Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What We Remeber

When I think back on incredible opportunities that I have had my memories are never of the things that I expect. While it was amazing to walk with all the other countries to the opening ceremonies and the experience of a lifetime to race with all these athletes in a foreign country, the details of these times will probably fade from my mind. On the other hand, I will never forget the image of the moon lit Tatra mountains with their white slopes flowing into the pool of light from the stadium and resort. The landscape seemed paralyzed, so still that crystals in the air created a halo around the moon. I wondered why the stars here shown so steadily while, in Jackson, they twinkle like some mechanical device. I will never forget building a snow wall to shield us from the chilly wind as we watched the girls fifteen kilometer race. Not only was it vital to our survival, we had to make sure it was more sturdy and a better wind block then Britta and Kyle’s snow wall. Between the girls laps we would run the fifteen feet over to their fort and jump around yelling “house party” until we were sufficiently warm. More then anything, these seemingly trivial moments are what build great experiences. I don’t mean to discredit the value of the actual event and reason that we were in Slovakia in the first place. It is an accumulation of new and exciting things that lead to these pinnacles of experience. Perhaps these random moments that are burned into my memory where just the times when I could really relax and take in the full scope of where I was and what I was doing.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Skier of the Week: Will Timmons!

Will skiing to victory in the 5km Classic
We usually start these posts by saying how hard it was to choose the skier of the week. While that is often the case this week was extremely easy.

Will started the season solidly and has just gotten stronger and stronger in every race.

To say that this weekend was a huge success for Will is am extreme understatement. Just 8 days after lying in bed for an entire day in Slovakia and 5 days after skiing an extremely competitive 30km at the World University Games Will skied to a double victory at the Western State Colorado University Invitational in Crested Butte.

Despite the fact that Will was fighting fatigue from the 30km, jet lag, time change, the first week back to classes and PT for his ROTC he dominated the field on the weekend beating athletes who had a weekend off racing and some of his teammates who did not recover quite as well.

Before the Games we challenged the athletes to rest and recover well enough to complete the 30km and then turn around and ski well at the WSCU races. The mark of a true champion is not only the quality of training but how well they recover and Will has done both to perfection.

Will lead an extremely strong UW contingent to a full podium sweep both days!

Will's dedication to training and to recovery have set him above the pack as we head into the final race of the regular season and we are looking to great things at Nationals!

Will Timmons - YOU ROCK OUR WORLD!

Monday, February 09, 2015

Yoga on the Finish Line

Almost every night the team would gather in the bowels of our hotel to relax and do some yoga! The only place that we deemed suitable was a dingy little weight room that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since the 70s. Each one of us left body prints in the light layer of dust that blanketed the floor. It disgusted me when I considered the many dead skin cells, or microorganisms such as Staplylococcus bacteria, or fungal spores that could happily be culturing in the spongy mats that our faces rested upon. Even though the floor wasn’t the most cleanly and peaceful place to spread my body, I was still able to forget about the life growing in the mat below my face and focus on Rachel’s prompts to breath through my discomfort and focus on my body’s placement. This concept of breathing through your uneasiness and putting yourself into a “happy” place is something that we focus on quite a lot when we do yoga. We continued and soon found ourselves in my most treasured position, savasana! After a hearty stretching, twisting, and flowing session I am able to relax my mind and feel my body’s place. In this moment I feel accomplished, beautiful, and empowered. I am able to reflect on my previous races while in Slovakia. I have completed a skate sprint and a classic 5K. Both of these experiences were characterized by many emotions. Sometimes racing against such a tough field can make me feel lowly and maybe a bit undeserving. The courses were challenging, and there were moments during the 5K classic that caused me to question my racing intentions. Although racing can sometimes be emotionally draining, the same feeling I get in savasna floods over me when I have glided across the finish line. Negative thoughts may linger in my mind for a short time, but as I finish my race and see my team mates and coaches waiting with open arms, I am flooded with feelings of worth, I am aware of my bodies place instead of my name on the score board. I am able to walk away from the racing arena with a gigantic grin on my face. For me, this place can be achieved through finding comfort and satisfaction in the discomfort of being physically spent and emotionally drained. I know that my body has found its place and I am able to relax and enjoy a few deep breaths.

