Birkie Fever

As I sit down and write this, there are exactly 297 days until the next American Birkebiner. Since registration opened yesterday, I am writing my training plan to ensure I’ll be more prepared this coming year than last year. Like a college student attending their first “real” party, no story could prepare me for what awaited at the greatest race on American soil.

It’s 4:32am. I can see the warm glow of last night’s embers in the fireplace as the clock slowly ticks above the mantle. I roll over but know I won’t go back to sleep. In 3 hours, 58 minutes and 13 seconds I’ll be losing my Birkie virginity, and I’m more excited than a kid on Christmas. Finally my alarm goes off. As I head to the bathroom, the gurgling in my stomach is a reminder of all the carbohydrates I ate the night before.

Before I know it, I, and thousands of others, are rolling up to the venue. As we exit the bus, anxious to get this party started, there is faint music playing in the background telling everyone that this is the place to be. While running to the start line, I am reminded that the real reason skiers wear spandex, is not because it’s easier to move in and aerodynamic, but because it does a great job of showing off all the squats you did during dryland. Looking around at the competition, I was hoping I had done enough.

The gun goes off. The flags go up. And before I know it, we’re racing! After the first surge of adrenaline subsided, I looked to my left to see none other than 4 time Birkie Champion, Caitlin Gregg skiing along side me. That should have been the first clue that I was a bit in over my head, but I was having too much fun to care. I was able to keep up for most of the race, but somewhere around 40k I fell off the cliff. Hit the wall. I bonked. But there was only 10k left, so how bad could it  be?

Somehow, (I can’t remember all the details) I crossed the finish line. My friends tell me that I finished strong, but for some reason that seems skeptical. What I can remember is stumbling over to the food truck, trying to ask the attendant for a chocolate milk, and not being able to form any real words. To this day I won’t be able to tell you exactly how many doughnut holes I consumed before passing out, but I can tell you that they’ve never tasted so delicious.

When I finally woke up from my nap, it felt like Uncle Fester was trying out his new clamp on my head. Guess I forgot to drink enough water. While filling my one gallon pickle jar at the kitchen sink, I reflected on the events earlier that day. A smile crept across my face. My head may be throbbing, my back may be sore, and my legs may barely be able to keep me upright, but skiing the American Birkebiner was great!

I can’t wait to do it again.

Birkie  Results

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Trust the Process

When I was in High School, I had a teacher that believed letter grades were simply an arbitrary requirement. He went on to explain that, with the way our school system currently works, these letter grades measure instantaneous intelligence and are very poor at representing how much a student actually learns in class. Therefore, his goal was not for each student to get an A, but rather for each student learn as much as possible while developing a passion for learning. Since then I’ve taken notice of the people in my life who have this “lifelong learner” outlook. These people focus on the steps it takes to achieve great goals, and trust that with hard work, positive results are sure to follow.

I’ve had years in my skiing career where the sole goal of each race was to move up the CCSA points list. I went into each race knowing exactly how much time I needed to beat my competition by in order to qualify for NCAA’s. It wasn’t until I stopped worrying about placement and started focusing on perfect technique, that I was finally able to qualify. That same year I became All-American, a goal I didn’t even know was possible until halfway through the race.

SoHoNCAAs

15K Skate, Soldier Hollow UT  (Photo Credit: Paige Schember)

Last week at US Nationals, evidence of trusting the process once again became blatantly clear. Due to the time restraints of Grad School, I have been forced to take a close look at my training and specifically design it to match my race goals. Since all of big goals are in distance skate events, my training all summer and fall have been focused on distance skating. Add in a late start to snowfall and the resulting lack of time to get acquainted with new equipment, and it’s no surprise that my first race at US Nationals (10K Classic) was less than ideal. Negative race results are never fun, and it is REALLY hard to keep bad races from impacting your mentality in upcoming events. Going into the 20K skate, I was feeling less than 100%, but knew that if things were going to get better I would have to rely on habits and routines which have already been proven successful.

