Rediscovering My Speed

Rediscovering my speed on skis has been an incredibly huge relief this March.  It’s been a laborious process that began in January after I hit rock bottom in December.  I could have easily given up.  Quit on the spot.  I put so much into my offseason training this year that to fall apart like that in December was a crushing experience.

On the flip side, it was a big learning experience.  I am proud of the resolve I have displayed to maintain focus on the big picture and make smart training decisions to build myself back up.  My biggest goal this training season was to improve my fitness by increasing my annual training hours.  Obviously I hoped racing fast would go hand in hand.  In spite of my December collapse, I am still accomplishing my number one objective this season: I will break the 800 training hour mark for the first time in my skiing career.

Training hours mean nothing if they aren’t producing results though.  This March, I have finally started to find my speed and every time I race and recover, I feel stronger and faster heading into the next race.

My March race schedule began with the Sleeping Giant Loppet 50km Skate.  It’s my hometown’s premier loppet and yet I’ve never raced the full 50km.  This is the first year it fit my race schedule and I was stoked to be part of it!  My body felt amazing off the start line so I pushed the pace out front for much of the first half of the race, hoping a fast paced race would favour my fitness.  I realized around the 30km mark that I wasn’t going to be able to break away for the win: the conditions were too fast, the course was too flat, and it was clear my competition (Andy, Evan and Matt) were also feeling strong.

Leading out the start of the Sleeping Giant Loppet
Photo Credit: John Sims
The pace slowed and we skied together the next 10km waiting for someone to make a move.  We hit the lake with 10km to go and Matt jumped, catching the rest of us off guard.  I chased him down and he went again.  Matt kept the pedal down, attacking relentlessly into the final kms.  He didn’t succeed in dropping anyone, but it was enough to take the sprint out of my legs.  Andy and Evan found another gear in the final meters, while I took a pole tip to the arm from a recreation skier I was attempting to pass and crossed the line in 4th, a few seconds behind.

Frustration and disappointment were the first emotions to hit me.  After racing hard for 50km and feeling so good off the start line, finishing 4th place in a sprint finish sucks.  Looking at it from another perspective, it was the first sub-2 hour 50km I have ever skied and I was a big reason we skied the race that fast.

Winning toques as part of Lappe teams entered in the Loppet!
Photo Credit: John Sims
The next weekend I won the Lappe Invitational 10km Skate.  My first real win of the season!  Although it was only a local race, it was a good confidence boost heading into National Championships.

In Canmore for Nationals the racing kicked off with a team relay ski cross.  The two race courses were roughly 2.4km prologues with a few obstacles like rollers and a small drop.  I teamed up with Gavin Shields for a 3rd place finish and silver medal (2nd Canadian team).  It was only day 3 in Canmore for me and the altitude killed me.  Regardless, we were stoked to win a medal for Lappe!

Tagging off to Gavin Shields in the Club Relay Cross
Photo Credit: Rod Somppi
The next day I went out fast on my first lap in the 10km skate.  I was feeling awesome until again, the altitude hit me and I struggled to breathe in enough oxygen to match my energy output.  I dug deep to finish the race and collapsed across the line, gasping for air like an asthmatic.  I finished 5th place and won a bronze medal (3rd Canadian).

By day 6 in Canmore I felt much more adjusted to the altitude for the 15km classic.  I started conservatively with a challenging race course and conditions to battle.  It paid off as I moved up over the second half of the race to finish 8th place (5th Canadian).

Classic sprint day was the biggest surprise for me.  My qualifier was average, finishing 18th place overall and feeling the fatigue in my legs from the 15km the day before.  For what felt like the first time this season, luck was with me in my quarter-final and semi-final heats as my body magically felt refreshed and I moved through both heats into the A-Final.  My first Nationals A-Final appearance ever!  I faded a little in the final and finished 6th place (4th Canadian), but before this I hadn’t even made it out of a quarter-final heat this season!

Finding some speed in the classic sprint to finish 6th on the day!
Photo Credit: Rod Somppi
The 50km Skate was my focus race.  After two days off racing, I felt ready to take it on.  Conditions were fast racing in the early morning and I did my best to impersonate Alex Harvey, using the downhills and my ski speed to glide to the front of the pack to conserve energy and take in feeds.  BIG shout out to my team-mate, Alannah, for being exceptionally on point with feeds!  I must have taken 10+ feeds through the race to keep my energy levels high.

Leading the 50km through the stadium
Photo Credit: Pam Doyle
My only mistake the whole race was in the final kms and it cost me a shot at gold.  Andy Shields attacked at the top of the course on the second last climb.  I was skiing in 4th position and had the energy to respond.  Without thinking, I stuck like glue to the skier in front of me.  Suddenly, he slowed.  I looked up and saw the top two guys breaking away.  I was too close behind to immediately jump around.  I was forced to slow down, lose my momentum and ski wide around to crest the climb.

I tried to close down the gap, but with only a km to go of mostly downhill, I didn’t stand a chance.  I skied into the finish lanes for bronze, watching the two guys ahead of me sprint each other for the win and wishing I could have been beside them, fighting for gold.  It was my best race of the season, but it left a bittersweet taste in my mouth.

Bronze medal in the 50km!  Awesome to have two Lappe skiers on the podium, with Andy Shields in 2nd place!
Photo Credit: Pam Doyle
My consolation prize helped to wash the taste from my mouth.  After 4 strong performances, I am the 2017 Senior Men’s Aggregate National Champion.  Thanks to my family for all the cheering and support in Canmore!  Big thanks to the NTDC Thunder Bay staff for providing us killer skis all week in spite of being worn out from a long race season!

Next up for me, Super Tour Finals in Fairbanks, Alaska!