We have officially started the 2018-2019 race season and the skiing has been incredible! Unfortunately, my racing hasn’t been quite as thrilling as I had hoped. I have had a little bit of bad luck and needed to face my biggest fear in racing: ALTITUDE!
Some people don’t have much of a problem skiing or racing at altitude. Physiologically, when your body is working hard it relies on glucose (sugar) that has been stored in certain cells. Oxygen is used to break down glucose to then create energy for your muscles to use. When your body can’t obtain enough oxygen this process cannot be completed and instead of creating energy the glucose is converted into something called lactic acid. This is what causes your muscles to cramp up or cause soreness after doing a really hard workout or race. Your body can convert this lactate into energy without oxygen but it is a super slow process and can’t keep up with how fast it builds up in your bloodstream. When racing, your body is already fighting to get enough oxygen to all of your muscles, but when you decrease the concentration of oxygen in the air that you are breathing this becomes particularly challenging. You can train your body to race in these conditions if you live at altitude or if you can easily travel to altitude to practice. However, one component is simply how much your own body can tolerate moving without as much oxygen and continuing on with a buildup of lactate. So, putting my biochem nerd pants away, my body has an extremely hard time functioning with a decreased amount of oxygen!
During a race there is a limit to just how long your body can work really hard. If you go over that line you will start to get very tired and soon crash. I know how to find and sustain this limit when I am racing at sea level; I’ve done it my entire life. I am still working on figuring it out at altitude. And when I hit the wall at altitude, I hit it HARD!
So, keeping all of that in mind I was extra nervous going into the first two weekends of Supertour/NorAm racing. We started off in West Yellowstone (7,000 ft) and the first race was a skate sprint where I was able to qualify 9th. I’ve always thought of myself as a distance skier so I was happy with this, but also eager to make it into the semi-finals and finals that day. All I had to do was qualify top two in my quarterfinal. When it finally came around to my heat I was able to position myself pretty well in second place until one of the last corners when a crash took out the top three skiers. I did my best to get back up and finish the round but I didn’t quite make the cut to move on. I was disappointed, but I knew I had done my best, it just wasn’t my day! I was really psyched though to see my teammate, Julia Kern crush her way through the heats and end up winning the final!
The following day was a distance race which I was excited about, but I also had the looming fear of crashing and burning at 7,000 ft. I tried to go out conservatively and work my way into the race but unfortunately couldn't quite kick it into that next gear. I finished the race again, slightly disappointed, but hungry for more. I was excited that the following day we were traveling up to SilverStar Ski Resort in Vernon, B.C., Canada. I had never been to SilverStar but I had heard of it’s beauty. Also, we were dropping two thousand feet in elevation and although it was still pretty high, I could feel a difference as soon as I got there.
Julia and I had some magical skis in this little snow globe called SilverStar. There were so many trails that you could ski to right from our rental house and the snow stuck to the trees making it look like you were in a Dr. Suess cartoon. I was ready to put the disappointment in the past and just appreciate the opportunity of skiing in such a beautiful place.
It was hard not to ski too much last week, but we knew we also needed to focus on the important races over the weekend. It was a similar format in that we did a skate sprint on Saturday and a classic 10k on Sunday. I abosultely loved the classic course that we were going to ski during the distance race and was feeling good after dropping in elevation. All I had to do was get through the sprint day…. I was again eager to make it out of the quarterfinals during the sprint and thought I was maybe on my way to doing that. Until, someone stepped on my pole up one of the last climbs and my reaction was to quickly pull my hand and pole up. In doing so, I reacted too quickly and pulled a muscle in my lower back. I was able to make it to the finish line but not in the same style that I was hoping for. I knew something was wrong when I couldn’t even bend over to take my skis off. I tried to take care of it the best I could that afternoon and was hoping to still be able to race the next day but in the end I had to make the very tough decision to sit out. I figured my back would most likely be okay. However, with the chance that I agitate it more and cause long term damage, I would really be kicking myself with more important races yet to come.
It’s never fun to sit out of a race that you had been looking forward to. Even knowing it’s the smart choice to make- it’s easier said than done. But in a way I am proud of myself for making that decision and focusing on the big picture here. I have finally left the mountains and traveled back home to the Midwest where I will make sure my back is healed and can start getting ready for some of the most important races of the season, US Nationals in Vermont during the first week of January. Overall, the first period of racing has left me a little underwhelmed, yet hungry for more! It's time for me to pick myself up and keep on getting after it.