I am about to leave for Europe so it is time to get the blog rolling again. I’ll be trying to post weekly updates here throughout the winter. Some posts may be full race recaps, others just a quick update of where and what I’m doing. Stay tuned for more soon!
My plan for the next few weeks to kick things off:
Beitostolen, NOR – 11/12 to 11/19 for the FIS opener races.
Rovaniemi, FIN – 11/19 to 11/21 transition camp
Ruka, FIN – 11/21 to 11/26 First world cup weekend
Lillehammer, NOR – 11/26 to 12/3 Second world cup weekend
Beitostolen, NOR – 12/3 to 12/10 Third world cup weekend
Davos, SUI – 12/10 to 12/17 Fourth world cup weekend
Follow along with the season here or on Instagram @scottgpatterson as I take on another world cup season.
Korea was a whirl of transportation and movement. From day one, we were packing and unpacking, busing to and from venues, dining, ceremonies, or media requirements. It seemed nonstop. Everything entered a crescendo going into the opening ceremony, only to feel like it was time to leave a week later. Many sports competed early. These athletes hanging around gave off a strong vibe of things winding down; however, the real “time to leave” feeling was spurred by the cardboard boxes showing up in our apartments well before we were done racing.
One of the amazing, awful things about the Olympics is the amount of stuff. Since there are European world cups after the Olympics, most of this gear had to be crammed into a large cardboard box for the slow voyage across the pacific. All the Nike, Ralph Lauren, and non-logoed gear had to be switched out again for the more appropriate walking billboard once back in Europe. A box arriving in May was much more appropriate.
Once the box was out the door, I still had one Olympic race left: the granddaddy of all Olympic races, the 50k classic. With 3 races under my belt and several results that I was proud of, the 50k was icing on the cake whether or not it went well. I lined up confident in my fitness and hoping that I could put a great race together again.
The 50k is often considered the marathon of cross country skiing. There is a ton of history behind it as well as lots of opportunity for interesting racing. 50k races are one of the few ski races I do where a true second wind comes along. In a 30k race, just as that potential to rebound is coming late in the race, the race ends. In a 50, there is still another hour to regroup. Alternatively, 50k races can lead to some of the most epic explosions. As if long distance isn’t enough, another wrench in thrown in the mix: we are allowed to switch to new skis up to two times during the race.
With that much going into them, I’ve had beautiful races and suffer fests, great results and ones I would rather forget over the course of my ski career. Pyeongchang was an awesome one for me. From my previous experience racing on the Pyeongchang courses, I figured the pace would accelerate early. I wanted to follow the early accelerations to stay with the pack, but hold off a little from the accelerations that truly separated the potential medalists. There are courses with more hills, but Pyeongchang was the type of course that could grind one into the ground if you put too much on the line too early. While I want a medal, that is just too much of a long shot. Fighting for a good results would be much more rewarding than gambling on an outstanding performance.
Our course was six loops. I spent two of these loops trying to stay relaxed and hanging near the back of the lead pack. I was dangling a bit, but it was clear that it was worth a bit of extra energy to ski with the others. At two laps, we exchanged skis and I was quickly dropped by the leaders to form a chase group. This group had a few substitutions over the next few laps, but for the most part we were fighting for around 13th. On lap four I reached my low point for the race. I had spent most of the proceeding laps leading my little group. I was battling to move up, but it seemed relatively futile effort and the price was too high. As I tired, I began to struggle with my skis as well. In a move that probably saved my race, I shifted to the back of the group to save energy.
Another ski exchange and I was finding a second wind. Better skis after the exchange assisted my comeback. The group of 6 dwindled down to four going into the last lap. Then, two skiers were able to pull away from me and the group splintered. 44 kilometers into the race, I was in no man’s land for the first time. Fortunately, there were some tempting targets ahead. Two of the top ranked skiers who had burned their matches too early. I gobbled them up and had my sights set on a couple more, but the race ended a little too early. I finished in 11th.
With my racing over, I went out the next day to cheer on the women as they completed their 30k. While my sister didn’t have the race she wanted, it was fun to be out there in the mix taking photos and cheering on the US athletes.
Too soon it was time to pack up the final bags and don the final Ralph Lauren outfit for the closing ceremony. While my personal photo taking during the closing was dismal, I worked hard to get in other photos. Photo bombs and flanking the gold medalist was the name of the game. After the big show, the games were suddenly over. All that was left was the early morning, chaotic airport, and long haul with way too much gear to Finland.
Overall the Olympics was an awesome experience that I am still trying to digest (and probably will be for a while.) I had great races, enjoyed the experience and journey, got to see some old friends, and see a little bit of Korea.
