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Kicking off the new season…

Monday, November 15th, 2010

While I still feel young at heart, this past weekend was the kick-off of my 12th full competitive cross-country season and the beginning of my 5th year on the World Cup. There were many familiar feelings of getting back into the racing groove and also excitement for a fresh and unwritten season ahead.

Just as November was getting started I packed my bags, said goodbye to my husband and my cats, and set off on a 2-month stint on the road. It took me 31 hours to get from Anchorage to Muonio, Finland, a ski center known for one of the longest snow seasons in Europe. En route through Amsterdam and Helsinki, I reunited with my US teammates and coaches, and we settled in to our little cabins by the ski trails.

We had just a couple days of training before we got right to business with the races. First up was a 1.1km skate sprint. With 8 months since my last real ski race, I was anxious and curious to see where my race fitness would be.

1.1km Skate Sprint
The morning of the sprint I was still feeling a little sore from the travel and jet-lagged from the 11 hour time change. But despite not feeling like a rock star, I was able to lay down a fast prelim time for 2nd place in a high caliber field. It was a satisfying start and also a very real reminder of how much those sprint prelims hurt!! It took me a good 20 minutes to shake the feeling that I might hurl at any second and to clear the searing lactic acid from my legs.

We had the standard 1.5 hr break until the quarterfinals started and since we are staying right at the trails, I put my feet up and occupied my mind with Dumb and Dumber on my iPad. Just a short reprieve and then it was back out onto the skis.

As I warmed up for the quarterfinals, I thought about strategy. Snow had been falling all morning, making the course soft. I decided that, with a big climb right out of the start, and a narrow course without many good places to pass, my strategy would be to try and lead from the start. I was also anxious to test out my endurance and I wanted to be pushing the pace every round.

In the quarterfinals I was able to grab the lead going up the first climb and control the race from there. My body had gone a little sleepy during the break and the 3+ minute trip around the course was a painful wake-up call. However, I held the lead and advanced to the semi’s.

In the semi-finals I was up against two of my Italian friends, both seasoned World Cup veterans. I took the lead once again going up the first climb. I could feel them close behind me the whole way around the course and when we came into the final uphill, I stumbled and almost lost the lead. I pulled it back together in the nick of time, held my line and stayed in front to advance to the final.

The start list for the final round of the day could easily have been a World Championships or Olympic Final–Petra Majdic, Justyna Kowalczyk, Arianna Follis, Magda Geniun, Pirjo Muranen and myself. An unbelievable way to start the season! I decided to go with my same strategy and went for the lead immediately from the gun. I got into the front going up the first climb and focused on light and quick movements.

The others were hot on my heels and I knew they would be looking to pass at any opportunity. So I focused on pushing the pace and not giving an inch. As we came into the final uphill, I could feel Majdic in my draft and felt her try to make a move. I countered with a burst of speed and held my line through the S-turn and up the hill, carrying speed over the top. I was able to take best line into the final sweeping turn and with a super short finish stretch I held the lead to the line to win the race.

It felt good to win. I hadn’t been sure of how I might perform in these first few races and I was pleasantly surprised to come out strong without intentionally having sharpened my race fitness. While it’s hard to put too much stock in these early races, the sprint win was a good confidence boost. The next day I would get my chance to test out my distance racing.

5km Classic
The next day the snow stopped, the tracks firmed up and we contested a 5km classic race. Five kilometers is not a distance we get to race individually very often and it’s the type of event where you have to be ready to go hard from the start!!

The waxing proved to be a little tricky as the humidity in the air was making the snow act warmer than usual. It was a tough to find a balance between kick and glide and I ended up deciding on the pair that was gliding best. I carried out a pretty hard warm-up so as to head to the start hot and ready. I was definitely feeling a little heavy and tired from the sprint, but the body seemed to switch on and I felt ready to attack from the start.

I watched the starters ahead of me go out aggressively up the first hill and I focused on doing the same. I carried good speed up and over the first hill and then coached myself to attack the next double-pole sections. With over 500 racers in the weekend’s competitions, there were tons of people skiing the course and the pole track was pretty soft. It felt different than the thousands of double-pole repetitions I had been doing all summer on firm pavement and I struggled to find the right power position.

