Nothing like a little spring break to rejuvenate the ski soul and lift spirits! After a challenging year (for everyone, for so many reasons) and a mentally tough ski season, I knew that this spring was extremely important for me. It was necessary for me to take a step back from ski racing and enjoy what was right in front of me.
There was no particular moment in the last year that I found myself overly stressed or devastated about the ski season. With so much going on in the world, it was hard to put that first in my mind. Rather, in 2020 I focused on the variables that I could control to create a safe space around me. I believe that this worked really well and I was never in a position to feel concerned about exposure, etc. What I didn’t realize during this process, was how much I was isolating myself. I had my SMS teammates around for most of the summer and fall; we had a great season of training together! However, I also spent so much time in quarantine due to my travel schedule and the rigid guidelines set in place by the state of Vermont. I did my best to follow all of the restrictions as closely as possible, but was bummed to miss out on the small opportunities throughout the year to see other friends and family.
This ‘safe space’ that I created for myself paved a path for me to race the World Cup for a few weeks mid-Winter, which I was so grateful for! It also left me alone a lot, feeling unhappy and confused about the season as a whole and questioning what I wanted out of skiing. I didn’t realize how much of a build up there had been during the year until I was able to make it home for the last races of the season. Racing around my friends and family, experiencing the pure joy of the sport during the Birkie, feeling the enthusiasm reverberate off the Midwest skiers around me… that’s what I had been missing all year. With the wrap-up of the season, I realized I needed to make the most of the upcoming spring break I had and wanted to spend as much time as possible around my friends, in the sunshine and mountains, exploring outside purely for the fun and excitement about it. So, that’s exactly what I did!
I kicked things off by getting a Covid vaccine, then hopped in the car with my dad and drove down to Colorado to visit family. For the next six weeks, CO served as a home base as I saw various friends and family in the area, all of whom had already been vaccinated.
Before I left the Midwest, I stopped by Gear West Ski & Bike shop, where they were able to assist in getting me a Rossignol backcountry ski setup that I could also use at the resort. I spent my days either downhill skiing with family or adventuring in the backcountry with friends (always in safe places with a beacon, probe and avalanche expert in the group).
My friend, Lina Sutro, and I took a trip to Moab, UT where we met up with some other friends for camping, mountain biking, skiing and running. This was my first trip to Moab and the only regret I have is that the trip wasn’t long enough! We had a packed, long weekend of activities, spending the entire time outdoors and in great company!
After Moab, I returned to Colorado for more time in the mountains, hitting the last few runs of spring skiing and seeing more friends and family. My happy tank was filling up!
With all of these activities and social interactions, which felt quite foreign to me for the first few weeks, I also needed to schedule in some downtime. Luckily, the part-time, remote job that I’ve been working at for awhile now, forced me to sit down at a kitchen table as well. If I went skiing in the morning, I’d spend the afternoon on my computer. Otherwise, I’d wake up early and crank out as much work as possible over a cup of coffee (or two) and then hit the mountains during peak sunshine hours in the afternoon. Working for a startup company has been interesting at times and chaotic at others. Overall, it’s provided a great place for me to focus some of my brain energy when I’m not ski training/racing and I’m really happy that I’m able to balance both.
After a month of letting gravity do all of the work for me on the chairlift, I started feeling ready to do some of the climbing myself again. I slowly began feeling excited to throw more running into my routine. The hiking up mountains on skin skis didn’t feel like as much work anymore, instead I was just enjoying the idea of working a bit to earn my turns. I finally called my coach, having not talked to him in over a month and a half. We had a great debrief about the previous season and started talking about goals for the upcoming year. All of those questions I had been asking myself back in February were suddenly out the window and I knew I wanted more skiing in my life. I reflected with my coach about how much I require balance in my life. I need to see other friends and family aside from teammates all year, otherwise I’ll lose that ski spirit that fires me up for races!
Never before have I needed such a break from cross country skiing. However, now that I’ve had my time away, I’m feeling refueled and ready to get after this new year of ski training! Asking myself, 'why do I ski?' I now know how to answer that. One reason is because I just absolutely love the sport. Another reason is because I'm an extremely competitive person who thrives off of hard work and setting goals. What I recently came to realize though, is that I ski because I love the people, experiences, traveling and challenges that all come with the sport. My goal for this next year is to get back into a rhythm where I get to incorporate all of these aspects into my daily life so that I can be the happiest and best version of myself.
Time to train!!
..Skiing in the Midwest is so much fun!
After a couple of underwhelming weeks of racing on the World Cup in Europe this winter, I headed straight back to my home in Minnesota. My goal for the remainder of the season was to enjoy whatever race opportunities came my way and make sure I was having fun (something I had lost sight of the previous few weeks). As a spur-of-the-moment decision, I decided to sign up for the Mora Vasaloppet 45k race in Mora, MN. The Mora Vasa is the sister race to the Swedish Vasaloppet, a 90k classic race through rural Sweden. I can't say I went into the Mora Vasa prepared, but I knew it would be good practice for marathon racing, considering I was signed up for the Birkie just one week later....
I took it pretty easy that next week leading up to Birkie weekend. This year was unique for many reasons, but specifically, the skate and classic races were on separate days. This meant that for the first time in history it was possible to complete a DOUBLE BIRKIE by participating in both events!
Before I headed to the Northwoods of Wisconsin, I made sure to stop by Gear West Ski & Bike Shop. They helped me with a fresh ski grind on a pair of skis that were a favorite of mine, but had seen some damage in Europe. I also picked up a fresh pile of Tailwind Nutrition electrolyte packs. In the 2019 Birkie, I found success racing with Tailwind and have been using the product ever since, particularly during long, hard efforts. After that, I was ready to get up north and feed my fever.
I only skied for about an hour a day in that week, but spent the rest of those days trying to stay off my feet, working from the couch and fueling properly. I was trying to save and store every last bit of energy that I could. On the Friday before the races, I tested a few pairs of skis, did a few quick intervals and then started getting giddy with excitement! I grew up skiing Birkie events with my family, so it's always special to be back there with my entire family participating (minus my brother racing at UNH).
