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Archive for November, 2009

Beito World Cup report

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

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Cliff Notes:

The 2010 World Cup season officially begins, kicking off in Beitostolen, Norway.  With a couple encouraging tune-up races the previous weekend, I was excited to see how I would stack up against the full World Cup field.  Saturday was a 10km skate race.

A warm wind blew in overnight, turning every thing to ice, and then refroze in the morning.  The organizers chose not to re-groom which left the track pretty icy.  I started as bib #41, in the middle of the field.  Over the first lap, I focused on finding a good rhythm.  This proved to be tough on the icy tracks and slippery corners.

Heading out on the second lap I still had good energy.  I tried to pick up the pace every kilometer.  Just before the 7.5km mark I got a split I was in 2nd, that inspired me to keep charging.  A kilometer later I was in the lead and had passed the starter ahead of me. I kept the pedal down all the way to the finish and crossed as the new leader.  I got to sit in the fur-lined leaders chair once again, for a few minutes at least.  Then, as the red group began to come in, I started slipping down the list.  My final place ended up being 21st.

This was my best World Cup distance finish ever, and especially a big improvement in skate. It’s a good feeling to be competitive in the distance events as well as the sprints. Now I want to take this confidence and start getting closer to the leaders!

We weren’t able to start the relay on Sunday, as we only have 3 US women over here.  Next weekend will be a classic sprint and 10km classic in Kuusamo, Finland.  I am looking forward to testing myself in the first World Cup sprint of the season!

The Full Story:

When everyone began arriving midweek, I could feel the butterflies start to build in my stomach.  Last week’s races were a good chance to put on a bib and get the a feel for racing, but this was the real deal- The World Cup.  Even though I haven’t seen most of these athletes for eight months, I know them all too well.  Everyone looks fit and strong and with the Olympics just 2.5 months away now, expectations are high.

Liz, Morgan and I teamed up for intervals midweek on the course.  The pace was Level 3, slightly below race pace, but plenty challenging.  We took turns leading and tested out different sections.  It was really good for me to follow Liz on a few of the intervals, reminding me to stay light on my feet and keep a quick tempo. I left the workout with plenty of ques for things to work on during the race.

Thursday was an easy recovery ski in the morning and a jog in the afternoon, as well as an informational meeting held by FIS to update everyone on all the work that had been done in the off-season.  As the women’s cross-country representative to the FIS Athlete Council, I had the opportunity to address the crowd, explaining my role as an athlete rep and encouraging everyone to speak with me about their thoughts, ideas and comments on the World Cup.

Friday was back into the rat race, testing skis on the course and getting the body ready to race.    The weather started to turn midday as a warm wind blew in and by the evening, everything was starting to melt.

When we awoke Saturday morning however, the sky was clear and the temperature had cooled off.  This meant everything had turned to ice.  It was quite a treacherous trip down from our hotel to the stadium!
The organizers had decided not to re-groom in the morning, so the race trail was rock solid and icy.  This made several turns on the course pretty sketchy.

During my ski testing, the quality that became the most important was traction.  Glide was important too, but the skis that gave me the most bite into the snow were the ones I chose to race on.  After a couple short laps, it was clear which pair felt best and I was able to turn my focus to my warm-up.  I did a little longer warm-up than usual because I wanted to make sure my legs were plenty warm and supple.

I got to the start area several minutes early to check out the new layout.  TV producers had been calling for more “emotion” from the athletes before the start, so a clear sign-in board up on a platform and an interview station had been added in the start chute.  When I got to the interview station, the Norwegian TV reporter asked me a few questions, like, “we’ve heard the course is fast out there, are you nervous about the speed?”   To which I replied, “I love speed, bring it on!”

Following my interview, I advanced up to the start gate and watched the clock tick down.  5…4…3….and I went.  My first impulse was to push down on my poles and to my surprise they both sunk deep into the snow.  I almost stumbled before regaining my balance and charging on to the course.  Two skiers were just lapping through the stadium for their 2nd lap, so I chased after them.

I quickly caught the two skiers, gauged their pace for a moment and then decided to go around.  I wanted to get out with a swift start and get into a quick rhythm, but not stress too much.  The course twisted and turned through the opening kilometer and I I got a taste right away of the icy turns.  As I made my way around the course, I was thinking all about tempo and technique.

