Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pictures from Polcenigo....

(It should be noted that it's taken me a FULL WEEK to publish this blog because of the non-existent and/or slow internet.......Such is life in Europe, on the road!) 

Here are some pictures from the past week.... you may notice that there is no skiing in any of them. That's because I took the post-tour recovery week away from skiing and "went to the country!"  Dear friends from Anchorage live in a small town called Polcenigo, about 2.5 hours by car from Predazzo. I rehabbed there last year after the Tour and it was fun to return this year for my "recharge."  Going back almost felt like returning home or at least as close as I'll get to a "home" for some time. I knew where they kept stuff in their cupboards, I recognized my running routes, and even re-connected with some of their friends I had met previously.  As an added bonus this year I had my passport (last year it was shipped to the consulate in order to get my Russian Visa) so I could get onto the Aviano Air Force base where Kathy works at the elementary school.  This meant I got to do an International school visit (!) as well as use the gym and shop at the commissary. I stoked up on ground American coffee and my favorite, SALSA! It was wonderful and therapeutic to have my own bedroom, wake up when I wanted to wake up, eat when I wanted to eat, wash dishes & feed their cat.  Its funny in that the things you miss while over here competing are all the things that you either take for granted or despise at home. Think, dishes! 

Kathy & Bill

Years ago when I was the coach at West High School I actually coached Kathy & Bill's kids, Will & Mary.  Kathy was also in my Anchorage-based women's only ski group. It's been super fun to see how this friendship has come full circle. Little did we know seven years ago that we would be hanging out in Italy together! Thanks SO SO much for the hospitality you two! 

When in Italy, make Pico de Gallo!

Train station near their house

Taco Salad!

While in Polcenigo I got to do some cross training including a great bike ride with Bill. We biked to the nearby market in Porcia to pick up some fresh veggies, figs, olives & tomatoes. On the way home was a mandatory espresso break.  One interesting fact I learned is that if you take your coffee standing up (at the espresso bar) it's cheaper than sitting down. Italians love to pound an espresso or capp on the go!

This is the lunch I made for us when we got home. It was outstanding.

One of the many nativity scenes in Polcenigo.... It's called "Prescipe" (sp?) and it's an Italian tradition. Think Gingerbread houses + Christmas lights on steroids. Everyone makes really ornate scenes near their houses and in Polcenigo they are so good that it's a walking tour... people come from all over to see this.... 

One afternoon Bill and Kathy returned home, independent of one another.  They both came carrying the same thing - a bottle of red wine and girl scout cookies purchased on base! Girl Scout cookies always  bring back memories for me as I sold thousands of them when I was young. (I earned my way to horse camp for free by schlepping thin mints....) 

I absolutely loved hanging out with the cat seeing that I miss my own, Buggz!  This is Killer and here he is, displaying a very happy head shake! 

Bill at the local market, across the street 

A favorite, local coffee shop.  Fun fact - did you know that you will pay less for your espresso if you drink it standing up at the bar as opposed to sitting down to drink your coffee? Check out the helmet on top of the Vespa! 

Here is your typical Italian toilet... Needless to say, I am NOT a fan of this. What boggles my mind is how do 80-90 year old Italians squat down over this thing to go to the bathroom? This kind of set up definitely necessitates some flexibility and strength.

Kathy spent time working as a cook at a remote lodge in AK... she is a great cook! 

These lemons are at the market but it should be mentioned that Kathy & Bill have a lemon tree in their garage! 

During my visit to Polcenigo I was able to make a school visit to Aviano Elementary.  Aviano is a NATO base meaning there are Italians and Americans working on the same base. There are upwards of 9,000 Americans living and working here.... "Ally" (#35/left) recently moved to Italy from Alaska! Her parents worked on Elmendorf!  These girls conducted an interview with me and filmed it to show on the school news show. We also got to film an endorsement for their "Kid Fit Seminar" coming up at the end of January!  One of the downsides of being on the road all winter is that I don't get to have enough interface like this. It was really fun to do an International school visit. Thanks for having me Aviano Elementary! 

