What. A. Week! The US National Championships took place last week in Houghton, MI and although I had high hopes for the series of races, I by far exceeded my expectations. I walked away with three podiums, a little bit of wind burn, and a full heart.
After one of the many races during the week, I decided to cool down with my brother, Anders (who CRUSHED the Junior sprint heats on the first day getting third place)! One of our long-time family friends, James Schneider, joined us for this cool down and the boys asked me about the 20k that I had just completed. I gave them the run down and James quickly asked if this would be a blog topic. Realizing that James is a Midwest Junior skier and still very much in the “know” of what is cool and what isn’t, I asked him, “What do you want to read about on my blog?” To which James rapidly responded, “I wanna hear about the grind!”
US Nationals consisted of four races: a skate sprint, 10k individual skate, 20k mass start classic and a classic sprint. We completed these four races in six days. Looking back on the first two days of racing, I really surprised myself. I was confident going into the skate sprint because I had previewed the course during a local race the week before. However, sprinting is not my strength and there is always a bit of unknown in the chaotic scramble of a 1.5k course, with lots of twists, climbs and descents. I knew I had to play the day smart and draft off of other people through the quarterfinal and semifinal if I wanted to have any energy left for the final, and that was assuming I would make the final! Up until this year, I had never even qualified for a final sprint heat at US Nationals!
Nonetheless, I made it through and knew I would already be happy with the day for reaching the final no matter what the outcome. The final heat went out hot and I was unprepared for the fast pace. On a two-lap course, I tried to focus on holding my own ground, staying out of trouble (like breaking a pole) and knew that an uphill finish would suit to my strengths. At the bottom of the last climb, the leader had gapped us and I was in the front of the chase group. I knew I could easily get swallowed up by these other speedy skiers so in my head I told myself, “Alayna, it’s go time!” And without further ado I sprinted as hard as I could up that last hill and surged forward, just trying to keep the other racers from catching me. I collapsed at the finish line without realizing that I had almost completely closed the gap to the winner and found myself placing second for my first podium ever at US Nationals!
I was giddy with excitement the rest of the day and found myself shaking after the award ceremony as I was whisked away to drug testing. This was another new act to me. At US National races the US Anti-Doping Association picks four of the top five finishers to complete drug tests to ensure that we are all competing clean. Hours later, I finally sat down at our host family’s house and had to actively tell myself to take deep breaths. I was still on cloud nine! All I wanted to do was celebrate, but we had another race the very next day that I had to get ready for.
I woke up feeling tired for a 10k skate, but the excitement from the day before allowed me to run off of adrenaline. I knew that there were about 12 women who could easily be on the podium that day and that I was going to have to work every single transition on the course. I was lucky enough to start toward the end of the A seed of the women so I was able to get splits off of the racers in front of me. I found this super advantageous because within the first two kilometers of the race I knew that I was in the running for the podium, but that it was super close between me and a few other women. At this point, I was so thankful to have the Midwest crowd there because I had someone cheering for me on every single hill! The motivation to keep pushing was almost constant and I kept receiving more splits that I was still in the mix with the leaders.
With about two kilometers to go, everything was hurting and I pretty much had to climb all the way to the finish line. My sister yelled out to me, “you’re in fourth place but only a second behind the next two girls!” For one second I thought to myself, “well fourth is fine, I could be content with that.” Instantaneously though, I told myself, “No Alayna! You’ve worked so freaking hard for this moment, you are not just going to let up now. This is the time that you have to go. You CAN do this!” So, I grit my teeth and I climbed and climbed and climbed, hearing cheers from every last corner. In the last 200 meters I started seeing stars and I think everyone along the course could hear my heavy, raspy breathing. But I kept telling myself, “You CAN do this!” When I finally crossed that finish line, I sat down, took a deep breath, and knew that no matter what the result was, I had done it again. I had left every ounce of energy out there on that course.
I received a pat on the back from a volunteer and he mumbled something to me. In a very delirious state, I just looked at him confused. Then I processed it. “You just finished in third, but the second American. Congratulations!” A rush of emotions overwhelmed me, but mostly I was in awe and just kept sitting there, staring at the volunteer. Still delirious… :)
I had dug extremely deep to find the energy and power during that 10k to make it on the podium. I was still feeling this fatigue two days later when we began the 20k mass start race. This was the race that I was most looking forward to all week. I absolutely love the energy in a mass start and have really improved my distance classic skiing so I was optimistic about the day. However, just before our race began a snow storm rolled into Houghton and brought with it slow, tough, grinding conditions. I hung onto the leaders for a lap and a half (of a four-lap race), but after a feed at about 6k I started feeling sick to my stomach. As someone who has experienced a boot and rally in a race, this was not something I wanted to go through at US Nationals. The leaders slowly pulled away from me and I couldn’t quite hang. I had burned a lot of matches earlier in the week and was left with a bit of an empty tank. I kept fighting by myself through the snow storm, not knowing where the women were behind me. In any race, you have no idea what is going on up ahead of you or behind you and when you’re out there all alone all you can do is put your head down and take on one hill at a time. That’s exactly what I did.
It was a grind of a race and my muscles in my arms and back started having spasms in the last two kilometers. I skied 12k in “no man’s land” and crossed the finish line in 6th place feeling oddly disappointed. Up until this year, 6th place at US Nationals had been my best result, ever! I put this into perspective as the day went on and decided to still be proud of how hard I fought by myself in the woods and recognized that you need to have “bad days” to make the “good days” feel so good.