Despite a significantly smaller crowd than usual at the start of the race on Saturday morning, I drove up to the Birkie start and instantly felt a rush of adrenaline. The Birkie Foundation did a spectacular job at enforcing a mask mandate, encouraging social distancing, cleaning facilities frequently and spacing the racers out in the starting pen. It was interesting walking up to the start line and having my skis tested for fluoro waxes for the first time. This fluoro ban is something that is new to the ski world and hasn't quite reached the World Cup level yet, but I strongly support any way we can limit the negative impact on our environment and our coaches/wax tech's health!
Soon enough, it was go time. As soon as that gun went off, all of my nerves were wiped away. I felt controlled and relaxed as we raced across the powerline, through the woods and up to the high point. I was able to lunge for the two sprint bonuses, all the while, slowly sipping on my Tailwind in my water bottle. By the halfway point at OO, the elite women's field had narrowed down to just four. We began catching and passing some of the elite men who were so generous when they stepped to the side to let us ski by. On multiple occasions, I heard male racers cheer 'Go Alayna,' or 'Hey that's Steve's daughter,' or 'Nice work Sonney!' Those encouragements along the course fired me up, made me smile and kept me going as we continued to race up and over the hills. Thank you for making it so fun out there!
With about 14k to go, I knew we were approaching some of the last big hills on the course. Unless I wanted it to come down to a four person sprint at the finish, I had to make a move. Just as we started climbing back to the high point again I started picking up the pace. The funny thing about a marathon race is that you can try to turn the notch up and really start grinding, but you don't feel like you're moving much faster. Although I was working VERY hard, I didn't think my move was going to make much of a difference. So, when I realized it was just Rosie Frankowski and I skiing together, I was surprised and had no idea how much of a gap we had made. With about 10-12k left of rolling downhill, I knew the race wasn't over yet and I'd have to keep working if I didn't want the other women to catch us.
Many have considered this change in course to be easier than the usual race through Rosie's Field and across the lake. However, I found that this year was much more neuromuscularly challenging toward the end of the race, with almost no recovery on any downhills. Which I believe is why I started feeling very delirious by the time Rosie and I caught my brother-in-law, Nick Ross. Nick is an elite runner turned skier and quite the talented endurance athlete (although he could really work on his ski technique a bit more, ZING!). It was evident that Nick wasn't having the race he was hoping for, but that didn't stop him! I can't recall exactly what he said in that moment, but his cheers saved me just as I was starting to see stars and lose feeling in my legs. In the end, it did come down to a sprint finish, but I had been practicing my speed the past few years with my SMS teammates, who just so happen to be some of the best sprinters in the world!
Checking the weather frequently that afternoon, I was beginning to prepare myself mentally for what was yet to come... Sunday morning, I rolled up to the start again feeling slightly less chipper, but just as excited. About 30 minutes before the start of the classic race, snow began to fall. We were expecting this and I knew it would throw an extra twist into the day, but boy did I underestimate just how much snow was about to fall.
So grateful for the boys plowing through the tracks in front of us, it came down to Rosie and me dueling up and over the hills. Over the course of three hours, I'm pretty sure close to five inches of snow fell in those woods. Thankfully, my kick wax kept me going (shoutout to Evan Pengelly for waxing them). Unfortunately, it was so painfully slow from the fresh pow that anytime I'd try to feed or fix something, I'd just about halt to a stop. Which is why, when my glasses and eyes were both frozen over to the point that I couldn't see and I had to make adjustments, Rosie gradually started pulling away from me. I kept fighting through the snow, trying to catch her, but she maintained a tempo that I just couldn't quite reach. Overall, the race was absolutely BRUTAL. Yet so memorable! At one point, I looked around me and was mesmerized by how beautiful the falling snow was and laughed at how much powder I was trudging through by myself.
I had so much fun racing back in the midwest and the ski community reminded me just how much I love this sport. I was able to finish my season with a few more races in Minneapolis the following weekend and enjoy every second I was out on those home courses. Huge thanks to everyone who helped plan, organize, work, time, volunteer and cheer at all of these events. Because of you, I was able to end on a high note that left me happy and ready for another try at reaching my goals. Just after I take a quick spring break to reset...
Just rolling with the punches... as everyone has been this year! After facing a bit of disappointment this season I've been trying to focus on the positives. I'm appreciative of the opportunities I have had and I know not many are as fortunate. Regardless of how races go, I do love being able to travel and continue to chase my goals. So, on a more light-hearted note here is a random compilation of some of the highlights from the past few weeks in Europe :)
The World Cup races take a TREMENDOUS amount of work to put together and on race day everything seems to go pretty smoothly. However, when you arrive at a venue a week early, things are still getting set up and you have to make do with what you've got.
There is also a lot of waiting that happens while on the World Cup. Waiting for your race, allotted training time, scheduled transportation, meal times, meetings...
Being a bit of a foodie myself I love exploring the different food options when I travel abroad. Sometimes it's super interesting stuff (I once tried horse tongue in Kazakhstan) and sometimes it's just fish and potatoes.
Jessie and I were so excited to be staying in cabins while in Falun, Sweden, we thought we might have the chance to cook/bake some yummy treats for ourselves. You can imagine the disappointment when we realized we had no oven... so instead we got creative!
No matter what type of race it's been I always enjoy cooling down with friends. Sometimes that means talking through the course about wild crashes we saw, sketchy corners we're proud of making or sections of the course we thought we saw God. Other times we talk about anything and everything else, wanting to take a quick break from what just happened and focus on how pretty it is outside.
After racing in Ulricehamn, Sweden a few weeks ago, there was an off week before the Nove Mesto World Cup in the Czech Republic. The other skiers planning to race in Nove Mesto were either coming from World Juniors or from the US, while the World Championship team was off at a training camp. This left Peter Holmes and me as American athletes needing to find our own training location in Europe for about a week!
We thought we could just stay in Sweden for an extra week to limit the number of travel days we'd have to face, but I was craving some sunshine and mountains. So, I had to twist Peter's arm to convince him to join me in Ramsau, Austria for some beautiful skiing.
I think Peter and I made a pretty good team, taking turns driving, cooking, cleaning, supporting each other during workouts and cheering each other on in intervals.
In Austria, most things were closed because of Covid so we didn't get too many opportunities to explore the surrounding area, but we tried our best!
Despite the situation, I think we did a good job at making friends with the locals...
