So it’s been a minute... oops! This fall sure has flown by and I can’t believe I’m already back on snow. Last time I checked in I was just returning from an on-snow camp in Oberhof, GER and now I’m checking in from a pre-season camp in Canmore, CAN. Don’t worry there was plenty of rollerskiing in the middle there. We had two other SMS T2 team camps this fall; one was a mini camp in Lake Placid while the other was a two week trip to Park City.
The remainder of September was packed with some pretty solid intensity training. Getting into the morning training routine, followed by work in the afternoon and an evening training session made the weeks fly by. However, I was sure to get in a few last fun adventures before it was time to get really serious.
In early October my teammates and I flew to Park City, UT for an altitude camp. Altitude is an intimidating place for me but I’ve been challenging myself to improve this weakness and visit the high mountains somewhat frequently. I was grateful for the opportunity to jump in with the national team during this two week camp - we packed in plenty of intervals, speeds and time trials.
I was feeling a little anxious about the time trials as I’m still not super comfortable with pacing at altitude. I somehow managed to flood my legs in the first 400 meters of the skate sprint which made it tricky to rebound for the rounds, but this was a great learning experience! Meanwhile, in the 10k classic time trial I wanted to start off a little more conservative. I’ve had my fair share of blowing up at altitude and once you go over that line I know it’s near impossible to come back. This strategy seemed to have worked okay for me as I was able to carry good energy throughout the entire 10 kilometers, but maybe had a little too much left in the tank at the end. Another good opportunity to practice for racing at altitude.
Despite some of the photos, Park City threw in some curve ball weather days with snow falling early in the camp and making it difficult to rollerski. Although, it was exciting to see some of that white stuff fall in October and got me thinking of the race season. Alas, I needed to rest and recover after a hard two weeks at altitude. At the end of camp I made a quick trip home to Minnesota to see friends, jump in a rollerski clinic with Gear West and spend quality time with my family.
Returning to Vermont after almost a month away was nice, although I seemed to have just missed peak foliage season (one of my favorite parts about living in Vermont). Stick season came fast but we made the most of it with some fun time trials, last few days of mountain biking, and a team fundraiser!
After a few more weeks embracing stick season I started looking at the upcoming forecast, keeping my fingers crossed that I would see a snowflake icon. Sadly, the weather was not looking great in Vermont or the Midwest and I started getting antsy to find snow. With races happening the first weekend in December I wanted to make sure I was prepared to be in the best position possible to perform well. My teammate, Lina Sutro, and I talked to Coach Pat and made some pretty quick travel arrangements to head up to Canmore, Alberta where there is currently a reliable 3k track of man-made snow.
Despite this being such a last minute decision, I really think Lina and I nailed it! Although we missed quite a few other American teams who had been training here earlier in the month, we arrived just after a fresh snowstorm. We are now switching between skiing in town on the 3k track and driving one hour north to Lake Louise for over 30k of freshly groomed natural snow. We're halfway through our week-long training camp up here and getting ready to kick off the racing season back in the Midwest!
And just like that, it seems as though summer has come to a close and winter is just around the corner. After putting in lots of summer volume hours and hard intervals on rollerskis, my SMS T2 teammates and I took a trip across the pond to prep for the race season. We traveled to Oberhof, Germany for a nine day training camp, skiing on snow in a 1.6 kilometer tunnel.
Before we left Vermont, we capped off our summer training with a few last adventures in the east. This meant a couple of big days in the white mountains and long threshold sessions. We also started incorporating a lot more speed and power into our training to get tuned up for fall intensity.
As we made our way to Logan International Airport, we made a pitstop in the suburbs of Boston to visit a few local ski groups. First, we joined the Eastern Mass X-Country Junior team (EMXC). We had the opportunity to chat with the skiers about training, racing, fueling, college and all things related to life as a ‘professional athlete.’ This team of high school skiers was looking fast when we went through roller ski drills with them, practiced race starts and striding speeds.
The next morning, the SMS T2 team stopped by the EMXC BKL practice (Bill Koch League). Working with skiers age 6-13, we split up into two groups. I spent the morning chasing around the younger crew during games of Sharks and Minnows, Ships Across the Ocean, and Capture the Flag. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that we needed the kids to remind us the rules of these games, but in the end we had a blast!