By the last day of racing I was completely exhausted. I didn’t know if I could make it through an entire set of sprint heats and, of course, another snow storm decided to blow in after the qualifier. Through 35 mph gusts, nonexistent classic tracks, thick, fresh snow, we went out there round after round, when all anyone wanted to do that day was curl up into a ball and take a nap. Everyone who raced that classic sprint dug up the last bit of energy they could find and the races went by in a blur of white snow. The only thing that really stuck with me after the race was that the last 100 meters of the final heat felt more like a mile. Somehow, we did it though. In one of the closest sprint finals I have ever been in, three of us lunged for the line and completed the final podium of the week.
I was pretty fortunate all week to have everything come together for me on (almost) every race day. Sometimes, that’s truly what it takes! You can only control so much; your breakfast, warm up, ski selection, ski wax, mental preparation. This is a lot to get right on one day and sometimes mother nature likes to throw you curve balls with a few snow and wind storms. I was lucky to have these details fall into place for me on the right day and I recognize that this doesn’t always happen. However, I also recognize my attitude and my teammates/coaches attitude all week. I’m not sure what overcame me, but I went into the week feeling extremely calm and at peace with whatever the races were going to bring. My entire family was supporting me at these races, I was seeing Midwest friends, college friends, ski friends from all over the country, and this made me happy. My coaches, Pat O’Brien, and his wax helper for the week, Tad Elliot, only added to this peacefulness. They were so organized, prepared and relaxed that it wore off on me. We were cracking jokes to each other between sprint heats and laughing with each other in the wax trailer all week long. I was the only female racer from our team that week, but my SMS T2 male teammates were so supportive of each other and of me. We kept each other confident and having fun! I truly believe that I owe my race success to my family, friends, teammates and coaches. I couldn’t have accomplished “the grind” without any of them.
And just like that, we’re off to the races! Literally, off to seven races in 16 days. Now that’s one way to start the engine! It’s been a whirlwind for the last few weeks as I traveled from Minneapolis, to Canmore, CAN, to Sun Valley, ID, back to Minneapolis for a few days and then up to Houghton, MI. But I can honestly say that through all of this I had a lot of fun! Unfortunately, I can also say that it wasn’t all just a glorious ski vacation. Just like any other job, there are good days and there are bad days. Projects that you might love working on and then tasks that you aren’t as psyched about.
I started this trip in Canmore, Canada with a three-day race weekend. I had never been to Canmore before, so I was in awe of the beauty that surrounded us in such a cute mountain town. Most mountain towns show off their views from afar as just something pretty to look at while walking outside. Canmore shares her mountains right, smack, in your face! The skiing was GORGEOUS, and it was a challenge not to get distracted by the views while in competition.
The first day of racing was a skate sprint that included quite a few tactics. I was proud that I played these tactics pretty well in my quarterfinal but was not so lucky in my semifinal and I was bummed not to qualify for the final heat. I felt like I had really improved my sprinting over the summer and fall and believed that I deserved to be in that final, but alas, that’s ski racing for ya! And there were two more races that weekend that I needed to get ready for.
The next day was a 5k classic and boy did I have a hard time figuring out how to pace that. Typically, I treat a 5k like a long sprint and just tell myself, “go, go, GO!” At altitude though, this could be a recipe for disaster, and I knew I could blow up early in that 5k if I went out too hard. Well, it turns out I still went out too hard and still blew up even knowing all of that. Oops! Another day where I felt like I wasn’t able to appropriately show where my fitness was at or what I am capable of this season.
Finally, we concluded the weekend with a 10k skate race, and I was hopeful that with the longer distance I’d be able to figure out the altitude pacing a bit more. I started the race around “threshold” pace and tried building into the race from there. This tactic proved slightly more advantageous and I was able to pull off one of my best altitude races ever! I left Canmore feeling disappointed, yet somehow proud of my races. It was a state of total confusion. I wanted more, but I was still happy with my accomplishments. These feelings lurked around the following week as we prepared for another Supertour weekend in Sun Valley. I tried enjoying the moment with my teammates and soaking up all of the December Vitamin D that I could, but when it came to race day again, I faced some major mental demons.
Our first race in Sun Valley was a classic sprint and I practiced conserving as much energy as I could in the qualifier and quarterfinal so I could hopefully make it into the final. I ended up 3rd in my semifinal which left me in a spot to potentially be “lucky loser.” In sprinting, the first two finishers from each semifinal automatically qualify for the final. Then, the race officials take the next two fastest times from the semifinals to move on as well (for a total of six in the final). So, if my semifinal time was fast enough, I would be in the final. While I was waiting around at the finish line to hear from the race officials, I was thinking to myself, “I really want this. I want to be in the final. I just gave it everything I had to make it into this final.” However, my body did not feel the same way. It was TIRED! The altitude racing had exhausted my body and the last thing it wanted to do was go out and race another time. This collision of thoughts vs physical ability left me confused and emotional. “Racing is fun! I love racing!” I thought to myself, “so why am I having such a horrible time right now?”
