Slowly, VERY slowly, I am beginning to recover from the Tour de Ski.
Six races in eight days in three different countries is no easy feat. When you’re bouncing up and down from altitude, driving 2-5 hours between stages, moving into new hotel rooms, forcing yourself to eat more pasta and bread… It's quite an experience!
Overall, I am super proud of the fact that I made it to the top of Alpe Cermis in the hill climb of the final stage, but it took some work to get there.
I spent Christmas week in Switzerland with my boyfriend, trying to adjust to the time zone and the altitude. It mostly consisted of easy skiing, giving my body time to adapt to the new environment, but I also threw in a few baby intervals to help wake up the system. During the rest of the day when I wasn’t skiing, I tried to stay off my feet and continue to fuel for the upcoming races. I got pretty excited in the local bakery, tested out some fondue, and enjoyed roasted chestnuts and hot chocolate on Christmas day. All week, I was trying to reach a tricky balance of resting from travel and prior to the tour, while also hitting a few hard workouts so my body would be primed and ready to go. Meanwhile, I was trying to enjoy the holiday season! At the moment, I felt like I was doing everything I could to reach that happy balance, but in the end I’m not sure if I did.
Along came the 10k classic in Lenzerheide and I went out with every intention of having a great race. It was nuking snow so I hopped behind two girls who were lapping through and held on for as long as I could. Turns out the altitude came back to bite me on the second lap and I definitely lost time in the last few minutes of the race. Again, I felt okay during the race, but I knew I had more in me.
After two races in a row we had a day off. We packed up our bags, said goodbye to our first hotel and drove 2.5 hours to Oberstdorf, Germany. We went straight to the venue, ate lunch, sat around for a bit and then went out to walk around on skis on the race course. After 45 minutes, we all called it good and drove to our new hotel to unpack and settle in.
The next day, the women had a slow morning as we twiddled our thumbs for our 3:30pm race. The sun had been out all week and it was about 50 degrees when we made the drive to the race venue, preparing ourselves to race in a foot of slush. To our surprise, the race organizers decided to salt the track the previous night, giving us an exciting ice rink to skate around on. The 10k mass start went out fast and I felt like I had a pretty good start considering my FIS points put me toward the back of the pack, but again I just didn’t have quite the energy to hang on as long as I would have liked. This pattern continued the rest of the week. Feeling pretty reasonable during my warmup and while testing skis, but when the gun went off I just felt like my body was drained.
I did my best to get through the classic sprint in Oberstdorf and prepare for the 10k classic in Val di Fiemme, Italy. Unfortunately, I was pretty devastated during the second to last stage when my body said it wanted no more racing. During each stage during the Tour I approached the race as a new day and went out with everything I had in me. Slowly, I watched as my hopes and dreams of scoring world cup points and therefore maybe qualifying for an Olympic team, dwindled away.
All summer and fall, I felt like I was in the best shape of my life. I hit each interval session pretty hard, was consistent with strength and prioritized rest and recovery; I was feeling better than I ever had before. I was thrilled with my opening races of the season and felt like I had so much more to give for the winter. I was put in a tough position when I had to decide between racing World Cups during the Tour de Ski or staying home and racing at US Nationals. Both presented pathways to qualify for the Olympics, which I truly believed I had a good shot at. Both options presented challenges for me in terms of racing at altitude. I had to gamble on what I believed would be my best route.
I’m not sure what happened between December 12-27. Something went wrong. I didn’t have the same fight and fire in me during the Tour that I was used to feeling when racing. The night before the final stage of the Tour I was asking myself what could have happened. At that moment I was pretty ready to give up. Instead, I fell back on my support system. I cried on the phone to my sister, asked for advice from old teammates who had been in similar situations, and read through emails, texts and messages that friends and family sent my way. Whatever was left inside me, these people were able to muster it out for one last climb up a mountain.
Despite wanting to take a break multiple times during the climb (including when an athlete right in front of me stood up and stopped moving), I kept putting one foot in front of the other and made my way to the top of that mountain. It was far from beautiful, but when I crossed the line and heard that two fellow Americans had just placed 5th and 7th, I put my own sorrows away for a moment and felt pure excitement for them.
I’m not sure what’s next for me, aside from a few days off from skiing. I know I haven’t lost all that fitness I was feeling a few weeks ago and there’s definitely plenty of fire left inside me, I just have to find it. I’m taking the time to process and lick my wounds. I am also feeling extremely grateful for the incredible support from those near and far. The encouraging messages I have received from my community have helped wipe away tears and put a smile on my face. To my sponsors, family and friends, THANK YOU!
In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy the sun, snow, and beautiful mountains that currently surround me in central Europe and allow myself a few ‘soul days’ to work on the healing process.
Professional skier, traveling the world, exploring the culture, racing my heart out.