Over the first half of the race I concentrated on keeping an aggressive tempo and working the transitions. As I got to the back side of the course, I came into the base of the main climb. I thought about driving my hips up the track and staying relaxed in my shoulders. My kick wasn’t totally bomber and I had to really hit the impulse right to keep from slipping. Although my technique didn’t feel as powerful as I wanted, I found a good rhythm and was climbing well. I was starting to come up towards the red line but I still had a half gear in reserve.

Then suddenly, I hit the top of the hill sooner than anticipated and realized it was mostly downhill to the finish. Panicking, I kicked into my fastest sprint pace over the top of the hill and skied the final kilometer in a mad frenzy to the finish. When I crossed the finish line it felt like the race was over way too fast.

When the results came out I ended up 14th, about a minute back from the winner but only 10 seconds out of the top 8. The result wasn’t quite as exciting as the sprint from the day before but a solid effort and a good indication that my distance racing is on track as well. Shortly after the women’s race ended, the men took to the course and my teammate Kris Freeman showed that he is in good form by winning the men’s race. It’s not so common for the US team to take two victories in a weekend so our team was in a good mood!

After two good race efforts, I chose to sit out the third race and get in some distance training instead. I have plenty of racing coming up over the next five weeks and it’s important to keep some training volume each week to ensure I can race strong through the whole season.

So now with the first weekend of racing under my belt, the season is officially started and I will have races every weekend until Christmas. This next week we head over to Gällivare, Sweden for the official start of the World Cup season with a 10km Skate race on Saturday and on Sunday, thanks to the awesome skiing by American Ida Sargent, we will have a 4x5km relay team!

I have high hopes for another fun season. It’s off to a great start and I look forward to sharing the adventures with you!!

Happy Trails everyone!

Cheers,
Kikkan 🙂

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Heading to NZ

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

The summer is flying by and now it’s just a few days until I head to New Zealand to join my US Ski Team mates for a 3-week on snow camp. I haven’t been to NZ for several years now and I am definitely getting excited to visit the Snow Farm again. Word is conditions are good and all the trails are open. Wahoo!

Some new skis arrived in the mail yesterday, hand picked in Europe by Zach Caldwell at the Fischer factory. New Zealand will be a great chance to test new equipment. We will be doing mostly skiing down there but I will also bring a pair of roller skis in case I need a break from the snow.

My training has been going really well so far this summer. I’ve logged a lot of good hours and have notched several PR’s on my regular interval courses. Things seem to be headed in the right direction.

Well, it’s a nice day outside. Going to head out and soak in a little more sun before I head down to winter.

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2010 Olympic Review

Friday, March 5th, 2010

What a whirlwind the last few weeks have been! It’s taken me a bit to unwind and write down my thoughts.  This isn’t everything I could possibly say, but since a report is already long overdue, here is a taste of my 2010 Olympic experience…

When I first got serious about cross-country ski racing, I pictured 2010 as the first Olympics where I expected to be a medal contender. Those expectations might have been correct, had it not been for a little technique change in my best event.  2010 would be a classic sprint, not my favored skate technique, so I had to readjust my goals coming into these Olympics. While a medal was not out of the realm of possibility, I knew a successful games would include a top 12 in the classic sprint and a top six in the skate team sprint.

My season was focused on skiing fastest in February.  Everything seemed to be going according to plan except for less than ideal results in Canmore the week before the opening ceremonies.  It took a lot of mental strength and confidence to ignore the results and feelings from Canmore, and stay positive that everything would come together in Whistler.

The first few days at the Olympics were busy and trying as well.  During team uniforming they ran out of smaller women’s sizes in all the Polo stuff, which put me in a bad mood.  The weather was challenging at the venue and the Opening Ceremonies day was a long haul.  Yet, I could feel my peak form coming up during training (a complete 180 from Canmore), and that got me excited.

I decided to sit out the opening 10km skate race in order to stay fresh and rested for the sprint, which also gave me a chance to do a few more key workouts on the sprint course.