After what felt like an eternity, the race officials wrote on the bracket board that I was one of the lucky losers and had qualified for the final round. I was excited and I was miserable at the same time. I turned to my teammate, Kelsey Phinney, and I wanted to cry. She gave me a big smile, a hug and she said, “you can do this!” And without further ado, I found myself giving it every last ounce of energy I had in that final. It was by no means spectacular and I still ended up last in the heat, but I had made it into the final and I had accomplished one of my goals for the weekend. I had taken a baby step in the right direction.
These altitude races were without a doubt the hardest races I will go through all season both mentally and physically. They had been staring me down since last May and had been haunting me during my workouts all fall. I don’t know if I will ever be a great altitude racer, but after the past few weeks I have confidence that I am becoming a better altitude racer. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Getting BETTER?
Last week I had the privilege to be at home for Thanksgiving for the first time in THIRTEEN YEARS! Since middle school, my parents would pack us kids into our minivan and travel west to the West Yellowstone Ski Festival that happens over Thanksgiving week. We would ski as a family, check out the Grizzly and Wolf Center, see an IMAX movie and enjoy the peaceful nature of skiing through the woods with thousands of other skiers! My parents continued this tradition even as us kids left home for college and were unable to make the trip with them, but this year they decided not to go. Instead, they are celebrating my dad’s 60th birthday in British Columbia, Canada for a week of skiing and watching my first races!
Being home for Thanksgiving was a great way for me to see lots of friends and family, visit a few high school team practices and prepare for the racing season. It was also a perfect opportunity for my sister, Marit, and I to plan a surprise birthday party for my dad! 30 years ago, my mom threw him a surprise party and I am told it was quite the evening… She repeated this again for his 40th birthday and my dad started to notice the trend. While he appreciated the love and thoughtfulness behind these parties, I think they were also a lot to recover from ;) My dad made my mom promise to never again throw him a surprise party, however, Marit and I never agreed to this!
We wanted to keep the evening fairly relaxed as we knew everyone was coming off a busy Thanksgiving week. The suspense was building for us all day, I was in charge of getting him to the brewery where the party was at and I was feeling the pressure. I decided to treat this like a ski race and told myself to stay calm, act like everything is totally normal, and tell myself that I can only control the factors that I can control, the rest is fate. The evening was a huge success and I think my dad really enjoyed the party we threw him. It was great to see so many people come out to celebrate!
Throughout this week though, I’ve been dealing with some pretty crazy pre-race jitters. My first races of the season are this weekend and will be at the Supertour in Canmore, B.C. This time of year is tough for me as I haven’t done any races yet, but I’m sick and tired of just training and doing workouts. My training volume decreases as I prepare for the season and with it, I think to myself, “am I even doing enough?” or on the flip side, “am I doing too much?” It’s hard to know at this point without races to test myself or get a feel for where I’m at. I just have to trust the process. I wouldn’t say I’m usually someone who gets super nervous about ski races. That being said, most of my life there wasn’t much riding on my races or results. I have some pretty big goals for this season and beyond and a lot of that does ride on how I do in the first few races of the season. Without good results in the next few weeks, I won’t be able to qualify to race on the World Cup later in the season and that’s pretty much everything I’ve been working toward. So, this year I’m feeling a bit more nervous about all of it.
Last week I was talking to my future brother-in-law, Nick, (yay!) about some of my nerves going into the season. As a marathon runner looking to qualify for the Olympic Trials, Nick understands the mental stress behind racing. He is also a psychologist and had some pretty insightful things to say. Nick explained to me that the emotions fear and excitement are caused by the same hormones in your body. Cortisol and adrenaline are both in affect and it’s up to your brain to determine whether you perceive these hormonal signals as fear or excitement. In addition, there is sympathetic nervous system arousal which causes the “fight or flight” mode. Nick used an example of being on a roller coaster. Half of the people on the roller coaster are thinking about how fun it is to go up and down and all around and perceive the experience as excitement. Meanwhile, the other half of the people on the roller coaster are thinking about how the cart could go flying off the track at any second and everyone could plummet to their deaths. These people are obviously taking the cortisol and adrenaline and turning them into fear.
Nick then explained to me that if you take the anchor, which in this case is the image of riding on a roller coaster, and you picture it going well, then you can switch the way your brain perceives the cortisol and adrenaline. For example, if the people fearing the roller coaster were to imagine themselves ahead of time on the ride and say out loud, “I’m excited. I’m excited. I’m excited!” Then, they can actually change the feeling of fear into excitement. He claims I can do the same thing for my racing!
I’m not saying that I’m afraid to race, or that I am not excited about the season. But I think my body is taking on both of these emotions right now and it’s causing a little bit of craziness inside my brain. So, I decided to take Nick’s advice and have been picturing myself in my first race this weekend. I’ve been imagining myself skiing really hard up and over the top of the hill and have been saying OUT LOUD, “I’m excited, I’m excited, I’m excited!” The first time I did this and actually said these words out loud, I got this tingly feeling all over my body! Nick told me that I can build this image each time I think about it by adding more details. My parents are on the side of the hill cheering, I’m catching the girl in front of me, my fingers are really cold, but I ignore that feeling and keep on going… all of a sudden my sympathetic nervous system is ready to switch from flight mode and into fight mode!
I’m not sure how I will race this coming weekend, but I do know that no matter what happens it is not the end of the world or the end of my season. There is ALWAYS more to come, and I know that I’ve enjoyed the process in getting here. I already feel way more excited than nervous or fearful about my races and I can’t wait to get to Canmore to charge into the season!
