Ten days have passed, and I think I have finally completely processed the past couple weeks of World Championships in Seefeld, Austria. I walked away not having achieved my goals on a piece of paper, but having achieved many other process goals along the way. For that reason, I can truly say I have no regrets.
When I set goals this summer, I decided I wanted to take a season to put full focus on the World Championships. In the past years of my ski racing, I have felt like I was doing that, but I started to realize I had never given myself a solid 4-5 week pre-Championships training block. In my coach’s opinion, that is what I was missing to find my absolute tiptop form at Championships. So the decision was made, I was going to go full steam for Seefeld. Having had two amazing races there last year, my brain was all game!
Little did I predict that this plan was going to be emotionally tough. Having to drop out of the Tour de Ski, skipping World Cups, training through racing weekends, staying in one hotel for three weeks for a training block: these were all things I didn’t quite anticipate the emotional effects of. My brain may be the strongest muscle in my body, but it also is human! As I kept my head down, and my heart focused, I kept telling myself that it would all be worth it.
During Christmas time, when I was stressing about being sick so much this fall and again at Christmas, my fiancé told me something I will never forget. Despite the fact he has an alpine background, and quit racing during his high school years, he has an incredible ability to relate. As I was questioning some decisions I had made this fall, he lectured me on regret. He told me that at this point in my career, I am not allowed to regret anything. I either do it right, or I learn from the experience. There is no right and wrong. There is only learning. If I put the pressure on myself to always do it right because I have achieved a high level, it will destroy me. I couldn’t believe how insightful that was, and I recognized that was true. Placing and podiums are not the only measure. Committing and learning is “improvement”.
So, with that said, I went through this winter trying to remind myself to have no regrets! When things got tough, I kept going back to “learning from the experience”. I worked on keeping my brain in check, because I knew that was going to make the difference.
The weekend leading into World Championships, we had a race weekend in Cogne, Italy. During that final weekend of racing, I found my belief, my strength, and my mental happy place. The past two months of training through races, staying in hotel rooms, and watching World Cup weekends from the TV became worth it! I headed into the Championships more “hungry and prepared” than ever.
The first race of the Championships was the skate sprint, the race I was individually looking forward to the most. My skating felt amazing, and my tactics were improving. I made a “game plan” for the quarterfinals to the best of my ability, and put myself in the exact place I wanted. On the long downhill, I popped out of the draft one second too late, missed my moment, and was boxed in so much that I couldn’t put my powerful, amazing feelings to use. Just like that, the day was over, and I wasn’t able to advance out of the quarterfinals. But, that is sprinting, it is hard to always do the right thing at the right time. No regrets, the lesson I learned was to commit to my plan one second earlier for the rest of the Championships.
The second race of my Championships was the classic team sprint, one I was feeling pretty lucky to be part of. Both Jessie and I channeled our “sideline antsy pants” and sprint frustration into this relay event we knew we had a chance at. The semi finals went well, and I got a good feeling for where I wanted to position myself. I knew the course was short and speedy, so I needed to be in the front. Unfortunately we started back row in the finals, and I spent the remainder of the three heats trying to get past a few girls that always seemed to be between me and the freedom of skiing in the front. Having learned from the sprint that moves have to be made early, I tried to skip the “resting sections”, and double pole while others were tucking, even if it was only going to get me a ten-foot advantage. With such a short course, everything mattered. Jessie and I ended up finishing fifth, and only two seconds off the podium. We both tried to celebrate and tried to be positive, but we were left frustrated, knowing we were strong enough to have won a medal that day. No regrets, we had done our absolute best.
The third race was the 10k classic. The real “dark horse” event for me. I have struggled with classic wax in quite a few of the races I have started the last few years, so I never know what is going to happen when I put classic skis on. I have worked extra hard to keep believing in myself as a classic racer through the experience, but that is sometimes my biggest hurdle. When things come together, they can be amazing. But when they don’t, I have no chance. Having had a great few weeks of training in Davos, I was feeling great about classic! I went into that 10k with a totally open mind. My goal was to dial everything I could control, and judge my day on that. With a collection of dry and wet snow out there, it was particularly difficult to pick what to race on. As I went out and tested, I stayed calm, chose to go thin on kick to run the hills and hopefully glide better, and committed to the plan. I took off the start line in full focus, attacked from the start, ignored all feelings, and fought. I am not sure there is any race this season that I have been so mentally focused and positive. I dug so deep that I lay on the finish line, dizzy, and gasping for air for a solid two minutes before I got up and walked out of the finish area. When I saw the result, I was pretty crushed! I was proud of my “race”, stayed mentally positive and engaged, and the posted “number” didn’t seem to show it. As I saw my teammates, Jessie, Sophie and Rosie finish right around me, I at least felt hopeful that maybe we had missed something in wax.
Not to worry, it was relay time! We had a new team that we had never tried before, deciding to switch up some order from earlier in the season. Getting ready that morning all together, putting our face paint on, and dancing around to the Shakira Pandora music station, I was so happy. I took a mental picture that morning to remember what it feels like to be so excited, nervous, and in love with what I do! The race went off to a hot pace, and the four of us fought for every second. We ended up finishing fifth again, only 40 seconds off the podium, and chose to feel encouraged by the experience! That was a great start for this new team!
For the next 48 hours, I did my best to conserve every last bit of energy, stay out of the sunshine, and get ready for the big 30k war. With slow, soft conditions, I knew I was going to have to get stoked for “no rest”. With the warm weather, the down hills were slowly becoming working sections, so it was going to be a race of attrition!
As I came off the line in the 30k, I was blown away at the pace. I felt like we were going sprint pace for the first three kilometers. I panicked, not knowing if I would make it to the finish. Somewhere around seven kilometers, my brain “popped”. In the very important “hang on for dear life” section, the disappointment and frustration of the week took over my focus. Ski racing requires so much belief, confidence, fearlessness, and risky mental talk! You have to be willing to kill yourself to hang. That final day in Seefeld, that part of my brain was fried. I had used it all up that week without realizing it. I managed to hang on to 15th, a result that is good, but not what I was capable of that day. My body was firing, but my brain unfortunately wasn’t.
Every Championship is going to have its ups and downs. Sometimes I think it is harder to have a dream than to not care at all. These past two Championships, I have known I have a shot to fight for podiums, which is an exciting experience, but also mentally challenging. You do your best to nail the pieces you can control, and then are forced to analyze the result without considering the “place on a piece of paper”.
When I look back on these Championships, I will remember those days that I committed, believed, and was in full focus. I will forget the piece of paper that reads a number, but I will remember some pretty incredible moments and feelings.
So as Jo would say, no regrets for committing to those two weeks in Seefeld like I never have before. I learned a lot in those two weeks, and for that, I wouldn’t change it. Looking forward, it’s game time now! Time to let out all the frustration “on the course”. I have five more races to unleash my brain and body’s best abilities!
Thanks to everyone who came and cheered through the last few weeks. It meant the world to see so many familiar faces. And thanks to everyone else cheering and believing from afar. But most importantly, thanks to Jo for helping me keep perspective in this mentally and physically exciting experience of trying to be the best in the world!
I remain a student of this sport, and look forward to finishing out this season!