While the day before the sprint was pretty nasty weather-wise and I didn’t feel like a total rock star during my intervals, race day was a different story.  The sun came out and the conditions were awesome.  I didn’t feel that great during my warm-up but when I got on course, I felt more fresh and strong than I had all season, and opened up the day with a solid 10th place in qualifying.

In the quarterfinals, Bib 1, Marit Bjorgen, took the pace out hard and left the rest of us trying to keep up.  The pack strung out and I was in fourth coming into the stadium. Determined to give it everything all way to the line, I was able to move up one spot for 3rd before the finish. Since only the top two move on, I thought my day was done.  However, after a nervous wait of watching the next four heats come in, I ended up advancing to the semi-finals as a “lucky loser” by .3 of a second!

The semi-finals were fast and furious and I skied to the full limit of my classic sprinting ability to move from sixth to fourth over the 2nd half of the course.  Unfortunately, this time I missed out on being lucky loser and had to settle for a final place of 8th.

While it is every Olympian’s dream to win a gold medal, I had to be satisfied with my day sans-medal.  I knew it was going to take a big improvement in my classic sprinting just to be competitive in the rounds, so to have qualified 10th and made it up to 8th was a big accomplishment for me. To top off the day, I got to celebrate with my friends and family after the race.  It really meant a lot to me to have everyone there!

Next up was the freestyle team sprint and it felt good to get back on my skate skis.  Caitlin Compton was my partner, skiing the lead-off leg and me the anchor.  The day before the race we took a little extra time practicing our exchanges.   The sunny weather continued.

Our first goal of the day was to try and make it into the finals.  During our semi-final race we gradually worked our way up through the pack over each of our three laps.  On my final lap I was able to reel in and pass Canada to get us into the third automatic qualification position.  We moved on to the final.

In the final, Caitlin got caught in a tangle-up on the first uphill and we spent the rest of the round trying to catch back up.  Coming into the final lap we were in eighth place, 7 seconds back from Canada in seventh.  I made a big push to catch up to Sara Renner, and we both passed Finland coming into the stadium.  Sara and I had quite a battle to the finish line, but I won the contest for sixth place.

Again, while it wasn’t a medal, it was a big improvement from our previous US best of 10th place and a satisfying day.

Next up was another relay.  The sunny weather finally came to an end and it was a challenge picking skis for the rain and slush.  For the 4x5km relay, I skied the scramble leg for the US Team of myself, Holly Brooks, Morgan Arritola and Caitlin Compton.  I had high hopes for a top 10 finish with this team, and I wanted to put us in good position.

Each leg skied two laps of a 2.5km loop.  The first loop was quite a cat-fight jockeying for position amongst the 18 teams.  I stayed calm and gradually worked up from my start position of 14th.  By the end of the first lap, I was in third.  The pace accelerated and the pack strung out.  Going up the big climb at the 3km mark, I was hanging in there with the leaders and actually took the lead for about 20 seconds on the following downhill.  Coming up the final climb, I was caught and passed by Norway and Sweden but managed to keep our team in fourth, 10 seconds back by the tag-off.  It was an all-out effort and I was completely exhausted for about 20 minutes after I finished.

Our team dropped to 13th after the 2nd leg where we stayed until the final few kilometers when Caitlin was able to pull back one spot.  Our final place was 12th. I felt pretty good about my leg, but I know the other girls didn’t have the performances they are capable of. This is an event I believe the US can be competitive in over the next few years when we all put together good races on the right day!

Shortly after our relay race ended, the Nordic Combined men raced their second individual event of the games.  It was incredibly exciting to see my US teammates Billy Demong and Johnny Spillane take gold and silver respectively. If they can do it, we can do it! Later that evening I represented skiing as the athletes chose ‘Billy D’ to be the US flag bearer for closing ceremonies.

The time at the Olympics seemed to accelerate as the days went on.  Suddenly we were in the last few days.  The final women’s event would be the 30km classic mass-start. I flip-flopped on whether or not to race the 30km all week.  When it came down to the day before the race, I decided to go for it.

I was pretty nervous the morning of the 30km. The weather must have been nervous too because it was crying out all sorts of precipitation, making for some tricky waxing.  The decision came down to choosing between zeros (no-wax) skis or skis with klister.  I chose to go with klister skis for safer kick, although I would have the option to change my skis three times during the race if needed.

