Auburn Ski Club Freestyle Sprint Races

This past weekend were the first Junior National Qualifier races. With Patrick and Anja racing elsewhere and Sabra sick, Wyatt, Emily, and I were left to represent the Elite Team on our home turf.

WP_20141220_001-1

(Looks Like Home Turf)

On Friday night Emily and I went over to Tahoe Cross Country to help their Comp and Devo teams wax their skis for the race. It was a ton of fun and they put the PARTY in waxing party.

IMG_2464

I was really excited to get to do a sprint this weekend since I have struggled a bit in sprint qualifiers. For most sprint races, after the qualification round the top 30 skiers move on to elimination heats. I have had the unfortunate luck of finishing 31st or 32nd in the last 5 Supertour sprint qualifiers, missing the heats by an average of 7 tenths of a second. My goal for this sprint was to practice my pre race warm up routine and lay down a really good qualification time.

I made sure I was really well warmed up before the qualifier and ended up with the 2nd fastest time. There is always room for improvement, but today was great practice for the upcoming sprints at U.S. Senior Nationals.

Racing sprint heats is one of the most fun parts of ski racing and it was awesome to see so many junior skiers gaining experience with this head to head style of racing.  Part of what makes sprint racing so much fun is all the different race tactics one can use. Since the 2nd half of the course had some tight corners and steep uphills where it would be harder to pass, my strategy for the heats was try to be in the lead going down the hill out of the stadium and go especially fast in the wider sections of trail where it would be easier to get passed.

I felt great through all the heats and with some good starts off the line was able to finish first. Emily had a great day herself, qualifying in 3rd and skiing an aggressive final to take home 2nd place!

WP_20141220_006

This race reminded me a lot of my favorite high school race, way back when I was a senior in high school, my school’s home meet was a skate sprint. I raced hard all day and ended up winning the final in front of all my family, classmates, and friends who were cheering me on. Despite only moving to Truckee a few years ago I don’t think I have ever had quite this many people cheering me on in any race I have ever done. I consider myself very lucky to have become part of such a strong and welcoming community here, You are all AWESOME!

-Spencer

Canmore Biathlon Races

This past weekend marked the start of my race season with two NorAm biathlon races in Canmore. As these were not only my first races of the season, but also my first ever biathlon races, I definitely had some nerves running through me heading into the weekend!

One of the new things I’m having to get used to in biathlon is the additional tasks you have to add your pre-race routine. In normal nordic races, I usually head out of the lodge about 45 minutes before my start for warmup, ski a few intervals, grab my race skis and head to the start. In biathlon however, you have to also zero your rifle, so your sights are aligned with the target, and go through equipment check, where race officials inspect your rifle. These definitely required some extra time this weekend! In fact, this meant I had to start my warmup an hour and a half before my race, far earlier than I’m used to, but something that is often the norm in biathlon races. These were some of the largest ever biathlon races in North America, with nearly 300 competitors, which meant that both equipment check and zeroing was very busy on race morning- the line for equipment check was almost 30 minutes long!

15354421273_1f98b62e68_o

Waiting for zero. Photo by Jakob Ellingson.

Fortunately I planned my morning with enough time for these added tasks, and before I knew it I was in the start gate. Saturday started out with a 10km sprint, where we shot twice, once prone, and once standing. For each missed shot, we had to ski a 150m penalty loop. I ended up making it through the day with four misses- two prone, two standing. While I am definitely working towards better accuracy and faster shooting times, I was satisfied with this for my first race. On the skiing side of things, I felt like my speed was at a pretty good level… which showed up on the results page, as despite my misses I ended up in a solid 5th place! Overall I was pretty happy with the race!

15947572626_8efe2aa053_o

On the hunt. Photo by Jakob Ellingson.

Sunday was a 15km mass start, where we skied a 3km loop five times and shot four times, twice prone, twice standing. Once again we would be skiing 150m penalty loops. New this year in the biathlon world is the skating start to mass starts. Instead of a double pole start, which is normal in mass start cross country races, biathlon now lets racers skate from the start of the race, by having fewer start lanes. The race was seeded of our results from Saturday, and because a couple of the Canadians in front of me in the sprint had headed off to Europe, I was in the front row of the start. I definitely liked the new format… though maybe my opinion would change if I were further back…

15973553805_ab830d501e_o

The new mass start format. Photo by Jakob Ellingson.

As this race had relatively more shooting than skiing, compared to the sprint, I knew that I had to improve my shooting percentage if I wanted a similar result. Unfortunately, that didn’t happened, and my shooting percentages took a step backward from Saturday. I ended up skiing 10 penalties, which means I had to ski an extra 1500m throughout the race. Not only does this add extra time, it adds extra fatigue which slows you down on the rest of the course. Naturally, I fell a little further down the results sheet. While it was a bit of a let down, this was only my second race, so I did my best not to be too dissapointed. And on the brighter side, my ski speed once again felt pretty good, so if I can just improve my shooting a bit, I know I will be headed back up the results!

15783473248_7db81c584c_o

Another trip around that pesky penalty loop. Photo by Jakob Ellingson.

We’ve continued training in Canmore the past few days, and tomorrow we’re headed off to northern Minnesota for our next races. We’ll be racing four times in five days, so I’ll be stacking up the biathlon experience pretty quickly!

Canmore!

While the rest of the Elite Team headed off to West Yellowstone for Thanksgiving, I missed out on the festival for the first time in a number of years and instead headed up to Canmore, Alberta, for a camp with the US Biathlon development team. While it was a little bittersweet to miss out on the friends and familiar faces of West Yellowstone, it has been exciting to get into the biathlon scene up here, at one of the most spectacular Nordic venues in North America. Canmore hosted the Nordic events at the 1988 Olympics and is towered over by peaks of the Canadian Rockies.