Last week I was humbled by the kindness, love and generosity I received from the ski community. My fundraiser at Gear West ski shop was more than I could have ever anticipated! I want to THANK YOU, to everyone who showed up to bid on auction items, win free raffle prizes, listen to me chat, enjoy good food and beverages, and celebrate the kick-off to a new ski season. The staff at Gear West Ski Shop showed incredible support and the evening would not have been successful without them. They dedicated so much time and energy leading up to the event, setting it up, and making sure everything ran smoothly during the silent auction - I owe them a lot! Feeling this kind of love and support has motivated me and inspired me to continue working hard and chasing my dreams. It makes me jittery in anticipation for my first races in just 10 DAYS!
Before I get too excited for races to start though, there is a lot to DO in November in preparation for a long season. There is also a lot that I have learned I DO NOT want to do this time of year…
Thanksgiving is coming up and it tends to be a holiday that very few skiers have the chance to celebrate. Often times, we are already on the road, racing or in search of snow for high quality training. Growing up, I was fortunate enough to spend Thanksgiving with my family and ski on snow because we took family vacations to West Yellowstone for the annual ski festival. However, my four years in college kept me away from any family celebration. Now that I have more flexibility in my training, etc. I think it’s important to make the effort to spend this time of year with the those I love. It’s one last chance to be together before the days of FaceTime calls and text updates in the Winter. I have found that spending this time with my family makes me the happiest going into a new ski season.
However, this time of year is NOT the time to socialize like a young adult in her mid-twenties. The old high school and college friends are set aside (sorry guys!) and the brewery tours come to a stop. No longer can I meet up with a friend at a bar or restaurant or accept an invitation to a party. Tis the season of staying in and watching movies at night so that I can be well rested for important training and sharpening sessions the following morning. Goodbye social life! Hello ski season!
The season can get long on the road so I want to have a stockpile of books that I can turn to for entertainment while resting before races or after hard training sessions. November is a great time of year to DO RESEARCH on the best novels, biographies, sports stories, etc. that will keep me hooked all season long. My go-to book trader is my mom, who reads about a book a day so I’m always falling behind. I also like to trade with some of my teammates, my sister, or other friends! Anyone have a good suggestion?
DO NOT do research on your competitors. Skiers start to get antsy in November in anticipation of the race season. Frequently, athletes will post on social media about their grueling workouts or first time trials of the season. Personally, I can quickly get sucked down the rabbit hole of what my competitors are doing to prep for the season. This can escalate into totally psyching me out and making me think that I am not doing enough. In reality, I can only control my own training and how I approach the season so there isn’t really any point in comparing myself to other skiers. I put my head down and do my own work. (This is obviously much easier said than done).
Do pack your Aeropress espresso maker. When you’re on the road, you never know when you’re going to get a good cup of coffee. When it comes to race morning for me, this is a NECESSITY! Rather than depending on my lodging arrangement to provide quality coffee, which it often does not, I like to come with it myself and make as much of it as I want! And then some more! ;) An Aeropress is small and packs well in a duffel bag, making it the perfect solution.
Do NOT pack your coffee grinder. Unfortunately, I have developed into somewhat of a coffee snob. Can you tell? My favorite part of the morning is taking that first sip of freshly ground coffee. Sadly, a coffee grinder can take up quite a bit of space in a duffel bag and doesn’t make the cut when packing a bag that I am supposed to live out of for 4-5 months. ☹
Do pack your slippers for hotels. Slippers are a great way to stay cozy while on the road and also keep your feet from getting dirty or spreading germs. Hotel hallways and lounges can be filled with germs and you don’t want to walk around barefoot. However, always putting on your snow boots just to grab some ice or to quickly ask your teammate in another room a question can get pretty annoying.
Do NOT pack your fashion shoes. These days, I rarely wear jeans. Let alone a nice pair of shoes! When I have to fit 2-3 pairs of ski boots, running shoes and snow boots into a bag, there is no longer room for any sense of fashion. Occasionally, I attend an event or outing during the season and show up slightly underdressed. But this is just one of the consequences I have to face, and I am okay with that!
DO get excited for the season!! It's a long one, but it's what I've been training for the past seven months. I can't wait to get it started!
A few weeks ago, my teammates and I traveled over to Lake Placid, NY for one final training camp with the US Ski Team before getting our respective seasons started. Lake Placid is a beautiful town located in the middle of the Adirondack mountains which provides access to some pretty sweet training right out the door. It’s really awesome that our SMS team can join the national team for training camps like this because it keeps things consistent for us. I’m already training with Jessie and Sophie for most of the year in Stratton, VT so it's great to continue workouts with them. The only change for us was location and housing. The national team stayed together in a house outside of town while I stayed with my non-national, Stratton teammates right downtown. As a result, I ended up living with six boys in a three-bedroom apartment for two weeks! I love my teammates, but this was A LOT to handle…
Luckily, we were training so much that it didn’t leave us much down time to be crowded in our small apartment. For me, this time of year offers some of the most fun training because we get a little bit of everything; we do anything from threshold to anaerobic intervals along with speed sets and time trials. Hitting one of these systems pretty much every other day really keeps things interesting and all of the athletes on our toes.
