The Great Ski Race and NCAAs

SO, I have fallen behind in my blog posting, once again. My apologies. I have been busy trying to find myself a J-O-B (or two!!), so that I can continue supporting my racing, a.k.a. be able to pay my entry fees!!! Anyways, here is a post that I started and came oh-so-close to finishing several weeks ago! But, here it is now in the full, outdated and all! 🙂

1. The Not-So-Great-Race

So, the Great Race was not so great… in fact, it was pretty much the opposite. I would actually say that it was probably my worst race of the season, with the BMT coming in a close second, as these two “big” races were easily outdone by every other race I’ve done this season. Like the Boulder, it was just one of those days: a very BAD day. There wasn’t much I could do, I simply felt terrible. Actually got out of the start pretty fast for once, but knew pretty quickly — about 800 meters in — that things were not headed in a good direction. It was one of those “Uh-Oh” moments, as more and more men started to go around and I stood by with no hope of following, even though the vast majority were men I had been beating all season. “This is not good” — another sinking thought — and “this is going to hurt!”

But, what could I do? Despite the pain in my legs from being already flooded with lactic acid and feeling about 500 pounds each, the overwhelming lightheadedness I was feeling for whatever reason and just an overall low-energy, cruddy body feeling, I just kept on pushing. I continued to watch myself getting further and further back in the pack as the lead women (Beth and Katerina) slipped away, but just kept skiing and trying to give it my all, feeling worse and worse along the way. After about 5km I was feeling totally exhausted, and I was welcomed to that land of exhaustion by meeting the bottom of the climb… oh boy! I was SO not thrilled. For those of you who have never done the Great Ski Race, this is NOT your standard hill climb… this thing is LONG and HARD, and did I mention LONG?! I think its about 6 or 7k of relentless uphill. Not fun on any day, but especially not fun on a bad day.

Just as I was heading up to start the ascent, breathing out of control, heart beating into my head which by this point felt like it was going to explode, I got passed by the eventual third-place female finisher… then the fourth… and then the fifth… all women whom I had beaten in every other race this year. But, again, I just had to tell myself to keep going, even though this was demoralizing. As I headed up the hill, the lighteheadedness got increasingly worse and I soon felt like I was going to black out. This was really strange, and something I have experienced once or twice before in ski races but not frequently by any means. I did not enjoy it at all or know what to do about it. I certainly could not speed up, and instead ended up slowing down, worried I might pass out on the trail! This is pretty much how my whole body felt though… like I just wanted to lay down on the side of the trail (I seriously did contemplate taking a couple of rest breaks, thinking it would probably be faster in the end). But, I just kept going, taking it one step at a time and trying my best to ignore my body. The hill seemed so long… I thought it might never end. But, eventually it did, and man was I grateful to see the top after such a long and brutal sufferfest. That gratitude even transferred over into a new burst of energy as I told myself to really go for it over the top and into the downhill to try and make up for some of the damage I had just caused myself. I knew not much could be done though.

Even though there was still more than 15k left to go in the 30-km race, I knew it would be nearly impossible to make up however many minutes I had lost to the women in front of me climbing up the pass. But, hey, I was sure going to try. And I did! I pushed hard over the top, closing the gap and accelerating by the group of men who had passed me just before the top of the pass. I forced myself to keep pushing and capitalize on my strengths of downhills and fast flats, of which there were a LOT! I went all out, and even though it wasn’t much on this day, I think it was a lot to give. I definitely made up some time from the top of the pass into the finish, but it just wasn’t enough to get the top-three finish that I wanted and was expecting. Oh well.. almost no race season goes by without days like these, and we only become stronger by finding the drive somewhere deep down to push through it and finish hard, and that is what I did. While I may be disappointed with the result and the state of my body, for that, I am proud. Although I have to say, I’m still glad it’s over! 🙂

2. Steamboat

Shortly after TGSR, I headed out to Steamboat, Colo. for the NCAA championships. I mostly went out to support / help / cheer on Nevada (the best team in the whole wide world), but there were MANY bonuses / incentives of this trip. For one, I got to get out of town for the first time in a while! Secondly, there were plenty of other skiers and friends I wanted to watch, cheer for and have the chance to see again. Third, NCAAs is always an awesome time. It is so much fun to be around so many awesome people and celebrate the biggest event of the collegiate season. It’s such an energetic, positive atmosphere and everyone is so into it. It’s great! This year was definitely no exception and lived up to all of my expectations heading out. Steamboat was sunny and beautiful almost everyday, I saw more close friends and awesome people than I was expecting, and the races were super exciting. The race coordinators and volunteers at Steamboat also did an awesome job putting the event together. I was really impressed, and I’m sure the athletes were too.

Overall, it was a ton of fun. I love getting the chance to watch some really good racing and not have to have the pressure of showing up for it… even though watching always gives me the itch to be out there! Nonetheless, there were some AMAZING racers at this event (best in the country!), and watching how they tackled the challenging courses and applied tactics as the races unfolded was both entertaining and insightful. Most of all, it was really great to get the chance to watch the Nevada skiers, who turned in some INCREDIBLE and truly INSPIRING performances in what will most likely be their last NCAA appearance (for those of you who don’t know, the team has been cut and will not be around next year without funding from the community). Undoubtedly the highlight of the week was Charlie Smith’s THIRD PLACE performance in the 10km classic race… a lifetime best result and overall UNBELIEVABLE performance! Everything really came together for him on this day and he truly excelled beyond any limits he previously knew. So inspiring. Maria Grafnings also turned in amazing results, though I know she was disappointed. She finished fourth in the skate and 10th in the classic with not-so-great skis, but she wanted to win the skate race, and absolutely could have had she had a perfect day. Unfortunately, she didn’t, and had to settle for fourth. I wanted the win for her super badly, but I was so proud of the way she skied and left everything out there on the course, fighting to the end to outsprint the fifth-place finisher.

Overall, I was unbelievably happy to see these awesome performances by such deserving people, and such a deserving team. I wanted so much for them to do well. It was so cool to see how much positive energy there was surrounding the whole team when Charlie got his podium. It really speaks to the quality of character on the Wolf Pack squad. Everyone was so excited that it just really lifted the spirits all around. I am so glad I was a part of it! Elias also had career-best races and was super stoked about it, which is always good to see. Kristin had a rough go in the skate race but she toughed it out and finished despite struggling, which I was REALLY proud of (we all know how tough that is in a big race). There were many other highlights of the races out there, but the most notable for me was Matt Gelso’s win in the 10km classic. We grew up skiing together on Far West, which was plenty of time for me to know he is an awesome guy and totally deserving of a national championship. I was stoked for him! Joanne Reid’s fourth place finish in the 5k classic was up there, too! (Another fellow Far West racer)

All in all, the trip was great, but it was also bittersweet. While I am glad I got the opportunity to go out and support Nevada, it was also tough knowing it was their last hoorah, especially seeing how much heart they raced with out there and how unbelievably tough they were. You could definitely tell that they had more on the line and more in mind than just themselves and their individual races. The culmination of the women’s 15k freestyle really meant that it was all over. And for me, that was so sad. Knowing that a team that did so much for me and came to mean so much to me in just one year is losing its opportunities to do the same for others is really a hard thing to swallow. All of these athletes deserve the best, and I hope that they find more opportunities to continue their skiing successes. Way to go pack, I am proud of all of you!

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