End to the World Cup Season

The end of the World Cup Season seemed to have come all too quickly. In a year that I keep looking to find a little bit more, I almost felt like I was racing the clock to find those “great” feelings before the season came to an end.

Enjoying some sun with Rosebud! (Holly Brooks photo).

Fortunately, I came pretty darn close. Lahti, Finland World Cup’s are always unique, because they come the weekend after the big Championships. Two weeks of trying to be in your best form, and then you have five short days to recover before you come back onto the “regular tour”.  This time is especially hard for the US Team because we are not coming home… but instead move from the “Championship hotel setting” to the “World Cup hotel setting”. But, even with these funky feelings, I have always still loved Lahti! I love the courses there, I love the atmosphere, and I really enjoy living right in the heart of the city. 

Enjoying some time inside a home with a home cooked meal at Aiko’s house.

Lahti started with a skate sprint, one of two race courses I have ever qualified into the Semi’s. I have always loved the grade of this course, one that I look forward to all year. As it turns out, the organizing committee decided to salt the course the few hours leading into the race… so suddenly nobody was allowed on course, and it was turned to solid ice. As I headed out on track, I felt like I was riding a wild bull. I couldn’t find my balance as I ice skated around the track, crossing the line feeling like I hadn’t even started breathing hard. Instead, I was fighting my balance for the 1.2 km. So, I narrowly missed the finals, shoot! 

But this day still marked an exciting one. Kikkan worked her way back up onto the podium after a challenging season, something that left me with goosebumps and tears. Kikkan has been a leader of this “team” since my very first trip I came on for 2011 World Champs. From that moment, she taught the women’s team what it looked like to set goals that would overcome expectations. She taught us to dream, and she showed us that it was possible. Whenever our women’s team left the tracks feeling defeated, she reminded us that it only takes time. Patience is the virtue! But in all these years of watching Kikkan, and trying to chase behind her, I have never seen her give up for a second. Not when she got injured, not when she fell in her “gold medal favorite” race in Oslo, not when she didn’t reach her goals at the Olympics, and most importantly- not this year! Even when she just couldn’t find what was wrong this year, she held herself together, and remained a leader. Somehow she always still managed to dig out some confidence and believe she knew where she belonged. So, this day in Lahti, when she landed back on her spot on the podium… it was a golden one!

Kikk, back where she belongs! (FIS photo)

The following day, I had another opportunity. One of my favorite races, 10k classic, on one of my favorite courses. Perfect! I set out with a hot pace, and tried to hold it. As my technique and kick fell apart, I kept hanging on, reaching for that feeling that I was looking for all season. As I crossed the line, I knew I hadn’t caught it yet… but I was getting closer. I finished a happy 14th, something I would feel satisfied about.

Erik starting bib 1.
Sometimes it is a bit exhausting traveling constantly! Erik, finding a place to get some zzz’s.

From Lahti, we jumped on a plane and headed for Drammen, Norway, the world’s most exciting classic sprint. Situated in the heart of the city, and finishing by climbing up the steps of a Church, this weekend is always unique! Warming up and cooling down in running shoes throws a bit of a different twist in things! A new, and exciting challenge. Again, searching for that fitness and that “feeling”, I went out in the qualifier on a mission! I was ready to stop being on the “edge” of qualifying. And finally, I was back! I qualified in 9th, my best of the season. Yehooo. 

The last two weekends of the World Cup, FIS was trying a new method of heat selection. It requires this funky order of athletes showing up and picking their heats one at a time… creating an opportunity to have very un-even situations. I was the 3rd athlete to pick, so I picked heat 1, imagining that should be fine. But, somehow a storm of all the top qualifiers came rushing into this same heat. As I looked at my quarterfinal heat, it resembled an A final. Yikes! I was going to have a good opportunity to get lucky loser, but that would entail getting in the top 4. I went out that afternoon, and chased that spot, but finished last in my heat… NO! As the following heats came in, they slowly showed to be less stacked! While I had gotten sixth in my heat, I had skied the 9th fastest time… the same as my qualifier…. but I wasn’t moving on. A bit of bad luck on this day that I just wanted some redemption. But, I swallowed my frustration, and looked for one more opportunity in the last few days of this season.

Striding it out in Drammen. Nordic Focus photo.
Fun to have Pete Kling around for some extra cheering!

The 30k Skate! I have only done one 30k Skate before, on a 1.5k loop at Spring Series… maybe a bit different than Oslo. But I sort of enjoyed this, I liked the idea that I was coming into this race with no expectations, and no knowledge of what it was going to feel like. I spent the last few days between Drammen and Oslo enjoying some sunshine, visiting one of my friends families down in the city, enjoying some perfect “promenades”, and catching up with some of the college skiers now living back in Norway. It was  a perfect last few days to this season. Holmenkollen has always been my favorite place in the world to race, so I started to prepare myself for this 30k Skate battle. As the day came, I went out with the pack, tried to hold on, but couldn’t quite manage. It has been a long season, with lots of racing, so I just tried to enjoy every last bit of it. The atmosphere up at Holmenkollen is incredible, so I took in the cheers of the crowd, and used every last bit of stored energy. I crossed the line excited to be done with that race, but sad to have the season wrapped up.

Soaking in some Vitamin D after a long break from it!
Cheering with Celine, her sister, and Pauline (my wax tech’s girlfriend).
That is one heck of a view of Oslo from my hotel room!

The season has been a special one. For the first time, I made it through the full World Cup Season. I finally participated in this awesome Tour de Ski, I finally made it through without being sick for any races, and I visited many places! From Russia, to Scandinavia, to Central Europe, and Estonia. 20 different hotel rooms, four months, 26 World Cup Starts…. and it was a good one. I didn’t manage to accomplish some of my higher goals during the Championships, but I have started to realize this season has been a large step, and success. I had my best result of the season, and a tie with the best result of my career, in a skate race! I can’t say I would have ever guessed that as a classic specialist! I only sat out five races on the World Cup Tour… where last year I sat out close to fifteen. And, I finished 23rd on the overall list, which means I get my name on my bib next year! Pretty fun! 

Doing a fun photo shoot along the shore in Fornebu. (Noah Hoff photo).

So, although the World Cup Season seemed to have come to an end all too quickly, before I could accomplish some of those goals I had set, I am left with some “frustrations”. Frustrations for me are motivations! I will go into this summer with my list of ten things that I see I have missed, or that I can improve. This list will be that fire that keeps me training hard this long summer and fall!

Laughing it out during in interview after the 30k in Holmenkollen. (Holly Brooks photo)

But, first, Spring Series! I still have four more races. Four more challenging races at 7,600 feet here in Sun Valley, Idaho. A skate sprint, 10k classic, Team Relay, and another one of those wonderful 30k Skate races! So, I am hanging tough, and putting every last bit of energy into these. It is fun to be back with my APU Team, and APU coaches. I spend seven months of the year training with this group, so it is great to be “a team” with them, and enjoy our last bits of racing. I am also looking forward to my Mom and Grandma who will come and cheer for the week. All these wonderful pleasures of being back in the US! Family, great food, teammates from home, laundry, cell phones, fast internet. GREAT!

BBQ on the deck- one of the pleasures of being back home.

Thanks to everyone for all the cheers, support and enthusiasm through this long World Cup Season. A few more weeks, and that will be a season. The 2014/2015 season!