When I was a young kid, one of the first races that I participated in was this race called the Up, Down, and Around that took place on Snoqualmie Pass. You would ski 5k, then ski up a little alpine run, and then come down around some gates to the finish line. At the time that seemed like a large variety of skills needed for one race… but little did I know I was preparing for a future of racing in the Tour de Ski… where a large variety of skills is vital!
This years Tour de Ski had a little different path than my average. Last year was my first year finishing the Tour, but I had done the first four stages the year before that. So, I was on a mission to complete my second tour this year. In the past, I had always started these tours strong, and felt like I was hanging on to a wild bull for the second half, trying to keep control. This year though, I had some disappointing races to begin, and things went on a roller coaster ride from there.
Beginning with Val Mustair, I had a great sprint qualifier, awesome feelings in my quarterfinal… but didn't have the final sprint in my muscles.. and went on to finish my worst sprint result of the year. The following day was a mass start 5k classic. That is my favorite race, so I was feeling excited, but stressed about starting in the 5th row of the mass start on such a short race. Between struggling with my skis, and going out harder than I should have, I managed to have my biggest blow up in a race on the World Cup. I literally got passed by 28 people in 2.5k. I felt like I was walking down the middle of an autobahn with cars thundering by me like crazy. It was a mentally tough two days, and I couldn't help but question if I had really messed things up getting sick for too long.
Trying to only look forward and keep each day something new, I went on to Obersdorf, and had my best ever World Cup finish, 5th in the pursuit race. I finally found some confident feelings, but turned around and had another disappointing day the following day in Obersdorf. All these ups and downs were becoming taxing. In my past I had always been so consistent, so I was having to learn to deal with these little swings mid tour and mid fatigue.
Following Obersdorf, we had a long 5 hour travel to Toblach in the middle of a snowstorm. Thankfully, we had a rest day during that period to recover for the final three race push. I have realized the rest days are almost the worst for me. Those are the days you stop your "auto-pilot fight mode" enough to look around.. and in my case get a bit too nervous.
Going into the Toblach 5k, I was back into the "each day is a new day" mode. I have always loved the Toblach courses since being a junior, because there is so much hidden work on that course. The first half the course is all work, but the second half is somewhere between rest and work. If you go too hard at the beginning, you want to rest. If you have a little left, you can work, and make up some time. I always liked the challenge of this very different course than the majority of our World Cup courses. Feeling a little lethargic from the four previous days of racing, I approached Toblach 5k a little different than normal.
I went to Jason Cork the night before the race, who was planning to cheer at 2k, and asked him to hold back on yelling out splits against the other racers. Rather than get excited or bummed out at 2k, I was determined to stay in my own head on this day, and fight my own race. I wanted to pace myselfwithout comparing to the others, because I knew I could finish strong if I was in a strong mental place.
I have worked really hard at my skate skiing these last few years. It had always bothered me that I couldn't ski at equal levels between techniques. I finally started having some breakthroughs last winter. Struggling with bone spurs early on last summer, I spent two months only skating… and I sort of felt that had changed the tone for my skate skiing through the summer. So, as I took off out of the gate on Friday, I tried to channel those beliefs, and go out there with no fear of failure. Sure, I had blown up super bad in the same distance just a few days ago in Val Mustair… but I was going to try my "no fear" method again. After going through my first kilometer patiently, I turned things on, and didn't look back.
The best part is that when I crossed the line, I had no idea how I was doing. I knew I could be racing somewhere top 10, but I had absolutely no idea I could be competing for the podium. As the realization came, and my teammates came running to me, I broke down in emotion! I knew I was capable of standing on an individual podium, but it felt so good to finally accomplish it! All that hard work, all those struggles, all those tough times… suddenly every single bit of it is worth it!
As I stood on the podium that day, I just wanted to hug the world! There are so, so many people that have been a part of allowing me to have such an opportunity. There were hundreds of bumps that nearly knocked me off my bike, and there were so many people that encouraged me and believed in me to keep pedaling! I know this is just one step in my career, but it feels like one that I will never forget! I just want to say thank you to every person that is a piece of my puzzle! You are all amazing people, and I hope you feel how important you are!
So, back to the tour. Because, that is how it works… you can't ever get too excited or too disappointed on this tour. You have to gather your belongings, run for the van, make your road trip, stuff your face with food… and set your mind to the next race. Well… turns out I didn't do as great of a job at that. I have become used to being "a consistent racer". I wasn't quite as prepared as I should have been for these roller coaster events that came at me this week. From my worst explosion, to my best race ever, to my NEW best race ever and a world cup podium. All in the course of five days, three road trips, lots of fatigue… and a few nasty bugs hanging around.
So, what felt like a small dust allergy irritation turned into a cold Saturday morning as we prepared for the second to last race of the tour. When you are on "fight mode", it is hard to stop and assess yourself. It was a tough decision to pull out of the Tour when I had already fought through five races, with only two to go. Sometimes it feels like even a cold couldn't stop you when your determination is on fire. But, trying to think "long term" for this season, I made the tough decision to pull the plug. While it felt like the end of the world Saturday morning, I have had some time to take away some lessons. Learning to ride the wave of emotions that comes with ski racing is a true talent! Being able to swallow both your greatest and worsts is key. Our immune systems are on constant work mode, and and we don't always have the power to fend if we are busy taking care of our crazy wild brain chemicals brewing up wild emotional soups. So that is a talent I am looking forward to conquering from here on out.
I got to watch the two last stages from bed, and was thoroughly impressed with the girls I was competing beside. There are some tough cookies out there, and just making it to the top of Alpe Cermise on day seven is a true achievement. If you watch all the bodies collapse as they cross the line, you realize it is no longer just the best in the world, it is the toughest in the world too.. and that is pretty incredible!
So, next up for me- rest, recovery, and start training again! Time to get 100% healthy again and ready for a big season still to come!