A Little Pizza Meeting

This summer, early on Christi and Rachel had a small meeting with the team. We had some pizza from Papa Johns and our life’s were from then on changed for the next six months or really forever. We weren’t really going to do anything different in terms of training, the plan is always to train hard but smart and try to get as fast as you possibly can for the up coming season. There is something special about gearing up for the World University Games especially for this team. For one thing we began to prepare for another crazy, eventful summer and then fall semester, full of big fundraising, scholarship/grant writing and of course good school-work. I think another important piece of this is mental preparation. When you go to WUG you will probably be facing World Cup “B” teams and some of the best skiers the world has to offer at the college level. We are also facing World Cup grade courses with live Eurosport Coverage. Not to mention you are carrying “USA” on your back, you are representing this massive country.

The real theme of that meeting last summer was about choices, big choices and participating at the 2015 World University Games was definitely a big one. You will always have big choices in your life and you going to have to deal with the consequences and also you get to lose your self in the amazing rewards and at the same time you will find yourself. There was a long period in my life where all I wanted to do was be a professional athlete or be an Olympian or something to that caliber. I will never for get when my dad would say something jokingly are you ready for Sochi in 2014 for the Olympics. Then I would say: “Yeah, it’s not going to be a big deal” with loads of sarcasm. When I sat there in Christi and Rachel’s dining room I felt like my dream was realized…twice now. I really couldn’t say anything, we were all shocked, some of us shrieked with excitement, some us gave hugs, some of us jumped around and I was just frozen. Wow my life is cool.

The United States Ski Association could have taken the fastest college Americans and I’m sure they would have done well. It was a little hard to feel deserving of this big privilege. We represent so well though because we are the real student athletes, we are all fully immersed in our class work at home and in our skiing and in our fundraising and in our lives.

30 Km is a long way to ski.

Bringing it Home

Home. What is home? Is it being back in the states? Is it my family in Flagstaff? Is it gliding on a pair of skis? We like to say that this ski team is our home (or one of them), no matter where we are in the world traveling for races we have people who are following the same passion and support us no matter what. Looking back on our travels to Slovakia, Italy, or up mountains, those times when we are away from home and then return, those are the times where our ski family cohesion becomes stronger. Adventure. We seek it and we thrive off of it and travel across the globe to find it and yet this “home team” urges us to seek adventure each day in our friendships, in our academics, in our leadership.  My high school coach once told me that you never grow unless you push yourself outside of your bubble. Trips like WUG have immeasurable value for developing character. We are placed in situations where we are forced to cope with a new culture, over faced in races, trying to communicate with people from many different backgrounds and placed in situations with flavors and scenes and beds that aren’t “like things are at home”. We learn to thrive.

The Mountains overlooking Strbske Pleso

     I was sitting in class for the first day, fighting the heavy eyelids and jet lag, attempting to absorb a whole week of lecture material that I had missed. Heading back to class seems like a sleep world compared to the vibrancies of our ski adventures and I couldn't wait to wake up again back in my room in Slovakia. We often joke about how we are students by day and skiers by night because sometimes it feels like we live from race weekend to race weekend with a blur in between. Nobody in our classes knows our secret lives.  Now comes the real challenge of letting the things we have seen and adventures not fade away but to become a part of our everyday mundane life. It’s easy to separate and snap back to how things were before but harder to let it change who we are becoming. How can we bring the climate change and culture that we learned about and became passionate about back to Laramie Wyoming? Megan, sitting next to me in class, asked me how the trip was and then I had the honor of reading her reflection paper and got a little emotional. Even though she affectionately christened us a “sea of hippies”, she wrote about how the team had affected her and her views on the environment and how we were studying climate change in Slovakia. This is what this team is for; to bring it back into our conversations every day, to inspire people to ask questions and seek out what they love. Even if our classmates may not know where we go on the weekends, we can inspire them because we have been so deeply influenced by our experiences. Whether at the World University Games or in a backcountry canyon, we can’t help but let it impact our constantly shifting worldview. Now that we are home comes the hard part of synthesizing, analyzing and interpreting. Not just the data, photos and samples we collected but the memories and thoughts we collected too and finally integrating what we learned overseas to evoke change and keep the fire burning. This is what we do it for and when the true value of skiing and teams and study abroad shows through.

