Thursday, January 29, 2015

The frustration (and elation) of life on the road

It’s easy to blog and post pictures about winning races, eating good food, or skiing in new beautiful places.  But, if I were to just show that side it would be an incomplete picture and I don’t think that's fair; both to myself or to you, “the reader” who is kindly following my marathon adventure.

It’s not always easy over here, or great for that matter. Sometimes the races don’t go as planned or I spend hours laying in bed wondering where I’ll sleep the following week, or how I’ll get myself to the next race with two duffel bags and 20 pairs of skis.  Embarrassing amounts of time are spent sending inquiry emails to race organizers trying to figure out logistics or ask for help. And then, an equally large quantity of time is spent fighting against the poor Internet that seems to be standard in Europe – or at least when “connected” to my North American based electronics. (Think of the spinning ball or death or the URL status bar that becomes stuck at 8% loaded or the school assignment that will open on my phone but not my computer.)

For the record it took at least 17 attempts to post this - seriously. 

When you don’t travel with a team, a coach, or a wax tech there is no one looking out for you other than you. If something is going to happen, it’s a result of your own actions, your own industriousness.  In many ways I flourish under these conditions. I am goal & action oriented.  I have the ability to make things happen. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen quickly enough or with the level of success or precision that I hope for.  In my situation, I must be able and ready to “pivot” at any given time. 

Yes, today was a bit rough but I have hope that tomorrow will be a bit better. My forearms (and my ego) are still “injured” from the Marcialonga, AKA, the downhill double pole derby.  During the race my forearms (which I have chronic trouble with) seized and I was unable to push myself aerobically whatsoever.  It became a battle of just making it to the finish line and honestly, it was the first race in a long, long time that I didn’t exactly enjoy, as much as I hate to admit it. I felt unable to ski and men, old men, with backpacks (!) were passing me and there was nothing I could do about it.  It was a helpless feeling.  I made it to the finish line but my time was so horrible that I didn’t even finish within 10% of the female winner that I needed to be awarded points for my pathetic 17th place finish. Although it was only 14 points, every point matters in the chase for the overall FIS Marathon Cup; especially when you’re thousands of miles away from home….

But back to today, and Germany….  

My slump is funny timing because at lunch, I opened Twitter to find some extremely relevant sports quotes from none other than Chrissie Wellington, 3-time (?) Kona Ironman (women) champion.  Maybe she had a rough day herself and felt the need to post or perhaps she just knew that I needed a few words of pick me up :)  Here they are:

The “perfect session or race” is usually when you manage imperfections perfectly.”

And the second was,

“Athletes stress about having a ‘bad training day.’  In actual fact, they’re not ‘bad’ at all. They’re the foundation for success.”

If you're on twitter and don't already follow Chrissie Wellington I seriously recommend doing so. You can find her here: @chrissiesmiles

But, things are looking up. Despite my frustrations I am an eternal optimist and I know that I have a lot to be thankful for. One is the ability to hang out with Team Santander, despite truly dropping the plow last weekend. It's been fun getting a taste of a pro Norwegian Swix Ski Classics team.  The crew absolutely killed it last weekend and it was fun to experience success by association. 

Fun drive from Val di Fiemme to Germany with Andreas in this rig!!! 

Also, the local grocery store here had 2 Euro tulips so tulips it is! 
I hope you all find your own tulips today, no matter what shape or color they come in. 

Thanks for checking in! 

PS. If you have any idea how I might be able to get from Zurich to Poland for the Bieg Piastow I'm all ears!  (I've gotta ask!!!!)

Friday, January 23, 2015

The "LONG MARCH".... aka, Italy's Marcialonga

The "LONG MARCH".... aka, Marcialonga .... a direct translation. That pretty much sums it up. I'm writing a quick post before the race because I'm already afraid that after the race, my arms will be so destroyed that I won't even be able to type on my computer!

It's fun to be in Val di Fiemme again. Over the years I've spent a bunch of time here for the Tour de Ski and World Champs in 2013. But this time, the entire valley has come alive. The race is the biggest in Italy and perhaps the 2nd or 3rd most prestigious ski marathon in the world. The traditional, full distance is 70k however this year, due to the (seemingly) world wide snow shortage, the race is shortened 13k, for a total of "only" 57k. 

