Hard Knocks of XC Ski Racing

The middle of the season has been a real up and down ride for me.  I’ve experienced a few more of the ‘classic’ skier problems than I would have liked to.  I figure by now, surely, I’ve used up my bad luck capacity for the season and all I have left is good luck to balance it out.

Over the holidays I had some fantastic training in the Kelowna area.  The deep freeze that settled on Canada meant skiing in the Okanagan Valley I had to handle -13C temperatures… not so bad!

I guess I was a little too enthusiastic to train over the holidays because when I started my taper and arrived in Quebec for NorAm racing I found my body wanting more and more rest.  I had anticipated my body would bounce back with good energy.  It didn’t, and as a result, I didn’t have the races I hoped for in Quebec. 

The worst hard knock was in the 30km Skiathlon.  I was skiing at the back of the lead pack during the classic leg, doing my best to save energy by using the draft to my advantage so I could push hard on the skate leg.  At the bottom of a high-speed downhill I opted to change tracks, my ski wobbled funny causing my tips to cross and before I knew it my feet went out from under me and I was sliding across the snow.  One ski jettisoned off my foot and when I got up to track it down, I realized the binding had fallen off.  After searching for the binding, I put it all back together and by the time I started skiing again, I’m pretty sure I was in last place.

After Quebec I reassessed and decided to take the opposite approach leading into my next races.  Rest.  My body needed a chance to recover.

By Western Canadian Championships, a little more than a week later I was skiing with better energy.  I had an ok weekend, finishing 5th place in both the skate sprint and the 15km classic.  I capped off the weekend with a win in the team relay as part of the men’s Ontario squad.  Still, I left the weekend wondering ‘what if?’ after crashing in the sprint final.  I had been feeling better and better through the rounds and was starting to make a move to pass in the final when I tangled skis with another competitor and we both went down.

The following weekend I was in Vermont for two Super Tour races.  The level of competition with the Americans is high and I felt up to the challenge.  The race courses suited me and my skis were great for both days of competition.  I finished 9th place in the classic sprint and 5th place in the 10km skate.  It was my best weekend of racing all season and it made me hungry for a podium finish.

We had an amazing ski on the rolling fields of Greensboro.  Andy is all smiles here with that backdrop!

Vermont cabin living at it's finest!

Close to the podium in the Super Tour 10km Skate.  A great day for Lappe men with Andy 2nd, me 5th, and Evan 6th!

Eastern Canadian Championships were the next weekend and I knew it would be a real battle.  For the first time, Easterns would double as a NorAm and a Super Tour race, meaning all the top North American skiers would be racing.   The Nakkertok race courses don’t suit me well for classic, so my focus was really on Saturday’s 15km skate.  I felt capable of a podium performance and did everything I could to be ready.  On Saturday I showed up feeling physically good and mentally ready to dig deep and suffer.  What I didn’t plan for when I arrived to the race site that morning was a much colder temperature than forecasted and a couple fresh cms of cold powdery snow on the trails.  The race skis I had picked the day before were running well on the icy old snow, they weren’t meant for fresh cold powder.  In retrospect, I should have switched to a different pair of race skis on the spot.  Hindsight is 20-20.

I raced on the skis I selected the day before since they were already prepped and 2km into the race I already knew I had made a big mistake.  They were slow.  It was a grind to make them glide.  As the last starter in the men’s field I knew exactly how I was doing compared to the rest of the competitors.  5km into the race I already knew I was out of podium contention.  I lost my desire to push hard.  My heart was no longer in it.  This is the life of a competitive skier.  It’s a challenge to make your body, mind and skis all line up on one day.  And that’s why it feels so magical and amazing when everything comes together for that perfect race.

A good effort in the classic sprint qualifier for 11th place.

Trying desperately to make my skis glide faster in the 15km skate.

Running through Sunday's snowstorm in the 15km classic.

I’ve been back in Kelowna for a couple weeks now, recovering and preparing for my final races of the season.  These last races are my biggest focus for the year.  I’ve thought about them frequently throughout the training season.  First up is the American Birkenbeiner 50km Skate.  I competed in it once before, finishing 4th place in 2012 and narrowly missing the podium.  Since then I’ve wanted to return to take another shot at a podium finish.  As the largest loppet in North America, the atmosphere is amazing and the competition level is high.  I’m looking forward to an exciting race!

The following weekend I’ll be competing in my hometown loppet, the Sleeping Giant 50km Skate.  Last year I finished 4th, narrowly missing the podium (there’s a theme here…), in my first crack at the 50km.  Hopefully this year I can improve on that result.

To cap off my season and skiing career, my home club, Lappe Nordic, is hosting the National Championships!  I’m super excited to have the opportunity to finish my ski career on my home ski trails among family and friends.  The incredible grooming, top notch race organization, home course advantage, Finn pancakes... I'm stoked!!!  It seems only fitting to end my racing career in the same place it began.

Beauty training day at Kelowna Nordic prepping for the Birkie!