The beginning of the mass-start was pretty chaotic as everyone was antsy to get into a good position. I stayed calm and made up spots where I could without expending too much energy.  About 3km in, I collided with an Ukrainian girl on a corner and fell, but popped back up quickly. Over the first 10km, I worked my way into the middle of the pack and settled into a good rhythm.  I was surprised to find the pace very manageable.  We lapped through the stadium after each 5km loop and each time several skiers would dive off to switch skis.  My skis were kicking well, so I stuck with them.

Around the 15km mark I could still see the leaders ahead, about 30 seconds off in the distance.  However, the pace was beginning to shift and the pack started to thin out.  Sometimes I would be skiing in a train with five to ten other skiers and other times I would be alone.

With 10km to go, the coaches were encouraging me to switch skis to get a faster pair.  However, I could feel my muscles starting to cramp, especially my triceps and I didn’t want to risk loosing my kick.  Over the last lap and a half, I still had good energy but the cramps were coming on stronger and stronger in every part of my body. I had to shorten my stride to keep from completely locking up.

Finally, I made it back into the stadium for the final time.  From the roar of the crowd, I could tell someone was hot on my heels.  As I rounded the final turn, I felt the presence of another skier to my left.  I tried all matters of technique trying to fend her off and ended up lunging for my final place at the line.  The board read ‘FOTO FINISH’.  Luckily, I got my pinky toe in just before hers (Sylwia J of Poland) for 24th place.

It had poured rain during most of the race and I was totally soaked.  As I changed into my dry clothes, my muscles continued to cramp. Though it didn’t matter, my Olympics were officially done.

That last day was a mad rush to pack everything up (three duffle bags worth) while simultaneously watching the men’s 50km on TV before heading down to Vancouver for the closing ceremonies.
The highly anticipated Gold Medal Men’s Hockey match between the US and Canada was in progress during our bus ride down to Vancouver.  We reached the athlete village just in time to catch the last few minutes of the 3rd period.   The place went nuts when the US scored with 54 seconds to go to force overtime.  Then the place went nuts again when the Canadians scored and won the game.  You could practically hear all of Canada roar when the winning goal went in.

The Closing Ceremonies was a good show. They had the men’s 50km medal presentation in the stadium, which was pretty cool.  Canada gave us their last hurrah while Sochi 2014 gave us a preview of what to expect in four years.  When IOC President Jacques Rogue “called on the youth of the World to assemble four years from now in Sochi,” it sent chills down my back.

Many athletes were ready to party after two intense weeks of competition, especially as many of the sports’ seasons concluded at the Olympics.  However, with three weeks of World Cup racing still to go, a bunch of us cross-country skiers headed back to our hotel to try and get a few hours of sleep before reporting to the airport to fly to Europe at 4:30am that next morning.

Now that the Olympics are over, here are some of my impressions.  Overall, I had a successful Olympics.  I hit two of my season’s biggest goals (top 12 in sprint, top 6 in team sprint), I skied well in the opening leg of the relay and I set a personal best in distance in my first major championship 30km appearance.  I am proud of how I prepared for these games, and confident that I skied my best.

I am also incredibly proud of, inspired by and thankful for all those people that have helped me get to this point.  Coaches, teammates, staff, family, friends, supporters and fans have made this journey so much more than just ski races.  You have believed in me and supported me from the very beginning, and it’s amazingly to look back and see how far we have come together.  I can’t possibly express in words how grateful I am to have such amazing people behind me!

For me this is not the end.  I see this Olympics as the beginning of the next four years.  I feel like the US team is getting closer to the medals all the time.  In Sochi, there will be another shot at a skate sprint.  I hope to be competitive in the other distances as well.  Along the way there are also a World Championships in Oslo in 2011, a World Championships in Val di Fiemme in 2013 and plenty of World Cup races to test myself against the best in the world.

The best of the journey is yet to come!

One more month of the 2010 season to go.  Next report will be from Lahti, Finland.

