About Patrick Johnson

Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, Patrick attended Middlebury College in Vermont. A two-time member of the US World Junior Team, Patrick came to the Far West Elite Team last year, and has thrown his hat into the ring for another season. He has been training hard and is building upon his excellent results from last season. New for Johnson is an emphasis on Biathlon training. He was invited to the US Biathlon Association’s Talent ID camp in Lake Placid, and was then named to USBA’s Talent Group. Patrick is a great role model for the region’s juniors, and worked with nearly every Junior and High School Program in the area last season.

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!

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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!

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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…

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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!

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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.

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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.

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US Biathlon National Team Camp in Soldier Hollow

My third biathlon camp of the year is in the books, and I’m back in Truckee after two weeks of hard, focused training at Soldier Hollow in Utah. While the first two camps were built around those of us in USBA’s Talent Identification program, and focused on teaching us the fundamentals of the sport, this camp was our opportunity to join with the national team and get our introduction to the training required to become a world-class biathlete/ This camp included the entire national team, including the likes of World Cup podiumers Tim Burke, Lowell Bailey, and Susan Dunklee. And despite being only four months into my biathlon career, my training plan for the camp was essentially the same as theirs. What this meant was lots of hours, lots of intensity, and lots of combination shooting- at this camp, except for when you zeroed, almost all of the shooting was with a pulse- often a high one.

3rd time up Soldier Hollow's legendary Hermod's Hill in the middle of 6*7' L4, with each interval ending in shooting

3rd time up Soldier Hollow’s legendary Hermod’s Hill in the middle of 6*7′ L4, with each interval ending in shooting

 

 

For someone as new to biathlon as myself, this certainly meant this camp was going to be a challenging one. For example, on top of having limited experience shooting with a very high pulse, I also had barely ever combined rollerskiing with shooting before, which makes the task of getting on the mat to shoot considerably more complicated than when you are running/walking, as you have to find a way to quickly cut your speed (not a simple task, as anyone who’s been on rollerskis knows…), before, in my case, crash landing onto the mat. And hopefully this crash landing results in your body lying/standing in the same position every time, since the key to shooting well is doing it exactly the same every single time. While you are doing this, you of course have the coaching staff standing behind you, all of whom have experience working with Olympic medalists and World Cup Champions, watching every move and every shot, and recording it into a book.

But of course, this process, this trial by fire, as you might call it, is great experience for building the mental strength required to be a successful for biathlete. While the goal is to hit every shot, even the pros still have misses, and when the target doesn’t fall you can’t get flustered, you simply have to move your focus on to the next target or the next shooting bout. This whole camp was a great opportunity to work on the mental fortitude and focus required to be a shooter. There would be times that I’d ski into the range behind Tim Burke and take the point adjacent to his, and while it’s exciting and inspiring to see how fast and accurate a World Cup biathlete shoots, I wasn’t there to be a spectator, I was there with the hopes of one day being able to shoot like Tim. So in those instances I’d find a way to focus on my own task at hand, forget who I was shooting next to, and work solely on making those targets down my lane turn white.

After two weeks of hard training like this, I’m happy to say my shooting took some significant steps forward. On top of that, on the penultimate day of camp, I got the exciting news: I was being named to USBA’s Development Team! Before I know it I’ll be back on the road, first in West Yellowstone, followed by my next D-Team camp in Canmore, Alberta, and then it will be on to Mt. Itasca and the IBU cup trials.

Also for those who haven’t seen it, fasterskier.com posted an article about my biathlon endeavors here. I’m also doing some fundraising through RallyMe to help pay for some of my biathlon costs, you can find my page here.

Lake Placid and the Adirondacks

This past week I traveled out to Lake Placid, New York for to spend some time training for Biathlon at the Olympic Training Center. This was my second time out to Lake Placid this summer, and the OTC is always a great place to spend some time focusing on training and recovery, as nearly all your needs outside of sport are served by the wonderful staff of the training center.

Another big perk of visiting Lake Placid is having the chance to spend some time in the Adirondacks. In college I was only an hour and a half from the ‘Dacks, and I have lots of great memories of long training runs/hikes in the area. Here are some pictures from a little adventure I did with Far West Summer Training Group member Heather Mooney.

Transportation to the start of our hike

Transportation to the start of our hike

Heather graciously showed off her rowing skills as we headed across Lower Ausable Lake into the heart of the Adirondacks

Heather graciously showed off her rowing skills as we headed across Lower Ausable Lake into the heart of the Adirondacks

Lake Tear of the Clouds with Mt. Marcy in the background. Headwaters of the Hudson River... Also where Teddy Roosevelt learned he was becoming President

Lake Tear of the Clouds with Mt. Marcy in the background. Headwaters of the Hudson River… Also where Teddy Roosevelt learned he was becoming President

Summit of Mt Marcy! Highest point in New York, but still a little ways below the elevation us Far Westers live and train at...

Summit of Mt Marcy! Highest point in New York, but still a little ways below the elevation us Far Westers live and train at…

Now I’m back in Truckee where I’ll be putting in another big month of training before heading to my next camp with the Biathlon Team at Soldier Hollow.

This past weekend Wyatt and I ventured out to Hayward, Wisconsin for the American Birkebeiner, the largest ski race in North America. The 50km point to point race serves as a stop on the Word Loppet tour, which means it not only attracts the top domestic racers, but also a dozen or so of the top ski marathoners in Europe. This year was no exception, as I found myself at the start lined up right next to Martin Koukal of the Czech Republic, a former World Champion in the 50km.