A couple years ago at Oslo World Champs I distinctly remember having a conversation with a retired athlete.  This athlete was on "vacation" with their family and was a spectator in Oslo.  This athlete raced for over 5 years in Europe, on the World Cup. They told me how much fun they were having and that they saw more of Europe on a one week vacation than they had during the FIVE YEARS of competing.  I made a mental note of this and vowed to myself that I would make a concerted effort to actually "see" some of Europe during my travels for racing.  Now, this is pretty hard because while on the road we're fairly focused. When we aren't traveling, training or racing we're resting and recovering. Also, the small things - laundry, Internet, getting something printed, sending a postcard - all this stuff takes about 5x the energy that it does in the states... Things aren't open, the Internet doesn't work... you don't know where to find something and when you do, you have to get there yourself. 

Anyways, Venice is an hour train ride from Polcenigo. I went for an evening last year with Kathy and Bill and this year Kathy and I decided to return for the afternoon. "When in Rome, right?"  It certainly takes effort to get to a place like this and I can't do it often but it's energizing for me to see something else and to do things that are completely non-ski related. Here are a new pictures from our afternoon in Venice. Thanks to Kathy for joining me! 

Venice is known for 2 things - beautiful glass work and lace.  This American flag is actually stained glass and the "stars" used to be glass Cocacola bottles! 

Saint Marc's Square.... 

Thank you so much Kathy & Bill for your hospitality!!!! It was a great mid-winter visit! 

Liz & Jessie after our laundry mission in Predazzo.... 

If you're curious to read more about the Tour de Ski I wrote an article for the National Nordic Foundation titled, "The Good, the bad & the ugly"  You can find that HERE if interested. 

Otherwise, we're currently in La Clusaz, France. It's my first time in France and it's certainly meeting and perhaps, exceeding my expectations. There is tons of snow and we're up in the mountains.  Yesterday our hotel staff brought us a gorgeous cheese plate for dessert.  There are races this weekend, then we have a training camp nearby in Les Saisies, France - the site of the '92 Albertville Olympic Games. After that we're SOCHI bound for the pre-Olympic World Cup! 

Thanks for reading and thanks for the kind words of support! Have a fabulous day, 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Kelly's "Life Lessons"

Twitter is full of absolutely pointless blabber (that can be extremely entertaining) but it is also a source of great things too. I can't remember for the life of me who posted the link to this article but Kelly Vanderbeek is a Canadian Alpine Skier.  She wrote an article for CBC Sports called "Life lessons from the hill" that I think is absolutely fantastic.  Of course the references are for alpine skiing but about 90% of them can be translated to cross country or participation in sports and healthy lifestyles in general.

Kelly's list really resonated with me because I just finished up the Tour which was an extremely hard event for me - both physically and emotionally.  In hindsight, perhaps I should have called it "quits" after my poor performance in Toblach but hindsight is 20/20.  I know NOW using the word "quit" and "Tour" for me doesn't work well. All my life I've been indoctrinated to "never quit".... to start what I finish but in this case, being "smart" or "strategic" should be WAY more important than just blindly putting my head to the grindstone.  I already won the "toughness" award last year with my wrist!

Anyways.... I am currently resting up from the Tour in the small town of Polcenigo, a three hour drive from Val di Fiemme.  Dear friends from Alaska, Kathy & Bill, moved here a little over a year ago and they are kind enough to have me in their home yet again.  It feels amazing to be in a house rather than a hotel room and I'm actually eating what I want, when I want it.  There are many small things that I take for granted at home that are jewels on the road - they make all the difference in the world!

Without further ado, here is Kelly's list:

I've copied the text from below but if you'd like to the see the original link you can find that HERE

Recently I was at a Christmas party that was filled with enthusiastic, well intentioned and successful group of parents who happen to be raising ski racers. Their desire to soak up knowledge and advice from me (I know...what were they thinking!) was quite astounding.  They asked questions such as, "Is it always this hard (referring to their kids' struggles)? How to help them through it? How to keep up their kids' motivation? Is it possible for them to balance school work and ski racing?" 

