Wednesday, December 25, 2013

An "Orphan Christmas" + Photos!

This was my 3rd Christmas spent in Europe and this year I was lucky enough to have Rob join me - special thanks to my Aunt Karen who helped out with miles to avoid the crazy expensive last minute ticket! (#lifesaver!)  

I titled the post "Orphan Christmas"because many of us spend the holidays without our families. We do the best we can with skype, navigating bad Internet connections and wild time differences. There are certainly novel things about spending the holidays in Europe but it doesn't make missing my family any easier. The nice thing about this year is that Rob and I had an apartment so we could cook what we wanted (Mexican!) and eat breakfast in our PJs.  Sometimes its the small, silly things that make you feel good - like doing dishes? Funny the things you miss when your life revolves around a hotel and their schedule. 

Davos isn't a bad place to spend the Holidays.... even if it's a low snow year and it rains on Christmas! 

My best Christmas Present 

Drink with Rob at the Klatsch - a Davos must if you ever come... 

 Classic L4 intervals 

 Celine (Norway), me, Jessie & Sadie 

 Watching two different winter sports LIVE in Europe! 

 Dasha with her bro Lenny and his girlfriend Sabrina showing off their Asiago cheese upon their return from the World Cup races in Asiago, Italy. 

 One of my highlights was making a God Jul (Merry Christmas in Norwegian) commercial with many of the other World Cup skiers from different countries. We filmed it up at the top of Sertig, a dead end valley in Davos. I'm in the black coat sandwiched between Therese Johaug & Marit Bjorgen!  In this photo we're actually huddled around the producer's computer watching a "draft" of the commercial! 

 95 Swiss Francs for this piece of meat at the grocery store!  While Davos is nice my bank account is glad we're leaving. Even groceries and cooking at home will break the bank! 

 Out best attempt at a Holiday Card! 

 The Grubers! (Friends & Swiss Skiers)  Bettina trained with us in AK this past summer. 

 When given access to a kitchen Jessie is a baking fiend! Here she is with a Christmas Cookie spread for gift exchange #2 in Davos. This time we invited other "Orphans" who were spending Christmas in Davos away from home. This included Canadians Deven Kershaw & Alex Harvey plus 3 Norwegians who were spending their first-ever Christmas away from home. Here is Finn Hagen Krogh with his white elephant gift - a USA shirt! 

Group Pic with our gifts: 

 Looking for a fun Christmas Breakfast? Try making Bircher Museli, a Swiss tradition! 

It's easy..... Mix together raw oats (whole oat flakes, cornflakes, barley flakes - really any cereal products) Milk, yogurt, banana, raisins. Use a large scale grater for apple (this is a traditional must) then add spices, nuts and/or sugar to taste. Mix all ingredients together the night before and let the museli sit in the fridge. Eat cold and enjoy! Merry Christmas from Davos, Switzerland!

 We were also lucky enough to be invited to Jurg Capol's house for Christmas Eve dinner. Jurg is an ex-Swiss skier and currently the head of FIS Marketing for all Nordic Sports. It was REALLY nice to have a home-cooked meal in a house. Thanks to the Capols for inviting us! 

 Kikkan, Noah, Jessie, Jeff & Ida at dinner 

They cooked Turkey (because they read online that's what Americans eat for Xmas dinner) as well as an assortment of local dishes.  For dessert they surprised us with a slew of Ben & Jerrys ice cream!  

 Not much snow here! Thank goodness for artificial snow because without it I'm not sure we would have been skiing the past two weeks! 

 Strength in the ever-so-small Davos weight room (Hoff pic) ..... me & Liz getting our balance on! 

Davos Xmas market (another Hoff picture) 

What's next? The team departs shortly after noon for Oberhof, Germany and the first two stage of the Tour de Ski - at least we think.  The races were borderline as there is NO snow in Oberhof and it's too warm to make it.  But, apparently they are going to make some modification to the course and hold the races. The OC (organizing committee) has collected snow from all over Germany and they're storing it in the indoor ski tunnel?  Stay tuned as I'm sure this will be entertaining.  I'm just glad they didn't cancel the races because my change of plans (staying in Europe for the holidays) was for the purpose of racing the first half of the Tour. Wish us luck! 

Thanks for reading & Happy (early) New Years! 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A 220 lb. Christmas Present.....

This is Rob:
He has severe jet lag. You may be wondering why? When I sat down this spring & summer I thought it would be great to spend Christmas in the US. I'd get a training break, an altitude block (in PC) and eat Mexican food at Cafe Rio everyday. I had it all planned out. Until everything changed of course. Such is the life of a skier. 