First up, the men’s relay. This was my third race of the Olympics and I was racing the third leg of a three-lap course. That was enough threes for the day though. We didn’t get third. We got 14th which, for those of you examining results, is equivalent to last. Also, we barely managed to not get lapped. This was our big achievement for the day as we had a few substitutions due to sickness and other focuses. It was still a fun race and I think we were all proud to represent our country. However, racing to not get lapped is also very different. For my leg, it felt like I was racing scared. The first info I got from the coaches on course was how far back to the leading team. This led to some funny racing, and I did not execute nearly as well as the previous two races. I skied one lap frantically fast and then suffered. It was only the combination of all four relay team members suffering that allowed us to finish the race. Go team!
The day after the relay, I was a lot more excited though. For most of the Olympics, Caitlin and I have been lacking in friends and family. We have lots of supporters cheering from the states, but most thought it would be too difficult to make the trip over here. The rumors of nightmare lodging, expense, and logistics have mostly turned out to be false. However, now we have friends. A few of our friends from Idaho way back when (think 2005 when I was less than 5 feet tall according to Caitlin) decided last minute that a trip to Korea for the Olympics would be awesome.
It felt a bit surreal to walk up to a coffee and flowers shop in the middle of Daegwalnyeong, Korea and meet with friends I hadn’t seen in over a decade. But, I can’t think of a better way to bring people back together. Over the last few days, we have checked out the Olympic scene more than the first weeks with going to a few events, exploring USA, Sweden, and the Proctor and Gamble houses, as well as making a trip down to the coastal village in Gangneung.
I can’t go without mentioning the most exciting event of the week: Kikkan and Jessie won a gold medal! It is still setting in even for us. First women’s cross country, first cross-country gold, second cross country medal ever, and the list just keeps going. Now, I really want my own (as if I didn’t know that already)!
The first three races of the world cup are over. This morning we rushed out of northern Finland for the slightly sunnier prospects of Lillehammer, Norway. To put it in my parents’ context, we are now in the land of brown cheese.
It is always hard writing about racing when it doesn’t quite go as planned.Ruka was not ideal for me, but it is just the first weekend and there were some highlights along with the inevitable rust from 8 months without ski races.
Prior to Ruka, we spent 5 days in Rovaniemi, Finland adjusting to the time change.Rovaniemi claims to be the official home of Santa Claus although I think North Pole, Alaska makes the same claim. This place seemed to have the spirit a bit on overdrive. Our lodging: Santasport, the local ski team: Santa Claus Ski team.I also had the impression that they were trying to do this all with a straight face.Our hotel, which doubled as a Finnish Olympic training center, seemed conspicuously absent of Christmas decorations or the cheesy Santa images found throughout the US.Additionally, I’d have to rate the food selection quite marginal.Iceberg lettuce, various states of potatoes, and questionably prepared fish don’t exactly tempt my palate.But for all those features, the skiing was quite good.Natural snow was in limited supply when we arrived, but it accumulated a bit over the next five days.There was 9 kilometers of manmade that had been spread over a month before so the natural snow was not that crucial.
In addition to the excitement of being over in Europe and the approaching season, additional energy bounced around with the acquisition of the new US Ski Team wax truck.Over the past 5 years, most of the top world cup teams have rolled out expanding semi-trucks bedazzled with national emblems and sponsors.These provide a more consistent waxing environment and significantly improve the life expectancy of wax technicians. Breathing fluorocarbon fumes for several hours each day isn’t ideal for their health. In typical safety protocol, controlled ventilation schemes (i.e. wax trucks) are preferable to personal protective devices such as respirators. Along with the new wax truck, comes a new relationship for me.Previously on the world cup, I have bounced around wax technicians.This year with my ski team status and a few other changes, I have an assigned technician, JP. This season he will only be working with my APU and USST teammate, Sadie Bjornsen and myself.It’s exciting stuff, but it does mean that we must build a good working relationship. When talking about wax, cross country skiing is a team sport.
Reindeer in Rovaniemi
After several days training and several fitful nights of sleep, we travelled to Ruka (about 3 hrs by bus) for the opening world cup races.Ruka is a small alpine resort near the Russian border.The food improved slightly and the ski trails shifted from moderate terrain to full on steep world cup hills. As has been standard for the last few years, Ruka opens with a 3 day minitour.What this means is that instead of a normal two race weekend, we would be racing on Friday as well.Also, there would be an overall winner for the weekend.Racing kicked off with the classic sprint. This event is about as far from my specialty as possible, so I was taking it as a warm up for the later races.My chances of making it past the qualification round by placing in the top 30 was extremely slim.Predictably, I ended up racing to 84th which was well outside of qualification; however, this was also much better than I expected.I felt solid through the race and was looking forward to racing 10 times as long the next day.