I think I can speak on behalf of the entire team that we had a great time working with the junior athletes in Boston. Reflecting back on my own experience at that age, whenever Jessie Diggins or Kikkan Randall would show up for an outreach event I turned into a total fan girl. They inspired me to chase my goals and crazy dreams and it’s wild to realize where I’ve ended up because of it. Anytime I have the opportunity to potentially encourage younger athletes to get after it, I’m all in. It’s been fun to have little events like this sprinkled throughout our summer because we weren’t able to safely hold anything last year.
After running around in the hot sun and humidity, we were ready to find a cooler climate. We hopped on a flight to Munich and drove another 3.5 hours to arrive in Oberhof, Germany, home to the LOTTO Thüringen Skisport-Halle. Jet-lagged, we rolled into Oberhof submersed in a cloud, but I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to run in 48 degrees and rain. The refreshing temps allowed my teammates and I to cool off and start wearing more layers, because the following day we jumped into an ice box.
The 1.6 kilomter tunnel features a loop plus a horseshoe. When open for two-way traffic you can get creative with your ski course, but on average one loop takes about 7-8 minutes. When you step into the tunnel, it feels like you’re stepping into an ice rink with temperatures kept around -4 celsius. Although seven minutes can feel both like an eternity and as fast as a blink, we kept each other company during our big training block and were giddy with excitement to be on snow.
We spent the first few days doing drills and speeds to get accustomed to skiing with long skis again. By the third day we had company from two of the local German National Team skiers, Antonia Fraebel and Victoria Carl. They joined us for a threshold workout that made a 2.5 hour ski in the tunnel fly by! We managed to do a few double sessions in the tunnel, although the running trails near town were so fun and the local team was gracious enough to let us access their gym. In the final few days of training we capped off our camp with two more hard interval sessions that left me feeling good and hungry for more. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of going fast on real snow to get you fired up for ski season!
Oberhof isn’t known to have the nicest weather, so we were all surprised when the sun came out halfway through the camp. The town really started showing off for us and we hit up a few of the tourist attractions nearby. It was extra special to have a few visitors stop by as well. Two of my old teammates from UVM are from Germany and both made the trip to see us. All together, we had quite the crew of Catamounts out tromping around the German forrest. It meant so much that Juri and Mara took the time to come say hello. It definitely makes me appreciate how much this sport can grow your community internationally and you can find friends in any little pocket of the world.
When we weren’t training, I ran around town trying to find wifi so I could keep up with my part-time computer job. Later, we made some delicious team dinners to enjoy outside and went for sunset walks around town. During our one afternoon off during the camp we went to play mini-golf at the local amusement park. Everything on the golf course was ski-related. My favorite stop on the course was at the mini ski jump, launching our golf balls into the air and around a few corners, I'm sure ski jumping is just as easy...
Finally, during our last training session on snow I started to get bored of the seven minute loop. Just in time! We spent our final evening with the German skiers and coaches as they showed us what a German BBQ looks like. We enjoyed Thüringer Bratwursts, mustard, sauerkraut and fresh brews, and had a great time sharing experiences with them.
After many hours of travel to get back to Vermont, it feels good to be back in the Green Mountain State. The leaves are just starting to change colors and temperatures are cool and fall-like. I'm excited to build on the work and progress I made in the last nine days to have a very productive fall. Soon enough, we'll be back on snow!
This summer has been one of the most productive summers I’ve had! At least, that’s how I feel as of right now. Of course, I won’t really be able to understand or reap the benefits until this winter. I’ve been prioritizing quality over quantity, pushing the extra intensity sessions and backing off on the volume. Rather than filling in afternoon sessions with extra recovery workouts, I’ve been taking them off to do yoga and rest for intensity the next day. It’s really nice to feel so great during training and oftentimes I want to continue rolling with the momentum I have. However, I think it’s easy to get lost in this and push yourself past the point of productivity. Similar to the way we force ourselves through the pain of one more interval, sometimes you have to force the rest and recovery even though you don’t want to.