Until then, Cheers!

arthritis

The secret behind the Pink Hair

Friday, January 29th, 2010

People always ask me, “What’s the pink hair for?”  My answer is simple, for FUN!!  A few years ago I noticed an alpine skier in a magazine with pink tips in her hair and thought that looked pretty cool.  Since cross-country skiers sometimes get a bad wrap for being boring (disappearing off in the woods for hours in our “knickers”) I decided I would add a little flare to my hair to show the world how awesome cross-country skiing is.

At first it started with just a little pink on the tips of my hair, yet year by year the pink seems to creep up and take on more and more of it’s own personality.  I knew messing around with pink dye could be tricky, so immediately enlisted the help of a trained professional.

For the 2006 Olympics, I dyed my hair red, blonde and blue.  It was really fun and a big hit with the stadium announcer, although not so much with the hotel cleaning staff whose towels I dyed red and blue for a while!  Over the last few years however I have had some really good luck with the pink, so I figured I would update my locks with flashy magenta before heading to Vancouver.

My brother came with me while I got my hair done to document the process.  It took 3 hours!  Here it goes…

The "before" shot

The "before" shot

First, the blonde highlights

First, the blonde highlights

Then the pink

Then the pink

Burning it in with a straightening iron (the secret to longevity)

Burning it in with a straightening iron (the secret to longevity). There were some scalding moments but no pain no gain!

Pink suds!

Pink suds!

Almost done

Almost done

A final touch up

A final touch up

The "after" shot

The "after" shot

Up in a ponytail

Up in a ponytail

Now, it’s off to Canada!

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Rogla wrap-up

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Cliff Notes:
Final weekend of World Cup racing before Christmas wraps up in Rogla, Slovenia.  A new venue to the World Cup and to me, it was a thrilling weekend of racing.

In Saturday’s classic sprint, it was some of the most brutal conditions I have experienced—altitude, a long course, cold temps, high winds, soft tracks and blowing snow.  I gave it my best out there but unfortunately didn’t have the speed to qualify for the rounds, I finished 38th.  I still haven’t quite found my classic sprinting form yet.

Sunday’s 15km mass-start classic race was not much better.  While the conditions improved a lot (clear skies and cold tracks) I struggled physically and mentally through the six laps around the 2.5km course.  I managed to pull together a decent second half of the race to finish in 30th place.

After six weeks on the road, I am psyched to be returning home to Anchorage to spend Christmas with my family and prepare for US Nationals beginning January 2nd.

Merry Christmas!

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Rogla is the home training venue of Petra Majdic, she was everywhere!

The Full Story:
The final races of Period I of the 2010 World Cup season transpired in Rogla, Slovenia this past weekend.  Rogla is a brand new venue to the World Cup and this was my first trip to Slovenia.  Day one is a classic sprint, the longest course I have yet to encounter.  Supposedly it is only 1.4km, but it takes well over four minutes.  Day two is a 15km mass-start classic race.

For Saturday’s race, the weather is just about as bad as it gets.  It’s hovering right around –16 C (that’s 3 F), the wind is howling and it’s snowing hard.  To top it off, the organizers decide to re-groom less than an hour before start, leaving super soft tracks.  Combine that with the altitude of 5,000ft, and I know it’s going to be a tough competition.

I feel stressed and tired in my warm-up but brush off the bad feelings attributing them to nerves and the altitude.  When I step up to the start line I am psyched and ready.  As the announcer calls my name over the loud speaker, I bust onto the course.  The first few hundred meters is double-poling, slightly downhill.  Then a long gradual section that builds into the first hill.  I tell myself, “smooth urgency, build speed, glide.”  I make it up and over the first climb feeling pretty good but I know I need to pick up the pace.  I get a short rest around a sweeping right hand turn, although it’s hard to see the trail in the blowing snow and flat light.

I hit the next climb, a short steep section, and focus on a quick tempo.  The effort is setting in and I drive myself over the top and push into the next downhill.  Again, there is only a momentary rest.  I double-pole  through an S-turn section, my poles sink into the soft snow.  Then the course pitches up again as I approach the next hill.  The tracks have been washed out, but I try to keep my skis parallel anyway.  I only make it partway up the hill before I slip and have to herring-bone.

