’s sunlight, also subsiding around 15:30. What I heard was deep, wet snow in the morning soon became glazed and fast for afternoon training. It was an easy day of classic skiing after yesterday’s modified Individual format time trial (11km instead of 15km). I’ve applied enough klister in the past week to be reminded of what it once was to be a cross-country racer, although my balance on classic skis isn’t nearly as good anymore. Unfortunately, the forecast calls for continued warm temperatures through the weekend. Every day we get closer to the races becomes one day less that we don’t have to worry what the weather does because “tomorrow might be better”.

Back to the time trial, which was the main workout for the week. I had notched down an intensity session on Monday because I was still feeling fatigue from 5 straight days of skate skiing, which is something I haven’t done since we trained in the Oberhof ski hall this summer, and even that was a special occasion. I usually make a point of giving the skate muscles a rest for at least three days a week or else I’m unable to do intensity sessions full gas. I was certainly a little unsteady for the first time carrying a rifle on the course here, but generally I had good energy throughout the entire race. I promised that I was going to work on pacing after getting creamed by Sara in the last loop of every race last year. So I did, and I didn’t lose a second until I fell face down on the ice in the last 300 meters or so of the race. Shooting was so-so with 6 misses, definitely leaving room for improvement. It was a very windy morning and I wisely chose to shoot my first standing stage left to right instead of right to left, due to a rightwards blowing wind.

The biathlon circus is setting up in Ostersund because the first IBU Cup kicks off tomorrow. We’re planning to sit out on our back porch (we’re staying in cabins at the venue) in the mild weather and watch the action. Below are a few pictures from the bottom of the 4km loop where the snow that was spread out on course was stored over the summer. You can see that there’s not much left!

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It’s the end of the first rest day in Ostersund, Sweden. Since we first arrived, the tracks have varied daily. Initially about three kilometers of trails were covered with snow that had been stored in a pile at the bottom of the hill over the summer. By midweek we were able to ski almost our full 3km race loop, with snow covering–although not groomed–on the rest of the course. However, we’ve since dealt with three nights of rainfall and although the snow still exists, the snowpack’s height above the green grass on either side of the trail is decreasing.

Nevertheless we’ve had a number of good training sessions. We spent the first two days doing a lot of shooting to remind ourselves of the range procedure on skis and shooting in the wind, which has a significant presence here in Ostersund. Some of the drills included hand-loading and relay format stages, as well as short head-to-head combos. The afternoon sessions are the only ones to have been significantly shortened from the rest of the training year. The fact that the sunset occurs before 4pm each day has no impact on afternoon training, because it’s typical here. Most of the ski trails are lit–our races are in the evening so this is crucial–and the streets are still bustling when dark falls to remind you that it’s not yet time for bed. We’ve taken to turning on all the lights in our apartment and adjusting the music periodically to keep ourselves aroused until bedtime.

Morning workouts tend to revolve around shooting and ski technique, with afternoon ones focused on recovery and strength to activate all the muscle groups at some point during the day. It’s been a great help to train every afternoon, no matter how short, because it makes the transition into evening and getting a good night’s sleep so much better. There is an IBU Cup taking place here next weekend, replacing the one originally supposed to be in Idre, but I can’t take part because it’s impossible to change the entrants now. Therefore, my first real race of the season will be the 15km Individual of World Cup 1 a week from Thursday.

Ostersund biathlon range

Ostersund's trails

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I’m on my second day of recovery since returning home from our training camp in Utah. It was one of the most productive camps I’ve had in a while—mostly because I was able to attend the entire thing—and I’m immensely pleased with the progress I made in shooting. While the entire women’s team was in attendance for the first two weeks, it was a smaller group—just the A team—for the third and final week, which allowed me to have some one-on-one time with shooting and men’s team coach Armin Auchentaller.

The tension of the camp was eased after the two trials races that took place during the second week. I was already guaranteed a spot on the December world cup team, so the races were simply more practice for me, but important practice at that as we get closer to race season and every start provides more experience. I was thrilled to have clean shooting in the first race, which put me at the top of the results list. In the second race I missed three targets and started to feel the fatigue of ‘training through’ the races rather than tapering as many of the other athletes had done, but as cleaning a race is not an everyday occurrence, I was not disappointed in my result. The week culminated in a hike up Mt. Timpanogos. Over the course of two sunny weeks prior, much of the snow had melted near the summit. But with some of the athletes tired at the end of the camp, only a small group of us continued toward the summit from the lake, making it an estimated 40 minutes away before heading back down. Our plight was not unrewarded, as we were granted a clear view of Provo from the ridge top and plenty of fun trekking through snow.

The routine during the last week of the camp continued much as the first two weeks, except that the range was much less busy and there was a little more focus on shooting, with extra drills at the beginning of every session and video analysis to watch after. Specifically I focused on a smoother trigger squeeze and less barrel movement between shots. In the middle of the week we were lucky enough to head to the Center of Excellence in Park City for a max interval session with supplemental oxygen. The intervals started off in level 3 but by the last one I was at my maximum heart rate for a sustained two minutes. Despite being tired in the muscles, I was able to push a lot harder and for longer than I would have doing intervals on the road. A few days from the end of the camp I picked up a nasty stomach bug that kept me out of training for about a day and a half, but I was able to make it out again by the last day of camp to take advantage of yet another day of perfect weather.