But first, the drive to Val di Fiemme from Austria... it was SPECTACULAR. From Austria we drove to Toblach and up the valley, mirroring the men's point to point Tour de Ski course. Every year the girls are stuck doing 5k loops in and out of the stadium while the men get a picturesque point to point trip through the Dolomites.  We drove up, through Cortina, and up and over some absolutely majestic mountain passes.  It was perhaps the most beautiful drive I've ever been on. Thank goodness for the GPS because without it, I'm not sure we would have ever found our hotel in Molina! 

A Euro life saver... 

Rob putting a "Go Holly" sticker on the sign at the Summit :) 

Team Santander & the Auckland Brothers have been staying at Hotel Ancora for the past dozen or so years of this race. The lobby is full of signed skis, poles, bibs, pictures, and congratulatory signs. It's a bit of a "Ski Museum" if you will...... 

This place has some serious character. This is only a small part of the "spa"...... there is an amethyst cave steam room.  When we walked into our room three days ago we both busted out in laughter because there is a stone pond/tub type thing and you can crawl through a glass draw bridge the shower. Apparently every room is different, and every room is "handmade" by the owner. 

But enough about the hotel, back to the race. Here's the modified course profile.  The initial 13k of the race was gradual uphill and now that's gone. Gone with it is the debate of whether I should use kick wax or no kick wax.  It's a mute topic now. I'm guessing that all of the girls in the elite wave will be double poling only. (Which brings the question - is classic dead?)  Double poling it seems has become a sport in and of itself. 

The thought of double poling 57k is quite intimidating to me. Especially with girls that train primarily double poling. But, in a race that is primarily downhill will it be as easy to get away? Different than the previous Swix Ski Classic races, the girls start amongst the men this time.  Coed versus same sex race starts are entirely different.... in the coed starts often the girls get separated from one another. I've had experiences where I am in a sea of men and have no idea where the other girls are, let alone what place I'm in.  

Here is the race map. As you an see, almost the entire thing is on the valley floor. This year the start is in Mazzin.  The course goes along the river and in and out of small towns.  Our "course inspection" the first day was a combination of skiing and walking through cobble stone streets that didn't have snow on them yet.  I am excited for the race and REALLY excited for the experience. 

As stated in my Anchorage Dispath News article, it seems like ski courses are large-scale construction projects rather than the result of natural occurrences. The Marcialonga is certainly no exception.  The ENTIRE 57 kilometers are man-made. I can't even begin to imagine the time, effort and expense that goes into such an endeavor but as I stated earlier, this race is the life blood and a huge economic engine of this valley. 

The new start in Mazzin

Rob standing on a rock-hard pile of artificial snow

The last three kilometers of this race is the most famous. After 50k of flats and gradual uphill, Marcialonga skiers must climb 3k UPHILL to the finish line in Cavalese. For all you Anchorage folks, think of double poling Potter Hill after a couple hours of double poling. That is what I'm going to do on Sunday. The final climb is called the "Cascata" and this photo, below is part of the course literally .5k kilometers from the finish line in Cavalese. I was up there earlier today and now the entire thing is covered in snow. The Auckland brothers who have tons of wins are podiums were nice enough to show me the course via car the other night after pizza. It was fun winding down the climb which is barely wide enough for one car.  The next day I went back and ran UP it just to make sure I know what to expect this weekend. 

In addition to the awesome ski culture here is the amazing food.  This Parmesan is fresh and from the next valley over. Perhaps it's hard to tell how large this is from the picture but I'd guess it weighs close to 30 pounds. (I guess I'm attracting all kinds of big cheese wheels this winter!) 

This fresh pasta was the best pasta I've ever had in my life. Jorgen, Anders, and Rob liked it quite well too! 

I have to say, I was touched by the small edition of the American flag amongst the bigger Norwegian flag. 

If you're at all curious to follow the race you can actually watch it LIVE via the Swix Ski Classics website.  I find it ironic that you have to pirate World Cups but you can watch the ski classics on the website here: 

Wish me luck & arms on Sunday because I'm going to need them! 
Have a fantastic weekend, 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dolomitenlauf: Red bib, Tirol wreaths & BOND!