Racing the 15k this past Saturday in Davos (pic Bryan Fish/Andrew Morehouse) 

One of the disadvantages of living so far away from the World Cup is that we're made to forecast our plans way in advance. We buy plane tickets without knowing what kind of race shape we'll be in. We try to guess how the season will unfold and plan accordingly.  Had the first couple weekends of the World Cup gone spectacularly I would have been happy as a clam to climb onto a plane and jump time zones.  But, at this point I feel that my body needs more time to come around and more opportunities to race. Had I gone "home" to Utah that would leave with me with just three race weekends before the Olympics and only a few guaranteed starts.  When it came time to make a decision I decided that I work too hard in the off season to not give myself the best opportunity possible to bring home some good results. Hence, the last minute scramble of my ticket change, Rob's ticket change, last minute accommodations over Christmas in Switzerland, etc, etc. 

It wouldn't be Switzerland without the long Alps Horns

The Tour de Ski has always been a fickle event for me. Two years ago I simply didn't get on the plane home from Slovenia back to Alaska.... I changed my plans last minute because I was racing well and the USST (which I was not yet a member of) invited me to start the Tour.  All of this only for me to fall on the ice Christmas Eve & break my wrist. While I didn't know it was officially broken until halfway through the Tour I finished all 9 stages/11 days much to my demise.

Last year I completed the Tour for a second time, bones fully intact. But rather than give me a boost in fitness which is what we hoped for I felt as if it tanked me for the entire middle part of the season, World Champs included. 

So, I'm crossing my fingers that the Third time will be a charm!  I'm hoping that my slower start will lead to a strong mid-season. I've also cut out all travel (No trips to Canada or the US). I'm taking this upcoming race weekend in Asiago, Italy off to use it for rest & a training block. My initial plan is to complete only the first FOUR stages of the Tour which covers two stops first in Oberhof, Germany followed by Lenzerheide, Switzerland. 

What about the races this past weekend? Well, the distance race was so so. I was 25th which isn't too shabby but considering it's one of my favorite races I was hoping for more. But, it's a move in the right direction.  On Sunday I was bummed to miss the heats by .4 seconds - I finished in 33rd place just over 4 seconds behind Denise Hermann, the winner of qualification.  I'm not entirely sure but I think that this might go down in the books as one of the tightest women's sprint qualifications ever!  Two years ago when we raced the same course in similar conditions the spread was 9 seconds! (Come up with your favorite theory for this one....) 

There's plenty more to say and tons more pictures to post but in the meantime I'll leave you with just a few as it's time to go to bed! 

 Not a huge fan of some of the facilities here.... this "outhouse" featured two literal "troughs" for going to the bathroom. I think it could accommodate 6 people at one time. 

 When in Switzerland eat a pate mountain!

 Rob riding the rail car to the top of Parseen for a view 

 Chandra & Dasha for a quick afternoon excursion

 Watching the sprint heats with Dash

 Last but not least a special thanks to Erik Flora for making the trip over to Davos to see us. It's really really nice to have your personal coach around. Getting to ski & having him be able to watch actual energy levels rather than just talking on skype was awesome.

More soon! 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Patience, Opportunities & my favorite place in Europe

The Gnomes of Lillehammer 

So far this season has not been what I expected whatsoever. It's been a slow start for me and poor results, or lack of results can do weird things to the mindset of a professional ski racer.  In the past I have always started the season strong, admittedly (sometimes) too strong. While my goal has always been to race the fastest come February during the Olympics, I'd certainly like to be turning in some confidence boosting results early on.  Person after person keeps telling me to be patient, and that maybe my slow start is a good thing. An anonymous athlete told me that their motto was a crescendo..... (Italian translation is "gradually becoming louder) to start slow and then build more and more momentum as the season progresses. 

Patience was never my strong suit and as an athlete it's tough to wait after you've worked so hard. It's easy to allow doubt to creep into your mind: did I do too much this summer, have I under-rested, should I have done more intervals in October, maybe less? 

I have learned that if you don't make a conscious decision to tame your mind that it will and can get out of control.  Instead, I am doing everything in my power to keep faith, know that I have done the hard work, and wait for it to come, hence exhibit patience.  In the meantime, I'm taking charge of things I can control - my rest, my nutrition, my ski selection and what I choose to do with my time when I'm not skiing.  