Unfortunately, after a few days at camp I came down with the slightest bit of a cold - hardly noticeable. I pulled back from a few of the easy distance workouts in hope of jumping in on the intensity days; but alas, this girl never seems to learn her lessons. Hindsight is always 20-20 and looking back on this I know that I should have taken a few days completely off in order to fully recover. Of course, I didn’t do this and I paid for it in the end by feeling pretty mediocre the rest of the two-week camp. You would think that by now in my ski career I would know how to handle these situations but I was afraid I was going to miss out on all of the fun!
Needless to say, it was still a fantastic camp that left me feeling tired, ready for a rest week and motivated for the final block of training to put all of the finishing touches on my fitness before the season begins. After traveling back to Stratton Mountain, the team prepared for our annual send-off dinner, a fundraiser that we host at the school every year for local friends and family to gather, mingle, say good-byes and bid on some exciting auction items before we start jet-setting off all over the world! This year the live auction was extremely successful and it was really humbling to see the community get behind our cause and show their excitement for our passions, dreams and goals! Thank you to everyone who attended such a fun, heartwarming event!
The money that we raised last weekend will go toward covering our team expenses including wax, travel arrangements for Coach Pat, van and tech support, and much more throughout the season! Unfortunately, this doesn't completely cover all of the expenses that a skier faces when first turning “pro.” There are still expensive international flights, hotel rooms, race entry fees, food, etc. that can really add up over a four to five month season. Luckily, I have some pretty amazing supporters back home in the Midwest who want to help see me succeed this winter. I am happy to announce that I have partnered with Gear West Ski and Bike shop again to host a fundraiser to help offset some of these expenses! The event will take place at the ski shop in Long Lake, MN on Thursday, November 21st 6-8pm and will include a silent auction, food/beverages provided by GORE Wear and Barley John’s Brewery and a presentation, “Birkie and Beyond” (all about my experience at the Birkie last year and how I’ve used that to make changes and motivate me for the upcoming season). Gear West and GORE Wear are both willing to match up to $1,000 in donations and we have some pretty sweet auction items this year: Birkie Weekend cabin, Birkie wave boost, Rossignol S2 Skis (fitted to the winner), a wine cork pull and so much more! The event is for all ages and even if you aren’t able to make a financial contribution it would be wonderful to see you there!
My teammates and I have been hitting the training pretty hard the past few weeks in preparation for a big US Ski Team camp in Lake Placid. We finished a two week intensity block, took a few days to recover from it and then scheduled another 10 days of hard work. We'll then get to spend some relaxing time celebrating Simi and Sophie's wedding this weekend. We are all so excited for Simi and Sophie to get married and for the gathering of so many friends!
In our 10 day Stratton-based training camp, we have planned 5-6 days of intensity along with a fair amount of volume filled in on the off days. The intervals are getting harder, but also more fun because it means we get to start moving faster!
My teammates and I balance our training lives in different ways. For example, Ian and Kyle have stocked up for the apocalypse and have since entered "hermit mode." It is my understanding that they have purchased 7 gallons of milk, 20 pounds of pasta, 60 bagels and 100 bananas. The science behind this is that they never have to leave Stratton Mountain except for training when we drive to find different roads to roller ski on or trails to run on. No grocery runs, few gas refills, just eat, sleep, breathe skiing!
As for my roommate Jessie and me, we've taken a slightly different approach. Although we have been prioritizing our recovery between hard training sessions, we're also okay with driving into town every once and a while. During the afternoons, we do work from our computers while sitting in a pair of Normatec pants (super fancy pants that squeeze your legs making them feel "refreshed") and planning our meals. Jessie and I have been CRUSHING the dinner scene on Stratton Mountain. So, I decided to give you a little look into what we've been cooking to help with recovery and to stay fueled through this intensity block.
I think the biggest takeaway from all of this, is realizing how delicious and nutritious a well-balanced meal can be. Jessie and I try to make sure that we include lots of fruits and veggies, carbohydrates and protein in all of our meals. We try to mix up the type of protein between red meat, seafood, and "boring" chicken. I'm no nutrition expert, but I think this insures that we get plenty of iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and protein to help our muscles recover from all of the training we've been doing.
Whether it's lunch or dinner, we make sure that each of our meals helps us recover and refuel. Also, that it tastes delicious! Some of our meals we just make up as we go along; a salad is pretty hard to screw up, throw some greens in a bowl and add whatever leftovers you've got in the fridge on top! Other meals, we find inspiration from yummy cookbooks or food blogs. Some of our favorite cookbooks are Run Fast Eat Slow and Run Fast Cook Fast Eat Slow (both written by runners Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky). We also have two books by Chrissy Teigen that include some pretty rich goodies. Our latest addition to this collection is The Birchwood Cafe cookbook. The Birchwood Cafe is a fun little joint in St. Paul, MN that always serves seasonal, farm-fresh food. I think that following the seasons and cooking with produce that is fresh helps add a lot of flavor, keeps the cost of buying food down and gets us excited about each new season.
Some days we really like to switch things up and get creative. One of Jessie's mottos is, "if we can make it at home, then why bother going out to dinner." So we've had a few pizza nights! These leftovers also make the BEST snack during a long run the next day ;)
When we're stuck between meals and afternoon training sessions, sometimes all we want is a little snack. Jessie and I take turns making fresh granola that we eat with yogurt and fresh fruit. I've also added a new hobby to my daily routine this year and have been taking care of a little sourdough baby. This starter has traveled all over the country with me the last few months and has caused some stress, but mostly it provides the best fresh sourdough loaves that make great breakfast or snack food.
