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Archive for March, 2008

Hanging on the sidelines…

Friday, March 28th, 2008

Hey.  I left BC this week with high spirits after a great week of competition at Canadian Nationals and hoped to carry the momentum into the final races of the season, US Distance Championships in Fairbanks this weekend.  Unfortunately my plans have been derailed for the moment.

Near the end of my workout on Sunday, I crashed and packed into the snow pretty hard.  Other than my face tingling for several minutes I didn’t think anything of it.  My back started to get sore later that evening and has been getting sorer and tighter ever since.  Instead of racing in the classic sprints last night, I spent the evening on the couch.

This morning I headed out for a ski in hopes of getting my back to loosen up.  It did a little bit but then more pains started to appear.  I tried a little harder skiing, only to find my legs heavy and burning.  After consulting with Erik, we decided to air on the safe side and sit out tomorrow’s race.

It’s tough making the decision not to race.  On one hand it’s the end of the season and part of me feels like why not!  But then I remember it’s been a great season and there is way more to loose if I race and end up making myself worse.

So tomorrow I will cheer on my competitors and teammates, and hope to recover quickly in time for Sunday’s 30km classic.

arthritis

Canadian Nationals Update

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

 A few days ago I arrived in Squamish, BC for the 2008 Canadian National Championships.  The races are being held at the new 2010 Olympic venue, the Callahan Valley.

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A shot looking back toward the stadium from the first corner.

 

 On Sunday we raced a club team sprint in the classical style.  I teamed up with Laura Valaas and we were able to ski to the victory for Alaska Pacific University.

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Laura and I after the team sprint.

 

Today the women raced 5km classic, 2 laps of the 2.5km Olympic classic loop.  The weather was just about the worst you can have for a classic race.  Temperatures just above freezing and fresh snow falling.  I thought I was in trouble when I had no kick in the tracks going up the first hill.  So I resorted to running outside of the tracks where I was able to get a little grip.  I proceeded to run up all the hills and double-pole the flats.  While the running was not as pretty as a pure classic striding, it paid off and I won the race by 47 seconds over Chandra Crawford.  I was happily surprised with the win.

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Women’s 5km podium.  Kikkan 1, Chandra 2, Liz Stephen 3.

 

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Great American showing, 1,3,4

 

Tomorrow we race a 10km skate.

arthritis

Near Miss in Drammen

Thursday, March 6th, 2008


Race Tails Logo

March 5, 2008

2008 World Cup
Drammen, NORWAY
1.4km Classic Sprint


Cliff Notes:

Classic city sprint in Drammen, Norway. Over 50,000 people came out to watch. Snow is packed on the city streets forming a loop around a historic city church. Rock bands are playing trail-side. It’s a pretty sweet race venue.

Unfortunately I had some tough luck today. My pole strap came undone in the first 50m of my qualifying round and having to ski without my strap threw me off just enough to miss the top thirty by four tenths of a second. I finished 33rd. Otherwise my skiing felt strong.

This race concludes my 2008 World Cup season. I still have a few more weeks of racing in North America before the season is totally finished, capping it off with US Distance Nationals in Fairbanks during the last week of March.


The Full Story:

Every year Drammen, Norway hosts a classic sprint race in the middle of their city. Snow is trucked in and laid on the streets, and it’s actually clean, white snow compared to most city sprints (no gravel and ice like Stockholm). The race always happens midweek and yet there are still over 50,000 people packed along the 1.4km course that goes up and around a historic church. It’s one of the most exciting atmospheres on the World Cup tour.

I did my first Drammen sprint at the end of the 2006 season following the Olympics. It was one of the biggest crowds I’d ever seen packed into such a tight area. I didn’t qualify for the heats, finishing in 39th place, but I watched the race action from the sidelines and looked forward to another shot the following year. Last season I competed in Drammen for my second time, determined to make it into the rounds. Despite a valiant effort however, I finished 34th place, less than a second out of the top 30. Chandra Crawford (who had finished 38th to my 39th the year before) also just missed qualifying along with an Italian friend of ours, Magda Geniun. We all vowed to make it in 2008.

