We just completed week two of this years World Cup season in Lillehammer, Norway. Period one seems to always follow the same relative schedule for the first three weeks of the season, so I am starting to feel at home in our Period one tour.
The first week, when we arrive to Kuusamo, I am re-introduced to what World Cup courses feel like, and how challenging they are. Just when I think I have wrapped my brain around it, we arrive in Lillehammer in week two, where it turns out there is a such thing as World Cup courses with no flat sections. I am proud to say, I think this is the first year I finally accepted it, and learned to embrace it, rather than fear it. This occurred midway through Saturday's skate race, when I was halfway up the four minute climb on the course.
This year's Lillehammer weekend consisted of a mini-tour, meaning we had three races, and the weekend was a combined score at the end. Day one was a classic sprint, day two was a 5k skate, and day three was a 10k classic starting on your combined times and bonus' from the first two races. By the end of the 10k classic, your finishing place was your combined place from the three days. I have always loved the tour format of racing, because I have worked really hard to become an all around skier. The first day started with a bang for me, after qualifying number one in the sprint! I have only done that once before, in Quebec City last spring, but in a skate sprint. So, it felt pretty good to know that I could lay down the fastest time on the course in classic technique as well! As I went into the heats, I made some tactical decisions from the start that didn't put me in a great place, and I struggled to find my strong classic skiing, eventually getting kicked out in the quarter finals. After going from so much excitement, to a lot of disappointment, I struggled to find the silver lining initially. Sprint racing is frustrating that way! Small mistakes, or small moves can be the difference between moving on to the next rounds, or maybe even winning a medal on that day. Every move is important, so I have learned over the years that I can't ever read into sprint racing too much. The golden part is that if I can lay down the fastest time, I can race to the finals as well. So, I am looking forward to more and more opportunities practicing this! We have our first skate sprint next weekend in Davos, so there is more to come soon!
The second day of the tour was a 5k skate race. I was looking forward to this race in particular, because we hadn't done any skate racing yet this season. It is also an exceptionally hilly course, which has been a challenge for me in the past, so I wanted to put myself to the test to see what I could do. As I was climbing up the big infamous extended four minute climb on the course, halfway up I started wondering why I feared big hills so much. We do so much uphill training in Anchorage all summer long, I had to stop fearing them! I finished the 5k skate happy with the race, but I just knew I could do better with less fear! Not only that, my roommate and teammate, Diggy, won the race in a totally fearless manner. She went out on the course and just "sent it" without thinking twice. Jessie has always impressed me with her ability to push through all amounts of pain, but she also has inspired me in her ability to never fear failure! She goes out there full throttle, and hangs tough! It was fun to see her stand on top of the podium, which gave me a piece of hope for our whole team this season.
With my newfound realization, I went into Sunday's 10k classic with a different frame of mind. I was starting within a pack of lots of strong skiers, in 12th place, so I knew I was going to need to hang tough. And, surprise, surprise, I really enjoyed the race! I felt strong climbing, and enjoyed getting to every new hill. I had a sprint off to the line for top ten, but unfortunately didn't quite get it, so I finished 11th on the day, which was another improvement from the day before!
One of my favorite parts about Lillehammer, is it generally falls right around the start of December, the time that Christmas starts feeling near by. Lillehammer, as a city, has a lot of festive energy. They always have lots of lights, decorations, and tons of little Christmas shops. I no longer have the holiday homesick feeling when I visit, instead it almost starts to feel like home! Not only that, we had total winter surrounding us. There was real, natural snow on the ground, which sadly doesn't happen so often before January. So, thanks to Norway for a great show!
I am now just arriving in Davos, Switzerland, home of week three of the World Cup. There is no snow on the ground, but there is a little white ribbon of man made snow on the 5k race course, so the winter racing will go on!