Proven Successes:
Nutrition: Parmesan Chicken for dinner and a smoothie for breakfast   √
Course Preview: I can ski these trails in my sleep   √
Skis: Pick the fastest pair (duh)     √
Clothing: Layers on bottom and less on top to prevent overheating   √
Strategy: Go out in control, with the best technique you can muster, then crank it up. Stay calm and intense, no matter what happens, you know how to do this.    √

 

US Nats 2016

20K Skate, Houghton MI  (Photo Credit: Skinnyski)

 

With my goals for the day so focused on racing smart, I thought I’d misheard my coaches that the front of our pack was top 10. Realizing that they weren’t wrong, I stuck to the plan and tried not to get dropped. At the end of the race, I went up to my coach and as soon as he saw me, all he could do was laugh. I was laughing too. Not only was it a fun race, but it also proved that all of the training I’ve done this year has worked.

US Nats classic

10K Classic, Houghton MI (Photo Credit: Annika Ferber)

I’d like to say that I never doubted myself, but I’d be lying. Having less than desirable results really sucks, and it’s very easy to start second guessing your coaches and yourself. What separates great athletes from the rest of us is not simply the hours in their training log and their fancy equipment, it’s also their ability to trust the process.  They are able to see roadblocks as mole hills, they understand that it’s not going to be easy and above all they never stop believing that their work is worthwhile. As one of my teammates shared with me before NCAA’s:

“I don’t believe you have to be better than everybody else, I believe you have to be better than you ever thought you could be.” ~Ken Venturi

 

Sacrifices

The end of November is one of my favorite times of year. Partially because it’s the first time we’re back on snow and kicking off of the ski season, but also because it’s a time when many people look outward from themselves and give thanks to everyone for helping them throughout the year.

Professional athletes make quite a bit of sacrifice for their sport. Sacrifice and a certain amount of selfishness are required in order to perform at a high level. So much so, that often times the sacrifices other people make for us are overlooked or forgotten. I’m guilty of it too, being blinded to what the people around me are giving up so that I can race fast.

This year I want to give special thanks to those who have made sacrifices on my behalf:

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The Coaches who I’ve worked with over the years have given up countless hours out on the trail and in the wax room. These are hours that could be spent with their families. No one wants to stand outside in a snow bank when it’s -10, gloves off, working a video camera; but our coaches do it because they know it will make us better. They sacrifice their health in the wax room and sit through countless monotonous coaches meetings. When things get hard they are on the side of the trail reminding us to “look up” and somehow make it to the finish line when we collapse. From pep talks to heated arguments we owe our coaches a lot.

 

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This year I need to especially thank CXC’s Sponsors for their generosity. They have literally offered part of their company to CXC so that our team will have the best season possible. To think about how much burden it would be on each individual to acquire everything our sponsors have come together to provide us, is immense. It is true that we work hard for our sponsors, but nonetheless we would not be in the same spot without them.

 

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We don’t usually think about it, but The Communities who host our races and training camps give up the use of their trails. This is especially true here in West Yellowstone. For one week the town is taken over by Nordic Skiers, the trails close for three days of racing, and despite all of the shenanigans that occur our hosts invite us back each year with a smile.

 

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My Friends and Family have accommodated my persistent training and race schedules throughout the years. They’ve moved Christmas, postponed birthday parties and waited in hotel lobbies so I can finish workouts. With the holiday season coinciding with ski season it’s never easy to miss another chance to see loved ones. Eating pumpkin pie smothered in whipped cream just isn’t the same via Skype. Even though none of us like being apart, they understand that these things have to be done in order for me to succeed. Their never ending support is priceless.

 

LakePlacidFamily

NCAA 2015: Lake Placid

Most of all, My Parents have made the greatest sacrifices to get me where I am today. In high school they would drive me to the local ski trails two, sometimes three, times a day. On weekends they’d place their plans on hold so I could attend races. They purchased my 1st pair of race skis and have given many more loans from the bank of Mom & Dad with negative interest rates. They’ve stood behind me as I chase unattainable dreams and are the first ones to congratulate me when these dreams come true. They’ve reminded me to keep smiling when I get too stressed. Even when I’ve specifically told them to “keep the _____ away from me” they’re always there when I need them. There are times when their persistence is really annoying, but I couldn’t be more grateful for their investment.

As a community, Nordic Skiers have a lot to be grateful for. As an athlete, I owe a lot to the people who have impacted my career. It’s been a fabulous journey and I look forward to someday being able to pay forward all of the kindness that’s been presented to me.

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Fiery skies at Sunset, West Yellowstone

Happy Thanksgiving!