The course wound up and down through an open field and into a two-way corridor up towards the 2.5km checkpoint.  Coaches were offering spilts, but I wasn’t really hearing anything, I was too focused on trying to find my balance.

I caught a girl just before heading  into the big downhill.  For a few seconds, I thought it would be a good idea to get the draft and have a chance to relax, but she was standing pretty straight legged and I got impatient.  So I dropped down into a low tuck and went around her on the inside.

As the speed increased I could feel my cheeks actually flapping in the wind.  I came whipping into a fast hairpin turn and had to aggressively step turn to keep myself on the course.  This brought me onto the big climb.  I repeated to myself, “dance on the feet, dance on the feet,” to keep my momentum going.  The legs started to burn.

I made my way around the remainder of the 1st lap still trying to find my balance.  On several of the tight corners, I was hanging on by the skin of my teeth!!  I hadn’t caught the girl ahead of me yet but I also hadn’t been caught from behind either.  So things must be going okay.

Coming through the stadium, I looked up to see if I could catch a ride with one of the red group skiers that would be starting.  Unfortunately I came through right between two starts, and headed off for the 2nd lap about 15 seconds behind Sabina Valbusa, an Italian veteran.  I took a quick gauge of my energy, and decided I still felt pretty strong.  Now it was time to get after it.

My new strategy was to try and increase the pace every kilometer.  At about the 6km mark, there was a section of trail that was essentially two-way with just a few pine boughs marking the difference in direction.  As I sailed down towards the pine boughs, a Swiss skier came zinging around the corner from the other direction and I had to lunge wide to avoid her.  Close call!

The next kilometer was gradual terrain up and down through the open field.  I was finally starting to find a good rhythm and Valbusa was still in sight.  I powered up the far side of the field and turned back into the woods.  The coaches were around the next corner and I got a split that I was in 2nd place.  That inspired me to keep charging.

By the midpoint of the big climb, I finally caught the bib number in front of me and yelled “hup” to get a clear trail.  I stayed relaxed and focused on quick movements on and off my skis.  I got another spilt that I was now leading.  As I crested the top of the steepest part, I really set my attention on maintaining speed over the next gradual 500m.  My legs were getting stiff and I really had to focus to keep my momentum going forward.

“Last few minutes, gotta go for it,” I told myself with a kilometer to go.  I jumped skated up and over a little rise and settled back into my tuck.  I carried good speed back toward the field but barely made it around the next two icy turns.  This brought me into the final approach to the stadium.  I V2’d aggressively for a few hundred meters until I hit a stalling headwind and switched to V1.  My skis were slipping out every other stride as I jumped skated up and over the last steep.

Fans were screaming like crazy and the flags were flapping in the wind.  500m to go.  I forced myself to keep a high tempo.  After a few seconds in a tuck, it was time to give everything I had left.  I powered around the hairpin turn and sprinted down the final stretch.  A few meters before the finish line I could hear the announcer yelling my name.  I lunged across the line and skidded to a halt.  Then I heard that I was the new leader.  Cool!

It took me a few seconds to catch my breath and then I pretended to sprint over to the leader’s chair.  I figured it would be just a matter of seconds before a new leader would come in, so I quickly sat down to enjoy my couple seconds of fame.  They already had my warm-ups there, and the announcer asked me a few questions about the race.   It was pretty fun.

After a couple minutes, the FIS race secretary informed me that the next skier coming in would be taking the lead.  I was about to get up and relinquish the throne when I saw that the skier had actually not beat my time.  The secretary apologized.  I got to enjoy the chair for a couple more minutes.

Finally, Vibeke Skofterud came in and took over the lead by a minute.  I vacated the chair and headed off on my cool-down.  As I left the finish area, I thought a little bit about the race.  “It hadn’t really felt like magic out there.  In fact, the first lap had felt pretty unstable, and only the last few km’s had started to click.  I guess I’m just in good shape right now, sweet,” I thought to myself.

While cooling down, I ran into my good friend Claudia Nystad.  She congratulated me on a good race, and informed me that I had finished 24th.  “You were the top German,” she laughed.  For a second, my post race good mood dampened.  Twenty fourth didn’t sound as good as I had hoped.  Oh well.

A little later I ran into Virpi Kuitinen, and she asked me “If I too felt like Bambi out there?” I guess I wasn’t the only one that felt a little unstable during the race.