Coming into this year’s Drammen sprint, I was counting on the third time being the charm! The course was in the best shape I’d ever seen it, my skis were running well and I felt good about my chances. So I lined up as bib #3 and took out onto the course as if it was mine to take.

I built good momentum over the first few meters and then began to double-pole up the gradual slope that serves as both the start and finish area. I had only made it 50m up the track when my right hand pole strap came flying loose. I panicked for a second and then just gripped the pole with my whole fist. It wasn’t ideal but I continued on. I pushed hard up and over the top of the course and then quickly tried to refasten my pole strap as I headed down a long tucking section.

I thought I had it fixed when I came around the next turn and started double-poling aggressively, but my pole strap came undone again, and this time I almost lost my pole. I was able to grab it just as my hand slipped out of the strap. I kept up my momentum as best as possible, clenching the pole with a tight fist while the strap flapped wildly in the wind. I powered up and over a bridge and tried to reattach the Velcro down the other side. It was halfway on as I powered the rest of the way to the finish. I crossed the line 3rd( out of 3), 8 seconds back.

While the rest of the women finished, I jogged around the finish area listening intently to the announcer. My name began to slip down the list, but it was holding for a while in the late twenties and I thought I might still have a chance! Then finally I heard him say, “And Randall is out of the top thirty.” When results were posted, I ended up 33rd for a second time, just four tenths of a second out of the top 30. Shut down again!!! My Italian friend Magda had a similar fate, finishing 32nd. Chandra however managed to make it on in 23rd place, breaking her own Drammen curse.

This year’s Drammen result was particularly frustrating because I was skiing strong enough to get into the top 30. It just took a silly problem like my pole strap coming loose to throw me off just enough to loose the precious fractions of a second needed to advance to the rounds. I had even checked my straps (like I always do) right before the start, but I guess my strap was getting old and worn and the Velcro wasn’t strong enough anymore. Needless to say I will be replacing that strap!!!

This experience has proved to me once again the high-level of racing on the World Cup. There is no room for error. While I’ve had some incredible success this year, there is still plenty of room for improvement and many big goals to strive for.

With the conclusion of the Drammen sprint, my 2008 World Cup season has come to a close. I had originally intended to stay in Europe for two more weeks to race the Holmenkollen and Bormio World Cup distance races, but have decided to head back to North America. In two weeks I will be racing at the Canadian National Championships (on the 2010 Olympic courses) and then I will finish off my season in Fairbanks, AK at the US Distance Championships during the last week of March.

It’s been wonderful to share this year with you and I look forward to sending out the final reports in the next few weeks!

Cheers,
Kikkan 🙂

arthritis

Lahti Sprint

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

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March 1, 2008

2008 World Cup
Lahti, FINLAND
1.3km Freestyle Sprint

Cliff Notes:

World Cup action continues from Lahti, Finland with a skate sprint!  Qualified 15th to start the day. Won my quarterfinal by leading from the front.  In the semi-finals I finished a close third but because our heat was the fastest, I moved on to the A final.

In the A Final I had an okay start but got stuck in 6th place after a tangle with Marit Bjorgen on the first hill.  I waited patiently in the back and then accelerated around a hairpin turn to sling-shot myself up through the pack.  Going up and over a steep bridge, I charged into the lead going into the final uphill, where I tried to drop the field like in Rybinsk.  Unfortunately I was missing the extra gear that I had in Russia, and Chandra Crawford (Canada) was able to hang with me.

Coming back into the stadium off a fast downhill, Chandra was able to draft me and then sling-shot around with impressive speed.  I was still holding a strong second position coming around the final turn before the last 100m, when Petra Majdic (Slovenia), who had also caught up with the draft, charged into me and ended up pushing me.  The push shot me in the complete opposite direction I was going and I almost lost my balance.  Just as I was regaining my momentum, Marit Bjorgen came charging into the back of me.  She ended up falling and I came across the line in 5th place.

I was happy to make the A final today, but disappointed to miss the podium.  I was a bit unlucky to get tangled up so close to the finish.  The opportunities for freestyle sprints is few and far between, so I will have to wait until next season for my next chance.

One more classic sprint to go in Drammen, Norway on Wednesday.