The Torch burning over the duration of the whole games.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Opening Ceremonies

Wow! What a big deal! There were lines of different countries, and crowds of Slovakian fans. All of the athletes were paraded down a street and herded into a stadium that they had set up especially for the evening. The president of Slovakia gave a very heartfelt speech, as did the president of FISU. I was pleased to hear them support all types of strength: mental, social, physical, and academic!  They encouraged each athlete to tap into their talents and use them as avenues of change in our world that is so broken. The crowd bustled with exhilaration. There were 27 countries all neatly aligned, I wondered how many of them understood the speeches that were delivered in English. My mind was filled with so much excitement I could barely focus. The words “broken” and “unrest” rang loud in my mind as I listened to the speech and observed the many cultures around me. After further reflection I was reminded of the chapter in our class book about climate change and its effects in our world.  The chapter that I had just finished discussed all of the problems that surrounded Hurricane Katrina, specifically with the downfall of the health care. People were left trapped in hospitals without medical records, electricity, or proper care.  One witness described the destruction of New Orleans as a third world country. I couldn’t help thinking about the Ukrainians standing next to me, and the horrible political turmoil that they have been dealing with. They certainly were not used to a comfortable American life. With all of these cultural groups gathered together I became curious about their stories. Had any of them been effected by a natural disaster?  How has climate change affected these different peoples lives?  There has certainly been political unrest amongst several of these countries. So many people, all with different stories! I will never know all of the vast histories or the intricate details of each person’s story. Even though there are many varying stories and backgrounds amongst us, there is one thing that binds us all together, skiing! We love skiing! There are many passions that build a skier, amongst them there tends to be a love for snow, nature, adventure, and beauty. Each athlete at the opening ceremonies probably had their own distracted thoughts during the speeches, but it is my hope that each one of them was able to pull together their unique skills and passions to work towards beauty and peace in the places that we live.
The President of Slovakia speaks at the opening ceremonies

30k recap

Sorry this is so late. Since arriving back in the States I’ve been extremely busy catching up with school.

I ended up racing the 30k. I probably wasn’t at 100%, but I really wanted to race it. I got out and skied a warm-up and felt good enough to race. For whatever reason I ended up grabbing my skis really late. I had a choice between the Atomic Worlducp, mine being for cold and hard conditions, and the Fischer Carbonlite, for warm and soft snow. I only had ten minutes to the start, so I asked Sam what he picked, and he told me the warm/soft. So that’s what I went with. The Fischer’s are new boards and the 30k is the first time I raced on them.

After some confusion figuring out where my spot was in the chevron start, I was ready to go. Sam and I were seeded very near the back, so when the gun went off we started out fast but shortly were skiing very, very slow. An accordion effect happened when the pack reached the first little climb, about 100 yards up the trail. So we were barely skiing up the hill. Once we reached the next climb, one of the two big climbs on the course, it had spread out enough to where we could actually ski. As we skied by the television camera, it had panned to the front of the pack, and the Norwegian skier in front of me managed to jump in front of the camera and block its entire field of view with his face.

The start. Sam and I are in the upper left corner.
I stole this picture from the official Universiade gallery.

Once we had gotten settled in, Sam, an Italian guy, and myself were skiing together. There was another group not too far ahead of us, they were consistently in sight, that we were trying to catch but we never made it to them. On the third or fourth lap Sam and the Italian guy dropped me on the second big climb, and a skied alone for a bit until one of the Mongolian skiers caught up to me. I skied with him for most of the race.

When I talk about two “big climbs,” I am not trying to say they were the only climbs. Rather, there are two climbs, one about 1km in and the other around the halfway point of the lap that are particularly big climbs. Every other climb on that course, and there are a bunch of them, are incredibly steep, and long enough to make you hurt. Just not quite as long. The course in Strbske Pleso is undoubtedly the most difficult course I have ever skied. And I have skied a few homologated FIS courses in my day.

I digress. The Mongolian skier, Achbadrakh Batmunkh, and I skied together throughout most of the race. I could tell he was feeling a little better than I was, because he would slightly pull away on the climbs, and I would catch back up on the downhills. The descents on the course are fairly technical, so it is extremely important to maintain form on them. I was doing a better job of that than he was, and my skis were faster, so he wasn’t able to drop me.

Suffering. Picture is also stolen.