But, the weather changed.After a casual morning, I turned on our TV to watch the women’s race.Yes, I could have walked about 100ft from our hotel to go see the race in person, but laziness takes over on race mornings.The first image I saw from the race was Kikkan Randall stopped at the top of the hill scraping ice off kick zone of her skis. It wasn’t the ideal image to get me fired up to race. Through ski testing, I was unable to nail a wax that had both glide and kick.Thus, I started quite apprehensively.On the first hill, I slipped out a few times and move out of the tracks for better kick.I could run up the hill alright but had built up enough ice in my kickwax that I was unable to glide.The whole race was this continual battle: try to find kick on the ups and then try to remove that kick on the top of each to get some glide for the down. I did not meet this battle head on. One third of the way through the race I was counting laps just wishing for the race to be over. Through three laps I managed a dismal 86th place.My better sprint result than distance is a clear indication of a bad day.
However, there were a few good things.One, I worked through a tricky day of skis with JP. We didn’t nail it, but we learned from it.Two, as the Norwegians would say, the body was fine.Although I was skiing slow and struggling in the race, physically I think I am close to where I need to be to perform on the world cup.
The weekend in Ruka did end on a better note. The final day of racing was a skate pursuit.Pursuit meaning that most of the field would start based on time back and bonus seconds from the preceding two days.As I was far enough back, my start would just be in a wave starting around 50th place.This makes for a mini mass start with two advantages. First, there are lots of rabbits to chase who start ahead of the wave and second, the real powerhouses of the field are not in the pack.We shifted to a shorter loop for this last race consisting almost exclusively of fast downhills and steep ups.This made for a quite aggressive and jumbled race.With a large group filled with competitive people this made for cyclic racing as each racer tried some aggressive tactic to move through only to be reintegrated later. Through 15 kilometers of racing, my pack absorbed quite a few of the racers who started in front.Although a better race for me, it still ended with a bit of disappointment.On the final lap, I got trapped into a bad position once on a steep hill and again behind a crash on the fastest down.This put me in the back of the pack for the finish.In a close race, this was made a significant difference.My teammate Paddy Caldwell finished 19th for time of day to capture some important points while I just missed out in 31st. The difference was that we were on opposites sides of the group 6 seconds apart.
Nevertheless, my confidence was boosted with the final result.This coming weekend will be more tough racing in Lillehammer with the longest race prior to the Olympics taking place: a 30 kilometer skiathlon.
When someone asks how my season went this year, I have typically been replying “there were ups and downs, but it ended really well.” That might be it, or someone might want more details.Typical follow-ups are along the lines of “where was your favorite place?” and “what’s next?”This post is to enlighten all those who wish for answers to life’s big questions.
First we are going to talk about downs. The big one for me was US Nationals in January.I travelled down to Bozeman, MT to visit my parents for Christmas and put in a bit of an altitude block of training before US Nationals.My sister came directly from the World Cup to make it a full family affair.Unfortunately, a bad bug had gone through the entire US team, and she came to Bozeman not feeling healthy.I figured that if I was careful I would be able to withstand an attack to my immune system.After all, Bozeman should be a super low stress environment: no work, assistance cooking, easy training, and holiday stuff.Simple really.And for the most part this worked.I made it through over two weeks healthy, then got sick two days before US Nationals. Theoretically, the best race for me at Nationals would have been the first race, a 15k skate interval start.I struggled through two of the three laps with decent times, but fell apart on the third lap to a 17th place finish.Not what I wanted, was capable of, or needed for qualification to World Championships.Over the next few days, I skipped the sprints to try and get a bit of energy back for the 30k later in the week.By the time the 30k rolled around, I wasn’t feeling 100%, but could fight a bit better.I emerged in 4th place after a long struggle with slick skis, mucus, and low energy.One place higher and I would have been in the running for World Championships.
The other big bummers were canceled races.After Nationals, we travelled to Truckee, California for a couple more races.The skiing was great early in the week, but a storm moved in for the races.Road conditions forced the 10k skate race to be cancelled.That race was going to be my resurgence after disappointing time at US Nationals.
The American Birkie was the other big disappointment with cancellation.By then I was feeling good and ready to get in a fun 50k skate with some serious prize money.It became clear right when we arrived that the race was a long shot.Luckily, the family we stayed with kept us entertained with nightly games, daily broomball, and a whole host of other activities.
Now for ups.The fun parts to write about. Early season was quite good for me.I won a lot of the warm up races in Alaska and doubled poled to a win West Yellowstone.For the period 1 supertours, I double poled one to moderate success and managed to win the skate race in Silverstar.While I didn’t get the Supertour leader going into Nationals, I was sitting in a good position. Then came the Nationals detailed above.
South Korea was also a highlight.We didn’t get to spend much time exploring the area, it was still awesome to see the Olympic courses and define a focus for the season to come.I was also satisfied with my racing included 9th in the skiathalon.Most of that was detailed in another post.
Then came the end of the season.Following the cancelled Birkie, David Norris and I travelled over to Oslo, Norway for Homenkollen.Homenkollen was one of my highlights of the previous season and my highest World Cup result (prior to Korea) so I was psyched to get another shot at it. Having David around experiencing it for the first time just made it more exciting.When race day dawned, it was beautiful.The famous Oslo fog was absent and the crowds turned out in droves. I raced to a 28th place (first European World Cup points) continually fueled and entertained by the roar of the crowds, hot dogs thrown on the trail, snowballs lobbed at the fading Norwegians, and continual chants of “USA, USA” or “Scott, Scott.” Waffles and brown cheese after finished the day nicely.