Lucky for me this week we are in Davos, my favorite stop on the World Cup.  The race venue has historically treated me well. In the skate distance races I've been 13th and 20th and I've qualified in both skate and classic sprints.  The sun is out, the sky is blue, the snow is cold and the USST is at our "home away from home," the Kulm where the team has been staying for going on 20 years.  Each year when we walk in the front door we are welcomed by Heinz, the enthusiastic host who remembers each of us by name and greets us with a big hug. 

So, despite a slower than usual start I feel like I'm still in the game and something good is yet to come. Thanks to those of you who've sent notes of encouragement when things are less than perfect. You know who you are and I am really thankful to have you in my life! 

I hope that things are great with you and yours and thanks for reading. 

Here are a couple of other pictures from the last week for good measure: 

 KR 20 Klister tubes being filled by a machine at the Swix headquarters in Lillehammer. It was really fun to get a tour of the facility and cool that wax is still made IN Norway! 

 USST Swix Female athletes with Morton, one of the Swix World Cup technicians

 Norway is all about their fish. The buffet in Lillehammer was a bit out of control with almost 20 different kinds of fish and ways to eat fish at lunch & dinner. (Many at breakfast too!) 

 Sunday post-race strength sesh at Haakon's Hall in Lillehammer. 

 One of my favorite things - skyping with my boys! 

This final shot is from tonight... this is 2/3 of the weight room in Davos. If you can't tell by the picture it is TINY. It is not very fancy either.  This afternoon we had athletes from SIX different nations crammed into one tiny spot to train.  The coolest part about it was that everyone was getting it done - helping each other out, being patient and waiting their turn. No one got hit in the head or smashed with a medicine ball. It was certainly organized chaos but the camaraderie, not to mention motivation was palpable. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

When in Lillehammer....

Sorry about the lack of post yesterday - the Internet crashed ENTIRELY at our hotel and anyone without 3G access has no way of communicating with the outside world!  I'm currently staked out at the Lillehammer race venue using the Internet briefly before lunch. It's a full on snow storm outside and so far, it's showing no sign of stopping!

This weekend we have a classic 10k individual start race and a team relay. I personally had a pour opening World Cup weekend in Kuusamo which as a huge disappointment but I'm really happy to say that the US will be starting not one but TWO female relay teams on Sunday here in Norway. (Yes, Norway may have four but we'll have TWO!)  I'm looking forward to another chance to put my hard work to the test and the new tracks in the Lillehammer Stadium ('94 Olympic site!) will be a challenge! 

While I'm not ecstatic about my results thus far I do have to say that this comment on my facebook page lightened my day.  Don Haering was one of my athletes when I coached at West High School and today he is an APU employee. Don't worked on Eagle Glacier, as a coach, and as a wax technician for APU. (After he graduated from the University and the team)  I'm really proud to say that lots of the athletes I coached are still in the sport and one of them is my current teammate at APU! (Funny how things change?)  Nonetheless, thanks DON for the note and I really appreciate your appreciation! 

Here are a couple of photos from the past few days: 
 Leaving Finland.... 

 Each meal in Norway features approximately 20 different ways and types to eat fish - smoked, cooked, baked, caviar, locks, etc, etc. It's wild. 

Yesterday we took advantage of being in Lillehammer and went for a tour of the SWIX factory. I've been a Swix athlete for quite some time now and it's really, really fun to see how wax is made. 

 This machine filled the tubes with klister (KR20?) and then clamped the tubes shut, put them in boxes, etc, etc.... it was really fun to see! 

Here is a panorama of the factory.  Swix will be moving into a new building in approximately two years because they've outgrown their current one. I'm glad to hear that business is good and they are very proud that they've managed to keep a big part of their production here in Norway (one of the most expensive countries in the world) as opposed to taking it all overseas. 

Time for lunch but I hope that the Internet gets back to business so I can write more! Best to all of you - have a great weekend and I'll try to do the same! 

Holly :) 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Mentally Strong People... Professional Athletes Included.

I wanted to talk about this article in my "Wednesday" post but I think it's deserving of it's own, stand alone post because it is so DANG important - no matter what you do.

My mom actually sent me & my siblings the link to the article. So often I skim this stuff over quickly, not giving it a second thought but this one in particular resonated with me. It hit home as an elite athlete about to start the race season - about to get measured... waiting to slide into my one-piece spandex suit, pull a number over my head & pour my heart out on the trail getting a time, and hence a ranking. This ranking will show how I stack up against the rest of the female elite cross country ski racers in the World. It will also show how I "rank" on my own team, the US Women's Cross Country Ski Team.  This is extremely relevant because we are a result driven sport.  Results are how you make teams, get sponsors & earn funding. In all reality, results determine (some) of your future.

