Well, after a long hiatus from blogging, my brain has finally filled back up with lots of fun and funny feelings to share!
For those of you following cross country skiing, you are likely just as exhausted from watching all the races in the past two weeks as we are from racing them. I just finished my third ever Tour de Ski, and I’m stoked to celebrate my best ever finishing place! Super quick review: the Tour de Ski is seven races in nine days, taking place in three venues–lots of racing, lots of traveling, and even more eating and sleeping. The Tour de Ski is a beast of its own, and by far my favorite event in this sport! During the summer months when I am on week three of a big period of training, and I feel like there is no possible way to make it through the interval set in my exhausted state… I channel my Tour de Ski dreams. I love the feeling of kind of losing your mind from exhaustion, and digging out one more gear.
Tour de Ski… where you do weird things like wear heating pads on your head because you are nervous…. and you give yourself headaches!
You also have to be a pro at traveling light, because you move in and out of hotel rooms every other day.
The first races of the Tour de Ski were in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. After spending the holiday in France, the French team graciously took me in, and transported me back to Switzerland to start the Tour. I could tell my body was feeling good, so I decided to start day one with no fear. As I took off in the mass start, I jumped in behind our sports strongest distance skier, Therese Johaug, and found my comfort following. About two kilometers into the race, things fell apart, and I found myself being passed by packs of girls every downhill. I quickly realized there was something terribly wrong with my skis. They were not moving at a speed relative to those around me, and I was going to have to dig to deep levels to make it to the finish line losing as little time as possible. With every second mattering in this tour format of racing, I willed myself to roll my eyes back, and not give up. As I sprinted for the finish line with Jessie Diggins for 29th and 30th place, I had to quickly make sure to keep my confidence alive. Rather than falling into the world of questioning if I had severely messed my training up during Christmas, I dared myself to believe. The following day, I bounced back, making it into the finals in the sprint.
The pre-tour high… where you can’t wait for what is to come. (Nordic Focus photo)
Regaining confidence on stage 2. (Nordic Focus photo).
Super thankful for my new wax technician, Per Erik Bjørnstad! This guy works harder than anyone I have ever seen in my life. Just like athletes, some days you just miss the wax, despite your best effort. The most you can ever ask of anyone is their best effort, something that is a guarantee with Per Erik! (Nordic Focus photo)
From there we moved onto Toblach, Italy, where I had a decent distance skate race, which put me in a place to work with my strong teammates, Jessie and Rosie, in a pursuit style classic race based on our results from the day before. As I took off on my classic skis in the fourth race of the Tour, I headed up the first hill feeling like I could chase anyone. I noticed my skis were not kicking very well, but I tried to jump out of the track, run the hills, and stay focused on the task at hand. About halfway through the race, the group from behind caught me, and I clinched on, holding on for dear life. During the first half of the race, I had pushed myself so hard in combination with my slick skis that I had little to nothing left in my arms. I managed to once again roll my eyes back, and will myself to hang onto this group to the finish. Although it wasn’t a disaster, I had once again lost vital seconds that I needed for the overall tour.
Sometimes you just need a teammate to share a hug of disappointment with. And then, you depend on those same teammates to help you move forward in a positive fashion. I am lucky to be surrounded by a group that I can help lift, and be lifted by. (Nordic Focus photo)
Going into the Tour de Ski, my single greatest goal was to race every day without an influence from the day before. If racing had been going well, I didn’t want to put extra pressure on myself to keep it up. If it had gone poorly, I didn’t want to just assume my shape was bad, or I had screwed everything up. When you have really high goals for your finishing place, in general, you can have one imperfect race during the seven days of racing, but not two. On stage four, when I realized I had surpassed my allotment, I caught myself getting a bit bummed.
When you watch these races from the outside, it may seem obvious that it takes a lot of grit to race day after day, but I think one of the hidden things is how much guts it takes. Daring yourself to keep believing when the plan doesn’t go as “planned” is scary. Daring yourself to think you can turn around a day later and chase the best is scary. Daring yourself to not let your mind question is scary. But these daring decisions are unbelievably liberating!
Channeling my focus and fight. (Nordic Focus photo)
When stage four went a little south, I forced myself to reach outside for help. I relied on my teammates, my coaches, and my tech to give me some extra encouragement. Fortunately, we had a day off between stage 4 and 5, because during that time I got my mind back on track.
