December in Alaska

Today is Christmas Eve! Where did December go? I’ve been home for two weeks already! Unfortunately, Alaska is in a snow drought right now, just like much of central Europe it seems. There has not even been a single day below 10°F this season so far, and there is not even enough snow to set classic tracks. Nevertheless, I have thoroughly enjoyed being home earlier in December to do some Christmas preparations and enjoy a few weeks of just training.

IMG_5126Our very own Christmas tree, courtesy of my roommate and his girlfriend.

IMG_5138Night skiing made easy with lighted trails!

IMG_5149Sunset from my office window…at 3:30pm…

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Instead of continuing on the race circuit, we focused on having a good 3-week training block before US Nationals and that included two weekends of local racing. While the racing atmosphere was super low-key, the competition was top-notch! Alaska and APUNSC has some of the best racers in the country and many of the top names on the results here were also at the top of Super Tour results earlier this month. Yet, there was almost no stress associated with racing because we were at home, operating on our own schedules, sleeping in our own beds, we didn’t have to spend any money to be at the races, and best of all there was nothing on the line. Being back at sea-level seemed to agree with my body too, and I had some great races. It was a nice feeling to be able to say I really had given it my best and nothing held me back. That isn’t to say I won the races, but it was a big step in the right direction.

Hickok Duathlon

The first weekend was the Hickok Duathlon, a 15k classic-skate, part of the Anchorage Cup Citizen Race series. Honestly, I was really nervous because I hadn’t done a skiathlon since high school! We don’t do them on the NCAA or Super Tour circuit, they only do them on the World Cup, so I’m relatively inexperienced at them. But I had a blast. It was mass start classic, there were no tracks, the snow was super glazed and ripping fast, I had guessed at the kick wax, and I was wearing skate boots. I managed to stay within a few meters of Chelsea and Becca for half the lap before I lost contact, and I felt like I was going as hard as I could the whole time. Coming into the stadium and transition to skate I started getting super anxious wondering how my legs were going to feel, but I was pleasantly surprised and I didn’t feel as wobbly as I expected. If you’ve ever done a triathlon and experienced the unpleasantness of jumping off your bike and starting to run and your legs are jello and you nearly fall on your face, I was expecting that. With fast conditions, the skate leg flew by and I was done. Given the fact that I had finished only 1:40 behind Becca and Chelsea over 15k, I was really happy with the improvement of getting beat by 3-4 minutes over 10k in West Yellowstone and Bozeman.

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There was also a selection of 28 soups available post-race for refueling and warming up! APUNSC is the host of the Hickok and it’s tradition for everyone to bring a pot of soup!

So much soup! Photo by APUNSC

Besh Cups

When I was a junior, Besh Cups were the end all be all of ski racing in Alaska. If you did well at Besh Cups, you were a good skier and people knew your name. They are also Junior National qualifiers, so they were stressful! Now, they are just fun races before Christmas that have an incredibly high level of competition and one of the few times I get to race for a home crowd.

Due to the meager snow conditions, but with some last minute snow-making at Kincaid the race was able to be held on an 875m loop of man made snow for the skate sprint on Saturday. It was a true sprinter’s course, with a slight uphill out of the start, a long downhill up into a long uphill and slight downhill into the stadium. My strategy was just to hammer as hard as I could the whole time. Worked out pretty well. Came 6th in qualification, hammered through the rounds and just barely missed out on 3rd in the final. It was a loooooooong day though. Remember how Alaska gets dark in the winter for long hours during the day? Well, December 20th is a terrible day to hold a sprint race in Alaska because we literally were warming up for prelims in the dusky pre-sunrise and racing the final and cooling down in the post-sunset dusk.

IMG_5366Racing the quarterfinal. It was about 3pm, so we were already losing light. Photo by PK

IMG_5371Racing the A-final. I am the furthest right skier with the glimmer of orange in my poles. Photo by PK

16078347032_030ddc407f_kMore sprinting. Photo by Pat Cooper

16053257286_7548eb8dd8_kLooking nice and dynamic. Photo by Pat Cooper

Sunday’s 10/15k skate went off without a hitch at Hillside and it was even snowing the whole day!! It was a nice way to end the weekend. Like the Hickok, I felt like I could hammer the whole race and felt good about my results. For both Besh Cups, the podiums could have been podiums at US Nationals, with APU sweeping the men’s and women’s distance races and having half of the podium steps in the sprint. Being home for a while has really helped my training and also my mental state and with some good racing improvements and good feelings in the body at sea level, I’m really looking forward to racing Nationals at sea level in Houghton!

IMG_5397Getting splits from Sam in the 10k. Photo by PK

PK was able to come to Alaska for Christmas holidays this year, which is really fun and exciting, and the next week before we head to Michigan should be filled with fun pre- and post-Christmas activities.

IMG_5198PK and I on a morning ski, around 9:30am…still dark…

IMG_5200PK fully understanding the meaning of winter solstice 🙂

Merry Christmas to everyone and have a safe, fun and joyful holiday!