On the sixth lap, the lead pack lapped me. I looked back at the turn around point, where you start to head back towards the stadium, and saw them coming. It was perfect timing because when they were about 25-30 yards behind me, there was a TV camera and it was a long straightaway. So I got some nice air time there. Then they made the pass right as you come into the sprint loop, where there are cameras everywhere. Wow, those guys are fast.

At the start of the last lap, we caught Sam. He was now skiing alone. When we hit the big one at the 1k mark on the lap, we lifted the pace a little bit and were able to drop the Mongolian guy. Sam and I skied through the rest of the outer area together I think, but he started to pull away because he had one more gear that I just didn’t have in me. I had no kick at all at the finish. Sam ended up putting like 30 seconds on me in the last half k or so.

To wrap up the WUG trip, I would like to thank a few people. First off, everyone who has donated, as well as everyone who supports this team in other ways. Thank you. This team could not exist without you, and we appreciate every penny. Secondly, the coaches. Christi, Rachel, Anna, and Willie did a phenomenal job in all fronts on the trip, not only waxing, but also being out there on the trails to give us splits and feeds every lap of an eight lap course. Also, they work tirelessly behind the scenes with logistics and planning. I want to thank Jenn, from BTI, for all the work she put into this trip for us, and for being out on the trails to cheer us on, and for her kindness to me while I was sick. Tina, a Slovakian girl who volunteered to be our attaché, for assisting us with everything we needed the entirety of the trip, and for wandering around Strbske Pleso with Sindre and I in order to translate our interviews with locals about carbon offsets. I would also like to thank my teammates for their constant support for me and each other, always. 

WUG was quite the experience. I am honored to have been able to represent the United States overseas. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Final WUG Post

Ribbons of a burning yellow lights almost as far as the eye can see, crisscrossing in every direction; this is my view as I sit next to Sam and Sierra on our last flight from Slovakia. Today has been a long day of travel, my watch is telling me we are in our 25th hour of traveling. It is really hard for me to imagine I was thousands of miles away in a relatively short period of time.

All that has transpired this past week and a half has been an incredible journey, full of ups and downs. While there were some events that were significantly upsetting, the positive experiences undoubtedly outweighed the negatives. Usually I like to write in high detail to help recreate specific life events for my blog posts, but I think it is best to give some highlights of the trip in a more encompassing manner to wrap up our time abroad, hopefully allowing for you the readers to gain a better awareness of the entire experience.

While Chicago succeeded to be somewhat difficult to get through, as well as Pat not getting his bag (containing his boots, gloves, and other necessary gear) until several days after landing in Slovakia, as a whole, the process of traveling to Slovakia turned out to be a rather seamless experience. Upon our arrival, we were greeted to the area with thick enveloping fog and warm welcomes from the local people. We made quick work of getting to know the town and the area through shot jogs, skiing, and afternoon adventures as we roamed from store to store. There were only a handful of places to go in the town, most of which were sports stores. This most certainly was influenced by the high amount of tourism in the area because of the high amount of alpine skiing and other outdoor activities that are available to people through the mountainous landscape. The region also hosts a variety of lakes and rivers, small towns and villages, all scattered amongst the countryside. Unfortunately we really did not have/make the opportunity to go outside of our small town, with the exception of a few. By the fourth day it seemed as though we were all professionals at navigating and roaming around. By the end of our duration in Strbske Pleso, we all seemed to get set into a rhythm of patterns and daily routines. Eat, ski, shower, eat, homework, down-time, eat, and finally ending with team meetings. This seemed to be the most prevalent routine for our team, other teams staying in our hotel seemed to have similar schedules. Our hotel accommodated the Australian, Slovakian, Chinese, and American Nordic ski teams, as well as the Chinese ski jumping and possibly Nordic Combined teams as well. This crated a great environment for meeting people. Meeting people was also made easier due to the fact that all of our meals were communal. Our meals served three-a-day were buffet style served at specific hours in the morning, mid-day, and evening. The food was awesome! For breakfast they served scrambled eggs, poached eggs, a non-sweetened version of French toast (best smothered with yogurt and topped with honey), an assortment of rolls and fresh baked breads, yogurt, fruit salad, and 3-4 cereals. For lunch and dinner, they would typically offer boiled potatoes sprinkled with cilantro and butter, steamed white rice also served with a pinch of cilantro, and each day brought a new goulash style main dish, sometimes two, most often pork, in addition there was a salad bar serving what I would imagine to be semi-local sausages with several types of sliced cheeses and pickled vegetables. For dessert there would also be an array of items that rotated on a daily basis, mostly chocolate cakes with a thick layer of solid frosting, some were graham cracker-type squares layered with sweet fillings topped with a chocolate drizzle.