Finally, the moment I look forward to all day... Dessert! I have quite the sweet tooth and strongly believe that everyone works hard enough during the day that they deserve to treat themselves. Whether it's a post-ski cookie to quickly refuel your glycogen stores or an evening crisp made with seasonal fruit, a little bit of sweetness is not going to hurt our athleticism but it can help with happiness :)
I hope this finds you feeling inspired to make some delicious fall meals that can help you stay fueled during training. In the meantime, I'll be eating wedding cake :)
After almost five weeks of being away from Southern Vermont, I am happy to finally be back with my SMS T2 Teammates and excited to get into some hard fall training! In early August I took a trip home to the Midwest to spend some quality time with my family at our cabin and visit friends from home in the Twin Cities.
While at home, I hosted a clinic with Gear West Ski and Bike Shop at the Theodore Wirth Trailhead. I also visited a few club practices including the NordicWerks SkiKlubb in St. Paul. My goal for these events was to connect with junior athletes in the Twin Cities area and to chat with them about staying in sport, setting goals and challenging themselves. It was really awesome to spend time with the ski community that I grew up in and work with high schoolers that are in the same position that I was in just a few years ago!
I’m so grateful to have a supporter like Gear West, willing to help me with a fundraiser later this fall (more on that later) and help me get involved in the community. Growing up in Plymouth, MN, whenever I needed anything ski related, I always went to Gear West. When I was in middle school, my dad and I went to the store together in search of a new pair of classic skis. I remember the Gear West experts spent so much time with the two of us picking out a pair that would be just right for me and I later referred to these skis as my “magic skis” because they were so fast and I could always kick on them. To have a store that cares so much about the young skiers in the area is really special and something that I have been very thankful for. So, it was an honor to put together a ski clinic with Gear West in the hopes of developing more junior athletes to succeed as the next generation of elite skiers!
After a busy week in the Midwest, I flew west to Bozeman, MT for my own mini altitude training camp. Bozeman isn’t super high in elevation, but it’s high enough for me to feel the effects. I’ve never felt like I could race to my true ability while at altitude and it’s something that I’ve been trying to work on for years now. I was able to jump in with the elite skiers training in Bozeman for a few time trials, long mountain runs and strength workouts. They were so nice to let me join them for three weeks!
After a month of running around, I was ready to head back east. Although, while planning all of this travel I scheduled a 48-hour layover back in Minneapolis to spend two more nights with my parents, attend the Minnesota State Fair and see my sister one last time. For anyone not from Minnesota, you might not understand why I would schedule an extra two days at home just to go to a silly little fair. Well, it’s not silly. And it’s not little! The Minnesota State Fair is one of the biggest in the country and includes food, rides, games, concerts, shopping, animals, etc. My mom and her friends had a bunch of tickets to see Brandi Carlile in concert at the Grand Stand and they had an extra ticket for me! We walked around the fair eating all kinds of great food: fried tacos, fried cheese curds, gyros, pronto pups (foot-long corn dogs). Pretty much any type of food you could think of, the fair has, and it’s fried or on a stick, or both! It was so great to spend this time with my mom and all of her friends. It gave me a good mental reset before a Fall of hard training.
Before I could leave The Cities I really wanted to see my sister, Marit. She and her boyfriend, Nick, had just flown back from a vacation they took in Oregon and I was excited to hear all about the trip. We headed to their place for one last dinner as a family and Nick's family came along too. We ate and laughed and heard all about their special trip together and were about ready to go home for the night when Marit started talking about a hike that they did in Bend, OR. They climbed up one of the more challenging mountains called Middle Sister and Marit told us about how hard they worked to get to the top. They were determined to summit and once they did, they enjoyed the view at the top and felt very accomplished. Marit then casually pulled her hand out of her pocket and stated, "and then Nick asked me to marry him," while showing us a gorgeous ring! Woah! I could not be happier for these two! This was a moment that every family member had been waiting for and we are all so excited for them! Marit and Nick are two of my best friends and some of the hardest working people I know. They are so loving and supportive of each other and of the people around them. I love both so much and can't wait to have an older brother! :)
The next day, I took this excitement with me as I finally made my way back to Stratton, VT to be with my team. We jumped into a big block of hard training and got to work during intervals, strength workouts, and long runs. My teammates Sophie, Ian and I decided to hop into a half marathon in Manchester, VT and I think we all surprised ourselves with how good we felt. After so much high-quality ski training we were able to transfer this over to running and probably pushed our legs a little too much. We’re used to going out for long runs in the mountains, but these adventures are on trails (much softer than pavement) and we run much slower because of all the hills, rocks and roots on the trail. Running fast on pavement was a little shock to our legs and I definitely had a hard time walking the following few days.
Although it was fun to travel and see family for so long, I am happy to be back with my teammates for training and adventuring throughout Vermont! Ski training in the summer is a lot of hours and volume but it's pretty easy to do from almost anywhere. However, the fall is when we really crack down on hard workouts and it is so valuable to be with speedy teammates that I can learn from every single day in a place with such phenomenal ski training terrain. It's time to sit still in Vermont and grind through tough workouts that will make us stronger and fitter for the winter racing season!