There is now only a few hundred meters left and know I have to make it hurt.  Yet, although I am sending the signals to my body to dig in, that extra gear is not there.  I’m trying to push, but I feel like I’m floundering.  It’s a long straight stretch all the way to the finish.   I frantically switch between striding, double-pole kick and double-pole to make it to the line.  As I slid my foot across the red line in the snow, I notice several racers laying on the ground gasping for air.  I skid to a halt and breath deeply while hanging on my poles.   I suddenly feel guilty that I am not lying on the ground, completely wasted from the effort.

Once I take off my skis and poles, I am ushered into an enclosed tent where the transponders are unwrapped from my ankles, a cheerful volunteer wipes the spit off my face and I get my warm-ups back on.  I leave the finish area feeling anxious. As soon as I see the look on Justin’s face, I get a sinking feeling in my stomach.  “Sorry,” he says to me and pats me on the back.  I know that means I’m out of the rounds.

Amid a whirlwind of emotions, I hang my head and slowly walk back to the wax cabin.  I have just NOT qualified for another classic sprint, the event I have been focused on improving the most for this season, and I am totally frustrated.  My hands are still unthawing from my brief turn around the course, and I opt to do my cool down on the spin bike indoors.  Then I wish Andy good luck and head back to my hotel room.  My final result is 38th, 3 seconds out of  the top 30 and 20 seconds out of the lead.

I try not to dwell on my frustration, focusing instead on staying positive for the next day’s 15km race.  I watch the rest of the race unfold on TV, envious of the other racers battling it out even though the conditions look incredibly tough.  Watching Andy (Newell) ski smoothly through the quarterfinals, semifinals and then into the A final, brightens my spirits.  Andy skis to a solid 6th place.

The wind is still howling and blowing snow as I head out for my evening run.  I have my hood pulled tight and only a sliver of my face is showing.  Midway through my run I bump into Lars and Kristina.  Kristina is beaming with good-race energy from her 24th place finish.  We had done intervals together earlier in the week and I let her know that I take partial credit for her good result.  I also feed off her energy to get further psyched for the next race.

15km mass-start classic:
When I wake up Sunday morning, the sky has cleared.  “A great day for ski racing,” I tell myself to distract my mind from pre-race nerves.  Heading over to the course, I am feeling optimistic.  It’s going to be a mass-start race and my goal is to try and hang towards the front for as long as I can.

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Apparently due to limited TV production capabilities, the race will be confined to a 2.5km loop.  That means six laps for 15km.  As I head out for my first lap around the course, my optimistic mood quickly gets flipped around after I ski the first uphill.  I feel heavy, tired and out of breath.  For the next 45 minutes, there is an epic battle going on in my head between the good voice (“Let’s race and go for it”) and the bad voice (“I’m tired, this is going to be hard,  I want to go home”).  I almost bust into tears at one point, but somehow get myself to the start line.

I’m bib #21, smack dab in the middle of the red group.  We get the 30 second command, several tense seconds go by and then we’re off.  The pace is furious from the get-go.  As we head out of the stadium and under a bridge, the whole field accordians.  My tips run into the boots of the skier in front of me and I get hit with equal force from behind.  Chaos ensues as we make our way around the first lap.

I try to keep my position near the front of the pack but the pace is furious.  I feel like I’m striding close to max speed and I still can’t keep up.  Heading up the major climb midway through the lap my mind starts to go south.  As girls scramble all around me, the negative thoughts start to overcome my mind.  I tell myself I will only ski until the end of this lap then I’m done.

By the end of the first lap I have slipped back a ways in the field, I am struggling with myself.  Somehow I manage to convince myself to start the second lap.  The pain is already setting in, I’m not skiing like I want to, and all my energy is going into keeping myself in the race, “just keep skiing,” I repeat in my head.

Entering the third lap I have settled in with a pack of skiers.  I still have fleeting thoughts that I will pull out of the race at any moment, but my mind is beginning to settle on just focusing on what’s right ahead of me.  I catch a good draft over the second half of the lap and hang on to the train through the stadium.  Justin is yelling encouragement and offering a feed of sports drink.  When I see him I feel ashamed that I am struggling to mentally commit to this race.

