And just like that, we’re off to the races! Literally, off to seven races in 16 days. Now that’s one way to start the engine! It’s been a whirlwind for the last few weeks as I traveled from Minneapolis, to Canmore, CAN, to Sun Valley, ID, back to Minneapolis for a few days and then up to Houghton, MI. But I can honestly say that through all of this I had a lot of fun! Unfortunately, I can also say that it wasn’t all just a glorious ski vacation. Just like any other job, there are good days and there are bad days. Projects that you might love working on and then tasks that you aren’t as psyched about.
I started this trip in Canmore, Canada with a three-day race weekend. I had never been to Canmore before, so I was in awe of the beauty that surrounded us in such a cute mountain town. Most mountain towns show off their views from afar as just something pretty to look at while walking outside. Canmore shares her mountains right, smack, in your face! The skiing was GORGEOUS, and it was a challenge not to get distracted by the views while in competition.
The first day of racing was a skate sprint that included quite a few tactics. I was proud that I played these tactics pretty well in my quarterfinal but was not so lucky in my semifinal and I was bummed not to qualify for the final heat. I felt like I had really improved my sprinting over the summer and fall and believed that I deserved to be in that final, but alas, that’s ski racing for ya! And there were two more races that weekend that I needed to get ready for.
The next day was a 5k classic and boy did I have a hard time figuring out how to pace that. Typically, I treat a 5k like a long sprint and just tell myself, “go, go, GO!” At altitude though, this could be a recipe for disaster, and I knew I could blow up early in that 5k if I went out too hard. Well, it turns out I still went out too hard and still blew up even knowing all of that. Oops! Another day where I felt like I wasn’t able to appropriately show where my fitness was at or what I am capable of this season.
Finally, we concluded the weekend with a 10k skate race, and I was hopeful that with the longer distance I’d be able to figure out the altitude pacing a bit more. I started the race around “threshold” pace and tried building into the race from there. This tactic proved slightly more advantageous and I was able to pull off one of my best altitude races ever! I left Canmore feeling disappointed, yet somehow proud of my races. It was a state of total confusion. I wanted more, but I was still happy with my accomplishments. These feelings lurked around the following week as we prepared for another Supertour weekend in Sun Valley. I tried enjoying the moment with my teammates and soaking up all of the December Vitamin D that I could, but when it came to race day again, I faced some major mental demons.
Our first race in Sun Valley was a classic sprint and I practiced conserving as much energy as I could in the qualifier and quarterfinal so I could hopefully make it into the final. I ended up 3rd in my semifinal which left me in a spot to potentially be “lucky loser.” In sprinting, the first two finishers from each semifinal automatically qualify for the final. Then, the race officials take the next two fastest times from the semifinals to move on as well (for a total of six in the final). So, if my semifinal time was fast enough, I would be in the final. While I was waiting around at the finish line to hear from the race officials, I was thinking to myself, “I really want this. I want to be in the final. I just gave it everything I had to make it into this final.” However, my body did not feel the same way. It was TIRED! The altitude racing had exhausted my body and the last thing it wanted to do was go out and race another time. This collision of thoughts vs physical ability left me confused and emotional. “Racing is fun! I love racing!” I thought to myself, “so why am I having such a horrible time right now?”
After what felt like an eternity, the race officials wrote on the bracket board that I was one of the lucky losers and had qualified for the final round. I was excited and I was miserable at the same time. I turned to my teammate, Kelsey Phinney, and I wanted to cry. She gave me a big smile, a hug and she said, “you can do this!” And without further ado, I found myself giving it every last ounce of energy I had in that final. It was by no means spectacular and I still ended up last in the heat, but I had made it into the final and I had accomplished one of my goals for the weekend. I had taken a baby step in the right direction.
These altitude races were without a doubt the hardest races I will go through all season both mentally and physically. They had been staring me down since last May and had been haunting me during my workouts all fall. I don’t know if I will ever be a great altitude racer, but after the past few weeks I have confidence that I am becoming a better altitude racer. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Getting BETTER?