After a week of paradise and good training, Peter and I started hearing rumors about Nove Mesto: Czech was going into a stricter lockdown and the WC could be canceled. We started to prepare ourselves for whatever might happen. Sadly, by Valentine's Day we found out we would not have the opportunity to race again in Europe and that it was time to go home.
Just another unfortunate situation to add to the list. Peter and I were both excited for another chance to race a World Cup. I had started to feel better energy-wise while training and was feeling optimistic about having a good race in Nove Mesto. As bummed as we both were, it was completely out of our control, so we scheduled a Covid test and changed our flights.
The silver lining of this situation is that I get to be at home with my family AND take advantage of Birkie Fever! I'm excited to be back in the Midwest just in time to compete in the American Birkebeiner next week, which is always a fun event and something that means a lot to me. Excited to see how many kilometers my legs can hang on for!
The last few weeks I have been traveling throughout Scandinavia, competing in World Cups with the US Team. I am always honored to represent the stars and stripes and have been feeling extra grateful for that opportunity during the year of Covid. Up until the week before I left for Europe, I was under the impression that my ski season was just about over; I couldn’t see any path for me to get to real racing this winter. That turned around real fast and I did my best with the time I had to prepare for these World Cup starts.
I began my journey in Lahti, Finland. This travel included covid tests before and immediately after travel. I also had papers from the USOPC and FIS declaring that I was a professional athlete traveling for ‘business,’ which seemed to do the trick when going through customs. I wore a mask during the entire 24-hour travel day and tried to limit taking it off for food/water aside from what was necessary. Upon arrival in Finland, I stuck to my hotel room when I wasn’t training and limited any interactions with the rest of the US team.
The Lahti World Cup weekend included a 15k skiathlon and a relay race. I was excited for the skiathlon but feeling intimidated by the mass start. Having experienced world cup mass starts last year, I knew the pace was going to be HOT from the start, but I felt prepared for that. I was ready to rip.
The first one kilometer of the skiathlon was probably one of my best scrambles I’ve ever had. Starting near the back of the pack, I made up close to 20 places in the first two minutes of the race! Then things started to go downhill, literally. The first descent in the racecourse includes a sweeping left corner and I went into it with speed, ready to sling-shot around people. Only, I came around the corner to find skiers crashing in the middle of the trail! I did everything I could to cut around the falling dominoes and thought I had made it by unscathed, until the very tip of my ski clipped another skier and I took a face plant right into the snow.
Twisted and tangled amongst 4 other skiers, I tried to get back up as quickly as possible, astonished that I hadn’t broken any equipment or bones! I did the best I could to shake it off and started charging forward again, but having lost the entire pack of skiers, it was hard to catch back on. I was able to move up a few places during the rest of the race but crossed the finish line feeling bummed that my first race of the season had turned out so poorly.
Not making the relay team and feeling a sour taste in my mouth made it hard for me to brush off my disappointment. All I could do was look forward to the following weekend of racing in Falun, Sweden. We traveled on Monday and moved into cute, little cabins that were a three-minute walk to the stadium. At last, I was able to room with my teammates, Jessie and Julia, their positive attitudes and unconditional love instantly put a smile back on my face. We spent the week giggling and catching up after not seeing each other for two months. The sun was shining for us in Sweden and I was feeling more optimistic about my upcoming races.
Unfortunately, the races didn’t go as I had hoped. We had a 10k skate individual start, 10k classic mass start and a classic sprint. During each of these races I felt like I was going hard, but I wasn’t going race hard. When it was time to kick it into gear and face that pain cave, I just couldn’t dig any deeper. I had no spark inside me, and my mind wasn’t focused on the race. The classic race started late in the afternoon and at one point I looked up and thought to myself, “wow, it’s really pretty out with the sun starting to set.” Not what you should be thinking about during a ski race! Where was my head at?
Walking away from the finish line I was feeling more disappointment. I hadn’t executed any of my races the way I wanted to. I didn’t feel like I had really done my best or given it everything I had. My results were nothing compared to what my goals had been, but mostly, I was feeling discouraged.
So why, after filling my tank before these races, did I feel so empty? I had been training hard in December and early January. Was I training too much? Not knowing if I would even race this season, there had been plenty of talk about making this a ‘developing year.’ Although, it seems as though the rest of the World Cup circuit hasn't faced too many disruptions in their training during Covid and are as speedy as ever. I was training by myself almost everyday for two months with no one to compare to or work through the grind with. So, maybe I just was not as fit as I thought I was? Had I missed the ball somewhere? Usually, it takes me a few races in the early season to really get into the racing zone. Was it because I just hadn’t raced yet this year? Am I missing that spark? Is it lost forever? Not knowing the answer to these questions was extremely frustrating.
Taking the week to lick my wounds, I was extra appreciative to have my teammates around to keep me in as good a mood as possible. I let myself relax a little bit and decided there wasn’t much I could do about whatever type of fitness I was or wasn’t in at the moment, so no point in continuing to stress over it. With a skate sprint weekend on tap in Ulricehamn, Sweden, we traveled south two days prior to racing. Warming up on the course the day before, I started to feel more optimistic. The sprint was a relatively flat course with lots of twists and bumps to keep things interesting and I was having fun prepping for the race!
Finally, race day arrived and I woke up feeling giddy with excitement, something I hadn’t felt all season. Testing skis that morning went so smoothly and I knew the Rossi skis I had picked out were going to be fast (usually I’m super indecisive about ski testing). I went out there and raced that sprint qualifier as hard as I possibly could have, skiing every transition well and giving it everything I had. I still didn’t qualify for the heats and my results weren’t anything magical, still not close to what my goal had been for the season. Except, I felt that spark ignite itself inside me again and I really don’t think I could have skied the race any better than I did. I finished the race feeling proud!
Now that I’ve had some time to reflect upon my recent world cup races, I’ve been thinking a lot about results. When I’m feeling down about a race that didn’t go well, my support system often reminds me that it’s not about results. That it’s about racing hard and having fun. Well, this is only partially true. Results do matter! They open doors to higher levels of racing, to being named to teams, to finding sponsors, to a plethora of other opportunities. They also do or don’t show progression. My life as a skier is about racing hard and having fun, but it’s also about challenging myself to be better, supporting myself financially and reaching goals that I’ve been working toward for years! These all rely on a positive trend in results.