Yesterday I raced the Dolomitenlauf and right now, I'm racing hotel check out time to get this post up. We're moving up into the mountains for a couple days of training in Obertilliach where the Internet is almost non-existent! So, here goes..... 

After a few LONG weeks off racing, I'm back!  I must admit, I was nervous coming into the race this weekend because I was feeling extremely rusty. The holiday break at home was awesome but towards the end, it was growing long as I sat at home, watching teammate's results pour in from the Tour de Ski and US Nationals. For someone who loves racing more than waking up at odd hours to check results this was hard. But, patience was important and I have many, many kilometers of racing in my near future. Yesterday was super fun and well worth the wait. 

Here's how the day ended:

Photo credit: Worldloppet/Epp

 But here are a few pics leading up to my Alaska departure..... 

 A "care package" from my awesome sponsor CLIF. It's nice to travel with a taste of home and CLIF has some awesome new flavors including my new fav, a chili chocolate! 

Always need to have Mexican a couple of times before months in Europe. It's not the same over here.... 

 And, a fun cross training workout with my AK girlfriends.... 

 BYE Anchorage! 

 Tiny, tiny bits of snow on the mountains leaving Anchorage. Alaska, similar to many places all over the world is experiencing a horribly dry winter.... 

 The first day of travel we only flew to Seattle and spend the night in an airport hotel. My parents live nearby and drove out to see us.... they brought a gorgeous green salad and my T-Mobile world wide SIM card. This is my first time ever having a phone that WORKS in Europe and it's a crucial tool when I'm making all my own arrangements. I have unlimited text and (SLOW) data in all countries. It's not cheap but well worth it! 

There are many people who have played integral roles in my winter distance racing experiment. Chelsea Little is pursuing a PhD in Zurich and has kindly let me use her home for ski storage. I can also sleep there before and after international flights which cuts out $200/hotel rooms.... Plus, she BAKES! What!?!?!

 This trip I was lucky enough to bring Rob, my husband along.  Part of my change from World Cup to Ski Marathons was the desire to spend more time at home and have more flexibility in my schedule. 5 solid months away from a spouse is tough no matter which way you look at it.  While Rob was hating life the first couple of days with some of the most intense jet lag I've ever seen he's finally in his groove and it's really special to share this with him.  

 We spent our first two days with my friend Bettina Gruber who recently retired from the Swiss National Team.  Bettina's family lives in Chur, Swizterland and she was on vacation from her medical rotations. Yes, you heard that right. Bettina (who will be turning 30 Jan 31st!) pursued elite ski racing and medicine simultaneously. Perhaps my disclosure of this makes the rest of us look like slackers but I'm always super impressed with her. It was great getting to know her parents and she also taught us how to make the traditional Swiss dish, Spatzle - she even sent us with the special Spatzle maker so if you're ever coming to dinner at our house we can make it for you! 

 Bettina's home tracks are Lenzerheide (recent TDS stop) so it was nice to get the first couple days of skiing there. Thankfully they had just enough snow. 

Then, we made the trip to Austria...... Here's Rob during our course inspection: 

 Photo credit: Salomon/Nordic Focus

Rob raced too!  Like the "Mr" on his bib? 

 Check out Antonela's gloves! It sounds like she might be making the trip to the Midwest for the 2015 Birkie! 

Wax tech :) 

Rob helping me test skis :) Photo credit: Salomon/Nordic Focus

Completely unrelated to the ski race.... the new James Bond SPECTRE was filming in Obertililach - literally a couple hundred meters from the race start/finish.  The film employed hundreds of folks and they took up all the hotel rooms in Obertilliach, making it so we had to stay down below in Sillian.  The entire town (which is tiny) was overtaken by the film production. Add a couple thousand people for the race and it was a funny mixture of Hollywood and Euro ski marathons: 

I found this picture online but Rob and I drove by the staging area and saw this plane fuselage: 
I'm actually kind of excited for the movie to come out..... ! 

