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Following the conclusion of the World Cup racing season, I made one last stop over in Sun Valley, Idaho for the final domestic races of the winter.  With five races in 7 days, it was a busy couple of weeks.

The first race was the 30km US National Championship.  It was a challenging mass-start race of four laps around a tough 7.2km loop.  I took the lead halfway through the race and despite some gnarly cramps in the final 10km managed to take my 16th US National title.  The next four races were contested as a mini-tour, with cumulative times and an overall champion.

In the opening race, the 2.8km skate prologue, I skied to a 16 second victory in just over seven minutes.  The second race of the tour was a 10km classic mass-start with some cash bonuses up for grabs.  I skied from the front once again, taking all four preems and held off some strong challengers in the last kilometers for another victory.  After a day off we were back at it with classic sprints.  The sun was hot and the snow was slow but I felt great and skied to the win.  I did manage to get a wicked sunburn on my arms in the process.  The final race was a 4km skate hill climb up Dollar Mountain.  I started with over a minute lead, but pitted myself against the clock and skied all out to take the stage victory and the overall.  In total I won six golden belt buckles over the course of the week.  It was the perfect end to my best season to date.

Before leaving Sun Valley I got to help lead an awesome Fast and Female ski day, enjoying ski drills, dancing, yoga and healthy eating with over 70 girls.  Now the season is over and it’s officially time for some R&R.  Enjoy spring everyone!

The Full Story:

The 2010-2011 ski season has now come to a close with the final domestic races in Sun Valley, ID. Here’s a little update on how it went…

US National 30km Classic Championships

The first races contested in Sun Valley were the 50km and 30km US National Championship races. The men went first on Saturday, and endured some gnarly weather through seven laps of a challenging course. Thankfully, the weather dramatically improved for the women’s race on Sunday.

The race was mass-start with the women skiing four laps. My fellow US teammate Morgan Arritola led much of the first two laps, setting a brisk opening pace that quickly strung out the field. I took over at the end of the 2nd lap, initially planning on only leading for a few kilometers. However, the lead pack was now down to just five skiers and no one else was willing to lead.

Towards the end of the third lap, Maria Graenings (a Swedish skier skiing for University of Utah) and I began to pull away. Going into the final lap I began to feel twinges in my arms and hips of cramps coming on. I took several Coke feeds to try and stave off the cramps, but through the lap my muscles began locking up more and more.

I kept pushing the pace as Maria was still right on my tails and amazingly, junior standout Jessie Diggins was only 10 seconds behind. Up the last two climbs my arms and hips were cramping like crazy but I was still able to keep my tempo up. Heading up the “South Bench” climb in the last 2km, I was finally able to shake Maria and get a gap of 10 seconds which I held until the finish. With only one shot at a US National title this season, I was happy to take the win.For the next hour, I fought off continuing cramps and even my fingers wanted to curl up into my palms.

One down, four to go!

We got a rest day following the 30km, to prepare for the start of the SuperTour Finals 4-stage mini-tour.

2.8km Skate Prologue

With my hips and triceps still sore from the cramping, I was glad to switch to skating for the start of the mini-tour. At just under 3km, the prologue event is a challenging event to pace, especially with the altitude factor of 6600 ft.

I was the last woman to start. I used the opening kilometer on the flats to build into my pace and carried good momentum into the main stair-step climb called “Hammer.” When I hit the base of the hill I got a split that I was in the lead by 2 seconds. As I made my way up the steps, I focused on keeping a good rhythm. I got splits that my lead was increasing. The hill was tough for sure, but I came over the top quicker and feeling better than I had anticipated.

Legs definitely a little stiff, I managed to hang on around a tight, technical turn at the bottom, which was tough to navigate in the flat light conditions. I hammered the rest of the way up and over the final hill and drove hard into the finish. The race was over in less than eight minutes. When the results came in, I took the win by 16 seconds and took the lead in the overall mini-tour standings. If only all races were just seven minutes!

Two down, three to go.

10km Classic mass-start

Right away the next day we contested a 10km classic mass-start race. The men raced first and by the time we raced, the sun was coming out and the temperature was just starting to change. I opted to go on some stiffer skis for better glide.

For this race there were four preems of $100 each up for grabs at intermediate points along the course. We would be racing 3 laps of 3.3km. From the gun, I found myself at the front of the pack and even though we started at a pretty relaxed pace, no one else wanted to lead. So I settled into a good rhythm over the first lap. As we approached the first preem line, I expected some racers to come up along side and sprint for the bonus. But no one challenged and I took it. Heading into the 2nd lap, I kept the pressure on over the flats and skied with quick tempo up the climbs. For the 2nd preem at 5km, again no one challenged and I took it.

