Since my last update, I raced a world cup in Estonia, had two jam packed weeks of racing at World Championships in Finland, discovered my natural talent for bowling, flew home to Anchorage, and last but certainly not least- Justin Bieber turned 23 (this feels like yesterday)! It has been a pretty awesome couple of weeks- by far my best international racing experience to date. As is always the case, it was a learning experience; each race served as an opportunity for improvement as I attempted to build upon my strengths while not making the same mistake twice (although that’s definitely easier said than done sometimes). After all, if my hair-tie never fell out in the race that I’ve come to refer to as the “great Canadian 30k sufferfest that was actually just a sprint”, I wouldn’t carry not one, but two hair-ties around my wrists at all times on race day in case of emergency . Yeah, back to the hair falling out thing again, but really… that is the absolute worst case scenario in a race (just ask Cam McDermott!).
Anyway, here are the most important lessons I learned over the past couple weeks. Some pertain to racing, while others just serve as useful guidelines for everyday living.
- Human strength alone is not sufficient to hurl a shopping cart into a frozen river. Sometimes you gotta get crafty in order to achieve your goals. Exhibit A:
- Team sprints are really hard. Okay, so I already knew that- but this past one served as a reminder. I was lucky enough to have Kat as my teammate, who was incredibly enthusiastic going into the race (in general she is pretty awesome like that). It was also her first ever team sprint, and I think she (like many of us) really focused in on the concept of “sprinting” rather than the fact that we had to do the course three times each.. with pretty much no rest between. Like the hardest intervals of your whole entire life. As it would turn out, there is a reason they use distance points to seed team sprints rather than sprint points; its pretty much the exact opposite of the 100m dash. Anyway, in true sprinter fashion, Kat went out like there was no tomorrow- skiing a truly impressive first lap. But when I entered the ski zone after my last lap, Randy, our head wax tech, said to me, “Kat is in a world of hurt..”. Then Paul, another one of our techs says, “I think I saw some tears”. So I am just thinking, “MY POOR BABY” and can completely 100% sympathize, because that is EXACTLY how I felt during my first ever team sprint. I was totally unprepared for the pain- thinking it would just be another day of fun and games- when really, its the complete opposite. So, needless to say, Kat suffered a pretty brutal blow-up, but I was so incredibly proud of her and the effort she put forth during that race. It takes guts to put yourself out there like that. It takes even more guts to keep pushing when you have nothing left, and when you feel like you are going to die a horrible death- drowning in a sea of your own lactic acid. Moral of the story is, team sprints are hard.. especially your first ever one- and I think we did a kickass job, epic explosions and all.
- It really doesn’t matter what everybody else thinks. Now this one needs some explaining. Our team’s goal going into relay day was to finish the race. This is because the relay is on a 2.5k course (so each person does two laps)- meaning that it is relatively easy to get lapped out if you aren’t superhero status- feeling like a world cup winner, on your A game, you get the gist. Two years ago, I had pretty much the worst racing experience of my life (minus the Canadian hair-tie sufferfest) when I got our relay off to a terrible start at World Championships in Falun. We were lapped out so quickly we were unable to start our 3rd skier, and I felt like a total failure for letting everyone down. This time, I was put into the fist leg again, and I had horrible deja vu to Falun. My (super positive, as always) thoughts before the race were something along the lines of, “Welp, I am going to screw this up for us again!”…it was pretty nerve-wracking. Anyway, I skied my leg, and it was THE hardest thing I have done in a long time. I have never seen a race go out so fast or had my entire body flood so quickly. After taking a solid (super solid, like far too long) breather lying in the snow, I sulked off to change my clothes and fought back tears since I totally thought I blew it for my team- yet again. When I pulled it together and came back out to watch my teammates, I saw that Aimee was skiing like a total boss. I realized that she hadn’t lost all that much time, and in fact- neither had I. Then Barbara went out for her skate leg and also skied like an absolute champ. Going into the race, we had instructed Kat (our fearless anchor) that all she had to do was go balls-to-the-wall for 2.5k- as long as she stayed ahead of the first place team, she could literally keel over, have a snack, take a breather, fist pump, whatever- and then crawl her way though the 2nd lap if she wanted. All she had to do was not get lapped. Barbara, Aimee, and I watched nervously on TV as Marit Bjoergen powered her way around the course- not far behind Kat (who was also flying, yeah girl!!). When she made it through the stadium, and the three of us were absolutely ecstatic in the finish zone. The other teams were looking at us like, “What the heck are these girls on about? Screaming their lungs out for last place?” (well actually, we weren’t in last because Ukraine got lapped out). When Kat crossed the finish line, we rushed out to her with the Aussie flag to celebrate; it was one of the proudest moments of my athletic career. Usually only the winning team has a flag at the finish, so to everyone else it probably looked a little strange. But we were the first Australian relay team to finish in something like 25 years- and we were too pumped to worry about what everyone else thought. Everyone one of us put forth an awesome effort in a situation where literally every second counted, and I am so proud of what we were able to accomplish because of it.
