One very full weekend: College Racing and Relays

Note: This post was written Monday Feb. 22nd – sorry for the late posting!

Yesterday I wrapped up a very full weekend of racing, with my third race in as many days. The Western Circuit collegiate teams had come through town as they do nearly every year, for the college races hosted by Nevada at Auburn Ski Club. I had really been looking forward to these races for most of the season, deciding in the last few weeks that I really wanted to try to be in top form as I realized that they would ultimately prove to be some of my biggest races of the season given the level of competition there compared to most of the other races I was able (or rather unable to) get myself to this season.

In addition, I have been on the college circuit for four years now and was following it heavily last year for a fifth season, so it really is a good way to gage myself against competitors whom I have competed against before and see how I am progressing against the circuit. Aside from that, I also just really love doing the college races because they are fun. There are so many great people on the circuit who I became close friends with during my time on it, and while the people have changed over the years, there is a great new group coming in for all of those who leave. It is always fun to see old friends and meet the new skiers.

Ultimately, my weekend was a little bit disappointing, but as always there were both highlights and lowlights. In the end, I didn’t get the results I was hoping for and feel like I am capable of. I simply just wasn’t feeling 100 percent this weekend, with two pretty tired days at the college races. On the other hand, I am very pleased with the fact that I know confidently that I gave the absolute best races I could, given how I was feeling and what my body could do at the time. That is always a good thing. After each race, even though I knew I was tired going in and was a bit disappointed to see the results, I still felt happy and proud because I knew that I really raced well and couldn’t have done much anything else better.

The weekend started with the 5 km Classic on Friday at ASC. As is well-known, I love Classic racing and have typically considered it my better technique, although I am not so sure now because it is difficult when we get so few opportunities to Classic race up here (only 3-4 per year). I was really looking forward to this race as a chance to really show my stuff and prove that I am among the top-ten Classic skiers in the Western circuit – a feat which I know I am capable of but haven’t accomplished since my junior year, due to a rough last couple of years. This year, I felt primed and ready coming in. I knew the course because I had skied it before, and most importantly I liked it and felt that it played to my strengths. Unfortunately, it was a tough week for training with coaching and working down at the news station consuming a lot of my time, so I just didn’t get in many good quality training days. Yet, I was still running around all over the place, scrambling all week long and not getting much time to rest. So, come Friday, I felt relaxed and confident, not nervous – despite knowing that these would ultimately be some of my biggest races of the year – but still just a little bit tired and kind of lacking my usual spark. Nonetheless, I fired myself up and got excited to lay it down out there. It was a quick, fast Classic race and I knew it would be fun!

I headed out almost last on the course as an independent skier, just ahead of friends/ teammates Annika Taylor and Chelsea Holmes, respectively, and behind eventual top-five finisher Zoe Roy of Utah. I don’t think starting so far back proved to be beneficial as I was pretty much all on my own throughout the race, with no splits or sense of how I was doing and just how close I was to people several spots in front of me in a very tight race. Nonetheless, I raced HARD and I really think that I raced well. I was not super pleased with my skis, I think mostly because I need to do some testing with my classic skis and/or get some new skis, because they are clearly NOT dialed in. I had the same wax as others who thought it was great, so whether it is because I started later or because my skis are not quite right, it didn’t work out so well for me — draggy on the flats and downhills yet still slipping on some of the uphills! But, I made the best of it and pushed hard from the get-go, racing strong and smart throughout the course and really skiing well in terms of technique (or at least I thought so!). In the end, I came in a respectable 22nd – not a bad spot, but certainly not where I wanted to be, though only 30 seconds out of the top-ten and 45 out of the top-five in a very tight race on the fast course (only 15 minutes!). As I said, I was happy with the way I raced because I know I gave it everything I had and felt like I skied well. I was EXHAUSTED at the end and know I couldn’t have pushed any harder, which is good because sometimes after 5 km I feel like I could race another five!

Yet, I do think the biggest problem still was the fact that the race was a 5k, which I am very much not used to skiing this year, and have never been very good at. It has always been a struggle for me – as much more of a long distance skier – to push myself hard enough and go fast enough for 5k that it is actually even a faster pace at all than my 15 or 10k, but this year especially it was difficult. In the past, I did 5 k’s every weekend in college, so I got the chance to work on it a lot. This year, it was my first race under 10 km, other than one sprint, which was done mostly for training. The three weekends prior, I raced 15, 20 and 30km, respectively. Needless to say, my tempo was just not up to par. I could tell that the “fifth gear” just wasn’t there. Even though I was pushing hard, I just couldn’t get that tempo and speed fast enough to be where I needed to be, which is something that I believe takes a lot of work and cannot just suddenly be compensated for in one race. So, I know this is something I still need to work on, because even though I don’t do many 5 k’s and don’t really want them to be my specialty, I still think it is important to work on your weaknesses, and that tempo and speed and the ability to push to the next gear can be helpful at any level and distance, especially for pushing into the finish. So, I will get going with this and try to push myself to take more opportunities to race 5 k’s even though they are not my favorite! Between the tempo issue (I was told I looked like I was skiing a 30 k!), the wax/ ski issue and the overall residual tiredness from four pretty tough weekends of racing in a row leading into this three-day weekend, the race was not destined to be one my best. But I made the best of it. For that, I’ll take the 22nd.

