Yesterday I experienced a very different kind of Great Ski “Race.” For the first time in several years of doing this event, I was not out there as a racer. I did not start in the first wave and battle through the 30km for a coveted spot on the podium. I did not push myself all the way up and over the top of Starrat Pass, set fire to my lungs and turn my legs into jelly as I have done in the past. Instead, I started in a later wave with several of my high school athletes — cutest girls in the world — and we skied the 30km (mostly) together, as a group. We had an absolute blast!
I have to say that I felt a momentary, slight sense of disappointment when I first got to the venue about the fact that I was not racing. As a racer who is used to pushing hard at every event, and not accustomed to spectating or merely ‘participating,’ I think there is always that initial sense of “I should be out there going for it.” But, that went away quickly once things got going, and I actually really enjoyed watching the send-off of the elite wave, even if it was leaving me behind!
Once we all got going, we were in no hurry, stopping when we got too hot to remove layers, when we got thirsty to get a drink, to take photos along the way, if we saw someone we wanted to chat with for a bit, and of course to eat brownies and Three Musketeers at the aid stations. It was definitely a change of pace for me, but I have to say it gave me a whole new perspective on the event, and on that day, I truly loved not being in a hurry. I was so happy to spend that time with my girls (and fellow coach Elyah), working together to get through the distance, encouraging one another along the way, and just enjoying a nice long, snowy ski. We were also skiing in honor of our former NTHS coach and dear friend Randolph Green, whom we lost to cancer last spring. We made shirts to commemorate him and carried his humor, energy and positive spirit with us on the trails. This definitely helped us get fired up — thanks Randolph!!
Though we were not concerned about going fast, The Great Ski Race is still a tough race by any measure, and an especially long way for the high schoolers, who typically race 4-5km, but were now challenging themselves to ski 30 km that included an extremely difficult climb to the top of the pass. Getting to Truckee was quite an accomplishment for them, and I was extremely impressed and proud. We got a little separated at about 20 km, and one of my athletes, Ingrid, and I finished together slightly in front of the rest of the girls. The ski took me 3 hours and 10 minutes — about an hour and 45 minutes slower than my best race time on the course. But I loved every minute (okay, except for a few when I got REALLY cold).
The conditions were seriously tough out there, with an extremely wet snow/rain mix coming down throughout the day that made for powdery conditions near the top and VERY thick, sloppy, rutted conditions down on the bottom. The end of the race was brutal, even despite the slower pace. Race times across the field were significantly slower than in years past because of the tough conditions. I was definitely tired by the finish, and I have to admit happy I did not have to really race in it!
I had not earned myself a top-five finish on the day as I had done in years past, but I thoroughly enjoyed my Great Race experience yesterday. It gave me a whole new perspective on the event, and as funny as it may sound, I felt really proud of myself — and my team, of course — after crossing that line 3 hours and 10 minutes later. It still felt like a big accomplishment, and I felt like I had really taken it all in in a whole new way. I savored every kilometer and took the time to look around. I shared the experience with those around me, and we were reminded of our love for the sport of skiing.
As someone who spends a HUGE portion of my time each and every day being in a hurry, rushing to get things done, and pushing myself to arrive at my destination faster, it was truly refreshing to spend a day doing just the opposite, and really soaking up the experience. I think that sometimes — when the time is appropriate — it’s a good idea to slow things down a bit, and ski/bike/swim/run or whatever sport you choose simply because you love it, and not in pursuit of a result. Of course, as a racer, pushing hard, going fast and chasing down results is essentially my daily mission, so these opportunities are rare. But every once in a while they will come up, and I think it’s more than okay to take advantage of them, and that we learn something new about ourselves and actually grow as athletes each time that we do (just as we grow from each race).
This ski season has been somewhat of a transitional period for me. Ultimately, this has been the season when I’ve really had to start learning how to let go of my identity as a ski racer. This has been tough at times because I spent such a significant portion of my life as an elite Nordic skier, and that is really the sport that shaped my involvement in and passion for athletics. Nordic skiing will forever be my foundation. But I have chosen to go in a different direction now, and that is to focus on triathlon.
Skiing continues to be a part of my life, and likely always will be, but in a much different way than it has in the past. I have made triathlon my priority in terms of training, racing, and goal-setting, and my life has been adjusted accordingly. There is simply not enough time for me right now to try to maximize my potential in both sports, and I’ve really come to realize and accept that this season. I have learned to let go of my identity as a top Nordic ski racer, and instead reshape it. I am still a skier, but I approach the sport in a new way. In the sense of skiing, my big focus now is coaching — teaching others how to maximize their potential in the sport, fostering that growth, and sharing my love for the sport with all of these great kids. Skiing and ski racing are still fantastic training tools for me, and I will continue to utilize them, but i think it is important I remember that my approach must be different now, and that I need to shift my goals and expectations to reflect that.
I have been fortunate to be able to race in two local ski races this season. This is far less ski racing than I’ve ever done in the past, but I think it’s an appropriate amount given my very full triathlon racing schedule throughout the rest of the year. One of these races went quite well, and one did not go so well. But both were excellent training tools for me in that they gave me a chance to push myself in a way that cannot otherwise be simulated, and a chance to stay competitive in the off-season. This is how I will continue to approach ski racing in the future. I know I will likely only be able to do a few races each year, and that I will likely not race as well as I could have expected in the past, but I’m learning now how to accept that, and see the value in these races for helping me improve my skills and fitness as a triathlete. I think that capping this season off with my Great Ski Race skiing experience was a perfect way for me to end this ski season, providing a nice balance for me of still using ski racing as a training tool and of course pushing myself as hard as I can in that effort, but also using the winter season as a time to have fun, try new things and be a little less serious — and of course really flex my identity as a coach.
I am so grateful for all that skiing has done for me, and all the sport and community have given me. Sunday’s Great Ski Race could not have been a more fitting reminder of that. I may have taken several steps back from the racing scene, but the sport itself remains as important to me as ever. I think this season has really helped me solidify my understanding of all of that, and helped me to “re-shape” my skiing identity, if you will. I am extremely grateful for that.
Most of all, I am extremely grateful to “my kids” for keeping me involved in this sport in such a positive way, and for helping to remind me of how very fortunate I was to grow up among the Nordic skiing community. I truly would not trade the experiences I have had in this sport for anything, and I carry them with me as I move forward in my triathlon career, and I know my athletes will also take their experiences with them in the future. These kids have worked so hard all season — and many of them for much longer — to get to where they are today, and all the while have never lost sight of the fact that skiing is simply something they love. They inspire me, and I am so proud to be their coach and a part of their junior skiing experience. They will undoubtedly turn into fine individuals as they grow up. Not to mention… I am proud of what they did on Saturday at the State Championships, earning the FIRST PLACE state title for the men’s field, and third place in the women’s! Way to go team!!
All that being said, I should definitely mention that LUNA pro team member Katerina Nash WON the women’s division of the Great Ski Race yesterday (and placed sixth overall!). As someone who undoubtedly has an incredible skiing background as a two-time Olympian, but now devotes the majority of her time and energy to mountain biking, I am seriously inspired by her ability to set a goal for this race and come out and achieve it. I only hope to one day be even close to as big of a bad-ass as she is!