I can’t believe how fast the summer has been flying by and with that, means kids are soon heading back to school. In Minnesota, most high school practices will begin next Monday and all over the country college programs will soon begin their fall training. I feel fortunate enough to have been a part of school athletics from middle school through college. Being in sports helped me stay active, forced me to set goals, introduced me to new friends and most importantly, taught me what it meant to be a part of a TEAM!
Although most of my athletic career has been in “individual sports,” (with the exception of soccer, which I played through my freshman year of high school) I think that no matter what type of sport, club or organization you are involved in, it will teach you about teamwork. When I was at Wayzata High School, I was a part of a cross country running team that was quite unique. The team had gone through a few “rough years," and had not qualified for the MN State Meet for a while, only occasionally sending individuals. I had been on the running team in middle school and found success and joy in this. At the time, I competed against other middle schools in the district and there were a group of us that constantly went back and forth in races. When we finally came together and joined the high school team as freshmen, I think my head coach, Dave Emmans, saw something special in my class of girls. He, along with our incredible assistant coach at the time, Addy Hallen, watched us complete workouts and time trials and recognized something pretty powerful. We did not approach these runs or intervals as individuals trying to hit certain times. We traveled as one unit and worked together to get each other through long runs or 800-meter repeats. We took turns leading and following. We challenged each other during the end of each workout and pushed each other to be better athletes, but we also cracked jokes during a tempo run, sang out loud during our warm ups and high-fived each other after every single training session.
My freshman year, the team qualified for the MN State Cross Country Meet and over the next few years we continued to find success, eventually bringing home two State Titles. By my Junior year, the team had an epic performance at regionals, qualifying for Nike Cross Nationals (NXN). (My junior year of high school, 2012, I ran at the state meet but decided not to attend regionals or nationals because I wanted to transition my efforts into the ski season).
During these years, I was able to transfer what I learned from my running team into the other teams that I was a part of; skiing, track and field, school projects, student council, etc. I learned how to lead others when I knew that I could be helpful and how to follow them when I knew they could teach me something new. I figured out how to set individual goals as well as team goals and how to make a plan to achieve them.
Going into my senior year of high school there were whispers around the running community that our team had a shot at placing at NXN that fall. Although there were a few new faces on our team since my freshman year, my class had undeniable depth and we still worked together in anything that we did. We were soon referred to as “the pack” that would find each other in races, run together and swallow up girls running solo. We knew who started fast and would then settle, or who had the best kick to hang onto at the end. We created code words for when we knew it was time to take it to the next gear and race even harder. We charged through the cross-country season with full force, working together the entire time. I was personally concerned about going to NXN myself as the race was in early December and I also had goals for the ski season that was getting started around that time. However, I knew how much potential my running team had and was willing to sacrifice some of my skiing for the sake of that team.
We arrived in Portland, OR knowing that we had a chance of running well, but also knowing that we had already found so much in our team. We had become best friends, we found humor in the smallest things while running, we loved each other’s company (and knew how to really annoy one another). We wanted to give it our best, but we also wanted to have fun with the team we had been a part of for four years. Over half of our team was graduating that year and going on to compete in college, but we knew that this squad had something special with the way we worked together.
Most of the race at NXN was a blur. It was one of the largest races any of us had been a part of and we found it difficult to find each other in the mass of girls running. But we did! I remember hearing Coach Hallen with about 1 kilometer to go in the race. She yelled that our top runner was in the top 10 and that it was Go Time. At this point in my life I had already committed to skiing at the University of Vermont the following year and thought that this was going to be my last cross-country running race ever. After hearing my coach in the race, I put in a surge and my two teammates followed with. In the last 800 meters we must have passed around 20 girls, improving our team score immensely. We crossed the finish line knowing that it had been a good day and that we had done everything we could to work as a team and accomplish what we could. I was proud of my team for fighting so hard in the last bit of the race and we were happy to be at the finish line together. We smiled and hugged, found our parents, found our coaches, and waited for the results to come in.
We knew that our biggest competitors would be a team from New York, Fayetville-Manlius. They had won NXN the previous seven years in a row and had been dominating all year. But I will never forget the moment I looked up to the score board to see 1. Wayzata.
We had worked for four years as a team to achieve this and were ecstatic with joy.
This sense of teamwork has affected me in every aspect of life since. It helped me work together on a high school ski team that brought home numerous MN State Titles as well as being nominated the top girls high school team in the country at Junior Nationals. This teamwork prepared me for college, where everything is elevated to the next level. It taught me how to work with other people on projects in school and in extracurriculars and I am sure that I will benefit from it in the future when I decide to join the "normal workforce." Teamwork is everywhere in our world and I think that learning this at such a young age is of extreme value.
The Minnesota State High School League presents the perfect opportunity for kids to join a team, learn these lessons, and set themselves up for success, all while staying active, meeting new friends and working together. I fear that too many juniors in the ski world have put too much pressure on themselves and are viewing skiing as only an individual sport. It doesn't have to be! Personally, I found value and growth through my high school teams and by prioritizing teamwork, I gained so much more than I ever could have by flying solo.
A few weeks ago, I was presented an opportunity to give back to the Midwest ski community that has provided so much for me over the years. The Central Cross Country (CXC) team asked me if I would be willing to join the Central Regional Elite Group (REG) camp in Ironwood, MI. The camp brings together some of the top junior/high school athletes in the Midwest for a week of hard training and testing. CXC wanted me to act as a mentor athlete/coach for these skiers and I decided this would be a great opportunity to get back to my roots for a few weeks.
