I am writing this post in Clifford as the team is traveling from Heber, UT to Bozeman, MT as we drive through a pounding rainstorm along the Wasatch Front. We just spent the past week racing at the US National Championships at Soldier Hollow. The men raced a 15km skate individual start Saturday, a 1.5km classic sprint Sunday, and a 30km classic mass start Tuesday while the women raced a 10km skate individual start, a 1.3km classic sprint and a 20km classic mass start on the same days as the men. During the two weeks leading up to this race, I put in my last higher volume block of the training year. This was done with the intention of inducing a bigger and more sustained peak in performance at the end of the season for USCSA Nationals. While I did this with the thought of skiing fast later, I came into the races at Soldier Hollow on slightly tired legs. This resulted in less top notch results in the skate 15km and the classic sprint. In both races, I hit a wall where my muscles couldn’t go faster despite the fact that I could breathe just fine. I felt more of a muscle burn than I ever had before while racing. Fortunately, I never lost the ability to keep pushing myself despite my body not responding the way I had hoped. When I was dealing with overtraining a few years ago, this was something I struggled with almost every race. The fact that I didn’t struggle with this makes these races a step in the right direction regardless of my place in the race.
In ski racing, we all have good, bad days and a lot of days somewhere in between. What gets me though is keeping in mind that the hard days make the good ones even better. After having Monday off we raced the 30km classic. The course conditions were perfect for klister putting Rachel in her kick wax element (always a good sign for us UW racers). By some miracle, the race coordinators and volunteers had kept the trails from becoming a sheet of ice despite a full day of rain on our day off followed by subfreezing temperatures the night before the race. Despite their best efforts, the downhills turned to a sugary mess and I found myself watching the best racers in the country snowplowing down the whale’s tail to avoid flying off the course. In all of this chaos, I found myself getting stronger with every lap (there were eight, 3.75km laps) and reeling in one race after another. While I saw many other racers dropping out around me, I continued on as the volunteers in the stadium yelled, “cowboy tough.” While I finished towards the bottom part of the results list, I was satisfied with my effort and the race I put together. I was by far the best I felt in the set of races and a good way to end my time in Utah. I also want to briefly brag about my teammates. I don’t know if the volunteer who shouted, “cowboy/cowgirl tough” really understood how perfect that statement is for our team. I am honored to ski alongside such a group of resilient and hard working people who not only perform at a national level but do it simply because they love to ski race. No scholarships, no special NCAA athlete benefits, just a passion for the sport and a desire for self-improvement everywhere from the trails to the classroom. For me, I couldn’t think of a better thing to be a part of.
When not skiing, I have been filling my time with a couple of other pursuits. These have notably included, studying for the GRE, applying for jobs (I graduate this spring), building a curriculum for the Nordic Rocks Program, and working on a class taught by Christi and Rachel titled Nordic Skiing and Climate Change. This class is having us look at how climate change is impacting our sport in a very diverse manner. We are looking at everything from scientific publications, popular media articles, art pieces, and even poetry. I am focusing on snow depth change through time and its impacts on where and how we can ski. With this past week of racing, it is easy to see how a warmer climate might affecting how we race. For the 30km classic race, we were supposed to ski a 5km lap but natural snow part of the course melted away before we could race on it and essentially left only the man-made snow remaining. It really makes you question if what you’re doing is sustainable when you are skiing on a ribbon of man-made snow. On a slightly different note, one that I think is lost when we talk about global warming, is that the climate is not just warming but more so destabilizing. This week of racing was highlighted with many days where the conditions went from snow to rain to hail within an hour and by 50 degree temperature swings from one day at race time to the next. If you are curious how this compares with the rest of the country, in terms of snowpack, here is a link to a national snow data set https://www.nohrsc.noaa.gov/nsa/. It seems that solider hollow, arguably the crown of the US ski racing trail systems, currently sits in a zone of climatic chaos. While one week of questionable racing conditions doesn’t drive a stake into the heart of nordic racing, it has to make every skier question the future of our sport if these unstable weather trends continue.