Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A different kind of Christmas....

It feels pretty surreal to be at home right now. This was my first Christmas in the US, let alone at home in years.  Three years ago I was in Ramsau, Austria and fell while running on Christmas night... I broke my wrist and then continued to finish the 9-stage Tour de Ski with a broken bone. The following year I was in Oberhof and it was warm and raining - we "skied" on brown dirt-snow waiting for the first stage of the Tour. Last year I was in Davos preparing for the Tour yet again.  In the past the Tour de Ski has traditionally started Dec 28th or 29th so Christmas has been all about business and preparation.  This year is obviously much different in that I was AT HOME for Christmas!  My "period one" trip to Europe consisted of 12 days and three races. It was brief but it was oh-so-much fun!  I returned to Alaska December 17th and don't take off again until January 11th.  That's 3+ weeks at home to enjoy winter in Alaska. I raced my first Besh Cup (!) spent some quality time with my family (including parents) at Christmas and am getting in some good training hours.  I calculated it yesterday and if I race everything I want to race in the next 3+ months I have 569 kilometers of racing left this season.  Hence, the training period that I'm in the middle of now!  The rest of my APU teammates left for US Nationals in Houghton, Michigan this morning so I'm solo yet again.  Luckily there are lots of good skiers in the Anchorage area to pull together as training partners.  Here are some photos from the last two weeks to tell the story of being home! 

With Sam after the Besh Cup 

Fun racing my first Besh Cup!  In the past I was always coaching at Besh - or, I was in Europe. It was great fun racing home trails and getting cheered on by friends and family. It was fun looking around at the race to realize that many of the racers and/or coaches are people whom I've coached in my past life! (Fun aside, Anson Moxness, who I coached, is coaching at West High School - my first coaching job.  He has 160 kids on the high school ski team roster making it the BIGGEST high school ski team in the entire country. That makes me really happy! Nice work Anson!) 

Alice the festive Bib Lady.... handing out race bibs, chocolate and smiles! 

My parents flew in on Dec 23rd for a week long visit.  Just two hours after landing in Anchorage we were out at Kincaid Park to compete as a team for the AMH Friends and Family relay. It was my mom's first ski of the year! I was proud of my parents for rolling with the punches and being good sports! 

That same night it was my niece's first ski race!  She's only 4 years old and did a great job! 

Mom and Dad making traditional clove oranges.... 

We celebrated family Christmas on Christmas Eve because Rob had to work on Christmas.... Fun to have everyone together! 

Way too cute! My nieces with their new (and slightly premature) Junior Nordic hats. Sometimes it's just too easy to get excited about young family members skiing :) 

It snowed Christmas morning! Buggz approved... 

On Christmas Day my family headed to Beans Cafe to volunteer with the Ronsse crew of Dennis & Annie, Katie & Justin Libby, and Amber Walker. Unfortunately Dennis has another broken elbow but was making the best of it with a green and red cast.  Dennis and Annie brought a beautiful load of organic potatoes and carrots for the cafe. They've been donating from their garden and root cellar for years which is very, very cool! 

A fun way to spend Christmas - we helped serve over 800 meals! 

My parents making "to-go" meals for folks at the Brother Francis Shelter. Beans Cafe provides an amazing service to people in need of food in Anchorage. I believe that Bean's Cafe is part of Alaska's Pick Click Give Campaign. 

 After Beans & Training we paid a visit to Rob at the Fire Station. While most folks have holidays such as Christmas off Firefighters and emergency responders are always at work, prepared to help when needed. 

After the holiday we headed to Hope, Alaska.  We've been working on this place incessantly (correction - Rob has been working!) for the past four years. It's literally been Rob's project since I have been skiing full time.... The cabin was originally inspired by my family's cabin at Snoqualimie Pass in Washington State.  I learned to ski skiing in and out of the cabin growing up and all my fondest memories from childhood  were at the family "stugan" (Swedish for cabin). This has been a HUGE project and we've been lucky to have help from friends and family. It was really special to share it with my parents for the first time! 