Heading up the first two climbs of the fourth lap, I easily move up through the group I’m with and am out in front by the highpoint of the course.  Without any extra effort, I am starting to pick up skiers ahead of me.  This encourages my spirit and my focus is narrowing.  As I make it through the 10km mark, the thoughts of quitting are leaving my mind and my attention turns to salvaging what I can of my performance.

I lead my group through the stadium and into the fifth lap.  I have found a rhythm and I try to put a little distance on those behind me.  I have clear, open snow ahead of me.  No more draft, just me.  Near the end of the fifth lap, I see the leaders cross under the bridge just before I enter the stadium.

Coming through the lap lane, I can’t remember exactly which lap I’m on.  I frantically search around for the lap counter and see the number ‘1’.  What does that mean?  Do I have just one lap to go, or do I have to complete a lap before I have ‘0’ remaining?  I decide I most likely have just one lap left and turn my attention to using everything left in the tank.  There are two skiers about 100m ahead, and I try to catch them.

I make some ground up on the first climb, but feel my triceps start to twinge near the top.  I can still keep my tempo up but I can feel my strength draining.  Heading up the major climb for the final time, my technique is falling apart and my arms are cramping, but I managed to keep a steady pace going and I’m reeling in the two skiers ahead.  I get within about 20m by the top of the hill.  There is a false flat over the top, I scream at myself to keep the pressure on.  “Use your core,” I tell myself.

I am unable to make up anymore ground on the two skiers ahead on the flats and downhills.  There is one short steep climb left, up and over the bridge, and I scamper up and over it as fast as I can.  I make up another few meters, but now it’s a 250m false flat surge to the finish.  I stride and kick and pole madly all the way to the finish, but cannot quite catch the skiers ahead.  At last I slide across the finish line and hang over my poles.  I am relieved to have made it to the finish.

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Sara Renner and I after the race, Sara commented on the race, “it was a pain train from the word go.”

It was so chaotic during the beginning part of the race, I have no idea what place I had finished.  When I see the results several hours later, I am surprised to see that I had finished 30th.  Because the beginning of the race had been such a mental struggle, I figured I was going to have another result towards the back.  So it was at least encouraging that a mediocre day was still top 30.

With the race said and done, it was time to head home, hooray!!  As soon as the men’s race ended, we packed up our stuff and drove six hours to Munich.  Then, for me, it was a short night’s sleep before catching an airport shuttle at 5am.  Since I will not be returning to Europe until after the Olympics, I am bringing all my race skis home with me, which means lugging two giant ski bags, and two duffle bags through a 22 hr schedule of travel.

There are a few hick-ups and bumps during my travel home but I make it.  It’s so good to be back.

Now that I’m back in Anchorage, I will take a few days to unwind, get over jet-lag and rest, enjoying Christmas with my family.  Then at the end of next week, racing resumes with the 2010 US Cross-country Championships, where I look forward to racing again on my home trails.  Hopefully the weather will be a little kinder this year, and we’ll have some great racing.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Cheers,
Kikkan 🙂

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Let’s show some support!

Friday, December 11th, 2009

My heart goes out to the McCabe family for their terrible loss.  While I never had the pleasure of meeting Sean, I can tell from wht I’ve read and heard that he was an incredible person, a talented artist and an important member of the American ski community. I admit I was a little slow to show my support to the SEAN MCCABE MEMORIAL FUNDRAISER but I will echo Fasterskier’s call to action.   I hope you will join me in contributing to this fundraiser so that we can show support for loved members of our community!!   Let’s meet the fundraising goal by the end of the weekend!!

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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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the Olympic Challenge

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

People often ask me what I eat as an elite athlete.  It’s a really good question!  My answer has two parts.  On one hand, cross-country ski training burns a lot of calories, so there is some freedom to kind of eat whatever you want without immediate visual consequences.  On the other hand however, as an elite athlete my body is like a high-end race car engine.  The higher quality the fuel put in, the faster I can go.  So, it’s always a balance.  I try to eat smart and healthy to optimize my performance.  But I also like to reward myself for working hard with those indulgent (not-so-healthy) foods.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a little guilty about “rewarding” myself too much.  With the Olympics coming up (the ultimate motivation for being the best you can be), I have decided to give myself an “Olympic challenge.”  When I was a cross-country runner in high-school my team used to give up five things for the running season.  I actually carried this tradition into my preparation for the 2002 Olympics as well, giving up five things: candy, chips, french fries, soda and staying up late.