World Cup finals was next, a 3-race mini tour held in Quebec City. Although, I don’t think I raced the best there, I did manage to pick up one more World Cup point with a 30th place finish in the skate pursuit race on the final day. The weekend of racing started off alright in the sprint. I didn’t qualify, but that was to be expected. However, I did feel somewhat accomplished by qualifying ahead of certain other racers from the US and elsewhere. For the 10k classic race on the 2nd day, things started well, but were quickly derailed by a small crash. The final day’s skate pursuit, where I scored more points, was better. Based on the pursuit start format and everyone’s previous results in the minitour, I started right in front of a 30-person wave start and could lead the group for much of the race. About six of us came together into the finish and while my sprint wasn’t bad, the three second advantage I had on the wave resulted in faster time-of-day results from the other 5 which was somewhat frustrating.
For the end of the season, I finally returned to Alaska for the first time since December.I spent a week in Anchorage first, trying to get my life in order but then it was back to racing in Fairbanks. We had four more races to cap out the season: skiathalon, skate sprint, relay, and skate 50k. All fun races and very skate heavy, since I was expecting to fill a 5k skate leg in the mixed team relay.My classic form was alright, as evidence by Homenkollen, but skating just takes one of the variables out of the mix.Also, I have a reputation as a skate skier.
The skiathalon started the week with a bang.As top seeded skier, I took it to heart leading most of the classic leg.When we passed through the transition, suddenly three APU teammates and myself had put a few second on everyone. I decided to punch it. At the time, I figured we could just make people work extra hard to close the gap, but it ended up being the winning move. Eric Packer followed for several kilometers, but soon I was on my own and feeling strong.Winning was just a matter of making it to the finish.
The sprint wasn’t quite so dramatic but was quite important in other regards.I qualified in 7th and ended the day in 9th. What this did was bump me into the Supertour overall lead for the season.World Cup starts for the fall were only dependent on a good 50k result.
The relay was the only bummer of the week.APU had won every previous edition but Stratton vanquished the blue army in Fairbanks. Previous year, we had been aided by plagues running rampant on the Stratton team, so this year was going to be a battle as they were a bit healthier.I anchored the team into 2nd after having been tagged with an 18 second deficit, unable to gain enough ground on Simi Hamilton, one of the US’s top skiers.I needed a bit more time than the 11-minute course to weigh my distance prowess against his sprinting strength.
Only one race was left for the season, a mass start 50k skate for me. A little rain and warming conditions made things a bit interesting, but in the end, we had plenty of time to adapt to that.From the start, I worked on controlling the race.I always was near the front either getting frustrated at the slow pace or making sure that the pace was what I wanted. About 15k into the race while we were going up one of the significant climbs, my pace setting fractured the pack.Only two athletes, Brian Gregg and Michael Sompi, came with me.Michael lasted about 5k further, so it was down to Brian and me to build time on the rest of the field.About 5k later, after leading the entire time, I decided that I might as well ski on my own.I noticed Brian weakening on a few of the hills, so I surged on a couple.On one of these, the move stuck and I quickly distanced myself.I still had about half the race to complete solo.Over the next hour, I tired, but not as much as the rest of the field. I managed to build a lead of over three minutes to come home with my second US National title and secure the Supertour Overall title.
In retrospect, it is hard to say it is a bad season when I won a US National title, took the overall Supertour title, scored World Cup points 3 times, and won quite a few other races; however, one of my big goals was to make World Championships and race well there.Thus, I am left satisfied overall, but with a slight hint of bitterness.
Next question: favorite venue?Homenkollen. It is hard to beat 50,000 superfans, perfect weather, and first European World Cup points. Pyeongchang can have second place.
What is next?Next season obviously.Training, adventuring, and more of both.Then racing in the fall.
One would assume with flying all the way to Korea for some ski races, there would be some sightseeing and cultural experiences as well.However, in the whirlwind experience of the Olympic test world cups, I got to see four places: the airport, the hotel, a temple, and the race venue.
First off the airport.After a 12-hour flight with a little sleep, the Seoul Airport was a little overwhelming.Korean people and characters were everywhere.Luckily, a few members of the Australian ski team came in around the same time as I did so there was a bit of congregating.Actually, the whole airport ended up being pretty easy.All my bags arrived intact, the shuttle bus to Pyeongchang was waiting for us, and we were even able to get “bread and toilet” as our shuttle coordinator explained in broken English.The trip to Korea had begun.