Inside view from the couch.... fun to display some of my ski paraphernalia as it doesn't fit in our 850 sq foot house! 

Mom and Dad getting their read on! 

Just one of the many things I love about Anchorage..... I'm able to pull together this many skiers for a 3-hour double pole ski departing from my house - in the DARK! Anchorage rocks and so do all these people :)  Left to right: Me, my dad, Greer, Megan & Katie. 

Last but not least, ending on a goofy note. Rob doing the opposite of training. Don, Erin, Austin and Reese through one of the more incredible Christmas parties I've ever been too. They built an ice hot tub & ice bar. Rob was the first one to strip down and jump in!  Then someone brought him pizza and a beer..... 

Happy New Years Everyone!  Be safe and have fun! 
More soon, 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In love with ski marathons: La Sgambeda race report & pictures!

Fill your coffee cup because this is long…. Or just scroll through the pictures :) 

12 days, 8 airplanes, 92 kilometers of racing in three days….. What a trip!

3 races, 3 days.... 

photo credit: Swix Ski Classics (SSC)

When I was first designing this trip it almost felt silly to travel thousands of miles for one small race weekend. But, I decided that I couldn’t afford to miss the “kick off” to the marathon season and didn’t want to spend the entire winter trying to play catch up in the chase for FIS Marathon Cup points. Plus, who wants to wait until January to start racing?

The trip turned out to be absolutely perfect and I am SO glad that I went. It was just enough time to get “my feet wet” and build a ton of confidence for my next trip over the pond.  Many of the logistics were downright impossible to figure out from home and now, having made this trip I can put faces to names – I joined a team (!) and I feel really good about my return in January. I am ecstatic to spend my first Christmas at home in a long time and by the end of my break, I’ll be chomping at the bit to put a bib on again. The plan couldn’t be better! 

There were many times this fall that I had night mares about getting to the start of a race and not having my skis or coming up to a hill that was too steep for me to ski up. I had a lot of conscience and subconscious anxiety that I was carrying around. However, the optimist in me prevailed because in the back of my mind I knew that somehow, someway, it would work out – and it did.

Zero days left until the La Sgambeda! 

Only in Italy - perfume & grappa at the race expo

But not everything was stress free and smooth. Thursday night, the day before the skate race I went to the team captain’s meeting to find out what was going on. At 6pm I still didn’t have anyone to wax my skis!!!! Compared to the last 4 years where I’ve had a personal tech this was a huge transition.  (Sure, I could have attempted to wax them myself but at this level you really need someone who knows what they’re doing to be competitive.)     

So wonderful to see my TEAM! Love these girls (just missing Kik who was on the phone)

Spending the first couple days in Davos at Markus and Maurus’s house was absolutely perfect. Arriving in Davos I felt like I was coming home. I got to see many of my World Cup friends and I knew were to stock up on toothpaste. (It's the small things matter!)  Then, Thursday morning we drove over Fluela Pass yet again and arrived in Livigno to meet Max and Johannes.  I was dressed ready to test skis immediately and was pleasantly surprised to find that our hotel balcony looked directly over the racetrack! It was a busy day testing, doing race prep, moving in, getting my bib, and attending the team captain’s meeting, finding someone to wax my skis…

 Ski testing. Photo: Markus! 
Ski testing with help from Johannes & Markus. Photo: Markus

Enzo & a local crew ended up doing my skis - thanks guys! 

Max, me, Johannes - team Salomon at the Hotel Amerikan!

Just as the day was winding down I had a visitor at the hotel – Nils Marius Otterstad, the team leader for the Swix Ski Classics team, Team Santander.  Nils tracked me down through Max Olex and was intent on having me race for his team Saturday and Sunday for the team tempo prologue and the 35k classic.  I had always planned on racing the 35k but Saturday was nowhere on my radar since it was a team event. Plus, the load of racing three races in three days (totaling 92k) to start the season seemed a bit hefty.  But Nils was relentless – and flattering for that matter. It wasn’t until later that I learned that the team’s only uninjured girl, Laila Kvile (winner of the Marcialonga & Vasaloppet!) went home sick.  Without a girl for the team tempo prologue the team would essentially be ineligible for Saturday’s race. If they didn’t race Saturday they would start the winter at a big deficit in a season long quest to win the overall team competition. Needless to say, my restful pre-race routine was interrupted with emails & decisions. I first met Nils at 9:30 Thursday night and he needed to register me for Saturday’s race by 8am the following day – the day of the skate race.