That being said, a result on paper could appear one way but really mean something different. For example, I’ve succeeded in races and shown great results, meanwhile not feeling good about the performance I gave. Vice versa, my race in Ulricehamn did not stand out on paper and by no means was it spectacular. However, it was a race that I think I will always feel proud of. Over-coming low self-confidence in a competitive field and pushing back after previous disappointment is also what it’s all about. I don’t feel like my earlier races were failures, but I do think that approaching the start line of that sprint qualifier with a grin on my face was a success.
I am excited to have more opportunities to test that spark! I am currently training in Ramsau, Austria for one week before I drive over to Nove Mesto, Czech Republic for two more world cup races. I still don't know the answers to any of my previous questions about possible overtraining, lack of fitness or gritty mindset issues. However, I do know that I'm going to learn what I can from my races over here and continue to work everyday for results that I can be proud of, no matter where my name lands on that piece of paper.
So far this ski season has included a lot of “hurry up and wait.” Last month, I was bummed to find out that Covid was causing more obstacles in an already turbulent season. For understandable safety concerns, the US Ski Team decided not to fill all of their start spots for the Tour de Ski world cup races. I was feeling quite defeated, but I decided to make the most of the situation and head home to spend Christmas with my family.
I was hesitant about unnecessary travel, but ultimately, I realized that my head and heart needed the time at home if I wanted to keep chasing goals the rest of the winter. Spending mornings reading my book next to the fireplace (waiting for my brother to wake up), afternoons skiing with my family on the Birkebeiner trails and evenings cooking up a storm with my mom and sister in the kitchen… one week at home was just what I needed.
With the time at home to lick my wounds, I returned back to Vermont feeling energized and ready to set my eyes on some new goals. That is, after I did a week-long quarantine in southern Vermont and then got a negative covid test. A week before Christmas, Stratton, VT got hit with a snowstorm resulting in 42 inches of fresh snow, a record snowfall for the state of Vermont! However, mother nature wasn’t feeling great and decided to follow that up with 2 inches of rain over Christmas. By the time I made it back to Vermont, it was looking grim.
I did the best I could to stay positive and hope for more snow in the forecast. I adjusted training so that I could ski up the access road on Stratton Mountain before the lifts opened at 9 am. I also went on a few runs and hikes and did more strength at home. I knew in the back of my mind that there was a possibility I could qualify for period 3 of world cup races in Europe, but the decision wasn’t supposed to be made until January 4th. There wasn’t much I could do besides try to train and wait around for that decision.
January 4th came around and I busied myself with work and yoga. I tuned into a virtual Maine high school practice and worked with junior skiers on drills and goal setting. I even made more cookies with the cats! My thought was that I had two options... Plan A: qualify for period 3 world cups, train in VT for a few more weeks and then fly to Europe. Plan B: not qualify for races, pack my belongings into my car and drive west in search of sun, snow and mountains to enjoy for the rest of the winter! Towards the end of the day, I finally got a call from my coach. He said, “don’t pack your bags just yet.” Which essentially meant that nothing had been decided for world cups but don’t start your ski-cation. More waiting....
To be completely honest, I was feeling extremely frustrated about the situation. I had already done a whole lot of waiting! Sadly, there was nothing I could do about the situation except take a deep breath and move forward with training. By this point, I had finished my quarantine and was able to travel up to Craftsbury, VT where my male teammates had been training over the holidays. Seeing my teammates and coach again after a few weeks apart put a smile back on my face! There was more consistent snow up north, so I was able to jump into hard training right away.
On the easy days, I occupied myself by meeting up with an ex-UVM Catamount teammate, Mk Cirelli. We went skiing at the Trapp Family Lodge, which is where the UVM team did most training waaaay back in the day. ;) It was really special to be back there with Mk and it brought back so many great college memories. It was also a beautiful day that reminded me just how much I love this sport, despite the challenges and obstacles it brings.
It's funny how much some sun, fun skiing, and seeing a friend can boost you back into a better mood. I really feel like my ski with Mk was just what my ski soul needed and I started feeling more positive about my situation.
Sure enough, the following day was when the postponed decisions were meant to be finalized. Again, I busied myself with more work, some yoga, laundry... by dinnertime I received another phone call from my coach. This time, a much happier one! It was official that I had been nominated as the COC Leader for the US. (COC leader spot is for the top ranked domestic skier, not including anyone already racing world cups). After weeks of waiting and beginning to think that there wouldn't be much of a race season for me at all, I let out a big sigh of relief.
I am so SO excited to be heading to Europe in just a few days! I will be over there for three weeks, racing in Finland and Sweden. I can't wait to be reunited with my female SMS teammates who have been there for a few months now. In the meantime, I will spend this last week doing a few more hard workouts and preparing to travel. I will also be packing plenty of local coffee, peanut butter and Vermont Maple Sriracha to add to the potatoes that I know we will have for breakfast, lunch and dinner in Finland.
After watching my teammates CRUSH the Tour de Ski, I am feeling very inspired to head over there loaded with positive energy! I was so impressed watching my teammates bury themselves in these races, day after day. I am so proud of Jessie and the team for believing in themselves and daring to chase those big, scary goals.
I would like to include one final thought: Covid has thrown obstacles into all of our lives. I know that I could blog only about the beautiful skiing I get to do and places I get to go, which I really am grateful for. However, I believe sharing the positive moments AND the challenges that cross country skiers face is important in order to depict a realistic outlook on what life as a skier looks like for me. As always, thank you for the continuous support, it's time to race!
The weather gods seem to be teasing us in northern Vermont! After weeks of dealing with little to no snow, a huge “nor’easter” storm decided to dump over three feet of fresh pow all over New England, with the exception of a little pocket around Craftsbury.
I have been living and training in Craftsbury, VT for 4.5 weeks now. We’ve had hopeful dustings of snow, crushing rainstorms and frigid winds test our patience and desire to do this crazy sport called cross country skiing. However, I have still been enjoying my time here. After quarantining and getting a negative Covid test, I was able to move in with the Craftsbury Green Racing Project and thereby join “the pact.” This gave me a safe place to live, food from a dining hall and access to a gym and man-made snow. It also allowed me to hang out/train with ski buddies and high school/college friends who are on the GRP team.
