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.
Professional skier, traveling the world, exploring the culture, racing my heart out.