- Cheese loading is just as effective as carbo loading. The placed we stayed at in Lahti had an endless supply of gourmet cheeses at dinner time.. I personally ingested numerous wheels of brie during my stay. And I was actually racing faster at the end of the 10 days than at the beginning… so it must have been a pretty effective method of fueling.
- Speaking of which, sometimes you ski the fastest when you least expect it. Leading into the championships, my highest expectations were in the skate sprint- the first race. Although I did well and was reasonably satisfied with my performance, I was definitely left wanting more. But that’s how it goes; things don’t always go as anticipated, and the stars definitely don’t always align when you want them to. I put the least pressure on myself for the last race of the championships- the 30k skate- and it turned out to be my best performance. As I generally do in long races where I fear the bonk, I started out pretty chill- but soon started to have those once in a blue moon feelings- where you just feel freaking AWESOME and nobody can stop you. I kept passing people throughout the race (which pretty much never happens to me), and I ended up in 33rd place- a result I definitely think was obtainable in that event (no matter how much brie cheese I ate the night before). More exciting news on that day- my APUNSC teammate Chelsea Holmes skied an absolutely incredible race. She ended up 13th overall, and she was only 10 seconds out of top ten… or something crazy like that! SO proud of her!!
- There’s nothing better than fast food after a race. I actually hate fast food (special thanks to the book Fast Food Nation)- until after I race- and then all of a sudden nothing sounds better than coke, fries, and a mcflurry. Kat and I indulged ourselves at Finland’s finest fast food joint, Hesburger, after the 30k, and it was truly glorious. The only bummer was the exceptionally small portions; as hungry ladies fresh from the US of A, we were surprised to find that you can’t get Supersized globally. So I stole the rest of Kat’s fries.
- These “towels” that they have in the showers… yeah, they are not towels. They are for sitting on in the sauna. Figured that out upon awkward entry (complete with shameful looks) into the sauna the next day. Whoops. Also, bring your own towel to the pool in Finland, people.
- Bowling is not a good pre-race activity. It can make you really sore, and you feel like your arm is going to fall off in the morning.
- It is really difficult to un-cancel credit cards. I lost my wallet less than 24 hours before my flight and had to spend my last night feverishly searching for it (I even retraced my steps at 1 AM and groveled around in the snow- fairly ineffective method in the dark in case you are wondering). When all hope was lost, I cancelled my cards- only to relocate the wallet in a snowbank about 15 minutes before my shuttle left. At that point, it was too late- all my cards were cancelled and so I essentially had no money. In the end it was okay because I got to fly first class, where I was well supplied with free waffles and wine (and everybody knows that’s all you need). It was truly miraculous that my wallet didn’t suffer the same tragic fate as my lululemon vest; next trip, I vow to keep better track of my stuff!
- Kat Paul is the world’s best roommate and I will miss her terribly. Especially this.
- There really is no place like home. I am now enjoying a quick stop (one week) at home before heading to World Cup finals in Quebec. I love traveling and seeing new places, but I also appreciate being able to hermit it up at home (loud music, endless episodes of Friends, scented candles, walking around naked- the works). Anchorage has also been experiencing an incredible winter- I’m talking extra blue kick wax, perfect tracks, corduroy, bluebird skies, and EVERY trail in the entire city groomed to perfection. The trail running is also amazing right now; all of the trails are packed, and they aren’t icy either. I have been running on the Turnagain arm trail in the afternoons to my (2nd) favorite lookout, where I take in the view of the inlet/mountains. There, it hits me just how lucky I am to call this place home.
PS: Shoutout to Lauren, who came to Lahti and was the ultimate cheerleader (and took many of the photos in this post). I could hear her during every race, which was really special because its not every day you have friends on course cheering for you when you’re overseas. She even came all the way out to Vierumaki to go on a painfully slow recovery ski with me; she didn’t even desert me when her hands were so cold all her fingers nearly fell off!! True sign of a good friend!!!!!