It’s that time again, snow is on the ground in much of the Northern world, and I’m back to Scandinavia starting out a new racing season!
I left my home training base of Craftsbury, VT on November 16th, after a great summer and fall of training. Maybe more on that later, but for now it’s time to focus on the present moments. The first stop of this European tour was Beitostolen, Norway, where the whole US Ski Team and Period 1 World Cup US starters were convening for a training camp and warm-up races.
We arrived to find snow on the ground, with more falling out of the sky nearly every day. Of course I seem to have taken photos only on the blue sky days, but it was actually cloudy and snowy more days than not!
After training in Beitostolen for 4 or 5 days, most of us entered one or two races out of the 3 on offer for the Norwegian opener. I raced a 10k classic and a 10k skate, and it was a great chance to wake up into the feeling of racing again.
After around 10 days in Beitostolen, it was time to head east to Finland, where Ruka would be hosting the first World Cup weekend. Ruka can be a bit dark, as it is in Northern Finland in December… but it’s also a winter wonderland, the snowy trees illuminated at night and the tiny town festive with holiday decorations.
Ruka this year was a “triple” so on Friday we raced a classic sprint, Saturday a classic individual, and Sunday a skate pursuit. The sprint was always planned to be a “warm up” race for me, because sprinting on the World Cup is not my forte, and especially not classic sprinting on the steep hills of Ruka. I was really looking forward to Saturday and excited for a 10k classic. Unfortunately, it didn’t go very well; for a variety of convoluted factors, I raced slowly, not my best at all. When I looked at the results afterwards, I discovered that ouch, I was 65th place, one of my worst distance World Cup finishes ever.
Luckily the next day was another race – sometimes races in quick succession are tough, but usually I find that it’s nice to have a series of races. If one doesn’t go well, then you can try again the next day, without having to wait too long and stew over it. On the flip side, if an early race goes really well, you can carry the momentum and race again. So Sunday dawned, snowy, dark, and great for bringing a 10k skate pursuit. In a pursuit we start based on our cumulative finishing positions from the previous days, so I started 64th. From number 54 to the end of the field, we all started in a mass start “wave”, instead of at our actual times back from the leader; this included me as well as 3 other US women. The wave made for fun pack racing, but it was also chaotic and meant that there was sometimes heavy traffic (tons of skiers going variable speeds) on the trail. The race was fast and furious from start to finish, as I fought to stay at the front of the wave, sometimes leading our group, sometimes following others. At the finish, I managed a good sprint, edging a few other racers and winning the wave, with the 37th time of the day, just 7 seconds out of the top 30. Ending the weekend on a positive note was nice and helped me believe in myself and that there’s more to come ahead.
Next we moved along to Lillehammer, Norway for the next stop of the World Cup.
In Lillehammer Jessie organized a painting with Bob Ross evening – it was so cool to see everyone’s mountain variations!
The Lillehammer skiathlon was not kind to me. This photo is from the first hill of the race, as we stacked up to climb it. My start position was mid-back in #37, and I ran into serious problems finding space to ski and trying to move up. Maybe I’m out of practice with starting near the back, but I also think I ran into particularly bad luck. For whatever reason, I ended up in dead last within a few seconds of the start, and then proceeded to get stepped on and to crash within the first few k of the race. It was hard to find my rhythm again after all that, but I kept fighting to move up throughout the full 15k of racing.
From Lillehammer we moved along into central Europe, to Davos Switzerland. Davos has been a mix of snow and sun, which is always scenic and festive for the winter holiday time of year. The distance race, another 10k skate, is tomorrow – wish me luck! I’ve seen encouraging signs in many of my races, and had plenty of learning experiences from each start, but I’m really looking to make a step up and improve my racing going forward towards the rest of this season.