When we weren’t stuck in a routine, some afternoons you could hear the beating of basketballs in the rickety old basketball court where you would find members of the men’s team Pat, Sindre, Kyle, Nathan, Sam, Will and myself playing pig or showing off our nonexistent “baller” skills. The court was made several decades ago, or at least I would assume so based off of the condition of the wooden floor as well as the fact that the court had springs under it, making you feel just a little more like Jordan when you took off in the air for a slam dunk. Also, the balls that the hotel provided were never fully inflated, making it an interesting challenge to handle and shoot.

As for the racing, if you have been keeping up on the blog, I am certain you are aware the differences in people’s perceptions on races, they can vary so often from one day to the next or from one person to the next. Unfortunately, my experiences of the races were more not very good in that they were more physically challenging for me than usual. The sprint turned out to be my best race of the week, but that is not to imply it was a good race. Fast turnover became too difficult to obtain with legs that felt like lead. The 7.5k proved also too much of a challenge for my body to handle. Feeling mentally prepared and strong, skiing smart into the start of the race, and having what I thought was a good day, was not enough to overcome whatever problems occurred during the race. Later in the week, the 7.5k relay proved too much, and as a result my body did not handle the physical and psychological stress well. In previous years I have had similar problems in my Nordic racing, something several physiological tests cannot seem to determine the cause. Regardless, these “symptoms” reappeared, causing a less-than-adequate performance to say the least. I had been planning to race the 30k at the end of the week, but with how I was feeling it would not have been a good idea, thus I did not end up racing after the relay.

Without having the responsibility of racing, the rest of the week for me was spent soaking up as much of the experience and the culture as I could. Playing pool with the volunteers, going for walks, taking pictures, helping coaches test wax, buying gifts for friends and family members, and making as many friends as possible was my new focus for the rest of my time in Slovakia. I was even fortunate enough to go Alpine skiing with Pat, Kyle, Nathan, and Pat’s older brother (who lives in Rome) Fr. Bob. It was such a great pleasure being able to experience all of these things with so many great people. Each of these experiences was new and exciting. I even had time to take race pictures for the team, something that as Nordic skiers we do not get very often.

During my time “off” I was allowed more free time for thought and contemplation. With thoughts fresh on my mind from our class discussions on global sustainability, my free time proved a good opportunity to look at the culture in Slovakia and the impact their culture has had on their natural resources. Starting to look around me I noticed more and more swathes of clear-cut forest (which I briefly mentioned in my previous post). One day we asked our attaché Tina about why there were so many trees cut down, it turns out that some of the reason there was so much forest clear-cut was because of a type of pine-beetle that had been killing the trees. We actually read about this problem in the book we have been reading has become a greater issue globally. Unfortunately pine-beetles have been having more and more negative impacts on trees in the last few decades, which has lead to larger fires and more damage to homes and obviously natural habitat. Having some extra time to think about these things gave me the opportunity to really ruminate on the impact we are having on our natural resources. As many of you know there is a massive debate around the world that it seems is getting more and more controversial. The debate still goes back and forth about climate change and whether or not there significant changes that are occurring outside the natural patters of the climate. Regardless of which side you stand on, I started realizing that it doesn’t matter whether there are serious changes occurring or not, I think it is really important to realize that sustainability is extremely important. There is no doubt that as a global community we are using massive amounts of energy, which cannot be sustainable in any way. For something to be sustainable I will quite an article that I find pertinent: “Sustainability can be enhanced by reducing cost, improving social and economic benefits, restricting the use of fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources, or reducing negative social and environmental impacts” (Martland, 2012). While flying from country to country, seeing power plants as large as small towns, at night the energy consumption is blindingly easy to see, and the thought alone about each person’s impact on the planet and trying to add up all of those together is at the very least befuddling and incomprehensible. Billions of people around the world using more and more energy as each country becomes more and more dependent on energy and power consumption blows my mind. All of these things seem to wrap up into a gigantic hole it appears we have dug ourselves into. Don’t get me wrong, with energy and technology we have accomplished amazing things, but I also think that by making all that we have done and all that we have accomplished, it is our responsibility to start working towards becoming less and less dependent on our natural resources before they completely run out. I often found myself thinking about these things as I watched a mass of 60-80 skiers tearing past me, all wearing thousands of dollars worth in equipment. Skis, boots, poles, not to mention the textiles used to make racing suits, gloves, and whatever else is needed to prepare the skis for competition such as wax. How much energy does it take for all of these things to be made? Is skiing sustainable? Traveling on such large scales each and every year, is that sustainable? These are the questions I asked myself, these are the questions I would like to find the answers to. I think it is important for us to at the very least be conscious of these things that we take for granted every day, and if we are not careful, we might end up losing them. Much of my time was spent thinking about this.

