Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tour de Ski - Day one

I figure that a short post is better than none at all.... so here it is:  The Tour de Ski started today.  While I had a poor result - by far, my worst "distance race" since being in Europe, I have to happy in that I felt as if I could ski. Yesterday, in the training day, my wrist was incredibly painful and I have to admit; I was worried to say the least.  Today I had a top-notch tape job done by Steph, our massage therapist and a double dose of pain meds.  The duo seemed to do the trick!

Conditions today were icy, squirrely & fast - not my favorite.  But, it's snowing outside right now which makes me happy. Klister covered conditions are some of my favorite and I have an awesome pair of skis if the waxing goes that way.  I'll have plenty of girls to chase tomorrow in the pursuit start so it should be fun to "hunt some down" and try and improve my overall placing, not to mention, aim for a solid "day of" result.

Other than that, one of the big themes of the Tour is RECOVERY. With nine races in eleven days, proactive recovery becomes imperative.

Here is the plan: after the race, reach for my Boost - yep, the "old folks drink."  I may be the only person on the US team that likes the stuff. Me and maybe my grandma :) Change clothes afterwards... get a good, short cool down, ice my hand, change into dry clothes, hustle back to the hotel for a shower, put my feet up. I'm sure we'll start using the mobile ice bath as fatigue builds up. Also, Kikkan and Bird did a bit of personal fundraiser to bring Steph Caverhill, a massage therapist over for the team.  Most teams travel with a massage therapist everywhere. While we normally do not have one, we're excited to have Steph here to help us out over the next week and a half. As I said above, she did an awesome job of taping my hand. It's cool to have a female on staff.... I can tell with the little things like the fact that she used pre-rap on my tape job so I don't have to pull of 1/2 of my arm hair when de-taping. Thanks for that Steph!

Here's the only picture I have of today so far. Check back later and perhaps I'll have more posted?  Thanks for everyone's encouragement! Go team USA!

Re-fueling with the Swedes in the athlete tent after the race: Me, Liz, Anna Haag & Charlotte Kalla. (Kikkan was taking the pic)

Holly :) 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Eve of the big day...

Team USA at the "opening ceremonies/team introduction" for the Tour 

So.... I haven't said much on my blog yet about the Tour de Ski but here it is - starting TOMORROW!  As there is no World Champs or Olympics this year, the Tour is kind of the pinnacle of the race year.  Many of the top athletes have been aiming to perform well here all year.  I was a last minute addition to the US Tour roster after having performances during period one of the World Cup this fall.  

Skiing in Ramsau, Austria on one of the few clear days 

I am ecstatic to have the opportunity to race this event. As a distance skier and high volume trainer, I absolutely LOVE the thought of racing day in and day out, challenging myself physically, mentally, and emotionally.   I have no idea how I'll do or what will happen to by body as the days of fatigue add up but this is a great time to try it and I couldn't be more excited for the challenge.  

There are a ton of friends, family, and even people I don't know that have helped make it possible for me to be here.  As many of you know, I responsible for providing my own funding and I wouldn't have been able to do it without the generous support and enthusiasm of many of YOU. I hesitate to name anyone personally because there are so many of you and I don't want to leave anyone out but you know who you are.  The experience of needing support and needing it fast has really been really moving. I only hope that I can repay many of you back with the generosity someday be it in the form of a ski lesson, athletic inspiration, a smile, or perhaps one day, dollars to a cause important to you. I know that tomorrow, when I put a bib on, I will feel like I'm racing with the support of people from Washington and Alaska; Kongsberger Ski Club, Alaska Pacific University, and Snoqualmie Nordic Team. THANK YOU so much to ALL of you! 

This is simply the best and most wonderful thing I have seen at a breakfast buffet ever - fresh, local honeycomb. 