Formerly known as Team Centric, Team Santander has won the overall Swix Ski Classics competition twice (?) Their roster is headlined by Laila (mentioned earlier) and Anders and Jorgen Auckland - legit "bad asses" in the distance skiing scene.  Also new to the team this year is Magnar Dalen, a Norwegian who was a staple on the World Cup. Most recently he served as a the head coach for the Finnish National team and he’s a great waxer. (He even has a popular kick wax simply named, “Magnar.”)  What I’m trying to say is I joined a stacked team!

Nils, me, Magnar

But back to Friday’s race first….

You can never complain when you land on the podium but I was really hoping to ski with Riita Liisa Ropenen (FIN), last year’s overall winner of the FIS Marathon cup.  However, she had a great start and before I knew it, there were 50 men in between us. A gap opened up and that was it, race over.  For these flat skating marathons it’s all about the draft and what group you’re able to settle in with. If you miss your competition or the draft, it’s virtually impossible to ski up valley into the wind by yourself. So, I settled in with the group of guys around me and did my best to conserve energy and have the best race I could. I skied the entire second lap with two guys and was nervous to look over my shoulder to see a group of 15 or so gaining on us.  There were more girls in that group and while I got to the finish virtually uncontested for second place, the larger group would have “sucked us up” had it been much longer. For my efforts I earned 80 FIS Marathon Cup points, 20# of cheese, and some cash. It was a great!

 The La Sgambeda skate podium. Photo, Salomon/Nordic Focus

When in Italy, win wine at ski races! 

Photos: Salomon/Nordic Focus

It should be said....the organization of the Sgambeda was fabulous – parking was easy, the start and finish are in the same place so logistics are much easier than point to point races. There is a great pasta feed and free massages at the end for all competitors.  Friday was picture perfect and the sun, Livigno’s trademark and brand, made for some gorgeous pictures and a wonderful time.

One thing that I found surprising is that in all my interactions with other people and racers I didn’t meet one North American. Not ONE! I truly hope that next year more North Americans will consider making this trip because the race is truly fantastic!  Part of my job as an “ambassador” for the American Birkebeiner is to share my experiences and spread knowledge and information about other races around the world.  I hope to inspire North Americans to make the trip overseas and likewise, to recruit Europeans and others to come to the Midwest for the American Birkie!

Come for the racing, come for the food.... a typical multi course Italian meal.... 

Next on the docket was Saturday’s race, the team tempo.  Girls started first with a mass start race and the men followed, racing in teams departing in three-minute intervals. This was the first time that this format was used and the concept is modeled off of bike racing.  From the start I told Nils Marius that I’m not a great double poler but he explained that my job was to simply “not loose to much time” to the other our rival teams and keep us in the game. All but one of the girls in the lead pack were completely fresh for the race and some of two of the six went without kick wax at all!  True to girls' style racing the pace was quick from the start and I spent the majority of the 15k race in the back of a pack of six girls. 

Andreas, Me, Anders

 The guys racing their part of the team tempo. Photo: SSC

 Nils was happy to have me join their team :) Photo: SSC

The Swix Ski Classics are a pretty big deal in Scandinavia and thus, I did LIVE interviews for Norwegian TV both before and after the race. We had a snow machine with a camera on us the entire time and a helicopter followed us for 15k! This doesn’t even happen on the World Cup so it was quite a novel experience!

 I got destroyed in the final sprint but I only lost 12 seconds to the winner & our main rivals. I was relieved that I didn’t completely blow it for the Team I was so heavily recruited too! After the race I returned to the hotel to take a shower and accidentally missed the podium because I didn’t know what was going on and had no phone to contact anyone. There went my chance to stand on this awesome podium with these guys, darn!