Now on to the hotel.I really have no idea why there was a hotel in the location in the first place. The 18 story Kensington Flora hotel was isolated in a small valley.There were no stores around, no town, and only a few slightly run down homes within the vicinity.The closest store outside the hotel, a small gas station, was about 3 kilometers away.In the midst of this little valley, the hotel provided the entertainment with amusing lawn features surrounding the main building.If feeling lonely, one could go visit French petting zoo and check out wooly sheep, overfed deer, rabbits, and the largest ducks that I have ever seen.Or instead one could go be a romantic in the tunnel of love with appropriate lighting for whatever occasion.However, the best entertainment may have been the Glamping village. We were quite disappointed that the entire world cup field didn’t get to reside in the canvas glamping tents for the week.These tents were nicely equipped with flatscreen TVs, lounge chairs, plush beds, and absolutely no insulation. In other words, everything a real skier needs.However, we learned on the weekend that winter glamping was still pretty popular amongst the Korean population.
Inside the hotel provided some entertainment as well.The food was drastically different then my expectations.Instead of brothy Asian meals we were given a full assortment of food at the daily buffet.Some of it was traditional Korean like bugogi beef and kimchi, but along with that they served normalish pasta and at least one fried item at every meal.We still were given some interesting culinary experiences along the way though.The black squid roll turned out being quite ordinary for a black bun and the Asian fruit selection including lychee and others did not disappoint. Of course there was also the entertainment of seeing how all the other teams handled meals including which teams went for the cereal breakfasts (lots of Americans) and who indulged in mussels to start their day.
Location number three was the Wolejeongsa Temple. This site provided one of the few opportunities to get away from skiing and recovery activities.On our second day in Korea, most of the US athlete contingent piled into the rented minivan and drove about 4 kilometers up the valley into a national park to visit the temple.We paid the 34,000 Won for 10 people to get into the park for a speed tour of the temple. (Without clear understanding of the exchange rate until after 34,000 was charged to a card). Since we did not have much time, we powered through the ornate 7th century temple ogling at all features and giggling at our ignorance of the culture as all the Koreans seemed to be bowing at every possible opportunity. Bow to the door, bow to the stairs, bow to us….
And finally the venue, which the real reason we were in Korea in the first place. Who cares about temples and culture when there is ski racing to be found? The Alpensia sportpark was about 30 minutes away from our hotel by bus.The Olympic village will be much closer as there are lots of winter sports that will take place in the area.Sliding sports, tech alpine events, nordic sports and biathlon are all quite closely centered around the Yongpyong and Alpensia (mini) ski resorts. The cross country trails are mostly located on a golf course.While this probably would mean they are quite flat in the US, the Korean golf course sprawled through the rolling hills.The only downside to it being a gold course was that there wasn’t much protection from the howling wind that greeted us the day before the race.While the stadium is a bit lower and somewhat protected, the wind was ripping through sections of the distance course making skiing parts of it a bit miserable.Wind turbines on all the hillsides around made a lot more sense after that day.However, things calmed down by the time the races began.
For me the classic sprint was more of a warm up for the later races than an event to actually focus on. It was a long and challenging course for a sprint, but I struggled with my normal sprinting problems including being too frantic, lack of power, overly worked up and thus unable to kick, as well as just not having many fast twitch muscles.I placed exactly where I was seeded going into the race and was done racing for the day just 3:30 after I had started.Not inspiring, but nothing unusual either.
The skiathalon the following day was the real reason I had travelled to Korea in the first place.Thus I was a bit nervous going in.For the usual full strength world cups, I tend to be seeded somewhere between 40 and 50, for this day I was bib 10.Going from trying to reach the top 30 to actually having a chance to be on the podium or at least in the top 10 really changes the perspective on the race. Also it was the first distance race at low altitude that I had done in quite a while just to add another variable to the mix. Add to that the normal chaos of skiathalon ski testing with both skate and classic and there was plenty to focus on instead of nerves.
Once we lined up and the gun went off, things went relatively normally for two laps.The Norwegians in the race clearly believed they were going to dominate and took control early on leading us around the 3.75k loop.On the third loop, the race started to become a little frustrating.While Noah Hoffman might have been having fun at the front of the pack, I quickly became frustrated from two skiers behind him as the pace slowed to a crawl, sprinted through a feed zone, slowed again, and then accelerated for a bonus prime. However, all of this was relatively inconsequential until the bonus prime acceleration. I made a large tactical error jumping in one of the unglazed tracks for a one kilometer downhill.Also with the acceleration I had lost the draft of the skier in front of me.Quickly 10th slipped to 15th and beyond until I was barely hanging onto the top 30.At that point skiing in the pack is not fun.There is too much accordioning going on over crests and through depressions that just burn energy with no gain.Two laps later, I had become succumbed to the energy fire and was skiing slightly detached from the lead pack going into the classic to skate transition.