As far as challenges go, I feel the need to share something that's been on the fore front of my mind lately.... Christmas Day I decided to go for a short run before dinner.  It was dark out and icy in places.  Just as I was about to turn around and head back to the Kobaldhof, I slipped on the ice, falling back, and caught myself with my left hand.  I knew instantly that it was not good.... but I wasn't sure how bad. And I still don't know.  The plan for tomorrow, and each day afterwards is to ice, tape, take some anti-immflatatory medication and go for it.  The US team doesn't have a doctor here at the moment so this morning I went and saw the Norwegian Team's Doctor and "Physio."  (The Euro name for PT)  They were incredibly generous to see me and were encouraging in that they do not think my wrist has a scaphoid fracture - my greatest worry via a couple hours on email and web MD. (Always a bad idea and also guaranteed to give you nightmares). If Petra Madjic can win a bronze medal at the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games with broken ribs and a punctured lung, perhaps I can race the tour, and excel in the Tour with whatever injury my wrist may have sustained.  It's not ideal but I'm certainly not the first athlete who has gotten a bit beat up. 

Time for bed as often rest provides one with the best healing and rejuvenation powers!  Thank you everyone for everything and I'll do my best to keep you posted through this incredible journey! 
Holly :) 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Back in Business!

Last night (and for the past 48+ hours) I watched a movie because the Internet crashed in the entire Ramsau Valley.  I couldn't get much work done or respond to all my unanswered emails but it wasn't for lack of trying, that's for sure!  So...  I finally allowed myself to enjoy "Water for Elephants" a movie about the Circus and really, life on the road or better yet, a train. I had to laugh because afterwards, I realized that a friend of mine had referred to the World Cup as the "White Circus."  Ever since she brought the term up, It's been surfacing everywhere. (Funny how that always works, isn't it?)

The girls squad competing in Rogla, Slovenia

While we don't have acrobats, lions, tiger, and an elephant named Rosie (if you've seen the movie you know what I mean) we do travel like vagabonds and spend a lot of time on the road.  The athletes, the mondo Norwegian wax truck, the blow-up WC Craft arch, the entourage of massage therapists, sports psychologists, wax techs, and VW vans full of skis bounce from one end of Europe to the other, unpacking and repacking every weekend in a different locale. People are good at opening up the show and closing it down when it's time to leave and move on.  As for my road trip with the White Circus? Well, it looks as though my original 6-week stint in Europe has turned into much more - potentially even an entire World Cup season. 

Ida kickin some butt and scoring her first legit World Cup points!  

Throughout the past training season (April-November) I was worried about the 2011-2012 season.  Without an Olympic Games or World Championships to qualify for and race in, what in the world was I going to do?  I had a couple different brainstorms up my sleeve but the plan has morphed into Plan A+ or better than I had expected.  Where shall I race this season? Why, the World Cup of course!  Months ago my coach at APU, Erik Flora, told me: "Train hard, train well and good things will happen to you. Opportunities will present themselves."  He was right.  Here I am in Ramsau, Austria, spending Christmas and getting ready to compete in my first Tour de Ski!!!!!  But more on that later... REWIND!

In the Rogla press conference last week the women's sprint winner, Maiken Casperson Falla stated that she couldn't wait to go home because "they had been on the road since December 2nd" and it was "hard."  To that I say: "Try five months on the road!"

Liz and the Hoff chillin on the Pisten Bully, Rogla Stadium

North Americans definitely have the proximity disadvantage when it comes to being a Cross Country World Cup ski racer.  From Alaska it takes close to 36 hours of travel to get to Europe and another 8+ days to "acclimate" to the ten hour time difference and feel like my body was in a place where it could perform well.  Realistically, any trip "home for a break" would take me a week to adjust to home, then another week upon my return here.  Maybe that is an unrealistic amount of time if I'm chasing points and trying to improve my world rank???

Simi after a great sprint in Rogla - qualified 7th, finished 10th!!!! 

What I've realized, through intimate realization is that living on the road and the "lifestyle" of the White Circus is a true skill; one that takes a long time to perfect.  Our team moves and makes decisions as a group; there is no "I" in we.  With limited transportation options and resources, compromise and working together is the name of the game.

