Lead-up to Ruka

It’s the eve of the cross-country World Cup opener, to be held in Ruka, Finland. Tomorrow is the classic sprint, but my first start this year will be in the 10k classic interval start on Sunday, Nov. 25th. There’s always so much uncertainty, and yet also optimism, at the start of the season. All of the US team in Finland is very excited to get the racing underway, and yet I know every one of us has internal questions along the lines of “was my preparation good enough?” “how will I match up this year?” “am I ready?”

We have to draw upon years of experience, months of preparations, and mental strength, to step to that start line ready to give it everything. Shake out the cobwebs, make a strong start or a start that has room for improvement, but start this ball rolling either way!

I feel fortunate to be over here in Finland, to have the opportunity to start my season on the World Cup. Typically it has only been US Ski Team athletes plus Supertour Leaders who’ve been offered early season World Cup starts, and I am neither. This year the US coaches were willing to open up a few extra starts – athletes to be determined based on previous years’ results and rankings, and chosen by a committee of club coaches. Therefore several of us US athletes with strong sprinting or distance results in the past were offered the chance to join the US Ski Team on the World Cup. I’m more of a distance skier, so I’ll be racing the upcoming distance events. This coming weekend we’re racing in Ruka, Finland, then we’ll be moving over to Lillehammer and Beitostolen, Norway and Davos, Switzerland for the coming 3 weekends. There are 16 USA athletes here in Finland, 8 women and 8 men. You can find the list in this Team USA preview article: https://fasterskier.com/fsarticle/world-cup-preview-5-u-s-a/

It’s a good crew of talented athletes, and even includes 3 of my fellow club teammates from the Craftsbury GRP – Ida, Kait, and Adam – and my brother Scott. I’m also lucky to have my club ski wax technician Nick Brown over here, which really helps for comfort and confidence with ski choices!

I arrived in Finland on November 13th, and we went to Rovaniemi first for a short training camp there. Finland is typically snowy this time of year, and often cold, but it is neither snowy nor cold this year. In Rovaniemi they had saved snow from last year, and spread it out to make a skiing loop, but it didn’t hold up very well in the warm weather. After about a week of making the most of a gravel-laden ski loop, and more enjoyably using the singletrack biking trails near our hotel, we moved east to Ruka. The snow loop isn’t too long in Ruka either, but it’s much cleaner, so we’ve had good quality skiing in the lead-up to the weekend. There’s now a tiny dusting of snow off of the loop as well, just enough to make the frozen lake and the sidewalks look white, which at least heightens the feeling of winter.

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Long-lasting brilliant clouds during sunset
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Found Scott! Not too hard on the snow loop, everyone passes by pretty often with a 3k lap.
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In Rovaniemi we raced a classic sprint event, and it was basically only US and Russian athletes for women. Here Sophie Caldwell, on the right of the image in white, takes on 5 Russians in one of her heats. My race was a good wake-up call… I remembered how it feels to race, but I also embarrassed myself a little by hitting a patch of ice and falling in my quarterfinal. Oops. On to the next one.
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Fast Russians, and Ida getting boxed out before the downhill
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The Finnish forest is not supposed to look this green and fall-like in November, but it’s pretty!
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Rovaniemi is a bigger city than I realized, and though walking around in the shops of town was underwhelming, the waterfront reflection was awesome! Admiring bridges and light reflections during an afternoon run.

In the spirit of reflection, here are a few galleries of fall activities. As I looked back through my photos of what was a really fun fall, a few themes pop up.

1. Training… well of course… but a mix of rollerskiing including races, and then mountain running which fills a little of the need for adventure.

2. Fall activities, like admiring the colored leaves and mushrooms, cleaning cobwebs, harvesting squash (and subsequently cooking it), climbing rocks, apple picking, enjoying dinners with friends!

3. The return of snow, and the building excitement for ski season! Several of us headed out on a grassy ski at Craftsbury in mid-October, and then in late October we trained on a snow loop at Foret Montmorency. When I headed to Europe in early November, it was with several ski sessions already logged for the early winter, but with high excitement for racing season.

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GRP skiers and biathletes at Foret Montmorency.
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The US sprinter women are looking fast, watch out!
Today, Friday, on the Ruka sprint course. Any time I can survive this much chaos and high speed traffic unscathed, ie no crashes witnessed or experienced – it’s a success!

Thanks for reading! I tend to keep my instagram page and Facebook athlete page more active than this blog, but I’m going to try to get back into the habit of posting now that race season is here! Race results for the World Cup can be found at http://www.fis-ski.com, or check back in here intermittently for race reports and photos from the road.

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