2018 US Nationals

2018 US National Championships were held in Anchorage, Alaska this year. I have only been to Alaska once before in my life last spring for the Spring Series races in Fairbanks. I heard plenty of the stories for how cold Anchorage could be, so I feel like we were lucky this year with decent weather and manageable temperatures. The first race was Wednesday with the individual start skate race. The snow conditions were pretty challenging for that race, we had rain the day before on top of hard packed manmade, and then new snow that got all slushy and awkward to ski on. I went out a bit conservative and trying to stay smooth on the flats, but I had a hard time using my fitness to go fast due to the awkward skiing. I did feel good on the hills, but not the flats. Unfortunately there were only 2 hills on the course and lots of flat, so I lost a lot of time and ended up a bit further back than I wanted to be.

Cranking through the 15k skate. Photo: Michael Dinneen

The skate sprint on Friday went alright. The course was very fun, with some rolling hills and a downhill before the steep climb. I felt decent but I flailed a bit on the climb trying to hop V1 as my legs flooded. I qualified 14th and the heats were fun but I didn’t move on past the quarterfinals.

The 30km classic was the race I looked forward to most at Nationals. It also was my best chance to qualify for the Olympics this year. I think I needed somewhere in the ballpark of a podium finish to be in good standings for Olympic qualifications, depending on how other skiers did of course and the other races of the week. I was a bit nervous and stressed about the race and all of the pressure and worth it carried. I thankfully have been meditating every day for a while now, which helps to calm the thoughts in my head, let those thoughts go, and stay relaxed and focused on the task at hand. I warmed up just fine and my race prep went well. I found a good pair of C2+ skis that seemed fast and solid kick for the slick hills in the first few kilometers and for the new powdery tracks in the last kilometer of the course.

Everything went well, until on the start line with 60 seconds to go, I looked down in horror and realized that I accidentally picked my warm up skis, not my race skis. I cannot quite describe the feeling I had in that minute. The fear of failing to achieve my goals, the desire to push through this challenge, the questioning if I had time to run and get my race skis, the sinking feeling in my stomach of the gravity of the mistake I had made. I had confidence in my strength and fitness, but I know I am not at the level where I can beat all of my fast and fit competitors on a pair of skis that were not race ready, especially in a 30k classic where kick is needed. Again, I was able to use my meditation techniques to calm some of those thoughts. Of course I was stressed and scared and worried, I couldn’t get rid of all of them. I just knew one thing and one thing only. I do not know why, but this happened. I made this huge mistake, it was not my coach’s fault, it was not my wax tech’s fault. I did this. I also had a choice, to give up, drop out, blame the skis, or to try my best with what I had. Well I had a pair of skis on my feet, so I was going to give that race everything I got. I planned to ski as tactically as possible knowing my skis would not be comparable to my competitors. So that is what I did. I lost time on the first downhill and slipped a lot on the first uphill. I resorted to herrying bone for every hill in the race, or double pole. I was very happy and proud to be able to stay with the lead pack for the whole race until the last few kilometers when it spread out. I couldn’t hang on the first downhill of the course and cresting the longer gradual hills that I had to double pole as my triceps started to cramp up. I tried my best, I gave it everything I had, I skied as well as I could, and I finished 10th.

I can’t really describe my emotional and mental roller coaster after that race, but I can say that meditation saved me a ton of pain that would have destroyed me a year ago. That race now is in the past, and I will have to live with that random choice of picking the wrong skis. I don’t remember how I did that. Below is the progression of looking at my skis on the starting line, realizing in horror what I did and looking over to see if anyone was at the GRP bench to get my race skis, and the resolve I had to just go race no matter what and survive and fight for 30km. I am proud of that progression in the 60 seconds that I had.

Screen Shot 2018-01-16 at 4.17.13 PM
I made a huge mistake…
Screen Shot 2018-01-16 at 4.17.23 PM
Checking to see if I could get my race skis….
Screen Shot 2018-01-16 at 4.19.11 PM
Making the choice to give it everything I had regardless of the circumstances.

I took all of these screenshots from the US Ski and Snowboard Facebook page live video streams of the races, so a huge thanks to them for setting up the live streaming for the races!

The classic sprint did not go very well. Honestly, I was pretty crushed from the 30k mentally and emotionally. I went out there and tried my best with what I had, which was not much. I qualified just barely and skied to 4th in the quarters, just one spot out of lucky loser.

I then set my resolve to prepare for the World Cup races I had to do in 5 days. I kept up my meditation using the app Headspace. I know it has changed so much in my life and how I view my experience. I can let thoughts and feelings go much faster than before which is critical to do after bad races. This experience definitely could have held me back, but in 3 days I turned my attitude around to compete at my best ability on the World Cup for the US Ski Team. I was disappointed with my results at US Nationals, but I cannot change that now. The only thing I can change is my attitude and actions today to race faster next time.


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