The Full Story:

The spring tour of World Cup races has really shifted into high gear.  After racing in Falun last weekend, and then Stockholm on Wednesday, the tour moved to Lahti, Finland for this weekends’ races.  I have been looking forward to the Lahti races for a several weeks, to get another shot at a skate sprint (the last of three for the 2008 season).  It was nice to see upon arrival on Thursday that there was actually natural snow on the ground and that we might not have to dodge rocks this time around!

We spent our first night at the Veirimaki, the Finnish version of an Olympic training center.  While the rooms were nice and the food was not bad, it was a 30 minute drive into the race courses.  So after training on Friday morning, we opted to move to a hotel in downtown to be closer to the venue.  Lahti is a bigger city by the standards of the World Cup tour and it was fun to get out and check out the town.

Friday’s pre-race training went well.  It was fun to get reacquainted with the sprint course, and relive a few memories from my first World Championships in Lahti in 2001.  The stadium area serves as a track venue in the non-snow months, and with three gigantic ski jumps at one end, the venue really has a “big event” feel.  I kept my workout pretty short, doing a little ski testing and a few quick sprints around the critical parts of the course.

Race day
Anxious for race, I slept restlessly through the night and found it hard to choke down a bowl of porridge come race morning.  On the way out to the venue I listened to iPod, using the tunes to convert the nervous energy into positive vibes for the race.  My warm-up went well.  First, Peter and I tested three pairs of skis and found the fastest pair.  Part of the course was closed to keep the snow in good condition, so I made several trips up and down the main climb.  My body felt good and I headed to the start eager to see what I could do.

I started bib #12.  After accelerating out of the stadium, I charged up a gradual section and then up and over a steep bridge.  The snow was already loose and sugary with a layer of ice underneath, making it hard to stay on balance.  I V2’d aggressively up the next gradual section and then got thrown a little wider than expected around the hairpin turn at the far end. I stayed low and skated hard back toward the bridge.  The snow was loose and deep.  I jump skated over the top and carried a low tuck coming into the main climb.  I was able to carry good momentum into the hill with a few hard V2 pushes and then I jump-skated as hard as I could.  My legs felt a little empty of power, but I was able to make it over the top with a quick tempo.  I held a low tuck as I sailed back into the stadium and then accelerated around the final turn and sprinted for the finish.  I crossed the line in ninth place, just under three seconds back.  “Good enough,” I thought to myself.  (when all the women had finished, I ended up in 15th).

In between the qualification and the rounds, I did a short cool down ski and then headed down to the stadium to hole up in a small dressing room reserved for the athletes.  I found myself a cozy little spot on the cement floor, and laying on top of a couple jackets, I put on my iPod and closed my eyes.  My thoughts drifted between relaxing images of what I will do when the season is over and flashes of the course and how strategy might play out in the rounds.  Time passed quickly and with 30 minutes until start, I headed back out on course.

The snow on the main climb had gotten pretty chewed up during qualification, so before the heats started course workers were shoveling off the top layer of sugary snow. I had to dodge the shovels a few times as I completed my warm-up, but the snow-removal made a big difference.

With bib #15 this time, I was in the third women’s quarterfinal.  I chose middle lane #3.  The start was clean and I got off to a good start.  The two skiers to my right had a shorter line to the first corner and I had to go wide to stay even.  I sprinted hard to try and take the lead and was able to sneak in front on the inside of the next corner.  Once in the lead, I skied a strong, relaxed pace, slowing up just slightly before the hairpin and then accelerating around the other side.  I led up the main climb and then slowed again just before the tight corner at the top.  By slowing and then accelerating it caught the other skiers off guard and I was able to get enough of a lead going into the stadium to keep from being drafted off of.  I stayed in the lead all the way to the line and moved on to the semi-finals.

After getting my warm-ups on, I changed into my running shoes to jog out the lactic acid.  I had about 30 minutes until the next heat.

