Former biathlete, current coach….all round nordic enthusiast!

An elite athlete competing in the sport of biathlon: nordic ski racing combined with marksmanship

Friday, December 19, 2014

Minnesota Trials

After about five weeks on the road I'm finally back in northern Maine cuddling my kitties and enjoying the snowiest place I've been so far this winter!

First, I have some exciting news to share: Skhoop, a Scandinavian company that makes amazing women's winter wear, has joined forces with our women's ODT and PG biathletes this winter! We'll be wearing jackets, socks, and down SKIRTS from them soon…in the mean time, you can check out their site. I highly recommend their down skirts…I have one that I got in college and I LOVE it!  Can't wait to get our new stuff. It's supposed to come to our embroiderer today and I've been hitting the refresh button on USPS tracking in anticipation.

Brian was a little jealous of our new Skhoop supporters….he tried my skirt on just for grins. 

The last nine days of our stint on the road were spent in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. I have very mixed feelings about Grand Rapids….they have a pretty good course that usually has great cover for racing, even in early December. This year was no exception on that front. The part about Minnesota that gets me is that I've had very few pleasant days there in terms of weather and this year was no exception. Usually we end up with ridiculously cold temperatures during our December trials. This year we had the opposite end of the spectrum…warm, wet weather that ate any natural snow on the ground and brought out the dirt in the man-made ski track. Fortunately Mother Nature redeemed herself a bit on the last two days of racing, bringing us cold weather that refroze the track and made it seem more like a winter sport again.

My races went alright…I can't say I'm psyched with them because I never had great shooting but the skiing was consistently faster than I've been in those trials in a couple of years, so that was good. We're still waiting to hear how the team naming will go so I have my fingers crossed on that front. The four top ladies were within 98% on the final ranking list so hopefully they'll fill the spots allocated to the US and let us all get some better racing experience!

Pictures from MN:

Photo credit: Jakob Ellingson

Photo credit: Jakob Ellingson

Photo credit: Jakob Ellingson

Heading into Minnesota…there was some natural snow when we arrived but it all melted pretty fast when it got warm and rained. 

Racing in the snow-eating fog. Photo credit: Jakob (or Mikael?) Ellingson

Photo credit: Jakob (or Mikael?) Ellingson

The house we stayed in was right on a lake. When it rained the surface got really smooth and slippery so we did some exploration after training on our day off between races. 

The skating would have been amazing but when it cooled off the rain turned to snow and now it's covered again. 

That's our rental house. 

MWSC podium sweep in the mass start race. Photo credit: Seth Hubbard

I made the podium in all four races (clockwise from upper L): second (actually 3rd with my teammate Maddie, who is a junior but won the overall and isn't pictured) in the first sprint, third in the next, second in the mass start and third in the final race, another sprint. 

The view from our little plane on the way back into Portland yesterday. 

And the view just as it was getting dark on our way up Route 11 toward Fort Kent. Lots more natural snow than I've seen anywhere else thus far. 

Fingers are crossed for the team naming. Will post again when I know how it goes. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mass start

Just a quick update because I don't know how busy I'll be this next week or when I'll get to posting again….

Today was the final day of NorAm #2 here in Canmore and featured Mass Start competitions. The IBU has changed the start format for mass start races so this was the first time we didn't have a double poling zone off the line. I think everyone on our team would agree that it was a much smoother beginning to the race.

While the senior women's category (my age group) was about the same size as every other North American mass start I've ever done, some of the other categories were quite large. The youth races for both men and women were so large that they had to have two waves because there are only 30 shooting points on the range!

My shooting in the race went better than in the two sprints we did yesterday (Saturday) and Thursday. I shot (1,1,2,1) - those are misses so I hit 15/20. My skiing didn't feel as good but the snow was softer (it was almost 40 degrees fahrenheit) and I was tired from the previous two days of racing this week. I finished second of nine women in my race.

Top:The start of the youth women's race (heat 1 of 2)….skating right off the line. 
No more double poling zone! 
Bottom (L to R): Maddie (center) took first in the junior women's 7.5k, Casey (L) took second in the men's 15k, and I (L) took second in the women's 12.5k. 

Tomorrow promises to be a long day on the road as we head east to Minnesota. We have to take a shuttle to Calgary Airport in the morning before catching our flight to Minnesota via a short layover in Denver. Hopefully everything goes smoothly and our bags make it there with us!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Finishing up in Canmore

The overabundance of photos collecting on my phone let me know that it was time for a blog post…enjoy!

A Rocky Mountain painting that's in our condo. I'm pretty sure we're all in love with it and wishing we could take it home. 

Our first week here in Canmore was quite pleasant compared to this past week. The past five days here have brought us a 50+ degree swing in temperatures. Our first races were supposed to happen last weekend but in true Canmore form, we had temperatures that were too cold for safe racing conditions. The legal limit for racing (per the International Biathlon Union) is -4F (or -20C). This is for safety reasons, both on behalf of the athletes competing but also the volunteers and officials who stand out there while we're racing. We also got around a foot+ of very powdery snow here in Canmore, transforming it into a wintery wonderland!

The start of the snow. They don't plow the center of the roads in downtown Canmore until the median is huge….they still haven't plowed it now so they must be waiting for another storm before they both. I think at this point they'll have to truck it out when they do decide to remove it! 

Happy during my warmup in the days prior to the cold snap. The biathlon range is just over my shoulder on the right side of the photo. You can see the snowmaking guns in the distance too. 

During the first two weeks of our stay I ran to or from the venue almost every day. I'm trying to keep more running in my training this year so this was an easy way to include a jog every day. This was the trail after the beginning of the snow fall. 

We joined forces with the Minnesota, Craftsbury and National Guard biathletes as well as Casey's parents for Thanksgiving. It was a huge crew but we all made dishes so the food choices were many. I'm pretty sure we ate all of it too! 