A few weeks ago, I traveled out west for a mini-vacation. I didn’t worry about hours, intensity or strength and just got outside when I felt like doing so. This was hard to do because I felt like I was leaving behind quality training with my teammates in Stratton and missing out on key workouts. Although, I recognized that I had been working really hard for six weeks and need to take some time to absorb the load. After five days of vacation mode, I was feeling happy, fulfilled, and eager to get back to work!
There are pros and cons to staying in one place all season to train. If you stay home, you get consistent and quality training without the stress of travel or finding new training locations. However, you can also get bored from doing the same workouts in the same places, which can sometimes lead to feeling 'flat.' As an athlete living at sea level, it also prevents you from learning how to train/race at altitude and vice versa an altitude athlete might lack speed and fast twitch muscles if they never visit sea level. After my vacation, I met my SMS teammate, Lina Sutro, in her hometown of Carbondale, CO for a mini altitude training camp.
For eight days, we stayed with Lina's family in Carbondale and focused on quality over quantity. I managed to squeeze in 4 intensity sessions: classic speeds, skate threshold, a skate sprint workout and classic time trial. These workouts were very hard and I knew it was best to not push volume and prioritize recovery, something that is extremely important at altitude. When Lina and I weren't training, we put our feet up to watch the Olympics, work on our computers and visit with friends.
On my final day in Colorado, I figured it was okay to do one big adventure to appreciate the beautiful mountains and end the intensity camp with a final push. I unplugged from my phone/music and enjoyed an epic solo day in the gorgeous Maroon Bells-Snowmass mountain range.
Lina and I lucked out and just happened to be in town during Carbondale's Mountain Fair; a collection of local musicians, artists and foodies coming together for one of the first big gatherings I've been to in over 16 months! It was so fun to spend time in the Roaring Fork Valley and I'm so appreciative of the Sutro family for being such welcoming hosts. Thanks to them, I was able to have a very fun and productive work trip.
This year, US Nationals are at altitude in Soldier Hollow, Utah, which is why I think this trip was extremely important for me to travel out west to practice working hard with little oxygen. Even though it wasn't long enough of a camp to get an 'altitude boost' I still found a lot of value in feeling how hard I could push myself at altitude without blowing up. This is something I've struggled a lot with in the past, having always lived and trained at sea level. I've never been super comfortable training or racing at altitude, but I'm thinking little camps like this are a great step in the right direction for me and feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to make it work!
Now that I’m back east and settled down after a few weeks of travel, I’m ready to dial back into training with my teammates and hopefully pick up right where I left off.
I’ve been back in Stratton, VT for three weeks now but I feel like I’ve been here for so much longer. In a good way! Training has been fun, work is going well and I’ve been able to find fun ways to get my east coast life going again. I feel like last year all socializing and activities were put on pause. I forgot how much can be going on when the world is open again!
Before I could unpack my belongings and fully move into a condo with my teammates, Julia and Lina, I hit the road again. This time, just for 24 hours. Teammate, Katharine Ogden, proposed the idea of running the Presidential Traverse in early June and although this probably wasn’t the best athletic decision after sitting in a car for two days, I couldn’t resist the adventure. Last year, I ran the Presi Traverse for the first time. I went into it with so much hype built up in my head about how long and technical it would be and that the challenge would leave me very beat up after. This was pretty accurate last year. The 19 mile point to point in the heart of the White Mountains contains almost 8,000 ft of scrambling vert and is no easy feat. Yet, I somehow felt more prepared for the effort both mentally and physically this year, knowing how to fuel during/after, recover later and feeling excited to catch up with my teammates during the 6.5 hour run. This growth is something that's really cool to see as I develop as an athlete!
The weather wasn’t the most ideal, with 45-50 mph gusts of wind on top of Mt. Washington. This couldn’t bring down our spirits though as we just kept chugging along, taking breaks to top off our water and purchase snacks from the White Mountain huts.
Back in Stratton, I finally unpacked everything and got started with more ‘normal’ training. The smooth pavement and hilly roads around here are always so much fun to train on! I was also very excited to help celebrate three of my teammates as they graduated from college. Lina Sutro was a teammate of mine at UVM and graduated this spring. I’ve been counting down the days until we could finally be teammates once again! Meanwhile, Katharine and Julia both plowed through their degrees at Dartmouth in an impressive fashion as they navigated through various terms of skiing, school and breaks.