Whoops! Missed this awards ceremony but fun to know I was a part of this podium! Photo: SSC

On Sunday I stood at the start line and engaged in some serious positive self-talk. My energy felt okay but my back and arms were pretty worked from the day before. Again, there were girls in the field who hadn’t raced at all that weekend, let alone two days prior. I hung on for about 10k before I just got too tired. I skied the middle part of the race by myself that included some big hills that I didn’t have the time or energy to preview at all.  Towards the top of the valley I felt Iike I was skiing at Glen Alps as the headwind was killer, the tracks were blown in, and I felt like I was on Mars. At the high point we turned around and raced mostly downhill towards the finish.  This time I won the sprint and met my goal of a top ten finish.  The men started their race 30 minutes after the ladies and I had just enough time to change and eat something to watch Team Santander skier Anders Auckland (42 years old!) WIN the men’s race in a field that was stacked with World Cup classic specialists!  Also, Andreas Nygaard won the green bib by winning the sprint at 4k. Everyone on the team was on the podium!

Leg swings before the start - this time, wearing Team Santander race suit, representing Salomon. Photo: SSC

Start of girl's 35k event. Photo: SSC
 Post race handshakes with new friends :) Photo: SSC

 Andreas, me, Anders - the guys with their leader bibs! 
Andreas after his sprint win!

The rest of the day was a blur with more pasta, awards & watching USST teammates race the Davos sprint on TV. Then Max and I somehow jammed all our stuff into his tiny car and drove to Davos and Markus’s for the night.  Markus was hosting the Nordic Sport Team’s Christmas party so we got to crash that – in return everyone went home with a huge hunk of Livigno cheese :)  The next day Max drove me to Zurich and to Chelsea Little’s apartment (of Fasterskier/in Zurich working towards a PhD in Ecology) were I spent the night and left all of my stuff!  I’ll use her flat as a "gear locker" to avoid as many baggage fees as possible (sometimes as steep as the plane ticket itself!)

Will it fit?!?!

Nordic Sport Christmas Party spread! 

I know I’ve drug on way, way too long with this post but there was so much to say about my shortest ski racing trip to Europe ever!  Each day and experience was new, fun, and exciting and this is just the change of pace I was seeking when I made my initial ski marathon goal!! In just 12 days I made a ton of new friends, learned a lot from the locals, landed on a podium, and scored valuable points for both the FIS Marathon Cup and the Swix Ski Classics

I won the combined Sgambeda award - for combined results of the 42k skate & 35k classic! 

My new polish friend Michon (who has done every single World Loppet race & the Hotel Amerikan lobby dog :) 

 Finally got to meet Antonella Confrontola - a legendary Italian ski racer and mountain runner! 

Working with Bertrand on skis. A huge thanks to Salomon for terrific skis and race support - Bertrand probably gave me 10 feeds during the 42k which makes all the difference! Photo: Salomon/Nordic Focus

As I write this I’m currently in the air flying from Austin, Texas to Seattle, then to Alaska. Before that it was 4am wake up in Zurich, the tram to the airport, a flight to London Heathrow, then a 10.5 hour flight to Austin. I’m jealous of my competitors who live just a hop, skip, and a jump from this awesome race scene. While many of them are driving home it takes me 35 hours door-to-door, serious jet lag and sausage-like lower legs despite my compression socks. But, I’m not complaining! 

If you’ve gotten this far in the post, congratulations, you have more patience than I do!  I’ll do my best to keep future posts more brief or at least more frequent. In the meantime, happy holidays! I’m headed home to double pole on my Concept 2 skierg (70k double pole at the Marcialonga Jan 25th) and see if there is any snow left in Alaska.

If you want to learn more about the FIS Marathon Cup check out their website HERE.
Or, you can find the Swix Ski Classics team HERE including broadcasts of the two classic races!  (For future reference they have LIVE feeds and ENGLISH commentary!) You can also watch both races in their entirety on the site if you're looking to kill time :) 
That’s enough from me!

Be well and cherish each and everyday. 

 Race weekend dedicated to Lars Spurkland 

Photo: SSC