We started out with a 200-meter stretch of snow, looping up and down a big hill. This turned into 300 meters, and then 500 meters… and we slowly inched our way up to a 2.5-kilometer loop. Although, this did not come without a fight. The motivation to train hard up and down a hill while it’s freezing rain, day after day, can take its toll on your spirits. I was having a tough time staying positive through this, but my friends, teammates and coach were there to keep me going.
We made Christmas cookies together, chopped down a tree, listened to carols around the fire and enjoyed each other’s company.
Finally, we were able to scrape together a rough plan to coordinate a few self-timed, race-like efforts on snow. Vermont Covid restrictions are pretty tight, so we weren’t allowed to host any type of event. Instead, the Craftsbury Outdoor Center granted access for local Vermonters to book a time slot to ski, rent a bib, wear a mask and follow a “course” during their timed effort. This was FAR from a normal race scenario, but it did give me a glimmer of hope. I save a very special mindset for race day that I just can’t seem to tap into during hard workouts or roller ski time trials. I treated these timed efforts on snow like a race; I was focused and determined, yet relaxed and confident.
With two 10k’s and two sprints, I really gave these “hard efforts” everything I had, not knowing when I would get another chance to do so. I did everything that I possibly could to try to prove that I deserve an opportunity to take the next step this season. I laid my heart and soul out there; I skied my best; I wanted a spot on the World Cup; yet, there are variables out of my control.
The US team has open start spots on the World Cup for the Tour de Ski, but a global pandemic means that bringing other athletes over to Europe comes with risk and potential consequences. The last thing I would ever want would be to jeopardize another athlete’s health and well-being. However, I am at the point where I am willing to get on a plane with 24 hours of notice and do a two week quarantine in a hotel in Europe.
Without having any real racing opportunities in Vermont, we're trying to do things the smart/safe way. But as an athlete who has achieved success at the national level and has broken the bubble onto the World Cup, seeing an open spot in the Tour de Ski is like dangling a chocolate donut two inches from my grasp. I understand the logistical nightmare that comes along with a tour; I completed the Scandinavian Ski Tour last February. I witnessed first hand just how similar the World Cup circuit is to herding sheep!
I also recognize that racing in a Tour is no easy feat. I haven't raced 200 World Cups, I am not an experienced racer internationally. Last year, I went into the Scandinavian Tour absolutely gassed from the previous World Cups I had completed and it took everything I had to get through that series of races. Having chosen the grueling ski tour as a developmental challenge, I forfeited the opportunity to race domestically - holding on to the Supertour Leader position that would have granted me start spots in Period 1 and 2 of World Cups this year. My Ski Tour results were far from glorious, but I stuck with it and learned a lot along the way. That experience motivated me all summer and fall to chase after my teammates. It inspired me to be an athlete eager to race, prepared to travel through Europe and to compete ferociously in a Tour.
I don't believe that my frustrations are unique to me alone. Many other people recognize that there are opportunities being missed. Due to Covid, individuals are disappointed to face job loss, career changes, cancelled weddings & graduations, less than ideal learning situations and so much more.
I continue to try to find acceptance with this outcome. On the other hand, I can't help but ask, what's the point? I understand that there are so many complications during 2020/2021 and that everyone is doing their best to keep risks low and loved ones safe. As I grapple with the thought of an entire winter with the potential of no races, I try to remain calm. I know that all I can do is continue to work hard, make the most of the opportunities I have in front of me, and hope that more will come in the future.
A Thanksgiving spent alone in quarantine? That’s 2020.
A few weeks ago, my teammates Bill, Ben and I traveled to northern Vermont in search of snow and more training partners. Most of the SMS team started Period 1 on the World Cup, so they flew to Europe and their races have already begun! Meanwhile, our domestic races were cancelled back in September leaving us with limited options. The New England Nordic Ski Association worked quickly to put together regional races for the winter that would have allowed New England skiers to safely day-travel to races and compete at a distance from everyone. However, as Covid cases started popping up more frequently in Vermont, these races soon looked doubtful.
The boys and I decided to make the most of it and came to an agreement with the Craftsbury Racing Team (in northern Vermont) that we would try to plan for time trials in December, in the hopes of getting a glimpse at cross country ski racing. Because of the strict Vermont guidelines Bill, Ben and I stocked up on groceries and moved into a host family’s house near Craftsbury, while they were not in town. We tried as hard as we could to create our own bubble and limit outside interactions. We spent mornings training hard and afternoons recovering. I sat for hours right next to the wifi rotor trying to continue with my remote work. In the evenings, we would make a fire and play games to pass the time away. Settlers of Catan, Lord of the Rings Risk, multi-person solitaire… we were up for anything!
Originally, we traveled to Craftsbury anticipating snow to fall and the ski season to begin. Although there have been a few flurries here and there, unfortunately it has accumulated to be just barely NOT ENOUGH snow to ski, but too much snow/ice to roller ski. Alas, we have worked our running legs, explored new hikes in the area and skied on a thin layer of dust on top of pavement.
Although the boys and I were not interacting with outsiders, we were not yet included in the “Craftsbury bubble,” which meant we could not train with them. We waved to them from across the road as we ran by and spread out from each other by 30 minutes for a roller ski time trial, seeing the Craftsbury team out there working inspired us to get working too. Bill and Ben would frequently let me tag along with them on runs or for a few minutes of skiing, but in the end I was left without a training buddy most days.
I don’t have a problem working out by myself and would qualify myself as a pretty good solo-trainer. But friends are nice too! Without any racing or traveling prospects in the near future, I realized we better get into a routine around here. So, when the Craftsbury team extended an invitation for me to join their “pact,” I did not hesitate. Joining the pact entails a 3-4 day quarantine (if you're already a Vermont resident), a Covid test, and waiting for that result to come back negative. Once cleared, I am allowed to move into the Craftsbury team house (home to many of my closest ski friends), train with the other athletes, use their gym and eat in their dining hall. However, I am not allowed to go into a grocery store, a friend’s house, or put myself in any scenario where there could be risk of exposure. So, here I am, six days into a quarantine just waiting to get my test results back…
I'm sure everyone's Thanksgiving holiday looked far from normal this year and I truly hope you were all able to make the most of it. At first, I found it strange spending the day by myself in a cabin, but then I realized it's pretty similar to every other day in the life of a skier. So after training in the morning I worked on a puzzle, finished a book (The Mermaid Chair), started a new book (Lost Girls), binge watched The Queen's Gambit and still got stuffing and cranberries to-go from the Craftsbury Dining Hall!
