Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Home Sweet HOME!

A lot has happened since the "battle of the Engadin!" And, as I'm sure you've figured out by now, I survived!  Perhaps it's easier to recollect the past two weeks in reverse chronological order, most recent being first.

Such an awesome group of APU athletes competing here in Anchorage! 

The most exciting thing is actually happening right now - that is, Super Tour Finals right here in my own backyard of Anchorage! Last year the spring domestic races were exceptionally late, the last one ending on April 11th. I was so tired and blown out from the season and five months on the road that I opted to skip the race series in lieu of being at home. This year not only are the races earlier on the calendar but they're at KINCAID! It's been awesome having all the skiers here in Alaska. The weather has cooperated and our community has held some really fun, high level races. In fact the field of athletes is by far the strongest of the entire year because the entire National Team is in attendance & 12 of the 14 Olympians that went to Sochi!

Racing the 10k skate at Kincaid - photo by Rob

Women's Classic Sprint Final

We had this SUPER FUN event today out at Kincaid.... 
Thanks to Joey Cat and Susan Duck for helping organize and pull it off! 

It's super fun having friends come out and cheer at races. Here they are having a grand time. I believe the hatch tag was #winning!

Eva got to give the awards for the classic sprint! Thanks to all the sponsors for the event including Advanced Physical Therapy who was the sponsor for this day. It's awesome to have such fabulous community support! 

In total 230 volunteers from Anchorage are helping to put this race on!  Here are Cathe and Alice giving out timing chips. (Both women used to ski in my group)  :) 

And..... here are some shots from the Oosik 50k Classic in Talkeetna the other week. 50k Double pole 30 hours after getting home wasn't the best for my elbows. They've been sore ever since... 

Chris Hodel flew around taking pictures of us and landing on different lakes in his plane! Always fun to get an aerial shot :) 

A fun first weekend back in AK with Rob. I also chose to rock the Finnish Olympic suit for the race which I traded with Aino Kaisa Saarinen. So... this suit won two Olympic Silver Medals and the Oosik Classic :) 

Some of my favorite boys picked me up at the airport to welcome me back to AK for the first time since November 15th!

We ordered Mexican - delivery! It tasted SO GOOD!

I was exhausted & literally sleeping in the car when I opened my front door to a huge surprise party! Certainly a shock to the system but so fun to see so many good friends at one time! Wow. Also, it should be known that Rob is HORRIBLE at keeping surprises but I had NO IDEA about this one. Well done Rob! 

Crossing the Ocean Again: 

And the Engadin Valley! (Switzerland) This was my last stop before returning back to the states. The Engadin is the largest skate race in the World - in one of the most beautiful places in the World. Second to AK of course :) This was the view from the condo I was staying in! 

Yes! Prize $ from my third place in the night sprint. Fun ripping some fast corners in downtown St. Moritz! Congrats to Bettina for an incredibly successful race weekend! 

Engadin Marathon Podium. I was 4th after taking myself out of contention with a fall at a crucial spot in the race. I need to get back there and win that Steinbock someday! 

Tony, of Team Tony!  To fully understand how awesome this guy is read this article: 

A unique aspect of this point to point race is that all 13k people ride the Swiss train back into town! 

That's it for now! Check back later for a full recap of racing at home - and of the season. We've raced four races here in Anchorage and the only "hurdle" that stands between us and being done with the season is the 30/50k at Hillside on Friday. For those that know Anchorage trails the ladies are skiing the entire Spencer Loop 3x and the mens are skiing it 5x! Skip work to watch the carnage!  Women start at 10am and men start at noon. For some info check out the event website HERE. 

Thanks for checking in! Time for me to get some rest, 
Holly :) 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Preparing for Battle, AKA the Engadin Ski Marathon

Two years ago I came and raced the Engadin ski marathon and swore I would never come back without protection. Protection you might ask? Yes. Actually what I mean by that is that many of the top girls in World Loppet and Swix Ski Classic Marathons are skiing with male blockers. Domestiques if you will.  The last time I raced this race it was one of the more aggressive experiences of my life. The first five k was spent stepping over broken poles, Caitlin Gregg went down with a concussion (we later found her at the Sameden Hospital) and Morgan Arritola allegedly punched someone; a man at that. The problem is that the start is coed and there are simply too many people to make it a decent ski race.  The first ten k's are across a lake, directly into a headwind so the leaders can't escape and thousands of people are stuck behind them like a bottle of soda ready and wanting to explode. 

So why did I come back? 

Switzerland is known for beautiful snow, mountains and sunshine. And compared to Oslo which has apparently had 15 hours of sunshine since Christmas it's a bit of a different world.  This is actually the view out the window of the apartment I'm staying in in Samedan. Good thing Sochi got me into walking shape! (the 1,000 owl figurines in this small studio apartment deserve special attention) 

One thing that's cool about big marathons in that they often have spectator friendly sprints beforehand. Last night we had a night sprint in St. Moritz. You can't tell from this picture but there were actually lots of people there and the finish line was around the corner in the center of town. There was music and people were drinking beer and eating brats! 

I even won some $! First dollar of the season, literally (unfortunately). It might even be enough to cover the expenses of my trip :) 
 Congrats to Swiss local and friend Bettina for the win! 

 This season I haven't done a SINGLE race that isn't a World Cup and last night was a huge breath of fresh air.  The World Cup is really, really hard and if you're not 110% on top of your game. It felt nice to actually step on a podium for once! 

 Another reason I absolutely love this time of year.... flowers! 

Thanks to Malone from Salomon and Matt Gelso for a fun morning of ski testing.  This is tomorrow's finish line, 42k's away from the start!