From our journey to Slovakia to ski racing to all of the people we met and all of the friends we made, this trip has been an amazing experience, and now, all of it has come to an end. With one last passing of the flight attendants offering a variety of beverages, we have begun our final descent into Denver. Waiting for our arrival is Christi’s parents, Dick and Evelyn, with their amazing ability to give, they will pick us up and drive us the last 2 hours of our journey back to Laramie. With classes, papers, presentations, homework, reading, training, and more racing, we all have long semesters ahead of us. With memories still freshly burned into our minds, all of which will remain with us for the rest of our lives, it is time to leave our trip behind and move forward onto the next steps of adventures and experiences. With all that has happened to me in the last few weeks, I can only imagine where we will find ourselves along this long crazy journey we call life.

(The above was written on the last flight home, from Chicago to Denver last Monday, February 2nd)

Now that we have been back for a week, the memories are starting to get further and further away, not in strength, but from our minds. With a week’s worth of homework to catch up on, lecture after lecture each day, more homework assigned, the week has brought us all back into a harsh reality. Looking back on the trip it was an amazing experience, full of fun and laughter, food and friends, happiness and sadness, the experiences we all received from the trip are unique in every way. It has been and honor representing the United States of America, if I never have the opportunity to do so in an event like this again, I know that I went out with a one heck of a bang. I would also like to thank each of you for your unconditional support, whether it be through monetary contributions or simply reading our blog, each and every dollar supported or “like” on Facebook truly means the world to us. Without you and your support our experiences might not be the same or happen at all for that matter, just know we are unconditionally grateful for all of the support we have received. I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog posts, we have enjoyed providing a window into our own personal experiences for you to enjoy. Now it is time to get back to doing more homework with memories of Slovakia fresh on my mind. Cheers and thanks again,


Thursday, February 05, 2015

Skiers of the Week: World University Games

The opportunity to represent the USA at the World University Games is not something that any of our athletes takes lightly. They are all serious, ski to the best of their ability and give everything they have to the race.

This makes the decision for this week wonderfully difficult!

We could have chosen Elise, who had the best ever finish for team USA with a 23rd in the Classic race.

We could have chosen Sindre or Britta who both took over 250 points off their first FIS classic race.

We could have chosen Will who truly competed in his first ever 30km race after being sick for 3 days.

While each of these accomplishments are fantastic and deserve acknowledgement the skiers of the week are...

Drum roll please...

Sierra Jech & Sam Wiswell

Sierra is our team President and her performance both on and off the trails at the games reminded everyone what makes her so special.

Sierra competed in both the shortest and the longest events and completed 4 of the 5 total events at the games: sprint, team sprint, classic and skate races.

When she completed the first sprint race she was only 9 seconds from making the rounds and put in one of the best finishes to date. She took almost 100 points off her first sprint race of the season and was the top USA woman in the race. She followed that fantastic race with a team sprint with Nathan. The two of them were a thing of beauty, working together to a fantastic finish.

She skied beautifully in the 5km classic, finishing with points that were comparable to her phenomenal finish two weeks before at the University of Utah invitational. She sailed up the hill where Christi was standing looking like one of the top women in the race.

She finished her week with the 15km freestyle, which was not her best race of the week but the conditions were extremely tough and caused even the best to struggle. She stuck it out and finished with a solid place.