The skate course was a little more to my style.Instead of a long hill out of the start, a long downhill, and some rollers, the skate was marked by several fairly significant climbs with fast downhills in between.Also, while I was off the lead pack, they were in sight most of the race so I had some chasing to do.Right out of the stadium, I charged past the two competitors that I transitioned with.A few kilometers later, there were some Germans and Russians dangling from the lead pack providing more opportunities to move up.However, all the time my focus was getting back into what had become a chase pack.Two skiers had broken away off the front with another two chasing.Then there was a group of five including fellow US skier Noah Hoffman.After that it was me chasing alone.However, the surges the group put in for the bonus primes mitigated any gains that I made throughout the rest of the course.I spent most of the skate hovering 20 seconds back from the group of five.From this perspective I was granted a prime spectator position as the eventual race winner pulled away from his companion and the group of five caught the other two.Suddenly, it was anyone’s game for the final podium spot, but I was still 20 seconds off.The dangling in the classic had cost me an opportunity.I did get a final carrot though as one of the Norwegians bonked and I rapidly closed the time in-between the two of us.On the final hill of the course I came along side expected a surge from him.However, my acceleration was marked with absolutely no response.I cruised into the finish in 9th still 20 seconds off the pack, but getting my first world cup points and first top 10 in the process.We’ll just ignore the weak field.
The final full day in Korea was the team sprint with Matt Gelso being my buddy for the day.I had not raced a team sprint since 2012 (while I was sick) and had not raced a skate team sprint since 2009.Yet, one of our standard summer training workouts on Eagle Glacier is a team sprint simulation so I wasn’t totally foreign to the tactics and format.Even so, I went into the day a little apprehensive.I was stiff from the previous race day and not really sure how we would stack up with the other teams.All that anxiety was unfounded though as I came to the conclusion during racing that team sprinting is pure fun.
In the semi, I led things out of the start, narrowly avoided a Norwegian crash and kept things tight in the top 5 for the first tag.Gelso fell back a little but we were solidly in the fight.For both of us, our second laps were fairly uneventful.Then lap three came around.While I still felt very in control, all the sudden the other teams were getting dropped left and right.A few gaps formed in front of me as the French and Norwegian teams charged for the final time in the semi, but we sat solidly in qualifying position.Gelso brought us home with a good finish to advance as one of 15 teams in the final.Then, we had an hour to recover and do it again.
At this point I was a little worried.The final was going to be much faster with double the number of strong teams and Gelso was looking quite tired.With our hour slipped by, I led things off again under the lights of the Pyeongchang stadium.Quickly it became clear that this was a little different.Russia and Norway pinned it from the line.In the course of a few hundred meters, I was dangling unable to move forward due to the chaos of 15 teams.Our race for the podium was over right there, but we waged our own little battle with Germany and other teams over the next five laps and emerged satisfied in 9th.
With that finish, racing was over in Korea. We shipped back to the hotel for an early 3-hour bus ride to the airport.The airport was much more manageable the second time. My sister and I even found some entertainment in the airport. After getting through security, we noticed that Korean Ministry of Culture store had free activities for foreign travelers.What better way is there to spend time in an airport than free cultural activities.I built a hanji (Korean paper) tray while Caitlin examined trinkets and made a print of the Korean alphabet.Only a couple minutes before leaving, we were finally experiencing the culture (in the airport).
Returning to a blog now is kind of like getting back in contact with an old friend.It’s really great to see them, but actually you need some obscure favor that makes the whole thing slightly awkward.The slightly awkward part is definitely here but luckily I don’t need any favors.Lots has gone on since the last blog but I’ll get to the juicy details first:
I was not selected for the 2017 world championships in Lahti.Skiing and qualifying for competitions as an elite athlete can be fragile at times.The qualification for the world championships was based on four races with the two races at US nationals weighted more heavily.I came down with the common cold a few days before US nationals began.Due to the importance of the races, I tried to push through.For both of the races I competed in, I was able to manage for about two thirds of the race before the nasty cold symptoms everyone dreads caught up with me.Multiply that with altitude, somewhat slow snow, a few ski issues and the results is that I struggled.16th and 4th were not what I needed.3rd instead of 4th would have been enough.It is frustrating to miss out by a single place: 10 seconds in over an hour of racing, but that ship has sailed.
So what does this mean for the future: for this season it means I need to rework my schedule a little and do a little more domestic racing; for next season, it means absolutely nothing. Also, I did get a consolation prize in the form of an invite to the South Korean World Cups.This event serves as a test for the 2018 Olympics and will provide a great opportunity to experience the venue and get a few world cup starts midseason.There are also more opportunities for world cups starts in early March but that has yet to be determined.
When I first signed up for The Rut Vertical Kilometer and 50k, I was going down with one ambition: to win. Of course I was going to win. I’m super fit, spend tons of time in the mountains, and will have a little time at altitude. What could go wrong?
For those that are following closely, I came out with a 3rd and a 4th and never made it to the summit of lone peak. Not exactly the same as two firsts and some course records just for fun. My trip altogether was productive and these lessons learned are as much to put them down as a record for me rather than give advice to others. Listen, learn, or don’t, it doesn’t really matter to me. What matters is that I learned.