I am now attempting to commit to this challenge once again.  From now until the Olympics (Feb 12, 2010) I am going to give up:

1) Candy

2) Chips

3) French Fries

4) Soda (this one is going to be tough!)

5) White bread

Each of these things that I’m giving up represents one of the five rings in the Olympic symbol.  For some people this would probably be quite easy, because they would never eat this stuff anyway.  For me, it will be a good sacrifice to remember that I am committed to my goals.

Feel free to join the challenge with me.  Pick five things that you can go without for the next few months to remind yourself of how sweet it will be to reach your goal.

Keep an eye on me!  Good luck!

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Catching up

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Well, I thought it was about time that I got caught up on all those things I’ve been meaning to do:

– A blog about the Whistler Camp with the USST: I had a great camp this year with my US teammates and all the other athletes that came and trained in Whistler at the beginning of September. There was such a good energy amongst the group and I really enjoyed the opportunity to train together. We did a bunch of great workouts, including L3 intervals around the sprint course with a fast finish (we took turns leading), a classic sprint time trial (a good hard reminder of how challenging that course is, but also a boost of confidence that we know the course so well), multiple speed and distance sessions, cool runs on the endless mountain bike trails, and finally a skate distance time trial on the access road in the pouring rain, a very fitting closure to our camp. The next time we see the venue will (hopefully) be the Olympic games!!

Training with the girls during L3.

Training with the girls during L3.

Pack mentality.

Pack mentality.

– Team bonding in Tofino: Following our camp in Whislter, I had a great experience with the team in Tofino. Some of the highlights included: a night of old fashioned entertainment (jokes and storytelling) by the bonfire, a wicked double-pole interval session where I tried my darndest to hang on with the boys, and a sweet 3 hour run through the trees and along the beaches. Most of the group went surfing, and I’m kicking myself a little that I didn’t go. Overall I was really impressed by the dedication of everyone, both athletes and staff, in terms of their own preparation for the season. But also everyone’s commitment to supporting one another and the goals of the team.

Surfing in Tofino

Surfing in Tofino

The beach was awesome

The beach was awesome

– A quick stop in Chicago: Together with Andy Newell and Kris Freeman, I spent a couple days in Chicago at the USOC Media Summit. We spent two full days taking photos and doing interviews. It was a great chance to educate the media on all the fun and exciting details of our sport. Some of the photographers had some interesting ideas as to how we should hold our skis and poles in the pictures. We had to tell them numerous times… we would never do that!

Setting up for a photo with Sports Illustrated

Setting up for a photo with Sports Illustrated

– Back to home base: After three weeks on the road, it was nice to return home for a break. But, not right away! I still had one week left in my training block, so I got right back at it with some testing. The APU team has been doing this testing throughout the summer so it was fun to see where I compared to my former self. It was a hard couple of days, but I came through it with some solid performances and a good gauge of my body’s status. Then I finished off the week with a rollerski race, 7km classic on mostly rolling terrain. I led from the start and tried making surges to drop the pack. It wasn’t until the last 2km that I was finally able to get a small gap. I won with Laura Valaas 2nd and Katie Ronsse 3rd.

The boys racing.

The boys racing.

Photo by Wayde Carroll (www.waydecarrollphotography.com)

Photo by Wayde Carroll (www.waydecarrollphotography.com)

– A Recovery Week: The rollerski race concluded a solid 7-week training period, so it was time to enjoy a recovery week. I like recovery weeks for the physical break of course, but also for the break from the twice a day training schedule. I can finally catch up on all those meetings and tasks that I haven’t been able to fit between workouts. It’s been busy. I have to remember to rest and recover too.

Taking some time to relax.

Taking some time to relax.

So, that should have me all caught up, at least for now. About six weeks to go until I take off to Europe for the start of the season. I have decided to stay at home during this time and get a really solid block of training before “game time.”

Happy training everyone!

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