Something I've been able to reflect on throughout my recent quarantine as well as the year of 2020, is how much consistency can effect your goals. For example, since April I have been doing 30-45 minutes of yoga 1-2 times a week, without missing a single week. I've always told myself I'll do more stretching, but it took a global pandemic for me to actually create the habit. For the first time in my life I can finally touch my toes! I've also been working on cutting back my coffee consumption. This is bittersweet to me because I absolutely adore the smell, taste and energy rush that comes with coffee, but I found myself frequently laying awake at night, unable to fall asleep. I'm down to half a cup a day now!
Covid has forced me to come up with new routines, spend more time on the little things while also looking at the big picture. Let me relate this directly to skiing. I still don't know if I will compete in a single race this winter. However, I am staying diligent with my training, forcing the good habits and focusing on the variables that I can control. This type of consistency will help me in the long run (oh I hope) and push me closer to those big scary goals that are weeks, months, years down the road. Maybe I'm training for a time trial next weekend, maybe I'm training to further my athletic ability in the hopes of one day qualifying for an Olympic Team. Maybe I'm simply learning how to deal with the uncertainty and remembering why I do this sport. Whatever it is, 2020 is challenging me, and everyone, to step up to the occasion, focus on the details and stay persistent with our goals.
I admit, I spent a few hours dwelling on my solo Thanksgiving day, but I quickly realized how lucky I still was. I had a beautiful cabin in the woods all to myself, the most delicious fresh food served in a box for every meal and training right outside my door! I was able to virtually connect with friends and family all over the world and appreciate all of the little things I had to be thankful for. Thank you friends and family for your continuous love and support, I hope you had a very happy Thanksgiving. I can't wait to hug you all once we're through this!
October brought us a lot of things… peak foliage, election stress, unseasonably cold weather, unseasonably warm weather, lots of hard ski intervals and a hard transition from summer to fall. Now we're well into November and we've had plenty of training days of 35 degrees and rain, but there were also days of 75 and blue skies! My teammates, Ben S., Bill and I are up in Craftsbury, VT hoping to get on snow any day now.
As the temperatures drop though, skiers (all athletes) need to be even more prepared to face the day with the appropriate amount of calories and nutrients. People burn more calories when they're cold; metabolism picks up its pace to keep your internal temperature on track. Also, when you add hard training sessions on top of that you suddenly need extra fuel to stay healthy, energetic and recover faster. Once the backyard garden is ripped up and the farmers markets have closed for the season, it can be tricky to find the fresh, local produce that every athlete should strive for. In addition, my teammates and I are trying to create our own quarantine bubble and limit our trips to the grocery store, which means we might need to stock up on what we can! These obstacles could lead toward a plate full of bland, colorless food. However, I’ve collected a few ideas on how to keep fueling in a delicious and nutritious way all winter long!
Figure out what produce is in season! Your tomatoes may have frozen over, but apples are still crushing! (Disclaimer- Sonnesyn family members will typically eat a garden fresh tomato like we're biting into an apple, not sure if that's weird)? I find it so helpful to understand what produce is being harvested at what time of year. Here is a link to a seasonal food guide that can help you navigate the supermarket during the chilly months: www.seasonalfoodguide.org.
When I'm in need of inspiration, I figure out something I could make that's in season. Maybe that means something easy like a cabbage slaw tonight. Or, if I have more time over the weekend then I'll crank up the music, throw myself a party and spend the extra time to use sweet potatoes and make homemade gnocchi.
(Click on the images to find the recipe)
A few weeks ago, Jessie and Wade packed up their belongings and drove off. Jessie went back home to MN for a few weeks before traveling to Europe for Period 1 of the World Cup and Wade went back to their apartment in Boston to work. Before they left though, we made sure to have one last pizza party featuring some seasonal inspiration, but also some of Wade's Polish heritage with a Pierogi pizza!!
Aside from trying to find inspiration in seasonal produce, I also get a little bit lax with always using fresh fruits and veggies in the winter. Sometimes it is just not realistic! So I'll buy some frozen vegetables and incorporate more legumes into meals with soups, stews and curries that are the perfect way to warm up after an afternoon ski or run in the frigid air.
When in doubt, add more garlic and ginger. If your winter cooking is getting a little bland and you're not sure how to make it more exciting without constant access to fresh produce, throw in some garlic/ginger! Garlic and ginger are both root vegetables that are relatively inexpensive and contribute LOADS of flavor. They also keep for a really long time without going bad so if you're trying to limit grocery store runs, you can stock up on them.
As the season ramps up, intervals get harder and racing becomes more prevalent (fingers crossed), it is extremely important for us endurance athletes to remember that the ratio on our plate should look a little different. For example, during an easy week of training with few hours or intensity sessions, it's important to prioritize the colors and protein at each meal. However, as we start demanding more from our bodies, we need those simple carbohydrates!
I never realized how valuable that key point was until I did my first ski tour last season. The world cup circuit completed a Scandinavian tour with six races in nine days. By the fourth race I was starting to have stomach issues and was hitting a major energy wall. No longer did I have that fight in me to chase down every second I could in each race, instead I was just trying to make it to the finish line. I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with a nutritionist from the US Ski Team and she pointed out to me that my body didn't have the time or energy to digest leafy greens when we had back-to-back race days for over a week. Something so simple was eye-opening to me as I realized it might actually be more beneficial for me to turn down the salad bar and head straight toward the bread and butter.
Aside from fueling properly, I typically view cooking and eating as a time to bring people together, converse and get a belly ache from laughing too hard (or maybe fueling too hard). Especially during this time of year, family and friends want to come together to celebrate the holidays, but are probably finding it challenging while following Covid regulations. However, I think we can still get the best of both worlds by taking advantage of the warmer/sunny days we still have and venturing outside for meals.
Or by bundling up and embracing the cold weather while enjoying treats outside with friends and family.
It may not always be the most glamorous way to celebrate birthdays & holidays, but it's what 2020 has given us and we're making it work! When it comes to cooking and dining, whether you're fueling for a long ski the next day or making a fancy dinner with your household, my advice is to keep it balanced. That doesn't mean you need to have a salad for every meal, but try to maintain as colorful a diet as possible. And don't forget to treat yourself to the seasonal treats too! ;)
Now that I'm fueled properly and feeling energetic, I'm ready to bring all of this hard work I've done roller skiing onto the snow and get this party started! Any day now snow gods, we're ready for you...