Supplemental O2 Intervals

Nearing the Timp summit, with Susan Dunklee

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I just wrapped up a successful first week of training in Utah with the second intensity workout since arriving at altitude last Saturday. Reaching the end of the week sore and tired, yet feeling well acclimated, I knew that the camp was off to a good start. The key consideration this camp is pacing, because I’ve got a three-week camp at altitude with two races coming up this week and plenty of other intensity combo workouts to prepare for the approaching race season. I think I’ve done a good job so far, most importantly by keeping the level 1 sessions very easy and starting intensity sessions a little more conservatively than usual. It helps that we do lactate testing every two intervals or so, in order to ensure that we’re staying within the right training zone.

I’ve seen huge improvements in my shooting speed, as well as accuracy, over the summer and early fall, and the best part is that it seems to be a natural reaction to the repetitiveness of training rather than the result of a forced or conscious effort. Since I prefer not to overload my mind with biathlon for too many hours per day, I like to restrict as much of my shooting training as possible to the range during active training hours. During the rest of the time I keep busy with alternative activities and hobbies, which are taking the place of studying, for now. But I’ve always emphasized balance and the fact that it improves focus, so I’m not ready to become strictly a “full-time athlete” and certainly continued education in the near future.

A successful combo workout is always rewarding, but some of my favorite workouts take place off of the rollerski loop. This week a four-hour bike ride on Park City Mtn. Resort topped them all. I haven’t been able to incorporate very much mountain biking into training lately, so this was a highly enjoyable and satisfying workout. I’m hoping to take advantage of the opportunity a few more times before I leave here!

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I just arrived in Midway, Utah for our last big national team training camp of the year. I was in school all through October last year and wasn’t able to attend this camp, so I’m excited to be here once again, and to see snow in the mountains! I’ll back track briefly first, however, to fill you in on the last month or so.

The day after taking my very last finals at Dartmouth, I hopped a plane to Munich, making the last flight out of Albany before the rest of the flights were cancelled due to Hurricane Irene. I missed the first two weeks of dryland training but made it in time for a week of on-snow training in the Oberhof ski hall. Before arriving in Oberhof, however, we spent a morning in Salzburg for shooting tests to measure the pressure in the butt plate and trigger, and the weight distribution in our feet. Once in Oberhof, we trained inside the tunnel every morning, working primarily on technique with a little bit of sprinting and a short time trial at the end. In the afternoons we rollerskiied, ran on the Rennsteig, or did shooting combos at the World Cup venue. The weather was great for my entire stay at the camp and I made noticeable improvements in shooting over the course of just a few days, so even with the high proportion of travel for such a short trip, it was worth it.

After returning from camp I had a few free days to sort through all of the possessions I’ve transported between school and home for the past five years, and prepared to move fully into the Lake Placid OTC. I would finally be able to work with my coaches daily without the pressure of an impending departure date on which I would have to leave them to return to school. During those first few weeks we did a few workouts side by side with the U.S. Ski Team, which was a great indicator of how training is going so far this year. It was certainly a shock to the body to be thrown into a packed block of high intensity sessions when we had been doing mostly volume and threshold intervals throughout the summer, but it was an important reminder of the psychological threshold that the athlete faces each time he or she exerts at ‘full gas’ in a race.

We’ve got one sunny day to recover after the travel here in Midway. I’m planning to head out for a run and some exploration after I get moved in.

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I drove home to gather up my school supplies before heading back to Hanover for summer term. It was probably the most relaxed stop I’ve made to my house in a while because I wasn’t coming straight from the airport and rushing to make an 8:45am class the next day. This time I planned to arrive and move in a whole day in advance. The few extra hours at home gave me time to go paddling with my mom, something I always love to take advantage of. Afterward, my mom joined me in an intensity session on the Rockwell Road up Mt. Greylock. The road is fairly steep most of the way and continues for 8 miles, although I usually only use the bottom few. We’ve done this workout so many times together that she knows exactly how far I’ll get depending on the length of the interval. She always brings along a book to read while I warm up and sometimes running shoes to jog around the top if I have especially long intervals, but no matter what she’s always been happy to help me out. Sometimes it’s just a chance for us to spend more time together. This time it was threshold classic rollerskiing instead of skating, a technique in which I’m much less efficient. Given the slower paced nature of the intervals, however, I was able to be more attentive to technique, to the extent of my knowledge of what is good or suggested.

I’m nearing the end of a high volume week with a week of less than half as many hours just around the corner. With the travel to school and walking to and fro between classes and the bookstore, I’ve spent little time off my feet and am feeling a little more worn than I would like. Nevertheless, I’m glad to be back in Hanover with plenty to do in my spare time! Now if only I could get my boots to dry out…

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