Lining up for the semi-final I once again took lane 3.  The gun went fired and I got off the line fast.  This time I was not able to get into the lead right away.  I hung in third for the first half of the course and then accelerated hard on the outside coming into the bridge.  I carried good momentum up and over the top and glided into the lead over the other side.  I powered up the main climb and tried my slow-then-accelerate trick around the top corner.  Chandra Crawford was not fooled by my move and as we sailed back down into the stadium she was able to get a good draft off me and sling-shot around before the corner.  I jumped in right behind her and followed her into the finish stretch.  Just as I was about to enter the lane to her right, she suddenly changed direction and cut in front of me.  I had to skid slightly and change direction to the left.  I lost a little momentum, and as I approached the finish, another racer was able to sneak up on the inside.  I ended up third.  Thankfully, our semi-final was faster, and I was able to move on to the final as a “lucky loser.”

Being the lucky loser, I got fourth lane choice, and only the two lanes on the far left were available.  I chose the inside of the two.  The introductions were quick and soon we were called to the line.  I crouched and waited for the gun.  BANG! I jumped off and accelerated.  I came out of the pine boughs even with the other racers, but because I was on the outside, I had to slip into the back of the group.  We were tightly bunched going up and over the bridge, and poles were getting stepped on all over the place.  Marit Bjorgen was just in front of me and after her pole got stepped on I got tangled with her for a brief second.  The others took off and I had to chase in sixth.

As we approached the hairpin turn, I took an extra wide line and then cut hard to the inside.  Several of the girls in front of me got thrown wide into each other and I was able to sneak up into third.  I kept accelerating hard down the hill and went for the outside again on the bridge.  Chandra was pushing wide, and Petra Majdic was going wide around her.  There was only a silver of room left to get through and I had just enough momentum to make it.  I glided into the lead over the other side.

Coming into the main climb I decided to go for it like I did in Rybinsk.  After a couple V2 pushes, I jump-skated as hard as I could.  Unfortunately I didn’t have that extra gear that I had in Russia and Chandra  was able to hang on.  This time I did not slow before the corner.  I continued hammering and skated into the downhill with a few more pushes before dropping into a low tuck.

Despite my efforts, Chandra came sailing by.  I tried to tuck in behind her but she had a lot of speed from the draft and she pulled away.  My legs were starting to give out, but I kept free-skating all the way to the turn.  I was still holding second midway around the turn when I felt a skier off to my right.  I moved over slightly to counter and then noticed a skier sneaking up on the inside.  Coming out of the turn, I started to head into one of the left lanes.  But Majdic (the skier on the inside) was now charging right into me.  While she was still a stride behind, she was trying to force me out of the way.  I held my ground, there was contact and yelling.  Then all of the sudden I got an actual push that sent me sailing across the lanes to the far right.  The push caught me off guard and I lost my balance.

Just as I regained my balance and began sprinting again, another skier collided into me from behind.  It was Marit Bjorgen.  She ended up falling and with only a few meters left, I crossed the finish line in fifth place.  When I tried to stop, I hit a patch of ice and fell to the ground.  I laid there for a minute, breathing like a freight-training, trying to figure out what had just happened.

What a crazy race!  I was in last, then in first, then leading the climb, only to be passed on the downhill. I was in second coming into the final 100m, before all the contact and pushing.  The finish line came too soon.

I was definitely disappointed to miss out on the podium, but satisfied to have been in contention.  I put out my best effort, tried to make a break and then got a bit unlucky coming into the finish. I guess that’s sprint racing!

While I didn’t reach the podium, it was still a great day for the USA!  My US teammate Andy Newell finished second, taking a place on the men’s podium.  Andy won the qualifying round by an impressive margin (almost two seconds) and skied confidently through the rounds to get his best ever World Cup finish.  Congrats to Andy for an awesome race!

With the final WC sprint race of the season coming up on Wednesday, I opted to skip Sunday’s distance race.  From Lahti we now travel to Oslo, Norway.  Wednesday’s race will be a classic sprint in Drammen.  It’s one of the most widely spectator-attended World Cups of the season, drawing crowds over 50,000, all tightly packed around the 1.4km course.   Rock bands are playing trail-side, and the large crowds make it feel like a “Superbowl” of sorts.

In my previous two attempts at Drammen, I have finished just outside the top thirty, missing qualification by tenths of a second.  I am hoping that the third time is a charm, and I will try my best to make it into the heats this year.

I look forward to sharing the story with you.

Cheers,
Kikkan 🙂

arthritis