First off: Altitude. I traveled down to Montana early enough so that I would have a few days to acclimatize. While I had not raced about 10,000 ft before, previous experience with ski races above 7,000 ft has taught me enough. I know that I don’t want to be racing on my third or fourth day at altitude. Also I know that I need to pace pretty well and avoid strong surges as I don’t seem to recover from an altitude blow up. Other than those few things, I think fitness shines through even at altitude. All that really is required is proper planning and a little self-control.
I spent most of the acclimatization period trying to fit in as many diverse activities as I could. My parents’ new locations meant that cruising up the various canyons and gulches of the west side of the Bridger Range was the easiest, but I was able to get a few rollerskis in as well as excursions up Hyalite Peak and Beehive Peak. With a couple days getting over 10,000 ft and more than four days under my belt, I went into The Rut VK feeling relatively confident.
Vertical Kilometers and similar races are relatively easy in execution. They are generally short and don’t have much terrain variation other than gradual or steep uphill. The Lone Peak Vertical Kilometer wasn’t much different than Bird Ridge, Knoya, or the other Alaskan races that dot my early summer schedule. Lightning forecast and high winds force a last minute course change to the bottom of the Lone Peak Tram instead of the top. Thus I only raced about 2,200 vertical feet and 2.4 miles. It was tough but the lessons aren’t that much different than those that I always seem to arrive at following Bird or other races: run more, hike less. I ended up in third somewhat satisfied with a so-so performance as at least I was the top American; however, the craving for a win wasn’t satisfied.
I occupied the day in-between races with a short run and too much time just sitting around. With a 6am start for the 50k, I got all my stuff together and loaded into my parents’ small camper for the third trip to big sky. The only real important event of that day was the meeting. First, it was brought up that some of the European runners had been cutting switchbacks in the 28k race that day. Suddenly, it seemed to be Americans ganging up on the European practices and generating a bit of unnecessary conflict or maybe just fueling our own competitive natures. The other thing was that I realized the hydration vest I was planning on racing in was overkill and that I had left my standard drink belt in Bozeman.
Thus we come to the second race the 50k along with the second lesson: Feeding and Race Systems. One of the biggest topics of discussion at many of the longer Alaskan races that I participate in (Crow Pass, Kesugi, Lost Lake) is about the racing system. There are no aid stations for these races and there is some mandatory gear so dialing in a system before hand is essential. Over the years, I think I have nailed my needs for each of these. However, when aid stations are available and plentiful things change a little bit. Early in the week, I had planned to race with a 12 liter race vest, but the ability to have drop bags as well as food and drink every 6 miles forced me to rethink. I borrowed a standard horizontal fanny pack drink belt. I travelled quite light for the 50k with the plan to rely on aid stations using my drink belt to spread things out over the 6 miles between available aid. The issue with this idea was that I didn’t actually pause at the stations. I struggled a little with stomach issues and had trouble getting solid food down. Breathing while eating is tough and I also knew that whatever I ate was going to jiggle around uncomfortably on the next downhill. Thus my total food consumption for four hours of racing: two shot blocks. I was a little better for liquid and managed to consume about 16oz of heed that I put in my bottle halfway through as well as a couple ounces of pepsi at the last feed station. I had no water until about 12 miles into the race.
So third problem: cramping. This was a first for me. About 12 miles into the race after significant climbing and descending, both my hamstrings started tightening up on the gradual uphills. As my usual strength climbing began to suffer, I knew it was going to be a little rough. So the obvious question becomes how to prevent that. There are the normal cramping solutions including additional electrolytes (salts, pickle juice, etc.) but I think the critical thing for me is additional leg speed. Having always been an uphill runner, the downhills kill me. I can manage for one sustained downhill (Lost Lake, Crow Pass) but multiple puts too much stress on certain muscles. For me I think the key is additional downhill practice at speed as well as just some additional running speed. In this case pure fitness and training only for skiing left me as a one-dimensional racer.
As for the last lesson, I will leave off with a simple one. Running fast in the dark is hard. I need to go use some of that prize money and get a fancy performance headlamp.
Racing the Ski Tour Canada has been a whirlwind of excitement and tedium. We are now halfway through the tour and have raced four times over five days. In between all of this were several extended bus rides, hotel changes, and a full travel day out to Canmore, Alberta to mark the halfway point of the tour.
The tour kicked things off in Gatineau/Ottawa with a skate sprint in a riverside park. The day before we were greeted with deep sugar and an incredibly busy course as the entire world cup field trying to fit in ski testing and intensity on an 800m loop. However, while the athletes were paraded through a small opening ceremony, the groomers were out working hard to turn sugar into a nicely prepped track. The race was utterly unremarkable for me. Extra US fans made it a bit more exciting, but as expected my race day was over with two turns around the loop. While Simi Hamilton and Jessie Diggins made it a double podium day for the American team, I rushed back to my room to pack, shower, and jump on the bus to Montreal.
