Opening the door to the points!

This past Sunday, I crossed a major threshold in my skiing career by scoring World Cup points! I’m really excited at having completed this achievement, but I’m not going to be resting there, I can still see so much progress to make and am already looking forward to the next race!

Sharing a moment of happiness right after the 10k in Falun with GRP teammate Ida Sargent (center) and USST’s Liz Stephen (right). Congrats to Liz on her nice 14th place finish too!

World Cup points in skiing are awarded to the top 30 in each race, and I was 25th in the 10k skate mass start in Falun, Sweden.  It was definitely a breakthrough moment, but there were a lot of important little steps that led up to believing it was possible, and then making it happen.  Thanks to everyone who’s encouraged me and helped me believe, and for the congratulations after this first top-30 success!

The 10k in Falun was my 11th World Cup start – I raced in World Cups 3 times in Canmore in 2014, 4 times in Finland and Norway in spring 2015, and 3 times so far in 2016 in Norway and Sweden prior to scoring points. That’s not too bad, a solid learning period, from year to year figuring out how to race faster and how to build the confidence I would need here at the World Cup.  I remember Heidi Weng passing me like I was standing still in a race in spring 2015, and I used that image all summer as motivation to train to become faster.  I evaluated race splits from the Oslo 30k and was reassured to find that on a few micro sections of the course, the splits showed that I could ski in the top 30 or higher. So little by little, I found the crack in the door, and used everything I had to pry that World Cup top-30 door open!  I’m still going to have to prove that I’m capable of skiing at that level regularly, each upcoming race will be its own unique challenge, but at least now I have one top-30 result in my pocket of experience, to know that it’s possible.

As for the race itself – I started in bib #32, within the front half of the mass start line-up but still 5 rows back in the chevron that went back to #73. After being caught off guard in the 30k classic start in Oslo, I was mentally determined and physically prepared to start fast, really fast.  I warmed up with plenty of intensity, and told myself it might feel like a sprint race but that was ok, I was going to fight hard for a good position and hang on to the pack. Once we started, it was fast, but not ridiculous, not quite even sprint race pace. I could find strides to relax in between the moments when I was actively moving around people.  I chose good lines, put in a few surges to pass, and had luck with positioning. I found myself skiing within the chase pack (reviewing splits afterwards it turns out I was in the top 20!) several kilometers into the race. Holding position in the pack was relentless work, constantly maneuvering for position while flying around downhill corners, and trying not to step on too many poles as the field compressed on climbs, but it was so much fun! I was simultaneously reminded why ski racing is so fun, and why it is so hard – gasping for oxygen, and yet having the time of my life skating fast around a big group of talented women.

Around 5k into the race I started to drop off the pack, legs getting a little heavier, but I kept my sights on the people in front of me and made it up the big climb fairly close behind the women in front of me.  As the course snaked around and descended towards the stadium, within about 2k of the finish, I caught sight of a very large pack of people behind me.  I resolved to myself as I saw the pack that I was going to ski every corner, every downhill, every transition from there to the finish with as much speed as possible and stay ahead! One of the US coaches had shouted something about placing to me midway through the race, but I thought he’d said “you’re in 44th” instead of what he actually said “you’re in 24th” so I really had no idea I was in the top 30, I was just skiing for the best result possible. A few front-runners from the pack caught me on the last few uphills, but I stayed solidly ahead of the majority. Shortly after I crossed the line, happy with my race but still trying to absorb the experience, I learned that I had finished 25th! And just like that, I had earned a few of the elusive World Cup points I’d been chasing, and I couldn’t stop smiling.

Thanks to the Craftsbury GRP for being able to send our tech Nick Brown to join me on the World Cup! (And to the other athletes on the team, for giving up his stellar waxing services for a few weeks.) Nick and I have worked together these past four years I’ve been on the GRP, dialing in my skis and race preparation, and it’s been extremely helpful to have someone familiar at the World Cup! Thanks for the great skis and help testing, Nick!
A few hours after my race was over, I couldn’t resist going out on course to watch and take photos of the men.  I could have watched it on TV, but after all, it’s the World Cup and I was right there, and it’s so cool to be up close to that high speed action!
Scott, #43, in the 15k skate. He didn’t quite look like himself in the skate, and found himself much farther back than he’d like to be in the race, but better races are surely coming up!
Lead pack of men on their first lap through the Falun stadium
Reese Hanneman cruising through the woods towards the Morderbakken in Falun

On Thursday before Falun, I did race in the Stockholm classic sprint too. My day was done fairly early, as I finished 58th in the qualifier and therefore did not move on to the rounds. I was happy to race (especially after a morning scare of not being on the start list – fortunately the organizers managed to add me on to the end of the list so that I could race), but it wasn’t my best of days. It was really interesting to watch the rounds, from fans to athletes, people-watching and just the city sprint atmosphere.  Below are a few photos from Stockholm and from a training day in Falun.

Sophie starting her quarterfinal in Stockholm. These women made skiing through the slush on course look easy!
A men’s quarterfinal heat in front of the city scene of Stockholm

This weekend we’re racing in Lahti, Finland for the World Cup, before heading back to the US on Monday. Tomorrow I’ll race in the skate sprint, and on Sunday a 15k skiathlon (7.5k classic, 7.5k skate), both of which I’m very much looking forward to!

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