Rest and rejuvenation is an essential skill: how can one make a new hotel room every couple of days "homey?"  Some of you may be envious of not having to cook for yourself (ever) but it can be tiring to eat from endless buffets or sit through another 2-hour three course lunch when all you want is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich - on your own clock.  Speaking of peanut butter, it's only available in select countries and certain stores. Your eyes have to scan at least 356 kinds of preserves, 87 kinds of honey and 34 varieties of nutella to potentially find a lone jar of the good stuff. Then, once you find it, you'd better buy a bunch, save it, cherish it, and make sure it doesn't get lost in the bowels of the cargo van - you never know when the next opportunity to purchase it will be.  Being a traveler requires proactive planning you see!

Noah and I using the "contrast bath"...... one minute in the blow up cold tub, the other person in a warm shower, then switch. (x4!)

The Internet is a topic in and of itself.  I could write a book on my frustrations with this form of communication and my hours spent trying to get online embarrassingly outweigh my winter training log hours.  The Internet in many ways is my only true lifeline to family, friends, coaches, the US, Washington, and Alaska.  I don't have a phone that works in Europe - I can't place or receive calls.  So when the Internet doesn't work, which is about 1/2 of the time, I feel like my limbs have been cut off.  Lame, I know. It's not the end of the world to read a book instead but with Christmas just a couple days away, numerous plane tickets to buy for the next period, and countless emails to write, this is a problem. 

"Friends of Liz" are good people.... 

While technology frustrations are endless and I love peanut butter which is hard to find, the White Circus is well worth the buffet lines and occasional frustration.  As a relative World Cup novice I am experiencing "firsts" on a daily basis.  New countries I've checked off my list so far this trip include Austria, Slovenia & Switzerland.  Next are Italy, Czech, Poland, Russia (if my complicated VISA comes through!) & Estonia.  The travel from place to place is so swift that I find once I have finally learned the basics of one language: "Hello, Please, Thank You, Good bye" we're already moving onto another place altogether!

Good buddy and "North American teammate" Chandra Crawford, a minute before stepping on the Rogla sprint podium! 

Me in Rogla! 

Thinking ahead, knowing what to expect, but also having the ability to be flexible is SO important when you are living your life out of a duffel bag.  In terms of spontaneity, I try to find small, spontaneous & novel things that add to my travel experiences here.  My best example, by far, is the local, organic milk vending machine that we found while out on a run in Slovenia.  One can buy reusable plastic or glass milk bottles from a vending machine and fill them up from a "milk spicket."  The milk shack is stand-alone and when you step up to purchase milk, or even to examine what in the heck is going on, the lights turn on and soothing music starts to play.  I decided fresh milk was a must - and I had to get one of the glass milk jars in honor all of my friends (and family!) that have any association with Williams College.  (For those that don't know, the Williams Ski team competes in purple spandex cow suits.)  Check out pictures from this small adventure here: 

That's it for now!  HAPPY HOLIDAYS!  
Holly :) 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Darling Davos and Beyond….

We’re currently speeding away, the opposite direction of Davos, headed to Rogla, Slovenia for the upcoming weekend’s World Cup races.  So far we’ve spent what seems like ½ of Austria in a series of tunnels, the last of which was 15 kilometers long.  I’ve always heard about the amazing transportation feats accomplished over here and yes, I must admit, I am impressed.  The other day I heard a rumor about a Russian business man who wants to build a tunnel from Russia to Alaska and you know what, I wouldn’t put it past them (in a non Sarah Palin way of course!) 

 With Sadie!

Casey's been my tax tech for World Cup period 1 and he's been doing an awesome job - thanks Casey for all the hard work and fast boards! 

But back to Davos. I had an awesome weekend of races, one that by far surpassed my personal expectations.  In Saturday’s distance race I began getting splits that I was leading the race – and I thought they were wrong. On Sunday, when I qualified 18th for the sprint heats, I expected to get “bumped out” by later starters.  While I was far from winnig the race on Saturday I experienced a World Cup best and on Sunday, I qualified and participated in my first European World Cup sprint heat!