 The streets of Obertilliach

 Photo credit: Meiko Homke

The race itself went well. Due to the low snow the course was changed and the race was shortened.  The OC did a fantastic job putting on a top notch event and I would certainly recommend it to anyone interested in combining ski racing and international travel! 

Here is a short highlight video of the race (3 mins): 

 Thanks a ton to Salomon for this help in organizing and supporting the event! After yesterday's race I'm the current owner of the "red bib" which signifies the overall leader of the FIS Marathon Cup. Photo credit: Thomas ISEP

No Finish sprint needed! Photo credit: Thomas ISEP

I've always wanted one of these Vasaloppet-inspired wreaths! 
Photo credit: Thomas ISEP

And here's how the "Alaskan Podium" played out.... I don't think there is any shame in "getting girled" :) 
It was fun having our buddy Seth Downs here.  Seth is a FedEX pilot and sometimes work leaves him with multiple day layovers all over the world. Seth has perfected matching those layover with international ski racing. Jealous? I am! 
Racers and support crew - thanks to these guys! Nicolaus of SWIX Germany, Fred & Norbert of Salomon Austria. These guys waxed my skis and gave crucial feeds throughout the race! 

Seth proudly displaying his World Loppet Passport :) 

Race "Chief" Franz Theurl & local men including my new friend Alois Ebner in their traditional Austrian garb.... 

Last but not least, a toast with Aperol Spritz - a favoite apre ski drink in the Dolomites

What's next? The Marcialonga next weekend? Stay tuned!!!! 
Thanks for the cheers - I can hear them all the way over here in Dolomites! And, a special thanks to all my supporters and sponsors. This wouldn't be possible without you! 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

569 kilometers.... let's do this!

It's been great having a rare couple of weeks at home in the middle of the winter. But, I'm getting the itch to get out of here and put a bib on! I'm inspired but all the amazing results my teammates are turning in all over the world. The USST is racing day in and day out in the Tour de Ski (yes, I too am loosing sleep watching at ungodly hours in the middle of the night) My APU teammates are skiing in blizzards and standing on podiums in Houghton, Michigan and recently retired APU skier Pete Kling just got a sprint race in the Tour of China.

Turnagain Arm from Main Street, Hope (Alaska's not so bad in January!!)

The sole reason I'm not going completely crazy is because I know I will have my day, my turn! The other day I calculated that if I do all the races I want to in the remainder of the season I have FIVE HUNDRED AND SIXTY NINE kilometers of racing left!  

569k, 11 ski marathons, in ten different countries!  The thought alone makes me simultaneously excited and exhausted. 

So, while its hard to watch racing, wanting to be there, it's important to be patient.

Dragging Nat on a super duper tough training ski at Hatcher's Pass. Cold, punchy & altitude. Theme of the workout: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger..... 

This weekend is my "old November" meaning that when I take off this weekend I won't return home until April.  I'll be back just in time for the snow to fall :) Before departure there is all kinds of business to take care of including getting lined out to continue my graduate studies with APU. Last semester I was a full time (in person!) graduate student and while it's going to hard to study on the road I need to continue my academic momentum.  Last semester I took three classes for a total of 12 credit. This semester I will take two including "senior seminar" for a total of 10 graduate credits. Wish me luck writing papers from Italy, Austria & Poland! 

In addition I'm also trying to figure out logistics for the next three months of my life. Where will I sleep? What will I eat? Who will wax my skis? How will I get from point A to point B? Despite the stress and anxiety my last trip went so well that I'm feeling much more relaxed about my upcoming travels. I hope that I'm not getting too over confident and/or too relaxed about it!  Last trip I was lucky enough to have Max and Markus - my dream team of friends to help out. This trip is different in that I'll be renting a car and my fate will be in my own hands...... 

Quality time with friends

The good news is that Rob is going to join me for the first two weeks in Europe!  This is huge in that being gone for months at a time while married is really, really tough. He'll serve as my wing-man and I'm happy that I won't be lost in Europe alone driving through Zurich. I'll have someone to share the frustration with :) 

SNOW MAKING AT KINCAID!!!! Photo: Jim Falconer

Photo from

That's it for now! Off to pack, train & enjoy my last couple of days in town! 
Cheers & Happy New Years to you,