Between racing, you will find us either sleeping or eating. The key to the TDS is focusing as much on your recovery as your racing!
And guess what!? I turned that energy and belief into one of my best distance races of all time on stage 5! By this point, we are what you call “off our rockers”. The exhaustion of five days of racing makes you intoxicated on fatigue. You laugh at things that aren’t generally funny, you say things that don’t make sense, you take extra long to think through a question, and you are quite literally crawling on your hands and knees up the stairs. With only two more races left though, the end is in sight.
Fatigue has this funny way of pulling the strangest ideas out of you… wearing mustaches to the meeting being one of those.
Professional racers and professional resters!
Stage 6 was a sprint race this year, which is relatively new for the Tour. This was one of the races I was looking forward to the most. Sprinting with tired muscles just sounded funny, and I knew I had plenty of practice for that from my summer months of training. When you are racing day after day, you lose track of the normal nerves and fears that come with a weekend of racing. Your body stops having the energy to produce that as much, so you show up on the start line laughing, and sort of tripping over yourself. Somehow, when the gun goes off, my mind was going into its fighting instincts, and I could find my sprinting gear. Having some of the best feelings I have ever had in a sprint, I conserved my energy through the heats, on a mission to win the day. When the finals came around, I did my best to put myself in the right place at the right time, with the right energy…. But encountered a bit of bad luck in combination with a few wrong lane choices, which left me fourth place by a hair. With such amazing feelings that day, this particular disappointment was hard to swallow. Who knew you could have so many feelings in the course of nine days?!
The group that finished the full tour. Massive shoutout to Allen, our nutritionist who kept us well fed at all hours, and Josh, our massage therapist who kept our muscles recovering and firing!
What I eventually settled on the second to last day of the tour is this: daring yourself to believe comes with its consequences. Generally the difference between a success and a failure is so small that if you beat yourself up about it, you are taking more out of the bank than putting in! You are leaving no room for investment, you are just living by the day. Day six, I willed myself to consider it a success, and use my good feelings and lessons to invest in the next sprint I get to do.
And that brings me to stage 7: the final and hardest stage of them all. Who ever thought it was a good idea to race up an alpine slope after six days of racing? Not me!! This is by far the most mentally and physically painful thing I could chose to do. I can’t even explain how loud your braining is screaming “ouch”. Somehow, I miraculously convinced the voice in my head to be more positive than normal, and I got myself up that climb fast enough to hold onto 7th place overall in the tour! My best ever finish. Although it wasn’t the original goal I was shooting for, I am darn proud to have achieved that given some of the mistakes I had over the course of seven days.
Grinding up the alpine slope, one step at a time. (Nordic Focus photo)
A happy crew, for making it to the top!! No matter what place you cross that line, it is an unbelievable achievement to have made it there!!
Although I am constantly striving for perfection, I am not afraid to recognize my progress. I have come a long ways in daring myself to believe. The tour is not only amazing because of the racing and experiences, but because of the insanely condensed emotion that causes you to grow!
Just because behind the scenes is always an entertaining view, here are a few of my favorite moments from the tour:
– warming up with Katharine Ogden the last day of the tour watching her try to wrap her brain around what she is about to do…. And having no idea what she signed herself up for.
– Listening to the French coaches cheering me on in day 1 despite the fact that something had obviously gone a little wrong—a meaningful expression of respect.
– Working on skis with my wax technician between stage 4 and 5, and hearing him tell me to “ski on my toe balls”. A direct translation from Norwegian that came across very funny! (what he meant was the ball of my foot)
– Midnight munching on ProBars in the bathroom, because I woke up starving at 3AM the night before the last race.
– Starting stage 4 with Rosie and Jessie, working together with my training buddies to chase the world.
– Wearing mustaches to our final team meeting, just because weird is the new normal at that stage of fatigue.
– Driving five hours between the first two venues, and stopping to pee every 30 minutes because we are obsessed with staying hydrated during these events. (The World’s most patient coaches dealing with it.)
– Calming race nerves with Lizzo
– Blending all our food by the end of the tour… cherishing our team nutritionist, Allan, for hiding spinach, ice cream, probiotics, oatmeal AND vitamin C in our survival smoothies.