Seeing that this is an Olympic year there is theoretically more on the line than most years.... think goals of making the team, being granted one of the four coveted race starts per race, being chosen for relay teams that stand the chance of making history......

I know that many of my goals this year are result-oriented, quantitative, and high reaching. That is what makes the 13 points in this article so important. General themes that I deciphered from my read of it are resilience, the ability to look towards opportunity rather than resent past actions - the ability to think independently and constructively - and to not beat yourself up.  I expanded on the 4 points (of 13 total) that I thought were particularly relevant to my life as a ski racer but I urge you to read the full article and apply the advice to your life as a teacher, a husband, a manager, a friend.

USST Women's Team hands coming together for a moment last season 

Just a reminder, these are thing successful people DON'T do... 

1.    Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves. You don’t see mentally strong people feeling sorry for their circumstances or dwelling on the way they’ve been mistreated. They have learned to take responsibility for their actions and outcomes, and they have an inherent understanding of the fact that frequently life is not fair. They are able to emerge from trying circumstances with self-awareness and gratitude for the lessons learned. When a situation turns out badly, they respond with phrases such as “Oh, well.” Or perhaps simply, “Next!”

There is nothing helpful or constructive about being upset about a bad race. On our team we have a rule that you get 5-10 minutes to be disappointed and then you must blow it off and move on. Negative energy does nothing to improve performance in the future and honestly, it sucks to be around. Energy is contagious and it stinks being around people who are upset and negative.  Part of being on a team is the ability to enjoy other people's successes in addition to your own. Maybe you didn't have the day you wanted but chances are a teammate had a killer race. Go give & get some of that energy - it's much more productive that mopping in our room. 

9. Resent Other People’s Success. It takes strength of character to feel genuine joy and excitement for other people’s success. Mentally strong people have this ability. They don’t become jealous or resentful when others succeed (although they may take close notes on what the individual did well). They are willing to work hard for their own chances at success, without relying on shortcuts.

This next point is particularly relevant to elite sports. Cross Country skiing is primarily an individual sport and I think part of our team's improvement is the fact that we've thought about how to approach it as if it was a team sport. We do pre-race workouts together, share tips. We are each other's family, friends and teammates on the road. That said, we are competitors too.  For example, there are seven girls on the National team and only two in a sprint relay - only 4 in the 4x5k relay. That means that during these races there are anywhere from 3-5 people sitting out, cheering on the sidelines. while cheering is fun, skiing with a bib on is more fun. The process of being chosen to represent the US for these teams involves beating your teammates and this can be hard. Because we're on the road for months on end we see our teammates at every meal and as European Hotel rooms go, we probably sleep two feet away from them at night.  If you resent them or are overcome with jealousy it is bound to eat you alive; it IS unsustainable.  It's better to train yourself to share their "glory" and think of their success a "Feather in the Cap" for the team as my Grandmother would say. 

10. Give Up After Failure. Every failure is a chance to improve. Even the greatest entrepreneurs are willing to admit that their early efforts invariably brought many failures. Mentally strong people are willing to fail again and again, if necessary, as long as the learning experience from every “failure” can bring them closer to their ultimate goals.

Anyone who has been at this will tell you that success doesn't come overnight. While Kikkan often makes winning look easy now it took her ten years to get there and lots of last-page results to end up on the podium. The other night Liz was issued her first FIS Athlete Training bib and I watched as Randy Gibbs reminisced about Liz's first World Cup in Davos years ago.... he said, "After those races did you ever think you'd get that?" (Referring to the bib) As an athlete you must find a way to turn "failure" into motivation. Besides experiencing hardship makes success that much sweeter when it does come. 

13. Expect Immediate Results. Whether it’s a workout plan, a nutritional regimen, or starting a business, mentally strong people are “in it for the long haul”. They know better than to expect immediate results. They apply their energy and time in measured doses and they celebrate each milestone and increment of success on the way. They have “staying power.” And they understand that genuine changes take time. Do you have mental strength? Are there elements on this list you need more of? 

Not everything will always go your way and turning in results takes time. It's funny because I do think that some people think that I made Vancouver out of the blue. It's true that I was working as a full time coach and hadn't actively been competing with my eyes set on Vancouver. Yet, I had worked as a full time ski coach for APU for six years. I often spent four hours on snow everyday. After coaching my sessions I would meet with my friends for intervals at night and ski on the weekends with my husband. Without knowing it I was training for the Olympics. 