By the end of the 2nd lap I had started to open up a small gap on a couple chasers. I was still feeling good and determined to keep the pace honest. When I hit the main climb however, the effort finally started to set in. The sun had come out so my skis no longer had solid kick, and I was definitely fighting off fatigue.

The chasers were coming hard but I managed to hang on to my lead and cross the finish line for the win. I immediately collapsed into the snow and lay there for a few minutes. Man it felt good!

Three down, two to go.

There was one more rest day before the final two stages of the mini-tour, which I spent scoping out the hill climb course, hanging in town with friends and doing some shopping at the Lululemon showroom run by my good buddy Kate Whitcomb.

1.5km Classic Sprint

The Sun Valley I remembered from my first trip here 11 years ago finally showed up for the sprint with icy, frozen tracks in the morning and then turning to slow slush by early afternoon. To keep the tracks intact as long as possible, no one was allowed on course except for the coaches. So I did my warm-up without a course preview and didn’t really get a chance to completely test my skis before the start. I just had to trust our wax guys and go for it!

This time I was the first racer on course. The tracks were fast and icy. I double-poled aggressively around most of the course and then hit the climb. My skis were a little bit slick and I really had to pull with my arms to make it up and over. I almost lost my balance coming around the final turn, but made it safely to the finish. I was immediately frustrated with the way I had skied the uphill but it was good enough to head on to the quarterfinals as the top qualifier.

By the time the heats started two hours later, the icy tracks had turned to slush and it was faster to ski outside the tracks. I won both my quarterfinal and semifinals by always making a strong move on the uphill. The sun was beating down and it felt hot!

Just before the final, our wax team decided to make a last minute switch from klister skis to Zeros to try to improve the glide in the slow snow. I just had to cross my fingers that it would work!

I decided to try and take the lead from the gun and push the pace the whole way. Double-poling through the slush, I could feel the others on my tails. When I hit the climb I just started running as fast as I could go. I kept pushing all the way to the line and crossed in first. I turned around to see my roommate for the week, Chandra Crawford coming in right behind me. High five!

We then watched the men’s final and soaked up a little more sun. It finally felt like spring!

Four down, one to go!

4km Skate Hill Climb

And then finally it was down to the last race of the mini-tour, and of the season, the skate hill climb up Dollar Mountain. While I enjoyed a big lead over 2nd place, I still wanted to race all out and end the season knowing I gave it everything I had. We didn’t get to enjoy the sun like the previous day, but that might have been a good thing because the trail stayed relatively firm and fast. The men raced first.

My strategy for the race was to start off controlled, build momentum into the base of the main climb and then maintain tempo up the climb and over the final rolling bench at the top. I executed the plan well coming into the long grind and was surprised to still be feeling pretty strong halfway up. Approaching the last 50m of the saddle however, the full-body burn set in. It took extreme focus and internal coaxing to keep fighting the fatigue. Everyone was screaming and cheering and then at last the finish was in sight. Those last few meters weren’t particularly pretty, but I made it to the line and dropped down onto the snow. As I lay there, chest heaving, I could finally smile and enjoy the conclusion of the season.

Photo: Holly Brooks

The finish area was pure carnage as the bodies of spent skiers lay everywhere. My APU teammate, Kate Fitzgerald, had pushed herself so hard that she had to be escorted down on a sled! Chandra (who had skied the race in a Lady Gaga outfit) and I enjoyed some sweet tele turns to get back down the mountain. I realized that I am ready to ski downhill for a while!

The awards wrapped up just as the rain started to fall. A big thank you goes out to Rick Kappala and the SVSEF team for putting on some great races! The rest of the day was dedicated to celebrating – first with my APU team, and then with everyone – a wonderful and memorable season.

To cap off my stay in Sun Valley, I got to help lead a Fast and Female event on Sunday. We had 23 ambassadors (including 7 Olympians) leading 70 girls ages 7-19 through ski drills, dancing, yoga and inspirational stories. The sun was out, the stoke was high, and everyone left with a big smile. It was a great way to wrap up the season!

Now I’m on my way to Whistler with Chandra to participate in a Lululemon Ambassador Summit. It’s going to be a fun couple of days of inspiration and personal development before I head back to Alaska.

In the next few weeks there will be a lot of reflection and evaluation about the season, and of course planning for next year. But for now it’s time to kick back, relax and have fun!

It’s been really fun to be able to share this season with you. Thank you for all the encouragement and support! I wish you all a happy spring and cheers to going for broke again next year!

arthritis

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