Coaches from four different countries ready to go at the "broken pole coaches zone" 

I won’t belabor all the boring details of each race but there are a few things worth noting. First, I love skiing on real snow, and I love racing at altitude!  Altitude can be incredibly deceiving because it actually has a horrible “race feel.”  For those that can drive manual transmission cars, I liken it to driving on the highway in third gear when you should undoubtably be in fifth.  You feel like you should be going faster, you know you can, but the car is stuck – and won’t shift.  Perhaps you could force it but then you run the chance of ending up as that car on the side of the highway mountain pass smoking in the ditch as all the other cars speed by thinking, “Geez! Look at that sorry soul!”  After crossing the finish line in second place the stadium announcer interviewed me and asked for my impression of the course. I think I said something like, “I loved it – you have to go as fast as you possibly can without going too fast!”  At the completion of the race I finished a World Cup best of 13th place, only 5 seconds down to 10th.  It’s my nature to always want more (that tenth place!) but I forced myself to be patient, and to be satisfied with the result that I turned in.

Podium poles, ready to go! 

After each World Cup race we receive a “competition analysis.”  This analysis is complete with each intermediate split and ranks each section of the course and how you skied it compared to the rest of the field.  I had some sections that were as good as 6th or 7th place overall and my last two, I really tanked it at 35th place!  While I couldn’t hold my pace the entire time, I took a risk and skied the race at a pace that I would ideally like to hold. My coach Erik, and I have talked about this as I have tanked races before, going out too hard and they dying in the end.  He’s always been encouraging and said to me, “Someday Holly, you will go out fast and be able to hold onto the pace – and THAT, will be a good race!” 

Picture from Men's race... 

Coming off the high of my World Cup best on Saturday, Sunday I was determined to qualify for the heats.  The sprint course was unique in that the Davos course is a two-lap race. Its one of the only courses where the men and women compete on the same distance.  Going into it, I knew that the course fit my strengths and I was hoping for a good day. And a good day it was! Even after a few fumbles I crossed the line in 18th!  On top of that, Kikkan, my teammate at APU won the sprint qualifier, a feat that she’s never accomplished despite her list of World Cup victories! 

Fun to finally meet Skyler Davis!

Once heats were sorted out I found out that I would be racing the quarterfinal with none other than Olympic and World Champion, Norway’s Marit Bjorgen.  Also in my heat were my Canadian friends, Chandra Crawford and Perianne Jones.  Both Chandra and Peri joined us up in Alaska this past summer for the first annual “NAWTA Camp” or the “North American Women’s Training Alliance Camp.” The camp included one week of skiing on APU’s Eagle Glacier where we got the chance to work together and race around the top of the glacier head-to-head! 

Training on APU's Eagle Glacier earlier this summer - USA & Canada!

Before starting we had a quick North-American “power-pound” and lined up for the gun. I reminded myself, this is just like the glacier! J Skate sprint starts now consist of a short double pole before you are allowed to skate.  The tracks are short, allowing for little to no time to spread the field. Consequently, Bjorgen and I started next to each other and upon exiting the track, almost took each other out.  Unfortunately I missed some key steps and was forced into a position near the back of the group.  Unfortunately I wasn’t quite fast enough to move onto the next heat but the race was SO MUCH FUN. I couldn’t be disappointed. At the end I didn’t even feel tired. Instead, it was some kind of weird euphoria that left me wishing and wanting to try it again!  But, the day was over for me and my consolation prize was a prime spot on the course to take photos and watch Kikkan absolutely destroy the rest of the women’s field!


Kikkan in the final, lap one

A happy coach 

In all of this I keep returning to the same theme: Confidence and Interface or aka, “Opportunity.”  It’s priceless to know that we CAN compete with these girls and each weekend of head-to-head racing I learn something new and get better. Now that’s not to say my results will continue to improve each and every weekend. (A bad day on the World Cup can easily result in a 70th place finish.)  If that were the case, I’d be winning World Cup races come February. I am optimistic by nature and don’t believe in putting limitations on dreams but I don’t think that will be happening – not quite yet at least! 
That’s it for now – time to get settled into Rogla.  

Have a great week, take care of yourself, and find a reason to be thankful for all life’s blessings! (There are so many!)