1129141338a

1129141318a

1129141312a

When I first got up here, there was little to no natural snow off the trail, but the snow making efforts from Frozen Thunder had already opened up most of the biathlon and nordic World Cup trails. While the first few days up here were relatively warm, pretty soon a blizzard came through bringing high winds, heavy snow and cold temperatures. This presented a great introduction to me about how cold of a sport biathlon is. While I’ve faced cold temperatures plenty of times before, it is an added challenge trying to stay warm with the constant stopping for shooting and reloading that biathlon requires. Plus, when you’re shooting, you’re usually supposed to wear your race suit and thin gloves, since extra layers can alter your aim and accuracy. Luckily I made it through the cold snap with all limbs and digits intact, and I now have a better idea of how I need to dress to survive in those sub zero temperatures that are common during winter in places other than California…

Unfortunately, the cold weather also forced the cancellation of our first weekend of races. Although it was  disappointing not to make my biathlon debut, I was also a little bit happy that I didn’t have to have my first race experience at -4F. Temperatures have now warmed up, and our first races should be this weekend. While biathlon is generally a pretty small sport in North America, there are nearly 300 competitors this weekend, which organizers are saying might be the largest ever biathlon competition in North America. Since these are my first races, I don’t have super high expectations, and I’m mainly looking at them as a chance to put a bib on and finally see how this sport really works!

While we’ve mostly been training here in Canmore, a couple of days ago we headed into Banff National Park for a beautiful ski near Lake Louise. Here are a few photos… definitely a place I’d like to get back to for some more exploration in the future.

1203141009a

1203141025e

1203141150

 

Shake it off

I might not be feeling 22 anymore but Taylor Swift still gets it right.

Friday’s sprint qualifier felt like your typical first race: Too short, too fast and all over the place. At least, I thought, it was only going to get better from there. Stupid sprints, I told myself, after the quarter final didn’t go as I had hoped either. But when I finished the distance race on Saturday way below my expectations too, I couldn’t help feeling like a total idiot.

Hadn’t I been working towards these first races since May? Wasn’t this my job now? Wasn’t I stronger and fitter and skiing technically better than I ever have? How could this have gone so wrong??

I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Thing is, bad races happen. They happen when you are a little beginner skier, a college skier, a hobby skier, or a professional skier. They don’t make you a bad skier and they don’t mean that the next races are going to be bad. And they definelty don’t make you a bad person.

After being a completely spoiled brat when it comes to results as a college racer (5th at NCAAs was my worst result in a college race last year) I think I’m just relearning this.

Luckily, we still have the whole season ahead of us. I love skiing and I love ski racing and I’m super excited for more of both to come!

I’m not sure if it is still appropriate to joke about Nordic crashes (after Callum Watson, Scott Patterson and Noah Hoffman getting seriously injured) but check out Annie’s or Annie’s blog for a little crash video that made my morning. Their posts are pretty smart as well, and definelty both worth a read.
https://anniespokorner.wordpress.com/2014/12/02/6-ways-to-totally-blow-it-on-race-day/
http://www.annie-hart.com/starts/

Thank you Brian Gregg for this little confidence boost. No idea how you made the Olympics if that’s true, but I’m going to go ahead and believe you.
photo

Miss you all here in rainy Germany but it’s really good to be home for the first time in a whole year!

And we’re off!

Well, it’s winter and the ski season has started! For the past week, we’ve were camped out (not literally, thank goodness) in the small town of West Yellowstone, Montana, enjoying everything from our first day on skis to our first intensity session on skis to our first two races on skis.

This whirlwind week has reminded me of several things: 1) skiing is harder than roller skiing; 2) skiing is more fun than roller skiing; 3) skiing makes you tired; and 4) ski racing makes you REALLY tired. But most importantly: 5) skiing is AWESOME. Thanksgiving reminded me how lucky I am to have the opportunity to be a ski racer. It doesn’t always feel easy, but at the end of the day, what a life I get to live!

West Yellowstone is a tricky beast because we’re trying to put in as much time on skis as possible, while also trying to ski fast in the first races of the season. Some of us Elite Teamers accomplished this better than others. I knew that I was very tired going into the week, and so I tried to keep my expectations low and treat the races more like time trials. I didn’t expect to race super fast, and I didn’t race super fast. (Sometime this ski racing thing is not rocket science.) It wasn’t the most exciting start to the season, but I skied technically better than I have in the past and there were some good signs to show that my fitness will be there once I’ve had time to rest.

A couple of the other Elite Teamers put together some more exciting results. In Friday’s skate sprint, Anja qualified for the heats on a very short, very fast, very transitiony course. Spencer placed 31st in the prelims, a mere .34 seconds out of qualifying for the heats. It’s always a bummer to be THAT close, but as confirmation that he’s fit, he placed 33rd in Saturday’s grinding 15k skate. Together, these make up the best results Spencer’s ever had in November, which bodes well for the rest of his season. Anja was feeling strong in the women’s 10k skate, but ended up being hampered by some ski selection issues that cost her some serious time on the downhills. She ended the day in 33rd and is eager to show us all what she’s got when all the pieces fall into place. I trained with (or behind) her all fall, so watch out world.

Like me, Sabra and Wyatt were feeling the fatigue and even some mild sickness by the time the races rolled around, so we are all eager for a second shot. Luckily, the next opportunity is right around the corner! Sabe, Spencer and I are now in chilly (0 F) Bozeman, enjoying the new snow and getting psyched for the next weekend of SuperTour races. We’ll keep you posted!