In just my second week in Vermont, the team packed up again for a mini training camp at Green Woodlands in Lyme, NH. I had never been to Greens before but was absolutely blown away by the 23,000 acres of wilderness and miles and miles of mountain biking and running trails at our disposal. Typically, it’s rather challenging for our entire SMS team to coordinate schedules and all come together in one place. As soon as the idea of a Greens camp was mentioned though, we all made sure to be there. Bob Green was the most welcoming host and invited us to stay in cabins in the middle of the property, with a gorgeous, self-sustainable, renovated barn right on the lakefront.
For 3.5 days, the team skied, ran, biked, swam and kayaked as we unplugged from our digital devices and tuned into our beautiful surroundings and each other’s company.
After some big days at camp and a lot of training for the first two weeks being back in Vermont, I was pretty ready for an easy week! I used to dread easy weeks or days off from training. I would get restless and bored and feel lazy for not doing anything. I’ve always recognized that they’re important if you want to absorb any of the hard work you’ve done, but have never had a great outlook on them. More recently though, I get just as excited about the easy periods! In part, it’s a time that I can catch up on work. Sometimes it’s hard to train 20+ hours a week and work 20 hrs, while also prioritizing recovery, nutrition and body care. Luckily, my work is flexible enough that I can transfer around some of my hours from week to week. Also during easy weeks, I try to get away from Stratton to either visit friends/family or plan a fun day in the mountains. After spending a couple of down days around Stratton, hanging out at the regional U14/U16 camp, and putting my feet up, I made a trip north!
This past weekend I raced in the Catamount Ultra 25k running race in Stowe, VT. I’ve always been a skier AND runner, and love incorporating more running into my training. In previous years, I jumped into a lot of running races whenever I could, but last year this wasn’t super easy. Being back in a starting gate with so many runners and feeling that type of adrenaline and excitement in the middle of the summer was something I really missed. Although the race course was BRUTAL and slightly longer than what I’m used to, I had so much fun being back in that setting and I’m really looking forward to more opportunities like this.
Aside from all of the training and work I’ve done the last few weeks, I’ve also been able to celebrate and spend quality time with friends and teammates. We’ve had three graduations, three birthdays and Swedish Midsummer festivities. My teammates went as far as throwing me a surprise birthday party, which I was so oblivious of leading up to the reveal, I’m almost embarrassed. How did I not see all of the clues? Regardless, we’ve had cake, flowers, balloons and many, many laughs.
It’s only been three weeks in Stratton, yet I feel like it’s been a whole summer! Things are going well in Vermont and I can’t wait to see what other shenanigans I can get up to the next few months.
After a much needed spring break out west, I feel like I’ve had one of my best starts to the new year of training. Realizing what makes me truly happy while skiing and chasing athletic goals has allowed me to prioritize the specific opportunities that the lifestyle presents, which also make me smile the most. That being said, I kick-started my spring training in the mountains, surrounded by sun, snow and some of my best friends!
I returned to Bend, OR in early May. I spent my summers in college training in Bend with the Bend Endurance Academy and have the fondest memories of training and working hard there, while having the absolute MOST fun! This is exactly the type of atmosphere I am trying to channel this year so when a group of my girlfriends proposed the idea of an ‘active work vacation’ in Bend, I didn’t hesitate!
We spent the mornings driving up to Mt. Bachelor to ski, mountain biking on the local trails, or running up to beautiful waterfalls. We would return back to our Airbnb to crank out hours of work, looking up to crack jokes with each other or offer to make another pot of coffee. We had the goal of being done with work around 4 so we had plenty of time for afternoon activities too. Sitting amongst these ladies I found myself inspired to broaden my horizon and think about what else I could really accomplish in life while I’m training as a skier.
I overheard Zoe Snow make badass work calls as she led her team as a project manager. Zoe is one of the initial employees of an extremely successful startup company, Trusst - an app that provides affordable and effective mental health care to adults right from their phone. Meanwhile, Taryn Hunt-Smith was across the room ferociously writing down her thoughts and life story while she applied to med school. Not only a genius, but a rockstar mountain runner for Salomon who can scramble up and over rocks like a mountain goat. Sitting next to me on the couch was Abby Drach, doodling with intent on her iPad as she worked on the next product launch for her own business that she just started this past spring, Indura Athletic. Abby is a local Minnesota skier who brought her creative talents to a sewing machine last summer making cute, athletic face masks. Quickly becoming a sensation over Etsy and filling orders across the world, Abby decided to follow her true passion with clothes and launched her women’s athletic clothing line just a few months ago. Indura fits all shapes and sizes and makes a woman feel empowered in her own body by the way Abby designs the apparel. Always cute and always comfy, Indura Athletic collides functionality with self-empowerment. I absolutely adore everything Abby has created so far and know she's just getting started!