This spawned the idea for this article. Parents, do not fret, for even if your child doesn't make it to the Olympics, they will have taken with them a few good life lessons from their time on the ski hill.  

Many would argue that for something to be a life lesson, it has be hard to endure and even harder to overcome. If that's the case, then ski racing (often to its detriment but usually to its benefit) is riddled with life lessons. 

Since this is the season for list making, I thought it was only appropriate to tow the party line. Here is my list of 'Life Lessons learned by all Ski Racers':

  • Sometimes, you finish last. As perfect as you've always been told you are ... the clock doesn't lie.
  • The art of negotiation. Teacher: "You're going to miss how much school?"  Racer: "Yes, I know it's a lot, but I swear it's not a vacation!"  Stewardess: "You have how much luggage?"  Racer: "Yes, I know it's a lot, but I swear there is only one pair of skis in there."
  • Grit. No matter how advanced technology gets or how much money you have to throw at mother nature, your toes, hands, and face, will still freeze at -30 degrees Celsius.
  • Healing. Hot chocolate by a warm fire really can heal wounds. Marshmallows never hurt either.  
  • Plumbing doesn't reach everywhere. Suck it up princess ... if you gotta go at the start, you gotta go. Popping a squat to pee never hurt anyone, although your southern cheeks may get a bit rosy. 
  • Patience. Just because you've worked hard doesn't mean you're going to win.  Success takes patience, hard work at the right things, learning from others, and picking yourself back up again, and again, and again, and again...
  • Discipline. How do you miss seven months of school out of 10, yet still finish high school with honours? This is for dedicated ski racers to know, parents to agonize over, and young adults to find a way.  
  • Accept feedback. If you've ever watched your parents out on the dance floor then you know sometimes you look different than you feel. Listen to your coach.
  • Self direction. All the coaching and feedback in the world only goes so far. Out on the race course you're alone, eventually you will have to stand (or carve in this case) your own path. 
  • Talent isn't enough. No one signs up to ski racing and becomes an Olympic medalist in 10 years or less. That means, you have only one option to get there. Work! Hint: working at the right things is the trick, otherwise even with the 10,000 hours you won't get there.
  • Re-invention. What made you fast at 12 years old won't work when you're 20. You have to evolve and grow as an athlete and a ski racer. Plus, FIS keeps changing the equipment rules, so your skills have to change with it. 
  • You fall down. Everyone falls down, and on the ski hill it's literal. Ski racers are very good at picking themselves back up, dusting themselves off, and doing it all over again (hopefully better the next time around of course).  
  • Spacial puzzle solving. The team van doesn't pack itself. I'm going to pack what? Into where? And it's how heavy? Somehow, it always fits and we always make it to our destination. Groaning and complaining will occur ... ear plugs recommended for coaches/parents.
  • Toughness. Racer to concerned guidance councilor: "No, I did not run into a bully at recess,  I really did give myself these bruises." Sometimes the fastest way around a gate is to not go around it at all.
  • Do no eat yellow snow. See item 6, enough said.  
When we look back on our lives and pick out our best stories to tell they are never the stories where things came easily. The best stories and friendships are forged through adversity and hardship.  

Let's just say, ski racers have a lot of good stories to tell.

Have a wonderful day! 
Holly :)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

When is enough, enough?

By writing this blog I run the risk of posting something emotionally charged but sometimes it's called for. Plus, reading about race results and what so & so had for lunch can be boring. A free stream of emotions can be therapeutic to share and capturing the moment can be valuable in and of itself. 

I left Alaska almost two months ago and since that day (Nov 11th) I've been in countless countries, on lots of airplanes, ridden in the back seat of a van for many, many miles, and raced every World Cup but one since the beginning of the season.  My tactic has been race everything and see what happens.... collect as many World Cup points as possible to try and make it into the red group - seek that next level.  I've been throwing all my energy into one bag and making the necessary sacrifices to do so. I've had some bright spots: a fifth place in Gallivare, helping with the first 4x5 USA relay podium, two 18th places in Kuusamo, 11th in Oberhof.... 