Holly :)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Stone in the Road + Images of Davos

The internet is finally working this morning - I'll post this quickly as it's t-1hr before leaving for the race this morning! Check out the pics of Davos.... it's literally transformed since we've been here.  Below all the pictures is a short story that my mom sent me last week. It has nothing to do with skiing but harbors a great message - read it if you have time. As always, thanks for all the words of encouragement! 
Holly ;) 

This is one of the tiny man-made loops that we skied on for the first couple of days here. 

Another man made loop we traveled too..... Pontresina, Switzerland. Fun to think that Rob, my husband competed in World Juniors here in 1998! 

Pontresina again... 

Huge groups of Nordic walkers all around Davos. 

Snow guns were pumping at full tilt for days on end to provide an excellent base! 

Finally - it SNOWED! 

This is Jesper Modin - a 6'6" Swedish Sprinter rocking a tiny unicylce with a flat tire in the closet-sized gym in downtown Davos! 

Outside our hotel

The Swiss gas stations have a well-stocked, gormet selection of Swiss chocolate - always!

The first natural snow we skied on since arriving in Europe almost a month ago.... a couple of us got in the habit of getting up really early to get first tracks :)

APU girls, Davos, Stadium

I love the Swiss wood work.... 

A cup of love at the famous "Clatch" coffee house

Took a tram up the side of the mountain one day for a gorgeous view

Tad reading a poem on his love for the state of Alaska!

A couple nights ago we had the second annual secret santa gift exchange. Everyone gets a gift and writes a poem about someone on the team. As you can imagine, it was hilarious! 

More later - off to the 15k this morning!  Have a great weekend everyone and congrats to the Alaska high school skiers who had their first day of Lynx Loppet!  

Holly ;) 

The stone in the road
There is a story told of a king who lived long ago in a country across the sea. He was a
very wise king, and spared no effort to teach his people good habits. Often he did things
which seemed to them strange and useless; but all that he did, he did to teach his people to
be industrious and careful.
“Nothing good can come to a nation,” he said, “whose people complain and expect
others to fix their problems for them. The good things of life are given to those who take
matters into their own hands.”
One night, while everyone else slept, he placed a large stone in the road that led past
his palace. Then he hid behind a hedge, and waited to see what would happen.
First came a farmer with his wagon heavily loaded with grain, which he was taking to
the mill to be ground.
“Well, whoever saw such carelessness?” he said crossly, as he turned his team and
drove around the stone. “Why don’t these lazy people have that rock taken from the road?”
And so he went on complaining of the uselessness of others, but not touching the stone
himself.Soon afterward, a young soldier came singing along the road. The long plume of his
cap waved in the breeze, and a bright sword hung at his side. He was thinking of the
wonderful bravery he would show in the war.
The soldier did not see the stone, but struck his foot against it and went sprawling in
the dust. He rose to his feet, shook the dust from his clothes, picked up his sword, and
stormed angrily about the lazy people who had no more sense than to leave such a huge
rock in the road. Then he, too, walked away, not once thinking that he might move it
So the day passed. Everyone who came by complained and whined because the stone
lay in the road, but no one touched it.
At last, just at nightfall, the miller’s daughter came past. She was a hard-working girl,
and was very tired, because she had been busy since early morning at the mill.
But she said to herself, “It is almost dark. Somebody may fall over this stone in the
night, and perhaps he could be badly hurt. I will move it out of the way.”
So she tugged at the heavy stone. It was hard to move, but she pulled and pulled, and
pushed, and lifted until at last she moved it from its place. To her surprise, she found a box
She lifted the box. It was heavy, for it was filled with something. Upon it was written:
“This box belongs to the one who moves the stone.”
She opened the lid, and found it was full of gold!
The miller’s daughter went home with a happy heart. When the farmer and the
soldier and all the others heard what had happened, they gathered around the spot in the
road where the stone had been. They scratched at the dust with their feet, hoping to turn up
a piece of gold.
“My friends,” said the king, “we often find obstacles and burdens in our way. We may
complain out loud while we walk around them if we choose, or we can lift them and find
out what they mean. Disappointment is usually the price of laziness.”
Then the wise king mounted his horse and, with a polite “Good evening,” rode away.
W. J. B.