As I saw these women work fiercely around me, I pondered at the idea of stepping up my own game. I’ve been working for a startup company, LandTrust, for two years now, but I feel like I haven’t really been fulfilling my potential. Yes, I’ve been trying to be laser-focused with my ski career and prioritize recovery between training sessions, but I also know that I am the type of person who thrives with balance in my life. These ladies have inspired me to raise the bar as I continue to chase my ski dreams, but also prepare for life after skiing (whenever that may be) and reincorporate other types of goals into my life.
After working hard all day, the ladies and I would find ways to get outside again in the afternoon. We frequently found ourselves wandering around town and landing a spot at one of the many renowned Bend breweries, ordering pizzas or tacos and enjoying time with other friends who were in town.
I was so sad when it came time for my friends to fly back home, but they left me feeling energetic and ready to go. This soft approach to training and playing outside slowly ignited the fire inside me and I spent the next few days incorporating more structured training into my routine. Soon enough, my SMS T2 teammates arrived in town for us to join the national team training camp for a few weeks of on-snow training. Junior and elite skiers from all over the country trickled into Bend for this camp so I immediately found myself surrounded by more friends. The big volume days of training seemed to fly by as we all chattered for hours skiing in outstanding spring conditions at Mt. Bachelor. Many of us hadn’t seen each other in over a year due to the pandemic, or if we had, we socially distanced and were unable to really spend quality time with each other. It seemed as though everyone couldn’t stop smiling about the fact that we were all back together, fully vaccinated and having fun once again!
I continued to spend my afternoons working from the couch or kitchen table, attempting to achieve maximum recovery while simultaneously completing work projects. I was staying in a condo with my teammates Bill, Ian and Will, and we spent our evenings either watching basketball games or making our way through Marvel movies. Again, everyone seemed to be much more relaxed and playful than we had last year. We felt safer, more confident and optimistic in the future, and excited for the potential we all had for the next year.
I decided to leave Bend camp a few days early as I had been there for 3.5 weeks and had a VERY long drive to make my way back east. Luckily, I had the perfect pitstop in the middle visiting my family in the Midwest. Spending a weekend at our cabin in Northern Wisconsin I got my lake fix in. We spent hours fishing and kayaking, reading and puzzling, cooking and eating, and ending our days with bonfires or movies. This type of peaceful getaway with my family is another aspect to my life that brings balance. I value my family so much and my mom and sister are two of my best friends. Without being able to easily see them last year unless I quarantined on either side of a trip, I felt like a piece of my world was missing just a little bit. Not anymore!
We returned to the Twin Cities for a whirlwind week. With temperatures reaching a high of 97 degrees most days, I got my training done early in the morning, frequently meeting up with more friends to get a social hour or two in simultaneously. My sister and her husband just bought a house so we spent the hot hours of the afternoon moving furniture and boxes across the city, ending the day with summer BBQ’s. Attempting to get ALL of the work done, make ALL of the appointments, see ALL of the people and do ALL of the activities, I was pooped by the end of the week. Just the way I wanted to feel! I packed up my car one last time and drove east with a heavily caffeinated, very full heart.
Having returned to Stratton, Vermont just one week ago, I feel like I have finally found that balance in my life that I was seeking all of last year, but was never really able to find. If you had asked me mid-April if I was excited for the upcoming year, I would have said no. If you had asked me mid-May if I was ready to get back to Vermont for training, I would have said no. However, during my drive from Minnesota to Vermont, I felt butterflies in my stomach once again. As I drove up and over the rolling, lush green mountains of New England, I felt like the state of Vermont was giving me a welcome-back hug. And I felt very, VERY ready to be back. :)
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!
Professional skier, traveling the world, exploring the culture, racing my heart out.