Wisconsin was being hit with the cold weather that has been hitting most of the country this winter, and as we lined up awaiting the starting gun, we struggled to stay warm in the frigid single digits and brisk headwind that we faced. But, soon enough the gun went off and we were on our way!

Last year I had a top ten in the race, and I had hopes for another strong finish. However, by about ten kilometers in, I was struggling to keep up with the brisk pace being set by the Europeans at the front, and I soon found myself losing contact with the lead pack of about 15 skiers.

Though dissapointed to not be at the front, I regrouped mentally, and worked to relax and ski efficiently so I could have a strong second half of the race. By then a second pack of about a dozen or so skiers had formed, including several of the top Euros who also hadn’t been able to latch on to the lead group.

I skied in this group for some time, most of the time keeping near the front. Posted behind me for much of this part of the race was an Italian who had been third the previous year. Despite being out of the running for the win he still decided to use the “tricky” psyche-out tactics that the Italia marathoners are notorious for, a combination of stepping on your skis and poles as much as possible. After becomming tired of his antics, I eventually forced him to take the lead, and then did my best to return the favor. Apparently he did not appreciate this and after a few minutes he looked back at me, stared me down for a few seconds, and then motioned for me to take the lead.

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And with that I decided to make a move and break away from the group, as I ramped up the pace and left the pack behind. One frenchmen from the group was able to match the move, and we then skied the remaining 20km together, picking off a few stragglers from the front along the away. I ended up crossing the finish in 14th place (& 4th American), which, though not quite looking for, was still a solid finish that I could be happy with!

My day was not quite done however, as I was met at the finish by an official from the US Anti-Doping Agency, who informed me I had been randomly selected for anti-doping control. It was actually a kind of nice perk, because I was immediately escorted to a warm room where I could change and rehydrate as I prepared to give a urine sample. It was my first time being subjected to a USADA test, so it was very interesting to experience the testing process and see the efforts we make to keep sport clean in this country.

Anyway, it ended up being a great weekend, and I’d highly recommend anyone who loves Nordic skiing to make it to the Birkie at least once. Thank you to Peter Hanson and family for helping me with the transportation and housing which made the weekend possible! And congratulations to former Far West racer Matt Gelso who finished as top American in seventh place!

 

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Podium!

As you’ve probably seen from Spencer’s posts, the weather in Bozeman was a bit cold this past week! We had already decided to skip the sprint to focus on the 15km Classic Mass Start, which was fortunate because with a high of -12F, there was no chance of the sprint getting off. Though the weather was supposed to be slightly warmer on Sunday,  we woke up to a temperature of -20 and we were once again questioning if the weather would get to the legal race temperature of -4F.

We made the drive up to the venue at 11:30, in preparation for the already-delayed 1:00pm start. However, when we arrived it was clearly still too cold to race, and we quickly learned that the start had been delayed even further. After sitting through several more delays, we suddenly got the call and learned we’d be starting in 45 minutes. Though the temperature had reached -4F, with wind chill it was probably about -25, so we bundled up in our puffys for a quick warmup, grabbed our race skis from our wax tech Tim, and made our way to the start.

I started the race off conservatively and settled into the middle of the lead pack, probably around 15th place. With the cold temperatures and the challenging hills of the Bozeman course, I knew it’d be important to have lots of energy for the second half of the race. Luckily my Rossignols had great glide and kick, with Toko HF Blue and Cold Powder for glide, and a mix of Toko green binder, blue and xtra cold for our kick. By the end of the first 5km lap I had moved up into the top 10, and 2km later I made my way into the lead for the first time on the day.

For the rest of the race I stayed in the top 6, and took turns in the lead with a number of other skiers, including Miles Havlick, Reese Hanneman and Truckee’s one and only Matt Gelso, now skiing for Sun Valley. With about 2km to go, I moved into the lead which I shared with Miles Havlick, until CXC’s Russian Dimitri Ozerskiy made a move up the middle between the two tracks, which was hard to counter, unless we wanted to break our poles. The pack was still probably around eight or nine skiers, so the sprint up the last two hills was on!

By this time, the cold I had really started to get to me, freezing my eyes open and making my mind a bit delirious. After loosing a couple places on the first uphill, a steep wall barely wide enough for two skiers to herring bone up, I found myself falling back into fifth place. But with one more hill to go, I put my head down and powered up, passing two skiers and making my way back onto the podium, which I held onto until the finish!

Photo Credit: Paul Clark

Photo Credit: Paul Clark

Now it’s back to Truckee for some focused training before Christmas, and then it is on to the National Championships in Soldier Hollow!

The Road to Truckee

After a great summer up in Alaska, it was time for the 3000+ mile drive down to Truckee! My dad joined me for the absolutely beautiful drive through the north country. Fall colors were in full swing!

Alpenglow on the Alaska Range

Alpenglow on the Alaska Range

Matanuska Glacier

Matanuska Glacier, with a fresh dusting of snow in the mountains above

Wrangle Mountains

Mt. Sanford, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

I drove up the main Alcan route to Alaska this spring, so this time we took the even more secluded Cassiar Highway through British Colombia. It wasn’t uncommon to go for long periods of time without seeing another soul, and you wanted to make sure and top off at every gas station you saw since there was only one every couple hundred miles. The few communities you did pass through always had a very unique feel due to their isolation.

Stewart BC main street

Main Street, Stewart, BC

Totems Poles- Kitwanga, BC

Totem Poles- Kitwanga, BC

The rest of our drive took us through southern British Colombia, which allowed for stops in Whistler and Vancouver. Then after dropping my dad off in Seattle and visiting a friend in Bend for a few days, it was on to Truckee and back to some intensity training with the team! Hard to believe it’s only seven weeks until our first Super Tour races!