Six races in nine days. There were good moments and not so great moments. We were treated to just about every type of weather possible, with it changing every ten minutes. We walked away tired, but also a little bit tougher.
After a hard weekend of racing in Falun, Sweden, the US team made its way to Ostersund, Sweden. We spent four days previewing the courses for the first two races of the ski tour, a 10k skate race followed by a 10k classic pursuit race. We explored the town that is home to many of the Swedish National Team and rested up for a crazy week.
I loved racing the 10k skate; we were on a twisting course that offered steep uphills, grinding false-flats and fun downhills. It was energizing to ski with my fellow Americans during the race, seeing Hailey Swirbul on my first lap of two, and then catching a bit of a ride from Sadie Bjornsen when she caught me from 30 seconds back. With encouragement from the coaches and exciting crowds, I was able to ski my way to a career best, 43rd place. I rode this high for about 24 hours until we started the pursuit style 10k classic race in some gnarly, wet, snowy conditions. Being the type of athlete that prefers to build into a race, I found myself kicked out the back of our wave start of 30 skiers, as the women tried to chase down THE Therese Johaug.
Although I was bummed about this race, I couldn’t help but be happy and proud of my teammate, Julia Kern, who skied the 6th fastest time of day! Her best ever distance result on the World Cup by a landslide! We had little time to reflect on this though, because the very next day we traveled to the next location, Are, Sweden. Switching up disciplines, the Ski Tour challenged us all with a skate sprint race directly up an alpine mountain! This was without a doubt the most bizarre ski race I have ever done and without having much of a chance to ski the course ahead of time I had no idea how to pace it. So, I just went for it! My legs were shaking at the finish line and it took me about 15 minutes to walk the 700 meters back down the mountain, but this ended up being a sprint best for me in 42nd place! I went straight back to our hotel to rest up for a 34k race we had coming up two days later.
We skied very little on our rest days during the tour, but still enjoyed getting out to move the body a bit. Finally, we reached the day that I was looking forward to the most out of the whole week: a long-distance skate mass start race that went out into the backwoods of Norway. Despite my enthusiasm going into the race, things didn’t quite click for me that day. After 8 kilometers of straight uphill and a pack of women chasing down Johaug (again), I thought it was about time I took a feed so I could avoid bonking later in the race. However, it turns out that this 8k of working hard meant that my stomach was already in knots and as soon as I took a feed, I knew something bad was about to happen. I had been hanging on to the back of a large pack of skiers up until this point, but when that sugar-water hit my stomach, my gut said, “no thank you,” and I found it coming right back up. Dealing with this hiccup I lost the draft of my pack and found myself alone out in the fields of Norway fighting against 35 mph winds for another 24k... You live and you learn.
The final stages of the tour went by in a bit of a blur and I couldn’t quite find the physical or mental racing gear that I needed in order to finish it off on a high note. I felt defeated and tired, and although part of me wanted to keep pushing and grinding through another two weeks of European World Cups, I knew I needed a break. On the evening of the last tour stage, I booked a flight back to the US for the very next morning and packed my bags. Sitting on the plane I felt disappointed in this outcome, but I quickly realized that it was okay to feel this way. It means that I care and that I want to do better next time. Also, as soon as I landed in Minneapolis and made it back to my own bed, I knew I had made the right decision.
Despite tricky conditions and missing some of our goals throughout the week, the team found one thing we could always count on to make us smile. Throughout the stadium at each race venue the announcer's voice shouted through the microphone, “Welcome to the Ski Tour 2020!!” However, they pronounced this in Norwegian every time and it turns out that the translation of “2020” is pronounced “shoogie shoogie.” Whether the US team was out testing skis, running to the start line, or collapsed at the finish line, we would hear this over the intercom and get a good giggle out of it. :) Sometimes, it’s the little things.