Building Momentum

My return from an exhausted state has been an arduous and humbling journey.  I spent the better part of January working my way into a consistent training routine with one strength session, two intensity sessions and one long distance session per week. 

At the end of January I made the lengthy trip to Western Canadian Champs in Callaghan Valley, BC.  I secretly had hopes I would find some magic, but mostly knew I needed to saddle up and get back into racing habits.  Unfortunately there was no magic to be found.  I had no speed in the sprint race and struggled in the distance race with slippery skis and bad form.  I finished 13th in both races.
Best ski of the year to date!  3 hour ski on the Callaghan Valley rec trails.  Fresh untouched groomed trails, fast twisty downhills, amazing scenery.  Beautiful! 

With no NorAm racing the following weekend, I had plans to compete in the Kamview Ski Tour.  Unfortunately some rainy weather caused organizers to post-pone the local race weekend so our team put together some time trials at Lappe instead.  We did a full classic sprint race and mass start skate distance.  I won the sprint qualifier, finished 2nd in the heats and won the skate distance.  Positive vibes.

Next weekend I headed to Eastern Canadian Champs in Gatineau, QC.  The sprint was a good effort, but the 10th place result wasn’t great.  I opted for fast slippery skis since the main climb was mostly herringbone and no one had bomber grip in the glazed tracks.  The idea was right as my teammate, Angus, crushed it and won silver with the same strategy.  However, running climbs with slippery skis isn’t my strong suit.  I couldn’t hack it on the climb to be competitive.

The two distance days at Easterns were my best races of the season to date.  That’s not saying much, but finally I was at least competitive in the races.  I finished 6th in the 15km classic and 5th in the 20km skate, roughly 45 seconds behind in both.  Finally, I was starting to find some form.

Back home for a week, I had the chance to jump in a Fresh Air Thursday night race at Lappe.  It was the first time I’d done a local night race in years and it was super fun!  Another highlight was a 51km ski with Andy on the Kakabeka trails followed by lunch with a delicious chocolate chai tea at the Metropolitan Moose.  I can’t believe I’ve never been to the Kakabeka restaurant before!  That’s definitely becoming a regular road ride coffee break stop.

Fun weekend dog sitting Marley and Olly!  Lots of snowshoeing in the backyard and post-playtime naps for all involved!

To cap off February, our team road tripped to Ishpeming, Michigan for a Super Tour race weekend.  I was disappointed with my sprint performance, finishing 16th; my legs had no jam after the long drive around Lake Superior.  In hindsight, I wish we’d planned to drive a day earlier to give the legs a chance to loosen up rather than showing up the day before the first race.

The next day my legs felt much improved and true to my recent upward trend, I had two good distance races, bettering my performances from Easterns.  Saturday’s 20km skate mass start was less competitive with many Super Tour racers opting to sit it out since it was only a collegiate race.  Regardless, a few top guys were on the start line and we had a good battle on the trails.  After a relatively easy first 5km, I grew restless, went to the front and pushed the pace for 4km over all the major climbs.  When I let up and looked behind, the pack had been widdled down to 3 other guys: my teammate Evan, Adam Martin and Rogan Brown.  The rest of the race became a tactical affair with the 4 of us clear away from the field.  My legs never fully recovered from my early push and in the end I settled for 3rd.

All the top guys were back for Sunday’s Super Tour 10km classic.  It was a hotly contested race with the top 9 guys finishing within 30 seconds.  I ended the race in 8th place.  Although it would have been great to ski 2 seconds faster for 6th place and get in the podium photo, I was pleased to be competitive with many Americans who have been having strong race seasons.

Saturday's 20km Mass Start Skate Race
Pushing the pace on lap 2 and breaking up the race

Fast klister classic skiing on Sunday
Next on the plan was the American Birkebeiner!  Evan and I were really excited to race the 50km Loppet and be part of the festival atmosphere.  My form is coming around and I was looking forward to taking another shot at the podium after missing bronze in a photofinish in 2012.  Evan is clearly skiing well after 1st and 5th place finishes last weekend and was pumped for his first Birkie experience!

We drove to Hayward, Wisconsin after the races on Sunday and settled into our hotel room.  Unfortunately Mother Nature was not cooperating.  Warm weather on the weekend followed by a rainy day on Monday wrecked havoc on the ski trails.  Tuesday evening we joined the Hardwood crew at Cresthill resort for dinner, sauna and a refreshing dunk in the lake.  Scott Wilson, owner and pillar of skiing in the region, came by to chat and we discussed the probability of a race happening.  The Hardwood crew decided a race was unlikely and planned to leave the next morning.  We followed suit and drove back to Thunder Bay on Wednesday morning.

It was a tough decision to leave, we both wanted to hang onto the hope that Friday’s forecasted snow storm would make it possible, but reality was, even if it snowed Friday, the trail base was decimated and even to make a 21km course on the North trails would require significant new snow.  Our hopes of winning Thursday’s city team sprint and podium finishes in the Birkie would have to wait until another year.

Today the Birkie race was officially cancelled.  We made the right call to leave early and get back to training on snow in TBay.  Thanks to all the organizers for your positivity and efforts to make skiing possible.  I hope to be back in the future on a snowy winter weekend!

With no Birkie, my attention turns to the Sleeping Giant Loppet 50km next weekend!  Despite it being my hometown Loppet, I’ve never raced the full 50km.  It’s always been too close to National Championships, or I’ve been away at other races.  I’m really looking forward to being part of the big local race!

As for my race form, every race weekend I’m getting stronger.  I’m building momentum.  December was rock bottom, January was about getting back into training and racing, and February was building momentum towards what I hope will be an amazing March!