This year U.S. nationals are being hosted at Soldier Hollow, Utah. Unfortunately for me this venue is at 5,500 feet of altitude. For someone like me who trains at sea level year round this is less than ideal. Nationals is only my third competition at altitude making me somewhat of a novice when it comes to dealing with the reduced oxygen.
Fortunately, with my sub 50 FIS point result in Cable I was prequalified for Junior Worlds which is typically decided at these races. Although that helped relieve some stress, I still needed some top performances from these races to be given starts in the races I wanted at Worlds. The races being held at Nationals are almost identical to the ones at Worlds making it one of the largest factors when it comes to deciding who gets which race starts at Worlds. For those who do not know, the team for Junior Worlds consists of six athletes but only four can start in each race.
I arrived to Soldier Hollow five days before the first race to allow my body to adjust to the altitude and settle in. These first few days the altitude was more noticeable than expected, but I remained confident knowing most people were dealing with similar feelings. To ease my insecurities of racing at altitude I like to tell myself, “if you’re fit at sea level, you’re fit at altitude.”
Talking skis with the boss.
The first race of the week was the skate sprint where I expected to qualify for the heats relatively easily based on my performances earlier this season. Unfortunately, this was not the case as I missed qualifying by around two seconds. Adding insult to injury, I was also outside the top ten for juniors. I had hoped to have more to report from the day than that but not everyday can be a good day.
After the sprint there was a day off before we headed into the skate mass start distance day. Typically as a junior I would race the 10k but I decided to race the 30k with the seniors instead. I did this because Junior Worlds has a skate 30k mass start and 30k is a distance I have only raced once before. With my prequalified status I decided to gain some extra race experience.
The 30k had nearly 100 racers starting, including me in the 22nd seed. This many starters made the first few kilometers challenging trying to navigate to a position I wanted to be without breaking any gear or wasting energy. Fortunately, the pace was hot from the beginning making the field string out after only four kilometers. I skied most of the race with three other racers until I was able to break away from them with three kilometers to go and finish in 12th place.
Me in the blue suit, bottom left of the screen, on the first lap of the 30k. Photo by Erik Maurer
Moving from the 22nd seed into 12th place was a great result although being that close to the top ten just makes me hungry for more. Regardless, this was a great improvement from the sprint day and hopefully the last two races of nationals fair more like this.
For those of you interested in keeping up with my race results, live timing can be found here, along with a livestream found here. My next race is a classic 15k happening on January sixth (tomorrow at the time of this posting), 12:00 pm MST. My final race of Nationals is a classic sprint on January seventh, with heats starting at 1:00 pm MST.
From left to right, top to bottom: Sprint qualifier, late in the 30k, ski depot, halfway through the 30k, early in the 30k. Top middle photo by Tobias Untrace, all others by Erik Maurer.