Three hours later, I was settled back in, just in a new city and new venue. Matt Liebsch and I used the last remaining daylight to scour the city for the venue. This was a successful trip, but our energy and the light were fading too quickly for an examination of the course to be feasible. Thus we went into the next day with a unique situation, racing a classic mass start on at a venue we had never seen.
Arriving at the venue the next morning quickly indicated we were in for an unusual world cup experience. The wind was ripping through the park and rumors of carnage were emerging from the women’s race. So and so was in a massive pile up, this person broke a ski, that corner was gnarly. With that in mind, ski testing and course previewing commenced. The gnarly corners jumped upon me the first time. Luckily for us, they were scraped down to ice. This can be interesting, but is a little more predictable than lots of loose snow on top of ice. An hour later, my skis were selected and the race had started after a few minutes of shivering in the start. Right off the bat, I realized that my start wasn’t great. I glanced around on the first uphill and saw that I was in dead last. Not ideal when shooting for a good distance finish. It became even more non-ideal when we reached the first uphill and the pack stalled. The first few skiers were able to smoothly transition and ski the hill, while the dregs of the pack including myself were left to sort out a couple herringbone lanes and waddle up the hill like we were in a high school race. 30 seconds down the drain. Then recharge for the next hill. Luckily we were a little better sorted out for the next one, but the real bottleneck arrived a few kilometers later in the form of a single file hill. Now the world cup field isn’t even at a high school level. Middle school is more appropriate from the single file waiting and the massive snowplows utilized on the downhills.
Though I lost significant time to the leaders through this mess, I was able to regroup for a couple of the later laps and come out with a decent result and good feelings for the next distance race, hopefully on a course that would be a little more fair. Next up on the platter was another three hour bus ride to Quebec City and the first rest day of the tour.
Racing in Quebec city was a little more normal. The heats of the sprint were marred by crashes and excitement, but again I missed out on that. Top 70 finishes don’t exactly qualify me for the rounds. However, we did get a pursuit start the next day. After losing so much time in Montreal and not picking up any bonus seconds in either sprint, I was relegated to the five minute wave. Five minutes after Sergei Ustiugov started, 33 of us, including most of the North American starters would take off hunting all those in front. At least I did get to start near the front of this mini mass start. The course was relatively easy for a world cup distance race and provided good opportunities to hammer and recover nicely; however, that doesn’t exactly suit my strengths as the sprinters are able to recover as well. When the party wave started, I was quick to move towards the front and become an animator of the wave, making sure that we didn’t settle into a slow pace and instead hunted for every second we could wrangle away from those in front. After several mass start in Europe getting blown off the back only a few minutes into the race, this working at the front was quite exciting. It was exaggerated by having voices in the crowd that I could put faces without even looking.
We churned around four laps of that course and although I was outsprinted by a few people from my wave and didn’t quite manage to get in the top 30 for time of day (38th), the race was still a success. I was able to confirm good feelings from Montreal, move up in the overall tour, and build a little more anticipation for the Canmore races. But first I would have to deal with a little more travel tedium.
While I wouldn’t say that I was quite ready for an off weekend after only two races in Europe, it is hard to resist going Sjusjøen, Norway for some training. Also, it seemed that most of the US ski team athletes were quite ready for a little break. So the day after Nove Mesto was dedicated to travel as we bussed into Prague, flew to Oslo, and then drove to Sjusjøen. This relatively short travel day turned into a long one with super icy roads in the Czech Republic (we left over 5 hours before our flight took off with a drive that should be less than two hours), a delayed flight, and intense fog in Norway. However, by the evening we were safely settled and stuffed in the land of brown cheese and caviar tubes.
The next day demonstrated why we had come to Sjusjøen. The sun arrived along with view of plentiful snow, and immaculate tracks. The trails here are unique among all the places that I have skied. Most cross country ski venues are based around various loops. There are tourist loops, moderate loops, dog loops, and race loops. Every once in a while, the venue will have a few trails going off to connect with other loops or maybe just another trailhead. Sjusjøen is more like a road network. The trails seem to be designed to connect places and to connect to other trails. Other than a few race loops, the trails are just a massive sprawl of trails across multiple towns. After small manmade loops, difficult race loops, and endless course previews, this trail network is paradise.
Fortunately we had a week to take advantage of it. A few days were foggy and a few days had to be spent on the race trails tuning up for the next races, but most of the days we got to wander. Well, maybe wander within reason. Four hours skis don’t fit in very well in the middle of the season. With so many trails, even the longer skis had to be pointed in a specific direction so that we could actually get somewhere.
All vacations have to come to an end sometime. We are off to Oslo next week for some sprinting in Drammen on Wednesday and then the granddaddy of world cup skiing, the Homenkollen 50 kilometer classic, on Saturday.