Matt and I waiting in the sun.... we didn't want to get baked so we improvised. 

It should also be mentioned that Tony Wiederkehr helps host a sweet situation for a handful of athletes from the US. There is a crew here and Tony is our fearless leader. Tony's also got some big plans up his sleeve for his own race tomorrow.  Seattle folks, you're going to love this one! Stay tuned.... I can't spill the beans. In the meantime, if you're curious to learn more about this battle of a race, check it: 

I'll let you know if I survive this in one piece! 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The GOOD in Sochi..

Liz is usually pretty excitable but here she's giving the dual thumbs up + some! 

You read about the stray dogs, the rust-colored tap water and the hotel rooms with the wet paint but what about the good stuff in Sochi? Now that we (the US Ski Team) are in Lahti Finland for the
continuation of our regular season I’ve had a bit of time to reflect over the past three weeks of life and competition in Sochi. In complete honesty we came up just shy of some of our result-based goals but I tend to be a glass “half-full” person and there were many amazing things about our Russian Olympics.
First of all, there was the weather.  While Vladimir Putin was able to buy most everything he desired for the Games with his record 51 Billion dollar budget blue skies couldn’t be purchased but appeared nonetheless.  The views and photos from the venue were spectacular and the sunset behind the biathlon stadium was worthy of a painting in and of itself. 

As an athlete I struggled with the heat that reached upwards of 55 degrees on some of the race days.  I think I even suffered a small bout of heat stroke in the 10k classic race when I opted to wear my full black, one-piece suit ski suit. Some of my smarter teammates wore tank tops (to limit overheating) and landed in the International Media spotlight because of their bare shoulders. From an athlete’s perspective it was too hot but it was impeccable for spectators, Putin, and TV viewership. 

The accommodations in the Endurance Village were fantastic despite the horror stories from the International media. In Vancouver our rooms were so small that duffle bags had to be stored in the hall, moving around the room required a do-si-do with your roommate and bathrooms were shared entities down the hall. In comparison, our rooms in Sochi were palaces.  Apparently the chalets that we stayed in were pre-sold for top dollar before the Games even began.  We had huge rooms with 15-foot tall ceilings, common rooms with microwaves, hot pots for tea and coffee and cupboards full of peanut butter and jelly stocked for us by the US Olympic Committee.  Just a stone’s throw away from our neighborhood was Medvedev, the Prime Minister of Russia’s Mansion. I suppose you know you’re in good company when you share a view and locale with someone of that stature!

Some complained about the lack of McDonalds at our Mountaintop village and I missed the opportunity to get standard bean-based coffee there as opposed to grain-based coffee which seems to be standard throughout Russia. The food itself was edible and 180% different from our pre-Olympic World Cup experience one year ago. Yes, it was still a buffet, which we liken to eating out of a “trough” but the trough was relatively good.  We had fresh options in addition to Borscht (Traditional Russian Beet-based soup) and when all else failed 4 types of oatmeal were available 24 hours a day.  My favorite things were the options that are hard to find in Europe like sushi, wasabi, sweet chili sauce, BBQ sauce & blue cheese. It became a Game for me to make inventive meals from the buffet ingredients. This included “Mexican Night” when I brought my own Cholula and Salsa.  On days 15, 16 and 17 of the Games the overall consensus was although the food looked different, everything started to taste the same. Also, there were hand-sanitizing stations throughout the cafeteria but the dining hall was certainly a cesspool of International germs.

Some of my personal highlights included helping “call the shots” from the NBC booth with my husband Rob who was working as a researcher-statistician for Al Trautwig & Chad Salmela, the NBC Cross Country Announcers.  My day in the booth just happened to be the sprint day when my teammate Kikkan Randall was favored to take the Gold Medal but came up short. I was challenged with having to contain my disappointment while sitting 4 feet away from the LIVE broadcast. I certainly shed a silent tear for her but I was so impressed by her composure and the good luck hug that she gave to our other teammate, Sophie Caldwell who ended up skiing to a 6th place finish; the best Olympic result ever for a US Women.

In the NBC booth with Rob and legendary NBC Announcer, Al Trautwig

Other highlights were painting Russian Matryoshka Dolls under the tutelage of Russian-speaking ladies whom I befriended.  My doll will certainly be my most beloved keepsake from the Games.  One of my other favorite moments was standing at the top of the Biathlon bleachers during the Russian men’s gold medal performance in the team relay.  Kikkan, Liz Stephen and I joined the crowd in cheering for the home team and chanting, “Russ-i-a!, Russ-i-a!”  The local boys won in a dramatic sprint to the line and the crowd exploded in enthusiasm and energy.  The very next day in the men’s 50k race the Russian men swept the podium and received their Olympic medals in front of tens of thousands of people at Closing Ceremonies. 

The "example" doll is on the left, the one I painted is on the right!" 

During the Olympics there is always a huge focus on the overall medal count.  America loves “winners” and is somewhat obsessed with Gold medals. The question is always, “who will take Gold, Silver, and Bronze?”  The truth is, most people who go to compete on the World’s highest stage go home empty-handed, myself included.  While it may be disappointing that the Cross Country Team didn’t earn a medal in Sochi there are many more medal opportunities in our futures.  The Olympics are just a small snap-shot of our storied careers and luckily the Olympics signify much more than first, second, or 29th place in x, y & z race.  While it would have been fun to pop a bottle of champagne and celebrate making history with my teammates the Sochi Olympics were an experience I will never forget.  I was proud to represent my country, the state of Alaska, and the Cross Country Ski Community at large. Congratulations to all of my fellow competitors and thank you to everyone who has supported us along the “Road to Sochi.”  Time will tell where the next road will take us…..