Skiing at US Nationals has been on my bucket list for like ever. However, as a college skier it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense- traveling, racing a bunch, getting tired and probably sick all right before the carnival season. Since I never had a hope of making a junior team, racing at Nationals never seemed worth it. When I crossed the finish line of my last college race last February, I thought that my ski career was over and accepted the fact that US Nationals just wasn’t going to happen. Sure I’d race a few citizen’s races, but I never thought I’d have the time, wax support, money or training to go to Nationals. The Farm Team and Far West Nordic made that all possible however and I jumped at the opportunity to go just for the experience and to cross it off my bucket list. As my parents said, “just do it for the Schwag!” So I headed to US Nationals with no expectations in terms of results. As Coach Ben said after watching the Hobbit- if you go in with expectations, you’re probably just going to be disappointed. Just race your best race and that’s all you can do. As competirive people, most skiers tend to forget this and base their happiness level on how they stack up on the result sheet- I certainly always did. But without any expectations at Nationals, I just focused on racing the best I could each hill (and there are a lot at SOHO), turn, and flat (not too many of those). Consequently, I came away with some of the best races of my career, despite the fact that I’m supposed to be “semi-retired” and have not trained as much this year as before.
We started with the classic sprint. Classic sprinting is my favorite ski event and I usually do pretty well (it’s the only discipline in which I’ve ever won a big race) but it just wasn’t in the cards at US Nationals. I cramped up from the get go and was trying to rush too much and forgot good technique, a common problem with sprinting for me. But I was in heaven just to spend the rest of the day cheering on the best skiers in the country, including Miss Annika Taylor who qualified in 30th and was spectacular in the fastest women’s quarterfinal of the day, right on Sadie Bjornsen’s tail the whole way.
Next up was the Skate 10k interval start. I’m not a fan of interval starts at all and I’m even less enthusiastic for 10ks… It’s the hardest distance mentally and physically and I’ve never had a great result in a 10k. I was really psyched for the 20k classic and in my mind the 10k skate was just the road to get there. No expectations. But I felt amazing on the first loop. I was relaxed, skiing well technically, and I felt that I was just flying- my skis were so good! I wasn’t as aggressive or focused on the second lap as I could have been but I was still thrilled with how I had skied. I almost didn’t look at the results because I didn’t want to ruin my happiness. But the results, for once, matched how I felt and I went home that day more satisfied then I have ever been with a 10k skate race.
The 20k classic mass start was equally as awesome. I started dead last in the chevron start, which is the way I like it. I started last in my first Junior Olympic’s mass start way back when and it was my best classic race ever- it takes all the pressure off and it’s super fun and motivating to pick people off. My college coach always said that mass starts are easy: just try to improve on your bib number. Since there were several scratches, that was pretty much a guarantee. It was my first 20k ever (we only do 15ks in college) but there was plenty of rest on the course (despite having to climb Hermod’s hill four times) and I was able to ski the whole race aggressively and in control. I paced in impeccably and had enough punch in the end to out-sprint the girls I had been skiing with. Since it was a small, and impressive, field I didn’t actually beat that many people but, despite the results, I was completely satisfied. I could not have skiied any faster, or smarter, than I did and that is all we can do as ski racers.
By the end of the classic race, I was pretty exhausted and getting sick but I still put everything in to the skate sprint…I was pleased with the race but not going to lie, happy that I only had to race the qualifier and could stand around and cheer the rest of the day. We traveled home yesterday, many of us sick and tired and ready for a good rest and our own beds.
I’m so thankful that I had the opportunity to race at Nationals, nevermind actually being happy with my races. Without expectations, I was able to relax and enjoy every moment and not once did I get nervous, which has been the bain of my skiing performance for so long. Later this season, I’ll get to cross another event off my bucket list when I race in the Birkebeiner, the largest ski race in North America. So much for retiring:)