When I did finally see the results, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was actually 21st.  Then I noticed that I was less than one second out of the top 20, and I growled again.  They aren’t kidding when they say, every second counts!!

This 10km was my best ever World Cup skate distance race, and my best ever World Cup distance placing.  It’s a good feeling to finally start to feel competitive in the distance races, as well as the sprints!
After my fourth place last weekend in the 5km classic and now this good result, my confidence is growing.  I was a little disappointed to be 2 minutes out of the lead, but it’s a good start.  One step at a time!

The next day’s race was a 4x5km relay.  Unfortunately, because we only have 3 US women over here right now (Liz, Morgan and I), we were not allowed to start the relay.  It was a real bummer because I would have loved the chance to race another 5km classic on this course, especially head to head, and races are always so fun when the team is on the line!  Instead, we skied a 2.5hr easy distance classic ski.  I could hardly contain my frustration, I was so amped to race.

Immediately following the men’s race, in which we did race a team (Kris Freeman was less than 10 seconds out of the lead on the first leg!), we packed up and jumped on a bus to Oslo. Tomorrow we head to Kuusamo, Finland, the next stop on the World Cup tour.  We’ll be turning our attention to classic now, with a classic sprint on Saturday and a 10km classic on Sunday.  I can’t wait to test out everything I’ve been working on to improve in classic sprints!!

Until Finland!

Cheers,
Kikkan 🙂

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Opening weekend in Beitostolen

Monday, November 16th, 2009

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The 2010 season is underway!  After traveling to Europe on Monday, I got in a few days of training before my first race, a classic sprint in Beitostolen, Norway.  While the race wasn’t an official World Cup, there were plenty of world class skiers in attendance.  I opened up with a strong qualifying round in 7th position.  I advanced through the quarterfinals.  In the midst of the semi-finals, I went for a daring move to the inside but was shut out of the track and lost my momentum.  I struggled to get back into the race and missed advancing to the final.  My overall result was 9th place.  A satisfying start.

Race #2 of the weekend was a 5km classic.  Warm weather moved in just before the race including rain.  I chose to go on my Fischer zeros (no-wax classic skis).  I started off at a steady pace and built through the race.  Midway through I passed the bib ahead of me and could tell I was having a good one.  I charged over the 2nd half of the course and crossed the finish line as the new leader by 25 seconds.  I got to sit in the leaders chair for several minutes (to my surprise) as several top names came in.  It wasn’t until the last 5 skiers that I finally got bumped out of the lead.  My time did stand for 4th place however, just 8 seconds off the podium.  With several World Cup pros in attendance, this was a very solid distance result for me and a great way to start the season with confidence in my fitness!!

I will remain in Beitostolen for the next week, preparing for the official start of the World Cup season on Saturday with a 10km freestyle race.

Additional thoughts:
Time Flies – It seems like a flash since I was packing by bags to head home from the final World Cup race of the 2009 season, and yet here I am again, at the start of a brand new year.  Over the last eight months I have logged over 450 hours of training in preparation for this Olympic season.  The last few weeks have been an anxious wait, putting on the final touches, and wondering where my fitness would stack up with the World’s best.  Now it’s time to find out!

Hey Coach – A benefit of racing in Norway is a chance to see my former coach Frode Lillifjell who is now coaching the elite Norwegian club team, Team Trondelog.  Frode was course-side during both the sprint and the 5km races this past weekend and it was great to be able to hear what his experience has been like with the elite athletes in Norway.

Freaky health things lead to good performances? – Upon arrival in Europe last week I developed a severe case of hives due to an allergic reaction.  A few days later I have solid performances in two races.  Last year at World Championships, only a few days before my silver medal performance, I was fighting a case of shingles.  And just before I discovered the blood clot in my leg in March of ‘08, I had just wrapped up a successful week of racing at the Canadian Championships.  So hear is hoping for an ear ache this weekend.

Brown cheese please – The food here in Norway has been pretty awesome.  One of my favorite Norwegian delights is brown cheese made from cow’s milk.  It has a slightly sweet taste and goes really well with jam and bread.  Other notable food items – fish paste that comes in a tube (tastes like smoked salmon) and bread that comes with a cross-country ski star on the bag!

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Thanks for reading,

Kikkan 🙂

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