Brian with his plate…ready to eat! 

A turkey carcass. Picked it clean! 

Pies by Siena. They were very, very good. I tasted both the pumpkin and pecan…not sure why pecan is never the most popular. I think it's delicious! 

With the cold weather we're pretty much reduced to doing what is safe for training. That means no intensity, as breathing the super cold air can damage your lungs, but it also means that quite often you can't get much distance in. The longer you stay out the more you're prone to frostbite. Kelsey actually got the beginnings of some good frostbite during the pre-race practice the day before the two NorAms that were canceled. Luckily the people around her caught her in time so she was able to go inside and prevent more serious damage. 

The line of flags last Friday…the day before our first scheduled race that was canceled due to cold weather. The wind was howling, it was snowing and the temperatures were frigid. I opted out of shooting and only managed to ski about 30 minutes in the shelter of the woods. 

Cold toes after a short ski on one of the days that the races were canceled. When it's cold I can't really skate. Classic skiing is warmer most of the time but when it's -25C or lower, even that is never a sure bet! It's tough to stay warm when the snow is so cold that your skis don't want to glide…you have to be careful not to work too hard so that you sweat because that'll make you cold too! 

The view from my bedroom window on a chilly morning. 

I went on a classic ski on Saturday afternoon (the morning races were canceled so we waited till afternoon to ski when it was warmest) and found some un-groomed tracks to follow. 

Fresh pow. 

Snowmaking guns going full-boar before it got super cold. When it's really cold the snow just vaporizes before it hits the ground so they actually have to turn them off.  

Mike Gibson (he's skis for Craftsbury GRP with my brother, Alex) out for a classic ski after canceled races. 

I went for a walk one of the super cold afternoons. This is the view from the hillside where our condo is looking west toward the hillside where the Canmore Nordic Center is. 

A snow-covered walking trail near our condo. 

Wednesday of this last week we took a trip up to Lake Louise with the U.S. National Team group that's here right now. Moraine Lake Road is a tourist access road to a gorgeous mountain lake in the summer but in the winter they groom it for nordic skiing and it's amazing if you hit the right conditions. Unfortunately the day we had was really cold (-24C when we started skiing) but it was sunny with no wind so once we were moving it was really great. Perfect conditions for easy classic skiing so I was able to get in a 2.5 hour ski. The road is all gradual uphill on the way out so returning to the parking lot was a little chilly.

A bunch of photos from our ski in Lake Louise: 

A foot bridge right up by Lake Louise and the Lake Louise Hotel. 

All smiles despite the frost forming on my clothes...

This was early in the morning on our drive up there…the sun came up on this mountain before hitting the land around the highway. 

Lake Louise hotel. 

The end of the groomed trail on Moraine Lake Road. 

Looking across the valley toward the lake (that I've never seen but it's supposed to be gorgeous). 

Cold tracks but bright sun. 

Happy to be moving and warm despite chilly temperatures. 

This was taken at the end of my 2.5 hour ski….I had quite a bit of frost build up over the last hour! 

Lake Louise Hotel. 

On our way back to Canmore we stopped off in Banff for lunch and exploring. The entrance to this restaurant was pretty sweet looking! 

In Banff National Park they have wildlife bridges as part of their effort to cut down on road kill and accidents. They have high fences lining both edges of the roadway to keep the elk, deer and other animals off the roads. 

Walking around at Lake Louise after our ski. 

Banff downtown…they don't plow the median either. 

Pano of Lake Louise. I wonder if the sun ever comes up there this time of year. I think this photo was taken sometime between noon and 1 pm. 

Some interesting tea in the local grocery store. 

Watching a helicopter doing avalanche prevention on the mountain above the nordic centre. 

 Some coyotes that I spotted on an afternoon distance run when it was really cold. They didn't seem to mind the cold weather and were having fun digging around in the fresh powder. 

With the first NorAms canceled we jumped into some time trials with the Canadians on Thursday instead. The races were part of their junior and youth selections for World Youth/Junior Championships so the distances were shortened but that was fine since we are also racing twice this weekend. My race didn't go quite as I'd hoped. I shot 60% (I missed 4 of 10 shots which is pretty bad) but I skied faster than I expected for an early season effort. 

Today was the first actual NorAm event, another sprint race with almost 300 competitors. By far the biggest biathlon event that will be held in North America although there were only nine competitors in the senior women's category, Kelsey and myself included. I shot one miss better than in Thursday's race (5/10) which is still terrible for me but I held it together again on the course so I'm trying not to be too hard on myself. Biathlon is tough like that…there are two parts to look at. I try really hard to pick something good out of every effort, especially if my shooting is bad. It's hard to come back from repeated bad shooting if you dwell on it. Thus, I'm looking at tomorrow as an opportunity for redemption. It's a mass start so I'll have twice as many opportunities to shoot well (mass starts have four shooting stages instead of just two). It'll also be fun to start right with everyone and test my ski speed over a longer course (12.5k instead of the 7.5k we ski in a sprint). 

Photo credit: Mikael Ellingson

Photo credit: Mikael Ellingson

I stayed with the Sellers family the first year I came to Canmore. This year we got to help them decorate their Christmas tree and share dessert with them. I made them all Foxy Topper hats…this is Kirsti, the younger daughter, sporting hers before her XC race today. The nordic center is hosting both nordic and biathlon races this weekend so it's a bit of a madhouse. 

After tomorrow's mass start we pack up and will be heading east on Monday to Grand Rapids, MN. We'll be there for 10 days, finishing up with four races over the final five days. Those will be the races used to determine the US team for some IBU Cup (one step down from the World Cup) in early 2015. Check back in a week or so for an update on our first days in Minnesota.