Today was my third really, really tough race in a row.  Turns out, I'm tired.  I keep hoping that each day will be a new opportunity - and it is. But I've been hoping that the new opportunity would provide a chance for my body to turn a corner and come around.  I've been just hoping that my body would surprise me; find some kind of energy store I didn't know I had.  But, it hasn't happened. 

When I initially heard about the Tour de Ski everyone's comment was, "Wow, Holly - that event sounds like an event for you."  I love rising to challenges, I love endurance events. I like to think of myself as "tough" whether it's bush-wacking through crazy Alaskan Alders or finishing last year's 9-stage Tour de Ski with a flipping broken wrist. I've often thought of myself as someone who gets stronger when things get harder - or when the fatigue starts to seep in. But, in this case, when is enough, enough? When is it time to minimize the damage & pick up the pieces? When is it time to pull the plug and start recovering and preparing for the next opportunity?  I'll be honest. I have a hard time deciding where this line is. 

At some point, turning in bad races is like hitting your head against the wall - on purpose. It's self-inflicted.  If you're not careful, it can be detrimental to your confidence, and to your "race head." 

This year, like any year I'm focused on results (we all are) but I've been doing my darndest to make sure that I don't wear my result on my face.  Whatever place you earn in a given race is not your self worth. As an athlete living out of a duffel bag traveling from hotel to hotel, sometimes it's hard to internalize this.  Today I was 46th out of 55th racers - crummy.  But, that doesn't make me less of a person. Everyone has their ups and downs. This just happens to be a little low point in my otherwise awesome year.  

World Championships is here at this very venue, just six or so weeks from now. In between now and then I have plenty of time to rest, to train, and do whatever it is I decide my body and mind need. 

So, thank you for all your kind words and thoughts. I feel extremely lucky to have an incredibly supportive family and a host of awesome, awesome friends that I know will be by my side whether I'm first or last in the race. 

We all have so much to be thankful for!  

And on that note, I'll leave you with a few random pictures that make me smile! 

My best friend 

 Buggz, as a kitten 

 My family.... (yep, this was the 90s!)

Awesome friends 

And bear tracks of Alaska....... 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Behind the Scense @ the TDS!

On the Tour there is a lot of racing and a lot of traveling. While I don't have many pictures of the actual skiing, I'll take this opportunity to share some "behind the scenes shots" from our team!  It's important to keep it fun & light - especially during times of high pressure and when you're away from home for five months.... 

 Delectable pancake-dessert shared by five USST members in Oberhof! (Check out restaurant "Cortina" if you're ever there!) 

 Noah on the eve of the Tour with his mega chocolate bar - a prize from a team sprint. People always say you have to eat a lot in the Tour...... 

 General lack of outlets in Europe for all our gadgets. Here is my computer charging in the bathroom.... 

 Girls race bibs, hanging.... complete with Kikkan's sprint leader black bib. 

 I found these skis outside a bakery in Germany.... the owner must have stopped for a croissant and cappuccino break! 

Road side Gluhwein! 

 Good morning!!! 

 Girls team on a morning birthday run halfway between Oberhof and Val Mustair... 

 Church steeple in the middle of a lake (frozen) that was flooded when a dam was built

 If you ever want a fun time, buy some fake mustaches.... We wore these on our car ride while singing country music. Then we showed up at the Swiss race venue with them.  I bet we ended up on TV or in a newspaper somewhere..... (judging by all the professional photogs that took pics of us @ the venue!) 

 I rocked this look! 

 Nuff said.... Happy 30th Birthday Kikkan! 

 Sprint race poster from Dario's home town 

 A special new year's birthday "princess" cake gifted by our Swedish friends 

 On New Years we had a "party bomb" we bought at the grocery store.... 

 The frozen Steinbock sculpture in the middle of the sprint stadium

Going to a team meeting momentarily about our pursuit start 15k tomorrow afternoon!  Stage four of the Tour de Ski!  Thanks so much for all the cheers!  Happy New Years to everyone all over the world!