It’s been a while since I’ve given myself a chance to really sit back and reflect on how the second half of this ski season has gone. I’ve had some pretty high, highs along with some pretty low, lows. It’s great to have teammates, friends and family that are there for me no matter what happens; whether I’m winning my first Supertour and the American Birkebeiner or crashing in my first distance World Cup Race I have received text messages, videos and hugs from my supporters all over the world. Unfortunately, as exciting as new accomplishments may be, sometimes in the moment it can be challenging to convince yourself to move on and stay positive.
It’s taken me a while to get to the point where I can lick my wounds, process some tough races, learn from my experiences and move on. The past five weeks since the Birkie have not gone as I was hoping. A few days after winning the 50k I jumped on a plane to Beijing, China to do a series of city sprints. When this offer was originally presented to me, I brushed it off because I’m a “distance skier.” However, a huge goal of mine over the past two years has been to improve my sprinting and I decided that this opportunity could be really valuable since a lot of World Cup athletes would be racing too.
Except…the combination of a marathon race, stepping off an international plane at night and trying to sprint the very next morning, along with racing in the worst air quality I have ever experienced, did not make for the best week.
My teammates and I tried to make the most of it and we had a really good time seeing some new things, trying some new food and making some new friends. After three tough sprints I was ready to travel to Europe to meet with a crew of Junior/U23 racers for training before OPA Cup Finals. Except…during the travel I picked up a nasty bug and was sick for the first time since my Senior year of college! I made it to Toblach, Italy and slept for about 17 hours straight with the exception of waking up for meals delivered to my room. I was bummed to be sick while in such a beautiful place, but after a couple of days I finally started to come around and made it out for a few small adventures.
Just as I was starting to get healthy again our team traveled or Oberweisenthal, Germany for the races at OPA Finals. After still feeling a little bogged down from being sick I decided to sit out the sprint and save it for the distance races. Except…I got to these races and just felt like I had no fight left in me. When the pack decided to attack, I had no response. I felt like I was moving in slow motion and everyone around me was racing.
At the end of the last race in Germany my teammate, Kelsey Phinney, picked me up off the ground and I just about broke into tears. I had just been invited to race in my first World Cup at World Cup finals in Quebec City and felt like all of the life had been sucked out of me. I was just tired. My body and mind had reached a point where I struggled to handle so much racing. I felt like a failure. I was concerned about taking a spot for USA going into World Cup finals while feeling this way, but Kelsey encouraged me it go for it. I was about to have an incredible experience racing at a whole new level and she pushed me to stop stressing and just appreciate it.
I tried my best to make the most of my time at World Cup Finals and it was great to see my SMS T2 teammates that I hadn’t seen since November. While previewing the course the day before racing; teammate, Julia Kern, asked me if the World Cup atmosphere was what I had anticipated. I told her I hadn’t really expected anything in particular, I was trying to go into the weekend with a positive attitude and an open mind.
I was fired up to race with the best in the world even though I knew the competition would be really tough. Except…never did I imagine how brutal it was actually going to be. I fell in the mass start…three times! And broke a pole… twice! So, it wasn’t my day! Or my week. It really hadn’t been my month at all.
I don’t know if there is one thing that I can point to and blame for having such a tough month. But I do know that I was feeling completely unstoppable at the Birkie in February. I had never raced a 50k before and coaches, teammates and other racers warned me that it can really take a toll on the body. It’s hard to bounce back after grinding away in such a long race, but I had my own reasons to make it to the finish line.
I grew up watching my parents race the American Birkebeiner. Every year since I can remember, my family and I would travel up to our cabin in Hayward, Wisconsin and I would stick my head through the fence at the finish line and watch athletes race down Main Street toward the finish line. I looked up to these skiers like they were superhero’s! I could never imagine skiing for 50 kilometers, let alone winning the race. Throughout my childhood I started partaking in the festivities too; I competed in the kid’s Barnebirkie, the Junior Birkie, the 12k Prince Hakkon and the 23k Kortelopet races. Birkie weekend had become a family tradition and got me more excited than any other ski race. It planted a seed inside me at a very young age, that grew and grew until I was finally old enough to perform. So, I hadn’t just been looking forward to this race for a few weeks or even a few months… It had been a dream of mine for over 20 years!
Whether it was the Birkie bonk that held me back in races a few weeks later, or the combination of too much travel, I’m not sure. But I have no regrets for chasing some ambitious dreams. I’m not sure when I will race the Birkie next, but when I do I will go into it smarter, having learned my lessons and the consequences of such a physical, mental and emotional test.