To say that Sierra is an great skier doesn't begin to cover the sexiness of her mind. The entire week she was not only raging around the ski trails but leading the class with her incredibly thoughtful, thorough and high level participation. Her blog posts focused on not only racing but the environmental aspects of the games as well as the importance of her teammates, epitomizing an inspirational leader.

Around the edges of all of these activities, Sierra was spending evenings taking snow samples on the ski trails for the research project she and Ben are doing to measure the accumulation of fluorinated wax from the races.

Sierra has grown into an incredible leader in all aspects of her life and we are honored to have been part of her journey.

We chose Sam for his amazing focus and durability. He also raced both the shortest (1.6km) and the longest (30km) races of the games and competed in all three of the individual races. While he spent time getting to know the area and visited the town he also dedicated himself to racing to the best of his ability, basically spending the optimal amount of time between his skis and his bed.

Sam performed well in the sprint, just a few points short of being his best of the season, and despite feeling a little rough in the classic, he had solid points. His real victory was the 30km where he not only skied a tough, tactical race but finished the last 1/2km like it was a 10km! He inspired his teammates and his coaches with his fight and resilience.

In addition to this amazing racing, Sam also was putting a great deal of thought and effort into the class with thoughtful and well written blog posts while thinking about how to measure the carbon footprint of our team. He even came up with an idea to find out what fueled the Universiade Flame and how much fuel it used for the entire games.

Sam was chosen as skier of the week for being an inspiration on the trails and in the class!

For their leadership both on and off the trails, we have chosen Sierra and Sam as skiers of the week!


Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Inside the Race: My Perspective of the 30km Mass Start

Throughout the week of racing of WUG the ever-looming race for the men’s field was the 30km. The race was skate technique and consisted of 8 Laps around a brutal 3.75km loop. The loop contained two major climbs and was easily the hardest loop, around that distance, I have ever skied for a race.  Towards the beginning of the week we had a decent sized crew considering doing the race. Unfortunately, as the week wore on sickness and lack of desire to do the race wore down on many of our athletes as well as skiers across the entire field. The morning of the race the entire South Korean team scratched. To be fair, the conditions were such that you had to be a little nuts to want to do the race. When you never race 30km, the course is super challenging, the field is ultra elite and you have already done a week of hard racing it is not a very appealing option. By Saturday night, the night prior to the race, only Will and myself remained the only ones even considering racing. There was a lot to consider when weighing the pros and cons of this race. With nationals only a month away, this kind of race has a significant impact on training and has a huge potential to make you sick even without all the traveling for over thrity hours following the race. After much deliberation and talking with Coaches I made the call to do the race the night prior. Will decided to make the call during warm-up the next day as he had been sick the few days leading up to the event.

I didn’t sleep very well the night prior to the race. While I never sleep will prior to racing that night was especially bad. It was some strange combination of nerves and excitement that started rushing through my body as soon as I committed to the race. Breakfast opened at 6:30am. Will and I descended to the dinning area, which was surprisingly empty. The plan was to eat as much as we could muster without having a heavy stomach. I was able to eat a surprising amount considering the pre-race nerves. I can’t say exactly why my nerves were so intense for this race.  It was probably some combination of the intense field of skiers or maybe just the knowledge that his was going to hurt. Either way, I hadn’t felt this way in ages and I took it as a good sign.

The day prior it had snowed around a foot and the track had gone from scary fast to very slow. As we skied around the 3.75km loop for our warm-up, I was pleased to see the weather was much nicer than the day before. The snow was still slow but the track had firmed up nicely and the temperature was -8 Celsius.  Best of all, the sun was out for one of the first times in the week. We could not have asked for a more perfect day. Will made the call he was racing halfway through our warm up. I was relieved to have a teammate out there with me. We each tested between our two pairs of skis and went with our soft tack variants. It was 10 minutes to race start and I quickly realized I had not done any pickups other than some level two and three when hill climbing. It did not bother me excessively as I ran over to the starting pen knowing we would have plenty of racing to do.

