Christmas and US Nationals in Vermont made for a genuinely awesome time. The four-week stay with good friends of ours was filled not only with training and racing, but also with a variety of other activities. Jessica perfected her Caesar salad dressing, carved a butter knife, and kept me well fueled with her highly competitive, single participant, multi-day bake-off competition. King Arthur carrot cake with maple syrup cream-cheese frosting was the clear winner. I carved a bowl from a burl to complement Jessica’s butter knife and took many carrot-cake induced naps with Hazen, the four-month old family lab.
At US Nationals Jessica kicked things off with an amazing second place in the 10km Classic. Despite high expectations, I ended up finishing 5th overall in the 15km Classic. While I felt strong, I wasn’t able to pull out a better performance, and was left wanting more. The next day, I raced the Classic sprint, which wasn’t a huge focus of mine; this raced served more as training for me than anything else, and an opportunity to pick up a salted chocolate milk from the Craftsbury Outdoor center for the drive home. Win-win. Then it was time to focus on the 20/30km skate mass start in two days.
Jessica reached the podium again in the 20k after skiing a really fast last couple kilometers. Watching the APU women crush that morning gave me confidence that the wax techs had dialed the skis, which meant that the rest was up to me. About 6km into the race, I made a pretty hard push that was able to break the group. The lead pack went from about 20 athletes to just Scott Patterson, Kyle Bratrud, and I. From that point on, the three of us raced together until about the last kilometer. That’s when I knew I had to make a push to the finish; I would rather go hard 1km out and die than leave a long race to the chances of losing a group sprint at the line. I played my cards right this time and was able to string out the group, finishing just ahead of Kyle and Scott. Both of these guys are super strong and have multiple National Titles to their names, so I was psyched to reach the finish line in front of them.
The 30km mass start skate is my first US National title. I’ve been on the podium nearly every season since I was 18, but have never managed to pull off a win. It meant a lot to me to finally reach this goal of mine, and the cherry on top was that it also helped me earn a spot on the US team for the FIS World Championships in Seefeld, Austria in February. Jessica also qualified for World Championships, which meant that we finally get a chance to race in Europe together (and spend Valentine’s Day together too, aww).
After Nationals I stayed in Vermont for another week and a half to train before heading back over to Europe. During this week I was able to relax and enjoy training. Jessica and I did a couple long skis and a fun tour from Greensboro over towards Craftsbury. With the races behind us and a little break until the next events it was incredibly pleasant just to ski once or twice a day, split a pot of coffee (or two), and boost my complexion with snail-jelly masks. I even got an extra two days of this, as my flight to Europe was cancelled due to Vermont style snowpocalypse. Although this wasn’t ideal for my racing schedule, it gave me a chance to throw Hazen into the powder and finish sanding my bowl.