Today, on the National team we are asked to reflect and evaluate each performance. Even if we turned in a disastrous performance was there a shimmer of positive? Did you do something well - even if it was simply ski selection or the timing of your breakfast? Results take time whether it's on the World Cup Ski Tracks or getting an A in Chemistry Lab.... 

The start list for the season's first World Cup is coming out any minute now and by the time you (!) are reading this article there is a good chance that I've already raced.  I sincerely hope that I am able to follow my own advice as it's one thing to write it but it's another to practice it. Thanks for reading and thanks for your support! 

Oh - and Happy Thanksgiving to everyone at home back in the US! 
Holly :) 

Read the Full Forbes article here: 

Last but not least a song for you all! 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ruka RUka RUKA! The Triple Opener!

This Friday/Saturday/Sunday is the Ruka Triple Mini Tour and the kick off to the 2013-2014 Olympic World Cup season.  Kuusamo is traditionally the second World Cup of the season but FIS opted to make one, unified "Nordic Opener" including Cross Country, Nordic Combined & Ski Jumping all in one location. It's still early in the week but with each day, athletes from all the countries are going to start flowing in at a quick rate. (I'm just crossing my fingers that it doesn't bring an Internet crash along with the influx of athletes!

Team Carlile

We raced last weekend in Beito so athletes, myself included have some idea "where their shape is."  (Euro/English as a second language terminology....)  I wasn't ecstatic about my results but I also couldn't be too disappointed either.  Ben Husaby had a great comment when he said, "Holly, that's exactly where you want to be - I know from experience.  You don't necessarily want to have great races and you don't want to tank it either - you want race into fitness, have somewhere to go."  That's exactly how I felt about it.. Sunday, in particular I had a goal of getting top ten & if I was skiing really well, top 6. (Cheese Slicer Material) But, I felt as if I had a governor and I just couldn't press.  If you want to watch some of the race you can do so below.  It shows Therese Johaug, the eventual race winner passing me with a crazy high tempo.

 When in Norway... 

 Super fun seeing Frode in Beito, still rocking his APU hat... was it because he knew he was going to see us or does he wear it all the time? 

It's fun to think about switching gears & changing seasons.  Training/Preparation season is now over and it's time to race.  I love racing - but the one thing I HATE about this time of year is the fact that we can't ski or train much if we hope to have any speed when we put a bib on.  This time of year my hour go from an average of 18-24/week to 9-15 depending on racing load.  Unless you're super human or doing something illegal it's hard to hold volume while racing fast.

 Photo credit Jeff Ellis 

Right now I'm in Kuusamo and the conditions are the best they've been in the 3 years that I've been here.  They have a great network on trails that I want to explore but I can't. I need to do short, specific workouts in preparation for this weekend's classic sprint, classic 5k and skate 10k pursuit start.

On the way to Finland I somehow got upgraded to Business Class, seat 1A. For someone who seems to always be sitting in the nose bleed section this came as a surprise. Perhaps the desk lady saw that my middle name is "Syrjala" which hints at my 1/4 Finnish heritage. Anyhow, I tend to really really enjoy Finland. Yes, it is dark and yes, it is typically cold which is why perhaps I feel right at home. But, the living here in Kuusamo is great. We have little apartments where I could literally spit on the race trail (not like I would ever do such a thing) we have a fireplace which makes it feel homey and everything is within walking distance.  I find that here in Kuusamo I can be as independent as the World Cup ever allows me to be.  Additionally the people are friendly & modest.  The food is edible & I have a tradition of turning in some decent results here in the past. 
 The economy of Rovaniemi is directly tied to it being the "home of Santa Claus" although I'd hedge a bet that people in North Pole might fight for that honor :) 

 Our arrival in Finland

Changing gears, if you haven't read the article in the New York Times Magazine about the ski jumping girls I HIGHLY recommend it. It sheds some light on what they've been through and what they're up against before the Women's Ski Jumping debut in Sochi. Beware, it's long but well worth your time:

Noah's blog which he updates EVERYDAY is great to see exactly what we're up too. He has tons of pictures from Today, in Kuusamo.

Thanks to Christa for this great pic! It's the current background on my computer screen right now :) 
Picture credit Christa Case Bryant!

Is your team making a poster yet? If not, get to work!!!!! :) 

Thanks for following! T-2 days until we race World Cup Style!