It’s October now and “happy hour” is looking a lot different than it did a few weeks ago for me. September went by in a blur and consisted of many hours driving along I-90 singing to Lizzo, creating flower arrangements, baking cakes, setting up twinkle lights outside, trying on shoes, car shopping, celebrating happy hour more evenings than not, hanging out with relatives AND MY SISTER’S WEDDING! Oh, and some ski training too.
Over a month ago, my friend Kristen Bourne and I caravanned from Stratton, VT to the Twin Cities. Because of Covid, we didn’t want to stop for a hotel and we both needed our cars in the Midwest so we woke up at 3:40 in the morning and were on the road by 4:00 for a 21 hour drive. I’ve done long drives before but never a solo one over 13 hours, so this was a real test. I was so grateful to have Kristen by my side on the interstate to crack jokes with me during bathroom breaks, share homemade snacks, and explore some new flavors of Red Bull (never thought I’d be a fan, but their new peach flavor is like juice)! While driving, I listened to “White Fragility,” which I highly recommend, called a few friends, and thought about how much popcorn a human could consume. Do you think a person could eat his or her weight in popcorn in one sitting? Kristen and I had a few rough moments (mostly me getting impatient, tired and cranky after 18 hours) but we made it safely back to Minneapolis!
Right away, I jumped into wedding mode. My sister, Marit, and her now husband, Nick, have been together for 7.5 years and got engaged last fall. Our friends and family had been waiting patiently to celebrate this marriage that we always knew would happen and although we had obvious Covid concerns for the event, Marit and Nick decided to go through with their plans. So, 36 hours after driving halfway across the country I put together a bachelorette party for Marit. That being said, it was not a typical bachelorette party. In fact, Marit refused to call it that so we referred to it as “Not a Bachelorette Party.” We started the day with six ladies and a 10-mile run (yeah…) followed by a boat ride out on Lake Minnetonka (I always crave Lake Life after being in VT for a while). Later that evening a few more ladies, moms and aunts joined us in the backyard for an outdoor dinner celebration. Only one game was allowed the entire day and one “outfit” which was a flower crown I created for Marit the day before – also, the most creative thing I think I have ever made, I was quite proud of myself. Don’t ask how long I worked on it.
Soon after “Not a Bachelorette Party,” my mom, sister and I drove up to our cabin in Hayward, WI to get ready for a small ceremony weekend with just close friends and family. The Spider Lake Lodge, located half a mile from our cabin, was the perfect place to hold the weekend celebrations. We spent most of the weekend outside running, boating, kayaking, swimming…
It was such a beautiful ceremony that kept tears slowly streaming down my cheeks the entire time. So many smiles, laughs and references to “marriage is like a marathon…” I’ve always looked up to Marit and it feels like Nick has been my older brother for years already. In a way, the wedding seemed so natural to me, but hearing their vows to each other just reinforced how truly happy I am for the two of them and can’t wait to see what their future holds.
Although it was a precious, small ceremony at our cabin, Marit and Nick still wanted to celebrate with more friends and family back in the Twin Cities. So, we had one week to clean up, recover from dancing, prep a new venue (Nick’s mother’s backyard) and refuel. During this week, I took a few days to connect with the Midwest ski community.
I spent an afternoon working with the team at Gear West to make sure we were all feeling prepped and ready to go for whatever this ski season might bring us. I also hosted a live and virtual strength workout for anyone needing some new at-home exercise ideas. It was fun to see a few familiar faces and work with some new folks, as well as support a giveaway to some Midwest Juniors sporting some of my favorite sponsors!
The following evening, I joined The Loppet Trail Kids practice and hopped into their adventure run. It’s so fun working with these kids and seeing their excitement about getting outside and staying active! After running and completing an orienteering hunt, I chatted with them all a bit about goal setting and chasing dreams. I explained to them that I was standing in their exact same shoes 15 years ago and never would have thought I’d be training as a professional athlete.
Although working with kids is by far my favorite way to give back to the ski community, I also had a great time joining The Loppet Ladies ski session the following morning to work on technique, balance and strength. Strength is such a huge component to cross country skiing, but can often be intimidating to females, so it was nice to see so many of these women working hard to get stronger and fitter with coach Kim Rudd! (Also, huge thanks to Kim for setting up these sessions for me. She’s such an awesome female leader in the Midwest ski world and so great to work with!)
After running around for a few days, I took one deep breath and jumped back into wedding week. It was so special to spend time with cousins I hadn’t seen in a few years (yikes, love you guys), celebrate my aunt’s birthday and my grandparents 55th wedding anniversary! We then had a backyard party full of good food, delicious cocktails, gorgeous flowers and so much more dancing. My brother, Anders, and I gave a toast to the lucky bride and groom, which entailed Anders wearing Marit’s veil. That was fun!
All in all, it was a great month being home in the Midwest. Of course there were concerns by everyone about Covid regulations and social distancing, but I think all of our friends and family did a great job being smart and cautious when necessary, while also celebrating Marit and Nick! Spending time with family always makes me a happy girl, which in turn I believe makes me a faster girl when it comes to ski training. That life balance is so important to me and allows me to better focus when it's time to buckle down for training. Although I'm bummed to be leaving behind semi-ritual happy hours with my family, it feels good to be back in Stratton, VT (after quarantining, driving back east and getting a negative test). Recently, there have been discussions about the season that seem more promising than they had a month ago. In all honesty, the domestic ski season was looking pretty grim and I was facing a serious lack of motivation for a few weeks, but nothing gets me more fired up than resetting goals, being back with teammates and getting back to work! Time to switch those evening happy hours into strength power hours!
On one hand, it seems as though the summer has gone by so fast! On the other hand, 2020 has been a tough year and it feels like April was eons ago. This summer, my teammates and I have probably spent the most time ever training and hanging out around the Stratton area in Vermont. With the exception of a one-week family vacation and a few weekend trips around New England, I’ve been living up on the mountain since mid-May. Being a part of a team that is used to traveling for camps almost monthly and as an individual who can get restless when there “isn’t much going on,” the thought of this intimidated me back in the spring.