I was able to travel home a few days before the camp started to spend the 4th of July with some friends and family. It's been a tradition that my mom and a bunch of her friends spend the 4th on Madeline Island in Lake Superior. When I was in high school, my sister and I joined her for these weekend getaways, but it had been a few years since I got to tag along. I was very excited to get back to this tradition and spend 3 days on the island with some incredible women who have been major role models throughout my whole life!
On the island, I went for a few runs while my mom and aunt biked along side of me. We enjoyed yoga by the water and did lots of swimming/floating in chilly Lake Superior! (Nothing feels better after a long run in the heat than a jump into the lake).
After a few days on island time and a solid mental and physical reset, I traveled over to the upper peninsula of Michigan to join 22 junior skiers for the REG Camp as well as 24 U14 kids for “Dream Camp.” The first few days I mostly spent with the REG athletes and completed an uphill run test, skate agility test and double pole time trial on roller skis. It was so awesome to see all of these juniors bring their A game to these tests even though it was pretty hot and humid.
We were then able to take a few days to recover from all of this intensity and fill it in with some easy distance skiing. During this time, I gave a presentation to the athletes about my journey as a skier and some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years. I also had the opportunity to jump in with the Dream Camp for some foot drills, agility, and fun sprinting games. I feel like throughout the week I was really able to get to know a lot of the athletes at camp and I encouraged them to ask me questions. I wanted to be there for them as a sounding board about some big life decisions they were soon going to have to make. I tried to find the right balance of leading by example, while also making sure the athletes all understand that I was sitting exactly where they were just a few years ago...
We finished off the week with an interval session, more swimming in Lake Superior and an over distance workout. The enthusiasm from all of the athletes at REG and Dream Camp was so great to see and it really inspired me to continue to seek out opportunities to connect with the ski community, especially the next generation. I am excited to announce an open roller ski clinic and presentation that I am hosting in Minneapolis with Gear West Ski and Bike Shop. The event will be Thursday, August 8th, 6-8pm at the Theodore Wirth Trailhead. I will chat about the various transitions of my ski career and the important role that my family has played in supporting me at every level along the way. I am hoping that junior skiers will be able to attend this event along with their parents so that we can discuss the dynamic of supporting each other through some extremely important points in a skier’s life, whether as a part of the Minnesota High School League, Junior Nationals, competing at the NCAA level or at the professional level. Hope to see you there!
It’s been a minute! By the end of last season, I was feeling burnt out; it had been my longest period of racing by almost 5 weeks and I had done more traveling than ever before. I needed to take the spring to get away from training, to give my body and my mind a break from it all and to just enjoy a few weeks of visiting friends and family. I took two weeks completely off from any “real training” and filled it with downhill skiing with my family in Colorado, backcountry skiing with friends in Montana, and running (short jogs) with my sister in Minnesota.
This break from the daily stress of counting hours, ticking away at intervals, and checking heart rates seemed to be just what I needed. I was able to take a solid four weeks to look back on my first ski season as a “pro” and absorb what I was proud of, what I wished had gone better and where I could make adjustments. This allowed me to easily make new goals for the upcoming season, both objective goals and process goals. In the end, I realized three main issues from the past year:
I was given the opportunity to frequently race internationally at a much more competitive level. In the moment, I thought to myself, “this is what I’m trying to do, why would I say no?” But in reality, this led to a travel, racing and training schedule that never allowed a break. After each race I would travel to the next place, try to get in as much training/preparation as I could before I had to race again, and then continue this same pattern for weeks. I never allowed myself to fully rest and I never had much time for training blocks within the season.
That being said I have new goals in mind for the upcoming year and have been very excited about a few changes. Some of the goals I am still keeping to myself and some I’ve only told my coach about. But I do know that I hope to travel less, race less, and make sure that each effort is really worth it. I’ve already started putting these thoughts into motion as I’ve adjusted my summer training from last year. When I first joined the SMS T2 team I wanted to jump into every single interval session that they did no matter what I was previously used to doing. I had no problem with this last summer and assumed that I was unbreakable. This caught up to me mid-Winter. I was tired! So, I’ve communicated with my coach and teammates about slowly getting back into intervals in Stratton. I haven’t done every threshold workout and I haven’t done as many intervals as each of my teammates, but instead filled in more easy volume into my training. I am hoping that with this gradual approach I will be able to properly conserve myself for when it’s GO TIME!
Other changes for me this summer include:
This brings me to my last thought. Training and racing around the world for a year has given me a lot of time to “think.” Recently, I’ve been thinking about the reasons I fell in love with the sport, who/what inspired me to try to take each new step and what makes me value each unique opportunity that’s been presented to me. Quickly, I realized that I have always looked up to older athletes. At first, it was my parents and my older sister. Then, it was the upperclassmen on my high school and club ski team. Soon, I found myself in situations where I was training or working with Midwest elite athletes either on the ski trails or at clinics. These mentors encouraged me to challenge myself athletically, mentally, and emotionally. They are who inspired me to set goals and hold myself to them. Without these influencers, I would not have been able to find the same success over all these years.
I want to give back to the ski community that gave so much to me! I want to work with younger athletes more; explain to them how to avoid the mistakes that I made and encourage them to keep challenging themselves in life. I am looking forward to finding new ways that I can incorporate this community involvement into my year of training and racing :)