Saturday brought the 15 km skate, a tough course and VERY tired muscles from Friday’s hard effort. I think that even though a 5 k is shorter, because it requires so much exertion to try to push the max in just 15 minutes, and again because I’m not used to it, that made me REALLY tired. I knew going into Saturday that it could be a rough one since my body felt tired before I even started skiing. And it certainly was. But, again, I raced really well, given the limitations of my body on the day. I pushed to the max and did everything I could to ski smart and technically well in order to get me around the course as fast as possible. I had a terrible start – one of my biggest weaknesses and problems all year – which caused me to be in LAST place coming into the 2nd kilometer. This is a MAJOR problem, and undoubtedly changed the rest of my race, ultimately making it MUCH more difficult for me to get into the top-15 or even top-20. I wasn’t too terrible getting out of the double pole zone, albeit not great, but not so bad. But then after the 1st kilometer all-out war of stepping on skis and poles, throwing elbows and pushing one’s way toward the front, I had not risen to the challenge of the battle, and AGAIN (as is common) found myself in a place I did NOT belong, which is tough. I try to stay relaxed and out of the heat of aggression so I don’t end up losing a pole or going down – not worth it in my opinion – but I obviously need to change that strategy and just get more aggressive and get in there, because being in the back in a group of 35 strong women is not where you want to be and causes you to end up racing a race you are NOT supposed to be in, when the real race where you belong is taking place in front of you and out of your reach.

My plan had been to start strong but not over-the-top and move up with each 5 km lap, as I always try to do in three-lap races. And I did do that. However, I had planned to start right inside the top-20 and work my way up toward the top-ten. Instead, I ended up starting from the very back and having to work my way past a whole bunch of girls I never planned on having to pass, and eventually into 22nd place – AGAIN! At least I am consistent, even if it’s consistently mediocre! 😉 But again, I am proud of the way I raced. I did work my way up the field with each lap and passing kilometer and I pushed as hard as I could on that day. Surprisingly, even though my body was tired I felt really good on the hills and actually wished there were more! I seemed to get ahead and/or drop girls on the hills, but I think because on the hills I could rely on tempo and then had to push my muscles on the flats, it was much harder. I just didn’t have the strength given my fatigue from Friday. But, in the end I did the best I could and raced all the way to the finish line, again totally exhausted for the finish. Two of my coaches told me they thought it was a great race and I looked much better than Friday, so I must have been doing something right! Again, I was not disappointed, because I did everything I could, though I wish it could have at least been a top-20 finish, if not a top-15. That is what I expect from myself, but I guess I have to remember those are “100-percent-body” expectations, not 75.

All in all, the college racing experience I had long been looking forward to and hoping to really rise up for was not quite what I had envisioned, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. In a long racing season, it is difficult to get your body to feel good at the times you want it to, especially when there are so many. To have a good race, everything has to come together at the same time, and that is tough to do. That is why you just have to give it your best with what you’ve got that day, and I believe that this kind of perseverance is the mark of a good racer.

I was still left with the chance for yet another highlight though, which this time surprisingly came in the form of a really good race overall. On Sunday, I headed up to Tahoe Donner to do the Sierra Nordic Relay Race, just because it is always a good time and I like to support the local racing community, because it is so great to be a part of. It was a beautiful day at Tahoe Donner (as usual), and even though I was tired from two hard days of racing, I was fired up to get out there. Only one problem… I didn’t have a team! After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to get some of the UAA girls to join me, since they were staying up in Tahoe to train between the races and the RMISA Championships, I was lucky enough to find a local pair who had lost their third partner, and conveniently they needed someone to classic ski, which was what I really wanted to do. Lucky me! So, with about 15 minutes to spare before the race start, I got signed up on a team with Beth Thomas and Joe Dengler, grabbed my Fischer Zero skis that had not been glide-waxed and which I was only hoping would work in the conditions since I had nothing else, and headed out for a quick warm-up before the race start. Maybe it was just because I hardly had anytime to ski, but I was actually not feeling so bad… almost kind of fresh, even. And I was definitely excited to do the race.

I think I always like this race because it is just really low-key and fun. Relay racing is always fun, and this race is a cool little course with some good double-poling and kick double-pole sections, a nice gradual uphill for great striding and a technical downhill with some sweet jumps on the bottom (put in just for the race). It was good after the college races to just be back in with the same crowd and no pressure whatsoever. That day, especially, things were even more low-key. I think I must thrive under the flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, totally relaxed race situation. Ultimately, I guess my best races are those when I am really having fun. Yes, there are those rare times when despite the pushing and the pain, you really look back and think, “man was that a great time!” Sunday was one of those.

I have no idea why, because I would think that a third race day in a row would be disastrous, but for some reason I felt really good and the race went really well. Maybe my body just needed the two race days prior to wake itself up. Maybe just the relaxed situation of starting with so few people on a familiar, fun course and with a lot of guys around me who I can push to keep up with but don’t have the pressure of having to beat. But I really felt great! This 5k classic, perhaps unfortunately, was much better than the one on Friday. It always seems like I have really good races and do well at the times when it matters the least, but you know what, it’s still a good thing if it gives me confidence and makes me feel good about my racing and my abilities. I felt snappy and strong, and my skis worked perfectly! I pushed myself to hang on to the lead guys and ended up 5th overall in the Classic leg (1st woman), less than 30 seconds out from the leader! It was great. Afterward, of course, I was COMPLETELY EXHAUSTED! Like, beyond exhausted. I felt like I could barely move my legs or arms, or even stand up! Drained of all energy, as though the 5k had taken every last ounce that I could muster. But, hey, isn’t that what ski racing is all about?! Leaving it all on the racecourse, whether it’s one day or three. This week, I will look forward to some rest and recovery, in anticipation of my kids’ STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS and the Royal Gorge Freestyle Race next Sunday! Good stuff. 🙂

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