However, my teammates, coach and I have been getting creative at finding interesting new workouts to do, trails to run and dirt roads to bike on. For anyone interested in what training looks like for a typical “professional cross-country skier,” here is a deep dive into the last three weeks of my summer training...
Week 1: 8/10-8/16
Monday: Day off! This might seem strange to start the week with a day of rest, but we usually put in a lot of hours over the weekend so it’s very necessary for us to put our feet up for a bit. I typically spend my Monday’s doing a few hours of work for my online job, go grocery shopping, get a massage (maybe twice a month), afternoon yoga and cooking up a more extensive dinner meal (frequently homemade pizzas).
Tuesday: Solo threshold/L3 classic rollerski workout with 5x10 min of gradual climbing. For whatever reason, my female teammates all had different schedules and we were unable to do this workout together. It was freaking HOT AND HUMID so this workout took a little extra out of me. In the afternoon, I did a 30 min run as a warm up for an hour long strength session.
Wednesday: A 2.5 hour gravel bike ride with Sophie, Jessie, KO and Ida. The purpose of this ride was to be a super easy recovery after yesterday’s workout and before hitting it again hard tomorrow.
Thursday: 5k skate pace project. This is a new workout that our team has incorporated into our summer training. We found a 5k stretch of road that is super hilly and twisting/windy so it could act as a model for a real ski race course. The idea is to do 3x5k at a time trial or race effort, although we aren’t quite there yet. When we first did this workout in early July it was completely as L3/threshold. In August, we ramped this up to one run at threshold, the second a mix of L3/L4 and then the final was more of a time trial effort. This is a VERY hard workout and should only get harder as the training season goes on. We also followed this up with an afternoon strength session in the gym.
Friday: 2.5 hours classic roller ski with Jessie and KO in the morning. Then, 1.5 hour afternoon run/hike up the back side of Stratton Mountain and back down the front.
Saturday: Classic roller ski speed workout with 4x6min of 15 seconds on and 45 seconds off to help build power while also practicing flushing out lactic acid in our legs. In the afternoon, I went for a 1 hour shakeout run and then met my teammates in the gym again for some core.
Sunday: 3.5 hour solo run around the lakes/ponds behind Stratton Mountain. Again, my teammates and I were on slightly different schedules and few foot injuries prevented anyone from joining me on this one. :( But it capped off a 21.5 hour week!
After a big week of training with three major intensity sessions, I was desperate for another day off before starting one of my last big volume weeks of the summer.
Week 2: 8/17-8/23
Monday: Day off, phew!
Tuesday: Classic roller ski threshold/L3 workout of 2x25ish minutes of double poling on pretty fast terrain to work on high speed, neuromuscular motions. Not a workout that exhausted me but definitely made my back a bit (a lot) sore and challenged me to double pole with power and speed for an extended period of time while following my super strong lady teammates. We followed this up with an afternoon strength session.
Wednesday: Went for a longer run with KO, Sophie and Ben. We chatted about a lot of "girl stuff," so I was impressed Ben didn't take off and ditch us after 30 minutes. In the afternoon, I went for a short, easy skate ski.
Thursday: 2.25 classic roller ski in the morning followed by an afternoon rip around on the mountain bikes with KO and Bill. I was immediately dropped during the bike ride, but then waited for so I could be the "water carrier" while Bill went for a downhill KOM Strava segment... this is what teammates are for!
Friday: Skate roller ski workout with 8min L3 warmup, 4x2min at L4a with little recovery, and then 3-4x8min L3 to practice skiing well with tired little leggies. I was definitely suffering by this point in the training block with a lot of intensity and hours under my belt, but I was able to get things together for another afternoon strength session.
Saturday: 4 hour run on the Appalachian Trail going up and over Pico and Killington Mountain.
Sunday: Another day of easy distance consisting of a ski in the morning with Jessie and an afternoon gravel bike ride to round out a 25 hour week of training.
After finally coming to the end of a pretty solid and significant training block, I was very ready for an easy week. As I've ramped up my training in the last few years I have come to realize how necessary easy weeks are. In order to find improvement in my skiing and fitness, I need to be well rested, but I also need to be mentally prepared to keep things firing. I frequently try to get away from Stratton during an easy week, sometimes I don't bring my roller skis or walk into a gym at all and instead go running, hiking and biking with family and friends. However, this year it has been more challenging to get away during easy weeks. So, when I am in Stratton for some chill time it usually looks something like this.
Week 3: 8/24-8/30
Monday: A day off with more yoga and maybe some "corona-safe" socializing.
Tuesday: Morning run that was supposed to be easy but didn't feel very easy. Clearly, my body was still tired. Then a mini core session.
Wednesday: Very chill mountain bike ride!
Thursday: Back on roller skis for a short skate workout of 1x25 mins of L3 to wake up the rested body, followed by an afternoon strength session.
Friday: App Gap roller ski race in Northern Vermont, put on by NENSA (New England Nordic Ski Association). Our team woke up early to make the drive north for a 7.5k race up a mountain. The race had been going on all week with various teams competing one day at a time, or virtually. It was a great and safe race that tested out a few ways we might be racing this winter. I then hopped in the car to visit my brother, Anders, at UNH before he starts classes this week.
Saturday: Run in the rain with Anders and some of his UNH teammates.
Sunday: Longerish skate roller ski to end a 13 hour training week.
Summer training involves A LOT of volume! I come from a background in ski training with fewer summer intervals and higher hours. Although, I have gradually incorporated more intensity into June-August, it is still an adjustment I am working on. In addition, reflecting on what I am able to accomplish at this point in time versus what I was capable of handling 4-6 years ago is drastically different. If I tried to train this much in high school or even in college, I would be burnt to crisp before any colorful leaves could fall. Back in high school, my biggest weeks in the summer would MAYBE reach 18 hours and in college they were around 21-22 hours. It is pretty cool to see the progress though and to realize how much I've learned about training from my coaches at UVM, in Bend, OR and here at SMS. Not to mention everything I have learned from following teammates out on the roads or around the trails. It's pretty great to be able to take advantage of the people you're surrounded by and take something away from them every single day. They're not lying when they say team work makes the dream work!
PS- I'm a big Strava girl as of the last 10 days so if you're interested in following along with more workouts, go check out my Strava account!
Professional skier, traveling the world, exploring the culture, racing my heart out.