As I stepped up on the box and had my timing chips put on, I took a second to enjoy the moment. No mater how the following series of events would transpire, I was doing what I loved, ski racing. Inside the pen seemed almost dream like and you could tell everyone was super relaxed yet ready to begin. We ran out to the start and got in the chevron. The tense stillness settled in and the gun went off. I was keenly aware this race was not going to be won in the first 2 Km and relaxed as Will and I took our planned positions in the back of the group. My body readied as we started our first climb. I took it nice and slow just as planned and saw a pack form in front of me. I accelerated up and over the top of the hill and latched on. On the downhill I focused completely on relaxing and breathing into my legs. This would become my focus for the following 7 laps. I felt good on the second climb but decided not to push it with so much racing left to do. Down the big decent I felt myself focus completely into race mode. Energy seemed to pulse through my body and I knew that this would be a good day. Leading our pack was an Italian looking string and relaxed. As we moved around the lap I moved in behind him and planned to stick with him as long as I could or as long as he was aggressive. As I gazed back Will was right on my tails.
The first target became a pack of Mongolians and a Norwegian who had hammered out of the. Every hill became an attack and every downhill a recovery. By lap three we had caught and passed the Mongolians and we making ground on a Turkish skier who had fallen of his pack. At this point the race became a blur. Every uphill was a little uncomfortable and Will and a Mongolian slowly dropped off. It was just the Italian and I chasing the Turk. By the middle of lap four or five, I couldn’t tell you the difference now, we caught and passed him. Feeling extra energetic I lead the attack on a climb hoping to drop the Italian and the Turkish skiers. I raced up the hill passing a group of my teammates cheering me on. Individual words gave way to a dull roar but it mattered not as I felt my teammates helping pull me up the hill. I vaguely noticed tears flowing down my face and looked back to see the two skiers right on my tail. I took a more conservative approach in the up flat and let the Turkish skier take the lead into the long down hill. We hammered the first hill after the recovery and I felt nauseous for the first time as I crested the short but steep climb. The group slowed and I was able to recover just in time to get my feed down, I had been feeding every lap. I was a bit shaken by the nausea but was determined to keep with the two skiers. We hammered the first big climb on the loop and the cheers of Elise and Catherine Pulled me up the hill as I Wedged myself between the two skiers. On the downhill I was passed by the Turk and fell to the back of our line. The Italian must have seen this and took his chance. He attacked the hill like I had not seen yet, V2ing half the climb. The Turkish skier could not keep up and before I knew it he had put on a significant gap. I passed the Turkish skier in frustration giving chase but the knot had been broken. 
The remainder of the laps became a struggle. My legs began to feel extremely stiff with increasing lactic acid levels on every climb. Every down hill I would hit my legs and shake out my arms to try and clear out the lactic acid that was building up. I could feel Will and the Mongolian catching up and, by the end of lap 6, they had made up significant time. As we entered the stadium area, the lead group had closed in and was about to lap me. I knew they were coming from the increased amount of noise on the sidelines. At my feed, I chanced a glance back and knew it was time to make my way to the edge of the track. On an uphill bump the pack flew by. I tried to catch a ride but the skiers were so strong that I simply didn’t stand a chance. After the lead pack passed, I looked back to see Will and the Mongolian closer than ever and about to tie a knot. Knowing that I could not out run them alone for the rest of the race, I slowed just enough to recover a lot more but still be a race pace. By the beginning of the 8th and final lap they caught me and I fell into line matching their pace. I knew they were at least as tired as me and planned my final attack. As we begun the second to last climb, Will increased the pace and I went with him. As we crested the hill, I chanced a glance back to see that we had dropped the Mongolian. Will and I skied aggressively into the recovery and I took a second to rest and recover before our final major climb. I planned the climb as an acceleration and began to put every ounce of energy I had left into my attack. As I crested the hill I had put a gap on Will but felt like I could puke right then and their. The final two kilometers were simply survival as I tried to keep my legs moving and keep my breakfast in my stomach. As I entered the finishing stretch I glanced back and realized I could comfortably coast in. Will finished shortly after me. We had not only survived the 30k but we had raced it well.

Looking back on this race I am very happy with the result. While I wish I could have kept pace with the Italian, I am very excited that I was able to ski aggressively for so long. This is by far the longest distances have raced this hard and to know that I can do this makes sorter races in the 15km and 20km mentally easier to push on. I also learned what areas of my body failed first and what happened to my technique when I did get tired. This is essential knowledge for future training. For the week ahead we get a few days of rest and recovery and then it is off to Crested Butte for a 21km and a 5k next weekend. This time of year, the fun never stops!

A view from the back half of the course